Elisha: Preface

Elisha is an utterly unique man. No prophet performed as many miracles as he did, in such an unusual manner, and with such ease. Elisha is like a magician who carries out all sorts of tricks with the sole purpose of stunning his audience. Why make an iron axe head float on water when a simple offering taken among the sons of the prophets would have allowed a worker to repay a lost tool (2 Kings 6:5-7)? Why show his servant the presence of celestial armies when they never intervene in the story (2 Kings 6:17)? Why strike enemy soldiers blind and deliver them to the King of Israel, only to feed and release them afterwards (2 Kings 6:18-23)?

The objects used in these miracles further enhance the impression of “magic” in Elisha’s acts. Why ask for salt in a new bowl to purify a spring (2 Kings 2:19-22)? Why ask for a harp player in the middle of the desert before consulting God (2 Kings 3:3-15)? Why stretch out on top of a corpse to restore it to life (2 Kings 4:34-35)? How is one to understand the ineffectiveness of the staff placed on the face of a small boy (2 Kings 4:29-31)?

The ease with which Elisha solves numerous difficulties is as astounding as his technique. He never fails, and the rare setbacks he encounters do not seem to trouble him. Elisha knows the enemy’s best-kept secrets. He announces the future and sees the invisible world. He transcends the world of humans.

The believer is perplexed by Elisha. What can we learn from this extraordinary person? The spiritual lessons are not evident, and it comes as no surprise that pastors prefer Elijah to Elisha as a sermon topic.

The links between Elijah and Elisha are also surprising. On the one hand, Elisha is Elijah’s successor and resembles him in many ways. Like Elijah, for example, he parts the waters of the Jordan (2 Kings 2:8, 14); he multiplies material goods and brings back to life the only child of a woman who shelters him (2 Kings 4; 1 Kings 17:14-24). On the other hand, Elisha is Elijah’s opposite. He is almost never bothered by the king of Israel (the king’s only bout of anger against him quickly dissipates: 2 Kings 6:31-32). He does not need to flee, but can live among his people. He is not a solitary prophet, but a social one who lives in the middle of Israel. He is not a fugitive, but has a main house in the capital and a second residence in Shunem. How are the links between Elijah and Elisha to be understood? Why is there continuity and at the same time discontinuity? The question is important due to the fact that the prophetic succession from one to the other is the only one of its kind in Israel’s history. Never before or since did a prophet name his successor. Why are Elijah and Elisha different?

Many mysteries are related to Elisha, but most of them are explained when his ministry is viewed in the light of the Messiah. Elisha foreshadows the ministry of Jesus Christ in a typological fashion. Elijah is thus a forerunner of John the Baptist and represents the prophets of the Old Testament on the Mount of Transfiguration; Elisha announces the New Testament. The former is filled with Old Testament justice, the latter radiates New Testament grace. The link between Elijah and Elisha is characteristic of the links which both unify and separate the Old and New Testaments.

This commentary follows the commentary by the same author on Elijah, entitled Elijah between Judgment and Grace, Commentary on 1 Kings 17 to 2 Kings 2. The two books complement each other, yet are independent of one another. Each one stands on its own. Some repetition is necessary; occasionally some references permit the reader to go deeper into material elaborated in the first book. The parallels between the two prophets are specifically developed in this book, because the ministry of Elisha is in part defined by the links to the ministry of his predecessor.

This commentary is preceded by two chapters which develop the characteristics of Elisha and the context of his ministry. At the end of the book there is a condensed commentary on the story of the end of the house of Ahab (2 Kings 9-10), an analysis of the section of Scripture relating to the death of Elisha (2 Kings 13:14-21), and a study of the influence of Elisha on the authors of the New Testament.