Change or transition is hard, but we can face it bravely with God’s help. The transition in leadership from Elijah to Elisha reminds us to be ready for change, to seek the Holy Spirit’s filling, and to courageously take up the task given us.
Today we look at the transition in leadership from Elijah and Elisha.
These two were similar in names, and also in their spectacular miracles. They performed more miracles than any prophet other than Jesus. Yet, they were quite unique as individuals. Elijah was a loner who preached repentance and brought down evil kings in sensational challenges. Elisha lived among the people and showed a deep concern for the poor and downtrodden.
Today’s scripture points to their transition. We all go through times of transition. Some of us get married, and later lose a spouse to death or divorce. We start a career, we retire. We go back to work in a different field, and we retire from that. We move from house to house, from job to job, from one level of care to another. We make friends and we lose friends. And most profoundly, we’re born and we die.
Every one of us faces transitions in life. So I wonder, can we learn anything from Elijah and Elisha about transitioning well? I think so. I want to encourage us to…
- Be ready for change.
This may sound obvious, but you would be surprised how often we ignore them, pretending they’re not happening. Change is hard. We don’t like it when friends move away. We don’t like saying good-bye. We have trouble facing a terminal illness. Everyone believes in heaven, but no one wants to go, at least not yet.
Elijah and Elisha faced head-on their great transition, a change of command ceremony for the lead prophet of Israel. Elijah notably went to each of the seminaries to personally say good-bye. That’s what these or schools of prophets were. They were like our modern-day seminaries. That’s what Elijah was visiting when he traveled to Gilgal and Bethel and Jericho. He was saying good-bye to all of his “sons” in the faith.
As Elisha contemplated the loss of his great mentor and friend, he was understandably a little raw in emotion. You can see it when he snapped at each group as they asked him if he knew about Elijah’s imminent departure. Change is hard, isn’t it? But the good thing is, Elisha refused to leave Elijah’s side. Elijah offered three times for Elisha to stay behind, and three times Elisha adamantly refused. Elisha wanted every possible moment left with his mentor.
Pay attention to the changes happening around you. Express appreciation to one stepping down from leadership. Build up the one taking on new tasks. Be sure to say good-bye to friends who move away. (I’m reminded of Paul’s tearful good-bye on the seashore with the elders of Ephesus, recorded in Acts 20.) Don’t ignore the changes happening; embrace them, even when they hurt, because there is love behind the hurt. And #2,
- Seek the Holy Spirit’s filling.
In verse 9, Elijah asked Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” Elisha replied, “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.” What was he asking here? Was he selfishly wanting to upstage his master? I don’t think so. Elisha was using the language of Hebrew inheritance law. The firstborn always received a double portion over all the other kids. Elisha was basically saying, “I want to be your firstborn. If I’m going to be able to step into your shoes, I’m going to need twice as much of your spirit as anyone else would need!”
After all, who could follow Elijah? He was the man! He was the spiritual leader of Israel during a time when kings were corrupt and godless. Elijah carried the country through some very dark times. And now, to follow in those footsteps? A daunting task indeed!
Elisha knew he would need the very power of God, a double helping of the same spirit at work in Elijah’s life, the Holy Spirit himself. Perhaps you’ve been there, when you’ve been desperate for God’s strength to accomplish a task. It’s a scary place to be, but it’s also a great place to build your faith. You know you need God to see you through that health challenge. You need God’s Spirit to lead your home through turbulent times. You need God’s presence to make peace in your family. You need God’s strength to risk ministering in new ways. And God will come through, as you depend on him.
Elijah was wise enough to say that was not his decision to make. But he told Elisha, “If you see me depart, then you know it has been granted to you.” And Elisha saw it all! One moment he was walking with his mentor and friend, and the next, he saw his friend carted off to heaven in a whirlwind by a chariot and horses of fire. Elijah became the second man after Enoch to go to heaven without having to die first. Not a bad gig! Elisha was so moved that he cried out in deep respect, in verse 12, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”
What happens next bring us to our third point, and that is, to…
- Take up the task given you.
Since Elisha had been able to see Elijah’s departure, he knew that the Lord had answered his request. Verses 13 and 14 record what happened next: “Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah 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.”
Earlier Elijah had struck the water and it parted; now Elisha, his successor, struck the water, and again it parted. God confirmed Elisha’s leadership publicly much as he did for Joshua so many years before. Remember how Moses had parted the Red Sea? After his death, God enabled his successor Joshua to part the Jordan River in the same way, as the people first entered the Promised Land. God always confirms his new leader.
Yet, Elisha had a role here, too. He had to reach down and pick up his mentor’s cloak. He had to strike the water in front of all the prophets, not knowing for sure until that moment what would happen. Elisha obeyed the prompting of God and God rewarded him publicly, stating in effect, “This is my man now. Follow him!”
When God gives you a task, take it up. Do it with all your heart, and watch God honor you for your obedience. Sure, you may be new to your responsibilities. Maybe it was never done the way you’re going to do it. But people will follow you, as you are obedient to the cause. Many of us are now homeschoolers, house church pastors, having to stretch income, forced to be creative at home, learning new recipes and balancing new stressors in changing world. God says, “you’ve got this!” I have placed you on the planet at “such a time as this.!”
God did bless Elisha. Remember how he asked for a double portion of God’s Spirit? Do you know that scripture records exactly twice as many miracles attributed to him as to Elijah? And at his death, the king of Israel would shout out: “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” (2 Kings 13:14). Do these words sound familiar? The very words Elisha said for his mentor and friend would later be said at his own death. The apple did not fall far from the tree.
May each of us be ready for the changes taking place around us, depend on the Holy Spirit and courageously take up the tasks given us!