Elisha and God’s Call


Here’s a shocking bit of news, courtesy of Forbes:

Right Management ran the online survey between April 16 and May 15, and culled responses from 411 workers in the U.S. and Canada. Only 19% said they were satisfied with their jobs. Another 16% said they were “somewhat satisfied.” But the rest, nearly two-thirds of respondents, said they were not happy at work. Twenty-one percent said they were “somewhat unsatisfied” and 44% said they were “unsatisfied.” (http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2012/05/18/new-survey-majority-of-employees-dissatisfied/)

That’s a whole lot of dissatisfied employees! No wonder we get stress headaches. No wonder so many of us dream of the day we can retire and do what we enjoy rather than what we have to. Most of these dissatisfied employees will tell you they can’t quit the job they hate so much because of the money. But what if you could quit the job you hate and start the job you dream about having? What would that dream job be? Some of you would love to “work from home.” Others would love to be able to turn your hobby into your occupation. Still others hold onto some childhood ambition that’s just unpractical as an adult; like being an astronaut or a deep sea diver or a stewardess or a famous actor. There are probably as many “dream jobs” as there are people. That’s because we all have different interests, talents, and ambitions. God in His wisdom created us as individuals; all different from each other. And, ideally, as we grow and mature in the Lord, we discover what our interests and talents are and we find a way to use what God has given us to not only glorify Him but benefit ourselves as well.

Such was the case with a man named Elisha. Most of us seem to be familiar with the prophet Elijah, but in some ways his successor, Elisha, had an even greater ministry. Elijah was a great prophet, but God sent him to prepare and anoint Elisha to also be a prophet. We can learn some things from Elisha’s great life and ministry that help us to follow God’s will for our lives.

1 Kings 19:19 – 21

In this brief incident, we read about the call of Elisha to the prophetic ministry.

The Lord said, “Return to the wilderness near Damascus, then enter the city and anoint Hazael as king of Syria; anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. (1 Kings 19:15, 16 GNB)

That’s God giving His busy prophet Elijah a laundry list of things to do, including anointing Elisha to be his successor. We don’t know a lot about Elisha, but he was apparently a man of some means, as he was working next to the twelfth pair of oxen. Elijah approached this man and did a curious thing:

Elijah took off his cloak and put it on Elisha. (1 Kings 19:19b GNB)

Putting one’s cloak or mantle on another was a highly symbolic act of transferring leadership. That symbolic act was Elijah’s way of doing what God told him to do: anoint Elisha to be his successor. Elisha, for his part, did what most of us would do:

“Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye, and then I will go with you.” (1 Kings 19:20b GNB)

In other words, Elisha wanted to set his affairs in order and provide for a proper farewell. Elijah’s response to Elisha has been translated in various ways, but this one seems to fit his character:

“All right, go back. I’m not stopping you!” (1 Kings 19:20c GNB)

That single statement is important. It shows us Elijah hadn’t called Elisha to be his successor; God had done that. And it also shows us that answering God’s call was something only Elisha himself could do. It was his decision to make.

And that’s the way God works in the lives of His people. He may call, but we must answer. God has a will for our lives, but we must be co-operative participants. God doesn’t force anybody to do anything. He calls, creates the conditions whereby we are able to respond, but ultimately the choice is ours. A lot of times we may be hesitant to step up and answer God’s call. We may be fearful or unsure or too busy, we think. Following the call of God very often entails sacrifice. It always means aligning our wills to His; it requires a new set of priorities. Recall what Jesus said when He called a young man to follow Him:

And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:61, 62 NKJV)

If you want to follow the call of God, you can’t be distracted by other things. Following the call of God requires single-minded devotion. Elijah’s response to Elisha seemed to be a little more charitable than that of Jesus. But Elisha’s actions showed that he was ready to follow the call.

Elisha then returned to his oxen, killed them, and used wood from the plow to build a fire to roast their flesh. He passed around the meat to the other plowmen, and they all had a great feast. Then he went with Elijah, as his assistant. (1 Kings 19:21 TLB)

2 Kings 2:1 – 15

The historian who wrote 1 and 2 Kings takes a break in his account of the kings to return to the subject of Elisha. It’s been a number of chapters since we last saw Elijah’s successor. By now, Elijah is an old man, beginning the last leg of his journey in this life.

Now the time came for the Lord to take Elijah to heaven—by means of a whirlwind! Elijah said to Elisha as they left Gilgal, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Bethel.” (2 Kings 2:1 TLB)

We’re not told why Elijah repeatedly tried to leave his successor behind, but Elisha was determined to stick close to his mentor. Some have suggested it was difficult for Elijah to retreat from public ministry and he just wanted to be alone. Or it could be Elijah was subtly testing his student. Whatever the reason, Elisha’s true character and commitment shone through. He was completely loyal to Elijah and he seemed determined to fulfill his God-given destiny to be there when Elijah was gone. As we look at where the two of them traveled – Gilgal, Bethel, Jericho, the Jordan – we can’t help but think of another mentor-student relationship: that of Moses and Joshua. In fact, the similarities don’t stop with their itinerary. Consider this:

Then Elijah folded his cloak together and struck the water with it; and the river divided and they went across on dry ground! (2 Kings 2:8 TLB)

Not only had Moses parted a body of water before, but Elijah’s destination (the other side of the Jordan River) was also where Moses’ life came to its end.

This exchange between Elijah and Elisha serves to further show just how committed Elisha was and how seriously he took his calling.

When they arrived on the other side Elijah said to Elisha, “What wish shall I grant you before I am taken away?” And Elisha replied, “Please grant me twice as much prophetic power as you have had.” (2 Kings 2:9 TLB)

Elisha was determined to continue Elijah’s ministry, and he innately knew he would need something more than what he had. He needed to be able to lead, but he desired the power to succeed. He needed divine empowerment.

For his part, Elijah knew that what Elisha needed was beyond his ability to give. Elisha needed to see and experience something unquestioningly supernatural. He did.

As they were walking along, talking, suddenly a chariot of fire, drawn by horses of fire, appeared and drove between them, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. (2 Kings 2:11 TLB)

Elisha was understandably upset with what he had seen, but he did receive Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen during Elijah’s ascent. As the young prophet picked it up, it confirmed to him that he had indeed become his master’s successor. As if to prove it, he did a remarkable thing – he parted the waters just as Elijah had done.

When the young prophets of Jericho saw what had happened, they exclaimed, “The spirit of Elijah rests upon Elisha!” And they went to meet him and greeted him respectfully. (2 Kings 2:15 TLB)

Elisha crossed over. He left his Moses behind, just as Joshua had done. The “young prophets of Jericho,” student prophets, witnessed the event and knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that God’s Spirit did in fact rest on Elisha and they accepted his leadership.

Some lessons

Just before Elisha parted the waters, he asked this question:

Where is the Lord God of Elijah? (2 Kings 2:14b TLB)

That’s not an unimportant question. And it’s one that Christians should be asking. Elisha had Elijah’s cloak, the symbol of the prophet’s office. But what Elisha really needed was the presence of God Himself. As Christians, we may have our confession, but we also need the presence of God. In looking back at the elder prophet’s life, we can see precisely where the Lord was and what He was dong:

* The Lord always cared, 1Kings 17

* The Lord answers in definite, unmistakable ways, 1Kings 18:1 – 40

* The Lord hears prayers, 1 Kings 18:41 – 46

* The Lord is still the Lord even at the “juniper tree,” 1 Kings 19:4 – 18

* The Lord still empowers those who serve Him, 2 Kings 2:9 – 12

In Malachi 3:6, we read this:

For I am the Lord—I do not change. (TLB)

The things that He did for Elijah and Elisha He will do for believers today. Of course, God works in different ways with different people in different dispensations. But He remains the same. What we need to serve Him effectively, He will give us.


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