Elisha's call to service (1 Kings 19) was considered in the previous article in this series. It was observed that he was marked by obedience to the call of God, notwithstanding the cost.
It may be that scholars are right and it was ten years later that Elisha was thrust into public focus. Elijah would be taken to heaven and Elisha would become the man of God in Israel that He would use in the nation. It is worth remembering that Elisha was used having first shown faith and obedience, and also having known what it was to minister to Elijah's need for around a decade. Nonetheless, the day came where the great man of God would be removed from national service. A younger man, Elisha, would move into the public eye.
The chapter has relevant lessons for the testimony now. The day is presently dawning for a new generation. Mighty men have recently been taken home. That brings opportunities and responsibilities. There is need for Elisha-like younger saints to step forward and bear the burden of public testimony. However, the writer judges that there are spiritual lessons in this chapter that demonstrate the character required in the younger generation if they are to be vessels "meet for the master's use" (2 Tim 2.21). The writer's generation cannot expect to repeat any mistakes of previous generations, or live carelessly, and then somehow rise to the occasion when the baton of testimony is passed down. Are appropriate apprenticeships being served?
The places Elisha revisited
2 Kings 2 sets forth the events leading up to Elijah's departure. Note first, Elisha's determination to follow Elijah (see, for example, v.4). He decided to follow hard a man who was in touch with God. In doing so, he was serious and consistent. Who does the reader follow? Men who wield worldly influence, or saints in touch with heaven (cp 1 Cor 11.1)? Difficult circumstances and the pressure of the situation (v.3) make clear that he was experiencing some of the real issues facing many a saint weighing up the demands of public testimony, and his spiritual support was being removed. This, however, did not affect his desire, and he followed Elijah to a number of Biblically significant locations before the older prophet was removed. It seems that the sequence of places visited is not coincidental and suggest something of the character that would be required in Elisha.
First, they started at Gilgal. This was where the truth of circumcision was rediscovered by the nation (Josh 5). It speaks spiritually of the need for the people of God to cut off the flesh (for the doctrinal basis see Colossians 2.11). There is a need for 21st century believers, empowered by the Holy Spirit of God, to put the flesh to death in the same way; that should indeed be a pre-requisite of public service for God.
The two prophets then moved together to Bethel, Elijah being clear that he was being so directed. There, older and younger together arrived and spoke to the sons of the prophets. One does not need to look far for the spiritual lesson from this spot. Jacob called the place where God appeared to him Bethel, because it was the "house of God" (Gen 28.19-22). It was marked by the presence and the power of God. Paul wrote to Timothy that the local assembly had house of God character (1 Tim 3.15). An appreciation of the house of God will be vital for servants exercised about shouldering responsibility. That is primarily because house of God truth emphasises God's dwelling and the sanctuary of His presence. Not only is service and behaviour linked with the house of God, but it is also the place of fellowship with God. Later, Jacob would call the place El-Bethel (Gen 35.7), having come to appreciate not only the house, but the God of the house. Reverent familiarity with the sanctuary, and an appreciation of the wonder that God would be pleased to make his dwelling among his people, are features to be aspired to.
Leaving Bethel, they took their journey to Jericho. Jericho was the place of difficulty that the people of God could not conquer in their own strength (Josh 6). However, it is a place similarly associated with the nation being taught that God was able to give the victory. It is good to remember that God is still able, and obstacles that seem insurmountable are easily dealt with if He wills. However, Jericho was also a cursed place (Josh 6.26). The chapter is therefore perhaps typically teaching the difficulties in the pathway, and the cost of engaging in faithful service for God.
Finally, they came to Jordan. It has often been correctly taught that Jordan symbolises the believer positionally dying with Christ at the cross. This is seen in the account of the nation coming into the land. Joshua 4 records the fact that twelve stones, previously seen on the wilderness side, were buried in the depths of Jordan as the nation crossed the river. Conversely, twelve stones that had never been seen were lifted from the river bed and erected as a stone memorial on the far side of Jordan. This seems to be a picture of our identification with the death of Christ; the old man being put to death, and thereafter the believer living in the power of his resurrection life (Gal 2.20). Should it not weigh more heavily? There is need all around, many opportunities for service, and yet, perhaps lives are still being lived as if the old man is still alive?
The sons of the prophets also followed to Jordan. However, only Elisha was close enough to Elijah to experience the power of God. Elijah offered him a blessing. Elisha did not ask for wealth or power or influence in that sense. He wanted the same spiritual character as Elijah. Are there young saints today willing to be exercised about forming Christ-like character?
The power Elisha received
As Elijah was caught away, Elisha mourned his departure (v.12), but having seen the glory of God, he immediately proceeded to move for God. He began his recorded public service by retracing Elijah's steps back over Jordan (v.13). This involved the first miracle we read of in his service as he divided the river. The record of the incident contains some important lessons for continuing work for God.
Elisha picked up Elijah's mantle. In other words, he was exercised that the prophet's work would continue. It is sad to see mantles drop that are never picked up. Is there a work that God would have the reader recommence, or a responsibility that requires to be borne? Garments in the Scripture often speak of character (for example, Is 61.10). The work continued with the same mantle being worn. By application, it should come as no surprise if things are weak and if spiritual men have been replaced on the front-line by those who are carnal. It is a sad indictment on the generation if another "mantle" is sought, rather than that worn by the mighty men taken home, who lived Christ (Phil 1.21).
After he lifted the mantle of Elijah, Elisha stood on the banks of Jordan. Perhaps he contemplated whether he in his inexperience could repeat the exploits of the great man of God. However, he not only had the same cloak, but he had the same rod. The rod was the means by which the power of God was revealed. The writer sees it as typical of the living and powerful Scriptures (Heb 4.12). They still remain the basis by which God's power is revealed and seen. Strength or weakness in testimony will be determined to a large extent by knowledge and practical experimental appreciation of divine truth.
Finally, Elisha relied on the same God. He asked, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" (v.14). A new day had dawned. Elisha would face different problems to those of Elijah, but God was still God. Praise God that the God of Elijah is the believer's God, and despite the weakness and frailty of conditions, He stands ready to help His servants as the work continues.
Elisha was marked by spiritual perception. He knew Elijah's body would not be found. He waited on the sons of the prophets and then left Jericho, without Elijah, but knowing the presence of Elijah's God who had experimentally become his God too.
In God's purpose testimony continues now as it did in Elisha's day. However, things would doubtlessly be strengthened among the assemblies of the saints if there was appreciation of these great truths seen typically in Elisha's experience: sanctification, mortification, identification, and indeed the house of God. Like him also, there is encouragement in remembering that the God of Elijah still stands ready to help!
To be continued.