Name and Places
The Lord tells Elijah to return to the wilderness of Damascus and anoint Hazael king over Syria. Lots of names and places I don’t know anything about. Let’s see what I can find out.
Wilderness of Damascus
First, wilderness of Damascus. Holy Moly! So far away from Sinai! He has to go further north than when he was Zarephath! It’s like 240 miles from Beersheba to Damascus as the crow flies. And he isn’t even in Beersheba! He’s 180 miles outside that! We are talking a 420 miles journey!
Who is Hazael? The bible dictionary tells us. He was king of Syria from about 886-840 BC. He became king by murdering his master, Ben-Hadad. He started shortly thereafter, a war with Israel and Judah for possession of Ramoth-Gilead. he was attacked and defeated though by king Shalmanesar of Assyria in Damascus. I’ll be honest, this brings up more questions. I may be at this for a while. Bear with me while I write down the answers.
Remember how Phoenicia is on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean? Well, if you keep heading east, across the mountains, you’ll hit Syria. Damascus is in Syria. Cross reference maps 9 and 11.
Ben-Hadad is in the bible dictionary as well. The prefix “ben” means “son of”. Anyway, he was king of Syria (Damascus) and was at war with Ahab. As we learned from Hazael’s entry, he was killed by Hazael who made himself king. Ironically, he had a son (Hazael) whom he named Ben-Hadad.
It means heights of Gilead. I couldn’t find it on the maps but judging from the bible dictionary entry, I would guess it’s in Gilead. It was/is a city of refuge. It was probably the most important Israelite city east of Jordan. It is identified with the modern day Es-Salt (city?)
Elijah isn’t done anointing people. He is supposed to anoint Jehu, son of Nimshi, king over Israel and Elisha, son of Shaphat, to be “prophet in thy room.” As expected, many names to discover, let’s jump into it. Unfortunately though, none of the names except Elisha are in the bible dictionary. I will write about Elisha when we get to him. I’ll look around a bit and see if I can find some facts about the others.
Check this out! King Ahab started his reign around 918-875 BC. King Jehu begins his reign between 884-843 BC. We have already gone through 34-32 years of history in 2.5 chapters! That is pretty intense and long. For a source on that, look at the bible chronology in the bible dictionary.
Summary of the Story Thus Far
Now that we know a little about the people and places, let’s see if we can summarize this. Elijah, who is currently at Mount Sinai, has been told to go to the wilderness of Damascus to anoint Hazael king of Syria. Hazael, we know, becomes king by killing his master and king, Benhadad. I guess my question is why? Why did the Lord tell Elijah to do this? Was Benhadad going to be dead by the time Elijah got there? Was Elijah going to meet up with Hazael, anoint him king, and then Hazael kills Benhadad? Honestly, I think to answer these questions, I have to continue reading or go back in 1st kings to get a better idea of the political situation at the time. Was Hazael going to be a righteous king? Was Benhadad a wicked king?
Worshippers of Jehovah are Few
God numbers the amount of followers he still has in Israel at 7000. Remember how under king Ahab and Jezebel, Israel severely turned from worship of Jehovah to Phoenician cults? Most of Israel is having issues with these idols. 7,000 people across at least 14 different cities filled with how many hundreds of people? They are definitely the minority.
Elisha Joins Elijah
Elijah leaves and finds Elisha of Shaphat. He’s plowing with 12 oxen. As Elijah is passing by, he tosses his shawl on him. How do you think he found him? The Lord probably told him. How cool would it be to have the Lord tell you where someone was or will be by the time you arrive at a certain place? Pretty cool huh? I want to know why Elisha? I’ll probably find out later once I study more. Was he just a normal guy? Was he wealthy? Was he poor? Why did God pick him? Obviously he was foreordained but what were his earthly circumstances? Do you think the plowing with the 12 oxen is significant?
With the whole mantle casting, I can imagine this being a rather funny thing to see. This old prophet Elijah takes off his shawl, creeps up on Elisha while he’s plowing away. Elisha is probably humming a song, mind elsewhere, so he doesn’t hear Elijah. The prophet sneaks up behind him and tosses the shawl on Elisha and takes off! Sandals kicking up dust as he runs at max prophet speed away. Elisha, with a shawl over his head is confused and amazed. He has no idea what happened. Taking it off, he looks around and see this really old prophet running away. He squints at the scene as he says to himself, “What in the world is that guy doing? Wait, is that Elij…?” And then it all clicks. A prophet visiting him, has left his shawl. Elisha drops everything and books it after Elijah. I don’t know if that’s how it happened. I threw a lot of my own imagination into the scriptures. Forgive me.
Elisha catches up and tells Elijah, “Let me kiss my mom and dad and then I’ll follow you.” Elijah replied, “Go back again. What did I do to you.?” My thinking is that Elisha was probably a kid when this happened. Or at least, young enough to be still at home. If he was grown up, he probably wouldn’t have said let me go kiss my parents goodbye. The cross-reference brings up a good point in a very literal sense. Cross reference Luke 9:61. This verse tells of a man who said a similar thing, “I will follow you but let me tell my household.” Verse 62 of the same chapter informs us that no man, having put his strength to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. I could go on about how Elisha is the exception to this rule. But I don’t think he is. I mean he became a prophet! If you notice, in the Luke version, the man says he will first but then asks to go back and tell his family. Elisha does the opposite. He says let me tell my mom and dad bye and then I’ll come. I think that’s why the “then” in 1 kings 19:20 is in italics. The man in Luke used his family as an excuse to delay following Christ. In a literal sense, his house was not in order when the time came to go. He had already told the Lord he wanted to follow him. Once you make that commitment, there is no going back to your old ways. In the case of the man, his family. He ought to have been prepared. Another way to look at it is this. You cannot tell the Lord you will follow him and then walk in the opposite direction!
As I said before, Elisha did the opposite. What he said was not an excuse. He said, let me get my house in order so I can follow you. Or to use the word in the scripture then I will follow you. What Elisha did, perhaps without realizing the significance of it, was made sure he was ready temporally and spiritually before he went to become a helper to the prophet. All this he did so that he could not look back and focus on the Lord’s work. Before missions we have to clean our own lives (prepare mentally, spiritually, physically etc…) before we go help others do the same. You can’t fly a plane that takes people to a higher standard of living if you are waiting in line to get on the plane yourself.
The last part is puzzling to me. When Elijah tells him to go back. I think part of it, or one way to look at it is Elijah gave him permission to go back. Realizing that he was not completely ready to follow him quite yet. But seeing his potential and knowing his qualities, gave him instructions and waited for him to complete them. Elijah recognized that he had things to complete and that he was taking those steps to finish them and honored that by waiting.
Here is an interesting tidbit and it leads into my second thought. It never says he went and told his parents what happened. It does say he fed people so that may still have happened but hang on! Elijah said, “Go back again, for what have I done to thee?” At first, I was wondering why Elijah is telling him off. What if it is a command rather? Saying go back! Remember what I just did to you? What do you need to do about it? Saying, “Great, I am glad you want to follow me but aren’t you forgetting something? I gave you my mantle!” And then Elisha remembered, “Oh yeah! That’s right! I need to go kill the oxen and boil their flesh on the instrument of plowing and feed everyone, thanks for the reminder!” Anyway, he does and then peaces out and leave with Elijah to help him.