(E·liʹsha) [God Is Salvation].
The son of Shaphat and a prophet of Jehovah in the tenth and ninth centuries B.C.E.; successor to the prophet Elijah. Elijah was directed by Jehovah to anoint Elisha from Abel-meholah. Finding Elisha plowing, Elijah threw his official garment over him, designating an appointment. (1Ki 19:16) Elisha was plowing behind 12 spans of bulls, “and he with the twelfth.” It is of interest that in the 19th century William Thomson in The Land and the Book (1887, p. 144) reported that it was a custom among the Arabs to work together with their small plows, and one sower could easily sow all that they plowed in a day. Elisha, in the rear of the group, would be able to stop without disrupting the work of the rest. The fact that he sacrificed a span of the bulls and used the implements as fuel speaks for Elisha’s promptness, decisiveness, and appreciativeness for Jehovah’s call. After preparing a meal, Elisha immediately left to follow Elijah.—1Ki 19:19-21.
For perhaps six years Elisha served as Elijah’s attendant. Elijah served as head prophet, and Elisha worked closely with him, being known as the one who “poured out water upon the hands of Elijah” when Elijah washed his hands.—2Ki 2:3-5; 3:11.
Elisha, from the time he joined Elijah, did prophetic work in Israel during the reigns of Kings Ahab, Ahaziah, Jehoram, Jehu, and on into the reign of Jehoash. Ruling at this time in Judah were Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, Ahaziah, Athaliah, Jehoash, and, likely, Amaziah. Elisha enjoyed about 60 years of ministry by himself after Elijah’s departure.—MAP, Vol. 1, p. 949.
The record of Elisha’s prophetic activity in Second Kings does not appear to be altogether in chronological order. For example, in chapter 5, Gehazi is struck with leprosy, which would exclude him from normal society. Yet, in chapter 8, he is speaking in a friendly way to Jehoram of Israel. Also, the death of King Jehoash of Israel is recorded in chapter 13, but this is followed by a record of his last interview with Elisha. (2Ki 13:12-21) In some parts of the account the works and miracles of Elisha seem to be grouped according to their nature or likeness, for example: (1) those that were for the good of the prophets and private persons (2Ki 4:1–6:7), then (2) those that had to do with the nation and the king.—2Ki 6:8–7:20.
Succeeds Elijah. Elisha’s activity as successor to Elijah commences about 917 B.C.E. or shortly thereafter, at the time of Elijah’s ascension in a windstorm to the heavens. (2Ki 1:17; 2:1, 11, 12) Before Elijah leaves, Elisha asks him for “two parts in [his] spirit,” that is, a double part, which was due the firstborn son. This position he occupies because of his official appointment as Elijah’s successor at the time that Elijah threw his official garment over him. (2Ki 2:9) Elijah, realizing that this is not his to give, tells Elisha that, if he sees Elijah when taken from him, his desire will be granted. Jehovah confirms this by permitting Elisha to see Elijah ascend in a windstorm to the heavens. As Elijah departs, his rough mantle, his official garment, falls from him. Elisha picks it up, thereby identifying himself as Elijah’s successor. At the shore of the Jordan River, Jehovah shows that he is with Elisha when he miraculously divides the Jordan waters as Elisha strikes them with the garment.—2Ki 2:9-15.
Crossing the Jordan, Elisha returns to the group of the sons of the prophets at Jericho. Further establishing Elisha as the head of God’s company of prophets is his healing of the water supply of the city of Jericho, which has been bad and has been causing miscarriages. Going to the source of the water, he throws salt from a small new bowl into it, and “the water continues healed down to this day.”—2Ki 2:19-22.
From Jericho, Elisha climbs to Bethel, about 900 m (3,000 ft) above sea level, where he had previously visited a group of the sons of the prophets in company with Elijah. (2Ki 2:3) On the way, a band of juvenile delinquents comes out and shows great disrespect both to him and his office as prophet. “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” they jeer. They mean for him either to keep on going up to Bethel or to get off the earth just as his predecessor was supposed to have done. (2Ki 2:11) To teach these boys and their parents respect for the prophet of Jehovah, he turns and calls down evil upon them in Jehovah’s name. Suddenly two she-bears come out from the woods and tear to pieces 42 of their number.—2Ki 2:23, 24.
King Jehoram of Israel, King Jehoshaphat of Judah, and the king of Edom become trapped in a waterless wilderness during an expedition to put down a revolt by King Mesha of Moab (who erected what has been called the Moabite Stone). King Jehoshaphat calls for a prophet of God. Not for Jehoram’s benefit, but out of respect for Jehoshaphat, who is in Jehovah’s favor, Elisha calls for a stringed instrument player, that under the influence of music he may receive inspiration from Jehovah. (Compare 1Sa 10:5, 6.) Elisha has the people dig ditches. The next morning they are full of water. As the early morning sun shines upon the water in the ditches it appears to the Moabites to be blood. Thinking that Israel and their allies have been slaughtered in confused fighting among themselves, the Moabites rush in to carry away the booty. But to their surprise Israel rises up and defeats them. (2Ki 3:4-27) This event takes place between 917 and 913 B.C.E.
A series of miracles of a domestic nature now appear in Elisha’s record. A widow of one of the former sons of the prophets is in dire need. Elisha miraculously multiplies her meager oil supply and saves her sons from being taken into slavery to her creditor. (2Ki 4:1-7) This miracle is parallel to the second miracle of Elijah, where he multiplied the flour and oil of the widow of Zarephath.—1Ki 17:8-16.
At Shunem in the Valley of Jezreel a prominent woman shows unusual hospitality to Elisha because she recognizes him as “a holy man of God,” even providing a room for him as he frequently passes by her home. For her kindness Elisha promises her a son, though her husband at that time is old. True to his promise, a son is born about a year later, but he dies while still a child. Elisha now performs his first resurrection, bringing the boy back to life as Elijah similarly raised the son of the widow in Zarephath. (2Ki 4:8-37; 1Ki 17:17-24) For her kindness to a prophet of God, she is richly rewarded.—Compare Mt 10:41.
Elisha returns to Gilgal, N of Bethel in the mountains, to the sons of the prophets there. A famine is on. As a stew is being prepared someone unwittingly puts in some poisonous gourds. Immediately upon tasting the stew, they shout: “There is death in the pot, O man of the true God.” Since it would not do to waste food during the famine, Elisha calls for some flour, putting it into the pot and making the stew edible so that “nothing injurious [proves] to be in the pot.”—2Ki 4:38-41.
During the critical times of the famine, a faithful remnant of Israelite worshipers who have not bent down to Baal appreciate the efforts of Jehovah’s prophets and supply material food to them. When a man brings 20 barley loaves and some grain, Elisha gives orders that this small supply be fed to all. But there are 100 men of “the sons of the prophets” to be fed. Despite the doubts of the one doing the serving, all eat to satisfaction, after which there are leftovers.—2Ki 4:42-44; compare Mr 6:35-44.
Heals Naaman. During his reign, King Ben-hadad II of Syria sends his highly respected army chief Naaman, a leper, to the king of Israel to be healed of his leprosy. This valiant man had, although leprous, saved Syria. Evidently the leprous condition of Naaman does not bar him from holding such a high office in Syria, whereas it would have removed him from holding such office in Israel. (Le 13:46) King Ben-hadad’s action in sending Naaman comes about because of the testimony of a young Israelite girl who is a captive and who is serving in the house of Naaman. This young girl trusts in Jehovah and tells her mistress of Jehovah’s prophet Elisha of Israel. The king of Israel feels sure that Ben-hadad is picking a fight with him, for, as he says: “Am I God, to put to death and to preserve alive?” Elisha, hearing of the king’s distress, tells the king, “Let him come, please, to me that he may know that there exists a prophet in Israel.”—2Ki 5:1-8.
Elisha does not come out to see Naaman, but he sends instructions through his attendant for Naaman to bathe seven times in the Jordan River. At first this enrages Naaman, but finally he humbles himself to perform the simple procedure and becomes clean. Naaman returns to Elisha and vows that from now on he will serve Jehovah the God of Israel faithfully. He takes back with him some Israelite soil, “the load of a pair of mules,” upon which he will sacrifice to Jehovah, without doubt looking toward the temple of Jerusalem. As an officer of the king of Syria he will carry on his work, which includes going with the king into the house of the false god Rimmon. As the king is supported by him he will have to bow with the king, but he says he will no longer worship Rimmon. He will be performing, not a religious duty, but only his duty in service of the king. He offers Elisha a gift, which is refused. This harmonizes with the principle that the miracle is by Jehovah’s power, not his, and he will not profit from the office Jehovah has given him.—2Ki 5:9-19; compare Mt 10:8.
Elisha’s attendant Gehazi, greedy for selfish gain, overtakes Naaman and asks for some of the gifts that Elisha refused. Lyingly he tries to conceal the matter from Elisha. As a due punishment, Elisha tells him, “the leprosy of Naaman will stick to you and your offspring to time indefinite.”—2Ki 5:20-27.
It becomes necessary for the sons of the prophets with whom Elisha is associated to move to more spacious quarters. They are at the Jordan River cutting beams for their new housing. One of the prophets is using a borrowed ax, and the axhead comes off and falls into the water. Elisha, apparently concerned that no reproach come upon the prophets, throws a piece of wood into the water where the axhead had fallen, and the axhead floats to the top. Jehovah thereby proves that he is backing up his prophets.—2Ki 6:1-7.
Israel Delivered From Syria. During the reign of King Jehoram of Israel, Syria plans a surprise attack upon Israel. More than once maneuvers of Ben-hadad II are frustrated by Elisha, who reveals to King Jehoram every move of the Syrians. At first Ben-hadad thinks that there is a traitor in his own camp. But when he finds out the real source of his difficulty, he sends a military force to Dothan, surrounding it with horses and war chariots to get Elisha. (PICTURE, Vol. 1, p. 950) Elisha’s attendant is struck with fear, but Elisha prays to God to open the attendant’s eyes, “and, look! the mountainous region [is] full of horses and war chariots of fire all around Elisha.” Now, as the Syrian hosts close in, Elisha prays for the opposite kind of miracle, “Please, strike this nation with blindness.” Elisha says to the Syrians, “Follow me,” but he does not have to lead them by the hand, indicating that it is mental rather than physical blindness. They do not recognize Elisha, whom they came to take, nor do they know where he is taking them.—2Ki 6:8-19.
With what sort of blindness did Jehovah strike the Syrians who tried to seize Elisha?
As to this form of blindness, William James, in his Principles of Psychology (1981, Vol. 1, p. 59), states: “A most interesting effect of cortical disorder is mental blindness. This consists not so much in insensibility to optical impressions, as in inability to understand them. Psychologically it is interpretable as loss of associations between optical sensations and what they signify; and any interruption of the paths between the optic centres and the centres for other ideas ought to bring it about.”
Bringing the Syrians to Samaria, Elisha prays that Jehovah open their eyes, and the Syrians find themselves right in the middle of Samaria before King Jehoram himself. Elisha manifests faith in Jehovah’s power and shows complete lack of vindictiveness when he prevents the king of Israel from killing the Syrians, for, says he, they are like captives of war. He instructs the king to feed them, and they are feasted and sent home. The result is: “Not once did the marauding bands of the Syrians come again into the land of Israel.”—2Ki 6:20-23.
However, later on, Ben-hadad II invades, not with sporadic marauding forays, but in force and lays siege to Samaria. The siege is so severe that at least one case is reported to the king in which a woman eats her own son. As the offspring of Ahab, the “son of a murderer,” King Jehoram swears to kill Elisha. But the rash oath is not carried out. Arriving at the prophet’s house with his adjutant, Jehoram states that he has lost all hope of aid from Jehovah. Elisha assures the king that food supplies will be abundant the next day. The king’s adjutant scoffs at this prediction, causing Elisha to tell him: “Here you are seeing it with your own eyes, but from it you will not eat.” By a noise that Jehovah causes to be heard in the camp of the Syrians, they are led to believe that a great army of combined nations is advancing against them, and they flee, leaving the camp intact with all its food supplies. When the king finds out about the desertion of the Syrians, he puts the adjutant in charge of guarding the gate of Samaria, and there he is trampled to death when the starving crowd of Israelites rush out to plunder the camp. He sees the food but does not eat from it.—2Ki 6:24–7:20.
Hazael, Jehu, Named as Kings. Our attention now swings to Damascus in Syria, where King Ben-hadad II lies near death. The king’s envoy Hazael meets Elisha and inquires if his master will revive. Jehovah’s spirit becomes operative and enables Elisha to see a bitter picture, saddening to Elisha: Hazael as supplanter of Ben-hadad will in time mete out unspeakable injury to Israel, although it is a just punishment from Jehovah for their sins. He tells Hazael to say to Ben-hadad: “‘You will positively revive,’ and Jehovah has shown me that he will positively die.” Hazael reports the first part in words but the second part by actions, suffocating the king under a wet coverlet and taking the throne of Syria.—2Ki 8:7-15.
There is yet an unfinished work of Elijah for Elisha to carry out, namely, the anointing of Jehu as God’s executioner against the wicked house of Ahab. (2Ki 9:1-10) He carries it out over 18 years after Jehovah gave the command to Elijah. Elisha gets to see the fulfillment of the prophecies at 1 Kings 19:15-17 and 21:21-24.
At the time of Jehu’s anointing, Jehoram rules in Israel and Ahaziah his nephew rules in Judah. The Syrian Hazael afflicts Israel greatly during his rule, wounding Jehoram in battle at Ramoth-gilead. (2Ki 9:15) Jehu wastes no time in carrying out his commission to wipe out the evil house of Ahab, letting no survivor remain. (2Ki 10:11) He goes first after King Jehoram of Israel, who is recuperating in Jezreel. In fulfillment of Elijah’s prophecy, Jehoram is met outside the city and put to death and thrown into the tract of the field of Naboth the Jezreelite. (2Ki 9:16, 21-26) Entering Jezreel, Jehu kills wicked Jezebel, mother of Jehoram of Israel and grandmother of Ahaziah of Judah. Jehu would have her buried, but Jehovah sees to it that the dogs eat up her fleshy parts just as his prophet Elijah had foretold, so that she can have no tomb to memorialize her. (2Ki 9:30-37) Ahab’s 70 sons are beheaded. Ahaziah, Ahab’s grandson, is killed (2Ki 10:1-9; 9:27, 28), and 42 brothers of Ahaziah are slaughtered by Jehu’s executional sword.—2Ki 10:12-14; 1Ki 21:17-24.
Baal Worship Destroyed. Continuing his ride up to Samaria the capital city, Jehu meets Jehonadab, who fully supports his execution of Baal worship, and the two ride on to Samaria to see the final stroke that will wipe Baalism entirely from Israel. Through strategy Jehu has all the Baal worshipers gather to the house of Baal and put on their garments of identification. The house is filled from end to end, and no worshipers of Jehovah are among them. Jehu gives the command, and his men slaughter every Baal worshiper, tearing down their sacred pillars and pulling down Baal’s house, setting the area aside for privies.—2Ki 10:15-27.
Elisha, therefore, completes the work started by Elijah. Baal worship is annihilated out of Israel. Elisha does not experience being carried in a windstorm to the heavens to be taken to another location before his death, as was Elijah. During the reign of King Jehoash of Israel, Elisha dies a natural death. While he is on his deathbed, trouble appears for Israel again from Syria. King Jehoash approaches Elisha and makes an apparent appeal for military help against the Syrians when he addresses Elisha with the words: “My father, my father, the war chariot of Israel and his horsemen!” Upon Elisha’s request, Jehoash strikes the earth with his arrows. But as he does this with lack of real zeal, only three times, Elisha tells him that as a consequence he will be granted only three victories over Syria. This is fulfilled.—2Ki 13:14-19, 25.
Work Accomplished. Through God’s spirit upon Elisha, he had performed 15 miracles up to this point. But even after his death he is used by Jehovah for a 16th miracle. Elisha had been faithful till death, approved by God. The record relates that after Elisha’s burial another man was being buried when a marauding band of Moabites caused the burial party to throw the man into Elisha’s burial place and flee. Upon touching Elisha’s bones, the dead man came to life and stood upon his feet.—2Ki 13:20, 21.
Jesus calls Elisha a prophet at Luke 4:27, and he is undoubtedly alluded to along with Elijah at Hebrews 11:35, both having performed resurrections. Elijah had come into his prophetic work at a time when Israel was steeped in Baal worship, and this required zeal for true worship. He accomplished a great work in turning the hearts of many back to Jehovah. Elisha took up where Elijah left off, and while his ministry itself was more peaceable, he saw to it that the work started by Elijah was thoroughly carried out, and he lived to see it done. He is credited with 16 miracles as compared with Elijah’s 8. Like Elijah, he showed great zeal for Jehovah’s name and true worship. He manifested patience, love, and kindness and yet was very firm when Jehovah’s name was involved; he did not hesitate to express God’s judgment against the wicked. He earned for himself a place among the “so great a cloud of witnesses” mentioned at Hebrews 12:1.