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Men of God

Men of God

Steve Irving

Studies in the Ministries ofElijah and Elisha
Man of God! This title was given to a number if God's great prophets. The
first to bear that title was Moses; Samuel too was given the honour of being
a 'man of God'. The next named prophets to carry this title are the subject
of this book - Elijah and Elisha. Their prophetic ministries were very
different; one a stern reprover of evil who called down judgements on an
apostate nation. The other was a much quieter spirit, whose ministry
revolves around the twin themes of grace and salvation.


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review by : Duncan Cooke

Men of God by Bro. Stephen Irving Elijah: The prophet of fire and judgment Elisha: The prophet of grace and salvation

THE author originally gave three studies on Elijah at the Derbyshire Study Weekend in January 2003. He later gave a series of Bible Class studies at Bramerton on the "Miracles and Ministry of Elisha"; the two sets of studies were published in the Ecclesial Magazine. When invited to turn these into book form, he expanded them and added new material. As a result the lives of these prophets are given equal space with ten chapters devoted to each; and the book is enhanced by a chapter on "The transfiguration and beyond". In the Bible the title "man of God" is routinely applied to these two outstanding men, whose names mean "the LORD is God" and "God is salvation" respectively. The preface states: "Their prophetic ministries were very different; one a stern reprover of evil who called down judgments on an apostate nation. The other was a much quieter spirit, whose ministry revolves around the twin themes of grace and salvation. Yet both these great prophets were servants of the same God, and both were sent to witness to the same nation of Israel". There is a definite benefit from having these lives considered together in one book, highlighting the contrast between two very different men of God. The first part deals with the highs and the lows of Elijah's experiences, this "man subject

to like passions as we are" (James 5.17), who the author says "is the Peter of the Old Testament, valiant in faith most of the time, but touched with the same doubts and weaknesses that affect us all". Moving from the stern prophet of judgment, the second part deals with Elisha the softer prophet of grace "who was to do so much to build up the school of the prophets, and to be the still small voice at work among the true Israel of God, that nation within a nation…His mission was not to seek a national resurgence and renewal; that awaits the  revelation of Elijah again in the earth at the last day". Time and again the reader is challenged by intriguing suggestions, always well reasoned and the result of the comparison of Scripture with Scripture. For example:

Based on the meaning of "inhabitant" in Strong's Concordance, was Elijah of the inhabitants of Gilead "a sojourner or foreigner", descended from one of the children that Abraham sent away into the east country? If so then we have an example of God using a Gentile to rebuke the apostasy of His chosen people. When Elijah first met Ahab he described God as the "LORD God of Israel before whom I stand" (1 Kings 17.1), similar language to that used when the Levites were appointed to fulfil the priest's office (Deut. 10.8). Since Elijah later offered sacrifice on Carmel, interceding for his people, was he standing before Yahweh also as a priest, just as his New Testament successor John the Baptist was from a priestly family? Did Elijah bring to mind the grain offerings partly eaten by the priests (Leviticus 2.4, 9-10) when he shared with the widow and her child

the cakes baked from a mixture of flour and oil? (1 Kings 17.13-16). Elijah went on to pronounce a drought, "there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word" (1 Kings 17.1, NKJV, as are other quotations), similar to the curse originally pronounced on Mount Ebal. (Deut. 28.23-24). Since Ahab's palace in Samaria was close to the mountain with its historical significance, did Elijah himself stand on top of Ebal so that both king and all the people could hear his words? At Jordan, Elijah struck the water with his mantle which divided the river to allow the two men to cross over on dry ground (2 Kings 2.8).

The role of the ark carried by the priests in Joshua's earlier crossing of the river (Joshua 3. 14-17) was now performed by the man who carried the prophet's mantle. As they talked together, "suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven" (v.11). The writer suggests that "these two 'men of God' were enveloped by the cherubim of glory, a representation of which rested on that ark carried by the priests. But what rested on Elijah and Elisha was no moulding of man's skilful execution, but the real living manifestation of Divine glory". "When he (Gehazi) came to the citadel…he stored them (the two talents of silver and the two changes of garments) away in the house" (2 Kings 5.24). The "citadel" or "tower" (AV) literally means "lifted up" and could refer to a high place or centre of idol worship. Similarly, "house" can be translated as "temple". The suggestion is that "Gehazi showed his true colours, hiding the fruits of his greed and deceit in the temple of a lifeless idol". This in-depth study gives great attention throughout to details that we can easily pass over, making us look at Scripture afresh. For instance: The author wonders why more space is given to the campaign against Moab in 2 Kings 3 than to

either the raising of the Shunammite's son or the cleansing of Naaman, the two great defining miracles of Elisha's ministry. He writes: "I came to realise that there is much more in this chapter than is apparent from a  casual reading. Here is an important lesson; the more we read, and the more we reflect on what we read, the

more we will discover – and greater will be the benefit we derive". Fourteen pages are devoted to the very familiar incident of Naboth and his vineyard, of whom all we know is the one sentence he spoke, "The Lord forbid that I should give the inheritance of my fathers to you!" (1 Kings 21.3). In the author's view the account of Naboth is "one of the great chapters of the Old Testament …At the basic level, it is a powerful drama—a study in human lust and the corrupting influence of power. At another level, we can find many powerful exhortations once we start to reflect on the details of the narrative. And finally, when we dig beneath the surface, we find details that represent one of the great allegories that illuminate the Scriptures". The book traces the similarities between the experiences of Moses and Elijah, both men of God who came to terms with their disappointment at failing to convert a stubborn and stiff-necked people, despite the mighty miracles they performed. Thus, as the despairing Elijah stood in the cave at Horeb, he would recall how Moses had waited in a cleft of the rock (perhaps the same cave entrance?) as God passed by, revealing the Divine glory to him. When they appeared together in glory on the mount of transfiguration Jesus was in a similar position. He had been no more successful than they had been in convincing the people of Israel. So they were able to encourage Jesus to summon the strength for this last phase of his ministry, as they discussed with Jesus the "decease which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem" (Luke 9.31). Although Elisha came from a wealthy landowning family, he gave it all up for a life of austerity and service. The author gives his reasons for suggesting that Elisha's ministry lasted for about seventy four years, which includes a seven (or so) year apprenticeship: "His ministry was to be particularly associated with miracles… He fulfilled the role of headmaster to the school of the prophets, so presumably he had an important teaching role. Yet no words of teaching or instruction have been preserved, but rather a series of incidents demonstrating those miraculous

powers invested by God in His prophet". If many of these miracles may appear to us to be of a mundane nature, even trivial, the second half of this book considers them all in great detail, showing how in some way or other they all witness to God's saving hand at work: "Miracles are recorded to encourage us to see and understand God's work of redemption and to help our faith in that work grow and prosper". In this review we can only give a flavour of the scholarship and practical lessons which abound in this useful addition to our library of books on the Truth, an invaluable help when these men of God feature in our daily readings. We commend to all the final paragraph of Bro. Stephen's work: "The true Israel of God didn't end with Elisha; God's Truth will never disappear from the earth. Elisha continued his work, enduring faithfully to the very

end, always witnessing to those who would hear of the gracious mercy of his God. And now it is our turn. Let us endeavour to be as committed and faithful as was that great prophet of grace and salvation".


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