Tuesday, May 03, 2011

“Elijah’s and Elisha’s Mantle”

Second Quarter 2011 Adult Sabbath School Lessons
Elijah’s and Elisha’s Mantle
For the week of May 1 - 7, 2011
 In Bible times a mantle was a loose sleeveless garment worn over other clothes. It is thought that it was probably made of sheepskin made into leather (see Eaton’s Bible Dictionary).  In giving his mantle to Elisha, Elijah symbolized the passing of the authority of prophetic leadership from himself to Elisha. The significance is that Elisha would be clothed with the Spirit of prophecy as the divinely appointed successor to Elijah. Elijah “threw” the mantle over Elisha when he called him to serve (1 Kings 19:19). Then, later, just as Elijah was taken to heaven, the mantle fell to the ground and Elisha took it as his own. He chose it as his own (2 Kings 2:13).
Elijah was now gone. Only his mantle remained. This mantle signified the power of God in the life of Elijah, who declared drought, who asked God to send fire from heaven while on Mt. Carmel, who caused nations to tremble with his messages, and who raised the dead. It was now taken up by Elisha who carried it back to the river Jordan and asked. “where is Elijah’s God (2 Kings 2:14)? Next he struck the water with this mantle just as Elijah had done previously (v. 8).
Let’s return to the earlier part of the narrative. As Elijah and Elisha walked and talked together, a fiery chariot from heaven swooped between them and took Elijah along in its terrific wind up into heaven (v.11). It was over in an instant. Elisha could but cry out in amazed tribute to his departed master (v.12). Elijah was gone. The era in which he lived ended; another began.
So, when Elisha smote the water with the cloak, he discovered that although Elijah was gone, the Lord was not, because the water separated before Elisha just as it had done when Elijah earlier smote it with his mantle. The sons of the prophets who witnessed this scene understood that the Spirit of God rested now upon Elisha in zeal and in great power.
Sunday’s lesson touches on what happened to Elijah after his confrontation with the prophets of Baal who had deceived and led God’s people astray into a false religion. Shortly after Elijah’s great triumph over those false prophets, he was threatened by a demon-possessed queen. Elijah, exhausted to the point of despondency and fear, ran for his life.
But notice God’s care for him in his deep depression. After his day-long run, Elijah sat under a tree and asked God to kill him (1 Kings 19:4) and then fell into a deep sleep. An angel sent from God watched over him with compassion. The cake the angel baked for Elijah was truly an angel-food cake (v. 6). After drinking the water provided for him, Elijah again fell into a deep sleep. When the prophet had gotten his much needed rest, the angel again aroused him from sleep and told him to eat, and then to journey on (v. 7,8).
Centuries earlier, another leader went into deep depression and asked God to kill him. His name? Moses. You can read about it in Numbers 11:11-15. It is significant that it was these two men – Moses and Elijah – who had experienced such terrible depression and despondency, were sent from heaven to comfort Jesus shortly before He experienced the terrible despondency and depression from the weight mankind’s guilt. 
Luke records Christ’s meeting with Moses and Elijah: “Then behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:30,31).  No doubt the struggle that Christ was to enter from Gethsemane to Calvary was discussed.
Matthew describes the deep depression that Jesus came under while in Gethsemane: “And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed.  Then He said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death’” (Matthew 26:37, 38).
Matthew chose strong words to communicate the extreme emotional distress Jesus experienced. Literally they translate: “deeply depressed.” Jesus’ own words expressed his emotional state: My soul is over-whelmed with sorrow to the point of death (v. 38, KJV). This is a description of depression so deep that Jesus despaired of life itself. He was on the verge of dying, so extreme was his emotional distress. All His power seems to be gone; He is crushed and beaten down. It is here He tastes “death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9). He has only one recourse: prayer to His Father. And while He was in the process of dying, at the last moment, an angel was sent from heaven to strengthen Him (Luke 22:42-44).  
There is a difference in the outcome of Jesus’ depression and that of Elijah. Jesus never gave up. His faith held.  Jesus believed not only in the absence of feelings, but against them.  This is “the faith of Jesus” by which we are justified (Galatians 2:16).  This is “the faith of Jesus” that His people will “keep” and cling to in earth’s closing scenes (Revelation 14:12).  Jesus was victorious even in deep depression and He gives to those who suffer depression encouragement to go on.  He knows all about their situation. He has experienced depression at its deepest level.  Not only will He comfort those in depression, He will bring them through triumphantly as they exercise faith in Him.  And those who suffer depression will have deeper insights into Christ’s depression and agony that He went through in Gethsemane and on Calvary.
Back to Elijah. After hiding in a cave on Mt Sinai, he finally heard the “still small voice” of God.  This is what a depressed person needs to hear. God led him out of his depression and took him to heaven without seeing death. Before God translated Elijah, He instructed him to anoint three men to take his place in order to finish the reformation began with him on Mt Carmel.  These three were a pagan king, a wild man, and a gentle prophet – Hazael, Jehu and Elisha (1 Kings 19:15-17).  All three worked to change Israel.  The two king’s (Hazael and Jehu) used methods of reform were never approved by God. The only methods approved by God were those used by the one on whom Elijah’s mantle was placed.
As to the other methods:  “Men are slow to learn the lesson that the spirit manifested by Jehu will never bind hearts together.  It is not safe for us to bind our interests with a Jehu religion; for this will result in bringing sadness of heart upon God's true workers.  God has not given to any of His servants the work of punishing those who will not heed His warnings and reproofs.  When the Holy Spirit is abiding in the heart, it will lead the human agent to see his own defects of character, to pity the weakness of others, to forgive as he wishes to be forgiven. He will be pitiful, courteous, Christlike” (Ellen White, Review and Herald, ). “[G]entleness is mightier far than a Jehu spirit” (Ibid, February 10, 1885).
The mantle Elisha put on represents the gentleness of Jesus – His righteousness.  As that mantle was made from a sheep’s skin, so Christ, “the Lamb of God” has a mantle of righteousness ready made in the loom of heaven.  This mantle was placed upon Jones and Waggoner in order to present the message of Christ and His righteousness.  And as you and I are called to service, by the Spirit of God, this mantle of righteousness is given to us to clothe us on the inside as well as outwardly.  This will prepare us to carry God’s message to the world.  We may not be called upon to be a prophet in the sense of Elijah and Elisha, nor as messengers like Jones and Waggoner, but we are called to deliver God’s word in our circle of influence as they did in theirs.
--Jerry Finneman