Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 28, 1958
NUMBER 17, PAGE 8-9a

Studies From Elijah (VIII.)

Connie W. Adams, Bergen, Norway

Elijah And Elisha

While Elijah was in the depths of despondency at Horeb, God spoke to him and gave him a number of specific orders. Among them was this: "And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room. And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay: and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay." (1 Kings 19:16,17.) The first recorded act of Elijah after leaving Horeb was to search out Elisha and "cast his mantle upon him." (1 Kgs. 19:19.) Immediately Elisha began his preparations to depart from his fathers house and his responsibilities there to become the understudy of Elijah and to ultimately occupy the place the prophet Elijah occupied at that time. "Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him." (1 Kings 19:21.) For eight years Elisha served Elijah. What great lessons he must have learned from the faithfulness of the older prophet.

At last the time came for Elijah's work to end and for God to bestow upon him a signal honor. That day was described as the one "when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind." (2 Kgs. 2:1.) The fact that God transported him from this earthly realm in such miraculous fashion indicated that God recognized him as an unusually faithful servant. Israel had never been in a more deplorable spiritual condition than when Elijah suddenly appeared before Ahab with his startling message. The time called for a man of unusual courage and fidelity. Those who initiate a return to the will of God among those who have trampled that will under foot are never popular. Their work is a shock in its beginning, and a continued series of shocks to those whom they seek to help. God found it altogether fitting to honor this man who had borne the scorn of king and queen and who was largely ignored by many of Israel, but who had sown the seed necessary to the harvest of returned souls unto their God, by transferring him to the unseen world in a manner as unusual as the contest at Mt. Carmel. Enoch was the only other person recorded in the Bible, except Christ, who departed this world in such fashion. And if the translation of Elijah demonstrated the favor he had found in Jehovah's sight, the fact that Elisha was permitted to view the scene immediately elevated him to a plain of great importance in the future of Israel.

Thus, the two journeyed together from Gilgal, thence to Bethel, then to Jericho, and finally to Jordan. At each juncture Elijah entreated Elisha to tarry, but he refused. They encountered at Bethel and Jericho men described as "the sons of the prophets" who had some knowledge, though undoubtedly limited, of what was to transpire. When Elijah had severed the water of Jordan by the stroke of his mantle, and they had crossed over, the older prophet said: "Ask what I shall do for thee, before I he taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee. it shall be so upon thee; but if not, it shall not be so." (2 Kings 2:9,10.) The double portion was that assigned to the elder son. In this case no reference was made to a material portion. Spiritual blessings were the consideration of the moment. Nor could it be said the Elisha's request was selfish or ambitious. Elisha was above the "sons of the prophets" and the importance of his work necessitated special equipment. Since God alone endowed his prophets with power, Elijah referred the matter entirely to him who alone directed and strengthened his prophets.

"And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven." (2 Kings 2:11.) Thus the prophet who had called down fire in the demonstration at Mt. Carmel, and whose very work was a refiner's fire for the impurities that defiled Israel, is identified with a chariot and horses of fire at his translation. While Elisha gazed in awe, a whirlwind took the prophet into the sky and out of his view. Thus, Elisha was permitted to view what fifty of the "sons of the prophets" did not see. As he watched, Elisha exclaimed, "My father, my father, the chariots of Israel, and the horsemen thereof." (2 Kings 2:12.) Elijah had been a "father" to Elisha for eight years. The statement was further significant in that Elijah had truly been the "chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof." Chariots and horsemen were necessary, to the strength of nations in war at that time. "Some trust in chariots and some in horses." Psa. 20:7. This had Elijah been to Israel, her strength and might. This awesome statement from Elisha, summarized the effect of Elisha upon the apostate people of Israel. In his grief, Elisha rent his clothes in two pieces. No greater tribute could be paid to any prophet than these utterances from Elisha concerning Elijah. The scene ended, Elisha took up the fallen mantle of his predecessor and departed. He had seen the translation, and the request for a "double portion" of Elijah's spirit was granted.

Contrasts And Comparisons

It is the ordinary occurrence for the two prophets and their work to be contrasted. It is usually pointed out that they differed in background, and thus were molded by different external circumstances. It is said that Elijah was more a recluse while Elisha was magnetic in personality, the "favorite guest of both rich and poor." Elijah is often pictured as the "avenger and destroyer;" while Elisha was "the quiet statesman and religious teacher." Elijah is said to prefigure John the Baptist in his crudeness, while Elisha pointed more to the tenderness of Christ. The career of one was relatively short; the other lasted 60 years.

While these contrasts are interesting and manifestly true at least partially, we are persuaded that they are overdrawn. Elijah came forth to start the wheels of reform turning. In that turning they transported many back into faithfulness to Jehovah, but they also ground into the dust many of those wicked personages who were chiefly responsible either for beginning the spiritual dearth or for perpetuating it by continued lawlessness. At Horeb God revealed to Elijah that the quality of mercy should play its part but he also pointed to the just punishments to come upon those who lived in flagrant disregard for God's law. Elijah was commissioned to anoint Hazael king over Syria, Jehu king over Israel and Elisha to be prophet in his room. All three were to be instruments in God's hands to punish the guilty. "And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay: and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay." (1 Kings 19:17.) The work of both prophets was essentially the same. One had trained the other. God inspired each. The problems they faced were basically the same. Elisha was described later as "he who poured water on the hands of Elijah." (2 Kings 3:11.) The greatness of Elisha rests in the fact that he took up the mantle of Elijah and carried on the work initiated by him. If it was true that there was an intermingling of gentleness with harshness in Elisha's work, so was it true of Elijah. His stay with the widow of Zarephath is proof; If it be said that such occasions were rare with Elijah, let it be remembered that his recorded deeds are few, and indeed his public appearances were rare. The work of Elisha extended over a much longer period and was more continuous than Elijah's, but it was the same work. Beyond doubt the external environments from which the two men came were different, but neither the nature of their work nor the source of their prophecies was dependent on that. "Holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit."

The lessons are many from the life and work of Elijah. (1) The interest of heaven in the affairs of men is plainly taught. Even though Israel was so far away from the standard of faithfulness expected of them, God was longsuffering. Elijah's work was a demonstration of heaven's interest in men. (2) Great apostasy sometimes requires severe treatment, or great shocks, to awaken the people involved. (3) Regardless of how deep in sin people may sink, or how dark the picture seems, God has "7,000 who have not bowed the knee to Baal." When conditions become critical in the course of human affairs, whether in the world generally or in the church both generally and specifically, let none give way to a feeling of self-righteousness and say, "I alone am left." God is still on the throne, and may have more faithful children than we know. (4) The power for good of a righteous man is seen in Elijah. His prayers were effectual with God. Further, if sin is contagious, so is righteousness to some degree. Good influence is like leaven. (5) The depths of human iniquity were portrayed in Jezebel. Sometimes we are shocked at the conduct of certain people. Let it be remembered that when a heart is bent on wickedness, there is no limit to what it will contrive to stop the progress of truth and righteousness. (6) When one great man has finished his work and passed on, all is not lost. God dropped the mantle of Elijah to the shoulders of Elisha and the work was carried on. Too often we can become drunk with our own imagined importance. We think at times that we are indispensible to the cause of truth and that should something happen to us, the whole world would be eclipsed in darkness. How many of our present problems revolve around the feeling of self-importance on the part of not just a few, hut many of us. Sometimes, instead of being a boon to the Lord's work, we become a hindrance. It might help us all to pray, "Lord, if I am in the way, move me on that the work suffer not." (7) We learn from Elijah's work that sin will be punished. "Every sin and disobedience received a just recompense of reward." Let us not forget that "vengeance belongeth unto the Lord," and not to us. Israel had to answer for sin, and so must we. It is easy, in dealing with the sins of others, to overlook our own. The problem many preachers face is that of being so busy applying truth to others, that our own failures are ignored. It might help here to read Rom. 2:17-29. (8) Honor comes at the end of faithful service. What great honor was bestowed upon Elijah in his translation. Let us forget about the receiving of plaudits now, and concentrate on the work at hand. None of the honors of men can compare with the glory that is to be revealed when the Judge shall say: "Come ye blessed of my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." "Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure." (1 Jno. 3:2,3.

There are other lessons to be learned from the study of this great prophet. These are some of the ones that have occurred to the writer and have given him more courage and greater optimism in the work of the Lord. If, these articles have contributed something toward a renewed study of the great and faithful servants of God in the Old Covenant, and have enabled in a small way the readers to catch something of the spirit that motivated them in general, and the subject of this series in particular, then the writer will feel that the time taken in penning them was justifiable. The concluding article will deal with the second Elijah.