I was wondering about the biblical model for passing on responsibilities today. I looked up when Elijah passes the mantle to Elisha. At first, it seems like a pretty wierd story.
It seems clear that they both knew that Elijah was returning to God soon. He’s headed off to a variety of cities, and wants to leave his apprentice behind. Elisha follows him each time. As the time gets closer, the old mentor asks his friend what he wants. And what Elisha wants is some of Elijah’s spirit.
Elijah’s answer reads like a Greek myth or something, on the surface. The only way that Elisha will get some of Elijah’s spirit is if he watches him leave.
Elisha does. Scripture demonstrates that he ends up with Elijah’s abilities. And his respect– the followers of Elisha are now prepared to follow the younger man. Except that they don’t get it, that God has taken Elijah home. They go looking for him, against Elisha’s advice and counsel. They don’t find him, and at the end of the tale, Elisha rebukes them for not listening to him.
One of the things that struck me about the story, is how Elisha goes through this transformation.
Early on, he’s like those other guys. He follows Elijah everywhere. He probably would have wanted to look around for Elijah, if Elijah disapeared.
It doesn’t seem that he’s ready to let go. He isn’t ready to step up. Elijah realizes something. He sees that the younger man needs to see who is doing the moving. He needs to see that God is behind it all.
Only when Elisha wraps his brain around this, will he have Elijah’s spirit. When he sees that God is putting us all where God wants us, then he’ll be stepping up and stepping out in faith. That’s why it’s so important that Elisha watch his friend go. In this case, the leaving is a supernatural event. He is physically lifted up and away.
And because he witnesses this, he’s ready. When the others want to find Elisha he tries to talk them out of it. He rebukes them when they return. He doesn’t need to go looking anymore. He knows Elijah is gone, and he knows this is as it should be.