If you knew someone you loved and respected was going to be taking a long journey, would you insist on going with them? Elisha and, it seems, at least half the country knew Elijah was going away on his final journey and Elisha himself was determined to take as much of the journey with him as possible. They started at Gilgal and then went to Bethel and then to Jericho. Each time they were met by the prophets of the town and Elisha was asked the same question – did he know that today Elijah would be taken from him? Elisha knew it, but asked for silence from the prophets. Eventually Elijah, Elisha and, by now, a cast of at least 50 prophets reach the Jordan. Elijah rolled up his cloak and touched the water with it before he and Elisha alone walked across on dry land, just as Moses and the children of Israel did at the Red (Reed) Sea. We know the story of Elijah being taken up to heaven by a chariot of fire drawn by fiery horses (a whirlwind, if you like). We also know that Elisha inherited Elijah’s mantle and his position as prophet to all of Israel. It must have been a sad journey back across the Jordan to meet those who had remained behind, but Elisha had Elijah’s mantle for comfort.
The next part seems sort of strange. Everybody seemed very concerned that Elijah might still be out there somewhere, perhaps lost, perhaps injured, perhaps dying. Elijah tried to reassure them but nothing would do but they send 50 men across the Jordan to look for their great prophet, no matter what his pupil and apparent heir said. They did this for three days and when the men returned empty handed, Elisha had a very pithy comment that I just love – “Did I not say to you, ‘do not go’?” I think what we have here is the charter membership of what will later be known as the Doubting Thomas Society, people who don’t believe until they actually have seen proof of something happening. They never seem to expect a response like “Didn’t I tell you?”
It’s hard to take somebody else’s word for something without verification. We want proof, whether in a court of law, an office report, a doctor’s diagnosis, or any one of 1000 possible scenarios. Yes, we talk to experts, but do they really know what they’re talking about? Is what they say really the truth? Should we get a second opinion? Are we likely to believe that second opinion over the first? Would we go with the one we liked best or the one that gave us the best outcome, whether it was totally realistic or not? Elisha had no reason to lie especially since everybody seemed to know exactly what was going to happen before it did, yet they still questioned him as if what they had heard and what he had reported really wasn’t the truth. They still wanted to send out a search party just in case. Elisha had Elijah’s cloak, wasn’t that enough proof that Elijah was no longer there? Or no longer needed his cloak? We think it would be obvious, but some people just can’t accept unless they see. Our friend Doubting Thomas had the same problem much later, but he didn’t invent the “I’ve got to see it to believe it” way of thinking. And there is always someone around to say, “Didn’t I tell you?”
Sometimes news is just too hard to take unless there is something concrete, something solid to enforce the idea that yes, it is real, it did happen, we can believe what we’re told. When I stop and think about it, we do it all the time with God. We read God’s promises in the Bible and yet we don’t always trust them until we have something concrete, solid, and verifiable that indicates to us that the promise was real. It really happened just the way it’s supposed to! Paul tells us that “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1) and most of the time we can accept that, but there’s always that little tickle in the back of the mind that said, “Oh really?” I know it’s happened to me more than once, and even though I have faith that God will take care of me and will be with me no matter what, sometimes I need a human hand or human arm around me or human voice in my ear saying it will be all right or something like that. I wonder if God doesn’t sometimes just wants to say, “Didn’t I tell you?”
Most probably we are all members of the Doubting Thomas Society at one time or another. Perhaps that’s one reason we need the story of Elijah and Elisha as not just as a story of a miraculous assumption into heaven. We have a miracle but we are somewhat like the people who were there when Elisha came back alone, wanting to make sure that what they heard was going to happen really did happen – and more proof than a cloak and someone’s word. Then, when we’ve exhausted all the possibilities, we hear someone say, “Didn’t I tell you?” and we have to agree that yes, they did and they were right.
There’s nothing totally wrong about doubt. There has to be something like a belief or an idea or an event there first in order for doubt about it to exist, else why would doubt itself exist? I think that people who have an element of doubt in their faith realize that there is may be something more that they aren’t understanding, realizing or believing. The Bible gives us plenty of places for doubt to creep into our consciousnesses but it also gives us the opportunity to wrestle with scripture and in that struggle to learn a bit and to build a stronger faith. If one is totally certain to begin with is there really room for growth? Perhaps the prophets and searchers had it right all along – trust but verify, check the story out, look for the facts but accept the situation even if there is no physical proof. I think that’s what they did, and I think it is probably a good plan for me as well. Some things, like the assumption of Elijah or even the resurrection just have to be taken on faith and without verifiable evidence that would stand up in a court of law or even in public opinion.
I have a feeling that one day we’re going to meet someone face-to-face who will give us authoritative answers to all our Biblical questions, the ones we could never resolve through tests or tangibles. We expect we know what he will say, but I bet he will also tell us that our preconceptions and interpretations were just short of the mark. I have a feeling we’re going to hear Jesus say, “Didn’t I tell you?” It won’t be the first time he said it, but maybe this is the time we’ll finally believe it.