“So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him” (1 Kings 19:19, ESV).
I sure wish that the call of God were as clearly issued today as it was when Elisha received it! In those days, every one understood what it meant when a prophet or teacher “cast his cloak” upon someone. It was a calling. The cloak was a sign indicative of succession. And Elijah was well known, so Elisha would have known unequivocally what was being offered to him, what was expected of him, and what it would cost him.
The word used most often in the Older Testament for “prophet,” nabi, means “bubbling over,” like a spring or fountain (Easton’s Bible Dictionary). The image in my head is of God filling one until, out of the overflow, one speaks what God has put in.
Of course, the outflow is not always positive. Elijah’s call was largely confrontational. He prophesied to kings and paupers alike, pointing out their apostasy. Such a message led to an hidden life for Elijah as he was targeted for his message. Frequently when Elijah showed up, bad things happened (to those for whom the message was given). Elisha understood that if he accepted the call he would be a mouthpiece for God; and he would have known that the cost could be very steep.
In Biblical narrative it was not uncommon for the author to use numerology (the use of numbers with symbolic reference that would be well understood by the reader). When Elijah finds Elisha out in the field, he has “plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth.” In Jewish numerology, twelve is significant, representing “totality, wholeness, and the completion of God’s purpose” (https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/judaism-numbers/). Further, a yoke of oxen meant two oxen working side by side with a yoke keeping them together and attaching them to the plow which was being pulled behind. So twelve yoke of oxen meant that there were 24 oxen. Twenty-four symbolizes abundance (https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/judaism-numbers/).
Elisha was a man of some wealth and means. So he would have understood that the call of God meant leaving the life he knew, and the comforts that wealth afforded him.
I think our 21st-Century mindset is resistant to the call of God for that very reason. Who doesn’t like comfort? Who really wants to give up a comfortable life for the unknown? Hesitance to step out of one’s comfort zone and fear of the unknown are probably the two biggest obstacles that we face when confronted with the call of God.
Elisha knew what was being asked of him.
In closing, I’d like to share a story from my life of a time when I refused a call that God put in my heart. I was in my senior year of college, and my two roommates and I went for a walk and ended up at a Burger King restaurant. I went to college in Springfield, Missouri, deep inside the Bible Belt.
Part way through our dinner, I felt a strong inclination to stand up and sing “Oh the Blood of Jesus.” At first I thought, “well, that’s odd.” The inclination grew stronger, so I mentioned it to my roommates, hoping they would back me up. They just said, “we’re not feeling it!” So, rather than obey what I clearly believed was from God, I chickened out. I was more afraid of what would be thought of me by the few people in the restaurant late that night than I was willing to step out in faith.
It wasn’t but a couple of minutes later that some kids at a nearby table began to speak of how powerful the devil is, practically offering praise to him. My heart was pricked. To this day I wonder what would have happened had I been obedient to what I perceived to be a calling from God.
Sure, sometimes we will have to pay a price for our obedience to God. Sometimes that cost will be little, and sometimes it will be steep. But the cost is always well worth it.
Think of a time when you felt that God wanted you to do something. Did you obey?
Blessings on your day!