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Elisha the Prophet
By Brian Pepper
Today, by way of a change from our usual kind of study I am going to briefly deal with Elisha the prophet; who I can assure you was one of the most remarkable characters in the Old Testament.
Elisha Chosen to Fill Shoes of Elijah
Elisha the son of Shaphat had been chosen by God to step into the shoes of the illustrious prophet Elijah and was to carry on the work where he left off. Without question, this was a big assignment, carrying a heavy responsibility. But God knew the man whom he called and that he was well qualified for the task.
Now I want you to notice the instruction God gave to Elijah which is found in
1 Kings 19:16.
"And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room."
God chose this man for He knew that he was well able to guide and direct God's people in those critical years.
It was a very difficult time in many ways. The three and a half years of famine, although now over, was still being felt, as we notice as we go along.
Elisha on the Farm1 Kings 19:19: "So he departed thence, 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." During the severe drought things had not been very good on the farm but after the heavy rains the whole country was blossoming and there was a promise of a bountiful harvest. Elisha was right in the midst of seeding operations, the busiest time of the year, when Elijah appeared quite unexpectedly and called him to higher service.
Now as we have noticed, the call to Elisha came at a time when he was busily engaged in working the farm. He could have suggested that it would be better after the seeding was over, or a little later on, but he did not do that.
It says "he left the oxen, and ran after Elijah…”
Elisha's Response to God's CallingYou will notice that his response was immediate. He did not question his call. He did not say wait until my wife completes her course at the university, or until the house is paid off, or the children finish their schooling, or what will the wages be, or what kind of travelling allowance will I get? Or a host of questions the modern minister asks about a call. He just made one request, to say goodbye to his mother and father and loved ones. This was very reasonable for his parents were godly people. They had taught Elisha the principles that had made him what he was; one which God could use in building up the work.
Elijah put him to the test by saying, "Go back again: for what have I done to thee.” In other words, “What do you intend to do? Will you go with me, or stay at home?” The answer Elisha gave was a very definite one.
1 Kings 19:2: “And he returned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave unto the people, and they did eat. Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him.”
By doing this, Elisha turned his back on the past and entered the service of God. There is no question that Elisha made this decision intelligently and prayerfully. To be called to Elijah’s office was a great honour, but it also carried with it great responsibilities.
Elisha Ministered unto Elijah
In 1 Kings 19:21 last part, “…Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him.”
It mentions in other places that he poured water on Elijah's hands, very humble tasks that required real humility on Elisha's part. His father was a wealthy farmer and Elisha would have been used to having servants ministering to him. He must have often thought of those home comforts but this was part of his training. Jesus Himself set the pattern of service.
"Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."
Of Elisha, it is recorded that he was faithful in little things. The humble tasks were all carried out faithfully, and it was that faithfulness in the little things that qualified him for the greater responsibility later on.
Something Remarkable about to happen to Elijah
2 Kings 2:1: "And it came to pass, when the LORD would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal." From the time of his call, Elisha was in constant attendance on Elijah. The news had spread that something remarkable was going to happen to Elijah.
2 Kings 2:2: "And Elijah said unto Elisha, Tarry here, I pray thee; for the LORD hath sent me to Bethel. And Elisha said unto him, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they went down to Bethel.”
Elijah knew that he had come to the end of his earthly career, however he did not know that Elisha was also aware of the fact.
Each time he bid Elisha to tarry, he was giving Elisha the opportunity to turn back but Elisha was having nothing of it.
He said, “… As the LORD liveth … I will not leave thee…”
These words reveal the fixed purpose of Elisha to carry on the work to which he had been called.
Elisha Asked what he Desired
2 Kings 2:9: "And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee, And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me."
As Elijah was about to depart, he gave Elisha the privilege of asking for whatever he desired. Elisha might have asked for many things, but there was one thing that he greatly desired, to carry on the work with the same power as Elijah. By asking for a double portion, he was not asking for more than had been given to Elijah, nor a higher position or greater ability; he felt his need and asked for power to fulfill his task.
2 Kings 2:14: "And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the LORD God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over."
This was a very critical time for Elisha was being watched very closely by the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho. If he had failed, they would have seen his failure, but having succeeded they were witnesses of his success.
Another thing, Elisha would no longer be the servant of a prophet, but a prophet himself, now to stand as the spiritual leader of Israel. It was soon evident that Elisha would have plenty of opportunities to prove his prophetic gift.
Schools of the Prophets
2 Kings 2:19: "And the men of the city said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth: but the water is naught, and the ground barren." This incident shows that Elisha had a very keen interest in the schools of the prophets and the needs of the students. I want you to notice the suggestion he makes.
2 Kings 2:21:
"And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said Thus saith the LORD, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land."
There was no more virtue in the salt than in the spittle Jesus used to heal the blind man's eyes; it was a symbol of cleansing. The waters were healed not by any magic of man, or substance, but rather by the miraculous power of God.
Youths Mocking Elisha
2 Kings 2:23: "And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head."
The news of Elijah’s translation had spread throughout the country and among the youth it was treated as the subject of their evil jests. It is rather interesting to know that these little children mentioned here, were youths, not infants. And they mocked Elisha not only regarding Elijah's translation but also Elisha’s personal appearance.
2 kings 2:24: "And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them."
It was very severe punishment, but was in keeping with the seriousness of the issue at stake. Drastic action had to be taken because if this had been allowed to go on Elisha's ministry would have been useless and he would have been the object of contempt and ridicule and the laughing stock of Israel.
The terrible judgment that befell these taunting youth of Bethel shows clearly how awful a thing it is to to show disrespect for God or His appointed servants.
Elisha and the Three Kings
Elisha became well established as a prophet and as the successor of Elijah, so much so that we read of three kings who made a special journey to seek his counsel.
2 Kings 3:12:
"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."
The fact that these kings were prepared to go to him, was a compliment in itself, but this did not flatter Elisha, for he openly rebuked the king of Israel because of the many evils that were allowed to go on in his kingdom. Had it not been for Jehoshaphat he would have refused to intercede for them; Like Elijah, Elisha fearlessly rebuked the evils that were practiced in Israel.
Elisha and the Widow
As I have already mentioned, Elisha had a very keen interest in the Schools of the prophets and the needs of the students.
2 Kings 4:1: "Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisa saying, Thy servant my husband is dead; and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the LORD: and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen.” Evidently not all the sons of the prophets were single men, some were married students and naturally the married students would not find the going easy. Here was a problem and Elisha always sympathetic suggested a solution.
2 Kings 4:3: "Then he said, Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbours, even empty vessels; borrow not a few."
This was a real test of faith. A few vessels only a little oil. Many vessels much oil.
This woman was to be rewarded according to her faith. The pot of oil was not very much but with God's blessing it was sufficient to supply all her needs.
Kindness of Shunemite Woman
There is a delightful story in 2 Kings 4:8: "And it fell on a day; that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman; and she constrained him to eat bread. And it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread."
On his journey up and down the land, Elisha often passed through this village, and because of the kindness of this lady, the village became a haven where there was always a meal waiting for him. More than that, this great lady decided that Elisha should have a lodging place as well, where he could rest and stay overnight. As a reward for her thoughtfulness and kindness Elisha told this good lady that she would be blessed with a son. This child brought a great deal of happiness into the home and the mother loved her son very dearly. But tragedy struck, for the lad was out in the fields watching the men at work harvesting, possibly he was so interested as he watched the men at work, he did not realize how hot the sun was. He was overcome by the heat; then taken to the home, but died in his mother’s arms. In her distress she set out to find Elisha, you will notice as you read the narrative, her determination that Elisha himself should attend to the matter.
2 Kings 4:6, 37:
"And he called Gehazi, and said, Call this Shunammite. So he called her. And when she was come in unto him, he said, Take up thy son. Then she went in, and fell at his feet, and bowed herself to the ground, and took up her son, and went out."
Because of her faith, and a wonderful faith it was, Christ the Life Giver restored her son.
Elisha was a Type of Christ
There is one thing you cannot help but notice and that is in his ministry Elisha was a type of Christ, perhaps more so than any other Old Testament prophet. He combined the work of healing with that of teaching.
Some of the most remarkable of the miracles Elisha performed were in connection with food.
Poison in the Pottage
2 Kings 4:38: "And Elisha came again to Gilgal: and there was a dearth in the land and the sons of the prophets were sitting before him: and he said unto his servant, Set on the great pot, and seethe pottage for the sons of the prophets." You see food had been in very short supply because of the famine. As Elisha gazed at the students and noticed how lean and hungry they looked he was touched with compassion. He directed the sons of the prophets to go and gather whatever edible plant or herb they could find.
2 Kings 4:40: "So they poured out for the men to eat. And it came to pass, as they were eating of the pottage, that they cried out, and said, O thou man of God, there is death in the pot. And they could not eat thereof."
One of the students evidently unaware that some of the plants he collected were poisonous had placed them in the pot undetected and as they tasted the food, the bitter taste gave evidence of poison. This was serious, for those hungry students badly needed this food. It would have been a tragedy to have had to throw out the entire contents of the great pot, but at the prophet's direction some meal was cast into the pot and the food was now safe to eat. This was a wonderful miracle and it demonstrated God’s loving care for His children.
Old Testment Feeding of the Multitude
The next miracle in connection with food is found in the next few verses.
"And there came a man from Baal-shalisha, and brought the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley, and full ears of corn in the husk thereof. And he said, Give unto the people, that they may eat."
This is an Old Testament feeding of the multitude. As we have already noticed, it was a time of great need; not only for the people but for the prophet himself.
With twenty small loaves, one hundred men were fed and there was food left over.
Elisha was just like Jesus. He had a very tender regard for the people and was concerned with their every day needs as well as their spiritual needs.
The Healing of Naaman
One of the most outstanding episodes in Elisha's life was the healing of Naaman the leper. The King of Israel was greatly distressed because of a request from the king of Syria asking for healing on the behalf of Naaman. Elisha sent word to the king that Naaman was to be sent to him.
2 Kings 5:9: "So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha. Verse 10: "And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean."
I have often wondered why Elisha treated Naaman in such a curt manner. He did not even do him the decency to come out of his house and speak to him personally. It seems so unlike Elisha who was so helpful to the sons of the prophets and many others.
It would have been good for Elisha to have given Naaman a real cordial welcome and shown him some biblical hospitality.
But God knows the individual and treats them accordingly. We need to remember that Jesus himself did not seem quite so kind as usual when dealing with certain people.
There was a lot of pride in Naaman’s makeup. He needed a little humbling. However we must remember this that everyone who requested help or healing found the end results to their satisfaction and so did Naaman the leper.
The Floating Axe Head
We find Elisha once again involved in a local problem. The sons of the prophets were in trouble again. 2 Kings 6:5: "But as one was felling a beam, the axe head fell into the waters and he cried, and said, Alas, Master! for it was borrowed." Verse 6: "And the man of God said, Where fell it? And he shewed him the place. And he cut down a stick, and cast it in thither; and the iron did swim."
This is a very simple story and yet it shows Elisha's loving interest in the welfare of the college students. The loss of the axe evidently would have caused them distress and embarrassment. The one who had loot the axe head probably was too poor to make good the loss.
How Elisha Dealt with Israel's Enemies
2 Kings 6:18 there is a wonderful story of how Elisha dealt with Israel's enemies.
"And when they came down to him, Elisha 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."
To my way of thinking this is one of the greatest victories recorded, for after feeding this captured army they were sent home.
It is a wonderful story. The Syrian army who had invaded Israel were made blind. The king of Israel wanted to slay them but
the prophet would not allow him to do this. After all the object of the miracle was not to have the Syrians put to death but rather to have them realize that it was useless for them to try and take the prophet of God.
Owing to the invasion of the Syrian armies there was a terrible shortage of food. Things were so bad that the people were starving to death.
Prophecy of Elisha
2 Kings 7:1:
"Then Elisha said, Hear ye the word of the LORD; Thus saith the LORD, To morrow 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.”
How wonderfully this prophecy was fulfilled. Through this marvelous deliverance God 's honour was vindicated. The king of Israel had blamed God for the terrible situation. He had even sent a man to kill Elisha but God forewarned the prophet of the king’s evil intentions. It is interesting to read of the fearless way Elisha dealt with the situation.
Elisha on His Death Bed
Now we come to the final years of Elisha's ministry, so effectual had been his ministry and so widespread his influence; that as he lay upon his death bed the youthful king Joash, who was an idolater with little respect for God wept over Elisha.
2 Kings 13:14: "Now Elisha was fallen sick of his sickness where of 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." The young king realized that the death of Elisha would be a tragic loss to Israel. In calling him father, it is a fitting title, for the prophet had acted the part of a wise and sympathetic father to everyone with whom he came in contact. We also notice that he addressed the prophet as the chariot of Israel. The presence of Elisha as the direct representative of God meant more to Israel than thousands of horsemen and chariots. As Elisha lay on his death bed, he had paid to him great compliments. But they were true, for Elisha was one of the greatest prophets that ever lived.
I can well imagine that the death of Elisha was a national disaster. I am sure it was a heavy blow to the sons of the prophets; for right through his ministry he had been very close to the students.
Elisha was not honoured by being translated for he suffered death just like the One of whom he was a type. But the fragrance of his ministry touched the hearts and lives as a blessing that will last as long as time.
Today God is still calling young men and young women just as He called Elisha. He has a very special work for them to do. It is a heavy responsibility. The work has to be finished! And it will only be finished as young men and young women respond to the call. There are young people here today to whom God is calling. I pray that you will respond as Elisha responded. God will use you just as He used Elisha in such a mighty way. Things were critical in the time of Elisha. They are critical today. God needs young men and young women. I know that you will not let him down that you will be ready to be used just as Elisha was used, and to a blessing as Elisha was a blessing.