Elisha by Sarah Cook

The prophet Elisha succeeds his mentor Elijah and significantly outstrips him by approximately doubling his miracles and completing the work that God initially commanded Elijah to do.

What role does Elisha play in the political events portrayed in the books of Kings?

In 1Kgs 19:15-16, God commissions Elijah to anoint Jehu, Hazael, and Elisha to put an end to the Baal-worshipping Omride dynasty, but Elijah only completes one of those tasks. He manages to enlist Elisha as a follower by throwing his cloak over him (1Kgs 19:19), and Elisha demonstrates his power as a prophetic successor when he parts the Jordan with Elijah’s cloak immediately following his mentor’s disappearance at the hands of a whirlwind (2Kgs 2:11-14). Elisha performs many impressive miracles during his career but his most significant political task is completing the list of appointments that God had given Elijah. In 2Kgs 8:10-15, Elisha informs the high-ranking Aramean Hazael that he will become the next king of Aram, prompting him to accelerate the king’s death and take his place on the throne. Next, Elisha dispatches a young acolyte who performs the anointment in secret (2Kgs 9:5-6). When it becomes known, Jehu’s comrades declare their allegiance to him and support him in displacing the last of the Omrides, Joram, on his way back from a battle with Hazael, king of Aram (2Kgs 9:24). This fulfills God’s curse upon the house of Omri for their sin of popularizing Baal-worship (1Kgs 21:20-24). Elisha functions as a powerful king-maker in this narrative who completes Elijah’s instructions and sets in motion a chain of events that lead to a new Northern king who roots out the cult of Baal in the Northern Kingdom by ending the royal line that first popularized this religious practice (2Kgs 10:1-15) and killing all of the priests and worshippers of Baal (2Kgs 10:18-27). While Elijah completed one of God’s commands by enlisting Elisha to succeed him, Elisha discharges the other two commands by placing Hazael and Jehu in power – doubling the accomplishments of his mentor.

Did Elisha command two she-bears to devour forty-two children at Bethel?

As Elisha arrives at Bethel, some small children emerge from the city and taunt him by calling him bald. Elisha curses them in the name of Yahweh, and two she-bears emerge from the forest, ravaging forty-two members of the mocking contingent (2Kgs 2:23-25). It is certainly a startling event that confounds contemporary readers. The insult of baldness is key here. Ahaziah’s messengers describe Elijah in 2Kgs 1:8 as a hairy man. The small children immediately address Elisha’s insecurity as a new prophet by picking out how he falls short of his mentor. Though Elisha utters the curse, God follows through with the two she-bears and the ensuing violence. The message is clear: God himself will ensure that Elisha enjoys just as much prestige and power as the prophet who came before him. Elisha proves this resoundingly over the course of his career. He not only acts within the Israelite political sphere but performs services for many common people. He multiplies a widow’s supply of oil such that she can support her family for the rest of her life (2Kgs 4:1-7), heals a woman’s dead child (2Kgs 4:32-37), renders edible a poisoned stew (2Kgs 4:38-41), feeds one hundred men with a small amount of bread (2Kgs 4:42-44), and cures an Aramean general of leprosy (2Kgs 5:14).

Overall, Elisha plays an important role in the political intrigues featured in 2 Kings and he successfully represents God’s power within the Northern Kingdom of Israel through many miraculous acts. Though described as a prophet (Hebrew nābî’), he also receives the title “man of God” (Hebrew ’îš hā’ĕlōhîm) in certain narratives, and this term perhaps more accurately describes his activities. He does not receive visions per se as do other Hebrew Bible prophets, but mainly travels around the Northern Kingdom to execute impressive acts that demonstrate to the people the power of God. His acts attract quite a following; for instance, in 2Kgs 9, he is surrounded by followers described as “the sons of the prophets,” and he commands the respect of Jehoash, king of Israel, who solicits his advice by addressing him as “father.” He is a fearsome and powerful agent in the narratives of 2 Kings.

Sarah Cook, "Elisha", n.p. [cited 7 Oct 2022]. Online:



Sarah Cook
PhD Student, University of Georgia

Sarah Cook is a PhD candidate at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia. Her research interests include prophecy in the E-source, the redaction of the Torah, and translation in the ancient world with a specific focus on the Septuagint translation of the Torah.

a follower

The supreme male divinity of Mesopotamia and Canaan.

A system of religious worship, or cultus (e.g., the Israelite cult). Also refers to adherents of that system.

A sequence of rulers from the same family.

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

The set of Biblical books shared by Jews and Christians. A more neutral alternative to "Old Testament."

Relating to or associated with people living in the territory of the northern kingdom of Israel during the divided monarchy, or more broadly describing the biblical descendants of Jacob.

A written, spoken, or recorded story.

The kingdom consisting of the northern Israelites tribes, which existed separately from the southern kingdom of Judah. According to the Hebrew Bible, all the tribes were part of a unified kingdom under David and Solomon, but the northern kingdom under Jeroboam I rebelled after Solomon's death (probably sometime in the late 10th century B.C.E.), establishing their independence. The northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 722 B.C.E.

related to the dynasty of Omri

1Kgs 19:15-16

15Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram.16Also you shall ... View more

1Kgs 19:19

Elisha Becomes Elijah's Disciple
19So he set out from there, and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and ... View more

2Kgs 2:11-14

11As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.12Elisha ... View more

2Kgs 8:10-15

10Elisha said to him, “Go, say to him, ‘You shall certainly recover’; but the Lord has shown me that he shall certainly die.”11He fixed his gaze and stared at h ... View more

2Kgs 9:5-6

5He arrived while the commanders of the army were in council, and he announced, “I have a message for you, commander.” “For which one of us?” asked Jehu. “For y ... View more

2Kgs 9:24

24Jehu drew his bow with all his strength, and shot Joram between the shoulders, so that the arrow pierced his heart; and he sank in his chariot.

1Kgs 21:20-24

20Ahab said to Elijah, “Have you found me, O my enemy?” He answered, “I have found you. Because you have sold yourself to do what is evil in the sight of the Lo ... View more

2Kgs 10:1-15

Massacre of Ahab's Descendants
1Now Ahab had seventy sons in Samaria. So Jehu wrote letters and sent them to Samaria, to the rulers of Jezreel, to the elders, a ... View more

2Kgs 10:18-27

Slaughter of Worshipers of Baal
18Then Jehu assembled all the people and said to them, “Ahab offered Baal small service; but Jehu will offer much more.19Now the ... View more

2Kgs 2:23-25

23He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go away, baldhead! Go ... View more

2Kgs 1:8

8They answered him, “A hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist.” He said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”

2Kgs 4:1-7

Elisha and the Widow's Oil
1Now the wife of a member of the company of prophets cried to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead; and you know that your servan ... View more

2Kgs 4:32-37

32When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed.33So he went in and closed the door on the two of them, and prayed to the Lord.34Then ... View more

2Kgs 4:38-41

Elisha Purifies the Pot of Stew
38When Elisha returned to Gilgal, there was a famine in the land. As the company of prophets was sitting before him, he said to ... View more

2Kgs 4:42-44

Elisha Feeds One Hundred Men
42A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of ... View more

2Kgs 5:14

14So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, ... View more

2Kgs 9

Anointing of Jehu
1Then the prophet Elisha called a member of the company of prophets and said to him, “Gird up your loins; take this flask of oil in your hand, ... View more

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