Elisha: God’s Miracle Man
An overview of the prophet, his manner, and his ministry.
1 Kings 19:16—2 Kings 13:21
Elijah and Elisha were among Israel’s most important prophets. Some people confuse them, but they were extremely different men. Elisha first appeared in biblical history when God commanded Elijah to anoint him as a prophet (1 Ki. 19:16). Soon after, Elisha replaced Elijah as head of Israel’s prophetic order.
Whereas Elijah was a loner, Elisha was well received by all levels of Israelite society. Elijah was aloof and lived in the wilderness, wandering throughout the northern kingdom of Israel wearing the garment of a prophet. He often challenged idolatry and government corruption.
Elisha looked like a more typical Israelite. Though at odds with the dynasty of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel (2 Ki. 9:1–10), he was a trusted advisor during the reigns of four Israelite kings: Joram (849–842 BC), Jehu (842–815 BC), Jehoahaz (815–801 BC), and Joash (801–786 BC).
Elisha’s family appears to have been wealthy; and Elisha owned property in Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel (6:32).
Although different from Elijah in many ways, Elisha still followed in the steps of Elijah’s ministry, performing twice as many miracles and meeting the needs of people in every level of society, from kings to the extremely poor and oppressed.
Elisha’s name means “God (Eli) is salvation (sha).” The name fits his mission to call Israel to repentance and to turn it from the sin of idolatry to the worship of the God of Israel.
Elisha was the son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah of the tribe of Issachar. His ownership of 12 yokes of oxen indicates he was a wealthy farmer (1 Ki. 19:16–19).
Elijah found Elisha plowing a field with his oxen. The prophet simply walked by and cast his mantle over him. Realizing what Elijah had done, Elisha ran after the prophet, asking only that he be allowed to say goodbye to his parents before following him. Elisha then killed and roasted a yoke of oxen, using the wooden plows for fuel (vv. 19–21). His action symbolized his acceptance of God’s call on his life. Elisha refused to leave Elijah’s side and for many years functioned as his protégé until God took Elijah home to heaven.
Elisha must have spent time in what was called the school (or sons) of the prophets, in which Elijah was a major leader. School locations included Gilgal, Bethel, and Jericho. There, through training and guidance, spiritual gifts were transferred from one prophet to another. Elisha exemplifies the process.
One day, with 50 men from the school of the prophets looking on, Elijah struck the Jordan River with his mantle. The waters parted, and Elijah and Elisha walked across on dry ground. Then Elijah asked Elisha what he could do for him before God took him. Elisha replied, “Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me” (2 Ki. 2:9).
Elisha’s request was granted the moment Elijah ascended to heaven. Elijah’s mantle fell to the ground. Elisha picked it up, walked to the Jordan, and struck the river with it. Immediately, the waters parted, as they had done for Elijah. The prophets witnessing the event recognized the transfer of power: “They said, ‘The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha,’” confirming Elisha was to succeed Elijah (v. 15).
Elisha demonstrated great compassion for people’s needs. He traveled extensively, counseled kings, and befriended Israelites and foreigners alike. Under him, Baal worship disappeared from Israel (10:28).
His ministry was threefold: to show personal compassion by healing people via miracles, to provide political counseling to kings, and to prophesy of future events.
In its nature, Elisha’s ministry resembled Elijah’s. Both men focused on ridding Israel of idolatry. A major difference was that Elisha performed twice as many miracles (28) as Elijah (14) over a much longer time. However, Elijah’s ministry manifested God’s wrathful vengeance against Israel’s idolatry, whereas Elisha’s showed God’s mercy and grace, both to Israel and to some of its enemies.
After bringing Elijah to heaven, God confirmed Elisha’s call by using Elisha to perform three miracles: (1) dividing the Jordan, as Elijah had done (2:14); (2) healing a polluted spring at Jericho by dumping a new bowl of salt into the water (vv. 19–22); and (3) cursing people, who then died.
This third miracle occurred as Elisha left Jericho for Bethel. En route, a group of youths taunted him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead!” (v. 23). Their disrespect voiced a hatred of God and His prophet. Elisha cursed them, whereupon two female bears emerged from the woods and mauled 42 of them (vv. 23–24).
These three miracles were a sign to Israel that Elisha’s ministry would mean life for those who honored God, but death for those who scorned Him. Elisha’s acceptance as God’s prophet in the place of Elijah spread quickly throughout Israel, and Israelites again had renewed hope for their nation’s spiritual healing.
Elisha proved faithful to his call, commission, and career throughout many years of ministry. Even though he never lived to see Israel’s total deliverance from its enemies, his ministry would be felt even into the first century AD.
Elisha is mentioned once in the New Testament. Jesus referred to him and his healing of Naaman the Gentile leper (Lk. 4:27). Many of the Lord Jesus’ miracles resembled those of Elijah and Elisha in their power, diversity, and outreach to both Jewish people and Gentiles, prefiguring God’s judgment and mercy and the grace of reconciliation.
Elisha played a major role in Israel’s spiritual life as a prophet and patriot. He impacted Israel politically, while providing for the personal needs of many Israelites. Consequently, he goes down in history as one of the greatest men in ancient Israel.