1 Kings 19:16-21
The first appearance of Elisha in the Bible involves his calling to the prophetic office. Unlike Elijah, his predecessor, Elisha does not come on the scene abruptly with little information as to his identity, calling, family, etc. When we first meet Elijah in the Bible, the only information given of him is, "Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead" (1 Kings 17:1). But when we first meet Elisha in the Bible, we are given a more detailed introduction. Especially are we given some significant information about his Divine call which also included a few facts about his home and occupation.
The Divine calls given the great saints of God in the Scripture are of acute interest to those who desire to know and do the will of God. These calls are varied, and some are as different as day and night in their details. But embodied in each call are important principles which pertain to every call and revelation of the will of God to man.
Few, however, are of the group who really are interested in knowing and doing the will of God. At best, the desire of most people to know and do God's will is just talk. They, like the world around them, are chiefly interested in fulfilling their own will. They are so taken up with their own interests, desires, and pursuits that they do not want to be distracted from their self-interest by the will of god. To such folk salvation is simply a fire escape. It never seems to dawn upon their selfish minds and hearts that Christ is also Lord as well as Savior. They do not seem or want to realize that the redeemed have an obligation, which supersedes all other obligations, to be completely submitted to Christ in everything they do. To such folk the contents of this chapter will be of little interest.
But to those who are earnest about doing the will of god, the study of the call of Elisha will be of more than just casual interest. They will pursue and study the details of Elisha's call with much care and earnestness and then apply the lessons they have learned to their own lives. This will benefit them both in time and eternity.
In the study of elisha's call to be a prophet of God, we will consider the recipient of the call, the revelation of the call, the response to the call, and the responsibilities in the call.
A. THE RECIPIENT OF THE CALL
In examining elisha's call, we will first examine a few things about his life and see how they relate to his call. This will include his identification, location, and occupation.
1. His Identification
The name Elisha is similar to the name Elijah. The difference is in the last syllable. Elijah means God (Eli) is Jehovah (jah), but Elisha means God (Eli) is salvation (sha). the message of elisha's name is needed by every generation. It points to God, not to man, government, superstitions, or some other means as our help and our salvation. The thinking today is to look for deliverance, for salvation, and for help from anyone or anything but God. People especially look to governments to bail them out of trouble. When in need, these people in our land instead of praying to "Our Father which art in heaven" for help prefer to pray to "Our father which art in Washington, D. C." for help. But our governments, as in elisha's day, are not only unable to rescue us from trouble but are often that which puts us in trouble. We need to look to God, not man, for help. And specifically we need to look to Jesus Christ, God manifested in human form, for our soul's salvation.
The meaning of elisha's name certainly fit the calling of Elisha. His message to his generation was that God is the salvation and deliverance of man. Again and again his ministry by word and deed pointed men to the Almighty in contrast to false gods and other things as the source of help.
2. His Location
Elisha lived in Abel-meholah (v. 16). The specific location has never been ascertained with certainty. Some locate it on the east side of the Jordan not far from Tishbe, the home of Elijah. Others locate it on the west side of the Jordan. It is only mentioned three times in the Scripture (here, 1 Kings 4:12, and Judges 7:22). Of the other two references besides our text, the most significant one is Judges 7:22, the first mention of Abel-meholah in the bible. it is mentioned in regards to the great victory Gideon had over the Midianites. His small army of 300 put to flight the Midianite army, and the Midianites fled from the valley of Jezreel "to [and beyond] the border of Abel-meholah" (Judges 7:22). This event ties elisha's home town to some significant history. And elisha's name meaning, "God is salvation," fits well the experience of Gideon and his battle against the Midianites; for the one important lesson Gideon's great victory over Midian taught was that God is Israel's salvation. Gideon was limited by God to an army of 300. But in spite of his few men, Gideon still defeated the mighty armies of Midian because God wrought the deliverance. God was Israel's salvation, and the history of elisha's home town reminds of that vital truth.
3. His Occupation
Elisha was well acquainted with hard work, for he worked on his father's farm. In fact, when Elijah came to cast his mantle on Elisha, he found Elisha plowing in one of his father's fields (v. 19). It had been several months since Elijah's great Mount Carmel confrontation with the prophets of Baal and the breaking of the drought, so the fields were now able to be farmed again. elisha's father Shaphat (v. 16) was not a small farmer, for there were twelve yoke of oxen plowing in the field that day (v. 19). That many yoke of oxen plowing in a field says Elisha's father was a man of considerable means. But though wealthy, Shaphat did not allow his son to stand around idle while the servants did all the work. He put Elisha to work.
Scripture says, "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke [work] in his youth" (Lamentations 3:27). elisha's father evidently subscribed to that truth, and it was of great value to Elisha in preparing him to fulfill his calling. God does not call idle men to His work. The ministry is no place for sluggards. The ministry is hard work; therefore, one needs to be very industrious if he is going to fulfill his calling in the ministry. Those who do not evidence much industriousness in their manner of life will be poor candidates for the work of the Lord.
We need much help in this area today and especially regarding our young people. We have so much emphasis on play and recreation for the young people, but we have little emphasis on work. Countless homes allow their children to sit around by the hour munching on junk food and watching TV instead of giving the children constructive tasks and duties to do. Even churches are guilty here. Their programs for young people seem to mostly emphasize food, fun, and fellowship. Churches have an abundance of "funtastics," amusement park outings, camping, and an endless round of ball games. But where is the emphasis on work? No wonder we have trouble getting people to serve well at church.
B. THE REVELATION OF THE CALL
Elisha's call was revealed in a threefold way. It was revealed through the message given Elijah at Mount Horeb, through the mantle thrown on Elisha, and through the ministry of Elisha. This threefold revelation of the Divine call of Elisha demonstrates the plainness and the obviousness of the calls of God for men. God does not leave us in the dark about His will. We will be given clear directions when and where we need them. trouble perceiving the call of God and difficulty in discovering the will of God for our lives cannot be blamed on the failure of God to make it plain and clear. Rather the problem is in the failure of man to submit to the known will of God.
1. The Message Revealed the Call
God first revealed Elisha's call when He spoke to Elijah on Mount Horeb during that momentous occasion for Elijah. He said to Elijah, "Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room" (v. 16). From this revelation to Elijah, we learn three very important truths about the call of God. They have to do with the author, the authentication, and the awareness of one's calling.
First, the author. The author of the call is God. Our calling originates with God. It does not begin with man. Woe be the man who presumes the call of God and intrudes into the ministry to which God has never called him.
Second, the authentication. The call will always be in conformity with the Word of God. No call will conflict with God's Word. elisha's call was based on the Word of God as it was first revealed to Elijah on Mount Horeb. Test your calling by the Scriptures if you want to know if it is a valid calling.
Third, the awareness. If we want to be aware of our calling, we need to be acquainted with the Word of God. In elisha's day the Word was revealed through God's prophet and then the prophet revealed it to the people. In elisha's calling, God first told Elijah and then Elijah conveyed the Word to Elisha through the casting on of the mantle. So the key to knowing one's calling and to knowing the will of God in any matter of life is to know the Word. That explains why so many are outside the will of God today. Our churches seldom do a good job in making known the Word by good preaching and teaching. And few people really study the Word on their own. The result is that few do the will of God, and few know their callings.
2. The Mantle Revealed the Call
As Elisha was out plowing one day, "Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle [cape-like cloak] upon him" (v. 19). Such action gave an unmistakable message. It indicated Elisha's appointment to the office of a prophet. Elisha did not ask Elijah what he meant by casting his mantle on him, for he knew very well what it meant. He knew that the mantle was the insignia of the prophetic office and that the casting of the mantle on him was his appointment to the prophetic office.
Casting a mantle on a person to indicate his appointment to an office was not an uncommon practice. Jamieson said, "It is in this way that the Brahmins, the Persian Sooffees, and other priestly or sacred characters in the East are appointed-a mantle being, by some eminent priest, thrown across their shoulders." Today, we do not cast mantles on people; but we do have other symbolic and official acts which recognize and designate a person's calling in the Lord's work. Such things as ordinations, commissioning services, and church elections accomplish much of what the casting on of the mantle used to do.
Elijah's casting the mantle on Elisha gives us a good lesson about whom to ordain, commission, or elect. The lesson is this: Elijah did not cast his mantle on Elisha until he was certain of elisha's call. Elijah learned on Mount Horeb of the certainty of elisha's call. Today we do not need a Mount Horeb revelation like Elijah received before we can sanction or approve the callings of others. But the principle is that we must not accredit candidates to the ministry or nominate and vote for people to be church officers when we do not have good evidence that they belong in these positions. Ordination councils have often approved men who have given a poor showing at the examination and who lack good evidence they are Divinely called of God. Commissioning services are sometimes held for people who have given little genuine evidence of their calling to the mission field. And every year churches elect to office a host of people who should never be put in the place of church leadership because they simply are not qualified. We can throw a hundred mantles on a person, but it will not make him a prophet if he is not Divinely called of God. Casting the mantle on the person says we acknowledge God's calling for that person. Let us make sure we have justification for casting our mantles on people before we do. Paul says in this regard, "Lay hands suddenly on no man" (1 Timothy 5:22), that is, take time to duly examine one's qualifications before you are involved in appointing and approving that person for some Divine ministry.
3. The Ministry Revealed the Call
The performance of Elisha caused others to recognize his calling. As an example, the call of Elisha was evident to the school of the prophets at Jericho. They said, after Elisha came back from seeing Elijah depart to glory in the whirlwind, "The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha" (2 Kings 2:15). Also the woman of Shunem recognized Elisha's call plainly; for she said to her husband regarding Elisha, "I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually" (2 Kings 4:9). Anyone reading the Scriptural account of Elisha would see so much evidence in elisha's performance that they would never question his call.
The faithful performance of one receiving the call will make that call evident to others. We should not cause others to doubt if we are a Christian; and, in like manner, we should not give people doubt in regards to our calling. If others, especially godly saints, seriously question our calling, we need to examine our hearts and lives to see if this questioning of our call is because we are delinquent in our performance or if we have not been called at all. Delinquency or presumption regarding a call are both equally bad. Let us not be guilty of either.
C. THE RESPONSE TO THE CALL
elisha's response to the call of God was most exemplary. His response was zealous, courageous, sacrificial, total, public, and considerate. Oh, that all of us would respond so well to the will of God.
1. The Response was Zealous
When Elijah cast his mantle on Elisha, immediately Elisha "left the oxen, and ran after Elijah, and said . . . I will follow thee" (v. 20). The promptness of his response and the pace ("ran") with which he pursued Elijah all spell zeal. Elisha did not drag his feet. He was enthusiastic, excited, and earnest.
Scripture exhorts us, "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with [all] thy might" (Ecclesiastes 9:10). There is no better place to apply that injunction than in the Lord's work; for to do the Lord's work, we must do it with all our might. Opposition to the Lord's work is so great that it requires our best effort if we are to succeed. Union hours and effort will not do the job.
the average church member today evidences very little of the zeal which Elisha demonstrated in responding to his call. They shuffle to church at a sluggish pace which often makes them late. Then they slump into a rear pew and barely grunt out a sound when the hymns are sung. By sermon time they are ready for their nap. But we notice that after church is out they come alive and begin moving at a much faster pace. They scoot out of church before anyone can shake their hand, speed for home, and then quickly turn on the TV so they can watch, and with rapt attention, an afternoon of sports. They have zeal but not for God's business. They are not of elisha's character and so, of course, do not serve with elisha's earnestness.
2. The Response was Courageous
Elisha was not living in good times. Yes, Elijah had a great victory over Baalism at Mount Carmel several months before Elisha's call; but this did not produce a nation-wide return to Jehovah. Satan gives up hard. It was not until the reign of Jehu that Baalism was given a near fatal blow and put on the back burner for some years. When Elisha received his calling, Ahab and Jezebel were still in power and Elijah was still a wanted man. Therefore, to be an associate and a servant of Elijah put one's life in jeopardy. It was not a popular calling for those who lacked courage. It was a precarious calling. Yet Elisha never hesitated. He ran immediately after Elijah and said he would follow. How great was his spiritual courage.
It always takes courage to be committed to one's calling and to be faithful to do the will of God. It takes courage for a missionary to minister in back countries where disease is rampant and governments and people are extremely hostile. It takes courage for a manager of a Christian radio station to insist the station does not cave in on the popular clamor for Christian rock. It takes courage for a pastor to take a stand against the Masonic Lodge when some of his prominent members are Masons, to preach against tobacco when members of his church are tobacco farmers, and to denounce divorce and refuse to perform a marriage ceremony for divorced people when his church is filled with divorce. And today, with the homosexual crowd becoming increasing vicious, it takes great courage to faithfully stand against their filthy, wretched lifestyle. Yes, it takes great courage in any age to serve the Lord. Fainthearted men do not serve God well.
3. The Response was Sacrificial
Elisha had to sacrifice much to follow his calling from God. Two main areas of sacrifice are evident in our text. These areas are still main areas of sacrifice in service today. They have to do with fortune and family.
First, fortune. Elisha had to give up many material advantages to fulfill his calling. As we noted before, Elisha did not come from a poor situation. His father had a good-sized farm and was, therefore, a man of some means. But to follow his calling and travel with Elijah meant Elisha had to give all of this up for the skimpy fare of a prophet. Quite a sacrifice, but one which Elisha gave up without complaint.
The ministry has never been a good place for genuine servants of God to gain much materially. It is not a work that helps one make a fortune in this world's goods. Most pastors are woefully underpaid and, condemningly, by folk who often make two to three or more times than the pastor's salary and with less hours of work. Missionaries do not get rich either, and many of them must give up more than a decent income. They often give up the material advantages of living in a modern country to serve in some third world nation. But no one will serve God well who is unwilling to sacrifice material advantage to fulfill his calling.
Second, family. Elisha had to give up family ties to fulfill his calling. He was obviously very commendably devoted to his parents as is seen in his wanting to "kiss my father and my mother" (v. 20) before he left to follow Elijah. But to follow his calling he would have to depart from them and perhaps seldom see them again.
Family ties like this, though they are very legitimate in their place, must often be sacrificed to do God's bidding. Family affection can and often does break down the greatest of resolves. Some never even get to their calling because of this. Sons and daughters do not want to be far from home, so they spurn the call of God to any service that would take them across the country or across the seas to another country. Fathers and mothers often do not want to cut the apron strings but want to keep their children always within reach. This can greatly hinder their children from pursuing a Divine calling which could remove them a great distance from the parents. But as with the sacrificing of material advantages, one will have difficulty serving God if such family ties have priority over the call of God.
4. The Response was Total
Elisha demonstrated total commitment to the call when he "took a yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with instruments [harnesses, yokes, etc.] of the oxen" (v. 21). He literally burned his bridges behind him. He made it difficult to return to farming.
The late Stanley Collins gave an excellent illustration of when commitment occurs in the Lord's service. He used the example of a high diver. He said such a man, who will dive from a height of 100 or more feet, does not commit himself to diving when he climbs up the ladder or when he walks out on the diving board. Commitment comes, he said, when he jumps because then there is no way he can retreat and return. Many would like to define commitment as climbing up the ladder or as walking out on the diving board. They prefer that kind of commitment because then if things do not suit them they can turn back from their pursuit. But the only commitment God accepts is total. That is why Christ challenged the rich young ruler to sell all that he had and then follow Christ (Luke 18:22). The rich young ruler did not want to do that (Luke 18:23). He might have been willing to sell part of his possessions but to sell all was total commitment, and he did not have that sort of commitment for the cause of Christ.
No one will do well in following Christ if they do not have total commitment. Lack of total commitment provides opportunities and inducements to recant, to quit, to turn back. Lester Roloff used to say, "I have gone too far by faith to turn back now." Total commitment keeps us going.
Elisha's commitment will come before us again and more fully in our next chapter. His dedication to his calling never wavered. His initial response set the pattern. It was one of the key reasons why he was able to take Elijah's place when Elijah was taken to glory in the whirlwind some years after the mantle was thrown on Elisha.
5. The Response was Public
Elisha had a farewell feast after he was given his call. He slew the oxen and "gave unto the people" (v. 21). This feast let others know in a very pronounced way what his calling was. He was not ashamed for others to know even though they might be unsympathetic and unkind. And in a day when Baal was the popular religion, there would be many who would not look kindly upon Elisha's calling.
When we try to keep secret our calling, we are not responding well at all to God's will. In fact, if we do not want others to know how God wants us to serve, we probably will not do what God says to do. We simply cannot follow well God's call for our life without others knowing. Being reticent to admit our calling says we need revival. We are to confess Christ publicly before men if we want Him to confess us before God (Matthew 10:32,33). Secret discipleship has no place in God's work. We cannot do the will of God and perform our calling by hiding our candle under a basket (Matthew 5:15). Elisha let others know what his work was going to be. He let others know he was serving the Lord. Thus he let others know where he stood.
6. The Response was Considerate
Some are a bit troubled with elisha's statement to Elijah immediately after the call. Elisha said, "Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee" (v. 20). Elijah's answer to elisha's request was "Go back again; for what have I done to thee?" (Ibid.). Some construe this to be a rebuke for Elisha for hesitating to follow Elijah until he had said farewell to his parents. But such is not the case at all. Elisha was not hesitating, and Elijah was not rebuking.
First, Elisha was not hesitating. Elisha did not speak to Elijah like the man in Luke's Gospel spoke to Christ as some think he did. When that man was called to follow Christ, Luke reports that he said, "Let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house" (Luke 9:61). That request, unlike Elisha's request, was simply an excuse for an indefinite delay. "Bid farewell" involved more than just kissing his parents goodbye, and it involved more than his parents, for it involved all that was in "my house. The words "bid farewell" are translated from words which means to put things in order. Putting things in order sounds good, but it does not take a trained eye to see that this request, unlike Elisha's request, was for a indefinite delay in following a new Master. He was not ready to follow Christ. Elisha, however, was ready to follow Elijah. He only wanted to bid his parents farewell. This was no delay. This was only due and commendable consideration for his parents.
Second, Elijah was not rebuking. When Elijah said, "Go back again," he gave Elisha permission to tell his parents fare-well. But he did caution Elisha when he said, "What have I done to thee?" That question would cause Elisha to think seriously about his call, the greatness of it, and the importance of it. This would exhort him to be cautious and not to be sidetracked from his calling when he went to say good bye. The devil is clever and he can get us sidetracked even in doing legitimate things.
D. THE RESPONSIBILITIES IN THE CALL
The call given Elisha involved some specific responsibilities. We will look at the first responsibility and his foremost responsibility. His first responsibility was being Elijah's servant; his foremost responsibility was being Elijah's successor.
1. The First Responsibility
"Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him" (v. 21). The first responsibility of Elisha was a very humble one. He was simply a servant of Elijah. He "ministered unto him." As an example, he "poured water on the hands of Elijah" (2 Kings 3:11).
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, and for some good reasons. First, 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. As Matthew Henry said, "Those that hope hereafter to rise and rule must be willing at first to stoop and serve." Second, God would prepare and train you for your calling. Elisha needed much preparation for the fulfilling of his calling, and so he was going to be trained by Elijah. Part of our calling is training for the fulfillment of the calling. We must not be so foolish as to scorn this vital, but often humbling, part of our calling as some do. The classroom, the work of an associate, of an understudy is all an important part of the calling.
We see this truth of initial responsibility in other cases in Scripture, too. Joshua, as an example, was Moses' servant many years before he became the leader of Israel. How valuable that service was. He learned character in the lowly duties, and he developed capacity for his task by observing Moses in his leadership of Israel. Another example is Joseph who was unjustly thrown in prison for a number of years before he became prime minister of Egypt. That lowly position did not disqualify him for high position, as man would naturally think; but rather it made him fit to perform with excellence. It gave him valuable knowledge of the Egyptian government, and it strengthened his character. Both were very essential to his performing with excellence as prime minister.
2. The Foremost Responsibility
Elisha was to take Elijah's place. "Elisha . . . shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room" (v. 16). What a tremendous calling for Elisha. But Elisha did indeed fulfill that call. When God calls you to do something it may appear impossible; but if God has called you, He will see to it that you are able to do the calling. And so when Elijah left for glory via the whirlwind, "The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha" (2 Kings 2:15) and Elisha was enabled to "to be prophet in thy room."
Evidence of Elisha fulfilling Elijah's place abounds. While Elisha does contrast in some ways to Elijah, yet there are a number of ways in which he was a parallel of Elijah and thus a replacement for Elijah. To illustrate this, we note eight features here of Elijah's ministry which were repeated by Elisha.
First, Elijah declared emphatically Whom he served when he said to King Ahab, "As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand" (1 Kings 17:1). Elisha spoke similarly before King Jehoram, Ahab's son, when he said, "As the Lord of hosts liveth, before whom I stand" (2 Kings 3:14).
Second, Elijah parted the waters of Jordan just prior to his whirlwind trip to glory (2 Kings 2:7,8). Elisha did the same with Elijah's mantle shortly thereafter (2 Kings 2:13,14).
Third, Elijah was connected with a famine (1 Kings 17,18), so was Elisha (2 Kings 6-8).
Fourth, Elijah multiplied the food of a widow (1 Kings 17:13-16), so did Elisha (2 Kings 4:1-7).
Fifth, Elijah raised a lad from the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24), so did Elisha (2 Kings 4:18-37).
Sixth, Elijah carried the blessings of his ministry beyond the borders of Israel when he journeyed to Zarephath to bless a home (1 Kings 17:17-37). Elisha, too, carried the blessings of his ministry to a foreign nation when he was involved in the healing of Naaman the Syrian general (2 Kings 5).
Seventh, Elijah boldly decreed judgmental death upon people during his ministry (1 Kings 18:40, 2 Kings 1:9-12), so did Elisha (2 Kings 7:2,20).
Eighth, when Elijah left for glory in a whirlwind, Elisha said, "My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof" (2 Kings 2:12). When Elisha was sick and near death, he heard the same thing said of and to him by visiting King Joash (2 Kings 13:14).
No two prophets had such similar ministries. But God called Elisha to take Elijah's place; therefore, we are not surprised to see the parallels in performance. When God calls us, we can expect His enabling grace to empower us to fulfill our calling just as He helped Elisha to fulfill his calling of being Elijah's successor.