There is a strange story in the Old Testament that seems to have spawned an equally weird practice among a few Charismatic churches.
The prophet Elisha had died and been buried in a tomb, perhaps a cave where people of prominence were often buried.
It was a difficult time and the Moabites were regularly raiding Israel. A group of men were burying a friend when they receive word a Moabite raiding party was nearby. The men were probably being mustered to repel the raiders and temporarily decided to put the body in Elisha’s tomb that was nearby, with intent of returning later to bury it.
Rather than laying it carefully in the tomb, they quickly threw the body in and it inadvertently touched the bones of Elisha. When it did, the dead man came back to life (2 Kings 13:21).
There was obviously some type of residual anointing still on the bones of Elisha that led to this resurrection.
And this unusual account has led to a strange practice in some Christian circles called grave soaking or grave sucking where people pray at the grave site of dead believers, and in some instances even lay on the graves, hoping to suck up their anointing.
It has been going on for a few years and has proven quite controversial in charismatic circles. It seems to have originated in a Bible school associated with a mega church in Redding, California called Bethel Church, founded by Bill Johnson.
When reports of this taking place first came out, Johnson didn’t really address the issue. He was encouraged by the student’s desire for more of God and was not interested in trying to control what they did. The practice seems to have spread out from there.
Recently Charisma reported on an interview with Banning Liebscher, a director of Bethel Church’s Jesus Culture, where he briefly talked about this controversial practice from his perspective:
“I’m not a proponent for it, I’m just saying like there’s an anointing on Elijah or Elisha, there’s an anointing on his grave that made the guy come back to life, and maybe there’s an anointing [there].
“And then it started getting to where like, I don’t know man, I don’t know what students were doing. But it was weird. But that’s the stuff that all of a sudden has blown up all over the place.
“We have a real passion for history and revival history and men and women of God, so whatever it is—the Whitfields and the Wesleys and the Luthers and the Booths and for us, the John G. Lakes and the Kathryn Kuhlmans,
We read that stuff, love that, stirs us, inspires us. I don’t know who would be a good example—I don’t know who would’ve been over there. John Wesley. Going to John Wesley’s grave if you’re over in England or Booth’s grave, just going and visiting it and just praying at the grave like ‘Lord, what General Booth did in the Salvation Army, God, do it again in our day and let us see a transformation happen in society like he did.'”
Others are not so sure and have compared it to a form of saint worship that is practiced in some churches in the orthodox tradition. And of course, for people to be classified as a saint in the Roman Catholic church, they must perform at least two miracles after they are dead. I suspect they use this verse about Elisha to make their case for it. In some instances they even pray to these saints.
I want to make it clear, that the students and others involved in grave soaking are not praying to these dead people, but are asking God for a similar anointing.
Though, there was an anointing on Elisha’s bones, this was the only instance where something like this happened, and should we make a practice out of this one mention?
In contrast, the Bible gives very clear teaching how we can transfer God’s anointing and that is through the laying on of hands.
Because of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, the Holy Spirit is able to reside inside us. We are literally the Temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). This contrasts to the Old Testament, where because they only used animal sacrifices, the Holy Spirit fell upon people.
With the Holy Spirit now inside us, we can transfer this anointing to others through the laying on of hands. This includes:
One of the things that can take place through the laying on of hands is healing. We are told in several passages that Jesus healed people by laying His hands on them (Mark 6:5) as did the early church (Acts 28:8).
There is an interesting account of how a woman with an issue of blood was instantly healed when she touched the hem of Jesus’s garment. Though in this instance, Jesus did not lay His hands on her, He said: “Someone did touch Me, for I was aware that power had gone out of Me” (Luke 8:46).
Christ was functioning as a man filled with the Holy Spirit and the healing power did not drop down from heaven, but came from the Holy Spirit inside Christ.
We function in the same manner today; the healing comes through the Holy Spirit dwelling inside us.
Infilling of the Holy Spirit
People were baptized or filled with the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands:
15 who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. 16 For He had not yet fallen upon any of them; they had simply been baptized [a]in the name of the Lord Jesus. 17 Then they began laying their hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8: 15-17 NASV)
Again that infilling is transferred from the Holy Spirit inside us to others through the laying on of hands as it functions as a conduit.
Spiritual gifts can also be imparted to people through the laying on of hands. The Apostle Paul referred to a spiritual gift that had been given to Timothy through this process:
6 For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. (2 Timothy 1:6 NASV)
I believe that authority/and or ability to accomplish a job can also be imparted through the laying on of hands. Now some argue that it is more of a symbolic gesture, but there may be more to it than that. We know that God told Moses to lay hands on Joshua when he was chosen the next leader of Israel:
18 So the Lord said to Moses, “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him; 19 and have him stand before Eleazar the priest and before all the congregation, and commission him in their sight. (Numbers 27:18-19)
The early church continued the same practice and laid hands on people called to do a specific ministry, which they did when appointing the first deacons in the church (Acts 6:3-6) and when commissioning Paul and Barnabas to their apostolic work (Acts 13:1-4).
In this respect, Paul even warned not to be hasty in laying hands on people because you might share in their sins if they go bad (1 Timothy 5:22).
I would suggest more laying on hands and less laying on graves should be the norm in the church.
- Banning Liebscher: Why Bill Johnson didn’t immediately shut down grave sucking: Charisma
- 7 Biblical arguments against grave soaking: Charisma