The Gospel According to Elisha

The Gospel According to Elisha

The Gospel According to Elisha.

Prophets. Some of the biblical prophets performed miracles, but most did not. Sometimes they reenacted, or mimed ahead of time, God’s messages in real time, pure street theater and performance art. These particular prophets were asked to demonstrate an object lesson, and they ended up being visual aids to illustrate the Lord’s actions. Other prophets were instruments for God’s miracles. They were used of God to do something supernatural and extraordinary. Their miracles certainly came from God, but they came through His messengers, the prophets. Some prophets were living symbols, while others were the divine reality. They could be just talking about God’s power, or they could be demonstrating it literally. Either way, prophets had to swallow their pride and go out on a limb and look foolish to onlookers. Prophets had to learn to trust this limb they were crawling out on, to trust in this God who is asking them to do something that just might appear outlandish. Prophets were the holy fools of Scripture. What would God have done without them?

Elisha was handpicked by Yahweh to be the replacement for Elijah as a prophet to Israel. His ministry occurred around 800 BC, only 150 years after David, and he was a prophet for 55 years, through four kings of Israel. Elijah did as he was told and selected Elisha, and he was Elisha’s mentor for seven to eight years. After that time of discipleship  in the ways of being Yahweh’s prophet, Elijah was taken to heaven in a fiery whirlwind of chariot and horses. And Elisha was left on his own to carry on the prophetic tradition. Fortunately, Elisha was more than up to the task. He had asked Elijah for a double-portion of Elijah’s spirit before Elijah was taken up to heaven, and that proved to be the case. Elisha was involved with everything to do with Israel… religious reform, politics, military campaigns, palace intrigues, and performing remarkably practical miracles. Elisha ended up working twice the number of miracles as Elijah, and so Elisha was one of the greatest miracle workers in the Hebrew Bible. Elisha was a man of great spiritual strength and integrity, and he seemed to have boundless energy. Everywhere one looked in Israel, there was Elisha, the prophet of Yahweh.

1 Kings 19:19-21 – Elijah went straight out and found Elisha in a field where there were twelve pairs of oxen at work plowing. Elisha was in charge of the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak over him. Elisha deserted the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, ‘Please! Let me kiss my father and mother good-bye – then I”ll follow you.’ ‘Go ahead,’ said Elijah, ‘but mind you, don’t forget what I’ve done to you.’ So Elisha left; he took his yoke of oxen and butchered them. He made a fire with the plow and tackle and then boiled the meat – a true farewell meal for the family. Then he left and followed Elijah, becoming his right-hand man.” Elisha immediately and decisively surrendered to the call to ministry. There was no question as to his accepting Elijah’s call. This looks a lot like when Jesus called the fishermen at the beach, and they immediately left their nets and followed Him. Elisha was handpicked by Elijah, and we know that the Disciples were handpicked by Jesus. All these callings were indeed personal and final.

Kindness. Jesus and Elisha shared a dominant character quality: Kindness. The miracles of Jesus were dripping with loving-kindness, and Elisha demonstrated much the same in his prophetic ministry. Elisha was in this sense a forerunner to Jesus, for Elisha was the kindest miracle worker one could hope for. He cared for the practical needs of ordinary people in their daily lives. As he came upon needy people in his journeys, he was used of God to meet those needs. One Study Bible mentions that there were at least eighteen encounters between Elisha and people in some type of need, and Elisha each time demonstrated powerful and caring help to those people. Some of his ordinary miracles were… He purified the drinking water for the people of Jericho (2 Kings 2:19); He multiplied the amount of a widow’s supply of oil so she could pay her debts and keep her sons from being sold into debtor’s slavery (4:1-7); he purified a poisonous stew so a group of prophets could eat it safely (4:38-41); he found a group of 100 prophets who didn’t have enough food to eat, so he multiplied loaves of bread for them till all were satisfied (4:42-44); he raised a child to life (4:8-37); he healed a man of leprosy (5:14-15). Elisha’s kindness knew no bounds.

No More Mr. Nice Guy. Elisha might have been a model of compassion in many cases, but there was one incident that at first glance doesn’t look at all compassionate. He seemed to anticipate the spirit of Jesus when He cleansed the Temple with a whip. The emotions must have been similar between the two of them. In fact, Elisha ended up looking quite foolish and needlessly vengeful, not only to the people of his day but also to readers of the Hebrew Bible nowadays. “Elisha left Jericho and went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, a group of boys from the town began mocking and making fun of him. “Go on up, baldy!” they chanted. “Go on up, baldy!” Elisha then turned around and looked at them, and he cursed them in the name of Yahweh. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of them.” (2 Kings 2:33-35).

Upon the first reading of this rather strange incident, one could forgive Frederick Buechner’s rather humorous understanding of it. “It is not the most edifying story in the Old Testament, but there are perhaps some lessons to be learned from it even so. The Lord does not call everyone to be Mister Rogers, for instance, and there is no need to try making a fool out of a prophet because sooner or later he will probably make one out of himself.”  (Peculiar Treasures).  What was Elisha thinking? Was he just having a bad day? But calling on some bears to maul some kids? And why did the Lord seem to be going along with this travesty, since this was all done “in the name of the Lord“?

As it turns out, this incident is much more complicated than it looks. Elisha was walking near a town called Bethel. It is ironic that the name means “House of God,” because it was the established center in Israel for idolatry and cultic worship. A golden bull was placed in the town to worship, and there were plenty of pagan prophets living in the town to encourage this idolatry. Bethel was on the southern edge of Israel, only a few miles from Jerusalem, yet it had developed into a strong anti-Yahweh sentiment in the town. Bethel was the national center of the bull-cult, harkening back to Mt. Sinai and Moses. The people of Bethel had thus grown to hate prophets of Yahweh, and did what they could to keep the town free from their presence, and from being under their influence. Elisha was not surrounded by a little Boy Scout troop in Bethel. This was a gang of at least 42 young men (or older boys), who were putting pressure on Elisha to leave Bethel, to “go on” up the road and out of their town. The other translation of those taunts “Go on up!” was that they were referring to the well known whirlwind of Elijah. Probably everyone knew of Elijah’s miraculous departure with the fiery chariot and horses. And so the jeering boys would have meant, Why don’t you blast off just like your friend Elijah! Why don’t you just go on up to heaven like him and leave us alone! This gang of toughs surrounded Elisha and showed their hatred of him and his God Yahweh, telling them to get out of town. They were not simply throwing out childish taunts, they were bullying and intimidating Elisha, telling him to leave Bethel and take his God with him. So Elisha essentially said, I will not do as you say without God’s  judgment. I will not just volunteer to leave Bethel and remove the presence of Yahweh without a fight. And then, in the name of Yahweh, out came the bears.

By throwing this curse at those teenage boys, Elisha highlighted what God had warned in the Torah, “If you remain hostile to me and refuse to listen to me… I will send wild animals against you and they will rob you of your children.” (Lev. 26:21-22). Evidently, the Lord wanted to send a wake-up call to the people of Bethel by supporting Elisha’s decision to respond to those blasphemous young people. All in all, Elisha’s life ended up being a prophetic example of St. Paul’s observation, “Notice how God is both kind and severe.” (Romans 11:22). Elisha cleaned house, so to speak, just like Jesus did 800 years later.

2 Kings 6:15-17 – “And when the servant of Elisha, the man of God, arose early and went out, there was an army surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, ‘Alas, my master! What shall we do?” So Elisha answered, ‘Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ And Elisha prayed and said, ‘Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” 

At one point in his ministry, Elisha was in deep trouble. The Arameans, avowed enemies of Israel, were charged by their king to seize Elisha and imprison him. Elisha was a major thorn in the side of the king of Aram, because every time the Arameans planned an attack of Israel, Elisha supernaturally knew of the enemy’s strategy, and warned the king of Israel. After several incidents of thwarted attempts, the king of Aram had had enough. So he sent a huge army with soldiers, horses and chariots to surround Elisha and capture him. Early in the morning the servant of Elisha looked out and saw the Arameans ready to attack. The servant panicked and asked Elisha what they could do. Elisha calmly asked the Lord to open the spiritual eyes of the servant. Soon, the servant looked up, and he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with angels, and horses and chariots of fire. The Lord had assured the servant that there was a mighty heavenly army to defend them. And the servant was no longer afraid. The unseen became the seen, and it turned out the enemy was outnumbered.

Fear Not. When trouble surrounds you, with eyes of faith envision what surrounds the trouble. At a moment’s notice, God of the Angel Armies will come to the rescue amidst any spiritual warfare you may be facing. If only we had eyes to see into the spiritual realm, like Elisha’s servant. We would be astounded and our fears would disappear. Be not afraid. There are more of us than there are of them. It is a supreme virtue to trust in God’s protection without these spiritual eyes. For we walk by faith, not by sight. 

One Reply to “The Gospel According to Elisha”

  1. That’s great, Steve! Really enjoyed reading it this morning.
    Thank you for sharing your always wonderful and uplifting understanding of Scripture.🥰