Elisha the prophet — “God is salvation”

Bible Verses: I Kings 19.19-21; II Kings 2–9; 13
Please have students read I Kings 19.18-21, II Kings 2.1-2, 9-14; 4.8-17; and 5.1-3, 9-16. Optional: II Kings 6.8-23.

I. Background

Prophet Elisha is introduced to us in the Bible in 1 Kings 19.16 when the Lord ordered prophet Elijah to anoint him as a prophet and successor of Elijah. The Holy Spirit introduced Prophet Elisha when he was already an adult. No record of his birth and childhood was given, except that he was the son of Shaphat. It is clear that Elisha occupies a very special office in the prophetic ministry for the Lord. Not only is he recognized as a prophet, he is also an anointed prophet; Not only is he an anointed prophet, he is to be anointed by Elijah and became the successor of Elijah.

Elijah found Elisha at his native place doing hard labors of the field, plowing with twelve yokes of oxen. He went over, threw his mantle over Elisha’s shoulders, and adopted him as a son, and invested him with the prophetical office. Elisha accepted the call given to him and became the close attendant on Elijah until he departed from him and taken up into heaven. During all these years the Holy Spirit tells us nothing of Elisha except in connection with the closing scenes of Elijah’s life. After Elijah, Elisha was accepted as the leader of the sons of the prophets, and became widely known by God’s people. He possessed, according to his own request, “a double portion” of Elijah’s spirit (2 Kings 2.9); and for a long period of over fifty years (about B.C. 892-832) held the office of “prophet in Israel” (2 Kings 5.8).

After Elijah’s departure, Elisha returned to Jericho. The Bible records a series of miracles Elisha performed, including:

  • healing of the spring of water by casting salt into it (2 Kings 2.21);
  • calling judgment upon a scornful gang of youngsters;
  • predicting a fall of rain when the army of Jehoram was faint from thirst (2 Kings 3.9–20)
  • multiplying of the poor widow’s oil (4.1–7);
  • the miracle of restoring to life the son of the woman of Shunem (4.18–37);
  • the multiplication of the twenty loaves of new barley into a sufficient supply for an hundred men (4.42–44);
  • the cure of Naaman the Syrian of his leprosy (5.1–27);
  • the punishment of Gehazi for his falsehood and his covetousness;
  • the recovery of the axe lost in the waters of the Jordan (6.1–7);
  • the miracle at Dothan, half-way on the road between Samaria and Jezreel;
  • prophecy as to the relief that would come during the siege of Samaria by the king of Syria, and of the terrible sufferings of the people during the siege (2 Kings 6.24-7.2).

In addition to performing miracles, which are numerous, Elisha was used by the Lord to carry out important divine orders, some of them in fact were original orders given to Elijah. For example, at Damascus, he anointed Hazael king (2 Kings 8.7–15); after that he directed one of the sons of the prophets to anoint Jehu, the son of Jehoshaphat, king of Israel, instead of Ahab. These are part of the three commands given to Elijah (9.1–10) by the Lord.

II. God holds a victory in His hands even when circumstances seem impossible and dark

The circumstances that the Lord appointed Elisha’s anointment are significant. If you recall prophet Elijah’s time, it was a time when the spiritual battle between idol worshiping of Baalism and true faith and worship in the Lord was fierce. Elijah fought a faithful battle, but the righteous prophet often felt he was fighting a lonely battle, and was sometimes discouraged to believe that the whole Israel had fallen away. But it is at that time when the Lord commanded Elijah to anoint Elisha. And the Lord said, “Yet I reserve 7000 in Israel – all those knees have not bowed down to Baal and all those mouths have not kissed him.”

Elisha of courses was one of the 7000, and much more. Needless to say, Elisha’s knees have never bowed down to Baal and his mouth never kissed him.

III. In heaven, God hides His righteousness in His precious Son; On earth, God hides His righteousness in His beloved children, who are but reflections of his Son’s image

Elisha was hidden until he was called by Elijah. And he was found by Elijah in his work field, plowing with twelve oxen. Imagine what Elijah might have thought when he first met Elisha. A farmer? Having no influence over others? And bald? (You must understand that being bald isn’t just a less-than-perfect image of a man at the prophet’s time; it was in fact a symbol of lack of man’s glory or even a sign of shame at the time and place in which Elisha lived.)

That this farmer with absolutely no significant genealogy, background, prominent childhood, nor good looks became a central instrument of God isn’t just a testimony of a God who is of no partiality. It is more about the assurance of the reality of God’s spiritual kingdom which sometimes is discouraging on its appearance but in reality always has its right materials and stones at the right place for building. Today, God’s children face in our lives spiritual battles that are of a similar nature to what Elijah faced. Satan secretly challenges them with this question: If God is powerful, why is no one following him (at school, or at work)? Let us be reminded of these points: (1) God has reserved 7000; (2) the best of the 7000 may be hidden until the Lord reveals them to others; (3) the ones that have been chosen by the Lord may not be very impressive in their outer appearances even after the Lord has revealed them to others; and (4) we should always desire to be chosen and anointed by the Lord, rather than for popularity and having a crowd that follows us.

IV. Double portions of the Spirit – desiring the best spiritual gift

When asked by Elijah what gift he would like to have, Elisha wanted nothing else but double portions of the spirit. As king Solomon asked for wisdom and pleased to Lord, prophet Elisha desired for the filling of the spirit, both perfectly befitting for their own role God has given them. To further understand this, we also need to understand that Elisha was approaching Elijah as a son would approach the father. In the word of God, there is a special meaning of “double portion” which is the portion specially reserved for the firstborn of the family. That is, among the sons, the firstborn would get double portion of everyone else. The “double portion” asked by Elisha is therefore not that Elisha desired twice as much spirit as Elijah had (although the Lord might have indeed given him twice as much spirit as Elijah, but that’s a different point), but that he desired to be the firstborn among all the sons. Let us remember the story of Esau and Jacob. We should always desire, rather than despise, the sonship. For the sake of the service of the Lord and the love of the Lord, desire the best spiritual gift, because it is the will of the Lord.

V. Honor your parents (and fulfill our responsibilities)

After being called by Elijah, Elisha’s first response was “let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and then I will come with you.” It is evident that not only Elijah but also Holy Spirit Himself honored the request. This is in contrast with the story of the man recorded in Luke 9.61-62. In that story, the man seemingly said exactly the same as Elisha did after hearing the calling of Jesus, but the Lord denied the man by saying “no one who puts his hand in the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Our Lord of course never contradicts himself. The difference here is in heart of the person who responses.

The man of God (Elisha) perfectly understood his heavenly calling but chose to honor his parents on earth first to fulfill his responsibilities. The Lord not only approves it, but in fact honors it. The man in Luke puts his hand in the plow but looks back. His heart isn’t sincere and finds a commonly accepted noble thing as an excuse for escaping the high calling. The Lord knows his heart and denies him. Isn’t it interesting that Jesus used in his words the “plow” setting, which is exactly what Elisha was doing when he was called? There might be deeper meaning in this, but at least the Lord is purposeful in telling us that he was aware of Elisha’s commitment when He said that. The Lord is omniscient (all-knowing). Let us be sincere with Him and obey His commands.

VI. Faithfulness to the Lord is first manifested in the faithfulness to the conditions and the people God has given us

Elisha was taken by Elijah but he didn’t start to function as a prophet immediately. In fact, the Holy Spirit continued to hide him for many years until the departure (death) of Elijah. During those many years, there is virtually no record of what Elisha did, but there’s one thing that is very clear: He had grown to be faithful to Elijah. Elisha had determined, as long as he continued on earth, to cling to Elijah, and not to leave him. On numerous occasions Elijah seemed wanting to shake Elisha off, and would have had him stay behind (at Gilgal, Bethel, and Jericho, 2 Kings 2.2, 4, 6). Elijah was testing Elisha to make his constant adherence to him the more commendable. But Elisha resolves to be with his master. “Whatever comes of it, I will not leave thee.’’

This reminds us Naomi’s persuading Ruth to go back. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, for today He constantly tests us with this special grace. This is a special kind of test and is of a very different nature than the test of hardships. It is not that we will just have difficulties in our life and service, but that the Lord Himself would seem to not want our service. May our hearts be prepared for both kinds of tests.

The words spoken by Elisha at the sight of Elijah’s ascending touch the heart of both God and men. Seeing Elijah going up with a whirlwind, Elisha cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel.” He cried out “my father” because of his deep personal affection of Elijah; He cried out “the chariots and horsemen of Israel” because he knew Elijah was a divine instrument of God to guard and protect Israel. Elisha was a perfect man both before God and before men.

When God calls us into a heavenly service, He first teaches us to be faithful to the people who are appointed by the Lord in our lives. Let us ask ourselves whether we are faithful to our those around us, wives and husbands, brothers and sisters, co-workers and friends.

VII. God is not to be ridiculed

What happened in Bethel where Elisha called judgment upon a scornful gang of youngsters might be difficult to explain. It’s probably better unexplained than mis-explained. However, it is important to remember that Elisha acted as the prophet of God and called for judgment not out of personal indignation, but out of God’s holiness, for God would not have listened to his prayer had it been a personal vengeance. The youngsters, who at best could be called “broods of the vipers,” came out and scoffed at him as a prophet of God: “Go up, you bald head.”

Evidently, “go up” refers to the ascension of prophet Elijah. By doing so, the youngsters not only cursed Elisha to die, but more importantly ridiculed Elijah’s ascension, one of the holiest events in the Old Testament, an event that must have a very special position in God’s heart because it is a type of our Lord’s ascension.

The judgment at once took effect, and God terribly visited the dishonor done to His prophet as dishonor done to Himself. The terrible result must be accepted as a deserved and necessary consequence for any sinful man (and that includes all of us) who meets the holiness of God, if the man is not under the cover of the blood of Lamb. It makes all the more vividly significant what propitiation we have taken in the blood of our Lord, and what forgiveness the Father has given us because of His Son. On this point, we should also understand that today the entire world, not just we the elected, is under the cover of the blood of lamb until the day of the final judgment.

VIII. Glory be to God

Miracles performed by Elisha are numerous and various, but they all brought glory to God rather than personal gains to the prophet himself. God provided His servant for his daily needs through other people (for example, Shunammite woman, 2 Kings 4.8-10). Elisha accepted the provision with grace, peace and gladness (for the worker is worth of his wages), but he performed miracles only according to the will of the Holy Spirit, not according to his own needs.

Isn’t it beautiful that Elijah did a great favor to the Shunammite woman as a reward to her services, rather than a precondition in order to obtain her services? That Elisha had no selfish motives is also evident in his healing of Naaman’s leprosy. He turned down an offering by Naaman which must have been a fortune. He did that not because he wanted to be condescending or to show his moral superiority to others, but because he follows the Holy Spirit.

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