The Call of Elisha

How far do you want to go?

 

By I Gordon

 

Introduction

 

This is the start of a new series on the life of Elisha. The particular study entitled ‘How far do you want to go?’ will be in two parts. So let’s start where any serious study should begin… With a quiz! Let’s see how much you can remember about Elisha and Elijah.

 

Q1: Were Elijah and Elisha prophets, priests or kings?

Q2: Who ministered first – Elisha or Elijah?

Q3: In the O.T are there more chapters devoted to Elijah or Elisha?

Q4: Did they serve in the northern kingdom of Israel or Judah in the south?

Q5: Which of these two did the most miracles?

Q6: Does Elisha mean ‘God is salvation’ or ‘Yahweh is God’?

Q7: Which of the two men is mentioned in the New Testament?

 

Answers in the small print[1]

 

Elisha was one awesome prophet of God! His name means ‘my God is salvation’ and the whole ministry of Elisha would prove to be an outworked testimony to the meaning of his name[2]. You see, Elisha lived in dark times. Apostasy abounded and Israel’s enemies were circling. Yet through countless situations, Elisha stood as a light… a voice in the wilderness… showing through his life that the God of Israel was well and truly alive! In fact, Elisha performed more recorded miracles than anyone in the Bible other than Jesus. But I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. Let’s look at how it all began. Let’s start at the beginning with the call of Elisha…

 

Forgetting that which is behind…

 

1 Kings 19:19-21 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. Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother good-by,” he said, “and then I will come with you.” “Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?” 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 attendant.

 

The first thing we see about Elisha is that he was a plowman. Here he was, plowing with his oxen to break up the tough rugged ground. He would remain a plowman to the end of his life although God had a whole new ‘ground’ in mind for Elisha. It wouldn’t be the hard natural ground that would concern Elisha after this point… Oh no! God had an even harder ground for Elisha to plow! It would be the hard hearts of the Israelites themselves that Elisha would now be concerned with.

 

So Elijah comes up and throws his mantle around Elisha. You will see from above that Elisha didn’t have to ask ‘what’s going on?’ He knew exactly what that meant. Mantle’s were typically made of animal hair (not overly popular today!) and were generally worn by kings and prophets. They were symbolic of the owners calling, position, and authority. So Elisha didn’t have to ask Elijah what was going on. He knew. This was a passing of Elijah’s calling and position onto Elisha. Now there are a few points that come out of this call of Elisha.

 

God’s sovereign choice 

 

From the passage we see that God chose Elisha. Elisha was simply going about his normal daily business of ploughing the fields, when God came through his prophet Elijah and sought him out. In like manner, we read in the New Testament that ‘the son of man came to seek and to save that which is lost’. And, as Jesus said, ‘You did not choose me, but I have chosen you.’ Can I explain God’s sovereign choice and man’s free will completely? No. Do I understand it completely? No. But have I experienced it? Yes. No doubt about it. When we arrive it Heaven God can explain it all to us[3]… until then, Christians should thank God that He has called and chosen them while still believing and agreeing with the call that whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.’

 

Counting the Cost

 

We see also the seriousness of Elisha’s response. How seriously did Elisha take this call from Elijah? Well, this is answered above where we read the Elisha slaughtered his oxen as a sacrifice and burnt the plowing equipment to cook the meat! No going back for this boy! In doing this we see a great example of someone leaving behind the old life when the call of God comes. He knew this was a new beginning for him and there is no compromise with his past life.  Jesus said it well (as normal) “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62). There is no looking back here! How about you? Have you been looking back or are you pressing on to the higher calling of our Lord?

 

Ministering unto the Lord

 

The last thing that we read in the passage above says ‘Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him.’ How true of us this is. Not with Elijah of course, but with our master, the Lord Jesus. We arise, count the cost, leave the past behind, and follow Him! And what’s more, we are called to minister to Him as well.[4]

 

Pressing on to the higher calling

 

2 King 2:1-6 When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the LORD has sent me to Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel... Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the LORD has sent me to Jericho.” And he replied, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho. The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know,” he replied, “but do not speak of it.” Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.” And he replied, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on.

 

The next passage I will draw your attention to is 2 King 2:1-6. We saw earlier that Elisha had forsaken all to follow Elijah and minister to him. He was willing to submit himself to the will of Elijah and follow him wherever he went. Now, there are three things that stand out ion this passage before us.

 

1) At each stage Elijah tells Elisha to stop and not to go any further with him.

2) At each stage, Elisha’s determination to press on and not leave Elijah is seen.

3) Each of the four places mentioned are highly significant and symbolic locations in Israel’s history. 

 

The third point, that of the significance of the locations mentioned will have to wait till the next study. But for now, I want to concentrate on points 1 and 2. Three times in the passage above Elijah tells Elisha to stop and stay where he is! Mmmm… kind of strange wouldn’t you say? Well, I certainly thought it was. It’s almost like Elijah is testing Elisha as to how far he is willing to go. Actually, there is no ‘almost’ about it! That is exactly what he is doing. And I believe that it applies to us as well. Let me ask you… How far do you want to go with the Lord? Have you been tested whether you will press on to the higher calling of our Lord?.. Because you will be tested. Even when the Lord was on earth He tested people to see if they truly desired to be with Him. Let’s have a look at one example in Luke 24:13-33 

 

The road to Emmaus - Testing your desire

 

“Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.  As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

 

Now, I realise that was quite a long passage but it is pretty awesome! I for one would definitely have liked to have been at that Bible study! But the point that I want to bring out is that Jesus ‘acted like He was going further.’ In the language of modern relationships, he was ‘playing hard to get.’ He had wet their appetite by showing them himself in the law and the prophets, but now He was testing their desire for Him. And sometimes He will do this with you. Like Elijah testing Elisha, the Lord also longs to see whether we will press on further, following hard after Him[5], with the desire to know Him better. Had these disciples not truly had a desire for more time in the presence of this man on the road to Emmaus they would have missed out on Christ revealing himself to them further at their home.[6] Don’t miss out!

 

Conclusion

 

I really like the words quoted above from 2 Kings 2:6 where Elisha said‘ “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on.’ There was nothing that was going to stop Elisha from following Elijah no matter where that led him[7]! And so the two walked on! I hope you are going ‘on’. I also hope that attitude to ‘go on’ is found within me! Whether it is serving the Lord in small or great things, it really doesn’t matter. Whether the Lord seems close or far away, all that matters is that the Lord has His rightful place in your life and that you are ‘pressing on to the higher calling of our Lord’. From Gilgal, to Bethel, to Jericho and to the Jordan… How far did Elisha want to go? Just as far as Elijah wanted to take him!

 

May we be the same!

 



[1] Answers from my incredibly difficult quiz are as follows -
A1: They were prophets. I hope you are 1 from 1.

A2: Elijah came first and then he trained Elisha.

A3. More chapters are devoted to Elisha (10) than Elijah (6)

A4: They served in the Northern kingdom which didn’t have any good kings!

A5: Elisha did the most miracles – 16 to 8 apparently.

A6: Elisha means ‘God is Salvation’. Elijah means ‘Yahweh is God’.

A7: Ok, let me guess… You are so far 6 from 6 and you have answered Elijah for the last question to win the car? I’m sorry. Both Elisha and Elijah are mentioned in the New Testament. Kind of a trick question to prevent pride creeping in!

 

[2] I find it interesting that the ministry of both Elijah and Elisha is fortold in the meanings of their name. Elijah means ‘Yahweh is God’ and that was his ministry. The people didn’t know who the true God was anymore. Most followed Baal. Elijah had to come to again show them the true God. Elisha means ‘God is salvation’ and that was his calling. Not so much to point out who the true God was, but to show that God was alive and well and was able to save. That is why Elisha performed more miracles than anyone else in the Bible apart from Jesus. He showed that God is salvation.

[3] Someone once said that free will and election are like two parallel lines that seem to have no crossing point. But if you follow those lines right to heaven you will see that they do meet. Until then, we should believe both lines of thought as both are presented to us in the Bible.

 

[4] While we spend a lot more time asking and thinking of how the Lord ministers to us, we shouldn’t forget that we can actually minister to Him! We know from the Old Testament that the priests would minister unto the Lord. (Exodus 28:1-5, Psalms 106:6). Now the sacrifices that we give in this New Testament covenant of grace are through our praise, thanksgiving and the offering of ourselves to the Lord. In this way, we still ‘minister’ to the Lord. But is there another way that the Bible says we can minister unto Him? Can you think of any? Come on, think. Alrighty… I see you struggling. Time for a clue... People at a particular judgment in the future shall one day ask the Jesus ‘Lord, when did we see you…?’. Ring any bells? Answer in mighty fine small print (See Matt 25:37-40, Heb 6:10 – It is an amazing concept that the church is a body. When we look after the members of that body that need help, we are actually doing it unto the Lord!. We are ministering to Him! Look at what Jesus says at the sheep and goats judgment – “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ That is how you can minister to the Lord today – look after His brethren!

 

[5] A.W Tozer, in his book ‘The pursuit of God’ quotes psalm 63:8 which says ‘My soul follows hard after you. Your right hand upholds me.’ It’s a good scripture. He goes on to say the following –

‘In this hour of all but universal darkness, one gleam appears. Within the fold of conservative Christianity there are to be found increasing numbers of persons whose religious lives are marked by a growing hunger after God himself.’

 

[6] To quote Tozer further - “But complacency is a deadly foe of all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present or there will be no manifestation of Christ to his people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us, he waits so long, so very long, in vain.”

[7] Certain people, at certain times, have characterised this courage and determination to follow the narrow path no matter what. It is the attitude of Ruth who would not leave Naomi even though it meant forsaking all that she knew in her old life. (Ruth 1:16) It is shown in the attitude of good old Ittai when King David said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why should you come along with us? Go back and stay with King Absalom. You are a foreigner, an exile from your homeland.  You came only yesterday. And today shall I make you wander about with us, when I do not know where I am going? Go back, and take your countrymen. May kindness and faithfulness be with you.” But Ittai replied to the king, “As surely as the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king may be, whether it means life or death, there will your servant be.” It will also be the attitude of the 144,000 Israelites in the last days who will ‘follow the lamb wherever He goes.’ (Rev 14:4)