I have a few thoughts about Elisha. Primarily that he’s the perfect leading character in a modern action/drama. He’s intense, he’s loyal, he’s strong. Yeah, he’s bald, but that just humanizes him.
Seriously, though, Elisha tries to leave him behind three times. I’ll be honest, I don’t really understand why. The only thing I can think of is that it foreshadows Jesus asking Peter “Do you love me?” three times. What strikes me the most about this process, though, is Elisha’s response to the prophets warning him that Elijah is about to depart. “Yeah, I know. Now mind your own business.”
I kind of want to know what those other prophets thought they were doing. Were they trying to warn him like there was some danger at hand? Were they trying to make sure he was prepared? Were they trying to entice him to stay behind with them? Were they suggesting he attempt to stop Elijah from proceeding? I really want more information than we’re given.
What we do know is that Elisha isn’t having any of it, whatever it is. Yes, he knows. Of course he knows. He’s a prophet of God, remember? He serves the prophet of God, remember? And no, he isn’t going to remain behind. He set out to follow, to learn, to succeed. This is where we see the intensity. This is where I can imagine the jaw clenching, the brooding. The well controlled emotions that obviously run deep. This is a man he loves like a father, and they are about to say goodbye. He’s about to come into a harsh responsibility the same moment he’s confronted with a deep personal loss. And these idiots keep bothering him.
Anyway, they make it across the Jordan, miraculously, by the way, and Elijah gives Elisha the opportunity to name his own blessing. I don’t believe Elisha was being greedy by asking for a double portion, or ambitious for power or recognition. I believe, based on his attitude, the reaction to him, and the rest of his ministry, that he sincerely wanted double the spirit in order to serve. I believe he really wanted to bring his nation back to God.
Elijah warns him that he asks a difficult thing. It’s obviously not a difficult thing for God, so it he must mean that it’s going to be a difficult thing to bear. Prophets usually aren’t exactly popular. And he gives Elisha the opportunity to reconsider. All he has to do is look away at the last second, to hesitate, to doubt. But Elisha does none of those things. He says goodbye, and he watches his mentor, friend, his father figure ride into heaven on a fiery chariot. Then he picks up the mantle, literally, and gets to work. You know, leading man style.
Now, this passage also has the interesting account of the young men who get eaten by bears for mocking him. It really does seem harsh, and I’ve often wondered if we were maybe missing one small point that brings it all together, makes it seem more reasonable. Then I read a comment that pointed out that they were near a city known for idolatry, and that the phrase, ‘go up,’ is the same as the one used for Elijah’s ascension. If you take that to indicate that these were idolaters suggesting Elisha take off like his mentor did, it starts to make more sense.
Elisha didn’t want anyone to go after Elijah’s body, because it wasn’t out there. Consider the possibility, and this is largely conjecture, but consider the possibility that Elisha told them what happened. That they didn’t believe him, because it sounds too absurd, too fantastic. That these boys aren’t just mocking a prophet, they’re calling him a liar, they’re suggesting that if such a thing were possible, he’d go up too. After all, if such a thing were possible, why would you stay here? That they’re questioning his right to succeed Elijah. Why’d you get left behind if you’re just as worthy as he is? Bet you just killed him and buried the body so you could have his position.
That makes sense to me. Can you imagine having that thrown at you after you just experienced the greatest loss of your life?
I feel bad for Elijah, living so much of his life in hiding while the king hunts him down. I feel bad for Elisha, too, but if Elijah’s courage and faith is impressive, Elisha’s is epic. He saw Elijah’s life, lived it beside him, and still asked for more. How often do we ask for less? I know I do fairly often.