Gleanings From Elisha
His Life and Miracles
ELISHA’S YOUNG DEPUTY
We regard the incident recorded in 2 Kings 9:1-10 as relating to the mission of Elisha. In order to better understand it, we refer the reader back to the first two chapters. There we pointed out that the missions of Elijah and Elisha formed two parts of one whole, much the same as did those entrusted to Moses and Joshua. While there was indeed a striking difference between what was accomplished through and by Moses and the one who succeeded him, and while their respective missions may be considered separately, yet in the wider view the latter should be regarded primarily as the complement of the former. Such was also the case with Elijah and Elisha. The analogy between Moses and Joshua and Elijah and Elisha is not perfect in every detail, yet there is sufficient agreement in the broad outline as to enable us to perceive more clearly the relation which the second sustained to the first in each of those two pairs. By such perception, light is cast upon the ministries of those we are now more especially concerned with.
The very similarity of their names intimates a more than ordinary connection between them. According to that important rule of interpretation, the very first mention of Elisha in the Scriptures clearly defines his relation to his predecessor. Unto Elijah the Lord said, "Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah, shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room" (1 Kings 19:16). Those words signify something more than that he was to be his successor in the prophetic office; Elisha was to take Elijah’s place as his accredited representative. This is confirmed by the fact that when he found Elisha, Elijah "cast his mantle upon him" (1 Kings 19:19), which denotes the closest possible identification between them. In perfect accord with that is the reply Elisha made when, later, he was asked by the one whose place he was to take, "Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away [not from ‘Israel,’ but] from thee. And Elisha said, "I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me" (2 Kings 2:9), which request was granted. Elisha, then, was far more than the historical successor of Elijah; he was appointed and anointed to be his representative, we might almost say his "ambassador."
Elisha was the man called by God to take Elijah’s place before Israel. Though Elijah had left this scene and gone on high, yet his ministry was not to cease. True, he was no longer here in person, yet he was so in spirit. The starting point of Elisha’s ministry was the supernatural rapture of his master, and that the one was to carry on the work of the other was symbolically intimated by his initial act, for his first miracle was an exact duplication of the last one wrought by his predecessor, namely, the smiting and opening up of the waters of Jordan so that he crossed over dry-shod—the instrument used being Elijah’s own mantle (2 Kings 2:14)! The immediate sequel supplies further evidence for what we have just pointed out: "And when the sons of the prophets which were to view at Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him" (2 Kings 2:15).
In 2 Kings 2 we read of "the sons of the prophets that were at Beth-el" (2 Kings 2:3), and in 2 Kings 2:5 we are also told of "the sons of the prophets that were at Jericho," the latter numbering more than fifty (2 Kings 2:17). By that expression (a Hebrewism) we understand that these young men had been converted under the ministries of Elijah and Elisha, for the latter had accompanied the former for some years previous to his rapture—and who were organized into schools. As we saw in an earlier chapter, there was yet another school of them at Gilgal (2 Kings 4:38), and from their "sitting before him" (cf. Deuteronomy 33:3; Luke 2:46 and 10:39) it is evident that Elisha devoted much of his time to their instruction and edification. Their owning him as "thou man of God" (2 Kings 4:40) and "master" (2 Kings 6:5) reveals plainly enough the relation which he sustained to them, as does also their appeal to him for the enlarging of their living quarters (2 Kings 6:1). He acted then as their rector or superintendent, and gained both their respect and their affection.
In the course of our studies we have seen how Elisha wrought more than one miracle for the benefit of these students. Thus, through his intervention on her behalf, he enabled the widow of one of the children of the prophets, who had appealed to him in her dire extremity, to pay off her debt and save her two sons from being made bondmen to her debtor (2 Kings 4:1-7). Next he delivered a whole company of them from being poisoned when there was "death in the pot" which they were about to partake of (2 Kings 4:38-41). Then he rescued the head of the ax borrowed by another of them (2 Kings 6:4-7). Not only were the schools of the "sons of the prophets" which were established by the Tishbite continued throughout the life of his successor, but in the above instances we see how Elisha acted toward them as Elijah would have done had he remained among them—using his extraordinary powers on their behalf as need arose and occasion required.
Let us now point out the relevancy of this somewhat lengthy preface to the incident we are now to contemplate. Our narrative opens by saying: "And Elisha the prophet called one of the children of the prophets, and said unto him, Gird up thy loins, and take this box of oil in thine hand, and go to Ramoth-Gilead. And when thou comest thither, look out there Jehu the son of Jehoshaphat the son of Nimshi, and go in, and make him arise up from among his brethren, and carry him to an inner chamber. Then take the box of oil, and pour it on his head, and say, Thus saith the LORD, I have anointed thee king over Israel. Then open the door, and flee, and tarry not" (2 Kings 9:1-3). That can only be rightly apprehended in the light of what has just been pointed out.
If we turn back to 1 Kings 19:15-16 it will be found that Elijah received the following commission: "And the LORD said unto him, Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria: And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room." Concerning the anointing of Hazael, Scripture is silent; that of Elisha was accomplished when Elijah "cast his mantle upon him" (1 Kings 19:19). At first sight the long delay in the anointing of Jehu seems to present a problem, but compare an earlier passage, and the difficulty is at once removed. Jehu was to be the Lord’s instrument of executing His vengeance on the wicked house of Ahab—a solemn announcement of which was made to that apostate monarch by Elijah in 1 Kings 21:21-24, and Jehu’s agency in connection therewith was intimated in 1 Kings 19:17.
Upon hearing that dreadful announcement from the lips of the Lord’s messenger, we are told that Ahab "rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly" (1 Kings 21:27). Because of that external humbling of himself before Jehovah, He declared unto the prophet, "I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son’s days will I bring the evil upon his house" (1 Kings 21:29). Since that divine decision was communicated to Elijah personally, we infer that it was tantamount to bidding him defer the anointing of Jehu: a respite having been granted unto Ahab, the commissioning of the one who was to execute the judgment was also postponed. For the same reason we conclude that since the time for the anointing of Jehu had not arrived before Elijah left this earth, that he transferred this particular duty to his successor, to the one who became "prophet in his room," as the Lord Jesus is said to have baptized those who were immersed by His disciples acting under His authority (John 4:1-2).
But now the question arises, Why did not Elisha personally perform the task assigned him by the one whose representative he was? Why entrust it to a deputy? The principal reason given by Matthew Henry (and adopted by Thomas Scott) is that it was too dangerous a task for Elisha to undertake, and therefore it was not fit that he should expose himself; that being so well known, he would have been promptly recognized, and therefore he selected one who was more likely to escape observation. But such an explanation by no means commends itself to us, for it is entirely out of accord with everything else recorded of Elisha. The one who had spoken so boldly to king Jehoram (2 Kings 3:13-14), who was not afraid to give offense unto the mighty Naaman (2 Kings 5:9-11 ), who had calmly sat in the house when the king had sworn he should be slain that day (2 Kings 6:31-32), and who possessed such power from God as to be able to smite with blindness those who sought to take him captive (2 Kings 6:18), was hardly the one to shrink from an unpleasant task and invite another to face peril in his stead.
Since the Scriptures do not implicitly reveal to us the grounds on which Elisha here acted, none may attempt to dogmatically define them. The most any writer can do is to form his own judgment from what is revealed, state his opinion, and submit it to the readers. Personally we prefer to interpret Elisha’s action on this occasion in the light of the particular stage which had now been reached in his career. Nothing more is recorded about him after this incident, save what immediately preceded his death. It appears then that, for some reason unknown to us (for he lived many years afterward), that he was about to retire from the stage of public action, and therefore that he would prepare the "sons of the prophets" and perhaps this one more particularly to take a more prominent part in the public life of Israel, and consequently was placing more responsibility upon them. It is not to be lost sight of that it was also an important and distinguished mission this young man was now entrusted with, and that a high honor was conferred upon him.
"And Elisha the prophet called one of the children of the prophets and said unto him, Gird up thy loins and take this box of oil in thy hand, and go to Ramoth-Gilead" (2 Kings 9:1). Elisha is not here designated "the man of God" because no miracle was involved in what follows. Only here is he termed "Elisha the prophet" and only in 1 Kings 8:36 was his predecessor called "Elijah the prophet": it intimated the identification of the one with the other. Elisha’s calling one of the children of the prophets to him manifests the relation which he sustained unto them, namely, as one having authority over them—compare the section on 2 Kings 6:1-7. In the light of what was pointed out in the preceding paragraph we may see in Elisha’s action an example which elderly ministers of the gospel may well emulate: Endeavoring to promote the training of their younger brethren, seeking to equip them for more important duties after they will have left this scene. This is a principle which Paul acted upon: "The things that thou hast heard of me... the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2).
"And when thou comest thither, look out there Jehu the son of Jehoshaphat the son of Nimshi, and go in, and make him arise up from among his brethren, and carry him to an inner chamber" (2 Kings 9:2). Here we behold another example of the extraordinary powers possessed by Elisha. He knew where Jehu was to be found, that he would not be alone, the precise company he would be in, that he would be seated, and yet not in the inner chamber! But it was a trying ordeal to which he now subjected his deputy and a solemn errand on which he sent him. The wicked Jehoram (also called "Joram") was still on the throne and at that time sojourning in Ramoth-gilead, where he was recovering from the wounds which the Syrians had given him in the recent battle at Ramah (2 Kings 8:29). With him was the son of the king of Judah, who was visiting him in his sickness, and with him too were other members of the reigning house. The mission entrusted to the young prophet involved his entry into the royal quarters, his peremptory ordering one of the princes to accompany him to a private chamber, and then discharging the purpose for which he had come.
That purpose was not only to anoint and make him king, but to deliver an announcement which would to most temperaments be very unpleasant. But the minister of God, be he young or old, is not free to pick and choose either his sphere of labor or the message he is to deliver. No, being but a "servant" he is subject only to the will of his Master, and therefore any self-seeking or self-pleasing is nothing else than a species of insubordination. Implicit obedience to the Lord, no matter what it may involve or cost him in this life, is what is required of him, and only by rendering such obedience will he be rewarded in the next life, by hearing from the lips of Christ himself, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant... enter thou into the joy of the Lord." Oh that each young minister of Christ who reads these lines may be constrained to earnestly seek enabling grace that he may live and act now with the day to come before him.
"Then take the box of oil, and pour it on his head, and say, Thus saith the LORD, I have anointed thee king over Israel. Then open the door, and flee, and tarry not" (2 Kings 8:3). The young prophet was to make it unmistakably clear that he was acting in no private capacity, not even as an agent of Elisha, but under the immediate authority of Jehovah Himself. It is most important that the minister of Christ should similarly conduct himself. He is to make it evident that he is commissioned by heaven, not delivering a message of his own devising nor acting as the agent of his denomination. Only thus is God honored and only thus will His servant preserve his true dignity and speak with divine authority. When he has fulfilled his charge, then let him "tarry not"; that is, not stay around in order to listen to the compliments of his hearers. Note that kingship is of divine appointment and institution (cf. Proverbs 8:15), and therefore are God’s people bidden to "honor the king" (1 Pet. 2:17). It is one of the marks of an apostate and degenerate age when "dominion" is despised and "dignities" are evil spoken of (Jude 8).
"So the young man, even the young man the prophet, went to Ramoth-gilead" (2 Kings 9:4). Observe how the Holy Spirit has emphasized his youth! Often the babe in Christ is more pliable and responsive than an older Christian. Note there is nothing to show he asked for an easier task, objected to this one on the score of his youth, nor that he felt unworthy for such a mission—which is more often the language of pride than of humility, for none is "worthy" to be commissioned by the Almighty. It is entirely a matter of sovereign grace, and in nowise one of personal merit, that anyone is called to the ministry. Said the apostle Paul, "I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of His power." He at once added, "Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Eph. 3:7-8). He referred to a two-fold "grace": in calling and equipping him. When God calls one to His service, He also furnishes him. This is illustrated in this incident by "the box of oil" put into the young prophet’s hand.
"And when he came, behold, the captains of the host were sitting; and he said, I have an errand to thee, O captain. And Jehu said, Unto which of all us? And he said, To thee, O captain. And he arose, and went into the house" (2 Kings 9:5-6). We regard the "behold" as having a threefold force. First, as calling attention to the accuracy of Elisha’s indirect but obvious prediction in 2 Kings 9:2. Second, as emphasizing the severity of the ordeal which then confronted the young prophet: Jehu being surrounded by companions of note, and the likelihood that he would resent such an intrusion. Third, in view of what follows, as intimating the gracious hand of God so ordering things that Jehu promptly and unmurmuringly complied with the prophet’s order, thus making it much easier for him. In that we see how God ever delights to honor those who honor Him and show Himself strong in the behalf of those whose heart is perfect toward Him.
That which is recorded in 2 Kings 9:7-10 was evidently included in the commission which the young man had received from the Lord through Elisha, and which he now faithfully discharged. The fact that the prophet here made such an announcement appears to supply strong confirmation of what was pointed out in our opening paragraphs, namely, that this deputy of Elisha was acting in the stead of Elijah or as his representative. For if it is compared with 1 Kings 21:21-24 it will be found that it is practically an echo of the Tishbite’s own words to Ahab. In the charge here given to Jehu we are shown how he was to be God’s battle-ax (Jer. 51:20) or sword of justice. Man might see in Jehu’s conduct (see remainder of 2 Kings 9) nothing more than the ferocity of a human fiend, but in these verses we are taken behind the scenes as it were and shown how he was appointed to be the executioner of God’s judgments. "For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end, it shall speak and not lie: though it tarry wait for it; because it will surely come" (Hab. 2:3). This is equally true whether the "vision" of prophecy foretells divine mercy or wrath, as the wicked house of Ahab was to discover.
"And he opened the door and fled" (2 Kings 9:10). This was most praiseworthy, and should be duly taken to heart by us. The servant of God is not free to please himself at any point but must carry out the orders he has received to the last letter. In all probability, if this young man had lingered, Jehu, after receiving such a high favor at his hands, would have evidenced his appreciation by bestowing some reward upon him, or at least feasting him at his royal table. But Elisha had bidden him, "Open the door [as soon as he had performed his errand] and flee, and tarry not" (2 Kings 9:3); and here we see his implicit obedience to his master. Oh that we may in all things render unqualified compliance with our Master’s will. It is not without significance that in the very next verse the young prophet is scornfully referred to as "this mad fellow" (2 Kings 9:11) by one of the servants of the king. For the unregenerate are quite incapable of assessing at their true value the motives which prompt the faithful minister of Christ, and judging him by their own standards, regard him as crazy. But what is the contempt and ridicule of the world if we have the approbation of the Lord? Nothing, and less than nothing, especially if we expect it, as we should do.