Study Guide

Elisha in 2 Kings

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Elisha is more than just the Robin to Elijah's Batman. He's a main character (though a little less well known) with a prophetic-style of his own. Still, he does the same kind of miracles that Elijah would do—to some extent. The cast of characters in 2 Kings is pretty sprawling, and there's no real protagonist or one hero, but—if you had to pick one—Elisha would probably be the top guy, given the number of chapters he appears in.

In the second chapter of two kings, Elisha asks Elijah for a double-share of his spirit before he flies away in God's whirlwind. Elijah says this is a tough one, but he'll see what he can do. Afterwards, Elisha discovers that he really has inherited the two scoops of spiritual power, confirming his authority as the new mega-prophet:

He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over. (2 Kings 2:13-14)

Like Moses and Elijah before him, Elisha's new-found ability to split the water of the Jordan is a kind of symbol. He is the sort of prophet who can help lead the people of Israel and Judah out of their new-found predilections for all sorts of alternative religious practices—you know, like child-sacrifice and sorcery and the rest. He can also lead them out from the reign of the unjust rulers leading them into these practices. It's another version or type of the same kind of miraculous leadership Moses offered, leading the Israelites away from the foreign deities of Egypt.

The Bear Whisperer

So, Elisha is able to do all sorts of kind and generous things for people, both Israelites and non-Israelites. He resurrects a child from the dead, cures the leprosy of an Aramean leader, feeds people by increasing the amount of bread with his prophetic powers, and makes various helpful predictions. He even, quite mercifully, refuses to slaughter an Aramean army after single-handedly capturing them, treating them to a pleasant brunch instead.

Yet, at the same time, Elisha has some notorious examples of violence on his record. The most infamous would need to be the time he sic'd some bears on a group of kids who were making fun of him for being bald. Sure, that was rather disrespectful, but the bears killed like forty-two kids in retribution. Anger issues much?

Obviously, people today would interpret this as a horrific overreaction on Elisha's part. But at the time 2 Kings was being written, people wouldn't have seen this as an argument against Elisha. So he lost his cool and killed a bunch of kids—he's not perfect. Mistakes happen. Just as God is unpredictable and uncontainable, so is his prophet. The Man of God goes beyond us, so you better treat him with respect.

Elisha doesn't just hand out carrots to the righteous and crack sticks over the heads of the un-righteous. He is, perhaps primarily, a teacher, someone who relays God's laws to the people and to the rulers. (Elisha's name means "God is Salvation.") God has a set plan for history. The rulers and the people both will be judged by the kinds of roles they play in it. Elisha is, in a sense, a divine radio, transmitting to humanity an understanding of its destiny, directly from God.

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