When it was time for the Olympic games back in ancient Greece, athletes from all around the country would be handed a torch with a special flame taken from the Altar of Hestia in Olympia.
And with torch in hand, each runner would then run their leg of the race as hard and as far as they could, and then hand off the torch to another runner.
And eventually the torch would make it to other alters in Olympia.
To them, the symbolism was a sacred… representing the light of spirit and knowledge and life that gets passed down from one generation to another generation.
You see, in ancient Greece, these runners were the keepers of the flame… the passers of the torch.
In a sense, from the very beginning, God has handed His dreams of community to a human being, and then asks the leader of that covenantal community, Abraham, to hand that torch on to somebody else.
That’s why it was so important for Abraham and Sarah to have a child—someone to pass the torch of leadership to… from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Joseph.
And yet, this happens not just between parents and children. Moses will pass the torch on to Joshua… and Eli will pass the torch on to Samuel.
Jesus, one day, will pass the torch onto the Twelve… while Paul will pass his torch on to Timothy.
Well, as we launch our new series this morning called iGenerations, we’re going to look at an incredible moment in time when one amazing prophet of God named Elijah would pass the torch he was handed to a green-thumbed rookie, named Elisha.
It’s incredible to me because there is a sense in which God’s dream—God’s work—is at risk every generation.
Just as it was in Olympia, the question is, “Will somebody guard the flame? Will somebody pass the torch?” It doesn’t happen automatically.
Everybody in this room this morning is here-- you are here-- because you, to some degree, had someone hand the torch to you.
Maybe it was your parents. Maybe it was a teacher. Maybe it was somebody in ministry…
Whoever it was, somebody nurtured your faith. Somebody saw gifts and potential in you. Somebody took the time and prayed for you.
Somebody gave you responsibility. Somebody cheered you on.
You have to understand this. In every generation, from Abraham’s to ours… in every generation… somebody passed the torch to somebody else.
Not a single generation was skipped. That’s why we’re able to be here today.
So as we look into the life of Elisha this morning, I’d like for you to ask the question: “Do I have people in my life that I’m passing the torch to? Who am I investing in?”
So, if you have your Bibles, go ahead and turn to 1 Kings 19.
Before Elisha enters into our story here, you may remember how Elijah not only defied Ahab, the wicked king of Israel… but how he stood up against 450 prophets of Baal and another 400 prophets of Ashura.
It was the ultimate showdown… where the power of God puts to utter shame the so-called power of Baal.
“May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them.”
And then we’re told that “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.”
In fact, Elijah becomes so afraid that he ends up hiding in a cave all the way down near Mt. Sinai. And so, in despair… he pours out his heart before God.
And what does he pray? He asks God to take his life. The same Elijah who prayed and fire came down from heaven…
Whoprayed for rain and a drought was ended...prays for one more thing: But this time, he prays, “God, let me die.”
You see, the good news is that sometimes God loves you so much that he doesn’t answer your prayer.
Instead, in verse 15, “The Lord said to him, ‘Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.’”
So, God calls Elijah to go and anoint some kings… but not just that, He also says to Elijah, “I want you to anoint your successor. I want you to begin to pass the torch.”
And so, in 19:19, we’re told that, “Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself, was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him. Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. ‘Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,’ he said, ‘and then I will come with you.’
‘Go back,’ replied Elijah. ‘What have I done to you?’ So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his attendant.”
So, here’s what’s going on. Elijah goes to the field where Elisha is plowing. And as he approaches Elisha, he takes off his cloak and drapes it around Elisha’s shoulders.
Now, the old King James Version refers to this “cloak” as his “mantle”—“He put his mantle on him,” which is a very visible way for Elijah to say to Elisha, “I want to walk together with you…
I want to have you watch what I do, and then do it together…
I want to teach you and invest in you and give you responsibility…
I want your flame to burn a little brighter.
And then, one day, you’ll do this on your own. I want to pass the torch on to you!”
I mean, this was a huge moment for Elisha. Everyone knew who Elijah was… it was an extraordinary honor.
But, understand that this was no simple request. Did you notice the number of oxen Elisha is plowing with?
In that day, a typical family might own a few chickens at best. To own one ox was quite rare.
To have twelve yoke of oxen—which would be 24 oxen—was almost unheard of.
Clearly, Elisha’s family were people of wealth. They have a mansion in Hollywood, a big summer place in Lake Geneva. They’re wealthy people.
So what Elijah is asking here involves an enormous sacrifice. Truth is, the Bible says almost nothing about Elijah’s background. Most likely, he was from a poor family.
So accepting his calling may not have seemed, at least upfront, to be such a difficult choice. He didn’t have a lot of job alternatives.
But Elisha is another story. He had it made! Clearly, Elisha will inherit a way of life from his father that will keep him comfortable throughout his life.
And yet, Elijah is supposed to ask him to give all that up for a job that will likely involve the rejection and opposition of stubborn kings who will want him dead.
You see, it would have been very easy for Elijah to say, “God, you must have made a mistake. Elisha is not going to walk away from a future like he’s got to follow a prophet like me. He’s got too many attractive options. You’ve got the wrong guy. I’m not even going to ask.”
But Elijah does ask and Israel and the world are changed. You see, in terms of passing the torch… in terms of ministry… don’t ever say “no” on behalf of anyone.
Never assume that somebody doesn’t want to get involved. Don’t ever assume they don’t want to learn or grow or belong or serve.
In his book, Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam addresses the issue of “volunteerism” where he writes, “When volunteers are asked how they happen to get involved in their particular activity, the most common answer is, ‘Somebody asked me.’
Conversely, when people are asked why they didn’t volunteer or donate, guess what the number one answer is? “Nobody asked.”
But again, Elijah does ask. And yet, Elijah asking Elisha is just one part of this story. The other fairly critical part is that Elisha actually says, “yes!”
His life was going well… the status quo of his everyday life was one that everyone else could only dream of.
And yet, when Elijah said, “Come, follow me,” Elisha chose to give his everything to God.I mean, what an introduction into the heart of Elisha!
In verse 20 we read, “Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. ‘Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,’ he said, ‘and then I will come with you.’
Then Elijah says something that seems very strange at first. He says, “‘Go back… ‘What have I done to you?’” So Elisha left him and went back.
All Elijah is saying here is, “Are you kidding me… what have I done that you’d think I wouldn’t want you to say goodbye to your mother and father… just come back.”
But, there’s also a sense in this where Elijah is saying, “Of course… I will not use any guilt or pressure on you. I’m not going to coerce this, Elisha. This must be your freely made decision.”
Don’t raise your hands on this, but has anybody here ever heard of a church using guilt or pressure to try to get people to volunteer for something?
I heard about a pastor of a church who regularly used guilt to recruit Sunday school teachers.
He was standing up before the congregation saying, “Statistics say that most fourth graders who don’t have a Sunday school teacher end up with a drug problem.”
And then the next week, because there was no response, “Here’s Susie. She’s a fourth grader with no Sunday school teacher. Tell us about your drug problem, Susie.” That kind of thing really does happen.
And yet, Elijah’s saying, “No guilt. No pressure. No coercion. This is your call.”
It was important to Elijah that Elisha not feel coerced… that he’d serve… that he’d volunteer out of a grateful heart.
Our word “volunteer” actually comes from a Latin word voluntus, which means “will” or “choice”—“to choose.”
You see, we often think of a volunteer simply as somebody who is not getting paid.
But at its core, volunteer means something much deeper.
It means somebody who freely embraces a task, even though they don’t have to—even though they have other options.
They choose to devote themselves willingly, voluntarily.
It flows out of the nature of a God who voluntarily gives himself to his people…
And he invites his followers to do the same thing… to give, to serve… to step into the game… to serve, as Jesus said, not to be served.
But Elijah did more than just go and say goodbye to his parents. In verse 21 Elisha slaughters his entire team of oxen... and throws a huge BBQ for all the people.
Do you know how much meat is in a side of beef? Let’s just say he’s thrown a huge feast. It shows his heart for people… his generosity.
But it also shows his faith in that Elisha isn’t trying to maintain a safety net in case this “Prophet thing” doesn’t work out.
After that, we read in verse 21: “Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his attendant.”
He gives up a privileged position as a wealthy heir… to become a servant, a learner, a follower... we see Elisha’s humility… and his heart to serve.
Now, for the sake of time, jump ahead a number of years to 2 Kings 2. We don’t know exactly how many years have gone by… except, by this time, Elijah and Elisha have been together for a long time.
We’re told in verse 1 that “When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.” [MAPa]
Now, we don’t know how much is clear to Elijah or Elisha at this time, but Elijah isn’t going to be around all that much longer.
But regardless of what they know or don’t know, Elijah tells Elisha, “You stay here. The Lord has sent me to Bethel.” [MAPb]
But Elisha gives a very strong response. He says, “Nothing doing. As sure as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.”
At this point, nearly everyone around Elijah understands that his time is coming to an end.
Once they’re in Bethel, the same thing happens again. Elijah says, “Elisha, I need to go to Jericho… but you stay here.”[MAPc]
“Nothing doing, Elijah, I will not leave you.” And so they go all the way back to the Jordan River.
I mean, this is some rough riding even for a 4-wheel drive let alone a few sandal-clad feet!
So then, why is Elijah taking Elisha on this strange journey? Well… perhaps he’s trying to shake Elisha. Maybe he wants to face death alone.
More than that, I think Elijah is just trying to release Elisha… As if he were trying to say, “Elisha… you’re ready now… I need to go so that you can begin what God has for you.”
And yet, I think the reason the writer includes this story here in 2 Kings 2 is to show us the character of Elisha… to demonstrate Elisha’s unshakable loyalty toward Elijah...
That whatever Elijah has to face, the two of them will face it together.
Through this whole story, you can see the kind of loyalty that develops between the one who is building in and the one who is being built into—
Between the one who’s passing the torch on, and the one who is grabbing a hold of it.
You see, Elijah and Elisha are not just devoted to their task. They’re devoted to one another.
Maybe some of you are in a relationship with someone like that— maybe a small group.
If so, don’t ever take that for granted. It is a gift from God… that needs to be guarded and valued.
Elisha says, “Where you go, I go. What you face, I face.”
But the truth is that most aren’t experiencing this kind of community… where relationships run deeper than the task at hand…
where we genuinely care for one another… and that care gets expressed in tangible ways… from a phone call… lunch together… just getting together to pray.
You see, Elisha didn’t just make time to serve… he made time for community.
Its God’s heart that we serve. Jesus said that He came not to be served but to serve.
But it’s also His heart that our relationships run deep… that our love, compassion, generosity, gentleness… get expressed…
especially in the context of one’s natural family and spiritual family.
Then, in verse 8, they come to the Jordan River knowing that their time together is very short. We’re told here that “Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it.”
He takes his mantle…the same one that he spread over Elisha some time ago… wraps it up, and strikes the River Jordan.
And then this amazing thing happens. Just as the water separated once for Moses and for Joshua, now it’s separating for Elijah. And the two of them cross over on dry ground.
I love how the text reads here. We’re about to be invited into an extraordinary event.
As they’re walking across the dry ground of the Jordon River, Elijah’s fatherly heart is put on display. In verse 9 he turns to speak to Elisha.
But he doesn’t give him an order. He doesn’t offer him a lot of advice. He simply asks Elisha a question.
Verse 9 says: “When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me, what can I do for you before I’m taken from you?’”
What a great question! Torch passers need to ask this question on a regular basis, “What do you need to soar?”
“What’s lacking for you to be really effective? What can I do for you?”
When the guy who just parted the waters of a river asks you what he can do for you… you basically have a wide range of choices to pull from… money, a relationship…
But look at what Elisha asks for in the last part of verse 9. He says to Elijah, “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.”
At first, it looks as if Elisha is simply saying to Elijah, “However much of the Holy Spirit you have, I want twice as much. But desiring more of the Spirit in his life is only small part of it.
Through the OT, the laws of inheritance are made so clear… that, according to Deuteronomy 20:17, for example, the firstborn son is to receive a double portion of the inheritance.
So, Elisha isn’t proudly asking to have twice the ministry of Elijah.
Instead, he’s crying out to Elijah… expressing his sole desire… to be his spiritual son.
He’s saying to Elijah, “I want to be your heir. I’ve watched your life. I’ve watched your ministry. I’ve seen your devotion. I’ve seen the difference that you’ve made. I’ve seen the way that you love God, and that you long to serve him.
And I’ve seen the difference that makes in the life of this people. I’ve seen how the grip that the idolatry and Baal worship has damaged this nation, and yet, I see how it’s beginning to crumble because of what you’ve done.”
“And I believe so much in what you’re doing that I want, as best I can, to devote my life to just trying to carry on your work.
“But I recognize, Elijah, I can’t do this on my own. I’m way too inadequate and way too fallen. I need the help of God’s Spirit.
I need to know God and walk with God and be empowered by God, as you’ve been.”
Elisha asks for exactly the right thing. You can imagine what it must have done in the heart of Elijah to think, “There will be a human being on earth, after I’m gone, who has this longing to serve God and is willing to sacrifice so much to devote himself to that one task.”
So, Elijah says to him in verse 10 that“If you see me when I’m taken from you, it will be yours--otherwise not.”
And so, in verse 11, we read, “As they were walking along and talking together”remembering what God had done in their past…
Thinking about all the mighty things that God had accomplished, and wondering what God might do in the future…
Suddenly, God sends the limo for Elijah. “As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.”
Elisha saw this and cried out: “’My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!’ And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart.”
Can you imagine this moment for Elisha? He sees it. He sees that whole thing.
And he realizes that the very fact that he’s seeing all of this means that he will carry on the work of his mentor. The torch will keep burning…
And yet, Elijah is gone. The man who changed his life… who placed his mantle on him years earlier… who believed in him and taught him and loved him, he’s gone.
And so, in an expression of unbearable grief and sorry, “He tears his clothes.”
Then, in verse 13, Elisha picks up the “cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.”
The mantle got left behind, and Elisha picks it up and he thinks of all that Elijah did.
He goes back to the Jordan, because it’s time now for him to return to the ordinary world.
“Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it,” crying out, “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?”
You see, he’s still kind of leaning on the faith of his mentor.
But as he strikes the Jordon with that mantle, the water parts for him… just as it did for Moses and Joshua and Elijah.
And from here, he goes on to have an extraordinary life. In chapter 3, he dictates a battle strategy to the kings of Israel and Judah. And like Elijah, he both challenges and provides for kings and generals.
In 3:1-27 we read about how Jehoram (the Baal-worshipping king of Israel) had asked Jehoshaphat (Judah) to join him in defeating the Moabites.
But along the way toward southern Moab , they realized that their water supply was completely empty. So… they called for Elisha to help them.
Elisha first asks them to have their worship leader lead in worship so he could clear his head and really seek the Lord regarding his.
But before he did this, like his mentor Elijah, he leads in some prophetic trash talk… asking Jehoram why he hadn’t gone to the prophets of Baal for help (since Baal was supposed to be the god of nature)!
As he was worshipping, he gave them instruction to dig ditches in the valley and to wait.
Suddenly rain from the mountains poured into the valley and filled the ditch so that they had water again.
The battle between them is recorded on what’s known as the Moabite Stone dating back to 850 BC.[SLIDE]
But as you read into the life of Elisha, you soon discover just how different he is from Elijah. Through his life, he is known as a prophet with such great compassion.
Whereas Elijah lived somewhat of an elusive life… showing up at critical moments of time… speaking more into the lives of kings and generals,
Many of Elisha’s miracles were about helping the everyday people around him.
While Elijah was a man of moods, either strongly courageous or despairing to the point of death… Elisha was far more even-tempered… more “the guy next store.” If, of course, the guy next store could part a river!
In chapter 4 he ministers to a powerless, impoverished widow in the city of Shunem.Her two sons are about to be sold into slavery b/c she can’t afford to pay her debts.
She has nowhere to go. She has nowhere to turn, nobody to help her. So she runs to Elisha.
And Elisha says to her, “God will miraculously give you oil and you can sell it and you can pay off your debts, and your sons, whom your creditors were going to sell into slavery, you’ll be able to live with. God will provide for all your needs. He will fill all the jars you set before him with oil. You can sell it and have money.”
So in 2 Kings 4:3 Elisha asks her to “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars.” And then he adds, “But don’t ask for just a few.”
And there’s this unforgettable lesson for this widow… it’s a lesson we’ve talked about before: Give God a few jars; he’ll fill a few jars.
Give God a lot of jars; he’ll fill a lot of jars. Don’t ask for a few.
You see, Elisha has learned from watching Elijah. God will give so much if you just trust him.
And so, when you’re serving, do so with expectation. God is saying, as many jars as you bring me, I will fill them up.
If you bring me two, I will fill two. If you bring 50…
I’ll show you another group he cared for. 2 Kings 4:38: “Elisha returned to Gilgal and there was a famine in that region. While the company of the prophets,” notice that phrase, “was meeting with him, he said to his servant, ‘Put on the large pot and cook some stew for this company.’
“One of them went out into the fields to gather herbs and found a wild vine. He gathered some of its gourds and filled the folds of his cloak. When he returned, he cut them into the pot of stew, though no one knew what they were. The stew was poured out for the people, but as they began to eat it, they cried out, ‘Oh man of God, there is death in the pot!’”
Now I have to admit, my Hebrew is a little rusty… but, call me crazy, I’m translating “there is death in this pot” as… “This was really bad stew!”
Actually, it was more than just awful… people were getting sick b/c of it.
And so, Elisha commands some flour to be put into it… and it’s miraculously made OK.
But notice here, in verse 38, that the group of people he is feeding is actually a company of prophets whom Elisha himself serves as leader.
In other words, just as Elijah built into Elisha, now Elisha is building into another generation.
So the torch will be passed yet again. Somebody else will carry on.
That’s the way it goes with torch passers.
One last story about Elisha in 2 Kings 6. The king of Aram[MAP] keeps trying to kill the king of Israel, though Elisha keeps being warned by God of what he’s up to.
And he keeps telling Israel’s king about it… so Israel’s king is able to move around and keep safe.
And this happens a lot of times. And the king of Aram gets tired of this.
It says in verse 11: “This enraged the king of Aram and he asked of all of his officers, ‘Which one of you is the mole? Who’s telling everyone in Israel what is going on?’ They say, ‘None of us, my lord the king, but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.’”
This was like a divine wiretap going through Elisha.And the king of Aram is very tired of this, so he takes action.
Look at verse 14. He finds out that Elisha is in Dothan. [MAP]
So the king of Aram “sent his horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.”
Verse 15: “When the servant of the man of God,” that is, the servant of Elisha, “got up and went out the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city,” that’s the Arameans.
His servant says to him,“Oh, my lord, what shall we do?”
Look at Elisha’s response. “’Don’t be afraid, those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’”
That must have sounded kind of strange to his servant simply b/c there was no one there with him except Elisha.
In verse 17, Elisha prayed, “‘O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.’ Then the Lord opened his servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
Can you imagine that moment? Elisha’s servant sees what Elisha already saw—horses and chariots of fire.
And even here he’s building into his assistant, praying for him, lifting up his faith, giving him courage.
Then Elisha asks God, in verse 18 to strike the Aramean army with blindness.
So… all the soldiers are struck with blindness, just as Elisha asked.
Now, look at verse 19. This is just hilarious. Elisha told the Aramean army, “This is not the road and this is not the city. Follow me and I will lead you to the man you are looking for.”
And he led them to Samaria, [MAP] which just happens to be the heavily fortified capital of the northern kingdom.
“After they entered the city, Elisha said, ‘Lord, open the eyes of these people so they can see.’ Then the Lord opened their eyes and they looked, and there they were, inside Samaria,” which, of course, is the last place they wanted to be.
The king of Aram brought his army to take out Elisha… but now he’s in the middle of the Northern Kingdom’s stronghold… trapped!
“When the king of Israel saw them, he asked Elisha, ‘Shall I kill them, my father?” (Elisha’s built up a little respect over the years)
“‘Do not kill them,’ he answered. ‘Set food and water before them so they may eat and drink and then go back to their master.’”
So, in verse 23, after they have this big barbecue, we’re told that, “After they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory.”
Through his life, kings and widows and orphans and prophets and armies are changed, and it all happened because… one day… a prophet stopped to offer his mantle to a wealthy, young farmer plowing in his fields.
Somebody passed the torch… and the whole world changed.
And today, we still learn from that story. People have been learning from this for thousands of years, because one man passed the torch.
So I want to ask you, are you willing to be a torchbearer?
Who have you identified that you can build into? Who are you praying for? Whose faith are you encouraging?
Whose gifts are you building into? Who have you invited to work alongside you? Who gets your mantle?
You see, God’s dream really does rest on this—it really does.
Have you said “yes” to God… to open your life… to be a more generous giver of your time… and your life?
Have you said “yes” to God… to receive His heart as a servant… to see church, for example, as a place to serve, not to be served?
From a human perspective, God’s whole dream is one generation away from extinction… unless somebody chooses to give away what was given to them.
From a human perspective, God’s whole dream, the Church, has continued to exist from the first day… to this day… because in every generation somebody made the decision I’m challenging us with this morning…
To pass on the torch… to give somebody else the mantle.