Sermon 13. Elisha a Type of Christ and His Followers

"And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me." 2 Kings ii. 9.

[Note] {164} THERE is so much alike at first sight in the history of Elijah and Elisha, that it is not surprising if many of us (as I suppose is the case) confuse them one with the other. Yet if we examine the sacred narrative carefully, we shall find that they differ from each other as widely as those children in the market-place, described by our Lord, the figures of Himself and St. John Baptist, who first piped and then mourned. Certainly there are many things which correspond in their respective histories. Both wrought miracles; both withstood kings; both, at God's bidding, visited in mercy the heathen in their neighbourhood; both lived in one age and one country, and apparently with one principal design in God's Providence, viz. that of witnessing against idolatry. Even the same miracles were wrought by the one and the other; both multiplied {165} oil; both raised a dead child: so far they resemble each other.

Yet they differ in many important respects. Elijah led an ascetic and solitary life, and was the great Reformer of Israel; he was a preacher of repentance, and the avenger of God's honour upon false gods and their worshippers. What the kings Hezekiah and Josiah did in Judah, that work Elijah the Prophet did in Israel, and by the same weapon, the sword. On the other hand, Elisha lived in the world, mixed with all classes of people, had greater political influence (as we now call it), and the higher invisible gifts.

Of Elijah it is said, He was an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins." [2 Kings i. 8.] We read of him first as miraculously fed by ravens in concealment, then living on the oil and meal miraculously increased; and this for three years: next, as showing forth the great miracle on Mount Carmel before all the people, of calling down fire from heaven on the sacrifice, and as slaughtering the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal; then, as fleeing to the wilderness, sustained miraculously by an Angel, going forty days and nights without food; then as returning and denouncing judgment upon Ahab; then as calling fire from heaven upon the messengers of Ahaziah; and, lastly, as taken up without dying in a whirlwind. Such is the course of his history, very mysterious throughout, as if he did not live on earth, but only appeared from time to time for special purposes. Like Melchizedek, he has neither beginning of days nor end of life; he is introduced {166} abruptly, as "Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead," [1 Kings xvii. 1.] and he is taken away as suddenly. His special characteristics, however, are, on the one hand, his austere mode of life; on the other, his destruction of idolatry.

Elisha, on the other hand, cannot be called a preacher of repentance or a reformer: as if Elijah had done the work for him, as far as it was attainable. Moreover, he lived in public, in known dwellings; he presided in the schools of the Prophets; and he had dealings with the kings of Israel, Judah, Edom, and Syria.

The difference between the two Prophets is marked in the circumstance that Elijah, and not Elisha, is taken as the type of St. John the Baptist, our Lord's forerunner; and from our knowledge of what St. John was, we may form some idea of Elijah's office. The Baptist prepared the way for Christ; such seems to have been Elijah's office, with reference to the age which succeeded him. Before his ministry, Baal's prophets had the supremacy, and the true prophets were hid in caves, and fed with bread and water; Elijah reversed the state of things, reinstated the Lord's Prophets, and then he was withdrawn. Thus he prepared the way for Elisha. Elijah then, as being a forerunner, a reformer, a preacher of repentance and righteousness, was the type of St. John the Baptist; but of whom is Elisha the type? On this subject I proceed to say a few words.

We need not of course be surprised, even if the Prophet Elisha was not the type of any servant of God then to come. Yet God's providences are so marvellously {167} conducted in the way of figure and token, that certainly it does seem likely that Elisha is meant to represent some person or persons in the times of the Gospel, as Elijah is the type of St. John. Nor is it to the purpose to object that Scripture is silent on the subject, for Scripture omits to tell us that Isaac is a type of Christ, or Joseph, or Job, or Jeremiah; yet we can scarcely doubt that all these were such; and as the Apostle had much to say (which he did not say) about Melchizedek, there is no reason why he might not also have had somewhat to say about Elisha too, had it so happened. Since specimens of a typical correspondence between the histories of the Old and of the New Testament are given us in Scripture, it is arbitrary to say that the correspondence ends with these specimens; probable, on the other hand, that we are intended dutifully to avail ourselves in our expositions of Scripture of the clue which Scripture itself has put into our hands.

Still, though Elisha be the representative of some Christian office or ministry, it does not follow that there should be any very accurate and conclusive correspondence between type and antitype. Thus Elijah, we know, represents the Baptist; yet there are points in his history which are unlike St. John, and more like Christ himself. The Baptist did no miracles; Elijah even raised the dead, and so far was a type of Christ rather than of the Baptist. Again, when he ascended on high, he was rather a type of Christ than of Christ's forerunner.

We cannot, then, have such certainty in typical {168} expositions which we make for ourselves, as we feel when Scripture has supplied them; but it is a great mistake to suppose that religion is only occupied with such facts and doctrines as are certain. Faith has its duties towards what is probable or doubtful, as well as towards the express teaching of Scripture. Whom then does Elisha represent? does he prefigure Christ? All the Prophets are types of Christ, as being Prophets; and it is true besides that Elisha is the type of Christ, in some remarkable points of his history peculiar to himself. For instance, when he came from Jordan, gifted by the hand of Elijah with the power of the Spirit, surely he resembled our Lord, as baptized by St. John in Jordan, and receiving the Spirit in consequence. And when his bones after his death revived a dead man, he typified (one cannot doubt) the Everlasting Saviour, whose body, dying on the cross, is our life and resurrection. Yet, in spite of these parallels, one may hardly call Elisha a special type of Christ any more than Elijah.

Whom then does Elisha represent? in other words, What is the lesson for Christian times deducible from Elisha's history? What light does that history throw upon the present condition of the Church, and the present duties of us members of it? I think we may say that, as Elijah represents the Baptist, Christ's forerunner, so Elisha prefigures Christ's successors, His servants which come after Him and inherit His gifts; Christ Himself being exactly represented by neither, coming between them, or (if at all) represented by both at once, when the one was departing, and the other {169} taking his place; at once the Antitype of Elijah ascending into heaven, and of Elisha standing by Jordan, and receiving the gift of the Spirit.

Let Elisha then be taken to be the figure of Christ's favoured servants and followers, and thus be made to throw light upon their duties and privileges. By Christ's favoured and special servants, I do not merely mean His ministers, such as bishops and others, but all who in any measure have upon them eminent marks of the Lord Jesus; such as evangelists, confessors, solitaries, founders of monastic orders, doctors, and the like. Of all these, the glorious company of the Apostles, the goodly fellowship of the Prophets, the noble army of martyrs, Elisha is the type. Let us go through some points of the resemblance.

1. Though Elijah was so great a prophet, yet Elisha had a double portion of his spirit. This seems to have its parallel in the Christian history. Our Saviour says, that though "among those that were born of women, there was not a greater than John the Baptist, yet he that was least in the kingdom of heaven," that is, the Christian Church, "was greater than he." This is explained by our being told by the Evangelist, that the Spirit was not given till Christ was glorified. St. John "was filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb;" [Luke i. 15.] yet even this extraordinary gift was as nothing compared with that Presence of the Spirit which Christ's followers received, and by which they are regenerated. It is indeed a double, or rather a sevenfold portion of the Spirit, and gives us powers, in {170} proportion to our faith, above all that we can anticipate or comprehend. This then is a first point of resemblance. Christ's followers, like Elisha, begin their divine career from the waters of Jordan, with the power of the Holy Ghost upon them.

2. Next I observe on the especial communion, or (as I may call it) citizenship, which Elisha enjoyed with the unseen world. Elijah thought himself solitary, though he was not so; the world invisible was hid from him. Though ministered to by Angels, though sustained miraculously by Almighty God, yet, like St. John Baptist, when he sent to ask Christ, "Art Thou He that should come?" he seemed to himself one against many. But Elisha had the privilege of knowing that he was one of a great host who were fighting the Lord's battles, though he might be solitary on earth. To him was revealed in its measure the comfortable Christian doctrine of the Communion of Saints. His eyes were purged to see sights which the world could not see; and that so clearly, that he could even comfort his attendant, who felt that fear which had overtaken Elijah when he fled from Jezebel. Hear Elijah's words—"I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life to take it away." [1 Kings xix. 10.] On the other hand, when Elisha's servant, on finding the host of the Syrians round about them, said to the Prophet, "Alas! my master, how shall we do?" Elisha answered, "Fear not, for they that be with us are more than they that be with them." [2 Kings vi. 15-17.] And then he besought Almighty God to give to his servant for an instant a glimpse of that glorious {171} vision which he in faith, or by inspiration, enjoyed continually. He "prayed, and said, Lord, I pray Thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and behold the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha." How well does this vision correspond to that blessed privilege which, as the Apostle assures us, is conferred upon us Christians. "Ye are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the Living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of Angels, to the general assembly and Church of the first-born, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel!" An innumerable company of Angels, and the Spirits of the just;—we dwell under their shadow; we are baptized into their fellowship; we are allotted their guardianship; we are remembered, as we trust, in their prayers. We dwell in the very presence and court of God Himself, and of His Eternal Son our Saviour, who died for us, and rose again, and now intercedes for us before the Throne. We have privileges surely far greater than Elisha's; but of the same kind.

3. Another gift bestowed upon Elisha, and on the Christian Church which he prefigured, that is on her saints, and at times on her rulers, is the gift of discerning of spirits. Of our Saviour it is said, "He knew what was in man;" He knew the thoughts of His disciples; He knew what was happening in other {172} places. Of His fulness His disciples received. St. Peter detected Ananias; St. Paul speaks as if he could have been in spirit at Corinth, while in the flesh he was absent. And in all ages the Catholic Church is promised an instinctive perception of Christian truth, detecting the grosser or the more insidious forms of heresy, though at a distance, as if by some subtle sense; and thus transmitting the faith of the Gospel pure and inviolate to the latest times. "The anointing," says St. John, "which ye have received of Him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you; but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him." [1 John ii. 27.] Now observe how this spiritual perception was granted in figure unto Elisha. When Gehazi, after taking the silver and raiment from Naaman, stood before Elisha, the prophet said to him, "Went not mine heart with thee, when the man turned again from his chariot to meet thee?" [2 Kings v. 26.] At another time he was enabled to reveal to the king of Israel all the plans of the king of Syria: "The heart of the king of Syria was sore troubled for this thing; and he called his servants, and said unto them, Will ye not show me which of us is for the king of Israel? And one of his servants said, None, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the Prophet that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber." [2 Kings vi. 11, 12.] When the king of Israel determined to put him to death, and sent a messenger for that purpose, "Elisha sat in his house, and the elders sat with him; and the king sent a {173} man from before him; but ere the messenger came to him, he said to the elders, See ye how this son of a murderer hath sent to take away mine head? look, when the messenger cometh, shut the door, and hold him fast at the door; is not the sound of his master's feet behind him?" [2 Kings vi. 32.] Further, when he saw Hazael, the captain of the king of Syria, "he settled his countenance steadfastly, until he was ashamed; and the man of God wept. And Hazael said, Why weepeth my lord? And he answered, Because I know the evil that thou wilt do unto the children of Israel;" [2 Kings viii. 11, 12.] he saw in his face his future fortunes. Still more remarkable are his words when he could not discover the trouble which weighed upon the Shunammite, as implying that such ignorance was unusual with him. "Her soul is vexed within her: and the Lord hath hid it from me, and hath not told me." [2 Kings iv. 27.]

4. A further power vouchsafed to Elisha, in which he seems to have surpassed Elijah his predecessor, was the power of inflicting spiritual censures and judgments. I mean, that the punishments he awarded were accomplished, not by earthly, but by supernatural means. Elijah indeed called down fire from heaven on the messengers of Ahaziah; but his great judgment upon the worshippers of Baal was effected by the sword. But Elisha's recorded judgments and censures were of a supernatural kind, bringing out into clearer view that characteristic of the spiritual priesthood which was to come, which Elijah only obscurely betokened. For instance, when he passed through Bethel, little children {174} came out of the city and mocked him, saying, "Go up, thou bald head!"—"and he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the Name of the Lord; and there came forth two she-bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them." [2 Kings ii. 23, 24.] When Gehazi was convicted, he smote him with leprosy [2 Kings v. 27.]; when the Syrians encompassed him, he "prayed unto the Lord, and said, Smite this people, I pray Thee, with blindness. And He smote them with blindness, according to the word of Elisha." [2 Kings vi. 18.] And when the unbelieving lord scoffed at his prophecy of plenty during the siege of Samaria by the Syrians, he said, "Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof;" [2 Kings vii. 2.] and accordingly, he was trampled to death in the gate by the people, as they went out to profit by the plenty, when this came to pass by the Syrians fleeing and leaving their camp behind them. This seems to be the meaning of the words, "Him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay." In like manner, under the Gospel, St. Paul smote Elymas with blindness; and St. Peter pronounced God's judgment upon Ananias and Sapphira, who, like Gehazi, were guilty of covetousness and lying; and St. Paul bade deliver the incestuous Corinthian to Satan. Nay, to all the ministers of Christ is committed the awful power of retaining and remitting sins, according to the words, "Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained." [John xx. 23.]

5. Further: Elisha's person seems to have been gifted {175} with an extraordinary sanctity and virtue. Even the touch of his relics after his death raised a dead man. Our Saviour had this power, as all others, in its fulness; virtue went out of Him. And His Apostles inherited it in their measure. We are told that "the people brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them." [Acts v. 15.] And of St. Paul,—that "God wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul, so that from his body were brought unto the sick handkerchiefs or aprons, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits went out of them." [Acts xix. 11, 12.] Here, moreover, we see the superiority of the Apostles to Elisha; for on one occasion, when the Shunammite's son was dead, Elisha apparently tried the like means, but was not answered. He sent Gehazi forward with his staff, to lay it on the child's face; "and Gehazi passed on before them, and laid the staff upon the face of the child; but there was neither voice nor hearing;" [2 Kings iv. 31.] though it may be that the employment of the hypocritical Gehazi was the cause of the disappointment, if it was one.

6. Further; there is much in Elisha's miracles—nay, and in Elijah's in a degree—typical of the Christian sacraments. Naaman's cleansing in Jordan is a manifest figure of Holy Baptism, in which the leprosy of the soul is washed away by water. Again, the multiplying of the oil is, like the miracle of the loaves, a type of Holy Communion, in which Christ is given to us again and again without failing, all over the world,—to all who {176} believe,—to each of them wholly and entirely, though He is on the right hand of God in heaven. At another time, Elisha multiplied twenty loaves of barley and some corn, so as more than to suffice for one hundred men.

7. Again, I might say much on what I alluded to in the beginning of these remarks—I mean, Elisha's close connexion and intercourse with matters of this world, in which he resembles Christ and His Church. Elijah, like the Baptist, lived out of the world; but Elisha was intimately connected with the great political movements (as we now call them) of the day. It was through him that Jehoshaphat and Joram gained the victory over the Moabites. It was through him that Jehu was raised to the throne, and Jezebel and Joram slain. He interfered in the counsels of Benhadad, king of Syria; and his last act in his "sickness, whereof he died," was to promise Joash king of Israel three victories over the Syrians [2 Kings xiii. 14-19.]. Yet he pretended to no earthly power in all this; he acted from God, and on supernatural claims; thus answering to our Lord's account of His kingdom, as being not of this world, else would His servants fight [John xviii. 36.].

8. Lastly, it is well to notice the dignity and state which he assumed in his dealings with men, high and low; in which he was a fit type of that Holy Church Catholic to whom it is promised, "The nation and kingdom that will not serve Thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted."

For instance, consider his conduct to the Shunammite. She was "a great woman," as Scripture tells us, wealthy and honourable; he was a poor man and a wanderer. {177} She, in her piety, finding him pass by often, constrained him to eat bread at her house, and gave him a room in it. If this were now to take place, she would be called the patron of Elisha, and he would be thought highly indebted to her, and bound to look up to her. But what was the actual bearing of Elisha and this pious woman towards one another? they both felt that his presence conveyed far more to her than any thing she could do for him. Accordingly, in spite of her riches and his poverty, he in her house acted as the lord, and she as the servant. We read that, "it fell on a day that he came thither, and he turned into the chamber, and lay there. And he said to Gehazi his servant, Call this Shunammite. And when he had called her, she stood before him. And he said unto him, Say now unto her, Behold, thou hast been careful for us, with all this care; what is to be done for thee? wouldest thou be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host? And she answered, I dwell among mine own people. And he said, What then is to be done for her? And Gehazi answered, Verily, she hath no child, and her husband is old. And he said, Call her. And when he had called her, she stood in the door. And he said, About this season, according to the time of life, thou shalt embrace a son." [2 Kings iv. 11-16.] Such a deportment would in this day be called pride in such as Elisha,—so different are God's ways and our ways. It would indeed have been gross pride and arrogance, had he so acted as from himself; but he was in his day a steward of the mysteries of God, and only behaved himself as became his rank and his office as {178} God's representative. Again; consider his conduct towards Naaman, which so grievously offended the proud Syrian. Instead of waiting upon him, He sent him a mere message to wash in Jordan. Thus he magnified his heavenly office, to remind Naaman that there was a God in Israel; whereas Naaman and his master had considered him a mere servant of the king of Israel, bound to do whatever he was bidden to do. Consider, too, his conduct to the messenger of Jehoram, already referred to, when he "sat in his house and the elders with him;" and to Joash, on his death-bed, with whom "the man of God was wroth," because "he smote thrice and stayed." [2 Kings v. 10; vi. 32, 33; xiii. 14-19.] What have we here but a figure of that Church to whom kings were to "bow down with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of her feet"? [Isa. xlix. 23.]

To conclude. These remarks lead us to this reflection. If Elisha be in spirit still among us, I mean, if the Church of Christ, viewed in her rulers, her confessors, her ascetics, and her doctors, be represented in the prophetic writings, such as Elisha is described in the history of Israel, how much have we to learn before we gain a clear and simple view of its real character! What a veil is on the eyes of men who treat it as a mere institution of this world! Surely, we are under a supernatural dispensation, though we do not realize it; and did we realize it, we should be given to see it, I mean we should doubtless have more sensible proofs given us of it. God asks of us, first, faith, and then He vouchsafes to give us sight. Did we {179} believe that we were under His immediate governance, He would reward us by tokens of such a privilege which we know not of at present. Did we cry out, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" the waters would divide. Never then, my brethren, come to Church, or to Holy Communion, never be present at a baptism, marriage, or burial, or at any other rite, without feeling that there is a great deal more there than you see. Where two or three are gathered together in Christ's Name, He is in the midst of them. Believe that, were your eyes opened, as the young man's were, you would see horses and chariots of fire round about. God's arm is not shortened, though man does not believe. He does His wonders in spite of us. Elijah went to heaven by miracle, and one man only saw it; but a miracle was done nevertheless. Angels are among us, and are powerful to do any thing. And they do wonders for the believing, which the world knows nothing about. According to our faith, so it is done unto us. Only believe, and all things are ours. We shall have clear and deeply-seated convictions on our minds of the reality of the invisible world, though we cannot communicate them to others, or explain how we come to have them.

Top | Contents | Works | Home


Note

Eleventh Sunday after Trinity.
Return to text

Top | Contents | Works | Home


Newman Reader — Works of John Henry Newman
Copyright 2007 by The National Institute for Newman Studies. All rights reserved.