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The Call of Elisha - Part 1

1st May 2015

In 1 Kings chapter 19, Elijah had had enough. He was at the end of his tether, as they say. He laid down in the desert and prayed for death. God told him to eat, and to rest, and then God led him to Mount Horeb. On the Mountain, Elijah experienced a powerful wind which shattered the rocks on the mountain, then an earthquake and then a fire. And afterwards, when all was quiet, he heard God whisper to him. He poured out his tale of woe, and God responded by re-commissioning him:

1 Kings 19v15-18
The LORD said to him, "Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him."

The next thing we read is that Elijah got on with doing what God had told him to do:

1 Kings 19v19
So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him.

Some books say that Elisha was a farmer, and that the fact that he was ploughing with the twelfth pair of oxen proves that he was in charge. It seems possible, though, that Elisha was only a ploughman, and perhaps the worst ploughman on the farm, and so had to go last. Either way, his background didn't mark him out as a major prophet. But God can call whomsoever He chooses, and God can equip whomsoever He calls. I've often heard it said that:

God doesn't call the equipped - He equips the called

And God was going to equip Elisha mightily. He was going to make him a prophet in the spirit of Elijah.

We don't know if Elijah spoke to Elisha at first; we're just told that he threw his cloak around him. A cloak was Elijah's trademark, if you will, symbolising his ministry, and maybe the ministry of other prophets, too (see 2 Kings 1v8, Zechariah 13v4, Matthew 3v4). When he threw it over Elisha, he was enacting God's call to him to share the prophetic ministry. It seems Elisha was excited by the opportunity - he responded immediately:

1 Kings 19v20
Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. "Let me kiss my father and mother good-bye," he said, "and then I will come with you." "Go back," Elijah replied. "What have I done to you?"

Elisha would obey the call. But first he wanted to put the past behind him. he asked Elijah for permission to say goodbye to his parents. Elijah replied, "Go back, What have I done to you?". We can't be certain about what Elijah meant by this, but I think he was saying, "Elisha, it's your decision, not mine. Do what you think you should do." Elijah wasn't interested in making him obey. Elisha needed to decide for himself.

And Jesus lets us decide whether or not to follow Him. When the rich young ruler asked Jesus what he needed to do, and Jesus told him to sell his possessions and give to the poor, the young man walked away - and Jesus let him go. (Matthew 19v16-22, Mark 10v17-30, Luke 18v18-30). When Jesus taught them about the Bread of Life, many of His disciples turned back and no longer followed him - and He let them go (John 6v66).

This is one mark of a healthy church: no-one should be made to do anything; or manipulated into doing anything; or made to feel guilty for not doing something. If a church leader asks someone to do something, whether they do it or not should depend on that individual's relationship with God - not on the strength of the leader's personality.

1 Kings 19v21
So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the ploughing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his attendant.

Elisha turned back - but he didn't do this because he was unsure of his call. He did it because he wanted to make his call irrevocable - so far as he could. He said goodbye to his parents, burnt the tools of his trade and slaughtered his animals. There would be no going back.

When God is calling us into something new, we have to step out of something old. It's important to put to death what we were doing before. When God called be to be a full-time pastor, he also called me to stop being a computer professional. One of the first things I did was cancel my subscriptions to magazines with adverts for jobs in the computing industry. We must die to our old way of life, and our old security, if we're ever going to dedicate ourselves to our new way of life, and enjoy our security in God.

Elisha left his old life to follow Elijah, to learn from him, and to become his attendant - his servant. God's call on our lives is like Elijah's call on Elisha's life. We're called to serve Christ, and to learn to be like Christ. God calls every one of us out of our old way of thinking into biblical thinking, our old way of living into godly living. He sends His Holy Spirit to change our hearts, and inspire our service. One day we will be like him (1 John 3v2).

The question is: Have we cooked our oxen yet?