A Gifted Coat
His was perhaps the greatest prophet since the days of Moses. Not since that time had a voice echoed through the hills of Israel such as his. Not since Moses had Israel witnessed such dramatic miracles. Never had the heavens been shut, that neither dew nor rain should fall. Not since the days of Moses had the people seen such a dramatic demonstration of God’s visible presence. There on Mount of Carmel—in answer to Elijah’s simple prayer—God sent fire from heaven, which consumed the sacrifice, altar, stones and even the water that had been poured over the sacrifice.
Elijah stood bold on that mountain, but only a few hours later, weary and worn from the strain of the long day’s events, he would be startled by the death threats of wicked queen Jezebel. He would flee before her threats, running for forty days until he reached Mount Sinai—a place where he felt he could finally speak with God.
There, in the Mountain of Sinai, God spoke tenderly with His wayward servant. “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (v. 9)
Elijah cried out to God: “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” (1 Kings 19:14) All alone. No one left. And when I’m gone, God’s cause will die. That’s how Elijah felt.
Have you ever been at a point where you felt all alone? Perhaps you’ve been the only one in your family—the only one in your school or workplace—the only one who is truly following God. And it’s easy to feel all alone, and to feel like God’s work depends entirely on you. And that burden of responsibility to carry God’s message alone can become a crushing weight on your shoulders. I can imagine Elijah, crying out in his heart, “Lord—the work to be done is so great! How can I possibly begin this work, against such great odds—and accomplish it alone?”
Oh, Elijah! Don’t be foolish, Elijah. Do you think that the God who brought fire from Heaven will fail to finish the work He has begun?
Look at verse 18: “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
Elijah, you may think you’re the only one, but you’re not alone. I’ve had my hand over Israel, and there are still seven thousand who remain faithful to me. It’s a small number, to be sure, but there is a remnant left, who have not bowed to Baal.
Among that remnant was a pious and dedicated family—the family of Shaphat. This God-fearing man had a son, Elisha, who had all the qualities of a great leader. He was humble and gentle, but still he was energetic and ready to serve. He wasn’t eager to take the highest position, but even as a young man, he was happy to work with his father on the family farm.
Jesus said, in Luke 16:10 “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much.”
I think it’s so important for us to realize that you don’t have to stand in a pulpit, or be a great evangelist, in order to serve God. Whatever you do, do it as to the Lord. God needs people in the workplace, parents in the home. He needs those who can’t even leave their homes, but who can send a card of encouragement, pick up the phone to counsel a hurting brother, or just get down on their knees and prayer.
“Many long for special talent with which to do a wonderful work, while the duties lying close at hand, the performance of which would make the life fragrant, are lost sight of. Let such ones take up the duties lying directly in their pathway. Success depends not so much on talent as on energy and willingness. It is not the possession of splendid talents that enables us to render acceptable service, but the conscientious performance of daily duties, the contented spirit, the unaffected, sincere interest in the welfare of others. In the humblest lot true excellence may be found. The commonest tasks, wrought with loving faithfulness, are beautiful in God’s sight.”
Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, p. 219
The family of Shaphat, like all of Israel, were glad for the soaking rain that had come in answer to Elijah’s prayer on Carmel. The fields were already turning green when, at God’s instruction, Elijah traveled back to Israel. Soon, Elijah came upon the young man, Elisha, busy plowing in the field with his twelve yolk of oxen. Elijah took his mantle and, as he walked passed Elisha, he threw it onto the shoulders of the young man.
Now the great prophet Elijah was no stranger to Elisha. Hardly anyone in Israel would fail to recognize the great prophet. Not only did Elisha recognize the prophet, but he knew in an instant what Elijah’s actions meant.
You see, the mantle was a special garment. A mantle, or cloak, was an animal skin or garment, often worn over the shoulders, and it had come to have particular significance in the role of a prophet.
We find this word used to describe baby Esau in Genesis 25:25, who came out “like a hairy cloak.”
Achan stole a beautiful cloak from Babylon from the spoil of Jericho (Joshua 7:21,24)
But by this time, the mantle or cloak had come to signify the prophetic role, as we see in Zechariah 13:4 that even the false prophets would wear a mantle to deceive the people into thinking that they were true prophets.
Elijah had used his mantle to cover his face when he stood at the entrance to the cave to speak with the Lord there on Mount Sinai. (1 King 19:13)
Now, Elijah threw his mantle onto the shoulders of Elisha as he walked by Elisha plowing in the field (1 King 19:19). In that instant, Elisha realized that God had chosen him to become Elijah’s successor—to become the next prophet in Israel.
Picture Elisha, turning around with this startled expression, and then running after Elijah, who’s already walking away. “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.”
Look at the blind faith and commitment of young Elisha. He doesn’t ask questions. He doesn’t make excuses. In an instant, he knows the course of his life has changed. His only request is that he be allowed to bid his father and mother farewell.
But Elijah gives him one more chance. “What have I done to you?” he asks. You don’t have to follow me. Consider the choice you’re making. You can go back and keep plowing. He has twelve yolk of oxen—clearly his family is well-to-do. He has the comforts of life. Consider what you’re leaving, Elisha. Make your choice wisely. A prophet’s life is not an easy one.
Elisha turns back around, and goes back to his oxen. Yes—the life of a prophet is hard. But Elisha isn’t having second thoughts. No, he takes a knife and, right there on the spot, he sacrifices a yoke of oxen, using the farm implements as wood to burn the sacrifice. In an instant, he goes from following the plow, to burning his bridges with his past occupation and taking up the prophet’s mantle.
When a rich young ruler came to Jesus, asking what he must do to inherit eternal life, Jesus replied, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Matthew 19:21)
In Jesus’ case, this young ruler went away sorrowful. But here in the story of Elisha is the story of a young who accepted the call. He followed Elijah immediately, without looking back.
I was discussing this story recently with a friend, and he ask me about the words of Elisha, “Let me kiss my father and my mother.” One man, who wanted to follow Jesus, had said “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:21-22) I’ve wondered about this connection, as well, but it seems there’s an important difference: The want-to-be disciple of Jesus is asking for a rain-check—a pass to go and stay with his father until he dies, and come and serve Jesus at another time. This is a sharp contrast from Elisha, who only wants a moment to bid his parents farewell, and is ready to immediately follow Elijah, that very day.
And this is what Elisha does. But he doesn’t immediately take up the mantle to succeed Elijah. No, it says in verse 21, “So Elisha turned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen and slaughtered them and boiled their flesh, using the oxen’s equipment, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah, and became his servant.”
Yes, he followed Elijah. But he did not take up even the humble lot of a prophet. He took the even the humbler lot of being the prophet’s servant. We read in 2 Kings 3:11 that Elisha was known as one who poured water on the hands of Elijah.
In the same way, I believe God is calling to each one of us. Yes, we can serve God, no matter what our lot in life. But to each of us, there comes a call—a moment when God makes clear to us a higher cause which we must pursue. What are we willing to sacrifice, in order to follow God’s call?
It must have seemed humbling to Elisha, but he didn’t count it as such. No, to him it was the greatest honor to be associated, in whatever humble with, with Elijah, one of the greatest of the prophets.
And this is one of the Bible’s most beautiful illustrations of a principle we’ve been discussing over the past several messages: this principle of mentorship. God was working through Elijah, to impart the wisdom of experience to the younger man, Elisha.
We read very little in the Bible about this period of time, but for about seven or eight years, Elisha is daily ministering as Elijah’s servant, and day by day learning what it will mean to become the next prophet of Israel.
One of the ministries that God had called Elijah to accomplish was restoring the schools of the prophets. These had been set up in the days of Samuel, but they had fallen into disrepair during the general apostasy of Israel. Now, they were restored, and during the last part of Elijah’s ministry, he went from one to another, visiting the schools and encouraging the students.
Elijah knew that his time on earth was short, and he kept encouraging Elisha to stay behind at each stop. But Elisha also knew, and he stuck with Elijah, as they traveled from place to place. Finally, they reached the edge of the Jordan river. Elijah took his mantle, rolled it together and struck the waters, and the waters parted before them. We find this story in 2 Kings 2:
9 And so it was, when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?”
Make a wish. Whatever you want—before I’m gone. What would you ask for, if you could have one wish?
Elisha said, “Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.”
Is this not the wish of every true disciple? Not to have some great power or riches for himself or herself—but to be like his teacher? In the words of Jesus in Luke 6:40 “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.” Elisha didn’t want anything in the world, so much as to have the same spirit—the same connection with God—that empowered Elijah.
10 So he said, “You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.” 11 Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
12 And Elisha saw it, and he cried out, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!” So he saw him no more. And he took hold of his own clothes and tore them into two pieces. 13 He also took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood by the bank of the Jordan.
There it was—the mantle. That same cloak that had been symbolically thrown upon his shoulders several years before, had now fallen to him permanently. His master was gone—ascended to heaven in the fiery chariot. Could he carry on Elijah’s work? Could he carry the mantle? Not by himself—for sure. Only if he, too, had received the spirit and power of his master.
14 Then he took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, and said, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” And when he also had struck the water, it was divided this way and that; and Elisha crossed over.
15 Now when the sons of the prophets who were from Jericho saw him, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.”
“When the Lord in His providence sees fit to remove from His work those to whom He has given wisdom, He helps and strengthens their successors, if they will look to Him for aid and will walk in His ways. They may be even wiser than their predecessors; for they may profit by their experience and learn wisdom from their mistakes.
“Henceforth Elisha stood in Elijah’s place. He who had been faithful in that which was least was to prove himself faithful also in much.” (Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, p. 228)
My friends, I believe we are living in the last days of this earth’s history. For centuries, God has been working through men and women to share with a perishing world the message of His love. It may seem to us, like it seemed to Elijah of old, that we are working all alone. But God says to us, as to them, “I have seven thousand in Israel who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” God has, in these last days, a remnant people. And I believe, spiritually, He has placed a mantle upon His people—a mantle of leadership—a calling to be part of His prophetic end-time movement to take a message of warning to a perishing world.
Joel 2:28-29 “And it shall come to pass afterward
That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your old men shall dream dreams,
Your young men shall see visions.
29 And also on My menservants and on My maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”
My friends—my appeal to you today is this: take up the mantle. Is God calling you to make a sacrifice for His cause? Sacrifice the oxen, and burn the implements. Don’t look back. Is your lot a humble lot in life? Do your work faithfully. Is God calling you to speak a message for him? Speak it with power. For it is not in our own strength, but through His Spirit that He promises to send. Very soon, I believe, we will see an outpouring of God’s Spirit upon His people like we have never seen before.
And for all of us, may we press boldly on in the upward way, for we will soon be called to that heavenly home!