it’s an interesting thing, when you read first and second Kings and you contemplate the idea of Apprenticeship.
These books feature Elisha, and Elijah. One of the first things that you might notice about these two guys is that there names are almost identical. I kind of wonder if that was one of the qualifications: Elijah was only going to mentor somebody whose name was almost identical to his own.
At any rate, I’m not hear to argue that’s a biblical principal, that we should only mentor people with nearly identical names. For simplicities sake, what I’m going to do is just call Elisha “S.H.”
I’m going to call Elijah “J”
Just like the letter “J” appears before “S.H.” in the alphabet, the prophet J, appears before S.H. in scripture. He pops up about halfway through 1 kings. And for a bunch of chapters, it may as well be the J. Show.
J. Brings people back from the dead. He faces off with kings. He’s involved in this dramatic and hilarious stand off with these hundreds priests to a false God. Fire reigns down from the sky, for J. People are rescued from starvation for J. Hearts are changed through him, lives are changed.
J. Eventually has a bit of what we might call a nervous breakdown. After God takes care of him, he sends J to S.H This is where we meet S.H.. S.H. goes off to follow J. And then, a weird thing happens.
Both prophets seem to disapear. 1 kings is no longer the J. Show. Another prophet comes in, and seems to take up the jobs that J. Used to do. Scripture doesn’t even tell us this replacement’s name. It’s almost like he’s the substitute prophet, filling in for the real guy. J Only appears one more time in this book of the bible, and it’s not a very noteable appearance. Other than that one appearance, we can’t know for sure just what S.H. And J were up to during this period.
But we can make some guesses. Based on what we see later from SH, we know that somebody must have spent some time and energy with him. SH will pick up right where J left off, and he will do this in a way that is just as Godly as his teacher.
I find myself wondering:
Is this what S.h. Wanted to do? Is this where he felt like his gifts were? Did hanging out with this farm boy feel worthy of his time?
Based on the picture we get from scripture, I think J. Was mature enough to get it. I think he saw that his feelings aren’t important. I think he new how important God’s mission is. And he new that this work wouldn’t outlast him if he didn’t find somebody to do it when he was gone.
The groundwork that J lays pays off later. It’s a pretty fascinating passage, when it’s finally time for S.H. To take over, where J left off.
A thing I’d like to really draw your attention to in this passage is how Sh grows up. How the reader can see that he’s finally ready. At the beginning of this passage, Sh is just like all the other guys we’ll hear about, the people who scripture calls the company of the prophets.
By the end of the story, it’s clear that Sh has grown in some way, that he’s mastered some lesson that the company has grabbed on to yet. Check it out:
2 Kings 2:
Elijah Taken Up to Heaven
1 When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the LORD has sent me to Bethel.”
But Elisha said, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.
7 Fifty men of the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. 8 Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.
11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart.
13 He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it. “Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.
15 The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. 16 “Look,” they said, “we your servants have fifty able men. Let them go and look for your master. Perhaps the Spirit of the LORD has picked him up and set him down on some mountain or in some valley.”
“No,” Elisha replied, “do not send them.”
17 But they persisted until he was too ashamed to refuse. So he said, “Send them.” And they sent fifty men, who searched for three days but did not find him. 18 When they returned to Elisha, who was staying in Jericho, he said to them, “Didn’t I tell you not to go?”
When this passage of scripture begins, Sh has something in common with the company of the prophets. It seems like everybody, in the beginning, has to keep tabs on where J is and what is going on.
It’s kind of sad and whiny, really. J, over and over, it seems like he wants a little space. He knows he’s going to be leaving soon, and he seems o.k. With it. But S.H…. he’s pretty freaked out.
You can almost imagine that J would get up to use the rest room, and S.H would want to follow him in there, and J would be like, “Dude, give me a little bit of space.”
And so here J is, just trying to do his thing, maybe even trying to get S.H. Used to the idea that he’s going to have to function with out him, by creating these brief times apart. Then the company of the prophets show up and they’re all about keeping tabs on J. too. I love that S.H. Is so freaked out about the idea that he’s even open about the fact that he’s in denial about it: yeah, I know he’s going, but we’re not going to talk about that. I’m pretending it’s not going on.
For me, things start to get interesting when S.H. Says all he wants to do is be like J. J says an interesting thing, just then. He says the only way that S.H. Can be like J. is if he sees when S.H. Is taken from him.
As we read, S.H. Does watch J go. And the whole second half of the passage is spent demonstrating how S.H. really is ready now to take on J’s roll.
s.H. tears his own clothes. And one of the things, biblically, that this is about is a way to show great distress. But I suspect there’s something more going on. To tear your clothes is to really start to alter hyour identity. It’s showing that who you are becoming no longer fits in the shell of who you used to be. It’s like a butterfly climbing out a cocoon.
S.H, takes J’s cloak, and scripture shows us how he’s got the same sort of power as J, when he parts the water.
The company of prophets notice it too, and they see that S.H. Really is ready… Except, for did you notice this?
They say that the spirit of J is with S.H. They bow down before him. But that’s not good enough for them. at least one way they won’t listen to him. They want to go looking for J.
And here’s the thing to notice. Here’s where the real transformation is:
S.H., he doesn’t need to go looking.
This all leads to a question:
What happened? How did this come to be? At the beginning of the story, S.H. Is like the company of the prophets. He wants to know where J is. He doesn’t want J to leave him alone. But at the end, SH has grown up. He doesn’t need to be clutching at the hem of J’s robe anymore.
J was clear about what it would take to make all this happen: S.H. Would have to watch J leave.
If the whole thing is just about the fact that S.H. Had to physically watch him with his eyes as God took him up, the whole thing would be somewhere between strange and silly. It sounds like an old myth, or a Harry Potter story, or a DC comic book where you have to make the villians say his name backwards in order to defeat him.
But if J was talking about a wider kind of seeing. If J knew the importance of watching and really getting it, then there is a wealth of knowledge in this story for us. Consider the way in which J. left. These fiery beings came down from the sky and took him up with them.
It’s pretty interesting. Because scripture is quite specific. The chariots came down. And they seperated J from SH. They were outside of anything SH had ever experienced. They were clearly from God. As he stood there and watched it all, how could SH deny that God has it all worked out.
He must have seen this and thought “O.K. God did that, and he knows what’s going on. I don’t feel ready but what the heck– I must be.”
On the other hand, what if SH hadn’t seen it? What if he blinked, or turned away, or got distracted? What if J just didn’t come back one day?
It’s easy to look at this story and think, “O.K. I’d feel ready to, if the person mentoring me got taken away by a bunch of fiery chariots.”
But I think this is missing the point. The point isn’t in the specifics. It’s not in seeing with our eyes. It’s in seeing God’s hand in all this. God is so powerful that he doesn’t have to send his angels down to move things around. God works through circumstances, hopes, dreams, and prayers. He most often relocates people on buses and moving trucks and with their own two feet.
If we recognize that God is doing the moving, we will be ready to step up and do what God wants us to do.