2 Kings 2:1-15
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
February 14, 2021
The Christian life is supposed to be supernatural!
We Christians are meant to live by a strength beyond our own: the strength of the Holy Spirit. But we can avail of His power only by receiving it as a gift of God’s grace: something we don’t deserve, earn or pay for.
Yet, no one receives it automatically. We make this free gift our own through the free decisions we make, through our choosing to put ourselves in a position of humble dependence on God’s promises and obedience to God’s commandments.
That’s how Elisha lived. He trusted God and did what God said; and, because of his steadfast loyalty to God and to Elijah, he reaped a spiritual bounty.
After Elijah had defeated the false prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, he fled for his life and went into hiding. There he fell into despair; but God came to him, reassured him, built him up, and assigned to him a young man named Elisha who would help him as his servant and learn from him as his disciple – so that, when Elijah fulfilled his term of service as God’s prophet, Elisha would step into the same role as God’s next prophet.
Thus, upon finding Elisha while he was driving some oxen, Elijah “threw his mantle over” the young man’s shoulders. The mantle was not just an overcoat to fend off the cold but a symbol of Elijah’s calling as a prophet (like a professor’s academic robe or a minister’s clerical collar). Hence, Elijah’s passing on his mantle to Elisha in that moment represented his passing on to the younger man his his ministry in the future.
Many years later, at the time God was about to take Elijah to Himself, he and Elisha were taking a roundabout walking tour that began and ended at the Jordan River. History rather than geography set their circuitous itinerary. They were retracing the first steps of Joshua as he led God’s people into the Promised Land to make it their home.
Elijah and Elisha traveled each step of that trip together; but at each of its stops Elijah told Elisha to stay behind while he went on ahead by himself – and at each stop Elisha refused to leave his side. Did Elijah just want to be alone in his last moments, or was he testing Elisha to assure himself the young man had the right stuff to carry on the ministry? We can’t tell; but, either way, Elisha insisted on being there for Elijah to the end, no matter how much it would hurt to see the old man go.
The Bible says that God exalts those humble enough to serve others and that to open our heart to others in love is to open our heart to the God who is love. Thus, Elisha was, by his steadfast loyalty to God and Elijah, positioning himself perfectly to receive a spiritual bounty.
When they made their way back to their starting point at the Jordan River, Elijah rolled up his mantle like a rod and struck the river, so that its waters parted before them just as they had when Joshua’s men first carried over the Ark of the Covenant into Canaan. Only on this occasion, those walking across were not entering but exiting the Promised Land, just as Elijah would soon exit this world.
Before exiting, Elijah invited Elisha to ask for a parting gift. Elisha replied, “Let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” By speaking of a “double share”, Elisha was not asking to have twice as much of the Spirit as Elijah had. In the parlance of that day, a “double share” of a father’s estate referred to the extra-large inheritance that fell to a first-born son. Elisha’s request shows he saw himself as Elijah’s first-born spiritual son – and chosen to take over his spiritual father’s prophetic estate when he was gone.
Elijah remarked how Elisha had requested a “hard thing” to grant – hard in the sense that, since it involved the very life force of God, it was such a big ask that no mere mortal could guarantee it. Yet, to support Elisha’s hope, Elijah gave him a sign. If Elisha saw what no physical eye could: Elijah’s being supernaturally lifted up in the blazing glory of heaven, it would confirm the inheritance he sought was his.
And sure enough, as the two men were walking and talking together, there appeared “a chariot of fire and horses of fire”. Those fiery figures “separated” the two men – separated them to signal, not the rending of their relationship, but the sending of them on to divergent paths that, for all their difference in course, would not diminish the unity they had in their common devotion to share the bright and burning word of the Lord.
As the whirlwind of that fire storm carried Elijah aloft, a broken-hearted Elisha cried out in pain and in grief tore his garments. He then picked up Elijah’s mantle that had fallen from his shoulders in his ascent and with it struck the Jordan River, as Elijah had before, to make his way across to the Promised Land. Once he had, some prophets spotted the afterglow of God’s glory upon him; and they exclaimed, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha!” and bowed down before him.
God gives those who, with steadfast loyalty, serve the Lord and people, a spiritual bounty: a “double share” of God’s life force. By the Spirit’s strength any of us may reverse the momentum of many years, overcome destructive habits and default settings, develop better character and conduct, and advance the cause of justice and compassion in witness to God’s glory.
Let us then follow Elisha’s example, and be loyal promise keepers who display God’s supernatural power!