15 And the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. 16 And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. 17 And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. 18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
19 So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. 20 And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” 21 And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him. – 1 Kings 19:15-21 ESV
The last three-and-a-half years had taken their toll on Elijah. He had been living in a God-ordained exile in a remote village in the region of Sidon. And while God had miraculously cared for him during that time, he had to live with the knowledge that there was a bounty on his head. King Ahab and his queen, Jezebel, had never forgiven him for the drought he had placed on the land of Israel. And Elijah must have woken up every morning wondering if that would be the day God called him to confront Ahab and Jezebel one more time.
When that day finally came, Elijah obeyed God and made his way to Mount Carmel, where he challenged King Ahab to pit his 450 prophets of Baal against Yahweh, the one true God. And that battle ended up being a lopsided affair, with Elijah’s God as the clear victor and the false god of Ahab and Jezebel exposed as a fraud and a failure. And the dead bodies of his 450 prophets, strewn across the Jezreel Valley, were evidence of his decisive defeat.
But Elijah’s hope for revival in the land was soon replaced by fear for his own life. Jezebel had vowed to kill Elijah for his slaughter of the 450 prophets of Baal. And he had responded to this news by running away. The prophet of God seemed to have lost all faith in God. And yet, even in his deep state of depression and despondency, Elijah was ministered to by God. Yahweh met Elijah right where he was, in the midst of his doubt and despair, and graciously provided him with a visual demonstration of His power. Yet the wind, earthquake, and fire only frightened Elijah, causing him to take refuge in a cave. But it was the quiet whisper of God that drew him out. And the gentle voice of God asked Elijah to explain his presence there. What was he doing so far from the scene of the recent victory over Baal? Why was he in hiding? And Elijah had repeated his earlier answer:
“I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” – 1 Kings 19:14 ESV
Elijah described himself as alone and afraid. He had convinced himself that he was the last man standing, with no one to do battle at his side. In the heat of the moment, he had conveniently forgotten about the 100 prophets that God had used Obadiah to protect and preserve (1 Kings 18:13). Elijah felt alienated and alone, but his feelings were not based on reality. God even informed Elijah that He had preserved a remnant of “7,000 others in Israel who have never bowed down to Baal or kissed him!” (1 Kings 19:18 NLT). Elijah was far from alone, and God was far from finished with Elijah. And rather than rebuke His wavering prophet, God gave him his next assignment.
“Go back the same way you came, and travel to the wilderness of Damascus. When you arrive there, anoint Hazael to be king of Aram. Then anoint Jehu grandson of Nimshi to be king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from the town of Abel-meholah to replace you as my prophet.” – 1 Kings 19:15 ESV
Despite his recent display of faithlessness and fear, Elijah would play a significant role in the next phase of God’s plans for Israel. God gave Elijah three assignments: First, he was to anoint a new king over the Syrians or Arameans. Then, he was to anoint a new king over Israel’s northern kingdom. Finally, he was to anoint his own successor. God provides Elijah little in the way of details. Other than the names of the men he was to anoint, Elijah had no way of knowing what any of this meant or how it would all turn out. But God was letting Elijah know that there were plans in the works of which he was unaware. Whether Elijah realized it or not, Ahab’s days were numbered, and the Syrians would end up playing a part in his eventual demise. There would be a new king in Israel one day. God had defeated the false god, Baal, and now He was going to mete out final judgment on the man responsible for Baal’s presence in Israel.
As if to further convince Elijah that he was not alone and that his mission was far from over, God revealed that the three men Elijah was to anoint would carry on the work that he had started at Mount Carmel. Elijah had slaughtered the 450 prophets of Baal, but there were far more who needed to face the judgment of God for their apostasy and rebellion.
“Anyone who escapes from Hazael will be killed by Jehu, and those who escape Jehu will be killed by Elisha!” – 1 Kings 19:17 NLT
Judgment was coming. God was preparing to purge Israel of all those who had bowed the knee to Baal, and He would start at the top with Ahab and Jezebel. But this divine plan to cleanse Israel would not happen overnight. In fact, it would last long after Elijah was gone. That’s why God informed Elijah that he was to anoint his successor.
“…anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from the town of Abel-meholah to replace you as my prophet.” – 1 Kings 19:16 NLT
God already had Elijah’s replacement identified and ready to carry on His divine plan for Ahab’s punishment and Israel’s purification. A big reason for Elijah’s dejection was because the revival that had started at Mount Carmel had stalled. When he had heard the people cry out, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God” (1 Kings 18:39 ESV), he had truly believed that God had turned back the hearts of the people. He had expected to see an amazing renewal take place. He may have even believed that Ahab and Jezebel might repent and accept Yahweh as the one true God. But instead, the ever-defiant queen had threatened him with death.
But while Jezebel remained unwavering in her commitment to Baal, Elijah needed to understand that God was unphased by her actions. As the sovereign, omniscient God of the universe, He had a plan in place to deal with Jezebel, Ahab, and all those who had bent the knee to Baal. And while Elijah might not live to see the final phase of that plan, he would play a decisive role in its preparation.
Revived and encouraged by God’s news, Elijah made his way to Abel-meholah, located in the Jordan Valley. While God had clearly told Elijah to travel to the wilderness of Damascus and anoint Hazael to be king of Aram (1 Kings 19:15), it would appear that this was meant to be his final destination. On his way from Mount Sinai, he had to pass through the Jordan Valley, so it only made sense to stop there first and find the man who would be his replacement. He found Elisha plowing with a pair of oxen in a field. This agrarian scene is significant for several reasons. First, it conveys an image of hope and expectation. After three-and-a-half years of drought, the rain had come, and now Elisha was preparing his formerly sun-baked fields for planting. He was anticipating a fruitful harvest sometime in the future. But Elisha’s presence in the field also reveals that he was a man of the land. He was not an influential figure with great wealth and prominence. He was a nondescript nobody whose only credentials were his calling by God.
What happens next appears strange to our modern sensibilities. Elijah walked up to this man, placed his cloak across his shoulders, and then simply walked away. What kind of bizarre ritual did this represent? How was Elisha to take this unexpected action from this unknown stranger? Amazingly, it seems as if Elisha fully understood the significance of Elijah’s symbolic act. The text tells he “left the oxen standing there, ran after Elijah, and said to him, ‘First let me go and kiss my father and mother good-bye, and then I will go with you!’” (1 Kings 19:20 NLT). Perhaps God had already prepared Elisha for this moment, having revealed His plan through a dream or vision. He could have sent an angelic messenger to prepare Elisha for the prophet’s arrival. But whatever the case, Elisha seems to have been unphased by what transpired and fully aware of what it meant. He immediately stopped his plowing and followed the man of God. His words and actions reveal that he knew who Elijah was and what he was asking him to do. His only request was that he be allowed to say goodbye to his family.
Elijah’s response to his request comes across as rather flippant.
“Go back again, for what have I done to you?” – 1 Kings 19:20 ESV
But, in a sense, Elijah was simply emphasizing that this had all been God’s doing, not his. He was simply the messenger. Elisha was free to do as he pleased. And the young farmer-turned-prophet demonstrated his commitment to accept the call of God. He took the plow, the symbol of his former occupation, and used the wood to build an altar. Then, on that altar, he offered up the two oxen with which he had been plowing. Elisha literally burned any and all bridges to his former life. He bid his parents and his past goodbye and “arose and went after Elijah and assisted him” (1 Kings 19:21 ESV).
As Elijah and Elisha made their way from the Jordan Valley, the first phase of the second half of God’s plan began. The revival Elijah had longed for and given up on was coming. His God was not yet done.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson