Scriptures: 1st Kings 19:19-21 & 2nd Kings 2
Title: Elijah & Elisha
- The call of Elisha
- The empowerment of Elisha
On the wall here we have a picture of a Maori Adze (or axe)
– The head of the axe is made out greenstone (pounamu) and the handle is made out of wood
– The handle has carving on it which symbolises the history or whakapapa of those leaders who have carried the adze in previous generations
– With each new generation of leadership the greenstone head is removed and a new handle is carved for the new leader
– So the pounamu head stays the same from generation to generation, while the handle changes
– This means there is continuity with the past but also freshness or newness with each succeeding generation
Today we continue our series on intergenerational relationships in the Bible
– That is, relationships between people of different ages or generations
– This morning’s focus is the relationship between Elijah & Elisha
– This is a relationship in which the mantle of prophetic leadership is passed from one generation to the next, so the work of God continues
– Elisha is like the new handle for the old pounamu axe head
– Elisha carries the word of God as Elijah did before him and as others would after him
Today’s message is in two parts:
– Firstly, the call of Elisha and then the empowerment of Elisha
The call of Elisha is found in 1st Kings 19, just after Elijah’s encounter with the Lord God on Mt Horeb
– After defeating the prophets of Baal, Elijah runs for his life into the wilderness because Jezebel wants to kill him
– Elijah feels scared and alone – he has lost his perspective, his sense of continuity (some would say he is burnt out)
– But God meets him, not in the fire or the wind or the earthquake but in sheer silence
– After this Yahweh tells Elijah to go and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat to succeed him as prophet
– By giving Elijah an apprentice the Lord is making Elijah’s work less lonely and he is giving Elijah a sense of hope & continuity
– The Lord’s work will not die with Elijah
– From verse 19 of 1st Kings chapter 19, we read…
19 So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him. 20 Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,” he said, “and then I will come with you.”
“Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?”
21 So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant.
On the wall here is a picture of some Korowai
– A Korowai is a special type of Maori cloak (or mantle) woven out of flax with tassels and sometimes feathers on it
– It can take anywhere between 4-12 months to make a Korowai by hand
– They are a special garment to be worn on special occasions like graduations or weddings and other important ceremonies
– Korowai are often handed down as an heirloom from one generation to the next
– They provide a continuity or connection with the past, present and future
– A Korowai is reflective of honour, leadership, identity, warmth, protection, skill & beauty
One of the intriguing things about Elisha’s call is that Elijah doesn’t actually say anything to Elisha
– Elijah simply takes his cloak (or his mantle) and throws it over Elisha
– Elijah’s cloak wasn’t a Korowai as such, (it may have been quite ordinary for all we know) but it was nevertheless special because Elijah wore it
– By throwing his mantle over Elisha, Elijah was effectively bestowing honour, leadership, identity, warmth, protection and skill on Elisha
– It was an invitation for Elisha to become his successor and Elisha understood this intuitively
Another thing we note is that Elijah found Elisha at work in the fields plowing
– To give some context the land had been in drought for over 3 years and after Elijah prayed the rains came
– This meant that farmers, like Elisha, were finally able to get out and plow the ground and sow their crops
– Which means Elisha was being called to leave his work at a time when things were picking up again
– It wasn’t so much that one door closed and another opened for Elisha
– It was more like two doors opened at the same time and Elisha had to choose which one he was going to walk through
– Was he going to be a farmer or a prophet?
Elisha chose to follow Elijah – but first he asked permission to kiss his parents good bye
Elijah granted permission saying: “What have I done to you?”
– It is unclear what Elijah meant by this exactly
– It could mean, ‘you are free to choose what you do’
– But at the same time, Elijah may have his own experience in mind so he means something like, ‘In calling you to be a prophet, I’ve called you to a difficult life. You will be lonely, misunderstood and you will lack the usual securities and comforts that other people enjoy’
– Jesus said a similar thing to those who followed him – people will hate you because of me
Elisha is young and willing – he’s a good keen man which is just what the older more jaded Elijah needs
– After some difficult experiences Elijah (who is recovering from burn out) is at risk of falling into cynicism and contempt
– Elisha is a breath of fresh air for Elijah
– I imagine Elisha’s youthful enthusiasm and sense of hopefulness inspired Elijah to be the best version of himself that he could be, for Elisha’s sake
To mark his commitment in following Elijah and God’s call, Elisha sacrifices his two bulls as a fellowship offering – there’s no turning back now
– Sometimes choosing continuity with God’s story means discontinuity with our old way of life
– Elisha feeds the people with the meat from his oxen
– This is symbolic of his ministry – as a prophet Elisha will sustain people with the meat of God’s word (man cannot live by bread alone)
When I started here at Tawa, you (the congregation) gave me a mantle of sorts – a cloak in the form of a Hurricanes rugby jersey
– I come from the Waikato / Bay of Plenty area where the Chiefs are based
– Had I been a Chiefs supporter I suppose I would have had to burn my chiefs jersey, sort of like Elisha burned his oxen and farming equipment
– Luckily for me I was never a Chiefs supporter
After Elisha has said his goodbyes and fed the people he goes with Elijah and becomes his attendant or servant
– Similar language is used of Joshua who became Moses’ servant centuries earlier
– We, the reader, are meant to see the continuity woven into the Korowai of God’s salvation story
– Elisha is to Elijah what Joshua was to Moses – someone chosen by God to carry on the Lord’s work after Elijah is gone
Some of the external doors of the church auditorium have been difficult to open and close, partly due to their age and partly due to all the rain we’ve had lately
– During the week Ewan & Neville fixed the fire exit here at the front
– One of the things they did to free the door up was replace the hinges – the old hinges were a bit rusted and seized
– They didn’t throw the door out – they kept the door but replaced the hinges so there is continuity with the past, present and future
The purpose of a hinge is to allow movement and change – to create openings and endings
– In some ways a prophet is a bit like a hinge in that they allow movement and change
– They are anchored to the past (the door frame) and to the present (the door itself)
– Through the words they speak God’s prophets make society aware of hinge moments in human history
– They let people know when new doors of hope have been opened
– They also warn people when old doors of sin & injustice are about to close in judgment
Of course, it is God who opens and closes the doors of history – the prophet (like the hinge) simply helps to facilitate that movement
– If a prophet performs the function of a hinge in history then we could say, Elisha is like the new set of hinges on the old door
We are not told much about how Elijah mentors Elisha, as we were with Moses & Joshua
– Presumably Elisha learned like any apprentice, by watching and doing
– In any case the emphasis of the text isn’t on the technical aspects of mentoring – it is rather on the spiritual empowerment of Elisha
The next time we hear about Elijah & Elisha together is 2nd Kings chapter 2
– After a bit of a tiki-tour through Gilgal, Bethel and Jericho, Elijah & Elisha head out into the wilderness toward the Jordan
– They both know that Elijah is soon to be taken by God
– When they reach the river Elijah strikes the water with his cloak, the water divides and the two of them walk across on dry ground
– Sort of like Moses separating the Red Sea with his staff
– Once again we find a continuity – the past, present and future are woven together into the wider cloak of the Biblical narrative
– We pick up the story from verse 9 or 2nd Kings chapter 2…
9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”
“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.
10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”
In ancient Jewish culture the first born son inherited a double portion of the Father’s estate
– So in asking for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, Elisha is asking to be Elijah’s legitimate heir – that is, the prophet’s successor
– Elisha wants to carry on the prophetic work Elijah started but he needs the power of Elijah’s spirit to do that
– And by “Elijah’s spirit” we don’t mean his human spirit we mean the Spirit of God that rests on Elijah
Elijah says to Elisha, “You have asked a difficult thing”
– In other words, it’s not up to me whether you will be my successor or not
– I can’t control what the Spirit of God does any more than I can control where the wind blows
– The hinge doesn’t get to tell the carpenter what door it will hang on
From verse 11…
11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.
By calling Elijah his “father”, Elisha is showing deep respect and affection for his predecessor
– “The chariots and horsemen of Israel” is another title of respect for Elijah
– Elisha is basically saying that Elijah is the Lord’s weapon against evil
– God’s word through Elijah was far more powerful than any army of chariots and horsemen
The point, not to be missed here, is that Elisha saw his master go, which means he would inherit Elijah’s spirit – the Spirit of God
– Elisha would now become the Lord’s weapon against evil
Yet again we see continuity with the past, present & future
– Elijah’s ascension foreshadows Jesus’ ascension to heaven – it is all part of the weaving of the larger Biblical narrative of salvation
– Just as Elijah ascended to God’s presence in heaven before Elisha inherited his spirit – so too Jesus ascended to heaven before pouring out his Spirit on his disciples at Pentecost
– So if Jesus is like Elijah then we are sort of like Elisha, empowered by Jesus’ Spirit to carry on the Lord’s work
Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.
Again we notice the Lord’s masterful weaving
– Just as Joshua (the successor to Moses) separated the river Jordan so the people could cross over into the Promised Land, so too Elisha (the successor to Elijah) divides the waters of the Jordan on his re-entry
The interesting thing here is that it didn’t work the first time for Elisha
– He has to strike the water twice and ask where God is before the river parts for him
– Perhaps this is a reminder that the power is not in Elijah’s mantle – the cloak is not magic – the power is with the Lord God Almighty
In any case…
15 The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.
The other night around our dinner table one of the kids asked what is salience?
– I had a vague idea but wanted to make sure I had my facts straight so went to get a dictionary off the book shelf to look it up
– Robyn laughed at me (as she usually does) and said, “Just google it”
– Of course I ignored her and went off to find an actual dictionary while she looked up a virtual dictionary on her phone
– Robyn has kept up with the new generation – I’m more old school
– Not that it really matters – different approaches, same answer
Salience is the quality of being particularly noticeable or important
– A salient point is one which is prominent – or sticks out like a tall poppy
The story of Elijah & Elisha is enigmatic – it is cloaked in mystery
– Yes, theirs is an intergenerational relationship but so what?
– What is the salient point of their story?
– What’s the application for us?
Well, the thing that stands out most prominently to me is that God is weaving the cloak (the Korowai) of our salvation
– One of our values as a church is passing on our faith (the Christian faith) to the next generation
– We don’t want the church to end with us – we want to leave things in good shape for our kids and see them continue walking with Jesus
– We want there to be a continuity between the past, present and future
– That’s one of the reasons we encourage an intergenerational culture in the life of the church – that’s why we are having this sermon series
The salient point with Elijah & Elisha’s story is that God is the weaver, not Elijah & Elisha
– Yes, Elijah was obedient to God when the Lord told him to appoint Elisha as his successor
– And yes, Elisha was willing to submit to God’s purpose, even though he had other options
– But really it was the Spirit of God who empowered both Elijah & Elisha and created the continuity
What I’m trying to say is that, even though the tide of cultural change is against us at present, we don’t need to be anxious about the future of the church
– Yes, we have our part to play but what really counts with passing on our faith to the next generation is the power of God’s Spirit
– Like Elijah, we don’t get to tell the Spirit what to do
– God is the master weaver and he will draw it all together in the end
– We are part of his larger Korowai – his cloak of salvation
– The Lord will provide the continuity by his Spirit
1.) What stands out for you in reading these Scriptures and/or in listening to the sermon?
2.) Why did God tell Elijah to anoint Elisha to succeed him as prophet?
– How might Elisha help Elijah?
3.) What was the significance or meaning of Elijah throwing his cloak (mantle) over Elisha?
4.) Have you (like Elisha) had the experience of two doors opening at the same time and needing to make a decision about which one you will walk through?
– Can you share your story? (E.g. What happened? How did God guide you? What and why did you decide as you did? Etc.)
5.) How is Elisha similar to Joshua?
6.) In what sense is a prophet like a hinge?
7.) What does Elisha mean when he asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit?
– Why is this a difficult thing to ask for?
8.) In what ways does Elijah foreshadow Jesus?
9.) What is the salient point in the story of Elijah & Elisha?
– And what’s the application for us?