In returning once again to the northern kingdom, Ahaziah has now succeeded his father Ahab as king (1Ki 22:51-2Ki 1:18). In spite of Elijah's heroics, Ahaziah not only walked in the ways of Jeroboam, but he also worshiped Baal (1Ki 22:53). For that, he of course receives the editor's condemnation.
Other than dealing with a Moabite rebellion, the worst of which actually fell on Joram (3:1-27), Ahaziah's legacy actually rests upon a personal tragedy. Following a severe fall, he desired a divine word concerning his fate. However, rather than summoning a prophet of Yahweh, he sends messengers to consult Baal-Zebub, a Philistine god (1:2). While this is perhaps not surprising considering the flow of events, its implications are startling nonetheless. For Ahaziah, Baal-Zebub rather than Yahweh directed the course of human affairs. Elijah, however, is commissioned by God to present the messengers with an unsolicited word: “You will certainly die!” What follows, then, is a perplexing story that underscores the importance of treating God's prophets and the prophetic office with the utmost respect (1:9-16). Given the reliability and significance of the true prophetic word, Ahaziah, as expected, did in fact die as a result of his fall (1:17).
Insofar as Ahaziah had no son, he was succeeded by his brother Joram (or Jehoram). During this time, the various stories dealing with Elisha have their setting (2:1-8:15). In ch. 2, Elijah is dramatically removed, and Elisha remains to carry on the work. Elisha's request for a double portion of Elijah's spirit (2:9) reflects the fact that the firstborn son of an Israelite received twice the inheritance (Dt 21:17). By implication, Elisha saw himself as Elijah's son, and he wanted to be thoroughly equipped for his task.
Following this transfer of authority, two brief stories illustrate his power and verify his position. The city of Jericho, first of all, had been cursed earlier by Joshua (Jos 6:26), and apparently that curse included the spring located there. Using a new bowl, which signified both a special occasion as well as the absence of earlier influences, Elisha restored the water for the benefit of the city's inhabitants (2:19-22).
Second, in a somewhat more disturbing account, Elisha curses some youths who apparently ridiculed him (2:23-25). It must be remembered, however, that travelers in the ancient world covered their heads. The “baldness,” then, does not designate Elisha's personal physical condition, but rather some distinguishing mark or patch that symbolized the prophetic office. In this way the youths did not mock Elisha as much as they mocked the office. To do so was nothing less than mocking God (Lev 24:10-16; Dt 18:19). If the story of the man of God from Judah suggests the need for total obedience on the part of God's chosen servants (1Ki 13), then the present story indicates that those same servants are to be treated with the highest respect.
During Joram's reign, the Moabite rebellion mentioned earlier in connection with Ahaziah (1:1) reached its peak (3:1-27). In response, a coalition consisting of Israel, Judah, and Edom, Judah's vassal (1Ki 22:47; 2Ki 8:20), fought the Moabites in battle and was initially successful (3:24). Out of desperation, the Moabite king publicly sacrificed his son to the god Chemosh as a way of winning his favor. At such a sight, the coalition mysteriously withdrew (v. 27). While the underlying dynamics are difficult to discern, perhaps many of the Israelites either feared Chemosh or were sickened by the sight of such an abomination (Lev 18:21; 20:3).
A series of loosely arranged stories pertaining to Elisha's ministry follow. The first six of these find Elisha assisting various individuals or friends (4:1-6:7), while the others more closely show him functioning in international affairs (6:8-8:15).
The first group of stories begins with Elisha assisting a woman of desperate economic standing (4:1-7). Her husband died, leaving her in debt, and her creditors are about to take her two sons as payment. In addition to the emotional loss associated with losing family members, she would also lose her final sources of support. By miraculously supplying her with valuable oil, Elisha demonstrates his concern for the poor and oppressed. Beyond that, the nature of the story implies the close connection between Elisha and Elijah, who had also ministered to a woman and her son (1Ki 17:8-16).
In the second story, we find that Elisha also addressed the needs of those in the upper strata of society (4:8-37). In this case, a wealthy but barren Shunamite woman had shown Elisha gracious hospitality. When his initial attempts to repay her are rejected, Elisha promises her a son. However, that son later dies while working in the field, apparently of sunstroke. In raising the boy to life, Elisha demonstrates that Yahweh, not Baal, is the giver of life. Furthermore, he once again calls to mind his predecessor Elijah, who performed a similar miracle for a grieving widow (1Ki 17:17-24).
Two brief stories next show Yahweh providing for others through the hands of his prophet. In 4:38-41, such provisions take the form of an otherwise poisonous vine. When the benefactors, a collective gathering of prophets, realize the danger, Elisha decontaminates the food. In 4:42-44 provisions for many come through the multiplication of an insufficient amount of bread.
The fifth and longest story in this series recounts Elisha's ministry to a foreign leader (5:1-27). Of particular importance here is the power of the prophet as contrasted to the weakness of the king. Suffering from a serious skin disease, the Syrian army commander, Naaman, receives word that an Israelite prophet could provide the cure. In response, Naaman writes to the king of Israel, hoping to secure an audience. With the king frightened by his own inability to heal diseases, Elisha gives Naaman simple instructions that are at first rejected. When convinced by his assistant that a simple but effective solution is far better than a sophisticated but ineffective one, Naaman complies and is healed (vv. 13-14). That same disease, however, soon infects Elisha's servant Gehazi, who in his greed sought financial reward for the prophet's services (v. 27).
The final story in this first group shows Elisha's sensitivity to the concerns of a fellow prophet (6:1-7). Insofar as iron was extremely valuable in ancient Israel, losing such a borrowed axhead would have resulted in a sizeable debt. With that in mind, Elisha's retrieving the axhead approximates the provision of oil for the impoverished widow (4:1-7).
The second series of stories, once again, consists of those in which Elisha acts in international affairs. In each, the northern kingdom is under Syrian (or Aramean) attack. 2Ki 6:8-23, to begin with, presents the prophet amusingly revealing Syrian war strategies to the Israelite king. Out of frustration, the Syrians attack anyway, but they are miraculously blinded and captured. When they are fed and released rather than executed, the fighting comes to a close (6:23). The story implies that enemies can be converted into friends through feasts rather than fists.
2Ki 6:24-7:20 records yet another struggle with the Syrians. Encircled by enemy soldiers, Samaria is plagued by an ever-worsening famine. In this context, Elisha prophesies that a drastic change of events will soon take place (7:1). Shortly thereafter, four lepers leave the city gate in hopes of surrendering, but they find that the Syrians had mysteriously fled. Enjoying all of the provisions that the enemy left behind, the lepers decide that notifying those living in the city would be far better than hoarding the goods for themselves (7:9). As a result, the famine passes, the prophetic word is substantiated, and the example of the lepers is preserved.
The entire series comes to a close in 8:1-15. With his servant, Gehazi, in Israel making certain that the Shunamite woman's property is returned to her following a famine (vv. 1-6), Elisha finds himself in the Syrian capital of Damascus (vv. 7-15). While there, he foresees the trouble that King Ben-Hadad's assassin and successor, Hazael, will bring to Israel. The true prophet, quite clearly, can both minister in the present as well as envision the future.
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