Elijah And Elisha

May 4, 2008
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Second Kings 2:1-15

Elijah And Elisha's Day Of Parting

1. In today's first reading a man named Elijah is at the forefront. Standing in line with Moses he is one of the characters which represent the Old Testament. He was a prophet active in Israel in the ninth century B.C.E. A prophet is a person who makes the word of God known. As a person sent by God a prophet declares the word of God to everybody no matter whom. When God sends [the prophet], without hesitating, he or she will declare the word of God even to a king. Even if it is a word of reprimand for the king or a word of judgment against a state, [the prophet] declares it without hesitation. Therefore, sometimes a prophet will collide with political authorities. If the addressee is a king who refuses to obey God, then [the prophet] may experience persecution.

2. Elijah initiated his activities as a prophet [in] the period of Ahab, the seventh king since the division of Israel. This king's era was a period of suffering for the prophets of the Lord. That said though, we're told that it was not the king himself but his queen Jezebel who had hated the prophets of the Lord and had given the directives for their persecution. In fact, the scripture tells us that she had put the prophets of the Lord to the sword, (First Kings 18:4). At that time the vizier Obadiah had given shelter to the prophets of the Lord, and barely a hundred managed to survive. During this period of time it was Elijah himself who had given leadership to the other prophets, had kept speaking the word of God, and had opposed the king when he had gone against the will of God. The story of Elijah is written starting in First Kings chapter seventeen, so please read it when you can.

3. Now today, standing in line with Elijah another character comes on the scene, Elisha. The record of the meeting between Elijah and Elisha is given in First Kings chapter nineteen and beginning in verse nineteen. "Elijah set out from there and met with Elisha the son of Shaphat as he plowed a field making twelve yoke of oxen go ahead of him," (First Kings 19:19). Elisha was originally a farmer and so at that time he was plowing a field. As Elijah went by him, he was silent and threw his own overcoat upon him. No words were exchanged, but yet Elisha immediately sensed the meaning, that he was being called as a prophet. Elisha abandoned the oxen and followed after Elijah. Elisha said, "Please allow me to give a farewell kiss to my father and my mother. After that I will obey you." Elijah said, "Go and come back. What did I do to you, though?" If you really believe that I did not call you but God has called you out, then wear it. In effect, that's what he meant. I think he meant something like, if you sense it follow me. Of course, Elisha intended to. God was calling to him. As a result, to receive training as a prophet, he would follow Elijah and serve him. This was the meeting between Elijah and Elisha.

4. But with a meeting comes a parting. Fellowships in this passing world are not for ever. The passage read out loud today is the scripture that tells about the last day in the life of Elijah. The hour of the parting between Elijah and Elisha had drawn near. Put in more typical everyday terminology, it could probably be called "a final farewell [a final parting because of death, a bereavement]." But as we see in today's passage, Elijah goes down as a person who passed right into heaven and never sees death. Any way, Elisha had a premonition that the hour had come for Elijah to be taken away. Therefore, even though he was told to remain in Gilgal, Elisha does not want to leave Elijah on that day either. "The Lord is alive, you too are alive. I will not leave you." Having said that, Elisha devotedly follows Elijah.

5. The destinations to which Elijah was going were Bethel and Jericho. They had fellowships of prophets there. It was the ones who had survived the persecutions. In addition, they say there was even some kind of "school for prophets" there. In today's language we'd probably call it a seminary. At any rate, people were gathered there who burned with zeal for the Lord. After Elijah had departed this world, they still had to live through the period of persecution as prophets. Ahab had already departed this world. But, Jezebel still dictated as the mother of the king. They still had to keep the word of the Lord going forth. Elijah paid them a visit to show them care and to encourage them. The man about to depart the world [had visited them] to give a final message to the ones left behind in the world.

6. This figure of Elijah overlaps that of Jesus at [his] seat at the last supper. The Gospel According To John communicates it [to us] as follows. "So, it was before the Passover Festival. Jesus realized that his hour had come for him to move from this world to the father, and he loved the disciples who were in this world, and he loved them completely with the highest love," (John 13:1). And the Lord concluded the series of talks that he had spoken while seated there as follows. "I have told these things to you so that you will obtain peace through me. You will have difficulties in the world. But have courage. I have already overcome the world," (John 16:33).

7. Elijah probably did not announce a clear and plain farewell to the prophets at Bethel and Jericho. But having served the Lord with him and their hearts being joined to Elijah by the Lord, they must have realized that the time had clearly come. The Lord was about to remove Elijah from this passing world. [He must have] said he would probably not meet with them again. Therefore, they addressed Elisha, who had served the closest with Elijah, saying, "Do you know that the Lord is about to take your master from you today?" Elisha replies, "I know it, too. Please be silent."

8. In due course that day had been coming. [He] understood that; for, Elisha knew clearly that he had been called to keep giving forth the word of God even after Elijah had departed from the world. Yet, how sorrowful and hard it is to say good-bye in this world! "I know it, too. Please be silent." The suffering of Elisha, who had to part with his beloved master, is humbly told.

Where Is The God Of Elijah, The Lord?

9. After Elijah and Elisha had called upon Bethel and Jericho as they did, they arrived somewhere along the banks of the Jordan. Then, the scripture says, "Elijah took off his overcoat, rolled it up, and then when he hit the water with it, the water parted to the left and the right, and so they both crossed upon dry ground," (verse eight). Once ago, Israel had crossed this Jordan [River], entered the land of promise, and established a kingdom there. But, now Elijah had crossed back over the Jordan. It was an act that sort of symbolized Elijah starting to walk out of the history of Israel. Elijah was being relieved of his responsibilities to Israel which God had given him. The era of Elijah was over.

10. Upon making this perfectly clear, Elijah asked Elisha, "Before I am taken away from you, what shall I do for you? Ask what you will." Elisha replies, "Please let me inherit a double portion of your spirit," (verse nine). When the distribution of the parents' assets were made according to the law, the eldest son was to obtain twice the share (Deuteronomy 21:17). When Elisha said, "Please let me inherit a double portion of your spirit," he was requesting that he succeed Elijah as an eldest son, that he be made the spiritual successor.

11. From the start it was plain to everybody's view that Elisha was Elijah's successor. However, Elisha was not satisfied with that. In order to truly continue the work of Elijah, he asked that he be made spiritually ready. Elisha understood why, that the battle that Elijah had been waging was a battle that came from the powers from above, a battle that came from the Spirit of God. Thus, Elijah requested, "Please let me inherit" the spirit that was at work within Elijah.

12. Elijah answered, "You are making a difficult request. If you see me being taken away from you, then your request will be granted. If you don't see [my leaving], then your request will not be granted," (verse ten). In order to truly become the successor to Elijah, he says, there is something you have to see. The act of seeing is also the act of perceiving internally. What would he have to perceive internally? What must he see? [He must sense] Elijah being taken away. "To be taken away," as we see afterwards, means "to be lifted up into the heavens." This is not some simple sorrowful parting, Elijah will be taken away by God. He will be lifted up into the heavens. The works of Elijah, [after he] is lifted up into the heavens, must be continued. Elisha must see and realize this. For by his realizing this, he would be enabled to become the successor to Elijah in the true sense.

13. And in that sense Elisha certainly did reach the point of "seeing." "As they kept walking and talking, behold, a chariot of fire pulled by horses of fire appeared, it separated the two of them. Elijah went up into the heavens through a storm," (verse eleven). Elisha cries out, "Oh my father, oh my father, oh chariot of Israel, oh drivers!" He made that exclamation and tore his robes. It was a cry of woe. He grieved out loud. But, through these things that happened which had appeared only to Elisha, Elisha had perceived how that Elijah was taken away in accordance with the will of God and that he had been lifted up into the heavens. He had seen it for sure.

14. Therefore, Elisha does not remain in the grief of parting. The overcoat on him from Elijah had fallen off. It was the coat that Elijah had thrown upon him that time. He picks it up, retraces his steps back to the banks of the Jordan and stands [there]. Taking Elijah's coat, hitting the water, he cries out. He doesn't say any more, "Where did Elijah go?" because he knows that Elijah has gone up into the heavens. Elisha hit the water with Elijah's coat and shouted, "Where is the God of Elijah, the Lord? Whereupon, just like it did before, the water divided to the left and the right. That was the answer. The God of Elijah, the Lord was with him. The spirit of Elijah was abiding upon Elisha; the Lord who had worked through Elijah was also working through Elisha. That had been demonstrated. Passing through the parted waters, he crossed again to the western side of the Jordan. With courage he entered into the history of Israel. In order to communicate the word of God.

Remembering The Ascension Of Christ

15. Well, there is a reason the story of Elijah and Elisha was read on this Sunday; because, according to the church calendar, today, one week before Pentecost, is the Lord's day upon which we offer up worship remembering "the ascension of Christ." The disciples handed down the fact that Christ was not only crucified and that he rose again on the third day, but that the risen Christ had been lifted up into the heavens. Just as Elisha had seen Elijah lifted up into the heavens, the disciples saw Christ lifted up into the heavens. They handed down this [fact]. They did it to pass on the fact that what happened to Elisha also happened to the disciples, and in the long run, to the church as well.

16. Elijah's visible form was no longer with [him]. But, Elisha inherited the spirit of Elijah and continued the work of Elijah. The Lord who had worked through Elijah had also worked through Elisha. Similarly, Christ will not be walking on this earth in a visible form. Yet, the disciples were not sorrowful and neither are we; because we know that Christ has gone up into the heavens and because the spirit of Christ dwells in us and the work of Christ to manifest the love of God and save human beings is continuing on earth.

17. Next week is the celebration of the descent of the Holy Spirit. Let's seek for the infilling of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. [Let's] not [do it] for ourselves. We're in Elisha's place. Let's seek for the infilling of the Holy Spirit in order for the works of Christ to be manifested, through us, [and] in order for [us] to be the body in which Christ will continue to do [his] work on earth [since] he has been lifted up to the heavens.