Shortly after Norman Grubb taught on the life of Elijah (1977), he went into some of the highlights of the prophet’s successor, Elisha. In Norman’s words: "Elisha, .. was outstanding in different ways from the man he learned from and followed. In some ways he manifested facets of faith which were different from Elijah."
It sometimes seems that there are pioneers who pay quite a price for some new grade of faith to be established. Others can pick up and practice and produce what they pioneered more easily than the pioneers, them-selves. It was so in some aspects with Joshua and Moses. This is so with Elijah and Elisha, too.
I learned faith from a man who paid a great price in establishing the principles of faith and intercession. He often carried a great burden over it, but he established those principles in such a way that others could follow him. I was one of them, and having learned some of the basic principles from him, I applied them in a much easier way than he did and have seen much happen, too, as if I’m building on the foundation he laid. I refer to my friend, Rees Howells, and how I took the principles of faith I learned with him into my own missionary calling, the calling of the Worldwide Evangelization Crusade.
When God is doing something with a man of the Spirit, you don’t need to push about. You just move quietly along and just do that much. So Elijah’s touch on Elisha is very quiet. There was no pressure, only an indication here or there because Elisha learned he must be a God-commissioned man, a God-anointed man, not merely an imitator or follower of Elijah. So Elijah didn’t set out to train a successor. He just picked up a follower and took him along, and God did the training. This is the way Paul picked up Timothy.
Commissioned by God
It started when God met Elijah in the cave in Horeb and gave him a commission to anoint Elisha to be a prophet in his stead. Obviously there was some connection between them, though we are told nothing about that. But officially the connection between them began with Elijah visiting Elisha, apparently a very prosperous farmer because he was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, a very consider-able operation.
And Elijah threw his mantle on Elisha without saying a thing. Obviously that was an indication to Elisha of a call. This is proof that they must have known each other and that Elisha was reaching in this direction because Elijah wouldn’t have done that unless he’d known to whom he was dropping this hint and, also, the alacrity with which Elisha responded. Even then, Elijah wouldn’t touch it.
This was a thrilling moment to this young man, who must have had an enormous respect and marvel for this man to whom God had come so mightily. All he asked was that he might go hack and see his parents and say farewell, and then he would come along. It is very obvious that it was a very simple and perhaps rough life Elisha lived. When Elisha told Elijah that he wanted to go back and say farewell to his parents, Elijah kept wide open: "Oh, do what you like."
There were those Jesus referred to in His day who wanted to say farewell to their parents and bury their father, but He knew in that case that it was an excuse. The farewells were probably long farewells of the kind Abraham’s servant had to resist (Genesis 24:54-58), and "burying my father" probably meant caring for him in his old age until he died. They really didn’t want to be involved in following this One who had nowhere to lay His head.
However, this wasn’t so with Elisha; he didn’t go back in order to escape. He wanted to go back in order that they could celebrate the privilege that he was going to have, although it meant sacrificing his farming activities and his security. So he celebrated by killing one of the oxen and having a feast with his people. Then he started his new life.
Training for the Life of Faith
We are told no more of Elisha for a few years except that on one occasion it is mentioned that he poured water on the hands of Elijah. Apparently, he acted as Elijah’s servant for about eight years. We don’t know what kind of training was going on but apparently it came out of the time that Elijah had with God when it appeared that he was running away from his previous calling under the threat of Jezebel, though it really was God turning him in a new direction.
This new direction was the training of successors. That’s a very interesting change of direction for missionaries to see because instead of himself being the agent through whom truth would come, he would be training others who would be God’s voice and manifest God’s power among the people.
So these schools of prophets were started up all around the nation, who would be the true people of God waiting to instruct the people in place of these false priests who had been destroyed. This is what we missionaries did who were bringing folks to Christ and then began helping them to become witnesses and missionaries to their own people.
Facing His Inadequacy
It is here that we are given a plain insight, one of the many in Scriptures, of how the Holy Spirit was to prepare us to consciously be God’s equipped people. We see Elisha through these intervening years coming ever more clearly to the recognition that there was a quality of the power and manifestation of God in Elijah which he hadn’t got himself.
Now, after eight years, instead of being a thrilled young man rushing out to join his "older brother" in God’s commission, he found himself so inadequately equipped for the position that he was ready to say that unless something happened to him, he couldn’t undertake it. God used two methods of forcing him to come face to face with his recognition.
One was that Elijah told the school of prophets that God was to take him. When the time came that God was going to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah had told these prophets this, and they kept saying to Elisha, "Don’t you know the Lord is going to take away your master from you?" God used this to force Elisha into a corner. These prophets knew that the man from whom they had drawn their teaching and inspiration and preparation was going to be taken from them. And they knew that Elisha was to be the successor. Presumably they knew there would be nothing outstanding about the life of Elisha which would seem to fit him to be a second Elijah.
Here again in history, we are given a picture of how God presses a man into a situation in which he hasn’t got what it takes. When we’re people of the Spirit, there is in us an inner constraint or intensity to do what we’re called to do and have what it takes to do it. Isn’t it so in every life where God has brought us through by what-ever means into the inner understanding of this "exchanged life," as Hudson Taylor called it, when we know it’s not we but He? But there’s always a background of disturbance, not only of what we haven’t got, but what we must have.
What is Faith?
The writer of Hebrews was speaking of this when he said, "Labor earnestly to enter into His rest" (4:11). Isn’t that interesting? Labor to enter rest. It means to enter into a fixed grade of faith where we become at one with something. There is an application to our appropriation and continuance in the appropriation until we have consciously arrived at where we are seeking to arrive. Because "faith is the evidence of things not seen," it’s not just, "I’ve got it." Here is the evidence that the thing is mine. It is a substance. Faith is more than saying, "I believe something."
Faith is the faith of God which says, "Here it is." John’s statement on faith is, "He that believeth on God hath the witness in himself’- the evidence. So it isn’t merely in saying, "I’m believing"; it’s saying, "Yes, that’s it." As we move into that grade and become settled, we have this acceptability to operate on that level of faith, which is the substance. We can do it more spontaneously.
In Elijah’s case, he brought fire. Sometime after the incident on Mount Carmel, he was able to bring fire twice over on those who were in disfavor with God. He knew how to bring the manifestation of God, which was in that day to kindle him. So there is this quality of intensity in Elisha. He wasn’t stopping until he had what he recognized he needed to have.
He had been going through a period of apparent conviction that he hadn’t got what he needed to have, the emptiness of the self, the helplessness of the self. Then he went on to this stage where the only person who had God was Elijah. He didn’t have a writ-ten Bible, or any other means, so the only container of the thing which he must have was the man whom he was to succeed. He had come into this same settled inner conviction that he must have that thing in Elijah–which was the Spirit of God.
As usual, our critics or our challengers are our spurs. And so these different schools of prophets spurred Elisha on by saying, "You know, God’s going to take Elijah from you today." His answer showed he was settled. He said, "Yes, I know it. Hold your peace. Keep quiet." That’s good.
Pressed to Faith
Elijah, meanwhile, didn’t touch Elisha. He wanted to be sure that he did nothing to try to persuade Elisha to follow him–that he in no way interfered with the working of the Holy Spirit in pressuring Elisha. It all must come from Elisha. So Elijah said, "You stay here."
But Elisha replied, "Oh, no. I’ve made up my mind." If he was to be a second Elijah, he must have what Elijah had–a will totally surrendered to the Spirit of God. Then he moves to Jericho, and again the prophets put pressure on him. And again he says, "Be still. I’m handling that."
Finally, Elijah exercised the principle of faith by striking the waters of the Jordan with his mantle, and they divided, allowing them to cross. But this time Elijah finally felt he could say to Elisha, "What shall I do for you before I am taken away." Now he had sufficient evidence that Elisha was set on this same pathway.
Even so, he didn’t say what. The need, the supply, whatever Elisha felt he must have must come from within. Elijah did not interfere with the Holy Spirit. Elisha said, "I want a double portion of your spirit." That’s a strong statement to make!
Elijah’s answer was again thrown back on Elisha. He called it a hard thing he asked, but he said, "If you see me when I’m taken from you, you will have what you ask. If you don’t, it will not be so." It would not he a matter of him, but of God.
It happened very naturally. There was no great prayer meeting or any-thing because this isn’t the life of great prayer meetings. This is the life of the next thing. They went out and talked, and as they talked, something happened. Now that is the inner seeing. Evidently the school of prophets didn’t see it any more than the men with Paul saw it on the way to Damascus. They heard the voice, but they saw nothing.
Faith Becomes Substance
I’m quite certain that anyone with Moses wouldn’t have seen that bush because normal bushes don’t operate like that one, burning without going out. There is another seeing when the Eternal One is manifested in His eternal reality, and we know that only the eternal can see the Eternal One.
It says Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind. We don’t know what it meant or what exactly happened, but as he went up, Elisha saw something which wasn’t Elijah at all. Quite apart from Elijah, he saw a chariot of fire and horses of fire, the Lord of Hosts, who has millions of angelic beings. And he rent his clothes and cried out, "My father, my father. The Chariots of Israel, the horses, I’ve seen!–I’ve seen the inner reality. I’ve seen the eternal sources; the inner person, I’ve seen! That’s it!"
Like Moses at the burning hush, there’s a very clear presentation of the establishment of the inner seeing. This is the inner union. Union is knowing. It isn’t anything outer at all. My inner self is my knowing. My inner self is my consciousness. I live by my consciousness. "What man knows the things of a man except the spirit of a man within him," is how Paul put it. The spirit is the knower.
From Believing to Operating
What Elisha got from Elijah was interesting and curious. It was a double portion of the ability to bring things to pass quickly. Like Joshua and like Jesus, Elisha moved into such a faith relationship, a seeing relation-ship that any moment he could say, "It’s here." He didn’t pray, didn’t have agonies. He didn’t have to commune for guidance. He operated. In some ways this is a perfectly natural life.
This is how Jesus operated. If He needed food, He thanked the Father, split the people up, and the five loaves became five thousand. "If you need fish, put your net in on that side of the boat, and you will catch fish." "I will. Be thou healed."
Elisha is most like Jesus in that respect, though admittedly it was in local matters. There does seem to be a difference because Elijah dealt with great national matters and Jesus of Gethsemane was dealing with world history. That was an agony. But, at least in the normal ways of life, he [Elisha] was able in the simplest way to speak a word of faith and say, "It’s there. It’s there."
Elisha’s first step after Elijah was taken up was to go to the God of Elijah. Now, sometimes people criticize because they say you’re following a man. But you’ve got to start by following man–that’s how you know. Elisha followed Elijah. So he went back to the water. This is his first test. "Where is this God of Elijah?" And he smote the water with the mantle, saying, "I’m going to prove that this God of Elijah is my God."
It is quite fair for Paul to say, "Follow me as I follow Christ, and learn my way of being Christ’s." That’s how we learn. We needn’t he silly and fussed because somebody says, "Oh, you follow that man or that person." That’s all right as long as what you are really following is the God of that person. And gradually you drop off the person and just bring out what has now become real to you, for it has now become yours.
On the whole, I have that principle for myself when I write. I very rarely say I’m quoting anybody because what I’ve got has become mine. They got it somewhere, and I got it from them. If it is a direct quotation, I would say it, of course. But all we’ve really got is what we’ve got from the Scriptures.
I’m not going into the life of Elisha much more closely except to discuss a couple of instances because what we have is a whole list of the same kind of things happening in the simplest way. What we can learn from them is that there is no reason why we shouldn’t say that a thing’s there–you need it, you see it, it’s coming, it’s here. Use faith for other people and for yourselves. It is a continuous series of incidents where, I think, the main point is to have this ability at once to affirm, express the resources of God for situations and to say they are there, to see them there, and they will turn up. That is something we learn from our practice.
Seeing Through Appearances to God
One of the two instances I’ll spend a minute on was the Dothan incident, which is the plain proof of what Elisha saw when Elijah went up in the whirl-wind. That was the time when he again, by some inner sight, saw the Syrian king plotting against Israel. And he was able to tell the king of Israel where they were making the next ambush so the king could avoid the ambush.
When the king of Syria inquired as to who was giving him away, he was told it was this prophet of Israel named Elisha. So the king of Syria sent a whole army in the night to capture Elisha. The next morning when the servant of Elisha had risen early, he saw this army encompassing the city in order to capture Elisha. And the servant said to Elisha, "Alas, master, what shall we do?"
Here again is one of those quick incidents because Elisha seemed to be able to work like that. And he gave a very illuminating answer. He said, "Fear not, for greater are those that are with us than with them." And then he prayed, "Lord open the young man’s eyes that he may see." Then the servant saw the mountains were full of horses and chariots of fire around Elisha. It was the very thing Elisha had seen when he saw Elijah taken up!
Here is a man living in the sense of the total forces of God in the situation. Therefore, on that basis, there was no need for them to fear those who were coming to seize him. That is a very strong evidence to us of how we can trust God when we talk about danger. Missionaries need to learn that. When we had trouble in the Congo field when the changeover came from the Belgian government to the native government, our missionaries were divided in half. Half left and half stayed, exactly. Those who left felt they must protect their children. Some could say, "God is my suffering." Of course, they have been going on wonderfully ever since. God was wholly with those who remained so that the work doubled and trebled since then. The others went home. So these tests will catch us out. Why do people so often talk about being afraid of danger? Isn’t it again our tendency to move back into soul fear instead of the spirit recognition? So that’s a very good evidence of where Elisha was when he began his ministry.
The Mature Prophet of God
The other incident I want to discuss is the well-known story of Naaman, the Syrian army captain held in great esteem by his king, and who had contracted leprosy. There are several important points in this story. One is the simplicity of the little slave girl, captured by the Syrians from the Israelites, who told Naaman’s wife, "There is a prophet in Israel who can heal him." The child had responded to the reality of God working through Elisha.
When this was told to the king of Syria, he did just as the world does by trying to pile it up on the human resource level and sent a big gift to the king of Israel so that he could heal his esteemed captain, Naaman. The king of Israel reacted by tearing his clothes in dismay, thinking it was a trick because he knew he couldn’t heal a man of leprosy or anything else. Elisha heard about it and sent word to the king of Israel: "Send him to me."
So Naaman came down to visit Elisha. When he came, there was a spirit of detachment in Elisha, for there must be nothing which would give the idea that he was an important prophet doing some important thing, saying important words which would stimulate Naaman’s sense of importance because God won’t touch that self-importance. Elisha really put him to the test. He wouldn’t see him at all but sent him a message saying, "Go and wash seven times in the Jordan river."
Now, a nationalistic question arose: after all, what’s the Jordan compared with his own Syrian rivers? So this had the preliminary effect of testing out the reality. And Naaman said, "I don’t want to do that. I thought at least he would come and strike the place with his hand and I would be healed. Here this man tells me to go wash in his muddy, old river."
Well, that’s a reaction, but this wasn’t the real man. And so the servants came to have a talk with him and said, "If the prophet had said to you to do some great thing, you would have done it. But how much more when he just says, ‘Go, wash, and be clean.’ And then Naaman saw it. He wasn’t really after his own dignity; he was after his own healing. That’s the point.
Well, if I’m to be healed, I’ll be healed that way." And then he was healed. This time, he returned to Elisha, and Elisha came out to meet him because now the question of self had gone out of it. He tried to persuade Elisha to take a gift, but Elisha knew better. He wouldn’t touch a gift.
Then Naaman made a remarkable request because the healing had moved from the man’s body to his heart and had settled in him. He said, "Your god is the God. Henceforth, I don’t wish to offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god but to the Lord. I know now that there is no god in the world but in Israel." He had got-ten it clear. So he asked for the privilege of taking two mules’ burden of earth to build, in a symbolic way, an altar where he could come out to Israel to worship. Right in the heathen nation he would worship the Living God!
More Articles from The Intercessor, Vol 13 No 1
- Editor’s Note
- Moments with Meryl
- God’s Stormtroopers
- A Look at a Book
- A Christmas Letter
- Safety in the Crossfire!
- Food for Body, Soul & Spirit at the NY Conference
- To Think About…
- Questions & Answers
- The Mailbox
- The Contract
- The Self Can’t Be Improved
- Tape Talk
- Excerpt from The Intercession of Rees Howells
- The Way of Release
- God’s Standards Have Not Changed: British Fall Conference
- Words to Live By
- One Lesson