|Elisha - |
("God for salvation".) ELISEUS in New Testament. Shaphat's son, of Abel Meholah ("meadow of the dance"), in the Jordan valley. See his call: ELIJAH. He was engaged at field work, 12 yoke before him, i.e. himself with the 12th while the other 11 were in other parts of the field; or, as land was measured by "yokes of oxen," he had plowed land to the extent of nearly 12 yokes, and was finishing the 12th: either view marks his being a man of substance. Hengstenberg regards the twelve as marking him the prophet of the whole covenant nation, not merely of the ten tribes. Whether formally "anointed" with oil or not, he was really anointed with the Spirit, and duly called by his predecessor to the prophetic office by Elijah's crossing over, and hastily throwing upon him the rough mantle, the token of investiture, and then going as quickly as he came. Elisha was one to act at once on God's first call, at all costs.
So bidding farewell to father and mother (contrast Matthew 8:21-22; "suffer me first to go and (tend my father until his death, and then) bury my father"; and Luke 9:61-62, where the "bidding farewell" involved in that particular case a division of heart between home relations and Christ, Luke 14:26; Matthew 10:37; Philemon 3:13), and slaying a yoke of oxen and boiling the flesh with the wooden instruments (compare 2 Samuel 24:22), a token of giving up all for the Lord's sake, he ministered to Elijah henceforth as Joshua did to Moses. His ministry is once described, "Elisha who poured water on the hands of Elijah." He was subordinate; so the sons of the prophets represent it: "Jehovah will take away thy master (Elijah) from thy head" (2 Kings 2:3). Yet his ministry made an advance upon that of his master.
The mission of Elijah, as his name implied, was to bring Israel to confess that Jehovah alone is God ('Eel); Elisha further taught them, as his name implies, that Jehovah if so confessed would prove the salvation of His people. Hence, Elisha's work is that of quiet beneficence; Elijah's that of judicial sternness upon all rebels against Jehovah. Contrast 1 Kings 18:40 with 2 Kings 5:18-19. Elisha, the healer, fitly comes after Elijah, the destroyer. The latter presents himself with the announcement, "as Jehovah God of Israel liveth ... there shall not be dew nor rain these years": the first miracle of the former is, "thus saith Jehovah, I have healed these waters (by casting in salt, the symbol of grace and incorruption), there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land." The large spring N.W. of the present town of Jericho is the traditional object of the cure (Ain-es-Sultan).
Elijah, like a Bedouin, delighted in the desert, the heights of Carmel, and the caves of Horeb, and avoided cities. Elisha on the contrary frequented the haunts of civilization, Jericho (2 Kings 2:18), Samaria (2 Kings 2:25), and Dothan (2 Kings 6:13), where he had a house with "doors" and "windows" 2 Kings 4:3; 2 Kings 4:9; 2 Kings 4:24; 2 Kings 6:32; 2 Kings 13:17). He wore the ordinary Israelite garment, and instead of being shunned by kings for sternness, he possessed considerable influence with the king and the "captain of the host" (2 Kings 4:13).
At times he could be as fiery in indignation against the apostate kings of Israel as was his predecessor (2 Kings 3:13-14), but even then he yields himself to the soothing strains of a minstrel for the godly Jehoshaphat's sake, and foretells that the ditches which he directs to be made should be filled with water (the want of which was then being sorely felt), coming by the way of Edom; this took place at the S.E. end of the Dead Sea; the route of the confederates Judah. Israel, and Edom, in order to invade the rebelling Moabite king Mesha from the eastern side, since he was (according to the Moabite stone) carrying all before him in the N.W.
Like Elijah, he conquered the idols on their own ground, performing without fee the cures for which Beelzebub of Ekron was sought in vain. At Bethel, on his way from Jericho to Carmel (2 Kings 2:23), where he had been with Elijah (2 Kings 2:2), he was met by "young men" (narim, not "little children"), idolaters or infidels, who, probably at the prompting of Baal's prophets in that stronghold of his worship sneered at the report of Elijah's ascension: "Go up" like thy master, said they, "thou bald head" (qereach, i.e., with hair short at the back of the head, in contrast with Elijah's shaggy locks flowing over his shoulders; gibeach is the term for bald in front). Keil understands, however, "small boys" to have mocked his natural baldness at the back of his head (not with old age, for he lived until 50 years later, 2 Kings 13:14).
The God-hating spirit which prevailed at calf-worshipping Bethel betrayed itself in these boys, who insulted the prophet of Jehovah knowingly. The profanity of the parents, whose guilt the profane children filled the measure of, was punished in the latter, that the death of the sons might constrain the fathers to fear the Lord since they would not love Him, and to feel the fatal effects recoiling on themselves of instigating their children to blaspheme (Exodus 20:5). Elisha, not in personal revenge but as Jehovah's minister, by God's inspiration, pronounced their doom. Two Syrian she-bears (corresponding to the Arctic bear of northern Europe) "tare forty-two of them" (compare and contrast Luke 9:54-55). A widow (Obadiah's widow, according to Josephus), when the creditor threatened to take her sons as bondmen, cried to Elisha for help on the ground of her deceased husband's piety.
Elisha directed her to borrow empty vessels, and from her one remaining pot of oil to fill them all, shutting the door upon herself and her sons who brought her the vessels. Only when there was no vessel left to fill was the miraculous supply of oil stayed. A type of prayer, with "shut doors" (Matthew 6:6), which brings down supplies of grace so long as we and ours have hearts open to receive it (Psalm 81:10; Ephesians 3:20). Only when Abraham ceased to ask did God cease to grant (Genesis 18). On his way from Gilgal (not the one which was near Jericho, but N. of Lydda, now Jiljilieh) to Carmel, Elisha stayed at Shunem in Issachar, now Solam, three miles N. of Jezreel, on the southern slopes of Jebel ed Duhy, the little Hermon. "A great woman" (in every sense: means, largeness of heart, humility, contentment) was his hostess, and with her husband's consent provided for him a little chamber with bed, table, stool, and candlestick, so that he might in passing always "turn in there."
In reward he offered to use his interest for her with the king or the captain of the host; with true magnanimity which seeks not great things for self (Jeremiah 45:5), she replied, "I dwell among mine own people." At Gehazi's suggestion without her solicitation, Elisha promises from God that she should have what was the greatest joy to an Israelite wife, a son. When he was old enough to go out with his father, a sunstroke in the harvest field caused his death. The mother, inferring from God's extraordinary and unsought gift of the child to her, that it could not be God's design to snatch him from her for ever, and remembering that Elijah had restored the widow's son at Zarephath, mounted her she-ass (hathon, esteemed swifter than the he-ass), and having left her son on the bed of the man of God, without telling her husband of the death, rode 15 miles, four hours ride, to Carmel.
There Elisha was wont to see her regularly at his services on the "new moon and sabbath." Seeing her now approaching from a distance, Elisha sent Gehazi to meet her and ask, "Is it well with thee? ... with thy husband? ... with the child?" Her faith, hope, and resignation prompted the reply, "It is well." Gehazi, like Jesus' disciples (Matthew 15:23; Matthew 19:13), would have thrust her away when she clasped Elisha's feet (compare Matthew 28:9; Luke 7:38), but Elisha with sympathetic insight said, "Let her alone, for her soul is vexed within her, and Jehovah hath hid it from me." A word from her was enough to reveal the child's death, which with natural absence of mind amidst her grief she did not explicitly men. lion, "Did I desire a son from my lord?" Elisha sends on Gehazi with his staff; Gehazi is to salute none on the way, 'like Jesus' 70 sent before His face, but lays Elisha's staff on the child's face without effect.
(So the law could not raise the dead in sins (Romans 8:3; Galatians 3:21); Jesus Himself must come to do that.) Elisha, entering the room, shuts to the door (Matthew 6:6), and there stretching himself twice on the child, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, and hands to hands (compare Acts 20:10; antitypically the dead stoner must come into contact with the living Jesus, 1 John 1), after Elijah's pattern, and praying to Jehovah, proved the omnipotence of prayer to quicken the dead; then he delivered the resuscitated son to the happy mother. In a time of dearth (2 Kings 4:38), perhaps the same as that in 2 Kings 8:1-2, one of the sons of the prophets brought in a lap full of gourds or wild cucumbers, off a plant like a wild vine, the only food to be had; the effect in eating was such that one exclaimed, "There is death in the pot." Elisha counteracted the effect by casting in meal.
Next, a man of Baal Shalisha brings firstfruits (paid to the prophets in the absence of the lawful priests: Numbers 18:8; Numbers 18:12; Deuteronomy 18:3-4), namely, 20 small loaves of new barley, and full green ears of grain roasted, esteemed a delicacy (Leviticus 2:14; Leviticus 23:14), in his garment (margin) or bag. In reply to his servitor's unbelieving objection," What, should I set this before an hundred men?" Elisha replied, "Give the people ... for thus saith Jehovah, They shall eat, and leave thereof": a forerunner of Christ's miracle of feeding more men with fewer loaves, preceded by like want of faith on the disciples' part (Luke 9:18-17; John 6:9-13), and followed by a like leaving of abundance, after the multitude were fed. Naaman's cure follows. His leprosy was of the white kind, the most malignant (2 Kings 5:27).
In Syria it did not, as in Israel, exclude from intercourse; and Naaman was "great" in the presence of his master, and honored as "a mighty man in valor," because of being Jehovah's instrument in giving Syria victory. But withal (as all human greatness has some drawback) he was a leper. A "little maid" of Israel, carried captive to Syria in a foray, and brought to wait on Naaman's wife (so marvelously does God's providence overrule evil to good, and make humble and small agents effect great good) was the honored instrument of informing Naaman of the prophet of God. A lesson to us that none should plead (Matthew 25:24-30) inability to serve God and man in some form or another. Benhadad, with oriental absolutism, wrote as though the Israelite king could at will (compare Matthew 8:9) command Elisha's services. At the same time he sent much gold, silver, and the rich raiments (lebush, robe of ceremony) of Damascus; as though "God's gift may be purchased with money" (Acts 8:20).
Joram showed no less want of faith, than Benhadad showed want of religious knowledge. Had he believed as did the little maid his former subject, he would have felt that, though he was "not God to, kill and to make alive," yet there was in the midst of the people one by whom God had both killed and made alive (Deuteronomy 32:39). Elisha rectifies his error, sending a dignified message of reproof to the king, and desiring him to let Naaman come, and he should know "there is a prophet in Israel." Naaman came with horses and chariots, not yet perceiving that true greatness lies not in earthly pomp and, wealth (2 Kings 5:1; 2 Kings 5:9; 2 Kings 5:11). Elisha, to teach him humility as the first step to any favor from God, sent a messenger, instead of coming in person to the door: "Go, wash in Jordan seven times." But, like men offended at the simplicity of the gospel message of salvation, Naaman having expected a more ceremonial mode of cure, and despising Jordan in comparison with the magnificent waters of his own Damascus, went off in a rage.
His slaves, however, suggested the reasonableness of obeying so easy a command, since had it been a "great" one he would have complied. The mode of cure was wisely designed to teach him to unlearn his false ideas of greatness. He dipped seven times as he was told, "and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child"; typifying the spiritual new birth through washing in the "fountain opened for uncleanness" (Job 33:25; Zechariah 13:1; John 3:5). Elisha by refusing his presents shows that the minister of God is not influenced by filthy lucre (1 Timothy 3:3), as Naaman's master had supposed (2 Kings 5:5, compare Genesis 14:28). Naaman desires to take away two mules burden of earth, wherewith to make an altar to Jehovah of the holy land, a sensible memorial to remind him perpetually in his pagan country of Jehovah' s past favor bestowed on him in Israel (compare Joshua 4:20-21, and the mediaeval campo santos).
He further asked God's pardon if, when in attendance on the Syrian king, he bowed in Rimmon's temple as a mark of respect to his master's religious feeling, not to the idol. Elisha, without sanctioning this compromise, but tacitly leaving his religious convictions to expand gradually, and in due time to east off the remains of idolatry still cleaving to him, bade him farewell with the customary "Go in peace." So the Lord Jesus "spoke the word as they were able to hear it" (Mark 4:33, compare Mark 8:23-25; John 16:12). Nothing is precipitately forced; principles planted in germ are left to their own silent development in due course. Gehazi's covetousness stands in sad contrast to Elisha's disinterestedness. The man of God's servant is as faithless as the pagan Naaman's servants were faithful; the highly privileged often fall far below the practice of those with scarcely any spiritual privileges whatever.
He even makes it a merit not to "spare" a pagan, "this Syrian," and dares to invoke God: "my master hath spared this Syrian ... but, as Jehovah liveth, I will take somewhat of him." By lying he gains two talents and two changes of raiment from Naaman; but lying is of no avail before Elisha: "went not my heart with thee, when the man turned again from his chariot to meet thee? is it a time to receive money?" etc.; compare 1 Peter 4:3. If Gehazi must have Naaman's money he shall have also Naaman's leprosy, and that for ever. In this miracle too Elisha foreran the Lord Jesus, the cure of leprosy being exclusively God's work. This must have been at least seven years after raising the Shunammite's son (2 Kings 8:1-4). During Elisha's residence at Jericho, the numbers of the sons of the prophets increasing, the place became "too strait" for them. So they removed to the Jordan, and there felled the trees densely growing on its banks.
The iron axe-head, a borrowed one, fell into the water. By a stick cast in, Elisha raised the iron to swim. God teaches His children to trust Him in small as in greater difficulties. He who numbers our very hairs regards nothing as too small to be brought under His notice; "God can as easily make our hard, heavy hearts, sunk down in the world's mud, to float upon life's stream and see heaven again" (Trapp). Benhadad, while Elisha resided at Dothan, half-way between Samaria and Jezreel, tried to surprise Israel from different points, but was foiled by Elisha warning the Israelite king, "beware that thou pass not such a place." Benhadad suspecting treachery was informed (probably by one who had witnessed Elisha's cure of Naaman)," the prophet in Israel telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber" (2 Kings 6:12); compare Christ's ministers, Luke 12:3.
The Syrian king therefore sent horses and chariots to compass Dothan by night. Elisha's ministering servant (not Gehazi) rising early was terrified at the sight; "alas, my master! how shall we do?" Elisha replies, "they that be with us are more than they with him" (2 Chronicles 32:7; Psalm 55:18; Romans 8:31), and prays, "Lord, open his eyes"; then he saw "the mountain full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha" (Psalm 34:7; Zechariah 9:8.) Thus the same heavenly retinue attended Elisha as his master (2 Kings 2:11). At Elisha's prayer the investing host was smitten with blindness (mental, Keil, Genesis 19:11), and Elisha went out to meet them as they came down from their encampment on the hill E. of Dothan, and led them into Samaria.
There Jehovah opened their eyes; and when the king of Israel would have smitten them, Elisha on the contrary caused him to "prepare great provision for them, and send them away." Compare Romans 12:2.). Untaught by this lesson, Benhadad, in disregard of gratitude and prudence, tried, instead of the previous marauding forays, a regular siege of Samaria. Israel was reduced to the last extremities of famine, unparalleled until the Roman siege of Jerusalem, a woman eating her own son, fulfilling the curse (Leviticus 26:29; Deuteronomy 28:53-57).
Joram, in language identical with his mother Jezebel's threat against Elijah (1 Kings 19:2; 2 Kings 6:31), makes Elisha the scape-goat of the national calamity, as though his late act in leading the blinded Syrians to Samaria and glorifying Jehovah above Baal were the cause, or suspecting it was by Elisha's word of prayer, as it was by Elijah's formerly (1 Kings 17), that the famine came (See JEHORAM); "God do so and more also to me, if the head of Elisha shall stand on him this day." Seeing the executioner's approach Elisha said to the elders sitting with him to receive consolation and counsel, "this son of a murderer (i.e. of Ahab and Jezebel, 1 Kings 18:4; 1 Kings 18:21) hath sent to take away my head"; "hold the messenger fast at the door," "his master's feet (are) behind him," namely, hastening to revoke his hasty order for Elisha's execution.
"Behold," said the king, "this evil is of Jehovah; what, should I wait for Jehovah any longer?" (as thou exhortest me, Psalm 27:14.) Compare Malachi 3:14; Proverbs 19:3. Elisha replies that as "this evil (the famine) is of Jehovah," so the suddenness of its removal by the morrow at "the word of Jehovah" would prove it not to be futile, as Joram said, to "wait for Jehovah." The Lord will not allow Joram's perversity to stop the current of divine mercy. A lord on whose hand the king leaned answered that this could only be "if Jehovah would make windows in heaven." His sentence was according to his unbelief; "thou shalt see it ... but shalt not eat thereof." Tantalus like, his seeing should only aggravate the bitterness of his exclusion from the blessing. A panic at a fancied sound of Hittite and Egyptian foes, by God's appointment, caused the Syrians to leave theft' camp and all its contents, and flee for their life.
Four lepers discovered the fact, and at first hid their spoil (Matthew 13:44; Matthew 25:25); afterward fearing mischief from selfishness (Proverbs 11:24), they held their peace no longer, but, feeling it a day of good tidings, told it to the king's household. Compare spiritually as to the gospel Isaiah 52:7; Isaiah 62:6-7; Matthew 28:19; Romans 13:12. The thronging crowd trode down the unbelieving lord who had charge of the gate. By Elisha's advice the Shunammite woman had gone to sojourn in the grain-growing seacoast plain of the Philistines during the seven years famine already alluded to (2 Kings 4:38).
In her absence her house and field had been appropriated, and she on her return appealed with loud cry to the king. He at the very time, by God's providence, had been inquiring from Gehazi (long before his leprosy, 2 Kings 5; 2 Kings 8, a proof that the incidents of Elisha's life are not recorded in chronological sequence, but in their spiritual connection) concerning Elisha's miracles, and was hearing of her son's resuscitation when she herself appeared. Her land, and all she had lost, were restored. Elisha, when Joram and Israel failed to be reformed by God's mercies, proceeded to Damascus to execute Elijah's commission (1 Kings 19:15-16). Benhadad respectfully inquired by Hazael, who brought a kingly present, 40 camels laden with every good thing of Damascus, "thy son (regarding Elisha as a father and lord) saith, Shall I recover of this disease?" "Then mayest certainly (i.e. in the natural course): howbeit Jehovah showed me he shall surely die."
Elisha, intensely gazing at Hazael's countenance, discerned his unscrupulous cruelty, and wept at the thought of the evil he would do to Israel. Hazael in the common view repudiated the possibility of being capable of such atrocities, "is thy servant a dog that he should do this great thing?" But the Hebrew requires "what" to be the predicate, and "the dog" connected with "thy servant" the subject. "What is thy servant (the dog as he is) that he should do this great thing?" Not the atrocity, but the greatness of it, is what startles him as something beyond his ability to accomplish, "dog (i.e. low, not cruel) as he is." "Dog" is the eastern phrase for meanness, not cruelty. Hazael, in the common view, murdered Benhadad with a wet cloth, whether "the bath mattress" (Ewald) or the thick woolen quilt or mosquito net. Others, from "Hazael" being named at the end of 2 Kings 8:15 as if distinct from the previous "he," think Benhadad placed it wet on himself to cool the fever, and died of the sudden chill.
Elisha next proceeded to Ramoth Gilead in the hills east of Jordan, which Hazael had tried to occupy (2 Kings 8:28). Joram was wounded, but the fortress still resisted Syria. There Elisha anointed Jehu, by the hand of one of the children of the prophets, to take vengeance on Ahab's guilty seed, having been witness of that monarch's wicked seizure of Naboth's vineyard and of Elijah's awful sentence on him (2 Kings 9:26). Elisha's last recorded act was when Jehu's grandson, Joash, wept over his deathbed in the words which Elisha had used of the departing Elijah: "my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof," i.e., in losing thee Israel loses its main defense. Elisha, putting his hands on the king's (for God's hand must strengthen ours if we are to prosper, Genesis 49:24), bade Joash shoot toward the hostile land, saying, "the arrow of Jehovah's deliverance ... thou shalt smite the Syrians in Aphek."
Joash's half heartedness deprived him of complete triumph; for when told to smite the ground, he smote but thrice, instead of five or six times. Spiritually, if we fainted not in shooting the arrow of prayer (Psalm 5:3), we should smite down our spiritual foes more completely (Isaiah 43:22). Even when dead and buried, Elisha's body was made by God the means of revivifying a dead body cast hastily sideways into his sepulchral cell, upon a sudden inroad of the Moabite bands; a type of the vivifying power of Christ's dead body (Isaiah 26:19). Other antitypical resemblances are
(1) Christ's solemn inauguration at the Jordan.
(2) His dividing death's flood for us: Isaiah 51:15.
(3) By his "covenant of salt" healing the "naught water" and "barren ground" of the condemning law and of afflictive chastisements: Isaiah 35:1; Isaiah 35:6.
(4) His making the barren church mother of spiritual children: Isaiah 55:1.
(5) Multiplying the oil of grace: Isaiah 61:3.
(6) Reviving the spiritually and the naturally dead: John 5:25-29.
(7) Curing those bodily and those spiritually lepers.
(8) Feeding multitudes with bread for the body, and the bread of life for the soul.
(9) Being the church's "chariots and horsemen," "always causing us to triumph": 2 Corinthians 2:14.
(10) Setting the captives free: Isaiah 61:1.
(11) Inflicting judgments on mockers. Acts 13:41; and on lucre-loving Gehazi-like ministers, as Judas; giving up to judicial blindness the willfully blind, John 9:39-41; and to seeing without tasting bliss those who disbelieve the gospel promise of the heavenly feast; so the rich man in hell saw Lazarus afar off in Abraham's bosom, an impassable gulf excluding himself (Luke 16:23-26). The gentle features of his character attracted the poor and the simple to him in their troubles, whereas sternness characterized Elijah. In Herod and Herodias Ahab and Jezebel are reproduced, as in John the Baptist Elijah is reproduced; as Elijah, the representative of the law, foreruns the gentler Elisha, so John the greatest prophet of the law foreruns Jesus the gracious Savior.