Sunday School Lesson #29

July 15, 2006 | 19 comments
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Lesson 29: 2 Kings 2, 5-6

Arthur Bassett has pointed out these parallels between Elisha, on the one hand, and Moses and Christ, on the other. (All scripture references are to 2 Kings).

Elisha parts the water [2:14] (as Moses parted the sea and Joshua and Elijah parted the Jordan)—Jesus parts the heavens at the time of his baptism in the same Jordan.

He supplies water [2:19-22] (as had Moses)—Christ presents himself as the living water.

Waters appear to be blood [3:21-23] (as Moses had changed the river to blood)—Jesus turns water into wine.

He provides a never-ending supply of oil [an essential ingredient in bread, the staple food] for a widow [4:1-7] (as did Elijah)—Jesus provides a never-ending supply of the bread of life.

He restores life to a child [4:18-37] (as had Elijah)—Jesus does the same for two.

He renders poison harmless [4:38-41] (as had Moses with the snakes)—Jesus atones for the poisonous effect of sin in our lives.

He feeds a multitude with twenty loaves [4:42-44]—the Savior feeds the 5,000.

He heals a leper [5:1-14]—Christ heals ten lepers.

He defies gravity by causing an ax head to float [6:1-7]—Jesus defies gravity by walking on water and ascending bodily into the heavens.

He blinds his enemies who come searching for his life [6:18-20]—the Savior walks unseen through the crowds at Capernaum.

Though not strictly in the realm of miracles, Elisha forgives his enemies and those who persecute him [6:22-23]—Jesus does the same on the cross.

Upon coming into contact with Elisha’s bones, a man returns from the dead after his burial [13:20-21]—the Savior raises Lazarus and himself from the death.

Are these genuine parallels? If so, why are there so many parallels between Elisha’s life and the life of the Savior? If not, do you think that there are genuine parallels between ancient events and later ones? Why or why not?

Chapter 2

Verses 1-10: What is the point of telling us several times in a few verses that the sons of the prophets (which probably means “the students of the prophets�) in various places knew that the Lord would take Elijah on this day? Why did Elijah keep suggesting that Elisha stay behind (verses 2, 4, and 6)? Is there any reason that Elijah might not want Elisha to see his translation from the earth? Elisha asks for the blessing of a double portion, in other words, the blessing of the first-born (verse 9; see Deuteronomy 21:17). Why should a first-born son receive a double portion? What responsibilities does the first-born have? Does understanding that help us understand what Elijah is asking for? In what sense is Elisha Elijah’s son? Why is what Elisha asks “a hard thing�? So what?

Verses 11-12: Why does verse 12 begin, “And Elisha saw it�? Why do you think the Lord sent the fiery horses and chariot to separate Elijah from Elisha? Why does Elisha cry out what he does? Why did Elisha tear his clothing in two?

Verses 13-14: Why does Elisha repeat Elijah’s act of parting the waters of the Jordan? After doing so why does he ask “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?� Having just witnessed the Lord’s power, it is unlikely that he is asking for information or expressing doubt? So, what is the point of his question?

Verses 15-18: What are the sons of the prophets asking Elisha to do? Why? Why did their urging make Elisha ashamed?

Verses 19-22: Does this miracle repeat anything we saw Moses do in the wilderness with the children of Israel? Can we understand this as a miracle that prefigures Christ, the Living Water, with the salt representing tears?

Verses 23-25: This is one of those difficult Bible passages where there is so much distance between ancient times and our own that it is very hard to know what is going on. We have had a relatively lengthy discussion of this here . (Scroll down to read the entire discussion, which occurs across several comments.) You may wish to begin there. There are several possible explanations, though perhaps none of them is satisfactory to us: Most commentators agree that the “little childrenâ€? were probably young men. A rabbi has said that the Hebrew word used here means they were “bare of Divine commandments,â€? in other words, they didn’t practice their religion. Some suggest that “bald headâ€? was an obscene remark, making fun of the fact that prophet was circumcised. Others say that the prophets may have shaved their heads (like some medieval monks did) as a mark of their office. In that case, the young men are making fun of Elisha as a prophet. Still others suggest that the young men are comparing Elisha (who is bald, and baldness was considered a disgrace) with Elijah (who was hairy). “Go upâ€? probably means “If you’re Elijah’s successor as prophet, prove it by going up as he did.â€? However we interpret this passage, it is clear that these young men are questioning Elisha’s status as prophet. Often, when we hear people repeat this story, we hear them say that the bear killed the young men. However, notice that the verse does not say she killed them. However, I don’t think there is any completely satisfactory explanation of this story. It is one of the stories that many of us will have to “put on the shelfâ€? as something we don’t understand.

Chapters 3-4

These chapters are not part of the reading assignment, but looking at them helps us understand Elisha’s story as a whole. In them, Elisha becomes the ally of the king and saves Israel from the Moabites (chapter 3). He also becomes known as a man of miracles as he multiplies a widow’s oil, raises a child from death, renders poisonous food harmless, and multiplies food for a multitude (chapter 4).

A high proportion of the stories of Elijah and Elisha are about the miracles they each performed. Why do you think that is so? Why are their miracles important to us? Why are any miracle stories important to us? What function do they serve?

Chapter 5

As you read this chapter, ask yourself what lesson Jesus draws from the story (Luke 4:23-27)? Is there a message for our day in it?

Naaman commanded the armies of the king of Aram, Ben-Hadad II (860-841 B.C.). Evidently leprosy was not subject to the same restrictions in Syria that it was in Israel. Otherwise Naaman could not have held such a high post. (It is unclear to what disease the word “leprosy” refers. It was almost certainly not what we call leprosy or Hansen’s disease.)

Verses 1-3: Why does the Bible say that the Lord had given Aram victory over Israel? How does a Syrian general, commander of Israel’s frequent enemy, find out about Elisha (vss. 1-5)? Given what Jesus says in Luke 4:27, that no leper was healed in Israel during Elisha’s time, how could the slave girl have know that Elisha could heal Naaman?

Verses 4-7: Why does the king of Aram send so many riches (about 750 pounds of silver and about 150 pounds of gold, as well as 10 changes of clothing) to the king of Israel? Why is the king of Israel, Jehoram, upset at receiving the letter and riches from the king of Aram? Why does he distrust the tribute?

Verses 8-9: Why is it important that Naaman “know that there is a prophet in Israel�?

Verses 10-14: What are Elisha’s instructions to Naaman? Why doesn’t Elisha bother to come out of his house to deliver those instructions? What is Naaman’s reaction to this? How natural is that response? In other words, is this behavior something that we would expect from one in Naaman’s position? How is Naaman’s reaction like that of the Israelites in the wilderness when Moses lifted up the serpent during the plague of the poisonous serpents? What advice do his servants give him? What do you What do you think God wants us to learn from Naaman’s experience?

Verses 15-16: How does Naaman wish to reward Elisha? And what is Elisha’s response?

Verses 17-19: What does Naaman covenant to do when he returns to Syria? Why would he ask for Israelite soil? What does this tell us about the non-Israelite concept of gods at this time—does Naaman think that the soil of the land is connected to the gods of the land? Do we do anything like what we see Naaman doing here? How does Naaman justify continuing to worship with the Syrian king? Does Elisha excuse him for intending to do so?

Verses 20-27: What mistake does Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, make? Why might he do that? What is his punishment for his greed?

Chapter 6

Verses 1-6: What leads to the loss of the axe head, and what miracle is associated with it? The “sons of the prophets� were putting a beam into place when they lost the axe. What kind and quality of accommodation can you make to live in with only one beam? What does that tell us about the people who followed Elisha? How might the quality of dwellings they were making help us understand the workman’s distress at losing his axe head? Why does it matter that it was borrowed? How might the sons of the prophets have understood this miracle symbolically? Why do you think that the chronicler of Israelite history thought it was important to tell this story? Why might God have intervened over what seems to be a very trivial matter? How do we reconcile a belief that God will intervene in such trivial matters with the fact the he often does not help those who are in dire need? How might this miracle prefigure miracles in the life of Christ?

Verses 8-17: What does Elisha mean by the phrase “they that be with us are more than they that be with them�? What lesson is here for us?

Verse 18-21: What miracle does Elisha perform against the army sent against him? How does he bring the entire Syrian army to the mercy of the king of Israel? Notice how the attitude of the king has changed toward Elisha as he calls him “My father.�

Verses 22-23: What do you make of Elisha’s treatment of Israel’s enemies? What does this tell us about Elisha? How is Elisha’s statement like the Savior’s statement in the Sermon on the Mount about loving one’s enemies, and his statement of forgiveness on the cross? What effect did it have? (Apparently the effect was short-lived. Note verse 24).

Verses 24-25: “Dove’s dung� is probably incorrect. Given the nitrate content of fowl manure, it is highly unlikely that people ate it, even during an extreme famine. The Hebrew word should probably be translated “Star of Bethlehem,� a bulbed plant that the poor often ate for food.

Verses 26-31: See Deuteronomy 28:56-57; Lamentations 2:20; 4:10; and Ezra 5:10 for other cases where people ate human flesh during a siege. (See also Leviticus 226:29 and Deuteronomy 28:53ff. for prophecies that this would happen.) How is this story like the story of the women who come to Solomon to settle their dispute over their children (1 Kings 3:16-27)? How is this story different? What does this king’s response to the woman’s story tell us about his character? How does he come off in comparison with Solomon? Why is he angry with Elisha?

19 Responses to Sunday School Lesson #29

  1. kevin on July 16, 2006 at 2:21 pm

    Is it common knowledge in the church that Hiram means \”exalted brother\”?

    http://www.babynames.com/Names/name_display.php?n=HIRAM

  2. annegb on July 17, 2006 at 11:20 am

    Jim, I’ve started copying these and taking them to Sunday School, so I have my ducks in a row, should the teacher go off on a tangent again.

  3. Antonio on July 23, 2006 at 9:23 pm

    “Elisha asks for the blessing of a double portion, in other words, the blessing of the first-born (verse 9; see Deuteronomy 21:17). Why should a first-born son receive a double portion? What responsibilities does the first-born have? Does understanding that help us understand what Elijah is asking for? In what sense is Elisha Elijah’s son?”

    What about the law of adoption (sealing man to man as father and son) being practiced at that time? Elias may had sealed to himself some men – “the sons of the prophets” – including Elisha, who was chosen as his firstborn, the one who would lead the family, receiving then the “right of the firstborn” (Abraham 1:3).

    “Why does Elisha repeat Elijah’s act of parting the waters of the Jordan? After doing so why does he ask “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?â€? Having just witnessed the Lord’s power, it is unlikely that he is asking for information or expressing doubt? So, what is the point of his question?”

    I think a possible answer is in D&C 84:19-22. God being manifested unto mankind through the power of the priesthod.

    Thanks a lot for your insights! I really enjoyed them.

  4. Robert C. on July 25, 2006 at 12:37 pm

    I just stumbled across Wendy Austin’s SS blog which I highly recommend checking out. I thought one of the articles she listed regarding the “double portion” that Elisha requests was very interesting. I summarized here the main points of the article.

  5. Jim F. on July 27, 2006 at 10:32 pm

    Good comments, all, and Robert C., thanks very much for the links.

  6. BrianJ on July 29, 2006 at 4:58 pm

    Jim F: I’ll need your help if I am to understand what you mean: ‘Often, when we hear people repeat this story, we hear them say that the [two she bears] killed the young men. However, notice that the verse does not say [the two bears] killed them.”

    I read the word “tare” and think it means “ripped apart.” I checked Blue Letter Bible to see if I was using the wrong definition. It has: “to split, cleave, break open, divide, break through, rip up, break up, tear.” If I am to believe that the bears did not kill the boys, I would have to read “tare” as: 1) divided, as in chased them away, 2) rippped them up, but not so badly that they died, or 3) I’m open to ideas.

  7. Jim F. on July 29, 2006 at 5:48 pm

    BrianJ, I was just trying to point out that your second option, “ripped them up, but not so badly that they died,” is possible. However, you’re right to focus on the definition of the word baqu, “tare,” as “split” or “tear up.” I think that the most reasonable reading is that the bear tore them to pieces, but it is possible that she tore them but they survived.

  8. Robert C. on July 29, 2006 at 6:20 pm

    #6 and #7: Interesting thoughts on baqu. Here are some verses that I think could be viewed as support for BrianJ’s “divided” argument: Ex 14: 16 and Ex 14:21 (the Red Sea was “divided” using this same verb—the water may’ve just parted rather than being torn apart…), and 2 Sam 23:16 (“the three mighty men brake through the host of the Philistines” which doesn’t imply that they killed all the Philiistines, just “broke through” or “divided” the line of defense). The biggest problem with this view, as I see it, is that a specific number, forty-two, is specified which seems a bit more awkward if we’re trying to read this as the bears simply dividing/chasing away the group….

    Perhaps this would only result in wild speculations, but I think it might be interesting to carefully compare and contrast this story of the bears with the story of the ass and the lion in 1 Kings 13:24. If the lion-ass story is taken as a lesson for Jeroboam about obedience to God (and God’s mouth-piece), then the Elisha story may be viewed as building on that same theme (the Dialogue article about “baldy” being a slur in reference to Elijah’s hair mantle would also build on this idea). One might then argue that this episode was included literary effect (e.g. perhaps forty-two children were indeed killed by two bears and the redactor linked them to Elisha in order to build on the theme from the lion-ass episode…).

  9. Robert C. on July 29, 2006 at 7:41 pm

    I really liked Fred Woods’ FARMS article on “Who Controls the Water.” I think he does a very good job of addressing the water theme in the story of Elisha (viz. parting the water, the bitter spring water, the floating axe, the river healing Namaan, and the drought), and this lesson seems like a good time to revisit the water theme in scripture—starting with the creation, including Moses and Joshua parallels, Elijah of course, and including how water played a role in Jesus’s life (water to wine, walking on water, baptism, others?).

    Tangentially, I found this article kind of interesting which discusses these water themes in a way that says if we approach the scriptures too literally we risk missing the deeper significance of events such as Christ’s miracles regarding water (the idea reminded me of Jim F.’s “Scripture as Incarnation”.

    Also, thinking about this made me see new significance in Moses 2:9. In Genesis 1:9 God says “let the dry land appear” whereas Moses 2:9 God says “let there be dry land,” the same phrase he uses to create/organize everything else except water. I think this is interesting, but don’t claim to understand why water is given this unique status. Perhaps water is something that is uniquely eternal, in contrast to everything else on this earth? Perhaps this is related to why water plays such an important role in scripture?

  10. Robert C. on July 29, 2006 at 9:06 pm

    #9 add-on: Sorry, one more thought on water. I think that viewing water as symbolic of “the eternally-present chaotic forces which God has control over” also deepens the significance of the water-to-wine miracle and (recursively) the symbolic significance in the ordinances of sacrament and baptism. Wine, as used in the sacrament, is symbolic of the blood of Christ and—as discussed in the tangential article I linked to above—being buried in water is primarily symbolic of our death. So we give up our old lives of chaos and become reborn (or, to tie it into the Creation account, we become re-created and re-organized) through the blood of Christ. (I should add that my thoughts along this line are being heavily influenced by Clark’s article “The Shape of Agency”, esp. the Levinson discussion, and the way Mark Butler likes to refer to the theological significance of a Hobbesian-like state of nature.)

  11. BrianJ on July 29, 2006 at 9:19 pm

    Robert C: (The best I can possibly do is butcher this idea, but here goes…) The ancient Hebrew concept of the world and the heavens and the ocean is different than ours. To them, the ocean was infinite, and the earth was “floating” therein. See this image. This may explain the exceptional wording for water.

  12. Jim F. on July 30, 2006 at 12:02 am

    Robert, thanks for the link to Fred Wood’s FARMS article. You’re right. He does an excellent job of dealing with the theme of water in the story of Elisha.

  13. RandyR on July 30, 2006 at 1:34 am

    There’s more on Elisha, the “children”, and the bears in “Elisha and the Children: The Question of Accepting Prophetic Succession,” by Fred E. Woods, in BYU Studies 32, no. 3 (1992). A pdf file of the article can be downloaded for free here . (There are other Old Testament-related articles there, too, many free of charge.)

  14. Robert C. on July 30, 2006 at 8:32 am

    BrianJ #11: Thanks for the link to that great illustration. I indeed think this is idea that Levinson is addressing which Clark incorporates into his lengthy discussion of our probationary state here as a carved out space (or sphere) of agency which God grants us in order to work out our salvation (as opposed to being condemned by the Fall and our own sins).

    RandyR #13: Thanks for the link to the article (this is the same one I mistakenly referred to as a Dialogue article in #8; here is a page summarizing part of the Woods’ article and some of the points from the previous discussion Jim’s lesson refers to…).

  15. BrianJ on August 6, 2006 at 2:45 pm

    Jim F asks, “Verses 8-9: Why is it important that Naaman ‘know that there is a prophet in Israel’?”

    It’s interesting that this isn’t exactly what Naaman learns from all this. In his own words, he testifies, “Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel.” Elisha teaches Naaman something far more important than knowing there is a prophet: he teaches whom a prophet represents.

  16. Patty on August 6, 2006 at 4:36 pm

    I have a question…. How come Elisha didnt get the sealing power from Elijah when he recieved the mantle?
    Wouldnt that automatically come with the caling of a prophet?
    I was just trying to answer a friends question on why Elijah was the last one with the sealing power when we see Elijah handing off the mantle to Elisha

  17. Jim F. on August 7, 2006 at 12:19 pm

    Patty, though I don’t have an answer, I think that is a great question. Perhaps some of the other readers will have ideas for answering it.

  18. Patty on August 11, 2006 at 10:17 am

    Hey Jim, thanks for having the forum to ask questions…I guess this is just one of those things we need to learn to accept on faith…..

  19. BrianJ on August 11, 2006 at 11:46 am

    Re Elisha and the sealing power: Did Elijah ever use the sealing power (in the way we think of it today)? Mogget over at FPR has a good (no surprise there, it is from Mogget) post about Elijah.

    One way to look at it is this: Did Elijah hold the sealing power but never use it? Had any recent prophet used it? Had Israel sunk to such wickedness that no prophet was actually using the sealing power? If so, then it really makes no difference whether Elisha had it or not.

    Robert C, #4, summarizes the double-portion comparison of Elisha:Elijah. Are there any miracles that Elijah performed that were not doubled by Elisha? The answer to this question may reveal Elijah’s use of the sealing power. (I’ll try to do the comparison and submit the answer, but if someone beats me to it I won’t mind.)

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