The Old Testament is full of typology concerning Christ Jesus of Nazareth. The sacrificial system of the law serves as type for the sacrifice that Jesus made for all of humanity. Passover shows that through the sacrifice of a lamb, death passed over those of obedience. Similarly, the sacrifice of Jesus (the Lamb of God) gives life to all who are obedient (Hebrews 5:9). People are also types for the Messiah. Moses is a type for Christ because he led Israel out of the bondage of Egypt, just as Christ leads all who belong to him out of the bondage of sin. Joshua had the same name as Jesus and conquered the Promised Land, just as Jesus will when he returns. Likewise, Elisha is also a type for Jesus, though their connection is less known.
Let’s begin by considering six connections between the life and ministry of Elisha and that of Jesus. First, even though they do not look at all similar, the names “Elisha” and “Jesus” have nearly the same meaning. “Elisha” means, “my God is salvation.”1 “Jesus” is the Greek form of the name Joshua2, which means, “Jahweh is salvation.”3 There is a striking similarity here. Secondly, Elisha raised a male child from the dead (2 Kings 4:32-37). Jesus also raised a young man from the dead (Luke 7:14-15). Elisha fed a multitude with an insufficient amount of bread and had leftovers (2 Kings 4:42-44). Twice Jesus fed thousands with only a few loaves of bread and had leftovers (Matthew 14:19-20; 15:36-38). Fourthly, Naaman the leper came to Elisha and was cleansed after he obeyed the command of Elisha (2 Kings 5:14). Once ten lepers were cleansed because of their obedience to the command of Jesus (Luke 17:12-14). Elisha led a blind army into Samaria where he prayed that they would receive their sight. They did, and the king wanted to know if he should kill them all. Elisha commanded that they all be fed and sent away in peace (2 Kings 6:21-23). Similarly, Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount included a command of Jesus to “love your enemies…do good to them that hate you” (Matthew 5:44). Sixthly, after Elisha had been buried for some time, another corpse was thrown into Elisha’s grave and touched his bones. The dead person revived and stood up (2 Kings 13:20-21). As a result of Jesus’ death, many who have died will be raised from the dead (1 Thessalonians 4:14). Granted, some of these parallels are more compelling than others, still it’s hard to deny that something is going on here.
Now, I’d like to consider one last type that has the potential to help us understand one of the more enigmatic texts in the Bible. This type compares how Elisha stood as a father figure to his contemporaries (2 Kings 6:21; 8:9; 13:14) and how Jesus is the prophesied “eternal father” or father of the coming age in Isaiah 9:6. In ancient Israel, the office of master prophet was associated with fatherhood. Elisha’s forerunner, Elijah worked with a group of men known as “the sons of the prophets.” Elijah was seen as the father of this group. We can see this in the last moments of Elijah’s life. When God was about to take him up into the sky, Elijah tried to leave Elisha behind. Three times he told Elisha to “stay here” while he went somewhere else. Elisha would have none of it, each time he said, “As the LORD lives and as you live I will not leave you” (2 Kings 2:2, 4, 6). As they were crossing the Jordan River, Elijah asked, “What can I do for you before I am taken from you?” (2 Kings 2:9). Elisha answered, “Let a double portion of your spirit pass on to me” (2 Kings 2:9). This is evidence that Elisha, “resting his foot upon this law [i.e. Deuteronomy 21:17], requested of Elijah as a first-born son the double portion of his spirit for his inheritance. Elisha looked upon himself as the first-born son of Elijah in relation to the other[s].”4 Finally, when Elijah was being taken up in the whirlwind by the chariot of fire, Elisha cried out, “My father, my father! Israel’s chariots and horsemen!” (2 Kings 2:12). Elisha picked up Elijah’s mantle that had fallen from him while he was departing. The mantle symbolized that Elisha had taken over for Elijah as the new father-prophet in Israel.
The first instance in which someone calls Elisha “father” is when he led the blind Aramean army into Samaria. Once there and surrounded by the Israeli army, he prayed, and they received their sight. When the king of Israel recognized that Elisha had delivered the enemy into his hands, he said to Elisha, “Father, shall I strike them down?” (2 Kings 6:21). Elisha told the king “no” and commanded that he “set food and drink before them, and let them eat and drink and return to their master” (2 Kings 6:22). Notice that “Jehoram…salutes him [Elisha] by the honorable title of ‘father,’ which implied respect, deference, submission.”5 What’s more, the king asked Elisha’s permission to kill his enemy! This is bizarre. Elisha certainly must have played an important role in the mind of the king of Israel to even think that he should ask for permission. When Elisha denied the king’s request and told him to feed the enemy and release them in peace, the king did not hesitate to obey.
The second case of Elisha’s revealed paternal role is when King Ben-hadad of Aram sent Hazael to bring forty camel loads of gifts to Elisha and ask if the king would recover of his disease. When Hazael came near to Elisha, he said, “Your son, King Ben-hadad of Aram, has sent me to you to ask: Will I recover from this illness?” (2 Kings 8:9). Calling himself “your son” is a clear “expression of humility and submission.”6 We see Elisha pictured here as a father figure even to the king of the enemy nation. Generally, kings saw themselves as supreme, but here Ben-hadad clearly recognized Elisha’s fatherly role and included this recognition in his greeting.
The third and last time someone called Elisha “father” was at the end of his life. While Elisha was on his deathbed, King Joash of Israel went down to see him. He wept over Elisha and cried out, “My father, my father! Israel’s chariots and horsemen!” (2 Kings 13:14). Joash’s address here used the same words Elisha spoke to Elijah, recognizing him as Israel’s father and protector. Now what I find so fascinating about these three incidents is not that someone called Elisha “father,” but the fact that, in each of these cases, Elisha wasn’t actually the person’s father! Thus, to be one’s “father” in the Bible doesn’t always mean biological descent. Sometimes, it just means the role of father—especially protection.
Out of the seven similarities we’ve looked at between Elisha and Jesus, I see the fathering type as the most intriguing. Three times, kings of greater earthly authority and wealth called Elisha “father.” According to the prophet Isaiah, the Messiah will receive the title “eternal father” (Isaiah 9:6). About this Anthony Buzzard writes
“The expression ‘Eternal Father,’ was understood by the Jews to mean ‘the father of the coming (Messianic) Age.’ Truly Jesus the Lord Messiah will be the parent of the Coming Age of the Kingdom of God
A brief survey of other relevant texts shows that others played a parenting role as well. Deborah was known as the mother of Israel (Judges 5:7), Eli called a messenger “my son” (1 Samuel 4:16), David called Saul “my father” (1 Samuel 24:12), David called himself Nabal’s son (1 Samuel 25:8), Naaman’s servant addressed him as “my father” (2 Kings 5:13), and lastly, Isaiah prophesied that Eliakim son of Hilkiah was to be a “father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah” (Isaiah 22:21). This evidence makes clear that the title “father” can express the role without any procreative connection.
In conclusion, Elisha and Jesus have numerous typological connections. One of these is that both receive the title “father” apart from any procreative sense. This way of applying the title of “father” to the prophet helps us make sense of when Isaiah calls Jesus “eternal father” or, better translated, “father of the age to come.” Jesus is not God the Father or the Heavenly Father, but he is still father—the one who will father us in the age to come.
1 James Hastings ed., Hasting’s Dictionary of the Bible (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2001), 217.
2 ibid, 441.
3 ibid, 498.
4 C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1965), 293.
5 H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, The Pulpit Commentary: Volume 5. I & II Kings (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1962), 122.
6 A. Cohen, The Socino Books of the Bible: Kings (Jerusalem, The Socino Press Limited, 1990), 210.
7 Anthony F. Buzzard and Charles F. Hunting, The Doctrine of the Trinity (Lanham, MD: International Scholars Publications, 1998), 88.