The relation that Elijah sustained to Elisha was similar to that sustained by John the Baptist to Christ. What Christ said of John in comparison with himself can be said of Elijah in comparison with Elisha. Said Christ, “For John came neither eating nor drinking. . . The son of man came eating and drinking. . .” (Matt. 11:18, 19). So, too, Elijah and Elisha; the former came neither eating nor drinking. The latter came eating and drinking.
He came neither eating nor drinking, did John. The wilderness was his abode, and his meat there was locusts and wild honey. And he had his raiment of camel’s hair, and about his loins was a leathern girdle. The rigor of John’s manner of life was in full agreement with and also expressive of the character of his prophetic function. In his preaching the element of judgment was prominent; and this of necessity, as he preached exclusively repentance. The substance of his discourse was: The kingdom of God and its King are at hand. Woe to them who will not have forsaken their sin and turned to God, when this kingdom is come. For the fan of its King is in His hand; and He will thoroughly purge His floor and gather His wheat into the garner but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. And now also the ax is laid unto the root of every tree: therefore every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire. Repent ye therefore and live. John, in a word preached “repentance for the remission of sin” and entrance into the kingdom, and for unbelief he preached utter destruction. His discourse was, to be sure, truly merciful, yet stern and even terrible when addressed to the leaders in Israel—the Pharisees and Sadducees. To them he said, when he saw many of them coming to his baptism, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matt. 3:1-9).
John’s indignation is understandable. Being a Nazarite, he had separated himself from his people, and taken up his residence in the desert also to encourage the spiritually disquieted in Israel, the earnest seekers of eternal life, to quit the society of their unbelieving countrymen and join themselves to him in his solitude,—the solitude where the prophetic word had come to him and where he came forward as a preacher of great power, though he performed no miracles. The presence in the wilderness, of this man, whose manner of life and attire and awful eloquence, recalled the person of Elijah, bore the desired result. Quoting the sacred narrative, there went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan. And they were baptized of him in the Jordan, confessing—mark you, confessing—their sins. We are to think here certainly of a true conversion on a large scale, and thus of the fulfillment of the prophetic word of Malachi, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: and he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (Mal. 4:5, 6). And also the realization in the lives of these penitent ones of the command bf God, declared by the mouth of Isaiah, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Isa. 11:3). So did the labors of John produce such fruit as to justify his bearing the title of “forerunner of Christ,” “Preparer of the way of the Savior.” The great and terrible day made mention of by Malachi is the New Dispensation. It is called a great and terrible day on account of all the terrible and dreadful events that are made to come to pass in it, such as the crucifixion of Christ, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the destruction of Jerusalem, the judgments of God that overtake the nations through the ages of this dispensation and the ultimate passing away of this world and the appearance of the church with Christ in glory.
When John saw also many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, his anger waxed hot. For he knew what drove them, namely, not the love of God—the love that forms the essence of a true conversion—but love of self, carnal fear of the judgment to come. They would escape this judgment but would bear no fruit worthy of repentance—such fruit as true sorrow of sin, works of true faith and mercy. John had no patience with these persons, “O generation of vipers”—and they were this truly—”who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come. . . .”
Christ in distinction from John came eating and drinking. He lived a normal life. He mingled freely with his fellows, supping with them in their homes and eating whatever was set before Him. Indeed, so far removed was His manner of life from that of John, so free His intercourse especially with the lowly and despised, that His enemies saw fit to sneeringly refer to Him as a winebibber and a glutton, a friend of publicans and sinners. Christ’s manner of life bespoke what was characteristic of His prophetic function in distinction from that of John. Assuredly there was no essential difference between Christ’s preaching and that of John. He, too, preached repentance for the remission of sins. He, too, made room in his discourses for the element of judgment. The preacher who fails to discourse on subjects such as these is a false prophet. Yet Christ’s preaching was fuller and richer by far and much more comprehensive and thus more gracious and appealing to God’s people than John’s. Even His enemies were struck with amazement by the loveliness of His words. Never, said they, had they heard a man speak as He spake. Christ preached Himself as the true bread and the living water, as the One who gives rest to the weary; seeks, as the good shepherd, the lost; carries the lambs in His bosom, and lays down His life for His sheep. It is from Christ and not from John that we have the sermon on the mount and the parable of the lost son. It is Christ and not John who wept over Jerusalem and prayed for His enemies. Who is capable of this but He who was wounded for our transgressions, bore in His soul all our sorrows? It is Christ who went through the land, raising the dead, and opening the eyes of the blind, and causing the deaf to hear. John through His ministry and manner of life showed forth the avenging justice of God, yet also His mercy. But it was Christ, who, through His words and deeds, His obedience both active and passive, showed us the heart of the Father. It is in His face that we see God as He is. Yet, John and Christ belong together. The labors of both form one divine work. Together, in their respective labors, they deprived the carnal Israel, the generation of vipers, engaged in filling its measure of iniquity, of every excuse in the day of vengeance. This seed rejected first John. Their excuse was that, coming as he did, neither eating nor drinking, he certainly had a devil. So Christ came eating and drinking. But Him, too, they rejected. And this time their excuse was that, coming as He did, eating and drinking, he was a glutton and a winebibber, and thus not God’s Christ. It shows that the true reason of their unwillingness to believe either John or Christ was their carnality, their perverseness of mind and heart. But the children of wisdom believed both John and Christ, believing they were saved. So was wisdom justified of her children. As to the others, they perished in their sins. In their rejecting John, they made themselves especially guilty of mocking the severity of God, His avenging justice. In rejecting Christ, they committed the sin of despising the love, mercy and compassion of God.
Elijah, too, as John, whom he prefigured, came neither eating nor drinking. He appears in Scripture as living much of the time alone in solitary companionship with God. Clothed, as he was, with a mantle of sheepskin or hair-cloth, his attire was identical to John’s. Being the type of a man that he was, it must be that at no time did his daily meal include much more than a few and simple articles of diet. During the great drought he quenched his thirst with the waters of the brook, and ate the food which the ravens deposited amid the cliffs. The rigor of his manner of life was also indicative of the character of his prophetic ministry. He, too, preached exclusively repentance for the remission of sins by word of mouth not only but especially by what he was able to accomplish through fervent prayer. His saying to the wicked king Ahab and to the apostate nation at large, “As Jehovah the God of Israel liveth, there shall not be dew nor rain these years but according to my word” was really a call to repentance and is therefore to be paraphrased thus, “The hand of God will be upon thee on account of thy grievous sins (king and people were using His gifts in the service of Baal); Humble thyself under that hand of His. Repent of thy sins, forsake thy abominations and turn to God, lest thou be consumed by His fierce anger.” Preaching, as he did, repentance, the element of judgment was conspicuous also in all his ministry even to the degree that it would not be amiss to bestow upon him the title “prophet of judgment.” He prayed for the immediate operation of the curse of God in the people’s fields. At his command the five hundred prophets of Baal were slain. In the solitude of the wilderness, whither he had fled to escape the wrath of the queen, he, after having been encouraged by the Lord, received the command to anoint Hazael, the scourge of Israel, king over Assyria; Jehu, the extirpator of Ahab’s house, king over Israel; and Elisha prophet in his room. Having found Elisha and anointed him, he remained several years in retirement, when he was again called forth to confront Ahab, who had plundered and murdered Naboth the Jezreelite, and announce to him the judgments of God by which he and his house were to be overtaken. After the death of Ahab, he again went into retirement. When he was at length called forth, it was to repeat to Ahaziah, who had succeeded to his father’s throne, and who, having met with an injury, had sent to consult with Baalzebub, the god of Ekron, in regard to the issue of his disease, the denunciation, which he had before given. For their impudence, the two bands of fifty, which Ahaziah had sent for Elijah’s apprehension, were consumed with fire from heaven in response to the prophet’s prayer. Having crossed in company with Elisha the Jordan, whose waters were divided to let them pass, “there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them asunder, and Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.” The chariot and its horses were the emblems of the holy warfare of God—a warfare which Elijah had persecuted with such uncommon zeal during his lifetime. So did he ascend into heaven with the full military honors of a spiritual warrior. Even several years after his transition, there came from him a writing to Jehoram, son of Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, reproving him for his wickedness and pronouncing upon him the sorest judgments (2 Chron. 21:12).
Elijah performed but a few miracles of mercy. When the people renounce Baal, slay his priests and return to the Lord, Elijah, through prayer, again brings rain. At his word, the barrel of meal and cruse of oil of the poor widow with whom he lodged during the latter part of the famine, are not suffered to fail. Her dead son is also restored to life at the word of Elijah. Certainly, the career of this prophet of God, in so far as it is set before us in the Scriptures, justifies the statement that in this career especially the righteousness, the avenging justice of God is revealed, yet also His mercy. As was said in the previous article on this subject, the theophany at Horeb—the great and strong wind that rent the mountains, the earthquake and the fire, symbols of divine judgment and wrath—were indicative of the means by which he would turn the hearts of the people to God. And, though Elijah in his deep gloom imagined that he had labored in vain, yet, through his ministry, the hearts of the people were turned back again. The cry of the people “as to Jehovah, He is the God”—a cry occasioned by the spectacle of the burnt offering being consumed in the fire of God from heaven—is to be construed as indicating a conversion on a large scale. The prophet had prayed for this, “Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that thou art the Lord God, and that thou hast turned their hearts back again.” On account of this fruit, which his labors were made to bear, Elijah, as the Baptist, whom he pre-figured, was a “forerunner” a “preparer of the way” not, as the Baptist, directly of Christ, but of Elisha his successor. Malachi was made to understand this, as is evident from a declaration contained in his discourse and already quoted. What this prediction indicates is that in the mind of this prophet (Malachi) Elijah and the Baptist stood out as having this in common: both through their ministry turned the hearts of God’s people back again; thus both were forerunners, the former of Elisha, the latter of Christ. It is also and especially on this account that Elijah stood out in Malachi’s mind as the type of the Baptist.
If Elijah came neither eating and drinking, Elisha, Christ—to whom he, in his manner of life and ministry, stood closer than Elijah—came eating and drinking.
As Christ, he lived a normal life. After Elijah had gone to heaven, he became a man of the city and had a house in Samaria, where he dwelt among his people, rendering his person accessible to them at all times. He was dressed as other men, and ate what they ate. Elisha’s manner of life was indicative both of the character of the man and of his ministry. If Elijah was stern and severe, he was gentle and affectionate. As was already pointed out, when he beheld Hazael and was mindful of what his people would have to suffer at the hands of this man, whom he anointed king over Syria, he burst into tears. He sent away his enemies—the Syrian generals—as satisfied with bread and thus, as has already been remarked, translated into action the teaching of Christ, “Love your enemies. . . .” His ministry, too, was one of mercy. Not many predictions of judgment and doom passed over his lips. When he opened his mouth to speak, it was to announce deliverance. Miracles were wrought by him as they had been by Elijah. But they were all miracles of mercy. He filled the valley with water, and saved the armies of Israel, when they were perishing with thirst (2 Kings 8:20). He saved the widow of one of the prophets, and her family, by miraculously increasing her pot of oil (2 Kings 3:4). He healed Naaman of his leprosy; he caused the iron ax to swim; he cured the unwholesome waters; he healed the deadly pottage; and satisfied a hundred men with twenty loaves; he relieved Samaria in time of siege and famine; and even after his death, a dead man was raised to life, by being thrown into Elisha’s grave (2 Kings 13:21). See how close his ministry stands to that of Christ? But let us not misjudge the man Elisha. There was nothing of weakness about his kindness. As Christ, he, too, could be terribly severe. He cursed the children that mocked him and they were destroyed by bears (2 Kings 2:23, 24). He, too, as well as well as Elijah, was a man of implicit faith in God, of strict obedience and overwhelming courage. However painful to him the knowledge that Hazael was to do his people much harm, he nevertheless anointed him king over Syria, as the Lord had commanded.
Yet Elisha was plainly the prophet of mercy. His ministry was calculated to reveal God’s love of His people, to declare that the mercy of the Lord is over them that fear Him and keep His covenant. As the Baptist and Christ, so Elijah and Elisha; the two belong together. The labors of both form one divine work. Together in their respective ministries they deprived the carnal seed in Israel of every excuse in the day of vengeance. What this seed said of the Baptist, they said of Elijah, namely, that, coming as he did, neither eating nor drinking he had a devil. What it said of Christ they said of Elisha, namely, that, coming as he did, eating and drinking, he was a glutton and a winebibber. Though this is not stated in the Scriptures in set language, it is true. But wisdom, also as she took on flesh and blood in Elijah and Elisha, was justified of her children.