Friends: Elijah And Elisha
We are continuing our series titled “Friends”. Since the start of the new year, we have been looking at friendships throughout the Bible. I began the series by talking about the most important friend we can have, and that friend is Jesus Christ. The second week I talked about David and Jonathon’s friendship and how this relationship was grounded in love and loyalty. John Glass preached about Moses and Aaron and the supportive role Aaron played to Moses. Last week we looked at the mentoring relationship Paul had with his travel companion and the young pastor Timothy. This week we are going to go back to the Old Testament as we look at the relationship between two prophets with similar names and different ministries. We will be spending most of our time in the books of 1 Kings 19 – 21 and 2 Kings 2:7 -15 as we look at the lives of these two prophets of God.
Elijah was a prophet who lived in the ninth century during the reigns of King Ahab (874 -853) and Ahaziah (853 – 52). Elijah was called by God during a particularly critical period in Israel’s history. The nation of Israel was divided into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms and at the time the northern kingdom was in its strongest financial position since its separation. The king at the time of this writing was Ahab and he married a woman named Jezebel. Jezebel was not a nice woman, she was evil, manipulative and she brought Baal worship to Israel and it began to spread like wildfire throughout the kingdom. This new interest and commitment to Baal worship angered God thus Elijah was sent to turn the nation and its leadership back to God through prophetic messages and miracles.
Elijah begins his biblically recorded prophetic ministry abruptly in 1 Kings 17 when he proclaims a prophecy to the king (Ahab) that there will be a drought in the land until the prophet himself declares the end. This prophecy begins a tumultuous relationship between Elijah, Ahab, and Jezebel.
We see the conflict between these three throughout the book of 1 Kings, as we read about Elijah’s tense relationship with the king and especially his wife as he proclaims judgment on the nation because of their sins of Baal worship. One of the most notable and memorable acts as a prophet of God is found in 1 Kings 18:20 when Ahab summons the Israelites and prophets of Baal to gather at Mount Caramel to confront Elijah. On the mountain the challenge was made by Elijah when he says, “If the LORD is God, follow him. But if Baal, follow him.” To which the people did not answer. Continuing on to 18:22 – 24, Elijah issues a challenge against the 450 prophets of Baal. He asks for two bulls, one for the prophets of Baal and one for him. The challenge? Cut the bulls into pieces, place it on the wood but not light the fire. Then the prophets are to call on Baal and Elijah will call on the God of Israel and whichever God answers with fire is the true God.
The contest begins. The prophets of Baal prepared the sacrifice and began calling on Baal. They called from morning until noon and nothing happens. So, they up their game by dancing around the altar in hopes their god will respond, and nothing happens. Elijah begins to mock them by telling them to shout louder because maybe their god is busy doing his god-work and cannot hear you. Or maybe he is asleep, and he needs to be woken up? In frustration the prophets start cutting themselves, creating a a bloody mess, and this kept going on until the evening, but nothing happens.
Now, it is Elijah’s turn. He builds an altar and has a trench dug around it, the trench was large enough to hold four gallons of water. He then arranges the wood, cuts up the bull, and places it on the wood. He then tells the people to pour four pots of water three times on the wood and on the offering. The wood and offering are drenched with water and the trenches are filled. Elijah says, “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, today let it be known that you are God in Israel and I am your servant, and that at your word I have done all these things. Answer me LORD! Answer me so the people will know you, the LORD, are God and that you have turned their hearts back.”
Suddenly, a fire came from heaven and consumed the offering, the wood, the stones, the water, and the dust. When the people saw this the people proclaimed “The LORD, he is God! The LORD, he is God!” Then Elijah ordered the 450 prophets to be seized and had them slaughtered. After this, the Lord sent rain, thus ending the drought.
When Jezebel heard what happened she sends a threat to Elijah declaring, “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!” Elijah was afraid of this threat, so he ran away and hid in a cave. It was here that the LORD spoke to Elijah in a soft whisper and he was encouraged by the LORD when he learned there were seven thousand people in Israel that have not bent the knee to Baal.
The prophet Elijah is ordered in 1 Kings 19:16 to anoint a man named Elisha as his successor. We are not sure if Elisha was already a disciple of Elijah currently or not. The two met as Elisha was plowing with twelve teams of oxen. Since Elisha had charge over such a large flock it is quite likely that Elisha came from a wealthy family. As Elijah approaches Elisha he places his mantle or robe over him and this this symbolized that he was being called as Elijah’s successor. In response Elisha has his fleet of oxen slaughtered and prepares a great feast for his neighbors. This act shows everyone that he would no longer be a farmer, but he would now prepare for his new ministry with Elijah.
In 2 Kings 2 Elijah and Elisha are traveling together, and Elijah tells friend to stay where they are as he needs to go to Bethel, then to Jericho, and then to Jordan in three different instances. In all three times Elisha refuses and declares he will not leave his side. When they arrived in Bethel, Jericho, and Jordan respectively there were groups named “the Sons of the Prophets” who came and informed Elisha that his master would be taken away from him that day. His response to the groups are a classic, “Yes, I know… Now shut up!” When they came to Jordan the sons of the prophets came and observed from a distance as Elijah took of his robe and struck the water, and the water parted, and they crossed to the other side.
In this moment Elijah says to Elisha, “What can I do for you before I am taken from you?” Elisha answers, “Please let me inherit two shares of your spirit.”. This was not an arrogant request for more power, but a request of a legitimate heir. This request was important to show the observers that Elisha was the person to assume the role as Elijah’s successor. Elijah replies, “If you see me being taken from you, you will have it, if not, you won’t.”
As they continued walking a chariot of fire with horses of fire appeared and separated the two. Elijah was then taken to heaven in the whirlwind. When Elijah was gone, Elisha tore his clothes in half and picked up Elijah’s robe that was left behind. He took the robe, struck the waters again and they parted as they did for Elijah. When the sons of the prophets saw this they declared, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha,”
Elisha’s prophetic ministry was now recognized, and he began his ministry around the time of king Ahab’s death (853). His ministry lasted about fifty years, and unlike his predecessor his ministry was quieter and took place among the regular people of Israel. He had opportunities to address the royal court at times, but not in conflict like Elijah. Miracles were prominent in his ministry. They ranged from turning brackish water to fresh water, calling down a bear attack on a group of youths who mocked him (that is another story for another time), mercy and charity, to his final miracle which happened post-mortem. A corpse was tossed into the prophet’s tomb and he abruptly came back to life.
We have looked briefly at the lives and calling of these two prophets of God. In these accounts we do not find out much regarding the friendship/relationship between these two prophets Elijah and Elisha. All that we do know is they were contemporaries, they traveled together, and Elijah passed his mantle to Elisha to continue God’s work. We do not know much more, like were they friends or was their relationship more professional? Did they have similar interests and passions or were they merely brought together by God’s divine providence? There are a few unanswered questions but what we can gather is that it was a relationship built on three foundations that can and should apply to us today.
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Jeff has been in ministry for well over two decades. He currently serves as Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Southside Campus in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). Both are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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