(e li' sshuh) Personal name meaning, “my God is salvation.” A ninth century B.C. Israelite prophet, son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah (1 Kings 19:16).
His Name and Call Experience Elisha was plowing one day when “Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle upon him.” (1 Kings 19:19). This action symbolically manifested God's plan to bestow the prophetic powers of Elijah upon Elisha. The chosen one understood the call of God for, “he left the oxen, and ran after Elijah” (1 Kings 19:20). That Elisha felt the call of prophetic succession is again clear following Elijah's dramatic ascent into heaven. There Elisha “took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him” (2 Kings 2:13).
The beginning of Elisha's ministry should be dated to the last years of King Ahab's rule (1 Kings 19:1) or approximately 850 B.C. The prophet then served faithfully during the reigns of Ahaziah (about 853 B.C.), Jehoram or Joram (852 B.C.), Jehu (c. 841 B.C.), Jehoahaz (c. 814 B.C.), and Jehoash or Joash (798 B.C.).
2 Kings 1-13 preserves the details of Elisha's ministry which ranged from about 850-800 B.C.
His Miracles After Elijah insisted to his chosen successor that he, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you,” Elisha answered, “Let me inherit a double portion of spirit” (2 Kings 2:9 NIV). Taking up the mantle of the departed prophet, he parted the Jordan River. Following this miracle the prophetic order or “sons of the prophets” declared, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha” (2 Kings 2:15).
Soon thereafter, Elisha made bad water wholesome (2 Kings 2:19-22). His reputation soon assumed so sacred an aura that harassment of the prophet merited severe punishment. For mocking the bald prophet, 42 boys were attacked by two she-bears (2 Kings 2:23-24).
The prophet used his power to provide a widow with an abundance of valuable oil to save her children from slavery (2 Kings 4:1-7). He made a poisonous pottage edible (2 Kings 4:38-41), fed a hundred men by multiplying limited resources (2 Kings 4:42-44), and miraculously provided water for thirsting armies (2 Kings 3:13-22). Once he made an iron ax head float (2 Kings 6:5-7).
Some of the miracles of Elisha are quite well known and loved. Who has not been moved by the story of the Shunammite woman and her son? This barren woman and her husband who had graciously opened their home to the prophet had in turn been given a son by the Lord. One day while the boy worked in the field with his father, he suffered an apparent heartstroke and died. The compassion and tenacious hope of the mother met its reward when she sought and found the man of God and pleaded for help. God's power through Elisha raised the boy from the dead (2 Kings 4:8-37).
Yet another well-known story is the healing of Naaman the leper and the subsequent affliction of Gehazi the dishonest servant of Elisha (2 Kings 5:1-27). The miraculous powers of the prophet were prominently displayed still further in the war between Syria and Israel. The Syrian soldiers were blinded, then made to see. Then, at last, divine intervention totally foiled the Syrian siege of Samaria (2 Kings 6:8-7:20).
Elisha's power did not end at death. For when a dead man was thrown into Elisha's grave and touched his bones, “he revived, and stood up on his feet” (2 Kings 13:21).
In carrying out the second and third commands of the “still small voice” to Elijah (1 Kings 19:11-16), Elisha enhanced his legacy beyond the realm of miracle worker. He played a major role in Hazael becoming king of Syria (2 Kings 8:7-15) and also in the anointing of Jehu as king of Israel (2 Kings 9:1-13).
Powerful enough to perform miracles and appoint kings, yet sensitive enough to weep over the fate of Israel (2 Kings 8:11-12), Elisha, disciple and successor to Elijah, proved to be both prophet and statesman. Chosen by God and hand-picked by Elijah in the latter half of the ninth century B.C., Elisha directed the historical drama of Israel. See Miracles; Prophet-Prophecy; History of Israel; Baal Worship.
J. Randall O'Brien