The period of Joram's reign in Israel was a very crucial one. The land suffered from war and famine and was on the verge of total collapse. It was at this time that G-d sent the great prophet Elisha to bring comfort and courage to the people in distress. Elisha was constantly on the road, mingling freely with the people. He counseled kings and offered his help to a poor widow, with equal grace.
The Pot of Oil
One day the widow of the prophet Obadiah came to Elisha. In a voice full of grief she told him that her husband had died in heavy debt and that the creditors now threatened to take away her two sons as slaves, unless she paid the debts immediately.
Elisha had known the G-d-fearing and kind Obadiah, who, under the very eyes of the wicked Queen Jezebel, had fed and sheltered the true prophets of G-d whom the ruthless queen sought to exterminate. Obadiah had sustained them at his own expense, and when his own means gave out, he incurred many debts. Now his two sons would have to serve the creditors to the full value of the debts, for such was the law in those days. Surely such a man deserved a better lot!
"What have you in the house?" Elisha asked her, and the woman replied that she had nothing but a cruse of oil. The prophet then told her to borrow many vessels from her neighbors. Having surrounded herself with these empty vessels, the woman was to shut herself up with her sons, and pour the oil into the vessels.
The woman carried out the prophet's instructions. "When she began to pour some oil into the first vessel, the oil kept on pouring until the vessel was full. The boys passed her the next vessel, and this, too, soon became full. Vessel after vessel was thus filled with oil, and the small amount of oil that had originally been in the pot never seemed to become exhausted. When all the vessels had been filled, she cried to the boys to pass her another vessel, but they said there was no empty vessel left. Immediately the flow of oil stopped.
The woman ran to Elisha and told him what happened. Elisha told her to sell all the oil, pay her husband's debts, and use the money that was left to support herself and her children.
Elisha and the Shunemmite
One day Elisha visited the town of Shunem. An aged couple lived there, and both of them were very kind and pious. The woman of Shunem was particularly hospitable, and she saw to it that the prophet ate bread at her house. The aged couple was so pleased with the great privilege of being hosts to the prophet that they built a special chamber for him. There they placed a bed, a table, a stool, and a candle-stick, so that whenever the prophet passed through Shunem, he would find a rest-room always in readiness for him.
One day when he was enjoying the comfort of his little room at the Shunemmite's house, he sent his servant Gehazi to call the hostess. When she appeared before him, Elisha offered to speak for her to the king or governor, if there was any special favor she wished of them. But the good woman said she really needed nothing. "I dwell among my own people," she said, for she was one of those rare folk who were content and happy with their lot. As she walked out, Gehazi said to the prophet, "But she has no son! Could there be a greater gift than a nice little boy in their old age?"
Elisha had her called before him again. "About this time next year, thou shalt embrace a son!" Elisha promised her solemnly.
Exactly at the time predicted by the prophet, a son was born to the aged couple. This was a miracle very much like the one that had happened to Abraham and Sarah, and the aged Shunemmite couple were not less happy with their son than were the aged Abraham and Sarah of old with theirs.
One morning when the boy was a few years old and had gone with the reapers into the field, he complained of a headache. His father sent him back to his mother. She held him until noon, but he died in her arms.
The poor mother took the lifeless body of her only son and laid it on the bed upon which the prophet used to rest. She left it there and shut the door. Then without telling anybody of the death of her boy, she obtained an aCs from her husband, and taking one of the servants to accompany her, she hurried to Mt. Carmel, where the prophet was. There she flung herself at his feet, and gave vent to her grief. When Elisha heard the sad news, he at once sent his servant Gehazi with his staff, and told him to place the staff upon the dead child and thus restore him to life. He bade him make haste and not stop on his way, nor tell anyone the reason for his haste. Gehazi, however, would not keep back the great news. Whomever he met on the way, he told he was going to restore life to a dead child with the prophet's staff. But when Gehazi finally reached the Shunemmite's house and placed the staff on the child, it did not help because Gehazi had not obeyed the prophet.
Elisha himself then went to the house of the Shunemmite and shut himself up with the dead child. Uttering a prayer to G-d, he restored the child to life. (This very child was later to become the prophet Habakkuk).
Elisha Sustains the Prophets
Time and again Elisha warned his people to mend their ways or suffer famine and war. The people did not mend their ways and the famine came just as Elisha had foretold.
At that time Elisha and the young prophets following him went to Gilgal, near Jericho. They were hard-pressed for a meal, and one of the young prophets went to gather some herbs in the field. He came back with some wild gourds, and no one knew that they were poisonous. When they ate of the pottage, they cried, "Oh, Man of G-d, there's death in the pot!"
Elisha at once requested a handful of meal, and he poured it into the pot. Then he invited the young prophets to eat some more. They did so and suffered no ill effects.
Some time later, a man came from Baal-Shalisha on Mount Ephraim, bringing a present to the prophet, some twenty barley loaves and some ears of corn. Said Elisha to his attendant, "Give it to all the people gathered here!"
"There are two thousand and two hundred of your disciples here," the man exclaimed in amazement, "Shall I set one loaf before a hundred men?"
"Give it to them," said the holy man again, "for this is the word of G-d; 'they will eat, and leave thereof!" And so it was; they all ate and had enough, and some was left over!
The miracles that the holy prophet Elisha so frequently performed to ease the suffering of those near to him became known far and wide. Everybody knew that Elisha was kind and generous to all, even to men who did not belong to his own people.
Elisha and Naaman
Naaman was a brave Syrian general who had won great fame and riches. But his military successes and glory were marred by a disease which had suddenly afflicted him. Leprosy, that direst of Eastern scourges, infectious and incurable, made it impossible for Naaman to live in company with other people, and all his fame and wealth were of no avail to him. The sad fate of the Syrian general was the talk of the entire land.
One day the maidservant of Naaman's wife, a captive Jewish girl, suggested to her mistress that if Naaman were to go to Samaria and ask Elisha, the prophet of Israel, to pray for his recovery, he surely would be healed. Her words were repeated to Naaman, and finally reached the ears of the king of Syria. Benhadad urged his captain to listen to this advice, and he wrote a personal letter to the King of Israel ordering him to heal Naaman of his disease. He thought the King of Israel could surely compel the prophet to pray for Naaman. Naaman took many rich presents and traveled to Samaria. The king of Israel read the letter Benhadad had addressed to him and decided that the Syrian king was seeking to entice him into warfare. Jehoram rent his clothes in despair, saying, "Am I G-d who has the power over life and death, that the King of Syria sends me his man to heal him of leprosy? Nay, certainly he is looking for an opportunity to start trouble."
But Elisha sent word to the king, chiding him for his lack of faith. "Let Naaman come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel!" Elisha said.
A short while later Naaman stopped his carriage before Elisha's door. The prophet sent out one of his disciples to tell the afflicted captain that he should wash in the Jordan seven times, and that then his skin would be restored and he would be healed. To Naaman this simple message seemed like an insult. He burst into a fit of anger, saying: "I thought your prophet would come out to me, pray to his G-d, and put his hand upon the place of sickness. Aren't the rivers of Damascus better than all the waters of Israel?" Then he drove away disappointed and enraged. However, on the way his servants persuaded him to stop at the Jordan and submerge himself seven times. Said they, "Had the prophet bid thee do some great thing, wouldst thou not have done it? How much more willingly shouldst thou obey him when he says to thee, 'Wash and be clean'." Naaman followed the advice. No sooner had he carried out the prophet's instructions than his skin changed back to the cleanliness of that of a little child. Naaman was cured!
Full of amazement and sincere gratitude, Naaman returned to Elisha and exclaimed: "Now I know that there is no other G-d on the entire earth but the G-d of Israel." He offered Elisha costly presents, but the prophet refused to accept anything from Naaman. Before Naaman left, he asked for earth from which to build an altar for G-d in his homeland, and he vowed to serve none but the one true G-d.
Gehazi's Avarice and Punishment
Elisha's servant Gehazi was sorely tempted to obtain some of the precious treasures which his master had refused to accept from the grateful Syrian captain. He hurried after Naaman, and inventing the tale that his master Elisha had sent him, he asked the captain for presents of clothes and silver for two of the prophet's disciples. Naaman readily gave him what he requested. When Gehazi returned to his master, Elisha asked him whence he came. Gehazi was afraid to confess the truth and replied that he had not gone anywhere. But Elisha sternly rebuked his servant for his avarice and for dragging the prophet's name into his evil little scheme. "Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cleave to thee and to thy seed forever!" the prophet concluded. And as soon as Gehazi had turned away from his master, his skin became leprous and turned white like the color of freshly fallen snow.
So numerous did Elisha's disciples become, that their quarters in Samaria became too small. At the request of the young prophets, Elisha agreed to accompany them to the Jordan, where they intended to build spacious quarters to house all the young prophets who were eager to be near him.
Once again Elisha amazed the young prophets by a wonderful miracle. It happened that the iron head of an axe, used by one of the builders in cutting down a tree, fell into the waters of the Jordan. The young prophet was greatly distressed because the axe was borrowed. Seeing how dear the young prophet held the property of his friend, Elisha came to his rescue. He cut a wooden stick, and threw it into the water, and the next moment all the young prophets gazed at a wonderful sight: the wooden stick slowly sank to the bottom, and the iron came to the surface, and was retrieved by the young prophet.