The double portion
Many of God’s servants have served the Lord valiantly and faithfully in their time. They blazed a glorious gospel trail, hard to follow. They fought the good fight, finished the course and kept the faith, and received their crown of righteousness.
We read about them, marvel at the great things they attempted for God and silently wonder to ourselves, ‘Where does that leave us?’
This is a legitimate question. What they attained for the Lord are acts hard to follow. We don’t begin to measure up to great heroes of the faith like George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Spurgeon, John Sung or Martin Luther.
But their times are not our times, and their ways not our ways, any more than Elisha’s works were Elijah’s. Although both these men were prophets and workers of miracles, yet they were clearly two different men, in many ways presenting a clear contrast to each other.
While Elijah’s ministry was akin to that of John the Baptist – ‘And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord’ (Luke 1:17) – Elisha’s ministry was reminiscent of the works of mercy of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ (Acts 10:38).
So it is with us today. We are a new generation. We live in momentous times, where the issues we face, though different from yesteryears’, are just as challenging and the responses expected of us equally daunting.
Today we are called upon to wage spiritual warfare against the spirit of the age – a mix of evolutionism, Charismaticism, ecumenism, New Age teaching, all kinds of occultism, and a rising tide of extreme fundamentalism, to name but a few!
What a difference from those issues belonging to the Dark Ages and Reformation! Yet notwithstanding the differences, when we enlisted into the Lord’s army, we put on that mantle. We crossed the Jordan (or Rubicon!) River and are now expected to boldly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, in the way that Elisha did when he took up Elijah’s mantle.
Trials of faith
Regardless of the hazardous terrain of faith we have to traverse, or the ridicule of men we have to endure, or the painfully long silence of a ‘distant’ God, the work of God must still go on.
Often we may bemoan the futility of it all and our apparent lack of success in the vineyard, but God reminds us: ‘And let us not be weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not’ (Galatians 6:9).
Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (2 Kings 2:9). It is interesting to note that whereas Elijah experienced 16 miracles besides his translation into heaven, Elisha experienced 32 miracles. Elijah shut the heavens for three and a half years (James 5:17), but Elisha prophesied famine lasting seven years (2 Kings 8:1).
What was the secret of Elisha’s success? For sure, it was not based on blind imitation of Elijah’s gestures and movements, or copying the way Elijah spoke, or a slavish adherence to his lifestyle and demeanour.
Why was Elisha successful for the Lord? The secret of Elisha’s power was the spirit of Elijah. He asked for the God-given spirit of Elijah, which had enabled his master to be mighty in Israel and prevail over the 850 prophets of Baal in the awe-inspiring drama at Mount Carmel. And when God was with Elijah, his acts were awesome!
When Elisha took up Elijah’s mantle (2 Kings 2:13), he was declaring his acceptance of his prophetic ministry. And when Elisha smote the waters of Jordan with his mantle to divide the waters (2 Kings 2:14), he was declaring that his faith was not in the departed prophet but in the living and true God.
In asking for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, Elisha was asking not for twice as much of the Holy Spirit or for a ministry twice as great as Elijah’s, but rather, he was petitioning for a double measure of Elijah’s inner spirit of faith in Jehovah – the courage to act, faithfulness, and submission to God’s will.
Admittedly, the changes in our times are vast and sweeping. The spiritual declension we witness is nearly unprecedented. The forces that seek to undermine the basic tenets of our faith are overwhelming.
Resisting and reforming them by the gospel and God-given Christian values is certainly not for the faint-hearted devoid of the spirit of Elijah. What is needful, however, is not the externals of Elijah – his natural gifts, garb, mien and speech – but his spirit, that brought down sacred fire to consume the slaughtered bullock (1 Kings 18).
We need that same spirit in double measure to bring sacred fire, not upon slaughtered bullocks, but upon the souls of men. We need apostolic fire once more to turn the world upside down with the truth.
The apostles blazed the trail for us; they succeeded for the Lord. And we, as Christian believers, are in the apostolic succession because we embrace apostolic doctrine. Let us not fail. We need not fail, for we can tackle the unfinished tasks of Christ’s kingdom in the apostolic spirit.
There is, however, one caveat. While our petition to God for a double portion of the spirit of these great men and women of God is to be encouraged, we must understand that great though they were, they were still mere mortals, and it is the Lord who enabled them and enables us.
Ours is not to set up human standards to measure ourselves by, nor to limit ourselves by the attainment of others. Ours is to look beyond the noblest of God’s servants and fix our gaze on Christ: ‘Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’ (Ephesians 4:13).
Dr Lim Yew Cheng
This article first appeared in