Glossary of Terms



Young People's Bible Dictionary

by Barbara Smith (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1965)

Elisha. A prophet of the ninth century B.C., in the Northern Kingdom, Israel; pupil and successor to Elijah, continuing his teacher's struggle against the worship of Baal. 1Kings 19:19-21; 2 Kings, chs. 2 to 13; Luke 4:27.

Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

Elisha (Heb., ‘El [God] is salvation’), a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel who was active for a period of some fifty years (ca. 850-800 b.c.) during the reigns of Joram, Jehu, Jehoahaz, and Jehoash (Joash). The successor and disciple of Elijah, Elisha is remembered in the biblical stories as a man of wisdom and a worker of miracles both on behalf of his nation in times of crisis and in the lives of individuals in time of need.

Elisha was a farmer who lived with his parents at Abel-meholah (location uncertain; 1 Kings 19:16-21). Since he was plowing with twelve pairs of oxen when Elijah met him, scholars have suggested that his father was a wealthy landowner. Elisha was bald (2 Kings 2:23) and carried a staff, which was common to rural residents and aided travel in the rugged hills of Palestine (2 Kings 4:29). However, unlike Elijah who lived in caves in the desert, Elisha stayed in the cities (2 Kings 6:13, 19, 32). He was provided comfortable guest quarters by a wealthy woman of Shunem (2 Kings 4:8-10) and apparently maintained his own house at Samaria (2 Kings 6:32; cf. 2:25; 5:3). He often appears in the company of groups of prophets (‘the sons of the prophets’; 2 Kings 2:3-15; 4:1; 5:22; 9:1), and he frequented religious centers such as Bethel (2 Kings 2:23), Gilgal (2:1; 4:38), and Mount Carmel (2:25; 4:25). His actions, notably using his staff as an instrument of activity (2 Kings 4:29; cf. Exod. 4:2-5) and using music to induce a prophetic trance (2 Kings 3:15; cf. 1 Sam. 10:5-7), recall an older era of prophets represented by Moses and Samuel.

Since Elisha left no written works of his own, the Elisha narratives (2 Kings 2-9; 13:14-21) reflect oral traditions about the prophet that first circulated independently among the people and were later (700 b.c.?) reduced to written records. Because of their roots in oral tradition, these narratives (and those of Elijah) are concerned not so much with a static presentation of historical facts as with a retelling of the significance of events that swirled around this prophetic figure in relation to the faith of Israel. In their present form, the narratives consist of loosely collected anecdotes about the prophet interwoven with historical sketches of the period. Taken together, these on one level portray a figure who, through the telling and retelling of his story among the people, has been cast in near legendary terms; but on another level they demonstrate the sovereignty and power of God at work in spite of the political schemings and the personal crises of a nation.

Personal and Political Dimensions: Elisha’s work within Israel involved two areas: personal and political. As a man easily accessible to the people, he frequently interceded in the ordinary events of life that bring anguish and crisis.

not only demonstrate Elisha’s ministry on a personal level but also show the power of God over all aspects of nature, an indirect challenge to the worship of Baal. Similarly,

demonstrate God’s power in the economic and social spheres.

But Elisha’s greatest work was on a political level. In accepting the hairy mantle of Elijah, Elisha also accepted the commission of Elijah. As his master had been deeply involved in the politics of his day, so Elisha went on to complete the tasks assigned to Elijah (1 Kings 19:15-16; 2 Kings 8:7-15; 9:1-10) and became constantly involved in the affairs of the nation. He

While Elisha was often termed a patriot, like Elijah, much of his political involvement was directed at bringing the apostate monarchy back to a recognition of God’s sovereignty in the world. While some of the Elisha narratives are often challenged from a modern ethical and theological perspective as not in harmony with true Israelite belief (e.g., 2 Kings 2:23-25), together they fill an important theological role within the framework of the book of Kings in demonstrating that every facet of life is subject to God’s control.


Copyright 1996-2003 Robert Nguyen Cramer