God had directed Elijah to do some succession planning and find his replacement. That replacement would be Elisha. All we know about Elisha is that he was the son of Shaphat. Elisha, whose name means “God is salvation,” was mentored by Elijah to be the second prophet in Israel (1 Kings 19:16, 19–21; 2 Kings 5:8). Elisha’s role was to follow Elijah (1 Kings 19:19) as his protégé until Elijah was taken into heaven. Elisha’s ministry lasted about 60 years. His life spanned the reigns of kings Jehoram, Jehu, Jehoahaz, and Joash. A study of the life of Elisha reveals the prophet’s humility (2 Kings 2:9; 3:11), his love for the people of Israel (2 Kings 8:11—12), and his faithfulness. Elisha was immediately obedient to God’s call to him. He learned from and followed Elijah eagerly and faithfully. Elisha knew that God trusted Him. Elisha did not wait for God, instead, Elisha sought after God. This should be the template for all people today as we establish our faith walk through this world!
Before Elisha settled in Samaria, he spent some time on Mount Carmel. He would, from 892 BC until 832 BC, be an advisor to the third through the eighth kings of Judah, holding the office of “prophet in Israel“. Elisha is called a patriot because of his help to both soldiers and kings. When he was first called to be a prophet, Elisha was plowing a field with a pair of oxen. Elijah put his cloak around Elisha as a sign that Elijah’s responsibilities would fall on Elisha. Elisha then left his oxen and ran after the prophet. Elisha asked only to say goodbye to his family and then would return to Elijah. Elisha went back, slaughtered his oxen, burnt his equipment, gave the meat to the people, and followed Elijah as his servant. Elisha completely removed himself from his former life and left himself no option on returning to his oxen (1 Kings 19:21). Elisha’s ministry would be driven by the power of God. He would perform more miracles than any other individual in the Bible except for Jesus.
Elisha loved Elijah like a father. He refused to leave Elijah before Elijah was taken into heaven. When Elijah asked what he could do for his protégé before he left, Elisha requested a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. God would grant Elisha’s request. During Elisha’s ministry, organized Baal worship was eradicated (2 Kings 10:28). In his ministry Elisha traveled widely and served as an adviser to kings, a companion of the common people, and a friend of both Israelites and foreigners.
There are many well-known accounts of Elisha’s service as Israel’s prophet. He healed the waters of Jericho (2 Kings 2:19–21). Yet, he was jeered by youths who were taunting him because he was bald. This type of discrimination still goes on today. We learn that picking on one of God’s prophets is not a good idea. Elisha called a curse on them resulting in their death by mauling bears (2 Kings 2:23–25). Elisha multiplied a widow’s oil supply (2 Kings 4:1–7) so she could pay off a debt. He prophesied a son for a wealthy Shunammite family who hosted him and later resurrected that same son (2 Kings 4:8–37). Elisha also removed poison from a pot of stew (2 Kings 4:38–41) and multiplied twenty barley loaves to feed one hundred men (2 Kings 4:42–44). Elisha cured Naaman of leprosy (2 Kings 5) and made a borrowed ax head that was lost in the Jordan river float to the surface (2 Kings 6:1–7). The miracles Elisha performed are, for the most part, acts of helpfulness and blessing. Some resemble some of the miracles of Christ, such as the multiplying of food (Matthew 16:9–10) and the healing of lepers (Luke 17:11–19).
Elisha is not as well-known as Elijah. Perhaps it is because his character wasn’t as brash or outspoken as Elijah’s. But Elisha had a very important ministry advising four different kings. He was a light for God when Israel was in a very dark period. His miracles proved to the people and their leaders that Yahweh was their one true God. His ministry came at a time when the people were in danger of completely abandoning God and following Baal. Elisha’s miracles serve as an eternal reminder of God’s power. Elisha’s life portrays God’s love for both the common people (the family with the new son, and the widow with debts) and the rich (Naaman). His name is mentioned fifty-nine times in the Bible. He is one of the most well-known prophets. His life provides us with many important and practical lessons on living.
During his term as Israel’s head prophet, he ran a school of prophets (2 Kings 4:38-44, 2 Kings 6:1-7). The idea of passing on one’s beliefs and knowledge about God is not some new concept. We need to keep doing just that even today. Concerning Elisha’s death, 2 Kings 13:20 simply says, “Elisha died and was buried.” But the passage goes on to tell us that once when marauding criminals went to dispose of a body, they threw that body into Elisha’s tomb. When a dead man’s body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet” (2 Kings 13:21). It seems that God chose to demonstrate His power through the prophet even after his death.
What were Elisha’s special traits? Elisha was bald (2 Kings 2:23). In society at that time, that was not necessarily a benefit. He stood out and was mocked by his peers. Despite his looks, Elisha was different, not divisive but inclusive in his style. He had a home, and Elisha was not just a wandering prophet (2 Kings 6:32). He took the role of adviser to the kings, working within the political system in place at that time. Although there were times he incurred the anger of Israel’s leaders, they still sought out his counsel (2 Kings 3:1-19, 8:1-6). King Joash was sorry to see him die (2 Kings 13:14). To Elisha’s credit, his ministry reached out to all classes of people, poor and rich, noble and peasants, Jews, and foreigners. He treated all people as God treats people, equally. Maybe Elisha’s most outstanding trait was that he never took credit for any of his miracles. He recognized that they did not come from his power or ability. He was still a human. Elisha knew he could accomplish nothing and heal no one unless it was by the power of God (2 Kings 4:27). It is important to recognize that when we cannot accomplish something, it is not necessarily caused by sin. All people, including prophets, could only accomplish God’s work through God’s power.
What made Elisha a great prophet of God were his strengths. He was faithful to God. Elisha worked within the system in the society, never compromising, but able to accomplish positive changes. He had courage (2 Kings 6:8-23). Elisha loved the disadvantaged (2 Kings 4:1-7), ministering to anyone and everyone who came to him for help. Elisha dedicated his life and ministry to God (1 Kings 19:19-21). And finally, Elisha was loyal (1 Kings 19:21, 2:2,4,6), loyal to his mentor, Elijah, and, above all, loyal to God.
- What, in your experience, does a divisive style, and an aggressive and hostile personality, accomplish?
- Ideas to Explore: Rate the last 5 presidents, what style were they, and did they do anything that moved people closer to God or farther away? Should we ever appoint or elect a narcissist?
- How does our world handle people that are different?
- Ideas to Explore: What is the response within our schools to bullying? How do children pick up the bad habit to pick on those who are different from themselves?
- To accomplish great things, why does only looking forward to the future work better than retaining a foot in the past?
- Ideas to Explore: Elisha burned his bridges when he became a prophet. Why is “burn your bridges” a good strategy for success?
- Elijah did a great job warning the people and their leaders. However, he never persuaded them to change. Why do you think Elisha was so much more successful in getting the people to abandon the false gods and put their faith back into the one real God?
- Ideas to Explore: Working within the system (political) of the times rather than fighting against it seemed to accomplish more benefits. The people gave up worshipping Baal. Why? Was his focus on the leadership a more effective strategy?