The ministry of Elijah had become one of despair and dependency. The great revival, which he expected to take place after the victory over the prophets of Baal, had failed to come to pass, and the prophet travelled into the wilderness and lay under a juniper tree, despairing even of his life. But God still had work to be done.
The message to Elijah is "Go, return" for the work will go on (1 Kings 19.15). Hazael had to be anointed king of Syria and he would become a scourge to Israel, punishment for their worship of Baal. Jehu had to be anointed king of Israel and he would be the king who would stamp out Baal worship in Israel. Elisha had to be anointed to be prophet in the room of Elijah. God had His eye on the unknown man from Abel-meholah; he had been chosen of God to undertake the mighty task of following Elijah as the prophet of God.
Like Elijah, he was a prophet to the northern kingdom of Israel, although he did have dealings with the king of Judah (2 Kings 3.14). Elijah is seen to be the prophet of the Law, whereas Elisha is more the prophet of grace. His ministry covered a longer period than that of Elijah and he performed more miracles.
He had been tried
Through the forty-two months of the drought he had remained faithful to the God of Israel. He was amongst the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19.18).
He had been fed
These years of drought were desperate years. Ahab and Obadiah (I Kings 18.3-6) had searched to look for water, for they were in danger of losing all their animals. Yet Elisha still had twelve yoke of oxen at this time. The Lord had preserved them.
He had been observed
The choice of Elisha was no mere accident of history. He was, like Job, observed in heaven. Little did he know as he went about his normal tasks that there was this interest in the daily round of his activities.
He could harness men together
He was ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen and he with the twelfth. This would appear to mean that he was ploughing with the yoke of oxen that were at the back, the last in the group. There would be another eleven men with the other oxen. He could yoke men together in service.
He was ready to serve
The mantle of Elijah was put on him. There would be no mistaking the significance of this. Without delay he left the oxen and ran after Elijah. The request to go and kiss his mother and father good-bye was not a delaying tactic. It was the courteous response of a loving son to his parents. He sacrificed the oxen. This was a decisive recognition of the fact that his days of ploughing were over and that a new phase of service was opening up before him.
The day had come for their last journey when Elijah would be taken up to heaven and Elisha would be left to serve alone (2 Kings 2).
It was a time when apprenticeship ceased
For ten years he had sat at the feet of Elijah, and now he was to be taken from his head - from the place of the teacher, as Elisha is pictured as sitting at his feet. It was one thing to have the mantle cast upon you, it was quite another to take it up.
The importance of knowing the Master
The servant must be one who walks with the Master. There is no better way of getting to know someone than living with them. On this final journey they still walked together.
Testing Elisha's affections
Three times over he declared that he would not leave Elijah. Compare this with the three-fold confession of Peter in John 21.
Elijah was a man who worked till his last day on earth. It is plain that Elisha knew that Elijah was soon to go, and that Elijah was possessed of the same knowledge. This was their last days on earth together. He is taken to Gilgal, to Bethel and to Jordan. Bethel and Gilgal are mentioned in Amos 4.4 as centres of idolatry. Bethel was where one of the idolatrous calves of Jeroboam was to be found. These scenes which met the eye of Elisha reminded him of the great spiritual past of the nation and the great problems of the present.
Elijah is taken up to heaven and the prophetic office passes to Elisha. The question, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" (2 Kings 2.14), is answered with the parting of the Jordan. The God of Elijah was with Elisha.
The confirmation of his office
This is a period when His competence as the Lord's prophet is clearly seen. There were three decisive scenes. The first took place at Jericho (2 Kings 2.19-22), when the waters were healed; the second (2.23-25) when the forty-two youths died because of their mockery of the prophet. His message is a message life unto life to Jericho, the city rebuilt in rebellion against the word of God, and of death unto death to those who died because of their unbelief. The third (3.1-27) is the advice given to Jehoshaphat (and the kings of Israel and Edom), which led to victory over the king of Moab. In this Elisha rescued Jehoshaphat from disaster which would have been his as a result of an alliance with the ungodly.
The compassion of his service
There follows hard after this a number of remarkable miracles. The oil given to the impoverished widow (4.1-7); the son given to the Shunnamite as a promise from the Lord is followed by his death and Elisha's part in his rising from the dead (4.8-37); the cleansing of the poisoned food in the pot (4.38-44); the cure of Naaman the leper (5.1-27); the recovery of the lost axe head (6.1-7) - these are all displays of the power and competence of the prophet. In all of these the compassion of Elisha's ministry is seen.
If his miracles were carried out on and for individuals, he now deals with national matters. In these circumstances Elisha shows an understanding of the issues that could only come from the Lord. Today believers realise what is taking place in the world whereas unbelievers do not possess that understanding.
The king of Syria makes war (6.8-23) with Israel, and Elisha was able to warn the king of Israel so that, on more than one occasion, he knew where the Syrian king was about to set up his camp. The Syrian plans were thwarted. A large army was sent to besiege Dothan with the purpose of taking Elisha prisoner. Elisha's servant feared the Syrian host but Elisha prayed that the Lord would show the young man the great unseen host that was on their side. The Lord then smote the Syrians with blindness and Elisha was able to lead them to Samaria.
Samaria was then besieged (6.24-7.20) which caused a famine. There came a day when Elisha prophesied that within twenty-four hours there would be plenty to eat in Samaria. Despite the scorn heaped upon this prophesy it did come to pass. The Lord caused confusion amongst the Syrians and they fled. Four lepers discovered an empty Syrian camp and brought the good news to Samaria.
The Shunammite whose son had been restored to life was then warned by Elisha to move her household because a famine was about to grip the land (8.1-6). This she did and lived in the land of the Philistines for seven years.
Elisha then travelled to Damascus (8.7-15) and foretold the death by murder of Benhadad the Syrian monarch, following which he sent one of the sons of the prophets to anoint Jehu as king of Israel (9.1-3).
Elisha lived for another 45 years, continuing faithfully until the end. Nothing is known of his activity during these years, but he was clearly still active and well known for, when he was dying, the king of Israel visited him (13.19). It would appear that as the mantle of Elijah had passed to Elisha so the king hoped that some of the power of Elisha would pass to him, but this was not to be. Even after his death the remarkable restoration to life of a dead man was due to his body touching the bones of Elisha (13.20-21).
A summary of this remarkable life shows it to be a prophecy in itself of Israel's future. The outline below only sketches out what can be further developed.
2 Kings 2 A man goes to heaven (vv.1-18)
- The prophet's message is a savour of life unto life and death unto death (vv.19-25)
2 Kings 3 Israel's safety is dependent upon his message (vv.1-27)
2 Kings 4 The pouring out of the oil - a picture of Pentecost (vv.1-7)
- The gospel to the Jew (vv.8-37)
- Danger - the attempt to poison the food of the prophets (vv.38-44)
2 Kings 5 The gospel to the Gentiles (vv.1-27)
2 Kings 6-7 Danger - the possibility of powerlessness in service (6.1-7)
- Israel oppressed by the Gentiles (6.8-7.20)
2 Kings 8 The dispersed nation returns (vv.1-6)
2 Kings 13 The revival of the nation (vv.20-21).
The times periods specified are taken from the dates in the Newberry Bible.