Friday, July 11, 2008

Elisha's Done: 2 Kings 13

This post is part of a revolutionary Bible commentary by the Church of the Orange Sky.

Meanwhile, back in Israel, things are falling apart even faster than in Judah. In a confusing series of "J" kings, Jehu's son Jehoahaz becomes king, listens to God for only a brief period of time, frees his people from Aramean oppression for a short time, but eventually loses his entire army to the Arameans. He's followed by Jehoash, who becomes while even while Joash is king in Judah.

It's during Jehoash's time that Elisha the prophet kicks the bucket, apparently after a long illness. He therefore gets one last story in chapter 13, but unfortunately, Elisha's miracles still seem rather aimless. King Jehoash comes to see him because he needs to rebuild the army in order to fight another war with Aram. Elisha, for no obvious reason, immediately tells him to fire an arrow out the east window. As soon as he does, Elisha announaces that the arrow is "the Lord's arrow of victory over Aram."

Then, stranger yet, he tells the king to start striking the ground with the arrow left in his hand. The king obligingly strikes the ground three times.

Not good enough! Elisha is most upset that the king didn't keep striking the ground until he told him to stop. By way of punishment, Elisha explains, instead of totalling defeating the Aramean invaders for all time, Israel will win only three key strategic victories. As prophecied, Jehoash defeats the Arameans three times and "recovered the Israelite towns."

Later, Elisha dies and is buried. Quite coincidentally, the Israelites bury another man in the same tomb and his body happens to touch Elisha's. Immediately, the man is raised back to life and "stood up on his feet."

Although these powers are impressive, they continue in the same vein of miraculous but seemingly ungodly - or at least non-Godly, which I suppose is an important distinction - acts commonly practiced by the ancient prophets, with Elisha simply being the most important example. There is a fairly restricted set of things that prophets can apparently do on their own, without needing any further help from God: they can find donkeys and lost axheads, heal the sick, bring food, raise the dead, and so on. God's powers are only called in when they need to move outside their personal skill set and do things like strike entire armies with blindness or hold magic bull sacrifices to intimidate the Baal prophets.