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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Hebrews Elisha', (אלִֵישָׁ , for אֶלִיאּיֶשִׁ , God is his salvation; Sept. Ε᾿λισαιέ or Ε᾿λισσαιέ, Josephus and N.T. Ε᾿λισσαῖος, Vulg. Elisaeus, A.V. in N.T. and Apocr. "Elisaeus"), the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah (1 Kings 19:16-19), who became the attendant and disciple of Elijah (Josephus, Ant. 8:13, 7), and his successor as prophet in the kingdom of Israel. (See ELIJAH).
I. History. — The earliest mention of Elisha's name is in the command to Elijah in the cave at Horeb (1 Kings 19:16-17). But our first introduction to the future prophet is in the fields of his native place (B.C. cir. 900). Abel-meholah-the "meadow of the dance" — as probably in the valley of the Jordan, and, as its name would seem to indicate, in a moist or watered situation. (See ABEL). Elijah, on his way from Sinai to Damascus by the Jordan valley, lights on his successor engaged in the labors of the field, twelve yoke before him, i.e., probably eleven other ploughs preceding him along the same line (see Thomson, Land and Book, 1:108). To cross to him, to throw over his shoulders the rough mantle — a token at once of investiture with the prophet's office, and of adoption as a son — was to Elijah but the work of an instant, and the prophet strode on as if what he had done were nothing — "Go back again, for what have I done unto thee?" So sudden and weighty a call, involving the relinquishment of a position so substantial, and family ties so dear, might well have caused hesitation. But the parley was only momentary. To use a figure which we may almost believe to have been suggested by this very occurrence, Elisha was not a man who, having put his hand to the plough, was likely to look back; he delayed merely to give the farewell kiss to his father and mother, and preside at a parting feast with his people, and then followed the great prophet on his northward road to become to him what in the earlier times of his nation Joshua had been to Moses. Of the nature of this connection we know hardly anything. "Elisha the son of Shaphat, who poured water on the hands of Elijah," is all that is told us. The characters of the two men were thoroughly dissimilar, but how far the lion like daring and courage of the one had infused itself into the other, we can judge from the few occasions on which it blazed forth, while every line of the narrative of Elijah's last hours on earth bears evidence how deep was the personal affection which the stern, rough, reserved master had engendered in his gentle and pliant disciple.
Seven or eight years must have passed between the call of Elisha and the removal of his master, and during the whole of that time we hear nothing of him. But when that period had elapsed he reappears, to become the most prominent figure in the history of his country during the rest of his long life.
Being anxious, after his remarkable appointment to receiving the robe as a symbol of inheriting the prophetic spirit of his ascended master, 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 that 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. These young prophets are not more full of reverence for Elisha than of zeal for Elijah: they saw the latter carried up in the air — they knew that this was not the first time of his miraculous removal. Imagining it therefore possible that the Spirit of God had cast him on some remote mountain or valley, they ask permission to go and seek him. Elisha, though fully aware that he was received up into glory, but yet fearful lest it should be conceived that he, from any unworthy motives, was not anxious to have him brought back, yielded to their request. The unavailing search confirmed Elisha's fame. (B.C. cir. 892.) There are several considerations from which the incompleteness of the records of Elisha's life may be inferred:
(a.) The absence of marks by which to determine the dates of the various occurrences. — The "king of Israel" is continually mentioned, but we are left to infer what king is intended (2 Kings 5:5-7, etc.; 6:8, 9, 21, 26; 7:2; 8:3, 5, 6, etc.). This is the case even in the story of the important events of Naaman's cure, and the capture of the Syrian host at Dothan. The only exceptions are 2 Kings 3:12 (compare 6), and the narrative of the visit of Jehoash (2 Kings 13:14, etc.), but this latter story is itself a proof of the disarrangement of these records, occurring as it does after the mention of the death of Jehoash (2 Kings 13:13), and being followed by an account of occurrences in the reign of Jehoahaz his father (2 Kings 13:22-23).
(b.) The absence of chronological sequence in the narratives. The story of the Shunammite embraces a lengthened period, from before the birth of the child till he was some years old. Gehazi's familiar communication with the king, and therefore the story which precedes it (2 Kings 8:1-2), must have occurred before he was struck with leprosy, though placed long after the relation of that event (2 Kings 5:27)
(c). The different stories are not connected by the form of words usually employed in the consecutive narrative of these books. (See Keil, Comment. on Kings, page 348, where other indications will be found.) The call of Elisha seems to have taken place about four years before the death of Ahab. He died in the reign of Joash, the grandson of Jehu, B.C. cir. 835. Hence his public career embraces a period of not less than 65 years, for certainly 55 of which he held the office of "prophet in Israel" (2 Kings 5:8).
1. After the departure of his master, Elisha returned to dwell (ישֵׁב ) at Jericho (2 Kings 2:18). The town had lately been rebuilt (1 Kings 16:34), and was the residence of a body of the "sons of the prophets" (2 Kings 2:5; 2 Kings 2:15). Among the most prominent features of that place are still the two perennial springs which, rising at the base of the steep hills of Quarantania behind the town, send their streams across the plain towards the Jordan, scattering, even at the hottest season, the richest and most grateful vegetation over what would otherwise be a bare tract of sandy soil. At the time in question, part, at least, of this charm was wanting. One of the springs was noxious — had some properties which rendered it unfit for drinking, and also prejudicial to the land (2:19, דָ דם, bad, A.V. "naught"). At the request of the men of Jericho, Elisha remedied this evil. He took salt in a new vessel, and cast it into the water at its source in the name of Jehovah. From the time of Josephus (War, 4:8, 3) to the present (Saewulf, Mod. Trav. page 17), the tradition of the cure has been attached to the large spring N.W. of the present town, and which now bears, probably in reference to some later event, the name of Ain es-Sultan (Robinson, Researches, 2:383 sq.). (See JERICHO).
2. We next meet with Elisha at Bethel, in the heart of the country, on his way from Jericho to Mount Carmel (2 Kings 2:23). His last visit had been made in company with Elijah on their road down to the Jordan (2 Kings 2:2). Sons of the prophets resided there, but still it was the seat of the calf-worship, and therefore a prophet of Jehovah might expect to meet with insult, especially if not so well known and so formidable as Elijah. The road to the town winds up the defile of the wady Suweinit, under the hill which still bears what in all probability are the ruins of Ai, and which, even now retaining some trees, was at that date shaded by a forest, thick, and the haunt of savage animals (comp. Amos 5:19). (See BETHEL).
Here the boys of the town were clustered, waiting, as they still wait at the entrance of the villages of Palestine, for the chance passer-by. In the scanty locks of Elisha, how were they to recognize the successor of the prophet, with whose shaggy hair streaming over his shoulders they were all familiar? So, with the license of the Eastern children, they scoff at the newcomer as he walks by — "Go up ( לֵה, hardly ascend, as if alluding to Elijah, but pass on out of the way), bald-head (קֵרֵהִ, devoid of hair on the back of the head, as opposed to גִּבֵּחֵ, bald on the forehead)!" For once Elisha assumed the sternness of his master. He turned upon them and cursed them in the name of Jehovah. 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 the neighboring wood and punish the young delinquents. It is not said that they were actually killed (the expression is (נָּקִ, to rend, which is peculiarly applicable to the claws of the bear). This fate may indeed have befallen some of the party, but it is by no means probable in regard to the greater number.
Ehlenberg says that the bear is seen only on one part of the summit of Lebanon, called Mackmel, the other peak, Jebel Sanin, being, strangely enough, free from these animals. The Syrian bear is more of a frugiverous habit than the brown bear (Ursus arctos), but when pressed with hunger it is known to attack men and animals; it is very fond of a kind of chick-pea (Cicer arietinus), fields of which are often laid waste by its devastations. Most recent writers are silent respecting any species of bear in Syria, such as Shaw, Volney, Hasselquist, Burckhardt, and Schulz. Seetzen, however, notices a report of the existence of a bear in the province of Hasbeiya, on Mount Hermon. Klaeder supposed this bear must be the Ursus arctos, for which opinion, however, he seems to have had no authority; and a recent writer, Dr. Thomson (Land and Book, 2:373), says that the Syrian bear is still found on the higher mountains of this country, and that the inhabitants of Hermon stand in great fear of him. Hemprich and Ehrenberg (Symbole Phys. part 1) inform us that during the summer months these bears keep to the snowy parts of Lebanon, but descend in winter to the villages and gardens; it is probable, also, that at this period in former days they extended their visits to other parts of Palestine; for, though this species was in ancient times far more numerous than it is now, yet the snowy summits of Lebanon were probably always the summer home of these animals. It is not improbable, therefore, that the attack upon the forty-two children who mocked Elisha took place some time in the winter, when these animals inhabited the low lands of Palestine. (See BEAR).
3. Elisha extricates Jehoram, king of Israel, and the kings of Judah and Edom, from their difficulty in the campaign against Moab, arising from want of water (2 Kings 3:4-27). The revolt of Moab occurred very shortly after the death of Ahab (2 Kings 3:5; comp. 1:1), and the campaign followed immediately —"the same day" (2 Kings 3:6; A.V. "time"). The prophet was with the army; according to Josephus (Ant. 9:3, 1) he "happened to be in a tent outside the camp of Israel." Joram he refuses to hear, except out of respect for Jehoshaphat, the servant of the true God; but a minstrel is brought, and at the sound of music the hand of Jehovah comes upon him, and he predicts a fall of rain, and advises a mode of procedure in connection therewith which results in the complete discomfiture of Moab. This incident probably tool place at the S.E. end of the Dead Sea. (See JEHORAM).
4. The widow of one of the sons of the prophets according to Josephus, of Obadiah, the steward of Ahab — is in debt, and her two sons are about to be taken from her and sold as slaves by her creditors, as by an extension of the law (Exodus 21:7, and Leviticus 25:39), and by virtue of another (Exodus 22:3), they had the power to do; and against this hard-hearted act she implores the prophet's assistance. God will not, without a cause, depart from the general laws of his administration: Elisha therefore inquires how far she herself had the power to avert the threatened calamity. She replies that the only thing of which she was possessed was one pot of oil. This Elisha causes (in his absence, 4:5) to multiply (after the example of Elijah at Zarephath), until the widow has filled with it all the vessels which she could borrow, and thus procured the means of payment (2 Kings 4:1-7). No place or date of the miracle is mentioned.
5. The next occurrence is at Shunem and Mount Carmel (2 Kings 4:8-37). The account consists of two parts,
[a.] Elisha, probably on his way between Carmel and the Jordan valley, calls accidentally at Shunem, now Solam, a village on the southern slopes of Jebel ed-Duhy, the little Hermon of modern travelers. Here he is hospitably entertained by a woman of substance, apparently at first ignorant of the character of her guest. Wishing that he should take up, more than occasionally, his abode under her roof, she proposed to her husband to construct for him a chamber which he might have for his own accommodation. The husband at once consented, and, the apartment being fitted up in a way that showed their proper conception of his feeling, the prophet becomes its occupant. Grateful for such disinterested kindness, Elisha delicately inquired of her if he could prefer her interest before the king or the captain of his host; for he must have had considerable influence at court, from the part he had taken in the late war. But the good woman declined the prophet's offer by declaring that she would rather "dwell among her own people," and in the condition of life to which she had been accustomed. Still, to crown her domestic happiness, she lacked one thing — she had no child; and now, by reason of the age of her husband, she could not expect such a blessing. In answer, however, to the prayer of the prophet, and as a recompense for her care of him, she was saved from that childless condition which was esteemed so great a calamity by every Jewish wife, and permitted to "embrace a son" (2 Kings 4:8-17).
[b.] After an interval of several years, the boy is old enough to accompany his father to the corn-field, where the harvest is proceeding. The fierce rays of the morning sun are too powerful for him, and (affected apparently by a sun-stroke) he is carried home to his mother only to die at noon. She says nothing of their loss to her husband, but depositing her child on the bed of the man of God, at once starts in quest of him to Mount Carmel. The distance is fifteen or sixteen miles-at least four hours' ride; but she is mounted on the best ass (הָאָתוֹן, the she-ass, such being noted for excellence), and she does not slacken rein. Elisha is on one of the heights of Carmel commanding the road to Shunem, and from his position opposite to her (מִנֶּגֶר ) he recognizes in the distance the figure of the regular attendant at the services which he holds here at "new moon and sabbath" (comp. 2 Kings 4:23). He sends Gehazi down to meet her, and inquire the reason of her unexpected visit. But her distress is for the ear of the master, and not of the servant, and she presses on till she comes up to the place where Elisha himself is stationed (הָהָר, the mount, 2 Kings 4:27, i.e., Carmel, 2 Kings 4:25); then throwing herself down in her emotion, she clasps him by the feet. Misinterpreting this action, or perhaps with an ascetic feeling of the unholiness of a woman, Gehazi attempts to thrust her away. But the prophet is too profound a student of human nature to allow this — "Let her alone, for her soul is vexed within her, and Jehovah hath hid it from me, and bath not told me." "And she said'' — with the enigmatical form of Oriental speech — "did I desire a son of my lord? Did I not say, do not deceive me?" No explanation is needed to tell Elisha the exact state of the case. The heat of the season will allow of no delay in taking the necessary steps, and Gehazi is at once dispatched to run back to Shunem with the utmost speed. He takes the prophet's walking-staff in his hand which he is to lay on the face of the child. The mother and Elisha follow in haste. Before they reach the village the sun of that long, anxious summer afternoon must have set. Gehazi meets them on the road, but he has no reassuring report to give; the placing of the staff on the face of the dead boy had called forth no sign of life. Then Elisha enters the house, goes up to his own chamber, "and he shut the door on them twain, and prayed unto Jehovah." It was what Elijah had done on a similar occasion, and in this and his subsequent proceedings Elisha was probably following a method which he had heard of from his master. The child is restored to life, the mother is called in, and again falls at the feet of the prophet, though with what different emotions — "and she took up her son and went out" (2 Kings 4:18-37). There is nothing in the narrative to fix its date with reference to other events.
We here first encounter Gehazi, the "servant" (נִ ר, lad) of the man of God. It must of course have occurred before the events of 2 Kings 8:1-6, and therefore before the cure of Naaman, when Gehazi became a leper.
6. The scene now changes to Gilgal, apparently at a time when Elisha was residing there (2 Kings 4:38-41). The sons of the prophets are sitting round him. It is a time of famine, possibly the same seven years' scarcity which is mentioned in 2 Kings 8:1-2, and during which the Shunammite woman of the preceding story migrated to the Philistine country. The food of the party must consist of any herbs that can be found. The great caldron is put on at the command of Elisha, and one of the company brings his blanket (בֶּגֶד; not "lap" as in A.V.) full of such wild vegetables as he has collected, and empties it into the pottage. But no sooner have they begun their meal than the taste betrays the presence of some noxious herb, (See GOURD), and they cry out, "There is death in the pot, oh man of God!" In this case the cure was effected by meal which Elisha cast into the stew in the caldron (2 Kings 4:38-41).
7. The next miracle in all probability belongs to the same time, and also to the same place as the preceding. A man from Baal-shalisha (q.v.) brings the man of God a present of the first-fruits, which under the law (Numbers 18:8; Numbers 18:12; Deuteronomy 18:3-4) were the perquisite of the ministers of the sanctuary — 20 loaves of the new barley, and some delicacy, the exact nature of which is disputed, but which seems most likely to have been roasted ear of corn not fully ripe (כִּרְמֶל, perhaps elliptically for גֶּרֶשׁ כִּרְמֶל; comp. Leviticus 23:4), brought with care in a sack or bag (צִקְלוֹן, Sept. πήρα ). This moderate provision is by the word of Jehovah rendered more than sufficient for a hundred men (2 Kings 4:42-44). This is one of the instances in which Elisha is the first to anticipate in some measure the miracles of Christ.
8. The simple records of these domestic incidents amongst the sons of the prophets are now interrupted by an occurrence of a more important character (2 Kings 5:1-27). The chief captain of the army of Syria, to whom his country was indebted for some signal success (the tradition of the Jews is that it was Naaman who killed Ahab, Midrash Tehillim, page 29 b, on Psalms 78:1-72), was afflicted with leprosy, and that in its most malignant form, the white variety (Psalms 78:27). In Israel this would have disqualified him from all employment and all intercourse (2 Kings 15:5; 2 Chronicles 26:20-21). But in Syria no such practice appears to have prevailed; Naaman was still a "great man with his master," "a man of countenance." One of the members of his establishment is an Israelitish girl, kidnapped by the marauders (גְּדוּדִים ) of Syria in one of their forays over the border, and she brings into that Syrian household the fame of the name and skill of Elisha. "The prophet in Samaria," who had raised the dead, would, if brought into the presence of (לִפְנִי ) the patient, have no difficulty in curing even this dreadful leprosy. The news is communicated by Naaman himself (וִיָּבא, not "one told") to the king. Benhadad had yet to learn the position and character of Elisha. He writes to the king of Israel a letter very characteristic of a military prince, and curiously recalling words uttered by another military man in reference to the cure of his sick servant many centuries later — "I say to this one, go, and he goeth. and to my servant. do this, and he doeth it." "And now" — so ran Benhadad's letter after the usual complimentary introduction had probably opened the communication — "and now, when this letter is come unto thee, behold, I have sent Naaman, my slave, to thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy." With this letter, and with a present, in which the rich fabrics (לְבוּשׁ, i.e., a dress of ceremony) for which Damascus has always been in modern times so famous form a conspicuous feature, and with a full retinue of attendants (13, 15, 23), Naaman proceeds to Samaria. The king of Israel — his name is not given, but it was probably Joram — is dismayed at the communication. He has but one idea, doubtless the result of too frequent experience — "Consider how this man seeketh a quarrel against me!" The occurrence soon reaches the ears of the prophet, and with a certain dignity he "sends" to the king "Let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel." To the house of Elisha Naaman goes with his whole cavalcade, the "horses and chariot" of the Syrian general fixing themselves particularly in the mind of the chronicler. Elisha still keeps in the background, and while Naaman stands at the doorway, contents himself with sending out a messenger with the simple direction to bathe seven times in the Jordan. The independent behavior of the prophet, and the simplicity of the prescription — not only devoid of any ceremonial, but absolutely insulting to the native of a city which boasted, as it still boasts, of the finest water-supply of any city of the East, all combined to enrage Naaman.
His slaves, however, knew how to deal with the quick but not ungenerous temper of their master; and the result is that he goes down to the Jordan and dips himself seven times, "and his flesh came again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean." His first business after his cure is to thank his benefactor. He returns with his whole train (מִחֲנֶה, i.e., "host" or "camp"), and this time he will not be denied the presence of Elisha, but, making his way in, and standing before him, he gratefully acknowledges the power of the God of Israel, and entreats him to accept the present which he had brought from Damascus. But Elisha is firm, and refuses the offer, though repeated with the strongest adjuration. Naaman, having adopted Jehovah as his God, begs, to be allowed to take away some of the earth of his favored country, of which to make an altar. He then consults Elisha on a difficulty which he foresees. How is he, a servant of Jehovah, to act when he accompanies the king to the temple of the Syrian god Rimmon? He must bow before the god; will Jehovah pardon this disloyalty? Elisha's answer is "Go in peace," and with this farewell the caravan moves off. But Gehazi, the attendant of Elisha, cannot allow such treasures thus to escape him. "As Jehovah liveth" — an expression, in the lips of this vulgar Israelite, exactly equivalent to the oft-repeated Wallah — " by God" — of the modern Arabs, "I will run after this Syrian and take somewhat of him." So he frames a story by which the generous Naaman if made to send back with him to Elisha's house a considerable present in money and clothes. He then went in and stood before his master as if nothing had happened. But the prophet was not to be so deceived. His heart had gone after his servant through the whole transaction, even to its minutest details, and he visits Gehazi with the tremendous punishment of the leprosy, from which he has just relieved Naaman. The date of the transaction must have been 'at least seven years after the raising of the Shunammite's son. This is evident from a comparison of 2 Kings 8:4 with 1, 2, 3. Gehazi's familiar conversation with the king must have taken place before he was a leper. (See NAAMAN).
9. We now return to the sons of the prophets, but this time the scene appears to be changed, and is probably at Jericho, and during the residence of Elisha there. Whether from the increase of the scholars consequent on the estimation in which the master was held, or from some other cause, their habitation had become too small — "The place in which we sit before thee is too narrow for us." They will therefore move to the close neighborhood of the Jordan, and cutting down beams — each man one, as with curious minute ness the text relates — make there a new dwelling place. Why Jordan was selected is not apparent.. Possibly for its distance from the distractions of Jericho — possibly the spot was once sanctified by the crossing of Israel with the ark, or of Elijah, only a few years before. Urged by his disciples, the man of God consents to accompany them. When they reach the Jordan, descending to the level of the stream, they commence felling the trees (הָ צִים ) of the dense belt of wood in immediate contact with the water. (See JORDAN). As one of them was cutting at a tree overhanging the stream, the iron of his axe (a borrowed tool) flew off and sank into the water. His cry soon brought the man of God to his aid. The stream of the Jordan is deep up to the very bank, especially when the water is so low as to leave the wood dry, and is, moreover, so turbid that search would be useless. But the place at which the lost axe entered the water is shown to Elisha; he lops off (קָצִב ) a stick and casts it into the stream, and the iron appears on the surface, and is recovered by its possessor (2 Kings 6:1-7).
10. Elisha is now residing at Dothan, half way on the road between Samaria and Jezreel. The incursions of the Syrian marauding bands (comp. 2 Kings 6:2) still continue, but apparently with greater boldness, and pushed even into places which the king of Israel is accustomed to frequent (comp. Josephus, Ant. 9:4, 3). But their maneuvers are not hid from the man of God, and by his warnings he saves the king "not once nor twice." So baffled were the Syrians by these repeated failures as to make their king suspect treachery in his own camp. But the true explanation is given by one of his own people — possibly one of those who had witnessed the cure wrought on Naaman, and could conceive no power too great to ascribe to so gifted a person: "Elisha, the prophet in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber." So powerful a magician must be seized without delay, and a strong party with chariots is dispatched to effect his capture. . They march by night, and before morning take up their station round the base of the eminence on which the ruins of Dothan still stand. Elisha's servant — not Gehazi, but apparently a newcomer, unacquainted with the powers of his master — is the first to discover the danger. But Elisha remains unmoved by his fears; and at his request the eyes of the youth are opened to behold the spiritual guards which are protecting them, horses and chariots of fire filling the whole of the mountain. But this is not enough. Elisha again prays to Jehovah, and the whole of the Syrian warriors are struck blind. He then descends, and offers to lead them to the person and the place which they seek. He conducts them to Samaria. There, at the prayer of the prophet, their sight is restored, and they find themselves, not in a retired country village, but in the midst of the capital of" Israel, and in the presence of the king and his troops. His enemies thus completely in his grasp, the king of Israel is eager to destroy them. "Shall I slay? shall I slay, my father?" But the end of Elisha has been answered when he has shown the Syrians how futile are all their attempts against his superior power. "Thou shalt not slay. Thou mayest slay those whom thou hast taken captive in lawful fight, but not these [literally, "Are these what thou hast captured with thy sword and bow, that thou art for smiting them?": feed them, and send them away to their master." After such a repulse it is not surprising that the marauding forays of the Syrian troops ceased (2 Kings 6:8; 2 Kings 6:23). (See BENHADAD).
11. But the king of Syria could not rest under such dishonor. He abandons his marauding system, and gathers a regular army, with which he lays siege to Samaria. The awful extremities to which the inhabitants of the place were driven need not here be recalled. Roused by an encounter with an incident more ghastly than all, and which remained without parallel in Jewish records till the unspeakable horrors of the last days of Jerusalem (Josephus, War, 5:10, 3; 13, 7, etc.), the king vents his wrath on the prophet, probably as having, by his share in the last transaction (so Josephus, Ant. 9:4, 4), or in some other way not recorded, provoked the invasion; possibly actuated by the spite with which a weak bad man in difficulty often regards one better and stronger than himself. The king's name is not stated in the Bible, but there can be no doubt that Josephus is correct in giving it as Joram; and in keeping with this is his employment of the same oath which his mother Jezebel used on an occasion not dissimilar (1 Kings 19:2), "God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha, the son of Shaphat, shall stand on him this day." No sooner is the word out of the king's mouth than his emissary starts to execute the sentence. Elisha is in his house, and round him are seated the elders of Samaria, doubtless receiving some word of comfort or guidance in their sore calamity. He receives a miraculous intimation of the danger. Ere the messenger could reach the house, he said to his companions, "See how this son of a murderer (alluding to Ahab in the case of Naboth) hath sent to take away my head! Shut the door, and keep him from entering: even now I hear the sound of his master's feet behind him (hastening to stay the result of his rash exclamation!" interprets Josephus, Ant. 9:4, 4).
As he says the words the messenger arrives at the door, followed immediately, as the prophet had predicted, by the king and by one of his officers, the lord on whose hand he leaned. What follows is very graphic. The king's hereditary love of Baal burst forth, and he cries, "This evil is from Jehovah," the ancient enemy of my house: "why should I wait for Jehovah any longer?" To this Elisha answers: "Hear the word of Jehovah" — he who has sent famine can also send plenty — "tomorrow at this time shall a measure of fine flour be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of this very city." "This is folly," says the officer; "even if Jehovah were to make windows in heaven and pour down the provisions, it could not be." "It can, it shall," replies Elisha; "and you, you shall see it all, but shall not live even to taste it" (2 Kings 6:24-33; 2 Kings 7:1-2). 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 7:1-20). (See SAMARIA).
12. We now go back several years to an incident connected with the lady of Shunem, at a period antecedent to the cure of Naaman and the transfer of his leprosy to Gehazi (2 Kings 5:1; 2 Kings 5:27). Elisha had been made aware of a famine which Jehovah was about to bring upon the land for seven years; and he had warned his friend the Shunammite of it that she might provide for her safety. Accordingly she had left Shunem with her family, and had taken refuge in the land of the Philistines, that is, in the rich corn- growing plain on the sea-coast of Judah, where, secure from want, she remained during the dearth. At the end of the seven years she returned to her native place, to find that during her absence her house with the field- land attached to it — the corn-fields of the former story — had been appropriated by some other person. In Eastern countries kings are (or were) accessible to the complaints of the meanest of their subjects to a degree inconceivable to the inhabitants of the Western world. To the king, therefore, the Shunammite had recourse, as the widow of Tekoah on a former occasion to king David (2 Samuel 14:4). Thus occurred one of those rare coincidences which it is impossible not to ascribe to something more than mere chance. At the very moment of the entrance of the woman and her son-clamoring, as Oriental suppliants alone clamor (צָעִק ), for her home and her land — the king was listening to a recital by Gehazi of "all the great things which Elisha had done," the crowning feat of all being that which he was then actually relating — the restoration to life of the boy of Shunem. The woman was instantly recognised by Gehazi. — "My lord, O king, this is the woman and this is her son whom Elisha restored to life." From her own mouth the king hears the repetition of the wonderful tale, and, whether from regard to Elisha, or struck by the extraordinary coincidence, orders her land to be restored, with the value of all its produce during her absence (2 Kings 8:1-6).
13. Hitherto we have met with the prophet only in his own country. We now find him at Damascus. (The traditional spot of his residence on this occasion is shown in the synagogue at Jobar [? Hobah], a village about two miles E. of Damascus. The same village, if not the same building, also contains the cave in which Elijah was fed by ravens and the tomb of Gehazi [Stanley, Palest. page 412; Quaresmius, 2:881— "vana et mendacia Hebraeorum"].) He is there to carry out the command given to Elijah on Horeb to "anoint Hazael to be king over Syria." At the time of his arrival Benhadad was prostrate with his last illness. This marks the time of the visit as after the siege of Samaria, which was conducted by Benhadad in person (compare 2 Kings 6:24). The memory of the cure of Naaman, and of the subsequent disinterestedness of the prophet, were no doubt still fresh in Damascus; and no sooner does he enter the city than the intelligence is carried to the king — "The man of God is come hither." The king's first desire is naturally to ascertain his own fate; and Hazael, "he appears to have succeeded Naaman, is commissioned to be the bearer of a present to the prophet, and to ask the question on the part of his master, "Shall I recover of this disease?" The present is one of royal dimensions — a caravan (of 40 camels, according to Josephus, Ant. 9:4, 6) laden with the riches and luxuries which that wealthy city alone could furnish. The terms of Hazael's address show the respect in which the prophet was held even in this foreign and hostile country. They are identical with those in which Nasman was addressed Ly his slaves, and in which the king of Israel in a moment of the deepest gratitude and reverence had addressed Elisha himself. "Thy son Benhadad hath sent me to thee, saying, 'Shall I recover of this disease?'" The reply, probably originally ambiguous, is doubly uncertain in the present doubtful state of the Hebrew text, but the general conclusion was unmistakable: "Jehovah hath showed me that he shall surely die."
But this was not all that had been revealed to the prophet. If Benhadad died, who would be king in his stead but the man who now stood before him? The prospect was one which drew forth the tears of the man of God. This man was no rash and imprudent leader, who could be baffled and deceived as Benhadad had so often been. Behind that "steadfast," impenetrable countenance was a steady courage and a persistent resolution, in which Elisha could not but foresee the greatest danger to his country. Here was a man who, give him but the power, would "oppress" and "cut Israel short," would "thresh Gilead with threshing instruments of iron," and "make them like the dust by threshing" as no former king of Syria had done, and that at a time when the prophet would be no longer alive to warn and to advise. At Hazael's request Elisha confesses the reason of his tears. But the prospect is one which has no sorrow for Hazael. How such a career presented itself to him may be inferred from his answer. His only doubt is the possibility of such good fortune for one so mean. "But what is thy slave, dog that he is (עִבְדְּךָ הִכֶּלֶב, thy servant, THE dog, i.e., insignificant object), that he should do this great thing?" To this Elisha replies, "Jehovah hath showed me that thou wilt be king over Syria." Returning to the king, Hazael tells him only half the dark saying of the man of God — "He told me that thou shouldest surely recover." But that was the last day of Benhadad's life. What were the circumstances attending his death, whether in the bath as has recently been suggested (Ewald, Isr. Gesch. 3:523 note), is not clear, except that he seems to have been smothered. The general inference, in accordance with the account of Josephus, is that Hazael himself was the murderer, but the statement in the text does not necessarily bear that interpretation (הִמִּכְבֵּר יִיַּקִּח, may well be rendered "one took the [not a] hair-cloth," i.e., perhaps divan-mattress); and, indeed, from the mention of Hazael's name at the end of the passage, the conclusion is rather the reverse (2 Kings 8:7-15). (See HAZAEL).
14. Two of the injunctions laid on Elijah had now been carried out, but the third still remained. Hazael had begun his attacks on Israel by an attempt to recover the stronghold of Ramoth-Gilead (2 Kings 8:28), or Ramah, among the mountains on the east of Jordan. But the fortress was held by the kings of Israel and Judah in alliance, and, though the Syrians had wounded the king of Israel, they had not succeeded in capturing the place (2 Kings 8:28; 2 Kings 9:15). One of the captains of the Israelitish army in the garrison was Jehu, the son of Jehoshaphat, the son of Nimshi. At the time his name was mentioned to Elijah on Horeb he must have been but a youth; now he is one of the boldest and best known of all the warriors of Israel. He had seen the great prophet — once, when with his companion Bidkar he attended Ahab to take possession of the field of Naboth, and the scene of that day, and the words of the curse then pronounced, no subsequent adventure had been able to efface (2 Kings 9:25; 2 Kings 9:36). The time had now come far the fulfillment of that curse by his being anointed king over Israel. Elisha's personal share in the transaction was confined to giving directions to one of the sons of the prophets, and the detailed narrative may be found in 2 Kings 9:1-37 (see Maurice, Prophets and Kings, sermon 9). (See JEHU).
15. Beyond this we have no record of Elisha's having taken any part in the revolution of Jehu, or the events which followed it. He does not again appear till we find him on his death-bed in his own house (2 Kings 13:14-19). Joash, the grandson of Jehu, is now king, and he has come to weep over the approaching departure of the great and good prophet. His words are the same as those of Elisha when Elijah was taken away — "My father! my father! the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof!" But it is not a time for weeping. One thought fills the mind of both king and prophet. Syria is the fierce enemy who is gradually destroying the country, and against Syria one final effort must be made before the aid of Elisha becomes unobtainable. What was the exact significance of the ceremonial employed, our ignorance of Jewish customs does not permit us to know, but it was evidently symbolic. The window is opened towards the hated country, the bow is pointed in the same direction, and the prophet laying his hands on the string as if to convey force to the shot, "the arrow of Jehovah's deliverance, the arrow of deliverance from Syria" is discharged. This done, the king takes up the bundle of arrows, and, at the command of Elisha, beats them on the ground. But he does it with no energy, and the successes of Israel, which might have been so prolonged as completely to destroy the foe, are limited to three victories. (See JEHOASH).
16. The power of the prophet, however, does not terminate with his death. Even in the tomb (Josephus embellishes the account by stating that he had a magnificent funeral, Ant. 9:8, 6) he restores the dead to life. Moab had recovered from the tremendous reverse inflicted on her by the three kings at the opening of Elisha's career (2 Kings 3:1-27), and her marauding bands had again begun the work of depredation which Syria so long pursued (2 Kings 5:2; 2 Kings 6:23). The text perhaps infers that the spring — that is, when the early crops were ripening — was the usual period for these attacks; but, be this as it may, on the present occasion they invaded the land "at the coming in of the year." A funeral was going on in the cemetery which contained the sepulcher of Elisha. Seeing the Moabitish spoilers in the distance, the friends of the dead man hastened to conceal his corpse in the nearest hiding-place. They chose — whether by design or by accident is not said — the tomb of the prophet, and, as the body was pushed (יָלִךְ ) into the cell which formed the receptacle for the corpse in Jewish tombs, it came in contact with his bones. The mere touch of those hallowed remains was enough to effect that which in his lifetime had cost Elisha both prayers and exertions — the man "revived and stood up on his feet." Other miracles of the prophet foreshadow, as we have remarked, the acts of power and goodness of our Savior, but this may rather be said to recall the marvels of a later period — of the early ages of the Christian Church. It is in the story of Gervasius and Protasius (Augustine's Confessions, 9, § 16), and not in any occurrence in the life of our Lord or of the apostles, that we must look for a parallel to the last recorded miracle of Elisha (2 Kings 13:20-22).
II. Characteristics and Traditional Views. — In almost every respect Elisha presents the most complete contrast to Elijah. The copious collection of his sayings and doings which are preserved in the 3d to the 9th chapter of the 2d book of Kings, though in many respects deficient in that remarkable vividness which we have noted in the records of Elijah, is yet full of testimonies to this contrast. Elijah was a true Bedouin child of the desert. The clefts of the Cherith, the wild shrubs of the desert, the cave at Horeb, the top of Carmel, were his haunts and his resting-places. If he enters a city, it is only to deliver his message and be gone. Elisha, on the other hand, is a civilized man, an inhabitant of cities. He passed from the translation of his master to dwell at Jericho (2 Kings 2:18); from thence he "returned" to Samaria (2 Kings 2:25). At Samaria (2 Kings 5:3; 2 Kings 6:32; comp. 2 Kings 6:24) and at Dothan (2 Kings 6:14) he seems regularly to have resided in a house (2 Kings 5:9; 2 Kings 5:24; 2 Kings 6:32; 2 Kings 13:17) with "doors" and "windows," in familiar intercourse with the sons of the prophets, with the elders (2 Kings 6:32), with the lady of Shunem, the general of Damascus, the king of Israel Over the king and the "captain of the host he seems to have possessed some special influence, capable of being turned to material advantage if desired (2 Kings 4:13). The touches of the narrative are very slight, but we can gather that his dress was the ordinary garment of an Israelite, the beged, probably similar in form to the long abbeyeh of the modern Syrians (2 Kings 2:12), that his hair was worn short (if not naturally deficient) behind, in contrast with the long locks of Elijah (2 Kings 2:23), and that he used a walking-staff (2 Kings 4:29) of the kind ordinarily carried by grave or aged citizens (Zechariah 8:4). What use he made of the rough mantle of Elijah, which came into his possession at their parting, does not anywhere appear, but there is no hint of his ever having worn it. Elijah was emphatically a destroyer. His mission was to slay and to demolish whatever opposed or interfered with the rights of Jehovah, the Lord of Hosts. The nation had adopted a god of power and force, and they were shown that he was feebleness itself compared with the God whom they had forsaken.
But after Elijah the destroyer comes Elisha the healer. "There shall not be dew nor rain these years" is the earliest proclamation of the one. "There shall not be from thence any dearth or barren land" is the first miracle of the other. What may have been the disposition of Elijah when not engaged in the actual service of his mission we have unhappily no means of knowing. Like most men of strong, stern character, he probably had affections not less strong. But it is impossible to conceive that he was accustomed to the practice of that beneficence which is so strikingly characteristic of Elisha, and which comes out at almost every step of his career. Still more impossible is it to conceive him exercising the tolerance towards the person and the religion of foreigners for which Elisha is remarkable in communication, for example, with Naaman or Hazael; in the one case calming with a word of peace the scruples of the new proselyte, anxious to reconcile the due homage to Rimmon with his allegiance to Jehovah; in the other case contemplating with tears, but still with tears only, the evil which the future king of Syria was to bring upon his country. That Baal-worship was prevalent in Israel even after the efforts of Elijah, and that Samaria was its chief seat, we have the evidence of the narrative of Jehu to assure us (2 Kings 10:18-27), but his mission is not so directly to rebuke and punish it. In the eulogium of Elisha contained in the catalogue of worthies of Sirach 48:12-14 — the only later mention of him save the passing allusion of Luke 4:27 — his special character is more strongly brought out than in the earlier narrative: "Whilst he lived he was not moved by the presence of any prince, neither could any bring him into subjection. No word could overcome him, and after his death his body prophesied. He did wonders in his life, and at his death were his works marvelous." This thaumaturgic view of Elisha is indeed the true key to his Biblical history, for he evidently appears in these records chiefly as a worker of prodigies, a predictor of future events, a revealer of secrets, and things happening out of sight or at a distance. The working of wonders seems to be a natural accompaniment of false religions, and we may be sure that the Baal-worship of Samaria and Jezreel was not free from such arts. The story of 1 Kings 22:1-53 shows that even before Elisha's time the prophets had come to be looked upon as diviners, and were consulted, not on questions of truth and justice, nor even as depositaries of the purposes and will of the Deity, but as able to foretell how an adventure or a project was likely to turn out, whether it might be embarked in without personal danger or loss. But if this degradation is inherent in false worship, it is no less a principle in true religion to adjust itself to a state of things already existing, and out of the forms of the alien or the false to produce the power of the true. Thus Elisha appears to have met the habits of his fellow-countrymen. He wrought, without reward and without ceremonial, the cures and restorations for which the soothsayers of Baalzebub at Ekron were consulted in vain: he warned his sovereign of dangers from the Syrians which the whole four hundred of his prophets had not succeeded in predicting to Ahab, and thus in one sense we may say that no less signally than Elijah he vanquished the false gods on their own field.
The frequency and unparalleled nature of his miracles also furnish perhaps the best explanation of Elijah's behest of "a double portion of his own spirit" upon Elisha (2 Kings 2:9), The ordinary meaning put upon this phrase (see, for example, J.H. Newman, Subj. of the Day, page 191) is that Elisha possessed double the power of Elijah. This, though sanctioned by the renderings of the Vulgate and Luther, and adopted by a long series of commentators from Ephraem Syrus to Krummnacher, would appear not to be the real force of the words. The expression is פַּי שְׁנִיִם, literally "a mouth of two" — a double mouthful — the same phrase employed in Deuteronomy 21:17 to denote the amount of a father's goods which were the right and token of a first-born son. Thus the gift of the "double portion" of Elijah's spirit was but the legitimate conclusion of the act of adoption which began with the casting of the mantle at Abel-meholah years before. It was this which Elisha sought — not a gift of the spirit of prophecy twice as large as Elijah himself possessed. This carries improbability on the very face of it; for with what propriety could a man be asked to leave as an inheritance to another double of what he himself possessed? Nor did Elisha get any such superlative endowment; his position as a prophet was altogether of a dependent and secondary nature as compared with Elijah's; and the attempts that have been made to invert the relation of the one to the other, proceed upon arbitrary and superficial considerations. Not less arbitrary is the view of Ewald, that the request of Elisha must be understood as indicating a wish for two thirds only of Elijah's spirit (Gesch. 3:507) — a view that requires no refutation. The proper explanation is, that Elisha here regarded Elijah as the head of a great spiritual household, which included himself as the first-born and all who had since been added to the fraternity under the name of "the sons of the prophets;" and what he now sought was, that he might be constituted Elijah's heir in the spiritual vineyard, by getting the first-born's double portion, and therewith authority to continue the work. For a curious calculation by Peter Damianus that Elijah performed twelve miracles an
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Elisha'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/e/elisha.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26