Picking Up the Mantle

Ascending Clouds: the Study and Final Painting, © Lynn Abbott Studios. Used with Permission.

© 2018 Lynn Abbott

“How about a bow tie,” the boutique salesman asked, flashing me a wide grin.

I looked at my over 6-foot, history-loving, educationally ambitious son.  My mouth twitched as I stifled a laugh that threatened the dignified persona that I hoped to present in that fine men’s clothing boutique.

“No, ” I said quietly.  “I think that might be too much.”

I noted the salesman wore a bow tie and so I hasten to explain:  “My father wore bow ties.”

Noting his confusion, I knew I must tell the story in its entirety.

If you know me well, you have often heard me say that when God called my father home, God sent my father’s grandson to fill the space.

Yes, indeedy.  Without a doubt, my husband and I have raised “my father.”

God definitely has a sense of humor.

Obviously, God did not wish to leave this world without a representative of my father’s kind.

I can offer no other explanation for the extraordinary similarities… With my son’s first cry, I knew I was in trouble.

The “professor” had arrived.  And he knew best how to teach the rest of us.

Our parenting challenge began immediately.  Our newborn had a mind of his own and refused to follow textbook feeding.   Undoubtedly, My attending nurse thought me inept.

Apparently, as a first time mom, I must be in desperate need of a review lesson.

But after exhausting her expertise in an effort to direct my strong-minded newborn, she abandoned us.

“You’ll figure it out,” she called with a decided tone of exasperation.

And I’ve been scrambling ever since.

Without a doubt, my husband and I have raised “my father.”

The man child “knew best”… just like my father.  And similarly, from an early age, the child confidently communicated his ideas.

When he was just 12 months, I found him lecturing his stuffed animals.

In fact, one of those plush critters had been placed in a corner.  Had there been a dunce cap available, I’m sure my son would have placed it on that unfortunate toy’s head.

When it came time to teach table manners, I swiftly discovered that the boy not only learned quickly but that he was eager to impart his knowledge to anyone within earshot.

“Dad,” he said. “Keep your elbows off the table.”

That’s right.  Although he was a mere tot, he fully intended to lead and teach. No need to encourage him–as Paul did Timothy–to use his gifts  (1 Timothy 4:12).

For 22 years, he’s kept us on our toes.

Today, our future professor loves research… and by his own admission, he is often “absent-minded.”

Of course, this walking encyclopedia has unique gifts.  He will be a historian whereas my father was an oceanographer-geologist.  But our son nevertheless exhibits many of Dad’s traits without ever having been encouraged or prompted to do so.

God definitely has a sense of humor.

And so you now fully understand my reluctance during that Christmas shopping excursion. Given the already uncanny resemblance between grandfather and grandson, the bow tie was obviously an unnecessary accoutrement .

After all, the mantle had already been passed.

In light of this, I couldn’t help but grin recently as I renewed my study in 2 Kings.  The histories of Elijah and Elisha brought to mind the connection between my father and his grandson.

The two prophets have long been favorites of mine. However, when I first studied their lives, I frequently got mixed up and credited miracles of one to the other.  After all,  the names “Elijah” and “Elisha” sound similar…

and not only that, but Elijah also mentored Elisha.

It’s a spiritual father and son story that begins in 1 Kings 19.  Elijah had exhausted his strength during the confrontation of Baal’s prophets on Mount Carmel.

But God didn’t leave Elijah in such a state.  In addition to providing for Elijah’s physical needs, Abba tenderly encouraged His prophet and provided an assistant.

Yes, God understands our needs: He created Eve for Adam; He provided leaders and judges to assist Moses.

And He gave Elijah an Elisha. When Elijah found Elisha, he threw his cloak or mantle over Elisha’s shoulders (1 King 19:19).

Elisha understood the significance of the prophet’s actions:  Elisha had been chosen for discipleship.  Thus, Elisha immediately requested permission to bid adieu to his parents.

So began Elisha’s apprenticeship.  Most Bible scholars suggest that Elisha’s studies started while he was still in his twenties and that Elisha served the elder prophet anywhere from four to eight years.

Although Scripture doesn’t describe those years, I suspect Elisha received some pretty serious instruction.  Elijah, after all, was an earnest fellow.  And to spend 24/7 with him?  That had to be pretty intense.

The mantle has already been passed.

We pick up Elisha’s story as Elijah’s career closes, (2 Kings 2).  Apparently, all the prophets knew Elijah’s departure date.     Elisha, then, was not likely surprised by Elijah’s intention to travel to the Jordan.

Three times during the journey, Elijah encouraged Elisha to remain behind. Perhaps, in this way, Elijah sought to test Elisha’s loyalty and love.

But Elisha refused to abandon Elijah (2 Kings 2:2).

Furthermore, Elisha’s heart is revealed in his response to the other prophets’ foreboding predictions…

“The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, ‘Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?’  ‘Yes, I know,’ Elisha replied, ‘but do not speak of it,'” (2 Kings 2:3).

Elisha evidently wished to be present when Yahweh took Elijah home. Elisha knew it would be a glorious event. Yet, at the same time, as all who grieve, he understood the depths of his own loss.  And he said, “‘Do not speak of it.'”

When the two men–spiritual father and son–arrived at the Jordan, Elijah used his cloak to part the waters.   Then, he asked what he might do for Elisha.  Elisha simply wanted God’s Spirit to empower him as God had empowered Elijah.

Suddenly, a chariot and horses of fire separated the companions.  And Elijah traveled heavenward in a whirlwind.

Elisha’s heart broke, (2 King 2:12).

Yet, God never leaves the world without revelation.  And God had not abandoned Elisha or God’s people.

Despite his heartache, the young prophet picked up Elijah’s cloak, and before touching the cloak to the waters of the Jordan, he glorified God, saying, “‘Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?'” (2 Kings 2:14).

And the Jordan parted; Elisha walked on dry land.

God never leaves the world without revelation.

Second Kings records many of Elisha’s miracles.  Many of those miracles mirrored those performed by Elijah.

Yet, Elisha was definitely his own man.  Unlike Elijah, Elisha did not work solo.  Instead, he spent much of his time leading and discipling the company of prophets.

Yes, I truly love the story of the prophet and his spiritual son.

But as I reread the account of Elijah’s departure, I couldn’t help but recall another ascension by One even greater than Elijah, (Matthew 17:1-13; John 1:24-27).

You betcha.

After the resurrection, our Savior commissioned his disciples–present and future–with the preaching of the gospel: salvation by grace through faith in Christ (Matthew 28:18-20).

And like the Master, we minister to people’s physical and spiritual needs. We model His love and grace. We teach others to obey and follow Christ.

Our name–Christian– identifies us as His followers.  Our name is similar yet different.  Of course, our journey isn’t identical to the Master’s.  But we do serve as His representatives, and we boldly carry out the Great Commission.

Never mind Dad’s bow tie.

When we follow Christ, we receive something greater.  Yup.  It’s time to pick up His mantle, (Luke 9:23).

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth,”

~Acts 1:8