WHAT HAVE I DONE TO YOU?
Elijah was one of the great Old Testament prophets. Elijah was an ‘ecstatic’ prophet. He had a personal and existential relationship with the living God of Israel which manifested in the truth he spoke, in his exposure of wrong doing and bad government and in his successful confrontation with the beliefs and practices of the worship of alternative gods. According to the Books of Kings he lived in the northern kingdom of Israel during the reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel in the 9th century BC. In 1 Kings 18, Elijah defended the worship of the Hebrew God over that of the Canaanite deity Baal, also the major god of the Hittites, Syrians, and Assyrians. Baal worship extended from the Canaanites to the Phoenicians. Both Baal and his consort Astarte were Phoenician fertility symbols. Baal was promoted by Queen Jezebel, who was a Phoenician princess. Baal was often worshipped in high places at which a priest or prophet would offer various types of animal, vegetable, or wine offerings. The Book of Kings describes the Baal prophets engaged in shaman-like ecstatic dances. (I Kings 18:26-28) They are also described as engaging in self-mutilation. Near or in larger towns, formal temples of Baal existed. In some cases, Baal worship involved ritual sex between a king or priest and a female priestly counterpart, symbolising the union of heaven and earth, which brings on the blessing of rain and crops.
We may wonder at such beliefs and practices but our western society is much influenced and even dominated by the worship of false gods and the promotion of various forms of human sexuality. That which people give value to and spend time advocating following and practising corresponds to such ancient worship behaviour. The entertainment industry is awash with foul language, violence and sexual proclivities. Advertising is dominated by hugely smiling people with the latest gadget, make-up, life insurance, car, food, holiday and much largely superfluous to normal life existence. Our culture may be described as godless but it has its own substitutes and people spend much time, effort and money on their interests. We are half way down the road to returning full time to pre-Christian paganism. The vestiges of our long standing Christian Faith are used for nostalgic reflection by older generations, for the departure point for ‘progressive’ ideologies and for ridicule by the youngest reactors against inherited values.
Elisha was the disciple and protégé of Elijah. He served from 892 until 832 BC as an advisor to the third through to the eighth kings of Judah, holding the office of "prophet in Israel". He was also an ecstatic prophet who exhibited the power of the living God in his ministry of truth speaking and in the performance of miracles. The account of his call to be a prophet in 1 Kings 19 : 19 – 21 is fascinating. ‘So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was ploughing 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 father and mother goodbye,” he said, “and then I will come with you.” “Go back,” Elijah replied. “What have I done to you?” So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the ploughing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant.’
What have I done to you?
Jesus responded differently to a would-be follower. ‘Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”’ (Luke 9 : 61 – 62) Perhaps the difference was sincerity of intention. Elijah knew that Elisha was committed. Jesus knew that this person was prevaricating. Jesus gave Peter fair warning about the outcome of his discipleship. In John 21 : 18 - 19 he is recorded as having said, ‘Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”’ In Acts 9 : 15 - 16, the risen Lord Jesus speaks to Ananias about Saul saying, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
What have I done to you?
Francis Thompson, (1859 – 1907) the English poet wrote ‘The Hound of Heaven’ in 1890. It begins with his thoughts of fleeing God’s presence and call.
‘I fled Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.’
One commentator wrote ‘As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and imperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by His Divine grace.’ The prophet Jonah knew the same feeling of reluctant service, in his case, initial point blank refusal. ‘The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord. (Jonah 1 : 1 – 3) When CS Lewis (1898 – 1963) became a Christian, he described himself as the most “reluctant convert in all England.” He became the greatest public Christian intellectual of his time, publishing many books still read today.
Elisha was not a reluctant prophet. The regret was on Elijah’s part. ‘What have I got you into?’ Elijah knew the precarious nature of the life of a prophet in ancient Israel. He himself had wanted to die rather than carry on this vocation. ‘He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ (1 Kings 19 : 4) He did not wish that overwhelming solitude and despair on anyone. Elisha asked to have a leaving party for his mother, father, family and friends. It probably lasted several days. It was a mighty feast. Maybe Jesus thinking of this when he criticised the procrastinators.
For many Christians serving Jesus Christ is a pathway to better things, even to moderate prosperity, a good education and an interesting and fulfilling life. But for many it is the opposite. We were well warned. Jesus said, ‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.’ (John 15 : 18 - 20) The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church’, so said Tertullian (160 – 220 AD) the Church’s first systematic writer and apologist.
William Tyndale (1494 - 1536) is known as the “Father of the English Bible” who translated 90% of the King James Version of the scriptures. Over a hundred years after John Wycliff has made the first English translation of the Bible, Tyndale aimed to make the Bible accessible to more people even though translating it in English was prohibited by the church. Tyndale went to Europe to complete his translation after receiving encouragement and support from British merchants. He had the Bible printed there and smuggled it back to England. Tyndale went to Hamburg, Germany in 1524 where he worked on the New Testament. However, news of Tyndale’s activity reached an opponent of Reformation who had the press raided. But he was able to escape with the pages already printed and went to Antwerp where the New Testament was soon published. Tyndale continued hiding among the merchants in Antwerp while he started translating the Old Testament. The authorities found him after an Englishman who pretended to be his friend betrayed him. He was detained in prison for one and a half years and later brought to trial for heresy. He was later condemned and was sentenced to death on October 6, 1536 by strangling, and his body was burned to stake. Three years after his death, Henry VIII required every parish church in England to print English copies of the Bible and have it circulated to the public. What have I done to you?
Esther John was born in India on 14th October 1929, one of seven children. As a child she attended a government school and, after the age of seventeen, a Christian school. There she was profoundly moved by the transparent faith of one of her teachers, and she began to read the Bible earnestly. It was when reading the 53rd chapter of Isaiah that she was suddenly overtaken by a sense of conversion to this new religion. She ran away to avoid marriage to a Muslim. In 1955 she took a train north to Sahiwal, in the Punjab. Here she lived and worked in a mission hospital, stayed with the first Anglican bishop of Karachi, Chandu Ray, and celebrated her first Christmas. Finding a vocation to teach, she entered the United Bible Training Centre in Gujranwala in September 1956. In April 1959 she completed her studies there and moved to Chichawatni, some thirty miles from Sahiwal, living with American Presbyterian missionaries. She evangelised in the villages, travelling from one to the other by bicycle, teaching women to read and working with them in the cotton fields. At times her relationship with her distant and perplexed family appeared calm; at others anxiety and tension brewed. Her death was sudden and mysterious. On 2nd February 1960 Esther John was found dead in her bed at the house where she lived at Chichawatni. She had been brutally murdered. Her body was taken to the Christian cemetery at Sahiwal and buried. Later, a memorial chapel was built in front of the nurses' home in the grounds of the hospital there. Today, Esther John is remembered with devotion by the Christian community with whom she lived and worked. What have I done to you?
The call to sacrificial service for God and for Jesus Christ may for some involve suffering and even martyrdom. I knew a disillusioned Church of Scotland minister who once said ‘Is the game worth the candle?’ But the truly called Christian who perseveres does not think like that. ‘What have I done to you?’ is the beginning of a journey of Faith that few so called abandon. Confirmation, encouragement, providence and even signs and wonders accompany those who partner with the Lord. Some achieve great things for Jesus Christ while others live heroically but unrecognised on earth. Towards the end of his life St Paul was able to say, ‘For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4 : 6 - 8)
Did not even the Father, looking down on His Son suffering on Calvary say ‘What have I done to you?’
Thus was but the prelude to His resurrection.