Elisha: Profile & Biography of Elisha, Old Testament Prophet and Biblical Figure

Elisha and Elijah
Elisha and Elijah.

Who was Elisha?:

Elisha, whose name in Hebrew means “God is Salvation,” was an Israelite prophet and disciple of Elijah. Accounts of Elisha’s life and activities are found in 1 and 2 Kings, but these biblical texts are the only records we have of such a person.

When did Elisha live?:

According to the Bible, Elisha was active during the reigns of Israelite kings Joram, Jehu, Jehoahaz, and Joash, which would place him during the last half of the 9th century BCE.

Where did Elisha live?:

Elisha is described as the son of a (possibly rich) farmer in Galilee who was called by Elijah while tilling one of his family’s fields. This story has strong parallels with the accounts of Jesus calling his own disciples in Galilee, some of whom were in the act of fishing when Jesus encountered them. Elisha preached and worked in the northern kingdom of Israel and eventually came to live on Mt. Caramel with a servant.

What did Elisha do?:

Elisha is depicted as a miracle worker, for example healing the sick and reviving the dead. One curious story has him calling out two bears to maul and kill a group of children who mocked his bald head. Elisha was also heavily involved in politics, for example helping the king‘s forces attack Moab and defend Israel against Syrian attacks.

Why was Elisha important?:

Elisha’s message to those in charge was that they should turn back to traditional religious practices and acknowledge God’s absolute sovereignty over every aspect of life, personal as well as political. When he healed the sick, it was to demonstrate God’s power over life and death. When he helped in battle, it was to demonstrate God’s power over nations and kingdoms.

Whereas his mentor Elijah was constantly in conflict with political authorities, Elisha had a much friendlier relationship with them. King Joram was, however, the son of Ahab and therefore doomed by Elijah. With Elisha’s encouragement, general Jehu killed Joram and assumed the throne. The religious purge that followed may have reinforced traditional beliefs, but at the cost of weakening the kingdom militarily and politically.