Yesterday for my Sabbath School lesson , my lesson was on the miracles of Elisha. Elisha, it should be noted, is one of the better known prophets of the Old Testament , and he is recorded to have done twice as many miracles as his mentor Elijah. His miracles are among the more striking in scripture, and yet it is quite interesting to know how it is that Elisha seemed in the perspective of my young audience, who uniformly found what he said and did to be quite odd and unusual. I was intrigued by this, so I queried the young people as to what they found to be so unusual about what Elisha did. I also pointed out that one of the difficult aspects of miracles is that we cannot do what the prophets did and make the miracle happen for us. Miracles are a result of God’s power and not our own, and they operate according to His own logic and for His own purposes and not our own.
What about the miracles of Elisha is so odd? Well, Elisha’s career as a prophet starts off in an unusual way. Elijah receives a charge from God to anoint three people to various offices at Mt. Sinai, and Elisha is one of those. Elijah throws his mantle on Elisha and Elisha asks to kiss his mother and father goodbye, and after that Elisha becomes a prophet in training. Throughout his career, the miracles of Elisha show themselves often to relate to the well-being of others, in unusual ways. He tosses a stick in the Jordan River so that a man can recover a borrowed ax-head. He puts flour in a stew to show the harmlessness of some ill-chosen wild gourds. He tells a Syrian general to bathe in the Jordan River seven times to recover his leprosy. He spies on Israel’s behalf and prays that his servant can see the armies in defense around him. He causes bread to multiply in meetings, and oil to multiply so that a widow can pay off her debts. These are not miracles meant to overawe Israel, but rather show compassion to people. Even the most fierce of the miracles, namely sending the bears to maul the young hoodlums who insulted him for his baldness, involved the proper respect that is due to a prophet, something we would do well to remember even if the spirit of prophecy is not widespread in our own times.
In thinking about what is odd about miracles, it is not only that miracles have a logic and a sense that is contrary to our usual one, but also miracles and other aspects of divine providence ought to encourage us to think about the workings of God and how mysterious they are. Having devoted some time to the divine providence in the story of Naaman, it is fairly obvious from that story that God had something striking in mind for Naaman, and that it required a certain amount of seeming coincidence to work out well. For Naaman to be brought into contact with Elisha, he had to know that there was a prophet of God who could heal him of his leprosy, and he found that out from a young woman captured in a raid on Israel by Syria’s forces, not something that could be viewed as enjoyable or pleasant either then or now. Sometimes in our own lives much of what happens for reasons of divine providence does not seem very pleasant or enjoyable until it works out for the best. Once we see the end, we can see how everything came together. Until then, we struggle and persevere.
The times of Elisha were not so different from our own. Elisha, after all, refused the generous gifts of Naaman for healing him of his leprosy, and had a strong rebuke for Gehazi when that greedy servant received the goods by fraud. In 2 Kings 5:26b, Elisha tells Gehazi: “Is it time to receive money and to receive clothing, olive groves and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male and female servants?” I wonder this myself. Is it the time when one is to be spending one’s time in acquisition, given the sort of violence and instability that now exists in our world? Can we learn from Elisha’s restraint, and from his concern for the commonfolk of his place and time? Would we, as prophets, perform our miracles to free people from debt and disease, or would we rejoice in condemning those around us? We must each answer these questions for ourselves, although my own answers to these questions ought to be fairly obvious. Elisha may be an odd prophet to children, but he has a lot to say, and hopefully the children had the ears to hear.
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