Perhaps you would turn in your Bibles to the Old Testament book of 1 Kings, 1 Kings chapter 19. We're thinking this morning on 'The Summons of Elisha' - 'The Summons of Elisha', or 'The Call of Elisha', to the ministry of God.
We're beginning to read at verse 15: "And the Lord said unto him", that's Elijah, "Go, return on thy way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when thou comest, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria: And Jehu the son of Nimshi shalt thou anoint to be king over Israel: and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah shalt thou anoint to be prophet in thy room. And it shall come to pass, that him that escapeth the sword of Hazael shall Jehu slay: and him that escapeth from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha slay. Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him. 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".
We know that the Lord will bless the reading of His word. 1 Kings chapter 19 and we're thinking specifically of verses 19 to 21. But before we come to the word of God, let us bow our hearts and humble ourselves before the Lord as we come to Him in a word of prayer: Our Father in heaven, we acknowledge with Elijah that Thou art the God that answereth by fire. Father we ask this morning, we can say with Elisha: 'Where is the Lord God of Elijah?'. We pray, our Father, that this morning He would be manifest to us through His Son - the perfect, complete image - the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen.
The passage that we read together this morning in 1 Kings chapter 19 comes just after Elijah's bout of depression. In 1 Kings chapter 18, I'm sure most of you know, we have Elijah's conflict with the prophets of Baal. There on the mount he challenges them, he throws down the gauntlet to who is the God who answers by fire. You remember the prophets of Baal cut their flesh, ripped their clothes, cried and wailed onto their god, but yet their god did not answer them. Elijah, remember, took the sacrifice and built the altar. He covered it with water many times. He built a trench around it. He did everything, in human terms, to make it impossible for God to answer his prayers, and he called to God, and God answered by fire.
Like many of God's pilgrims, straight after a spiritual victory and a spiritual mountaintop experience, Elijah is thrown into the depths of depression. He feels he's the only one left. He feels he's the last bastion and defender of biblical truth. He says to God: 'I alone am left' - and he runs from Queen Jezebel. God lifts him up, and it's a beautiful picture that we see: God lifts Elijah up in His arms and round about him are those everlasting arms. He comforts him, He hugs him, He warms him, He soothes his depressed, sinful, pride eaten-up heart. And that still, small voice speaks to him that, indeed, all is well.
Right from that place of depression and fallen sinfulness, God says to Elijah: 'Get up! Return again. Go back into the work'. God sends Elijah to go, it says in verse 15, and anoint Elisha - anoint Elisha to be in his room, or his successor, or his earthly representative. Elisha's name is: 'God is salvation', that's what his name means - God is salvation. We don't know what age Elisha was in this scene. We don't know where Elisha was born, but we do know the place where Elisha was living at this particular time. It says in verse 16 that he was the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah. Abelmeholah - that is a place that really means 'The Valley of Dances'. It was a valley of dances; it was a festival place. It was a place where there would be many parades and successions, and festivities and celebrations, for that particular community, right there in the Valley of the Jordan.
It seems that Elisha was from a wealthy family because we read, in verse 19, that Elisha had 12 yoke - 12 teams of oxen - that was a lot for someone in those days. We see also that Elisha was in a place of authority over this great wealth that his father had, because he was in charge of the twelfth team, the twelfth yoke of oxen. He's bringing up the rear; he's in charge, which is a sign of his authority. But we also see, like many today, Elisha's wealth and family wealth did not breed idleness. Because right from day one his father had Elisha out in the field, ploughing the field, doing the work, bringing growth to that farm.
You can see him out there one day, perhaps, through your mind's eye - and he's doing his usual work, and he's taking the 12 team of oxen out into the field, right in that little valley with the little village of the houses. He's doing his work, going up and down the field, up and down the field. Right from one of the sides of the valley, one of the mountains, there comes, like a caped crusader, this man, this mountain-man - a hairy man with shaggy locks coming down his back, facial hair all over him, all over his body. He's wearing sheepskin around him, a mantle of sheepskin. He shows indications that he eats strange food. He has muscles pounding from him as he runs up and down these mountains. He, as it were, like an eagle, soars from the mountain-top down to the valley to where Elisha is.
Elisha knows who he is. It is Elijah, the prophet of God. Elijah comes and (just like when you're doing the garden and mowing the lawn, you go down one end and then you turn and come down the back) as Elisha was taking those 12 team of oxen round, and he's just turning - when it comes to the twelfth team and Elisha comes round, Elijah stands there and he takes off his mantle, and he throws it across his back. They were two very different people. Not very much difference in their names, and sometimes we get them mixed up - there's a difference of a 'j' and an 's' - Elijah and Elisha. Elijah appears on the scene in the Bible - in the scriptural record - he appears quite abruptly, it seems out of nowhere. But we are given in this passage, Elisha's domestic situation. He was a man who lived at home with his father and with his mother. He lived in the rich valley of Jordan.
Elijah comes to us through the word of God as a solitary, haunting individual who lives in the rocks and the mountains and the grooves and the caves. He eats strange food. He wears strange clothing. Yet Elisha comes across as an ordinary man from Jericho, a man who lives in his own home, and even has his own house in Samaria. Elijah is robed in sheepskin. He is a man with a mass of long shaggy hair. Yet Elisha is a man who seems to wear ordinary dress and a man who, in fact, is bald (remember, the young men came to him and mocked him for his baldness). Elijah was fierce and furious. He was a strong, stern, unbending man. But Elisha was a humble, gentle, peaceful, calm, approachable person. Elijah, if you like, was the Luther of the Old Testament, and Elisha is the Malangthen - a quieter spirit in the Reformation.
What must have went through Elisha's mind as this great man of God descended down these mountains and came to him, as he worked in his everyday working place, and put the mantle - the sign of the prophet - he placed it, he bestowed it, he delivered it to Elisha as God had said? From that point, Elisha began a career - a prophetic career of signs and wonders and miracles. In fact, we know from the word of God that the number of miracles that Elisha did was second only to the Lord Jesus Christ.
We know from the New Testament that John the Baptist was said to be Elijah. He wasn't really Elijah, but he was prophesied that Elijah would come again: 'one like unto Elijah'. You remember John the Baptist through his dress, through his preaching, through his way of life, the fact that he was from the wilderness - he was just like Elijah. In the same way that John the Baptist is like Elijah, well, I want to suggest to you this morning that Elisha was like our blessed Lord. Just as John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord Jesus Christ, Elijah was now preparing the way for Elisha. He was preparing the way for these great signs and wonders that would take place across the whole land. Well, I want us to see four things - four things this morning from the summons of Elisha, from the call of Elisha that were the secrets of Elisha's success in the life and pilgrimage of God that he had.
The first thing I want to suggest to you is found in verse 19: that this man, Elisha, he started in the right place. He started in the right place. He was in the field, doing his everyday work. He was working. He was like Moses, remember Moses was in the wilderness and he was the shepherd for years in the wilderness, and God called him through that burning bush - where? As he was shepherding his flock in the wilderness.
Gideon - remember Gideon? He was threshing the wheat floor and God came to him in his everyday work, in his ordinary capacity, and He came and revealed Himself and called him into His work. David - where was he? Remember Samuel came to anoint the new king, and they couldn't even find a new king because he was out. He was out looking after his sheep, shepherding his sheep. Amos, the great prophet - where was he? He was on the farm. He was farming, farming the sycamore fruit and looking after the sheep on the farm, and that was where God called Amos. We go into the New Testament and we find Simon Peter and Andrew, and what were they doing? They were fishing. They were by their boats. They were mending their nets, and the Lord Jesus came to them and said: 'Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men!'
I want you to notice this, this morning: God called Elisha where he was! Have you got that? God called Elisha where he was, and where was he? He was in the field. He was in the field working. He was labouring, he was labouring for himself, and he was doing a good day's work. Well might we say that God never calls a man from idleness. I wonder, do any of us have a spirit of idleness this morning, or laziness? Well, listen - if you're expecting God to pounce into your life, like Saul on the road to Damascus, and call you - think again! Elisha was in the field working, but likewise in Christian service if we liken it to this: he was in the field and I wonder this morning, are you in the field - the field of God? Many go to college, and many study and many want to go into the work of God, and feel a call upon their life and [say]: 'I want to be a missionary', 'I want to be a pastor', 'I want to be an evangelist', but at this moment in time they are not in God's field. God will only call you into His work if you're already in that field. Are you in God's field?
But I want you to see something else from where Elisha started: that God's call to Elisha was unexpected. It was unexpected! Elisha wasn't sitting in his library with his book open and a pen and a sheet of block file! He wasn't studying the prophets, or the Psalms. He wasn't doing a degree. This man was out in the field doing the work of a man. He wasn't waiting, he wasn't training, but God broke into his life and God called him! The old puritan said: 'God seeth not as man seeth, neither does He choose men because they are fit; but He fits them because He has chosen them'.
This man - a farmer - and God chooses the weak and the humble things and the foolish things of this world to confound the mighty, to bring down the forces and dominions of Satan. He chooses this humble man, Elisha. Elijah, led by the Spirit of God, takes his mantle and puts the mantle - a sign of the prophetic office - upon him. Samuel, you know, was clothed in a mantle - another great prophet of God that was clothed in a mantle. We saw previously that Elijah used this cape, this mantle, to split the waves and to walk across the sea. Later we see Elisha, after he is called and after Elijah is taken to heaven, Elisha uses the same mantle to do the same and to go back! Elijah was passing on the mantle. He was passing on the mantle. What he received, he was giving it to someone. He was passing on the gift that God had given him. He wasn't jealous about it. He didn't hold a grudge against Elisha - 'He's going to carry the work that I've done', 'He's going to build upon my work' - but in humility and in graciousness and lowliness, he takes it and he gives it on to Elisha.
Now, my question to you this morning, to us all, young and old, is this: have we taken the mantle? Have we taken the mantle from our fathers, from those in the past? Have we done what Paul told Timothy to: 'continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of them, knowing of whom thou hast learned them'? The things that you learnt years ago from the word of God - have you taken them on? Have you taken the mantle? And then, as Paul says to Timothy again: 'And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men who shall be able to teach others also'. Have you taken the mantle - that teaching? Have you guarded the deposit of God that you have been given, and are you seeking to pass it on to those who can be trusted with that deposit of treasure of God's truth?
Verse 13 shows us something sober, because you remember when Elijah was depressed and he hid himself in that cloak. Listen - he hid himself in the mantle. Listen: you can be here this morning and you, although you've maybe received the mantle, the truth of God, from your fathers, and you're seeking to pass it on - listen - you could hide in the mantle of God. You could hide in the truth of God! Because the mantle of God, as Elijah found out up on that mount in depression, the mantle of God could not hide a lack of secret prayer and secret life and secret communion and fellowship with his God.
But I want you to see secondly, not only did Elijah start in the right place, but from verse 20 we see that he separated himself from his family. He started in the right place, where he was, but he separated himself from his family. It says in verse 20 that he left. He left! Like Simon Peter and Andrew, remember - what does it say of them? It says: 'They left their nets and followed Christ'. Like Matthew - what was he doing? He was sitting counting the money at the seat of custom, and it says that he left the table, he left the seat of custom and followed the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember pushy Peter, in Matthew chapter 19 and verse 17 he declared that they had left all things, but he said to Christ, 'Behold, we have forsaken all and followed Thee; what shall we have therefore?'. Peter knew that he had left everything. He had burned his bridges, burned the boats. He couldn't go back and he was now asking Christ: 'Look, we've left everything, we've given everything up. What are you going to give to us? What's in it for us?'.
We see in verse 20 that Elisha said to Elijah: 'Let me, I pray thee, go back. Let me go back and let me bid farewell and kiss my parents and my family', and so forth. Now, Elijah's reply to Elisha is this: 'Go back again: for what have I done to thee?'. Now, we aren't 100% sure what that means, what Elijah was actually saying to Elisha here. It may have been that Elisha was reneging, he was going back on the call of God and Elijah was saying: 'Go on, go back!'. Or maybe he was saying, 'Don't go back, come with me! Don't go to your parents!' - but we see he did go to his parents so it can't be that. But what Elijah was saying, no matter what he was saying literally, we know that he was saying this: 'Go back perhaps to your parents and to your family, but don't let any earthly affection deter you from your obedience to God'. Do you know what he was saying? He was saying: 'Listen Elisha, if you want to go back I'm not holding you, but listen - count the cost! Remember that you leave your family and you leave them - you go and you'll never be back again! Don't do anything hastily Elisha!'
You see, God's call upon our lives - and it's not those in full-time ministry because the word of God knows no such thing as full-time ministry; we're all full-time ministers. I'm not talking about elders and pastors; that's different - but each person, where they are, to do all things, minister all things, serve in all things to the glory of God. God's call upon your life this morning - listen - like Elisha's, it must be a complete call. You can't give Him half your life or three-quarters. You've got to give Him it all! It must be complete and it must be a cheerful call. You see, you've got to give it to Him willingly, not begrudgingly, because it's out of a heart of love - you've to love the Lord your God. It's got to be complete, it's got to be cheerful, and it's got to be clear. Listen, if your call, if your choice to stand out and be counted for Christ cannot be seen by those around you, then question your call!
The Lord Jesus said on one occasion to a man who came to Him and said: 'I'm going to follow You, but I want to go and bury one of my parents first. I want to go back to the home'. And what did the Lord Jesus Christ say? Wasn't it so callous? Wasn't it so nasty and unloving for Him to say this? He said: 'Let the dead bury their dead. Let him bury himself'. What was Jesus saying? Was he being callous? No! He could see into that man's heart, and He knew that man had a god, an idol in the shrine of his heart apart from Christ, and that if he went to follow Christ, he would go away after something else eventually.
Is that you this morning? You want to follow Christ, but you know full well if you try that you'll be detoured eventually. The Lord Jesus said - what did He say? He says: 'If any man will come after me' - listen to His words - 'If any man come after me let him deny himself! Let him deny himself of everything, and take up his cross'. 'His' cross now! Did you know you had a cross? We don't hear much about this cross these days. There's the cross of Christ - we all know about it - but there's another cross. That is the cross on which you are crucified - all your ambitions, all your desires and aspirations. Those are to be put to death, like Paul said: 'I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; not I, but Christ liveth in me, and the life that I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God'.
Have you been crucified? Are you still, Christian friend this morning, living for yourself? 'Follow me!'. Jesus said: 'For whosoever shall save his life, the same shall lose it'. What does that mean? If you're living down here to get everything, to experience everything, to get to the top rung of the ladder, to live for the 'now', to get as much as you can in your pocket and in your home, listen - you're going to lose your life eventually! The opposite will be the case in eternity, because when others have riches of reward in glorified Christ, in all their ability and for all they've done on earth, you will be a pauper! Where are you building your treasures, friend? 'But whosoever will lose his life', Christ says, 'for my sake, he shall save it' - he'll find it!
You can almost hear Christ standing beside Elisha and whispering into his ear in the still small voice of the Holy Spirit: 'No man having put his hand to the plough and looking back is fit for the kingdom of God'. Are you looking back, my friend? Are you looking back to the world you left? Are you looking back to the job you left? Are you looking back to something that you know Christ has denied you by His holiness, and by His sacrifice? - and now you want it back because you've lost your first love.
'No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life'. Do you know something? Elisha lived in the valley of Abelmehola, 'The Valley of Dances'. Now, I want you to see this - it wasn't just Elisha's family he was leaving. He was leaving a festivity. He was leaving a place that was the 'in-place' to live, perhaps; where there was much dancing, there was much rejoicing and celebrating. It was a great place. It was the Golden Mile of the Valley of Jordan. He was leaving his home and his family and this joyous life. Listen, he was leaving pleasures! God is not a God that denies us pleasures, but God is a God that demands holiness rather than pleasure.
Thirdly, I want you to see (and the third and fourth point really come together) - he started in the right place, he separated from his family, but in verse 21 we see that he sacrificed his life. He separated himself, but he didn't just separate himself and leave things. He took the life that was his own and he gave it over to God. He took the oxen - the oxen that he had laboured in, the oxen that were his and that were the line where the money came down into his pocket - he took his livelihood and he slew it! He sacrificed it! He took the oxen, he boiled it, and he gave it to his family. He took the instruments, the yoke and all the instruments for ploughing the ground, and he burned it and made a fire. He sacrificed his life.
David, on one occasion, sinned against God, not with Bathsheba now, but Satan prompted David to number the children of Israel. He wasn't meant to do it. It wasn't of God, but Satan prompted him and told him it was the Lord. David, thinking he was obeying the Lord - and there's a warning now: we can often think we're obeying the Lord but we're not - but David thinking this, he numbered the people and God came to him and the prophet came to him and said: 'Listen, that was not of the Lord. Listen, you've sinned against Him. You're going to have to make it right. You're going to have to atone for it. And what God wants you to do is go and buy this certain field and build an altar there, and sacrifice to the Lord and worship Him and atone for your sins'. When David went to the field there was a farmer there, and the farmer said to him: 'Listen, I'll give you this field. You can have it. You can do what you like because you're the king and it's for God'. Do you what David said to him? Listen! He said, 'No! Neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing'.
Give to God your best. Not the herd - don't take the herd with the broken legs, and with the TB, and with the BSE - the herd of calves, and give that to God and keep the good stuff for you. That's what the children of Israel used to do. Don't give your money to God - only the remainder that you have. Don't give the remainder of your hours to God in the day, but give Him the best. Sacrifice your life. Give Him your youth, young people. Give Him all that you have. He needs it!
Elisha: this man sacrificed his life. It says 'He gave unto', like Matthew, old Levi, the word of God says - it says that 'He left all, he rose up and he followed Him'. Oh, can you not see the Lord Jesus Christ, as He said to His Father in agony, with sweat as great drops of blood flowing to the ground, as he saw into the cup of your sin and the wrath of God that would be poured on Him for us? He said: 'Not my will', not what I want, 'but Thy will be done'. I want to ask you, have we sacrificed our lives? Have we sacrificed anything, or have we sacrificed sacrifice on the altar of our materialism? Have we sacrificed sacrifice on the altar of our careers, or our finance, or our time, or our status, or our wealth, or health, or fashion, or fame, or pleasure, or reputation, or 'street-cred', or our families? Or do we give, like Christ, until it hurts? Have you ever given until it hurts? Then when you feel the pangs of hurt, the pain is incidental because it's out of love for the One who hurt for us.
But verse 21 shows us also - he's down in the right place, and he's separated from his family, and he's sacrificed his life - but verse 21 shows that he served his master. 'Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him'. Listen, he had the spirit of Christ! This man had given him a mantle. He could have said: 'Right, I'm the chief-charlie now. I'm the top man now'. But what did he do? He knew he had been given the privilege of representing Elijah after he was raptured to Glory. What did he do? He served his master, he ministered to him. One passage describes Elisha as the one who poured water on the hands of Elijah. Elisha was probably the one who ran - remember, in the few previous chapters - who ran to see the cloud of the man's hand that was coming, the sound of abundance of rain. Elisha ran for Elijah. He did everything for Elijah. He served Elijah, like Joshua who served Moses, like the disciples who didn't serve Christ.
But the Lord Jesus Christ, as He did so often, turned everything upside-down, and as He got down on His knees with those blessed hands that put the stars in space, and He washed their feet, He washed feet of sinners! Why? Because He knew, as Peter knew in later years: 'Yea, all of you be subject one to another and be clothed with humility'. Clothed with humility! What Peter was probably thinking about was as the Lord took the towel and put it round His waist to wash their feet. Matthew Henry says: 'Those that would be fit to teach must have time to learn, and those that hope hereafter to rise and to rule must be willing at first to stoop and to serve'.
I want to leave you with this thought: what is your life's fuel? What is the thing that keeps you going spiritually? What is the thing that keeps you living, the driving force in your life? I want to ask you - listen - what is it that keeps you going in Christian service? Is it service? On one occasion the disciples were looking for something to eat, and they were wanting to give the Lord Jesus something to eat, and He said these beautiful words to them - listen: 'I have meat. I have food that ye know not of'. Maybe they thought He had a wee lunchbox that He hadn't told them about! Or that He was going to a house and being fed by a woman that they didn't know about, and He was being fed without them. But do you know what He said to them? You what that is? 'My meat, my food, my fuel, the blood that runs and gushes through my veins', Christ says, 'is to do the will of Him who sent me'!
Are you in God's will? Like Elisha, do you know, can you stand in the beauty and the glory of knowing that you're in the niche where Christ and God and the Holy Spirit would have you? I want to finish with this poem. A man who didn't understand what God's will for his life was said this:
'Dear Lord, I see it now so new and clear,
Thy perfect will, my highest good must be.
The yielding I have feared, but it removes all fear,
For in Thy will, where could I safer be?
Thou dost not wish to break this will of mine:
That I, a spineless negative should be,
But that my will should fondly partner Thine
And all I am be harmonised with Thee.
Thou wouldst not leave my will be lost in Thine,
But that with Thine it should be freely won.
Two wills, two minds made one in love divine:
Self-will, but not my true will, wholly gone.
My true free will released inside Thine own,
All egotistic vain ambitions still -
Until with Thee I will be one alone,
That all Thy best for me may be fulfilled'.
Do you hear God's call this morning to deny yourself, take up the cross of Christ and follow Him?
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Portadown Baptist Church, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "The Summons Of Elisha" - Transcribed by Trevor Veale, Preach The Word.
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