“Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it. ‘Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’ he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.”
II Kings 2:14, NIV
Those words almost leap off the page, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” The most awesome moment had just occurred. Can you imagine a sudden sight of a chariot of fire coming down in a whirlwind from heaven to pick up the honored prophet of God Elijah? Even to describe it takes your breath away. A fiery chariot pulled by a team of stallions ablaze and swept down like a whirlwind. The word “awesome” was invented for something like this! And in an instant he is whisked off to heaven and he disappears from sight. And as he is swept up dramatically, his robe strips off his shoulders and falls at the feet of Elisha. Instantly the young prophet picks it up for it was worn by Elijah and symbolic of this outstanding ministry he had. That cloak was the prophet’s mantle—it wasn’t magic, but it was a vivid reminder of how God had used this special and unique man of God over and over again.
Now, can you imagine picking up Elijah’s mantle? C. H. Spurgeon said on one occasion, “If ever I could feel any great reverence for a relic, I should like to have Elijah’s mantle.” Then he said, “Elisha had it; but what was the use of having the mantle of Elijah, unless he could have his God?” And that is a point well taken—I’ll say more about that in a moment because nothing we could discuss is any more important than this in the story.
I. A QUESTION THAT NEEDS TO BE UNFORGETTABLE
“Where is the Lord God of Elijah?”
It is this kind of boldness that we need today, the question asked, “Where is God, the one that Elijah loved and served?” We need Him to be present now!
The Bible speaks of coming to God with boldness as something desirable. Paul spoke of “boldness in the faith” (I Timothy 3:13), and in Hebrews, “having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19), and here it is displayed! Elisha, in a sense challenged God to be God! He wanted His immediate conscious presence and he even felt he had a full right to request it.
Here is holy desperation—we must have the God of Elijah! And he wanted a definite, real confirmation of His powerful presence with him as it had been with Elijah. Elisha was not willing to live in the shadow of what once was. He wanted a God of the here and now, a God of power that continued to display His awesome dynamic!
This then, was not an expression of something negative but positive—it’s what all of us should want! We cannot live and serve on what God did yesterday, we need Him now to be at work. We do not need a God that was but a God that is—is with us, is involved in the world today. So this question did not challenge God, rather it beckoned God to be powerfully present.
And notice what Elijah asked for, it’s in verse 9, “… And Elisha said, ‘I pray thee, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.’” He wanted all that God had for him and the request could not have been more specific—God loves such boldness! Spurgeon said, “Like it or not, asking is the rule of heaven—so ask!” Don’t be timid!
Jonathan Edwards warns us saying, “Many pray with their lips for that which their hearts have no desire.” — Do we really want God’s best and a double portion? Do we ask for it? Arthur Pink says an anointed word, “Most Christians expect little from God, ask little, and therefore receive little and are content with little!”
Paul told people, “The highest gifts are those you should prize” (I Corinthians 12:31). Later he added, “You are, I know, eager for gifts of the Spirit; then aspire above all to excel in those which build up the church.” (I Corinthians 14:12, English Bible)
What does God want from us in prayer? — Sincerity and boldness and a longing to see His glory in the world today. Study prayers in the Bible and what will you find? — An humble reasoning with God. That’s what you find in Elisha. He was saying to God, “I cannot fulfill this role and follow Elijah successfully without Your power at work in my life; to be adequate and follow in succession of the mighty Elijah, I need, yes, I will require, Your power to fully operate through me!”
Look at the record; the God of Elijah had answered and often displayed His power with food and fire, with drought and rain, and with great mercy and powerful miracles. God never failed Elijah. He was given authority and said, “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand …”
Elijah on Mt. Carmel had prayed before the pagans, “O Lord God … prove today that you are the God of Israel and that I am your servant; prove [before these people] that I have done all this at your command.” (I Kings 18:36) And he prayed, “Answer me so these people will know that you are God …” (I Kings 18:37) Now, say what you will, that’s awesome spiritual authority and Elisha said, “I want that for my life too!”
II. A QUOTE THAT NEEDS TO BE UNDERSTOOD
Now, carefully we study the question—Elisha did not cry, “Where is God’s Elijah?” but, “Where is the God of Elijah?” Tragically we are living in a day when we are guilty of a kind of idolatry. It happens when we parade people before us as super saints. Thank God for the inspiration and influence of people who were mighty servants of God—but we need to be reminded of this verse, “I am the Lord! That is my name, and I will not give my glory to anyone else; I will not share my praise …” (Isaiah 42:8, TLB) We declare this: If every great Christian leader and every famous preacher and evangelist should die tomorrow, God could carry on His work without them! He is not dependent on anyone.
Through the years I have visited famous sites where there was a mighty work of God. Like, for example, in Wales, the church where the great Welch Revival started. I’ve been there almost all alone, and while it’s special, there is nothing that is overwhelming to stand in the pulpit without people and the supernatural moving of God’s Spirit. And I have stood in Spurgeon’s pulpit and the pulpit of Dr. W. A. Criswell—that’s an unforgettable experience, but what is it?—nothing more than a wooden stand, that is, if it’s without the presence of the Spirit of God.
III. A QUALITY THAT NEEDS TO BE UNLEASHED
That question suddenly came from the lips of someone who knew that he, in himself was not adequate to fill the shoes of the renowned Elijah. So it was humility expressed. Remember, great people never think they are great, small people never think they are small. Humility is the grace which lies prostrate at God’s feet, totally amazed at God’s mercy. John Stott said the secret to humility is total honesty to say He is God and all I have ever done of significance, He helped me do it. Yes, nothing I have ever done for God could not have been done better! It includes distrust in oneself and total trust in God.
Samuel Wilberforce, the English Christian leader who helped bring an end to slavery, said the secret was, “Think as little as possible about yourself. Turn your eyes resolutely from any view of your influence, your success, your following. Above all speak as little as possible about yourself.” Roy Session spoke of the barren, stony mountain peaks and commented, “God can only fill low valleys, not high mountains.”
We need that spirit today! Look at Christian history, how many times has God buried key workmen but carried on work effectively with others? Here he did not focus on the Elijah of God but the God of Elijah, and we must do the same. He did not want the best of Elijah, he wanted the best of God that was seen in Elijah!
Let’s take a bold step back—earlier Elijah had entered the field where Elisha was ploughing with oxen, and there cast his mantle over his shoulders to say, “You will be my spiritual heir.” But now, upon his dramatic departure, Elisha, in humility was asking for God—the Almighty—to confirm that call. I love what James S. Stewart said about this: “He had a second-hand mantle in his hand, but he wanted a first-hand call in his heart.”
Let’s say it another way. Let’s try to see if we can speak Elisha’s thoughts, “Lord, I have in my hand my master’s mantle as an outward sign and a symbol to indicate that I am his successor, but, Lord, I want more than that—I want a direct confirmation from You and I cannot go forward without it!” David Livingstone said, “I’ll go anywhere with God, but I will not step across the door portal without Him!”
And another thought closely related—do we seriously think there was any special power in the mantle? I was once given the actual handwritten sermon notes of C. S. Spurgeon. He preached this sermon before thousands of people one Easter Sunday morning, and I can take you to the book of his sermons and show you the transcribed sermon as it was actually preached word for word—so, I have his actual notes! He was most likely the greatest preacher that ever preached in the English language. Now, do you think if I marched into the pulpit with those sermon notes in my hand, that it would help me preach better? — Now, it’s not the notes Spurgeon had with him; I need the anointing Spurgeon had on him!
And that is what Elijah was saying in total humility of heart. He wanted God’s fresh confirmation. We only have one Elijah, and he’s gone. What we need is Elijah’s God, and He is here!
Yes, we have it before us—the prophet’s mantle; now all we need is the prophet’s God—the God of Elijah!
There is a story told of the death of the famous impressionist painter Paul Cézanne. In his last years he had returned to his home in the south of France and also returned to the God of his youth. He rather suddenly died and in his studio were old painting brushes left to be thrown away. Some were to given to young painters, but Cézanne’s brushes didn’t improve their skills. Sitting at the same piano and on the same bench where Van Cliburn played didn’t improve the skills of a beginner at the piano. — The mantle of the prophet had no power in itself!
A religious relic of the past has no power. Here is the prophet’s mantle, but where is the God who empowered the man who wore that mantle? We must beware of an empty mantle. It can be only a worn-out keepsake of the past. What is an example that comes to mind? A church in the 1930’s had a revival; over 160 people were converted and baptized. It was the second week of August under an old brush arbor. Since that time the only time to have a revival meeting is that week! Never since that time, almost a century ago, has there ever been anything close to that great revival—but they worship the mantle. They say, “It’s our tradition!”
The Eskimos have a proverb which goes, “Yesterday is ashes; tomorrow is wood. Only today does the fire burn brightly.” So that, to say “here and now” is not just filling the air with words, it’s really filling the air with God! Yes, we should let the patterns of yesterday echo into the present that they may resound into tomorrow and beyond. Give us Elijah and now give us Elisha!
So we realize, the present is the product of what has now passed and it is the vital cause of what we will see in the future. If we let the Elijah of the past control the Elisha of the present, we will never have a John the Baptist in the future!
The words of Scripture come to mind, “[It’s] Not by might, nor by power, but [it’s now] by my spirit, saith the Lord …” (Zechariah 4:6)
Here is a final thought—I have read the great biographies of spiritual giants and we think it is incredible how God used them. For example, Warren Wiersbe wrote a book Listening to the Giants, and another book Five Evangelical Leaders written by Christopher Catherwood. These men fascinate us, we are moved with awe by them, but there is no power in their memory; we must have the same God do the same with us!
Elisha wanted God now, and C. S. Lewis, the British Christian spokesman and thinker, said, “Relying on God has to begin all over again every day as if nothing had yet been done.”