ELISHA, ELISEUS ĭ lī’ shə (Heb. אֱלִישָׁ֖ע God is salvation; Gr., LXX, ̓Ελισα, ̓Ελισαιε, NT, ̓Ελισαίος; KJV, ELISEUS, Luke 4:27), was a prophet, the successor of Elijah.
His origin. Elisha was a son of a man named Shaphat, of the city of Abel-meholah, possibly modern Tell Abu Sifri, W of the Jordan and about midway between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. Elisha’s name appears for the first time in 1 Kings 19:16, as the one Elijah was ordered to anoint as his successor. Elisha served primarily in the northern kingdom, from the latter part of the reign of Ahab into the rule of Joash, from roughly 850 to 800 b.c.
His call. The call of Elisha to the prophetic office was given by the prophet Elijah and was acted out in the manner characteristic of many of the OT prophets. As he passed by Elisha, Elijah cast his mantle upon him. Elisha immediately ran after Elijah and said that he would follow him as soon as he had said farewell to his parents. Like many other Biblical heroes, Elisha was a man who was close to the soil. At the time of his call he was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen (1 Kings 19:19; cf. 1 Sam 11:5). Before leaving with Elijah, he made a feast for the people by butchering two of the oxen.
His early ministry. While Elijah’s ministry continued, Elisha served him (1 Kings 19:21), much as Joshua had assisted Moses. Elisha’s name does not reappear in the Biblical narrative until 2 Kings 2:1, which marks the beginning of the account of Elijah’s ascension to heaven and prefaces the active role of Elisha as the full successor to Elijah.
Elisha and the ascension of Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-12). Elisha accompanied the older man as he made his rounds to the prophetic schools or groups of “sons of the prophets.” Just before Elijah was caught up to heaven, the two prophets went from Gilgal to Bethel and Jericho. At Gilgal and Jericho Elijah tested the younger man by requesting him to stay while the old prophet went on, but Elisha swore that he would not leave his master. At Bethel and Jericho the sons of the prophets asked Elisha if he knew that the Lord would take Elijah away from him that day; Elisha knew it well. The two men proceeded to the Jordan, which they crossed by a miraculous parting of the waters. Beyond the river, Elijah asked what Elisha wanted as a favor from him. Elisha requested a double portion of the spirit of the older man; Elijah answered that this would be granted on the condition that Elisha saw him as he was being taken from him. While they walked and conversed, they were separated by a chariot of fire and horses of fire; Elijah was taken up by a whirlwind as the younger man watched.
The prophetic ministry of Elisha. Elisha was now the full-fledged successor of his master and he proceeded with the same type of ministry, serving the schools of the prophets, helping the needy, performing miracles, giving advice to the king, and acting as a spokesman for God. It has been remarked that the miraculous works of Elisha are double the number performed by his predecessor, thus indicating that he had, in fact, been endowed with a double portion of the spirit of Elijah. The record of the ministry of Elisha extends to 2 Kings 13:21, which relates a miracle performed after Elisha’s death; beyond this point the prophet is not mentioned again in the OT.
Deeds and miraculous works of Elisha.
1. The parting of the Jordan (2 Kings 2:13, 14). Upon the disappearance of Elijah, Elisha tore his own clothes into two pieces and took up the fallen mantle of Elijah. Returning to the river Jordan he faced his first crisis. With the cry, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he struck the waters with the mantle and the waters parted. When he came to Jericho the sons of the prophets recognized that the spirit of Elijah rested on him. They met him and did obeisance to him, but they insisted that he send a group to look for Elijah.
2. The purifying of the spring (2 Kings 2:19-22). The people of Jericho complained to Elisha about the quality of the water, so he threw a bowl of salt into the spring and declared that the Lord had changed the fountain. The account states that the water “has been wholesome to this day,” and Elisha’s Fountain is still an important source of good water for the people around Jericho.
3. The cursing of the children (2:23, 24). While going from Jericho to Bethel, Elisha was mocked by small boys who made fun of his bald head. He “cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys.”
4. The defeat of Moab (3:1-27). Jehoram, king of Israel, Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, and the king of Edom joined in a military campaign against Mesha, king of Moab. Marching through the wilderness of Edom, the armies found no water and were near despair. Jehoshaphat wished to consult a prophet of the Lord and was informed that Elisha was present. At first Elisha refused to counsel Jehoram, but after listening to a minstrel the prophet was empowered by the Lord to predict that the land would be filled with water and that the allies would defeat the Moabites (vv. 16-19). The next morning the prediction was fulfilled.
5. The widow’s oil (4:1-7). A poor widow complained to the prophet that a creditor was about to enslave her two children. When Elisha learned that the woman owned only a jar of oil, he instructed her to borrow many empty vessels from her neighbors, and then to go into her house with her sons and fill all of those vessels from the single jar of oil, so that she could pay her debts and live on the income from the oil.
6. The Shunammite’s son (4:8-37). A wealthy woman of Shunem proposed to her husband that they should build on their house a room for the prophet’s use. In return for this kindness, Elisha foretold that in about a year the childless couple would have a son. A few years later this child suddenly became ill and died. The woman went to Mount Carmel to see “the man of God” (v. 25), who sent his servant, Gehazi, to place the prophet’s staff upon the face of the child, but this had no effect (vv. 29-31). Elisha then came to the house, prayed, and stretched himself upon the body of the child, who regained life and was presented again to his mother.
7. The poison pot (4:38-41). During a famine, the prophet came to Gilgal and ordered his servants to prepare food for the sons of the prophets. When one of the men in ignorance placed some poisonous wild gourds into the cooking pot, Elisha threw meal into the mixture and the contents of the pot became harmless.
8. The multiplying of the loaves and grain (4:42-44). A man from Baal-shalishah brought twenty barley loaves and some heads of grain, which Elisha told his servant to set before a hundred men. Though the servant protested, he finally obeyed and there was food enough and some left over.
9. The healing of Naaman (2 Kings 5). Naaman, the commander of the Syrian army, was a leper. A captive Israelite girl who served in Naaman’s household suggested to Naaman’s wife that the prophet in Samaria could heal Naaman. The king of Syria sent Naaman to Israel, with a letter of introduction to the king of Israel. The Israelite king panicked, but Elisha heard of the problem and cured the commander’s leprosy by having Naaman dip seven times in the Jordan River. Naaman then acknowledged the God of Israel, but Gehazi could not resist requesting a reward for the healing and was punished by becoming a leper.
10. The floating axe head (6:1-7). While constructing new buildings near the Jordan for the sons of the prophets, one of the men lost the head of a borrowed axe in the water. The prophet threw a stick into the water and the axe head floated and was recovered.
11. Divine espionage (6:8-10). On several occasions when the Syrians and Israelites were at war, Elisha saved the Israelite king by warning him of the location of the Syrians.
12. The Dothan episode (6:11-23). The Syrians attempted to capture the prophet at Dothan, but the Lord protected him with chariots of fire. When the Lord struck the soldiers blind, Elisha brought them to Samaria, where they recovered their sight. Upon Elisha’s advice, the king of Israel made a great feast for them and then released them.
13. Famine and feast in Samaria (6:24-7:20). Under siege by the army of Ben-hadad of Syria, Samaria suffered such famine that cannibalism was resorted to by several women. When the king proposed executing Elisha, the prophet foretold that there would be an abundance of food the next day. During the night the Syrians fled in disarray and four lepers discovered that the Syrian camp was forsaken; they reported the good news to the city, whose inhabitants soon enjoyed abundance.
14. The Shunammite’s property (8:1-6). During a seven-year famine in Israel the Shunammite woman sojourned in Philistia, and upon her return wished to recover her house and land. The woman and her son arrived to make appeal to the king while Gehazi was relating her earlier story to that ruler, who secured the restoration of her property.
15. Elisha and Hazael (8:7-15; cf. 1 Kings 19:15). Ben-hadad became ill and sent Hazael to the prophet to inquire about his recovery. Elisha’s answer indicated that Hazael would become king of Syria; the Syrian smothered his ailing master and became king.
16. Elisha and Jehu (9:1-3; cf. 1 Kings 19:16). Elisha sent one of the sons of the prophets to Ramoth-gilead to anoint Jehu to be king of Israel.
17. Elisha and Joash (13:14-19). During his final illness the prophet signified in a symbolic prophecy that Joash would defeat the Syrians.
18. The raising of a dead man (13:21). A corpse hastily thrown into the grave of Elisha, when raiders approached, came to life when the body touched the bones of the prophet.
In the NT Elisha is referred to only once. Preaching at Nazareth, the Lord used Elisha’s healing of Naaman as an example of the scarcity of faith within Israel; there were many lepers in Israel in the days of Elisha, but only Naaman the Syrian was healed.
Bibliography C. Geikie, Old Testament Characters (1888), 331-349; R. S. Wallace, Elijah and Elisha (1957); S. Szikszai, “Elisha,” IDB (1962), II, 91, 92; B. L. Smith, “Elisha,” The New Bible Dictionary (1962), 365, 366.