Thursday, March 17, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 46. Elisha Called To Be A Prophet

Prophets And Kings
Day 46
Elisha Called To Be A Prophet

Elijah obeys the Lord and goes to anoint Elisha, who will be hims successor as prophet.

1 KINGS 19:19-21
In Tuesday's study, the Lord was still speaking to Elijah at the cave on Mount Horeb. He gave Elijah several tasks, one of which was to anoint Elisha to be his successor. "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." (1 Kings 19:19)

Elisha seems to be doing pretty well in life. A man who owns twelve yoke of oxen is wealthy. There is enough land to require this many oxen to plow it and servants enough to help drive them. The last thing Elisha is thinking about is leaving it all and becoming a prophet with a bounty on his head, for Jezebel wants every prophet of the Lord dead. 

When Elijah throws his cloak around Elisha it signifies the passing on of responsibility. The KJV and various other versions of the Bible call it a "mantle" and this was the garment of a prophet, usually a loose sleeveless garment made of animal skin with the hair still on it. Elijah knows exactly what's happening when the cloak settles around him. 

I can't help but think this was an unexpected and maybe unwelcome happening in Elisha's life but we see he is obedient to the calling. The Lord picked the right man because Elisha has the kind of heart that is willing to say yes to whatever the Lord asks. "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.'" (1 Kings 19:20a) Elijah throws his cloak around Elisha and apparently keeps on walking, since Elisha has to run after him. It would seem Elisha is required, or thinks he is required, to drop everything and walk on with Elijah now. He doesn't want to leave without telling his parents and saying goodbye to them, a normal response for a man who loves his family. 

"'Go back,' Elijah replied. 'What have I done to you?'" (1 Kings 19:20b) This statement is difficult to understand. At first glance it almost sounds like a rebuke, as if Elijah is displeased that Elisha wants to say goodbye to his family before following him. My research led me to a lot of Hebrew and Latin breakdowns of the verse, which of course I couldn't read or understand, but according to the Masoretic Text and the Latin Vulgate, a generally accepted translation is something like this, "And he forthwith left the oxen and ran after Elias, and said: 'Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee.' And he said to him: 'Go, return back: for that which was my part, I have done to thee.'" Other scholars believe the verse could be rendered like this, "Go back, but remember what I have done to you." Either way it doesn't seem as if Elijah is upset with Elisha's desire to say goodbye to his parents; he appears to be giving his permission along with a command to remember what he is truly called to do.

If the translation above is correct, I see the wisdom in Elijah's warning. He knows that if Elisha returns to the house and to the bosom of his family, he might be tempted to stay. His parents may try to persuade him to remain out of concern for what he will face as a prophet. Guilt could prevent him from leaving his land and his family. There is a danger in returning to our previous manner of living after being called by God. We have to guard our hearts against anyone and anything that causes us to doubt our calling. There are many reasons why the people close to us may try to talk us out of following Jesus. If we come from a household of unbelievers, they may greet our conversion to Christ with dismay or outright ridicule. Sometimes people are jealous and will mock our announcement of a great calling in the Lord. Or, knowing how we have lived in the past, there will be those who are skeptical that our life is actually going to change. So I think this is why Elijah gives permission for Elisha to go back but cautions him to remember his calling. 

Today's passage reminds me of Christ calling his disciples. They too, were willing to leave their former occupations and follow Him. Some of the disciples, like Peter, were married men and we know he didn't abandon his family because we find Jesus eating at his house and healing his mother-in-law. The disciples didn't stop loving their families and didn't shirk their responsibilities, but they did leave their former occupations to follow Christ. This was their calling. When Jesus said, "Follow me," to the disciples, they knew what He meant, just as Elisha knows what Elijah means. They were to stop being fishermen and tax collectors and work for the kingdom of God. 

Not all of us will be called to leave our secular jobs to work in the church. In fact, most of us won't. If every Christian worked only in the church and not out in the world, how could we be a light to the world? If God has placed is in a job out in the community, our duty is to represent Him there. Our lives are to be a testimony to those around us. But the days of Elijah and the days of the Lord Jesus were extraordinary times. A man either of them called had to be prepared to leave his occupation and follow. In our day, when we come to Christ most of us will not also be called to a full-time job in some sort of ministry, but we are called to, "Go back, but remember what I have done to you." We may live with unbelieving parents or an unbelieving spouse and we are to go back and be the light in the home. We may work with unbelievers and we are called to go to work each day and be a light there. 

Elisha seems to understand that Elijah is giving him permission to say goodbye and that then he is to meet back up with the prophet. "So Elijah 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." (1 Kings 19:21) At first I thought Elisha was making some sort of sacrifice to the Lord, and it may be he was, but the Bible doesn't say so. It's more like a last meal with his family and servants. Elisha is burning his bridges behind him. Slaying the oxen and using the plows for firewood symbolizes leaving his old life behind. Some scholars think Elijah was a young single man living on his parents' estate but I tend to think this was his own property. It would be inconsiderate to slaughter his parents' oxen and to burn up his parents' plows. I think the animals and plows belonged to him and he had the power to do as he pleased with them. 

Elisha may have felt some temptation to stay and that is why he makes such a dramatic gesture here. If he hadn't burned his bridges behind him, who knows whether his hands would have found their way to the plow again? Who knows whether he might have looked around on his family and his servants and the beautiful farmland before him and decided he couldn't give it up? 

When we follow Christ, there are usually bridges that burn behind us. There are habits we forsake. There are places we no longer go. There are friends we still love but can't accompany in sinful pursuits. Most of us won't be called to leave our old jobs behind but we will be different employees than we were before. We are not called to leave an unbelieving spouse when we are converted but are to be an example in the home. It could be that the unbelieving spouse will, over time, be converted by the way we live in Christ. We are not called to disown unbelieving parents or siblings but to be a light to them, loving them and praying for them. For a longer discourse on how to remain in our current circumstances after coming to Christ, the Apostle Paul provides beautiful examples in 1 Corinthians 7. If you have time this is a wonderful passage to read and he sums it up by saying, "Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them." 

Many of us have jobs where it would be improper to witness to the public or even a firing offense to witness to the public, but our very actions and attitudes are a witness to the public. Wherever we go and whatever we do, we represent Christ in the world. And it's hard sometimes. I've worked for twenty-eight years in jobs that deal exclusively with the public and I can tell you there are days it pushes me to the edge. There are days I succeed in keeping the right attitude and days where I fail. Usually that failing is not so much outward as inward, where I fail in my thoughts and feelings. We get weary and frustrated and stressed, just like Elijah was when he sat under the broom bush and wanted to die, but our refreshment can be found in the Lord, just as Elijah found refreshment in the Lord. I wish I would seek Him earlier when I start to feel stressed, that I would be quicker to lean on His strength and not my own. It's about time to get ready for the workday and probably some of you are heading off to work, to your housework, to caring for your children, or to errands around town. What if we prayed for each other to remain strong? We are the representatives of the Lord Jesus Christ and as such we can expect attacks from the enemy, attacks that will get on our very last nerve, but let's strive today to follow after Him and walk in His footsteps. 

Lord, help us to do as You would do. Help us to love the way You love. Help us to have the patience You have. In the precious name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ we ask. Amen.

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