The Prophet Series: Elisha; part 1
The Prophet Series: Elisha; part 1
The first mention of Elisha is in 1KI 19:16. God was revealing Himself to Elijah in the gentle blowing of the wind, to which the unrepentant Elijah responded by continuing to want the tempest. Elijah would be replaced as God's main prophet by a man named Elisha. This did not mean that Elijah's work for the Lord was done, and part of that work was to anoint Elisha.
1KI 19:15-16 And the Lord said to him, "Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you have arrived, you shall anoint Hazael king over Aram; and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place.
Elijah had desired judgment to come upon Israel, and it certainly would, but not for some time. Death would certainly come to king Ahab's house, but only after Ahab himself died. Jezebel would also die miserably, but not yet. Hazael, king of Aram would exact a harsh destruction upon Israel as an instrument of God’s judgment, but that was years from now. God is so very patient and His plans are inscrutable to our finite minds.
One of the important missions left to Elijah is to anoint Elisha as Israel’s lead prophet. I would imagine that this is bitter-sweet for him. He is being replaced due to his inability to see the greater value of grace before judgment, but still he understands that there will continue to be a prophet in Israel who carries God’s words and performs God’s works. Elijah must return to Israel from Sinai, traveling far north to Issachar.
Gladness has returned to the hearts of the people of Israel as talk of Elijah’s miracle on Mt. Carmel has spread throughout the land. Rain has returned after a forty-two month absence, evidence to all that God had not left them. A new spring had come upon Israel and as Elijah passed through Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim, and Manasseh and witnessed the happy people, again at their fields and plows, he must have thought often about that gentle blowing of wind where he witnessed the presence of God on Sinai. The people were blessed and not cursed. God had certainly been gentle with Israel, at least for a while longer, lengthening the window of time in which she could repent of her adultery.
Elisha, in the land of Issachar, is also found plowing his father’s fields in Abel-meholah, “the meadow of dance,” named for the merry dancing of the reapers of this beautiful land’s bounty, which it has not produced for some time. As Elisha labors in the joy of plowing for the first time in years, the prophet Elijah approaches.
Ahab is still alive and Elijah hasn’t yet prophesied his judgment, nor has Micaiah yet prophesied his death, but these are soon to follow. First, Elisha must be called to the important role of caring for Israel before her judgment comes crashing down all around her.
1KI 19:19-21 So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, while he was plowing with twelve pairs of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth. And Elijah passed over to him and threw his mantle on him. And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, "Please let me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you." And he said to him, "Go back again, for what have I done to you?" So he returned from following him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave it to the people and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him.
“These fields, far as the eye could reach, were the possession of one Shaphat, and he was of those seven thousand who had not bent to Baal, as we infer even from the name which he had given to his son Elisha, “the God of salvation,” or better, “my God salvation.” And now twelve yoke of oxen were plowing up the land—eleven guided by the hands of servants, the twelfth, in good old Hebrew simple fashion, by the son of the owner of those lands.” [Endersheim; Old Testament History]
Whether the two men knew each other we are not told, but we would infer that Elisha knew this was the prophet of God by his dress and manner, and especially by the mantle that he wore around his neck, which mantle Elijah removed and placed upon the neck of Elisha; a gesture with an implication that could not be missed. Not a word was spoken, but Elisha responded positively. However, his agreement carried with it but one request, running after the old prophet he respectfully asks if he can bid a proper farewell to his father and mother.
Immediately the question before us is whether it was a failure for him to desire this. Should he not drop his plow and go? Didn’t Jesus have a fellow who asked the same to which the Lord replied:
LUK 9:61-62 And another also said, "I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home." But Jesus said to him, "No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God."
So is Elisha not fit for the kingdom of God? When we’re done studying his life there will be no question that he is certainly fit for it.
First and foremost, I must admit that I do not look into the question of whether a person in the Bible is a failure or not unless it is clearly obvious or God states it. In the past I used to do that quite a bit, but I now know that it was a result of my own insecurity. Who among us receives a life changing call from God and doesn’t give ourselves a pause in which to consider it? Do we all just drop our proverbial plows and directly march off to the front battle line? I’m even sympathetic to the man who asked the question of Jesus, but it is Jesus who corrects him as He does to all of us. The word of God is profitable for reproof and correction, 2TI 3:16.
Depending on which commentator you read, Elisha’s request ranges from perfectly legit to a complete flop, so I’ll leave them out of it.
First off, Elisha is not rebuked. Elijah said to him, "Go back again, for what have I done to you?" In other words, “You may go back to them, but don’t forget or misunderstand why I put that mantle on you.” And we find that Elisha doesn’t forget. In fact, he killed the oxen which he was using, broke up the plow, and used the wood to cook the animals as a sacrifice to God, and in correct fashion according to the peace offering in the Law, he served the people of his father’s household a wonderful meal of celebration. What I see here is respect and love for his parents, love and care for his father’s servants, and respect towards God and His calling.
In fact, immediately after his call, the apostle Matthew also had a feast with his friends and the Lord actually joined him, and yet he is described as leaving all behind to follow Him.
LUK 5:27-32 And after that He went out, and noticed a tax-gatherer named Levi, sitting in the tax office, and He said to him, "Follow Me." And he left everything behind, and rose and began to follow Him. And Levi gave a big reception for Him in his house; and there was a great crowd of tax-gatherers and other people who were reclining at the table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, "Why do you eat and drink with the tax-gatherers and sinners?" And Jesus answered and said to them, "It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."
One of the differences that may be significant between Elisha and that man who requested from Jesus is that Elisha had not yet put his hand to the plow. After the peace offering and the celebratory meal, when he arose and followed Elijah, he never went back. When Elijah approached he certainly had his hands on an earthly plow, but he had not yet put his hands to the spiritual plow. He destroys the earthly plow, which signifies that he will not again return to being a husbandman and he will never again rely on the tools or weapons of man. He sacrifices the oxen, signifying that he will not again rely on the power of beasts or men. He had plowed his father’s beautiful fields for years but now he will plow the spiritual fields of Israel, and he will not look back. So I’m confident that he fulfilled the words of the Lord and that he simply celebrated with his father who also followed the Lord, but was never called to something like his son had been.
When Elijah heard the request from his young apprentice he must have certainly understood. There were years of scaring, hardship, sacrifice, and loss on his soul that Elisha had not yet known. There was also upon his soul, years of built up strength from witnessing the power of God and the faithfulness of His word, which Elisha had not yet seen. Elijah certainly understood the greatness of the sacrifice that immediate obedience implied, and so he bid him to go, but with the warning not to forget the significance of the call. Here we see a common theme that lies all throughout God’s revelation, God calls but man must choose.
Elisha has the choice. He could spend a last day with his family in which he would certainly be tempted in the atmosphere of such a happy celebration mixed with tearful goodbyes to remain with them, but that is a temptation which cannot be avoided - not now and not in the future, for even years from then, when he is far away from home, he will think of it, because memory always carries within it the familiarity of family and home.
If God’s call is away from home then it must be heeded. As soon as the call comes, it is not longer His will for us to be there. Our true homes are in heaven. Christ has gone there to prepare them for us. The various places on earth where we live and frequent throughout our lifetimes vary in their level of comfort and familiarity, but in God’s will we are always were we need to be. Elisha doesn’t need to remain at home because Israel needs him. God is sending him as a servant to His elect people because God loves His people. Elisha will have to suffer loss, pain, sacrifice, and deep scaring upon his soul, just as his predecessor did, because God loves Israel. Elisha is not called because of any human asset that he may possess. He is called because he is willing to go.
All personal decision for God, and all work undertaken for Him, implies a leave-taking and a forsaking of the old, which must “pass away” when “all things become new.” But this forsaking, though necessarily involving pain and loss, should not be sad, rather, joyous, as plowing through pain to the real joy of having a portion in the things that God has made new and in planting that same newness in the lives of others; lives to whom God has sent us. What may seem like loss to an outsider who does not understand is real gain in God’s infinite plan.
2CO 5:17 Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
Thus the end of the old will at the same time be the beginning of the new. We give up the former calling or the former portion of God’s will for our lives, whether it be a location, a vocation, a ministry, or even a stage of maturity, and we embrace the first act of the new phase of God’s plan. And however humble that ministry, or seemingly insignificant, or how¬ever indirectly it may seem to bear upon the Lord’s work in this world, it is really a ministry of Him, and not one aspect of the working of the entire body of Christ is overlooked by Him or deemed unnecessary.
1CO 12:22 On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary;
Until Elisha part 2 and beyond…