The Faith of Elisha

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We can all draw strength from people who have gone before us and shown us how to proceed, or perhaps how not to proceed. There is something reassuring about learning lessons from someone’s successes or failures (partly because we can avoid discovering the pitfalls ourselves and shortcut straight to the positive outcomes) and we can find great strength and encouragement from keeping Bible characters in mind, and with that in mind I’d like to look at the life of Elisha and the events in his life that point forward to the time of Christ.

Elisha served the nation of Israel as a prophet for approximately 60 years, and there is very little to criticise about his service to the Lord. He was involved in two of the three Old Testament resurrections and was a forerunner of Christ in many of the things he did, he performed more miracles than anyone else, except for Jesus.

Elisha was chosen by God to be a successor to Elijah, and in 1 Kings 19 we read of his calling, and one of the rare occasions we hear of the anointing of prophets. So Elijah leaves and searches out Elisha to be his successor in v19.

So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him. (1Ki 19:19-21)

Here we have wonderful lesson for us in the attitude of Elisha. These were dark times in Israel, God had been rejected, the enemies were encircling the nation, and I’m sure he would have heard about the trouble that Elijah had caused King Ahab.

Elisha was found by Eljiah ploughing the ground with his 12 yoke of oxen, what seemed like a peaceful untroubled life.

So how does he respond to the call of Elijah? It is obvious he understood fully the extent of this call. He gives his answer in that he said goodbye to his parents, took a yoke of his oxen and sacrificed them, using the ploughing instruments as wood for the fire, and gave the meat for food, then left all behind and followed Elijah. He left his family, he sacrificed his livelihood to follow God.

Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luk 9:62)

There was no going back! Elisha had left nothing to go back to. He rises up, follows Elijah and assists him in his work.

We don’t hear of Elisha again until 2 Kings 2. In the time since his calling he would have had the opportunity to work alongside Elijah, experienced the tyranny of the idolatrous Ahab and Jezebel and the murder of Naboth, followed by the repentance of Ahab and the mercy of the Lord. He would have seen also the power of the Lord when Elijah called down fire from heaven.

After this we arrive at the occasion of Elijah being taken from Elisha, and we see the wonderful loyalty of Elisha to his master as he is taken away, and parallels the wonderful loyalty that Ruth showed Naomi as she promised to cling to her side whatever happened.

And Elijah said to Elisha, “Please stay here, for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. And the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take away your master from over you?” And he said, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.” Elijah said to him, “Elisha, please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho.(2Ki 2:2-4)

Once again we see a powerful lesson for us here. We are given opportunity every day to try and love God and follow him in everything we do. Will we have the strength to follow our master in everything we do? Will we follow him into times of suffering or torment like Elisha and Ruth? Or will we waver when the going gets tough like Peter? We must constantly pray for the strength to keep following the pathway that our Lord has set before us.

As we continue in v9, Elisha is made an offer that has no limits.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” (2Ki 2:9)

This reminds us of the offer that God made to Solomon in 1 Kings 3:5. Once again we can examine ourselves and ask would we have the faith to ask for the spiritual things of God, or would we follow the natural desires of the flesh and ask for the riches of the world?

Now Elijah has been taken from Elisha, Elisha begins his own period of ministry, spanning from the second chapter through to the thirteenth chapter of the second book of Kings.

As mentioned there are only 3 resurrections recorded for us in the Old Testament, the raising of the widow’s son by Elijah was the first in 1 Kings 17, the Shunammite’s son, and the resurrection after the death of Elisha.

It is interesting to note how great the faith of the Shunammite woman was, and there are lessons to be learnt from her faith.

One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food. And she said to her husband, “Behold now, I know that this is a holy man of God who is continually passing our way. Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there.” (2Ki 4:8-10)

She knew that Elisha was a man of God, she wanted to help him by providing lodgings and food to assist him whenever he passed that way. Things were bad in Israel but there were a few faithful people left, and she was more than willing to open her house to him, and this seems quite reasonable as she was a wealthy woman and had the means to do so. Then you see that she lived just a few miles from Jezreel, the home of the wicked woman Jezebel. It turns out that she is risking the wrath of Jezebel to provide for Elisha.

Elisha seemed happy with this arrangement for in v11 he comes to his chamber and rests there on one occasion. He asks what he can do for the woman, and when she asks of nothing that he can offer, Gehazi points out that she is childless and her husband is old. Elisha tells her that she will have a son, and at first she cannot believe this, very similar to the doubt that Sarah had when she was told she would have a son.

And he said, “At this season, about this time next year, you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant.” But the woman conceived, and she bore a son about that time the following spring, as Elisha had said to her. When the child had grown, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. And he said to his father, “Oh, my head, my head!” The father said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” And when he had lifted him and brought him to his mother, the child sat on her lap till noon, and then he died. And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God and shut the door behind him and went out. (2Ki 4:16-21)

A significant amount of time passes in these few verses. She is promised a child, she has the child and then he grows up, then he suffers a pain in his head and then dies.

Her first reaction is not to run to her husband and tell him that her son is dead. Her first thought is that of Elisha, the man of God. She tells her husband that she needs a donkey and that all is well. She knew she could turn to Elisha for help and guidance. When we find ourselves or others in a time of need, where do we turn to first? Is it our heavenly Father, or is it someone else?

This woman had that faith, to trust in the healing power of God, and so she sought out Elisha and as she approached she was met my Gehazi and upon questioning, like she told her husband, she said that all was well. When she came to Elisha, she grasped onto his feet and Gehazi tried to push her away, but he forbid Gehazi from doing so, echoing the incident in the time of Jesus when the disciples tried to prevent the little children from coming to Jesus.

Elisha could see she was in distress, but God had not revealed the reason why. When he learns of the reason, he sends Gehazi on ahead and instructs him to lay the staff across the face of the dead child to heal her son. It is no surprise when we look at the attitude of Gehazi to learn that he was unable to perform the miracle that he was sent to do. He was a greedy man as we see later in his life. We see the character of Elisha coming out in the meaning of his name here. Elisha means “God is Salvation”, and so the Shunammite’s son could only be raised by God’s Salvation.

The same is true of us. We can only be raised by God’s salvation and Christ is God’s salvation for us. Only through his death and resurrection do we have the hope of our own resurrection.

As Elisha returns to the woman’s house and enters his chamber where the child is laid on his bed and closes the door and the first thing he does is pray to God.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. (Jas 5:16)

Elisha holds himself over the boy and the warmth returns to the body but this does not revive him. He gets up and walks around, then goes back and tries again. This time the boy arises and is restored to life.

Here is another lesson for us. We may be good at offering a prayer when we hear that someone is in need, but how often do we pray for that person once, then forget all about it assuming God will have taken care of it? We must be fervent in our prayer, and keep asking, and keep praying. Remember the parable Jesus told about the widow and the unjust judge and her perseverance. Jesus told us to follow the example of this widow and to pray without ceasing.

The next miracle we’ll look at is only three verses in length, but a foreshadow of the work of Christ.

A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And Elisha said, “Give to the men, that they may eat.” But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred men?” So he repeated, “Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and have some left.'” So he set it before them. And they ate and had some left, according to the word of the LORD. (2Ki 4:42-44)

If you look back at v38 you can see that there is a famine throughout the land. Now this means that the man from Baal-shalishah must have a been a faithful man who put his trust in God. He knew that food was in short supply, yet he provided the firstfruits for the prophet of the Lord. He could have kept them for himself and his family, but recognises that it was God’s will that the famine had come to the land and that God would provide for him.

We see the obvious similarities between this event and the feeding of the 4,000 and 5,000 during the time of Christ. Both times the food was not expected to be used to feed such a large number of people, and these loaves were used to feed 100 men like the loaves and fish were used to feed the thousands. Jesus with his knowledge of the scriptures must have remembered Elisha when he had compassion over the crowds before him. I’m sure he would have drawn strength from Bible characters just like we do ourselves today.

Very briefly, I’d like to draw out the lessons of faith from the well known story of Naaman, where in a time of great idolatry we move from God’s chosen nation to the outside world to find faith in the Lord, to the armies of Syria.

We are introduced to Naaman, an honourable man, but a leper. We see great faith and courage from the young slave girl who had been captured in a raid on Israel. She risked her life to tell Naaman’s wife that there was a prophet in Israel who could cure Naaman, for if she was wrong she would most likely have been killed for causing trouble for her master.

When we are in the world we need to have that courage to speak up and tell those around of the healing grace of God. We may endure torment for doing so, but we can have an effect on people.

Naaman on the other hand, showed no faith and went away in a rage because he was told to wash in the dirty waters of the Jordan. It was his servants who showed the faith because they say:

But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” (2Ki 5:13)

It was through the faith of the little girl, and the faith of the servants that Naaman was healed, without that faith Naaman would have continued to be a leper for the rest of his life.

Our faith can heal others, our faith in prayer and the healing hand of God can restore others and bring them to God, for once Naaman is healed he no longer calls God, Elisha’s God, but embraces Him as the God of the whole world.

Finally, Elisha’s work continued after he had died.

So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. And as a man was being buried, behold, a marauding band was seen and the man was thrown into the grave of Elisha, and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet. (2Ki 13:20-21)

What a miracle this is! At the death of Elisha, there was still life to be given, and this is one of the biggest foreshadows of Christ. We know that through Christ our Saviour we can be made alive again. We must turn to a life that is governed by faith in our master, and by a strength of loyalty that we can see in the Shunammite woman who had the faith that God could resurrect the dead, the little girl and the servants of Namaan who believed in the healing power of God, and of course the man Elisha himself who would follow his master wherever he went.

But of course we can draw the greatest strength from the life of Christ, who endured the suffering on the cross, laying his perfect life down for our resurrection and salvation.

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. (1Co 15:20-23)

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