For the miracles they commanded, the history of Elijah and Elisha is like no other in the Bible, except for New Testament times, when miracles were given to confirm the word of the apostles and other inspired men. The miracles performed for Moses and Joshua were also impressive, but were in many ways detached from the persons, themselves. The crossing of the Jordan by Elijah and Elisha was, no doubt, to remind us that these men were possessed of divine authority, as well. Many of their other miracles also pointed to the power of the coming Christ.
While in a cave in Horeb, Elijah was commanded by God to anoint one Elisha, the son of Shaphat, to take upon him the mantle of prophet in Elijah’s stead (I Kings 19:19). This is the first we hear of Elisha in the Bible. We do not know if Elijah had known Elisha before this command or not but it is nearly certain that Elisha, along with most others of the northern kingdom, knew of Elijah, for he understands the meaning and seriousness of being called by this great prophet.
Elijah then travels some 150 miles from Horeb to Abelmeholah to find Elisha, the man that God would have replace him, plowing a field with twelve yoke of oxen (I Kings 19:19). Many commentators have remarked that this shows that Elisha must have been a man of wealth to have at least twelve yoke of oxen, and to be able to have that many hired servants to work them. Others have said that this does not necessarily indicate wealth, for often those in the east work together. However, the Text tells us that Elisha “left the oxen,” showing that those mentioned were the ones he left (I Kings 19:20). Furthermore, he was able to take a yoke of oxen and kill them for a feast for the people. That would have been an expensive proposition for a poor man. It must have been equally expensive for him to walk away from it all to follow his God.
And while there is no indication that Elisha had been previously enrolled in any school of the prophets, the Lord chose him undoubtedly because he possessed the qualities needed to fulfill God’s purposes. Elijah had been a man who lived away from civilization, comfortable in caves and deserts, and only made his appearance when there was need to confront the sinner. Kings trembled at his strong and fearless revelations from God. But Elisha was a man with culture who embraced the city. He had a home and previously, at least, had a business. He seems to have had influence with the king and captain of the host (II Kings 4:13).
Despite their external differences, Elisha seems to have had a very close relationship with the prophet Elijah subsequent to his calling by the latter. Before following Elijah, Elisha only bade farewell to his family and friends with a great feast, but then left to follow Elijah, just as the apostles would later forsake all and follow Christ (Matt. 10:28). Commentators have suggested that the casting of the mantle by Elijah on Elisha’s shoulders, not only identified him as Elijah’s successor, but also identified him as his adopted son, a view somewhat supported by Elisha’s own words at Elijah’s translation (II Kings 2:12). When we leave all and follow Him, we, too, are adopted into the family of God (Gal. 4:1-8).
Not much is mentioned of their time together. We know that Elisha “ministered” unto Elijah (I Kings 19:21). The sons of the prophets refer to Elijah as Elisha’s “master” (II Kings 2:3). The servants of the king of Judah knew Elisha as the man which “poured water on the hands of Elijah” (II Kings 3:11). When it was known that Elijah would be leaving, Elisha personally vowed to stay with Elijah till the end. “As thy soul liveth,” he said, “I will not leave thee” (II Kings 2:2).
Before Elijah was taken up, he asked Elisha if there was anything he could do for him (II Kings 2:9). Elisha’s request was a hard one: “Let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me” (II Kings 2:9). Elijah could not guarantee that request would be granted for only God could do it, but Elijah promised that if God was going to grant it, he would know it for he would see him taken away (II Kings 2:10). The request for a double portion of the spirit of Elijah was not a selfish request at all but a recognition of the greatness of Elijah. Elisha felt he would need a double portion in order to measure up to the work set before him.
The Inspired Record provides more accounts of the miracles of Elisha than of Elijah. Elisha had asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. By most accounts, the Bible records eight miracles for Elijah and sixteen for Elisha. Though all of them are important, only one miracle of Elisha is mentioned in the New Testament and that by our Lord (Luke 4:27). It was a reference to the cleansing of Naaman by washing in the Jordan. That washing typified the washing of regeneration under the New Covenant, namely baptism (Tit. 3:5; Rom. 6:4).
Eric L. Padgett