Studies in the Life of Elisha (2)
Stephen Rudge, Winshill, England
The Commencement of Elisha's Ministry, 1 Kgs. 19. 14-21
Elijah was despondent in his flight from Jezebel. God required three things of him: anoint Hazael as king of Syria, Jehu as king of Israel and Elisha as prophet. God is still sovereign. A curious prophecy was given, 'And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay: and him that escapeth the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay', 19. 17. God would deal with wickedness. Then the Lord who sees all things enlightened him that there were seven thousand who had not yet bowed the knee to Baal. God preserves a people for Himself. Elijah departed from Horeb to find Elisba. In this, the commencement of Elisha's ministry, we learn three things. What he was doing before he was called: his occupation; how Elijah called him to serve God in this special way: his initiation; and Elisha's immediate response to the call: his preparation for service.
Elijah found Elisha at work with twelve yoke of oxen, and leading the twelfth. God calls those who are already busy in His service. David was among the sheep. The disciples were fishing, collecting taxes or ministering to the sick. We cannot expect to serve the Lord on the mission field if we have not served him at home. We cannot expect to expound the Scriptures somewhere where we are unknown, if we have not first done so in the place where we are known. The first place of testimony and service is in our own home and in our local assembly. That is the God's principle, Mark 5. 19; Luke 4. 16; Acts 1. 8. In each case, whether missionary, elder, evangelist or deacon, the official recognition follows a work already being done, Acts 6. 3.
On finding Elisha at work, Elijah 'passed by him and cast his mantle upon him', 19. 19. This symbolic act told Elisha that he was to be the one to continue Elijah's work. That Elisha fully understood this is clear from his reaction, 'Let me, 1 pray thee, kiss my father and mother, and then I will follow thee', 19. 20. His response to the call of God was positive and immediate. This must have warmed Elijah's heart. Amidst the apostate tribes was a man who was ready to take up the challenge and follow a man that had the sentence of death upon him. We find ourselves in the same situation today. God is calling men and women to serve Him, in a world that is hostile to the gospel and all that is associated with the name of Christ. We are called to follow a Man who was sentenced to death by a godless world. Who is ready to take up the challenge? Rom. 12. 1, 2.
In response to God's call through Elijah, Elisha prepared himself. Firstly, he kissed his parents goodbye. He did not ask for an unreasonable delay, as did a disciple of the Lord Jesus, Matt. 8. 21; Luke 9. 60. God often calls for an immediate response, 'Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead', the Lord Jesus says. Elijah would occupy him no more. He made a clean break. When we accept Christ as Saviour and are obedient to Him in baptism, we express the same sentiments. We turn from the world with all its attractions and go in a new direction. We are dead with Christ, old things have passed away; our priorities in regard to pleasures and pastimes must change. But we also live with Him. He gives us the power to live a life that will bring pleasure to God, Gal. 2. 20; 2 Cor. 5. 17.
Have we re-assessed the value of the things that used to occupy us or do we still hold them in high esteem? Elisha would have none of it. He rid himself of all that might be a distraction to him. 'If so be that ye have heard him (Christ) . . . put off concerning the former conversation (manner of life) the old man . . . and put on the new man', Eph. 4. 21-23.
The Course of Elisha's Ministry, 2 Kgs. 2. 13-6, 23
We have already appreciated that if Elijah was the prophet associated with fire then Elisha is the prophet associated with water. Seven times the prophet is linked with water. We will look briefly at each occasion for practical applications.
The Waters of Testimony, 2 Kgs. 2. 13-15
In the last moments of Elijah's life on earth, Elisha's faith was put to the test. Elijah moved from city to city and told Elisha to tarry at each, but Elisha knew that the Lord was about to take his master and kept on following. Elijah came to Jordan and divided the waters with his mantle. They both crossed over. Elijah, then, seeing Elisha's faithful persistence, turned to him and said, 'Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee', 2. 9. Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah's spirit. What an example the prophet is to us. How his request must have made Elijah's heart rejoice. Here was a young man whose desire was to spend his life in service for God and continue to achieve in an increasing measure the ministry of Elijah for God. Elisha's request was a hard one to grant; it was not for Elijah to do it, and so he leaves it with the Lord. 'If thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so', he said, 2. 10. Elisha did see Elijah taken from him in a whirlwind, and taking up the fallen mantle he turned back to the Jordan. Here lay the proof of Elijah's words. If Elisha did indeed have the spirit of Elijah he too should be able to divide the waters of the Jordan. The sons of the prophets stood and watched from the other side. Elisha stepped forward in faith, called on the Lord God of Elijah, and smote the waters with the mantle. The waters divided and Elisha went over. The sons of the prophets testified, 'the spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha', 2. 15.
Elisha's master was in heaven but his spirit, his character, was upon him. When the sons of the prophets saw Elisha it reminded them of Elijah. Our Master, too, is in heaven. He has given us the Holy Spirit as a guide and comforter while He is away, One who will mould our characters to be like Christ. Who do others see when they look at us? By the way we live day by day, in the way we spend our time, how we treat people, do they see Christ or do they see the old man in us, the old nature that should be put off and put away? It should be so much more often that unbelievers testify of believers, 'God is in you and with you'.
The Waters of Death, 2 Kgs. 2. 18-22
Just as Joshua and the Israelites had done so many years before, Elisha crossed Jordan and came to Jericho. Jericho had been cursed by God on a number of occasions, before and after the Israelites had destroyed it. Latterly, Joshua had cursed the city and said, 'cursed be the man before the Lord, that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho', Josh. 6. 26. Despite the curse, however, during the reign of Ahab, 'Hie! the Bethelite built Jericho'. The effect of the curse was death. 'He laid the foundation . . . in Abiram his firstborn . . . and he set up the gates thereof in his youngest son, Segub', 1 Kgs. 16. 34. Notice how mankind is stubbornly opposed to God: they said to Elisha 'the situation of this city is pleasant', 2. 19. However pleasant it may have been, the effect of the curse remained. 'The water is naught [bad]', they said. The water was useless. It could not sustain life. It brought death.
It is only God that can turn a curse into a blessing, and so He does. Salvation is of the Lord. In contrast to Elisha's first miracle, here there was a requirement for the men of the city to effect the miracle. Elisha said 'bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein', 2. 20. In the crossing of Jordan it was God alone at work, which speaks of God's sovereignty. The Lord Jesus went into death alone, defeated it and arose victorious. Death had no claim upon Him. God in His sovereignty has made salvation available to all. Here, the men sought Eiisha's help and brought the cruse and salt necessary for their salvation. It is man's responsibility. We have to respond in repentance, faith and obedience when we hear the word of God. Elisha put salt in the spring. Salt is used for its purifying, preserving and seasoning qualities. It is symbolic of the same spiritual qualities, 'Ye are the salt of the earth', says the Lord Jesus, Matt. 5. 13. We should have a purifying and preserving effect on those around us. The world will change markedly after the people of God have been taken to be with Christ, see 2 Thess. 2. 6-8. 'Behold I come quickly.'
The Waters of Service, 2 Kgs. 3. 9-11
In 2 Kings 3, the three kings of Israel, Judah and Edom go out to war against the Moabites. They made their way through the wilderness of Edom and 'there was no water for the host', 3. 9. Here we have an unequal yoke. Jehoshaphat, the good king of Judah had made an alliance with the evil king of Israel, Jehoram, and the king of Edom. The Bible specifically forbids this for believers, 'Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?', 2 Cor. 6. 14. This course is a very dangerous one for believers, and Jehoshaphat soon ran into trouble. There was no water, they could not have survived for long. As believers we need to be careful about the alliances we make. If we are making a serious commitment of any sort to unbelievers, it could spell disaster for our spiritual lives. If we are not sure, we should seek the guidance of our elders!
This brings us to an example of the sort of relationship thai God does bless: the relationship between Elijah and Elisha. The kings in their predicament turned to God. jehoshaphat says, 'Is there not here a prophet of the Lord, that we may enquire of the Lord by him?'3. 11. Again, testimony is born of Elisha, he is known as a man of God, and we are given a glimpse here of the time he spent with Elijah. 'Here is Elisha the son of Shaphat, that poured water on the hands of Elijah', 3. 11. After being called by Elijah, Eiisha spent time in his service. He was Elijah's helper and servant. This was the place he took to learn from his master. We too should take the lowest place. The world encourages us to stand up for our rights, and to be persuasive and outgoing. I was once told at work to think, 'Me Pic', and that it was my goals as an individual that were the most important, not necessarily the objectives of the company that employed me! Elisha waited on Elijah, and waited for God to move. He did not take over what Elijah was doing immediately. He learned from him first. There are many examples of this in the Scriptures. We have to wait for God's time. Think of Joseph, Moses and David. They all had to wait for years while God trained them. The Lord Jesus also emphasized this in His teaching: 'Sit not down in the highest room . . . go and sit down in the lowest room [place]; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher . . . For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted', Luke 14. 7-11. The Lord Himself was the supreme example; He 'made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant', Phil. 2. 7, and He 'took a towel, and girded himself . . . and began to wash the disciples' feet', saying to them 'ye should do as I have done', John 13. 4-15.