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.