Gleanings From Elisha
His Life and Miracles
FIRST MIRACLE—PASSAGE THROUGH JORDAN
The Relation Between Elijah and Elisha was that of master (2 Kings 2:16) and servant (2 Kings 3:11), and thus it set forth that which exists between Christ and His ministers. For some time Elijah himself occupied the state of action; but upon the completion of his mission and after a miraculous passage through Jordan, he was supernaturally removed to heaven. Thus it was with the One whom he foreshadowed: when the Savior had finished the work given Him to do and had risen in triumph from the grave, He ascended on High. But men were appointed by Him to serve as ambassadors in the world from which He departed, to act in His name and perpetuate His mission. So it was with His type. Elisha was to succeed Elijah and carry forward what he had inaugurated. In order to do this he had been called by him. Then we saw in our last chapter how Elisha was subjected to a series of testings, which shadowed forth the disciplinary experiences by which the servant of Christ approves himself and through which he is schooled for his life’s work. Then we viewed the path which Elisha was required to tread and pointed out briefly its spiritual significance in connection with the preparatory history of the minister of the gospel. One other preliminary feature remains for our consideration, namely, the endowment Elisha received.
It will be remembered that when Elijah had put to his companion that searching question, "Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee," Elisha had replied, "I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me." This we believe showed three things.
First, it revealed his modesty and humility, being an acknowledgment of his weakness and insufficiency. He was conscious of his unfitness for his mission and felt that nothing but a plentiful supply of the Spirit which had rested upon the Tishbite would be enough for the tasks confronting him. Happy is the young servant of Christ who is aware of his own impotence, for in felt weakness lies his strength. Happy is the one who has experimentally learned the force of that word, "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD" (Zech. 4:6).
Second, if Elisha were to take Elijah’s place at the head of the schools of the prophets, then he needed a superior endowment to theirs—a double supply of the Spirit of wisdom and power.
Third, as the accredited servant of God, he needed more than the rank and file of His people: not only the Spirit’s indwelling, but also the Spirit’s resting upon him.
We have only to turn to the final discourse of our Lord to His apostles, recorded in John 14-16, to discover the part which the Holy Spirit must play if His servants are to be duly equipped for their work. First, He declared He would pray the Father that another Paraclete or Comforter should be given them, who would abide with them forever (John 14: 16). Then He promised that this blessed Comforter, sent in His name, would teach them all things (John 16:13). It was by means of the Spirit of truth given unto them that they would be enabled to bear testimony unto their Master (John 15:26-27). He would guide them into all truth, show them things to come, and glorify Christ by a fuller revelation to them of the mystery of His person, office, and work (John 16:13-15). In the book of Acts we see how those promises were made good. These servants were already indwelt by the Spirit of life (John 20:22) but the "power of the Holy Ghost" was to come upon them (Acts 1:8). This took place on the day of Pentecost, when "there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they [the apostles, Acts 1:26] were all filled with the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:3-4).
This, then, is the deep need of the servant of Christ: that he be endowed by the Spirit, for without such an anointing his labors can only prove ineffective. It was thus that Christ Himself was furnished (Matthew 3:16; Acts 10:38), and the disciple is not greater than his Lord. Much has been said and written on this subject of the minister being endowed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, and varied indeed are the directions given as to what must be done in order to enter into this blessing. Personally, we have long been convinced that the position occupied by the apostles was unique, and therefore we are certainly not warranted in praying and looking for any supernatural endowment such as they received. On the other hand we must be careful not to go to an opposite extreme and conclude there is no special and distinct anointing by the Spirit which the servants of God need today. Elisha shows otherwise, for this case we believe is a typical and representative one.
Taking it for granted then that most of our readers will concur in the last remarks, we proceed to the important question. What is required of the minister if he is to enjoy a double portion of the Spirit? In answering this inquiry we will restrict ourselves to what is recorded of Elisha. In his case there were two things. First, the passage through Jordan, for it is to be duly noted that Elijah did not ask him "what shall I do for thee" until they had gone through its divided waters. Now, the Jordan stands for death, and death must be experimentally passed through before we can know the power of resurrection. The minister has to die to self, to all self-pleasing and self-seeking, before the Spirit of God will use him. Second, the prophet had to keep his eye fixed steadily upon his master if his desire was to be realized (2 Kings 2:10). It is all summed up in those words of Paul, "Not I, but Christ" (Gal. 2:20). Just in proportion as self is set aside and the magnifying of Christ is the goal of my ministry, is an ungrieved Spirit likely to use me.
"And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven. And Elisha saw it" (2 Kings 2:11-12). Of course he did. God never disappoints those who renounce self and are occupied solely with Christ. Elijah had made the granting of Elisha’s request turn upon this very thing: "If thou seest me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee." Additional incentive then had the young prophet to keep his gaze steadfastly on his master. Those who follow on to know the Lord, who press forward in the race set before them, who allow nothing to turn them aside from fully following Christ, are permitted to behold things which are hidden not only from the world but also from their halfhearted brethren. A vision of the unseen is ever the reward which God grants to faith and fidelity. It was so with Abraham (Gen. 22:11-12), with Moses (Ex. 19:3-4), with Stephen (Acts 7:55), with John (Rev. 1:1).
But something more than spiritual vision was granted unto Elisha, namely spiritual perception. He not only saw, but understood the significance of what he beheld. "And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the hariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof." (2 Kings 2:12). Only as we ponder carefully the words of that sentence will the force of it be apparent. He did not say "the chariot of fire," nor even "the chariot of God," but "the chariot of Israel." What did he mean? And why preface that explanation with the cry "My father, my father"? He was interpreting for us the wondrous vision before him, the supernatural phenomenon described in the preceding verse. There was a divine suitability in Elijah’s being removed from this scene in a chariot of fire driven by horses of fire. No other conveyance could have been more suitable and suggestive, though we have met no writer who appears to have grasped the significance of it. Why did God send a fiery chariot to conduct His servant to heaven? Let us endeavor to find the answer to that question.
Scripture interprets Scripture, and if we turn to other passages where "chariots" and "horses" are mentioned we shall obtain the key which opens to us the meaning of the one here before us. "Some trust in chariots and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God" (Ps. 20:7). Israel had good reason for saying that. Go back to the beginning of their national history. Behold them in their helplessness before the Red Sea as "Pharaoh’s horses, his chariots, and his horsemen" (Ex. 14:23) menaced their rear. Ah, but behold the sequel! They are all safe on the other side, singing "The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name. Pharoah’s chariots and his host hath he cast into the sea . . . The depths have covered them:...Thy right hand, O LORD, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy" (Ex. 15:3-6). The ungodly may look to such things as horses and chariots for protection and prowess, but the saints will find their sufficiency in the name of the Lord their God.
It is sad indeed to see how woefully the favored nation of Israel failed at this very point. "They soon forgat his works;" yea, they "forgat God their savior" (Ps. 106:13, 21) and relied upon the arm of flesh. They even sought alliances with the heathen until one of their prophets had to cry, "Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the LORD!" (Isa. 31:1). Now set over against this our present passage and is not its meaning clear? As Elisha beheld that awe-inspiring sight, his soul perceived its significance: "My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof." His master, had been in the band of the Lord of Israel’s real chariot and horses, their true defense against Jezebel and Baal’s prophet which are bent on their destruction. The nation was too carnal, too much given to idolatry to recognize what they were losing in the departure of Elijah; but Elisha realized it was "the chariot of Israel," which was being taken from them.
First, the Time of the Miracle
This brings us then to the time when Elisha performed his first miracle. It was what men generally would deem a most unpropitious one, when the prophet’s spirits were at their lowest ebb. His beloved master had just been taken from him and deeply did he feel the loss. "He took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces" (2 Kings 2:12). That action was emblematic of his grief, as a comparison of Genesis 37:34 and Joshua 7:6, shows; yet it was a temperate sorrow, a controlled sorrow, and not an inordinate one. He only rent his garments in two pieces; had he done more they would have been wastefully ruined. His action may also have betokened Israel’s rejection of Elijah (cf. 1 Samuel 15:26-28). But severe as his loss was and heavy as his heart must have been, Elisha did not sit down in despair and wring his hands with inconsolable dejection. Pining over the loss of eminent ministers accomplishes no good to those left behind, but rather enfeebles them. Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity. The darkest hour of all is the best time to prove His sufficiency. This is what Elisha did now.
Second, the Object of the Miracle
Consider now the object on which it is wrought. A formidable one it was, none less than the river Jordan. He had friends, the prophets at Jericho, on the other side; the problem was how to come to them. Probably he was unable to swim, or surely he would have done so, since miracles are not wrought where there is no urgent need for them. There was no boat to take him over; how then was he to cross? A very real difficulty confronted him.
Let us note that he looked the difficulty squarely in the face. He "went back, and stood by the bank of the Jordan" (2 Kings 2:13), instead of foolishly playing the part of an ostrich, which buries its head in the sand when menaced by danger. To close our eyes to difficulties gets us nowhere, nor is anything gained by underestimating or belittling them. The Jordan was a challenge to Elisha’s faith; so he regarded it and so he dealt with it. That is why God lets His servants and saints be confronted with difficulties: to try them and see of what metal they are made.
Third, the Instrument and Means for the Miracle
"He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan" (2 Kings 2:13). When his master’s mantle fluttered to his feet, Elisha knew beyond doubt that heaven had granted his request. Not only had he seen Elijah at the moment of his departure, but the gift of his prophetical garment was an additional token of receiving a double portion of his spirit. And now came the test: what use would he make of his master’s mantle! Testing always follows the bestowment of a divine gift. After Solomon had asked the Lord for "an understanding heart" that he might judge His people wisely and well and "discern between good and bad," he was quickly confronted by the two women each claiming the living child as hers (1 Kings 3:9, 16-27). No sooner did the Spirit of God descend upon Christ than He led Him into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. Scarcely had the apostles been endowed with power from on High and begun to speak with other tongues, than they were charged with being "full of new wine." So here: Elijah’s mantle fell at his feet, but before Elisha smote the Jordan!
Fourth, the Mode of the Miracle
This is of deep interest and importance, for it inculcated a truth of the greatest possible moment. "And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters" (2 Kings 2:14). That was what the mantle had been given to him for—not to be idolized as a venerable memento, but to be made practical use of. "For whosoever, hath to him shall be given" (Luke 8:18), which means that he that has in reality, evidences it by improving the same, by investing it for interest. By cleaving so steadfastly to his master, Elisha had already given proof that he was indwelt by the Spirit, and now the double portion became his. This too he used, and used in the right way. He followed strictly the example his master had left him. In the context we are told, "Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters" (2 Kings 2:8). Now his disciple did precisely the same thing. Is not the lesson for us clear? If the servant of Christ would work miracles, his ministry must be patterned closely after his Master’s example.
Fifth, the Meaning of the Miracle
In view of all that has been before us, this should now be apparent. As we have sought to show, Elisha is to be regarded all through the piece as the representative servant, as a figure of the ministers of Christ: in their call, their testings, the path they must tread, their spiritual endowment; and the miracles he performed are not to be taken as exceptions to the rule. What then is the meaning and message of this first miracle, the smiting of and dividing asunder the waters of the Jordan? Clearly it is victory over death, ministerial victory. The servant of Christ is sent forth to address those who are dead in trespasses and sins. What an undertaking! How is he to prevail over the slaves and subjects of Satan? As Elisha did over the Jordan! He must be divinely equipped: he must obtain a double portion of the Spirit. By acting as Elijah did: using what has been given him from above. As he smote the waters in the exercise of faith, he said "Where is the LORD God of Elijah?" or, "Give proof that Thou art with me too."
Sixth, the Value of the Miracle
"And when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over" (2 Kings 2:14). There was the proof that though Elijah was not present, the God of Elijah was! There was the proof that he had received a double portion of his master’s spirit. There was the proof that by using the same means as his master had employed, God was pleased to honor his faith and grant the same result. Three times in Scripture do we read of a miraculous crossing of the Jordan. See Joshua 3:17 for the first example. Typifying, I believe, the victory of Christ over the grave, the deliverance of the church from spiritual death, and the resurrection of our bodies in the day to come.
Seventh, the Recognition of the Miracle
"And when the sons of the prophets which were to view at Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him" (2 Kings 2:15). The miracle they had witnessed convinced them, and they accepted him as the successor or representative of Elijah. The parted waters of the Jordan demonstrated the presence of the Holy Spirit. So the regeneration of souls makes manifest that the servant of God has been endowed with power from on high, and those with spiritual perception will accept and honor him as such, for faithful ministers are to be esteemed "very highly in love for their work’s sake" (1 Thess. 5:13). If Romanists have gone to one extreme in exalting the priesthood and making it a barrier to prevent the individual Christian from having direct dealings with God Himself, the democratic spirit of our day has swung so far to the other side as to level all distinctions. Those who have received a double portion of the Spirit are to "be counted worthy of double honor" if they "rule well" (1 Tim. 5:17).