Saturday, June 24, 2017

Elijah /Elisha Narratives and the Gospels

I.          Introduction

            The great middle section of the Old Testament book of Kings is the Elijah and Elisha narratives. The Elijah and Elisha narratives are told at 1 Kings 17 through 2 Kings 13. Elijah and his successor Elisha figure prominently in 1 and 2 Kings as they prophesied against the wickedness and idolatry of King Ahab and his evil ruling successors of Israel, also known as the Omride Dynasty. Elijah and Elisha’s opposition against Ahab also put him at odds with Ahab’s Phoenician wife, Jezebel. Jezebel was from Sidon, a region north of Israel, and she worshiped the god Baal and promoted Baal worship in Israel. In order to please his wife, King Ahab built a temple and an altar to Baal and Asherah, thus promoting idolatry and leading the entire Israel nation further into sin and away from Yahweh, the true and living God of heaven and earth.
            Secular historians rate the Omride Dynasty that reigned from approximately 885 BC to 841 BC, as one of Israel’s most powerful and capable political rulers. In fact, the Assyrians records call Israel, “the land of Omri.” King Omri, the father of Ahab, expanded Israel’s land, and founded the city of Samaria, which remained Israel’s capital for 150 years. However, the Holy Bible dismisses King Omri for sinning “more than all those before him” (see 1 Kings 16:21-28). 

II.        Overview of Elijah and Elisha

Elijah and Elisha were the first in a long line of important prophets God sent to Israel. Israel, the Northern Kingdom, had no faithful kings to God throughout its turbulent history in the book of Kings, while Judah in the Southern Kingdom, had some faithful kings that worshipped and obeyed God. With no faithful king to lead and proclaim God’s word to the people, God called Elijah and Elisha along with other mighty men and women of God to rescue Israel from its moral and spiritual decline.
Elijah begins his ministry to combat the evil deeds and idolatry of the Omride Dynasty that begin with Omri and his son, Ahab with the worship of Baal and Asherah (see 1 Kings 16:21-34). Those who worshiped Baal believed Baal was the god who brought the rains and bountiful harvests. Asherah was known as a fertility goddess and the mother of Baal.
First Kings 17 announces the sudden arrival of Elijah and his divine ordain of a three-year drought. With this proclamation, Elijah teaches that the Lord God and not Baal nor Asherah controls all life, death, fertility, and infertility. Elijah, whose name means “my God is Yahweh” or “the Lord is my God,” proved to Israel and the world that Yahweh is the only true God of heaven and earth. With his dynamic ministry, the Holy Scriptures has called Elijah the grandest and the most romantic character that Israel ever produced. Moreover, Elijah’s prophetic role has eschatological relations to the Messiah (e.g., see Malachi 4:5-6; Luke 1:17; Revelation 11). For instance, Revelation 11 does not identify by name the two witnesses, but their capacity “to close the sky so that it does not rain” leads many to conclude they are Moses and Elijah (see Revelation 11:5-6). Elijah’s stories are told at 1 Kings 17:1 through 2 Kings 2:18.  
The prophet Elisha begins his ministry to the Northern Kingdom after a chariot of fire takes Elijah away to God (see 2 Kings 2:1-17). The personal name of Elisha mean “my God is salvation.” Before Elijah’s departure, God asked Elijah to anoint a farmer named Elisha as his successor (see 1 Kings 19:16). Elijah appointed Elisha and threw his mantle on him thereby symbolically manifesting God’s plan to bestow the prophetic powers of Elijah upon Elisha (see 1 Kings 19:19; 2 Kings 2:13-14). Elisha faithfully remained with Elijah until the last moments of his teacher's life on earth.
Like his predecessor, Elisha performed many miracles and called all of Israel to return to the living God. The spirit of Elijah rested on Elisha (see 2 Kings 2:15). Despite Elisha’ efforts, Israel continued to persist in wickedness, unfaithfulness, and idolatry against the true and living God. Elisha faithfully advised and serviced during the reigns of Ahab, Ahaziah, Jehoram or Joram, Jehu, Jehoahaz, and Jehoash or Joash. Moreover, Elisha played a major role in Hazael becoming king of Syria (2 Kings 8:7-15). Although Elisha was very famous in his own time, his name appears only once outside the book of Kings (see Luke 4:27). In contrast, Elijah is often mentioned, and John the Baptist is frequently compared to Elijah (e.g., see Luke 7:24-28). Elisha stories are told at 2 Kings 2:1 through 2 Kings 13:25. 

III.       Gospel Comparison of Elijah and Elisha
Many similarities are prominent when reading the Elijah and Elisha narratives and the Gospel of Jesus, the Son of the living God. The Gospels draws parallels between the lives of Elijah and Elisha and the lives of John the Baptist and Jesus. The Gospels presented John as the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy proclaiming that Elijah would come again before the arrival of the Messiah (see Malachi 3:1; Malachi 4:5-6; Luke 7:24-28). John is pictured in the Gospels as coming in the “spirit” of Elijah before the arrival of Jesus the Messiah (Luke 1:17; see also Matthew 11:14; Matthew 17:12). The Gospels presents Jesus as the new Elisha.
The Gospels particularly demonstrate John the Baptist’s relationship to Elijah as to their distinctive dress (see 2 Kings 1:7-8; Matthew 3:4). Both Elijah and John the Baptist’s main enemies were women in the royal court who sought their lives. For Elijah the evil woman was Jezebel (see 1 Kings 19:2, 10, 14), and for John the Baptist the wicked woman was Herodias (see Matthew 14:3-12). Also, both Elijah and John the Baptist anointed their successors at the Jordan River and both witnessed the heavens opening and flying objects descending from heaven above (see 2 Kings 2:7-8, 11-12; Luke 3:21-22). Elijah and Elisha saw an approaching chariot of fire (see 2 Kings 2:11-12), and John the Baptist and Jesus saw a descending dove (see Matthew 3:16).
Jesus as well as the prophets Elijah and Elisha had a single-minded commitment to true and living God and the Law of Moses. These mighty men of God were zealous for the Lord God Almighty and His covenant (e.g., see 1 Kings 18:16-18). The Elijah and Elisha narratives and the Gospels affirmed Moses’ teaching from the covenant and the Mosaic Law. The essence of the Mosaic Law is love and faithfulness to the true and living God and loving one another as ourselves (see Luke 10:25-28, cf. Deuteronomy 6:4-6; Leviticus 19:18). Jesus as well as Elijah and Elisha steadily proclaimed love and faithfulness to God and moral fairness for one another. For instance, during Jesus’ testing and temptation in the wilderness, He quoted from Deuteronomy 6:13, Deuteronomy 6:16 and Deuteronomy 8:3 from the Mosaic Law to defeat the evil schemes of the devil (see Luke 4:1-13). Moreover, the Gospels quote Deuteronomy 6:4-6 and Leviticus 19:18 from the Law of Moses when Jesus taught on eternal life and the two most important commandments (see Luke 10:25-28). Jesus would embody what Israel was supposed to be – a nation and people living in obedience to God’s commands.
The book of Kings of often called “Deuteronomic history.” God had long ago set before Israel the way of life and death, blessings, and cursing (e.g., see Deuteronomy 28). The book of Deuteronomy warned Israel about the seductive threat of the foreign religions and foreign gods that the nation would encounter (e.g., see Deuteronomy 12:1-3, 29-32). The book of Kings as well as the Gospels demonstrated that Yahweh, the true and living God of heaven and earth, rules over all kings and kingdoms.
Jesus, like Elijah and Elisha, were holy men ordained and sent from the living God (see 1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 19:16, 19-21; Luke 4:34). The Elijah and Elisha narratives and the Gospels continually affirmed the living God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the Law of Moses (e.g., see 1 Kings 18:36-38; 2 Kings 13:22; Luke 10:25-28). Both Jesus and Elijah preached judgment and the need for repentance (e.g., see 1 Kings 18:36-39; Matthew 4:17). Like Jesus, both Elijah and Elisha were filled with God’s power and Spirit that some kings and mighty men honored and while others feared and hated them (e.g., 1 Kings 18:16-17; 2 Kings 1:1-18; 2 Kings 13:14; Luke 4:1, 14). Elijah and Elisha like Jesus spoke and proclaimed God’s words without compromise and authority to the ruling authorities and to the people, and they were committed to turning the people’s whole hearts back to the living God (e.g., see 1 Kings 18:36-39; Luke 4:31-32; Luke 9:11). However, Jesus brought a new covenant relationship of God with His people and “new wineskins” (see Luke 5:36-39; Luke 6:17-42).
Like Jesus, both Elijah and Elisha were people of integrity who did not try to enrich themselves at others’ expense. These mighty men of God sought to protect the needs of the poor against the powerful, greedy, and wicked (e.g., see 1 Kings 21; 2 Kings 4; Luke 6:17-26). Elijah and Elisha like Jesus proclaimed God’s compassion, mercy, and grace. God’s great reward awaits those in heaven who love God and seek goodness, mercy, and compassion like ancient prophets (see Luke 6:20-23). Similar to Elijah’s prediction to Ahab and his evil dynasty, Jesus predicted great sorrow awaits those who maliciously mistreat and harm others (see 1 Kings 21:17-28; 2 Kings 9:14-10:36; Luke 6:24-26). Sadly, Ahab and his wife, Jezebel and their descendants were not honest, hard -working people, but they enriched themselves by murdering and stealing from others (see 1 Kings 21; Luke 8:15).
Like Jesus, many times Israel ruling authorities rejected Elijah and Elisha message from God. However, Jesus, Elijah, and Elisha, like many other faithful servants of God, chose to carry out their faithful ministries for God. Because of Jesus as well as Elijah and Elisha’s faithfulness and commitment to the living God, some Jews and Gentiles also accepted and acknowledged the sovereignty of God (e.g., see 2 Kings 5:15; 2 Kings 13:4-5). Even a widow, a foreigner from Jezebel's home territory, cared for and acknowledged the living God and Elijah as a man of God (see 1 Kings 17:7-16, 24).
Sadly, Jesus along with Elijah and Elisha paid for their wholehearted commitment to God by experiencing isolation, threats, and rejections (e.g., see 1 Kings 19:1-18; Luke 4:14-29). At 1 Kings 19, Queen Jezebel retaliated by threatening Elijah's life, and Elijah ran after Elijah mightily defeating the priests of Baal and Asherah in the showdown on Mount Carmel (see 1 Kings 18:16-40). Elijah struggled with feelings of fear, depression, and abandonment. Despite God's provision of food and shelter in the desert, Elijah no longer wanted to live (see1 Kings 19:4).
Moreover, Elijah chose to work alone during his ministry, and he paid for his sole ministry with isolation and loneliness. However, Elisha and Jesus did not work alone during their prospective ministries. Elisha was often accompanied by a company of prophets (e.g., see 2 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 4:38). Similarly, many faithful disciples, women, and followers accompanied Jesus during His public ministry on earth (e.g., Luke 5:8-11, 27-28, 33; Luke 6:17; Luke 7:11; Luke 8:1-4). Elijah often lived apart from the people. However, Elisha shifted the focus and like Jesus lived among the people, preferring the poor and outcast, and stressed life, hope, and God’s grace. Like Jesus, all social classes had access to Elisha, from the lowly widow to foreign kings.
Interestingly, both Elijah and Elisha proclaimed God’s message to the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Elijah and Elisha traveled throughout the Northern Kingdom of Israel proclaiming God’s message. Similarly, Jesus spent a significant portion of His public ministry in Galilee, which is located in northern Israel (see Luke 4:42-44). These mighty men of God toured Northern Israel’s towns and villages with God’s uncompromising words of truth (e.g., see 2 Kings 2:1-8; Luke 4:14-15; Luke 8:1). Moreover, during Jesus’ public ministry, many people from the regions of Tyre and Sidon, Jezebel’s home country that worshipped Baal, came to hear and worship the Son of God (see 1 Kings 16:31; Luke 6:17).
Moreover, supernatural and amazing miracles accompanied Jesus and the ministries of Elijah and Elisha through God’s power and the Holy Spirit working within their lives. God performed mighty works and miracles through Jesus, as well as Elijah and Elisha’s hands. These mighty men revealed God’s power, grace, and healing not only to the Jewish people but also Gentiles (e.g., see 1 Kings 17:8-24; 2 Kings 5:1-14; Luke 4:25-17). First, the prophet Elijah predicted the beginning and ending of a three-year drought (see 1 Kings 17:1; 1 Kings 18:41-46). Then, God worked an overwhelming miracle through Elijah to defeat the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel (see 1 Kings 18:16-40). Furthermore, Elijah, Elisha, and Jesus restored the dead to life (see 1 Kings 17:17-24; 2 Kings 4:8-37; Luke 7:11-17; Luke 8:40-42, 49-56). Both Elijah and Elisha brought food and salvation to widows (see 1 Kings 17:7-24; 2 Kings 4:1-7). Both Jesus and Elisha healed people suffering with leprosy (see 2 Kings 5:1-15; Luke 5:12-16). During Jesus’ public ministry, Jesus brought miraculous healing and restored life. Jesus healed a bleeding woman (see Luke 8:43-48), restored a dead girl to life (see Luke 8:40-42, 49-56), restored life to a Roman ruler’s servant (see Luke 7:1-10), and also restored a widow’s son to life (see Luke 7:11-17). Like Jesus, both Elijah and Elisha had God’s power to control the forces of nature, and heal and control the raging waters (e.g., see 2 Kings 2:7, 13-14; 2 Kings 2:19-22; Luke 8:22-25). Interestingly, Jesus acknowledged the miraculous works of Elijah and Elisha during His public ministry (see Luke 4:24-27).
The majestic display of God’s power over evil was on display during Elijah, Elisha, and Jesus’ lives. Like Jesus, Elijah had power to defeat the forces of darkness and Beelzebub, “the lord of the flies” (e.g., see 2 Kings 1:2; Luke 8:34-37; Luke 9:42-43). For instance, when Ahaziah fell and injured himself at 2 Kings 1, he sent messengers to ask Baal-zebub (lord of flies) about his fate. However, Elijah intercepted these messengers and sent word back to Ahaziah that he was soon to die (2 Kings 1). Ahaziah sent three different detachments of 50 soldiers each to arrest Elijah. Elijah sent fire from heaven to destroy the first group of messengers (see 2 Kings 1:10-12). Similarly, John and James wanted to retaliate against Jesus’ enemies by calling down fire from heaven on the people, as Elijah did on the servants of the wicked King Ahaziah of Israel (see Luke 9:51-56). Interestingly, at 2 Kings 2, Elijah was taken up into the glory cloud by chariots of fire rightfully revealing Yahweh is the God of all natural resources, including fire (see 2 Kings 2:11-12).
Similarly, Elijah prepared the way for Elisha as John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus the Messiah. John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah to prepare the way for Jesus (see Malachi 3:1; Luke 7:24-28). Elisha followed Elijah’s ministry and demonstrated God's power, yet with compassion, like Jesus following John the Baptist’s ministry.
Nevertheless, Jesus and Elisha spent less time in conflict with evil and more in compassionate care of people. The miracles that occurred during Elisha and Jesus’ ministries put people in touch with the personal and all-powerful God and performed miracles to help those in need. Sadly, Jesus’ public ministry of compassion only lasted three years while Elisha’s ministry that lasted over 50 years and six different kings from King Ahab to King Jehoash. Elisha’s ministry had a major impact on four nations: Israel, Judah, Moab, and Syria (Aram).
Just before Elijah’s departure, Elisha had asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (see 2 Kings 2:9), and the Holy Scriptures pointedly records about twice as many miracles performed during Elisha’s ministry. In the Old Testament, the Spirit of God is often the Spirit of prophecy. Possession by the Holy Spirit enabled God’s servants to fulfill his or her calling. While other prophets waited nearby, Elisha asked for a “double portion” of the Spirit that was on Elijah (see 2 Kings 2:9).
Many of Elisha’s miracles revealed at 2 Kings 4 have great similarities to the miracles Jesus Himself would later perform (see Isaiah 61:1-3). Elisha used his power to provide a widow with an abundance of valuable oil to save her children from slavery (see 2 Kings 4:1-7). Also, Elisha made a poisonous pottage edible (see 2 Kings 4:38-41), fed a hundred men by multiplying limited resources (see 2 Kings 4:42-44), and miraculously provided water for thirsting armies (see 2 Kings 3:13-22). Once Elisha he made an iron ax head float (see 2 Kings 6:5-7). Elisha graciously restored sight to the blind (see 2 Kings 6:18-20), restored the dead to life (see 2 Kings 4:32-37; 2 Kings 8:4-5; 2 Kings 13:21), and brought good news to the destitute (see 2 Kings 4:1-7; 2 Kings 7:1-2; 2 Kings 8:6).
Similarly, Jesus willingly helped and provided for people. As the Gospels proclaimed, Jesus graciously “healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight” (Luke 7:21, ESV).  During His public ministry, Jesus brought healing to a paralytic man (see Luke 5:17-26). Jesus feed five thousand hurry souls with only five loaves of bread and two fish and everyone was satisfied (see Luke 9:10-17). Importantly, after Jesus’ testing and temptation in the wilderness, Jesus went around doing good and brought God’s healing to everyone in need (e.g. see Luke 4:38-41; Luke 9:11). God’s healing power was strongly with Jesus, and Jesus graciously healed everyone (e.g., see Luke 5:17; Luke 6:18-19; Luke 8:43-46; Luke 9:11). Like Elisha, Jesus restored the people’s sight (see Luke 4:18-19). Also, Jesus helped Simon catch fish (see Luke 5:4-7). Like Jesus, Elisha’s power did not end at death. For when a dead man was thrown into Elisha’s grave and touched his bones, “he revived and stood up on his feet” (see 2 Kings 13:21). Even now, everyone that believes and accepts Jesus as Lord and Savior has life! Moreover, Jesus graciously gave His faithful disciples His power and authority to cast out demons and to heal all diseases (see Luke 9:1-2). Jesus sent His disciples to proclaim the Good News of God’s Kingdom and the power of God in throughout the regions of Tyre, Sidon, and Northern Israel (see Luke 10:1-24). Jesus commented that many prophets and kings longed to see what His disciples saw and hear during their missionary journey (see Luke 10:24).
The miracles of Jesus as well as the Elijah and Elisha narratives were redemptive to dry the people’s hearts back to God. The display of God’s raw power on Mount Carmel and Jesus’ teaching and miraculous healing were to produce repentance in Israel (see 1 Kings 18:16-46; see Luke 10:1-24). Yet, many people still refused to wholeheartedly love and obey Yahweh, the true and living God. 
Interestingly, throughout Jesus’ public ministry the crowds believed that Jesus was a mighty prophet like Elijah and Elisha. Ruling authorities, kings, and even common people believed Jesus was like an ancient prophet, such as Elijah (e.g., see Deuteronomy 18:15-19; Luke 4:24; Luke 7:16, 39; Luke 9:7-9, 19). In fact, some people considered Jesus to be Elijah (see Matthew 16:14; Mark 6:15). Like the Old Testament prophets, Jesus boldly proclaimed the living God's message and performed supernatural miracles such as raising the dead through God’s power and Spirit. The people were correct in believing that Jesus was a prophet, but He was much more — He is God Himself!
Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain and the Elijah and Elisha narratives reveal an “audio-visual display” of God’s living presence and power. God’s living presence and power was present during Elijah’s contest on Mount Carmel (see 1 Kings 18:36-39), silent whisper of God’s voice and power (see 1 Kings 19:10-14), and God’s glorious voice at the Mount Transfiguration with Moses and Elijah (see Luke 9:28-36). Interestingly, Elijah appeared along with Moses on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus to discuss His “departure” or “exodus” from the world to bring salvation and redemption (see Luke 9:31). Here Peter suggested that three tabernacles be built for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah (see Luke 9:33).
Moreover, Jesus as well as Elijah and Elisha concentrated their efforts on the particular needs of the people around them. Elijah confronted and exposed idolatry, helping to create an atmosphere where people could freely worship the true and living God. Interestingly, John the Baptist came in the spirit of Elijah, and John the Baptist challenged and exposed the people’s wickedness like Elijah (see 1 Kings 18:36-39; Luke 3:1-20). Similar to Jesus, Elijah spent forty days and forty nights in the wilderness. The living God’s power and Holy Spirit supported both Jesus and Elijah for forty days and forty nights (see 1 Kings 19:4-8; Luke 4:1-2, 14).
            The Gospels and the Elijah and Elisha narratives reveal people respected their ministries. For instance, after Jesus’ testing and temptation in the wilderness, reports about Him spread quickly throughout the whole region (see Luke 4:14-15; Luke 7:17). People spoke well of Jesus, particularly because of Jesus’ authoritative teaching and acts of compassion (see Luke 4:18-19, 22, 36-37; Luke 7:21). Similarly, Elijah and Elisha received praised by the kings and the people. For the most part, the people thought well of Elijah and Elisha (e.g., see 2 Kings 13:14).             

IV.       Summary
In summary, the Elijah and Elisha narratives have many similarities to the Gospel message about Jesus. Both the Elijah and Elisha narratives and Gospels of Jesus rightly proclaim that the Lord God of Israel is God of all the earth!

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