Once again, I am preparing to teach our Bible study for our Connect Groups this coming Sunday at Southern Calvert Baptist Church. This is our third week in a row that we are focusing on the life and ministry of the prophet Elijah. We saw Elijah’s encounter with the pagan, widow woman. Then we looked at how Elijah confronted the sin of King Ahab and his wicked wife, Jezebel. The previous article ended the complicated life of King Ahab. This week, we are going to come to the end of Elijah’s earthly ministry. But, before Elijah goes to be with the Lord, he does what all good leaders in the Bible do; he makes a disciple. Elijah prepares a disciple to receive the baton of leadership and continue the ministry. Far too many leaders today miss the most important calling of leadership, to prepare more leaders.
In order to understand the ministry to which Elisha is going to be called, we need to understand some of the cultural context of Elijah and Elisha’s day. King Ahab was a wicked king who led his people into the sin of idolatry. He and his wife had many of God’s prophets put to death because they stood for truth and would not back down. King Ahab looked for prophets who would tell him what he wanted to hear. Those were the ones in whom he would confide. King Ahab passes leadership on to his son, Ahaziah. This man grew up in idolatry and continued to practice idolatry all the days of his life. He even wanted to consult with the prophets of Satan. Ahaziah dies childless and the torch of leadership passes to King Ahab’s brother, Jehoram. At this time in the history of Israel, both the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom were living in the sin of idolatry. Israel needs a strong spiritual leader and Elijah has the responsibility of preparing this strong leader for the task. Let’s take a look at the process of training a future leader.
I. Elisha’s Calling
Discipleship is a process that does not just simply happen. You must be intentional about making disciples. In fact, Jesus, before His ascension to the Father, commands His disciples to go out and make more disciples. This is not a new concept, originating with Jesus. We see this concept all throughout the Old Testament.
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. And Elijah passed over to him and threw his mantle on him. (I Kings 19:19)
God told Elijah to go and confront King Ahab and Jezebel once again. Elijah does not want to be by himself so he seeks out a person to take with him. As they spend time together, Elijah is going to disciple Elisha, training him for ministry. Elijah is proactive in the disciple making process. Elijah offers this great calling to Elisha because Elisha is a hard worker. He is working when Elijah encounters him. Elisha already has a good work ethic. This is important in the ministry. Elisha now needs training and experience to be able to continue the ministry. Elisha’s name gives us some insight into the spiritual training that he has already received from his parents. The name Elisha means, “God is salvation“. If you are familiar with the Greek language, the name Jesus also means, “God is salvation“. Elisha has a relationship with God. He looks to God for salvation. He knows that he needs salvation. He has heard that all of his life when his parents called his name.
He left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” (I Kings 19:20)
We see another aspect of Elisha that will make him a good leader. He is relational. He has a good relationship with his parents. This is a sign of a teachable spirit. In order to be a good disciple, a person must be teachable.
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. Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him. (I Kings 19:21)
The final thing that we discover about Elisha that is valuable in the ministry is that he cares about the people around him. In other words, he has a servant’s heart. These are two vital characteristics of a godly leader. Elisha has a teachable spirit and a servant’s heart. Are these two qualities that other people would recognize in you the way that Elijah recognized them in Elisha?
II. Elisha’s Preparation
Having a teachable spirit and a servant’s heart are important but, they must be coupled with good training. Good training comes about with learning theory and having practical opportunities to apply that theory.
1 And it came about when the LORD was about to take up Elijah by a whirlwind to heaven, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal.
2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here please, for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.
3 Then the sons of the prophets who were at Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?” And he said, “Yes, I know; be still.”
4 Elijah said to him, “Elisha, please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho.
5 The sons of the prophets who were at Jericho approached Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be still.”
6 Then Elijah said to him, “Please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.” And he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. (II Kings 2)
Elijah took Elisha under his wing and they spent a lot of time together. Elisha was learning from Elijah by the way that he loved and served the people around him. We see, here in II Kings 2, as Elijah is at the end of his ministry, Elisha wants to continue to spend time with him. This is a sign of a great relationship. This is what discipleship is all about. Like all young ministers, Elisha needs encouragement. The Lord uses Elijah to encourage Elisha that he is doing the right thing and going in the right direction.
8 Elijah took his mantle and folded it together and struck the waters, and they were divided here and there, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground.
9 When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.”
10 He said, “You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.”
11 As they were going along and talking, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.
12 Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw Elijah no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. (II Kings 2)
The Lord confirms that He is going to be with Elisha just like He was with Elijah. Elisha is going to lead the people through a very difficult time. The only thing left now is for Elisha to begin serving the people around him. Elisha has the training and the experience. He has Elijah’s blessing and the Lord’s confirmation.
III. Elisha’s Ministry
Many times, once a strong leader is gone, the ministry begun by that strong leader begins to suffer. In this case, the ministry continues on because Elijah did a great job preparing a disciple.
13 He also took up the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and returned and stood by the bank of the Jordan.
14 He took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and struck the waters and said, “Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” And when he also had struck the waters, they were divided here and there; and Elisha crossed over.
15 Now when the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho opposite him saw him, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” And they came to meet him and bowed themselves to the ground before him.
16 They said to him, “Behold now, there are with your servants fifty strong men, please let them go and search for your master; perhaps the Spirit of the LORD has taken him up and cast him on some mountain or into some valley.” And he said, “You shall not send.”
17 But when they urged him until he was ashamed, he said, “Send.” They sent therefore fifty men; and they searched three days but did not find him.
18 They returned to him while he was staying at Jericho; and he said to them, “Did I not say to you, ‘Do not go ‘?”
19 Then the men of the city said to Elisha, “Behold now, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad and the land is unfruitful.”
20 He said, “Bring me a new jar, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him.
21 He went out to the spring of water and threw salt in it and said, “Thus says the LORD, ‘I have purified these waters; there shall not be from there death or unfruitfulness any longer.’ ”
22 So the waters have been purified to this day, according to the word of Elisha which he spoke. (II Kings 2)
Elisha picks up where Elijah left off. Elisha gives good advice to the people. They wanted to go and search for Elijah but, Elisha saw what had happened and told them that there was no need because Elijah was with the Lord. Not only that, but Elisha serves the people by meeting their physical needs when he has the chance. The ironic part of this is, the people did not always follow Elisha’s advice, exactly like they did not always follow Elijah’s advice. This is a beautiful picture of discipleship in action. Is this process taking place in your life? Are you being discipled so that you can disciple others? We live in a culture very similar to Elijah and Elisha’s culture. Will you be an Elisha and an Elijah?