(flourished 9th century BC) Hebrew prophet. As the successor of Elijah, he was strongly devoted to the Mosaic tradition of Israel and a potent enemy of all foreign gods and cults. He instigated a revolt against the ruling house of Israel, the dynasty of Omri, that resulted in the death of the king and his family. Elisha's story is told in the Hebrew scriptures in the books 1 and 2 Kings.
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Elisha (Greek: Ελισσαίος, Elisaios) is a Biblical prophet. In Greek and Latin, (and in English to many Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox) he is known as Saint Eliseus; however, the standard English form of the name has been "Elisha," at least since the introduction of the King James Version of the Bible. He is also a prophet in Islam under the name Al-Yasa.
His name first occurs in the command given to Elijah to anoint him as his successor (1 Kings 19:16). After learning, on Mount Horeb, that Elisha, the son of Shaphat, had been selected by God as his successor in the prophetic office, Elijah set out to make known the Divine will. On his way from Sinai to Damascus, Elijah found Elisha "one of them that were ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen". Elisha delayed only long enough to kill the yoke of oxen, whose flesh he boiled with the very wood of his plough. He went over to him, threw his mantle over Elisha's shoulders, and at once adopted him as a son, investing him with the prophetic office (compare Luke 9:61-62). Elisha accepted this call about four years before the death of Israel's King Ahab. For the next seven or eight years Elisha became Elijah's close attendant until Elijah was taken up into heaven. During all these years we hear nothing of Elisha except in connection with the closing scenes of Elijah's life.
After he had shared this farewell repast with his father, mother, and friends, the newly chosen Prophet "followed Elijah and ministered to him". (1 Kings 19:8-21) He went with his master from Galgal to Bethel, to Jericho, and thence to the eastern side of the Jordan, the waters of which, touched by the mantle, divided, so as to permit both to pass over on dry ground. Elisha then beheld Elijah in a fiery chariot taken up by a whirlwind into heaven. By means of the mantle let fall from Elijah, Elisha miraculously recrossed the Jordan, and so won from the prophets at Jericho the recognition that "the spirit of Elijah hath rested upon Elisha" (2 Kings 2:1-15). He won the gratitude of the people of Jericho for healing with salt its barren ground and its waters. Elisha also knew how to strike with salutary fear the adorers of the calf in Bethel, for a mob of 42 children, on being cursed in the name of the Lord, were torn by "two bears out of the forest" (2 Kings 2:23-25; cf. Leviticus 26:21-22). But many feel this episode conflicts with the image of a loving and forgiving God and some Christians feel the need to offer explanations of it.
Before Elijah was taken up into the whirlwind, Elisha asked to "inherit a double-portion" of Elijah's spirit. This is indicative of the property inheritance customs of the time, where the oldest son received twice as much of the father's inheritance as the younger sons. For example, if a man had 3 sons, his property was divided into fourths. Each son received one-fourth, with the oldest receiving two-fourths (twice as much as the others). In this instance with Elijah, Elisha is not asking to become twice as powerful as Elijah, but that he may be seen as the "rightful heir" to the work of the Lord that Elijah had done.
Before he settled in Samaria, the Prophet passed some time on Mount Carmel (2 Kings 2:25). When the armies of Judah, Israel and Edom, then allied against Mesa, the Moabite king, were being tortured by drought in the Idumæan desert, Elisha consented to intervene. His double prediction regarding relief from drought and victory over the Moabites was fulfilled on the following morning (2 Kings 3:4-24).
That Elisha inherited the wonder-working power of Elijah is shown throughout the whole course of his life. To relieve the widow importuned by a hard creditor, Elisha so multiplied a little oil as to enable her, not only to pay her indebtedness, but to provide for her family needs (2 Kings 4:1-7). To reward the rich lady of Shunam for her hospitality, he obtained for her from God, at first the birth of a son, and subsequently the resurrection of her child (2 Kings 4:8-37). To nourish the sons of the prophets pressed by famine, Elisha changed into wholesome food the pottage made from poisonous gourds (2 Kings 4:38-41). By the cure of Naaman, who was afflicted with leprosy, Elisha, little impressed by the possessions of the Syrian general, whilst willing to free King Joram from his perplexity, principally intended to show "that there is a prophet in Israel". Naaman, at first reluctant, obeyed the Prophet, and washed seven times in the Jordan. Finding his flesh "restored like the flesh of a little child", the general was so impressed by this evidence of God's power, and by the disinterestedness of His Prophet, as to express his deep conviction that "there is no other God in all the earth, but only in Israel". (2 Kings 5:1-19) It is to this Christ referred when He said: "And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet: and none of them was cleansed but Naaman the Syrian" (Luke 4:27).
In punishing the avarice of his servant Giezi (2 Kings 5:20-27), in saving "not once nor twice" King Joram from the ambuscades planned by Benadad (2 Kings 6:8-23), in ordering the ancients to shut the door against the messenger of Israel's ungrateful king (2 Kings 6:25-32), in bewildering with a strange blindness the soldiers of the Syrian king (2 Kings 6:13-23), in making the iron swim to relieve from embarrassment a son of a prophet (2 Kings 6:1-7), in confidently predicting the sudden flight of the enemy and the consequent cessation of the famine (2 Kings 7:1-20), in unmasking the treachery of Hazael (2 Kings 8:7-15), Elisha proved himself the Divinely appointed Prophet of the one true God, Whose knowledge and power he was privileged to share.
After Elijah's departure, Elisha returned to Jericho, and there healed the spring of water by casting salt into it (2 Kings 2:21). We next find him at Bethel (2:23), where, with the sternness of his master, he curses the youths who have come out and ridiculed him as a prophet of God: "Go up, thou bald head." The youths mockingly tell Elisha to follow his master in a chariot to heaven, and make fun of his appearance. Elisha then pronounces a curse upon them, pleading God for retribution. The judgment is said to have at once taken effect: two she-bears come out of the woods and kill 42 of the youths.
Elisha is next encountered in Scripture when he predicts a fall of rain when the army of Jehoram was faint from thirst (2 Kings 3:9-20). Other miracles Elisha accomplishes include multiplying the poor widow's cruse of oil (4:1-7), restoring to life the son of the woman of Shunem (4:18-37), and multiplying the twenty loaves of new barley into a sufficient supply for a hundred men (4:42-44). During the military incursions of Syria into Israel, Elisha cures Naaman the Syrian of his leprosy (5:1-27), punishes his servant Gehazi for his falsehood and his greed, and recovers an axe lost in the waters of the Jordan (6:1-7). He administered the miracle at Dothan, half-way on the road between Samaria and Jezreel, and at the siege of Samaria by the king of Syria, Elisha prophesied about the terrible sufferings of the people of Samaria and their eventual relief (2 Kings 6:24-7:2).
Elisha then journeyed to Damascus and anointed Hazael king over Syria (2 Kings 8:7-15); thereafter he directs one of the sons of the prophets to anoint Jehu, the son of Jehoshaphat, king of Israel, instead of Ahab. Mindful of the order given to Elias (1 Kings 19:16), Eliseus delegated a son of one of the prophets to quietly anoint Jehu King of Israel, and to commission him to cut off the house of Achab (2 Kings 9:1-10). The death of Joram, pierced by an arrow from Jehu's bow, the ignominious end of Jezabel, the slaughter of Achab's seventy sons, proved how faithfully executed was the Divine command (2 Kings 9:11-10:30). After predicting to Joas his victory over the Syrians at Aphec, as well as three other subsequent victories, ever bold before kings, ever kindly towards the lowly, "Eliseus died, and they buried him" (2 Kings 13:14-20).
While Elisha lies on his death-bed in his own house (2 Kings 13:14-19). Joash, the grandson of Jehu, comes to mourn over his approaching departure, and utters the same words as those of Elisha when Elijah was taken away, indicating his value to him: "My father, my father! the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof."
The very touch of his corpse served to resuscitate a dead man. "In his life he did great wonders, and in death he wrought miracles" (Ecclesiasticus, xlviii, 15). After his death, a dead body was laid in Elisha's grave a year after his burial. No sooner does it touch Elisha's remains than the man "revived, and stood up on his feet" (2 Kings 13:20-21).
In Western Christianity he is commemorated on the Carmelite religious order's calendar of saints. He is also commemorated as a prophet on the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod. Both calendars also celebrate him on June 14.
Julian the Apostate (361-363) gave orders to burn the relics of the prophets Elisha, Obadiah and John the Baptist, but they were rescued by the Christians, and part of them were transferred to Alexandria. Today, the relics of the prophet Elisha are claimed to be among the possessions of the Coptic Orthodox Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great in Scetes, Egypt.