1. The Hand 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 prophet to himself.

Then the LORD told him, “Go back…, and when you arrive, … anoint Elisha (the son of Shephat of Abe-meholah) to replace you as my prophet (I Kings 19:15-16, Living Bible).

Anointing Elisha as a replacement would suggest that Elijah’s ministry had come to an end; that a new prophetic dispensation was about to begin.  Three verses later, which appears to be soon after the encounter with God, Elijah carries out the first induction ceremony on Elisha in obedience to the instructions from the Lord.

Although the foregoing events would seem to suggest the termination of Elijah’s ministry, that termination was a process, not automatic.  From the prophet’s experience on Mount Horeb to the transportation 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 leave 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 by God to be so great a prophet, starting out as a mere servant to one he had been chosen to replace! …

The conclusion to be arrived at from the story of Elisha is that, maturing into our call is often a process.  It is not automatic.  And fading off from our call or from ministerial relevance is also often a process, sometimes a long process so imperceptible that the prophets might not even realize that they are on their way down and out.  As it is possible for one or two miracles to still attend the efforts of such prophets, in spite of the onset of their decline, the quickness to recognize the decline from grace becomes more difficult. In such circumstances, several are bound to conclude that the instance of the occasional miracles in their ministry implies that ‘retirement’ is still a century away.

  1. The Years of Transition 

We shall proceed now to investigate 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 in a Chariot of Fire.

  • In 1 Kings 19:16-21, Elijah returns from Horeb and throws his mantle on Elisha, and Elisha begins to follow him.  We do not know that date, but let’s call it ‘Point X.’
  • In the subsequent chapter, we read that there was war between Syria and Israel.  We do not know how long it was between Point X (when Elijah anointed Elisha) and the start of this war.  But let us assume that the war had started about the same time as Point X (1 Kings 20:1).
  • In verse 22, after that war, a prophet announces to the king of Israel that the defeated Syrian army would return a year later; that is, a year from Point X.
  • In verse 26, the army actually returns after one year and is defeated, giving us one definite year from Point X.  We shall call the new date Point Y.
  • We learn later that, after this second war (at Point Y), there was a three year period of respite, during which there was no war between Israel and Syria.  That would be Point Z, 3 years from point Y, or 4 years from Point X  (1 Kings 22:1-2).  The battle at Point Z was the battle in which King Ahab died and was succeeded by his son Ahaziah (vv.35-40).
  • King Ahaziah who succeeded his father reigned for only two years; two years from Point Z (v.51).  Let us mark the end of Ahaziah’s two-year reign as Point D. The encounter between that king’s soldiers and the retiring prophet, during which Elijah called down fire from heaven, was that prophet’s recorded last outing before he went up to heaven in a chariot of fire upon the soldiers sent to arrest him (2 Kings 1).  For both king and prophet, that was the last memorable event.  In the next chapter, Elijah is taken up to heaven (2 Kings 2:1-11).  The duration from Horeb to Jordan, therefore, or from the announcement of Elijah’s retirement in Horeb to the time of the prophet’s departure may be computed as follows:
  1. Point X – (1st battle/Elisha’s ordination) – Point Y (2nd Battle) = 1 year
  2. Point Y (2nd Battle) – Point Z (3rd battle)   = 3 years
  3. Point Z (Ahaziah’s reign)  = 2 years
  4. Total period = 6 years (at least)

How long does it take to mature into one’s call? How long does it take to slide ‘off the scene’ and 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 make one a prophet? Does receiving the Anointing in ‘double measure’ license anyone to begin to scheme to edge out their ‘expired’ boss?  What kept David, the twice- anointed, from doing that to King Saul?  David and Elisha were anointed to replace their incumbents, but they had to wait for the indefinite great day of their ‘swearing in.’  Did they have to ‘waste’ all that time, waste ‘the anointing,’ waiting on an ‘expired grace’ to make way for their New Move?  Should the vibrant and anointed New Wine waste grace serving an ‘old wineskin’? …

He who would become a leader must start out not as lord but as the servant of all (Mark 10:43-44).  Unfortunately today, there is a generation that seeks the double portion from those they have never served; a generation that seeks the mantle of power beyond the Jordan, before they have received the mantle of service in the fallow fields beyond Mount Horeb!

From The Preacher’s diary,
July 18, 2001.

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