GOD’S CALL DEMANDS TOTAL COMMITMENT
This is a very simple story about the initial call of Elisha to the prophetic ministry to take over for the aging prophet Elijah. It contains valuable lessons for leadership transition, for any general call to discipleship and for any specific call to particular areas of spiritual ministry. The cost of discipleship must be evaluated. There are important things that must be given up in order to follow through on such a commitment. But the privilege of obeying the Lord’s call is what predominates.
Iain Provan: The chapter’s opening scenes raised the question: will Elijah get back on track as a result of his trip to Horeb? He has not shown evidence of being much affected by his experience. He has been disobedient and uncomprehending of God throughout (and thus exactly like Jonah). It is unsurprising, therefore, to discover at this juncture that his response to God’s new commands is less than wholehearted. He finds Elisha and enlists him as his attendant (v. 21). There is, however, no mention of any “anointing” of Elisha as his prophetic successor. Nor will there be in the chapters to come. We would also search in vain for any mention of Elijah ever meeting (or trying to meet) Hazael and Jehu. We shall never read of the anointing of the former—Elisha will arrange the anointing of the latter (2 Kgs. 9:1–13). We are entitled to ask whether Elijah has really adjusted himself to God’s plans at all.
His seeming lack of enthusiasm for going along with God stands in sharp contrast to Elisha’s enthusiasm for going along with Elijah. The prophetic mantle having been cast over his shoulders (and thus put to considerably more use than in v. 13), he immediately leaves his normal employment to follow his new mentor (v. 20). A slight delay admittedly ensues—but only so that (after receiving Elijah’s assurance that “No one is preventing you,” v. 20) he may properly cut his ties with his old life, kissing his parents goodbye and burning his bridges (as it were) by destroying his old means of sustenance (yoke of oxen … plowing equipment, v. 21). Here is someone who leaps at the chance to be a prophet, soon to succeed someone who has tried to lay down his prophetic office. Here is someone who “runs,” as Elijah did (18:46) before he became suddenly weary. A promising apprentice indeed, cutting loose from human securities and placing himself in God’s hands—and someone whose very name points to the future era of complete victory. Elijah has all but had his day—the day when it was established that “the Lord is God” (18:39). The new era belongs to Elisha: “God saves.”
John Schultz: Elisha’s call is one of the strangest in all of sacred history. We do not read about any verbal communication. Elijah simply takes his cloak and puts it on Elisha’s shoulders. What happened here symbolically would happen again as Elijah was taken up in heaven. As a chariot of fire would take Elijah away, his cloak would fall off. We read that Elisha “picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah” and put it on to take up the ministry that Elijah had left behind.
Cameron B. R. Howard: Elisha’s call narrative will rightly prompt many sermons about vocation and discipleship. How do we recognize God’s call in our lives? What signs of our talents and gifts have we seen in the past, and what must we give up to embrace the future God is making for us? How have we seen God’s work manifested in mentors, friends, or strangers? Have we apprenticed ourselves to scarcity and fear or to abundance and hope?
I. (:19) ELIJAH ACTS = PASSING THE BATON OF PROPHETIC MINISTRY
A. Finding Elisha
“So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat,
while he was plowing with twelve pairs of oxen before him,
and he with the twelfth.”
Acting in obedience to God’s command
Look at all that Elisha was asked to leave behind
– Family relationships
– Comfort and Security of Wealthy Household
– Familiarity of home turf
– Stepping out into the unseen future
Thomas Constable: Elisha was a farmer who lived near Abel-meholah (v. 16) in the Jordan Valley, 23 miles south of the Sea of Chinnereth (Galilee).
John Whitcomb: Elisha was apparently a wealthy farmer, for he plowed with twelve yoke of oxen (he probably had eleven servants, each with one yoke); but when he heard God’s call through Elijah, he forsook all and followed him.
Peter Pett: This was symbolic of the fact that from now on he would ‘plough’ with the twelve tribes of Israel, i.e. all Israel.
B. Flinging His Mantle on Elisha
“And Elijah passed over to him and threw his mantle on him.”
Symbolic gesture – changing of the guard
Dale Ralph Davis: The call may be sudden, but that does not mean it is unplanned, as though the kingdom of God were a seat-of-the-pants operation, bumping along from one nervous synapse to another. Yahweh had disclosed his decision to use Elisha at Horeb (v. 16). So what appeared sudden to Elisha was already settled with God. “God had decided all this even before Elisha was given the opportunity of deciding.” [Wallace] Suddenness is the wrapping paper in which sovereignty sometimes arrives.
Thomas Constable: Throwing a prophet’s cloak around a person symbolized the passing of the power and authority of the office to that individual.
William Barnes: Elisha will get this cloak permanently when Elijah is taken to heaven (2 Kgs 2:7–14). Apparently, the throwing of this cloak is the sum total of Elijah’s initial “call” to Elisha to follow him.
Mordechai Cogan: Elijah is the first prophet to be identified with a cloak as a sign of his calling (cf. Zech 13:4). Persons in positions of authority generally dressed in garb befitting their office (cf., e.g., 1 Kgs 22:10; Esth 6:8); inauguration of a successor sometimes included the symbolic transfer of the predecessor’s robes, cf. Num 20:25–28.
II. (:20) INTERACTION = ELISHA PROMISING ELIJAH HIS FULL COMMITMENT
A. Commitment to God’s Call Does Not Eliminate Human Relationships …
But Takes Priority
1. Immediate Positive Response
“And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah”
Important that he immediately left the oxen and ran after Elijah.
2. Importance of Honoring Father and Mother
“and said, ‘Please let me kiss my father and my mother,’”
Dale Ralph Davis: Sometimes Elisha has received less than favorable reviews because people allow Luke 9:61–62 to color their reading of our passage. Because of the similar trappings and coloring of the two texts one wonders if interpreters don’t view the volunteer of Luke 9:61–62 as Elisha’s alter ego and therefore impute to Elisha an inferior commitment. The fellow in Luke 9 is far different from Elisha. Jesus’ comment in verse 62 pictures one who has resolutely taken up a task (the plow) only to be continually looking back. That is, he has a divided mind. Luke 9:61 has only a formal similarity to 1 Kings 19:20. In Luke 9 saying good-bye is an obstacle to kingdom commitment, whereas in 1 Kings 19 it functions as the entry into kingdom service. Elisha goes back to sever his connections, not to delay his commitment. He does not return to hold back but to cut loose.
3. Imperative of Full Commitment
“then I will follow you.”
B. Commitment to God’s Call Not Dependent on Others
“And he said to him,
‘Go back again, for what have I done to you?’”
MacArthur: Elijah instructed Elisha to go, but to keep in mind the solemn call of God and not to allow any earthly affection to detain his obedience.
R. D. Patterson: Elijah’s reply indicates that he himself had not called Elisha; it was God’s call. Whether Elisha would follow that call was his own decision.
Peter Pett: Elisha responded by running after Elijah. He declared himself willing to follow him, but asked first for permission to say a proper farewell to his family. Elijah’s reply was that he was free to do as he wished, for as yet he was not under his authority, (thus confirming that it was a symbolic gesture of appeal, not an act of magic).
Malcolm Macleod: The idea is the Elisha was accountable to God for what he did, not to Elijah. What Elijah had done was express God’s call. Elijah would become Elisha’s spiritual leader and mentor, but Elisha must understand that ultimately, he was accountable to God, not to man.
III. (:21) ELISHA ACTS = PURSUING THE CALL WHOLEHEARTEDLY
A. Burning His Bridges with Celebratory Good-Bye Feast
“So he returned from following him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave it to the people and they ate.”
William Barnes: the common people probably ate meat only about three times a year (during the pilgrim feasts), so this meal would have been a momentous celebration.
B. Blazing New Pathway of Prophetic Discipleship
“Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him.”