Passing the baton
‘Then he took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, and said, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” And when he also had struck the water, it was divided this way and that; and Elisha crossed over’.2 Kings 2:14
At a meeting in Stornoway a few years ago to commemorate the 400th Anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible, a representative of the Scottish Bible Society made reference to the number of phrases that have come into common usage in everyday language from the King James Version. Phrases such as ‘By the Skin of your teeth’, ‘feet of clay’, ‘wolves in sheeps clothing’ , ‘a thorn in the flesh ‘ , ‘by the sweat of your brow’ are just a small selection of many phrases that have enriched the English language from the King James Bible. And we have another good example here. The mantle of .. has fallen on .. The mantle been passed to. The origin of that phrase which is so often used is this great story . Someone usually an older person may retire and in doing so passes on responsibility to someone else ( usually a younger person). That person proceeds to continue the work that was started by the older person .
In an earlier chapter we saw God revealing His purposes to Elijah in these terms “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.(1 Kings 19:16 NKJV) What was the very first thing that Elijah did in response to this ? He went to find Elisha who was ploughing with eleven others at the time and throw his mantle around him (1 Kings 19:19). We can easily miss the impact this had not only on Elisha but also his friends and family who may have witnessed this. They would have trembled in seeing Elijah come in the same way as the elders of Bethlehem trembled to see Samuel (1 Samuel 16:4). They saw the man they all recognised as Elijah the Tishbite come to Abel Meholah, they saw his wild appearance, the coarse garment of hair, and the prophet’s mantle or cloak, and they would wonder why he had come? Then Elijah cast his mantle upon Elisha and Elisha’s life could never be the same again, (something Elijah readily admits in 1 Kings 19:20).
The first thing that Elisha does in verses 13 & 14 after the dramatic way in which God takes his master & mentor Elijah away from him, is to pick up the mantle that had fallen from Elijah and strike the water of the river Jordan with it. The mantle is Elijah’s badge of Office as a prophet. As Moses had his staff , with which he struck the Red Sea, so Elijah strikes the River Jordan with his cloak. And Elisha does the same. Like Father – like son. What he is doing is on one level really simple and basic. Putting into practice what he has seen his mentor do, like a son imitating his father.Elisha’s first action though witnesses to the fact that “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” (2 Kings 2:15 ESV). He picks up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen and in faith strikes the river ‘ Then he took the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” And when he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.(2 Kings 2:14 ESV)
The mantle was all that Elisha had as a tangible reminder of his great mentor, but as that mantle fell, and in picking it up, the baton so to speak was passed to him. Elisha had asked for a double portion of the spirit of Elijah ( verse 9-10). Even Elijah admitted that this was a hard thing, but it was what Elisha needed and received. Even to have a fraction of the faith that Elijah had would be wonderful, but to ask for a double portion and what is more to receive it was the greatest blessing Elisha could have.
He is picking up the baton just like an athlete in a relay race, and that image is one that seems so appropriate here and in other places in scripture. It is the Biblical way of mentoring that we see for example in Joshua taking over from Moses ( Joshua 1), or Timothy taking over to a degree from Paul (2 Timothy ). Joshua for instance begins as a soldier, but he is very quickly identified as Moses servant ,understudy and appointed leader. “ So the Lord said to Moses , take Joshua son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit , and lay your hand on him…. “ The baton is passed to Joshua . We read at end of Deut 34:9 ‘ Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid hands on him ’ . They had begun to take steps to prepare for when they themselves are not there, and have handed the reigns on to others.
But what about us ? Whose mantle has fallen upon us? Who do we have to follow in the faith Who are we to follow in earnestly contending for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.(Jude 1:3 KJV) Those of us who are second or third Generation Christians, do we know how blessed we are? Those who have or who had Christian parents, who had something passed on to us from a former generation. Or who had a Christian example in the home, in school, in Sunday School or in the community ? Do you know how blessed you are ?
But the question remains what is it we are passing on to the next generation? What do we leave as a legacy for those coming after us ?. Who is picking up your mantle ? Is it our kids, other family, school friends, facebook friends , neighbours ? Who is watching us, waiting to follow us ? What is it they see in us that is worth imitating? Are your Christian life worth imitating as far as they concerned? Or does it turn them away from the Faith? Is it simply a dry and dusty heritage and ossified traditions, is it a cold love and a divided church of community or is it a living vital faith in the Living God ?