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TEXT: I Kings 19:16

SUBJECT: Elisha #1: Introduction

INTRODUCTION

This morning, with God's help, we will begin to study the life and times of Elisha. Elisha-please note-is not the man who went to heaven in a fiery chariot. That was Elijah. Our man was Elijah's servant, at first, and later took his place as the leading prophet in Israel. Elijah the Tishbite is one of the Bible's most colorful and riveting characters-but this study is not about him!

Elisha was born, about 930 BC in Abel Meholah, a town near the Sea of Galilee, and not far from where our Lord grew up many years later. Judging from the scant details we have in the Bible, it seems he was the son of wealthy farmer and enjoyed a happy life at home. Although he loved and respected his parents, he had a much higher regard for the Lord. When called to serve God in a special way, he kissed his parents goodbye, and never looked back.

What kind of man was Elisha? He was a man of humility and patience. He didn't quit his family to be a prophet; he left them to serve a prophet, II Kings 3:11 says to pour water on the hands of Elijah. From a worldly standpoint, he took a major step down-from rich farmer to poor servant. But he didn't see it that way. Like the Psalmist, Elisha would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than to dwell in the tents of wickedness. He saw washing hands in the service of God as a higher calling than making tons of money and 'being somebody'!

On this point, Elisha reminds us of another man. This other man was a King by birth and could have taken His throne any time He wanted to. But there was something He liked better than a throne, and that was a bowl of water, water with which to wash dirty feet. This other man is our Lord Jesus Christ, who, 'being in the form of God, humbled Himself'.

We all have egos-and they're all bigger than we think they are. The people who believe they're humble are the proudest and nobody is more conceited than the man who tells you how sinful and unworthy he is.

But the believer's duty is to fight his ego-and not 'pillow fight' it, but kill it; mortify is one Bible word for it, crucify is another.

Like all the saints, Elisha descended into greatness. In the wisdom of God, the way up is down.

If you see Elisha's humility early in life, at the end of it, you're struck by his patience. He served the Lord for fifty years, and saw but little fruit from his efforts. Israel in the days of Jehoash was only a teensy bit better than it was under the rule of Ahab and Jezebel.

Elisha prayed for Revival, worked for it, and must have expected it any day now. But he never saw it. At the end of his life, his people were much closer to Judgment than to Salvation.

Through these dark and disappointing times, Elisha kept on keeping on. He did not become a cranky old man or give in to despair. Like the farmer he used to be, he waited for the crop to come in.

THE NATION

Elisha did not live in the best of times. In fact, his were the evilest days in the history of Israel. The bad times began in the last years of King Solomon, about 100 years before. Solomon was the wisest man in the world, but late in life he traded in wisdom for subtlety. To secure the safety of his people, Solomon multiplied horses and married royal ladies from all the nations around him.

A politician would praise his cunning, but a saint could only regret it. For God had explicitly forbidden the breeding of great stables and taking wives from outside Israel. Breeding too many horses was bad because it also bred a sense of security without the Lord. As for marrying foreign women, this too was dangerous because they would bring their gods with them. Solomon knew the Law, but he forgot that it applied to him too. Near the end of his life, he joined his many wives in their idolatry.

This provoked the Lord and He would have taken the kingdom away from Solomon. But because of His great love for David, He postponed the judgment. When Solomon died, his son, Rehoboam took the throne, and the hammer fell.

Because of the new king's pride, the kingdom was split; two tribes remained loyal to him, and the others made Jeroboam their king. For a short time, Jeroboam did God's will, but then, he too, began thinking of politics instead of the Law.

Three times a year his people were going to Jerusalem to worship the Lord. This scared the new king, who felt they would soon quit him and restore the House of David. So what did he do? He set up worship closer to home for his people. With God's permission, and with the leading of His Spirit, this would have been good. But Jeroboam did not seek God's leave or listen to His prophets.

Golden Calves were set up in Dan and Bethel-Behold your gods, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!

The people did not recognize the words, but they were the same ones spoken by Aaron when he set up his golden calf long ago and brought down the wrath of God. Israel began worshiping the golden calves, and this rotted them to the core. Jeroboam didn't live forever, but his idolatry did. Israel never shook itself free of the sin which Jeroboam the son of Nebat sinned and made Israel to sin.

As if this was not bad enough, a new king came to power and his name was Ahab. Maybe the word, 'power' was a mistake, for he was a weak and indecisive man. His wife, however, was made of iron. She was Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians. Not satisfied with the Golden Calves, she brought her god to Israel. His name was Baal, a fertility god, who was worshiped and served by sacred fornication.

Jezebel was not a liberal queen, worshiping her own gods and respecting the religion of others. No, she was a fanatic, who got her husband to hunt down and kill all the worshipers of God in the land. Though she failed in her plot to wipe them out, it wasn't by much. The servants of the Lord had been reduced to 7,000 in the whole country. And 6,999 of them were scared into keeping their mouths shut!

ELIJAH

The one who opened his mouth for the Lord was Elijah the Tishbite. He boldly confronted the king and won multiple victories for the God for Israel.

Once or twice, he seemed to turn the tide God's way. On Mount Carmel, the nation rallied, The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God.

But the words were only that-words. After years of crying out against their sins and bringing down frightful judgments on Israel, the people were no better than they were before.

In terms of faithfulness, Elijah was a great success-few men have done God's will better and under worse conditions. But, when it came to Reforming and Renewing the people, Elijah was a flop.

THE NEXT MOVE

For years, one appalling judgment after another had fallen on Israel--but to no effect. The people were as stubborn as ever. Because they had the prophets, they were not ignorant. They knew where the punishments came from and what they were designed to do. But they dug in their heels and would not confess their sins or turn to the Lord for mercy.

If you were the Lord, what would you do with them?

Most of us would increase the punishments. If three and a half years of drought wouldn't break them, make the next one ten years long!

Others would give them up. Like bitter parents, they would disown them and not lift a finger to win them back. If you think God's anger is to be feared, His indifference is far worse. He might have cut His losses and let them go on their merry way to damnation!

These are the things you and I would do. If they don't respond to the hand, go to the belt; if the belt doesn't work, go to the stick; if the stick fails, try the club; if not the club, reach for the gun!

Or the other extreme: forget all about them.

This is what you and I would do-but, thankfully, the Lord is not you and I. Hosea lived not long after Elisha, and worked with a people no better. Speaking for God, he says (Hosea 11:8-9),

How can I give you up, Ephraim?

How can I hand you over, Israel?

How can I make you like Admah?

How can I set you like Zeboiim?

My hears churns within Me;

My sympathy is stirred.

I will not execute the fierceness

of my anger;

I will not again destroy Ephraim.

For I am God and not man,

The Holy One in your midst;

And I will not come with terror.

Do you recognize the names, Admah and Zeboiim? They were the cities that were destroyed with their better known neighbors-Sodom and Gomorrah. But that's a minor point.

The message breaks your heart with love and thanksgiving. The people who rejected God were not rejected by God. The runaway children were still loved by their father; their sins did not harden his heart against them, but softened it.

God had every right to be angry, furious with His People. And, had he executed the fierceness of that wrath, no one could have criticized Him. But He says No! He is not going to destroy Israel because.He's not like you and I! Because He is

God and not man!

ELISHA

The Lord's grace to Israel was seen in the ministry of Elisha. Oh, don't get me wrong; Elisha was no pushover. He knew sin when he saw it, and at times, he called down the judgments of Heaven.

But most of the time, he didn't.

We can't say all that Elisha did-in fifty years, he must have done hundreds of great things we know nothing about. But what we know is significant. If I counted correctly, Elisha performed seventeen miracles, only three of which were miracles of judgment; the others were miracles of grace.

If the nation is spiritually diseased, Elisha cleanses a leper. If they're poisoned in the soul, he counteracts the poison soup. If the people are blind in their sins, he opens the eyes of the blind. If they're starving for the Word of God, he makes twenty biscuits fill up a hundred empty bellies. If the nation is fruitless, he opens the womb. If Israel is dead, he raises the dead.

When I say, 'he did it', you understand, I mean 'God did it through him.'

Elisha's people did not deserve mercy. But God gave it to them anyway. Elisha's whole life means the Lord is just who He said He is,

The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abounding in goodness and truth.

US

Was the Lord gracious way back when, but no more? No, His mercy endures forever. Twenty six times this is said in one Psalm! But twenty six times is not enough to persuade us of His grace.

Because we're not merciful, we think God isn't. Because we think too much mercy is unhealthy, we think God thinks that way. Because we can't see how mercy and justice can fit together, we think God can't see how they fit together. Because we think seven times is enough, we forget God forgives seventy times seven.

He has not dealt with us after our sins nor rewarded us according to our iniquity.

Till We have Faces was C.S. Lewis' best and most challenging book. Set in a pagan country, it's about an ugly and bitter woman who wants nothing from the gods but justice. When she dies she meets her old teacher, who taught her that the gods were just.

But grandfather-she says-Aren't the gods just?

Heavens no, my dear. If they were, what would become of us all?

What would become of us if God treated us fairly? We ought to thank God every day that He's unfair-not less than fair, but more!

Some Christians live by the Law. We want to obey the Lord, too, but we live by mercy-or not at all!

What we want for ourselves, we give to others. We live in mercy together or we live alone. Living together means living by mercy. Angels can live in justice, but sinners cannot.

God's mercy gives hope. The Church Universal is in a bad way. Unbelief, heresy, immorality, you name it and we're guilty of it. This has led some to give up on the Church-to denounce it or to replace it with private devotions or family worship. I sympathize with the ones who feel this way, but I cannot approve of them! What they call 'separation,' I call 'despair.'

The Church Universal is a mess, but it's the Lord's mess! Where our sin abounds, His grace much more abounds!

The life of Elisha, then, means the Lord is merciful and we have hope!

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