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Daily Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, June 26, 2022  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  1 Kings 19:15–16, 19–21

Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel, and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place.

So he set out from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat, who was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and threw his mantle over him. He left the oxen, ran after Elijah, and said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” He returned from following him, took the yoke of oxen, and slaughtered them; using the equipment from the oxen, he boiled their flesh and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out and followed Elijah and became his servant. (NRSV)

When Elijah throws his mantle over Elisha, the latter’s life changes dramatically. A prophet’s mantle was like a hairy robe that identified them among their peers. In biblical times something of the prophet’s person was thought to adhere in the mantle, since the garment has such close, constant contact with him. So Elijah effectively puts his body onto Elisha.

That changes things—for both of them.

They don’t seem to know one another beforehand. God just tells Elijah to anoint Elisha as prophet in his place after Elijah reports to God that he’s the only prophet left and the Israelites are trying to kill even him. For his part, Elisha is just plowing his family’s ancestral plot the same way he did yesterday and will do again tomorrow.

Biblical succession stories highlight the seeming unfitness of the one anointed to succeed, like David chosen by Samuel to replace Saul as king, though he’s the youngest and smallest of his family; like Matthias chosen to succeed Judas by the drawing of lots. This story stands in that tradition. Though the narrator doesn’t say anything derogatory about Elisha’s qualifications, the utter lack of any is telling; what matters is God’s word, not the individual abilities of the one called.

For Elisha that means his life now no longer belongs to his family, so he symbolically destroys the oxen that represent his life as a plowman and then hits the road with Elijah. And for Elijah, God’s call of Elisha means that he’s not the only show in town anymore. He’s now sharing the prophet’s mantle with another, one who, in time, may even come to be regarded as greater than him.

But the good news of this story is that God will not be without a messenger, even in the most dire of times when it seems that every force is arrayed against those trying to do the right thing.

God of the prophets, speak through them to us and to all who have ears to hear. Through all who bear the mantle of your Word, may we heed your call to uphold justice, to defend the cause of the poor, and to rescue the oppressed. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry and Worship

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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