Elisha’s initiation into the prophetic way of life sends a powerful message about the first criteria for bearing credible witness. When Elisha asks Elijah if he can return to bid farewell to his kin, Elijah gives the cryptic response, “Go, return, for what have I done to you?” On the one hand, Elijah seems to say that Elisha is free to do as he pleases – on the other hand Elijah seems to caution him to consider what it means to be placed under the prophet’s mantle. It’s as though Elijah is saying, “Why do you look to me, a mere man, to instruct you according to the yoke that now we both bear? We are driven by another! Of myself, I have done nothing to you – it is Yahweh Himself who has placed a grave responsibility on your shoulders. If you would return to your family I would not stop you, for surely you would not return to them unless Yahweh Himself sends you.” Elisha’s farewell to his parents is prophetic indeed. He sacrifices both his wealth and his means to procure it in one act as his oxen become nourishment for the people. The renouncement and detachment of the prophet bring true nourishment to the people by exposing the Word of God to their minds and hearts.
We become prophets by our baptism. We become a sign that the kingdom of God is at hand. One of the most important ways that we bear the yoke of prophecy is by the dependability and transparency of our speech. If we would have people believe our testimony about the invisible truths of faith, our honesty must be absolute. We don’t take oaths because an oath implies that our other forms of speech are less reliable. We don’t make promises because there is no instance or circumstance in which our word would not bind us. We do not need to guarantee anything because if we are honest it goes without saying.
EPHREM THE SYRIAN:
From the symbolic point of view, Elisha represents the type of the apostles to whom our Lord said in the Gospel, “So stay here in the city of Jerusalem until you have been clothed with power from high.” Therefore the mantle of Elijah signified the gifts of the Spirit which the apostles would receive.1
ISHO‘DAD OF MERV:
“He slaughtered the oxen.” He did that not [as a sacrifice] to God, because Elisha was not a priest, but he killed them for a banquet which he offered to his people. From now on, he was lifted above earthly things and did not make use of anything that belonged to this world.2
Once the inclination to deceive has been checked, it enjoins simplicity in speaking and hearing.… Therefore those who are living in the simplicity of faith have no need for the ritual of an oath. With such people, what is, always is, and what is not, is not. For this reason, their every word and deed are always truthful.3
Tell me, my friend, what do you gain by swearing? For if your opponent believed that you would swear truthfully, he would never compel you to swear. But since he believes that you may commit perjury, he compels you to swear.4
It is similar with the breast of the mother; when it has fulfilled its task, it dismisses the child to a more mature diet and after that appears useless. Thus the mother who once viewed it as necessary for the baby now taunts with ten thousand mockeries the child’s need for the breast. Breastfeeding is over. In the same way, Christ says that the ancient laws are from the evil one, not to indicate that the old law is of the devil but in order that he might with great earnestness lead them away from their ancient poverty.5
- ON THE FIRST BOOK OF KINGS 19.19. Conti, M., & Pilara, G. (Eds.). (2008). 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (p. 120). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- BOOKS OF SESSIONS 1 KINGS 19.21. Conti, M., & Pilara, G. (Eds.). (2008). 1-2 Kings, 1-2 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (p. 120). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ON MATTHEW 4.23. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 115). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- INCOMPLETE WORK ON MATTHEW, HOMILY 12. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 115). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 17.5–6. Simonetti, M. (Ed.). (2001). Matthew 1–13 (p. 117). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.