Handing on the mantle

Some people find it is difficult to step down and allow someone else to take over what you have been doing. Some make plans for this and there is an easy transition, while others seem to think they can go on forever.

Elijah had been the prophet in Israel for many years. Although there were other prophets, Elijah was the one God seems to have been primarily working through. Yet the time came for him to not only step down but also to leave this world.

Earlier Elijah had ‘recruited’ an assistant: Elisha (see 1 Kings 19). Although he isn’t mentioned for several chapters it would seem that he was travelling with and assisting Elijah. He was able to observe and learn from his mentor.

On the day the Lord was to take Elijah, Elisha was travelling with him. Several times Elijah tried to get Elisha not to go with him. We are not told why he kept telling Elisha to stay behind. Perhaps it was a test to see if he would remain with Elijah until the end. Some of the “sons of the prophets” also informed Elisha that God would take his master that day. Despite the discouragement and the uncertainty of the future, Elisha stayed with Elijah.

After travelling from Gilgal to Bethel and Jericho they arrived at the Jordan River. When they arrived at the river Elijah took his coat, folded it, and hit the water with it. And the water divided so they could cross on dry ground.

After crossing the river Elijah asked Elisha what he could do for him before he was taken away. This would seem to confirm that Elijah telling Elisha to stay was some kind of test. Elisha’s reply: “May I receive a double portion of the prophetic spirit that energizes you?” (2 Kings 2:9 NET). Although a difficult request, Elijah told him, “If you see me taken from you, may it be so, but if you don’t, it will not happen” (2 Kings 2:10). In other words, Elisha needed to stay with Elijah.

“As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a fiery chariot pulled by fiery horses appeared. They went between Elijah and Elisha, and Elijah went up to heaven in a windstorm. While Elisha was watching, he was crying out, ‘My father, my father! The chariot and horsemen of Israel!’ Then he could no longer see him. He grabbed his clothes and tore them in two. He picked up Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen off him, and went back and stood on the shore of the Jordan. He took the cloak that had fallen off Elijah, hit the water with it, and said, ‘Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’ When he hit the water, it divided and Elisha crossed over.” (2 Kings 2:11-14)

The prophets who were waiting on the other side of the Jordan recognised that the spirit of Elijah was now resting on Elisha. But remember he had requested a “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit. If we count up the number of miraculous events Elijah did they should total 14. It shouldn’t surprise us that Elisha’s total 28. A double portion.

Here are two lessons for us in this incident. When it is time for us to step down and “hand over the mantle” to our successor, don’t hesitate to do it. We see this in Elijah preparing someone to take over from him and accepting that it was time to go.

From Elisha we learn that despite the discouragement he did not forsake the one who trained him. He was ready to take up the mantle and become God’s prophet in place of Elijah. Sometimes we may think the wait is too long to “take up the mantle”. Consider our wait a time of training and preparation so we can better serve the Lord.

Photo of Jordan River near Jericho by Jon Galloway.

Readings for next week: 2 Chronicles 17-20; 1 Kings 22; 2 Kings 1-2; Psalm 82

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