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Servant of a Personal God

Elisha the Prophet (the saint remembered by the Armenian Church this year on July 9) was a wonderworker whose miracles—healing the diseased, the multiplication of loaves, raising a child from death—anticipated those of Christ.

Indeed, Jesus explicitly referred to these during his own ministry. The Old Testament prophet became greatly honored in the Christian tradition, and especially among the Armenians, for whom the name “Yeghishe” is strongly associated with saintly figures—from ancient times down to the present day.

Like his miracles, the story of Elisha’s calling also brings to mind Gospel parallels.

Elisha was a simple farmer plowing the fields when the great prophet Elijah approached him and threw his “prophetic mantle” or cloak over Elisha’s back. The plowman understood at once that he was being called to serve God—and poignantly begged Elijah a few moments to kiss his parents good-bye. He then killed his oxen, cooked them over the burning remains of his plow, fed the meat to the local people—and followed obediently in the footsteps of Elijah.

He became a prophet in the aftermath of the dark days under the wicked king Ahab and his wife Jezebel. Indeed, Elisha’s story is one of restoration, wherein the Man of God must minister to a nation scarred by war and the abuse of political power, helping the people to reassert a wholesome relationship with each other and with God.

Although he, like Elijah, played an influential role on the national stage—to the extent of promoting a righteous king to the throne of Israel—what is most striking about Elisha’s story is the “personal” nature of his ministry. As depicted in the bible, the people Elisha meets in his travels are vivid characters in their own right, with names, professions, and even “voices” that echo down through the ages.

Elisha himself is one of the rare biblical figures with a distinctive physical trait: baldness, over which he showed a certain sensitivity. That personal quality is asserted in Elisha’s name, which in Hebrew means “my God is salvation.” It reminds us that we are not mere abstractions to God; that He knows us in all our individuality, from the depths of our hearts to our comic foibles.

Honor this day by acquainting yourself with Elisha’s story, which can be found in 1 and 2 Kings. And take a moment to consider how God may be calling to you—in all your personal distinctiveness.

By Christopher H. Zakian.

Above: “Elisha Raising the Son of the Shunammite” (1881), by Frederic Leighton.

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