Before speaking about the prophet Elisha, we should speak about the biblical prophetic reality and of his spiritual mentor: the prophet Elijah.
Prophesy could be understood as the capacity to foretell what is going to happen in the future. There are, written documents, from almost 3000 years before C. E. concerning prophetic activity in the city-state of Mari at the banks of the Euphrates, in Biblos (Lebanon today), and in other parts like the Peninsula of Sinai.
Even in the desert of Negev (Israel), in the region of Timna, we can still see today a temple in which a room was reserved for the priests. They went into this, having dreams at night concerning the place were copper could be found. This activity took place at the VII century before C. E. and even earlier.
Also, in Banias (Caesarea of Philippus) in the Golan heights, many temples were dedicated during the roman period to the god Pan. At the court yard of one of the temples, drunken goats were dancing and the priests were telling the fate of people according to the movements of the goats.
Time before Islam were known, Arabs spoke about the reality of “jins”. A kind of invisible creatures capable to communicate with humans and share with them their extraordinary capacities concerning oratory, poetry, music, foretelling the future, magic, knowledge of the inner thoughts of people.
Prophecy appears also in the BIBLE. We can see in the holy scriptures prophets, seers, fate-tellers, magicians and others like them, all present in the palaces of pharaohs and kings.
Remember Joseph the son of Jacob interpreting the dreams of the pharaoh in Egypt (Gen. 41.) Remember at the times of Moses how the pharaoh brought at the presence of Moses, his wise men, sorcerers, magicians….(Ex. 7:11). The prophet Daniel was asked by the king of Babylonia Nebuchadnezzar to clarify the meaning of his dreams. (Dan. 4).
According to the Bible many prophets were present and the time of the prophet Samuel. He knew about them and approved their activity. After ointing Shaul king over Israel, Samuel told to Shaul: «You shall come to Gibea…you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high places with a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute, and a harp before them, and they will be prophesying. Then: «the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man» (Sam. 10:5).
At the period of Elijah, we remark a clear distinction between the prophets of the God of Israel and the prophets of other gods. Elijah is ferocious against the prophets of Baal and killed them at the river Kishon near of Mount Carmel (1 Kin. 18: 20…).
The prophets of Baal have been brought to Israel by Jezebel the wife of Ahab king of Israel. She was the daughter of the king and high priest of Tyre and Sidon in Lebanon. Jezebel imposed herself to Ahab and relegated, even killed, the prophets of the God of Israel. God commanded Elijah to stop the activity of the prophets of Baal and so to protect the divine Alliance between God and His people Israel.
The prophet Elijah didn’t interfere when the 400 prophets of Ahab in Samaria pushed the king to his death foreseeing a victory in his battle against the king of Aram (Syria) Ben Haddad II at Ramot Gilead. This battle was the last one for Ahab because he died of his wounds (1 Kin. 22).
The son of Ahab, Ahaziah became king over Israel and falling in his palace in Samaria he was seriously injured . Ahaziah sent messengers to inquire of Baal Zebub the god of the philistines in Ékron, whether shall he recover from his injury.
Elijah now yes interferes. He arises and goes up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria and say to them «It is because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal Zebub, the god of Ékron? » (2 Kin. 1).
The messengers came back to the king Ahaziah. The king was furious and asked: why have you come back? A man said to us go back and say to the king: if there is no God of Israel you should go to ask about you recovery.
The king asked how was the man that spoke with you. They answered: “A hairy man, wearing a leather belt around his waist” And the king said. It is the Elijah the Thisbite (2 Kin. 8.) The king sent soldiers to bring Elijah at his presence. But Elijah brought fire coming down from heaven and 100 soldiers of the king were killed.
Elijah had zero tolerance with people adoring other gods than the God of Israel. The renewal of the alliance at Muhraka on Mount Carmel between the God of Israel and his chosen people remains the main act in the life of Elijah the prophet.
After the killing of the prophets of Baal at the Kishon brook, Elijah became afraid of Jezebel who had already sent a messenger to Elijah telling the prophet: “I will make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow this time” ( 1 Kin, 19 ).
And so began the fleeing of Elijah far away from Jezebel looking for a refuge into the deep of the desert. He went to Beersheva reaching the city that lies at the beginning of the Negev desert. The prophet was so tired, depressed and very sad. Seated under a broom tree he desired death, and so be reunited with his ancestors. God was thinking otherwise and said to Elijah: stand up, eat, drink and go forward. And Elijah went more and more into the desert and after 40 days, he reached the Mount of God, Horeb (Sinai).
When being at the interior of a grotto there, God passed by, accompanied by a gentil wind and Elijah went out from the grotto and stood up outside. Then the voice of God resounded clearly in the solitude of the desert: What are you doing here Elijah, God asked to him. And Elijah answered: «I HAVE BEEN VERY ZEALOUS FOR THE LORD GOD OF HOST, BECAUSE THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL HAVE FORSAKEN YOUR COVENANT, TORN DOWN YOUR ALTARS, AND KILLED YOOR PROPHETS WITH THE SWORD. I ALONE AM LEFT: AND THEY SEEK TO TAKE MY LIFE» (2 Kin. 19:14).
As you all now, the first words of Elijah’s answer to God, became the “motto” of the Carmelite Order till today. For motto I mean that these briefs words encapsulate the beliefs, ideals of the Carmelite Order.
God said to Elijah: Return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. Also, you shall anoint Jehu the son of Mimshi king over Israel and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Mehola you shall anoint as prophet in your place.
So, Elijah came back through the wilderness till he reached Abel Mehola in the Jordan valley. Here he found Elisha plowing with twelve yokes of oxen. Then Elijah passed by him and threw his mantel on him (1 Kin. 19:20). Elisha left behind everything and followed Elijah and became his servant till Elijah was taken to Heaven. (2 Kin. 2).
We could remark a couples of matters in this last trip of Elijah with Elisha. First of all, the insistence of Elijah asking Elisha to leave him alone and the absolute refusal of Elisha to leave alone his master. Then, there are the so-called sons of the prophets asking repeatedly Elisha if he knows that his master is leaving up to heaven today.
Elijah accompanied by Elisha walked together from Gilgal to Bethel, and from Bethel to Jericho. When in Jericho they approached the Jordan river. Elijah stopped the stream of the river, and both pass through it to the eastern bank. Then, when walking, suddenly Elijah was taken up to heaven.
Before leaving, Elisha had asked Elijah to leave him a part of his spirit. His demand a difficult one, it was granted him: the mantel of Elijah fell to the ground when the prophet was taken to Heaven. And with the mantel, Elisha received the spirit of his spiritual father. From this day on the spirit of Elijah should accompany Elisha in his prophetical activity.
In fact, Elisha using the mantle of Elijah was able to pass through the river to the west bank. Coming into Jeriko, people asked from Elisha to heal the water of the city that was bad. So Elisha went to the spring threw there salt and the water became a good one.
From Jeriko Elisha took the ancient biblical road, the same was used by Josue may years before. He walked from the foot of the mountain known today as the mountain of temptations of our Lord Jesus Christ, till Bethel.
Before getting Bethel, the prophet was climbing a very steep path and some young people from the city began mocking Elisha and calling him bald. Elisha was so angry that commanded two female bears to come out from the forest and devoured them. From Bethel he went to mount Carmel and from mount Carmel to Samaria, the capital of the kingdom of Israel.
There some features in Elisha that differe from the ones we find in Elijah. For instance, Elijah was a man leaving in the countryside, whereas Elisha was frequenting much more the city, particularly Samaria de capital of the Kingdom of Israel and not only.
Elijah was rather a solitary man, a man of the desert according to his way of living and the clothes he was using. Elisha was not. He was often accompanied by the so-called sons of the prophets, sharing sometimes with the elders of Samaria in his house, familiar with the kings of Israel, of Juda even of Damascus. He was visiting regularly a family at Shunem in the plain of Esdraelon, and leaving with his servant all the time.
For instance, when Moab rebelled against Israel after the death of Ahab, the king of Israel Jehoram asked to Elisha about the convenience to attack Moab together with the king of Juda Jehoshaphat. Elisha was very harsh with the king of Israel telling him: «if not that I regard the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Juda I would not look at you, not see you» (2Kin. 3:14).
Then, went on Elisha asking for a musician and when the musician played the hand of the Lord came upon Elisha and said that the Lord will deliver the Moabites into the hand of Israel and Juda.
It should be taken into consideration that the use of musical instruments was very common practice among the sons of prophets during their religious rituals.
Elisha visited Shunem in a regular basis and so the Shunamite prepared for him a room upstairs in her home. Elisha appreciated the kindness of the woman and foretold to her the birth of her first son.
When the son grew, he was one day working with his father in the fields of the plain of Esdraelon and became very ill. Probably he was too much time under the sun and got isolation. Soon after the only son of the family died.
The Shulamite came in a hurry to Mount Carmel and forced Elisha to accompany her till her home at Shunem. Elisha obeyed and came to Shunem. When at home, went upstairs because her mother was put her died son on the bed of the prophet. The prophet blew air into the mouth of the child a few times till the child came back to life.
Then when in Gilgal, Elisha was eating with the sons of the prophets and something was wrong with the food. One of the sons of the prophets cried: man of God there is death in the pot. Elisha asked for some flour, put it into the pot and the food became healthy.
Speaking about the relationship between Elisha and the king of Israel we remember here the healing of Naaman, the military commander of the king of Damascus. When he was sent by the king of Damascus Ben Haddad II, asking from the king of Israel Jehoram to find a solution to the leprosy of Naaman.
The king of Israel was afraid seeing in the petition of the king of Damascus a pretext to declare war against him. The prophet calmed the fear of the king of Israel, healing Naaman from his leprosy.
Then Elisha set out for Damascus. The king of Syria Ben Haddad II was sick. It was told to him that the man of God of Israel has come to Damascus. Ben Haddad said to Hazael to take with him many presents and ask the prophet if he shall recover from this disease.
Hazael did the will of his king and asked the prophet what about the sickness of the king. Elisha said to Hazael: «Go, say to him. You certainly recover. However, the Lord has shown me that he will really die» (2 Kin. 8 : 10) . Then said Elisha to Hazael: the Lord has shown me that you will become king over Syria and then, looking very sad went on saying: you will be very cruel with my people, the people of Israel.
Hazael departed from Elisha and said to his master the king Haddad II : Elisha told me that you would surely recover. But on the next day Hazael took a thick cloth and dipped it in water, and spread it over his face so that he died; and Hazael reigned in his place.
And so, Elisha did one of the three things God commanded Elijah to do when he was in Mount Horeb: to anoint Hazael king over Syria.
Then, Elisha came back to Israel and called one of the sons of the prophets, and said to him: “Get yourself ready, take this flask of oil in your hand, and go to Ramoth Gilead” (2Kin. 9:1). The son of the prophets went to Ramoth Gilead. There he found Yehu engaged in battle against Hazael the new king over Syria. The son of the prophets calls Yehu apart from the others military chiefs and anointed him king over Israel. Jehoram the king of Israel was at this time recovering in Samaria from the wounds he got in the battle against Hazael at Ramoth Gilead.
Jehu killed all the descendants of Ahab in the kingdom of Israel. Jezebel was thrown by his eunuchs from the window at the fields of Nabot, eaten by a group of savage dogs. And so, the prophecy of Elijah concerning the end of Ahab’s dynasty and the cruel death of Jezebel, was accomplished.
Both the prophets Elijah and Elisha are so much connected to the Carmelite Order, particularly here in Mount Carmel. But not only Carmelites. The two prophets are venerated by Jews, Muslims and druzes here on Mount Carmel and in some other places of the country too.
Traditions concerning these two prophets are many and very riches in the three religions.: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The spirit of these two great prophets is still alive in our days here in Haifa.
Fr. Francisco Negral Ramos, ocd