Here are four “why’ questions that have been raised by our recent two week all-aged sermon series on Elisha.
Why are there so many miracles in the time of Elisha compared to the rest of the Old Testament?
The Exodus from Egypt, including the plagues and miraculous feedings features the most grand, large-scale miracles in the Old Testament. However, in terms of sheer density of miracles-per-page, the time of Elijah and Elisha sets a new high-water mark. Elijah brings famine, is fed by ravens, provides oil for a widow and raises her son. He is eventually taken to heaven in a whirlwind. Astonishingly similar miracles accompany Elisha. God provides oil for a widow, raises a woman’s son, feeds 100 with twenty loaves of barley, heals a man from leprosy and makes a metal ax head float.
While there are other scattered miracles in the Old Testament, as well as even larger sections of history without these kind of interventions, something unique happens in the time of Elijah and Elisha. I think it is this. The kingdom had split into two; the Northern half had turned their backs to the LORD. God gave them a last chance. He witnessed to them IN BOLD AND ALL CAPS! The number of miracles done in their presence was an indictment on them; that they still didn’t turn back to God. Their end would be on their own heads.
When Jesus came, he said a similar thing about the places where he did most of his miracles.
“Then He proceeded to denounce the towns where most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes long ago!” (Matthew 11:20-21)
In fact Jesus saw the miracles of Elijah and Elisha as a witness AGAINST his people as well as kindness to those who would be his people, even from other nations.
“Jesus also said, “I assure you: No prophet is accepted in his hometown. But I say to you, there were certainly many widows in Israel in Elijah’s days, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months while a great famine came over all the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them—but to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. And in the prophet Elisha’s time, there were many in Israel who had serious skin diseases, yet not one of them was healed—only Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They got up, drove Him out of town, and brought Him to the edge of the hill that their town was built on, intending to hurl Him over the cliff. But He passed right through the crowd and went on His way.” (Luke 4:24-30).
APPLICATION: Don’t turn your backs on Jesus if you know what he has done.
Why did Elisha do miracles like Jesus? Why was it necessary for Jesus to have someone come before him?
We have partly seen this in the above answer, but I think it is so that people would understand him. Martin Luther said that Jesus was placed in two mangers. One is the animal feeding trough in Bethlehem. The other is the word of God revealed in the Old Testament. It was the preparation for Christ, so that he would understood in his terms and not ours.
Elisha’s miracles were a pale imitation of Jesus’ and yet point to his greater miracles. Jesus fed 5000 with only 5 loaves and 2 fish. Jesus healed many lepers. He healed many, many other people an drove out demons. The crowds who wanted healing were massive. We don’t get that sense from Elisha. Also, his ascension to heaven was more miraculous that Elijah’s, in that he defeated death and rose again before he was taken to heaven.
And yet, because we have Elisha’s miracles we understand that Jesus is bringing about a new people of God in the midst of his national people. As mentioned above, there is an element of the miracles hardening and condemning those who reject him and showing God’s blessing to those who receive him. He was not just a wonder-worker, but someone bringing people back to God like Elijah and Elisha.
APPLICATION: Miracles are not just magic tricks or wonder-working. They are not even signs to make people believe. They can in fact, condemn people in their rejection of God. The cross of Christ is the sign of salvation to us who believe, but also a sign against those who don’t (1 Corinthians 1:22-25).
This leads to the next question.
Does Elijah point to John the Baptist and Elisha to Jesus?
Besides the verse I mentioned in the first answer, Elisha’s name is surprisingly absent in the New Testament and on the lips of Jesus. However Elijah is everywhere.
This is because the final prophet in our Old Testament, Malachi, has a prediction about Elijah.
“Look, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome Day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers. Otherwise, I will come and strike the land with a curse.” (Malachi 4:5-6)
God would do it again. This time for the southern kingdom of Judah. He would give them a last chance to turn to God and do it IN BOLD AND ALL CAPS.
When Jesus enters public ministry, people think that he is the Elijah that was to come (Mark 6:15, 8:28) However Jesus insists that John the Baptist was the Elijah to come. (Jesus also speaks to Elijah at the mountain of transfiguration, but that is another angle!)
“Elijah does come first and restores everything,” He replied. “How then is it written about the Son of Man that He must suffer many things and be treated with contempt? But I tell you that Elijah really has come, and they did whatever they pleased to him, just as it is written about him.” (Mark 9:12-13)
Even at his death, the crowd thought that Jesus was calling for Elijah (Mark 15:36). The clearest prediction is angel’s word to John the Baptist’s father.
And he will go before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of fathers to their children, and the disobedient to the understanding of the righteous, to make ready for the Lord a prepared people. (Luke 1:17)
So John the Baptist is the one coming in the power of Elijah.After all, John starts his ministry at the same location, the Jordan river, where Elijah left off.
If John is the Elijah to come, does that make Jesus, the Elisha that is to come? No. Remember there is no promise that Elisha will return, so we can’t quite say this.
Does that make Jesus *like* Elisha? Yes. Do you see the difference? As we’ve shown this previous answers. He did so much that points to what Jesus would do, particularly the miracles.
However to expand on the picture: Elisha is not only a pattern of Christ, doing miracles and following Elijah. He is also a pattern of an apostle of Christ.
- Both leaves their work and follows at their master’s call
- Both sees their master ascend into heaven
- Both receives the Spirit of their master
- And then both get on with their masters business. They take up the mantle.
There is so much more to say to this answer.
APPLICATION: See John the Baptist as the fulfilment of the Malachi promise. He comes in the power of Elijah and gives the Southern Kingdom, Judah, a chance to turn back to God. He is the last OT prophet. Also, notice that the stories of Elijah and Elisha, as all the OT, pointing to Christ; and indeed Elisha also pointing to a disciple of the Lord. His miracles, in particular, point to Jesus’ signs that he performed.
Why was God so harsh on Gehazi?
Don’t forget that Elisha was Elijah’s successor and there is every indication that Gehazi would be next. Much was given to him; and much expected from him. Sadly the line of the men of God finished with Elisha.
Elisha healed Naaman and would not receive a payment. Gehazi went back and lied to Naaman and tried to get rich on the coat-tails of the miracle. He himself was given leprosy (2 Kings 5).
A book I read last week put it well. God is always sternest when protecting his ‘types’. By ‘type’ I don’t mean the ones he likes, but the ones that point to his salvation in Christ. That explains what God is so strict with the Ark of the Covenant, the temple, the kingship, the priests, his holiness, sacrifices etc…
The story of Elisha healing Naaman was meant to teach us that God’s salvation cannot be bought. This is so incredibly important, that when Gehazi tried to make money from God’s salvation, the point is underlined for posterity’s intruction.
Also, don’t forget that God’s consistent stern warnings about deception and loving money. We have the examples of Achan (Entering land, Joshua 5), Annias and Sapphira (Beginning of church, Acts 5). Notice how easy it is to remember these three: Joshua 5, 2 Kings 5 and Acts 5!!!
APPLICATION: We can’t buy God’s salvation.It is free. The way we treat money and truth matters greatly to God.