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Elisha – God’s Ploughman (1 Kings 19.16-21)

J Griffiths, Treorchy

Elisha’s call to be God’s ploughman

After the death of Solomon, the kingdom of Israel was divided under Rehoboam and Jeroboam. Jeroboam ruled over the ten tribes occupying the northern territory, having Samaria as his capital. Rehoboam was king of Judah. Over some fifty-eight years seven kings reigned in Israel, all of them wicked. Ahab was the worst of all. His marriage to Jezebel resulted in apostasy. The public worship of Jehovah vanished: idolatry was almost universal. The golden calves were worshipped at Bethel and Dan. God had been displaced. The cry was, "Baal lives"! The Tyrian princess, Jezebel, appeared to have triumphed in introducing her gods to the nation of Israel.

With the failure of the priesthood and now the monarchy, God raised up prophets to speak His mind: first Elijah and then Elisha. All this in the ninth century before Christ. The two prophets occupy nineteen of the forty-seven chapters of First and Second Kings, and their ministry is substantiated by miracles, a rare thing in the Bible.

Elijah, though faithful, had become depressed, believing, mistakenly, that he was alone in his stand for Jehovah against palace and people. Seven thousand had not bowed the knee to Baal – one of these, Elisha, became God’s ploughman; "Nevertheless, he (God) left not himself without witness" (Acts 14.17). God always has a remnant, as in men like Elisha, Obadiah, Micaiah, and many of the sons of the prophets.

God selected Elisha as the man for the moment using Elijah to anoint his own servant and successor. God can achieve great things through a consecrated individual such as Abraham, Moses, David, Paul etc. Consider, now, this man Elisha (1 Kings 19.16-21).

His identity and locality (v.16)

His name means "God is my salvation". Our appreciation of the character and saving grace of God is basic to any service for the Master. Elisha was the son of Shaphat - "God is my Judge". The recognition that our service is subject to God’s scrutiny, and that we must all give account at the Judgment Seat should prove a stimulus to our ministry.

Elisha’s home town was Abel-meholah – "the place of dancing". Doubtless it was so called because dancing was the leisure activity of the moment. If we are really serious about our commitment to the Lord, there are leisure activities which, while not intrinsically wrong, have to be sacrificed if we genuinely desire to please Him. Henry Drummond is reputed to have said, "The entrance fee to the Kingdom is free: it is the annual subscription that is costly". God’s call to service comes to those who are saved, subject to His scrutiny and preparedness to make sacrifices for His sake.

His activity (v.19)

Elijah caught up with Elisha as he was ploughing for his father. God does not call the idle to His service. He looks for those who are busy in the normal round of life; for example, Moses and David were shepherding, Gideon was threshing wheat, Amos was herding and gathering sycamore fruit, the disciples were active fishing and tax-collecting.

Similarly, God does not call the great ones of earth, but, as Paul asserts in his introduction to First Corinthians, He calls the nobody, the non-entity so that the glory will be His alone. He uses a little maid to bless Naaman, a lad from the sheepfold to become Israel’s king, the betrothed of a carpenter to facilitate the incarnation of His Son, lowly fishermen to turn the world upside down, and a simple agricultural worker to become the prophet of his age!

In our service we should not be "killing time" or just "passing time" but rather "redeeming the time" for the days are evil. We need to be "something" for God rather than a "someone" in the world’s estimation.

His authority (vv.16b; 19b)

It is unlikely that Elisha was a graduate of the schools of the sons of prophets. Our authority is not conferred nor yet confirmed by the seminaries or colleges of this world, nor by the religious hierarchy of ecclesiastical systems. Our school, the best school, is our local assembly. This is our training ground where we prepare to answer the call of God. No ordination or induction service here!

Elisha’s authority was conferred by the anointing and the mantle. His confirmation by God took place when the Jordan was opened up and Elisha passed over with the cry, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?".

We assume that Elijah anointed Elisha with oil, this being a consistent type of the Holy Spirit (1 Jn 2.20,27). Our authority and power for service is twofold as was that of Elisha. The starting point of Elisha’s public ministry was an ascended man. Also note that the sight of Elijah going into heaven was to be the secret of Elisha’s power on earth. The Church, as represented by the disciples, witnessed Christ ascending and returning to His Father. Stephen stated, "I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God" (Acts 7.56). Paul’s conversion and call were prefaced by a sight of Christ in the glory.

Our service has to be preceded by a vision of the risen, ascended Christ and the recognition that, consequent upon our Lord’s ascension, the Comforter has come. He empowers us for service. He is "the still small voice" speaking today in and through believers.

The mantle symbolised the transfer of the prophetic office from Elijah to Elisha. The wind, earthquake, and fire of Elijah were now replaced by the "still small voice" of Elisha. Similarly, the period of law represented by Moses and Elijah has been replaced by the day of grace and salvation and the "still small voice" of the Spirit of God as illustrated by Elisha.

His alacrity and sensitivity (v.20)

"He left the oxen, and ran after Elijah." This portrays a servant who was ready to obey the call. How similar to the disciples who were called and left all to follow their Master. There is no hesitation, no reluctance; yet, the man of alacrity is also the man of sensitivity. He needs to bid his parents farewell. Some have seen a parallel with the "disciple" of Luke 9.57-62, but there it is not sensitivity that is in view but excuse. Elijah makes it clear that Elisha’s response to the call of God is purely voluntary - "Go back again". There is no coercion or compulsion. Elisha responds to the call with implicit obedience tempered only by his desire to bid goodbye to his family.

His sincerity (v.21)

The proof of his genuine motive is clear. He used the tools of his trade to light the fire and to boil the flesh of the oxen with which he ploughed for the feasting. There was no going back for Elisha. He would be God’s ploughman and not his father’s from now on. He had put his hand to the plough.

There is a sense in which the disciples failed to "burn their boats behind them" as they returned to their fishing. Not so, Elisha! He is out and out for God – no half measures in his case. His all is on the altar. Oh for more Elishas, Calebs, and Timothys today! We are not all called to "full-time" service, to leave our employment and family for the sake of Christ, but we are all expected to show a one hundred per cent commitment to our Lord and to be prepared for costly sacrifice to further His work in this world.

His humility (v.21b)

Elisha "ministered unto him". He began as Elijah’s servant: "Elisha…which poured water on the hands of Elijah" (2 Kings 3.11). For ten years he served his apprenticeship alongside Elijah before serving in his own right. Those ten years of obscurity were a vital preparation for public service.

God has His training-ground for His servants as seen in the experiences of Joseph in the prison, Moses in the backside of the desert, David with the lion and the bear before Goliath, Paul in Arabia.

Please observe that there is no generation gap here! Elijah and Elisha are totally compatible despite their obvious difference in age, temperament etc. The Scriptural example is clear – Moses and Joshua; David and Jonathan; Paul and Timothy. The experience of the older person and the energy and enthusiasm of the younger go well together.

The principle of pairing is also Scriptural - Moses with Aaron; Moses with Joshua; Paul with Barnabas; Paul with Silas; Paul with Luke; and Paul with Timothy. The Lord sent out the disciples in pairs. Fellowship in the things of God is a healthy sign. Two also speaks of witness and testimony. Fellowship in witness and testimony for God is to be encouraged.

Thus, Elisha the ploughman was prepared for public service. Elisha was to be a servant (19.21), a seer (19.16), a successor (19.16), and a swordsman (19.17), the last of these possibly in the sense of Hosea 6.5 where God says, "I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth".

What about you and me: are we ready to be the servants of God in our day and generation? When God calls us would we answer as decisively as Elisha? Are we willing to plough for God?

Concluded.

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