Most people who have been believers for a long time have had to go through the experience of losing a hero of the faith to death. Perhaps it was a beloved parent, pastor, seminary professor, Bible teacher, or mature Christian friend. At times like that there’s a tendency to wonder what impact the death will have on the ministry that hero was involved in. You will often hear someone say something like, “I don’t know how we can continue the work. Nobody can replace him.”
Something similar happens in 2 Kings 13. Israel had had problems with Syria, its neighbor to the north, for years. In the past, Elisha the prophet had spoken out against Syria, and Israel had been victorious on the battlefield (2 Kgs 6:12; 7:1-20). Elisha was Israel’s best weapon against its enemy.
However, Elisha became fatally ill. The king of Israel, even though he was an evil man, recognized that Elisha was a hero who was responsible for great victories. The king wept at the prospect of Elisha’s death (13:14). On his deathbed, Elisha prophesied that Israel would defeat Syria in future battles. This came true.
It is not difficult to determine how the king felt. When Elisha died (v 20), the king would have concluded that all hope was lost. The man who had been responsible for Israel’s success was gone. Nobody could replace Elisha.
There is, of course, something that is implied but not stated in these sentiments. This is true whether we’re talking about heroes of the faith whom we’ve met, or someone like Elisha, whom we read about in 2 Kings. In our minds, these heroes are the ones who accomplish these things. They are responsible for the great things we see. We forget that it is actually God’s power–not the power of the men we idolize–that is at work.
The king of Israel, for example, could have turned to God for help against future run-ins with his enemies. God could deliver him and his country from trouble, even after Elisha died.
The author of 2 Kings revealed these things to the king and his people. After Elisha was buried, another enemy, Moab, attacked Israel. During one of the Moabite raids, some Jews were burying a body and had to do so hurriedly because they were under attack. They placed the dead body in the tomb of Elisha, and it touched his bones. The dead man came back to life.
What was the point of this miracle? The Lord was showing that His power was still available to the nation even though Elisha was gone. Elisha certainly didn’t raise that dead man!
Surely, this was an illustration. The nation was spiritually sick. It had fallen deep into idolatry. The power of God could raise it from the death and darkness in which it found itself.
Elisha was a great prophet of God. Most of us have known great women and men of God. When they are gone, it is natural to think things are hopeless. They can never be the same. But we need to remember that the source of whatever they accomplished was the power of God. Heroes are not irreplaceable. God is still alive, and He is still at work. He can use us to accomplish what He wants us to do.