From Farmer to Political Mastermind

This reflection is part of the ongoing Forest Hills Haftorah Series. The rest of the content can be found here: .

For all Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-Meholah knew, he was destined to be a farmer, ploughing with oxen for his whole life.

YHWH had other plans, however; And as the ministry of Elijah, Israel's previous wonder-worker was coming to an end, Elisha had already been hand-picked by YHWH to take on the mantle.

We already looked at the moment of his anointing together twice, first in A Divine Showdown (, and then again in A Literary Journey (

Therefore we won't be focusing on it again, but just to refresh our memories, let's just take a quick peek at Elisha's first moment on the scene:

The Chosen One

(יט) וַיֵּ֣לֶךְ מִ֠שָּׁם וַיִּמְצָ֞א אֶת־אֱלִישָׁ֤ע בֶּן־שָׁפָט֙ וְה֣וּא חֹרֵ֔שׁ שְׁנֵים־עָשָׂ֤ר צְמָדִים֙ לְפָנָ֔יו וְה֖וּא בִּשְׁנֵ֣ים הֶעָשָׂ֑ר וַיַּעֲבֹ֤ר אֵלִיָּ֙הוּ֙ אֵלָ֔יו וַיַּשְׁלֵ֥ךְ אַדַּרְתּ֖וֹ אֵלָֽיו׃ (כ) וַיַּעֲזֹ֣ב אֶת־הַבָּקָ֗ר וַיָּ֙רָץ֙ אַחֲרֵ֣י אֵֽלִיָּ֔הוּ וַיֹּ֗אמֶר אֶשְּׁקָה־נָּא֙ לְאָבִ֣י וּלְאִמִּ֔י וְאֵלְכָ֖ה אַחֲרֶ֑יךָ וַיֹּ֤אמֶר לוֹ֙ לֵ֣ךְ שׁ֔וּב כִּ֥י מֶה־עָשִׂ֖יתִי לָֽךְ׃ (כא) וַיָּ֨שָׁב מֵאַחֲרָ֜יו וַיִּקַּ֣ח אֶת־צֶ֧מֶד הַבָּקָ֣ר וַיִּזְבָּחֵ֗הוּ וּבִכְלִ֤י הַבָּקָר֙ בִּשְּׁלָ֣ם הַבָּשָׂ֔ר וַיִּתֵּ֥ן לָעָ֖ם וַיֹּאכֵ֑לוּ וַיָּ֗קָם וַיֵּ֛לֶךְ אַחֲרֵ֥י אֵלִיָּ֖הוּ וַיְשָׁרְתֵֽהוּ׃ (פ)

(15) YHWH said to him,

“Go back by the way you came, [and] on to the wilderness of Damascus. When you get there, ... anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah to succeed you as prophet.

(19) [Elijah] set out from there and came upon Elisha son of Shaphat as he was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth.

Elijah came over to him and threw his mantle over him.

(20) He left the oxen and ran after Elijah, saying: “Let me kiss my father and mother good-by, and I will follow you.” And he answered him, “Go back. What have I done to you?”

(21) He turned back from him and took the yoke of oxen and slaughtered them; he boiled their meat with the gear of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah and became his attendant.

One thing that the narratives in the works in the TaNaKh really like is inclusio, where the end of a unit somehow hearkens back to the beginning. And in Elisha's case, we see a fine example of this.

Note the name of his town; Abel-Meholah. This is quite an unfortunate name. Abel means someone who is in mourning, while meholath means sickness. (In modern Hebrew, a Beit-Holim, or "hospital," is literally the "House-of-the-Sick.")

And so in English, Elisha's hometown could be called Mourning-of-the-Sick. (I can't imagine people would be lining up to move in. Maybe that's what they wanted?)

Well, now let's jump ahead to Elisha's last moments:

(יד) וֶֽאֱלִישָׁע֙ חָלָ֣ה אֶת־חָלְי֔וֹ אֲשֶׁ֥ר יָמ֖וּת בּ֑וֹ וַיֵּ֨רֶד אֵלָ֜יו יוֹאָ֣שׁ מֶֽלֶךְ־יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וַיֵּ֤בְךְּ עַל־פָּנָיו֙ וַיֹּאמַ֔ר אָבִ֣י ׀ אָבִ֔י רֶ֥כֶב יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וּפָרָשָֽׁיו׃

(14) Elisha had been stricken with the illness of which he was to die, and King Joash of Israel went down to see him.

He wept over him and cried,

Father! Father! Israel’s-chariots-and-horsemen!

Elisha is stricken with the illness (halah) to which he will succumb. Those with keen memory and reading in Hebrew will most definitely be brought back to the moment we first met Elisha in his hometown of Mourning-of-Sickness.

I think one of the reasons the narratives in the TaNaKh like to do this is because if we remember the beginning upon arriving at the end, we are also invited to consider everything that happened in-between, as well. And so as Elisha's life is coming to an close, we have the opportunity to reflect upon a long, and eventful ministry.

And eventful, it was.

Elisha was personally responsible for not one, but two political coups, one in Northern Israel, (which might be one of the bloodiest cases of transfer of power not just in Israel, but maybe throughout all of the ancient near east entirely), and another in Aram, to the north of Israel.

Let's take a glimpse at those moments.

Here is his encounter with the military commander of the Arameans, when Elisha gives him his blessing to turn on his king. (What's quite interesting is how this theme of sickness will yet again be of significance.) :

Other Ideas

(ז) וַיָּבֹ֤א אֱלִישָׁע֙ דַּמֶּ֔שֶׂק וּבֶן־הֲדַ֥ד מֶֽלֶךְ־אֲרָ֖ם חֹלֶ֑ה וַיֻּגַּד־ל֣וֹ לֵאמֹ֔ר בָּ֛א אִ֥ישׁ הָאֱלֹהִ֖ים עַד־הֵֽנָּה׃ (ח) וַיֹּ֨אמֶר הַמֶּ֜לֶךְ אֶל־חֲזָהאֵ֗ל קַ֤ח בְּיָֽדְךָ֙ מִנְחָ֔ה וְלֵ֕ךְ לִקְרַ֖את אִ֣ישׁ הָאֱלֹהִ֑ים וְדָרַשְׁתָּ֨ אֶת־יְהוָ֤ה מֵֽאוֹתוֹ֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר הַאֶחְיֶ֖ה מֵחֳלִ֥י זֶֽה׃ (ט) וַיֵּ֣לֶךְ חֲזָאֵל֮ לִקְרָאתוֹ֒ וַיִּקַּ֨ח מִנְחָ֤ה בְיָדוֹ֙ וְכָל־ט֣וּב דַּמֶּ֔שֶׂק מַשָּׂ֖א אַרְבָּעִ֣ים גָּמָ֑ל וַיָּבֹא֙ וַיַּעֲמֹ֣ד לְפָנָ֔יו וַיֹּ֗אמֶר בִּנְךָ֨ בֶן־הֲדַ֤ד מֶֽלֶךְ־אֲרָם֙ שְׁלָחַ֤נִי אֵלֶ֙יךָ֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר הַאֶחְיֶ֖ה מֵחֳלִ֥י זֶֽה׃ (י) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֵלָיו֙ אֱלִישָׁ֔ע לֵ֥ךְ אֱמָר־לא [ל֖וֹ] חָיֹ֣ה תִחְיֶ֑ה וְהִרְאַ֥נִי יְהוָ֖ה כִּֽי־מ֥וֹת יָמֽוּת׃ (יא) וַיַּעֲמֵ֥ד אֶת־פָּנָ֖יו וַיָּ֣שֶׂם עַד־בֹּ֑שׁ וַיֵּ֖בְךְּ אִ֥ישׁ הָאֱלֹהִֽים׃ (יב) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר חֲזָאֵ֔ל מַדּ֖וּעַ אֲדֹנִ֣י בֹכֶ֑ה וַיֹּ֡אמֶר כִּֽי־יָדַ֡עְתִּי אֵ֣ת אֲשֶׁר־תַּעֲשֶׂה֩ לִבְנֵ֨י יִשְׂרָאֵ֜ל רָעָ֗ה מִבְצְרֵיהֶ֞ם תְּשַׁלַּ֤ח בָּאֵשׁ֙ וּבַחֻֽרֵיהֶם֙ בַּחֶ֣רֶב תַּהֲרֹ֔ג וְעֹלְלֵיהֶ֣ם תְּרַטֵּ֔שׁ וְהָרֹתֵיהֶ֖ם תְּבַקֵּֽעַ׃ (יג) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר חֲזָהאֵ֔ל כִּ֣י מָ֤ה עַבְדְּךָ֙ הַכֶּ֔לֶב כִּ֣י יַעֲשֶׂ֔ה הַדָּבָ֥ר הַגָּד֖וֹל הַזֶּ֑ה וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלִישָׁ֔ע הִרְאַ֧נִי יְהוָ֛ה אֹתְךָ֖ מֶ֥לֶךְ עַל־אֲרָֽם׃ (יד) וַיֵּ֣לֶךְ ׀ מֵאֵ֣ת אֱלִישָׁ֗ע וַיָּבֹא֙ אֶל־אֲדֹנָ֔יו וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ל֔וֹ מָֽה־אָמַ֥ר לְךָ֖ אֱלִישָׁ֑ע וַיֹּ֕אמֶר אָ֥מַר לִ֖י חָיֹ֥ה תִחְיֶֽה׃ (טו) וַיְהִ֣י מִֽמָּחֳרָ֗ת וַיִּקַּ֤ח הַמַּכְבֵּר֙ וַיִּטְבֹּ֣ל בַּמַּ֔יִם וַיִּפְרֹ֥שׂ עַל־פָּנָ֖יו וַיָּמֹ֑ת וַיִּמְלֹ֥ךְ חֲזָהאֵ֖ל תַּחְתָּֽיו׃ (פ)

(7) Elisha arrived in Damascus at a time when King Ben-hadad of Aram was ill. The king was told, “The man-of-elohim is on his way here,” (8) and he said to Hazael, “Take a gift with you and go meet the man-of-elohim, and through him inquire of YHWH: Will I recover from this illness?”

(9) Hazael went to meet him, taking with him as a gift forty camel-loads of all the bounty of Damascus. He came and stood before him and said, “Your son, King Ben-hadad of Aram, has sent me to you to ask: Will I recover from this illness?”

(10) Elisha said to him, “Go and say to him, ‘You will recover.’ However, YHWH has revealed to me that he will die.”

(11) The man-of-elohim kept his face expressionless for a long time; and then he wept.

(12) “Why does my lord weep?”


Elisha replied, “YHWH has shown me a vision of you as king of Aram.”

(14) He left Elisha and returned to his master, who asked him, “What did Elisha say to you?” He replied, “He told me that you would recover.”

(15) The next day, [Hazael] took a piece of netting, dipped it in water, and spread it over his face. So [Ben-hadad] died, and Hazael succeeded him as king.

This is a tough read.

And I don't know about you, but even though I knew what was coming, as I read of Hazael returning to his king, I was completely on edge. And when he took out the wet netting, I found myself thinking, Don't do it! Don't do it!

But it was futile. What Elisha says, goes.

What's also interesting is that the King of Aram is sending his commanders to inquire specifically of YHWH's prophets. I wonder if this, too, is a result of Elisha's influence. For a few chapters back, we read of another Aramean military commander, Naaman, who experienced a miracle at the hands of Elisha when he was healed from leprosy.

After the miracle, Naaman was of course overwhelmed with gratitude. And so before leaving Canaan and returning home, he makes the following request:

(יז) וַיֹּאמֶר֮ נַעֲמָן֒ וָלֹ֕א יֻתַּן־נָ֣א לְעַבְדְּךָ֔ מַשָּׂ֥א צֶֽמֶד־פְּרָדִ֖ים אֲדָמָ֑ה כִּ֡י לֽוֹא־יַעֲשֶׂה֩ ע֨וֹד עַבְדְּךָ֜ עֹלָ֤ה וָזֶ֙בַח֙ לֵאלֹהִ֣ים אֲחֵרִ֔ים כִּ֖י אִם־לַיהוָֽה׃

(17) And Naaman said, “Let your servant be given two mule-loads of earth; for your servant will never again offer up burnt offering or sacrifice to any god, except to YHWH.

below: One of Naaman's "mule-loads" of dirt.

This might be one of my favorite moments throughout all of the works in the TaNaKh. In this line, we see Naaman, a high-ranking Aramean commander, taking it upon himself to only ever worship YHWH, the god-of-Israel upon experiencing YHWH's power and kindness.

And yet he has to return home! How can he worship the god-of-Israel on foreign soil?

And so, he has an idea; If he takes two mule-loads of dirt, such that in a way, he can take the Land of Canaan with him, well then he can most definitely encounter the god-of-Israel even all the way in Aram!

I tend to think of this to kind of work like the magical wardrobe from the Chronicles of Narnia, built with wood from Narnia itself. Just like entering the wardrobe can transport you to Narnia, so too stepping onto Canaanite soil transports the offerer, in a way, to Israel!

When I read 2 Kings 5 awhile ago, I wasted no time digging up a little vial of sand from the Negev I had for years in my room and turned it into a necklace, such that now, wherever I am in the world, I have Israel with me, and can always invite YHWH to be comfortable on his "home-turf" during moments of prayer or offerings.

Given the story above, it is no surprise that word of YHWH's power would spread throughout the upper echelons of the Arameans, which would explain why King Ben-Hadad would send his commander, Hazael, to seek out Elisha when he was sick.

Though as we have seen, unfortunately for him, Elisha had other ideas.

But I mentioned that Elisha was responsible for two coups. Let's now peek at the other one.

The words of a madman

(א) וֶאֱלִישָׁע֙ הַנָּבִ֔יא קָרָ֕א לְאַחַ֖ד מִבְּנֵ֣י הַנְּבִיאִ֑ים וַיֹּ֨אמֶר ל֜וֹ חֲגֹ֣ר מָתְנֶ֗יךָ וְ֠קַח פַּ֣ךְ הַשֶּׁ֤מֶן הַזֶּה֙ בְּיָדֶ֔ךָ וְלֵ֖ךְ רָמֹ֥ת גִּלְעָֽד׃ (ב) וּבָ֖אתָ שָׁ֑מָּה וּרְאֵֽה־שָׁ֠ם יֵה֨וּא בֶן־יְהוֹשָׁפָ֜ט בֶּן־נִמְשִׁ֗י וּבָ֙אתָ֙ וַהֲקֵֽמֹתוֹ֙ מִתּ֣וֹך אֶחָ֔יו וְהֵבֵיאתָ֥ אֹת֖וֹ חֶ֥דֶר בְּחָֽדֶר׃ (ג) וְלָקַחְתָּ֤ פַךְ־הַשֶּׁ֙מֶן֙ וְיָצַקְתָּ֣ עַל־רֹאשׁ֔וֹ וְאָֽמַרְתָּ֙ כֹּֽה־אָמַ֣ר יְהוָ֔ה מְשַׁחְתִּ֥יךָֽ לְמֶ֖לֶךְ אֶל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וּפָתַחְתָּ֥ הַדֶּ֛לֶת וְנַ֖סְתָּה וְלֹ֥א תְחַכֶּֽה׃ (ד) וַיֵּ֧לֶךְ הַנַּ֛עַר הַנַּ֥עַר הַנָּבִ֖יא רָמֹ֥ת גִּלְעָֽד׃ (ה) וַיָּבֹ֗א וְהִנֵּ֨ה שָׂרֵ֤י הַחַ֙יִל֙ יֹֽשְׁבִ֔ים וַיֹּ֕אמֶר דָּבָ֥ר לִ֛י אֵלֶ֖יךָ הַשָּׂ֑ר וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יֵהוּא֙ אֶל־מִ֣י מִכֻּלָּ֔נוּ וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אֵלֶ֥יךָ הַשָּֽׂר׃ (ו) וַיָּ֙קָם֙ וַיָּבֹ֣א הַבַּ֔יְתָה וַיִּצֹ֥ק הַשֶּׁ֖מֶן אֶל־רֹאשׁ֑וֹ וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ל֗וֹ כֹּֽה־אָמַ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל מְשַׁחְתִּ֧יךָֽ לְמֶ֛לֶךְ אֶל־עַ֥ם יְהוָ֖ה אֶל־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ (ז) וְהִ֨כִּיתָ֔ה אֶת־בֵּ֥ית אַחְאָ֖ב אֲדֹנֶ֑יךָ וְנִקַּמְתִּ֞י דְּמֵ֣י ׀ עֲבָדַ֣י הַנְּבִיאִ֗ים וּדְמֵ֛י כָּל־עַבְדֵ֥י יְהוָ֖ה מִיַּ֥ד אִיזָֽבֶל׃ (ח) וְאָבַ֖ד כָּל־בֵּ֣ית אַחְאָ֑ב וְהִכְרַתִּ֤י לְאַחְאָב֙ מַשְׁתִּ֣ין בְּקִ֔יר וְעָצ֥וּר וְעָז֖וּב בְּיִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ (ט) וְנָֽתַתִּי֙ אֶת־בֵּ֣ית אַחְאָ֔ב כְּבֵ֖ית יָרָבְעָ֣ם בֶּן־נְבָ֑ט וּכְבֵ֖ית בַּעְשָׁ֥א בֶן־אֲחִיָּֽה׃ (י) וְאֶת־אִיזֶ֜בֶל יֹאכְל֧וּ הַכְּלָבִ֛ים בְּחֵ֥לֶק יִזְרְעֶ֖אל וְאֵ֣ין קֹבֵ֑ר וַיִּפְתַּ֥ח הַדֶּ֖לֶת וַיָּנֹֽס׃ (יא) וְיֵה֗וּא יָצָא֙ אֶל־עַבְדֵ֣י אֲדֹנָ֔יו וַיֹּ֤אמֶר לוֹ֙ הֲשָׁל֔וֹם מַדּ֛וּעַ בָּֽא־הַמְשֻׁגָּ֥ע הַזֶּ֖ה אֵלֶ֑יךָ וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵיהֶ֔ם אַתֶּ֛ם יְדַעְתֶּ֥ם אֶת־הָאִ֖ישׁ וְאֶת־שִׂיחֽוֹ׃ (יב) וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ שֶׁ֔קֶר הַגֶּד־נָ֖א לָ֑נוּ וַיֹּ֗אמֶר כָּזֹ֤את וְכָזֹאת֙ אָמַ֤ר אֵלַי֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר כֹּ֚ה אָמַ֣ר יְהוָ֔ה מְשַׁחְתִּ֥יךָֽ לְמֶ֖לֶךְ אֶל־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ (יג) וַֽיְמַהֲר֗וּ וַיִּקְחוּ֙ אִ֣ישׁ בִּגְד֔וֹ וַיָּשִׂ֥ימוּ תַחְתָּ֖יו אֶל־גֶּ֣רֶם הַֽמַּעֲל֑וֹת וַֽיִּתְקְעוּ֙ בַּשּׁוֹפָ֔ר וַיֹּאמְר֖וּ מָלַ֥ךְ יֵהֽוּא׃

(1) Then the prophet Elisha summoned one of the disciples of the prophets and said to him,

“Tie up your skirts, and take along this flask of oil, and go to Ramoth-gilead. (2) When you arrive there, go and see Jehu son of Jehoshaphat son of Nimshi; get him to leave his comrades, and take him into an inner room. (3) Then take the flask of oil and pour some on his head, and say, ‘Thus said YHWH: I anoint you king over Israel.’ Then open the door and flee without delay.”


(5) When he arrived, the army commanders were sitting together. He said, “Commander, I have a message for you.”

“For which one of us?” Jehu asked. He answered, “For you, commander.”


Thus said YHWH, the God of Israel: I anoint you king over the people of YHWH, over Israel. (7) You shall strike down the House of Ahab your master


(11) Jehu went out to the other officers of his master, and they asked him, “Is all well? What did that madman come to you for?”


Then he replied, “Thus and thus he said: Thus said YHWH: I anoint you king over Israel!

(13) Quickly each man took his cloak and placed it under him, on the top step. They sounded the horn and proclaimed, “Jehu is king!”

I'm not going to go into what happens over the next few chapters, but suffice it to say that there is blood. Lots of it.

Elisha wielded tremendous influence. But then again, how could he not? As mentioned above, he was chosen for this role, and carried himself with the conviction that he was doing the Lord-Almighty's work.

At one point during his ministry, the military campaigns of the Arameans against Israel were repeatedly frustrated. The Arameans then came to the (correct) conclusion that this was because Israel had Elisha, the man-of-elohim on her side. And so they put together a task force with the sole mission of taking down Elisha at all costs.

Upon receiving intelligence as to where Elisha was located, they sent in the troops and laid siege to the town. Elisha's companions, seeing this troop's determination, trembled in fear.

Elisha did not bat an eye. Here is what transpires:

Divine Protection

(יג) וַיֹּ֗אמֶר לְכ֤וּ וּרְאוּ֙ אֵיכֹ֣ה ה֔וּא וְאֶשְׁלַ֖ח וְאֶקָּחֵ֑הוּ וַיֻּגַּד־ל֥וֹ לֵאמֹ֖ר הִנֵּ֥ה בְדֹתָֽן׃ (יד) וַיִּשְׁלַח־שָׁ֛מָּה סוּסִ֥ים וְרֶ֖כֶב וְחַ֣יִל כָּבֵ֑ד וַיָּבֹ֣אוּ לַ֔יְלָה וַיַּקִּ֖פוּ עַל־הָעִֽיר׃ (טו) וַ֠יַּשְׁכֵּם מְשָׁרֵ֨ת אִ֥ישׁ הָֽאֱלֹהִים֮ לָקוּם֒ וַיֵּצֵ֕א וְהִנֵּה־חַ֛יִל סוֹבֵ֥ב אֶת־הָעִ֖יר וְס֣וּס וָרָ֑כֶב וַיֹּ֨אמֶר נַעֲר֥וֹ אֵלָ֛יו אֲהָ֥הּ אֲדֹנִ֖י אֵיכָ֥ה נַֽעֲשֶֽׂה׃ (טז) וַיֹּ֖אמֶר אַל־תִּירָ֑א כִּ֤י רַבִּים֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אִתָּ֔נוּ מֵאֲשֶׁ֖ר אוֹתָֽם׃ (יז) וַיִּתְפַּלֵּ֤ל אֱלִישָׁע֙ וַיֹּאמַ֔ר יְהוָ֕ה פְּקַח־נָ֥א אֶת־עֵינָ֖יו וְיִרְאֶ֑ה וַיִּפְקַ֤ח יְהוָה֙ אֶת־עֵינֵ֣י הַנַּ֔עַר וַיַּ֗רְא וְהִנֵּ֨ה הָהָ֜ר מָלֵ֨א סוּסִ֥ים וְרֶ֛כֶב אֵ֖שׁ סְבִיבֹ֥ת אֱלִישָֽׁע׃

(13) It was reported that [Elisha] was in Dothan; (14) so [the King of Aram] sent horses and chariots there and a strong force. They arrived at night and encircled the town.

(15) When the attendant of the man-of-elohim rose early and went outside, he saw a force, with horses and chariots, surrounding the town. “Alas, master, what shall we do?” his servant asked him.

(16) He replied,

Have no fear. More are there with us, than with them!”

(17) Then Elisha prayed: “YHWH, open his eyes and let him see.”

And YHWH opened the servant’s eyes and he saw the hills all around Elisha covered with horses and chariots of fire.

below: Wowza. The Arameans have no idea what's coming!

What an image! I love, love, love this story.

Little did the people of Dothan know, that while it looked like they were in big trouble, they were being vigilantly guarded by horses and chariots of fire, such that all the hills around their city was covered by them.

If YHWH wants us to be protected, as he did the Israelites of Dothan, then there is nothing in the world that can put us at risk.

This, for me, is evocative of a couple of lines from one of my favorite prayer-poems:

Divine Guardians

(א) יֹ֭שֵׁב בְּסֵ֣תֶר עֶלְי֑וֹן בְּצֵ֥ל שַׁ֝דַּ֗י יִתְלוֹנָֽן׃ (ב) אֹמַ֗ר לַֽ֭יהוָה מַחְסִ֣י וּמְצוּדָתִ֑י אֱ֝לֹהַ֗י אֶבְטַח־בּֽוֹ׃ (ג) כִּ֤י ה֣וּא יַ֭צִּֽילְךָ מִפַּ֥ח יָק֗וּשׁ מִדֶּ֥בֶר הַוּֽוֹת׃ (ד) בְּאֶבְרָת֨וֹ ׀ יָ֣סֶךְ לָ֭ךְ וְתַֽחַת־כְּנָפָ֣יו תֶּחְסֶ֑ה צִנָּ֖ה וְֽסֹחֵרָ֣ה אֲמִתּֽוֹ׃


(יא) כִּ֣י מַ֭לְאָכָיו יְצַוֶּה־לָּ֑ךְ לִ֝שְׁמָרְךָ֗ בְּכָל־דְּרָכֶֽיךָ׃ (יב) עַל־כַּפַּ֥יִם יִשָּׂא֑וּנְךָ פֶּן־תִּגֹּ֖ף בָּאֶ֣בֶן רַגְלֶֽךָ׃ (יג) עַל־שַׁ֣חַל וָפֶ֣תֶן תִּדְרֹ֑ךְ תִּרְמֹ֖ס כְּפִ֣יר וְתַנִּֽין׃

(2) I say of YHWH, my refuge and stronghold, my eloha in whom I trust...

(4) He will cover you with His pinions; you will find refuge under His wings; His fidelity is an encircling shield.


(11) For He will order His angels to guard you wherever you go. (12) They will carry you in their hands lest you hurt your foot on a stone. (13) You will tread on cubs and vipers; you will trample lions and asps.

Whenever we merit Divine Protection - and perhaps this could be for any number of reasons at different moments of our lives - we merit invincibility.

Elisha gives us the opportunity to pull back the curtains and to see exactly how this manifests itself.

Most of us might not have the eye-sight of Elisha - but now that we know what is possible, we have every right to hope that YHWH will bestow such kindness on us, as well, when we need it.

I've found this idea to be personally helpful during moments such as experiencing excessive turbulence on a flight. Whether one has complete control over one's surroundings or not (and in truth, we never do!), panicking never helps. And when I remind myself that - just perhaps, - I am surrounded by protective legions sent by the King of Kings... how could I not suddenly become confidant and calm!

Given all of this, it probably shouldn't be too surprising that when the Israelite kings went to war, they would enlist the help of this man-of-elohim.

Here is one such moment, as the Israelites, Judahites, and Edomites are collaborating on an anti-Moabite campaign, and realize, while en-route, that they are dangerously low on water:

(ט) וַיֵּלֶךְ֩ מֶ֨לֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵ֤ל וּמֶֽלֶך־יְהוּדָה֙ וּמֶ֣לֶךְ אֱד֔וֹם וַיָּסֹ֕בּוּ דֶּ֖רֶךְ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים וְלֹא־הָיָ֨ה מַ֧יִם לַֽמַּחֲנֶ֛ה וְלַבְּהֵמָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּרַגְלֵיהֶֽם׃ (י) וַיֹּ֖אמֶר מֶ֣לֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל אֲהָ֕הּ כִּֽי־קָרָ֣א יְהוָ֗ה לִשְׁלֹ֙שֶׁת֙ הַמְּלָכִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה לָתֵ֥ת אוֹתָ֖ם בְּיַד־מוֹאָֽב׃ (יא) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר יְהוֹשָׁפָ֗ט הַאֵ֨ין פֹּ֤ה נָבִיא֙ לַֽיהוָ֔ה וְנִדְרְשָׁ֥ה אֶת־יְהוָ֖ה מֵאוֹת֑וֹ וַ֠יַּעַן אֶחָ֞ד מֵעַבְדֵ֤י מֶֽלֶךְ־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וַיֹּ֔אמֶר פֹּ֚ה אֱלִישָׁ֣ע בֶּן־שָׁפָ֔ט אֲשֶׁר־יָ֥צַק מַ֖יִם עַל־יְדֵ֥י אֵלִיָּֽהוּ׃ (יב) וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ יְה֣וֹשָׁפָ֔ט יֵ֥שׁ אוֹת֖וֹ דְּבַר־יְהוָ֑ה וַיֵּרְד֣וּ אֵלָ֗יו מֶ֧לֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵ֛ל וִיהוֹשָׁפָ֖ט וּמֶ֥לֶךְ אֱדֽוֹם׃

(11) [King] Jehoshaphat said, “Isn’t there a prophet of YHWH here, through whom we may inquire of YHWH?”

One of the courtiers of the king of Israel spoke up and said,

“Elisha son of Shaphat, who poured water on the hands of Elijah, is here."

"The word of YHWH is with him!” said [King] Jehoshaphat [of Judah].

So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him.

When Elijah anointed Elisha to take over after Elijah's time, this action mattered. Elisha could do things, and people knew he could do things; Knew that in everything he did, he represented a Higher Power.

With that, I want to look back at the start of the description of Elisha's last moments; Particularly at who comes to visit him, and what the person says.

Here it is again:

(יד) וֶֽאֱלִישָׁע֙ חָלָ֣ה אֶת־חָלְי֔וֹ אֲשֶׁ֥ר יָמ֖וּת בּ֑וֹ וַיֵּ֨רֶד אֵלָ֜יו יוֹאָ֣שׁ מֶֽלֶךְ־יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וַיֵּ֤בְךְּ עַל־פָּנָיו֙ וַיֹּאמַ֔ר אָבִ֣י ׀ אָבִ֔י רֶ֥כֶב יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וּפָרָשָֽׁיו׃

(14) Elisha had been stricken with the illness of which he was to die, and King Joash of Israel went down to see him.

He wept over him and cried, “Father, father! Israel’s-chariots-and-horsemen!”

It's not insignificant that the King of Israel, Joash, "condescends" himself to go visit Elisha when he is sick. Note how both here, and in the passage above about the three kings seeking Elisha's help, they always have to "go down" to find him.

Nor is it insignificant that here, the king uses such deferential language with which to speak to him: Father! Father!

Also, I love the title that King Joash bestows upon Elisha; "Israel's-chariots-and-horsemen!"

What do you make of this? What, exactly, does it mean?

I'll give you one thought.

Well, chariots and horsemen are symbols of war, right? Consider this line from one of the Israelite prayer-poems, for example:

(ז) עַתָּ֤ה יָדַ֗עְתִּי כִּ֤י הוֹשִׁ֥יעַ ׀ יְהוָ֗ה מְשִׁ֫יח֥וֹ יַ֭עֲנֵהוּ מִשְּׁמֵ֣י קָדְשׁ֑וֹ בִּ֝גְבֻר֗וֹת יֵ֣שַׁע יְמִינֽוֹ׃ (ח) אֵ֣לֶּה בָ֭רֶכֶב וְאֵ֣לֶּה בַסּוּסִ֑ים וַאֲנַ֓חְנוּ ׀ בְּשֵׁם־יְהוָ֖ה אֱלֹהֵ֣ינוּ נַזְכִּֽיר׃

(7) Now I know that YHWH will give victory to His anointed, will answer him from His heavenly sanctuary with the mighty victories of His right arm.

(8) They [call] on chariots, they [call] on horses, whereas we call on the name of YHWH-our-elohim!

The point of this verse is to demonstrate that unlike Israel's enemies, who rely on the strength of their chariots and horses for military prowess, Israel relies on the sacred name of YHWH!

So with that, I cannot help but think about the fiery horse-and-chariot moment when Aram was laying siege on Dothan. Perhaps King Joash recognizes, in taking such moments into account, that people like Elisha, Israel's man-of-elohim, serve the very purpose for Israel that other nations turn to their war-horses for!

There's another point worth taking into account here.

Remember we spoke about inclusio? How the end echoes the beginning? Well, for people who have been reading the whole arc of Elisha's story, King Joash's title for Elisha will be immediately reminiscent of another moment of significance in Elisha's life; The moment when he and his predecessor, Elijah, finally part ways:

(יא) וַיְהִ֗י הֵ֣מָּה הֹלְכִ֤ים הָלוֹךְ֙ וְדַבֵּ֔ר וְהִנֵּ֤ה רֶֽכֶב־אֵשׁ֙ וְס֣וּסֵי אֵ֔שׁ וַיַּפְרִ֖דוּ בֵּ֣ין שְׁנֵיהֶ֑ם וַיַּ֙עַל֙ אֵ֣לִיָּ֔הוּ בַּֽסְעָרָ֖ה הַשָּׁמָֽיִם׃ (יב) וֶאֱלִישָׁ֣ע רֹאֶ֗ה וְה֤וּא מְצַעֵק֙ אָבִ֣י ׀ אָבִ֗י רֶ֤כֶב יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וּפָ֣רָשָׁ֔יו וְלֹ֥א רָאָ֖הוּ ע֑וֹד וַֽיַּחֲזֵק֙ בִּבְגָדָ֔יו וַיִּקְרָעֵ֖ם לִשְׁנַ֥יִם קְרָעִֽים׃

(11) As they kept on walking and talking, a fiery chariot with fiery horses suddenly appeared and separated one from the other; and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.

(12) Elisha saw it, and he cried out,

Oh, father, father! Israel’s-chariots-and-horsemen!

How interesting!

Here we see Elisha using this title with which to refer to Elijah! And, note of course the appearance, yet again, of a fiery chariot.

This is Elisha's coming-of-age. The moment when Elijah leaves the world behind, and when Elisha will no longer be known as Elijah's protege, but the very man through whom YHWH will accomplish his will on earth.

This moment, no less than the moment we discussed earlier when Elisha and Elijah first meet (remember the ploughing with oxen), is representative of Elisha's beginning. And so yet again, we have a case of inclusio!

Let's now read further in the King Joash - Elisha exchange:

A strange task

(טו) וַיֹּ֤אמֶר לוֹ֙ אֱלִישָׁ֔ע קַ֖ח קֶ֣שֶׁת וְחִצִּ֑ים וַיִּקַּ֥ח אֵלָ֖יו קֶ֥שֶׁת וְחִצִּֽים׃ (טז) וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ׀ לְמֶ֣לֶךְ יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל הַרְכֵּ֤ב יָֽדְךָ֙ עַל־הַקֶּ֔שֶׁת וַיַּרְכֵּ֖ב יָד֑וֹ וַיָּ֧שֶׂם אֱלִישָׁ֛ע יָדָ֖יו עַל־יְדֵ֥י הַמֶּֽלֶךְ׃ (יז) וַיֹּ֗אמֶר פְּתַ֧ח הַחַלּ֛וֹן קֵ֖דְמָה וַיִּפְתָּ֑ח וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֱלִישָׁ֤ע יְרֵה֙ וַיּ֔וֹר וַיֹּ֗אמֶר חֵץ־תְּשׁוּעָ֤ה לַֽיהוָה֙ וְחֵ֣ץ תְּשׁוּעָ֣ה בַֽאֲרָ֔ם וְהִכִּיתָ֧ אֶת־אֲרָ֛ם בַּאֲפֵ֖ק עַד־כַּלֵּֽה׃ (יח) וַיֹּ֛אמֶר קַ֥ח הַחִצִּ֖ים וַיִּקָּ֑ח וַיֹּ֤אמֶר לְמֶֽלֶךְ־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ הַךְ־אַ֔רְצָה וַיַּ֥ךְ שָֽׁלֹשׁ־פְּעָמִ֖ים וַֽיַּעֲמֹֽד׃ (יט) וַיִּקְצֹ֨ף עָלָ֜יו אִ֣ישׁ הָאֱלֹהִ֗ים וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ לְהַכּ֨וֹת חָמֵ֤שׁ אוֹ־שֵׁשׁ֙ פְּעָמִ֔ים אָ֛ז הִכִּ֥יתָ אֶת־אֲרָ֖ם עַד־כַּלֵּ֑ה וְעַתָּ֕ה שָׁלֹ֥שׁ פְּעָמִ֖ים תַּכֶּ֥ה אֶת־אֲרָֽם׃ (ס)

(15) Elisha said to him, “Get a bow and arrows”; and he got him a bow and arrows.

(16) Then he said to the king of Israel, “Grasp the bow!” And he grasped it, and Elisha put his hands over the king’s hands.

(17) And he said, “Open the window toward the east!" And he opened it.

Elisha said, “Shoot!” and he shot.

Then he said, “An arrow of victory for YHWH! An arrow of victory over Aram! You shall rout Aram completely at Aphek.”

(18) He said, “Pick up the arrows.” And he picked them up.

Strike the ground!” he said to the king of Israel; and he struck three times and stopped.

(19) The man of God was angry with him and said to him, “If only you had struck five or six times! Then you would have annihilated Aram; as it is, you shall defeat Aram only three times.”

The very first thing catches my attention upon reading the above passage has nothing at all to do with the meaning of any of the words that describe what's going on. Rather, I notice the repetition.

How many times do we hear a command that Elisha gives to the King, followed immediately by the text telling us that the king did so-and-so?

("Do this!" The king did this. "Do that!" The king did that. "Now this!" Then the king did this...)

I counted six times, and I bolded the commands above.

This had quite the striking effect on me. I don't know if this is the idea that the text is trying to get across, but for me, what I cannot help but notice is how obedient the king is to the prophet!

From the moment the king enters the room, we have already seen that the power-dynamic seems to be very heavily in Elisha's favor, from the way the king speaks to him. (Father, father!)

The very structure of the description of their interaction, to me, seems to continuously compound that.

But now moving beyond the structure, the whole idea of what is going on is quite interesting! It sounds kind of strange, right? For, why should the king's actions with the arrows have any bearing on the success of future military campaigns? If YHWH wants them to win, they'll win! And if he doesn't, they won't! Why should it be contingent on how many times he bops the ground???

Great points!

Well, as it turns out, for some reason such symbolic actions were pretty standard in the ancient world. I'm going to show you a great example from elsewhere.

In the second half of the 1st century BCE lived one of the most important Roman poets ever; Virgil. And his Aeneid will probably be known as one of the greatest masterpieces as long as human beings have literature.

The Aeneid is the story about a man named Aeneas, the cousin to Hector and Paris of Troy, who survived the city's sacking at the hands of the Greeks. Upon fleeing, Aeneas was informed by the gods that he would be destined to found Lavinium, a city with a glorious fate, which would end up being a parent-city to Rome.

In Book 9, the surviving Trojans are attacked by a people named the Rutuli, led by a man named Turnus.

And the way this Turnus gives the signal that the attack is meant to start is by throwing a spear. It's a really neat text. Here is the English translation:

Turnus, at full speed, had outridden far
his laggard host, and, leading in his train
a score of chosen knights, dashed into view
hard by the walls. A barb of Thracian breed
dappled with white he rode; a crimson plume
flamed over his golden helmet. “Who,” he cries,
Is foremost at the foe? Who follows me?
” And, with the word, he hurled in air
a javelin, provoking instant war:

below: Aeneas and Turnus locked in mortal combat! Note the Pantheon in the background.

Now, moving right along into the 4th and 5th century CE, there was a man named Maurus Servius Honoratus. (I bet you can't say that 5 times fast.) He had the reputation of being the most learned man of the whole of his generation in Italy!

One of his most important accomplishments was his commentary of the works of Virgil. In his commentary to the Aeneid, he says that it had always been customary to proclaim war in the way that Turnus does above; throwing a spear. For once upon a time, Ancient Rome had certain priests called fetiales, devoted to the god Jupiter. They were also very much involved in foreign policy, and would send ambassadors, called Pater Patratus (which might mean father of fathers, or perhaps, father whose father is still living, or maybe, the accomplished father) to other countries for negotiations.

Here is Wikipedia's entry on the War-Proclamation ritual, called Rerum Repetitio:

The ritual of rerum repetitio, a request of restitution or reparations, involved the pater patratus. Wearing a woolen hair-band, he was to announce Roman demands using a series of prescribed phrases, first at the enemy's frontier, then when he passes over the borders, again to the first man he meets, again on entering the enemy's gate, and again on entering the forum in the presence of local magistrates. If the demands are not met, the pater patratus declares war within 33 days and returns to Rome to await the resolution of the Roman king and senate. Once they have resolved to go to war, a fetial returns to the enemy frontier carrying a javelin with a steel or fire-hardened tip and dipped in blood. He declares war on the enemy, and throws the javelin into their territory.

------- from Fetial,

Wow, how about that! I first encountered this idea of the connection to Aeneid in Jerome Smith's Ultimate Cross-Reference Treasury, and found it utterly fascinating; The more I read, the more interesting this all became.

So let's connect this all back to Elisha and King Joash. To me, it seems that Elisha is having King Joash act out elements that are present in this Rerum Repetitio ceremony; There's the shooting/throwing of weapons, and there is also the symbolic declaration of war; An arrow of victory for YHWH! An arrow of victory over Aram! You shall rout Aram completely at Aphek.

Can you think of anything in contemporary life which is reminiscent of all of this?

Okay, I've got something.

In the 1980s CE, there was a hockey player on the Montreal Canadiens by the name of Claude Lemiuex. He had the tradition of staying on the ice after pre-game warmups, once all the players already returned to the locker rooms, to shoot the puck into the opponent's net. (Symbolically declaring war?)

Well, when the opponents found out, they didn't quite like it.

Here is a clip from an article which writes about the aftermath of when someone tried to put a stop to this:

MONTREAL -- A pre-game brawl erupted Thursday night as the Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers were finishing their pre-game warmup skate before Game 6 of the Wales Conference final.

With the players skating off the ice following the 15-minute warmup, Philadelphia backup goalie Glenn Resch stayed on the ice along with Flyers defenseman Ed Hospodar until all the Canadiens had skated off.

Montreal forward Claude Lemieux is always the last Canadien to leave the ice after the pre-game warmup and he always shoots the puck into the opposition net. This time, he was prevented from shooting the puck by the presence of Resch and Hospodar.

As the two Flyers skated off the ice, Lemieux and Montreal rookie Shayne Corson came back on the ice and skated into the Philadelphia zone with pucks on their sticks. Resch and Hospodar tried unsuccessfully to prevent the two Montreal players from shooting the pucks into the Philadelphia net. When Lemieux and Corson managed to put the pucks into the net, Hospodar dropped his gloves and began hitting Lemieux.

Resch and Corson looked on as the two players fell to the ice with Lemeiux on top. At that point, players from both teams came back onto the ice from the dressing room, many of them without their sweaters and skates. Within seconds, fights were occurring all over the ice.

------ from UPI archives,

Isn't that utterly wild???? Perhaps they all read the Aeneid, and knew that there was a lot at stake in letting Lemieux have his way with the puck before the game.

below: Claude "Turnus" Lemieux

Now, to go in a bit of a different direction, there's a nice comment in David Guzik's Enduring Word Commentary:

Elisha clearly asked Joash to do something that modeled prayer.
• Shooting the arrows required effort and aim.
• Shooting the arrows required instruction and help from the prophet of God.
• Shooting the arrows had to be done through an open window.
• Shooting the arrows had to be done without knowing the exact outcome ahead of time. The target was only fully known by faith.
• Shooting the arrows was ineffective because it was not repeated enough, reflecting a lack of confidence in the process.
• Shooting the arrows had its strategic moment, and when that moment passed it was gone.
• Failing to shoot the arrows hurts others, not only our self.

What do you think, do you buy it? I think it's quite clever. Can you think of any more parallels between shooting an arrow and prayer?

Finally, to round things out, let's look at the moment at the end of the chapter when, after Elisha's death we see the ramifications of King Joash's beating of the arrows on the ground:

(כד) וַיָּ֖מָת חֲזָאֵ֣ל מֶֽלֶךְ־אֲרָ֑ם וַיִּמְלֹ֛ךְ בֶּן־הֲדַ֥ד בְּנ֖וֹ תַּחְתָּֽיו׃ (כה) וַיָּ֜שָׁב יְהוֹאָ֣שׁ בֶּן־יְהוֹאָחָ֗ז וַיִּקַּ֤ח אֶת־הֶֽעָרִים֙ מִיַּד֙ בֶּן־הֲדַ֣ד בֶּן־חֲזָאֵ֔ל אֲשֶׁ֣ר לָקַ֗ח מִיַּ֛ד יְהוֹאָחָ֥ז אָבִ֖יו בַּמִּלְחָמָ֑ה שָׁלֹ֤שׁ פְּעָמִים֙ הִכָּ֣הוּ יוֹאָ֔שׁ וַיָּ֖שֶׁב אֶת־עָרֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ (פ)

(24) When King Hazael of Aram died, his son Ben-hadad succeeded him as king; (25) and then Jehoash son of Jehoahaz recovered from Ben-hadad son of Hazael the towns which had been taken from his father Jehoahaz in war. Three times Joash defeated him, and he recovered the towns of Israel.

So, King Joash defeated him "three times," huh? I guess Elisha knew what he was talking about.

To wrap things up, I want to introduce a new idea that I'll be going with moving forward.

Two weeks ago, we spoke about the wonders of the Israelite Wisdom-literature. Well since then, as I've reflected further, I've been thinking that the proverbs-collection does not get nearly as much attention as it deserves. So from now on I'll be leaving you with an ancient Israelite proverb to further ponder something we touched upon in this limmud - not because we need any more material after all of the above, but just to regularly benefit from something our ancient proverbs have to offer, lest we forget about his amazing resource of wisdom.

So for this week:

(יא) בְּבִרְכַּ֣ת יְ֭שָׁרִים תָּר֣וּם קָ֑רֶת וּבְפִ֥י רְ֝שָׁעִ֗ים תֵּהָרֵֽס׃

(11) A city is built up by the blessing of the upright, But it is torn down by the speech of the wicked.