Elisha Takes Up His Teacher’s Mantle
“Then [Elisha] took the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him and struck the water, saying, ‘Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?’ And when he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over” (v. 14).- 2 Kings 2:1–14
Despite being anointed powerfully with the Holy Spirit, Elijah did not find the office of prophet to be a pleasant one. For speaking hard truths to Ahab, Elijah earned the ire of the royal court, and he sometimes found himself running for his very life. Immediately after the dramatic confrontation with the prophets of Baal, Jezebel sought Elijah’s life and he fled to a cave in the wilderness, complaining to God that he alone was faithful to Him. The Lord assured the prophet that there were yet seven thousand people in Israel who did not bow the knee to Baal, and He also told Elijah that his ministry was almost at an end. Elijah was to anoint Elisha the son of Shaphat to succeed him as prophet in Israel (1 Kings 19).
Elisha served with Elijah for some time before succeeding him as prophet. Dr. R.C. Sproul notes that Elisha would certainly have learned something of the loneliness of prophethood as he watched Elijah’s message get rejected by many of those to whom the prophet preached. This obviously left quite an impression upon Elisha, as we see in today’s passage. When the time came for Elijah to depart from this world, he asked Elisha what he should do for his apprentice before being taken from Israel (2 Kings 2:1–9a). At that point, Elisha could have asked for many things. He could have requested courage or boldness in ministry. Elisha could have asked for miraculous power. He might have sought Elijah’s intercession so that the king of Israel would be more willing to listen to the prophet’s student than he was to hear the prophet himself. Yet Elisha requested none of these things. Instead, he asked for a “double portion” of the spirit that was upon Elijah (v. 9b). Of course, enjoying the Holy Spirit’s anointing was key to receiving any of the other things that Elisha might have wanted. However, it is notable that Elisha understood enough not to seek success but rather the person who works in and through His people, namely, the Holy Spirit of God.
As Elijah told his assistant, the fact that Elisha saw him taken up into heaven on chariots of fire meant God had granted the new prophet’s wishes (vv. 10–12a). At that point, Elisha faced a moment of decision. He could take up Elijah’s mantle of prophethood, the anointing of the Spirit, and the rejection by the world that went with it, or he could go his own way. Elisha chose the former option and went on to be one of the greatest prophets in the history of God’s people (vv. 12–14). Although none of us is a prophet like Elisha, we likewise face a moment of decision when the Lord calls us. Will we take up His mantle and follow Him?
The gift of prophecy has ceased, so Jesus calls none of us to be prophets in the classical sense. However, we are called to bear witness to Him where we are and insofar as we are able. This is the mantle—or better, the cross—that all of God’s people are given in this new covenant era. We are called not to be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:16–17), to stand firm for His truth. Like Elisha, we can do that only in the power of the Holy Spirit given to us.
Passages for Further Study
2 Corinthians 1:21–22
1 John 2:18–27