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William Shepard

The Miracles of Elisha

When Jehoram, king of Israel, returned out of the land of Moab to Samaria, he had with him Elisha the prophet, who performed many miracles that are mentioned in the Bible.

It is related that the widow of Obadiah, Ahab's steward, came to him and said that her husband had fallen into debt, in order that he might be able to provide sustenance for the hundred prophets whom he had hidden from the wrath of Jezebel, and that when he died she and her children had been carried away to be made slaves by the creditors. So she besought Elisha to have pity on her condition. When he asked her what she had in the house, she replied, "Nothing but a little oil in a cruse."

The prophet told her to go and borrow a great many empty vessels from her neighbors. Then she was to go in her chamber and shut the door, and pour the oil into them all, for God would fill them. She did as she was told, and all this number of vessels was filled from the little cruse of oil. The prophet told her to sell the oil, to use part of the price to pay her debts, and to keep the rest for herself and for her children. The woman did so, and was delivered from her husband's creditors.

Another of this prophet's miracles was wrought when Benhadad, king of Syria, declared war against Jehoram of Israel. Benhadad commanded his soldiers to go to a certain place where Jehoram was hunting, and capture him; but Elisha warned the king not to go hunting that day. Benhadad thought some of his own servants had betrayed his plan of capturing Jehoram, and he accused them of it, and swore he would put them to death. But one who was present told him that it was certainly Elisha who had warned the king, for Elisha knew all the most secret counsels of the enemy.

Then Benhadad asked in what town Elisha was living, and when he learned it was Dothan, he sent an army of soldiers with horses and chariots to Dothan, and they came by night and surrounded the city. In the early morning Elisha's servant came running to tell him of the multitude of enemies that had come to seize him. But Elisha told him to fear nothing, and he besought the Lord to make manifest to the servant His power and presence. God heard Elisha's prayer, and made the servant see a multitude of chariots and horses encompassing Elisha, till his courage revived, and he laid aside his fear at the sight of these things. After this Elisha further asked of God that He would dim the eyes of the enemy, and cast a mist upon them, so that they might not know him when they saw him. And the Lord did so, and Elisha walked into the midst of the enemy and asked them who it was they came to seek. They replied, "The prophet Elisha." Elisha said, "If you will follow after me I will deliver him to you."

Then he led them to the city of Samaria, where the king of Israel lived. He ordered Jehoram to shut the gates, and to place his own army round about them, and prayed God to clear the eyes of the Syrians. Accordingly, when they were freed from the darkness they had been in, they saw themselves in the midst of their enemies, and were strangely amazed and distressed. Jehoram would have slain them all, but Elisha made him spare them and send them back to Benhadad, their master.

Benhadad also was greatly surprised when the men returned and told him their experiences. He saw that he could do nothing against the Israelites by stealth or cunning, so he determined to trust to the superior strength of his army and attack them openly. He moved his army against the city of Samaria and besieged it, surrounding it so thoroughly that no bread could be brought to the men of Israel from outside, and soon there was a terrible famine in the city. One day the king of Israel was walking among his soldiers, when a woman came up to him and cried, "Have pity on me, O king!"

Jehoram, thinking she meant to ask him for something to eat, told her hastily that he had nothing to give her, and bade her begone.

But the woman came to him, and said she only wished him to hear her story and have justice done. The king told her to speak; that he would listen. The woman said that she and another woman, with whom she lived, had each a son. And, because of their distress for want of food, both had agreed to kill their children and eat them.

"So I killed my son first," continued the woman; "and when we had finished eating him, the other woman broke her agreement and would not give up her son, but hid him out of my reach."

When King Jehoram heard this he rent his garments and grieved greatly to know that his people were driven by famine to such horrible practices. And he cursed Elisha the prophet because he had not prayed to God to relieve them, and in his anger he hastily sent a man to slay him.

Elisha was sitting in his house with his disciples. He knew the evil designs of the king, and turning to those about him, he told them that Jehoram had sent one to cut off his head.

"But," said he, "when the man arrives, take care that you do not let him in, but press the door against him and hold it fast, for the king himself will speedily follow him, having changed his mind."

The man came, and was shut out of the house; and immediately thereafter the king arrived, for he had repented of his wrath. Elisha told Jehoram that the very next day they should have plenty of barley and fine flour. Then the king rejoiced, but one of his captains who was with him laughed scornfully, and said,—

"Thou speakest foolishly, O prophet, for it is not possible that God will rain torrents of barley and fine flour into this town."

To which the prophet replied,—

"Nevertheless, thou shalt see these things come to pass, but thou shalt not be in the least a partaker of them."

Now, there were four lepers sitting by the gate of the city, for there was a law that no person afflicted with leprosy should be allowed within the walls of Samaria. And they said one to another that if they remained there they would perish of hunger, and even if they could go into the city, the famine was there, and they would perish there too, so they resolved to give themselves up to the enemy, thinking it were an easier death to die by the sword than by starvation.

It was night when they came to this resolution, and they set off at once. Now, God had begun to affright and disturb the Syrians, and to bring the noise of chariots and armor to their ears, so that they thought a great army was marching against them and was coming nearer and nearer. And they rushed in disorder out of their tents, and came before Benhadad and cried that Jehoram had sent for the king of Egypt and the king of the Islands to come to his assistance, and the armies of these kings were now on their way. Benhadad believed what they said, for the same noise came to his ears, and he and his army left their tents and their horses and everything that was in their camps, and fled for their lives.

When the lepers arrived at the enemy's camp, therefore, there was no one there. And when they had crept cautiously from one tent to another and found them all deserted, they went back to Samaria, and called to the watchmen on the walls, and told them what they had seen. Now, the king, when he was told the story of the lepers, thought at first that the Syrians were laying a snare for his people, and had only retired a little way and hidden themselves, so that when the Israelites came into the camp they might fall upon them and kill them. He therefore sent out horsemen to ride over the country and discover if the Syrians were hidden anywhere. The horsemen went as far as the river Jordan, and could not find them. But the road was strewn with weapons and garments that the Syrians had thrown away in their haste.

When the king heard this he told the people to go and take the spoils of the camp. And they found a great quantity of gold and silver and herds of cattle, together with many thousand measures of wheat and barley. The king sent that officer who would not believe in the words of Elisha to stand at the gate and keep the people in order. But the crowd was so great that they pressed against him and suffocated him, so that he died.

When Benhadad, who had fled to Damascus, learned that it was God Himself who had cast his army into disorder, and that there had been no one marching against them, he was troubled to think that God was his enemy, and fell very sick. About this time Elisha came to Damascus, and Benhadad, hearing of his arrival, sent Hazael, one of his officers, to meet him and carry him presents and inquire of him whether the king would recover from his sickness.

The prophet said that the king would die, though his disease was not a fatal one. And looking at Hazael, Elisha wept. When Hazael inquired the reason of his tears, Elisha answered,—

"I weep out of pity for the people of Israel, and the terrible miseries they will suffer from thee, for thou wilt slay the strongest of them, and wilt burn their cities and destroy their wives and children."

Hazael asked, "How can it be that I shall have power to do all these things?"

Elisha answered,—

"God hath informed me that thou shalt be king of Syria."

Then Hazael returned to Benhadad and told him the prophet had said his disease was not a fatal one. But next day he spread a wet cloth over the king's face, so that he was suffocated. Hazael took the kingdom in his place.