Elijah played a critical role in the northern kingdom of Israel as it descended further into idolatry. Time and again, he announced to the Israelites that although most of them had forgotten the Lord, the Lord had not forgotten them. He would not abandon His covenant commitments as Israel did, but He would judge the people for their sin, just as He promised when He enacted the Mosaic covenant (1 Kings 17–2 Kings 1; see Deut. 28:15–68).
Yet, the maintenance and advance of God’s kingdom did not depend on Elijah, for it depends on no one but the Lord Himself. The appointment of Elisha to succeed Elijah reveals this point. First, let us look at 1 Kings 19:19–21, which describes God’s call of Elisha. Passing by Elisha, Elijah threw his cloak on him, signifying the transfer of prophetic authority (v. 19; see v. 16). Elisha was going to take Elijah’s place as the leading prophet in Israel, but not immediately. However, Elisha immediately left his life on the family farm to fulfill his calling. He did ask for time to say goodbye to his family, which Elijah allowed, but he was no servant of the kingdom who signed up and then looked back (v. 20; see Luke 9:57–62). While saying his goodbyes, Elijah sacrificed his oxen on a fire built with the oxen yoke, demonstrating that he would never return to his former life on the farm (1 Kings 19:21).
Second Kings 2:1–14 describes how God finally replaced Elijah with Elisha. This story of Elijah’s being taken directly to heaven is well known, but it is worth noting that Elisha asked for a “double portion of [the] spirit” on Elijah (vv. 1–9). Elisha recognized that the power behind Elijah’s ministry came not from Elijah but from the Lord. Augustine of Hippo notes also that this request for a double portion of the Holy Spirit tells us something about the Spirit’s work among His people. “He who is everywhere does not dwell in all, and he does not even dwell equally in those in whom he does dwell. Otherwise, what is the meaning of the request made by Elisha that there might be in him double the Spirit of God that was in Elijah? And how is it that among the saints some are more holy than others, except that they have a more abundant indwelling in God?”
When Elisha saw Elijah being taken up, he cried out, “My father, my father!” calling Elijah, “the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” (vv. 10–12). In other words, the true power to defend Israel was found not in her armies but in the God who spoke by the prophets.