Leading Question: “Which prophet’s experience do you find more attractive, that of Elijah or that of Elisha?
Biblical Passage: 1 Kings 17 – 2 Kings 13.
Themes: Four moments when “Garments” play a key role in the stories of Elijah and Elisha.
- Elijah wraps himself in his mantle at Horeb (1 Kings 19:23)
- Elijah casts his mantle on Elisha (1 Kings 19:19)
- Ahab repents in sackcloth (1 Kings 21:20-29)
- Elisha takes Elijah’s mantle and performs a miracle (2 Kings 2:13-14)
Before taking up the four moments where garments play a key role, another question is nearly irresistible: “The experience of which prophet, Elijah or Elisha, do you find more attractive?”
Note: Elijah’s experience is marked by two violent acts: Killing the 450 prophets of Baal from Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18:19, 40), and ordering the death of the two groups of fifty warriors sent by King Ahaziah (2 Kings 1:9-18). Elisha’s ministry was also marked by two “negative” miracles, but of much milder character: the mauling of the 42 disrespectful boys by the two she-bears (2 Kings 2:23-25), and the pronouncement of Naaman’s leprosy upon Gehazi (2 Kings 5:20-27). Otherwise, Elisha’s miracles were all positive, life giving. Which prophet do you find more attractive? More powerful?
1. Elijah wraps himself in his mantle at Mt. Horeb (Sinai) (1 Kings 19:23). Is there any clue in the biblical narrative as to why Elijah fled from Mt. Carmel to Mt. Horeb/Sinai? Why to Horeb/Sinai and not some place else?
Note: After his great victory on Carmel, Elijah was terrified by Queen Jezebel’s threat on his life. He headed for the one place where he know that God had given an overwhelming display of divine power. But the results were not what Elijah had hoped for. According to 1 Kings 19:11-12, the mountain was rocked by wind, earthquake, and fire, but the Lord was not in any of those. Only when Elijah heard “a sound of sheer silence” (1 Kings 19:12, NRSV), did he sense the presence of God and he went out and stood in the entrance of the cave.
But en route to that confrontation with God, Elijah experienced the Lord’s tender mercies. These quotes from Ellen White on Elijah’s frenzied journey to Horeb, capture the beauty and tenderness of those moments. They are taken from Prophets and Kings:
Into the experience of all there come times of keen disappointment and utter discouragement – days when sorrow is the portion, and it is hard to believe that God is still the kind benefactor of His earthborn children; days when troubles harass the soul, till death seems preferable to life. It is then that many lose their hold on God and are brought into the slavery of doubt, the bondage of unbelief. Could we at such times discern with spiritual insight the meaning of God’s providences we should see angels seeking to save us from ourselves, striving to plant our feet upon a foundation more firm than the everlasting hills, and new faith, new life, would spring into being. PK 162.1
For the disheartened there is a sure remedy – faith, prayer, work. Faith and activity will impart assurance and satisfaction that will increase day by day. Are you tempted to give way to feelings of anxious foreboding or utter despondency? In the darkest days, when appearances seem most forbidding, fear not. Have faith in God. He knows your need. He has all power. His infinite love and compassion never weary. Fear not that He will fail of fulfilling His promise. He is eternal truth. Never will He change the covenant He has made with those who love Him. And He will bestow upon His faithful servants the measure of efficiency that their need demands. PK 164-65
Did God forsake Elijah in his hour of trial? Oh, no! He loved His servant no less when Elijah felt himself forsaken of God and man than when, in answer to his prayer, fire flashed from heaven and illuminated the mountaintop. And now, as Elijah slept, a soft touch and a pleasant voice awoke him. He started up in terror, as if to flee, fearing that the enemy had discovered him. But the pitying face bending over him was not the face of an enemy, but of a friend. God had sent an angel from heaven with food for His servant. “Arise and eat,” the angel said. “And he looked, and, behold, there was a cake baken on the coals, and a cruse of water at his head.” PK 166 After Elijah had partaken of the refreshment prepared for him, he slept again. A second time the angel came. Touching the exhausted man, he said with pitying tenderness, “Arise and eat; because the journey is too great for thee.” “And he arose, and did eat and drink”; and in the strength of that food he was able to journey “forty days and forty nights unto Horeb the mount of God,” where he found refuge in a cave. PK 166
If, under trying circumstances, men of spiritual power, pressed beyond measure, become discouraged and desponding; if at times they see nothing desirable in life, that they should choose it, this is nothing strange or new. Let all such remember that one of the mightiest of the prophets fled for his life before the rage of an infuriated woman. A fugitive, weary and travel-worn, bitter disappointment crushing his spirits, he asked that he might die. But it was when hope was gone, and his life-work seemed threatened with defeat, that he learned one of the most precious lessons of his life. In the hour of his greatest weakness he learned the need and the possibility of trusting God under circumstances the most forbidding. PK 173
Those who, standing in the forefront of the conflict, are impelled by the Holy Spirit to do a special work, will frequently feel a reaction when the pressure is removed. Despondency may shake the most heroic faith and weaken the most steadfast will. But God understands, and He still pities and loves. He reads the motives and the purposes of the heart. To wait patiently, to trust when everything looks dark, is the lesson that the leaders in God’s work need to learn. Heaven will not fail them in their day of adversity. [174/75] Nothing is apparently more helpless, yet really more invincible, than the soul that feels its nothingness and relies wholly on God. PK 174-75
Question: What is symbolized by the fact that Elijah did not find God in the tumult, but only in “a sound of sheer silence”? He wrapped his face in his mantle and went out to stand in the mouth of the cave On the continuum between arrogance and humility, where was Elijah at this time?
2. Elijah throws his mantle on Elisha (1 Kings 19:19). The biblical account is very cryptic here. Elijah simple throws his mantle on Elisha and keeps on going. What kind of intellectual, spiritual, and emotional impact would such an experience make on an apprentice prophet?
3. Ahab repents in sackcloth (1 Kings 21:20-29). After all that Elijah had suffered at the hands of Ahab and Jezebel, the story of Ahab’s repentance is startling. Jezebel had arranged to kill Naboth, the man who refused to give the king his ancestral land. When Ahab went down to look over his newly-acquired vineyard, Elijah was there to meet him. “Have you found me, O my enemy?” exclaimed Ahab (1 Kings 21:20). Elijah proceeds to pronounce a stinging judgment on Ahab and his family. The biblical account adds this assessment of Ahab: “Indeed, there was no one like Ahab, who sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the LORD, urged on by his wife Jezebel” (1 Kings 21:25).
After all that build-up, suddenly repentance and the voice of grace shines through: “When Ahab heard those words, he tore his clothes and put sackcloth over his bare flesh; he fasted, lay in the sackcloth, and went about dejectedly” (1 Kings 21:27). Was it all a fake? Not according to Scripture: “Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite: “Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the disaster in his days; but in his son’s days I will bring the disaster on his house.” (1 Kings 21:29)
Just as Josiah’s repentance let to postponement of punishment (2 Kings 22:19-20), and just as the repentance of the king of Ninevah let to a reprieve – in the vivid words of the KJV: “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God repented of the evil, that he had said that he would do unto them; and he did it not.” Jonah 3:10) – so in the days of Ahab, the most wicked of Israel’s kings earnestly repented and the Lord recognized the repentance as genuine.
Ellen White’s most famous comment in this respect is worth noting, a comment in the context of the disappointment and continued delay for the Advent believers:
The angels of God in their messages to men represent time as very short. Thus it has always been presented to me. It is true that time has continued longer than we expected in the early days of this message. Our Saviour did not appear as soon as we hoped. But has the Word of the Lord failed? Never! It should be remembered that the promises and the threatenings of God are alike conditional. – MS 4, 1883, 1SM 73 [Evangelism, 695]
4. Elisha takes Elijah’s mantle and performs a miracle (2 Kings 2:13-14). The same mantle that marked the beginning of Elisha’s ministry with Elijah now marks the transition to his continuing ministry, a ministry without his master. Elijah picked up the mantle of his departed master. That mantle opened up the Jordan for Elisha, just as it had for Elijah. Elijah’s mantle: Could such an earthy symbol have a similar impact today when a leader passes on the torch to the next generation?