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.