They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

A Double Portion of the Spirit

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

“You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”
— 2 Kings 2:9-10

Elisha and ElijahWhile studying the stories about Elijah and Elisha in 1 and 2 Kings and reading some rabbinic commentaries on their lives, I came across an interesting thought concerning these two great prophets.

In the Jewish mind, the consummate idea of discipleship is found in these two men. According to the biblical account, Elijah came to the village where Elisha lived and found him plowing his field (1 Kings 19:21). Throwing his cloak over Elisha, Elijah recruited him to become his m’sharet or assistant (see also M’sharet-God’s Assistant). Elisha faithfully followed Elijah until the time came for Elijah to pass the mantle of God’s prophet onto Elisha, his successor. In 2 Kings 2:9-10, before Elijah was taken up to heaven, Elisha asked him if he could have a double portion of His Spirit. Elijah answered that he had asked for a difficult thing, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours, otherwise not.”

We know from the next verses that Elisha did see Elijah as he was taken up to heaven and that God authenticated Elisha’s succession to Elijah’s ministry by giving him the same divine powers that had accompanied Elijah’s ministry. But, did Elisha receive a double portion of his spirit?

There are seven miracles attributed to Elijah in 1 and 2 Kings (some scholars count more because they count prophecy as a miracle). When Elisha comes to the end of his life in 2 Kings 13:20, he has had thirteen miracles recorded in scripture (again, more can be counted). The fourteenth miracle of Elisha occurs in a bizarre story after his death, when a dead body touches Elisha’s bones and and the dead body is brought back to life (2 Kings 13:21-22). Elisha did receive a double portion of the spirit of Elijah! Was this a coincidence or did the Hebrew writers pen it that way so that the digging student of the text would pick up the connection? It ‘s a fascinating thought and would be just like God and the Eastern mindset to deposit that nugget in scripture.

Note: If you Google “Miracles of Elijah and Elisha”, you will find the miracles of each man that are recorded in scripture. Depending on what you consider a miracle (prophecy, etc.), you can get up to 16 miracles for Elijah and 32 for Elisha. I read another commentary that had 8 for Elijah and 16 for Elisha, but 7 and 14 was the most common figure. The fact that Elisha’s miracles exactly double Elijah is just a neat way of saying through the text that God gave Elisha a double portion of His spirit.

M’Sharet: God’s Assistant

Moses & JoshuaOn our last trip to Israel we learned a very rich word in Hebrew, a new concept, that really impacted us and gave us a deeper understanding of what our mission as believers in Jesus should look like. The word in Hebrew is m’sharet (mesharet) and is translated in English as assistant or aide. However, this word, as it related to the Hebrew culture of that day, went much deeper than a single word in English could capture.

If you look up the word in the Hebrew concordance, (Strong’s 8334), it is defined as, “to minister, to serve as an attendant, to wait upon someone as a squire waits on a knight.”  It is used to describe someone who believes so passionately in their master’s mission that they would do any task or anything to assist in what their master was doing.  A m’sharet went everywhere with their master and did all the manual labor and the menial tasks in order to help their master through the day and served as an apprentice to him.

The word is used in the Hebrew Testament in Exodus 24:13 to describe this relationship between Moses and Joshua. In this set of verses, Moses takes his m’sharet, Joshua,and takes him up Mt. Sinai with him to meet God. Although the text doesn’t specifically say it, the implication is that Joshua was the porter for the trip up the mountain. Exodus 33:11 again calls Joshua Moses’ attendant and says that Moses used him to guard the tent of meeting. Previously, in Exodus 17:9 Moses orders Joshua, his right hand man, to fight the Amalekites. In Deuteronomy 1:38 God tells Moses to encourage his assistant Joshua and teach him what he knows, because Joshua will eventually become the new leader of all Israel. Numbers 11:28 says that Joshua had been Moses’ aide since his youth.

Later, in Joshua 1:3 and 3:7, after the death of Moses, the Lord speaks to Joshua and identifies him as Moses attendant (mesharet Moshe). Because of this relationship with Moses, God makes Joshua the new leader and charges him with taking the Israelites across the Jordan into the land that they had been promised. The sages from early times, in discussing this passage, noted that God called Joshua “m’sharet” instead of “talmid” (disciple), for a reason. Joshua wasn’t a great leader because he knew his Torah, but because he had been with Moses and had watched him in action for all those years. He learned from Moses experiences and had practiced the art of leadership before he had to use it. He had carried Moses pack, he had waited on him hand and foot, slept and ate in the same tent, and had even gone to battle for him. He had done his apprenticeship directly under the eyes of the master.

Elijah calls ElishaAs another example, 1 Kings 19:21 says,”Then he (Elisha) set out to follow Elijah and became his attendant (m’sharet).”  In this story in 1 Kings, Elisha said goodbye to his comfortable home and well off family to become Elijah’s personal servant. Again, the word m’sharet is used instead of talmid. He was his apprentice, his servant.  Later in 2 Kings 3:11, Elisha is identified as a prophet and someone worthy for King Jeshophat to talk to by describing him as “the one who used to pour water on Elijah’s hand“ (he waited on him). Again, the sages noted that what qualified Elisha was not that he was book smart but that he served (his master).

There are many other examples of m’sharet in scripture. Elsiha also had a mesharet (2 Kings 4:43 and 6:15). Samuel was Eli’s m’sharet (1 Samuel 2:11). The point is that certain educational experiences can only be learned through apprenticeship. Book knowledge is insufficient. It is necessary to learn by practicing, getting your hands dirty, and learning directly under the eyes of the master.

What about the New Testament? Did Jesus have m’sharet? If you will think about it, Jesus never rowed the boat, carried his pack, kept up with the money, prepared the upper room, went in to town to buy food, or took care of feeding his followers. The disciples did all the menial work! They believed so passionately in his mission that they were willing to do anything and go anywhere just to be in his company and in on the action. They were anxious to show him that they believed in his mission. They didn’t just sit around and discuss the scriptures as his peers, they were apprentices in every phase of life.

Should we be thinking more of ourselves as Jesus’ m’sharet than just his student or convert? Much of the emphasis in modern Christianity is focused on “me”; my walk, my happiness, my quiet time. We really buy into the cross and the fact that Jesus saved us, but we are not as anxious to buy into the mission and the hard work it requires.  It is definitely not our mission just to be saved and the mission is really not about us. Do you buy into the mission to do whatever it takes to model and please the rabbi? Are you willing to do the hard and sometimes menial work that is required to be an attendant?  The word mission implies a journey and every journey requires effort. Jesus is looking for some m’sharet to follow him and learn from him on the journey.  Are you willing to buy in as his attendant?

P.S. Another example of m’sharet in the New Testament would be Timothy to Paul.

P.S.S. Some scriptures to read to bring this point home are as follows:

  • Luke 22:24-27
  • Matthew 25:21
  • Matthew 20:26
  • John 14:1-17

John the Baptizer & Elijah

Study Passages: Malachi 4:5-6, Mark 1:1-8, 2 Kings 1:8, Matthew 3:4, Luke 1:5-24

We are introduced to John the Baptizer in Luke 1:5-24, as an angel comes to an aging priest named Zechariah. Zechariah is on duty in Jerusalem and is in the Priests Court in the Temple performing his assigned duty of burning incense to the Lord and praying to God that He would send the “Chosen One” (Messiah) that God had been promising. The angel tells Zechariah that his old wife will give birth to a son and they are to call him John and that he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. The angel also says that he will bring many people back to the God of Israel. Verse 17 says, “And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah…. to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. Luke 1:80 says that John the Baptist grew and became strong in the Spirit and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel. Matthew 3:4 tells us that John’s clothes were made of camel hair and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and honey.

Now, let’s take a look at Elijah from the Hebrew Testament. He shows up from nowhere, out of the desert, in 1 Kings Chapter 17 to begin his prophetic ministry. His name means, “The Lord is God”. In 2 Kings 1:8, we learn that he wore a camel’s hair garment with a leather belt around his waist. He has a very powerful and important impact on Jewish history. He spent most of his time in the desert around the Jordan River and is finally whisked up to heaven without dying.

Now, let’s go back to John the Baptist and look at how and where he lived and preached. His whole ministry is spent up and down the desert area of the Jordan River. There are two main areas where stories about John the Baptist appear:

  1. Where he baptizes Jesus at Bethany beyond the Jordan (John 1:28) and
  2. At Aenon near Salim (John 3:23), where he was also preaching and baptizing


Why would John choose these locations to baptize? If you will look at a map of Elijah’s travels and stories, you will see that these are the exact locations where Elijah is fed by ravens, where he passes his cloak to Elisha and where he is taken up to heaven! John the Baptizer is operating in Elijah country! He is baptizing in Elijah places! He wears what Elijah wears! He wants to be like Elijah! How else could you more clearly say, “I am Elijah?” He is living out the prophecy that the angel had spoken over him before his birth. Don’t you know that his parents told him what he was supposed to be like as he grew up!

He was doing his best to fulfill the destiny that God had given him.

And, according to Jesus himself, John the Baptist was Elijah! Read Matthew 11:1-14 (esp. 14), and 17:10-13, where Jesus says that John was the fulfillment of Elijah and the Old Testament prophecy in Malachi 4:5-6. That prophecy said that Elijah would come back and prepare the way for the coming of the promised Messiah. John the Baptizer fulfilled that role, in that he came in the spirit and power of Elijah, and prepared the way for Jesus to come to the Jewish people. He accomplished that by trying to emulate Elijah in every way that he could, from his clothes to where he worked and even in his speech. John the Baptizer, like his predecessor Elijah, had a very important and powerful impact on Jewish history and was a key ingredient in God’s plan to send his son, Jesus, to be our Messiah!

Call Down Fire from Heaven

There is an interesting story about Jesus and his disciples that occurs in the gospels only in Luke 9. The time frame of the story is in the very late stages of Jesus public ministry.  He has taken his disciples to the northernmost part of Israel, to Caesarea Philippi, where He revealed to them what was about to take place as far as his death and resurrection were concerned.

Click on map for route and location details

Click on map for route and location details

Then he takes three of the disciples, Peter, James, and John up on a high mountain to experience what has been called the “transfiguration”. While they are watching, Jesus meets with and talks to the “angelic” appearing Moses and Elijah, two of Israel’s greatest prophets, who have long since died and gone to heaven. They also see their rabbi transfigured and hear the voice of God thunder from the heavens. It is obvious that they are in special company in a special time in history.

After this amazing incident, the Bible says that Jesus, realizing that his time to be crucified was at hand, set his face resolutely towards Jerusalem.  To get to Jerusalem, which is south of the Galilee quite a distance, the group decided to go the shortest route through the Samaritan mountains. They had taken this route in the past, if you remember when Jesus met the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well in Samaria. The Samaritans and the Jews did not get along, at all. Most Jews would not even risk going through Samaria and the same could be said for the Samaritans, as they were reluctant to go through Israel. Their hatred for each other had been going on for centuries.

As they traveled in Samaria, Jesus sent some messengers ahead to reserve a place to stay and to have something to eat. However, the Samaritans were not friendly at all, and would not let the disciples make any arrangements for their rabbi.

When James and John saw the Samaritans rude behavior, they quickly asked Jesus,”Can we call down fire from heaven on these guys and teach them a lesson and destroy this Samaritan village?”Jesus rebuked James and John and said, we’ll just go to another village. In the King James translation, Jesus replies, “I did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them”.

Why would the disciples want to call fire down from heaven, besides the obvious fact that they were mad at them? If we knew our text better, the answer would be obvious. Elijah, the first great prophet of Israel, the one that they had just seen on the mountain, had done the exact same thing to the exact same people, in the exact same area, for the exact same reason! Look at the story in 2 Kings Ch.1! By gosh, if Elijah didn’t put up with these unruly Samaritans, then neither will we! Also, Elijah had called down fire from heaven in the contest with Baal on top of Mt. Carmel. So the fire from heaven was a prophet thing!

Moses, the other great leader of Israel that they had just witnessed, also called down fire from heaven on the Sons of Korah in Numbers 16:35 and on Aaron’s sons in Leviticus 10:2. So the disciples were trying to emulate these great prophets when they asked Jesus for permission to scorch these Samaritans! They had great precedent to do so; surely their rabbi would go along with it.

Jesus, however, said, “My ministry is going to be a little different “. What Moses and Elijah did was appropriate for that time and situation, but my ministry is going to be about trying to save these people’s lives, not wipe them out”. In fact, Jesus uses the Samaritans as examples in a lot of his parables and stories to show that we’ve got to love even our worst enemy, e.g. the story of the Good Samaritan.

Doesn’t this make this story a lot more interesting when you know the history and the context behind what was happening? We need to know our Hebrew Testament so much better! That is the book and the stories that Jesus and his disciples would have been so familiar with. This should motivate us to be better students of the text! Our rabbi and his disciples certainly were good students!