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