Sermon delivered July 7, 2001 by Pastor Kent Crutcher

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the New International Version NIV unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

Burning the Plow

What a let down. It didn't happen the way it was supposed to happen. He had been preparing for it for years. Oh, the events had transpired beautifully, but the reaction was not what he had expected. The fire came down from heaven right on cue. It burned more than the sacrifice. It took out the whole alter and lapped up the water that had been poured on it. Then, He had slaughtered the prophets of Baal. The rain came as promised. But that was when the successful events ended and the strange reaction came.

Elijah must surely have expected that the repentance of King Ahab, the renunciation of his demon-worshiping queen Jezebel, and the renewal of the people would immediately follow. But no, this didn't happen. Instead, the nation just went home and told each other what an interesting day it had been, Ahab went home and told Jezebel what a naughty boy Elijah had been and Jezebel went ballistic and after telling her gods what a loyal witch she had been, promptly put a contract out on Elijah's life.

What a disappointment! What disillusionment! We later find Elijah hiding in a cave, listening to the still small voice of God. God has been explaining the facts of life to Elijah. "You don't know as much about what is going on as you think you do. You say that you are the only servant that I have left. You don't know about the 6,999 other servants that have not bowed to Baal. In fact, I think that you have been living alone too much. You need someone around to keep you balanced. You need to be training someone to take your place."

Have you ever watched a relay race with runners on television like the Olympics where the runners are going around the track and they have to pass the baton? Have you noticed that sometimes the baton drops? I've wondered about that. It looks easy; all you have to do is hand it over. Then I ran my first relay race. There, bouncing up and down, you're bouncing up and down while you're running and that stick is going up and down too. It's all you can do to grab it. But, if you're in step with the other person it makes it so much easier. It's important for it to be a team effort. The baton must be properly handed over if the race is to be won. and Elijah nearly flunked on both counts. He forgot that he was only a part of the team, and that there were other runners also in the race. Worse still, he nearly dropped the baton.

I knew a lady who held the same job in a church for many years, wonderfully. Nobody could do it as well as she could. As she was getting older, we began to be concerned that maybe she would quit and nobody would know what she did, so we would suggest year after year "Yes, we'd like you to do that for another year, but we'd also lie for you to train somebody so that they'll know how to do your job." But, she took offense, "You just want to replace me." And she would refuse to train anybody, which was a shame because she was a master at what she did. The day came when she could no longer hold the job and had to move away. The next person had to learn everything the hard way, wasting so much time.

God reminded Elijah that there were other people waiting for their chance to run, and more particularly, that Elijah had a successor waiting just a few miles ahead of him round a bend in the track: Elisha. Elijah was to pass the baton of his witness. His job was to make sure that he made the pass as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Look at 1 Kings 19. Here we pick up the story just after Elijah leaves the cave after speaking with God. During this sermons series on Elisha, we'll be spending most of our time in 2 Kings, but the story begins here in 1 Kings 19:19. So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him.

There is a lot packed into this one verse. We're going to try to unpack a little bit of it. One amazing phrase is: "He was plowing." This doesn't seem too unreasonable until you place it in the context of the times. Remember, the ground has been hard as a rock, tough as brass, because of the famine which has just ended. They had had their first rain. They could plow again! They hadn't plowed for years. They could plant again. Crops could go in. Crops could be harvested. "We'd better hurry. Let's plow while we can. We don't know when it might rain again. Let's plant crops while we can. We must have something to eat." It must have been a plowing frenzy. Everyone that could was taking advantage of the weather. "We finally have rain." Much like those in my neighborhood who had a hard time finding the right weather to cut and bail hay. Tractors were running late into the night with great big lights, trying to get it in while the getting was good. That's what was happening here. Plow while they had a chance to plow.

The next phrase is also interesting. "With twelve yoke of oxen." First off, for a man to have this many oxen was a sign of wealth. This would have been equivalent to owning a fleet of John Deere tractors with plows. Elisha's father must have been well off. Further more, having this many oxen strong enough to pull a plow after the famine was another indication that Shaphat was a blessed man.

But the next phrase indicates that his son was no spoiled brat. You know, that often happens in wealthy families. The child doesn't work and he's spoiled sometimes. Elisha is not that way because and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Some have debated over this scene. I've seen paintings of mighty Elisha holding onto a great plow being pulled by 24 huge oxen. Have you seen those? They're great, but I'm not sure that's how it worked. I did a little looking into the Hebrew and initially you could say that's how it happened. An initial reading of the Hebrew text could lead one to see this picture. The literal reading in Hebrew says that Elisha "was plowing" with "two and ten pairs before him." Before him might seem to indicate that they were all in front of his plow. But, in Hebrew, the word before often means "in full view of, under the eye of, at the disposal of." This means that he was in control of all of these oxen, not necessarily driving them himself. The phrase "he himself was driving the twelfth pair" lends itself to this picture. The scene was most likely one of servants in the field plowing with eleven plows and pairs of oxen while the foreman, Elisha was driving the twelfth. He was not just in charge, he was working side by side with his father's servants. Later this is born out when he slaughtered a pair of oxen that he was driving.

Either way you want to look at it, he was a worker. This was how Elijah found Elisha, hard at work. Doing what had to be done. Accomplishing the task at hand. Taking care of business. Literally, putting his hand to the plow! Working for his dad. Before Jesus spent His life as a preacher, He spent three decades working for His dad, doing what had to be done, doing the task at hand. God want people who know how to work, to do His work.

Now look at the next phrase of verse 19. "Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him." If Elisha was anything like me when I am outside and hard at work, he was covered in sweat. He would also have been covered in dirt from being behind that plow. I picture a man with dirt streaked over his body and sweat running into his eyes. He's working hard. You know, if you wanted somebody to do something, you find somebody that's busy. That's somebody that can get it done. If you find somebody that has time on their hands, you'll soon find out why they have time on their hands, because they're not doing what needs to be done. So, find somebody that's busy, and that's just what Elijah did. He found Elisha who was busy. He was dirty, he was sun-burned. I know that: they hadn't had a cloud in years. There was no shade there.

The last thing that I would want in that condition would be for someone to throw a camel-hair coat over my shoulders. But Elisha knew immediately what this meant.

Look at verse 20. Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. Elijah didn't stick around to put pressure on Elisha. He just put the coat on him and took off. "Hey, wait a minute!" Elisha took off running. "Wait! Why did he leave?" Elijah was not there to pressure Elisha into taking the job. This was God's call, not his call. No body should be pressured into following God. Yes, we can plant the seeds in their heart, but the Holy Spirit is the one that nurtures them, puts the pressure on them and convicts the heart. Elijah knew that God would take care of the person that He called. Elisha does not hesitate. He runs after Elijah. He doesn't ask about the job description. He knows what the job is. He doesn't ask about salary. He knew what it was: nothing. He didn't ask about benefits. No, there's no dental plan here. He just wants to know if he can tell his folks good-by. "Let me kiss by father and mother good-by," he said, "and then I will come with you." "Go back," Elijah replied. "What have I done to you?"

Elijah was not shunning Elisha. This was a test to see that if he went back and saw his family, would he be so eager to leave them, would he still be eager to go? "Yes, go back and think about your decision, Elisha. Consider the cost. Then decide." The cost was indeed great. Elijah was a wanted felon. There was a bounty on his head. His picture was on Jezebel's most wanted list at the Post-Office. He was featured on Israel's Most Wanted. "Have you seen this man. Last seen fleeing into the dessert wearing a camel hair coat. Wanted, dead or alive. Preferably dead!" Yes, this would be a dangerous occupation. Plus, he would have to leave the comforts of his home, the support of good parents, his friends, his occupation, his inheritance. Think about it Elisha. Is it worth it? How did Elisha do on the test?

Look at verse 21. Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and become his attendant.

It sounds like he passed the test! Yes, he went back. But he went back with a purpose. He went back to burn his bridges. He destroyed His John Deere farm tractor and ate it! God called and Elijah said "yes" without reservation. He showed his total trust in God by this action. I wonder what I would do if somebody threw the camel hair on me. If somebody said, "God wants you to go to China." I might think, "Well, maybe. Let me go and talk to the Conference President and see that after I've spent my four years in China if there's going to be some little church for me to pastor here when I get back." I want a job when I get back. Or maybe I won't sell my house just in case I don't like how it turns out and I can have a home I can come back to. I don't if how I would pass this test. But I know how Elisha did: he burned the bridges. "I put my total trust in God. He will take care of me." He was ready to go.

Tough questions? Not for Elisha! He was ready to go, no matter the cost! In fact, He thought of this as an opportunity to celebrate! There is tremendous joy in sacrifice. "Sacrifice is the ecstasy of giving the best we have to the one we love the most." We don't do God a favor by choosing His service, He did us the favor by choosing us for that service.

I've often wondered why God chooses the people He does. It almost never seems like a logical choice. Many times it seems like a foolish choice and I think about that every time I look in the mirror. "God, what were you thinking?" I found out what He's thinking.

1 Corinthians 1:26-31. This explains full well what God is thinking about who He chooses. 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 Brothers, think what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of this world I thought, there He goes. Now I understand. God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak thing of this world to shame the strong. Just look at David and Goliath. I think God got a good chuckle out of that. Let's use the little guy to take out the big guy. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things--and the things that are not--to nullify the things that are; so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God--that is, our righteousness, holiness, and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

Are you called by God? Yes, Go ye therefore... Does that mean that you're somebody high and mighty? No, not according to what we just read. But He loves you anyway. He loves me anyway. God does not always make the logical choice. He is looking for someone who is willing. Someone who will not dread doing what needs to be done. How do you feel when called by the nominating committee of the church to do a specific task. Dread? I know a man in south Georgia who, when called, would ask; "Did you pray about this before you decided to ask me?" After answering "yes," he would say; "Then what choice do I have? I had better get busy planning how to do this."

My heart was uplifted. I know a man in south Georgia, and I knew that when I called him from the nominating committee he would ask a question. "Did you pray about this when you decided to ask me?" "Yes." "So what choice do I have? I need to get busy." I had faith that he would say that every time. He didn't see it as a choice. He says, "God has called. You prayed about it. God has asked me. How do I do it? Let's get busy."

So, what did God have in mind for Elisha? Was it grand? Was it glorious? Was it spectacular? Look at the last part of 1 Kings 19:21. "Then he set out to follow Elijah and became a great man. Right? No. Actually it reads: and became his attendant."

What? He gave up everything to become a servant? He gave up his family? his land? His John Deere Tractor? Everything? It sounds like Someone else we all know who gave up Heaven to wash the feet of someone who would deny Him! God does not choose you to be a sensation. Just to be a servant. In God's kingdom, the way up is down. If you want to exercise authority, then you must first submit to it. If you submit, you'll serve. If you serve, then one day you will also rule.

Elijah was to train someone to follow him in service. That person must be a servant. Servants are people who take on all kinds of roles and responsibilities which at first glance do not seem related to the "ministry" God has called them to. Servants just get on with what needs doing next.

We have so many servants in our church family. I am amazed as I watch people come early to an event to set up tables and chairs. I am further amazed when those same people stay late to take it all down again. I am amazed at the hours spent making sure that Sabbath School for the children will go well and that the P.A. system is set up. I am amazed when I think about the hours spent on the computer by a member as they give Bible studies to someone in India. I know what it means when I hear someone say, "I'll lock up. You go on home." It means that they have less time to take care of their own needs so that you can take care of yours. That's a servant.

Elisha had this reputation.

2 Kings 3:11 But Jehoshaphat asked, "Is there no prophet of the Lord here, that we may inquire of the Lord through him?"

An officer to the king of Israel answered, "Elisha son of Shaphat is here. He used to pour water on the hands of Elijah." What a reputation. A servant. Do you have such a reputation? It's not a bad reputation. In fact, if God calls you, it's the only reputation worth having!

I find myself in charge of the early teens at campmeeting every year. And I have a group of pastors that are great to work with. But one of them is the senior pastor of a large church amazes me every year. I know that even if I suggest that I need something done, he'll say, "I'll take care of it." And I don't ever have to look and see if that got done, because it got done far better than I could have done it. In fact, it's gotten to the point where I hate to ask him to do anything because he's so willing. I don't want to impose upon him. But he's always there, the first one to volunteer to do something and it gets done. What a reputation. I'm striving to be like him, a servant.

There is a famine in the land today and I'm not talking about around here. We've had plenty of rain. But I'm talking about the gospel. We are called to spread the good news to the entire world. But our own territory often seems as hard as bronze. We can't even seem to break new ground to put in the seed. But I believe that the rain is coming. In fact, scattered showers have already been reported. Soon the deluge will be here with the total out pouring of the Holy Spirit! The ground will soften. Are you ready for the plowing frenzy? Are you ready to drop everything and follow God's call? Are you busy now doing the things that must be done? Are you taking care of business? Are you willing to drop that business to become and even greater servant for God?

By the way. The name "Elijah" means "God is Yahweh." He's the one true God. He's the only One. This is His word, do it. That's the connotation that Elijah had. The name "Elisha" means "God Saves." That is a combined message for our lives today. Our God is the one true God and this is His word. And He loves you. He wants to save you.

Major Sources:
Elisha: A Sign and A Wonder by Greg Haslam
Gleanings From Elisha by Arthur W. Pink

Hymn of Praise: #29, Sing Praise to God
Scripture: 1 Kings 3:11
Hymn of Response: #572, Give of Your Best to the Master 



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