The Age of Elijah and Elisha

The call of the notable prophet Elisha is most instructive for modern day Christians. What is the connection between a prophet who has been dead for almost 2,800 years and modern man? Our contemporary world is not much different from the conditions that prevailed during the lifetime of the aforementioned prophet. Elisha lived in a day when many of his kinsmen had apostatized and turned to idols. Likewise, in our day idolatry (be they literal icons of wood, stone, gold, and silver or more subtle deities such as money, sex, fame, & pleasure) and apostasy both flourish. Much of what passes for modern Christianity is a sham religion - a hideous mixture of biblical terminology coupled with pagan concepts of veneration. Twentieth-century Christendom spends more time making friends with the enemies of Christ, than bearing the reproach of the Cross. In our day, suffering - especially for the truth - is to be avoided at all costs. It is a feel-good faith that offers this world an emaciated gospel, which is merely a placebo for the genuine problem that human beings face: separation from God because of sin?

In Elisha's day the Word of God was ignored, and the people of Israel gave more attention to false gods like Baal and the Asherah. It is no surprise that these pathetic and grotesque images of wood were adored by the ancient peoples of Canaan, for their worship involved the most depraved forms of fleshly perversion. Temple prostitution and fornication played major parts in the rituals surrounding Baalim and Ashtoreth. Still today one may see similar acts of worship committed in the name of sexual liberation, gay-rights, and pornography; Baal and Asherah still have scores of devotees (figuratively of course.) These religions were also attractive because they involved human effort - something that is central to all of man's religions. Furthermore, they preached a kind of prosperity gospel that promised fertility in agriculture and child bearing; therefore, thousands of Israelites forsook the God of their fathers for these hideous counterfeits.

The leaders of the day were no better. The government of the wicked king Ahab and queen Jezebel thrived on unspeakably immoral practices. Idolatry, perversion, greed, murder, and shifty treaties were all standard operating procedures under the rule of this evil and debauched monarch. Amidst all of this corruption, one might expect the Lord to cast off His chosen people and rain judgment upon the land. Human expectations aside, however, God is a longsuffering and merciful being; thus He chose to raise up spokesmen who would condemn the immorality of the age and call Israel to repentance. The prophets were not somber kill-joys, sent to rob the Israelites of wholesome pleasure. Rather, they were sentinels who warned the people of God concerning impending judgment and the folly of sin.

By far the two most famous prophets of the kingdom era were Elijah and Elisha. These men of God were used by the Almighty to strike fear into the hearts of kings and commoners alike. They were the divinely constituted means of performing radical surgery on the nation of Israel, a country that was plagued by the cancer of idolatry. Conventional remedies were powerless to save the people of God. What was needed was a dramatic national repentance - a wholehearted return to obedience to the Word of God! Together the ministry of these prophets pronounced a stunning condemnation against the wickedness that abounded in Israel and Judah; nevertheless, the message was not without hope. By the miracles performed by these seers, the dead were raised, lepers were cleansed, and the poor were fed. Certainly all of this portrays in shadow the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. He not only healed the lame, raised the dead, and cleansed lepers, but also provided forgiveness of sins--the root of all of these maladies.

Elijah and Elisha could have made names for themselves in many modern evangelical circles. The "Signs & Wonders" movement has created a popular demand for supernatural manifestations of power. If ever there was a time when miracle-working was in vogue, it surely would be the nineteen nineties. Yet this public interest in "signs and wonders" ignores the very reason for miracles. In Scripture, miracles are not a sign of faith, but rather a testimony that the people are so far from God that He has to use extraordinary methods to draw attention to His Word. In short, we may say that miracles are a declaration of God's power in the presence of unspiritual people. The endless pursuit of sign gifts is not a hallmark of spirituality; in contrast, it is a tell-tale evidence of the fleshly search for self-gratification.

There was an interesting difference between the types of miracles that were performed by Elijah from those done by his successor. A.W. Pink noted the contrast in these words:

"The majority of those performed by Elijah were associated with death and destruction, whereas ... those attributed to Elisha were works of healing and restoration. If the former was the prophet of judgment, the latter was the prophet of grace; if the course of one was fittingly closed by a whirlwind removing him from this scene, a peaceful dove would be the more appropriate emblem of the other ... The work of Elijah was chiefly a protest against evil, while the work of Elisha was an almost continuous testimony to the readiness of God to relieve the distressed and respond to the call of need whenever that call came from a contrite and believing heart."

Truly, the ministry of the Lord Jesus was characterized by a perfect mixture of judgment and mercy, the fullest expression of which can be seen at the Cross on Golgotha. "The Prophet and High Priest of our Confession" perfectly combined the ministries of Elijah and Elisha during His sojourn on earth. (Heb. 3:1.)

In our modern world, we need more believers like Elijah and Elisha; people who will allow the Holy Spirit to use them in the bold proclamation of God's Word. "Speaking the truth in love" is a fitting description of our task. To mince words and water down the Glad Tidings of Christ would be sheer folly. As followers of the Lord Jesus we must stand for the truth though it mean that the world will mock us. The alternative is to invite Laodicea into our gatherings-something that is already too prevalent? In order to effectively present the truth to believers and unbelievers alike we must spend time in prayer and communion with the Lord. Only a heart that is overflowing with love for Christ will be able to preach the Word with the correct balance of judgment and mercy. Only one who has been constrained by the love of Christ is prepared to call sinners and Christians back to repentance.