Elijah and Elisha9.
Can we please turn again to ; [P] I hope you will excuse me for not moving on; but the thing is, I have a problem! It is a peculiar thing about our church culture, that some bloke stands up the front and talks and it is assumed that he is the fount of all knowledge – but it ain’t so! He is a human being like those sitting in the congregation; he has the same Book that they have and they have the same Holy Spirit that he has to interpret it. O.K., he has prepared, done a bit of homework (or we hope he has); but he doesn’t have all the answers – well, at least, this one doesn’t! And I have a problem with the passage before us – I have prayed much about it, thought and meditated; but I don’t have the answer. So, today, instead of me coming up with the answers I am going to present before you my problem and you can come up with the answer. But the problem is going to take a little bit of explaining; I need to set the background and context before the problem becomes evident – so stick with me. First let’s read the passage: [ When Elijah heard it, (that is the sound of a gentle blowing – he discerned the presence of the Holy Spirit) he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Then he said, “I have been very zealous for יהוה, the God of armies; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” יהוה said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you have arrived, you shall anoint Hazael king over Aram; (there’s number one) and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel; (there’s number two) and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place. (there is number three – three commands, commands to anoint 3 men on Divine orders! יהוה has spoken!) “It shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death. “Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.”] There is the passage; יהוה commanded Elijah to 1/ go to Damascus and anoint Hazael king over Aram; 2/ to anoint Jehu king over Israel; 3/ to anoint Elisha as prophet in his place, or under him. Three things for Elijah to do; the rest were things that יהוה Himself would do – He would leave a remnant for Himself. Last time we looked at what יהוה would do in preserving a remnant; today I want to look at the issue of what Elijah was to do. But first, let us recall what we have seen of the man of God, Elijah. Right at the beginning of this series I spoke about “Elijah the man of God” – do you remember? The characteristics of the man of God were: he hears God’s word; he speaks God’s word; He lives in accordance with God’s Word – He obeys implicitly [P] – that is he lives by God’s word. Obedience to יהוה was Elijah’s life. He was zealous for יהוה! Let’s have a little review over what we have seen of the life of Elijah: Elijah, the man of God, eminently lived by God’s word: 1/ [ The word of יהוה came to him, saying, “Go away from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan. “It shall be that you will drink of the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to provide for you there.” So he went and did according to the word of יהוה, for he went and lived by the brook Cherith, which is east of the Jordan.] יהוה told him to go to the brook Cherith; so, Elijah went to Brook Cherith. He did according to the word of יהוה, he OBEYED. 2/ [ Then the word of יהוה came to him, saying, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and stay there; behold, I have commanded a widow there to provide for you.” So, he arose and went to Zarephath, (יהוה gave the order and Elijah obeyed. He lived according to the word of יהוה) and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks; and he called to her and said, “Please get me a little water in a jar, that I may drink.”] יהוה told Elijah to go to Zarephath; and so, he went to Zarephath, he went to widow, just as יהוה told him to. Elijah OBEYED. 3/ [ Now it happened after many days that the word of יהוה came to Elijah in the third year, saying, “Go, show yourself to Ahab, and I will send rain on the face of the earth.” (יהוה said “go, show yourself to Ahab”) So Elijah went to show himself to Ahab.] יהוה told him to go to the king, and so he did; he went to Ahab all at the word of יהוה. Elijah OBEYED. 4/ But then there was all that grandstanding with the prophets of Baal, putting on a dramatic show, taunting them; surely this was Elijah ad-libbing – no, no: [ At the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet came near and said, “O יהוה, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, today let it be known that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant and I have done all these things at Your word.] Elijah wasn’t doing his own thing by putting on this dramatic display – no: “Know that I did all this at Your word” 5/ Elijah went south into the wilderness [ He lay down and slept under a juniper tree; and behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, “Arise, eat.” Then he looked and behold, there was at his head a bread cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again.] God told him to eat and so he ate; [ The angel of יהוה came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you.” So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.] The angel said, “Arise and eat.”; so, what did Elijah do? He arose and ate. Elijah OBEYED 6/ Then arriving at mount Horeb יהוה said: [ “Go forth and stand on the mountain before יהוה.”] What did Elijah do? [ When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave.] – Yet again, he OBEYED – he did as יהוה commanded him. He did what יהוה said. He OBEYED. 7/ Later on in the life of Elijah we read in: [ Then the word of יהוה came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, “Arise, go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who is in Samaria; behold, he is in the vineyard of Naboth where he has gone down to take possession of it. You shall speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says יהוה, “Have you murdered and also taken possession?” And you shall speak to him, saying, ‘Thus says יהוה, “In the place where the dogs licked up the blood of Naboth the dogs will lick up your blood, even yours.”] יהוה told Elijah to go to Ahab and told him what to say. What did Elijah do? He went to Ahab and said: [ “The one belonging to Ahab, who dies in the city, the dogs will eat, and the one who dies in the field the birds of heaven will eat.”] He did just what יהוה told him to do and said what יהוה told him to say. Elijah OBEYED. 8/ Later still: [ The angel of יהוה said to Elijah, “Go down with him; do not be afraid of him.” So, he arose and went down with him to the king.] Elijah OBEYED. Just what he was told to do, that is what he did. Elijah heard from God and obeyed – in an earlier message I made the point that this is what marked him out as a man of God. He did what he heard יהוה tell him. I belabour the point that I have previously made because you have to see that this was characteristic of Elijah. OBEYING יהוה was his life and breath. Everyone else was doing their own thing but he was zealous for יהוה and was submitted to doing His will, only acting according to His word. This had become his way of life. You have to see this context, understand the man; before you can see what’s going on in the passage we looked at earlier. יהוה told him to 1/ anoint Hazael king of Aram, 2/ to anoint Jehu of Israel, and 3/ to anoint Elisha in his place. etc. But who anointed Hazael king of Aram? [P] Who anointed Jehu son of Nimshi? Who anointed Elisha? First thing Elijah was to do was go to Damascus, the capital of country of Aram/Syria, just to the north and anoint Hazael. But what is the very next thing we read? [ So he departed from there (where? From Mount Horeb. Elijah went straight from there …) and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, while he was ploughing with twelve pairs of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth. And Elijah passed over to him and threw his mantle on him. (Elijah indicated that Elisha was to take on his position after him, not that he anointed him with oil as he was told to do). He left the oxen and ran after Elijah (Elisha responded to the call) and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother, then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” So, he returned from following him, and took the pair of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the implements of the oxen, and gave it to the people and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah and ministered to him.] From that time on Elisha was Elijah’s protégé; the one who was going to become prophet in his place. But even in this Elijah seemed to ad-lib – he set up a school of prophets, trained a whole team of prophets. I don’t know, perhaps he was trying to help fulfil the bit that יהוה said He would do, by preserving a remnant who were faithful to יהוה. So, Elijah didn’t go to Damascus and anoint Hazael. The next thing he did was appoint Elisha as his successor – we have no record of him anointing him, but he may have. If he did, this is where he stopped in regard to those commands יהוה gave him to do – and that is what he was supposed to do last, not first. So who did anoint Hazael?: [ Then Elisha (who? Not Elijah, but Elisha. Elijah was no longer around) came to Damascus. (that is what Elijah was supposed to do) Now Ben-hadad king of Aram was sick, and it was told him, saying, “The man of God has come here.” The king said to Hazael, (he was at that time a high official in Ben-Hadad’s court) “Take a gift in your hand and go to meet the man of God, and inquire of יהוה by him, saying, ‘Will I recover from this sickness?’” So Hazael went to meet him and took a gift in his hand, even every kind of good thing of Damascus, forty camels’ loads; and he came and stood before him and said, “Your son Ben-hadad king of Aram has sent me to you, saying, ‘Will I recover from this sickness?’” Then Elisha said to him, “Go, say to him, ‘You will surely recover,’ but יהוה has shown me that he will certainly die.” He fixed his gaze steadily on him until he was ashamed, and the man of God wept. Hazael said, “Why does my lord weep?” Then he answered, “Because I know the evil that you will do to the sons of Israel: their strongholds you will set on fire, and their young men you will kill with the sword, (remember that is what יהוה told Elijah he would do, he was appointed by יהוה for this role) and their little ones you will dash in pieces, and their women with child you will rip up.” Then Hazael said, “But what is your servant, who is but a dog, that he should do this great thing?” (he was not of the royal dynasty, he had no inkling that he was going to be king, Elijah hadn’t anointed him, this was the first that he had heard of it!) And Elisha answered, “יהוה has shown me that you will be king over Aram.” (It was Elisha who announced to Hazael that he would be king of Aram, not Elijah) So he departed from Elisha and returned to his master, who said to him, “What did Elisha say to you?” And he answered, “He told me that you would surely recover.” On the following day, he took the cover and dipped it in water and spread it on his face, so that he died. And Hazael became king in his place.] Elijah did not do what he was told to do and anoint Hazael king of Aram; although Hazael did indeed become king of Aram. Elijah’s disobedience did not alter יהוה’s plans; His purpose was fulfilled. So, Elijah did not obey the first command; he sort of carried out the third command, but did so first; what about the second command: to anoint Jehu as king of Israel? Who appointed Jehu king of Israel?: [ Now Elisha the prophet (so this is after Elijah has departed from the scene) called one of the sons of the prophets and said to him, “Gird up your loins, and take this flask of oil in your hand and go to Ramoth-gilead. “When you arrive there, search out Jehu the son of Jehoshaphat the son of Nimshi, and go in and bid him arise from among his brothers, and bring him to an inner room. “Then take the flask of oil and pour it on his head (that is anoint him – it wasn’t Elijah, it wasn’t even Elisha; it was delegated to one of the sons of the prophets) and say, ‘Thus says יהוה, “I have anointed you king over Israel.’ Then open the door and flee and do not wait.” So, the young man, the servant of the prophet, went to Ramoth-gilead. When he came, behold, the captains of the army were sitting, and he said, “I have a word for you, O captain.” And Jehu said, “For which one of us?” And he said, “For you, O captain.” He arose and went into the house, and he poured the oil on his head and said to him, “Thus says יהוה, the God of Israel, ‘I have anointed you king over the people of יהוה, even over Israel. ‘You shall strike the house of Ahab your master, that I may avenge the blood of My servants the prophets, and the blood of all the servants of יהוה, at the hand of Jezebel. ‘For the whole house of Ahab shall perish, (there is that judgement that יהוה had announced to Elijah on Mount Horeb) and I will cut off from Ahab every male person both bond and free in Israel. ‘I will make the house of Ahab like the house of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and like the house of Baasha the son of Ahijah. ‘The dogs shall eat Jezebel in the territory of Jezreel, and none shall bury her.’ Then he opened the door and fled.] So, Elijah did not anoint Hazael nor Jehu, despite יהוה telling him specifically to do so. So why didn’t Elijah do as יהוה told him to do? As I have pointed out; Elijah always obeyed. This was his way of life; but now he disobeys. Not only does he disobey but this was a command was he given when he was in the very presence of יהוה Himself! The greatest and most dramatic encounter he had ever had with יהוה! He was right in the presence of יהוה! Heard His voice – audibly! יהוה Himself was there! [ So He said, “Go forth and stand on the mountain before יהוה.” And behold, יהוה was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before יהוה; but יהוה was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but יהוה was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but יהוה was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. (there was יהוה!) When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him (that was the voice of יהוה Himself!)] If ever anything was imprinted on his mind, it was this! If ever he was sure of יהוה’s voice it was now! If ever the fear and dread upon him to motivate him to do as commanded, it was here! He had heard יהוה speaking, was right in His presence! This was serious revelation; יהוה had gone out of His way in a very special way to communicate. Elijah always took notice of what יהוה said; surely, he would take this encounter all the more seriously! So how come this man who is characterized by obedience to יהוה suddenly is disobeying Him?! Do you see my problem?! So, why did Elijah disobey יהוה? [P] I have pondered this long and hard. I mean you can come up with various possible explanations: Outright rebellion? [P] I mean an obvious possible explanation is that he just refused. “Blow what יהוה says; I am going to do what I want to do.” I mean, this is the reason that most people disobey God. Just plain outright rebellion. They wilfully go their own way. They know God’s will but choose to do something else. Don’t let this be the reason that you disobey God. It is a possible explanation; but it doesn’t fit well. [P] There is no indication of wilfulness of Elijah’s part; he continued to serve יהוה. He hadn’t turned his back on Him. As I have said, everything in his life was characterized by doing what יהוה said. It is totally contrary to all we know of Elijah. I don’t buy it! I guess another possibility is that of Oversight? [P] – it just slipped his mind. Did Elijah just forget what God told him to do? We all can forget, but if God tells us to do something, forgetfulness is not a valid excuse for not doing it. [ My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments;] If you made a vow to יהוה, oversight was no excuse for not fulfilling it. [ When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it; for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.] Oversight is no excuse; nor is it an explanation: Elijah heard from God and obeyed, that was his life – but this was the greatest manifestation of יהוה that he had ever received! He had never had an encounter like this before! The closest he had ever been to יהוה! You do not forget something like that! I have had a few occasions when God has revealed Himself to me personally in a particularly dramatic way. You too, have probably had them – perhaps the time you were saved, or baptized, or had word of knowledge – a spiritual encounter when you have met with God! A personal revelation, and you know it. They are extremely precious and wonderful – you never can forget them! Elijah was not going to forget this! This would not slip his mind! The fact that it is recorded in Scripture shows that it wasn’t. He knew what God told him to do! [P] It simply is not credible that he forgot the command that יהוה Himself had given him there on the mountain. Afraid? [P] Maybe he was too scared to carry out the commands. Was Elijah afraid to go to these men and appoint them ruler when that would be seen as rebellion, sedition, undermining the current regime? I mean we saw that Jezebel was out to kill him at the beginning of the chapter. This is a possible explanation for why Elijah did not do as יהוה commanded him; and some have seen fear as being factor controlling Elijah – that is how the early Greek and Latin translations of verse 3 are rendered. Fear of man says: [ The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in יהוה will be exalted.] Fear of man can paralyze and prevent you carrying out what He has told you to do. Remember that it was fear that prevented the man given one talent from doing anything: [ “And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. ‘And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’] Don’t let fear prevent you doing what God has told you to do. Fear led to disobedience. Was it the case here with Elijah? Some may think so; but Elijah had confronted Ahab before when יהוה told him to. When יהוה told him to appear before Ahab, he appeared before Ahab – he did this both before and after this incident. Elijah fronted up before the 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel; one man taking on the whole nation! The simple task of anointing a man in private does not seem to be something that would have him shaking in his shoes, certainly not enough to disregard this direct command from the mouth of יהוה Himself. [P] Some may think so; but it doesn’t sit well with me. Procrastination? [P] Well was Elijah just procrastinating? You know that there is something that you should do, get down to doing; but you put it off. The expression goes: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” – we meant to do it but, other things crop up; it is a bit distasteful and there are other things that are more pleasant, so we just defer. The thing is that you can defer forever and never get around to doing it at all! Are there things that God has told you to do but you are procrastinating, putting it off? I knew that God wanted me to be baptized, He commanded it – I put it off for 10 years – 10 miserable years; and Oh, the blessing when I finally obeyed! May I encourage you from my own mistake – do not delay to obey! [ Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.] Don’t put it off. Did Elijah procrastinate? – I mean he sort of started to do what he was commanded by going to Elisha. Did he just not get around to it. I guess it is possible; [P] but I come back to the revelation on the mountain – יהוה had spoken to him! This would be imprinted upon his mind and heart! This was not something that you could ignore or put off, not unless you did so deliberately. It just seems such a weak and pathetic explanation for a man of Elijah’s calibre, a man who was “very zealous for יהוה.” You can see that I am floundering around here trying to come up with a credible explanation. Was it just Too hard? [P] It doesn’t seem that difficult a thing to do to go and pour oil on someone’s head and tell them they are going to be king. It would be harder going to someone who was already king. But it can be reason that we don’t do anything – the task seems beyond us, you don’t know where to start, it is overwhelming. I mean: Jesus said [“Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.] Just where do you start? How do I do that?! The task is impossible, way too big; but that is where faith is born. It is too hard for me so you have to go to someone else, rely on them! [ Hear my cry, O God; attend to my prayer. From the end of the earth I will cry to You, when my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.] I guess it is possible that the command was too hard [P] but compared to calling fire from heaven, stopping the heavens from raining, then breaking a 3-year drought – in comparison, pouring oil on someone’s head doesn’t seem that difficult. I find it hard to accept this as an explanation. Had Elijah just Given up? [P] There is a very common view of this passage that Elijah was spiritually depressed, discouraged, that he had just plain given up – perhaps this is why he didn’t do as יהוה commanded him. Personally, I don’t see it that way, but a lot of people do, and their viewpoint is valid. And the fact is, that we can at times get discouraged; it seems like you are getting nowhere, accomplishing nothing. Discouragement is one of the great weapons to paralyze the saints. It can creep up and take hold. Paul encouraged the saints: [ Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary.] But, “I have been very zealous for יהוה.” don’t sound like the words of someone who has given up. He is proclaiming his continuing zeal. After this we see Elijah establishing a school of prophets, training men up; we see him confronting Ahab for stealing Naboth’s vineyard, He confronted king Ahaziah, he called down fire from heaven – he is still active, still working for the LORD. You may consider that Elijah was depressed and given up [P] – but to me, it doesn’t fit. Is this the reason that Elijah did not obey the direct command from the mouth of יהוה? Finishing well? [P] Dr. William Culbertson, who for many years president of Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, often closed his public prayers with, “And, Lord, help us to end well.” God answered that prayer for Dr. Culbertson, but not every believer now in heaven ended the race hearing God’s “Well done!” In fact, if you look at the kings of Judah, even the good ones, did not finish well. They started off trusting יהוה but ended up relying on their army, their authority and power, their wealth, letting things slide. And it can be that way with us – we start off with a zeal for the LORD, but with time that can wane, we get distracted, other things creep in. Jesus spoke of the worries and cares of this world which choked the plant as it grew. We are in a long-distance race – you can start with a sprint, but is how you finish that counts. [ Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter (or finisher) of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.] Keep going to the end. I guess, this is a bit similar to the last point. But did Elijah’s zeal flag, did he just peter-out at the end? Started off obeying but ended up not so well? Well, maybe – but I have pointed out his obedience and living by יהוה’s word after this. יהוה called him up to be with Him in a whirlwind. He didn’t peter-out; he went out with a bang! His whole life seemed to have יהוה’s seal of approval on it. [P] Again, this explanation doesn’t seem to fit that well. The things is; what was it that יהוה was commanding him to do? It was anointing 3 men to carry out יהוה’s judgement; could it be that Elijah was Deferring judgement? [P] He didn’t want Israel put to the sword? His heart was: to turn them back to יהוה; perhaps he couldn’t bear to see them destroyed in this way. We can be the same – judgement doesn’t sit easy with us. We want everything to be nice. We would rather that יהוה showed mercy. We can avoid the unpleasant bits in God’s Word. None, of Jesus’ disciples expected Him to die, even although He had told them plainly, repeatedly and explicitly. Why? They didn’t want to face the unpleasantness of the cross. They wanted to avoid the suffering. And we can be the same; despite suffering being one of יהוה’s most effective educating devices. I had a friend who freely admitted that she refused to read certain bits of the Bible, she just skipped over them, “they weren’t nice”. We don’t want judgement to come. Is this the reason why Elijah did not anoint these men? Maybe he wanted to put off יהוה’s judgement coming. We may want to, but it will come nevertheless. A final possibility I considered is that of Delegation? [P] Perhaps you could consider that Elijah did, in fact, obey – it’s just that he didn’t do it personally; he delegated the job to someone else. For instance, we all know about the temple that Solomon built, don’t we. But I don’t suppose for a moment that Solomon chiselled even one stone out, or hauled it into position; I don’t think he even drew the plans – he got others to do it. So, if you instigate something, it is counted as you doing it. Maybe Elijah delegated to Elisha to anoint Jehu, and he delegated to a son of the prophets. If this is the way it was; my problem dissipates, Elijah did obey after all. Now I am of the personality type that finds it extremely difficult to delegate; but there are Biblical grounds for doing so. Paul said to Timothy: [ The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.] Paul passed the baton on to Timothy who was to pass it on to others who were, in turn, to train others. The task gets passed on from one to another to another. But that is not in order to get out of doing the job yourself, but to carry on what you started! Did Elijah delegate? I don’t know. I have an unresolved problem; so, if you have any insight, that would be welcome. Although I may not have the answer; in looking for it, there is plenty to take on board about reasons why I might fail to obey what God has told me to do. Better, by far, is to simply do what He has said. [P] There is blessing in obedience .
“All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the Lord your God: