Chapter 7 The Choice for Anointing: The Life of Elisha
(Note: This is the next installment of a book I’m writing called The Choices God Makes. You can read the beginning chapters in the previous posts of this blog.)
Many times in the Bible, those chosen by God for a particular calling or ministry were also anointed. It was a way to call attention to individuals and set them apart, resulting in a change in direction for their lives. The primary references to anointing are in the Old Testament, most often referring to prophets, priests and kings God had chosen for His service. Nevertheless, because of who were are in Christ, the concept of being anointed still has weight and significance for our lives, precisely because we are now considered to be priests of God. We see this connection in 1 Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
What does anointing mean in the context of being set apart by God for ministry? It is obviously not merely being physically anointed with oil. What is our anointing as God’s royal priesthood? Simply put, it is the power of the Holy Spirit, the outward expression of God’s plan and purpose being carried out in the world. The power of the Holy Spirit is a sign to the world of our special relationship with Jesus and the authority we have through His shed blood. First Peter 4:14 says, “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” As Jack Taylor once said, “The Holy Spirit is in me for my sake, but He is upon me for your sake.”
We do not have an account of the prophets Elijah or Elisha being anointed for service, though that may have been done. Despite this, the concept of anointing and the resulting demonstration of the Spirit’s power in their lives are undeniable. Anointing for these men took the form of a cloak or mantle that was worn by each of them. The power of anointing to change the course of a life is evident in the story of the call of Elisha by Elijah in 1 Kings 19:19-21:
So 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 good-by,” he said, “and then I will come with you.”
“Go back,” Elijah replied. “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.
It’s clear that the Lord had prepared Elisha ahead of time for His calling. Perhaps a prophecy had been spoken over him, perhaps the Lord Himself had spoken to Elisha. Has the Lord spoken to you about the calling on your life? Have you received a Scripture or prophecy, and now you’re waiting to see the fulfillment? Be ready to respond, just like Elisha. When he was called, Elisha quickly said goodbye to his parents, but he did something else significant. He sacrificed the oxen he had been using to plow the field. The oxen represented his old life and the old way of doing things. It has been said that in times of change, we must decide what is dead and must be left behind, and what is alive and should be retained. What has God called you to sacrifice? What has He called you to leave behind for the sake of His Kingdom? Are you willing to do what Elisha did?
By sacrificing the oxen, Elisha was saying not only that God was doing a new thing in him, but also that he would not return to his former life. Consider the words of Ps. 44:11 and 17, “Listen, O daughter, consider and give ear: Forget your people and your father’s house…Your sons will take the place of your fathers; you will make them princes throughout the land.” Meditate on these words: “If we forget our fathers, God will give us sons.” My view is this: if we are willing to forget our fathers, which represents our former life, God will give us spiritual sons, a new way of life, a new way of thinking, a fruitful ministry. This is your inheritance and your reward for obedience.
What is it that God called Elisha to do? Eventually, Elisha would be Elijah’s successor. But at first, he was simply a servant to Elijah. Second Kings 3:11 describes Elisha as the man who would pour water on Elijah’s hands. Could there be any simpler calling? Elisha’s call was to provide Elijah with his basic needs. But what was really going on during this time? Through his obedience as a servant, Elisha was learning what the life of a prophet was all about. He was learning about Elijah’s giftings, his heart, and his relationship with God. Every great anointing of God begins with a simple act of obedience. We learn a little, and God teaches us more. We serve a little, and God opens more doors of opportunity to us. We submit to authority, and God gives us greater authority.
And, as often happens, God will test us in our submission to Him, to determine the extent of our devotion and perseverance. This happened with Elisha. We read about it in 2 Kings 2:1-6:
When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”
But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.
The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”
“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “but do not speak of it.”
Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.”
And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho.
The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”
“Yes, I know,” he replied, “but do not speak of it.”
Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”
And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on.
Three times Elijah offers for Elisha to stay behind and become part of the company of the prophets. Have you heard that testing comes in three’s? This is normal in the Bible. Jesus was tempted three times by satan in the wilderness. Peter denied knowing Jesus three times before the rooster crowed. And Jesus required Peter to respond to the question, “Do you love me?” three times following Jesus’ resurrection, once for each time Peter denied Jesus. This is a biblical pattern. Each time Elisha was tested, he could have taken the easy way out. He could have moved in with the other prophets of that town and probably had a good life. But for Elisha, this was not enough. He had not given up his old life and spent all that time serving Elijah to miss out on the blessing God had for him. He knew what he wanted, it was in his mind during the whole trip with Elijah, and he would not settle for anything less. Are you willing to settle for something less than God’s best? Or, will you stick with God, no matter what, and make the choice for anointing?
There is something very honoring to God about repeated obedience, which often requires great patience. The Bible is full of examples of this kind of obedience: the Israelites marching around Jericho six days, and then seven times on the seventh day; Naaman washing himself seven times in the Jordan River; the disciples waiting ten days in Jerusalem before Pentecost. David says in Psalm 63:8, “My soul clings to you.” Are you clinging to God? Is His calling a matter of life and death to you? This is exactly where God wants us.
In 2 Kings 2:9-10, we see what it is that Elisha has had in mind the whole time:
When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”
“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.
“You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise not.”
Here we see the connection between anointing and the power of the Spirit. Elisha makes a very bold request. Are you willing to be that bold with God? Just imagine, Elisha had left his former life and his family behind, he had faithfully served Elijah, probably for years, then he had refused to leave Elijah’s side during their final journey together. Yet, when Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, Elijah says he has asked for a “difficult thing.” Is it really difficult for God to grant this request? Of course it isn’t. What’s difficult is bearing the responsibility of that calling, the awesome weight of having the Holy Spirit rest upon him. This should make us stop and consider. We want God’s power in our life, but are we willing to live the life that goes with that anointing? Elisha was willing. Are you willing? Will you boldly ask for God’s anointing, as Elisha did?
In 2 Kings 2:13-15, we see that God granted Elisha’s request, and we also see the symbol of the cloak representing the anointing passing from Elijah to Elisha:
[Elisha] picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him 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. The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.
Elisha sees Elijah’s mantle lying on the ground after Elijah was taken up to heaven. He knows it is for him. So, he picks it up and tries it out. Sure enough, he does exactly what Elijah did – he parts the Jordan River. This is a sign to the prophets standing on the other side of the river. Elisha then puts the mantle of Elijah on his own shoulders. Elisha is now literally wearing the Spirit. The Spirit is resting upon him, and he would go on to do even greater things for the Kingdom of God than Elijah had done.
This same anointing is available today. We have a wonderful promise about this from Jesus Himself in John 14:12: “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” Jesus said about Himself that the Spirit was upon Him. Consider what Jesus did while He was on earth and the kind of authority he exercised, to teach, to heal, to set the prisoner free. You will do these works and more because of the Spirit who lives inside of you, because of the Spirit who rests upon you.
Perhaps you are you plowing a field, just working day-to-day. Maybe all you have from God is a promise. This is a good place to be. You’re ready for ministry, you’re hungry for a fresh touch from God. This is where Elisha was when Elijah found him. He expected a blessing from God, and he was not disappointed. Let me encourage you with the words of 2 Peter 3:9: “God is not slow in keeping his promise…” Believe that God has called you and wants to use you mightily for His Kingdom.
Maybe you are standing today at the Jordan River, and the mantle of the Spirit is lying at your feet. You have an overwhelming desire to pick that mantle up and put it on. God has been preparing you for this moment, and now He asks a simple but profound question: How much do you want that mantle? How much do you want to wear the Spirit? Are you willing to leave everything else behind? Are you willing to live the life of sacrifice that goes with the anointing? I encourage you to say yes to God, and then buckle up for the ride of your life.