1 Kings 19:19–21 (NIV)✞: The Call of Elisha
In recent passages we’ve read how Elijah the prophet faced down the prophets of Baal, then got terrified of Queen Jezebel, and finally met with God on Mount Horeb. In that last passage the LORD had a number of instructions for Elijah, one of which was for him to commission his replacement prophet, Elisha.
He was given a number of other instructions as well, but this is the only one we’re told about him completing (see verses 15-18 (NIV)✞ from the last passage). Which… I didn’t think was a big deal, but the ESV Study Bible notes seem to disagree; see more below…
Regardless, he does at least go and find Elisha:
19 So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him. 20 Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. “Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye,” he said, “and then I will come with you.”
“Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?”
21 So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant.
I assume the thing about Elisha and the oxen is a feat of strength of some kind, but I don’t have proper knowledge.
There are a few things happening here that I don’t understand, for what are, I assume, cultural reasons:
- Actually, I don’t know if this first item is “cultural” or just ignorance on my part, but as mentioned above, the text makes a point about how Elisha is driving oxen and I feel that this part would be more meaningful to me if I understood that kind of farming.
- Elijah throws his cloak around Elisha. I assume that’s culturally significant (though it doesn’t feel like we’re missing much; we still get the idea of what’s happening).
- Verse 20 (NIV)✞ is altogether confusing:
- Elisha had to run after Elijah; did Elijah just throw his cloak around Elisha and then… walk away?
- Elisha says he needs to go say goodbye to his parents—“Let me kiss my father and my mother goodbye”—which immediately makes me think of the man who wanted to follow Jesus but needed to “bury” his father first, and the response he got from Jesus that, essentially, he wasn’t ready to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. But that doesn’t seem to be the case here with Elisha.
- Elijah’s response: “Go back. What have I done to you?” This sounds pretty… well, it sounds rude! Why the hostility? (Per the quotations from the ESV Study Bible below, it’s probably not even cultural, it’s probably personal.)
The final part seems much more straightforward: Elisha follows Elijah (and, presumably, God) so wholeheartedly that he gets rid of the way he makes his living: he slaughters his oxen, making a feast for his neighbours and even burns them on the yokes. If he ever wanted to give up being a prophet and go back to farming he’d have to start from nothing; he’s not leaving himself a “Plan B” to fall back on in case this whole prophesying thing doesn’t work out.
Did Elijah obey the LORD fully?
As mentioned earlier God actually gave Elijah a number of instructions in the previous chapter, but the only instruction we see fulfilled is the calling of Elisha. I always assumed that was an editing choice by the author(s) of the book of Kings—they don’t need to tell us every detail—but the ESV Study Bible folks are taking it a bit differently:
1 Kings 19:19 he departed from there and found Elisha. Is Elijah back on track as a result of his trip to Mount Horeb? The closing verses of ch. 19 suggest not. There is no mention here or in the upcoming chapters of Elijah’s ever meeting (or trying to meet) Hazael and Jehu (see vv. 15–16). One never reads of Hazael’s being anointed, while it falls to Elisha to arrange the anointing of Jehu (2 Kings 9:1–13). Even Elijah’s response to God’s command about Elisha seems less than wholehearted. There is no mention of his “anointing” of Elisha as his prophetic successor; he merely enlists him as his assistant (1 Kings 19:21). Yet the names of the two prophets indicate the way that God’s plan is nevertheless unfolding. Elijah has all but had his day—the day when it was established that “the LORD, he is God” (18:39), which is what the name “Elijah” means. The new era of salvation belongs to Elisha, whose name means “God saves.”
ESV Study Bible
I’m not sure if this is a case of one of the authors of the ESV Study Bible being too nit-picky or if it’s a case of someone having studied things more than I have. If I were to guess, I’d say it’s probably the latter…
And, since I’m already quoting them, let me quote the ESV Study Bible again, in regards to Elisha:
1 Kings 19:20–21 Let me kiss my father and my mother. Elijah’s apparent lack of enthusiasm for God’s plan stands in sharp contrast to Elisha’s reaction. He immediately leaves his normal employment to follow his new mentor, pausing only briefly to cut his ties with his old life. He kisses his parents goodbye and destroys his old means of sustenance (the 12 yoke of oxen and … the yokes of the oxen that control them). The Hebrew verb “to kiss” occurs in 1–2 Kings only here and in 1 Kings 19:18 (“every mouth that has not kissed him”). What the kisses have in common is that they both say something about allegiance. The worshipers of Baal kiss him, symbolizing that they have abandoned (Hb. ‘azab in 18:18; 19:10, 14) the Lord. Elisha wants to kiss his parents, symbolizing that he has abandoned home and livelihood for the Lord (cf. Hb. ‘azab in v. 20, where Elisha left the oxen).
ESV Study Bible