Who is Elijah and Elisha?

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QUESTION: Who was Elijah? Was he a relative of Elisha the prophet?

ANSWER: His name means "God the Lord, the strong Lord" and Elisha means "salvation of God." If you are questioning a blood relationship, there is none. Except for a mention in 1Kings 17:1, we know nothing of his parentage or his early life: "And Elijah the Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead . . . " (1Kings 17:1)

Elisha was a native of Abel-Meholah in the northern kingdom of Israel. His home, however, was fairly near that of Elijah's.

According to Richard J Clifford, Weston School of Theology, Elijah prophesied during the reigns of Israelite kings Ahab (874 - 853 B.C.), Ahaziah (853 - 852 B.C.) and Joram (852 - 841 B.C.). Elisha took over during Jehoram's reign, and prophesied through the reigns of Jehu (841 - 814 B.C.), Jehoahaz (814 - 798 B.C.) and Jehoash (798 - 782 B.C.). Dr. William Smith wrote of him: " . . . he 'stood before' Ahab with the suddenness of motion to this day characteristic of the Bedouins from his native hills . . . "

It seems he disappeared just as quickly. Elijah was a man of few words. His style was to pronounce his message then quickly leave (2Kings 1:4). The kings knew and feared him. When King Ahaziah asked his messengers who had given the message that he would die, they said it was a man who wore a leather belt (2Kings 1:8). The king's troubled response was "It is Elijah the Tishbite." (verse 8)

Elijah led what we might call today a "dynamic life." He was a prophet who warned and punished the Kings of Israel for their sins. He raised a widow's son from the dead (1Kings 17:2-24). He also had a major confrontation with Israel's false prophets on Mount Carmel, which ended in the execution of 850 prophets of Baal and Asherah (1Kings 18:18-40). God even gave him the power to OUTRUN the chariot of Ahab (who also had a head start) to the entrance of Jezreel (1Kings 18:46)!

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After fleeing death threats from Queen Jezebel, Elijah is told to anoint two kings and make Elisha his successor (1Kings 19). After completing his tasks he is taken away from the area on a miraculous fiery chariot sent by God. Elisha's request for a double portion of God's spirit (2Kings 2:1 - 12) is granted.

Elijah's service to God was such that he represented all the Old Testament prophets when Jesus was transfigured and in a vision is seen talking to him and Moses (Luke 9:28 - 36). John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Jesus before his ministry began, preached in his spirit and power (John 1:19 - 23, Matthew 17:10 - 13).

Elisha, on the other hand, was a humble farmer (1Kings 19:16 - 19). However, he apparently knew what it meant when cast over him was his mentor's mantle, as he seems not to have questioned, except to say goodbye to his parents (verses 20-21). He then followed him until the day God took Elijah away by a chariot of fire to another location.

Dr. Smith wrote of Elisha: "In almost every respect [he] presents the most complete contrast to Elijah."

Elijah's tactic was to hit and run. He was rough shod and hairy and thundered his denunciation of kings. Elisha, however, stayed as a visitor in the homes where he went. He dressed like the people of his day and generally succored the people. After sixty years of service as a prophet of the eternal God he died in his own home (2Kings 13:14, 20). God's power, however, showed through him even after his death. For example, some men were burying a man when a gang of men appeared. They threw the body into Elisha's tomb, and when it touched his bones, the man came back to life (2Kings 13:20 - 21)!

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Important People in the Old Testament
Timeline of the entire Old Testament
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