So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him (I Kings 19:19–21, ESV).
We continue where our last post left off. Elijah had become discouraged, feeling like his ministry was in vain and he was the last follower of the Lord. Yet, God wanted to reassure him that he was not alone. As Elijah approached the end of his time on Earth, the Lord directed him to prepare for the next generation. Part of that involved “passing the mantle” to the next great prophet, Elisha.
Like Elijah, we often become discouraged. This happens especially when we feel like an entire ministry’s success revolves around us. We may also falsely assume that we will see positive results quickly. If success does not come quickly enough, we think we have wasted our time and energy doing something that we were not good enough to accomplish.
The key purpose of this series is to remind believers that we can and should live with an “Elijah spirit.” As we will see in the last few posts in this series, the ministry of Elijah did not end in 2 Kings 2. God anointed Elisha with the spirit of Elijah (he requested a “double portion” and received it). He also anointed John the Baptist with the spirit of Elijah. To this day, He continues to raise up men and women with the spirit of Elijah. The world and church still needs people like Elijah.The world and church still needs people like Elijah.
Elijah first met Elisha while he was doing something very ordinary. Elisha was “plowing with twelve yoke of oxen.” He was farming, probably like most men in his community. He was not praying; he was not studying the Bible; he was not doing anything to stand out as a spiritual giant. One would not look at Elisha and expect greatness. Yet, God was ready to impart greatness upon him.
God frequently calls the ordinary and anoints them to do extraordinary things. Consider some of the great men of the Bible: Moses and David were tending sheep before God called them; Joseph was an ordinary carpenter before God told him to raise His Son; Peter, James, and John were fishermen. They all had very ordinary jobs, but God called them to play a part in fulfilling the divine plan.
Elijah chose a simple symbolic gesture to communicate Elisha’s calling. He approached him in the field and placed his mantle (or cloak) on his chosen protégé. The message could not be clearer: The prophet wanted Elisha to follow him. First, he wanted to go home and bid his family farewell.
Centuries later, Jesus would invite a man to follow Him and become a disciple. This man would respond in a way that reminds us of Elisha:
Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 12:61–62, ESV).
Clearly, Elisha felt it was necessary to let his parents know why he was abandoning the farm to follow the prophet. But, what did Elijah mean when he responded, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” A recent Bible paraphrase, the Voice Bible, which presents the biblical stories more like television scripts than conventional stories, may shed light on the meaning of Elijah’s vague statement:
Elijah: Go then. Tell them goodbye. What have I done to you?
Elisha realizes that Elijah is questioning his devotion—will he stay with his parents or become a prophet? Elisha demonstrates his devotion to God by destroying his livelihood.
Perhaps Elijah hears the same wavering in Elisha’s voice that Jesus would hear centuries later. The Israelites had been guilty of “hesitating between two opinions” all along, as Elijah pointed out previously on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:21). Was Elisha hesitating between two opinions as well? Did he know that God was calling him to a special relationship with the great prophet, yet was afraid or anxious about its effect on his relationship with his family? Was he afraid to take a step of faith into the unknown?
Elijah’s concerns were soon eliminated. Elisha did not simply say good-bye to his family. He made it clear that he would not return. He destroyed the oxen and yoke so he could not longer work the fields. He offered them on an altar as a sacrifice to the Lord. Elisha sacrificed his past and present to the Lord as he surrendered his future.
All who seek to serve the Lord will face the same challenge. Will we cling to the past and present—to our comfortable existence—or will we sacrifice them to God? Will we surrender our future to Him? God may not call us out of our present physical circumstances. He may call us to serve Him while we continue in the ordinary occupation in which He found us. However, He will call us out of the comfort zone in our hearts. He calls us to live by His values and vision, not those of the world around us:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1–2, ESV).
As we take this bold step, day by day, we continue the legacy of Elijah and Elisha by bringing God’s presence into our ordinary lives.
This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.