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Elisha (1): Elijah's mantle falls on Elisha

C Jones, Cardiff

To heaven in a whirlwind

The prophet Elijah had served the God he knew and loved. He had stood fearlessly before the autocratic and wicked King Ahab of whom it was said "there was none like unto Ahab, which did sell himself to work wickedness in the sight of the Lord, whom Jezebel his wife stirred up" (1 Kings 21.25). Elijah had always obeyed God's commands immediately and relied upon Him to meet his every need. He was faithful and fearless among people who had turned from God to worship idols. There came a time, however, when Elijah ran away. He "went for his life" when threatened by Jezebel (19.3). He did not exercise faith in God and wait for guidance from Him. Elijah centred his thinking, not on God, but on himself and surrounding circumstances. The man was tired physically, and somewhat mentally confused and disappointed. He had been looking for a great and lasting turning to God in Israel and might have experienced feelings of pride, self-righteousness and self-glorification in connection with the ways in which he had been used by God, and now he asked God to take away his life (19.4). However, "the God of all grace" (1 Pet 5.10) restored Elijah to Himself and to His service (1 Kings 19.5-16). Those of us who have been saved, by grace, through God-given faith in the Person and finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, must examine ourselves continually before God to determine the true motives for what we might claim to be our service for God. Are we truly seeking to serve God in accordance with His revealed will, for His glory, the blessing of other believers and the lost with whom we come into contact? Are there elements of self-centred pride, self-satisfaction and self-importance in what we seek to do? We must remember the admonition "let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Cor 10.12).

The call of Elisha

Elijah was to learn that neither he nor anyone else is indispensible in the service of God. He was told to "anoint Hazael to be king over Syria: And Jehu … to be king over Israel: and Elisha … shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room" (1 Kings 19.15-16). Elijah learned that, after his days, God would use Elisha to serve Him. He also learned that he was not the only one who still worshipped God, for there was a remnant of 7,000 people who had not worshipped Baal (v.18). God is sovereign, and always has those who, although unknown to us, will serve Him in the future. The response of Elijah to God's command was immediate. He went in search of Elisha, whose name means "God is salvation", and found him "plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth" (v.19). This might indicate that Elisha was not poor but was ploughing with one yoke of oxen and his workmen with the other eleven. Elijah cast his mantle upon Elisha (v.19), thus indicating his appointment as Elijah's successor and his adoption as his son. Elisha responded immediately by leaving his oxen and running after Elijah. He asked Elijah to allow him to take leave of his father and mother. Elijah agreed to his request but told him to remember that he had been called to serve God. Elisha made a farewell feast for his parents and others using a yoke of oxen, boiling them over a fire made from his wooden plough. He had finished with his old way of life and would now follow Elijah to help and serve him (vv.20-21).

Elijah went from Gilgal to Bethel, Jericho and Jordan, and Elisha insisted on going with him (2 Kings 2.2-7). There came a time when the sons of the prophets told Elisha that Elijah was going to be taken away. Elisha already knew that this was to happen and he did not want to discuss what would be to him a sad and distressing event (vv.3,5). When the two prophets came to Jordan, Elijah struck the waters with his mantle and the waters parted allowing the prophets to pass over on dry ground (vv.7-8). This event was witnessed by fifty of the sons of the prophets. Elijah, knowing that he would soon be leaving Elisha, asked him what he could do for him before he was taken away. Elisha replied, "let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me" (v.9). This was not simply a request by Elisha that he should be empowered to do twice as much for God as Elijah had done but, rather, that he should be acknowledged as the successor and heir of Elijah in the prophetic office. This reminds us of the law in Israel that the firstborn should receive a double portion of his father's estate (Deut 21.17). In fact, Elisha performed twice as many miracles as Elijah, and only the Lord Jesus Christ performed more. Only God could grant Elisha's request for spiritual power, and we can do no work for God unless empowered by the Holy Spirit. Elijah told Elisha that God would grant his request if he saw him (Elijah) taken away (2 Kings 2.10). It was then that a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared, parted the prophets, and Elijah was taken up into heaven by a whirlwind (v.11). Elisha cried, "My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof" (v.12). The reference to chariots and horses might well have indicated that Elisha believed that Elijah was more important for Israel's well-being and protection than all other weapons. God showed that He was with Elisha as He had been with Elijah, for when Elisha struck the waters of Jordan with Elijah's mantle, they parted and Elisha crossed over. The sons of the prophets who were watching exclaimed "The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha" (v.15). They acknowledged Elisha as being the successor of Elijah.

Elisha's service

Elisha was probably quite young when he was appointed as Elijah's successor. How good it is to see enthusiastic young ones serving the Lord, working harmoniously with older believers, and benefiting from their knowledge and experiences. We learn of the beautiful relationship which existed between Paul and the younger Timothy, whom Paul described as "my own son in the faith" (1 Tim 1.2). How Timothy must have profited from his time with Paul, and how Paul must have been blessed by fellowship with Timothy. Elijah, Elisha and Timothy are each referred to as a "man of God" (1 Kings 17.18; 2 Kings 4.9; 1 Tim 6.11). Deathbed conversions are very wonderful, but how marvellous it is when a young person is saved with, God willing, a lifetime ahead in which to grow more like the Lord Jesus Christ and serve Him. We all, whether older or younger, need to study and meditate on the Word of God and obey what the Holy Spirit reveals to us, so that we might grow spiritually and serve the Lord in accordance with His will.

Sadly, the majority of the people rejected Elijah's ministry, and it would have seemed that the judgment of God was inevitable. God, however, acted in grace. There was the remnant which had not worshipped Baal (1 Kings 19.18). Both Elijah and Elisha lived lives which were separated from the world and to God, but they differed in a number of ways. Elijah spent much of his time alone, by a stream, in the desert, and in caves. Elisha, whose ministry covered approximately fifty years, was found among men, in cities and with kings. Elisha moved among men and was a witness to the power, grace and mercy of God. His was a ministry of grace which we see in perfection in what is recorded of the Lord Jesus Christ. Of Him we read "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich" (2 Cor 8.9). The Lord spent time with individuals and with crowds, revealing the power, love, grace and mercy of God. He could say "… he that hath seen me hath seen the Father" (Jn 14.9). Elijah and Elisha witnessed for God among people, the majority of whom were away from God, apostate, and having idols in their lives. Today, God is graciously seeking men and women who will worship, witness, serve and glorify Him in the midst of people who are often hostile and not interested in the things of God.

To be continued.


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