HomeBible StudyElijah: A Study in Authority

Elijah: A Study in Authority

Read I Kings 19:19-21 and II Kings 2:6-14.


At this point in Elijah’s life, Elijah had fled from Jezebel who had threatened to kill him for what he did at Mount Carmel. First, Elijah travels for a day and sits under a tree, telling the Lord he’s ready to die. Then the Lord directs him to go to Mount Horeb (Sinai), and there the Lord orders him to anoint two kings and Elisha as prophet. Between our passages many things happened in the life of Israel and Elijah. Elijah confronted Ahab many times. Ahab fought some battles. Kingships in Israel and Judah changed hands. That brings us to our passages today. 


(v.19) who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen. Twelve yoke of oxen signified that Elisha was from a wealthy family. For Elijah to call Elisha from his position of wealth to join him meant he was asking Elisha to make a major sacrifice to join him. Elisha left all of the comforts of home to join Elijah. 

If God were to call you to move to a foreign country, like Mongolia, would you go? When God called us to go to Mongolia my attitude was to not go. I had no interest in Mongolia. But when talking with Diane, she simply said, “If God wants us to go to Mongolia, then let’s go to Mongolia.” She was willing to give up the comforts and pleasures of home to make a new life in a nation so different from ours. We faced many challenges during our ten years there. She had the right attitude. So too, Elisha had the right attitude. He was willing to go wherever he was called to go with Elijah. 

(v.19) Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him. Casting his cloak upon Elisha signified a transition in authority. This was a common practice by Israel’s neighbors. The ancient Mesopotamians, including the Assyrians, used this practice to represent the transfer of authority from one person to the next. 

In Mongolia, where we lived for 10 years, when a transfer of authority takes place, a bowl of milk and a scarf are handed over to the new leader in a formal ceremony when a transition takes place. The handing over of the scarf signifies a change. I had to do this when I handed Eagle TV over to its new owners.

We also do this today with uniforms and certain types of dress. A military uniform speaks to the experience and authority of the soldier wearing it. The same is true with law enforcement. A priest wears his white collar to show his spiritual authority. So, too, Elijah’s cloak represented his authority as a prophet of God. 

(v.20) And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?” Here is a choice that Elijah gives to Elisha. He can go back to his old life or go with him to a new life in service to God. The scholars I read all agree that Elijah was saying that it is God who is calling him, not Elijah. This is backed up by an earlier passage where God tells Elijah to anoint Elisha to succeed him. And Elisha made his choice in a big way. Look at verse 21. 

(v.21) took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them. This signified that Elisha was making a full commitment to follow Elijah. He was rejecting his family’s wealth and position in order to follow the Lord in ministry. 

Jesus did something similar in his baptism. Though he had no sin; Jesus went to John to be baptized. John said, “You should baptize me,” recognizing Jesus’ sinless perfection. But Jesus said they would do it to “Fulfill all righteousness.” What did this mean? Essentially, Jesus was giving a picture of repentance and full commitment to God. He was leaving behind his old life as a carpenter and taking up a new life as teacher and messiah. He was turning from one life to a new life, just as Elisha turned from his old life to a new life with Elijah. 

The call to follow Jesus is equally dramatic. When we come to Christ we must leave behind our old lives and follow him completely, no matter where that leads us. Elisha did not know what life with Elijah would have in store, but he trusted the Lord with his future under the calling of Elijah. So too, we do not know what the future holds, but we must trust the Lord with our future and take a step of faith to follow him no matter the cost.

(v.7) Fifty men of the sons of the prophets. Schools for prophets were not unknown in Old Testament times. Elijah may have been the one who trained these prophets. Moreover, there is an interesting contrast here with Elijah’s earlier ministry. His confrontation with the prophets of Baal and Asherah resulted in 850 false prophets being slaughtered for their sin. But Elijah trained others to speak on the Lord’s behalf. His authority for leading these prophets would be passed down to Elisha. 

(v.8) Then Elijah took his cloak and rolled it up and struck the water, and the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground. This is something that only two other people had done before. Moses, when crossing the Red Sea, and Joshua, when crossing over to the Promised Land through the Jordan. This event places Elijah in a special place of authority like Moses. To this day the Jews consider Moses the great lawgiver and consider Elijah their greatest prophet. 

(v.9) Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me. As we will discuss later, the cloak of Elijah is representative of the Holy Spirit. We see this in this request from Elisha. He asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. This is fulfilled when Elijah’s cloak falls to Elisha. 

This is also an important request because of what we see happen later in Elisha’s life. Elisha did twice as many miracles as Elijah, in terms of what’s recorded in scripture (there may have been more). But here is what is most important.

We know from other scripture that Elijah was a type for John the Baptist. We are told in Malachi that God would send Elijah before the coming of the Lord. Like Elijah, John’s ministry had to decrease so that Jesus could receive the attention and glory. So, if Elijah is a type for John the Baptist, then Elisha is a type for Jesus. Just as Elisha’s ministry was greater than Elijah’s, so too Jesus’ ministry was greater than John the Baptist’s. 

There is also another contrast. Just as Elisha’s ministry was greater than Elijah’s, and Jesus’ ministry was greater than John the Baptist’s, so too, our ministry can also be greater. Remember what Jesus said to his disciples, “Greater works shall you do because I go to the Father” (John 14:12). Notice the progression.Elijah leaves, and Elisha does greater works. John the Baptist leaves, and Jesus does greater works. Then, Jesus leaves, and we, through the Holy Spirit, do greater works. Some people think that “greater works” refers to doing the miraculous. But most of Jesus’ ministry was not miracle working but teaching and training others. So, we can do greater works like these because the Holy Spirit empowers us. Consider what happened in the book of Acts. 

  • Peter preached on Pentecost and more than 3,000 were added to the kingdom. Jesus never did that. It was a greater work. 
  • The disciples traveled to other countries sharing Christ all over the world. Jesus never did that. That was a greater work. 
  • Paul wrote numerous books to train his readers in discipleship. Jesus wrote nothing. That is a greater work. 

Let me use my ministry as an example. 

  • Through TV in Mongolia, I taught tens of thousands of people about the Gospel. That is a greater work.
  • I created a series of Bible studies used to disciple over 25,000 Mongolians in the Gospel. That is a greater work.
  • My current work with JESUS Film Project has seen over 1.4 billion views of the story of Jesus in 155 countries in the last nine years. That is a greater work. 

This is not said to be boastful, but to only serve as an example. All of this is greater because it is empowered by the Holy Spirit. And every person filled with the Spirit can do great works to help others to know Christ. 

(v.11) chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. This is the first of two times that we see, “The chariots of Israel and its horsemen.” The second time was under the ministry of Elisha in II Kings 6:17 when Elisha asks the Lord to open the eyes of his servant so that he could see the angelic hosts around them, also referred to as horses and chariots of fire. Notice the authority with which Elisha acted. Angelic beings were at his disposal. 

(v.12) Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. Signifies mourning in that Elisha lost Elijah and would see him no more. Jews regularly tore their clothes when mourning for the loss of a loved one. 

(v.14) And when he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over. By repeating the event, God was testifying to Elisha’s call into the ministry. As Israel had crossed the Jordan, so too, Elisha was crossing the Jordan into a new life of ministry. We learn later that the school of the prophets had accepted Elisha as their new leader. Elijah’s authority had fallen on Elisha. 

There are two parallels in scripture to this event. The first is Israel crossing the Red Sea. God split the waters to make a way for them. Then, 40 years later, he had Joshua split the Jordan so Israel could cross over. However, there is a third parallel, in the New Testament. Jesus didn’t part the water of the Sea of Capernaum. He walked on the water, a much greater feat. 

Theme. Notice the theme that seems to be woven throughout our passage. It is a theme of authority. Elijah goes to pass on his authority to Elisha. He does that with his cloak. He challenges him to follow him and replace him. He gives Elisha a sign about receiving a double portion of his spirit. Elijah splits the waters, and then Elisha does the same thing. Throughout this passage, we see the theme of authority. 


What have we learned so far?

  1. Elijah and Elisha’s ministry required authority to function. 
  2. Elijah is a type for John the Baptist.
  3. Elisha is a type for Jesus.

Elijah’s cloak is a symbol of power and authority. Consider what Elijah was doing at this time (I Kings 19:15-16). After Elijah fled Jezebel and stayed at Mount Horeb, God spoke to him and told him to do three things: he was to anoint Hazael as king of Syria, Jehu as king of Israel, and Elisha as prophet. In all three instances Elijah is tasked to confer authority from God onto each person. To “anoint” in verse 16 denotes an anointing with oil. Oil is a type for the Holy Spirit. I.E., God was confirming his authority on these three people. 

What is the author’s big idea for this passage?

All ministry requires authority from God in order to function. We see this in Elijah, who acted on God’s behalf, with God’s authority, to bring Israel to repentance. So too, Elijah needed that authority for his ministry. This is why he asked Elijah for a double portion of his spirit.

Ultimately, it is Jesus who speaks and holds all authority. In Luke 4:32 it says, “They were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.” 

In Matthew 28:18, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”

Consider also the great figures of God who were given authority to minister in God’s name. 

  • God called Moses and gave him power to demonstrate who God is. 
  • Joshua was given “some” of Moses authority. 
  • King David was anointed by Samuel to become king. 
  • It was said that Solomon sat on “David’s” throne. 
  • Jesus gave authority to his disciples to represent him and called them to spread the Gospel. 
  • Paul said he had his authority from Jesus to act as an Apostle. 

Even in today’s world we bestow authority on people to carry out ministry. 

  • Pastors are usually trained in seminaries and ordained into their ministries. 
  • A Bible study leader is called by God to teach (teaching is listed in the NT as a spiritual gift given by the Holy Spirit). 
  • Missionaries are trained in basic theology and cross-cultural communications, thereby giving them authority to preach and establish churches. 

Every believer is given the authority to share the Gospel with others. With authority comes responsibility. 


Our passage today is framed by a single object: Elijah’s cloak. It is cast onto Elisha at the beginning of our text, then used by Elisha at the end of our text. The cloak is an important symbol in our passage.

Elijah’s cloak, or mantle, is a picture of the Holy Spirit. The cloak was used to signify the transfer of authority from one person to another. So too, Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit so that we can act with authority in the Kingdom of God. Look at what Jesus said in Acts 1:8:

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

We are given the authority to share the Gospel, to baptize, to disciple people in spiritual growth, to speak and comment on the Word of God, and so on. 

How are you using the authority God has given you through the Holy Spirit? 

Tom Terry is head of Global Broadcast Strategy for JESUS Film Project and serves as General Manager of The Better FM, an online radio station for Asia. Tom is also the author of several books, including Bible studies and "Like An Eagle," his biography about living in Mongolia for ten years.
- Advertisment -
Four Laws

Most Popular

Recent Comments