II Kings 2:13–6:7. Elisha Has a Season of Miracles.
Key Notes: Miracle clusters. Ministry of Elisha compared to Elijah.
Elijah's seven miracles and Elisha's dozen or more occur in a unique time of Israel's history. Nothing like it was seen since Moses confronted Pharaoh. Nothing like it would be seen again until Jesus comes. There will also be a sprinkling of miracles among the apostles in Acts. These are called “miracle clusters”. Today we will read of twelve miracles. After we review them, we will collect the common features and make some generalizations.
#1. IIK.2:14 Elisha snapped the Jordan with Elijah's cloak and walked across on dry land.
#2. IIK.2:15 The sons of the prophets were sure Elijah's body would have fallen to the ground after the tornado and they went looking for it, over Elisha's better judgment. They came back empty-handed. Elisha knew that Elijah had gone bodily into heaven.
#3. IIK.2:19 The city of Jericho (2:19) complained that their spring was fouled. Elisha had a bowlful of salt thrown into the spring and prophesied that God had made the water safe.
Comment: The spring at Jericho has run for thousands of years and is the site of an oasis to this day. Why it was polluted then is not clear; it could have been sewage or a heavy metal such as arsenic or lead.
#4. IIK.2:23 Coming to Bethel, the prophet was jeered by a mob of kids. He cursed them and they were mauled by two she-bears.
Comment: Many critics have complained that a prophet should not seek vengeance against children. We recall that this was Bethel, site of Jeroboam's golden calf and the focal point of idolatrous worship in Israel. Kids do not represent themselves, but the attitudes of their parents. Elisha was not welcomed, although we note that Elijah went to Bethel without incident (2:3-) and that there was also a company of the prophets there. The boys were mauled but not killed. If 42 were mauled, there may have been well over a hundred boys, a mob, a danger to Elisha or anyone else.
#5. IIK.3:13–20. During the kingship of Jehoshaphat, Elisha rescued the armies of Judah, Israel and Edom that had been stranded without water in their campaign against Moab. Elisha prophesied that God would provide water, pools in the stream-bed, without evidence of a rainstorm. The Moabites thought that the water was blood and came raiding without caution. (See also the lesson on Jehoshaphat, IIK:3)
#6. IIK.4:1. A widow of a son of the prophets had to sell her children into slavery to pay a debt owed by her deceased husband. Elisha instructed her to assemble all the containers she could find and to fill them from the jar she had. She had enough oil to redeem her children and provide a livelihood for herself.
Comment: The Hebrew word suggests that her pot was a small jar used for unguents or ointments, hence the oil would likely be more valuable than olive oil for cooking. The contents provided an income rather than food.
#7. IIK.4:8–37. Elisha traveled often. Once he was entertained by a wealthy woman of Shunem and afterward she and her husband made a private roof-top room furnished for repeat visits--a prophet's chamber. One time after a rest there, he had Gehazi call her and ask her what he could do to repay her. She could not think of anything (she was a woman of few words), but Gehazi reminded him that they had no children and her husband was old. Elisha called her back and promised her a son by next year. She dared not hope for such a blessing. A son was born to her in the spring.
#8 When the boy was old enough he worked with his father in the fields. During harvest he became severely ill (heat stroke? allergy?) and died in his mother's arms. She laid the child in the prophet's chamber and without delay, set off on a donkey for the prophet 20 miles away. When she found Elisha, she could not speak, but her posture showed profound grief. When she mentioned her son, Elisha sent Gehazi post-haste with his staff to raise the child. Gehazi tried and failed. The woman refused to leave him, so Elisha went with her to Shunem. He prayed, and laid himself on the child's body. The child became warm. He paced up and down, did so again and the child revived.
Comment: a most touching and beautiful story, full of human interest and feeling, as well as medical interest.
#9. IIK.4:38-. In Gilgal (near the Jordan), the sons of the prophets were in famine. One threw a vine of poisonous gourds in with the beans. and the stew was inedible. Elisha directed them to bring meal and throw it into the stew. The food became harmless.
#10. IIK.4:42. A man brought his first-fruits offering to Elisha, enough to feed 20. Elisha had doubtful Gehazi distribute the food to 100 men. There was food left over.
Comment. First-fruits were originally brought to the priest in Jerusalem as part of Pentecost. (Ex.23:19; Deut.26:2). Tithes each three years could be used for the poor. (Deut.26:12). This story reminds us of Jesus feeding the 5000. Matt.14:13
#11. IIK.5 The story of the healing of Naaman, the Syrian general, takes up a separate lesson.
#12.IIK.6:1–7 The quarters for the sons of the prophets were outgrown under Elisha's leadership, and the men decided to make an addition using logs from the banks of the Jordan. Elisha was asked to go along. One ax-head fell into the Jordan. It had been borrowed. The man cried out to Elisha and he made the ax float.
Comment: Natural explanations have been offered for this miracle: The prophet hit the eye of the ax with his stick and pulled it out. As with the other miracles, natural explanations are inadequate. The notable aspect of this miracle is that it seems so mundane, unworthy of God's intervention. But iron implements were difficult to obtain and the ax represented someone's livelihood, as did the withered hand that Jesus healed.
On natural events and miracles.
Miracles are not magic and these miracles relate to the ordinary activities of life. There are natural occurrences that are counterparts of many miracles. For example, land-slides have been known to dam up the Jordan. Plagues of flies, gnats, plagues of cattle disease, hail, darkness (?sandstorms), etc. were known to occur in Egypt. The great fish that swallowed Jonah may have a natural explanation. These miracles have to do with the significance and the timing. Let the Jordan go dry now! Let the gnats disappear now!
Other miracles have no natural explanation: the resurrection of Lazarus; the resurrection of Christ, the feeding of 5000, healing the man born blind or the man lame since birth.
On these miracles:
#1,2,4 validated Elisha's authority and position.
#3,5 provided water, clean and abundant.
#6 provided redemption from slavery and income for a widow.
#7,8 involved the gift of a child and his resuscitation.
#9,10 provided food for God's servants, the prophets.
#11 restored health to a Syrian with an incurable disease.
#12 rescued a valuable implement.
In the war against Baal, God spoke through both prophets, Elijah and Elisha. Elijah was fiery, dwelling alone as a holy man, showing God's power in dramatic ways. He demonstrated that God controlled the rain and the fertility of the land; God alone could rain fire on the sacrifice. God could denounce wicked kings and prophesy their doom. He is our holy and judging God. The word traveled everywhere.
In Elisha's regime, the message was softly spoken. Elisha was among the people, the sons of the prophets. peaceable and helpful. He showed that God cares about water and food and babies and income and health. He provided for the needs of his people and even the health of a pagan. He is our Provident and Benevolent God. Baal does not do these things. This news travels too.