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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature

Elisha

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Eli´sha (God the deliverer). The manner, and the circumstances in which Elisha was called to the prophetic office have been noticed in the article Elijah.

Anxious to enter at once upon the duties of his sacred office, Elisha determined to visit the schools of the prophets which were on the other side of the Jordan. Accordingly, returning to this river, and wishing that sensible evidence should be afforded, both to himself and others, of the spirit and power of his departed master resting upon him, he struck its waters with Elijah's mantle, when they parted asunder and opened a way for him to pass over on dry land. Witnessing this miraculous transaction, the fifty sons of the prophets, who had seen from the opposite side Elijah's ascension, and who were awaiting Elisha's return, now, with becoming reverence, acknowledged him their spiritual head.

The divine authority by which Elisha became the successor of Elijah received further confirmation from the miracle whereby the bitter waters of Jericho were made sweet, and the place thereby rendered fit for the habitation of man ().

As the general visitor of the schools of the prophets, Elisha now passes on from Jericho to the college which was at Bethel. Ere, however, he entered Bethel, there met him from thence () little children, who, no doubt instigated by their idolatrous parents, tauntingly told him to ascend into heaven, as did his master, Elijah. There was in their expressions an admixture of rudeness, infidelity, and impiety. But the inhabitants of Bethel were to know, from bitter experience, that to dishonor God's prophets was to dishonor Himself; for Elisha was at the moment inspired to pronounce the judgment which at once took effect: God, who never wants for instruments to accomplish His purposes, caused two she-bears to emerge from a neighboring wood, and destroy the young delinquents.

Jehoram, who reigned over Israel at this time, though not a Baalite, was yet addicted to the sin of Jeroboam: still he inherits the friendship of Jehoshaphat, the good King of Judea, whose counsel, possibly, under God, had detached him from the more gross idolatry of his father Ahab. Wishing to see the now (B.C. 895) revolted king of Moab reduced to his wonted allegiance to Israel, Jehoshaphat determined to go up to battle against him, together with Jehoram, and his own tributary the king of Edom. These combined armies met together on the plains of Edom. Confident in their own powers they press onward against the enemy; but, not meeting him, another of a more formidable character started up before them. In the midst of the arid plains of Arabia Petraea they could find no water. Jehoram deplored the calamity into which they had fallen, but Jehoshaphat inquired for a prophet. On this, one of his courtiers said to Jehoram, 'Here is Elisha, the son of Shaphat, who poured water on the hands of Elijah.' No sooner were they made acquainted with the fact that Elisha was at hand than the three kings waited upon him. Elisha, feeling that it was nought but superstitious fear, joined to the influence of Jehoshaphat, which led Jehoram thus consult him, now indignantly and tauntingly advised him to go for succor to the gods of his father Ahab and of his mother Jezebel. The reproved monarch was then led to acknowledge the impotency of those gods in whom he had trusted, and the power of that God whom he had neglected. Still the man of God, seeing the hollowness of Jehoram's humiliation, continues: 'As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, surely were it not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, I would not look toward thee.' Having thus addressed Jehoram, Elisha desired a minstrel to be brought before him; and now when his spirit was calmed by, perhaps, one of the songs of Zion, 'The hand of the Lord came upon him.' The minstrel ceased, and Elisha made known the joyful intelligence that not only should water be miraculously supplied, but also that Moab should be overcome. Accordingly the next morning they realized the truth of this prediction. But the same water which preserves their lives becomes the source of destruction to their enemies. The Moabites, who had received intelligence of the advance of the allied army, were now assembled upon their frontiers. When the sun was up, and its rosy light first fell upon the water, their van-guard, beholding it at a distance, supposed it to be blood. Thus the notion was rapidly spread from one end to another that the kings were surely slain, having fallen out among themselves. Hence there was a universal shout, 'Moab, to the spoil!' and they went forward confident of victory. But beholding the Israelitish squadrons advancing to meet them, they fled in the utmost panic and confusion (, etc.).

The war having terminated in the signal overthrow of the revolters, Elisha, who had returned home, is again employed in ministering blessings. The widow of a pious prophet presented herself before him (2 Kings 4), informed him that her husband having died in debt, his creditors were about to sell her two only sons, which, by an extension of the law (, and ), and by virtue of another () they had the power to do; and against this hardhearted act she implores the prophet's assistance. Elisha then inquired how far she herself had the power to avert the threatened calamity. She replied that the only thing of which she was possessed was one pot of oil. By multiplying this, as did his predecessor Elijah in the case of the widow of Zarephath, he enabled her at once to pay off her debts and thereby to preserve the liberty of her children ().

It is next related that in his visitations to the schools of the prophets his journey lay through the city of Shunem, where lived a rich and godly woman. Wishing that he should take up, more than occasionally, his abode under her roof, she proposed to her husband to construct a chamber for his reception. The husband at once consented, and, the apartment being completed and fitted up in a way that showed their proper conception of his feeling, the prophet becomes its occupant. The woman was childless; and the gratitude of the prophet for her disinterested kindness was evinced by the gift of a son, which the Lord, at his prayer, bestowed upon her. This new pledge of their affection grows up till he is able to visit his fond father in the harvest-field, when all the hopes they had built up in him were overthrown by his being suddenly laid prostrate in death. The bereaved mother, out of tenderness towards the feelings of the father, concealed the fact that the child was no more till she should see if it might please God, through Elisha, to restore him to life. She therefore hastened to Carmel, where she found the prophet, and informed him what had taken place. Conceiving probably that it was a case of mere suspended animation or a swoon, the prophet sent Gehazi, his servant, to place his staff on the face of the child, in the hope that it might act as a stimulus to excite the animal motions. But the mother, conscious that he was actually departed, continued to entreat that he himself would come to the chamber of the dead. He did so, and found that the soul of the child had indeed fled from the earthly tenement. Natural means belong to man; those that are supernatural belong to God: we should do our part, and beg of God to do His. On this principle the prophet on this occasion acted. God blessed the means used, and answered the prayer presented by Elisha. The child is raised up and restored to the fond embrace of its grateful and rejoicing parents.

The next remarkable event in the history of Elisha was the miraculous healing of the incurable leprosy of the Syrian general, Naaman, whereby the neighboring nation had the opportunity of learning the beneficence of that God of Israel, whose judgments had often brought them very low. The particulars are given under another head [NAAMAN].

Soon after this transaction we find this man of God in Gilgal, miraculously neutralizing the poison which had, by mistake, been mixed with the food of the prophets, and also feeding one hundred of them with twenty small loaves which had been sent for his own consumption (, etc.).

Notwithstanding the general profligacy of Israel the schools of the prophets increased, B.C. 890. This was, doubtless, owing to the influence of Elisha. Accompanied by their master, a party of these young prophets, or theological students, came to the Jordan, and while one of them was felling a beam (for the purpose of constructing there a house) the axe-head fell into the water.' This accident was the more distressing because the axe was borrowed property. Elisha, however, soon relieved him by causing it miraculously to rise to the surface of the river. The sacred record again leads us to contemplate the prophet's usefulness, in reference to his country at large. Does the king of Syria devise well-concerted schemes for the destruction of Israel? God inspires Elisha to detect and lay them open to Jehoram. Benhadad, on hearing that it was he that thus caused his hostile movements to be frustrated, sent an armed band to Dothan in order to bring him bound to Damascus. The prophet's servant, on seeing the host of the enemy which invested Dothan, was much alarmed, but by the prayer of Elisha, God reveals to him the mighty company of angels which were set for their defense. Regardless of consequences, the prophet went forth to meet the hostile band: and having again prayed, God so blinded them that they could not recognize the object of their search. The prophet then promised to lead them to where they might see him with the natural eye. Trusting to his guidance, they followed on till they reached the center of Samaria, when, the optical illusion being removed, Elisha stood in his recognized form before them. The king was for putting them all to death; but, through the interposition of him whom they had just before sought to destroy, they were honorably dismissed to their own country (B.C. 892). But a year had scarcely elapsed from this time when Benhadad, unmindful of Israel's kindness and forbearance, invested Samaria and reduced its inhabitants to a state of the most cruel famine. Yet the king of Israel plunged still deeper into sin, for he ordered Elisha to be put to death, conceiving that it was his prayer which brought these sufferings upon himself and nation. But God forewarned the prophet of his danger, and inspired him to predict to the wicked king that by tomorrow 'a measure of fine flour' should be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.' This assurance was not more comfortable than incredible; but when the lord on whose hand the king leaned expressed his disbelief, he was awfully rebuked by the assurance that he should see but not enjoy the benefit. The next night God caused the Syrians to hear the noise of chariots and horses; and conceiving that Jehoram had hired against them the kings of the Hittites and the king of Egypt, they fled from before the walls of Samaria—leaving their tents filled with gold and provisions—in the utmost panic and confusion. In this way did God, according to the word of Elisha, miraculously deliver the inhabitants of Samaria from a deadly enemy without, and from sore famine within, its walls: another prediction, moreover, was accomplished; for the distrustful lord was trampled to death by the famished people in rushing through the gate of the city to the forsaken tents of the Syrians (2 Kings 7).

We next find the prophet in Damascus, but are not told what led him thither (B.C. 885). Benhadad, the king, whose counsels he had so often frustrated, rejoiced to hear of his presence; and now, as if he had forgotten the attempt he once made upon his life, dispatches a noble messenger with a costly present, to consult him concerning his sickness and recovery. The prophet replied that he should then die, though his indisposition was not of a deadly character. Seeing moreover, in prophetic vision, that the man Hazael, who now stood before him, should be king in Benhadad's stead; and that, as such, he would commit unheard of cruelties upon his country, the prophet was moved to tears. How these painful anticipations of Elisha were realized the subsequent history of this man proved.

For a considerable time after Elisha had sent to anoint Jehu king over Israel we find no mention of him in the sacred record. We have reason to suppose that he was utterly neglected by Jehu, Jehoahaz, and Joash, who reigned in succession. Neither the sanctity of his life nor the stupendous miracles he wrought had the effect of reforming the nation at large: much of the time of his latter years was, doubtless, spent in the schools of the prophets. At length, worn out by his public and private labors, and at the age of 90—during 60 of which he is supposed to have prophesied—he is called into eternity. Nor was the manner of his death inglorious; though he did not enter into rest as did Elijah (, etc.). Among his weeping attendants was Joash, the king of Israel. He was probably stung with remorse for having so neglected to acknowledge his national worth; yet, though late, God does not suffer this public recognition of his aged and faithful servant to go unrequited. The spirit of prophecy again entering the dying Elisha, he informed Joash that he should prevail against the Syrians. Even after death God would put honor upon Elisha: a dead body having touched his bones came to life again ().

Elisha was not less eminent than his predecessor Elijah. His miracles are various and stupendous, and, like those which were wrought by Christ, were on the whole of a merciful character. In this they were remarkably distinguished, in many instances, from the miracles of Elijah.

 

 

 

 


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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Elisha'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/kbe/e/elisha.html.

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