He was out in the field, minding his own business, when the man of God came up and threw his cloak over his shoulders.
It was a proposition. An invitation.
A foretaste of a Man who later would invite fishermen who were also busy about their work to come and follow. The field worker asked if he may say his goodbyes, but he does more than that. He burns his equipment; destroying any possibility of returning to the life he once lived.
"So Elisha returned to his oxen and slaughtered them. He used the wood from the plow to build a fire to roast their flesh. He passed around the meat to the townspeople, and they all ate. Then he went with Elijah as his assistant" (1 Kings 19:21 NLT).
The story of Elijah and Elisha may be the most obvious mentorship story in the Bible. It tells us much about both the role of the protégé and the mentor. In his first encounter with Elijah, Elisha is willing to let go of his occupation, his family, and the life he had built thus far in order to follow after a man offering his mentorship. He killed his oxen and destroyed the yoke, giving the proceeds to his neighborhood. This would be the equivalent of selling a business and throwing a party with the proceeds.
So much can be learned by observing the life of another. We can learn from their habits and disciplines, how they relate to others, and even from their faults. Elisha was destined for a double portion, but if he had never first offered himself as a servant to Elijah, he would have remained a farmer and never performed the amazing miracles that blessed the lives of so many others.
"Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the LORD has told me to go to the Jordan River.” But again Elisha replied, “As surely as the LORD lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you.” So they went on together. Fifty men from the group of prophets also went and watched from a distance as Elijah and Elisha stopped beside the Jordan River." (2 Kings 2:6-7 NLT).
Bible scholars believe that Elisha served Elijah for six years before Elijah was ushered into Heaven. At this time an interesting test was set before Elisha. It was common knowledge among the prophets of the age that Elijah's time had come. Elijah three times told Elisha to stay behind, but each time his assistant refused to leave his side. Others were watching from a distance, but Elisha wanted a close up and personal view of what God was about to do in Elijah's life. Those watching from a distance were not left with the double portion, only the one who had persevered.
"Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen when he was taken up. Then Elisha returned to the bank of the Jordan River" (2 Kings 2:6, 13 NLT).
At their first encounter, Elijah placed his cloak on Elisha's shoulders, but it wasn't time for him to take up the mantel of the Prophet yet. But after Elisha had proven himself faithful as an assistant, Elijah left him his cloak as a symbol that it was now time for the younger man to fulfill the plans God had for him. Rather than rejoicing that his time had come, Elisha was crushed to see his mentor leave, proving that he wasn't serving Elijah just to propel his own future. After he mourned, he picked up the cloak that Elijah had left for him.
Many times we are fooled into thinking that it is the job of the mentor to pursue the protégé, but this biblical account reveals that Elisha's success was found in the protégé's relentless pursuit of his mentor. Being under the tutelage of another can be difficult. At times we are asked to do hard things. Perhaps our perception of the mentor is challenged when we are introduced to the humanness of someone we greatly respect. But the reward is great for those protégés who press beyond these struggles until the day when the baton is clearly passed on to them.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster