Before his ascension the Lord Jesus instructed his followers to, “stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). He spoke in anticipation of the Pentecostal outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon his disciples. The Spirit would be his gift to his church to enable it to discern truth and proclaim it. The outpouring would not be detached from him. It would be his action of empowerment and the beginning of a new phase in his ministry through the people of God. Intriguingly, the transfer of prophetic power and ministry from Elijah to Elisha combines prefigurings of both the Ascension and Pentecost. The replacement of Elijah by Elisha was a turning point in Israel’s history, a turning point that was repeated on a grander scale on the day of the Spirit’s coming when the incarnate Lord Jesus was “replaced” by another Counsellor (John 14:16). The similarities in the stories are striking. The correspondence signifies the same God causing similar events that are connecting links in the one scheme of redemption. They point to God’s preparation and they sharpen our perception of his saving programme. Nothing is by way of happenstance or a fluke. We are assured that God is working things out in a masterly way even with regard to the minutiae of history for it is often small happenings that create huge upheavals. Napoleon’s haemorrhoids made him impatient in the saddle of his horse during a crucial battle, which he lost, and he was a man who believed that all things are foreordained.
Elijah had been commanded to single out Elisha for the role of the prophet while Elisha was ploughing in his affluent father’s fields. To symbolize the call of the Lord Elijah wrapped his cloak around his prospective successor. Time passed with the ploughman apprenticed to the mighty prophet as his attendant, a period of “diaconate” perhaps, to humble and prepare Elisha for ministry and bridle his keenness until he became more mature. Elijah would make a habit of testing the readiness and resolve of Elisha to enter office, treating his protégé gruffly as Jesus was to test the Canaanite woman pleading for her daughter (Mark 7:24-30).
When the time for Elijah’s departure was near due he proposed a series of journeys which he forbade Elisha to make with him, but Elisha stuck with his master. Prophets reminded Elisha that his mentor was soon to be taken but the news did not dissuade him from his course (2 Kings 2: 1-8). His persistence proved his ripeness for his vocation and then, by the Jordan (the place of decision) Elijah revealed his concern for Elisha’s equipping for ministry. The retiring spokesman for the Lord revealed his care for his disciple. “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” (v9). In reply Elisha requests a double portion of Elijah’s spirit as if to say, “You threw the cloak of a prophet around me once before on the day of my calling. Confirm my call by bequeathing your cloak to me. Duplicate my appointment as the Lord’s man. As your adopted son let me inherit the ministry that was yours”. Elijah announces the difficulty of such a request. Man can neither call to ministry nor empower for it. But if Elisha stands nearby and witnesses the ascent of Elijah to heaven the falling cloak will symbolize the divine enduement of the Spirit in the cloak that falls from above as the elder prophet is whisked away in the whirlwind – a symbol of revelation to both men, of the bliss of heaven to Elijah, and a guarantee of enabling grace to Elisha. The horses and chariots of Israel testify to Elijah’s protection of the faith of Israel through his stand for truth against the allurements of Baal, and when Elisha takes possession of the cloak he tears up his own clothes in dual expression of mourning and dedication to God’s cause. A new life had begun for him and he was willing to forsake all that had gone before. The former ploughman did not look back (cf 19:21). Elijah concludes his earthly mission in rising to heaven. Elisha commences his mission in receiving the Spirit. What we have in this passage from Kings is a presage of the Ascension and Pentecost that speaks to the church of today. Apprised of these great events the church is the heir of the prophetic ministry exercised by such different personalities as Elijah and Elisha. The call and empowering can only come form God. The donation of the Spirit to Christ’s chosen ones is the clothing of which he spoke. The prophetic cloak must come from above. It represents the enabling to discern and declare truth with accuracy and boldness. The church is called to protect and preach the truth of the gospel (Article 20-The church is a witness and guardian of Holy Scripture) in the strength of Elijah with the gentle heart of Elisha. Elijah’s characteristic plea was for God to prove himself in a faithless generation such as ours. Elisha repeated the cry, “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” (v14). In view of the task before us we must repeat Elijah’s prayer, concluding, “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again” (18:36-37).