Faith & Circumstances
Updated: May 25, 2020
By sis Sophia Tay
In 1 Kings 19:19-21, we get a very unconventional example of a prophet receiving his calling. But it is precisely the circumstances of Elisha’s calling that demonstrate his amazing faith.
So he departed thence, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth: and Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle upon him.
And he left the oxen, and ran after Elijah, and said, Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee. And he said unto him, Go back again: for what have I done to thee?
And he returned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave unto the people, and they did eat. Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him. (1 Kings 19: 19-21)
1. Elisha runs for a job nobody wants. The events of 1 Kings happen during Ahab and Jezebel’s reign over Israel. They worshipped Baal and sought to kill anyone who did not (1 Kings 19:10). Elijah wanted to give up being God’s prophet and desired death (v. 4), but God told him to appoint Elisha as his successor (v. 15-16) and assured him that there were 7000 people still faithful to God (v. 18).
Elijah found Elisha in the midst of his daily work in the field. He immediately left his oxen and ran after Elijah to say that he will follow Elijah. He did not need a fantastic vision to be called to serve God. He was so glad to be chosen to minister to Elijah and thereby serve God. He would have known how difficult being faithful to God was during this time. That Ahab and Jezebel were persecuting God's prophets was well-known throughout Israel. As Elijah laments to God in verses 4 and 10,
4 […] And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!”
10 So he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for 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.”
In these difficult times, Elisha was running for a job nobody, not even the great prophet Elijah, wanted. I wonder how great his faith must have been for him to stay unaffected by discouragement and danger around him. The Bible does not tell us if Elisha knew that he wasn’t alone, that there were still 7000 Israelites faithful to God.
2. Elisha’s difficulties Elisha’s calling to be a prophet was not only perfectly ordinary, it was also far from glorious. Elijah would not speak to him or show him the ropes. In verse 19, we read that Elijah, seeing Elisha ploughing, passed by Elisha and, without saying a word, merely threw his mantle or cloak on Elisha as he walked past. In verse 20, although Elisha ran after Elijah to ask to let him say goodbye to his parents, Elijah dismissed him and told him to go home.
3. Elisha’s resolve However, Elisha burns all his bridges and runs to follow Elijah. Verse 21 is full of action verbs. Elisha killed his oxen, cooked them and distributed the food to the people around him. Some scholars comment that 'Elisha's sacrifice of the oxen was a thanks offering for his calling – a celebration in which his neighbours were invited to join' (NIV Archaelogical Study Bible). Elisha’s killing of the oxen also demonstrates a complete break with his past. He left his job and made sure that his old life/livelihood was no longer an option for him. He was fully committed to being Elijah's protege.
We can't imagine destroying our own livelihood. Perhaps a Christian convert who works in areas that God disapproves of would do as Elisha did, but I think the point here is not that we should literally follow Elisha's example but that, like Elisha, we should get rid of those things that are hindering our service to God. The sermon preached on 29 September asked us to think about making plans to get to Heaven. Elisha had a similar goal centred on God, and he actively tried to reach it.
After verses 19 to 21, Elisha is no longer mentioned in 1 Kings. He next appears in 2 Kings 2 when Elijah is taken up into Heaven by God. His resolve paid off as he eventually became a prophet for God. In 2 Kings 2:9, Elisha asked to inherit a double portion of Elijah's spirit. Elisha used terms derived from inheritance law – which assigned a double portion of a father's possessions to the firstborn son compared to the other sons – to express his desire to carry on Elijah's ministry with even greater prophetic power. He wanted to do so much for God in the terrible times he lived in. Like Job, his faith was independent of the circumstances of his calling and his environment. Although this is an extremely difficult thing to achieve, it is encouraging that the Bible shows us that it can be done, by showing us the lives of those who have achieved it (Rom 15:4).
May we learn from the example of Elisha in his faith as well as his service to God. Let us “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith…” (Heb 12:1-2).