Famine was a common phenomenon in the Old Testament (Gen 12:10, 43:1; 2 Sam 21:1; 1 Kgs 18:2). At times the Lord sent famine as a way of disciplining His wayward people (Deut 11:13-25; 28:15-26). And famine provides the backdrop for Elisha’s ministry in 2 Kings 4-7.
When one of Elisha’s fellow prophets died, the widow pleaded with Elisha for help and her need was supplied (2 Kgs 4:1-7). Likewise, when a pot of stew was rotten, Elisha’s counsel to add some meal made the food edible (2 Kgs 4:38-41). When Elisha’s fellow prophets were expanding their living quarters, an axe head fell into the Jordan. Elisha intervened and showed God’s sovereignty in raising the axe head from the water (2 Kgs 6:1-7). Elisha was even able to multiply bread for the faithful who were with him (2 Kgs 4:42-44).
Elisha’s miraculous benevolence extended beyond the sphere of his fellow prophets. He made provisions for the Shunamite woman and others who were in need. When the Shunamite provided hospitality to Elisha, she in turn received the ability to have a son (2 Kgs 4:8-17). And when the boy was mortally wounded, Elisha restored him to life (2 Kgs 4:18-37). This set of miracles for the Shunamite woman was intended to reflect the work of Elijah in 1 Kgs 17:8-24; there could be no doubt that Elisha had taken his place.
Elisha healed the skin disease of the commander of the Aramean army. Elisha testified of the Lord’s power and goodness to Naaman, one who was not of Israel. Yet, the commander had to renounce his national pride before he would be healed (2 Kgs 5:8-14). His statement, “I know there’s no God in the whole world except in Israel” (2 Kgs 5:15), was remarkable.
During the war with the Arameans (2 Kgs 6:8-7.20), Elisha announced the Lord’s provision for His people. Through his prophetic word, Elisha protected Israel from the Aramean raiders (2 Kgs 6:8-24). Elisha told his assistant, “Don’t be afraid, for those who are with us outnumber those who are with them” (2 Kgs 6:16). When the servant’s eyes were opened, “He looked and saw that the mountain was covered with horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha” (2 Kgs 6:17). Yet when King Ben-hadad brought siege against Israel, things were so bad that “a donkey’s head sold for 80 silver shekels, and a cup of dove’s dung sold for five silver shekels” (2 Kgs 6:25). Parents even took turns boiling their children for food (2 Kgs 6:26-29). In this situation, Elisha prophesied, “Hear the word of the LORD! This is what the LORD says: ‘About this time tomorrow at the gate of Samaria six quarts of fine meal will sell for a shekel and 12 quarts of barley will sell for a shekel’” (2 Kgs 7:1). And these exchanges came about just as Elisha prophesied (2 Kgs 7:16).
Statements from Psalm 82 and 2 Kings 5 serve as specific reference points for understanding Jesus’ ministry in Scripture’s storyline.
(1) Psalm 82 describes the exalted place of Israel’s God in the midst of lesser rulers, human or angelic, that might be thought influential in the psalmist’s day. The psalmist describes these lesser beings as unjust and oppressive (Ps 82:2-5). Despite the fact that they were addressed as gods, they were mortal (Ps 82:6-7). When the Jews wanted to stone Jesus for claiming that He and the Father are one (John 10:30), Jesus quoted Ps 82:6 saying, “Isn’t it written in your law, I said, you are gods? If He called those whom the word of God came to ‘gods’—and the Scripture cannot be broken—do you say, ‘You are blaspheming’ to the One the Father set apart and sent into the world, because I said: I am the Son of God?” (John 10:34-36).
(2) When Elisha testified to Naaman, commander of the Aramean army, he commanded Naaman to wash seven times in the Jordan river—as opposed to the rivers of Damascus (2 Kgs 5:1-19). Early in Jesus’ ministry, many in His hometown of Nazareth were perplexed by His teaching, and failed to recognize Him as Messiah. After taking and reading the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue of Nazareth, He sensed a cool response in the crowd. Rejected by His own, Jesus would give special attention to the outsiders—just as Elisha did when he went to Naaman. “In the prophet Elisha’s time,” Jesus said, “there were many in Israel who had serious skin diseases, yet not one of them was healed—only Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4:27).