Passing Down the Mantle: Elisha

There is nothing quite as wonderful as your favorite teams. You may think of your favorite teams from old TV shows, or movies, or even books. Whether its Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Batman and Robin, or any other, teams somehow have a way of making an already good story great. The Bible has some famous godly duos like David and Jonathan, or wicked ones like Ahab and Jezebel. One other great duo worthy of your time is Elijah and Elisha. It’s a story of an older prophet (Elijah) calling and mentoring a younger prophet (Elisha). But how did they meet?

God commanded Elijah to set Elisha apart as his prophetic successor. Elisha, like his mentor, seemingly comes out of nowhere. When Elijah symbolically called him, he placed his cloak upon his shoulders. Elisha proved his faithfulness by not only leaving his oxen behind, for he was a plowman, but definitively by sacrificing them and making it impossible for him to return to his former way of life.

As we listen to this story, we are meant to hear various echoes between these two prophets and two others. We must see this call in its proper context. Elijah learned about this call for Elisha on the mountain of God, the same place where Moses received the Law. So if Elijah was a new Moses figure, then Elisha comes forward as a new Joshua. Both successors were empowered and led by the same Spirit of God who guided their mentors.

We find the same sort of succession in the life of Moses and Joshua that we see in Elijah and Elisha. We read these words at the conclusion of Deuteronomy, “And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the LORD had commanded Moses.” (Deut. 34:9 ESV) Although Elijah doesn’t put his hands on Elisha, the cloak or mantle of Elijah is cast on Elisha and becomes the vehicle of Spirit-produced transference. For Elisha’s call began with the cloak being cast on his shoulders, and his call is consummated when Elijah departed in the chariot of fire leaving Elisha alone to take up his mentor’s cloak. (2 Kings 2:13 ESV)

One of the most important observations we can make from this passage is that God has a plan for tomorrow. Elijah was not just setting up a theological successor, but was also called to anoint two other kings: Hazael of Syria, and Jehu over Israel. We can often forget that God knows what’s going on. If not explicitly, then at least in our hearts, we often function as if God is caught off guard by the various outbursts of chaos that regularly greet us. 

The call of Elisha is a tangible reminder that God has a plan that He is accomplishing. Years later, another prophet would arise, who would continue to instruct the people of God and especially in how they ought to view God’s relationship with the wider world. Isaiah writes for our benefit these words, “Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’” (Isaiah 46:8-10 ESV)

We are naturally prone to look at these words and call God a liar, or at least a well-intentioned fool. This may sound preposterous, but hear me out. God presents a plan to us, and how often is our first thought, “There’s no way that can happen.” We are quick to doubt that God knows what He is doing, and slow to believe that He has our best in mind. Our anxiety about the future is a reflection that we don’t truly believe God is in control. But He is.

My wife is one of my favorite theologians and as I considered this story with her, she made an astute application. She noted, “Like Moses standing at the mouth of the Red Sea or Peter about to step out of the boat, we must take every thought captive and step out in faith knowing that what looks like trouble to us is an opportunity to watch God’s amazing plan unfold.”

In other words, every moment of anxiety in our world is an opportunity for adoration as we choose to trust God instead of what we can see.

Elisha didn’t present excuses to Elijah or God. He had a business to run. He had a family to care for. None of that mattered. All that mattered was that God called him. If God called him, then that was sufficient. God would work out the details. And why could he believe that? God’s enduring promise was as true then as it would be later. God promises “I will accomplish all my purpose.” 

Where do you need to trust God today? Where is your heart anxious? Where are you doubting that God will provide for you? As Christians who have the very Spirit of Christ within us, we are called to step out in faith as we trust our destiny-writing God.