When we think of the Old Testament prophets, we likely think first of the literary prophets such as Isaiah, Daniel, Jeremiah, Amos, et al. We may also think of Elijah and Elisha, two of the oral prophets. These two men served the Lord in the last part of the ninth century B.C.
The first reference to Elisha is when Elijah is told to anoint Elisha as his successor (1 Kings 19:16-21). Elisha is plowing with oxen when Elijah comes by and throws his mantle over him, a symbolic way of showing that Elisha was being called to serve in the prophetic office. Elisha’s sacrifice of his oxen shows that he accepted the call.
The next reference to Elisha does not come until the time when Elijah is taken into heaven (2 Kings 2). Elijah’s mantle (cloak) is used this time to strike the Jordan River. The waters were divided and the two prophets crossed into Transjordan on dry ground, just as the Israelites had crossed in the opposite direction centuries earlier.
When it becomes clear that Elisha will see Elijah no more, he returned and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took Elijah’s mantle and struck the waters. They were divided and Elisha crossed back to the west bank.
The men of Jericho came to Elisha and explained the situation of their city. They said, “the situation of this city is pleasant…but the water is bad and the land is unfruitful” (2 Kings 2:19). The prophet asked for a jar. He told the men to put salt in it. He threw salt in the waters and they were purified. The writer says they have been purified to this day.
Jericho is still a city of palm trees (Deuteronomy 34:3). Below the ancient mound (Tell es-Sultan) to the east there is a spring called Elisha’s Fountain. The photo above was made from the tell with a view to the east. The mountains of Transjordan can be seen in the distance. Close to the tell there is a building with a red tile roof. This is the pumping station that provides water for modern Jericho. The next photo shows the spring as it exits the ground [at the present time]. Perhaps this is the same spring mentioned in the Bible.
This article was published in Biblical Insights, August, 2009.