by Daniel Rudge, England
The Scriptural record of the call and commission of Elisha, son of Shaphat, falls into two distinct sections. His initial appointment and call are contained in the short record at the end of 1Kings chapter 19: “The Casting of the Mantle”. This was the beginning of a period of preparation, which lasted approximately eight to ten years, during which Elisha silently “ministered” unto Elijah, 1Kgs.19.21. Elisha is not mentioned again until 2Kings chapter 2: the momentous day on which Elijah ascended to heaven in a whirlwind and Elisha, his period of training over, literally took up the mantle of Elijah and formally stepped into his room as prophet to Israel: “The Claiming of the Mantle”.
Elijah and Elisha served the ten tribes of the northern kingdom of Israel. The spiritual state of the land was grave: Jehovah was rejected. Jeroboam had introduced counterfeit state religion at Bethel and Dan, with counterfeit worship (two gold calves) and a counterfeit priesthood, 1Kgs.12.26-33. This was a time of apostasy and deep corruption in the kingdom of the ten tribes. During the history of Israel, whenever the king or priesthood failed, God raised up the prophet. This was such an occasion. God sends Elijah to expose the true condition of the people and recall the nation to Himself. Usually prophets were raised up as individuals until their work was complete, but, uniquely, Elisha was appointed as Elijah’s successor, 1Kgs.19.16. They were as two men accomplishing one work. The great question of Elijah was, “How long halt ye between two opinions? if the Lord be God, follow Him: but if Baal, then follow him” 1Kgs.18.21. By the end of the ministry of these two prophets, all were expected to have made a choice. Though the people generally were marked by apostasy, God reserved the right of grace. Hence, He secured for Himself a remnant of seven thousand who had not bowed in worship to Baal.
In summary, Elijah came forth in the character of ‘‘God is light’’ 1Jn.1.5. His ministry emphasised truth and righteousness and focussed on calling a wilfully disobedient nation back to God. Though Elisha continued this ministry, he came forth in the character of ‘‘God is love’’ 1Jn.4.8. His ministry emphasised grace and mercy and focussed on encouraging a loyal remnant by establishing and educating schools of prophets. As such, they are both pictures of the Lord Jesus, by Whom came “grace and truth” Jn.1.17.
It is worth pausing to notice some of the similarities and differences between these two prophets who completed one mission. Their names are similar: Elijah meaning ‘my God is Jehovah’ and Elisha ‘God is my salvation’. Both used the same kind of language when presenting themselves publicly for the first time before their respective kings of Israel, 1Kgs.17.1; 2Kgs.3.14. Both enjoyed the hospitality of faithful women and were called to restore their sons to life, 1Kgs.17.22; 2Kgs.4.8-10,35-37. Yet, by contrast, they led very different lives. Elijah was generally remote, living by streams and in caves. Elisha moved among the masses, being found in the cities of men and camps of kings. Elisha performed miracles that were greater in number and extent than Elijah and had a ministry that was at least twice the length, probably in excess of sixty
years. Though Elijah and Elisha were both prophets, they lived in
different places, moved in different spheres, and owned different characters. Yet they still laboured in harmony, with unity of purpose. It is no different in assemblies of God’s people today. There is diversity of spiritual gift, and even the same gifts can be used in different spheres and exercised in a way unique to the character of the individual concerned, but we all labour with one single purpose in view: the glory and honour of Christ.
Elijah was a dejected prophet. Jezebel still sought his life even though a great victory had been wrought at Carmel, four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal had been slain and there was “great rain”. Baal worship was institutionalised. It would take much more than Carmel to restore Israel to the true worship of Jehovah. The details of his flight to Horeb and encounter with the Lord in the cave are well known. Hamilton Smith sums up the outcome neatly when he says, “He had thought that, as a result of these mighty displays of the power of God, the whole nation would turn to God in deep repentance, and for the moment, indeed, they did fall upon their faces and own, ‘The Lord, He is the God.’ But no real revival had taken place. Elijah has to learn that wind and earthquake and fire may indeed be God’s servants to awaken men, but unless the ‘still small voice’ is heard, no man is really won for God. The thunder of Sinai (and, we might add, Carmel) must be followed by the still small voice of grace, if the heart of man is to be reached and won. God was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but in the still small voice.”1
- 1 Smith, Hamilton. “Elijah: A Prophet of the Lord” . Central Bible Truth Depot, Second Edition, no date.
The ultimate result of Elijah’s complaint was that he must “Go, return” 1Kgs.19.15. Staying in Horeb was not Elijah’s calling! He was to retrace his steps to anoint Hazael as king over Syria, Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel and Elisha as prophet in his place.2 Through these three men, the worship of Baal would be removed from the land. The events of Horeb were a gentle rebuke, to issue Elijah a fresh call to service and restore him to a new sphere of usefulness. Perhaps the same kind of principle can be traced in the life of Peter on the shores of Tiberias after his denial of the Lord, Jn.21.15-19. The time had come for the quiet whisper of grace through the ministry of Elisha. For Elisha to be anointed prophet in Elijah’s room was not a punishment for Elijah, but rather an encouragement. He had complained of being alone, but now he would have a friend and servant. It would also fortify his hope, for if he had a successor then Elijah knew his work would continue, and be finished, even after his death.
- 2 It should be noted that Elijah did not personally anoint these individuals, except Elisha, and not with oil (as far as we know), but by his mantle. Hazael and Jehu were marked out for kingship by proxy through the ministry of Elisha, 2Kgs.8.7-15; 9.1-10.
The source of Elisha’s call to prophetic office was God Himself. Elisha was no self-appointee. Instead, God chose the person, the sphere of his service and the time of his calling. All was providential. Such will be the case today when individuals are called to so-called ‘full-time service’. But there is also a sense in which every believer is called, at conversion, to a particular sphere of service for the Master. God has “set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased Him” 1Cor.12.18, and He will equip each member for that sphere. It would never do to presume upon the call of God and intrude into a sphere of ministry to which He has not called us. Furthermore, it is comforting to know we have a God Who has prepared in advance. He was mindful of His servant and had appointed his work before he knew it himself!
Elisha’s call originated with the word of God, first revealed to Elijah on Horeb and then conveyed to Elisha by the casting of the mantle. In the same way, God uses His Word to call believers to a particular sphere of service today. Not only must any calling be in conformity with the teaching of Scripture, but it will be the vehicle to communicate that call to those with seeking hearts. This writer remembers well the burden and encouragement of numerous Scriptures over many months which were used of the Lord to direct a call to a teaching and preaching ministry. Whether through daily reading, attendance at assembly gatherings and conferences or personal letters, the voice of God began quietly, and then grew ever louder and clearer until a decision had to be made.
The man chosen was “Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah” 1Kgs.19.16. “Shaphat”, meaning ‘judge’, was likely one of the seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal: spiritually, he had judged well! The name of his son, Elisha, clearly expressed his conviction and faith in God as a God of salvation. ‘Abel-meholah’ was located at the north end of the Jordan valley, just south of the Sea of Galilee. It was a small and insignificant place, with apparently insignificant people, as far as the world was concerned, but God had noted their piety. He delights in those who, in the fear of the Lord, faithfully set about the ‘ordinary’ daily affairs of life. These might be as mundane as managing everyday household affairs such as washing clothes, or as demanding as managing the agricultural productivity of the local farmland in Abel-meholah, but God sees it all and takes note for eternity. We may not all be called to the ‘glamour’ of prominent public service, but there is much in the daily round of life to which we are called to be faithful.
Elijah departed from Horeb and found Elisha, who was “ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth” 1Kgs.19.19. It is often said that God does not call idle men to His work: they will already have proved themselves to be industrious. The same principle can be seen in the lives of Gideon, called from his threshing, David, called from the sheep, and James and John, called from the ship. The first scene of Elisha’s labour was at home on the local farm. Likewise, the first place of testimony and service for God is always our home sphere and local assembly; compare Mk.5.19; Lk.4.16; Acts 1.8. Wider recognition, or a Divine call to a broader sphere of service, will always follow a work already being done in one’s local sphere, Acts 6.3. Elisha was called from his (literal) ploughing, to yet more (spiritual) ploughing of an even harder ground: the hard hearts of the people of Israel.
There had not been much ploughing for the best part of four years, since there had been no rain, 1Kgs.17.1; Jms.5.17. The whole land was parched and barren, and any agriculture must have been very laborious and tedious. Now that the rain had come, Elisha was ready with the ploughs. In a spiritual sense, every believer should be interested in ploughing: digging beneath the often superficial surface of our Christian living, that fresh growth and spiritual fruit might be evident. As one who ploughed, Elisha was patiently investing in the future, Jms.5.7. In a similar way, those who labour for God plough and sow for a harvest which will not be seen immediately, or even in this life. We labour with eternity in view.
Shaphat was likely a wealthy farmer who had entrusted the management of the farm to his son. That would explain Elisha’s position of responsibility at the rear of twelve yoke of oxen. From here, he had an overview of the ploughing process and was able to guide the whole team. Elisha was no ‘lone ranger’, but clearly happy to work as part of a team. Every believer is called to be a “fellowlabourer”, working in harmony with a single common purpose. There is no room for either an inferiority or superiority complex in the local assembly, 1Cor.12.14-27. We need each other.
Out of the blue, Elijah comes and “cast[s] his mantle” on Elisha, without saying a word. The call was sudden in the experience of Elisha, but pre-planned by God. Eleven men would be left ploughing; one man would become a prophet, for God is sovereign in service as well as salvation. Elisha was left to interpret Elijah’s action for himself, as no word of explanation was given. Likewise, a believer’s call to a particular sphere of service is not accompanied by an audible word of commission or explanation direct from heaven! We are expected to listen to the quiet voice of the Spirit through the Word of God, and interpret the circumstances that God brings into our lives.
The mantle of Elijah was the insignia of his prophetic office. In casting it upon Elisha he was being called to take the place, exhibit the character, and act in the spirit of its owner. This would require a period of private training with Elijah himself before Elisha could finally take up that mantle some years later, 2Kgs.2.13. At this point it is enough to note that believers are asked to do the same in relation to the Saviour Who has called us. We are ambassadors for Him: representing Him in a world that is a foreign place. Do we exhibit His character as well as we should?
So, the time of special crisis had come. The “man of God” who offered a sacrifice on Mount Carmel had made a special claim on Elisha’s life. He would no doubt feel the weight of that claim, and mantle, upon his shoulders. We too have an association with a Man, Who offered a greater sacrifice, on Mount Calvary. There was a day in our experience when the Saviour passed by and laid hold on us: that was the day of conversion. But He can pass by again in a Christian’s experience, making further claims for a new or specific sphere of service: whether the mission field (near or far), the raising of a family, evangelism, teaching the Word of God, or a lifetime of focussed and fervent service in the local assembly. Once the weight of that claim has been appreciated, a choice must be made.
This was the turning point of Elisha’s spiritual history. Would he heed the call? If he missed this opportunity, he would miss the dignity of the Divine intention for his life. It seems as if the decision did not take long! Immediately, he counted “all things but loss” for the excellency of serving Jehovah, the God of his salvation. He downed tools, “left the oxen, and ran after Elijah” 1Kgs.19.20. Any hesitation, and the honour may have passed him by forever. But this was no cheap decision. There is no effective service without sacrifice, and Elisha chose to sacrifice in three spheres:
“Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee” 1Kgs.19.20. The Lord does not call His own to give up family responsibilities: that would be contrary to Scripture, but rather to subordinate such relationships in the prioritising of the service of God, Lk.14.25,26. His request to “kiss” his parents is set in contrast with the worshippers of Baal, 1Kgs.19.18. Their affections were directed toward a false god, whereas Elisha shows dutiful respect and tender regard for his parents. There is an obvious natural reluctance to leave his loved ones, but he would not prefer them before the Lord. We never read of Elisha seeing his parents again.
Elisha was a privileged man, working a large plot of land. And yet, he turned his back on it all and walked away, to a life of hardship, obscurity, and reproach with the most despised man in the nation. The oxen were slain, and a bonfire was made with the instruments of the yoke. He prioritised the work of the Lord over his business interests, sacrificing
his means of livelihood by slaying the oxen. After such a Divine call
upon his life, the fields and farm did not hold the same appeal they once did.
The people shared in the feast Elisha had made from the oxen. In a day when the popular religion of Baal worship was at the fore, this was a public proclamation of his call to serve Jehovah. Perhaps not everyone, including those close to him, would look too kindly on Elisha’s calling. Nevertheless, he was determined that societal norms and opinions would not prevent or dissuade him from fulfilling God’s call.
The hindrances to spiritual progress today have not changed. Any believer who would truly fulfil God’s call on his life will have to prioritise and gain victory over the paternal, material and social. Are we willing to sacrifice everything that would hold us back from the service of God? Any of Elisha’s personal aspirations were subordinated to a higher calling: the service of Jehovah. Not surprisingly, many fail to recognise or are not willing to pay the price required in devoted service of the Saviour. It does not tend towards material riches, large houses and frequent social gatherings but often demands long hours and isolated days alone with God.
In all this, Elijah’s response was, “Go back again: for what have I done to thee?” This unusual reply is not disapproval or rebuke, but likely an idiom meaning, ‘Do as you please’ or ‘What have I done to stop you?’ Thus, Elijah will not compel Elisha into service: there is a work to be done for which Elisha has been chosen, but the final choice is his. Dedicated service for Christ will always involve a measure of voluntary choice and determination of the will. The request of Elisha was certainly not the referent of the Lord Jesus in Lk.9.62, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God”. There, the Lord Jesus describes a man who was continually looking back. He had a divided mind set on indefinite delay in answering the call. Not so Elisha! In making such a request he was simply being considerate to his family and friends. After having fulfilled his domestic obligations, he would be totally committed to his call.
“Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him” 1Kgs.19.21. This is the last we hear of Elisha until 2Kings chapter 2. For a period of approximately eight to ten years Elisha lived with and learned from Elijah, simply ministering as a lowly servant to the needs of the man of God. He “poured water” on Elijah’s hands, 2Kgs.3.11, a way of describing the role of a servant: waiting on and assisting him when he washed his hands. We do not know what Elisha did or said during the whole period, but he lived and learned under the shadow of the great man. He was prepared to do the menial and learn to minister to others. The Lord Jesus set a remarkable example of humility when He poured water, not on His disciples’ hands, but on their feet. John G. Butler’s pointed remarks are worth quoting in full: “The first responsibility of Elisha was a very humble one. He was simply a servant of Elijah. It takes a person of great character to start out on this low a plain. Most folks like to start out on the top. They want to be in the spotlight and be the captain or foreman or president right away. But it does not work that way in God’s work. You start at the bottom with Him … God teaches you to be faithful in the lowly so you will be faithful in the higher. He teaches you to be humble so He can use you.”3
- 3 Butler, John G. “Elisha: The Miracle Prophet” . LBC Publications, 1994.
At the right moment, Elisha’s time in the public eye would come, for God always trains in secret those He purposes to use in public. Joseph in the prison, Moses in the desert and Saul of Tarsus in Arabia would testify to the same. The whole episode reminds us that any effective public service for the Lord must be supported by a healthy private life of communion with God. Any shallowness in private will lead to superficiality in public.
At this point we must pause to re-paint the dispensational picture of Elijah and Elisha. When they are found together, Elijah, the master, reminds us of Christ, and Elisha, the servant, of disciples of Christ. What a day this was in the experience of Elijah! He was going home: not to Tishbe in Gilead, but home to heaven. About ten years previous Elijah had offered a Divinely accepted sacrifice on Mount Carmel (the name means ‘fruitful field’). Now Elijah is removed to heaven. In like manner, there was a day when the Son of God went home. He said, “I came forth from the Father, and am come into the world: again, I leave the world, and go to the Father” Jn.16.28. Again, He said to Mary Magdalene, “I ascend unto My Father, and your Father; and to My God, and your God” Jn.20.17. Thus, Elijah is leaving earth. In the meantime, he had prepared Elisha for service in his absence: he was now ready to claim Elijah’s mantle and continue his work on earth, as his representative. He would then go forth in the power and spirit of the man who had been taken to glory. Believers of the present dispensation have a similar call. On the day of His ascension, the Lord Jesus led the disciples out as far as to Bethany, lifted up His hands and blessed them. Luke says, “While He blessed them, He was parted from them, and carried up into heaven” Lk.24.51. He had spent the best part of four years, and more recently, forty days, carefully preparing His disciples for their service as His representatives. They would be “witnesses” to Him, Acts 1.8. “Jesus began” a work which they were to continue in the power of the Holy Spirit, Acts 1.1. Do we realise the responsibility and dignity of the work to which we have all been called? Are we
ready to serve as representatives of our rejected, but glorified Lord and Saviour?
The day Elijah left earth for heaven he took a long journey with Elisha that retraced the early footsteps of the nation of Israel as they entered the Promised Land, Joshua chapters 1-8. The journey was by no means haphazard. If Elisha was to finally be prepared to take up Elijah’s mantle of service, then he would need a fresh appreciation of the principles of truth, illustrated by the places they visited. In addition, there would be a test of allegiance on the journey to prove Elisha’s commitment to his calling, to Elijah and ultimately to God Himself. And all this would be in the face of gentle ridicule and discouragement from his very own prophetic colleagues, hence the repeated refrain, “‘Dost thou know that Jehovah will take away thy master from over thy head [position of master] to-day?’ And he said, ‘I also know it: be silent!’” 2Kgs.2.3,5, J.N.D. Would Elisha be regulated by the call of God or turned aside by the discouragement of men? Once the will of God has been determined in a believer’s life then he must set out to perform it, and nothing should turn him aside, Gal.1.15-17.
In the description of their final journey together, it is worth noting several terms which express the fellowship between Elijah, the master, and Elisha, the servant. These are instructive for us in our service for our Master, the Lord Jesus Christ:
Elijah went “with” Elisha, 2Kgs.2.1.
Elijah’s apparently hard words to Elisha were primarily a test of allegiance to prove his commitment to the cause: “Tarry here, I pray thee; for the Lord hath sent me to Beth-el” 2Kgs.2.2. But Elisha’s affections had been captured by a man going to glory. Nothing would dissuade him from a path of devotion to his master. As such he desired to walk with and cleave to Elijah: “And Elisha said unto him, ‘As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee.’ So they went down to Beth-el” 2Kgs.2.2. It is essential that any who are involved in the service of the Lord do not part company with Him in terms of regular communion and fellowship. How else would we receive the spiritual strength and instruction so essential to effective service? On the Emmaus Road, after walking “with them”, the Lord Jesus “made as though He would have gone further”. Again, He was testing their desire for Himself. Would they have Him in their home? But Cleopas and his companion “constrained”, or ‘strongly urged’ Him to abide with them, Lk.24.28,29. How precious to think that, in a spiritual sense, we can have as much of Christ and His company as we desire to have. Without it we cannot serve as we would.
They went “down” 2Kgs.2.2.
The whole journey was approximately thirty to thirty-five miles, across land that ranged between three thousand feet above sea level and one thousand feet below sea level. This was, therefore, an arduous trip during which resilience and stamina would be required. The Christian life will not always be a level, comfortable journey. In fact, we are to expect and rejoice in trials and tribulations along the way. When the Lord Jesus walked with Peter by the sea of Tiberias, it was a rough, rugged shoreline, and he was exhorted to follow. In fact, Peter’s pathway of service would ultimately end in crucifixion, a death by which he would glorify God, Jn.21.18-22.
They both went “on” 2Kgs.2.6,11.
The same could not be said for the sons of the prophets! They stood to view “afar off” as Elijah and Elisha stood by the seeming impregnable barrier of the Jordan. It was not until they had gone over, Elisha having proved his devotion, that Elijah offered a blessing: “Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee” 2Kgs.2.9. And, following their conversation, they “still went on, and talked” 2Kgs.2.11. Sadly, many believers do not ‘go on’ in spiritual things as they might: instead they stand ‘afar off’, not willing to be fully involved in the service of the Lord or the activities of the local assembly. Elisha was prepared to go the full distance with Elijah, even unto death (as pictured in Jordan) and received great blessing and a vision of glory as a result! Thank God the Lord Jesus ‘went on’ in companionship with His Father, being obedient up to the point of death, even the death of the cross, Phil.2.8. May the exhortation of the apostle be loud in our ears: “Let us go on [to what belongs] to full growth” Heb.6.1, J.N.D.
They both went “over” 2Kgs.2.8.
In a spiritual sense, if a believer is to ‘go on’, he must learn what it is to ‘go over’ and live on the other side of Jordan. Every believer has died with Christ and yet walks in newness of life, having been raised with Him also. From the moment Paul saw the blaze of Christ’s glory on the Damascus Road, he was captivated, so much so that the glamour of the world lost its allurement and his personal and religious achievements their value. His testimony on the other side of Jordan was, “I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” Phil.3.8.
Finally, Elijah went “up”, and Elisha went “back” alone, 2Kgs.2.11,13.
With a mind full of his ascended master, Elisha went back across the Jordan to make a mighty spiritual contribution to the people and work of God. The more our minds and hearts are captivated by a risen Christ at God’s right hand, the more spiritual use we will be on earth. We must “seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God” Col.3.1.
In the Bible, places are often associated with principles. As noted above, if Elisha was finally to be prepared to take up Elijah’s mantle of service, then he would need a fresh appreciation of the principles of truth illustrated by the places they visited.
Gilgal: Divine People – 2Kgs.2.1
When the people of Israel crossed the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land, their first place of encampment was Gilgal, Joshua chapter 4. It proved to be the early military centre of operations. It was there that all the males born on the journey through the wilderness were circumcised, Josh.5.2-9. As such “the reproach of Egypt” was rolled away: they once again bore the mark of covenant relationship with Jehovah, Who had been true to His promise in bringing them into the land. Gilgal was also the place where the Passover was kept for the first time in Canaan, and they feasted on the “old corn” of the land, Josh.5.10-12. All is typical of a people bought with a price and belonging to a new Master. They no longer live according to the dictates of the flesh but are separated and consecrated to God. This is beautifully illustrated in Elisha’s rending of his own coat, 2Kgs.2.12, which is suggestive of one who had finished with the character of his old life. As those who belong to God, and are consecrated to Him, what kind of life are we living? Is it separate from the character of the world around us or is there no significant difference? If we desire to be used of God, we must come to an end of self; a realisation that “in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” Rom.7.18.
Beth-el: Divine Presence – 2Kgs.2.2
Jacob renamed the ancient city of Luz as “Beth-el”, for “he said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not’” Gen.28.16,19. As such it was “dreadful” (awe-inspiring) and the very “gate of heaven” v.17. As Abram was reminded, “I am the Almighty God; walk before Me, and be thou perfect” Gen.17.1, Elisha must also realise the responsibility of daily living in the presence of God. It demands conduct consistent with the Divine character and will. It is also our privilege to gather in house of God capacity and enjoy the gathering presence of the Lord Jesus in the midst. What strength these gatherings impart to our Christian service and witness!
Jericho: Divine Power – 2Kgs.2.4
A visit to Jericho would remind Elisha of the power of God available to operate on his behalf. Jericho was “straitly shut up” in rebellion against God, Josh.6.1. Yet, with the strangest of military strategies, a wall that was an imposing sight to the carnal eye “fell down flat” before the power of God, v.20. Obedience wrought victory and grace wrought salvation, in the form of Rahab and her family. Jericho should still be an encouraging reminder of the power of God to operate on behalf of His own. Human hearts all around are ‘straitly shut up’ to the claims of God and His Word, but if (like Israel’s priests, who walked round the city holding high the ark of the covenant) we, who are Christian priests, exalt the Lord Jesus, of Whom the ark is a beautiful picture, then all human rebellion can be overcome. The apostle Paul rejoiced in such truth: “(for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” 2Cor.10.4,5.
Jordan: Divine Promise – 2Kgs.2.7
Jordan was the place where Divine promise was finally realised as Israel passed into her inheritance. This was the culmination of God’s promises to Abraham five hundred years earlier: “In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘Unto thy seed have I given this land’” Gen.15.18. Surely Elisha was caused to rejoice as he considered the bounty of the Promised Land they presently enjoyed. But the barrier which was once divided to allow a nation to pass in to their inheritance was now divided again, to let a rejected prophet pass out. Perhaps Elijah reminded Elisha that the continued idolatrous trajectory of Israel would ultimately lead to their exile. When aligned with the Epistle to the Ephesians, Canaan reminds us of the spiritual inheritance that is ours in Christ. The sheer breadth of these blessings should ensure we are spiritually fat! Alas, many Christians are gripped by the ‘earthlies’ and therefore robbed of their enjoyment of the ‘heavenlies’.
As Elisha visited each place with Elijah, he must have been encouraged by a reminder of such scenes of Divine grace and power; but he must also have been greatly disheartened. These places were no longer what they once were. Gilgal, a place of early consecration, had already become a centre of national apostasy and idolatrous worship, Amos 4.4. Beth-el (‘House of God’) had become Beth-aven (‘House of folly’) for it was now the seat of idol worship and a false altar, 1Kgs.12.28-33; Hos.4.15. Jericho had been rebuilt under a curse by a man whose name, Hiel (‘God lives’), suggests he should have known better, 1Kgs.16.34. If there was to be any revival, Elisha must take the nation back in spirit, to Gilgal, to Bethel, to Jericho and to Jordan.
With so much declension amongst God’s people, Elisha must have felt inadequate for the task at hand. In a scene reminiscent of God’s appearance to Solomon, Elijah says, “Ask! What can I do for you, before I am taken away from you?” 2Kgs.2.9, N.E.T. margin. Wisely, Elisha asked for “a double portion” of Elijah’s spirit: his inner character and disposition. This could be an allusion to the law of the firstborn recorded in Deuteronomy chapter 21. The firstborn was due a double portion of inheritance, as one who had added responsibility for the welfare and maintenance of the family. Thus, Elisha recognises Elijah as his spiritual father and confesses his own weakness and limitation in the face of his responsibility for the care of the people of God. Indeed, he would serve for another fifty years! In requesting a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, Elisha was not seeking to be twice the man Elijah was; rather, in humility, he was suggesting he was half the man Elijah was! He needed a double portion just to be on a par with his illustrious spiritual father!
Such a request was beyond Elijah’s power to give and thus he placed the condition of its reception under the control of God: “Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so” 2Kgs.2.10. Elisha was to fill his vision with a man who was leaving earth for the glory and majesty of heaven. This is the secret to power on earth: a vivid sight by the eye of faith of Christ in glory. We have a risen, ascended and exalted Saviour. As such He gives gifts to men and is able to minister to the needs of His people. If we fail to see Him, we will be of little or no help to the people of God. In the experience of the early disciples, it was “look[ing] stedfastly” that provided the strength to “continue stedfastly” Acts 1.10; 2.42.
As they walked and talked, suddenly a chariot and horses of fire appeared and separated between them; and a whirlwind took Elijah into heaven, 2Kgs.2.11. As Elisha saw it, he cried, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof” 2Kgs.2.12. This is probably metaphorical language to describe Elijah as the nation’s true spiritual defence against Jezebel and Baal. Elisha felt they had lost a man who was just as good as an army. Perhaps we feel the same way when great men and women of God are called home. The sense of loss in the local assembly and the wider sphere is keenly felt, but God has ready prepared others to take up the mantle; and Elisha is no exception. Hence, “he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces” and “took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him” 2Kgs.2.12,13. In rending his own garments he divested himself of all he was, and in taking Elijah’s garment he clothed himself with all Elijah was. Even the king knew Elijah from the clothes he wore, 2Kgs.1.8! He was the most hated and rejected man in Israel. In putting on Elijah’s mantle Elisha was identifying with him and would be treated with the same contempt, Jn.15.18. And so, Elisha returned across the Jordan as one having received a new identity in association with the man who had gone to heaven. We are reminded of the language of the New Testament: “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off [as a garment] the old man with his deeds; and have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him” Col.3.9,10. We should so live with the investiture of Christ that as people look upon us they see reflections of Him. Elisha was never the same after his journey with Elijah. To this point he had performed no recorded miracles; before the end of the chapter there were three! The man with new identity was walking in the power and spirit of his master. May it ever be thus with us and Christ!