Category: (01) What should we learn from the life of Elisha?

Naaman was the commander of Syria’s (Aram’s) army and well regarded as a military man, but he had leprosy. His Israelite servant girl suggested he go to Elisha to be healed. Naaman left for Israel, taking a large gift with him and a letter from Ben-hadad, the king of Syria, asking the king of Israel to heal Naaman (2 Kings 5:1–6). The king of Israel’s reaction was panic—how could anyone heal leprosy? The king of Israel thought Ben-hadad was trying to start a fight (2 Kings 5:7).

When the prophet Elisha heard of the king’s distress, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel” (2 Kings 5:8). Naaman then came to Elisha’s house with his chariots, gifts, and servants.

Elisha did not even come out to greet Naaman. Instead, he sent a message to wash in the Jordan River seven times to be healed. “Naaman was angry and went away, saying, ‘Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?’ So he turned and went away in a rage” (2 Kings 5:11–12).

Naaman’s servants urged him to reconsider, and Naaman wisely did. After dipping himself in the Jordan River seven times, he was completely healed as Elisha had said. In fact, “his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy” (2 Kings 5:14). Naaman returned to Elisha and said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant” (verse 15). Elisha refused the gift and sent the Syrian commander away in peace.

However, Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, followed Naaman and deceitfully asked for a gift in Elisha’s name. Naaman gave him “two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of clothing” (2 Kings 5:23). Gehazi hid the loot and returned home, where Elisha confronted him. Gehazi lied again to cover the matter. The Lord had given Elisha insight, and the prophet told Gehazi, “Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever” (verse 27). Gehazi immediately contracted leprosy.

Much can be learned from this account. First, there is a clear contrast between the faith of the young servant girl, who knew of Elisha and believed in his power; and the distress of Israel’s king, who did not even think of Elisha and fretted over his own lack of power.

Second, we have a contrast between the pomp of Naaman and the lowliness of Elisha. Naaman came to be healed carrying rich gifts in fine chariots; Elisha had no such finery, just the power of God. Naaman’s pride was almost his undoing: too proud and stubborn to follow the prophet’s simple instructions, he almost bypassed the blessing that God had in store. We, too, should obey the Word of God, even when God’s way does not make sense to us.

Also, those who serve God do not do so for financial gain but out of love and simple obedience to the Lord. Elisha refused the princely gift offered to him. God is a giver, not a taker, and His gifts cannot be bought. Naaman’s healing from leprosy is a wonderful picture of our salvation from sin—freely bestowed by the grace of God in response to faith (Ephesians 2:8–9).

Gehazi’s greed and deception are warnings to us. The Bible warns us against “pursuing dishonest gain” (Titus 1:7). We are called to be honest in all of our dealings, knowing that God sees everything and will judge accordingly. We can be sure that our sins will find us out (Numbers 32:23).

Jesus used the story of Naaman and Elisha as an illustration of Israel’s problem of unbelief. In Luke 4:27, Jesus tells the crowd in the synagogue of Nazareth, “There were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” The lepers of Israel overlooked the healing that could have been theirs through Elisha, so God healed a Syrian instead. In the same way, the Israelites of Jesus’ day were missing the Power right in front of their eyes. But God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34–35), and the Gentiles eventually received the gospel that Israel rejected.

Second Kings 4 records the account of Elisha and the Shunammite woman. The woman is described as a wealthy married woman in the village of Shunem. She had no child. This woman got permission from her husband to set up a guest room for Elisha, acknowledging Elisha as a true prophet and holy man of God. Elisha often passed that way in his travels, and he stayed in the guest room. Today, many churches have a “prophet’s chamber” for traveling evangelists and other servants of God to stay in free of charge.

Elisha asked his servant, Gehazi, how he could help the woman in return for her hospitality. Gehazi mentioned that she had no son and her husband was old. Elisha then called the woman and told her she would have a son by that time next year.

The prophecy was fulfilled, and the woman had a child, but the story was not over. Several years later, the child came down with some kind of sickness, and he died that same day in his mother’s lap. She immediately left to find Elisha and asked him to come heal her son. Elisha came back with the woman to Shunem.

Second Kings 4:32–35 describes what happened next: “When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the LORD. Then he went up and lay on the child, putting his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands. And as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. Then he got up again and walked once back and forth in the house, and went up and stretched himself upon him. The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes.”

Later, in 2 Kings 8:1, we read, “Now Elisha had said to the woman whose son he had restored to life, ‘Arise, and depart with your household, and sojourn wherever you can, for the LORD has called for a famine, and it will come upon the land for seven years.’” She left with her family for seven years and then returned. Upon her return, she discovered that she had lost her land due to her supposed desertion of the property. But God performed yet another miracle in her life:

“And at the end of the seven years, when the woman returned from the land of the Philistines, she went to appeal to the king for her house and her land. Now the king was talking with Gehazi the servant of the man of God, saying, ‘Tell me all the great things that Elisha has done.’ And while he was telling the king how Elisha had restored the dead to life, behold, the woman whose son he had restored to life appealed to the king for her house and her land. And Gehazi said, ‘My lord, O king, here is the woman, and here is her son whom Elisha restored to life.’ And when the king asked the woman, she told him. So the king appointed an official for her, saying, ‘Restore all that was hers, together with all the produce of the fields from the day that she left the land until now’” (2 Kings 8:3–6).

The Shunammite woman’s heartfelt hospitality to Elisha and simple, sincere faith led to an amazing series of events. Elisha was certainly blessed. And God abundantly blessed the woman’s life during a difficult period in Israel. Still today, God often uses His people’s humble acts of service to bless both the giver and the receiver.

2 Kings 2:23-24

There are a few key issues we must understand in regards to this account of the youths cursing Elisha. The text reads, “From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. ‘Go on up, you baldhead!’ they said. ‘Go on up, you baldhead!’ He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.” It seems unbelievable that God would cause two bears to maul a group of children for making fun of a man for being bald.

First, the King James Version has done us a disservice by translated the term as “children.” The Hebrew word can refer to children, but rather more specifically means “young men.” The NIV, quoted here, uses the word “youths.” Second, the fact that the bears mauled 42 of the youths indicates that there were more than 42 youths involved. This was not a small group of children making fun of a bald man. Rather, it was a large demonstration of young men who assembled for the purpose of mocking a prophet of God. Third, the mocking of “go on up, you baldhead,” is more than making fun of baldness. The baldness of Elisha referred to here may be: 1) natural loss of hair; 2) a shaved head denoting his separation to the prophetic office; or more likely, 3) an epithet of scorn and contempt, Elisha not being literally bald. The phrase “go up” likely was a reference to Elijah, Elisha’s mentor, being taken up to Heaven earlier in 2 Kings chapter 2:11-12. These youths were sarcastically taunting and insulting the Lord’s prophet by telling him to repeat Elijah’s translation.

In summary, 2 Kings 2:23-24 is not an account of God mauling young children for making fun of a bald man. Rather, it is a record of an insulting demonstration against God’s prophet by a large group of young men. Because these young people of about 20 years of age or older (the same term is used of Solomon in 1 Kings 3:7) so despised the prophet of the Lord, Elisha called upon the Lord to deal with the rebels as He saw fit. The Lord’s punishment was the mauling of 42 of them by two female bears. The penalty was clearly justified, for to ridicule Elisha was to ridicule the Lord Himself. The seriousness of the crime was indicated by the seriousness of the punishment. The appalling judgment was God’s warning to all who would scorn the prophets of the Lord.

Elisha, whose name means “God is salvation,” was the successor of Elijah in the office of the prophet in Israel (2 Kings 5:8). He was called to follow Elijah in 1 Kings 19:19, and he spent the next 7 or 8 years as the prophet’s protégé, until Elijah was translated into heaven. At that time, Elisha began his ministry, which lasted 60 years (c. 892-832 B.C.), spanning the reigns of kings Jehoram, Jehu, Jehoahaz and Joash.

Elisha fulfilled the three-fold commission which his mentor had received in 1 Kings 19:15-16, part of which was that he would succeed Elijah as Israel’s prophet. It was during Elisha’s ministry that organized Baal worship was eradicated (2 Kings 10:28). In his ministry Elisha traveled widely and served as an advisor to kings, a companion of the common people, and a friend of both Israelites and foreigners.

The miracles Elisha performed are, for the most part, acts of helpfulness and blessing, such as the healing of Jericho’s waters (2 Kings 2:21), the resurrection of the Shunammite’s son (2 Kings 4:18-37), and the curing of Naaman’s leprosy (2 Kings 5). Some of Elisha’s miracles, such as the multiplication of 20 barley loaves to feed 100 men, strongly resemble some of the miracles of Christ (2 Kings 4:42-44; cf. Matthew 16:9-10).

A study of the life of Elisha will reveal the prophet’s humility (2 Kings 2:9), his obvious love for the people of Israel (2 Kings 8:11-12), and his faithfulness in a lifelong ministry.