“And so it was, when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you? And “Elisha said, ‘Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.’ So he said, ‘You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.’ Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven."(2 Kn. 2:9-11)
One of the most famous and dramatic prophets in the Holy Bible is Elijah. He and Enoch are the only two men that did not die but were taken up to heaven. Elijah and Moses appeared with Jesus Christ in His transfiguration. John the Baptist’s ministry symbolized Elijah’s ministry (Mt. 17:1-13). Just at the time when Israel became very wicked God raised up Elijah to speak for Him. He prophesied a drought as God’s punishment for Israel’s idolatry. During this difficult time of famine God preserved his life by sending him to Brook Cherith where he could drink and be fed by the ravens. (1 Kn. 17:1-7) God had miraculously provided for a needy widow at Zarephath and raised her son from the dead through the prophet. (1 Kn. 17:8-24) Elijah’s most important work was his victory on Mount Carmel where he had defeated 450 prophets of Baal by calling down fire from heaven in order to prove that Yahweh is God. This event encouraged spiritual revival and ended the drought. (1 Kn. 18:20-40)
“Elijah was a man with a nature like ours,” wrote the apostle James. (Jas. 5:17) He had strength as well as weakness. After his triumph at Mount Carmel Jezebel had vowed to kill him. It is hard to imagine but Elijah was afraid of the woman’s threat. He was so scared that “he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” (1 Kn. 19:4) He went into a cave and God spoke to him. Elijah insisted twice he was the only surviving true prophet in Israel (1 Kn. 19:9, 14). God told him: “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1 Kn. 19:18, cf. Rom. 11:1-5) Here is God’s teaching there is no favoritism or exclusiveness in world evangelism. Unawareness or ignorance of other true congregations or ministries does not preclude they do not exist elsewhere.
God told Elijah to anoint three different people. The first was Hazael, as king of Syria. Elijah was told to anoint an enemy king because God was going to use Syria as an instrument to punish Israel for its sins. The second was Jehu who was to be anointed king of Israel. The third person was Elisha. God said that he would take his place as a prophet. (1 Kn. 19:15-18) “So he departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth. Then Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle on him.” (1 Kn. 19:19) Elisha knew exactly what it meant to have Elijah’s mantle over his shoulders. He followed Elijah to become his servant and later to succeed him as the prophet of Israel.
The mantle is a loose-fitting, sleeveless outer garment that was the most important article of clothing a person could own. It was used as a protection against the hostile weather, as bedding, as a place to sit, and as luggage. It could be given as a pledge for a debt or torn into pieces to show grief. When God spoke to Elijah in a still small voice “he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave.” (1 Kn. 19:13) Wrapping the face with the mantle is the sign of obedience to the voice of God and focussing on what the LORD wanted him to do. The mantle was a symbol of Elijah’s power and authority as a prophet as we can see that “Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up, and struck the water; and it was divided this way and that, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground.” (2 Kn. 2:8) In the case of Elijah passing on the mantle symbolically means the transference of the prophetic ministry to his successor. In the context of our present church situation, passing on the mantle may refer to a change of personnel in the church board administration.
Why did God wanted a change of prophets? For the simple reason of improvement and progress in the ministry. Elijah’s single-minded commitment to God shocks and challenges us. He was sent to confront, not comfort, and he spoke God’s words to a king who often rejected his message just because he brought it. Elijah chose to carry out his ministry for God alone and paid for that decision by experiencing isolation from others who were also faithful to God. Elijah, like us, struggled with his feelings even after receiving a message from God that he was not the only faithful prophet. There were 7,000 others like him “all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” (1 Kn. 18:19) God had told Elijah this same message three times and yet he could not fully accept it. Even today, God often speaks through the witness and testimony of His work among faithful Christians other than ourselves and yet we fail to accept it. God always has more resources and people than we know about.
Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (prophetic ministry). According to the Hebrew custom, the firstborn son received a double portion of the father’s inheritance (Gen. 25:31) He was asking to be Elijah’s heir, or successor, the one who would continue Elijah’s work as leader of the prophets. Elijah’s reply was, “You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you can see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.” (2 Kn. 2:10) What Elijah was saying that it was up to God. Elijah only told him how he would know if his request had been granted. God had granted Elisha’s request because his motives were pure. His main goal was not to be better or more powerful than Elijah, but to accomplish more for God. If our motives are pure, we do not have to ask great things from God. When we ask God for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit or spiritual gifts, we need to examine our desires and get rid of the selfishness and pride in our lives. When we seek an office in the church that is to be vacated we must also look for the purest motives of serving the Lord Jesus Christ to the best of our abilities.
Let us take a quick look at how God had given the double portion of His Spirit to Elisha, the man chosen to replace Elijah as the prophet of Israel. Both men concentrated their efforts on the particular needs of the people around them. The fiery Elijah confronted and exposed idolatry, helping to create an atmosphere where people could freely and publicly worship the One True God. Unlike Elijah who executed every one of the false prophets, Elisha demonstrated God’s powerful, yet caring nature to all who came to him for help. When the Syrian raiders came down to attack Israel Elisha prayed to the Lord to strike the enemy with blindness so that they could be diverted to Samaria. (2 Kn. 6:18-23) After the danger was over Elisha prayed for their healing. When the king of Israel asked him whether or not to kill their enemy his answer was, “You shall not kill them. Would you kill those whom you have taken captive with your sword and your bow? Set food and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master. Then he prepared a great feast for them; and after they ate and drank, he sent them away and they went to their master. So the bands of Syrian raiders came no more into the land of Israel.” (2 Kn. 6:18-23) Is it not amazing that Elisha was practicing the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.” (Mt. 5:43-44) There were times when we dislike other congregations that do not preach the same message as ours. Instead of killing them with the sword like Elijah, we had killed them with our tongues. God is showing us a superior way – the way that is taught by our Lord Jesus Christ and that is to love them. Elisha had prayed that God would open the eyes of his enemies. We should pray to the Lord to open the spiritual eyes of those other ministries and congregations so that they can receive the truths that God has revealed to us. Instead of isolating ourselves from them like Elijah we should have fellowship meals and interact with them. This is definitely a superior and more effective way. When God replaced Elijah with Elisha He was not only replacing a person but, more importantly, He was replacing an attitude towards others. We all need to replace our attitudes towards other Christians from intolerance to love, mercy and compassion. If we do not change ourselves then God will look elsewhere for people who conform to the image of the Lord Jesus Christ and use them.
When Elijah hid in a cave he could not see anyone else besides himself as a faithful prophet of God. He was suffering from an optical sickness I call “cave vision”. Everything inside a cave is dark and the only source of light is the entrance. A person having cave vision cannot visualize God is working through other people outside the cave. He cannot see anything or anyone beyond himself. Let us look at Elisha. What a different vision that he had. When Elisha and his servant Gehazi were in Dothan they were surrounded by the Syrian army. (2 Kn. 6:13-17) Gehazi was scared because he could not see how the two of them could get out of danger. What is Elisha’s reaction? “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” To Gehazi there were only two of them. How could there be more people with us than with them? He saw it through a spiritual vision. “And Elisha prayed, and said, ‘Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see,” Then the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire around Elisha.” (2 Kn. 6:17) God was not only replacing a prophet He was also replacing a vision. Proverbs informs us: “Where there is no vision, the people perish:” (Pro. 29:18) We must have a spiritual vision that can see beyond these four walls of this chapel and beyond the names of people that are written in our church directory. The Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is much, much bigger than we can ever see with our naked eye. The words of Elisha must surely resound in our hearts and minds: “For those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”
A Sermon based on this Article was preached by Paul Wong
to a Congregation in Houston, Texas on June 22, 2002
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May God bless you.
Updated on 01/14/04
Paul Wong is a Christian minister and the
President of ARK International.
His ministry also serves as an architectural service company in Houston.
The ARK Forum on the Internet is international and non-denominational.