Elijah and Elisha
by Clayton Davis
Men of God
The Old and New Testament are filled with various prophets, preachers and others who in one way or another are called “Men of God.” Elijah and Elisha are two of those “Men of God” and they both famously preached and demonstrated God’s power to the people of Israel in the time of the divided Kingdom. Their legacy is one of faith, courage and compassion that has made them legends of the Israelite community and another pair of Biblical heroes that we could value from examining their lives.
Often times in Scripture these “Men of God” are placed in the story in opposition to someone who is setting themselves up against God or at least against his word. For Elijah and Elisha, this man is Ahab, King of Israel and famous villain in the line of the Kings of Israel. 1 Kings 16:33 says, “Ahab also made an Asherah pole (a large pillar used to worship the Canaanite god Asherah) and did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than did all the kings of Israel before him.” He also married Jezebel, a princess of the Sidonians, which caused him to worship another foreign god, Baal and he even built a temple for Baal in Samaria. It is in the backdrop of this evil monarch that Elijah is entered into the story and begins to plead for the Israelites to go back to worshipping God.
Elijah the Tishbite
It was because of the evils of Ahab that Elijah came to prominence, and in 1 Kings 17 Elijah is introduced by the following, “Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, ‘As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.’”
Who was Elijah?
A great prophet who called Israel back to worshipping God. Lamplighters Y2Q2, Page 7, Green Question
This began a long, slow famine throughout the land. During this time Elijah is found to be taken care of by the Lord, first by ravens bringing him bread and meat twice a day and drinking water from a stream. Once that stream dried up, God sent him to the town of Zarephath. Once there Elijah met a widow who was about to eat the last of her food with her only son, so he stayed with them and God refilled the house with food for them each day. Also while Elijah was there the woman’s son grew ill and died, but Elijah was able to bring him back from the dead.
According to scripture this famine lasted for about three years before God commanded Elijah to go back to King Ahab to demonstrate God’s power and to bring rain back to the land.
The Trial on Mount Carmel
After leaving the town of Zarephath Elijah meets up with Obadiah, one of Ahab’s officials who was a believer in the Lord, and then eventually with Ahab. This is recorded in 1 Kings 18:
When [Ahab] saw Elijah, he said to him, “Is that you, you troubler of Israel?”
“I have not made trouble for Israel,” Elijah replied. “But you and your father’s family have. You have abandoned the Lord’s commands and have followed the Baals. Now summon the people from all over Israel to meet me on Mount Carmel. And bring the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”
So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” 1 Kings 18:17-21
Elijah then takes on all the land’s prophets of Baal and Asherah in a showdown of the strength of each deity. Both the prophets of Baal and Elijah set up alters, each with a bull on it, and Elijah declares that the “god who answers by fire—he is God.” The other prophets chant and sing and pray all day, to the point that Elijah starts to mock them, but Baal does not answer their request. Elijah then pours a large amount of water on and around the alter he set up and then prays the following:
“Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”
Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.
When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!” 1 Kings 18:36-40
Elijah concluded his victory by killing all the prophets of Baal, bringing back rain to the land and outrunning Ahab’s chariot back to the capital city.
Why would God want to cause a famine in the land?
What was beneficial about the ways in which God took care of Elijah during the famine?
What surprises you the most about all the actions Elijah took to bring people back to God?
Elijah Flees Ahab and Jezebel
1 Kings 19 opens up with this declaration:
Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, “May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.” 1 Kings 19:1-2
Because of this, Elijah runs, eventually going out into the desert. Once there he lays down to die in despair but is awakened by a messenger from God, who gives him some cake and water, which Elijah eats and is rejuvenated by. He then travels for 40 days into the wilderness and gets to Horeb, the mountain of God. According to some scholars the name Horeb is synonymous with Mount Sinai, the same mountain where God presented himself to Moses and gave him the Ten Commandments.
Once on the mountain, Elijah went into a cave where soon after “the word of the Lord came to him: ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?”’
Elijah explained that his attempts to bring Israel back to God failed, the he was the only servant of God left and that those same people that rejected God were coming to kill him. He was then told to go outside and stand on the mountain, for God was about to pass by. He then saw a powerful wind, an earthquake, fire and the finally a gentle whisper, which is when God arrived. Elijah covered his face and exited the cave, where God asked the same question as before: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Elijah gives the same answer as before and God tells him to do the following:
The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” 1 Kings 19:15-18
The Call of Elisha
Directly after these events Elijah goes to carry out God's will.
So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him. Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,” he said, “and then I will come with you.”
“Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?”
So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant. 1 Kings 19:19-21
The Calling of Elisha was an important portion of Elijah’s ministry. It helped show an example of how biblical leaders can foster younger leaders. It allowed Elijah to finish his calling from God, because Elisha was actually the one to anoint Jehu and Hazael as kings. And finally it helped show a parallel to John the Baptist and Jesus.
Who was Elisha?
The prophet who succeeded Elijah and was given a double portion of the Spirit. Lamplighters Y2Q2, Page 7, Yellow Question
The saga of Ahab and Elijah’s conflicts ends with another example of Ahab’s evil choices. He had a desire to buy the vineyard of a man named Naboth, who refused, saying God commanded him to not sell the vineyard to Ahab. Ahab leaves, dejected and eventually complains to Jezebel, one of the other main antagonists of Elijah’s ministry. She sets up a plot where Naboth is wrongfully accused and killed, so Ahab was able to get the vineyard.
Elijah was then sent to confront Ahab about these evils and, after doing so, Ahab actually humbled himself about what had happened. In a demonstration of God’s grace he actually accepts Ahab’s remorse and says he will not bring the disaster on Ahab that Elijah prophesied.
Soon afterward, Ahab died and his son, Ahaziah became king of Israel. He also had one confrontation with Elijah, which is recorded in 2 Kings 1. For some unknown reason Ahaziah fell through the lattice of an upper room of his palace an injured himself. He then sent messengers to consult Baal for him to see if he would recover.
But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Go up and meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and ask them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going off to consult Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?’ Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘You will not leave the bed you are lying on. You will certainly die!’ ” So Elijah went.
After he spoke these words to the king’s messengers they returned to Ahaziah and advised him of Elijah’s message. The king then sent a captain and 50 men to bring Elijah to him, but Elijah has fire come down and consume them. The king sends a second set of 50 men, and the same thing occurs. On the third set of 50 men, the captain humbly pleads with Elijah to “please have respect for my life and the lives of these fifty men, your servants!” After the angel of the Lord told Elijah he should go with them, Elijah does. He is taken in front of the king where he repeats the same message again to Ahaziah, which soon comes to fruition.
What does it mean that God came to Elijah in a gentle wind?
Why did Elijah feel like he was the only person left following God?
Is it easy to feel that way sometimes?
Elijah taken to Heaven
The story of Elijah going up to heaven is a peculiar one, because it is apparent in the story that everyone knows it is going to happen. Elijah tries to separate from Elisha, perhaps hoping to make the transition for Elisha easier. Either way, Elisha refuses and stays by Elijah’s side, even as other prophets warn him repeatedly about what is going to happen to Elijah.
At this point Elijah asks Elisha what he can do for Elisha before he is taken up to heaven. Elisha asks to “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.” Elijah advises Elisha that this is a difficult thing to ask, but if he is with Elijah when he is taken up to heaven, he would get it.
As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two. 2 Kings 2:10-11
Elisha now being the main prophet of Israel then began his ministry with a number of miraculous deeds. He separated the waters of the Jordan river, sanitized a dirty well, called a curse down on some youths and had a bear attack them, advise the kings of Israel and Judah during a battle, provide a way for a widow to make money through selling oil, restore the life of a son of a well-to-do woman from Shunem, feed a hundred people with 20 loaves of bread, heal a man of leprosy, make a metal axe head float and lead an army that was about to attack Israel away from the city.
He also finished Elijah’s mission to anoint Jehu and Hazeal Kings, which also brought about Jezebel being killed and devoured by dogs, just as Elijah prophesied.
At the end of 2 Kings 13 Elisha dies, but then the following happens:
Now Moabite raiders used to enter the country every spring. Once while some Israelites were burying a man, suddenly they saw a band of raiders; so they threw the man’s body into Elisha’s tomb. When the body touched Elisha’s bones, the man came to life and stood up on his feet. 2 Kings 13:19-20
So even after his death, Elisha was able to provide life to others!
Elijah and Elisha in the New Testament
The book of Malachi, and the entire Old Testament, ends with the following verses:
“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.
“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.
“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” Malachi 4:1-6
Since the time that was written, Israelites had been looking for Elijah to return. Even as Jesus and his disciples are talking about who people think Jesus is, one of the answers given is that some people think he is Elijah. However, we also know from Matt 17 and Mark 9 that during Jesus’s transfiguration Elijah was there along with Moses and Jesus.
How do these prophets point to Jesus?
Elijah prepared the way for Elisha, and Elisha’s ministry to the poor looks much like Jesus’s ministry. Lamplighters Y2Q2, Page 7, Red Question
It would make more sense, then, to see the parallels between Elijah and John the Baptist and between Elisha and Jesus. Luke 1 says the following about John:
He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” Luke 1:16-17
Also take a look at the list of things Elisha accomplished during his ministry and compare that to Jesus. You will find that many of the signs Elisha did Jesus did also, but often times even better. He healed a leper with his words, as opposed to them having to do something, he fed far more people with far less food, and he brought Lazarus back from the dead with just his words. Even in their deaths there are parallels and improvements, as Elisha healed one man, but Jesus saved all of humanity.
In all the good and powerful things Elijah and Elisha did during their ministry, one of the most important is this: they pointed to someone greater, Jesus. They represented God’s will being done on earth in many ways, but at the end of the day, they were still just men. James 5 even points this out, but the fact that Elijah was just a man does not diminish his abilities, it emphasizes God’s power and our ability to have faith in it. But their attempts to change people’s hearts back to God was perfected in Jesus. And there is immense value in reading their stories with this idea in mind.
Why is there value in seeing Elisha as a type of Christ?
Do you believe James when he says Elijah is just a person, like you and me?
If that is true, what does that mean for us?