“The Lord said to him, ‘Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.’” (1 Kings 19 15–16)
About 150 years after David was king over Israel, God called the Hebrew prophet Elisha to be Elijah’s main disciple and successor. When Elijah had come on the scene, Israel had fallen into a state of extreme apostasy under the leadership of Queen Jezebel and King Ahab, as well as their forerunners.
Elijah (אֱלִיָּהוּ / Eliyahu–My God is Yah) faithfully labored to turn Israel from sin and back to Adonai, and by the end of his ministry, the winds of change were blowing.
But Elijah’s time here on earth would come to an end, so God gave to Elijah a successor to continue his ministry — Elisha (אֱלִישָׁע–God is Salvation).
Elisha is first mentioned in 1 Kings when God commands Elijah to anoint Elisha successor. Upon hearing this command, Elijah set out from Mount Horeb in the Sinai Desert toward Damascus, seeking this son of the wealthy land owner, Shaphat. He found Elisha plowing “with twelve yoke of oxen.”
Elijah immediately threw his mantle (cloak) over Elisha. Although Elisha had not sought this position and was conscientiously carrying out his duties, he readily understood it as a call to follow him.
After burning his plow, he shared a farewell meal with his father, mother, and friends. Without hesitation, Elisha “set out to follow Elijah and became his servant.” (1 Kings 19:21)
For the next seven to eight years, Elisha serves Elijah faithfully. Shortly before his departure to Heaven, Elijah travels to Bethel, Jericho, and the Jordan River. Before each leg of the journey, Elijah seems to test Elisha by saying, “Stay here; the LORD has sent me to Bethel,” then Jericho, then the Jordan.
Just as Ruth affirmed her commitment to Naomi (Ruth 1:16–17), and as Peter affirmed to Yeshua (John 21:15–17), Elisha also affirmed each time, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” (2 Kings 2)
Also before each journey, a company of prophets told Elisha that YHVH (the Lord) was going to take Elijah that day. In true prophetic fashion, Elisha replied, “Yes, I know.”
Upon reaching the Jordan, Elijah touched the waters with his rolled up mantel as 50 prophets looked on. In an echo of past miracles (Moses, Joshua), the waters divided, allowing him and Elisha to cross over on dry land.
Once on the other side, Elijah asked Elisha what he could do for Elisha before he was taken.
Elisha responded, “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.” (2 Kings 2:9)
Since the double portion is the right of the eldest son (Deuteronomy 21:17), we can understand from this that he was asking to be acknowledged as Elijah’s firstborn son, at least in a spiritual sense.
Elisha was not asking for a physical inheritance, but a spiritual one. In this request, he acknowledged his dependence as a prophet on the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) and not on his own personal power.
Elijah said that this was a difficult request, but that if he saw him when he was taken, he would receive it. Elisha did see Elijah taken up into Heaven on a chariot of fire and was able to repossess Elijah’s mantle that fell to the ground.
Elisha returned with Elijah’s mantle to the banks of the Jordan, and as he struck the water, he cried out for a sign of His anointing, “Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?”
The waters parted again, as they did for Elijah. Elisha’s miraculous crossing without Elijah prompted the prophets watching to acknowledge, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.
With a double portion of anointing on him, Elisha not only became a widely recognized prophet in Israel but also a miracle worker for Israelites and foreigners alike.
Elisha made himself available to others, educating them about obeying the Torah and living a life of faith. He traveled widely, advised kings, and befriended the common people — both Israelites and the foreign born.
Throughout his ministry from 892–832 BC, God used Elisha to touch people in the midst of sickness, death, and want in order to lead them into God’s restorative mercy and grace.
Elisha the Merciful Miracle Worker
Early in his ministry, Elisha distinguished himself as a compassionate, merciful, miracle-working prophet.
Some of those miracles reflected the past and others foreshadowed those of Yeshua. Just as Moses healed the waters of Marah so his nation could survive (Exodus 15:25), Elisha’s second miracle healed the spring near Jericho (2 Kings 2:19–22) so the people of the city could have a clean source of water.
“Thus says the LORD: ‘I have healed this water; from it there shall be no more death or barrenness.’” (2 Kings 2:21)
His compassion and mercy are again evident in the story of the impoverished widow and her sons.
The creditor of her deceased husband, whom Jewish tradition identifies as Obadiah, was threatening to take her two sons as slaves to pay off the debt. In a stunning display of supernatural entrepreneurship, Elisha told her to go through the village, collect empty jars, and fill all of them from her only jar of olive oil.
Just as Yeshua multiplied several baskets of loaves and fish from one basket (Matthew 14:13–21), she filled several jars with oil from one. The prophet then told her how to save her sons from slavery: “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.” (2 Kings 4:1–7)
Perhaps the most extravagant miracle is that of birth from barrenness and restoration from death.
This opportunity confronted Elisha who had befriended a Shunammite woman and her husband; he stayed with them so often in his travels that they even provided him with his own room.
Elisha’s servant Gehazi mentioned that the woman was childless and the wife of an old man. Wanting to do something to repay the woman, Elisha told her, “At this season next year you will embrace a son.” (4:16)
This prophecy came to pass, but when the child grew older, he unexpectedly died. She laid him on the prophet’s bed and went to look for Elisha, finding him on Mount Carmel. Learning of the death of the child, Elisha sent his assistant Gehazi with his staff telling him to lay the staff on the boy’s face, but nothing happened.
When Elisha reached the house, the boy was still dead. He “prayed to the LORD. Then he got on the bed and lay on the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out on him, the boy’s body grew warm.” (4:33–35)
After doing this a second time, the child was restored to life.
On another occasion, during a famine in the land, a pot of stew that had been prepared for the prophets turned out to be poisonous. Elisha made the stew safe to eat.
And, again, in an event that foreshadowed Yeshua’s multiplication of meager provision, he multiplied 20 loaves of barley bread to feed a hundred, with food remaining. (4:42–44)
The gifts of miracles and healing are not given to men or women in the Bible merely to make life easier on earth but to multiply faith in the Miracle Giver — God, the Father and His Holy Spirit.
To this end, Elisha’s miraculous ministry was not restricted by cast, class, or nationality. Like Yeshua, he did not always need to be present for a miracle to take place either, as we learn from the story of the Syrian military commander Naaman, who had leprosy. (see Matthew 8:5–13)
When the military leader was cured by immersing himself in the Jordan River seven times, he responded by saying, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.” (2 Kings 5:8, 15)
Though Naaman realized it was God who had healed him, he wanted to reward Elisha; however Elisha would not take compensation from Naaman for the mighty work that God alone had done. The Lord’s mercy is not for sale.
Yeshua highlighted the story of Naaman and Elisha in the synagogue of Nazareth, telling them that although there were many lepers who could have been healed by Elisha, only Naaman the Syrian was healed. Likewise, how many in Yeshua’s day might have been healed but were not because of their unbelief. (Luke 4:27)
Elisha the Military Strategist
As a prophet, Elisha was privy to supernatural knowledge that gave him an edge in warfare.
Elisha continually frustrated the king of Aram in his attempts to fight Israel. Each time he sent an army to a city, Elisha warned the king of Israel to avoid it. So effective were these warnings that the king of Aram suspected someone in his own court was a spy.
The Bible tells us in 2 Kings 6:11–14:
“He summoned his officers and demanded of them, ‘Tell me! Which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?’ ‘None of us, my lord the king,’ said one of his officers, ‘but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.’ ‘Go, find out where he is,’ the king ordered, ‘so I can send men and capture him.’ The report came back: ‘He is in Dothan.’ Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.”
When confronted by this attacking army, Elisha’s servant was afraid and asked him what should be done. Elisha reassured him that they were in the company of a much greater army — a supernatural one.
“Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:16–17)
Elisha prayed to God to blind the enemy troops, and he led them to Samaria.
Once inside Samaria, they were at the mercy of Elisha, but he did not harm them. Instead, he had a feast set out before the Aramean troops who then returned to their homes, and the raids on Israel’s territories stopped.
We at times might feel under attack and alone. These are the times we need to call out for help and to have our eyes opened. God has already released His mighty forces to protect us, and we can win the battle without a single shot being fired. We have an edge in warfare, just like Elisha.
Like Elisha, Like Yeshua… Like Us
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1–2)
Elisha stands as an example of humility, mercy, and faithfulness. Though a wealthy man brought up with privilege, when God called him to be a prophet, he faithfully served his master until the Lord took him.
Just as Elijah assigned Elisha as the new miracle-working prophet of Israel, Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptist) came in the spirit of Elijah and publicly declared Yeshua as the miracle-working prophet from Nazareth.
Like Elisha, Yeshua raised the dead, healed the sick, multiplied food, and defied gravity (Elisha made an ax head float; Yeshua walked on water). But there is one act of mercy that only Yeshua as the Messiah could achieve — as the Lamb of God, He offered His own sinless body and blood as an atonement for all the sins of the world.
Elisha’s main purpose was to finish the work of Elijah and help restore Israel during a very dark time back to the God of Israel. Yeshua has finished that work once and for all, reconciling the entire world back to God through his own righteous life. We only need to trust in and accept His offering on our behalf.
“Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest [Yeshua] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, … by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 11–14)
Like Elisha and Yeshua, we have all been called into the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:16–21)
To help us in our ministry, we have access to the Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) through Yeshua, who has entrusted each of us with at least one spiritual gift. (Romans 12:6–8; 1 Corinthians 12:4–11, 28)
These gifts are to be used mercifully and strategically to reconcile our families, friends, coworkers, communities, and foreigners alike to the God of Israel and to each other.
May each of us, like Elisha, recognize that we can only serve God by wholeheartedly depending upon Him. And may we walk in the power and anointing that is so readily available to those who follow Yeshua.