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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Elisha

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ELISHA . Elisha was a native of Abel-meholah, which was situated in the Jordan valley 10 Roman miles from Scythopolis, probably on the site of the modern ‘Ain Helweh . His father was a well-to-do farmer, and so Elisha is a representative of the newer form of Hebrew society. On his return from Horeb, Elijah cast his mantle upon the youth, as he was directing his father’s servants at their ploughing. The young man at once recognized the call from God, and, after a hastily-devised farewell feast, he left the parental abode ( 1 Kings 19:16 ; 1 Kings 19:19 ), and ever after he was known as the man ‘who poured water on the hands of Elijah’ ( 2 Kings 3:11 ). His devotion to, and his admiration for, his great master are apparent in the closing scenes of the latter’s life. A double portion of Elijah’s spirit (cf. the right of the firstborn to a double portion of the patrimony) is the summum bonum which he craved. In order to receive this boon he must be a witness of the translation of the mighty hero of Jehovah; and as Elijah is whirled away in the chariot of fire, his mantle falls upon his disciple, who immediately makes use of it in parting the waters of the Jordan. After Elisha has recrossed the river, he is greeted by the sons of the prophets as their leader ( 2 Kings 2:15 ).

After this event it is impossible to reduce the incidents of Elisha’s life to any chronological sequence. His ministry covered half a century (b.c. 855 798), and during this period four monarchs, Jehoram, Jehu, Jehoahaz, and Joash, sat on the throne of Israel (2 Kings 3:1 ff; cf. 2 Kings 13:14 ff.). The story of Elisha was borrowed by the author of the Book of Kings from some prophetic work of the Northern Kingdom; and, without any regard for sequence in time, he has arranged his material according to subject-matter. In our canonical Book of Kings, the larger part of Elisha’s activities is placed within the reign of Jehoram ( 2 Kings 3:1 ff; cf. 2 Kings 9:1 ff.). He may have reached the zenith of his career in these twelve years, but all the recorded events of his life cannot be crowded into this short period.

His name, Elisha (= ‘God is salvation’), like that of his master, tersely describes his character and expresses his mission. Elijah’s was a flint-like nature, which crushed its opponents and won its victories by hard blows. Elisha is a gentler and more gracious man, and gains his ends by diplomacy. He loves the haunts of men, and resides in cities like Dothan and Samaria. His miracles are deeds of mercy, and, like that of the Prophet of Nazareth, his ministry breathes a spirit ‘of gracious, soothing, holy beneficence.’ We find him at the headquarters of the sons of the prophets, making his benign presence felt. He sweetens a spring of brackish water at Jericho ( 2 Kings 2:19 ff.) at a time of drought; he renders a poisonous mess of pottage harmless for the members of the prophetic guild ( 2 Kings 4:38 ff.); he multiplies the oil for the prophet’s widow, who finds herself in dire extremity ( 2 Kings 4:1 ff). At the prophet’s command, as at the bidding of a greater than Elisha, the loaves are multiplied ( 2 Kings 4:42 ). His sympathy goes out in a practical way for the man who has lost his axe ( 2 Kings 6:1 ff.). One of the most beautiful stories in the whole range of Scripture is that of the entertainment of Elisha in the home of the Shunammite. Her hospitality and the practical manifestation of gratitude on the part of the prophet form a charming picture. In the restoration of her son to life, Elisha performs one of his greatest miracles ( 2 Kings 4:8 ff., 2 Kings 8:1 ff.). In his treatment of the Syrian troops which had been despatched to capture him, he anticipated the spirit of the Saviour ( 2 Kings 6:14 ff.). The familiar incident of the healing of the leprosy of Naaman not only gives an idea of the influence and power of the man of God, but the story is suggestive of the pro-foundest spiritual truths ( 2 Kings 5:6-17 ).

The contrast between the spirit of master and disciple may be over-emphasized. Elisha could be as stern as Elijah: at Bethel he treats the mocking youth in the spirit of Sinai (2 Kings 2:23 ), and no touch of pity can be detected in the sentence that falls on Gehazi ( 2 Kings 5:27 ). The estimate of Sirach ( Sir 48:12 ) is according to all the facts of the OT narrative:

‘Elijah it was who was wrapped in a tempest:

And Elisha was filled with his spirit:

And in all his days he was not moved by the fear of any ruler,

And no one brought him into subjection.’

This severer side of the prophet’s character appears in his public rather than in his private life. In the Moabitish campaign, the allied kings seek his counsel. His address to Jehoram of Israel. ‘What have I to do with thee? Get thee to the prophets of thy father and the prophets of thy mother,’ indicates that Elisha had not forgotten the past and the conflicts of his master (2 Kings 3:13 ff.). Later, the relations between the reigning monarch and the prophet seem more cordial, for the man of God reveals the plans of the Syrians to Israel’s king ( 2 Kings 6:8 ff.). This change of attitude on the part of the prophet may be due to the fact that Jehoram attempted to do away with Baal worship ( 2 Kings 3:2 ); but Elisha has not forgotten the doom pronounced upon the house of Ahab by Elijah. While Jehu is commanding the forces besieging Ramoth-gilead, Elisha sends one of the sons of the prophets to anoint the general as king, and thus he executes the commission which Elijah received from Jehovah at Horeb ( 1 Kings 19:16 ).

Elisha’s relations with the Syrians are exceedingly interesting. On one occasion he appears to be as much at home in Damascus as in Samaria. Ben-hadad, suffering from a severe ailment, hears of his presence in his capital, and sends Hazael to the man of God to inquire concerning the issue. The prophet reads the heart of the messenger, and predicts both the king’s recovery and his assassination by Hazael (2 Kings 8:7 ff.). Nothing is said of a formal anointing, but in this connexion Elisha seems to have carried out the commission of Elijah ( 1 Kings 19:17 ). The blockade of Samaria ( 2 Kings 6:24 to 2 Kings 7:20 ) probably falls in the reign of Jehoahaz. That the prophet is held by king and statesmen responsible for the straits to which the city has been reduced, is an eloquent tribute to his political influence. In this connexion Elisha’s prediction of deliverance is speedily fulfilled. Under Joash, Israel was hard pressed, and her might had dwindled to insignificance ( 2 Kings 13:7 ), but Elisha was still the saviour of his country. Joash weeps over him as he lies on his deathbed: ‘My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof.’ Directing the monarch to perform a symbolical act, the prophet gives him assurance of victory ( 2 Kings 13:15 ff.). Even after his burial his bones had the power to perform a beneficent miracle ( 2 Kings 13:20-21 ).

An incident in the life of Elisha throws light on the prophetic state. Before declaring the final result of the campaign to the three kings, he asks for a minstrel. The music induces the ecstatic state, and then he prophesies (2 Kings 3:15 ). The supernatural abounds in his life; in many instances he manifests the power of prediction ( 2 Kings 4:16 , 2Ki 5:26 , 2 Kings 6:8 ff., 2 Kings 7:1 ff., 2Ki 8:10 ; 2 Kings 8:12 ff., 2 Kings 9:6 f., 2 Kings 13:15 ff.). But some of his deeds are not miracles in the modern sense ( 2 Kings 2:19 ff., 2 Kings 4:38 ff., 2 Kings 6:6 ff.).

James A. Kelso.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Elisha'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/e/elisha.html. 1909.

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Monday, December 9th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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