Tuesday, April 10, 2012

April 11, Elisha the Prophet

Elisha the Prophet
By Serena Sutka

Some of us have grown up listening to the stories of the heroes of old such as David and Goliath or Daniel in the lion’s den. We’ve heard about the martyrs and the saints, and yet I think many of us at times feel distanced from those heroes. In our minds we have placed them on a pedestal, feeling that they had something special we don’t have, or were born into a life we couldn’t possibly have been born into. Elisha, however, was simply a farmer who lived with his parents at Abel-meholah. One day he was out plowing the field when he met the prophet Elijah. From that day on, he was a faithful disciple of Elijah and later become his successor after Elijah was carried to heaven in a fiery chariot.

Elisha was a prophet of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and was active for approximately 50 years (850-800 BC). He left no written works of his own, but the stories found in 2 Kings reflect oral traditions about him that were passed down amongst the people. In these stories we find that Elisha performed many miracles. He is known, among many things, for purifying a vital spring, providing an antidote for a poisonous stew, raising a woman’s son from the dead, and healing leprosy.  In Ecclesiastes it is said of Elisha “In his life he did great wonders, and in his death he wrought miracles.” 2 Kings tells us that after his death, a dead body was laid on Elisha’s grave and that the man “revived and stood up on his feet.”

The miracles Elisha performed speak clearly of the sovereignty and power of God, whom he represented. That being said, I’d like to turn your attention to a different kind of story which is presented in 2 Kings 2:23-25. It reads: “He went up from there to Bethel. As he was traveling up the road, some young boys came and made fun of him, saying, ‘Go on up, baldy! Go on up, baldy!’ When he turned around and saw them, he called God’s judgment down on them. Two female bears came out of the woods and ripped 42 of the boys to pieces. From there he traveled to Mount Carmel and then back to Samaria.”

I have chosen to focus on this particular story because I feel that it carries an important message, although it may seem confusing or disturbing at first glance. Why would the words of some young children bother Elisha so much that he would allow them to be ripped to pieces? There are a few things we need to delve into here.

The first is that the term “young boys” likely does not refer to children at all; it was more likely that this was a group of grown men something reminiscent of a gang. The Hebrew word for “little children” is applied to Isaac when he was 28, to Joseph when he was 39, and also to the Sodomites who attacked the home of Lot. If we assume this wasn’t a group of small children simply teasing Elisha because he was bald, then what did they mean by their words? There are some who believe that the words were intended to ridicule the truth in the Scripture by mocking Elisha saying, “Why don’t you take off like Elijah did?” Others believe the words were meant to be something along the lines of “Keep on going up that road,” as in, “Get out of town,” meaning that they did not want to hear the word of the Lord. Either way, it would be an attack of the very thing Elisha stood for.

We know that the bears ripped 42 of the boys to pieces, so at the very least, it was 42 against one, and we can only imagine that these “boys” did not state their business calmly or kindly. Let’s ask ourselves honestly what we might do when faced with this kind of adversity. It’s possible that we would simply turn and run. Perhaps we’d shout profanities, or even get violent. When reading the story quickly, it may appear that Elisha punished these men by calling the bears down upon them. But if we read more carefully we see that’s actually not what the story tells us. It says that he called God’s judgment down upon them, not his own. The thing that struck me most about this was that in this tense situation, when men who had only ill will towards him surrounded Elisha, he didn’t run or scream or take his own vengeance. He turned to God and placed everything in God’s hands, letting things happen according to God’s will. Told in just a few words, this illustrates something that many of us struggle to do. Whether it’s big things or small, we often have trouble letting go and putting our faith in God.

Lastly, this story touches on something that’s easy to skim over, which is the fact that representing the word of God isn’t easy. We take it for granted that Elisha simply put everything in God’s hands, handled the situation, and then continued on his journey doing the work of God. It’s not easy to do something in the face of great adversity. Because I know it can be difficult to relate to the heroes in these old stories, I want to take a brief moment to share a bit of my own story in hopes it can help you better relate to this one. When I was in grade school all the way up into my teens I was bullied constantly because I was homeschooled – different. When I went outside of my house I was taunted, teased, spat on, and ridiculed. I couldn’t walk down my street without being barricaded by a group of older kids on bicycles. As you might imagine, this bullying strongly impacted me and I became nervous and withdrawn, and even went through a period of my life where I didn’t speak. People terrified me. My experience, however, is insignificant compared to imagining what Elisha went through up against at least 42 grown men who wished him ill. Think for a moment how much courage, perseverance, and dedication to God he must have had to face such situations and keep on prophesying and performing miracles unperturbed.

Despite our tendency to place people like Elisha on pedestals thinking that they are the gifted ones and we’re just ordinary people, Elisha’s message to us in this story is something simple that each of us “ordinary” individuals can live up to. Firstly, we should not underestimate how difficult it is to follow the path of God. It was not intended to be easy, nor should we expect it to be. It will, however, be a rewarding one and the difficulties we face will only serve to help us grow and become stronger people.  Secondly, we must not react in anger toward others, but rather trust that God will judge them as they deserve. It is not our job to exact punishment. Lastly, we must never hesitate in any situation to place everything in God’s hands and let it be done according to His will, trusting Him above all else.

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