Elijah and Elisha 10
Elijah and Elisha 10.
As good Christians we don’t tell lies, do we? But sometimes we can be less than honest. And we can do it in the finest Christian way. For example: say the elders come up to you and ask you to go on the cleaning roster – what is your response? “Oh, that is not my ministry.” – we have forgotten that “ministry” just means service; or we may say: “I don’t feel called to do that.” What we really mean is: “I don’t want to!” Why can’t we just say that?! But today I want to talk about service/ministry and the call of God. [P] You recall that we left Elijah on Mount Horeb, where he met with יהוה, heard His audible voice. He was told to anoint Hazael as king of Aram, Jehu as king of Israel, and Elisha as prophet in his place, or under him. Some say, that Elijah at Mount Horeb was burned out, spiritually depressed and discouraged: “I am the only one left.” Was it all over for Elijah? The very next thing he does is commission Elisha. Is he packing it all in? However, there is yet more to the life of Elijah yet. So, picking up the story: [P] [1 Kings 19:19–21 So he departed from there (from where? From Mount Horeb; [P] so Elijah went from the very south, south of Judah, beyond the Negev into the Sinai peninsular, through Judah, into Israel, right by the Jordan) and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, while he was ploughing [P] with twelve pairs of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth. And Elijah passed over to him [P] and threw his mantle on him. He left the oxen and [P] ran after Elijah and said, [P] “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, [P] 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. [P] Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him.] [P] The call is of God: Elijah found Elisha son of Shaphat; Shaphat means “judgement”. Am I reading things into names? Well, look at [1 Kings 19:17 “It shall come about …. that the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death.] יהוה’s role for Elisha was to be an instrument of judgement. Why did Elijah go to Elisha? – because that is who יהוה had chosen – the call comes from God. It is not something that we initiate because we want to. “Elijah” means: “יהוה is God”. That was the message of Elijah. [1 Kings 18:21 If יהוה is God, follow Him; 1 Kings 18:37 “Answer me, O יהוה, answer me, that this people may know that You, O יהוה, are God, 1 Kings 18:39 When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “יהוה, He is God; יהוה, He is God.”]. That was John the Baptist, preparing the way, calling people back to יהוה, back to the true and only God. After Him came Jesus, which means “יהוה saves”. After Elijah came Elisha which means “God is my Saviour”. See how John and Jesus mirror Elijah and Elisha. But Elisha was appointed to judge – so too is Jesus: although He said that He didn’t come to judge the world, judgement was given to Him: [John 5:27 and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Acts 17:31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”]. God saves; but carrying out judgement? – doesn’t it seem a little contradictory? But salvation is only needed if there is danger. You are saved from something! Salvation only makes sense in the context of judgement. Elisha was called of God for judgement, then salvation. Elisha wasn’t in the prophets’ school, glory-seeking. Who knew him to be a prophet? But יהוה saw him, knew Him by name, knew where he was (v.16), told Elijah where to find him; although no one else recognized him. It is יהוה who chooses, appoints and exalts. We are encouraged to dream a dream for God, aspire to noble office. But it is not for us to appoint ourself prophet by enrolling in the prophets’ school – the prophet is the one to whom God gives His message; and He gives it to the one He chooses. Our role is to take the humble place and get on with the job before us with all we’ve got: [1 Peter 5:5–6 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time,] Our place isn’t to choose a calling for ourselves that we desire; but rather, to serve; because Elisha was [P] Called from service: He was going about his daily task – he was a servant – that is what he was doing when he was called and that is what he did after he was called. He ministered, i.e. he served. People have some exalted concepts of the call of God; and it is indeed a great privilege and honour to be called of God; but it is a call to service. So, if you want to get in practice; try serving! Some people are super-spiritual waiting for the call of God to do some great spiritual task. If you want to hear the call of God; you will find it in the place of service. Some want to be an evangelist, a preacher a healer, an elder a spiritual leader, a giant for God – but where are they when there is church cleaning or gardening to be done? If you show that you are responsible and faithful in the service of the little tasks; perhaps you will be entrusted with the bigger things. [1 Corinthians 4:2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.] Elisha is a beautiful picture of how we should be: not being "super-spiritual" but getting on with the job before him. He did so "all out": he ploughed with 24 oxen! That took skill to control – he was intent on getting the job done, efficient; none of this one yoke ploughing for him! And there he was with the twelfth pair – giving attention to the backward, wayward ones, difficult to control. The leaders were up the front, but the toey ones at the back. Elisha was faithfully serving in the humble place, giving attention to the difficult and mundane task. Good preparation stuff for God’s chosen prophet. I recall back in the Elim church I went to a homegroup that was run by an elder; and he was fairly old, and stuffy and not a little pompous. He used to tell this story, an illustration about a farmer in the depression who wanted to hire a worker. With a lot of people out of work, he had a lot of applicants. When somebody turned up he would take them to a farm gate and tell them to open and shut it, and keep on doing that. Then he would walk off and leave them to it. Of course, they soon got sick of it, it was so pointless, that they soon stopped. But one guy just kept opening and shutting the gate; the farmer came back hours later, there he was still opening and shutting the gate and that is the one the farmer gave the job to. It is a corny illustration of faithful service; and I certainly thought so. But if that guy told that story once, he must have told it a dozen times. I thought it was pretty feeble the first time, but when he got to double figures I was cringing. Then one day it struck me: that guy is an elder, my spiritual leader; I should be paying attention to what he is teaching. Perhaps it wasn’t a corny illustration, perhaps God was wanting to speak to me! Jesus said: [Luke 16:10 “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.] If you prove faithful in service in small things; then God will entrust you with greater things. [Matthew 25:23 “His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things.] But don’t expect the call of God if you aren’t a faithful servant. [P] Passing on the mantle: Elijah threw his mantle on him – it has become a saying: “pass on the mantle” – you are passing your office and position, your authority onto another. That was what Elijah was saying by this action: “You are to be prophet after me. My office as prophet I am passing on to you”. יהוה told Elijah to commissioned Elisha to be prophet after him. He passed on his mantle, his authority, his office, his power, his glory. The word [P] “mantle” (אַדֶּ֫רֶת) occurs 12 times in the Bible (that is how it is translated in the NASB); 5 of those times in relation to the story of Elijah. It is not the word in (Ruth 3:9). A couple of times it is in reference to the clothing that Achan plundered from Jericho – glorious robes. The first use is in relation to Esau, when he was born came out like a “hairy garment” But it has the connotation of glory; that which is superior to something else, and, therefore, that which is majestic. You recall on Mount Horeb: [1 Kings 19:13 When Elijah heard it, (the gentle wind) he wrapped his face in his mantle.] Some people claim that Elijah’s mantle was a prayer shawl (what the Jews call: “טַלִּית”; a word that doesn’t actually occur in the Bible); to justify covering of head in prayer but [1 Corinthians 11:4 Every man who has something on his head while praying or prophesying disgraces his head.] so forget all these videos of Jesus with a prayer shawl on; it is a later Jewish tradition. [P] This mantle was not a prayer shawl, it was the sign of his office as prophet; now Elijah was passing this office, this honour, this majestic position on to Elisha. Not that this happened for some time. Elijah continued to minister; he trained up a school of prophets; he confronted Ahab over stealing Naboth’s vineyard. Ahab went to war against Aram three times; Ahab died; another king, Ahaziah took his place and Elijah confronted him – it is not until 5 chapters later that Elijah goes up to heaven and Elisha actually takes over. Don’t let anyone tell you that יהוה was finished with Elijah after that encounter on Mount Horeb; or that Elijah was burnt out – it is just not true. The mantle that Elijah covered himself with was here passed on to Elisha; but he didn’t keep it. Elijah took it back. It didn’t come to Elisha until it was time for him to take over: [2 Kings 2:7–14 Now fifty men of the sons of the prophets went and stood opposite them at a distance, while the two of them stood by the Jordan. 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. (there was power in the mantle – not in the mantle itself, it was, of course, יהוה who parted the water – but the mantle symbolized the power of God – His Holy Spirit who empowered the prophet) When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.” (Elisha knew the power came from the Spirit; it was that that he needed in order to minister for יהוה. And it is the same for us. God has called us to do the impossible – we need Divine power, the power that He has given us in the person of His Holy Spirit. The flesh profits NOTHING – it is the Spirit that gives life!) He said, “You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.” As they were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven. (now, much later on, Elijah’s ministry here on earth was now over) Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw Elijah no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. (he was not going to rely on himself, his resources, but on the mantle) He also took up the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and returned and stood by the bank of the Jordan. He took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and struck the waters and said, “Where is יהוה, the God of Elijah?” (what was he looking for – the power of יהוה to be manifested) And when he also had struck the waters, they were divided here and there; and Elisha crossed over.] The same power and authority from יהוה that Elijah had had, was now demonstrably upon Elisha. [2 Timothy 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline.] We as Christians have some sayings, aphorisms, some of which irritate me – but that is because I am easily irritated. One is: “God’s calling is God’s enabling”. Even although it irks me, there is some truth in it. When God calls you, He also equips you with Divine power needed to accomplish the task that He has called you to. Now, finally, the prophetic mantle had come to Elisha. What was symbolically acted out earlier in placing his mantle on him, now was actuality. Elisha was to take over – he had received the call of God – yet it didn’t happen for some time. When God calls you; you may have to wait. [Acts 1:4–5 Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”] Remember David was anointed to be king by Samuel; it he didn’t become king for quite a while and after quite a bit of strife with Saul. The call is there; but there is a period of training, testing; being under someone else. You want the call of God, to lead – you have to learn to play second fiddle. Hannah is in an orchestra; she played first violin for a couple of years, this year they made her play second – it isn’t easy to step down and take the humble position. But it is your response that demonstrates whether you are worthy of the call. How did Elisha respond? He [P] Forsook all: It says that “he left the oxen” – forsook his former life. Like the disciples, they left everything and followed Jesus. Elisha asked to say be allowed to say goodbye to his family; but it was not like in [Luke 9:61–62 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 plough and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”] rather, he was never going to put his hand to the plough again. He was cutting ties with them forever. Elisha’s actions showed that he was totally committed to following after Elijah: he made a burnt offering from the oxen and yoke – he was never going to plough with them again. He was burning his bridges, there was no going back. A burnt offering was completely consumed – it speaks of total dedication. That was the end of the old life. Now his life was totally taken up serving Elijah. It may seem that he was reluctant to break ties with his family; but on the contrary to not severing that tie, that is why Elisha asked to go back to his mother and father because he knew that this was a complete break with the home. He was setting things in order, leaving them to follow Elijah completely. There would be no lingering ties and hankering after home. It was not just to kiss them goodbye; it was a total severing of links. He did more than kiss them goodbye; he offered up a burnt offering of total dedication. Whether Elijah understood Elisha’s motive we don’t know, but he exerts no compulsion for him to take up the call; if he wanted to go back home, place home first, that was up to him. But in fact, Elisha wasn’t turning back after setting his hand to the plough. But Elisha knew the passing of the mantle was a call to follow after Elijah with total dedication and commitment. But you see here a bit of the basic character difference between Elijah and Elisha: Elijah was the loner, the austere ascetic, the man of the desert, we know nothing of his call, he just suddenly appears, he deals with kings, nations; whereas Elisha was the people person – who had to say goodbye to his family, provided a goodbye meal for the people. He was social, caring and concerned for people, softer and compassionate, aware of the affect his actions would have on others and seeking to make it easier for them. We see him dealing personally with individuals. The same spirit but a different style. John was more austere, ascetic; Jesus was more the people person: [Matthew 11:18–19 “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”] They were one in spirit and mission. Having said his final goodbyes, Elisha cut his ties with the past and followed Elijah, took up the prophetic mantle. [P] Eager to follow: It says that: “he ran after Elijah” – he was eager to follow. It says: “He arose and followed” – “My chains fell off; my heart was free; I arose went forth and followed Thee” He got up from what he was doing to embark on a new life – he became a disciple. Elisha’s response was to immediately leave his occupation – he ran after Elijah. He was keen to take up the call, eager to give up his whole life as it then was and give total commitment to the prophetic call just given. That is what יהוה is looking for – those who are eager to follow, eager to serve. Those who don’t do it half-heartedly but throw themselves into it with enthusiasm and totally commitment. It is these that He calls. Elisha went after Elijah – he went everywhere he did and followed him by serving him. This is how we follow Jesus by serving Him. This is the key to exaltation for being granted in יהוה’s service – by taking the humble place of serving others. When Jesus called men, they followed Him they became disciples. When you are called, you are not thrown in the deep end, suddenly can do it all. No, there is a school of training, of following. Jesus, in His great commission said: [Matthew 28:18–20 All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”] The “go”, “baptize” and “teach” are all participles; the main verb is “make disciples”. It seems we evangelize, people join a church, attend a homegroup, are taught. But Jesus told us to disciple. And I think that, by-in-large, we have utterly failed. We don’t do it! Jesus took on 12; they were close to Him, lived with Him, were with Him as He ministered, were trained and sent out in twos. It was a bit like an apprenticeship – you learned on the job. Were there alongside, observing, making the cup of tea, sweeping the floor; and gradually more responsibility was entrusted to you. We have been preaching at prison for years. It started with John supporting Brian Booth. Then John did a bit of sharing, eventually he led his own team. For years I just went along to support – I didn’t do much. You are there alongside – you learn, you support, you help and gradually more is given for you to do. Disciples follow – they are trained in the discipleship school, working alongside another. Some do not like to take that position – there is not an enthusiasm for discipleship, people don’t like the commitment. They want to lead. They know how things should be done. They are convinced that they have a ministry if only they were given an opportunity. But they have forgotten that ministry is a word that means service. Elisha was called from service, and he was [P] Called to service: He had a different master, but it was exactly the same – he continued to serve. The call is to a life of service. It says: “Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him.” The word means “serve” – its first found in the Bible of Joseph serving Potiphar. The call is TO SERVICE. It is an honour to serve the LORD, but it is still service. We do as we are directed. We are called to do what the Master tells us to do. Unfortunately, the church has grown into a mighty edifice that has vast wealth, influence and power. There are many “ministers” who preside over large congregations; their ministries are multimillion dollar enterprises! There is vast wealth and property in the traditional denominations. You would be surprised just how much land the Anglican church owns in Christchurch. If you hold high office in some churches you have considerable wealth, power, authority and status. Leaders of nations are honoured to have the pope visit them. Presidents consult with Billy Graham. Big name preachers live a high life on the money they accrue. Something has gone seriously wrong! They have forgotten that they are called to serve. Even Jesus’ own disciples got the wrong idea. I have been reading in my private devotions in Matthew 20. James and John wanted to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand when He ruled as King. They got their mum to ask for the top job for themselves. They wanted status, position, honour, authority, influence. The other disciples were indignant! Probably because they thought they should have that position over James and John. There was ambition, and ambition causes strife. Jesus put a stop to it: [Matthew 20:25–28 But Jesus called them to Himself (He stopped their squabble – there should be no squabble in the church if we are all preferring the other in love) and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles (the nations, the heathen, the godless, the world) lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. (that is the way of the world. Ambition, pride, seeking the top job. We know that human nature tends to pride; but it has distressed me as Hannah has gone through school to see how assertiveness is encouraged, regarded as a virtue! They think that Hannah should push herself forward more. That is how you get ahead and succeed. You push, you strive. You sell yourself. You assert yourself. What does Jesus say?)“It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, (the way to greatness is service) and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave!; (just look at Jesus. We follow Him, are His disciples. We walk with our Master and walk as He walked. What did He do?) [P] just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”] He was not out to gain His life, make Himself great; rather He gave it! [Philippians 2:5–11 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.] God does the exalting. [1 Peter 5:5–6 God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time,] Elisha ministered to him – it never changes – it is always a life of service. You think that you get the call to higher things that life will change? No, it is still service – if not, it is not the call of God. [P] God calls, He calls those that serve, and equips them for the task. They forsake all for the sake of the call, following eagerly in the school of discipleship, resulting in a life of service. That is the call of God!