The Prophet Series: Elisha, part 3
Elisha: part 3
After taking some time to write about something other than Elisha I was able to go back over the very start of his ministry and lo and behold I noticed that I had missed quite a few aspects of truth. And since Elisha's ministry spans about a half-century, I don't mind taking my time and reviewing a bit.
We saw that Elisha was called by Elijah when he put his mantle on him while he was plowing his father's fields. Elisha served Elijah for some years before we again see him in 2Ki 2 journeying with Elijah on Elijah's last and final journey. They passed by Gilgal, where Israel, preceded by the ark, had crossed the Jordan. And then on to Bethel, where Jacob found himself enwrapped in a vision, beholding the ladder that connected heaven and earth. And then on to Jericho, Joshua's first conquest, whose walls had fallen helplessly to expose the enemy to Israel's sword. The two prophets must certainly recall these wonderful acts of God as they move from place to place, wondering in their hearts when God would fulfill His covenant with Abraham and bless the world through the seed and bless Israel with sovereignty. The Israel that was before them was not the faithful, righteous, just, committed people that they had both had dreamed of. How long Lord? How long?
We are surprised to hear Elijah's request that Elisha remain behind so as to not witness what they both knew would be the miraculous ascension of Elijah. Would Elisha follow the Lord and follow Elijah or would he obey the command of his master? This looks much like a test, for Elisha is about to take the highest office in the land, which carried great responsibility, was he ready for it? Had he thus far deceived himself, and mistaken sincere intentions for a readiness to follow and obey without reasoning and without questioning? This is the first qualification for the office of prophet. Elisha was truly ready, for he understood something that some have not. The word of God can never be set aside to follow the command of another person, no matter how virtuous or good that person may be. No advice or command from any man, even a man of God and a man of authority, can equal the command of the Lord. Elisha knows he must follow Elijah and so he rightfully rejects the request of the old prophet.
When obeying the Lord it is often dangerous to reason when the command and the way is clear. We are all very adept at self-justification and we can reason ourselves right out of obeying. Satan, the great tempter, is a far greater logician than we, and good reasons will not be long in coming to the mind of a man who desires his own inclination. "Good reasons have always been found for doing wrong." [Alfred Edersheim]
Elisha has put his hand to the spiritual plow and he will not look back. There is nothing left for him back on his father's farm or anywhere else, just as there is nothing left in the world that may bid for the Christian's allegiance. He is to look forward always, towards eternity and his home in heaven, for His Lord is his only allegiance and His will be done as we tarry a short while longer on this earth. There are many things around us that call to turn us aside, but these are only trials of faith and faith continues the path of righteous.
There are periods in the life of each of us when our faith and patience will be severely tested. These are trying times but they are holy and precious times. As in the case of Elisha, the question will ultimately be: Am I prepared to follow no matter what may come, no matter what the difficulty, no matter how long the trial may last, no matter how hopeless things may look. Christ affirmed to Peter, "If you love Me you will follow Me, even when you are being marched off to your death."
When the two prophets arrive at the schools of the prophets at both Bethel and Jericho, Elisha is met with a curious group.
2KI 2:3 "Do you know that the Lord will take away your master from over you today?" And he said, "Yes, I know; be still."
They sound almost childish, and Elisha seems to confirm that by treating them like children - "hush and be still." They seem eager to bring bad tidings to Elisha - God is taking away your master today - or possibly good tidings - God is taking away your master today, so you'll be the master now! Would Elisha lust for the position of lead prophet? He wouldn't be made lead prophet if he did. Within man there is a certain morbid steak that is eager to communicate bad things. This drive to speak about corrupt things outweighs their zeal in any other direction. This unfortunately wraps itself within Christianity in which the members of the church never miss an opportunity to speak of the weakness of the church and her divisions. While we may learn from the mistakes that the church has made in her history, this should not be the topic of our portrayal of the church to the world. As flawed as the church may be, she has been and still is the one representative of Christ in this world. The gospel she carries has saved countless lives. These prophets should hold their tongues concerning what God has given them insight and consider their brother Elisha's well being over their need to gossip. "Words are winged messengers for peace or war, of life or of death." [Edersheim]
COL 3:8-10 But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him
COL 4:6 Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person.
TIT 2:6-8 Likewise urge the young men to be sensible; in all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified, sound in speech which is beyond reproach, in order that the opponent may be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us.
Elijah and Elisha reach the bank of the Jordan River while fifty men of the sons of the prophets from Jericho stood at a distance.
2KI 2:8 And Elijah took his mantle and folded it together and struck the waters, and they were divided here and there, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground.
What a strong act of faith on Elijah's part! While his body may have grown weak through age, his faith had not. I am often awed by such acts because it is one thing for God to tell you to perform a specific act and quite another to act and depend upon Him fully because you know from your own faith that it is His will. Elijah is about to take his last walk on earth and he is even watched by Elisha and fifty prophets and he doesn't play it safe. Rather, he takes a daring act of faith and risks his whole reputation on God's reputation. He trusted God fully and struck the waters with his mantle and the loving-kindness of the Lord parted the river exposing dry ground.
The prophet's mantle was the badge of his office and so the office proved superior to the elements of the world. It wasn't Elijah who was superior, but the office, because it carried with it the gospel and all words of deliverance. It is the message of God that Elijah bears, which message he boldly gives in the surest faith, and that is more powerful than the world.
Believers also bear God's message. They are ambassadors for Christ. But if we have no message from Christ, no courage and faith as ambassadors, then we are impotent, no matter what honors, name, or salary men may have bestowed upon us. However, possession of the gospel with love and not shame, with confidence and not fear, with gentleness and not tyranny gives us the honor of having power over the world and we rise superior to earthly things. We do not rule the world or destroy it or accumulate all earthly things for ourselves, but we are sanctified from it, and yet in it to seek and to save those who are lost.
In the world to come this rule and authority will be seen literally. All things will be put under His feet. The picture of Elijah dividing the Jordan as well as Peter walking on the Sea of Galilee are symbolic references to the time when creation is delivered from its curse and instead of being at odds with man, it will be under his authority and power.
2KI 2:9 Now it came about when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, "Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you."
What an honor it was to be asked such a thing by the great prophet. The proposal was given to one who had proved himself prepared for the office of such a spiritual gift by his obedience. Such is the proposal from our Lord when our capacity to pick up our own crosses and follow Him is present.
When we consider the many responses Elisha might have had, things that might have encouraged him or signs to prove to him that he could fulfill the office, he only requests that he have the same spirit on Elijah be upon him. When all that heaven and earth could afford, all its riches and honors and pleasures, was spread out before him to choose of freely, he asks for the power of the Holy Spirit. Elisha understands that he is nothing without the Spirit of God upon him. The Spirit makes the prophet, and so Elisha, trusting God's call, desires most of all to have the power and ability to fulfill the office.
No one can just ask for the Spirit of God. That Elisha had been chosen as the lead prophet of Israel was very clear from when Elijah first laid his mantle upon him at the plow. He cannot fulfill the office without the Spirit and so he is right in asking. In the church we have all been indwelt by the Holy Spirit at salvation, but we didn't ask for Him. As believers we may be filled with the Sprit; not by asking, but by faithfully going forward in God's will and plan. In a way, we, like Elisha, can fully desire the Spirit so that we fulfill His plan for our lives, but we do not submit a request, we walk in righteousness and know that in that walk we have Him. By our lives we really do reveal the innermost desires of our hearts.
In His love,