In the book of 1 Kings Elijah humiliates the prophets of Baal. In typical Elijah the prophet fanfare he challenges them on Mt Carmel to prove their strength and worth in an episode of igniting the altar with fire. The shortcomings of Baal are staggering and all Israel is reminded who the Lord God really is, everyone except Ahab the king’s wife, Jezebel. She is not too thrilled by Elijah’s performance. In fact, she forces him into hiding out of her anger. Elijah had just proven on Mt Carmel her whole system of religion was phony and to add extra emphasis he killed all the prophets of her god, Baal. She swore she would end his life with the warning “I will hunt you down”.
To make a long story short, Elijah runs, he ends up at Mt. Horeb believing he was the last remaining faithful prophet in the whole wide world. He is convinced all humanity as he knows it was lost. As far as Elijah was concerned, he had finished his ministry and he was ready to die! That’s when the Lord meets him in a gentle whisper and tells him these words of prediction.
NIV 1 Kings 19:15 The LORD said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16 Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 17 Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu.”
Just when he thought he could retire, Elijah is recommissioned and given new purpose in life. This time his ministry is not so much recall and defeating the prophets of Baal, as his new emphasis is to hold in judgment the dynasty of Ahab for their continued immorality and obstinacies. Ahab taught Israel to sin by worshipping Baal. With this god shown defeated at Carmel, the ministry of recall becomes the ministry of reckoning. God sets in motion, starting with Elijah, the eventual destruction of all the wickedness of Ahab and his progenies. Hazael, Jehu and Elisha will become the 3 key tools God uses to accomplish the end of a wicked dynasty. Elijah is the tip of the spear. So, when the prophet is ready to “hang-up” his prophetic shoes, God says, not so fast, you’ve still got a few good years left in you – go teach and train Elisha to take your place!
What is of note is that we never read of Elijah returning to the Desert of Damascus to anoint Hazael, or meet Jehu to anoint him for that matter. Most likely, at this time, these two were still young men growing up. These tasks of anointing are going to be fulfilled by Elisha. He will take the mantle of Elijah and finish this ministry. In fact, this is what Elisha’s ministry was geared toward, finishing up the judgment pronounced by God upon the house of Ahab. It is Elijah’s new ministry to set these events in motion. The first project—train a replacement in Elisha.
For the servant of God, ministry is never over until God calls us home. Focuses may change, purpose may transform, but God is ever aware that his instrument at any age and occasion can be used for His glory!
J. Robert Hanson
If you would like to read more of this subject and the work of Elisha see the 2 Kings 8 link.