Barnabas Boost

Elisha’s Terminal Illness

“Now when Elisha had fallen sick with the illness of which he was to die…” —2 Kings 13:14-21   

This is a tiny section of the Old Testament–I mean, like blink-&-you’ll-miss-it tiny. There’s a powerful and liberating truth contained within it, though. A truth that–if we gloss over it–we might miss it.  In doing so, we’ll miss out on a huge blessing.

Backstory:  Throughout the latter part of the book of 1 Kings, we see the exploits of Elijah–without a doubt, one of the most important prophets in the Bible.  Eventually, after a pretty dramatic ministry career, God tells Elijah to anoint as his successor (and apprentice). Elisha, “You are to anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel-Mehola to succeed you as prophet.” The two men of God then embark on a series of holy adventures through the end of 1 Kings & into 2 Kings.

In 2 Kings 2:9, an interesting exchange occurs between the two men:

  • Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”
  • Elisha replied, “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.”
  • “You have requested a difficult thing,” said Elijah. “Nevertheless, if you see me as I am taken from you, it will be yours. But if not, then it will not be so.”

Now, as we who’ve read the Bible know all too well, a few verses later Elijah is taken up alive into heaven on a fiery chariot, while Elisha looks on in astonishment.  BUT – and here’s the key point – Elisha DID indeed witness the event, and so, as the audience, we know that the “double-portion” of God’s Spirit is now on Elisha. For about 10 chapters after that, that fact is made manifest by Elisha performing arguably some of the most dramatic, miraculous, prophetic feats in the entire Old Testament.

After all this: The drama, the power, the miracles, the divine healings, and the display of the glory of God, we read a very non-climactic, almost terse bit of news:

“Now when Elisha had fallen sick with the illness of which he was to die…”


  1. Parting of the Jordan (2Ki 2:14)
  2. Healing of the waters (2Ki 2:21)
  3. Curse of the she bears (2Ki 2:24)
  4. Filling of the valley with water (2Ki 3:17)
  5. Deception of the Moabites with the valley of blood (2Ki 3:22)
  6. Miracle of the vessels of oil (2Ki 4:4)
  7. Prophecy that the Shunammite woman would have a son (2Ki 4:16)
  8. Resurrection of the Shunammite’s son (2Ki 4:34)
  9. Healing of the gourds (2Ki 4:41)
  10. Miracle of the bread (2Ki 4:43)
  11. Healing of Naaman (2Ki 5:14)
  12. Perception of Gehazi’s transgression (2Ki 5:26)
  13. Cursing Gehazi with leprosy (2Ki 5:27)
  14. Floating of the axe head (2Ki 6:6)
  15. Prophecy of the Syrian battle plans (2Ki 6:9)
  16. Vision of the chariots (2Ki 6:17)
  17. Smiting the Syrian army with blindness (2Ki 6:18)
  18. Restoring the sight of the Syrian army (2Ki 6:20)
  19. Prophecy of the end of the great famine (2Ki 7:1)
  20. Prophecy that the scoffing nobleman would see, but not partake of, the abundance (2Ki 7:2)
  21. Deception of the Syrians with the sound of chariots (2Ki 7:6)
  22. Prophecy of the seven-year famine (2Ki 8:1)
  23. Prophecy of Benhadad’s untimely death (2Ki 8:10)
  24. Prophecy of Hazael’s cruelty to Israel (2Ki 8:12)
  25. Prophecy that Jehu would smite the house of Ahab (2Ki 9:7)
  26. Prophecy that Joash would smite the Syrians at Aphek (2Ki 13:17)
  27. Prophecy that Joash would smite Syria thrice but not consume it (2Ki 13:19)
  28. Resurrection of the man touched by his bones (2Ki 13:21)

(shout out to our brother David Pyles over at Berean Christian Bible Study Resources)

And most importantly, wasn’t this the prophet who waved his hand (in essence), and a man was healed of Leprosy?  That’s Leprosy–a disease that’s still fatal in 2018.

Shortly after that – after fulfilling a few final commands from God – Elisha does indeed die–with no fanfare, no drama, almost ignominiously, like Mozart being thrown into a mass grave dug for homeless people.

Now we get to the juicy part…

2 Kings 13:20-21:

So Elisha died, and they buried him……Now, bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year. And as a man was being buried, behold, a marauding band was seen and the dead man was, in haste, thrown into the grave that contained the bones of Elisha, and as soon as the dead man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived and stood on his feet, alive.

Just to make sure we remember that Elisha had that “double-portion” of God’s Spirit, this dramatic little scene happens, and yet another prophetic resurrection takes place.

You may ask, “So what? What’s the take-away? How does this help me with my stress-filled, problem-filled life?”

Here’s something to keep in mind. The same God who was with Elijah, taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot & granted immortality (basically), the same God who was with Elisha doing insane miracle-after-miracle–was with Elisha getting a disease, not allowing him to heal himself or be healed by any other, and then finally, dying of it…

This is huge, my brothers & sisters. God was in total control of Elisha’s life, make no mistake.

I must confess, I sometimes imagine Elisha’s conversation with God going like this:

  • God: “Elisha, my son…  I would like you to die of cancer for me.  Will you accept this great gift & honor that I want to bestow upon you?
  • Elisha: “Uhhh – can I think about it for a week..?!”

So many times, I think we view stuff like illness, misfortune, pain, injustice, happening to us or those we love as the forces of chaos busting thru God’s protective wall around our lives.

Or equally as depressing (and often used by our enemy), WE caused it to happen by our sin or our foolishness.  As if WE had that kind of power over God’s protection.

There’s a favorite proverb of mine from Ecclesiastes 7:14:

In times of victory & prosperity, rejoice!  And in times of adversity, consider this: has not God made the one as well as the other?  And why?  So that the sons of men may not know their future.

Ironic, isn’t it?  That there are endless man-made systems on this planet, thousands of years old, built around this very dilemma.


God would spare us this horror: the burden of religion, the worship of self-determinism, the endless quest to know & control what’s going to happen in our lives, in a future which may or may not go as we’ve planned.  I believe He speaks to us this simple message from the life and death of Elisha:

“My son, my daughter – I am full of power and all authority. Nothing gets past me that I am not in total control of. And I love you, deeply and completely – just look at Jesus! I will take care of you, your whole life.”





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