Elisha Character Bible Study Background and Lessons
Meaning of name: “God is salvation”
Ancestry and family life: Elisha was the son of Shaphat. Little else is known. He did request from Elijah that he be allowed to say good-bye to his parents so they were still living when he went to begin ministry. He was from the town of Abel Meholah. This was located on the west side of the Jordan river, between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea.
When and where he lived: Elisha lived during the ninth century B.C. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had already split off from Judah for a long time. It had become apostate. The people primarily worshiped Baal, partially because of the influence of Jezebel. Therefore Elisha would have stood out from the crowd and faced danger of persecution and death. His ministry spanned the reigns of Jehoram, Jehu, Jehoahaz, and Jehoash of the Northern Kingdom.
Events surrounding birth: No Info.
Training and occupation: Before Elisha was called to ministry it is evident that he was a farmer. He was plowing, probably on the family farm. However, when Elijah called him, he gave that up completely to follow Elijah and his ministry. From that time forth Elisha was a prophet. This was perhaps the most esteemed role during that time period. Prophets had a lot of authority as they had the authoritative word from the Lord. Prophets counseled kings and individuals, challenged the people to follow the true God, pronounced judgment on Israel’s enemies and the enemies of God, pronounced judgment on evil people or kings from Israel, performed miracles, and prophesied about future events. Although they were esteemed, their role was also a dangerous one. If they spoke against the king their lives could be in danger (see Elijah).
Elisha was trained by one of the most important figures in the history of Israel, Elijah. For several chapters after he begins to follow Elijah nothing is mentioned of him. He must have been merely observing and watching, learning by spending time with Elijah. Later, when Elijah was taken up to heaven, Elisha received a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elisha was strengthened powerfully by God and performed more miracles than any other individual in the Bible except for Jesus.
In addition, Elisha headed schools of prophets (2 Kings 4:38-44, 2 Kings 6:1-7).
Place in history: Elisha is not as well-known as Elijah. Perhaps it is because his character isn’t as brash or he wasn’t as much of a loner. But Elisha had a very important ministry that lasted from roughly 850 to 800 B.C. He advised four different kings. He was a light for God when Israel was very dark and had few lights. His miracles legitimized Yahweh as the true God when the land was in danger of tilting toward s Baal. Also, these miracles serve as an eternal reminder of God’s power. His life portrays God’s love for both the common people (the family with the new son, and the widow with debts) and the rich (Naaman). His name is mentioned fifty-nine times in the Bible. He is one of the most well-known prophets. Much material is devoted to him and his life provides us with many important lessons.
Elisha was bald (2 Kings 2:23). Unlike Elijah, he was not hairy. This was the material used by some young men to curse Elisha. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that being bald was not sought after in that culture! Therefore he didn’t have a handsome appearance.
Elisha also was not a loner like Elijah. He didn’t wander as much, but had a house in Samaria (2 Kings 6:32). He generally worked within the system, becoming the head of the order of prophets and acting as an advisor to the kings. Although at times he incurred their anger, normally they sought out his counsel (2 Kings 3:1-19, 8:1-6). Joash was sorry to see him die (13:14).
Elisha performed many miracles, more than any other person in the Bible besides Jesus. He had a double-portion of Elijah’s spirit (2 Kings 2:9).
His ministry reached out to all classes of people, poor and rich, noble and peasants, Jews and foreigners.
Giving in to the masses (2 Kings 2:17)?
As amazing as all of Elisha’s miracles were, he still did not know everything and was limited, depending completely on the power of God (2 Kings 4:27). This isn’t really a weakness, but it is a reminder that even the most gifted of God’s servants are limited and only accomplish what they do by His power.
Faith – Elisha showed this in a lot of ways. When Elijah asked him what he would request, he requested a double portion of his spirit. This was no small thing according to Elijah. Elisha had the faith to ask big things of God (2 Kings 2:9). Elisha also had the faith to do many miracles. He could not have done these without strong faith in God. Many of these miracles were physically and scientifically impossible (such as the axhead). But Elisha believed. He had no doubt whatsoever that they would come to pass.
Able to work within society – One strength of Elisha’s is that he was able to work within the system to affect positive change, but without compromise.
Courage – 2 Kings 6:8-23 (esp 16) Elisha was not afraid of people, even the entire army of Aram why they surrounded the city just to find and capture Elisha. The source of his courage was his knowledge that God was in control and protecting him. He knew his very life was in God’s hands so he was not afraid of people.
Love for the poor – (2 Kings 4:1-7) Elisha ministered to anyone and everyone who came to him for help. He wasn’t choosy. He didn’t just help those who could help him. He helped the helpless. He helped those who couldn’t pay back. This is pure and undefiled religion (James 1:27). He was also concerned to help people even with small things, like the ax head (2 Kings 6:1-7).
Dedication to God – (1 Kings 19:19-21) Elisha showed himself to be completely dedicated to God. Cross reference to Luke 9:59-62. Jesus said that whoever takes his hand to plow, but looks back is not worthy for the kingdom of God. Look at the example of Elisha! He was a farmer. But he sacrificed the oxen he used to farm and burned them with the yoke! He made a decision and didn’t even leave the door open for himself to go back to his former life. What about the fact that Elisha wanted to say good-bye?
Loyalty – (1 Kings 19:21, 2:2,4,6) Elisha was intensely loyal to Elijah. He ministered to him from the moment he was called. He stayed with him until the time when Elijah was taken up to heaven. He didn’t seek his own glory, but wholeheartedly followed the leader God had put over him.
Important acts and events:
Parts the Jordan River (2:13-14)
Makes Jericho spring drinkable (2:19-22)
Sends bears to punish irreverent youths (2:23-25)
Floods ditches to confuse Moabites (3:1-27)
Multiplies widow’s oil (4:1-7)
Shunammite woman bears a son (4:8-17)
Resurrects Shunammite’s son (4:18-37)
Purifies poisoned stew (4:38-44)
Heals Naaman’s leprosy (5:1-14)
Gehazi sturck with leprosy (5:15-27)
Floats lost axhead (6:1-7)
Gives special sight to the king’s messenger (6:16-17)
Blinds the Aramean army (6:8-23)
His bones resurrect a dead man (13:20-21)
How he died: Elisha’s death is interesting for several reasons. First of all, it is clear he was well-respected, even by those who didn’t follow God. The evil king, Joash, mourned when Elisha was on his death bed and went to see him. Secondly, even from on his death bed, he was still doing God’s work. When the king came to visit him, he gave him the message from the Lord. He kept serving God right up until the moment of his death. He was a finisher. Thirdly, even AFTER his death God performed a miracle through Elisha’s body, raising a man from the dead who touched Elisha’s bones (13:14-21). This is evidence from God that validates Elisha’s entire ministry. The miracles couldn’t have been tricks because Elisha was dead and there was still another miracle. They came only through God’s power.
Lessons from his life:
Elisha is a great example of someone who followed God without looking back. He sacrificed the very things that supplied his livelihood. He didn’t hold onto them “in case” his new way of life didn’t work out. He didn’t hedge his bets. He gave everything to God. What about us? When God calls us to a task, do we do it reluctantly? Do we try to hang on to the past and keep some form of our previous lives? For me, an application is to let go of America and not try to hold on to my life there. For you it might be to let go of some of your former friends or practices or even to give up your job and dedicate yourself to God. Let us not look back to our previous lives with regret or longing or try to hold onto it. If we do, we are not fit for the kingdom of God.
Do not be afraid to ask big things of God. I read a story of a little boy. He was very excited about Christmas. In the weeks leading up to Christmas he saw a train set he really liked. He then begged and begged and begged his mom to buy it. He wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. He was persistent even though his mom was reluctant. Christmas morning came and he opened up his gifts. He was very excited to find the train set that he had asked for. Then his brother told him that his mom had already bought a bigger and much nicer one, but because of his persistence to buy that one, took back the better one and gave him the one he asked for. Elisha was not afraid to ask for a big thing when Elijah talked with him. He had faith and God answered his request, making Elisha the successor (2 Kings 2:15) and in some ways even more influential than Elijah. Sometimes we pray every side of an issue. It is good to want to pray in the will of God, but if we know what the will of God is, pray it strongly and persistently without any doubt.
See and emulate Elisha’s love for the poor (2 Kings 4:1-7). God has a heart for the poor and He showed that in Elisha’s ministry. We shouldn’t reach out just to those whom we like or feel comfortable with, to the educated or elite. As God gives opportunity, we need to reach out to all stratum of society. True religion is helping those who cannot return it or pay back.
God’s work wasn’t magically connected to Elisha’s staff (2 Kings 4:31). Neither is God’s work today magically connected to a church, a book, a religious artifact, a statue, a cross, or anything else. The heart and the attitude is what is important. Gehazi lacked faith and for this reason was unable to help the boy. Elisha had faith and for this reason was able to help the boy. Faith from a pure heart is far more important than any physical thing or outward ritual. Do not think that you are saved just because you go to church, read the Bible, or have been baptized. Do not think that merely taking someone to church will solve their spiritual problem. A book, a church, a cross can’t save. God can. Don’t put your faith in people or in things (like Catholics and even many Protestants).
2 Kings 4:42-44. This miracle was very similar to the one Jesus performed in feeding the five thousand.
Elisha lived for God and had a large and far-reaching influence (2 Kings 6:1-4 8:7-14). Even Naaman (also Ben-hadad asked Elisha if he would die), a captain from a foreign country, heard about Elisha and came to receive healing. God’s work always yields fruit. Sometimes we can’t see it and sometimes it may be far from where we thought we planted, but He will use our work for Him to bear fruit. Naaman is also another example of the fact that God is willing to extend His grace to and save anyone.
Elisha was unwilling to take anything from Naaman (2 Kings 6:16). Why? Isn’t a worker worthy of his wages? Elisha was unwilling to take anything, probably because he didn’t want Naaman to think that he had somehow paid for this healing. God’s healing is freely bestowed on others. For us, we should clearly be careful not to get into the mindset that we are paying God for salvation, whether it is through money or through time or anything else. In addition, we need to be careful about accepting money from unbelievers or encouraging them to give money to God, because some may think that through this way they are buying their salvation. We don’t want to contribute to anybody making this serious mistake!
See Elisha’s courage.
What do you think of the time when Elisha cursed the young men mocking him in the name of the Lord?
In 8:10 why did Elisha command Hazael to tell Ben-hadad that he would recover when he knew that Ben-hadad would die?
E-book – If you found this character study helpful, get our Character Studies E-book, with this and 8 different practical lessons on important Bible heroes of the faith.
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Joseph step-father of Jesus
John the Baptist
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