Christian Churches of God
Elisha Succeeds Elijah
(Edition 1.0 20081215-20081215)
Elisha knew that Elijah’s ministry was about to finish and that his departure was near so he did not want to leave Elijah. Finally he saw Elijah taken up by God in a whirlwind. This paper has been adapted from chapters 122-126, Volume V of The Bible Story by Basil Wolverton, published by Ambassador College Press.
Elisha Succeeds Elijah
We continue here from the paper Israel Fights Against Syria (No. CB131).
Ahaziah succeeded his father Ahab as king of Israel. Now Ahaziah had fallen through the lattice of his upper room in Samaria and injured himself. He then decided to inquire of a pagan god as to what would happen to him. There were many false gods, but the one Ahaziah selected was an idol that was considered, among other things, a deity of medicine. It was the Philistine god of Ekron, called Baal-zebub, another name for Satan. This idol was generally known as the god of flies because they were always present where meat sacrifices were made (2Kgs. 1:2).
Meanwhile, the Angel of the Lord told Elijah to go and meet the king’s messengers on the way to Ekron. So Elijah went. As the Lord had instructed him, Elijah asked the messengers why they were going all the way to Ekron to ask for information from Baal-zebub instead of inquiring of the God of Israel.
"Go back and tell your king that he is foolish to try to learn something from a god who knows nothing," the man told them. "Why didn't he ask the One True God? Because your king has looked to a pagan god, he won't recover from his injuries. His condition will grow worse, and he will die!" (vv. 3-4).
When the messengers returned they told the king what had happened, and how the stranger had predicted his death.
"What did this man look like?" the king asked.
"He was a hairy man with a leather belt around his waist", they replied.
Elijah’s garment was probably made from the hair of a camel or other animal. It was usual for prophets to wear coarse clothing (Zech. 13:4; Mat. 3:4).
"That was the prophet Elijah!" Ahaziah exclaimed. “That's the man who troubled my father. Now he's back to trouble me" (vv. 5-8).
A little later, one of the king's captains led a company of fifty soldiers out of Samaria. The captain went up to Elijah who was sitting alone on a small hill and said to him, “Man of God, the king says, ‘Come down!’”
Elijah answered, “If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men!” Then fire came down from heaven and consumed them (vv. 9-10).
Soon afterward, the prophet was approached by another fifty men led by a captain. The captain said, “Man of God, this is what the king says, ‘Come down at once!’” Elijah answered as he did before and the fire of God again fell from heaven and consumed the captain and his fifty men (vv. 11-12).
Then the king sent a third captain with his fifty men. This captain came up to Elijah, fell on his knees, and begged Elijah to spare the lives of his men and himself.
The Angel of the Lord said to Elijah, "Go with him and do not be afraid".
Regardless of what might happen to him at Samaria, the prophet obeyed and went down with the third captain to the king.
Elijah told the king, “This is what the Lord says: because you looked to a pagan god for advice and help, instead of the only True God, you shall die in your bed!" So he died.
The king of Israel had no sons to succeed him. Jehoram, his brother, became the next king. For the next nearly twelve years he was to follow in the ways of Ahaziah, whose personal interests came before those of his people (vv.15-18).
Elijah is taken by God
Later, when the Lord was about to take Elijah away in a whirlwind, he and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elisha had become the foremost minister under Elijah. It was evident to students and other followers of God that Elisha would in time take Elijah's position as the head of the prophets.
That time came with Ahaziah's death. Elijah's work was finished, inasmuch as he was getting well along in years, and the Creator had chosen Elisha to deal with the next king of Israel. Both Elijah and Elisha were aware of these things.
"Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”
But Elisha said he would not leave Elijah, so they went down together to Bethel. There the company of the prophets – called in those days "sons of the prophets" – came to Elisha to tell him that they had heard that Elijah was about to be taken by God.
"I know about it," Elisha told them. "But do not speak of it" (2Kgs. 2:1-3).
Elijah then told Elisha that God had directed him to go to Jericho, and that Elisha should wait for him in Bethel. Again Elisha said he would not leave Elijah, so they went to Jericho.
When they arrived at Jericho, the company of prophets asked Elisha if he knew that the Lord was going to take his master that day.
"Yes, I know," he replied, “but do not speak of it" (vv. 4-5).
Shortly afterward, Elijah informed Elisha that he had been instructed to move on to the Jordan River, and that Elisha should stay behind.
"As surely as the Lord lives I won't leave you," Elisha said. So the two of them walked on. Fifty of the sons of the prophets also went and stood at a distance from them as they both stood by the Jordan River.
Then Elijah removed his cape, folded it up, walked to the edge of the river and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left and the two of them crossed over on dry ground (vv. 6-8).
When they had crossed, Elijah turned to Elisha. "I know that you know that I am about to be taken from here," the older prophet stated. "I know that you have stayed close to me for that reason. If there is anything that I can do for you before I go, tell me now what it is."
Elisha replied, " I ask that you give me a double portion of your special power from God."
"You ask a difficult thing," Elijah replied. However, if God allows you to witness my departure, then you will know that your request will be granted. If you don't see me go, it will be a sign that your desire will be denied" (vv. 9-10).
As the two men went on and talked, suddenly a chariot of fire drawn by horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
"My father, my father!" Elisha cried out sadly. "The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" (vv. 11-12). And Elisha saw him no more.
Elisha picked up Elijah's cape, which had fallen to the ground and walked back to the bank of the Jordan. There he struck the water with the cape, saying, “Where is the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, it parted to the right and to the left and he crossed over (vv. 13-14).
Picking up Elijah’s cape symbolised that Elisha was Elijah’s successor. The parting of water with Elijah’s cape demonstrated that Elisha had indeed received the same divine power that Elijah had.
For many centuries people have been taught that Elijah was taken from this planet to the realm where God lives and from which He rules, even though the Bible states that no one except Christ has ascended into the heaven where God's throne is located (Jn. 3:13; Acts 2:29-34).
The Scriptures show that Elijah was taken up into heaven, but there are three heavens mentioned in the Bible. The first is the atmosphere surrounding Earth, in the lower part of which birds fly (Gen. 1:20). The second heaven is the space of the whole universe; the starry expanse that is billions and billions of miles across (Gen. 1:14-16; Ezek. 32:8). The third heaven is the unseen place or throne from which God controls the whole universe (Isa. 66:1; Acts 7:49; 2Cor. 12:2).
The first heaven, or atmosphere, is the one into which Elijah was taken. We live and move in that heaven, inasmuch as we need air to keep us alive. Elijah was taken, but he still remains in the first heaven.
Those who wrongly teach that Elijah was taken to the third heaven point to an account in the New Testament in which Christ went with three of his disciples to a mountain to pray. In a vision the disciples saw Elijah and Moses talking to Christ, who later told His companions not to tell others about the vision (Mat. 17:1-9).
A full four years after Elijah was taken, an evil man was king of Judah, and he received a letter (supposedly) from Elijah. It warned him that he would soon become diseased and die because of the terrible things he had done (2Chr. 21:12). In his note to verse 12 in The Companion Bible, Bullinger says that it was not a “letter” that was sent. It could refer to any “writing” which could have been written at any time. So we cannot assume it was from Elijah.
Because Elijah was taken from his old environment in Israel, that didn't mean that he died. For Elijah had been taken without experiencing death. Yet the Bible says: “It is appointed unto man once to die” (Heb. 9:27). So if Elijah did not die then there is something more to the story.
Apart from Elijah, Enoch is the only other person that the Bible says was taken (Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5). So neither Elijah nor Enoch died; they were taken. We might then ask, “Where are they now?”
We will look at a couple of translations of Hebrews 11:5:
Hebrews 11:5 By faith Enoch was transferred, so as not to be acquainted with death, and was not found, because God transfers him. (Concordant Literal New Testament)
Green’s Interlinear Bible says:
By faith Enoch was translated [so as] not to see death, and was not found because God translated him.
The word translated (SGD 3346) means: to transfer, export, exchange, change sides, carry over, change, remove, translate, turn. So, in other words, Enoch and Elijah were transferred / carried over to another place (in time)! It may sound like something out of a Science Fiction movie but it is a logical conclusion when the pieces of the puzzle are put together. And nothing is impossible with God.
As this is a rather complex topic see the paper The Witnesses (No. 135) for a more detailed explanation of Enoch and Elijah and their role in future events.
Meanwhile, the fifty men from Jericho who were watching said, “The spirit of Elijah rests upon Elisha” (v. 15). Then they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. This indicated that they accepted that Elisha had succeeded Elijah.
The prophets then said to Elisha, “We have fifty strong men; let them go and look for your master. Isn't it possible that he has been put down on some mountain or into some deep valley?"
Elisha replied, "There is no reason to look for him."
But they persisted until Elisha agreed. So for the next three days the fifty men searched around for Elijah, but they found no sign of him. They returned to report to Elisha at Jericho, where he was staying for a time.
"I knew you wouldn't find him," Elisha reminded them (vv. 16-18).
A few days later, while Elisha was still at Jericho, leaders of the city informed him that their source of water had become so impure that it was hindering the plant growth and causing ill health to the people. They hoped that Elisha could do something about it, and he did.
He asked for a new bowl with salt in it, which he carried to the spring and threw the salt into it. The bowl needed to be clean, so hence a new one was requested. Salt is a preservative, but on this occasion it may have been symbolic of the covenant faithfulness of the Lord (cf. Lev. 2:13; Num. 18:19; 2Chr. 13:3).
Then Elisha said, "God wants you to know that He has healed these waters, and that from now on they will give good health to those who drink it and lush growth to all plant life in this area."
This was the second outstanding miracle God performed through Elisha (2Kgs. 2:19-22).
Soon afterward, as the prophet was going to Bethel, a group of rude youths came out from the town to shout insults at him.
"Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” they said.
When Elisha saw them he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Some people say that “go up” may have referred to Elijah’s translation and the youths were therefore mocking God through their taunts to Elisha.
Baldness was uncommon among ancient Jews and a head full of hair was a sign of strength (cf. 2Sam. 14:26). The youths probably thought Elisha had no power, but he soon proved them wrong.
The jeers ceased when two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths. Then Elisha went on to Mount Carmel and from there he returned to Samaria (vv. 24-25).
In the 18th year of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, Jehoram the son of Ahab became the new king of Israel in Samaria, and he reigned for twelve years. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, yet he got rid of the stone of Baal that his father had made. Nevertheless, he did not depart from the sin of Jeroboam, which he caused Israel to commit.
Ever since Solomon's reign, the nation of Moab had paid yearly tribute to Israel by sending a hundred thousand lambs and a hundred thousand shorn rams, whose wool was brought along with them.
Moab had been subdued by David (2Sam. 8:2) and when the kingdom was divided it passed to Israel. Moab was greatly oppressed by Omri and Ahab and on the death of Ahab the king of Moab rebelled against Israel (2Kgs. 1:1; see also fn. to 2Kgs. 1:1 in The Companion Bible).
So Jehoram decided to take his army to Moab. And, just as his father Ahab had done, he went to King Jehoshaphat to ask him to send along the army of the nation of Judah to help the ten-tribed nation of Israel.
King Jehoshaphat agreed to go with Jehoram against Moab. (Jehoshaphat also had a son named Jehoram.) Jehoram suggested that the best route to Moab was via the wilderness of Edom (2Kgs. 3:1-8).
Jehoram had also expected that country to join him and Jehoshaphat against Moab, even though in the past Moab and Edom (sometimes called Seir), had banded together against Judah (2Chr. 20:10-11).
With soldiers of three kingdoms moving against Moab, a quick victory over the rebels seemed a certainty. But after a roundabout march of seven days there was no more water for the men or animals (2Kgs. 3:9-10).
"It begins to appear as though God has a plan to get us together so that we will fall into the hands of the king of Moab," the king of Israel confided to Jehoshaphat.
Jehoshaphat replied, “Is there a prophet of the Lord here through whom we may inquire of the Lord?”
"There is a man here," one of Jehoram's officers remarked. "He claims to be a prophet of God who has been trained under the prophet Elijah. His name is Elisha".
"The word of the Lord is with him", Jehoshaphat said. So the three kings went down to him (vv. 11-12).
"Why do you come to me to ask for help?" the prophet finally spoke. "Why don't you look to the pagan prophets of Ahab your father and Jezebel your mother?"
“No, the Lord has called these three kings together to hand us over to Moab,” Jehoram replied.
"Out of respect for the king of Judah I shall ask God what should be done." Elisha declared. "If it wasn’t for his presence I would not even look at you. First, though, bring me a harpist" (vv. 13-15).
In those times kings generally took musicians with them wherever they went, including war campaigns.
While Elisha listened to the music the hand of the Lord came upon him and he said, “This is what the Lord says: Make the valley full of ditches. The Lord has informed me that this valley will soon receive plenty of water for your men and the animals" Elisha explained. "You won't see any wind or rain, but water will come in time to save you. And this is only a small thing. God will also help you overcome the Moabites. You shall take their cities, destroy the valuable trees, plug their wells and ruin their fields as a punishment for their sins" (vv. 16-19).
All the rest of that day and that night men worked busily at digging ditches close to and joining the dry river bed. Before dawn arrived, the area was a maze of trenches and pools on the Israelites' side of the channel where the water ordinarily flowed. At sunrise the work was halted so that morning sacrifices could be made to God, according to Jehoshaphat's practice.
When the morning sacrifices were finished, water was flowing from the direction of Edom. And the land was soon filled with water (v. 20).
Meanwhile, the Moabites heard that the kings had come to fight against them so all who were able to put on armour were called out and drawn up at the border.
Next morning, as the sun shone on the water the Moabites saw the water opposite them as red blood.
"The ground down there is covered with blood!" an officer shouted. "Our enemies must have been fighting among themselves and slain each other!"
"Then go to the enemy and seize their arms and belongings," Mesha ordered (vv. 21-23).
When they got to the camp, the Israelites rose and attacked the Moabites. Many of the Moabites lost their lives before they could get out of the Israelite camp. Others were chased far into their home territory.
Israelites and Edomites slaughtered many more as they went. They swarmed through Moabite towns and villages, destroying buildings, taking spoils, plugging up wells, tossing tons of stones into fertile fields and chopping down the best of the trees of the land, thus carrying out the penalty God had decreed through Elisha (vv. 24-25).
When the invaders arrived at Kir-haraseth, the capital of Moab, they found matters more difficult. Kir-haraseth was encased by high, solid walls, within which Mesha and the remainder of his army had taken quick refuge. The Israelites and Edomites tightly surrounded the city and began an assault against its walls.
Mesha knew that the Moabites would be lost if they continued. Desperate, he called together seven hundred of his top swordsmen to break through, opposite the king of Edom. But they could not (v. 26).
Mesha had only one hope left. He would appeal to Chemosh (Molech), his pagan god of protection. To gain the greatest favour from this imagined deity, a pagan worshipper had to make a great sacrifice. Sacrificing to a non-existent god was foolish and futile. But in this case the sacrifice was terribly tragic. The offered object had to be a human being, and preferably a child! (v. 27).
So he took his eldest son, who was the heir to his throne and offered him as a burnt offering upon the wall. Just how much futile faith Mesha had in Molech can't be known. But there was something else the Moabite king was counting on. He hoped that his awful act would fill his enemies with such sickening dread that they would become too disgusted to continue the siege.
That was what happened. In their disgust toward Mesha many Israelites and Edomites withdrew from him and returned to their respective countries (v. 27). Because of God’s displeasure against Ahab, perhaps He used this incident to cause the Israelites to leave the battle even though they appeared to be winning.
One day the wife of one of the sons of the prophets came to Elisha to tell him that her husband had gone into debt before he died, and that his creditor was about to take her two sons from her to become his servants as payment of the debt (2Kgs. 4:1).
Under the Law it was permitted for people to be sold into servitude in payment of debt, but in the 7th year they were set free (cf. Ex. 21:1-2; Lev. 25:39-41).
"If you have any property your creditor can use, let him have that," Elisha said.
"My only precious material possession is a pot of oil," the woman explained.
"Go and borrow from your friends and neighbours every empty pot and jar they can spare. When no one is present but your sons, take your oil and pour into each container until it is full."
The woman followed Elisha's advice. Finally, when one of her sons had brought her the last empty container, she discovered an amazing thing.
All the containers were full of oil! Then the oil stopped flowing. She went to tell Elisha what had happened. And he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts and you and your sons can live on the rest” (2Kgs. 4:2-7). This was the fifth major miracle of Elisha recorded in the Bible.
The sixth miracle God worked through Elisha occurred one day when Elisha went to the town of Shunem. A wealthy woman there invited Elisha to her home for a meal. So whenever he came by he stopped there to eat. The woman told her husband that she knew Elisha was a holy man of God (vv. 8-9).
After a time the woman suggested to her husband that they add a room to their home, so that the prophet could have a place to rest as well as eat.
During one stop at the home, Elisha decided that this woman who had been so helpful toward him should receive some kind of reward.
"Call the lady of the house," Elisha instructed his servant Gehazi. "Tell her that because she has been so kind to us, I would be pleased to ask any favour for her from the king or from any other in high authority in Samaria."
When Gehazi spoke to the woman, she told him that she was satisfied with what she had and with her position in life, and didn't want or need any favours from those of high rank (vv. 10-13).
"There must be something that can be done for her," Elisha remarked to Gehazi.
Gehazi said, "She has no son, and her husband is quite old."
"Call her," Elisha said. So he did. When the woman appeared before his door, the prophet told her that he had a special bit of good news for her.
"Less than a year from now, you will be nursing a son," Elisha announced.
"Why do you, a man of God, trouble me by making such a ridiculous statement?" she asked (vv.14-16).
Elisha knew that she doubted him, and that his continued presence would only bother her. Accordingly, he left very soon with Gehazi.
Not long afterward, the woman began to realize that she was carrying a child. The next year she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her (v. 17).
When the lad was only a few years old, he walked out in a field where his father was overseeing some reapers. After a while the boy suddenly cried out, "My head hurts," he complained to his father.
The father had the boy carried back to his mother at their home. The lad fell into a coma, and died a few hours later in his mother's arms.
The woman went up and placed her dead son in Elisha's bed, then went out and shut the door. This may have been so that nobody knew that the boy had died.
Leaving her son there, she sent word to her husband to send from the field one of the young men and one of the donkeys, so that she could travel to see Elisha.
Not knowing that his son had died, the husband wondered why his wife would suddenly wish to visit Elisha, inasmuch as it wasn't a Sabbath or New Moon when people sought the prophet (vv.18-23).
She assured her husband it was all right; then she saddled the donkey and told her servant to hurry along. She knew she would find the man of God at Mt. Carmel.
The prophet recognized the woman as she approached.
"The woman of Shunem is coming," he told Gehazi. "She wouldn't come here unless she is in need of help. Run out to meet her and ask if she and her husband and son are well."
"Everything is all right," the woman said to Gehazi when he met her.
A little later, when she reached the prophet, who came out to greet her, she prostrated herself before Elisha and took hold of his feet. Gehazi stepped up to push her away.
"Don't touch her," Elisha told his servant. "Can't you see that she's in a state of great anguish? Something has happened to her that God has not chosen to tell me before now" (vv. 24-27).
"I never told you that I wanted a son," the woman said to Elisha. "At first I thought you were trying to give me a false hope, and I didn't understand that."
"Go to Shunem at once," Elisha instructed Gehazi, "Don't pause on the way even long enough to speak to anyone. Get to this woman's home as fast as you can run. When you arrive, place my staff on the boy's face" (vv. 28-29).
"But I want you to go back with me, Elisha," the woman pleaded. "I won't leave here until you do." So he got up and followed her.
When Gehazi arrived at the woman's home, he touched the lifeless face with Elisha's staff, but nothing happened. So he went back to meet Elisha to tell him that there was no response from the boy.
When Elisha arrived at the home with the woman, he went into his room alone, shut the door and asked God to restore life to the boy. Then he stretched himself out on the corpse to impart warmth to it. At the same time he breathed into the youngster's mouth to try to revive lung action. After a time he got up and walked about after which he resumed warming the boy's body and breathing into his lungs. He carried out every natural means possible to help the boy, at the same time praying that God would perform a miracle to give him back the spark of life.
Suddenly the lad sneezed seven times and opened his eyes. Elisha called Gehazi and told him to ask the mother to come in. When the woman came in Elisha said, “Take your son.” She was so overcome with joy that she fell before Elisha and bowed to the ground. Then she took her son and went out (vv. 30-37).
The resuscitated child sneezing seven times is symbolic of the Seven Spirits in raising the dead to life in the power of the Holy Spirit of God (2Kgs. 4:35-37). See also the paper The Seven Spirits of God (No. 64).
This was the seventh major miracle God performed through the obedient Elisha, whose desires and special abilities were in harmony with his Creator's will. The next miracle occurred when Elisha was in Gilgal meeting with the company of prophets. Food was scarce in that area then because of a famine. Elisha told his servant to cook some stew for the men.
One of the men went out in the fields searching for edible herbs and he found a wild vine. He gathered some of its gourds and when he returned he cut them up and put them in the stew. No one realized that the gourds were poisonous.
Later, when the contents of the pot were served, there were immediate expressions of discomfort. They cried out to Elisha, “O man of God there is death in this pot!” And they could not eat it (vv. 38-40).
“Bring me some flour," Elisha said. Then he put it into the pot and the stew was served to the men to eat; there was nothing harmful in the pot (v. 41). We see here the 8th miracle performed through Elisha.
At another place, when the local famine was still being severely felt, Elisha was with a gathering of more than a hundred men. A man came to Elisha with an offering of twenty small barley loaves baked from the first ripe grain and some ears of corn. And Elisha said, “Give it to the people to eat” (v. 42).
"How can I feed a hundred men with this?” his servant replied.
Elisha said again, “Give it to the people to eat, for the Lord said, ‘They will eat and there will be some left over.’” And this is exactly what happened.
We will continue with this story in the paper Elisha’s Ministry Continues (No. CB145).