The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?”
“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”
Elijah was no common man. He was no common prophet either – he was extraordinary, having transcended death in being brought up to the heavens by the Lord personally. While he is not alone in that phenomenal feat – Enoch too defeated death that way; his life story and legacy was a lot more elaborated on than that of Enoch’s in the Bible. And the one thing that I’ve always felt Elijah was most notable for was, curiously, not so much his deeds and achievements as a leader or as a prophet, nor his transcendence of death, but rather his mentorship of another great prophet, Elisha. At Elijah’s lowest point, when he was threatened and afraid and asked God to take away his life, it was then that God prepared a student and a successor for him. That man was Elisha, and in today’s study, we will look at Elisha’s coming out as a prophet and what the knowledge of God taking Elijah away would do for him in the future.
The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?” – It was an era when there were many prophets around. Despite many of them having been persecuted, there were still some around, thanks to a man called Obadiah [1 Kings 18:4] and Elijah was a known leader of them all. The common understanding of this passage is that, knowing his time to leave is approaching, Elijah went around to the schools of prophecy in Bethel and in Jericho [2 Kings 2:5] to encourage and affirm the students, whom he would have some part in mentoring, considering his leadership status as a prophet in his time. Perhaps these student prophets had heard from Elijah that he would be taken by the Lord, or perhaps they truly had the gift of prophecy and had learnt what the Lord was about to do.
No matter how they found out, they knew about it before it happened, and they approached Elisha, Elijah’s closest servant and disciple, and asked if he knew. Why did they think it was necessary to ask such a question? Did they truly think that Elisha wouldn’t know what they did? Elisha, who had followed and learnt from Elijah so closely – how was it possible that he wouldn’t know when they did? Perhaps it was more of a question of curiosity – a what-are-you-going-to-do question now that his master will be taken away from him. Elijah’s authority and position as a leader of his people then cannot be undermined. He was someone who dealt regularly with kings and princes, he was somebody who could freely call fire from heavens. When Elisha was with Elijah, his future was secure – his life was answered for. But when Elijah leaves, who would Elisha be? Who would listen to him? What authority could he pretend to possess – he had none!
Perhaps they were truly curious, perhaps there was an undertone of assertion. But Elisha knew, and he pretty much snapped back at them to stay quiet. “Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.” – why? Let’s take a step back and look at the sequence of events that led up to here. Elijah knew that the Lord was about to take him away, and he was heading for Bethel to pop in with the disciples of prophecy when he told Elisha to stay behind. But what did Elisha say? “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” Sounds familiar? After Bethel, Elijah was heading towards Jericho and he told Elisha to stay behind. But what did Elisha say? “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” Sounds very familiar? We see here Elisha’s faithfulness and persistence. Elijah was his master, and even if they both knew that Elijah would be gone soon, and there was little point in following Elijah any longer, Elisha respected his bond to his master as long as he still lives. He persisted in following Elijah and serving him as long as he still lives.
Perhaps Elisha knew that if he stuck closely to his master, who was a man of God, and continued to stick around when the glory of the Lord come to take Elijah away, he too will be blessed in part. Perhaps he was only fulfilling his duty as a loyal and faithful servant to Elijah. This passage kind of reminded me of Ruth, who refused to leave Naomi even after being chased away. “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” [Ruth 1:16-17] Her persistence paid off, and she became a blessing for her mother-in-law, Naomi.
So too did Elisha’s persistence pay off. When Elijah asked him what was the last thing he could do for him, Elisha boldly asked for an inheritance of the double portion of Elijah’s spirit [2 Kings 2:9]. If we assume grossly that prophets in general have a larger portion of spirit than commoners – Elijah’s portion must be greater than everyone else’s, seeing that he was a leader of the prophets of his time. To ask for double portion of Elijah’s spirit was an ambitious request – he could have asked for Elijah’s equal, he could have asked for a bit more than Elijah – and that alone would have been a lot. But no – he wanted double. Even Elijah was honest in his assessment that this request was a difficult one. “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.” [2 Kings 2:10] I would like to think that when Elijah told his pupil this, he was already sure that the double portion of his spirit will be given to Elisha. After all, Elisha was such a dedicated person – he had persisted in following Elijah despite the circumstances. If he couldn’t see it, it wouldn’t be because he wasn’t around, but because God didn’t allow it. Can you imagine if Elisha had not followed his master around? Can you imagine if Elisha had stopped to chitchat about his future with the other curious students of prophecy? If he had been delayed and missed his teacher’s heavenly departure, he would have missed out on that amazing blessing. He would perhaps not even have the chance to request for anything.
Elisha knew what was important. His master, though leaving, was still his master, and serving him was his duty. He persisted in it, and when given an opportunity to request for a blessing, he seized the opportunity with both hands. It was more of a request of faith than one of greed. He wasn’t distracted by the consequences that his master’s departure would bring about to him; he wasn’t distracted by the curious students who were looking to observe what he would do. He kept his eyes on what was important – his master, and because of that, he witnessed the whirlwind and the chariots and horses of fire that brought Elijah up. What did that mean? He received double portion of Elijah’s spirit.
Many times distractions to the left and to the right rampage around us and obstruct our view and our hearing of what’s important. In times like these, let us cling on to what is important and walk straight towards it.