To elijah the Lord had said, Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room. 1 Kings 19:16.
Thus Elisha was called to the prophetic office while Elijah was still active in the great work God had committed to him. Elisha immediately joined Elijah, and remained with him until they were separated by Elijah's translation.
His intimate association with the great prophet Elijah, during the closing years of that reformatory movement in the nation, must have been of inestimable value to Elisha. It gave him the most favorable opportunity to gain a clear understanding of the grave crisis Ahab and Jezebel had brought upon God's chosen people. It gave him a revelation of the subtle purpose and determination of Satan to break Israel's connection with Jehovah, and turn them into debased heathenism like all the other nations of earth.
It likewise gave him a revelation of God's purpose to defeat the forces of evil. He witnessed the operation of a greater power with Elijah to save than with Ahab to destroy. His experience also gave him a clear vision of the superhuman task that had been committed to Elijah, and a keen realization of his own utter inability to carry the work forward after Elijah's departure. Why should he not cry out, My father, my father, when he saw the chariot bearing the mighty Elijah heavenward, thus parting them both asunder, and leaving himself alone with apostate Israel?
This was a supreme hour for Elisha. The strong, fearless, Spirit-filled Elijah had gone, leaving a great work for Elisha to take up and carry forward. The task seemed too great to Elisha. But it was there, and with it was Elijah's mantle lying at Elisha's feet, where it had fallen from his departed leader. This was a token of assurance to Elisha. But before laying his hand upon it, he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces,
thus expressing, it would seem, entire separation from the world and utter renunciation of self.
He then gathered Elijah's mantle to himself, and went back and stood by the bank of Jordan. Apparently bewildered and fearful, he cried, Where is the Lord God of Elijah? Has He left this world and gone with Elijah? Or is He still here to direct and empower me in the prosecution of His work? Will He part the waters for me as He did for Elijah? And when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over. Verse 14. Thus Elisha was given immediate and signal evidence that the God of Elijah was still on earth, and with him, and that the same divine power that had wrought so mightily through Elijah had been imparted to him.
With this comforting and inspiring assurance, Elisha crossed Jordan and directed his steps toward the school of the prophets at Jericho. Before he reached the school, he was met by fifty sons of the prophets who had previously come part way to Jordan with the hope that they might witness the translation. When these students saw that Elijah had been taken, and that his mantle had been transferred to Elisha, and with it the power of God that had parted the river of Jordan, they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him. Verse 15. Thus Elisha was promptly recognized as Elijah's successor.
Without delay Elisha entered upon the work of carrying forward the reform in Israel that Elijah had begun. The great wickedness of Ahab and Jezebel in leading Israel into idolatry had been widely exposed and sternly rebuked by Elijah. The judgments of heaven had fallen upon the land. The extermination of the house of Ahab had begun. The conscience of Israel had been awakened and alarmed. The schools of the prophets which Samuel established had been revived. The apostasy of Ahab and Jezebel had been checked. A reformation had set in. All this Elisha was to foster and carry forward, and he did so with marked earnestness and success.
The marvelous change that had been wrought in the nation by Elijah called for a different manner of life and for different methods of service than those adopted by Elijah. The situation which Elijah met when he entered upon his work had been beyond the power of man to change. The word of the king and the queen was supreme.
The queen was of the Oriental typedespotic. She came from a people who despised Israel, and who were bent on their subjugation. What could not be done by force might be done by turning Israel away from the living God to Baal, the sun-god of the Phoenicians. The apostasy which Ahab and Jezebel had set on foot had made rapid progress. The complete substitution of Baal for Jehovahof heathenism for the gospel of salvationseemed so certain to Ahab and Jezebel that they treated Elijah's first warning with the utmost contempt. No voice, no argument, could reach them. Evidence, even of a miraculous kind, availed nothing. Their reaction to the mighty manifestations of Jehovah that day on Mount Carmel was a threat to take the life of Elijah.
Some writers have criticized Elijah's methods, especially his isolation and the sternness with which he delivered his messages. But in what other way could he have dealt with those despotic rulers who would have ended his career at the beginning of his work if they could have laid hands on him?
The situation was very different, however, when Elisha came from the scene of Elijah's translation. The violence of the rulers had abated. The people had been aroused to a realization of their peril. They felt the need of the presence and instruction of men of God. Hence Elisha received a welcome in all parts of the nation. He journeyed from place to place throughout the kingdom, associating with the people, instructing them in the way of the Lord, and ministering to them in their varied needs.
Elisha's active work as prophet began at the school of the prophets in Jericho, where he went from his farewell with Elijah.
While he tarried at the school, the men of the city came to Elisha and pointed out a distressing situation that existed. They
said, The situation of this city is pleasant: but the water is nought, and the ground barren. Elisha's response was prompt. He took a cruse of salt, went to the spring, and cast the salt into the water. To those who accompanied him he said: Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land. So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake. 2 Kings 2:19-22.
Travelers who have visited Palestine in modern times find a spring at the place where it is believed this miracle was wrought. They describe it as a large and beautiful fountain of sweet and pleasant water, and as scattering, even at the hottest season, the richest and most grateful vegetation over what would otherwise be a bare tract of sandy soil.The Pulpit Commentary, on 2 Kings, chap. 2, p. 23.
From Jericho Elisha went to Bethel and then to Samaria, where he became known as a prophetthe successor of Elijah. By this time Jehoram, the son of Ahab, was reigning over Israel. He was in sore trouble because the king of Moab had rebelled and invaded his kingdom. The situation was so serious that Jehoram appealed for help to the king of Edom, and also to Jehoshaphat, king of Judah. They joined him, and in leading their forces into the land of Moab, these kings found themselves in a place where there was no water for the host, and for the cattle that followed them. The king of Israel said despairingly, Alas! that the Lord hath called these three kings together, to deliver them into the hand of Moab! 2 Kings 3:5-10.
But Jehoshaphat knew where to look for help. He said:
Is there not here a prophet of the Lord, that we may inquire of the Lord by him? And one of the king of Israel's servants answered and said, Here is Elisha the son of Shaphat, which poured water on the hands of Elijah. And Jehoshaphat said, The word of the Lord is with him. So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him. Verses 11, 12.
Elisha was not flattered by the presence of kings seeking information from him regarding their fate. Without fear he said
unto the king of Israel, What have I to do with thee? get thee to the prophets of thy father [Ahab], and to the prophets of thy mother [Jezebel] . Were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would not look toward thee, nor see thee. Verses 13, 14.
Then the hand of the Lord came upon him. And he said, Thus saith the Lord, Make this valley full of ditches. For thus saith the Lord, Ye shall not see wind, neither shall ye see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, that ye may drink, both ye, and your cattle, and your beasts. And this is but a light thing in the sight of the Lord: He will deliver the Moabites also into your hand. Verses 15-18.
And it came to pass in the morning, when the meat offering was offered, that, behold, there came water by the way of Edom, and the country was filled with water. Verse 20. Then came the battle and the Israelites rose up and smote the Moabites, so that they fled before them: but they went forward smiting the Moabites, even in their country. Verse 24.
This was a most important experience; for it brought Elisha prominently before the kingdoms of Israel, Judah, Edom, and Moab, as the prophet of the Lord and the successor of Elijah.
Again, this same king of Israel (Jehoram) was brought into great peril, this time by the king of Syria, Ben-hadad, who invaded his kingdom. Once more the prophet Elisha was led to give the king of Israel counsel that saved him from his enemies. The account is given in the sixth chapter of the second book of Kings.
In directing his campaign, the king of Syria gave orders to his officers to place ambushments where he had reason to believe the army of Israel would be surprised and captured. But Elisha warned the king of Israel regarding all the plans of Ben-hadad. The repeated failure of Ben-hadad to find Jehoram's army led him to suspect that he had a traitor among his own men, and he said to his officers, Will ye not show me which of us is for the king of Israel? And one of his servants said, None, my lord, O
king: but Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber. 2 Kings 6:11, 12.
Ben-hadad then determined to take the life of the prophet. He ordered his men to find Elisha and bring him to the camp. They departed with horses, and chariots, and a great host. But they failed, for when they surrounded Elisha, he prayed unto the Lord, and said, Smite this people, I pray Thee, with blindness. And He smote them with blindness according to the word of Elisha. 2 Kings 6:14-18.
In this helpless condition they were led by Elisha straight to the camp of the king of Israel. How impotent is puny man when warring against the purposes of God!
When this blind host had reached Israel's camp, Elisha said, Lord, open the eyes of these men, that they may see. And the Lord opened their eyes, and they saw; and, behold, they were in the midst of Samaria. And the king of Israel said unto Elisha, when he saw them, My father, shall I smite them? Verses 20, 21.
This was a great opportunity to win a decisive victory by the slaughter of this Syrian host. But Elisha said, Thou shalt not smite them . Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink, and go to their master . And when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. So the bands of Syria came no more into the land of Israel. Verses 22, 23.
Thus repeatedly was clear and convincing evidence given to both Israel and Syria that there was One greater than man, who could protect His people against the evil plottings of their enemies, and that Elisha was His prophetHis personal representative. Thus, too, great benefits came to Israel through the services of the prophet of God.
Besides serving as counselor of kings in behalf of nations, Elisha gave sympathetic attention and helpful service to the people. He journeyed from place to place, forming close association with men and women in all ranks of life.
At one place the widow of one of the sons of the prophets appealed to him for help to protect her from a creditor who was
about to take her two sons to be bondmen. His heart was touched by her appeal, and he expressed his sympathy by causing the small quantity of oil she had in a receptacle to continue flowing until all the containers in the house and all she could borrow were filled. Then the oil stayed, and Elisha said, Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt, and live thou and thy children of the rest. 2 Kings 4:1-7.
In his journeys Elisha often passed a house where there lived a great woman; and she constrained him to eat bread. As time passed, this woman said to her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God. Verses 8, 9. She persuaded her husband to build a small room for Elisha to occupy when visiting them. In response to this kindness, Elisha asked what favor he could do for her. She answered, I dwell among mine own people, thus intimating that there was nothing she needed. After she had withdrawn, Gehazi suggested that God might bless her with a child. Elisha said, Call her. And when he had called her, Elisha said, About this season, according to the time of life, thou shalt embrace a son. Verses 13-16.
The prediction was fulfilled. A son was born; but while he was still young, he died. In her grief, the mother hastened to Carmel where Elisha was staying, and besought him to come and restore the lad to life. When Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead. In praying for the restoration of life, Elisha put his mouth to the child's mouth, and his eyes to his eyes, and his hands upon the child's hands, and breathed into him. Then life came into the child, and he opened his eyes. On being told that the child was restored to life, the mother went in, and fell at Elisha's feet, and bowed herself to the ground, and took up her son, and went out. 2 Kings 4:18-37.
This wonderful manifestation of the power of Israel's God was a revelation of His love for His people, and of His great desire to save them to the uttermost.
On one occasion, when visiting the school at Gilgal, poisonous gourds had by mistake been cooked for the students. This wild
gourd is supposed to have been the colocynth, which grows in abundance near the Dead Sea. It contains a pulp intensely bitter, and, in any but minute quantities, is extremely poisonous. When it was discovered that these poisonous gourds had been cooked, the students cried out, O thou man of God, there is death in the pot. Verse 40. Elisha immediately cast some meal into the pot where the gourds were being cooked, and there was no more harm in the food.
During the same visit a man brought twenty loaves of barley and full ears of corn to the school. But this was not enough for the hundred men. In Elisha's hands, however, the food was multiplied, as in the case, centuries later, when Jesus fed a multitude. Elisha said, Give the people, that they may eat: for thus saith the Lord, They shall eat, and shall leave thereof. So he set it before them, and they did eat, and left thereof, according to the word of the Lord. Verses 42-44.
The healing of Naaman, the Syrian leper, was one of the most notable and impressive miracles wrought by Elisha. When Naaman finally surrendered to the Lord's way, as declared by Elisha, he was healed. His flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him: and he said, Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel. 2 Kings 5:14, 15. And he returned to his Syrian home, healed in body and converted in spirit.Prophets and Kings, p. 252.
One devout writer says:
The story of Naaman, says Menken, is a worthy part of the history of those revelations and manifestations of the living God which, in their connection and continuation through many centuries, and in their tendency towards one goal and object, were designed to plant upon earth the knowledge and the worship of the true God! But it offers besides to our consideration a rich store of reflections, in which neither heart nor understanding can refuse a willing participation.The Pulpit Commentary, on 2 Kings, p. 99.
Elisha succeeded Elijah as head of the schools of the prophets. He visited them, instructed the leaders and students, joined them in manual labor, and wrought miracles for them in their pressing needs and serious difficulties.
In addition to all this very pleasant, helpful service, there was given to Elisha a serious and painful duty. It appears that the instruction given Elijah to anoint Hazael to be king over Syria, and Jehu the son of Jehoshaphat the son of Nimshi to be king over Israel, had been passed on to Elisha to be carried out.
The career of Hazael, as recorded in the Scriptures, begins in 2 Kings 8:7. Hazael was sent to Elisha by Ben-hadad, king of Syria, who was seriously ill, to inquire of the prophet whether he would recover from his sickness. When Elisha met Hazael, the prophet wept because of the evil he knew that Hazael would do unto the children of Israel. (See 2 Kings 8:7-13.) By cruel conspiracy, Hazael murdered his king, Ben-hadad, on his sick-bed, and usurped the throne of Syria. He then entered upon a relentless and destructive warfare against the kingdom of Israel. In those days the Lord began to cut Israel short: and Hazael smote them in all the coasts of Israel. 2 Kings 10:32. Of this, due warning had been given kings and people, and the way of escape through repentance and reformation had been made plain. But they rejected the messages sent to them.
The record of the punishment inflicted upon the house of Ahab and the prophets of Baal by Jehu is given in 2 Kings 9 and 10. Jehu was anointed to be king by one of the sons of the prophets, sent by Elisha. He then began the execution of the sentence of Jehovah upon the house of Ahab. He slew the king of Israel, and usurped the throne. He then hastened to Jezreel, where the heathen consort of Ahab lived. At the command of Jehu, Jezebel was thrown from an upper window, and shortly afterward it was reported that the prediction by Elijah had been literally fulfilled: In the portion of Jezreel shall dogs eat the flesh of Jezebel: and the carcass of Jezebel shall be as dung upon
the face of the field in the portion of Jezreel; so that they shall not say, This is Jezebel. 2 Kings 9:30-37.
The account of the execution of Jezebel makes sad, hard reading; but it reflects in some degree the great evil Ahab and Jezebel had brought upon the nation of Israel. No warning from God, no judgment He could inflict, could change their purpose to turn Israel away from Jehovah to Baal.
Besides carrying into effect this terrible sentence against Jezebel, Jehu slew all that remained of the house of Ahab in Jezreel, and all his great men, and his kinsfolks, and his priests, until he left him none remaining. 2 Kings 10:11.
He also cut off all the priests and prophets of Baal. And they brought forth the images out of the house of Baal, and burned them. And they brake down the image of Baal, and brake down the house of Baal, and made it a draughthouse unto this day. Thus Jehu destroyed Baal out of Israel. Verses 26-28.
Such was the terrible judgment that came upon the house of Ahab and Jezebel for their defiant, determined purpose to establish heathenism in the hearts of God's chosen people.
It is not to be supposed that the relentless and savage Jehu was altogether moved by a zeal for Jehovah in these revolting slaughters. He was an ambitious and successful rebel; but like all notable forces, he may be regarded as an instrument of Providence, whose ways are mysterious, because men are not large enough and wise enough to trace effects to their causes under His immutable laws. Jehu was a necessary consequence of Ahab and Jezebel.Beacon Lights of History, John Lord, First Series, Jewish Heroes and Prophets, p. 314. New York: Fords, Howard, and Hulbert, 1888.
When Jehu had carried through the regrettable part he was chosen to perform, the great task that had been committed to Elijah was finally and fully accomplished. The work he began when he first appeared before Ahab in the name of the Lord God of Israel, was finished during the ministry of Elisha.
Now Elisha was fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died. And Joash the king of Israel came down unto him, and wept over
his face, and said, O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. 2 Kings 13:14.
How great is the change that has taken place! Ahab, king of Israel, compassed land and sea to take the life and end the career of the prophet Elijah, the immediate predecessor of Elisha. As Joash looks into the face of the dying prophet and realizes what a loss his death will be to the nation, he weeps over the prophet, and calls him by that endearing name, My father.
The king was in sore trouble. Ben-hadad, king of Syria, was warring against Israel. His father had already invaded the land and exacted heavy toll. King Joash needed, and sincerely desired, counsel from the prophet. This, Elisha, though near death, promptly and clearly gave him. Thou shalt smite Syria but thrice. The fulfillment of this prediction is stated as follows. Three times did Joash beat him [Ben-hadad], and recovered the cities of Israel. 2 Kings 13:19, 25.
With the counsel given Joash, the ministry of that great man closed. And Elisha died, and they buried him. 2 Kings 13:20. What a peaceful deathbed Elisha's was! He had long since made his choice. He had lived not for time, but for eternity; not under the fear of man, but under the fear of God; not for the favor of kings or their rewards, but so as to win the approval of his conscience and his Creator.The Pulpit Commentary, on 2 Kings, C. H. Irwin, p. 270.
It was a long, eventful, and triumphant life that was granted to Elisha. He lived to the ripe old age of ninety. Sixty-five years of this time was entirely devoted to the cause of God. He was associated with Elijah during the last years of Ahab's reign, and also through the two years of the reign of Ahab's son, Ahaziah. It was in the first years of the reign of Jehoram king of Israel that Elijah was translated, and then Elisha entered upon his work alone. His ministry continued through the reigns of Jehoram, Jehu, Jehoahaz, and the first years of Joash. As nearly as can be determined, Elisha was associated with Elijah six years before his translation, and from that event filled the prophetic
office for a period of fifty-nine years. How impressive is the difference in the record of the life, the service, and the influence of this prophet and the record of the lives of the kings whom he counseled for a lifetime!
Elisha's single aim is to complete the reforms begun by Elijahto re-establish the ancient truth, and repel heathen superstition. He is a statesman as well as a prophet. Among all the prophets, none intervene in the highest national affairs more boldly than Elisha, and none so successfully. For many years he eagerly watches every turn of events. When the nation is ripe for revolution, he summons the destined man at an opportune moment, puts an end to the Tyrian domination, and extirpates the base Tyrian superstition. After the fall of the Omrite dynasty, he is the trusted friend and sagacious adviser of the house of Jehu, and the strength and inspiration of Israel in all its trials.Dictionary of the Bible, James Hastings, art., Elisha, p. 694. (1908.)
The following comparison of the services rendered to the nation by these prophets of God should be helpful to those who are called to take up the work of talented predecessors:
Elisha was greater yet less, less yet greater, than Elijah. He is less. We cannot dispense with the mighty past even when we have shot far beyond it. Those who follow cannot be as those who went before. A prophet like Elijah comes once and does not return. Elisha, both to his countrymen and to us, is but the successor, the faint reflection, of his predecessor. Less, yet greater; for the work of the great ones of this earth is carried on by far inferior instruments, but on a far wider scale, and it may be in a far higher spirit.
The life of an Elijah is never spent in vain. Even his death has not taken him from us. He struggles, single-handed, as it would seem, and without effect; and in the very crisis of the nation's history is suddenly and mysteriously removed. But his work continues; his mantle falls; his teaching spreads; his enemies perish. The prophet preaches and teaches, the martyr dies and passes away; but other men enter into his labors. What was begun in fire and storm, in solitude and awful visions, must be carried on through winning arts, and healing arts, and gentle words of peaceful and social intercourse; not in the desert of Horeb, or on the top of Carmel, but in the crowded thoroughfares of Samaria, in the gardens of Damascus, by the rushing waters of Jordan.The Popular and Critical Bible Encyclopædia, Vol. I, pp. 590, 591.