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Elisha (6): The Cost of his Service

E Baijal, Wick

Introduction

This series of articles has traced Elisha's service from the moment he responded in obedience to the call of God. However, the time arrived when his day of service had concluded and he would pass into His presence. It is one thing to start well: to his credit, Elisha also finished well.

Elisha's Final Illness

The differences between Elisha's death and Elijah's being taken into heaven are stark. One suffered a failure in his health, while the other seemed to be taken home to heaven while in full flight so far as his service was concerned. One died, the other was taken direct to heaven. Such are the differences in departure today when servants of God are called home. The believer hopes for the return of the Son of God from heaven. However, in the event that a saint is called to pass through physical death then there are lessons to be learned from Elisha.

Scripture records that the man of God became weak (2 Kings 13.14). How would the nation cope without him? It is sometimes difficult to understand why men close to God, and used by Him, are removed, apparently prematurely, from service on earth. Naturally speaking, the nation needed Elisha more than ever before. As in Elijah's case, here a younger man, Joash, the king, witnessed an older man preparing to depart. The king professed to recognise when he visited Elisha during his final illness that Elisha had acted as a spiritual father, that he had acted as a defence to the people of God in battle, that he had brought the word of God to bear, and that his passing was a cause of much grief (v.14). The nation would again have to learn experimentally to rely on God.

Assemblies of the saints in the United Kingdom are regularly facing the issue encountered by Joash. Men of God, who have faithfully and powerfully delivered the Word of God, who have loved and protected the people of God; who have become spiritual guides and fathers, are being taken home to heaven. It is right that grief is shown as their contribution and legacy to the work of God is appreciated. However, just as Elisha's departure was in God's purpose and plan, so it is today. There needs to be a fresh reliance on, and experience of, divine power in each new generation. In the same manner that Elisha assumed responsibility from Elijah, there is a need for the next generation to pick up the mantle of service today. Very simply, Elisha's death gives encouragement that God's work will continue no matter how great the losses are.

It seems to the writer that, sadly, Elisha's mantle was never really picked up. Joash professed appreciation of Elisha and declared love for his character, but ultimately did not stand for truth and rather accepted the Jeroboam instituted system of apostate worship (v.11).

Similar decisions have to be made today. While assemblies may not have experienced sixty years of Elisha-like miracles, they have had many decades of faithful teaching, and in many cases, good examples of sacrificial living (Mt 16.24). Now, in dark days there is a need for the next generation to prove God, in the absence of the men upon whom the assemblies have previously relied. Elisha had proved Elijah's God. Sadly, it seems Joash did not prove Elisha's God in the same way. While the same challenge confronted him, it was not a challenge to which he raised himself.

Elisha's Final Revelation

An earlier article in this series pointed out from the decisions of Jehoshaphat that the ageing process is no guarantee of spiritual progress and maturity. While that is true, it is encouraging to see here a man who was spiritually strong, despite physical weakness. The saints cannot expect to show spiritual strength in trial if their life has previously been marked by spiritual poverty. Elisha ought to be an encouragement to keep going to the very end.

This final Scriptural account of his service is an encouragement in a number of ways (2 Kings 13.14-19). Here is a man who knows he is going to go out to meet God. However, he is still ambitious for the people of God, that they will be victorious and glorify Him in battle. Second, in his weakness, he remains close to God and is able to reveal His purpose. Notice, too, that as he again brings blessing to the people of God, despite his weakness he is guiding the hands of King Joash (v.16).

His final message was one of encouragement. God would deliver his people out of the oppression of the Syrians: in fact, He would give the power so that the Syrians were consumed. Elisha asked King Joash to fire an arrow eastward to symbolise the deliverance of the Lord. He then asked the king to strike the arrow on the ground. The king did so three times (v.18). Elisha was angry, on the basis that he had instructed the king to strike the ground with all of the arrows, which, according to the man of God's comment, was six times, not three. Elisha was emphasising an important lesson to Joash. Those in a position of leadership should personally appreciate divine deliverance. Also, Joash had to have bigger thoughts of God's blessing and deliverance.

It seems that frequently things are similar today. The saints are often limited by a failure to appreciate the deliverance of God personally. There is still no limit on how God can bless, or in His power to do so. However, among the saints there are often small thoughts of God's power. Just as the people of God could be delivered in all their weakness from Syrian oppression, God can still deliver his people from the domination of the enemy, in order that they can experience liberty to serve him.

Elisha's Final Miracle

Elisha did die, and he was buried (v.20). It is worth pausing to notice that the body God gives a man, though marred by the consequences of the fall, should be treated with dignity. The Scriptural example seems to be that the body ought to be buried, not burned, waiting the day of resurrection (see for example Acts 5.6,10; 8.2; 1 Cor 15.35-44). We do recognise that there are believers whose families may insist on the cremation of the body following death, but that will not prevent God acting to reunite soul and a then glorified body at the rapture (1 Cor 15.44); however, the principle is worth observing in a world that gives less and less dignity to the body God creates.

Following his burial, a remarkable thing happened, long after Elisha's soul had left the body (13.20-21). The Moabites were disturbed as they were burying a man. Perhaps in a hurry they threw the man's body into a sepulchre, which was Elisha's. When the body touched Elisha's bones, the man received his life again.

It seems God was reminding the nation of the power and reality of Elisha just as is written of Abel: "he being dead yet speaketh" (Heb 11.4). One of the themes that appear more than once in Elisha's life is that of legacy. Elisha left a powerful spiritual legacy. The people of God benefitted from his service and ministry, and his legacy was challenging, edifying and powerful. It is tragic when servants of God leave legacies which are destructive.

Conclusion

Elisha fulfilled the ministry to which he was called. He leaves an example to any spiritually ambitious saint, seeking to lift the mantle and fill the gap left by generations now with the Lord. He showed obedience, was able to bring the word of God to men, minister help to the people of God, demonstrate the power of God, and ultimately leave a helpful legacy. However, despite his life's work, the people of God rejected for the most part what he had taught. And so it is today. The saints have good examples to follow. There is no shortage of teaching. There is certainly no lack of legacy. Yet, gaps remain unfilled so far as the assumption of responsibility is concerned. The writer trusts that the saints will be challenged, as he has been, by the life of this "man of God."

Concluded.

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