The People of the Bible—Part XIX
I Kings 19:16 – II Kings 13:21

Elisha, Successor to Elijah

THE first time the Bible mentions Elisha is in I Kings 19:16. Here we read the Lord’s instructions to Elijah to anoint him to be “prophet in thy room.” Elisha served as prophet in Israel for sixty years. He is referred to once in the New Testament, under the name Eliseus. (Luke 4:27) Here Jesus refers to one of Elisha’s miracles. Otherwise his name appears only in connection with his own activities as recorded in the First and Second Books of the Kings. Elisha was the son of Shaphat. His name means “God his salvation.” Certainly God did protect Elisha throughout his long period of service and used him in connection with many miracles, even the raising of the dead.

Apparently when Elijah received instructions from the Lord to anoint Elisha, he at once left the cave on mount Horeb “and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth: and Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle upon him.” Thus Elijah indicated to Elisha that he would be his successor. Elisha was quick to grasp the significance of Elijah’s action. He knew that he was being called into the service of the Lord for the remainder of his life.

Elisha immediately decided to accept the responsibility and made but one request—“Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee.” (I Kings 19:20) Elijah granted this request; and Elisha, instead of merely bidding his father goodbye, made a farewell feast for his family and friends, slaying one of the yoke of oxen to provide meat for the occasion. The genuineness of Elisha’s intentions seems to be indicated by the fact that he used “the instruments of the oxen” as fuel in boiling their flesh. It indicated that he did not expect to return to his old vocation. There is a good example in this for all who enter into the Lord’s service. No one should think of enlisting in the Lord’s cause for any period of time shorter than life. To make this a firm decision right at the start does much to guard against indecision and faltering later.

We have the simple statement that after the farewell feast was over Elisha “arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him.” (vs. 21) What a beautiful reflection of Elisha’s humility! Elijah had thrown his mantle upon him, and he was anointed to be a prophet; yet he willingly filled the less honorable position of servant to Elijah, not just for a few days, but for a number of years. Here also is an object lesson which all the Lord’s people might well take to heart, especially in these days when the world looks so favorably upon one who is a “go-getter.”

The Lord’s consecrated people have always had to battle against the spirit of the world. The influences of the world have varied in detail throughout the age. Today one aspect of the world’s spirit is the glorification of “success.” It is appealing to the natural mind yet should not be permitted to induce Christians to be office seekers in the church. Elisha was quite happy to wait the Lord’s “due time” for promotion to the active service of a prophet.

After Elijah’s first contact with Elisha, we hear nothing more of Elisha until very close to the end of his master’s life. II Kings 2:1 reads: “It came to pass, when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal.” Elijah suggested to Elisha, “Tarry here, … for the Lord hath sent me to Bethel.” But Elisha replied: “As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they went down to Bethel.”—vs. 2

Here Elisha’s great devotion to the senior prophet is reflected. At Bethel the “sons of the prophets” interviewed Elisha, asking him if he knew that his master was to be taken from him that day. He replied that he knew this, but he was determined to be with his master to the very end. Elijah announced that he would go next to Jericho and urged his servant to remain at Bethel, but again Elisha insisted on continuing with his master. Their next stop was Jericho, and Elisha was asked to remain there; but he refused, saying again, “As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee.” (vss. 3-6) From Jericho they journeyed to Jordan.

Reaching Jordan, Elijah smote the “waters” of the river with his mantle, the waters parted, and the two crossed on dry ground to the other side. Then Elijah said to his servant, “Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee.” To this Elisha replied, “I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.” Elijah said that this was a “hard thing” but assured Elisha that if he should see him when he was taken away, “it shall be so unto thee.”—vss. 8-10

What did Elisha mean by a “double portion” of Elijah’s “spirit”? Actually the word “portion” is not a good translation. The Hebrew word used here is elsewhere translated either “mouth” or speech” or “word,” or in other ways related to speech. For example, in Proverbs 5:4 it is translated “twoedged” sword. It is evident that even here the reference is, symbolically, to speech, for in Proverbs 12:18 Solomon says, “There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword.” (See Hebrews 4:12.) In Exodus 4:10 this same Hebrew word is translated “speech” in a statement in which Moses says to the Lord, “I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.”

From this basic meaning of the Hebrew word translated “portion” in Elisha’s request to Elijah, it would seem that he asked to have his ability of expression through speech greatly increased so that Elijah’s spirit, which was the Spirit of the Lord, might be more fully manifested through him. Elisha had been a farmer and probably without much experience in expressing himself to others. He may have felt somewhat as Moses did when he told the Lord that he was “slow of speech.” The Lord provided a mouthpiece for Moses, but he was just as capable of increasing Elisha’s ability to speak, to the extent necessary to enable him to accomplish the work assigned to him. The Lord’s arm is never shortened.

When Elisha saw his master taken from him, he cried, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.” (vs. 12) Elisha then took up Elijah’s mantle which had fallen on him—not at the time Elijah was taken away, but when he had first met his successor while plowing—and he returned to the bank of Jordan and smote the water with the mantle, saying, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?”—vs. 14

This was a natural question to ask, for, after all, while Elijah’s mantle had fallen on him eight years before and he had been anointed to take his master’s place, up to this time he had been merely a servant. He had not been given definite evidence that the Spirit of the Lord would be upon him as it had been upon Elijah, in the sense of enabling him to perform miracles. The answer to his question was quickly forthcoming, for when he smote the waters they divided, even as they did when smitten by Elijah. When the “sons of the prophets” saw this, they said, “The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him.”—vss. 14,15

The Search for Elijah

The sons of the prophets had also seen Elijah taken up in the whirlwind, but to them it did not signify that the Lord had taken him to heaven. They said to Elisha that perhaps “the Spirit of the Lord hath taken him up, and cast him upon some high mountain, or into some valley.” (vs. 16) They asked Elisha’s permission to send out a searching party for Elijah’s body. At first Elisha refused to grant permission, but when the sons of the prophets insisted, he yielded, warning them, however, that they would not find the body.

Had it been true, what an excellent opportunity this was for Elisha to tell these sons of the prophets that Elijah had been taken to heaven to be with the Lord. Having the Spirit of the Lord upon him, Elisha knew that this would not have been the truth. He understood the matter correctly, that the body of Elijah had been hidden, even as was the body of Moses, for reasons known best to the Lord.

The Waters Healed

After the division of the waters of Jordan, Elisha’s next miracle was the purifying of Jericho’s water supply. He attributed this accomplishment to the Lord, saying: “Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land.” (vs. 21) So will the Lord cause to flow out to the people the “pure river of water of life,” as promised in Revelation 22:1.

Elisha went from Jericho to Bethel, and on his way some children mocked him, and he “cursed them in the name of the Lord.” (vs. 24) Then two “she bears” came out of the bushes, as the account says, “and tare forty and two” of the children. This seems like a cruel reprisal of calling the prophet baldheaded. It is likely, though, that the translation makes it seem worse than it really was. At least we are not informed just how badly the children were torn. They may simply have received some scratches and a bad scare.

Elisha’s Eloquence

In answer to his request, Elisha was given great power of speech. When the king of Israel, the king of Judah, and the king of Edom appeared before him at the suggestion of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, to seek advice in connection with a serious danger which confronted them in their war against Moab, Elisha said to the wicked king of Israel: “What have I to do with thee? get thee to the prophets of thy father, and to the prophets of thy mother [prophets of Baal]. … As the Lord of hosts liveth, before whom I stand, surely, were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look toward thee, nor see thee.”—II Kings 3:12-14

Thus, in a straightforward manner, and without compromise, Elisha let the wicked king of Israel know that except for Jehoshaphat, the good king of Judah, he would pay no attention to him. But for Jehoshaphat’s sake he cooperated. It seems that the main difficulty in the situation was that the land through which the three kings were marching their armies in an effort to outflank the king of Moab was without water. The Lord revealed to the prophet that apart from rain, the “valley” would be filled with water the next day “that ye may drink, both ye, and your cattle, and your beasts.” True to the word of the Lord, “there came water by the way of Edom, and the country was filled with water.”—vss. 15-20

The Increasing Oil

Elisha’s next miracle was on behalf of a widow, whose husband had been one of the sons of the prophets. She was in debt, and her creditors had threatened to take her two sons as bondmen. The prophet asked just what she did possess, and she replied, “Thine handmaid hath not anything in the house, save a pot of oil.”—II Kings 4:1,2

Elisha then instructed the widow to borrow all the vessels she could from her neighbors. He told her to take the vessels inside, and her sons also, and to start pouring from her one “pot of oil” into the borrowed ones. She did as instructed, and the oil kept increasing until all the vessels were filled. She sold enough of the oil to pay her debt, and there was plenty left on which she and her sons could live. Another marvelous miracle!

Essentially every incident the Bible records of Elisha’s life pertains to a miracle. From this standpoint, the Spirit of the Lord rested upon the prophet in an abundant measure. Nor was he partial as to who benefited from his miracle-working power. Verses 8 to 38 of II Kings, chapter 4, present a touching story involving two miracles. The first was giving power of conception to a childless woman, and then, years later, when her boy died of a sunstroke, raising him from the dead. Thus again is presented an exhibition of the power of God which will, in his own due time, awaken all the dead.

Then there was the miracle of purifying the poisoned “pottage.” This was followed closely by another miracle, in which a small amount of food was increased sufficiently to feed a hundred men. (II Kings 4:38-44) This, on a smaller scale, was similar to Jesus’ miracle of feeding the multitude on the shore of Galilee.

A Leper Cleansed

Leprosy in Bible times was incurable, and even now no sure cure has been discovered. It is a fitting symbol of the blighting disease of sin and death, which can be permanently cured only through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus and by the divine healing power which will be exercised on behalf of the world of mankind during the thousand years of Christ’s reign.

One of Elisha’s outstanding miracles illustrates the restorative powers of the kingdom, when the “Sun of righteousness” arises “with healing in his wings.” (Mal. 4:2) He healed Naaman, a leper, “captain of the host of the king of Syria.” As we have noted, Elisha was impartial in the bestowing of his benefactions. Whether it was a widow of Israel or a Syrian Army officer needing help, he was willing and ready to serve.

Naaman learned of Elisha through a Jewish maiden who had been taken captive to Syria and there “waited on Naaman’s wife.” Elisha’s home was in Samaria, and when Naaman finally reached there he fully expected that a prophet so great as to be able to cure leprosy would certainly make much ado about it in the way of outward demonstrations. But not so. Elisha did not even appear before Naaman. He simply sent word to him to go and wash in the Jordan River seven times.

Naaman was insulted. He said concerning Elisha: “I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage.”—II Kings 5:11,12

Naaman’s servants came to the rescue, as it were. They reasoned with him, saying: “My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?” (vs. 13) Naaman saw the reasonableness of this, and he went and washed in the Jordan as Elisha had instructed. He was forthwith healed of his leprosy.—vs. 14

The Syrian captain was appreciative and recognized that he was healed, not by Elisha, but by the God of Israel, who was glorified by the miracle. Naaman said: “Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel: now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant.” (vs. 15) Elisha was not serving the Lord for earthly gain, so he refused to accept Naaman’s gift. He was glad that Naaman had been healed and said to him, “Go in peace.”—vs. 19

But Elisha’s servant was not so noble. By a clever ruse he obtained for himself some of the valuables that Naaman had brought as a reward for Elisha in the event he was really healed. Here again, however, the power of the Lord through Elisha is manifested. Without being told, and without seeing what was happening, the prophet detected the fraud and said to Gehazi, his servant: “Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and olive yards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and maidservants? The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed forever. And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow.”—vss. 26,27

Syrian King Baffled

The next major episode in Elisha’s dramatic career was in connection with the king of Syria, probably a successor to the one whose captain of the host, Naaman, had been healed of leprosy by the prophet. This Syrian king “warred against Israel, and took counsel with his servants, saying, In such and such a place shall be my camp.” (II Kings 6:8) In a miraculous manner Elisha secured this information and reported it to the king of Israel, enabling him to keep out of danger.—vss. 8-10

This happened a number of times, and the king of Syria became suspicious. He called his servants and inquired of them which one was for the king of Israel. He assumed, under the circumstances, that one of his servants was revealing his plans to Israel’s king. But not so. One of his servants replied, saying that none of them was for the king of Israel, “but Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber.”—vss. 11,12

It is not necessary for us to understand the manner in which Elisha heard the private words of the king of Syria. It could easily be, however, that an angel of the Lord was here acting as “spy” and communicating to the prophet the vital information needed for the protection of Israel. But whether in this or in some other manner, we know that the Lord is never without ability to accomplish all his good purposes.

The Syrian king was slow to learn this lesson. Apparently he believed what his servant told him of Elisha’s ability to hear his privately spoken words, yet he imagined he could outwit the prophet and take him a prisoner. Therefore he instructed his servants to spy on Elisha to discover where he was staying so that he might capture him. He was told that Elisha was in Dothan.—vs. 13

Acting on this information, the king surrounded Dothan by night with a great army—“horses, and chariots, and a great host.” (vs. 14) Elisha’s servant, rising early the next morning, discovered the situation, and in despair he said to Elisha, “Alas, my master! how shall we do?” (vs. 15) Elisha replied: “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his [Elisha’s servant’s] eyes that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.”—vss. 16,17

Actually, of course, the “horses” and “chariots of fire” which the young man saw in his vision were but symbolic of the mighty forces that were at the command of Elisha’s God for his protection and the protection of those associated with him in the divine cause. Jesus said to Peter that if he wished he could ask his Heavenly Father and he would send more than twelve legions of angels for his protection. (Matt. 26:53) It is likely that many of these holy angels were actually near Elisha during this time when the king of Syria was threatening him. This is true of all the Lord’s people, for do we not read, “The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them?”—Ps. 34:7

Elisha did not have to wait long for the attack from the soldiers who had surrounded Dothan during the night. In the crisis he prayed to the Lord, asking that these men be made blind, and his prayer was answered. Then, informing them that they were in the wrong city and that the man they were looking for was elsewhere, he asked them to follow him. The soldiers supposed they were being led to Elisha, when in reality they were being led by him, and they were soon in Samaria, in the presence of Israel’s king and Israel’s army.

Then the “man of God” (vs. 15)—for so Elisha was often called—asked the Lord to open the eyes of the Syrian soldiers. This the Lord did. (vs. 20) What an embarrassing moment it must have been for them! The king of Israel asked if he should slay them, but, instead, Elisha ordered that they be fed and sent home. What a humane and loving procedure—and more effective than slaughter. This ended, for the time at least, the attacks upon Israel by Syria. The king of Syria finally realized that there were forces protecting Elisha and the Israelites with which he could not cope.—vss. 21-23

Famine in Samaria

The kings of Israel did not serve the Lord faithfully and could not therefore expect to have his protection. Double trouble came upon the Samarian section of the country, which was the home of Elisha—famine, and invasion by a later king of Syria, who besieged the country, rendering the famine still more acute. The famine was so serious that women were eating their children. “An ass’s head was sold for fourscore pieces of silver, and the fourth part of a cab of dove’s dung for five pieces of silver.”—II Kings 6:24-29

The king of Israel blamed Elisha for the trouble rather than recognizing it was from the Lord. He instructed his trusted servant to seek out Elisha with the intent of murdering him. He said, “God do so and more also to me, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat shall stand on him this day.” (vs. 31) Again, the Spirit of God, giving Elisha powers of discernment, came to his rescue.

The servant who was sent to Elisha by the king of Israel and who was speaking for him said, “Behold, this evil is from the Lord; what should I wait for the Lord any longer?” (vs. 33) Elisha had different information from the Lord: “Thus saith the Lord, Tomorrow about this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.” (ch. 7:1) This was too much for the king and his servants to believe. Even if the Lord should open the windows of heaven and pour down rain, crops would not mature in twenty-four hours to bring down the price of food, as Elisha had prophesied.

The resources of the Lord, however, were quite adequate to fulfill this prophecy. The Syrian soldiers besieging the city had, by God’s power—probably another service rendered by the angels—been made to hear “a noise of chariots, and a noise of horses, even the noise of a great host.” (vs. 6) This led them to believe that the king of Israel had “hired … the kings of the Hittites, and the kings of the Egyptians” to come upon them. They were filled with fear, and to a man they rose up in the night and fled, leaving behind them tremendous supplies of food, “their tents, and their horses, and their asses, even the camp as it was, and fled for their life.”—vs. 7

Four lepers, themselves starving, having decided that they would risk entering the Syrian camp in the search for food even if it would mean their death, discovered what had happened and reported it to the king of Israel. Just as the Lord can, and does, use his holy angels as messengers, so he is also able to use lepers, as he did in this case. The king of Israel was suspicious, claiming the Syrians had merely feigned a flight in order to induce the people to come out of the city for the food they had left behind, and then they would suddenly come out of hiding and destroy them.

But this was not the case. The sensational “sound effects” broadcast by the angels were effective, and the Syrian army had actually fled. Now the Israelites could help themselves to the food they had left behind. Thus was Elisha’s prophecy fulfilled. His prophecies concerning the death of one who served the king of Israel in the effort to slay the prophet also came true. Again the Lord was glorified, for Elisha was acting merely as his servant.

Jehu Anointed

One of the last official acts of Elisha was to authorize one of the sons of the prophets to anoint Jehu to be king of Israel. (II Kings 9:1-10) Jehu was the one used by the Lord to destroy the house of Ahab—wicked king of Israel—and Jezebel, his notoriously wicked wife. Thus came about the fulfillment of the prophecy given to Elijah by the Lord. (I Kings 19:16,17) Actually, the Lord had instructed Elijah to anoint Jehu. The fact that Elisha did it—even though through his proxy, one of the sons of the prophets—helps to emphasize how completely the Lord recognized him as Elijah’s successor. Elijah’s mantle fell on him, which meant that he could act for Elijah, and he did in the anointing of Jehu.

II Kings 13:14-21 presents Elisha’s deathbed experiences. Joash, king of Israel, visited him, and “wept over his face, and said, O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.” This expression was used by Elisha when he saw Elijah taken from him. Its significance is not clear, but evidently King Joash repeated it as his way of indicating to Elisha that the end of his life seemed near. In a very unique manner Elisha gave utterance to his last prophecy concerning the smiting of Syria.—vss. 15-19

Then Elisha died and was buried. But still another miracle was associated with him. A band of Moabites invaded the land, and they were discovered by some who were burying one of their comrades. These, in haste, “cast the man into the sepulcher of Elisha: and when the man was let down, and touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood up on his feet.” (vss. 20,21) Elisha, of course, had nothing to do with this, for he was dead. Just why the Lord would restore the man’s life under such circumstances is not clear.

Elisha’s service as a prophet was truly outstanding. His prophecies, however, pertained only to local events in the experiences of Judah and Israel. They were not of the long-range variety such as those whose writings comprise so many of the Old Testament books. But the prophet’s many miracles did point forward to the kingdom age in the divine plan, when such miracles as healing the sick and raising the dead will be everyday events among the people all over the earth, continuing until all the willing and obedient of that time will be fully restored to perfection and there will stretch out before them the glorious prospect of eternal life.

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