When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”
“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.
2 Kings 2:9 (NIV)
Transitions are typically difficult.
Along my life journey, I’ve been part of many different transitions and have walked alongside others in their own seasons of transition. I’ve noticed that there are many different elements that make a transition easier or more difficult for those involved. It can be a matter of temperaments, as some individuals handle change differently than others. It also has to do with how long the transition has been anticipated and how well the transition has been planned. It has to do with how well those in the system experiencing the transition have been prepared. It also has to do with whether or not the transition flows in the natural progression of time or whether the transition is unforeseen and forced by sudden tragedy or change in circumstances.
Over the past few years, Wendy and I have been in a season in which we are experiencing a number of transitions in our families and in business.
Today’s chapter is about a major transition in the spiritual landscape of the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah. The prophet Elijah appeared on the scene like Clint Eastwood wandering into town in High Plains Drifter. God uses Elijah to take on corrupt King Ahab, his wife Jezebel, and the prophets of Baal. God worked miraculously through Elijah throughout his ministry, and now it’s time for him to ride off into the sunset (or in this case, riding off in a chariot and a whirlwind). Today’s chapter is all about the transition of Spirit and prophetic authority from Elijah to his protégé Elisha.
First God leads the two of them on Elijah’s farewell tour of the three towns where companies of prophets reside: Gilgal, Bethel, and Jericho. In each place, it is known or made known that Elijah is going to be taken away. Elijah and Elisha then cross over the Jordan river, with Elijah striking the water with his cloak and parting the waters to cross on dry ground. This is a direct parallel to Moses striking the water with his staff so that the people of Israel could cross into the Promised Land in Exodus 14.
This is also the root of so many metaphors that we continue to use today. Elijah is “crossing over Jordan” to be taken to heaven. “Crossing Jordan” is still used in life and lyrics when referencing death and the passing of a person from earthly life to eternal life.
Elijah then asks Elisha what he wants, and Elisha asks for a “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit. In modern western culture, this sounds like a consumerist request as if Elisha is asking for a spiritual BOGO coupon. What Elisha is asking is in reference to the Mosaic laws of inheritance. The first-born son gets a “double portion” of the father’s inheritance and takes on the role of patriarch in the family. Elisha is asking to receive the mantel of spiritual leadership among the prophets and the people, to be the spiritual firstborn son among the prophets of God’s people.
When Elijah is taken, he leaves his cloak behind, which Elisha picks up and strikes the water of the Jordan. The waters part and he returns to the other shore on dry land, symbolizing that he indeed received what he had asked for. And, by the way, we still use this event metaphorically in talking about transitions of power and authority. Another word for cloak is “mantel.” The “mantel of leadership” had been passed from Elijah to Elisha.
The last two stories in the chapter confirm the miraculous powers of blessing (healing the water) and curses (the curse on the jeering boys) that Elisha now possessed just as Elijah had possessed before him.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking through all of the areas of transition that Wendy and I are still navigating. How does the transition from Elijah to Elisha speak into all of these other transitions?
First, there was a process. So often in transitions, I experience the desire to jump to the end of the process. I want to skip the more difficult parts, especially the ones that are about dealing with messy relationships. But the process is necessary, and it can make a huge difference in the success of the transition.
Second, there was a nod to both the past (Moses crossing Jordan) and to the future (Elijah being taken to heaven in order to set up the “return” in the person of John the Baptist). The good transitions I’ve experienced in life and organizations both honor the past and open up new paths and future opportunities. In the transitions I’m experiencing, how can I embrace both?
Finally, there was an element of the divine mystery in the transition. Elijah didn’t grant Elisha’s request. He deferred that to God. That’s why Elisha’s three miracles (dividing Jordan, healing the water, cursing the jeering boys) confirmed that God had granted Elisha’s request. In this, I am mindful that there is, I believe, an element of the divine mystery in every earthly transition. I believe that God is at work in my story and in each person’s story. I have been a part of transitions that didn’t end the way I wanted them to, but in retrospect, I can see how it was instrumental in the directing of my steps.
So, I’m reminded of my one word this year: Trust.
Trust the Story.
Trust the plan.
Transitions are waypoints in the direction of our path.
FWIW: Several of my messages from the past five months were uploaded to the Messages page. Messages are listed in chronological order with the newest messages on top.
Featured image on today’s post is by Jan Saenrendam, from the collection of the City of Amsterdam, and is in the Public Domain.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.