“So he departed thence, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth: and Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle upon him” (1 Kings 19.19 KJV).
Elisha’s transformation from a domestic man to a public prophet always amazes me. One moment he’s plowing the fields with 12 yoke of oxen (24 oxen altogether), and the next moment he’s following a notorious mountain prophet–Elijah. After a symbolic burnt offering, a quick bite to eat and a kiss goodbye to mom and dad, his life is forever changed. I had to do a little research so I could feel the full effect of what happened to him that fateful day.
Besides both being called to the prophetic ministry, the differences between Elisha and Elijah are vast.
– Elijah is a loaner while Elisha lives with his wealthy farming family.
– Elijah doesn’t seem to have any friends while Elisha visits prophets and spends time in cities.
– Elijah lives in mountains and in caves while Elisha lives in pastoral land.
– Elijah has long, unkempt hair while Elisha dons the popular shaven head of the time.
– Elijah is “fierce, furious, stern, unbending” while Elisha is “gentle, peaceful, calm, approachable” (The Preacher’s Homiletic Commentary VL 8 PG 319-320).
Two men couldn’t be more different, yet Elisha would follow in the foot steps of Elijah.
What strikes me the most about Elisha’s anointing–which occurred when Elijah threw his mantle (cloak) over Elisha’s shoulders (a tradition still used in many cultures today)–is that Elisha wasn’t sitting around waiting for his anointing. Quite the opposite. Elisha was coordinating the production of 24 oxen who were plowing his family’s field. Elisha was most likely a rich kid, living on the prosperity that his father built; yet, he didn’t waste away his inheritance–he worked it! Training 1 pair of oxen takes diligence, care, time and dedication, so I can’t even imagine tending and training 12 pair of oxen.
Oxen are much like children. They need patience, attention, affection and instruction, which takes time, time and more time! So the fact that Elisha was “gentle, peaceful, calm and approachable” doesn’t surprise me one bit. You’d have to be in order to get 24 animals to work together in unison on a focused task. But Elisha wasn’t just minding the animals; the Bible says that he was located at the 12th pair of oxen, which is where the plow is located. Not only was Elisha good with the animals, he was good at manual labor. Elisha didn’t have a book in his hand, kneeling in a prayer room when he was chosen to be God’s messenger. No, he was caring for 12 yoke of oxen and running the plow! Elisha was dirty, sweaty and smelly when he was covered with the mantle of God’s anointing.
Elisha’s “domestic work” completely influenced his public, prophetic work. Elisha was good with people, diligent, hard working and determined. Three times Elijah told Elisha to give up and go home, but Elisha wouldn’t have it. He was going to plow his prophetic field with the same integrity he plowed his father’s field. “Then Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to the Jordan River.’ But again Elisha replied, ‘As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you.’ So they went on together” (2 Kings 2.6 NLT).
As Christ followers, we are all anointed for a special purpose; but until the mantle of God falls upon us, we must work the fields He has placed us in. We can’t keep looking at the horizon for our ships to come in. God will ensure that He will fulfill the promises that He has set for us, so we need to work unto the Lord with all our heart and strength to accomplish the task He is giving us now. It might seem small and tedious, but it is shaping the character of our destiny and the distinction of our influence.
“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” ( Ephesians 2.10 NLT).
We can’t try to understand the fruition of God’s promises because what is impossible with us is completely possible with God. God’s plans are usually off our radar of comprehension. God doesn’t need our limited itineraries, ideas or speculations. He can do a miracle on the edge of the wilderness (Matthew 14.15), in the center of a raging sea (Mark 4.39) or at a field of domestic life (1 Kings 19.19). Wait on God, keep moving, stop planning; and when God opens the doors for you, take your experiences, skills, knowledge and tenacity and finish the work He has prepared for you before time began.
“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1.4-6 NIV).