Expository Sermon on the Call of Elisha
by Maylan Schurch
Bellevue Seventh-day Adventist Church 5/4/2019
©2019 by Maylan Schurch
Here’s the YouTube link to this service. The sermon starts at the 1:02:00 mark.
Please open your Bibles to First Kings chapter 19.
This is still another sermon in a series I’ve been calling “Bible Sidekicks.” We’ve been looking at the lives of the faithful assistants that God provided for His leaders. Today we’ll be looking at the story of Elisha.
But first we need to take a quick glance into the life of Elijah (with a “j.”) Elijah was a major prophet. In fact, Elijah was so important to God that it was he, along with Moses, who appeared on the mountain with Jesus during the Savior’s transfiguration.
The story of Elijah, and later of Elisha, is proof to me that if we ever thought the Bible was boring, we would be wrong. Just read First and Second Samuel and then First and Second Kings. There is plenty of material for action movies and military novels in these chapters. But it’s all raw, and very real. None of these stories have carefully-crafted endings which would fully satisfy the readers. There’s no “happily ever after.” The basic plot goes this way: there is a struggle, and then it subsides for a while, and then the struggle starts up again with different people.
And these chapters were not written for entertainment. They were written because God wanted to document His struggles to woo His sinful children back to Him.
And First Kings 19 is kind of a transition chapter. In chapter 18, Elijah stood beside a mountaintop altar he had built. On top of that altar was wood which had been thoroughly drenched with water, along with a sacrificial animal. And in answer to Elijah’s prayer, down from the sky had come a bolt of fire, and ignited that sacrifice, and burned up all the wood, and all the stones. And the people understood what had happened, because they cried out, “The Lord – He is God! The Lord – He is God!” Previously they’d been half-worshipping the true God and half-worshipping the “small-g” god Baal. But now they got the point.
But then, after that dramatic victory, Elijah had turned tail and run for his life. Word had come to him that Jezebel, the king’s wife, was going to make sure he was dead within a day. So he ran, and kept on running, and eventually came to Mount Horeb, which is another name for Mount Sinai.
While he was there, crouching in a cave, a huge wind howled around the mountain. But Elijah, who could sense the presence of God, realized that God was not in the wind. Then came an earthquake, and again Elijah didn’t perceive God’s presence. Then a blazing fire appeared, and again Elijah did not sense God’s presence.
But suddenly, Elijah heard a calm, quiet voice, and immediately he covered his face reverently, because he realized that God had arrived.
1 Kings 19:13 – 14 [NKJV]: So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”
And Elijah was almost at the end of his rope. He was so discouraged that he didn’t see any hope for the nation at all.
And God decided that this faithful prophet simply needed some encouragement, as well as a to-do list. So He gives him both.
Verses 15 – 18: Then the LORD said to him: “Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. It shall be that whoever escapes the sword of Hazael, Jehu will kill; and whoever escapes the sword of Jehu, Elisha will kill. Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
If all this talk of killing with the sword sounds kind of brutal to our tender 21st-century ears, we who have either been born in, or have moved to, our relatively peaceful country, that’s because it IS brutal. If Elijah was suffering trauma, consider the trauma God Himself was suffering. God had established His chosen people in Palestine, and his plan was that they would spread their knowledge of Him to everyone who passed through. But a series of appallingly wretched rulers had turned the nation into idol worshipers. And over and over again, God’s people had turned their backs on Him, and their idolatry often became worse than that of the nations they were trying to imitate.
And throughout the Bible, God could have sanitized the history of the Planet Earth Project. He could have accentuated the positive, and simply refused to report on where His people had failed. That’s what every other country in that area did. Archaeologists have discovered this. If one of the heathen nations defeated Israel, they would once in a while carve that news into stone somewhere. But if Israel defeated that nation, you would never hear a word of it. Aside from the Bible, there was no such thing as objective history.
But God’s purpose in letting the Bible be recorded was as a warning to future generations not to make the same deadly mistakes, and get into the same self-destructive trouble.
But now the Lord sends Elijah out to anoint a couple of kings, and to take on an assistant. This must’ve been encouraging to Elijah, because he was probably getting tired, and now he had someone he could groom to take over his work. So, he climbs down Mount Sinai and heads north.
In the first thing he does is to find Elisha.
Verse 19: So he departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth.
Let’s keep our eyes carefully fixed on what we see of Elijah. Because he is not going to be visible at all during the remainder of Elijah’s ministry, except at the very end. Elisha will be there, but always in the background. And I believe that even with what little we see of Elisha at this point, we can gain some “Bible sidekick” principles to live by this week.
Verse 19: So he departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth. Then Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle on him.
Bible scholars seem to agree that Elisha did not have all those 12 oxen hooked up to one plow. It only takes two oxen to operate a plow, or maybe just one. Back in the 1930s on the prairie, my teenage dad would hook two horses up to a single-bottom plow and carve up the prairie with that arrangement.
No, what must’ve been happening here was that there were several servants, each handling a pair of oxen and the plow, and Elisha was last in line. But can you imagine what it must’ve felt like, as you are wrestling those plow handles and trying to keep the plow-point at the right depth, to suddenly feel a scratchy, hairy cloak land on you.
So you can imagine Elisha glancing around in bewilderment, seeing the elderly prophet, and in just a couple of amazed heartbeats, realizing what Elijah has just done. Those oxen keep plodding along, but Elisha has let go of the handles, and hurried to Elijah’s side.
Verse 20: And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah, and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” . .
Right now, let’s pause and lay down what we could call Sermon Point One. As we look at the beginning of Elisha’s “Bible sidekick” experience, what is the first principle we could apply to our own experience?
First of all, I think that you and I should live mantle-ready.
I mean, the Bible story implies that Elisha didn’t see this coming at all. The impression you get is that those strong young fists are gripping those plow-handles, and the mantle-toss is a complete surprise.
But Elisha seems to have lived a mantle-ready life. He must have stayed so close to God that he could be ready at a moment’s notice to allow God to change his plans. So Elisha tells Elijah that he just needs to go home to say goodbye to mom and dad, and he’ll follow.
So how can you and I live a mantle-ready life? Nowadays we do not have major prophets who have words from the Lord to speak to kings, and we would assist these prophets. I think that the mantles that might fall on your and my shoulder would be of a different kind. Those mantels will still be as important – because if the Lord calls us to make a quiet difference in someone’s life, or study the Bible with them, or listen carefully to what they say, or help them in some way, that is exactly as important as the mantle that fell on Elisha’s shoulders that day. If there is great joy in heaven over one saved person, then if you and I feel God’s mantle on our shoulders to help change someone’s life, we are just as vital to Heaven’s work as Elisha was.
So how do we keep ourselves mantle-ready? I believe we need to immerse ourselves in our Bibles much more than we do. The more we read our Bible, or the more we listen to it by audiobook, and the more we study our Sabbath school lesson texts in their context, the nearer we come to the heart of God, and the better we will be able to sense what He wants us to do in any situation He calls us to.
So Elisha was mantle-ready. But the seasoned old prophet Elijah is not your average recruiter. He didn’t take Elisha out to lunch and try to get him into a good mood. He didn’t make him tempting salary-. No, Elijah knows that this is not an easy job he is calling Elisha to. So he tests the young man to see how mantle-ready he really is.
Verse 20: And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah, and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?”
It sounds like Elijah is rejecting him, but he’s really testing him. Because here’s how Elisha follows through.
Verse 21: So Elisha turned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen and slaughtered them and boiled their flesh, using the oxen’s equipment, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah, and became his servant.
And here comes Sermon Point Two. What’s another of Elisha’s important “sidekick” principles which I need to use this week?
Not only should you and I should live mantle-ready, but when God calls, we shouldn’t look back.
When Elisha slaughtered the oxen and used the plowing equipment as a fire to prepare the food, he was saying to everybody else in that farm field, “I’m not going to be needing these anymore. This meal we are eating together is a sign of how serious I am about following Elijah. I’m burning my bridges.”
It’s interesting that Jesus used plowing to bring across this same principle, in Luke 9:62. But He switched around that plowing metaphor a bit. He said, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” The principle is the same, of course. If God really has called you to a certain task, don’t look back. Go forward.
Jesus even insisted that you must be ready to leave father or mother in order to follow Him. He wasn’t talking about family abandonment, of course. But what he was telling us was that we may need to abandon some hopes and plans our parents might have had for us which may conflict with God’s plans.
And God doesn’t of course call everyone into some form of pastoral ministry. The two sons of one of my sisters both attended a Bible college for a while, the idea being to see if they were supposed to follow God into some form of ministry. But neither one did. They are involved in lay occupations, but their Christian influence is at least as powerful as if they were pastors or Bible teachers.
We need to remember that in the first few verses of Exodus 31, God called a man named Bezalel, but not to be a pastor. Instead, God called Bezalel to use his woodworking and metalworking skills to supervise the creation of the wilderness tabernacle. And God even said that he had filled Bezalel with the Holy Spirit.
So whatever role God calls you to, be steady in that role for as long as you believe He wants you there. I took college training to become an English teacher, and I did that for about two and a half years.
But then I felt God’s strong call to the gospel ministry. It was a very definite call, and if I had rejected it, I would’ve been increasingly unhappy and ineffective as an English teacher, not to mention making my life miserable for my new bride Shelley.
Let’s take a look at just one more of Elisha’s Bible sidekick principles. Let’s turn over to Second Kings chapter 2.
What’s so fascinating about Elisha’s apprenticeship is that we don’t see him. We see him when Elijah threw his mantle over the young man’s shoulders, but we do not see him again until it is time for Elijah to cross the Jordan and be carried up to heaven in a fiery chariot. Between those two events, Elisha is invisible. He’s helping Elijah, and he is also watching very carefully how the Lord works through his master.
But then the time comes for Elijah to go. Let’s pick up the story in Second Kings 2.
2 Kings 2:1 – 4: And it came to pass, when the LORD was about to take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, please, for the LORD has sent me on to Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you!” So they went down to Bethel. Now 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; keep silent!” Then Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here, please, for the LORD has sent me on to Jericho.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you!” So they came to Jericho.
You see what Elijah is doing? He is giving Elisha an “out.” He’s saying, “Elisha, I’ve appreciated your help through all these adventures we’ve gone through. But just stay right here and I’m going to walk on.”
Somehow – we aren’t told exactly how – Elisha knows what’s going to happen. Those groups of prophets we see talking to him are simply confirming what he already knew would happen.
But back there in the farm field when he made his decision, he made it for life.
Verses 4 – 9: Then Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here, please, for the LORD has sent me on to Jericho.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you!” So they came to Jericho. Now the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho came to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?” So he answered, “Yes, I know; keep silent!” Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, please, for the LORD has sent me on to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you!” So the two of them went on. And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went and stood facing them at a distance, while the two of them stood by the Jordan. Now Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up, and struck the water; and it was divided this way and that, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground. And so it was, when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?” Elisha said, “Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.”
And that is Sermon Point Three. As I think of Elisha’s life as a sidekick to Elijah, here’s one more principle that I think we should use in our own personal ministries.
Not only should you and I should live mantle-ready, and when God calls, we shouldn’t look back, but I believe we also must dare a double portion.
If you know your Bible, you know that Earth’s final events will be challenging to our faith. In Matthew 24:24, Jesus told His disciples, “For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”
But Jesus places that verse in the very center of Matthew 24. Surrounding that verse are many statements Jesus makes about what the final days will be like. And as we look into that future, we need not be fearful. Instead, we need to dare for a double portion of the Holy Spirit. We don’t want to be simply “adequate” Christians, because there probably isn’t such a thing. We can’t have one foot in the world and one foot in the kingdom. Jesus said whoever is not with Him is against Him.
So maybe we should add this to our daily prayers: “Lord, you know my heart. I ask for a double portion of your Holy Spirit so you can use me completely.”
Don’t you think the Lord would appreciate us following Elisha’s example and asking for that? Would you like to raise your hand, tentatively if you have to, maybe just a little bit, because it’s a breathtaking dare. I’m going to resolve to do that in my prayer life.