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Sunday School Lesson 29: 2 Kings 2, 5-6

Posted by Jim F. on July 18, 2010

A reminder: these are not notes for preparing a Sunday School lesson—though they may help a person do that. They are notes for studying the chapters assigned for reading.

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? If there are, what might those parallels teach us? In other words, what would the point of such parallels be?

Chapter 2

Verses 1-10: Why tell 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). In Israelite culture, 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? Why or why not? Would ancient Israelites have understood such prefiguring? What do they show us?

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. Some time ago there was 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 children” were probably young men. A rabbi has said that the Hebrew word used here means they were “bare of Divine commandments,” in other words, they didn’t practice their religion. Some suggest that “bald head” 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 up” probably means “If you’re Elijah’s successor as prophet, prove it by going up as he did.” 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. Nevertheless, 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 shelf” 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 dwelling 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?

5 Responses to “Sunday School Lesson 29: 2 Kings 2, 5-6”

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  2. Marilyn said

    You asked: Why doesn’t Elisha bother to come out of his house to deliver those instructions?

    Elisha’s choice to remain in the house and send the message to Naaman could be viewed an act of loving kindness. Naaman had certain expectations of the prophet when he arrived at Elisha’s door. 2 Kings 5:11 – “Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper.” If Elisha had delivered face to face the unexpected instructions to bathe in a dirty river, there surely would have been an angry confrontation. His anger with God’s prophet might have condemned him. Naaman’s pride would have been piqued even more so, and he would have refused to listen to his servant after that. By side-stepping the power struggle, Elisha blessed Naaman. Naaman could overcome his pride in the presence of just his servant and be healed.

    Notice that when he returned to thank Elisha, he had immediate access to the prophet himself. Then Elisha continued to teach him about dealing with a prophet of God. You do what he tells you to do, and you don’t pay him.

    • Jim F. said

      Marilyn, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. These will surely be helpful to some who are reading these passages. I particularly like the idea that Elisha acted in a way that would create the least possible condemnation for Naaman. I wonder if I’ve always done that with my children?

  3. jennywebb said

    Jim, I never seem to comment, but I continue to find these very useful. Thanks.

    The parallels by Bassett are interesting; I also thought the idea of having Elijah : Elisha // John the Baptist : Christ (although obviously it breaks down in that Elisha does not surpass Elijah in the way that Christ surpasses the Baptist) might be useful in terms of thinking through prophetic missions that extend beyond a single individual.

    Also, you ask why Elisha’s request in chapter 2 is described as a “hard thing” in verse 10. In considering that question, it’s probably obvious to most (but wasn’t to me) that “hard” has several nuances in English. I’ve always read it here as meaning “difficult,” but the Hebrew (קָשָׁה qashah) has its roots in notions of severity or fierceness. Thus a “hard thing” can also be something harsh or severe, something that is suffered. In the context of the story, then, Elijah’s response would not be “your request is difficult to grant” but rather “your request is a harsh one, one that will cause you suffering.” That reading seems to make more sense to me given Elijah’s own experiences—he knows the consequences of Elisha’s request.

    • Jim F. said

      Jenny, thanks for adding something. Your point about “hard” is a good one. I hope you can find the time to add more to other lesson materials.

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