Elisha: God’s Prophet


Scripture: 2 Kings 5-7, 13

Reader: Linda Adutwum

Elisha’s standing as a prophet of God is one besotted by resistance, doubts, and underappreciation by others. People loved Elijah, his predecessor, but Elisha was not regarded in a like manner. In the NT, that pattern continues in that Elijah is referred to 29 times, while Elisha is mentioned only twice, once in an allusion in Hebrews 11 where through an OT prophet’s ministry, “Women received back their dead, raised to life again”. That prophet was Elisha. And, then once by name when Jesus referred to Elisha’s encounter with Naaman. We will start with that episode of Elisha and Naaman mentioned by Jesus.

Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” (2 Kings 5:2,3)

Naaman was the commander of the king of Aram’s army. Aram (today’s Syria afflicted) Israel regularly, raiding the land and kidnapping people whom they would then force to be their slaves. This particular episode features a kidnapped Israelite girl who turned out to be the unsung hero of the day. She had been made a slave to Naaman’s wife and, instead of being resentful for having been kidnapped and enslaved, she had compassion on Naaman because she knew that her God, YHWH God, through Elisha his prophet, could heal Naaman.

Naaman went to his master (who was King Ben-Hadad) and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.” As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!” When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” (2 Kings 5:4-8)

Israel’s King Joram, who had disdain for Elisha, hadn’t even thought of Elisha when this man who needed healing came to him, but Elisha, who heard of the situation, called Naaman to come to him.

So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored, and you will be cleansed.” But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So, he turned and went off in a rage. Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” So, he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy. (2 Kings 5:9-14)

Naaman was a great and powerful man, but he did not have control over the dreaded disease of leprosy. Indeed, leprosy had control over him. Naaman expected Elisha to act like a magician and wave his hands over his body to cure him, but that is not how God works. God wanted humble obedience from Naaman in order for the healing to come into effect. Insulted, Naaman stormed off in a huff. He wasn’t about to humble himself until a servant talked some sense into him.

Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.” The prophet answered, “As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.” And even though Naaman urged him, he refused. “If you will not,” said Naaman, “please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord. But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.” “Go in peace,” Elisha said. (2 Kings 5:15-19a)

“I now know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.” Well, that’s progress in Naaman’s understanding of the spiritual realities, but Naaman still didn’t understand that Elisha was not a magician. He thought payment would please him, but Elisha was not in the “prophet” business for “profit”, and he didn’t want Naaman or anyone else thinking that God’s power could be bought. The story doesn’t end there:

After Naaman had traveled some distance, Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said to himself, “My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.” So Gehazi hurried after Naaman. When Naaman saw him running toward him, he got down from the chariot to meet him. “Is everything all right?” he asked.

“Everything is all right,” Gehazi answered. “My master sent me to say, ‘Two young men from the company of the prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two sets of clothing.’” “By all means, take two talents,” said Naaman. He urged Gehazi to accept them, and then tied up the two talents of silver in two bags, with two sets of clothing…When he went in and stood before his master, Elisha asked him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” “Your servant didn’t go anywhere,” Gehazi answered. But Elisha said to him, “Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money or to accept clothes—or olive groves and vineyards, or flocks and herds, or male and female slaves? Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever.” Then Gehazi went from Elisha’s presence and his skin was leprous—it had become as white as snow. (2 Kings 5:19b-23b, 25-27)

Gehazi obviously showed little fear of Elisha or God, and divine, ironic,

justice was served in Gehazi getting Naaman’s leprosy. Yikes! Going on, we won’t read every story about Elisha but we will refer to them, and so one day, a prophecy student of Elisha was helping chop down trees that he and the other prophetical students were going to use to build a bigger schoolroom for their classes. That student had borrowed another man’s axe, only to have the head of the axe drop off and be lost in the Jordan River. Iron heads don’t float; they sink! We need to recognize that was a time period in which iron was very rare in Israel and thus expensive and highly sought after. There was no way the impoverished student could go and buy a replacement iron head for the axe. Elisha had compassion on the student and his plight by miraculously retrieving the lost axe head by having it float back up to the river’s surface from where it was retrieved. Going on, we find that Aram/Syria, Israel’s constant enemy at this time, was again attacking Israel. In this one instance, though, and only in this instance it seems, Elisha had the ear of Israel’s King Joram. Each planned move of the Aramean army was being revealed in advance by YHWH to Elisha.

Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places. This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, “Tell me! Which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?” “None of us, my lord the king,” said one of his officers, “but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.” “Go, find out where he is,” the king ordered, “so I can send men and capture him.” The report came back: “He is in Dothan.” Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city. (2 Kings 10b-14)

Have you ever been in a situation in which things looked grim, or even hopeless? Have you wondered if God is anywhere to be found? Or, if He even cares? I know you have. You will be encouraged by what happens next in this event.

When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early

the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. “Don’t be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6:15-17)

Friends, God and His angels are all around us, protecting us in ways

of which we may not even be aware. May our spiritual eyes be opened to see what is going on around us. Remember, in this instance, though Elijah and his servant could see God’s angelic army all around them, the Aramean army could not and so they had surrounded Dohan and were making a charge towards it with the goal of capturing Elisha. This time, though, Elisha didn’t pray for eyes to be opened but for the Arameans’ eyes to be made shut or blinded, at least in a partial or kind of blindness. God did as Elisha prayed. The Arameans, not personally knowing Elisha or now having the sight to recognize him, simply heard a man’s voice – it was Elisha who was speaking – informing them they were looking in the wrong place for God’s prophet, and so they should follow his voice and he would take them to the right spot. Elisha then led them to the nearby city of Samaria, Israel’s capital.

After they entered the city, Elisha said, “Lord, open the eyes of these men so they can see.” Then the Lord opened their eyes and they looked, and there they were, inside Samaria. When the king of Israel saw them, he asked Elisha, “Shall I kill them, my father? Shall I kill them?” “Do not kill them,” he answered. “Would you kill those you have captured with your own sword or bow? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master.” So, he prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So, the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory. (2 Kings 6:20-23)

Mercy was shown to the Aramean bandits, resulting in their pledging to stop raiding Israel. In the very next passage, though – and, we don’t know the length of time between these two events; it could have been years – King Ben-Hadad instead of sending raiding parties into Israel, sent the entire Aramean army to one place, to the capital city of Samaria, to surround and lay siege to it. The strategy behind a siege, a common military tactic in that day, was to prevent people, food, water, and other goods from entering or leaving a city, forcing its trapped residents to give up, be too weak to survive an attack, or starve. This specific siege lasted so long that food had become scarce in the city of Samaria, so much so that the Israelites were eating paying exorbitant rates to buy food they were not ceremonially permittedto eat, such as “unclean” foods like donkey’s heads being sold for 80 shekels or $500 CDN, or dove droppings at 5 shekels or $80 CDN. The people had even resorted to cannibalism in their attempts to survive. Such a calamity had been earlier prophesied by Moses in Deuteronomy 28, where he declared that if the Israelites ever abandoned God’s covenant such things would happen to them. When King Joram realized what was going on, he was distraught, but who did he blame? Certainly not himself nor his people for their sin of abandoning God and His covenant, but Elisha (of course) and YHWH (of course) for not intervening or stopping the suffering.

He said, “May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if the head of Elisha son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today!” Now Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him. The king sent a messenger ahead, but before he arrived, Elisha said to the elders, “Don’t you see how this murderer is sending someone to cut off my head? Look, when the messenger comes, shut the door, and hold it shut against him. Is not the sound of his master’s footsteps behind him?” While he was still talking to them, the messenger came down to him.

The king said, “This disaster is from the Lord. Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?” (2 Kings 6:31-33)

Elisha responded with good news, informing Joram, and the officer with him, that “about this time tomorrow, the cost of everything will plummet” and that there would be plentiful, cheap food to eat. Elisha then informed the doubting officer that even though he would be an eyewitness to those cheap food prices, he would not experience the blessing of eating any of that inexpensive food. That prophecy of Elisha’s, by itself, sounds ridiculous until we read what ahead…

Now there were four men with leprosy at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other, “Why stay here until we die? If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’—the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So, let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.” (2 Kings 7:3,4)

Here were four more unsung heroes. Those four lepers rightly so concluded they were going to die, either from starvation as they were not allowed into the city because of their leprosy (and, certainly no one would be thrown food down to them as they sat in front of the city walls), or by being killed by the Aramean army. They rolled the dice and to take a chance by turning themselves over to the Aramean army. So, they went to the Aramean encampment, only to find it abandoned. What had happened was that God had caused what sounded like a huge attacking army to be heard by the Arameans. Remember, those angels in the hills all around! The Arameans heard the sound of a mighty army approaching them, and panicked, telling each other that Israel had hired foreign armies to attack them. So, they fled for their lives during the night, leaving behind tents, animals, clothes, silver, gold, food, and drinks.

The men who had leprosy reached the edge of the camp, entered one of the tents and ate and drank. Then they took silver, gold and clothes, and went off and hid them. They returned and entered another tent and took some things from it and hid them also. Then they said to each other, “What we’re doing is not right. This is a day of good news, and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.” (2 Kings 7:8,9)

Christian commentators point out that “good news” is to be shared, and that we Christians should see in the leper’s example the attitude we should have regarding our witnessing of the good news of Jesus.

So, they went and called out to the city gatekeepers and told them, “We went into the Aramean camp, and no one was there—not a sound of anyone—only tethered horses and donkeys, and the tents left just as they were.” The gatekeepers shouted the news, and it was reported within the palace. (2 Kings 7:10,11)

King Joram heard of this good news but didn’t believe it, so he sent out soldiers to check. Seeing the Arameans’ abandoned goods…

They followed them as far as the Jordan, and they found the whole road strewn with the clothing and equipment the Arameans had thrown away in their headlong flight. So, the messengers returned and reported to the king. Then the people went out and plundered the camp of the Arameans. So, a seah of the finest flour sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley sold for a shekel, as the Lord had said. (2 Kings 7:15,16)

Because of the abundant amount of food left behind by the fleeing Aramean army, food was now so plentiful that the high prices from the day before and which had been caused by food shortages was replaced by low prices due to the plentiful food now available. Just as Elisha had prophesied, the finest flour and barley were now sold for only one shekel, astonishingly cheap prices.

Now the king had put the officer on whose arm he leaned in charge of the gate, and the people trampled him in the gateway, and he died, just as the man of God had foretold when the king came down to his house. It happened as the man of God had said to the king: “About this time tomorrow, a seah of the finest flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.” The officer had said to the man of God, “Look, even if the Lord should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?” The man of God had replied, “You will see it with your own eyes, but you will not eat any of it!” And that is exactly what happened to him, for the people trampled him in the gateway, and he died. (2 Kings 7:17-20)

All these prophecies and miracles showed that Elisha truly was God’s prophet in Israel. Chapters 8, 9, 10 we won’t go through today for we went through them last week but there we read (and, don’t read through these in bed, just before you go so sleep!): Hazael was anointed king of Aram, and Jehu the king of Israel. Hazael then murdered Aram’s king, Ben-Hadad and took his throne, and Jehu then killed the current king of Israel, Joram, and took his throne, as well as the entire evil family of Joram, Ahab and Jezebel. Plus, he wiped out Baal worship from Israel. Coming to today’s passage, then, Jehu ruled over Israel for 28 years, before turning over the throne to three more generations of his family, just as had prophesied to him. His son Jehoahaz was the first to take the throne. About him, we read,

He did evil in the eyes of the Lord by following the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat, which he had caused Israel to commit, and he did not turn away from them. So, the Lord’s anger burned against Israel, and for a long time he kept them under the power of Hazael king of Aram and Ben-Hadad his son. Then Jehoahaz sought the Lord’s favour, and the Lord listened to him, for he saw how severely the king of Aram was oppressing Israel. The Lord provided a deliverer for Israel, and they escaped from the power of Aram. (2 Kings 13:2-5a)

About that last phrase that “the Lord provided a deliverer for Israel, and they escaped from the power of Aram”, one commentator writes, “the only figure in Israel’s history who consistently made Syria fear him, was Elisha”, so he was Israel’s “deliverer” mentioned here.

After Jehoahaz died, his son Jehoash became the king of Israel. Again, as with every king of Israel, except Jehu, the writers of the Bible stated, “he did evil in the eyes of the Lord and did not turn away from any of the sins of idolatry that Jeroboam had brought into the land.” However, King Jehoash did get this one thing right:

Now Elisha had been suffering from the illness from which he died. Jehoash king of Israel went down to see him and wept over him. “My father! My father!” he cried. “The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” (2 Kings 13:14)

So, finally, at life’s end, Elisha finally got the honour and respect he deserved from a king of Israel! But the passage goes on to describe how Elisha prophesied for King Jehoash the way to totally defeat Aram, but that failed that one last test Elisha gave him. Sigh!

The death of Elisha was a huge blow to Israel as no one single prophet had the same kind of impact for centuries to come. Isaiah was the next great prophet but his ministry was so different from those of Elijah and Elisha. One final miracle related to Elisha is that we should conclude his life-story with, was that, after his death, his grave remained opened and a dead soldier of Israel was quickly placed within it as the Israelites fled from an army attacking them, but when that dead soldier’s body touched Elisha’s, life was restored to him, so lasting was God’s powerful spirit in Elisha (is how it is explained). Unfortunately, that one-off, one-time, event was later used in European and Asian churches to convince ailing pilgrims that if they would come to the places (“Bring money!”) where relics or the dead bones of saints were present, perhaps a miracle of healing could happen to them, also.

We can ignore such ludicrous practices and claims but one thing we cannot ignore is this: God’s angels are all around us, protecting us. Another thing we cannot ignore is that we have a responsibility to share God’s “good news” with those who need to hear it. God uses ordinary people such as Elisha, that young, kidnapped Israelite girl, and those four lepers to be His witnesses. Will you, as an individual called by God, be His willing witness of his “good news” today? Will we, as a corporate people, a church, be willing to be His witnesses of the “good news” that has come to us? It is true that we live in a difficult time to witness for God, but so was the case in Elisha’s time. The only question is our willingness to be His witnesses. Amen.

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