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Monday, November 2, 2015

What Do You Remember About The Miraculous Elisha?

After glancing through Elijah's miracles last week, it must be time to take a look at Elisha's as well. This week's session covers tons of history, and just a few prophets, so it's kind of a fleeting visit to Old Testament politics. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it:

We studied it in our group today and it took too long, so we're going to split the study into two. Below is the revised, two-lesson version:

(6) Elijah and Elishah

Do you remember what Ruth said to her mother-in-law (Ruth 1:16)? Read 1 Kings 22:4-5. Does the phrasing sound familiar? Jehoshaphat doesn’t say “my God is your God” but perhaps it’s assumed. Do we have any similar prayer styles, repeated on different occasions?
Read 2 Chronicles 18:1-3. This is another version of the same story, and explains why Jehoshaphat (Asa’s son, who succeeded him as King of the Southern Kingdom) is in the North. The Southern king asks the Northern King to “enquire of the Lord.” Given that South if faithful and North is “bad,” why might this be? Are there people we would refuse to pray with?
Ahab has been blessed, despite his apostasy (1 Kings 21:27-28 in last session).  But that doesn’t mean his prophets will be reliable. Read 1 Kings 22:7-28. Micaiah speaks out as a lone voice of truth, but how should the kings have known which prophets to believe? How can we know which people truly speak God’s word?
Read 1 Kings 22:34-39. Ahab dies, despite attempts to trick fate. Do we try to trick God and get around his plan? Can prophets help us?
History: Samaria was famous as the only city the Israelites built from nothing, rather than conquering, and for the ivory found in the palace ruins. Ahab is finally remembered for his ivory castle. Read Amos 3:15, 6:4 – the value of ivory remained unchanged. What does ivory mean to us today?
More history: Read 1 Kings 22:48-49, 2 Chronicles 20:35-37 Again we have two versions of the same story, with slightly different emphasis, just like the different gospels. Ahab’s son and Jehoshaphat give up fighting the Arameans and attempt a trading venture together. The prophet Eliezer (another very minor prophet) predicts failure. And the two kingdoms settle into ignoring each other again.
Is it always necessary to fight/oppose a group that we feel is opposed to God?
Elijah enters the story again at this point. Read 2 Kings 1:1-18.
1.       Elijah is hairy, wears hairy clothes, and wears a leather belt (v8). How does this contrast with an ivory palace. What might it mean? What do modern-day prophets look like?
2.       Why is it wrong of the soldiers to demand that a man of God obey a king (v9,10)? Do we try to command God? Is their punishment justified? And does it have a natural explanation?
3.       Why might Elijah be reluctant to be escorted by soldiers to the king (v15)? What happened to Micaiah? Whose company might we need to avoid?
4.       Do you know what Baal-Zebub (v2) means? Professional prophets at Ekron watched how flies swarmed to make their predictions. What do modern day false prophets use? Can they predict true answers?
5.       How might Ahaziah’s death have been seen by those false prophets and their masters? When we say “God blessed us because...” are we sure we’re right. When we say God didn’t bless someone else because... can we be sure we’re right?
6.       Does our modern world have professional prophets? Who are they? What do they do?
Elijah dies, in a manner reminiscent of Enos in Genesis, Ezekiel’s chariot, and even Paul’s last journey to Jerusalem; groups of professional prophets know exactly what’s happening. Read 2 Kings 2:1-11, 6:17, Ezekiel 1:13-14, Genesis 5:22-24.
1.       Do you notice the cadence of the story – the repetition, like in a children’s story? What does this tell us about the writers? Why do children’s stories use repetition?
2.       What’s the significance of Elisha taking Elijah’s mantle (v13; Compare with 1 Kings 19:19)? What might be a modern parallel?
3.       What’s the significance of dry channels in the river (v8)?
4.       What might be the significance of 50 strong men (v16)? Read 2 Kings 1:13-15.What’s our equivalent of 50 strong men? Whose witness do we trust?
5.       What do you remember of Elisha’s (many!) miracles? Try to write down your answers before you read on.
6.       Read 2 Kings 2:19-22. Who did something special to water in the New Testament? Why is water important?
7.       Read 2 Kings 2:23-24. How old and how dangerous is a “young man” (see Genesis 4:23)? What might 42 mean?
History: Ahab’s second son gains the throne after the death of the first, and Moab takes advantage of the change to attack, causing Judah and Israel to work together again (read 2 Kings 3:6-7). The armies of Edom, Israel and Judah look set to lose, then Elisha prophesies a strategy which leads to Moabite over-confidence and Israelite success.
Read 2 Kings 3:14-24. What does music have to do with Elisha’s prophesying? Why might music be important in worship? Does God use human nature, and the effect of music on the brain?
The story ends in child sacrifice, leaving Moab with an apparent success. Read 2 Kings 3:26-27. The Moabite action is not so strange for the time when this takes place – a last-ditch effort, throwing their future on the mercy of their God. What sort of last-ditch efforts might we make, to throw ourselves on God’s mercy?
Why did the Israelites not press their advantage? Does this story have any relevance to the abortion debate?

(7) Elisha

Elisha didn’t write a book, or if he did, we’ve lost it. So, if we’re going to look at his life, we’ll have to look at what he did. In particular, we’ll have to look at Elisha’s miracles. Like Jesus’ miracles, they’re probably meant to teach us something.
1.       Read 2 Kings 2:14. Elisha’s first miracle is to part the waters.
a.       Why is water so important?
b.      Who did God part the waters for in the past?
c.       Who walked on water?
d.      What might be the significance of Elisha parting the water?
2.       Read 2 Kings 2:19-22. Elisha’s second miracle is to purify the water – more water!
a.       What might be the significance of salt?
b.      Who purified water in the past?
c.       Who turned water into wine?
d.      What might be the significance of Elisha purifying/changing the water?
e.      Does it matter if there’s a natural explanation for the miracle?
3.       Read 2 Kings 2:23-24. Elisha’s third miracle is to “curse” the young men, who are then mauled by a bear.
a.       What physical danger did the gang represent?
b.      What spiritual danger did they represent?
c.       What might be the significance of their being physically punished?
4.       Read 2 Kings 3:16-24. Elisha commands action and prophesies victory. The larger army attacks as a confused rabble and loses, instead of attacking as a well-organized team. Does the fact that we’re given a physical explanation make it any less of a miracle?
5.       Read 2 Kings 4:1-7. Miracle number 5.
a.       How does God view debt? How do we?
b.      Why doesn’t Elisha ask how the woman ended up in debt? What does this tell us about helping our neighbor?
6.       Read 2 Kings 4:8-15. Shunem is on the border with Philistia (1 Samuel 28:4), so the woman may not be Jewish.
a.       What do we learn about us about Elisha’s way of life?
b.      What do we learn about the way women lived in this time?
c.       The woman becomes pregnant. What might be the significance of this miracle?
7.       Read 2 Kings 4:25-27. The woman’s child dies.
a.       How willing are we to say (not just sing) “It is well” when things go wrong?
b.      Elisha raises the son. What might be the significance of raising the dead?
c.       Later Elisha advises the mother to move away from Israel during a famine. She returns in 2 Kings 8:1-6.
8.       Read 2 Kings 4:38-41.Elisha was a wandering prophet, but other prophets lived together in communities.
a.       Do the cooks among us have any comments on this?
b.      Again, what purpose does the miracle serve – given that it’s in the Bible, should it be important?
9.       Read 2 Kings 4:42-44. Jesus fed the 5,000. Elisha feeds the 100. Do you see parallels between Jesus’ miracles and miracles of the Old Testament?
10.   Read 2 Kings 5:1-6. We’re starting a fairly familiar story here. Naaman is an army commander in Syria who suffers from leprosy. Syria is where Ben-Hadad and his successors invade Israel from.
a.       Read 2 Kings 5:7. The King of Israel imagines the Syrian king is picking a quarrel with him. How quick are we to take offence?
b.      Read 2 Kings 5:10-12. Why might Naaman be so furious when Elisha tells him to bathe in the Jordan? Are we more willing to do small things or big things for God?
c.       Read 2 Kings 5:16 Elisha refuses payment for healing Naaman. Does the Bible forbid payment (read Genesis 14:22-23)? Did Jesus forbid payment? How do we view it?
d.      Read 2 Kings 5:17-19 Naaman asks for earth on which to worship God – presumably because gods were viewed as gods of particular pieces of land. He also asks God to forgive him for bowing his head to foreign gods. Do you think God would forgive him? Does Elisha complain? What might this mean now?
e.      Read 2 Kings 5:26-27. The servant Gehazi takes the opportunity to make a profit, and becomes a leper instead. His punishment makes his skin white as snow – interesting given how white nations have come to believe themselves superior.
11.   Read 2 Kings 6:1-7 An axe head is lost in the water then caught up on a stick.
a.       What does the story tell us about God’s care for everyday things?
b.      How important is it for church leaders to care for everyday problems?
12.   Can someone summarize 2 Kings 6:8-23? When do we need to open our eyes?
History: Ben-Hadad besieges Samaria, and the people are starving. Elisha is blamed and prophesies the lifting of the siege, but no one believes him. Read 2 Kings 7:1-7. How easily do we believe the impossible? Is that a good thing or a bad thing? When Ben-Hadad is dying, Elisha reveals the future to Hazael, who will take his place. Read 2 Kings 8:7-15. Hazael’s actions, including the murder of Ben-Hadad, are recorded in the Bible and in Assyrian documents.
More History: Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram married Ahab’s daughter, Athalia, and the families even gave their children matching names, which makes reading Kings and Chronicles kind of complicated. Ahab’s two sons Ahaziah and Jehoram reigned in the North while Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram and grandson Ahazia reigned in the South. Elisha sends a “son of the propets” to anoint Jehu as the next Northern king (2 Kings 9:1-3), prophesying he will destroy the house of Ahab. But part of that house is now in the South – bad news for international relations. Jezebel is finally killed, as are the prophets of Baal. Since the Southern king has a claim to the Northern throne, Jehu makes sure to kill him too, and Athaliah, daughter of Ahab, seizes the throne. She tries to kill off the house of David, but Joash is rescued and crowned. He repairs the Temple and restores its treasure until Hazael attacks and is appeased with Temple treasures – a familiar theme. Joash is succeeded by Amaziah, then Azariah (otherwise known as Uzziah (read Isaiah 6:1).Meanwhile in the North, Jehu is followed by his son Jehoahaz, then his grandson Jehoash. The Syrians, led by Hazael and his son, Ben-Hadad, persist in attacking the kingdoms. And Elisha is still a prophet!
13.   Elisha falls ill during the reign of Jehoash of Israel. Which king might be reigning in the south at this time? His final action in life is to ask Jehoash to strike the ground with some arrows. Jehoash doesn’t strike the ground often enough and so will not be free from Syria.

14.   Read 2 Kings 13:18-21.Finally, Elisha heals a dead man from the grave. 

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