1 Kings 19: 15 – 21; 2 Kings 2: 7 – 18.
Jezebel, a Phoenician princess who married Ahab, was hunting Elijah after he killed the prophets of Baal at the brook of Kishon (1Kings 18-19). While he was on the run, hiding in a cave at Horeb, God commanded him among other instructions, to seek out Elisha, the son of a wealthy landowner Shaphat, and anoint him as his successor (viz., possessing 12 pairs of oxen, 1Kings 19:19). When Elijah tracked him down, Elisha was ploughing in one of his father’s fields. His call entailed him turning his back from a lifestyle of affluence and privilege to one which promised poverty and danger. Nearly two decades later, with Elijah’s imminent transition, Elisha requested to be as effective as his mentor (2Kings 2:9-10; Elisha’s request was not abnormal in line with Near Eastern practices, where he was asking for the status as a rightful heir to the prophetic leader’s role, to be given twice as much as any other heir of an otherwise ancestor’s estate). Elijah replied that his request would be granted if he witnessed his sudden elusive whirlwind ascension.
How would one who had inherited every advantage in life respond when God calls? Elijah’s prophetic stature made him easily recognisable in Israel. However, the two had never met previously. Having found Elisha, he walked toward him and threw his mantle over him! From the narrative, it appears there is no transactional communication. What transpired further was humanly astounding. Elisha ditched everything and followed Elijah – an indication of an inner revolutionary transformation. He straightaway sacrificed the two oxen and held a feast for everyone, and left soon thereafter, never again to return to his familial legacy. To his request to bade farewell to his parents, the Prophet’s off-handed retort to Elisha, “Do as you please, I was not responsible for choosing you” was indicative that he was just following Yahweh’s instructions. God presence must have been palpable as the mantle wrapped itself around Elisha! What was God looking for in His choice of Elisha? A selfless teachable man who loved God and who would obediently respond to His call (1Sam 15:22; c.f., Jer 7:21-23). Effectively, accepting God’s call on our lives puts Him at the centre of our being, with a spiritual motivation to follow our Saviour and Lord in whatever He has for us. To understand Elisha’s implicit response is to grasp the divine goal for his life as purposefully planned by his Creator, and that goes for every Christian! (Rom 8:28-30).
As believers, we have a high calling to model our Lord exclusively to the world and to execute His will in the time He has apportioned for us. The fact that it took Elisha about 18 years of apprenticeship under Elijah before he took over his prophetical office is indicative that any spiritual training is time-consuming and intense, where our flawed humanity is transformed into recognisable Christlikeness; a God-centred life in a self-centred world (c.f., 1Peter 2:9; Eph 2:8-10; Gal 5:22-24). It entails a deliberate sacrificial turning away from that which had preoccupied us with an unconditional servant attitude in devotional service to God. To neglect this primary focus is to undermine our labour for Him.
To witness Elijah’s whirlwind trip into heaven would have been astounding for anyone. For Elisha, the sight of his master being ferreted into the skies on a flaming chariot undergirded God’s available power behind him in his calling (2Kings 2:11-12), authenticating his embryonic prophetic ministry. This dramatic demonstration of God’s commitment elicited a declaration of abandonment by Elisha to become God’s spokesperson to Israel and the nations: he tore his clothes in two pieces! In Jewish tradition, the rending of one’s clothes is deeply meaningful: it indicated not only profound grief and mental distress of a broken heart but also an illustration that the considerations of status and respect for oneself had been put aside for a costly, self-sacrificing and self-forgetful devotion to Yahweh, a repenting for his sins and the sins of the nation (2Sam 1:11-12; c.f., Joel 2:13). May our hearts be as sensitive and available as Elisha’s to the ministrations of His Holy Spirit, as we stand in Christ, representing Him to everyone in grace, truth and love.