(Read the text of II Kings first for this to be most beneficial).
Whenever I talk with people about leadership I generally mention the burden associated with leading people. Leaders are often credited with wins and success. But leadership has a dark side too. Leaders are often lonely and not a little unpopular when called on to make controversial decisions. Leaders can be polarizing and that means being loved and hated. Elijah experienced both. He enjoyed success when God used him to make a mockery of Baal worship. But he faced the rage of a corrupt queen when he worked at cross purposes with Jezebel’s agenda for Israel.
Elisha is successor to Elijah. How does he view the prospects of becoming a leader in the nation of Israel? Our text helps us see into the heart of Elisha. He possesses some necessary qualities for a leader of God’s people.
II Kings 2 is transition time. It’s time when prophetic leadership is critical. Urgency is dictated by the utter failure of the king to lead God’s people in following the Lord. God raised up prophets as covenant enforcers to confront incorrigible kings and Elijah faithfully fulfilled his duties in that role. The nation broke covenant with God, and leaders like Ahab led the way. These kings sought wood and metal objects fashioned by human hands that proved to be blind, deaf and dumb to their entreaties and requests. Prophets called God’s people back to the One and Only True and Living God.
As God’s prophet Elijah faced a culture of idolatry and conflict. He experienced phenomenal success in battling idolatry, especially on Mt Carmel in an epic battle with the prophets of Baal. But he was personally plagued with dreadful doubts. Such is the burden of leadership and that makes faithfulness crucial for a leader. Adversity is inevitable. Following through in following the Lord is essential.
Elijah’s spectacular ascension meant Elisha would be filling a new role. It’s not so much a promotion with a prophet’s perks. Leadership is a burden to bear. He proves he’s ready for the crucial task by passing what can be considered several tests.
There’s the test of loyalty.
God demands uncompromising loyalty. It can’t be optional. Note in the text how Elisha simply refuses to leave Elijah’s side whenever there’s movement from place to place. Three times he insists he must accompany Elijah though he is encouraged by his master to stay put. Before he becomes a prominent prophet, on a level with Elijah, and even surpassing him in ministry exploits, he must demonstrate what I’ll call “clinginess.” Scripture often mentions a kind of stickiness that’s a necessary trait of a faithful covenant partner. And in Elisha’s case he isn’t just clinging to Elijah. Whenever Elijah moves he mentions it’s the Lord sending him. Like Elijah, Elisha is committed to following the God of Elijah who is the One true and living God. Elisha is “glued” to Elijah’s side. The phrase the “two of them” is used four times in this text. Elisha passes the loyalty test.
There’s an eagerness test.
Elisha is not too eager to take over for Elijah. When confronted with the reality of Elijah’s departure by the sons of the prophets his “keep silent” response shows the depth of his connection to his master. And when Elijah does leave this earth in a blaze of glory, Elisha tears his clothes in an explicit act of mourning. He feels no sense of urgency to replace Elijah. Being too eager to take over can be an indicator that we don’t realize the seriousness of the situation we’re being called by God to address as leaders. Better to feel like we’re in over our head than to proceed with an unwarranted confidence in our own abilities. Elisha passes the eagerness test.
There’s an awareness test.
He understands that Elijah must go. The sons of the prophets don’t seem as quick to understand the need for Elijah’s departure. These prophets want to believe that they can find Elijah somewhere on a mountain or in a valley. But Elisha knows it’s a transitional time. And because he’s in touch with the times he knows what he needs from God. And so, when Elijah offers a sort of parting gift, Elisha answers, “I need a double portion of what God has given you.” Elisha passes the awareness test.
When Elisha’s service as prophet begins the kind of power he asks for is the power he receives. This power is demonstrated in at least three incidents.
1. He carries on the prophetic tradition.
Like Moses, Joshua and Elijah before him Elisha parts water and walks on dry ground. By repeating this miracle he proves God is with him, and experiences the support of his prophetic companions.
2. He is an agent of blessing.
A previously cursed land experiences the blessing of refreshing water and fertility. Prophetic leaders can be a breath of fresh air for the people of God.
3. He is an agent of judgment.
The disturbing account of the boys being mauled by bears reveals the dual nature of a word-of-the-Lord based ministry. Prophetic ministry has a cutting and a healing edge. The reality of leadership is that it has a life and death kind of significance.
The Church today needs leaders who are willing to bear the burden of leadership.