(NIV) 1 Kings 19:19b-20 – “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. Elisha then left his oxen and ran after Elijah. ‘Let me kiss my mother and father good-by,’ he said, ‘and then I will come with you.’
“‘Go back,’ Elijah replied. ‘What have I done to you?'”
There’s probably a lot of Jewish symbolism and idiosyncracies here that I’m not picking up on or don’t understand. The twelve yoke of oxen – that, to me, seems reminiscent of the twelve tribes of Israel (whose names I do not know all of, unfortunately). The idea that Elisha was driving the twelfth – the last? – plow…I don’t know what that means in terms of the tribes. Maybe some kind of power and control – perhaps referring to the future – foreshadowing? I don’t know.
Also, I don’t know what throwing one’s cloak over someone else means. Is it some kind of ownership or apprenticeship? The only thing I can think of like this is in Ruth, when she asks Boaz to spread the corner of his garment over her. But even then, that reference doesn’t make sense here. Boaz was Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer, and she states the two – the covering and the kinsman-redeemer – in the same sentence. The two go together.
But Elijah isn’t Elisha’s kinsman-redeemer. So it must mean something different here, though I don’t know what. And it has to be important because Elisha immediately leaves his oxen and runs after Elijah. His next line even indicates that he knows he will be leaving his family behind. Does he know that this is Elijah?
Elisha hesitates. He asks to kiss his parents before leaving – which Elijah allows. This reminds me of when a man tells Jesus he wants to bury his dead father and Jesus tells him no. This is just interesting to me. The circumstances are, of course, completely different. It just reminds me of it.
One of my favorite lines in all Scripture is this one from Elijah – “‘What have I done to you?'” (NIV1984, 1 Kings 19:20) – even though I probably read too much into it. See, Elijah may not know exactly what Elisha himself will go through as a prophet, but he knows his own experiences and how hard it was. He knows the life he’s just called Elisha to. He knows the fear, the loneliness, the struggles…and he knows that he’s doomed Elisha to it. This is a cry from that knowledge – of pity and remorse.
Or it could just be that Elijah hasn’t done anything to keep Elisha from going back to kiss his parents good-by. It could be a snarky remark. Knowing Elijah, especially at this point, it could go either way. Right now, I prefer the former.
And, of course, there’s that echo. “Go back.” So lovely.