There is a fascinating story hidden away in the Old Testament in the second book of Kings which I will reproduce for you here:
When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal. And Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Bethel.” But Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you!” So they went down together to Bethel.
The group of prophets from Bethel came to Elisha and asked him, “Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?” “Of course I know,” Elisha answered. “But be quiet about it.”
Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Jericho.” But Elisha replied again, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you.” So they went on together to Jericho.
Then the group of prophets from Jericho came to Elisha and asked him, “Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?” “Of course I know,” Elisha answered. “But be quiet about it.”
Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to the Jordan River.” But again Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you.” So they went on together.
Fifty men from the group of prophets also went and watched from a distance as Elijah and Elisha stopped beside the Jordan River. Then Elijah folded his cloak together and struck the water with it. The river divided, and the two of them went across on dry ground! When they came to the other side, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away.” And Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.” “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah replied. “If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you won’t.”
As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress.
Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen when he was taken up. Then Elisha returned to the bank of the Jordan River. He struck the water with Elijah’s cloak and cried out, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” Then the river divided, and Elisha went across.
When the group of prophets from Jericho saw from a distance what happened, they exclaimed, “Elijah’s spirit rests upon Elisha!” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. “Sir,” they said, “just say the word and fifty of our strongest men will search the wilderness for your master. Perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has left him on some mountain or in some valley.”
“No,” Elisha said, “don’t send them.” But they kept urging him until they shamed him into agreeing, and he finally said, “All right, send them.” So fifty men searched for three days but did not find Elijah. Elisha was still at Jericho when they returned. “Didn’t I tell you not to go?” he asked. [2 Kings 2:1-18 NLT]
Some wit has remarked that if your took all the forecasters and prognosticators in our nation and laid them end to end, they would form a perfect circle! In these days of Twitter, FaceBook, YouTube, instagram and TikTok it is not hard to find a group of people who regard themselves as celebrities and influencers. Some will prophecy everything from the outcome of a football game to the price of a stock on any given day! They have a point of view to peddle and hope to get famous and/or rich doing so. You can even find college courses which purport to teach you the basic skills in social prognostication and manipulation.
But this is not a new idea!
Roughly 850 years before Jesus’ birth there was a College of Prophecy at Bethel in Judea. It’s hard to know how many student prophets there were, but we know for sure that it exceeded fifty. The “big man” on campus was named Elijah and his nickname was “Israel’s Troublemaker” because he was always clashing with the local governing regime. You have probably heard of his famous disputes with King Ahab and Queen Jezebel (A quick read of 1 Kings 18 will give you a good summary of his exploits). The big religious clash was between the worship of the Canaan god Baal and the Jewish worship of Jehovah.
Elijah’s sidekick was named Elisha (their names are not confusing at all, am I right?). Everywhere Elijah went, Elisha tagged along learning the prophecy business and making sure Elijah had everything he needed as he traveled.
As far as we can tell (Wikipedia puts Elijah’s lifespan as 900BC to about 849BC) Elijah was God’s mouthpiece to the children of Israel for several decades, and a thorn in the side of Israel’s idolatrous kings for much of the time.
But around his fiftieth birthday, God informed Elijah that he was to have a promotion which involved a relocation to Heaven, and he would not need to travel around Judea any more. A new prophet would need to be appointed and Elisha wanted the job!
Up until then Elijah had always been around to give Elisha advice and counsel. But once Elisha had taken on the mantle — by the way, this incident is where we get that phrase in English — Elisha would be completely on his own and would have to become God’s mouthpiece directly.
They visited three places that would be well-known to Elisha — Bethel, Jericho and Jordan— that would remind him of past manifestations of God’s power in and through Elijah. Both Elijah and Elisha knew that Elijah’s days were numbered and when asked by Elijah what he would like to be when he grew up, Elisha said he’d like to do Elijah’s job twice as well as Elijah had! Pretty ambitious, but a worthy goal!
After the Chariots of Fire had taken Elijah aboard, Elisha returned to Jordan with Elijah’s cloak (mantle) which was the symbol of God’s power. After all it had just enable Elisha to cross the Jordan river twice without getting his feet wet! The students of the prophet school at Bethel recognized that Elisha was now the chief prophet, but they really didn’t believe what had happened to Elijah so they wanted to send out a search party just in case Elijah was lying hurt somewhere. It took them a while to persuade Elisha, but in the end he let them try.
And when after three days hard searching they came back empty-handed I’m sure he enjoyed telling them “I told you so!”.
I’ll leave it to you to read on and decide whether Elisha was able to be twice the prophet that Elijah was, but I will note that it was Elijah who got to have a meeting with Jesus and Moses at the transfiguration!
We do well to emulate the exploits of the Heroes of the Faith and even try to be twice as effective, but remember we have an advantage over Elijah and Elisha. We not only have the example of Jesus’ life to emulate, we have His power and His Spirit in us to enable us to do so.
There are a lot of idolators and opponents of God’s eternal Kingdom surrounding us. We need to be God’s mouthpiece!
I leave it to you to fire up your chariot!
Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black
P.S. if you’d like to read previous ruminations of mine they can be found at https://salvationarmyconcordca.org/chronicle/