The Prophet Series: Elisha, part 2
The Prophet Series: Elisha Part 2
Several years must have elapsed between the call of Elisha and the removal of his master Elijah into heaven. We hear nothing about him during this time, but he must have accompanied Elijah to the places that the old prophet was sent by God. We discover that Elijah instituted at least two schools of prophets at Bethel and Jericho and he likely visited them that he might encourage them. God will send him to visit them one last time before he ascends to heaven. We discover that these are true prophets of God that Elijah brought together; many of them being from the group of prophets that Obadiah hid and protected from the wrath of Jezebel (1KI 18:4). They likely study the word of God and serve the surrounding community and also play instruments and sing spirituals (1SA 10:5).
Elijah's ascension into heaven:
Elijah was told by God to go to Bethel, Jericho, and then the Jordan River just before his ascension would take place. God desired the school of the prophets to be encouraged by him and for them to know that God does not depend on any one man. The mantle will be passed to Elisha and the prophets will witness this. There is much work left to do and they will do it without Elijah.
The prophets know that Elijah is going to ascend to heaven, as does Elisha, but Elijah, unaware of this, chooses to be alone. However, Elisha won't leave his side and some of the prophets follow them both to the Jordan River. At the river, Elijah takes the cloak, which represents his elected office as prophet, and strikes the water with it to which the Jordan divides and the two prophets walk across on dry land. We must quickly state the obvious: there is no miraculous power in the cloak, just as there was no such power in Moses' staff which divided the Red Sea. These items represent a gift and calling from God and so God uses them to reveal that the power has come from Him and not from men. People are mad for such mystical relics because they prefer the visible over faith. Faith is much harder and it demands total dedication of life. Having a talisman is easy and far less powerful, though most seek for them.
2KI 2:9-10 Now it came about when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, "Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you." And Elisha said, "Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me." And he said, "You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so."
Elijah finally realizes that it is up to the Lord and not himself if he is to fly away to heaven without any witnesses. This shows that no matter how old, we are always learning from God. Elisha asks his master for a double portion his spirit, but we would not assume that he is asking for a double amount of prophetic power or the ability to do twice as many miracles as Elijah. As we complete Elisha's life, we will see that this doesn't happen. The double portion is a reference to the law. Elisha desires to be a first born son to Elijah, who according to the law would receive a double portion, not of the father, for how could the father give more than he has, but of the other siblings, and in this case, the sons of the prophets in the various schools. Elisha's not even asking to be as great as Elijah was, but to just be to him as a first born son. We would conclude that Elisha was not made greater than Elijah since his ministry mostly followed up what the great old prophet had started, and added to that, at the Mount of Transfiguration, it wasn't Elisha that appeared with Jesus and Moses, but Elijah.
Elisha witnesses the amazing ascension and is truly blessed in the way of a first born son, which is revealed by his first recorded miracle, dividing the river just as Elijah had done.
2KI 2:11-14 Then it came about as they were going along and talking, that behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven. And Elisha saw it and cried out, "My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" And he saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. He also took up the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and returned and stood by the bank of the Jordan. And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and struck the waters and said, "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?" And when he also had struck the waters, they were divided here and there; and Elisha crossed over.
This miracle affirms to Elisha that he indeed has been blessed as an oldest son and also affirms the same to the on looking prophets. It is God who confirms each of us, whether witnessed by others or not. Each believer in the church has been given a spiritual gift, a ministry in which the witness of Christ shines through them, and an effect which that witness will have both for time and eternity. God will lead us to perfectly see this way. Our eyes will open as we continue to be diligent in the plan of God, tenaciously moving forward, and also patient upon God's perfect timing. Elisha followed Elijah to three places and I'm sure he would have gone to fifty more. He did not know when and where the ascension took place, but he was determined to follow and patient enough to wait for its unfolding.
Elisha affirmed as God's prophet
2KI 2:15 Now when the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho opposite him saw him, they said, "The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha." And they came to meet him and bowed themselves to the ground before him.
The prophets begged Elisha to let them search for Elijah amongst the surrounding mountains, since they for some reason did not think that he could have been taken to heaven. There was a rumor years ago that Elijah could transport himself to far away places (1KI 18:12), plus, they also might have thought that God could take his soul to heaven but would leave his body dead somewhere on earth and so they could pay their last respects. Elisha allows the search after warning them that they would not find him, and guess what? They didn't. Why not have simple, unquestioning obedience? Like many of us, in the process of our personal sanctification, they had to learn it by painful experience.
Elisha soon after performs two other miracles which accredit him in the eyes of Israel. They are both for public acknowledgment of him in which the first was a case of mercy and the second a case of judgment. In the war with Baal, it was of absolute importance that the presence of Jehovah be among the people of Israel within a concrete and visible human representative who could both bless and curse. If Israel had completely established the worship of Baal everywhere, she would have lost her identity, and her Creator was never going to let that happen.
Hence, the ministries of Elijah and Elisha are unique among all the prophets of Israel. Ahab and Jezebel were hell bent on turning all of Israel to the servitude of Baal, but Elijah halted it. Ahab's sons who took the throne after him were also evil, but they failed to be as evil as their father as the hand of God held them back through these two great prophets. Their ministries, one after the other, could be seen as one ministry that held Baal in check while keeping alive the word of God in the land.
The men of the city of Jericho related to Elisha that the spring which fed water to all the people and the land had gone bad, making the land unfruitful. Elijah asked for a new jar with salt in it and he threw the salt into the spring and thus he purified the waters.
2KI 2:21-22 And he went out to the spring of water, and threw salt in it and said, "Thus says the Lord, 'I have purified these waters; there shall not be from there death or unfruitfulness any longer.'" So the waters have been purified to this day, according to the word of Elisha which he spoke.
Many doubters look for a natural explanation in vain. Salt represents purity and preservation. God would preserve Israel forever according to His covenant with Abraham. He would purify them and fulfill His promises to them. A new dish was used since only God could purify and renew. If man had used the dish then he had a part in it, but man has no part in his own purification. Only God's Savior would purify, and only those who believed in Him would be purified. This miracle says to the inhabitants of Jericho, "The Lord is the only One who promises and fulfills. Why follow false gods? Believe in Him and enjoy the fulfillment of His covenant."
Onward from the plains of Jericho the prophet travels upward to 3000 feet of elevation to the highlands of Bethel. He is retracing the way that he and Elijah took and is no doubt headed there to encourage the school of the prophets and to establish himself as Elijah's replacement. He could not have possibly imagined how God was going to establish him as His leading prophet through the power of a curse.
2KI 2:23-25 Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, "Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!" When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number. And he went from there to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.
It is difficult to know the age of these "young lads" as well as the reason for them to come out of the city all together. The word "lad" is the Hebrew naar, which refers to a young man as opposed to an old man. It can mean a child or a twenty year old. However, modifying it is the Hebrew adjective qatan which means "young" as a child, but it can also mean "insignificant." So these are either young adolescents or insignificant young men. The context fits the former much better. This is a group of young adolescent children.
The forty-two little brats came out from the city and while watching the great prophet walk by the main road from the east into the city, one or some of them notice the sun gleaming off his bald spot. Elisha is going to prophesy for fifty more years, so he is not a very old man. He simply has male pattern baldness (androgenic alopecia: gotta love google) and as some of them begin to mock him, as stupid kids tend to do, the rest of them join in with the herd.
"Go up you bald head" was a phrase of scorn. They might mean, "go up to the city," but it is the same word used for Elijah going up to heaven and therefore the scorn could be that the young men are mocking Elisha by taunting him to go up to heaven as Elijah reportedly had. If this is so, they are mocking Elisha and also God's ascension of Elijah. Not wise.
Despite possessing a school of prophets, a worthless spirit had developed in Bethel that is openly manifested in these ignorant and troubled children. These children were not raised properly. Societies that desire only self-gratification, as idol worshipping societies do, fail to spend the time and energy to train children to deny the trends of their sin natures. If a parent does not deny his sin nature, how can he teach a child to? They have no respect for authority, and what's more, they should know from the mantle he wears that he is the prophet of God. This city has a school of prophets whose job it is to spread the word of God. I find it hard to believe that they did not know what the mantle around his shoulders meant, and by their punishment, I'm quite sure that they did.
The last words the little tykes heard before the snarls and growls of some very hungry female bears, was the curse of the prophet. Elisha only pronounced the curse and left it up to God as to how they would actually be cursed. The Bible mentions bears several times. God uses the anger of a momma bear separated from her cubs as imagery of fierceness on a few occasions. God might have suddenly transported the cubs belonging to these two bears to the other side of the children, leaving them directly in their path. One can imagine what thoughts must have raced through their minds when at first laughing at the balding man's curse there came the sudden realization that two very large bears are upon them and possibly the irony of having some cute little cubs opposite them which indirectly will be the reason for their end.
The message to Israel is clear. Don't mock God's prophet or large hungry carnivores will tear you to shreds … ok, maybe not that exact message. At least we could say that the Lord's curse would be upon those who mocked God's prophet. It makes me think of those who mocked Christ at Calvary.
Elisha would have not tarried in Bethel. His power confirmed as the successor of Elijah, he passed on to Mt. Carmel, where Elijah had been during the later part of his ministry, and from there proceeded to Samaria in readiness to continue the work that Elijah had begun.
[On a personal note concerning these blogs, I will likely interject the articles on the prophets with other articles of a different nature. The reason is that the research needed to write about the prophets is extensive, and with the other things on my to do list, I can't quite finish them every week. You may be saying, "Well thank God," and I understand, but I do find that I really enjoy the aspect of this small part of the ministry as also a chance to enjoy freely writing about things that come upon my mind. Those normally don't require the same amount of work. So, long story short (too late) the prophet series will be interspersed with other stuff. Thanks.]
In His glorious name,