If You See Me When I Am Taken From You

There are a few things, themes if you will, that you will find again and again in the Bible. Some of those things are obvious, like forgiveness or good behavior. Some of those things are not so clear, but when you look for them you will be amazed.

One of those themes is the instruction given by God concerning his attitude toward man and its relevancy for the here and now, and the future. When I say attitude I mean the mindset of the Holy Spirit. Previously, I have gone into reasons why the Holy Spirit is depicted in the lives of both Moses and Elijah. I want you to see that He is also represented by Elisha.

It is no accident that when Elijah went across the Jordan to rise up into heaven that he went to the same place where Moses died. The difference was that Elijah came from within Israel in order to get to that spot, whereas Moses got to it after 40 years of wandering in the desert. Elijah retraced the steps that the Israelites made under Joshua in order to get back to that spot. Elisha was with him all the way. Elijah tried to tell Elisha not to come with him, but Elisha would have none of that.

Moses got to the place where he died because he disobeyed God. God had asked him to give the people of Israel water. He asked Moses to go and ‘speak to the rock’. In front of all the people He wanted Moses to tell a particular rock to give water. Instead of doing this Moses struck the rock with his staff in order to produce water. Because of this God told Moses that he would not enter the promised land. God had wanted to convey something about Himself in the action of speaking to the rock. When Moses struck it instead it said something else about God, something it would seem He did not want conveyed. It could be that, in the way that things happen with God, Moses did do exactly what God wanted him to. The point of this? The point being that God wanted to say something that it was going to take much more time and complexity to say.

There is also something amiss in Elijah’s story. With Elijah what is amiss is, however, harder to see. After that Elijah had gone to Mount Carmel in order to offer up a sacrifice as part of a challenge he proposed (prophesying Jesus most likely), upon succeeding in that challenge he became afraid of the queen, Jezebel. As part of the result of the challenge Elijah had killed the queen’s religious men, the prophets of Baal. When she got wind of this she proclaimed that she would kill Elijah. Elijah ran afraid from the queen. He ran to God’s holy mountain, Sinai. There, in a cave, God said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Elijah’s response was, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”

Then God said, “Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord.”

Then the Bible describes what happened next, “And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

“So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. Suddenly a voice came to him, and said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’

“And he said, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.’

“Then the Lord said to him: ‘Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place.'”

God tried to convey a message to Elijah. He asked him why he was there in order to see if Elijah understood what God was trying to tell him. Then God revealed something about the ‘why’, the still small voice, He did things rather than the ‘what’, the wind and earthquake and fire. When Elijah could not understand what God was trying to tell him, God told Elijah to anoint another in his place.

So you see, the story is the same as that of Moses. The meaning of speaking rather than striking was beyond Moses to understand. It was important for God to speak rather than strike. That conveyed something about God’s nature. Elijah also came face to face with God’s nature, not in the wind, earthquake or fire, but in the still small voice. When God impressed this upon Elijah it became obvious that Elijah did not understand the significance, instead he answered the same as he had before. He didn’t realize that God did things out of His heart, out of the way He is. The law is based upon what God’s heart is like and not upon what we can interpret about it with our Garden of Eden based knowledge of good and evil. His heart desires to speak to rather than strike. His heart wants to communicate on the level of the still small voice.

We should note that it was not Elijah that went and anointed either Hazael or Jehu. Others, including Elisha, did those things. Elijah did throw his mantle, however, over Elisha. I believe the fact that he didn’t is a clue to the continuity intended in following this story. The continuity intended to show that both Elijah and Elisha are illustrations of the same Holy Spirit. Thus, the change depicted by the rising of Elijah alive into heaven and the taking of his fallen mantle by Elisha, where he parted the waters of the Jordan as the Israelites had done when they entered the promised land, was not a depiction of discontinuity. It was a depiction of the Holy Spirit doing something like changing His mind. Perhaps changing His mind is the wrong way to put it? Maybe, further revealing the attitude that has always underlain what He was about doing is more to the point? Maybe getting at the ‘still small voice’.

In keeping with this intention before he was to be taken Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?”

In response Elisha said, “Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.”

Then Elijah said, “You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.”

The Bible then says, “Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.

“And Elisha saw it, and he cried out, ‘My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!'”

Elisha did see it, and he did get a double portion. What was it that he saw? He saw two things which were tied together but which were distinct enough to name as two separate things. He saw “The chariot of Israel” and he saw “Its horsemen”. Could it be that what these represent are what their names imply, Israel and Christianity? Israel is a chariot of sorts, pulled through time by Christianity. They are inextricably tied together, but they are separate things. Also, when fire has been mentioned in other places it can be construed to say something about time. The analogy is even more intense when you consider that Christianity, like Israel was, is broken up into two camps (Catholic and Protestant), two horsemen before the chariot. And the judgmental attitude of both parts, the chariot and the horsemen, is nearly the same. What God is telling us is that with what comes next, with the attitude he will reveal, the judgmental part will be gone.

Elijah insisted that he was the ‘only one left’ when in fact God told him that he had reserved seven thousand who had not knelt to Baal. Confrontation was important to Elijah. Violence was represented in Moses’ striking of the rock rather than speaking to it. The difference between those things and what God is really like, tied together by the spot of Elijah’s rising and Moses’s death, is represented by Elisha. We saw in both Moses’ and Elijah’s stories that God tried to get through to them what His intentions were, what his character was like, but that in neither case did they listen. Can it be that as well neither Israel nor the Church has listened to God’s voice trying to say something about Himself? Can it be that this story is trying to tell us that God has always planned for something different to come after, something which did listen to Him about that very important aspect of Him?

There is more to it, of course. Elijah took forty days to get to Sinai. Jesus took forty days in the wilderness before He came into his ministry.  He also spent forty days with the Apostles after his resurrection, trying to further tell them what the Kingdom of Heaven was all about.The Church likewise is now, and has been for forty jubilees, wandering. Israel took forty years in the wilderness, after having refused to cross over into the promised land. The church, as well, suffered its own problems early on. The Apostles refused to serve, instead handing those duties over to Stephen and six others. They would not engage in the argument of the day, letting go of the overstructure of Israel, clutching to being Jews before being Christians, which bound them. They would later do that under Paul, but not then. For both the Church and Israel it was too late to try and do what they should have done at first later, when they finally did try it. Those of the Hellenists, not at all traditional Jews bound up in that overstructure, were being discriminated against and the Apostles refused to intercede. Instead they appointed the seven to do it. The Apostles wanted to be alone, devoting themselves to prayer rather than serving to solve the dispute over the discrimination against the Hellenists, like Elijah kept trying to say he was alone. Elijah was not alone, there were seven thousand others, just like there were seven appointed to settle the dispute and see to the duties. The Church wanders after failing to act in the book of Acts and embrace God’s universal approach to humanity, just as Israel wandered after failing to enter the promised land when God first wanted them to.

There are a lot of parallels. As I said, it is amazing when you see it. There are so many things and they are at first so hidden. Then, when you see them, they look as if they’ve always been there. You find you cannot doubt God’s authoring of the stories. Perhaps the most amazing thing is really the challenge the many parallels presents to us considering our understanding of God and of the way He chooses to reveal Himself. The Bible is the word of God, and it is authoritative, it just isn’t as plainly easy to understand as a person would like to think. God did put a lot of stuff in there that is meant to connect one thing to another in very esoteric ways. Rushing to judgment about what it means is a mistake just as dismissing God because we can’t see what is plainly in front of our faces is a mistake.

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