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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[3 Kings 19. 4 Kings 1–12]

AT one time Elias, being persecuted by Jezabel, fled into the desert. He was very sad and desired to die, for he thought all the Israelites had fallen into idolatry. Being fatigued, he cast himself down and slept in the shadow of a juniper-tree; and behold, an angel of the Lord touched him and said: “Arise, eat; for thou hast yet a great way to go.” Elias looked and saw at his head a hearth-cake and a vessel of water. He arose, ate and drank, and walked in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights, until he came to the mount of God, Horeb.

Then the Lord appeared to him amidst the breezes of a gentle wind, consoled him and said: “Return and anoint Eliseus to be prophet in thy room, and I will leave Me seven thousand men whose knees have not bowed before Baal.” Elias departed and found Eliseus ploughing with oxen. He cast his mantle upon him, and Eliseus forthwith left the oxen and the plough, followed Elias and ministered to him.

But the time came when the Lord wished to take Elias from the earth. The Spirit of God led him to the Jordan, and Eliseus accompanied him. Elias took his mantle, folded it together and struck the waters; the waters divided, and both passed over on dry ground. As they walked on, there appeared a fiery chariot with horses. Elias was taken up alive to heaven. Eliseus saw him and cried: “My father! my father! The chariot of Israel and the driver thereof!” When he saw Elias no longer, he rent his garments in grief; then taking the mantle which Elias had dropped, he went back and struck with it the waters of the Jordan. They were divided, and Eliseus passed over. The other disciples of Elias seeing this said: “The spirit of Elias hath rested upon Eliseus.” And coming to meet him, they worshipped him, falling to the ground.

After Elias had been taken up into heaven, Eliseus arose and exhorted the Israelites to remain faithful to the Lord. God also favoured him with the gift of miracles. When he came to Jericho, the men of the city said to him: “The situation of this city is very good, but the waters are very bad.” Eliseus answered: “Bring me a new vessel and put salt into it.” When they had brought it, he went out to the spring (Fig. 50, p. 280), cast the salt into it, and the waters were healed.

One day when Eliseus was going up to Bethel, where the golden calf was worshipped, some boys came out of the city and mocked him, saying: “Go up, thou bald head.” Eliseus, knowing that in dishonouring him they dishonoured God, turned back and cursed them in the name of the Lord. Immediately two bears came out of the wood that was near by, and killed forty-two of the boys.

Some time after Eliseus cured of leprosy, in a miraculous manner, Naaman, general of the Syrian army, a rich and valiant man. The wife of Naaman had in her service a young Israelite girl who had been carried off into Syria by robbers. This maiden then said one day to her mistress: “I wish my master had been with the prophet that is in Samaria. He would certainly have healed him of the leprosy.” When Naaman heard this he set out for Samaria with horses and chariots.


Fig. 50. Eliseus’ spring near Jericho. (Phot. Bonfils.)

When Naaman reached the prophet’s dwelling he sent a messenger to let him know of his coming, and why he had come. Eliseus sent him word by his servant Giezi to bathe seven times in the Jordan, and he would be healed. Naaman was angry and went away, saying: “I thought he would have come out to me and standing would have invoked the name of the Lord his God, and touched with his hand the place of the leprosy and healed me. Are not the rivers of Damascus better than all the waters of Israel?”

As he was thus turning angrily away, his servants said to him: “Father, if the prophet had bidden thee to do some great thing, surely thou wouldst have done it; how much more what he now hath said to thee: ‘Wash, and thou shalt be clean’.” And Naaman, seeing that what they said was just, alighted from his chariot, bathed seven times in the Jordan and was made clean. He returned to the man of God and told him that now he knew for certain that there was no God but the God of Israel; and he offered him presents, but Eliseus refused to receive anything.

Hardly had Naaman gone a little way when Giezi, the servant of Eliseus, went after him and said: “My master hath sent me to thee saying: ‘Just now there are come to me from Mount Ephraim two young men, sons of the prophets; give them a talent of silver and two changes of garments’.”

Naaman gladly gave him two talents of silver and two changes of garments. Giezi returned with the presents, and having hidden them, he stood before Eliseus. The prophet asked him where he had been, and Giezi answered that he had been nowhere.

Eliseus being angry said: “Was not my heart present when the man turned back from his chariot? Now thou hast money to buy oliveyards and vineyards and sheep and oxen and men-servants and maid-servants; but the leprosy of Naaman shall stick to thee for ever.” And Giezi went out a leper, as white as snow. Eliseus wrought other great miracles.

One great miracle the prophet wrought even after his death. It happened in this manner: On one occasion a number of men were carrying a corpse to the cemetery for burial. As they were making the grave, behold, robbers from Moab rushed in upon them. They in their fright cast the corpse into the sepulchre of Eliseus. No sooner had the dead man touched the bones of the prophet than he was instantly restored to life and came forth from the tomb.

The Goodness of God towards His holy and zealous servant Elias was very great. He revived and strengthened him with a miraculous food, appeared to him most lovingly so as to comfort him, and finally took him from earth in a glorious manner, without letting him taste of the bitterness and humiliation of death.

The Omnipotence of God was shown by the supernatural power of the bread, in the strength of which Elias fasted forty days; and also by the twice-repeated division of the waters of the Jordan. It was God’s omnipotence which purified the well at Jericho by a means which, in the natural order of things, would have made the briny water more unpalatable than it was before. He cured the leprosy of Naaman and raised the dead man to life by contact with the bones of Eliseus.

Sadness which is pleasing to God. The sadness of Elias was not sinful, but on the contrary praiseworthy, for it sprang from love of God and zeal for His glory; and his heart, all aglow with divine love, was sad even unto death, when he contemplated the idolatry and impiety of the Israelites. We too ought to grieve when we see how much God is forgotten and offended, and how unbelief and hatred of the Church of God and her laws are ever increasing. It is to such sorrow as this that our Lord’s words apply: “Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

A holy desire for death. We may not wish for our own death or for that of others, from reasons of impatience or despair. Elias’ desire for death arose not from a spirit of fretfulness, but from love of God, as he was loth to witness any more offences committed against Him. Moreover he longed to go to God. It was in this spirit that St. Paul wrote: “I have a desire to be dissolved and be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23).

Gentleness. The gentle sighing of the wind when Almighty God appeared to Elias was meant to indicate His goodness, mercy and patience, and to warn the fiery prophet that he too must work with patience and long-suffering. We can, as a rule, do far more for God’s glory and the salvation of souls by patience and gentleness than by violence and severity. St. Francis of Sales says: “You can catch more flies with a spoonful of honey than with a cask of vinegar.” “Blessed are the meek.”

The virtues and works of Elias. After Moses Elias was the greatest of the prophets. Firstly, he was great by his virtues. He led a severe life of penance, not loving the world, but loving only solitude, prayer and the contemplation of divine things. He was devoured by a holy zeal for God’s glory and the salvation of his people. He was intrepid, patient and strong under suffering and persecution, and was possessed of the most unshaken confidence in God. Secondly, he was great by his divine calling and his influence on the world. He preserved the true faith in Israel, he worked wonderful miracles, such as raising the dead, and was translated from earth in a marvellous manner. He is therefore venerated as a great Saint by both Christians and Jews.

Elias, the fourteenth type of Jesus Christ. Elias was in several respects a type of our Lord. He was sent by God, was a prophet and a worker of miracles. He raised to life the son of the widow of Sarepta: our Lord raised to life the son of the widow of Naim. He multiplied the meal and oil: our Lord multiplied the loaves and fishes. Moreover Elias fasted forty days in the wilderness, was hated and persecuted by the ungodly, was sorrowful even unto death, was strengthened by an angel, was translated to heaven in the sight of his disciples, and will come again at the end of the world.

Faithful correspondence with grace. Eliseus was a God-fearing husbandman, and was called from the plough to be the follower of the great prophet. He obeyed the call of God instantly, corresponded with grace, left his home and possessions and served Elias. He was poor in spirit and obedient to the will of God, therefore he was singled out by God to be the recipient of special graces. “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

The fourth Commandment. Eliseus and the disciples of Elias show us by their example in what way we should love and revere teachers sent to us by God. Eliseus loved Elias as his spiritual father (“My father! my father,” he cried), and when he was parted from him, he rent his garments in grief. The disciples of Elias received Eliseus with the deepest reverence as soon as they recognised him to be the spiritual heir to Elias and a prophet chosen by God.

The relics of Saints. The cloak which Elias left behind him when he was translated was a relic of the holy prophet. By means of this relic and for the sake of the prayers and merits of Elias God worked great miracles. By means of the relics (i. e. the bones) of Eliseus also a great miracle was wrought. If therefore God glorifies the relics of his Saints by working miracles through them, it is certainly reasonable and pleasing to God that we should value and honour them; and the Church teaches that we ought to venerate them. She places them under the altars on which the holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered, and exposes them for our veneration.

A type of Holy Communion. The wonderful food brought to Elias by an angel was an evident type of Holy Communion. We have before us a long and dangerous journey through the desert of this life, before we can reach heaven. During this pilgrimage God strengthens us by the most holy Sacrament, the bread of angels, in the power of which we may rise from virtue to virtue and finally scale the holy Mount of God, heaven.

At our Lord’s Transfiguration on Mount Tabor Moses and Elias, on account of their high place in the kingdom of God, were allowed to speak with the Saviour of the world, the former as the representative and founder of the Law, the latter as the representative of the prophets (New Test. XXXVII).

God’s Justice was manifested in the punishment of the impious children of Bethel and the chastisement of the covetous servant Giezi.

God’s Mercy sent the erring and deceived Israelites another prophet (Eliseus) in the place of Elias, and gave him the power of working mighty miracles, in order to induce the people to do penance and escape the coming judgment. How wonderfully did God’s mercy reveal itself in the case of the pagan Naaman! According to human ideas the carrying off by robbers of the Israelite maiden was an unlucky accident, but by divine Providence it became the means by which the chiefs of the Syrians were made acquainted with the miracles which Eliseus worked in God’s name. It was also the cause of the conversion of Naaman to the true faith. God ordained that this little maid should be taken into the service of Naaman’s wife, should relate the wonderful things done by Eliseus, and should awaken in Naaman’s breast the hope that the prophet might heal him of his terrible disease.

The object of miracles. Leprosy could indeed be cured, except in such aggravated cases as those of Job and Giezi, but the cure was a very slow one. Naaman’s sudden recovery was therefore clearly a miracle, for it was not the water of the Jordan which cured him, but the almighty power of God. God performed this miracle on the distinguished Gentile in order that he might be converted, and that the name of God should be glorified even among the heathen. Naaman was healed in soul as well as in body.

Reverence for old age and for the servants of God. The sin committed by the boys of Bethel was great, because the person they mocked was both an old man and a prophet. They proved themselves to be bad, vicious children, full of hatred of God and His servants. Their severe punishment was sent, firstly, to prevent their reaching a mature stage of wickedness; secondly, to teach the inhabitants of Bethel to fear God and honour His prophets; and thirdly, to serve as a warning for all time that old age is to be honoured, and all those sent by God are to be revered. “Rise up before the hoary head, and honour the person of the aged man” (Lev. 19:32). Our Lord said, referring to the apostles and their successors: “He that heareth you, heareth Me: and he that despiseth you, despiseth Me: and he that despiseth Me, despiseth Him that sent Me” (Luke 10:16).

Humility. Naaman’s story shows us that only the humble can find favour with God. The narrative of the little maid had inspired the Syrian general with a great confidence in the power of God and the prayers of Eliseus. But when he arrived, and the prophet did not come out to meet him, to touch him and pray over him, and still more when he was told to bathe in the Jordan, his pride was aroused. He said to himself: “What, am I not even good enough for the prophet to speak to? What good can the water of the Jordan do me?” It was only when his servants reasoned with him, that he overcame his pride and humbly obeyed the directions of the man of God. Had he not become humble and obedient, he would not have been healed either in body or soul.

Consider the gratitude of Naaman.

Disinterestedness of Eliseus. As he did not care for his own interests, but only for the glory of God, Eliseus found his full reward in the conversion of the pagan Syrian, and thanked God for it.

Covetousness. Giezi, like Judas Iscariot, was a covetous man, though he had constantly before him the example of his poverty-loving master. In order to enrich himself he lied first to the Syrian and then to Eliseus, exposing the latter to a charge of avarice and perjury, for the prophet had said to Naaman: “As the Lord liveth I will take nothing.” This story shows us that covetousness is a capital sin, leading to many other sins, especially to lies and deceit.

Ill-gotten gains profit nothing. The rich presents received by Giezi from Naaman were ill-gotten, for he told lies to obtain them. These ill-gotten goods brought him no blessing. Covered with an incurable leprosy, he could enjoy neither riches nor life. He must very often have cursed his avarice and deceit, for health is of more value than gold. Many a rich invalid would give all he possesses, could he thereby regain his health!

Justification of the sinner. Naaman’s wonderful cure from leprosy is, according to the Fathers of the Church, a type of the sinner’s justification by the Sacraments of Baptism and Penance. Leprosy represents sin, and the waters of Jordan both the baptismal waters and tears of contrition in the Sacrament of Penance. In Naaman’s case his flesh became as the flesh of a little child: even so is the soul washed from all its sins by Baptism and Penance. But to obtain this inward purity, the sinner must, like Naaman, humble himself and fulfil the exact conditions of forgiveness.

Holy water. The blessing of the water of Jericho by Eliseus was a type of the blessing of holy water by the Church; and at the blessing of it the miracle of Eliseus is expressly referred to. Have you ever seen how holy water is blessed, and what the priest throws into it? He throws in blessed salt and prays in the name of the Church that the water may be freed from the influence of the evil one, and be salutary to all who use it devoutly.

Good and pious servants bring a blessing on their employers. Naaman’s Israelite slave remained true to her faith though she lived among heathens, and her pious narration was the cause of Naaman being cured of his leprosy and converted to the true faith.

The free gift of grace. “There were many lepers in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet, yet none of them were cleansed but Naaman the Syrian” (New Test. XVII). Thus spoke our Lord at Nazareth, to prove by this example that “election” was not hereditary in the family of Abraham.

APPLICATION. If you want to know yourself (and without self-knowledge there can be no amendment of life), ask yourself what it is that most easily disturbs you. Do you feel sad when others are praised or rewarded? Do you feel glad when they are blamed or punished? If so, you are full of selfishness and envy. Are you put out when you cannot have your own way, or if leave is refused you to do something you wish? If so, you are self-willed and disobedient.

Never laugh about the sins of others. Remember the offence against God, and pray for the conversion of those who have sinned.

Have you ever derided old or infirm people? Do you mock at your comrades for their physical infirmities? Just think how unkind, how rude, how unjust it is to do so, for they are not responsible for their physical defects!

Examine your conscience on the subject of lies. Even if your lies do no harm to other people, they do harm to your own soul, because every lie is a sin. For the future say an “Our Father” whenever you tell a lie, and then you will keep a better watch over yourself, and will cure yourself of this detestable habit.

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