In Sunday school, we talked about King Joash going to see the prophet Elisha before he died. It seems that Elisha had served as a prophet for around fifty-five years. Now his life was coming to an end.
From his sick bed, the prophet Elisha put his hands on top of the king’s. He had the king shoot arrows out the window. Elisha told King Joash that he would smite the Syrians in Aphek until they were consumed.
Then Elisha commanded, “Smite upon the ground!”
Joash smote the ground with the arrows three times.
Elisha was not happy! He told him, “You should have smitten the ground five or six times because then you would have had total victory!”
I have always secretly felt a little bad for the king because he didn’t know it was a test. He didn’t know that this object lesson was going to be made into his victory or defeat. If he had known, surely he would have done it right! He would have smitten the ground a dozen times! Or so I thought…
I had never given much thought to the significance of the opening phrase when he walked into the room and saw the sick, dying prophet, “O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.”
I knew that the phrase had occurred previously. It was when the prophet Elisha knew that God was taking his master, Elijah.
I thought he was seeing the chariot of God coming for the prophet. Really, I think he was seeing the strength of Israel leaving.
Elijah had been a man of God, and a man of power in a way that is still remembered thousands of years later! Here was the only person who took on Jezebel and Ahab, calling for fire from heaven on the altar on Mount Carmel. Significance of epic proportions!
There was a school of the prophets, and so there were many who were prophesying or declaring God’s word. But none of these were taking on the prophets of Baal and Ashtaroth like Elijah. He was standing in the gap. He stood between a moral collapse in Israel. He stood for godliness in a way that was monumental.
How could he be replaced?
I’ve heard that thought mirrored among my relatives. I’ve had more than one of them admit to me since my father passed away, that they still feel the hole where his prayers used to be.
I sat around his bedside five years ago in December as he passed away. As soon as we knew that he was gone, my nephew said, “A light has just gone out in the world.”
There was a hole. A void. When a person of prayer and godliness leaves our lives, there will be a gap. And we painfully feel it.
Elisha had been with Elijah for a long time—some timelines have suggested over forty years. Elisha was human, so he had to have felt the loss of Elijah leaving.
He yelled out to Elijah as he was being carried into heaven, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.”
It seemed that Elijah represented that to him…the warrior for heaven…the soldier of truth. The wall that kept the ocean from coming in, like the dike in the Netherlands.
And now that phrase is being repeated word for word by Joash to Elisha. Now Elisha is the main prophet. He had taken up Elijah’s mantle when he went to heaven. He had a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. And if the timeline is correct, then in seventeen short years he did twice the number of miracles than what occurred in the forty years before with Elijah.
It seemed that Joash was telling prophet Elisha that he felt the same way. That he felt like a man of God, a giant for righteousness, one of the rocks in Israel was leaving them! He also would have a vacancy, a hole.
As the king of Israel, he must have felt that lack! Surely, he desperately needed this man of God! He had to have felt that. I know the tremendous prayer support that I desperately need, and that is just with my four children—not an entire nation on my shoulders!
Elisha then told him the command that I mentioned earlier, “Take up your arrows and smite the ground!”
I see the story in a new light now. The prophet was obviously not happy with the king’s lack of fervency. His halfhearted smiting was just an indication of what was in his heart.
Yes, he wanted victory in battle. But his heart was divided.
Compare this to when Elijah was going to heaven. Elisha boldly asked for a double portion of his spirit. Elisha grabbed up that mantle and rose to the challenge. He would go on to be more than he had ever been before! He would run to the gap that was left with Elijah gone.
As Elisha was leaving for heaven, Joash could appreciate his life. He could have stood at Elisha’s funeral and told wonderful stories. It would have all sounded so great. But the fervency was lacking.
He was a wicked king, but this was the moment where he could have had a turnaround. Everything could have changed. He respected the prophet, but he did not snatch up his mantle. He respected holiness. He may even have believed in it.
The primary commandment that is supposed to dictate our lives is “to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.” Mark 12:30
Half hearted attempts never work. Divided seeking doesn’t cut it. It may fool everyone around you. Everyone may have sympathy—like I had all these years for Joash in this story. But God can see through it! He is asking for all!
I don’t want to live, smacking the ground three times. That is not my heritage! That was not the example given to me.
Lord, show me what I need to know. Direct my steps. Fill my heart with this fiery flame. Help my life this Thanksgiving week to be dictated by love that is with all my strength!
II Kings 2:12 And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.
II Kings 13:14 Now Elisha was fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died. And Joash the king of Israel came down unto him, and wept over his face, and said, O my father, my father the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.