I may not be the only one who confused some of the events of Elijah with those of Elisha. I remember several years back when my wife and I were doing a Vacation Bible School skit on Elisha. She got the kids all excited, telling them that, if they are good they will be visited by Elisha! And that he has a story to tell. I could hear from out in the hall, wearing my long itchy robe, that they were getting all excited.
The first thing I said as I entered amidst much fanfare was “I am … Elijah”!
My wife gave me that mildly amused you-blew-it look. I meant to say “Elisha”.
So why is this important? I believe that both Elijah and Elisha are types of the New and Old Covenants. Consider this:
“Elijah” means “My God is Jah” or “God Himself”. “Elisha” means “God is Savior”. (source: Young’s Concordance)
COMPARISON: Elijah and Elisha make an interesting study in comparison and contrast. Both miraculously provided for the material needs of widows with sons, respectively the Zarephathite and the Shunamite, in both case, significantly, I believe, involving a miraculously persistent supply of oil. In both cases the widows’ sons are miraculously brought back to life.
CONTRAST: But there are significant – and instructive – differences:
Elijah’s ministry seems to be associated mainly with violent miracles and fiery judgment. He first comes on the scene calling for a drought that lasts for three and a half years. He is also the one who, on two different occasions, calls down fire. First on Mount Carmel in the well-known showdown with the prophets of Baal. The fire’s immediate purpose was to light the drenched sacrifice of Elijah’s altar. The ultimate purpose was to show which of the two, Yahweh or Baal, were the true God, and who were the true worshipers. Elijah used this intervention of God to seize all the prophets of Baal and kill them. Toward the end of Elijah’s life he was arrogantly summoned to appear before the apostate King Ahaziah. A captain of fifty was sent to him saying,
“Man of God, the king has said, ‘Come down!'”
Elijah answers, “If I am a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men!”
And if this is, of course, what happens. It happens once more and, were it not for the discerning pleading of the third captain, it would have happened a third time.
The association of fire with Elijah is an enduring one. It may have been on the disciples’ minds when they desired Christ to rain down fire upon the village that remained unreceptive to the gospel message.
It is also natural for those who expect a literal future judgment of fire to come upon an unreceptive world to likewise expect Elijah’s fiery comeback.
But what about Elisha? Though his ministry is not without judgment and condemnation of sin, there seems to be a clear picture of New Testament mercies and grace. While Elijah’s acts often were calling down destruction, Elisha’s were for building up. These acts of Elijah’s successor seem more to point to Christ. His first two miracles were, as I said, similar to Elijah’s; the widow helped, the widows’ sons, respectively, revived. But after this we come to even greater contrast:
Elisha purifies the big communal pot of broth that someone inadvertantly put a poisonous herb into. After the broth was being prepared someone noticed – too late – the noxious ingredient! “There is death in the pot!” (How many times have we used that phrase back at Bible school!) Elisha sprinkles in a some meal into the broth and it is good to eat.
Another time (perhaps very soon after the above incident) Elisha finds himself suddenly needing to feed a hundred people with twenty (presumably small) barley loaves. But, like Christ, he makes this meager food stretch, and with plenty left over. 2 Kings 4:42- 44
He also heals a man (Naaman) of leprosy. This proves to be a means of judgment for his greedy servant Gehazi who, scapegoat-like, receives Naaman’s affliction on himself. Christ, also, brought judgment on those who pretended to serve God – but didn’t. (This healing calls for an article by itself, seeing that there are many parallels to Christ and to His message. How many people, like Naaman, are put off by the simple requirement of coming to Christ, just as he was, in a prefigurement of the gospel, put off by the command to bathe in the Jordan seven times?)
Elisha also is the one who makes the borrowed axhead float, so that the other prophet of humble means could retrieve it. Could this be a type of the resurrection? At any rate it is a miracle more fitting to Elisha than to Elijah.
The last miracle that comes to mind is when the city Elisha is in is surrounded by Syrians, Elisha’s servant is clearly upset, but Elisha prays for God to open his eyes and he sees the armies of God surrounding and outnumbering the puny armies of man. Christ is the one who opens eyes.
This last event may also be a hint of the future epoch-ending confrontation in Jerusalem. The city was surrounded by the Roman legions but, as recorded by Josephus, Tacitus and others, there was seen in the skes above the city a heavenly army. This is similar, perhaps, to the wonder seen in the time of Elisha.
Resurrection truth is clearly shown in Elisha’s ministry. Elisha, in an astonishing prefigurement of the resurrection and new life in Christ, gives life through his death. Remember the story? In 2nd Kings 13 a burial detail was surprised by a gang of raiders from Moab so they hurriedly bury their dead man in Elisha’s grave, that prophet having died that year. Here is the rest of the story:
“So it was, as they were burying a man, that suddenly they spied a band of raiders; he revived and stood on his feet.” and they put the man in the tomb of Elisha; and when the man was let down and touched the bones of Elisha,
Elijah at the Mount of Transfiguration
But why, Elijah, and not Elisha. Elisha, the prophet with the double supply of the Holy Spirit, the prophet who took the place of his mentor? It is just because Elisha, not Elijah, points to Christ. The whole point of the experience on that Mount was to teach the disciples that Christ fulfills the purpose and mission of both the Law (Moses) and the Old Testament Prophets (Elijah).
Elijah also points to a person in the New Testament – John the Baptist. There was no prophet “born of women” greater than John the Baptist, Matt. 11:10-11. But “he that is little” in the New Covenant is greater than him.
It is ironic and sad that so many Christians expect and teach the future return of Elijah. His return would also imply the return of the Old Covenant he represented, the Covenant that Christ fulfilled and did away with.
I am sure that there other things that could be written here. It is ironic that Christians nowadays sing “These are the Days of Elijah” when they clearly aren’t. These are the days of Elisha.
Better yet, these are the days of the Christ to whom Elisha pointed more clearly than did Elijah. Elijah had the preparatory glory of the Old Covenant, Elisha clear flashes of the New.
It is also ironic that the eschatology of so many requires Elijah to come back, when Christ clearly pointed out John the Baptist as the post-type of Elijah.
Elijah is not coming back. John did all that. Christ told His disciples – and tells us – that the same wisdom that recognizes Him as the Christ recognizes John as having come in the spirit of Elijah, Luke 7:31-35; Matt. 17:10-13.
Like the Jews, many are looking for the Jewish prophet, for the Jewish temple, for the Jewish sacrifices to recommence, for the Jewish Kingdom to be set up. Jesus did all that, and is all that. Furthermore we know that the Kingdom of Christ is now, spiritual and eternal, blood-washed, blood-bought, and that our King and Priest needs no other bloody sacrifice (of any type) or earthly, crumbly temple.
Article from May, 2007, updated January, 6, 2022.