Refusing To Stay Behind

The time had come for the Lord to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal, and Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord is sending me on to Bethel.”

But Elisha replied, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.

Then the sons of the prophets who were at Bethel came out to Elisha and said, “Do you know that the Lord will take your master away from you today?”

He said, “Yes, I know. Be quiet.”

Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; the Lord is sending me to Jericho.”

But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho.

Then the sons of the prophets who were in Jericho came up to Elisha and said, “Do you know that the Lord will take your master away from you today?”

He said, “Yes, I know. Be quiet.”

Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord is sending me to the Jordan.”

But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on.

Fifty men from the sons of the prophets came and stood observing them at a distance while the two of them stood by the Jordan. Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up, and struck the water, which parted to the right and left. Then the two of them crossed over on dry ground. When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken from you.”

So Elisha answered, “Please, let me inherit two shares of your spirit.”

Elijah replied, “You have asked for something difficult. If you see me being taken from you, you will have it. If not, you won’t.”

As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire with horses of fire suddenly appeared and separated the two of them. Then Elijah went up into heaven in the whirlwind. As Elisha watched, he kept crying out, “My father, my father, the chariots and horsemen of Israel!”

2 Kings 2:1-12a

You have to admire the persistence of Elisha. Everyone knew that Elijah was not going to be on the earth much longer, including Elisha. Elijah kept trying to give him excuses to stay behind as he went to this next destination. Each time Elisha insisted that he would not leave Elijah’s side. He wanted every last minute with Elijah.

As Elijah knew the time was getting close for him to leave, he asked Elisha if there was any last thing he could do for him. Elisha’s request was bold. He wanted to receive a double portion of the spirit that Elijah had. This was a bold request by Elisha (it may even sound presumptuous), but he knew that if he was going to continue the mission of Elijah in such an evil time he needed to know that the Holy Spirit would be with him in a strong way as well.

We can learn from the persistence of Elisha. He didn’t give up easily and we shouldn’t either. We live in a time with a lot of chaos, confusion, and corruption. We need to be persistent in seeking the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives in order to live out the mission of Jesus in our day. When others may tempt us with the opportunity to just stay back we need to respond, “As the Lord lives, I will not leave.”

  • How can persistence assist you in your pursuit of the mission of Jesus this week?

Seeing God Through The “Jesus Lens”

King Ahaziah sent a captain with his fifty men to Elijah. When the captain went up to him, he was sitting on top of the hill. He announced, “Man of God, the king declares, ‘Come down!’”

Elijah responded to the captain, “If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men.” Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty men.

So the king sent another captain with his fifty men to Elijah. He took in the situation and announced, “Man of God, this is what the king says: ‘Come down immediately!’”

Elijah responded, “If I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men.” So a divine fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty men.

Then the king sent a third captain with his fifty men. The third captain went up and fell on his knees in front of Elijah and begged him, “Man of God, please let my life and the lives of these fifty servants of yours be precious to you. Already fire has come down from heaven and consumed the first two captains with their companies, but this time let my life be precious to you.”

The angel of the Lord said to Elijah, “Go down with him. Don’t be afraid of him.” So he got up and went down with him to the king.

Then Elijah said to King Ahaziah, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Because you have sent messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron—is it because there is no God in Israel for you to inquire of his will?—you will not get up from your sickbed; you will certainly die.’”

Ahaziah died according to the word of the Lord that Elijah had spoken. Since he had no son, Joram became king in his place. This happened in the second year of Judah’s King Jehoram son of Jehoshaphat. The rest of the events of Ahaziah’s reign, along with his accomplishments, are written in the Historical Record of Israel’s Kings.

2 Kings 1:9-18

Near the end of Elijah’s time on earth, the evil King Ahab was killed in battle and replaced by his equally evil son, Ahaziah. When Ahaziah is injured in a fall, he inquires of a Philistine god instead of Yahweh for word on whether he would recover. God sends Elijah to rebuke Ahaziah for seeking answers from other gods and predicts his death. Ahaziah responds by sending a captain with 50 soldiers to bring Elijah to him.

As we read through the Bible, especially the Old Testament, we come across passages that are challenging to wrap our brain around and this is definitely one of them. Ahaziah has to send three different units to capture Elijah. The first two units 50 are consumed by fire after Elijah calls it down on them. The third captain appealed to Elijah for mercy even before delivering Ahaziah’s message. An angel of the Lord intervenes and tells Elijah to go with the men and not be afraid. He then delivers the same rebuke and prediction of death directly to Ahaziah.

When reading this story it can be challenging to comprehend how a loving God could kill 102 men in such a violent way for just following the orders of their king. Perhaps the case could be made that the two captains were disrespectful and worthy of punishment but that still leaves us with the 100 men that made up these two units and said nothing to Elijah. One blog I recently read makes a point that there is a distinction in the language of this passage and fire that consumed the sacrifice on Mt. Carmel. At Mt. Carmel, the passage specifically says the fire was “fire from the Lord.” In this case, it is referred to as “fire from heaven.” This may be an indication that this was, in fact, not God’s design but was the result of Elijah’s own pride and not seeking God first in responding to the men. If this were the case, there are other places in Scripture (Job in particular) where fire from the sky was attributed to God but the context would indicate that Satan was more likely imitating a fire miracle to make it look like a punishment from God. The ambiguity is difficult to think through.

One thing we can be sure of, though, is that when we look through the lens of Jesus, it does not seem to be God’s will to wipe out people in this way. In one incident, John and James wanted to call down fire on a Samaritan village for not allowing Jesus to enter the village. Some manuscripts site this story about Elijah as the example that John and James used to justify their plan. Jesus’ response to this request was to rebuke them. Some manuscripts go on to quote Jesus as saying they did not know the spirit they represented when they made such a request. At the very least we can see this as a warning to not be so quick to use Elijah’s actions here as a justification for vengeance. It’s not so cut and dry. The “Jesus lens” helps us to understand the character of God even when we encounter passages like this.

  • How can the “Jesus lens” help you in your understanding of tough passages?

A Choice To Make

Elijah left there and found Elisha son of Shaphat as he was plowing. Twelve teams of oxen were in front of him, and he was with the twelfth team. Elijah walked by him and threw his mantle over him. Elisha left the oxen, ran to follow Elijah, and said, “Please let me kiss my father and mother, and then I will follow you.”

“Go on back,” he replied, “for what have I done to you?”

So he turned back from following him, took the team of oxen, and slaughtered them. With the oxen’s wooden yoke and plow, he cooked the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he left, followed Elijah, and served him.

1 Kings 19:19-21

Fresh off his encounter with God at Mt. Horeb, Elijah went and found Elisha, the one God had told him to anoint as his successor. There is no indication that Elijah knew Elisha before this encounter. Still, God knew Elisha and saw something in him that He knew Israel needed. God also knew that Elisha would be the right person to carry on the mission of Elijah among the northern tribes of Israel.

The first test was Elisha’s calling. One thing that we can tell about Elisha from this passage is that he had an established life. His family owned a set of oxen and the equipment to plow a field. He was part of a team of twelve that were working the field in his community. All of a sudden, Elijah shows up and calls Elisha to follow him. Elisha had a choice to make. He could stay with his established life or he could take up the mantle of a prophet of Yahweh in a culture that was ruled by those who stood against the ways of Yahweh. Elisha chose to follow Elijah and closed the door to ever returning to his old life.

In our pursuit of following God on His mission, there are times when we will need to make decisions like this. We may need to leave our old life behind and choose to follow Him into a new life.

  • What is God calling you to leave behind in order to follow Him?

You’re Not Alone

At that moment, the Lord passed by. A great and mighty wind was tearing at the mountains and was shattering cliffs before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

Suddenly, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

“I have been very zealous for the Lord God of Armies,” he replied, “but the Israelites have abandoned your covenant, torn down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they’re looking for me to take my life.”

Then the Lord said to him, “Go and return by the way you came to the Wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive, you are to anoint Hazael as king over Aram. You are to anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel and Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. Then Jehu will put to death whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death whoever escapes the sword of Jehu. But I will leave seven thousand in Israel—every knee that has not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

1 Kings 19:11b-18

“I’m all alone.” Elijah had reached the point of believing there was no one serving Yahweh left in Israel. He seemed to easily forget that the people had just repented en mass for their idolatry, even if the royal class still persisted in their rebellion and plotted revenge. In Elijah’s eyes, the situation was bleak.

The situation was not bleak, though, and Elijah was not alone. God gave him the plan moving ahead. He was to anoint successors for the king of Aram, Ahab of Israel, and himself. God was setting the stage for the end of the reign of Ahab. In the midst of all this, he assured Elijah that there were seven thousand people in Israel who had not bowed their knee to Ba’al. God’s kingdom would go on even as Ahab’s kingdom was coming to a close. This was the assurance that Yahweh gave Elijah.

As we look at the world around us, we can often feel like Elijah. No matter which political party is in power, it’s hard to believe there is anyone who still has the Kingdom of God as their priority. Everyone seems focused on self-preservation and power. Still, God assures us that there are others who have not abandoned His Kingdom. We need to listen to His voice to know how to find them.

  • Are you carefully listening to the voice of the Spirit to guide you to those who are equally committed to the Kingdom of God?

Encouragement for the Weary

Ahab told Jezebel everything that Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “May the gods punish me and do so severely if I don’t make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow!”

Then Elijah became afraid and immediately ran for his life. When he came to Beer-sheba that belonged to Judah, he left his servant there, but he went on a day’s journey into the wilderness. He sat down under a broom tree and prayed that he might die. He said, “I have had enough! Lord, take my life, for I’m no better than my fathers.” Then he lay down and slept under the broom tree.

Suddenly, an angel touched him. The angel told him, “Get up and eat.” Then he looked, and there at his head was a loaf of bread baked over hot stones, and a jug of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again. Then the angel of the Lord returned for a second time and touched him. He said, “Get up and eat, or the journey will be too much for you.” So he got up, ate, and drank. Then on the strength from that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.

1 Kings 19:1-8

Elijah went from the heights of success to the lowest point of depression in a short amount of time. If Elijah had hoped that Ahab and Jezebel would repent after such a clear demonstration of the power of Yahweh, the response he received was the opposite. Robbed of the power that the control of the state religion gave her over the people, Jezebel responded by threatening Elijah’s life. Even though Elijah had seen great victory in the past, his response to this threat was to run and beg for the ending of his own life at the hand of God.

God’s response was not to judge but to comfort Elijah. He sent an angel to make sure Elijah got rest and received the nutrition he needed. It wasn’t just to help him cope with his current situation. God was preparing Elijah for a 40-day walk to Mt. Horeb where he would receive further instructions and words of encouragement from God. It was a response of grace and not judgment.

There are times when we may find ourselves in the pits of despair, even after a period of great success. The cycles of life can move our emotions up and down rather quickly. In times of despair, we may expect that God will punish us for our doubt. Instead, though, he often responds with grace and gives us the strength we need for the next step on the journey.

  • Where do you go for encouragement in times of despair?