For many people the characters of Elijah and Elisha blend together to form the epitome of an Old Testament prophet. Whether they be calling down fire from heaven or raising people from the dead they both beautifully portray an uncompromising and active faith in God that we learned about as Sunday School children. Further the similarity of their names, the disjointed nature of the narratives concerning them, their close association and the detailed transfer of power between them can readily lead one to assume that they were really just two chips off of the same block. Briefly stated the aim of this paper is to disentangle these two characters with the hope that in doing so the Spirit may bring a little of their unique lights to bear upon our souls.
The moment one asks the question: "Were these men similar?" one immediately receives an emphatic: 'No'. Smith in his Bible dictionary states: "In almost every respect, Elisha presents the most complete contrast to Elijah." He then proceeds to note a number of features of their social behavior and physical appearance which we shall consider in the section 'The Prophets Character'.
However the primary focus of this paper is not going to be about whom these men were so much as what they did. Actions, as they say, speak louder than words and this is particularly true for these men. Whilst they did on occasion speak very forcibly neither was characterized by extended sermonizing. Typically enough was said to establish that the action that was about to occur was from God and then the hearer was invited to stand back and watch.
With the benefit of the completed canon of Scripture we are in the marvelous position of not only being able to stand back and watch but also of being able to step back and analyze and that is what this paper aims to do. The aim is to take each miracle or significant action of each prophet and to ascertain whether the action was unique to that prophet or whether it was an action that both did. Then those actions taken by both prophets will be analyzed side by side to see if they really were identical or whether the subtle differences actually show a significant difference in the nature of the men's ministry. Those miracles unique to one prophet will then be analyzed too to see if they identify a characteristic of one man or the other.
Although this paper is about Elijah and Elisha we must also accept that these men of God did not operate in a vacuum and it would be unwise to analyze them in pure isolation. Therefore the discussion of their actions will be preceded by an overview of the historic context in which they existed. Finally the impression that both men left upon the Bible writers that followed them will also be considered.
Whilst either Elijah or Elisha are worth studying in their own right we will see that it is really their pairing that brings out the truth that each displays. This is particularly intriguing as there are other pairs within scripture that seem to exhibit at least some of the same characteristics.
Carroll draws attention to the parallel between the pair and Moses and Joshua. He is particular interested in the extent to which the hand-over of power between Elijah and Elisha with the passing of the mantle mirrored Moses' public handing of succession to Joshua. In fact Moderow goes so far as to suggest that the handing over of the mantle was roughly equivalent to the 'laying on of hands' that Moses performed upon Joshua.
The similarities between the two pairs of men do however appear to go a little deeper. Moses was obviously the one to whom Jehovah revealed or at least more fully explained His name. The meaning of Elijah is 'Jehovah is God'. Moses was followed by Joshua whose name means 'Savior'. Elisha means 'God his salvation'. In both cases the former man proclaims that name of God; the latter then shows His work of salvation.
There is another detail of similarity wish is suggestive. Whilst Elijah clearly lived and moved within Israel when it was time for him to depart the Lord sent him to the far side of the Jordan. Thus Elijah was taken to heaven from a place very close to where Moses died. Elisha then took the mantle, crossed the Jordan on dry land and headed straight for Jericho much as Joshua had done before him.
As compelling as the circumstantial evidence is for a link between the pair Moses and Joshua and the duo of Elijah and Elisha it is just circumstantial. However there is another parallel from the two Prophets and that is to John the Baptist and the Lord Himself. The correlation between John and Elijah was endorsed by Christ in Mat 11:14 And if you are willing to receive it, he[John] is Elijah who is to come. And thus needs no further justification to the believing heart. I am always a little more cautious in drawing a parallel between a human and God incarnate yet again one may note that Elisha means 'God his Salvation' and there is no greater expression of the salvation of God than Jesus. One may also note that there was again a very visible and deliberate passing of office between John and Jesus.
The final parallel I wish to mention in this section is actually the thesis that I wish to contemplate throughout the remainder of this paper. It is not a parallel between two sets of people although it is perhaps suggested by the parallel with John and Jesus. The suggestion is that in the lives of Elijah and Elisha we actually see in microcosm the development of the Old and then New Testaments. I consider it possible that Elijah shows the outworking of the Mosaic covenant whilst Elisha suggests some of what was to come during the dispensation of Grace.
The ministry of Elijah commenced during the reign of Ahab and continued through to the reign of Ahaziah which places him in the period from 874BC-852BC. Elisha comes to prominence during the reign of Ahaziah and then continues until the reign of King Johoash of Israel which ended in 782BC. This places us squarely in the period of the divided kingdom which commenced in 930BC. It also places us in a time of tremendous political upheaval. Both prophets ministered primarily within the Northern Kingdom although both also had contact with the King of Judah of the time. Elisha additionally had significant dealings with the Syrians.
The early reign of Ahab was characterized by material prosperity. Ahab followed the precepts of his father and built strong alliances based upon trade and intermarriage: specifically to Jezebel of Tyre and Sidon. During his reign he defeated the Syrian's temporarily ending their raids and the Moabites making them a vassal state. He also sided with the Syrians to fight the Assyrians a fight they lost but which had the effect of stalling Shalmaneser III of Assyria for four years.
It is an interesting insight into the character of Ahab and also the extreme turbulence of the times that during the four year break that he gained from fighting Assyria alongside Syria he formed as alliance with Judah and then attacked Syria. It was during that battle that Ahab received the wound from which he would eventually die.
Ahab was succeeded by Ahaziah who died within two years leaving Jehoram to take the throne. The instability caused prompted Mesha of Moab to rebel. He was eventually crushed by a coalition of Israel and Judah but only after doing significant damage to the south west of the country. Meanwhile to the North Syria was on the move again. They started with raids and then launched a full scale attack against Samaria which was defeated by God.
It was during a subsequent battle with Syria that Jehoram was wounded and after which Jehu, commissioned by Elisha, usurped the throne. Jehu did not simply take the throne however; he embarked upon a full scale destruction of the previous royal house and also killed King Ahaziah of Judah. Israel had lost its allies and most of its experienced leadership. Around this time the ever strengthening Assyrians swept down through the region and then returned home leaving the way for Syria to attack its� weakened neighbor until Israel was left with fifty horsemen and ten thousand foot soldiers.
Towards the end of Elisha's ministry Israel strengthened again. It was able to defeat Judah after a failed alliance and then under Joash was able to recapture Aphek much as it had done during the time of Ahab. In fact the victory of Joash may well have signaled the end of an era for Syria as Joash's son Jeroboam II was later able to capture Damascus.
From the Biblical perspective however the political turmoil was but an outward manifestation of the actual problem which was spiritual corruption. In fact the alliances that appeared to be a stroke of genius on the part of the house of Omri came with a very heavy price: religious compromise. We are told that Ahab did more evil in the sight of the Lord that all of those that came before him. Whilst Jeroboam son of Nebat encouraged idolatry it was Ahab under the influence of Jezebel that introduced Baal worship and the Asherah pole. This was more than a cult that polluted; by the time of Elijah there were only seven thousand men in Israel that had not accepted Baal worship. Therefore we see that this period was characterized not simply by a fight for the political survival of Israel but also by a fight for the very spiritual distinctive that made Israel the people of God.
The purpose of the table that follows is not to detail every minutia of each prophet's existence but rather to act as an index to what follows and the scripture that it is drawn from. The left column of the table details Elijah's ministry and is listed in biblical order. The second column details a corresponding event in Elisha's ministry when such exists. Those events in Elisha's ministry only will then follow in their own Biblical order. The third column provides notes on why a given event was allocated to the row it is in.
|Prophecy of drought. 1Ki 17:1
|Water for a thirsty army. 2Ki 3:16-20
|Prophecies tied in to the divine provision of water.
|Feeding by Ravens. 1Ki 17:4-7
|Elisha makes the stew edible 2Ki 4:38-42
|Food coming from an unlikely source
|The widow of Zarephath - provision from flour and oil - 1Ki 17:9-16
|Elisha provides oil from a pitcher for a poor widow. 2Ki 4:1-7
|In both cases a widow is provided for using an existing pot of oil.
|Widow's son brought to life - 1Ki 17:17-24
|Shunnammite's son brought back to life. 2 Ki 4:23-37
|Both times an only son, both times by stretching out.
|Confrontation with the prophets of Baal 1Ki 18:17-42
|Rain from a small cloud seen by servant. 1Ki 18:41:46
|Elisha's servant shown the power of God. 2Ki 6:15-17
|In both cases the eyes of the prophets' servants needed to be opened.
|Fed by an angel. 1Ki 19:5-9
|Elisha feeds a hundred from little 2 Ki 4:42-44
|Food provided from a divine source
|The still small voice 1Ki 19:7-14
|Fire from heaven 2Ki 1:9-15
|Elisha rebukes the children that insult him. 2Ki 2:23-25
|Dealing with threat
|Elijah is translated 2Ki 2:1-11
|Elisha's bones bring life 2 Ki 13:20-21
|Power in death
|Elisha heals the waters of Jericho 2Ki 19:19-22
|Elisha heals a Syrian general 2Ki 5:1-19
|Elisha attached leprosy to Gehazi 2Ki 5:20-27
|Elisha makes an Ax head float. 2Ki 6:1-7
|Elisha defeats Syrian army 2Ki 6:8-23
|Elisha prophecies ending of siege of Samaria. 2Ki 7:1-20
|Elisha predicts Syrian atrocities. 2 Ki 8:7-15
|Elisha prophecies defeat of Syria. 2Ki 13:14-19
Whilst there is clearly some subjectivism in the division of categories here I think it is immediately apparent that Elisha did far more than Elijah. I have heard it said that Elisha truly had double the spirit of Elijah and that thus he had twice as many miracles. I don't think I would like to make that statement dogmatically but it is certainly true that almost twice as many are recorded for Elisha as they were for Elijah. It is also true that Elisha's ministry spanned a greater period.
They say that first impressions count and there can be no doubt that Elijah set the tone for his entire ministry in one verse. Ahab was happily going about his business enjoying relative prosperity when Elijah bursts onto the scene declares a drought and then immediately disappears from public view. It can be argued that Elijah's role was not in bringing the curse to pass but simply in announcing it. God had already declared that sin in the nation would be answered by drought. In 1Ki 18:1 God states: "Go, make an appearance before Ahab, so I may send rain on the surface of the ground." This almost suggests that God was compelled to enact the curse clause of the Mosaic covenant. Elijah was acting as a mouthpiece to a people that were going to be forced to listen.
Elisha's turn at weather prediction happened in very different circumstances. He did not approach a king; instead three kings came to visit him. It is interesting that whilst Elijah willingly confronted sinful kings it was Elisha's preference to ignore them. The kings were also well aware of their need and Elisha acquiesced to seek the Lord on their behalf. His response was also positive; not only would the kings win their battle but the waters of the Lord would overflow the cisterns that were built.
The picture of Elijah sitting isolated by a brook being fed morsels by a flock of ravens does not immediately correspond to a picture of Elisha surrounded by his friends dining upon stew. However the accounts do have similarities. Both took place during a famine. In both cases the prophet was sustained in a situation where death was a real possibility. In both cases the food would be viewed as tainted; either because it was poisonous or because it came from a raven which was an unclean bird.
The most striking difference between these events is the part played by the prophet. Elijah was fully dependant upon God and his miraculous provision. Elisha ultimately was too. However Elijah just had to sit and wait for the provision to come; Elisha was actively involved in the transformation of the inedible meal into food.
Whilst it might be possible to question just how aligned the previous miracles were there can be no contention that the two miracles involving the pots of oil are too similar to be coincidence. In both cases there was a widow, in both cases she had a small pot of olive oil and in both cases she was able to keep pouring from the pot of oil and this solved her distress.
However close scrutiny of the details show that these were very different miracles. Firstly we may note that in the case of Elijah he was the active party; he engaged an unknown widow, required something from her and then effectively rewarded her with provision. The account also tells us that the supply of oil was not permanent. In Elisha's case however he was passive. The wife of a dead colleague came to him with a debt issue. He asked her what she had available and then used that to provide for her so bountifully that it didn't just repay the debt but also gave what she needed going forward indefinitely.
I think the stark difference between these two accounts can be highlighted by paraphrasing. Elijah challenged a widow to obedience and as she complied she was provided with what she needed whilst she was obedient. Elisha rewarded a widow's 'faith to ask' with abundance; in fact the only limit placed upon what she received was what she was able to hold.
There can again be no legitimate question as to the similarity between the two instances of a child being brought back to life. In both cases the prophet was dealing with a child he already knew. In both cases it was the mother that requested the healing. In both cases the prophet took the child to where he usually stayed and lay upon the child as part of the healing process. In fact this may be the miracle that has closest correspondence between the two accounts.
The most noticeable differences between the miracles are not in the miracle itself but in the attitude of the ladies involved. The widow dealing with Elijah clearly viewed her son's sickness as something that he had brought about caused by her sin. She was carrying her son at the point she confronts the prophet and he takes him from her and eventually returns the son alive. The result of this miracle is that the widow really does believe that the Lord speaks through Elijah.
Elisha's miracle does not appear to affect the Shunammite in the same way and the reason is clear from the preceding verses: her faith was strong already. Having watched her son die in her lap she simply arose and requested provision to go and see Elisha. When her husband asked why she simply stated: "Everything's fine." Again when questioned by Gehazi she is able to say "Everything's fine." It is only when confronted with Elisha directly that her emotions and fears spill out.
I believe it is possible that the distinctions noted above again picture a difference between the role of miracles in the old and new economy. Within the Old the miracle was a means of validation; a proof that the God of Heaven was active and working through an individual. Subsequent to the very early church the sign miracles dwindled. Instead when God works miraculously it is in response to the faithful requests of His followers: not to prove a point.
It may be argued that the two accounts here tackle entirely dissimilar material and occur in totally different contexts and are not even particularly miraculous compared to some of the prophets' enterprises. However they are, at least to my recollection, the only two accounts in scripture of a prophet praying for his servant's eyes to be opened and given they occur between two prophets with so many other unequivocal touch-points I believe it cannot be coincidence.
The above notwithstanding it is true that these accounts differ in both context and method. Elijah and his servant had been in drought for 3 years. He sent his servant to look towards the sea. The servant returned reporting nothing. He was sent again; finally upon the seventh trip the servant reported the cloud the size of a man's hand rising from the sea.
Elisha's servant did not need to move to see his vision and he did not have to look seven times. He was surrounded on the earth by foes and Elisha asked God to open his eyes so that he could see that they in turn were surrounded by the forces of God. It is perhaps interesting to note that the drought of Elijah was not really visible although the coming salvation was. The adversaries of Elisha were visible although the coming salvation wasn't.
Whilst it is certainly no more than a picture and frankly a slightly stretched one at that it may be argued that Elijah's eye opening really mirrors the Old Testament awakening. A long period of spiritual drought for the Jew's was ended by the relatively small cloud of salvation that was born in a stall in Bethlehem. The far more imminent and visible threat that will one day surround the Jew close to Armageddon will be ended by the forces of God that march forth from heaven. More immediately the physical trials the believer faces may well be visible although the Spiritual blessings we have in heavenly places are not.
If one wishes to defend a position that Elisha prefigures Christ then the miracle considered in this section has to be one of the strongest arguments available. Elisha was in a situation where twenty loaves were available but there were one hundred people that needed to eat. The attendant protested that this was too little but Elisha commanded it would be set before the people and it proved ample. Whilst the numbers are clearly nowhere near as impressive as those of the Lord's miracles the parallel is inescapable.
The 'parallel' I have drawn from Elijah's career is very different; in fact it is not so much parallel as perfectly perpendicular. With the exception of the widows persistent jug of flour Elijah did not perform miracles of provision. In three separate instances he was miraculously provided for and I have used the angelic intervention to highlight the difference in this section.
If one wishes to take this back to the thesis we are testing I would suggest the following. The Old Testament shows that obedience is physically rewarded. Elijah was obedient and therefore he was provided food with varying degrees of direct supernatural intervention. The New Testament more views the believer as being in partnership with God providing blessing to those around. We see Elisha and another working together with God's direction and help to provide for a hundred.
When I was reading the chapters on Elijah and Elisha and beginning to correlate the sections in my mind I fully expected that the narrative where Elijah calls fire down on a hundred men would be unmatched by anything from Elisha. Elisha is always providing; even when surrounded by an army intent upon his destruction his response is to blind them temporarily, feed them and then send them home. However it turns out that there is a time in Elisha's ministry when he calls down judgment. It may be interesting too that the two accounts occur at the end of Elijah's ministry and at the beginning of Elisha's.
There are of course differences too. In Elijah's case he confronts a messenger and delivers bad news for the king of Israel. The king then sends fifty men to take Elijah and commands the prophet to go with him. Elijah calls down fire as a proof that he is indeed a prophet. The same happens a second time. The third time the captain is aware of what will happen and begs for mercy which is given.
Elisha was just leaving Jericho; he had done nothing to provoke an incident with his antagonists. Instead a group of youths shout abuse referring to his bald head. Elisha turns around and calls God's judgment upon them. Two female bears come from the woods and rip the boys to shreds.
For me the most noticeable thing about these accounts is that the Elijah narrative fits beautifully as an Elijah narrative; the Elisha passage appears entirely wrong. I suggest however that this may give vital insight into the strength and significance of the handover between the two. Whilst Elisha had a ministry very different from Elijah he was as much a prophet and demanded and was about to command the same respect. Perhaps with the passing of Elijah there was some feeling that the power had gone and that the 'washer of hands' was going to be a rather easier proposition. They were wrong.
The temporal relationship of these judgment miracles may also be seen within the transition between the Old and New testaments. Whilst the gospel of this age is generally one of love and peace there can be no denying that judgment was a feature of the early church. Ananias and Sapphira are the one glaring and obvious incident although we are also told that others suffered for their disobedience.
The wise man said that the end of a thing was better than the beginning thereof and both Elijah and Elisha saved one of their most impressive miracles until the very end. In fact the title of this section is somewhat of a misnomer as Elijah does not appear to have died in the manner that we understand death. Instead he was taken by a whirlwind into heaven.
The account leading to the departure of Elijah shows another oddity; he seems fairly intent on trying to leave Elisha behind. On three occasions Elijah tells Elisha to stay behind and on two occasions the other prophets warn him that Elijah is going. Finally Elisha is set a test: that he will receive the double portion of the spirit if he sees Elijah depart.
The account of Elisha's departure is very different. He falls sick and is confined to his bed. The king of Israel comes to visit and Elisha sets the king a test which he fails; thus showing that Syria would only be partially vanquished. Then Elisha dies and is buried and his grave appears to be ignored at least for a period having not even been covered over. Then a dead man is thrown in panic upon Elisha and is restored to life. Elisha, at least to our knowledge, is still dead. However through his death another was given life.
The parallels between these end accounts and the dispensations are relatively obvious. Elijah picturing the Old Covenant is 'put on hold' whilst Elisha picturing the New Covenant is separated out and performs his own ministry. Elisha then weakens before finally giving way to Jewish authority. This pictures the eventual falling away of the church which then yields to Daniel's seventieth week which is Jewish in nature. In fact the section of external references will show that Elijah will return for that seventieth week in the same way that the Old Covenant does.
As noted previously the most apparent observation regarding the unique careers of the two prophets is that Elisha's is much more extensive that Elijah's. Using an admittedly subjective criteria Elijah has two main events to consider in this section against Elisha's eight. Indeed one could argue that one the 'still small voice' that Elijah heard is sufficiently anti-climactic as to not really count and that the slaying of the prophets of Baal was mirrored during Elisha's ministry if not by Elisha himself.
Notwithstanding the above I think it would be fair to say that the miracle of Elijah's that is unique is also one that was central to and characteristic of his ministry. The prophets of Baal were invited to a contest to see which the true God was. Elijah proceeds with the flourish of a modern magician. The opposition were given choice of bull and allowed to go first. When they finally gave up Elijah poured water over his offering to show that he would do something even harder than they had requested. Then fire came from heaven to show that Jehovah is God. In contrast to the grandiosity of that miracle Elijah then finds himself isolated and fearsome and he witnesses many mighty acts of God only to eventually hear God speaking in a still small voice.
For me the thing that leaps out upon considering the unique miracles of Elisha is that five of the eight involve Syria directly and one indirectly. Viewed purely numerically then this phenomena could be explained simply by the Syrian ascendancy during a portion of Elisha's ministry. However closer examination reveals that Elisha was interacting with the Syrian's directly. He healed them, was attacked by them, blinded them, fed them, provided the Israeli's intelligence about them and even announced their next king.
Of the three acts of Elisha that did not involve Syria two involved the school of the prophets. Firstly in Jericho we find him healing their water and then later we find him salvaging and ax-head they had lost whilst attempting to make larger accommodation. The eighth act is then the one where Gehazi is made to suffer the consequence of his own greed.
Whilst there is little here that can be taught dogmatically I think that our thesis of the prophets picturing the testaments is supported by those miracles that are unique to each. For the Old Testament pictured by Elijah we see a focus on declaring to the Jewish people that Jehovah really is the one true God. This is a national and mandatory statement with consequences for any that fail to comply. And then underlying the forceful and blatant statements we see the small voice declaring some of the more intimate character of God. The New Testament pictured by Elisha sees the interest moving outside the borders of Israel with the offer of salvation and consequences of rejecting it being made available to all. We also see an effort made to produce a cadre of others that are capable of sharing the message. Judgment or at least consequences are then applied at an individual level.
Smith in his Bible Dictionary states that Elijah is one of the grandest and most romantic characters that Israel ever produced. However I suggest it is the grandness and romanticism that can spring from cold austerity rather than from warmth and comfort. He does of course fit the image of a prophet; with long flowing hair and a girdle of skin around his loins and the ability to out-run a chariot. He was also a loner; in almost all of the narratives concerning the prophet he is dealing with one or two people; on the two occasions he deals with a bigger group it is to slay them.
We find that Elijah did not just suffer from isolation but he seems to have courted it. When running from Jezebel he chose to leave his servant behind. When his time to depart came we find him attempting to leave behind the faithful Elisha. Even when Elijah wanted to communicate we typically find him appearing, delivering a message and then immediately removing himself.
The isolation of Elijah was not just physical. When he flees before Jezebel we see him wishing for death. We see that his feeling is that he really is the only one that has stood for God. God responds in a manner which is both encouraging but also disciplinary. Elijah is essentially told that he is not alone but that others would take over his ministry from him.
There is one occasion when I think we see genuine warmth coming from Elijah and that is in the instance of the healing of the widow's son. We can almost feel him pleading with God and asking why this disaster had been brought upon the woman that he was lodging with. However if you view his actions from the point of the widow he is still far from comforting. There are no words of condolence or even encouragement: simply the command to hand over the child. The prophet then disappears to return later with the boy healed.
We are given far fewer insights into Elisha's direct interaction with God. Instead we are regaled with account after account of his dealings with people. He appears to have lived in Jericho with the son's of the prophets. A good number of his miracles occur in the day to day running of their lives. He makes friends with a woman of affluence and is an accepted part of at least three royal courts on different occasions. The sight of Elisha dressed as a normal Israelite walking with his staff down the high-road was almost certainly common-place where he lived.
Outside of the immediate accounts of the two prophets given within the two books of Kings we find that all references to these prophets refer to Elijah. Elisha's ministry and notoriety appear to have ended with his death. In contrast Elijah is the focus of a foundational prophecy regarding the end times. In Mal 4:5 we are told that prior to the great and terrible day of the Lord, Elijah would come to restore the fabric of society.
Many of the considerable number of New Testament references to Elijah concern that prophecy. They fall roughly into two groups; those questioning if John the Baptist is Elijah and those wondering if the Lord was. As we saw previously John the Baptist closely paralleled Elijah although he stated that he wasn't him. Some believe, including myself, that the final return of Elijah will be as one of the two witnesses of the Revelation; however that is rather out of scope for this essay.
There are however three remaining New Testament references to Elijah that I think underscore his centrality to the notion of an Old Testament prophet. At the transfiguration of Christ two men appear to discuss the Lord's death: Elijah and Moses. We have already considered similarity between Moses and Elijah but I wonder if here upon the mount we see them both as representative of the continuing prophetic line.
In Romans 11:2 we see Elijah as a picture of a faithful remnant. However I believe it is James 5:17 we get the most telling reference to Elijah almost because it is so tangential. When James is looking for an example of someone to point to and say: "Look, even he had desires the same as us!" it was Elijah that immediately came to mind. The man that would lead a life of austerity, sacrifice and confrontation in order to state the Jehovah was God.
It is in the nature of a comparative exercise that very little will be found that can be asserted dogmatically. There was no intention during the construction of this paper to defend and existing doctrine or to establish a new one. The aim instead is to "stir up the pure mind by way of remembrance." If stories learned in Sunday school are now a little more vivid or if some aspect of either of these prophets has registered in a way that it hadn't previously then I have achieved my goal. Notwithstanding the above I would like in these closing paragraphs to weave together some of the threads of thought that were left dangling in the hope that by doing so the whole picture may be that little bit more cohesive and perhaps memorable.
We started where most commentaries end; in drawing a parallel between Elijah and Elisha and one of the other famous pairs of Old Testament personalities. We first considered Moses and Joshua. We noted that they had a clear handover and that one declared God whilst the other delivered the Promised Land. We noticed too peculiar geographic coincidence that Elijah departed near to Moses and that Elisha commenced his ministry by crossing the Jordan and heading for Jericho. We observed too that the Bible shows a clear correspondence between the two prophets and John the Baptist and the Lord. Finally in that section we stated the paper's thesis: that Elijah was a picture of the Old Covenant and that Elisha was a picture of the New.
Next we considered the historic context. That Elijah commenced his ministry during the reign of Ahab and finished around the time of Amaziah. Elisha commenced when Elijah ended and continued until the time of Joash. Both prophets witnessed to the Northern Kingdom during almost a century of tremendous upheaval. However we saw that Biblically the issue was not seen as political unrest so much as a time of tremendous apostasy amongst the Jews.
The main section of the paper was then introduced by the process of taking each account for each prophet and drawing parallels where possible. Using an admittedly subjective criteria it was found that there were eight passages where parallels could be drawn, two where Elijah did something unique and then eight where Elisha did something unparalleled by Elijah.
The eight parallel narratives were then treated in sequence. We saw that Elijah showed God's presence by withholding rain; Elisha by sending it. Elijah was provided for by an unclean bird; Elisha could provide for many by rendering a poisonous pot of stew harmless. Elijah rewarded a widow's obedience through the continuing provision of oil; Elisha rewarded a widow's faith by the once only provision of all the oil she could take. Both men raised a son from the dead. One did it to produce faith; the other to reward it. Both men asked for their servants' eyes to be opened. One did it to show that the Lord would provide after judgment; the other to show that the Lord had the means to judge.
We saw that Elisha was a prophet of provision he really was a feint shadow of the Lord that would follow him. Elijah was really a prophet of judgment and when we see provision occurring it is Elijah that is provided for. Finally we saw that Elijah ended in a blaze of glory ascending to heaven in a chariot of fire. Elisha died quietly and meekly but through his death another could live.
The unique miracles of each prophet then gave us a further insight into their special work in the era. For Elijah we see the might of God being proven in power to the Jew and then being declared to Elijah through a still small voice. In contrast we see Elisha reaching out and interacting with the Syrian's as much as with the Jews. Then in a far more homely environment we see him fixing the water supply and retrieving the tools of the prophets.
The character of each man was unique fitted to his role. Elijah was the 'lone wolf' roaming around to swoop, deliver a message and then be gone. We see him agonizing before God as he dealt with his own zealousness and feeling of isolation. Elisha was really a spiritual leader for his people. He lived with the other prophets and was a trusted confidant of kings.
Finally we noted that this paper is really incomplete. Not simply because it was prepared inadequately but because it is written too early to tell the full story. Scripture declares that Elijah is yet to come. Elisha's story may currently appear fuller and richer than Elijah's but that is because Elisha speaks of God's salvation. God is longsuffering and is even now offering salvation to all. Thus the story of Elisha is complete as is the message of salvation. However there will come a time when once again it is time to declare that 'Jehovah is God'. At that time Elijah will come again to declare the pending judgment. At that time someone may be able to produce a paper such as this and will be able to round out the story of Elijah more fully. Unfortunately by then it will be too late.