When God called Elisha to be succeed the prophet Elijah, Elisha was a farmer with no apparent qualifications. Yet Elisha burned his ox and followed. Then Elisha refused to leave his mentor’s side, humbly asking that God equip him for the journey ahead.
Elisha is the disciple of and successor to the Old Testament prophet Elijah. Both Elijah & Elisha were prophets to the northern kingdom of Israel during the dynasties of Omri & Jehu.
When Omri became king in the north (885-874 BC), he sought a political alliance with Tyre to increase his access to the lucrative Mediterranean trade routes. Omri sealed the alliance by arranging the marriage of his son Ahab (874-853 BC) with the Tyrian princess Jezebel. She arrived in Israel intent on replacing the Hebrew God with her god. Much of Elijah’s work took place under the exceedingly evil reign of Ahab and Jezebel.
More: Prophets Introduction
We pick up the story when Elijah is worn out. He’s depressed and he asks God to take him home. However, God has another plan. He gives Elijah a disciple and successor.
19So he [Elijah] 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 he [Elijah] cast his cloak upon him [Elisha]. 20And he [Elisha] 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 [Elijah] said to him [Elisha], “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” 21And he [Elisha] returned from following him [Elijah] 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 [Elisha] arose and went after Elijah and assisted him. – 1Kings 19:19-21
- Elisha was a farmer by trade and training. For him, this is another day at work.
- A farmer in ancient Israel needed an ox, a plow and land. Oxen and plows are essential tools of the trade.
- The 12 pairs of oxen may all belong to Elisha and his family, in which case he is a very rich man. Or one pair could be his and the rest could be loaned from neighbors for the plowing.
- Putting the cloak on Elisha is symbolically calling him to be the next prophet.
- One way the Old Testament describes those who have God’s Spirit was to say the Spirit “clothed” the prophet (1Chron 12:18-19; 2Chron 24:20; Judges 6:34).
- The question before Elisha is: God has called you to be a prophet. How will you respond?
- All of us face that choice eventually: Am I willing to follow God’s call in this particular situation? Am I willing to live God’s way no matter the cost?
- Elisha sacrifices his oxen and burns his plow, completely abandoning his old way of life.
- In addition to his public commitment to his new calling, Elisha celebrates with the whole village. Two oxen would feed a lot of people.
- Elijah’s great qualification for serving God at this moment in history was the same as the rest of us: He was willing.
- God is not looking for fame; He is looking for faith.
- God is not looking for wealth; He is looking for willingness.
- He is not looking for renown; He is looking for humble reliance.
1Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2And Elijah said to Elisha, “Please stay here, for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. 3And the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take away your master from over you?” And he said, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.” 4Elijah said to him, “Elisha, please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. 5The sons of the prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take away your master from over you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.” 6Then Elijah said to him, “Please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. -2Kings 2:1-6
- Apparently the Lord informed Elijah and the other prophets that this was Elijah’s last day on earth because everyone seems to know.
- Elijah and Elisha leave Samaria and walk some 17 miles to Gilgal. Elijah tells Elisha to stay in Gilgal while he goes on by himself. But Elisha refuses.
- They walk another 8 miles south to Bethel. Again, Elijah asks Elisha to stay. Again Elisha refuses.
- They walk another 15 miles to Jericho. For the third time, Elijah tried to convince Elisha that he should stay behind, but for the third time Elisha refused to leave his spiritual father.
- The two walk 5 more miles to the Jordan river. The text suggests no panic or anxiety or regret in Elijah.
- Why does Elijah ask Elisha to remain behind? There are 3 main theories: 1) Elijah could be testing Elisha’s faithfulness; 2) Elijah is trying to spare Elisha the long journey; or 3) Elijah wants his departure to be a personal event between himself and the Lord.
7Fifty men of the sons of the prophets also went and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8Then Elijah took his cloak and rolled it up and struck the water, and the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground. 9When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” 10And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.” 11And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. 12And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. 13And he took up the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14Then he took the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him and struck the water, saying, “Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” And when he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over. -2Kings 2:7-14
- The old prophet and his disciple approach the Jordan river with 50 others walking behind. Elijah strikes the water with his folded mantle and they part on dry ground.
- Elijah then asks Elisha want he can do for him in his final hours. Presumably, Elijah ask been asking all his disciples this question. As he has been traveling from place to place, Elijah has been giving his followers a prayer and a blessing.
- Elisha answered as a spiritual firstborn son to his spiritual father, “Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me” (Deuteronomy 21:17). This is why Elisha refused to leave the old prophets side.
- Just as Elisha needed the plow and ox to be a farmer, he needs God’s Spirit to be a prophet. Elisha is acknowledging he needs God to equip him.
- Elijah acknowledges that only God can give His Spirit.
- Elijah says Elisha will know God has granted his request if he sees Elijah leave.
- When Elijah left, Elisha had no way to cross the Jordan except to risk a dangerous swim.
- God confirms his call of Elisha by letting him see Elijah’s departure and by parting the waters of the Jordan for him.
15Now when the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho saw him opposite them, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” And they came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. 16And they said to him, “Behold now, there are with your servants fifty strong men. Please let them go and seek your master. It may be that the Spirit of the LORD has caught him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley.” And he said, “You shall not send.” 17But when they urged him till he was ashamed, he said, “Send.” They sent therefore fifty men. And for three days they sought him but did not find him. 18And they came back to him while he was staying at Jericho, and he said to them, “Did I not say to you, ‘Do not go’?” – 2Kings 2:15-18
- Why doesn’t the story end with 2:14?
- The epilogue shows that Elijah is really gone.
- The epilogue shows Elisha sees with spiritual eyes what the others don’t see.
- God is faithful. He equips those He calls for the task He calls them to do.
- Credentials don’t make a “prophet.” God does. God is not limited by our gender, pedigree, social status, credentials, etc.
When God calls, 5 ways to run your race well:
- Follow God’s call with humble faith and obedience (1 Kings 19:19-21).
- Trust God to equip you for whatever the call He gives you (2 Kings 2).