************ Sermon on 1 Kings 19:15-21 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 23, 2004
1 Kings 19:15-21
"Elijah's Mantle O'er Elisha Cast"
As we look at the passage in front of us this morning we need to remember Elijah's unbelieving complaint to the Lord at Mount Horeb: that his zeal for the Lord is in vain, that his work as prophet is fruitless, and that he stands all alone as a servant of the Lord (cf 1 Ki 19:10).
We also need to remember God's response: that He is the God of hosts – that wind, earthquake, and lightning obey His command; that Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha accomplish His purposes; and that 7,000 in Israel have not bowed down to Baal.
After this God gave Elijah a command: "Go back the way you came ..." (1 Ki 19:15). Up to this point in time it is fair to say that Elijah did not want to go back. In a moment of unbelief he had fled the battlefield and even asked for release by means of death (1 Ki 19:4). But now that Elijah has heard from the Lord, he is willing to go. Now that the Lord has revealed Himself to Elijah as the God of hosts with the forces of nature and kings at His bidding, he is willing to go back the way he came. "So Elijah went from there ..." (1 Ki 19:19).
We see that Elijah is making progress in his faith journey. Elijah had come to Mount Horeb on his own initiative. No command of the Lord sent him there or laid out the path for him. He both disobeyed and disappointed the Lord in doing this. But when he goes back the way he came he is again submitting to and obeying the voice of the Lord. He is again being obedient to his calling as a prophet.
I The Calling of Elisha
A Scripture does not describe for us Elijah's journey from Horeb to Abel Meholah – a journey of almost 300 miles; most of it, I suspect, was on foot. Elijah underwent this long journey in order to carry out one of the three assignments the Lord had given him – the anointing of Elisha. This is the only one of the three commands that Elijah actually carried out himself.
It is significant that Elisha was called as a prophet by Elijah. Normally, the Lord called Old Testament prophets directly, that is, without the involvement of other people. That is the way the Lord called Samuel (1 Sam 3). The prophet Amos can tell us that he was called away from the sheep by the Lord Himself (Amos 7:15). Isaiah tells us of how the Lord called him as a prophet (Is 6:8). The same applies to Ezekiel (Ezek 2:3). The calling of Elisha is the only recorded instance of an Old Testament prophet being called and anointed to his office through another prophet.
Why? Why does the Lord call Elisha through Elijah? The Lord does this because he wants to comfort and strengthen Elijah. Remember Elijah's complaint: my zeal for the Lord is in vain, my work as prophet is fruitless, and I stand all alone as a servant of the Lord. The calling of Elisha is proof that Elijah's work will continue; it is proof that God's covenant work continues; it is proof that God's grace never ends and that He does not abandon His people – however sinful they may be.
The Lord also wants to correct Elijah. In a previous sermon I mentioned that Elijah made the mistake of equating God's work with his own work. Elijah mistakenly thought that if his work was not going well then that meant the Lord's work was not going well either. Elijah had illusions of his own indispensability in the Kingdom of God. He wrongly thought God could not do without him.
This reminds me of the time I was laid up for more than three weeks after the car I was driving hit a cow. Up to that time I thought the church I was serving could not do without me – for sure they needed me for preaching, teaching, and visiting. Guess what I learned? The church functioned perfectly fine without me. And, what is true for me is true for everyone of you – somehow life and work and ministry can go on without us.
When God used Elijah to call Elisha, He was reminding Elijah that prophets and kings are but instruments in the hands of God; they are but instruments the Lord sovereignly calls and uses only so long as it pleases Him to do so; in fact, He can cancel the assignment at any time or even give it to someone else. This does not mean the collapse of God's work; rather, it means that God's work gets done in a different way or by a different person.
The work of the Lord, then, is not to be equated with Elijah's work. Elijah is only one of a long line of God's instruments who all contribute to the great work of the Lord and His kingdom. Elijah himself had been called to continue the work of previous prophets. And, like them, he was called for a certain time and certain place. Elijah's time for departure has now come and the Lord has someone else appointed to take his place.
No figure in the kingdom of God – no matter how great – is able to bring the work of God to completion. Only in Christ does God's work reach completion. That is why He alone could say, "It is finished" (Jn 19:30).
B Elijah arrived at Abel Meholah at plowing time. He saw twelve yoke of oxen plowing the fields of the farmer Shaphat. He found Elisha behind the twelfth pair. This leads us to conclude that Shaphat was rich farmer and that Elisha was probably his son who stood to inherit quite a bit of property.
Elijah went up to Elisha "and threw his cloak around him." Although Elijah did not speak a single word, Elisha understood immediately what this meant.
It is clear that the casting of Elijah's cloak over Elisha means Elisha has now been anointed as Elijah's prophetic heir. In fact, we know the transfer of a man's cloak or staff was symbolic for the transfer of office in the Old Testament period. For instance, when the office of high priest was transferred from Aaron to Eleazar, Eleazar was dressed in the garments of Aaron (Num 20:26). In the Old Testament period a prophet's cloak was highly distinctive – some sort of hairy garment – and was widely recognized as a symbol of office (1 Sam 28:14; Zech 13:4). So, by throwing his cloak over Elisha, Elijah was proclaiming him to be prophet in his place.
C It is also clear that Elisha is being called by the Lord. Elijah did no asking or begging. We hear no discussion or negotiation. Nothing is said. There didn't have to be, because it is a call from the Lord. Elisha's call is not something to think over or even pray over. There is no time to agonize over the decision.
That Elisha is called by the Lord becomes clear from what happens next. Elijah threw his cloak over Elisha and immediately started out without waiting for an answer. Elisha is not even given the time to say goodbye to his parents. It is an urgent call from the Lord that he has received and all he can do is respond to that call in obedience.
D More than one pastor and commentator has drawn a parallel between the calling of Elisha and the calling of Christ's disciples. The calling of Elisha is seen as a "type" of the later callings.
There is an outward similarity between the calling of Elisha and the calling of the disciples. Both were given a radical demand: "Follow me." Both were expected to leave everything behind and follow at once.
Nevertheless, there is a difference – a huge and important difference. Elisha was called to be Elijah's successor as prophet. But Christ did not call successors; He only called followers. Elijah could only call one servant to succeed him, but Christ could call many followers. Furthermore, Christ is much more and much greater than Elijah; He is the Word become flesh; He is King and God; He alone can lay total claim to man. Elijah, on the other hand, can lay no claim on Elisha; all he can do is claim Elisha for the Lord and in the name of the Lord.
The calling of Elisha, then, is not a type of the calling of Christ's disciples. Elisha, however, is a type of the Christ. He is a shadow of the reality that is to come. He is an indication of what is to later come in Christ.
Look, for a moment, at the miracles done by Elisha. Elisha was used by the Lord to make poisonous water drinkable so it no longer caused death or made the land unproductive (2 Ki 2:19-22). He multiplied a widow's oil so her 2 sons were not sold as slaves (2 Ki 4:1-7). He restored to life the Shunammite's son (2 Ki 4:8-37). He removed poison from a pot of stew so that the company of the prophets could eat (2 Ki 4:38-41). He multiplied 20 loaves of barley bread so they fed a 100 men (2 Ki 4:42-44). He cured Naaman of leprosy and knew what lived in Gehazi's heart (2 Ki 5). He made an axhead float (2 Ki 6:1-7). He trapped a blind army of Arameans (2 Ki 6:8-23). He foretold the end of a siege (2 Ki 6:24-7:20). Doubtless, you recognize the similarity of many of these miracles with those done by Christ.
Even the name "Elisha" foreshadows Christ. "Elisha" means "my God saves". The name "Jesus" means "Savior".
II Elijah's Response to His Calling
A Elisha's first reaction to the calling was to go after Elijah and say, "Let me kiss my father and mother good-bye and then I will come with you" (1 Ki 19:20). It is clear from this that Elisha not only understood the symbolic action involving Elijah's cloak but also accepted his calling from the Lord. He was now ready to follow his calling.
B Elisha had a vivid farewell. The oxen with which he was plowing were slaughtered and the plow was cut into pieces to serve as firewood so that the meat of the oxen could be roasted. Elisha then ate a farewell meal with his family, the servants, and others. Talk about burning your bridges. The oxen and the plow were no longer needed by Elisha – he was going to be a prophet rather than a farmer – so they were killed and burned. The meal was a good-bye meal. Elisha was saying good-bye to his family, his father's farm, his work, and his inheritance. He was giving up everything and unconditionally accepting his calling. He was devoting himself entirely to his calling as a prophet.
However, let's not make the mistake of saying that Elisha now began to serve the Lord. For, Elisha had already been serving the Lord – he was serving the Lord behind the plow. In fact, he could serve the Lord as a farmer just as well as he could serve the Lord as a prophet. Rather, we must say that Elisha surrendered his old calling in order to serve the Lord in his new calling.
C Here is a reminder that each one of God's children has his or her own unique calling from the Lord. Everyone of us is called to serve the Lord in the place He has put us and in the calling He has given us. Some of us are called to serve the Lord in schools or classrooms, on the farm, on the dairy, in the truck or school-bus, in the office, in the hospital, on the construction site, or in the shop. Others are called to serve the Lord in the Gospel ministry. And still others are called to serve the Lord in the home – raising the children and providing for the needs of the family. So many today claim this calling lacks fulfillment and prevents personal growth and is bad for self-esteem. Yet, if it wasn't for the many Christian mothers who are faithful here, our children and youth would not receive the emotional stability or moral and religious training they need to live as God's people in this world.
All of us are given a unique calling by the Lord. Whatever the calling, we are to respond in faith and to the best of our ability.
D Students of Scripture cannot help but notice that in response to his calling Elisha was obedient to what the Lord Jesus said to His disciples and followers:
(Mt 10:37) "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me ..."In giving up everything in order to accept the calling of the Lord as prophet, Elisha was showing he did not place father or mother or anything else above God's calling.
Elisha's response must be our response too. Like Elisha, we must not allow family ties to interfere with our service to the Lord. Since it fits in, I absolutely have to say something that has been bugging me for a long time in two different churches now. Why is the Sunday night service of Mother's Day one of the most poorly attended services of the whole year? Is it because people allow family – their mothers – to interfere with their worship of the Lord? It seems to me that godly mothers and grandmothers are honored when their children insist on attending worship rather than staying an extra hour at their home. Having said that, I must add that Matthew 10 must not be understood as an attack on family relationships and natural attachments, but it is a clear insistence that following Jesus is more important than family ties.
E Students of Scripture also cannot help but notice that in response to his calling Elisha was also obedient to another statement of the Lord Jesus to His disciples and followers:
(Lk 9:62) "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God."The image here concerns the very light Palestinian plow. This plow is guided with one hand. This one hand, generally the left, must at the same time keep the plow upright, regulate its depth, and lift it over the rocks and stones in the path. The plowman uses the other hand to drive the oxen with an iron-spiked goad. At the same time he must continually look between the oxen, keeping the furrow straight. If the plowman looks behind, the new furrow becomes crooked. Like the plowman, Elisha let go of the past and looked forward to the future. The message is that we, like Elisha, must also look ahead rather than behind. Whoever wishes to follow Christ must be ready to break every link with the past and fix his or her eyes on the coming Kingdom of God.
Elijah had complained that he was the only one left. Yet, he was privileged in the name of the Lord to call Elisha as his own successor. Elisha's willingness to leave father and mother and everything else, his willingness to break every link with the past to fix his eye on the Kingdom, was proof to Elijah that the work of the Lord would continue.
When we, like Elisha, are obedient to the Lord's calling then we too are instruments to carry on the Lord's work. Your prayer and my prayer should be the words of the song we are about to sing:
Make us apostles, heralds of your cross;
forth may we go to tell all realms your grace;
by you inspired, may we count all but loss,
and stand at last with joy before your face.
(Psalter Hymnal #521:4)
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