Christian Churches of God
Elisha’s Ministry Continues
(Edition 1.0 20090110-20090110)
Elisha continued to use the power of God’s Spirit to perform even more miracles. We will see that over time a total of sixteen miracles were performed through Elisha. This paper has been adapted from chapters 126-128, Volume V of The Bible Story by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press.
Elisha’s Ministry Continues
We continue here from the paper Elisha Succeeds Elijah (No. CB144).
In the land of Syria, an Israelite girl, captured by a Syrian raiding band, was turned over to the wife of Naaman, commander of the Syrian army. Naaman was highly respected for his ability, bravery and integrity. But all this was overshadowed by the awful fact that he had leprosy (2Kgs. 5:1-2).
Greatly disturbed to learn that such an able leader had a serious affliction, the Israelite handmaid suggested to her mistress that her husband go to a man in Israel who could cure Naaman of his leprosy.
"This man, whose name is Elisha, has performed some wonderful miracles because he is so close to God," the girl explained. "If he asked our God to heal your husband, it would be done!" (v. 3)
Naaman went to the king of Syria and told him what the girl had said.
"Go to this Elisha," the king said. "I will give you a letter to the king of Israel to explain your presence in that country."
Accompanied by servants, Naaman left at once for Samaria with ten talents of silver, 6000 shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing (vv. 4-5).
When Jehoram, Israel's king, read the letter from the king of Syria he tore his robes in anger and said, "The king of Syria is trying to start a fight with me. He sends me a leper to be healed! Does he think that I'm God, to be able to take or give life?" (vv. 6-7)
When Elisha found out about Jehoram's conduct he sent word to Jehoram requesting the king of Israel send Naaman to him.
"This is a matter for me to take care of," Elisha's message stated. "There is no reason for you to be alarmed. The king of Syria is not trying to make a reason for war. Let his commander learn that there is only one true God, and that there is one of God's ministers in Israel."
So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door where the prophet was staying. 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 (vv. 8-9).
But Naaman became angry and he said, “I thought he would at least come out to me, call on his God for the power to perform a miracle, and wave his hand over the spot and declare me cured. What sense does it make to be told that I should go dip myself seven times in the river Jordan? Are not the rivers of my own country cleaner and clearer than any of the waters of Israel? Wouldn't I be better off to immerse myself in them and be cleansed?" So he turned and went off in a rage (vv. 10-12).
At this point Naaman's aides carefully pointed out to him that he might be wise to follow the advice he had been given.
"You expected Elisha to do something grand and dramatic for you," they reminded him. "Instead, he sent word to you to carry out something easy and simple. It was so simple that you ridiculed it. If you had been instructed to do something more complex and difficult, so you could feel that you were important, wouldn't you have been more inclined to carry it out?"
So Naaman put himself under the water seven times as he had been told and he walked out on the shore to discover that his flesh had been restored and had become as clean as that of a young boy! (vv. 13-14)
Here we see the number seven – as the symbol of completeness – being used again. Washing in the dirty water and coming out clean and cured showed there was no connection between the washing and the desired healing. Surely it was proof of the power of God working through the prophet and not the prophet’s own power that cured Naaman.
Then Naaman and his attendants went back to the man of God and he said to Elisha, "This proves to me that your God is the only real God on this Earth. All the other so called gods put together could never perform a miracle such as this! Now please accept a gift from your servant" (v. 15).
"I will not take a thing," the prophet stated. And even though Naaman urged him, Elisha still refused.
So Naaman then said, "Allow me to take with me all that two of my mules can carry of the soil of Israel. From that I could construct an altar to sacrifice to your God" (vv. 16-17).
In ancient times people thought that a god could only be worshipped on the soil of the nation to which that god was bound. So Naaman wanted to take Israelite soil with him in order to have a place in Damascus to worship the God of Israel (see fn. to v. 17 in NIV Study Bible).
"From now on I'll worship only the One True God," Naaman answered. "There'll be times, though, when my aged and feeble king will expect me to accompany and assist him to the shrine of Rimmon, the Syrian god of the sky. I trust that God will forgive me if I give the appearance of worshipping when I bow with the king before the altar."
"Go in peace," Elisha said (vv. 18-19). It is interesting to note that Elisha did not appear to comment on Naaman’s probable future conflict with bowing to a pagan god.
After the Syrians left, Elisha's servant, Gehazi, who had heard the conversation between his master and Naaman, decided his master had been too easy on Naaman by not accepting what he brought as a gift. So he decided to go after them to get something for himself.
Naaman and his men had only gone a short distance when they saw someone running towards them. Naaman stepped out of his chariot and walked back to meet him.
"Is anything wrong?" Naaman asked.
"Everything is all right," Gehazi answered. "My master sent me to say, ‘two men from the company of the prophets from Mt. Ephraim have just come to me. Please give them a talent of silver and two sets of clothing.”
"I welcome this opportunity to assist. Naaman said. “Take two talents of silver back to your master”. Then he tied up the two talents of silver in two bags with two sets of clothing and gave them to two of his servants who carried them ahead of Gehazi. When they came to the hill, Gehazi took the things from the servants and put them in the house. Then they left (vv. 20-24).
Gehazi deceived Naaman in order to satisfy his own greed. He sought to make a profit on the grace God extended to another person through the prophet. But God is not mocked, as we will see.
When Gehazi went in and stood before his master, Elisha said, "Where have you been today?"
"I didn't go anywhere," the servant answered.
“Did I not go with you in spirit when the man got down from the chariot to meet you? Elisha said to him. “Is this the time to take money or accept gifts? Therefore, Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and your descendants forever.”
When Gehazi left Elisha he was leprous, as white as snow.
Naaman’s healing was the tenth of God's miracles through the prophet. The eleventh miracle was the transfer of the Syrian's leprosy to Gehazi (vv. 25-27).
The twelfth miracle occurred shortly afterward. The school for prophets near Jericho became so crowded in its living quarters that the students suggested to Elisha that they cut their own lumber along the Jordan River and construct buildings there. Elisha agreed, and went with them.
As one of the men was felling a tree on the bank of the river, his axe head flew off the handle and fell into the water.
"How terrible! I've lost a borrowed axe," the man cried out.
At that time an iron axe head was a costly tool. If he lost it and could not afford to replace it the borrower faced the prospect of servitude to work off the value of the tool.
Elisha went to the despondent man and inquired where the axe had fallen into the river. When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it in the water there and made the axe head float. Elisha told the man to lift it out and he did (2Kgs. 6:1-7).
About this time the Syrian army made surprise attacks on certain places in Israel, but the expeditions met with strong resistance. The Israelites seemed to be aware in advance where the attacks would be made. This happened so often that the king of Syria became suspicious and angry. At last he called a special meeting of his officers (vv. 8-11).
"None of us is a traitor sir," one officer spoke up. "But there must surely be an informer, and that man must be Elisha, the Israelite prophet. Besides being a worker of unbelievable miracles, he has an amazing ability to perceive hidden matters. It's possible for him to know even what you say in the privacy of your bedroom. Undoubtedly he is aware of your plans of war, and gives that information to the king of Israel" (v. 12).
"Go find out where he is", the king ordered, “so I can capture him.”
The Syrians were on the right track to find the source of their trouble. Every time they had chosen a place in Israel to attack, God had informed Elisha then Elisha had informed the king of Israel and Israelite soldiers rushed to the defence, and avoided the traps.
As soon as it was reported that the prophet was living in the town of Dothan, the Syrian king dispatched a whole army to that area to capture one man – Elisha.
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.
"What is to become of us?" the servant asked. "Don't be alarmed," Elisha said. "Those thousands out there might try to harm us, but there are thousands more nearby who will protect us" (13-16).
Elisha prayed, "Oh Lord, open this young man's eyes to see the things that are invisible to those who don't know you," Elisha asked God.
The Lord opened the servant’s eyes and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (v. 17).
Elisha captures an Army
As the enemy came down towards him, Elisha prayed to God, "Strike these people with blindness." And Elisha's prayer was soon answered.
Elisha said to them, “This is not the road, nor is it the city. Follow me and I will lead you to the man you are looking for.” And he led them to Samaria.
"Lord, open the eyes of these men so that they can see" Elisha prayed.
The Lord opened their eyes and the Syrians realized that they were at Samaria. As for keeping his promise to lead them to himself, Elisha carried out what he had said he would do. He simply chose another place – Samaria, not Dothan – to be revealed to them (vv. 18-20).
The king of Israel, greatly excited by the situation, asked Elisha if he should kill them.
"No," the prophet replied. "Would you kill men you have captured with your own sword or bow? Give them food and water so they may eat and drink and go back to their master.”
The king of Israel prepared a great feast for them and when they had finished eating and drinking he sent them on their way. So they returned to their master and the Syrians stopped raiding Israelite territory (vv. 21-23).
However, after about a year had passed, Ben-hadad the Syrian king began to change his mind. He decided to try one more time to conquer Israel – but not with small raiding bands. For months he mustered and trained the largest fighting force he could squeeze out of his people. His army moved suddenly and swiftly southwest to surround Samaria before the Israelites could come out to the defence.
Meanwhile, the situation grew very serious inside Israel's capital, Samaria. Food was so scarce that people ate donkeys, even though the flesh of those animals is unsuitable for food (Lev. 11). God had forbidden the Israelites to consume any unclean creature. Even one of the worst parts of the animal, the head, was eagerly bought for what would be equal to many of our dollars or pounds. Other things that ordinarily never would have been used for food sold for equally ridiculous prices. Every day the food problem grew worse (2Kgs. 6: 24-25).
One morning Jehoram, the Israelite king, was walking along Samaria's wall when a woman below called out for help.
"If God hasn't helped you, how do you expect me to?" the king asked. He was weary of hearing complaints. Then he added, "Probably it would be foolish of me to ask if your trouble concerns food. What’s the matter?”
"I wouldn't be starving now if another woman had kept her part of a bargain we made," the woman said to Jehoram. "Each of us had a baby boy, and we agreed that if I would prepare my baby to keep us from starving she would do the same with hers next day. But she didn't; instead, she hid him" (vv. 26-29).
The king could scarcely believe that the lack of food in the city had begun to turn the inhabitants into cannibals. This was something God had long since foretold would happen to the Israelites from time to time if they served other gods (Deut. 28:15, 47-53).
Many of the people of Samaria worshiped Baal. But to Jehoram's way of thinking, the terrible situation was Elisha's fault. The king blamed him because the prophet hadn't brought about some kind of miracle to save the city and its people. Jehoram was so upset by what the woman had told him that he tore his clothes.
As the king continued along the wall, the people looked and were surprised to see that underneath his robe he was dressed in sackcloth, a symbol of mourning. They knew that the king was at last aware of how desperate their situation had become (2Kgs. 6:30).
But Jehoram had something else on his mind, too. "Because he has allowed this evil thing to happen to my capital, I intend to have Elisha beheaded!" Jehoram declared.
Elisha was staying at Samaria, and while the king was starting to carry out his grisly promise, the prophet was meeting in his living quarters with some of the elders.
"I am suddenly aware of a move to take my life," Elisha told them. "The king, who is the son of a murderer, would also become a murderer by sending a man to cut off my head! That man is on his way here now, and will be pounding on the door at any minute! Don't let him in. Hold the door! Is not the sound of his master’s footsteps behind him?"
After sending soldiers and an executioner to do away with Elisha, Jehoram decided that he had acted too hastily. Accompanied by some of his officers, he rushed off to try to prevent the slaying.
While Elisha was still talking to them the king came down to him and said, “This disaster is from the Lord. Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?” (vv. 31-33).
Elisha said, “This is what the Lord says: Plenty of food will be available to you by the time another day has passed. There will be so much of it that people will be selling what they don't need and at very low prices" (2Kgs. 7:1).
One of the king’s officers said, "Are we supposed to believe that God will open windows in heaven and pour down food into Samaria?"
"You will believe it when you see how it happens tomorrow. God isn't pleased with you because of your foolishly doubting His power to provide food for Samaria. Consequently, you'll not get any of it" (v. 2).
Lest their disease be transmitted to others, lepers weren't allowed to live in Israelite cities. Consequently, lepers often lived in hovels just outside the gates so they could beg from passers-by. It was this way at the main gate of Samaria. Four leprous men had lived there for some time. With the city besieged and the gates barred, the four barely managed to live. The evening just after Elisha's close brush with death, the lepers decided they would go out to the Syrian tents and ask for food. They reasoned that if the Syrians killed them, it would spare them the agony of dying of starvation in the next day or two (vv. 3-4).
Meanwhile, in the enemy camps around Samaria, a strange thing was happening. The Syrians imagined they could hear a faint and distant thundering sound, like the pounding of the hooves of many horses and the rumbling of the wheels of many chariots. The noise grew louder and louder to them.
"Israel has hired the armies of the Hittites from Asia Minor and the armies of Egypt to attack us!" was the fearful thought that came to the Syrians.
When the sound put into their minds by God had become so loud that attackers seemed very close, the Syrians suddenly panicked. They rushed on foot from their camps, leaving even their horses remaining (vv. 5-7).
Later that evening the four lepers reached the edge of the camp and entered one of the tents. They ate and drank and carried away silver, gold, and clothing and went off and hid them. They returned and entered another tent and took things from it and hid them also.
Then they said to each other, "Instead of taking more things, we should report that the Syrians have gone before anyone else finds out. If the king finds out from us, he might reward us."
They gained the attention of the gatekeepers and told them that the Syrians had disappeared, leaving behind their possessions, including their cattle, horses and donkeys.
The gatekeepers sounded the news and it eventually reached the palace. However, the king believed that it was a ruse to get the Israelites outside the city so that the enemy, hiding all around, could attack and get through the gates (vv. 8-12).
One officer said, " Let us take five of the best horses that are left and scour the country around the city. If we don't return within a short time, you will know that the enemy is close by."
So they selected two chariots with their horses and the king sent them after the Syrian army.
Right away they found clothing, weapons and other items scattered over the ground. This was certain evidence that the Syrians had fled toward their home country. They were satisfied that their enemies had departed from Israel, though it was a mystery why they had done so in such haste. So the messengers returned and reported to the king. Then the people went out and plundered the camp of the Syrians (vv. 13-16).
Now the king had put an officer in charge of the gate and as the people rushed out to take what the Syrians had left behind he was knocked down and trampled and he died. This was the man who doubted the word of God the previous day, and so we see the fulfilment of Elisha's prophecy that the officer wouldn't share in the food God would supply.
The Israelites swarmed into the Syrian tents, snatching up everything. Within a short time all the enemy's possessions, including animals, were taken inside Samaria. There was great celebrating in the city. People traded Syrian articles. Those who hadn't raided the Syrian camps were able to buy food at reasonable prices from those who had gone after it. Elisha's prediction had come true that plenty of food would come to Samaria within a day (vv. 17-20).
For a while the people of Samaria were possibly better off regarding edibles than were many people of Israel. Crops hadn't been plentiful for a long time. The Israelites hadn't had enough to eat, and the situation continued for seven years before plenty of rain and full crops came again to the land.
Elisha knew how long the famine would last. He had suggested to some of his followers that they go to some other nearby country to live until the famine was at an end. Among them was the woman of Shunam whose young son had died and to whom God, through the prophet, had restored life.
Leaving their home and property the woman and her family went to Philistia to live. In those years the Philistines weren't troubling Israel with their army. The two nations were never completely at peace, but people of both countries often crossed the indefinite borders without unfriendly incidents (2Kgs. 8:1-3).
Years later, when they heard that food was again plentiful in Israel, the woman and her family returned. She then went to the king to beg for her house and land. Perhaps the woman’s property had been illegally occupied or it had become the possession of the king because it was abandoned.
It happened that at that time Jehoram had become especially curious about Elisha's past. He had summoned to his palace Elisha's former servant, Gehazi.
"Tell me about all the great things Elisha has done" he asked.
Gehazi was in the process of telling the king how Elisha had restored the life of a woman’s son when the same woman came to the king to beg for her house and land.
"That's the woman whose son Elisha saved!" Gehazi excitedly exclaimed. The king asked the woman about it and she told him.
So the king appointed an official for her and told him to restore all that was hers together with all the produce of the fields from the day that she left the land until now (vv. 4-6).
Meanwhile, the hasty and empty-handed return of his army from Samaria greatly bothered Ben-hadad, the king of Syria. He had a strong feeling that events had some connection with Elisha and the God of Israel. However, he fell severely ill about that time, and felt that he might die.
Then one day he was told that Elisha had come to Damascus, the capital of Syria. Ben-hadad became excited at this report. His first thought was that the prophet could foretell what would happen to him. He hoped that Elisha might even ask the God of Israel to heal him. He sent forty camels to carry costly jewels, rare food and fine clothing to the prophet. Each of them carried something special so that there would be a great display for Elisha.
"After you give him the gifts, find out from Elisha if and when I shall recover from this sickness," Ben-hadad instructed Hazael, the man next in rank under the king in the government of Syria.
When Hazael came to Elisha, he said, "As you probably know, the king is quite ill. He would like to know from you if he will die of this sickness."
"You can tell him that I know through my God that his illness won't cause his death," Elisha answered. "But something else will soon cause him to die" (vv. 7-10).
Hazael was puzzled by this statement. He was also puzzled by the prophet's sudden strange behaviour. Elisha turned from Hazael to hide his face. It was evident that he was trying to hide tears that had come into his eyes.
"What is the reason for your sorrow?" Hazael asked. "I am thinking of the terrible things you will do to the people of Israel," Elisha replied. "Forts will be burned, young men will be slaughtered, children will be thrown to their deaths and pregnant women will be ripped open with swords. Syrian soldiers will do these things by your orders!"
Hazael said, "How can a man of so little consequence do such great things?"
"When the time comes, you will demand that Syrian soldiers perform such cruel acts," the prophet continued. "Within a few days you will become king of Syria, and you will exert the power of a merciless ruler on Israel" (vv. 11-13).
When Hazael returned to Ben-hadad, the king was anxious to learn at once what the prophet had said about his future.
"He said you would not die from the illness you have," Hazael told his superior.
But the next day he took a heavy, wet cloth and spread it over the king’s face to suffocate him.
When Ben-hadad died, Hazael became king, fulfilling the first part of Elisha's prediction. The other dreadful parts were to take place before long (vv. 14-15).
About this time, down in the House of Judah, a son of Jehoshaphat became king. His name was Jehoram, the same as that of the king of the House of Israel. His wife Athaliah was the sister of King Jehoram of Israel and the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, worshippers of Baal. Athaliah strongly influenced her husband toward idol worship in Judah, insomuch that the people were encouraged in the same evil pursuit. If God hadn't promised David that there would always be someone on the throne of Judah from David's family line, the Creator probably would have destroyed Judah at this time (2Kgs. 8:16-19; 2Chr. 21:5-7).
Jehoshaphat, Jehoram's father, died four years after granting co-rulership to Jehoram.
Jehoshaphat had seven sons; and before he died he made six of them governors over as many cities of Judah. Four years after his eldest son became king, the new ruler ruthlessly sent men to do away with all six of his brothers, as well as a few other prominent men in Judah (2Chr. 21:1-4). Besides being a depraved and dangerous man, Jehoram was suspicious of others who had authority. He didn't want to be opposed, and he reasoned that those who might threaten him should be put out of existence.
During Jehoram's reign, the Edomites, who had been paying tribute to Judah ever since Solomon's time, refused to make any more payments. They also set up their own king. To Jehoram, this was cause for war, so he took many foot soldiers, chariots and cavalry to Edom. The Edomites surrounded him and his chariot commanders but without success. To this day Edom has been in rebellion against Judah.
To make matters worse, the nation of Libnah also ceased sending tribute to Judah. Libnah revolted because Jehoram had forsaken the Lord, the God of his fathers. He also led the people of Judah astray and caused them to sin by worshipping false gods (2Kgs. 8:20-22; 2Chr. 21:8-11).
One day a messenger came to the palace to deliver a letter to the king, supposedly from the prophet Elijah. Here is what he read:
"Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: "You have chosen to live like the pagan-loving kings of the House of Israel instead of like the God-fearing kings of the House of Judah. You have caused your people to live in the same manner.
"Because of this, and because you murdered your brothers, who had greater character and ability than yours, terrible trouble and sickness will come on your people. Misery will overtake your wives and children. Your property and possessions will be taken from you. You will become increasingly ill in your intestines. Day after day you will suffer until the insides of your body become so diseased that they will fall out. That is the day you will die, and it is not far off " (2Chr. 21:12-15).
He probably tried to dismiss from his mind the thought that Elijah, who had been miraculously taken up in a whirlwind several years previously (2Kgs. 2:1-18), was still alive and knew of his wickedness. Regardless of any fears he may have had Jehoram made no change in his disreputable way of living.
[Note: the text of 2Chr. 21:12-15 regarding the letter from Elijah is not found in the parallel text of 2Kgs. 8. It is also the only mention of Elijah in Chronicles. See also Bullinger’s explanation in the footnote to v. 12 in The Companion Bible. The writing was obviously a prophetic text written in the past by Elijah to be delivered at this precise time. The prophets delivering it are not mentioned (ed.)].
Jeroham’s predicted troubles started one day when the Lord aroused the hostility of the Philistines and the Arabs against him. They attacked Judah and carried off all the goods found in the king’s palace, together with his sons and wives. Not a son was left to him except Jehoahaz, the youngest (2Chr. 21:16-17).
After this the Lord afflicted him in his bowels with an incurable disease. In the course of time, at the end of two years, his bowels came out because of the disease, and he died in great agony.
Because of his cruel ways and his indifference to the welfare of his people, Jehoram wasn't popular with his subjects. He was buried in Jerusalem, but not in the burial place of the kings, and not with the usual respectful ceremonies (2Kgs. 8:23-24; 2Chr. 21:17-20).
We will continue with this Bible story in the paper More Kings of Judah and Israel (No. CB146).