Leading the Next: Elijah Call’s Elisha
The first time I felt grown up I had a hay hook in my hand. My family was putting up some brome on Grandpas farm and needed another person, no matter how skilled. Upon arrival I was put up on the hay wagon directly behind the baler. Grandpa kicked it in high gear and we stacked bales upon bales. I don’t recall how many I put up myself but it wasn’t very many. I was 10 and poor help. We pulled the full hay rack into the barn and began throwing it into the loft. It being my very first time, I doubt I accomplished much. But I do remember the lesson I was given on using a hay hook. On the fly I was shown how to operate a sharp, bent piece of steel. How to stick it into a bale, pull back on the handle and lift with your leg. That lesson changed me forever. As a 10 year old in somewhat rural America, a hay hook, and the skill to use it is a rite of passage. From then on, I wasn’t as much of a liability to work, as a partner. Not so much a space filler on the hay crew, but a hand with a purpose. The same could be said of Elisha when Elijah got a hold of him.
Elijah’s brokenness was assuaged with God’s message that his ministry would outlive him; that his work was not in vain; and he would be instrumental in bringing up the next in line. He is instructed to anoint the next king of Aram (Hazael), the next dynasty of Israel (Jehu), and the next prophet in line (Elisha).
Elijah took these instructions seriously. He went from the Mountain of Sinai and found Elisha with his hand to the plow. It is fitting that he was preparing the ground for planting, because that is what his life will be about.
The prophets, especially at this period in the history of God’s people, are much less harvesters than stump pullers. Elijah has been engaging opposing worldviews for a majority of his ministry, preparing the ground. Looking back on the ministry of the prophets, they spent more time confronting sin and morality than they did “planting” seeds of righteousness. Much more time was spent attempting to remove and displace the idolatry and evil in the kingdom, than talking God’s plan for the nation. Elisha spent his days prior to ministry, making hard ground suitable for planting and in ministry, attempting to make hard hearts suitable for planting.
As Elisha is plowing, Elijah runs up to him, throws his cloak around his waste, and runs off. Elisha forsakes his oxen and plow, and chases down [hb. rus] Elijah. The same word [rus[is used of Elijah out running Ahab (18.46) down the mountain. Elisha, filled with similar passion and excitement that Elijah displayed, catches up quick. Elijah gives him permission to say one last good by to his family and work. He kissed his parents, burned his plow, and feed the people his oxen.
“Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his attendant [sarat].” (1 Kings 19.21)
What Elisha was excited about, I cant say exactly, but I think this verse hints at it. Today we use the words “servant” and “attendant” synonymously, but in hebrew there seems to be some difference between servant [‘ebed] and attendant [sarat]: Elisha is said to have become Elijah’s attendant [sarat[ which conveys the idea of:
- Partnership. Elisha and Elijah from this point on were partners in ministry. Elijah had more experience and took the lead, but Elisha had come alongside him in ministry not behind him in ministry. Take for example Joshua. He was a servant [‘ebed] of the Lord (Josh 24.29; Jud. 2.80, but an aide [sarat] to Moses. With Moses, Joshua stood alongside him as he stayed on the mountain 40 days and nights (Ex. 24.13ff.) and wouldn’t leave the tent of meeting as Moses and God spoke (Ex. 33.11). When Moses did ministry, Joshua was beside him, learning and doing. I think Elisha reveled in the idea of being a sarat, not just an ‘ebed.
- Purpose. In the OT servants performed any number of odd jobs, but attendants performed only the highest of tasks. Three times sarat is used of articles used for worship in the Temple (Num 4.9;2 Kings 25.14; 1 Chron. 6.32). Numerous times sarat is used of the Levites “assisting” in worship led by the priest. Elisha understood that Elisha was calling him to a live of purposeful service in worship to God. This was not the kind of intership where Elisha will be mailing out 5,000 postcards, or filling 10,000 waterballons, but a chance to do dirty-hands, front-line ministry.
These two reasons, I believe, are why Elisha can outrun Elijah. For these reasons, Elisha would burn his oxen and plow. The chance to be caught up and swept up in life changing ministry and the adventure of following God in daily service alongside a passionate leader, is what brought excitement to the life of Elisha.
Elijah was anointing a partner in purposed ministry. This is an opprotuinty that many in younger generations would leap at and get excited for. There are many who have been disappointed in the past because their preparation for ministry involved purposeless busy work, the understanding that they were not partners but projects, or their voice and opinion didn’t matter. The next generation of leader wants to partner in ministry; do significant work; and lead alongside. With that being said, who are you partnering with in ministry today? What younger man or woman, are you involving in your sphere of influence, your ministry, or your service? Who are you pouring into, giving responsibility too, and training to serve, worship, and lead? These are the things I hope to convey to my bullfighting protege above, my students at Robinson, and the men I get to pour into every week. Who are you bringing onto the crew?