1. The Handing Over
The end of the road in Prophet Elijah’s frightened flight from Jezebel was the instruction from God, among others, that he should go and anoint Elisha as a replacement to himself.
Then the LORD told him, “Go back…, and when you arrive… anoint Elisha (the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah) to replace you as my prophet (I Kings 19:15-16, Living Bible).
Getting Elisha as a replacement implied that Elijah’s ministry had come (or was coming) to an end; that a new prophetic dispensation was about to begin. Three verses later, which appears to be soon after the directive from God, Elijah carries out the first induction ceremony on Elisha, in obedience to the instructions he had recently received from the Lord.
Although the foregoing events appear to suggest the termination of Elijah’s ministry, that termination was a process. It was not automatic. From the time of the announcement of the prophet’s ‘retirement’ on Mount Horeb, to the time of his departure to heaven by means of the chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11), there was an intervening period of not less than six years. In other words, Elijah did not vacate the scene as soon as God had said his time was up; and Elisha did not begin to prophesy and perform miracles as soon as God had said he had become a prophet, or a replacement-prophet. He spent the intervening period of about six to ten years serving and learning from the Senior Prophet.
Imagine a man called to be so great a prophet, starting out as a mere servant to the one he had been chosen by God Himself to replace!
An earlier servant of Elisha may have had that rare privilege of the double anointing that ultimately became Elisha’s, but that servant had abandoned his master in the hard times of Queen Jezebel’s threat; he had failed to persevere with the beleaguered and tired prophet on his “journey into the wilderness” (1 Kings 19:3,4).
The conclusion to be arrived at from the story of Elisha’s transition into the fullness of his ministry is that maturing into our call is a process. It is not automatic. And fading off from our call or from ministerial relevance is also a process, sometimes a process so long and so imperceptible that the prophet might not even realize that he is on his way down and out. As it is possible for one or two miracles to still attend the efforts of such an expiring prophet, in spite of the onset of his decline, the quickness to recognize the decline from grace becomes more difficult. In such circumstances, several are bound to conclude that the presence of the occasional miracles in their ministry implies that ‘retirement’ is still a century away.
2. The Years of Transition
We shall proceed now to investigate, from scriptural evidence, the number of the intervening years between Mount Horeb, when Elijah was told to get a replacement, and the point beyond River Jordan, from where he took off to Heaven on the special flight of the Chariot of Fire.
In 1 Kings 19:16-21, Elijah returns from Horeb and throws his mantle on Elisha, who begins from then to follow him. We do not know the date of this first-mantle encounter, but let us call it ‘Point X.’
In the subsequent chapter, we read that there was war between Syria and Israel. We do not know how much time it had taken between Point X and the time of the commencement of this battle. But let us assume that was almost the same time as Point X (20:1).
In verse 22, a prophet tells the king of Israel, after that battle, that the defeated Syrian army would return a year later, that is, a year after Point X. In verse 26, the army actually returns after one year, giving us one definite year from Point X. We shall call that ‘Point Y.’
We learn later that, after this second war, there was a three-year period of respite, during which there was no war between Israel and Syria. That means three years from Point Y. We shall call this further point in time ‘Point Z.’ That makes a total of four definite years now from Point X (22:1-2). The battle after the three years of reprieve was the battle in which King Ahab died and was succeeded by his son Ahaziah (vv.35-40). Therefore, Point Z also marks the time of Ahab’s death and the beginning of Ahaziah’s reign over Israel.
Ahaziah, who succeeded his father Ahab, reigned for only two years (v.51). That makes 2 years from Point Z. Let us identify that terminal point of Ahaziah’s two-year reign as ‘Point D.’
The encounter between King Ahaziah’s soldiers and the retiring Prophet Elijah in 2 Kings 1:5-18, during which Elijah called down fire from heaven. , is the prophet’s recorded last miracle. For both king and prophet, that is the last memorable event. By the next chapter, Elijah is on his way to heaven, which time we may also assume to be approximate with Point D (2:1-11).
3. The Two Mantles
How long will be your own maturation period, before the anointing which you have been promised begins to be tangible and manifest? How long does it take to ‘slide’ off the scene and yet not realize that one is being ‘phased out’? Solomon’s backsliding did not become so obvious until “when Solomon was old” (1 Kings 11:4). By that time, the disaster was almost irreversible.
Does an ordination ceremony automatically spiritually qualify one to begin to act the prophet? Does receiving the Anointing in a greater ‘double’ measure license anybody to begin to scheme ways to edge out the expiring Senior Prophet, so as to take over the mantle? Why would David not do that with Saul? David and Elisha were anointed to replace their incumbents, but they had to wait for the indefinite future of their ‘swearing in.’ Why the waste of precious time waiting?
Why would David, the twice anointed young king, refrain twice from what appeared to everyone else (apart from himself) as a rare, Heaven-sent opportunity to kill and take over from the God-rejected and devils-possessed ageing Saul, who had not only expired on the throne but had also been after his life? Why would he refuse to shorten the unpopular and bewitched reign of Saul and to hasten his own dynamic and anointed Kingship Ministry? Very faithfully, David served the man that, to all appearances, was his enemy; a man he ought to have opposed and deposed. He served him faithfully, until that man voluntarily transferred the kingship to him (1 Samuel 24:19-20). Then it was sealed.
Elisha received a first mantle of service before the second mantle of power, after years of faithful service. Much is known of the mantle of power, but little is preached about the preliminary first mantle which ushered him into becoming merely the servant of the expiring prophet whom he was going to replace in a doubly greater pattern.
He who would become a leader must start out not as a lord but as the servant of all (Mark 10:43-44). Unfortunately, today, we have a generation that seeks the double portion of those they have never served; a generation that seeks the mantle of power beyond Jordan, before they have accepted the mantle of service in the fallow fields beyond Horeb.
From The Preacher’s diary.