In our study of the Story, we’re seeing that God seems really fond of mentoring relationships: Moses / Joshua; Naomi / Ruth; later on, we’ll see Paul / Timothy. Today, we’re going to look at Elijah / Elisha.
To tell this story, we’re going to look at two Scriptures. The first is 1 Kings 19. After the experience on Mt. Carmel, God tells Elijah to go and anoint Elisha to serve as the next prophet for God. That’s where we pick up the story.
19 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. 20 Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,” he said, “and then I will come with you.”
“Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?”
21 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 servant.
Elisha is plowing w/ 12 yoke of oxen; that’s not a small number of animals. Elisha seems to be pretty successful. The prophet walks up to him and casts his cloak on Elisha. This cloak is going to be a significant factor in Elijah’s relationship with Elisha. Other translations use “mantle”.
Cloak or mantle – it’s an outer garment, but it’s much more. It signifies his power, his authority. By putting his cloak around Elisha, Elijah is saying, “Follow me. I want you to be as I am. Let me teach you.” Elijah is calling Elisha to join him in prophetic ministry.
Think of this cloak as a symbol of what Elisha’s life would become. Elisha’s life was so transformed by the call of Elijah that he leaves his family, he slaughters his oxen, and he burns his plowing equipment. His life was forever altered by the presence of Elijah.
When Elisha says goodbye and throws this big BBQ, he’s essentially participating in his own funeral. His life, as he has known it, is over. He is someone new now because of God’s call on his life.
We all need an Elijah. We all need someone to come and throw their cloak around us; we all need spiritual mentors, spiritual fathers and mothers.
- Joshua needed Moses
- Ruth needed Naomi
- Timothy will need Paul
- Here it’s Elisha and Elijah
These relationships hold transformative power.
When I was 12 years old, I moved up into the youth group at church. I really had a hard time adjusting at first. I just didn’t want to go. I literally spent two or three weeks hiding out in the bathroom to avoid going to class. My mom spoke to a cousin of hers named Al Carmen. Al was in charge of counting attendance in our church. She asked him to put his cloak around me.
So Al tells me one week that he really needs help with the counting. He says he could use my help. “I heard you were pretty good with numbers,” he said. And all of a sudden, my interest in church went from about a 3 to about an 8. During worship, during class, you’d find me attached to Al Carmen, walking through and counting. Sometimes he’d even have me recount, just so we’d have more time to spend together. At a key period in my life, Al Carmen, my 4th cousin, was instrumental in the development of my faith. He was an Elijah to me.
He told me he needed me. But really, it was the other way around. I needed an Elijah in that moment.
And over the years, I’ve had plenty of other Elijahs. And they’ve been a huge part of my story. I could spend all day telling you about my own personal Mt. Rushmore of influences who have helped form me in so many ways.
But what about you? Who are the Elijahs that God has placed in your life, the ones who’ve walked up and put their arm around you? Who are the men and women who have spiritually formed you by their example? Let’s praise God for these “spiritual parents” today.
Here you have these two men: the older prophet Elijah, whose name means “My God is the Lord”; and his younger apprentice Elisha, whose name means “My God saves.” So we’re primed to see this succession from one leader to the next.
Only, it doesn’t happen. Not immediately.
No, Elijah has plenty of ministry left in him. For possibly as long as 10 years, Elijah keeps serving and teaching and carrying out God’s will. In fact, we don’t come across Elisha’s name again until 2 Kings 2. Elisha serves quietly under the leadership of Elijah until his time comes. Here’s 2 Kings 2:1-8:
When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 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.
3 The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”
“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”
4 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.
5 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, “so be quiet.”
6 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.
7 Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. 8 Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.
Elijah travels the same route as Joshua when he entered the land.
- Josh. 4 – Gilgal is the first place the Israelites camped after they crossed the Jordan River.
- Josh. 5&6 – The fall of Jericho
- Josh. 7&8 – Bethel plays a key role in Israel’s military success.
Elijah’s path parallels the path of Joshua and Israel during the conquest of the promised land. Only this time, rather than entering the land, Elijah is preparing to leave it.
Elijah uses the cloak, strikes the Jordan river, walk through on dry ground. Doesn’t this sound a lot like another story? Moses leads the people out of Egypt in the Exodus, parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 14). But this also happened again — in Joshua 3 when Joshua led the people into the Promised Land.
Now, hundreds of years later, Elijah and Elisha experience the same thing; the miraculous power of God as they cross over the Jordan. Another exodus is going to take place here.
9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”
“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.
10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”
11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.
13 Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.
15 The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.
Once they cross, Elijah turns to Elisha and says, “Before I go, what can I do for you?”
Elisha answers, “I want a double portion of your spirit.” Elisha has seen his teacher do some incredible things in the name of God and he wants to be able to follow suit.
V11 – As they’re speaking, a chariot of fire appears and separates them. The text says Elijah is then taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha cries out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”
And maybe there’s the most heartbreaking line of all: And Elisha saw him no more.
Elisha tears his clothing, an act of grieving. But it also prepares him for what’s next: Elijah’s cloak has fallen, and Elisha retrieves it. He uses the cloak to strike the water, and it parts. For the rest of his days, we can imagine Elisha walking around wearing the cloak of his master, so that everyone would always say, “There goes Elisha, wearing the cloak of Elijah.”
We’re all journeying toward Jordan. And someday, we all have to cross – that’s inevitable. One of the great blessings is that we journey with people who mentor us along the way.
- Maybe you’re still walking w/ your Elijah – maybe that’s the stage of life you’re in right now. Maybe you’re headed toward Gilgal and you have plenty of stops to make, much more to learn from your Elijah. If so, then praise God. Just enjoy the journey. Learn from your Dad, if he’s your Elijah. Honor him by allowing that relationship to transform you in all the ways God intends. For many of us as Dads, this is where we are; in our journey with our children, we hope to have many more years of journeying between Gilgal and Bethel and Jericho.
- Maybe you’re at a more specific point in your journey. Maybe you’re in between Jericho and Jordan, but you know goodbye is coming soon. What I would say to you is this: Savor these days. As hard as they may be, these are the days for goodbye, just before the chariots come. And I probably need this reminder today more than anybody: I’ll be spending the afternoon with my father-in-law, an Elijah in my life who is preparing to go over Jordan. So we’re trying to savor the moments before the chariot comes to get him.
- Maybe you’re like Elisha standing and watching that chariot return back to heaven’s gate. Maybe you’re standing there with torn garments, grieving because you’ve said goodbye to your Elijah already. Maybe this is the first Father’s Day without him. Maybe it’s your 20th Father’s Day without him. Either way, it’s tough when our Elijahs are taken from us; it’s heartbreaking when we see them no more as it says of Elisha.
No matter the circumstances, we all reach a point where we have a decision to make. Will we take up the mantle or not? Will we put on the cloak or not? Some of you have had the spiritual life modeled for you by godly parents every step of the way. All that’s left for you is to step up to the plate and put on the cloak of faith.
If you really want to honor the Elijah in your life, start living like him. Take up that mantle of faith that he’s left for you. If it’s not Dad, I’m guessing Elijah has been someone else in your life. Maybe it’s time for you to take up that mantle to be an Elijah for someone else.