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After his confrontation with the prophets of Baal, Elijah flees to Horeb and petitions the Lord:

“I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

In 1 Kings 19:15-18, the Lord responds to him:

“Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. Jehu will put to death any who escape the sword of Hazael, and Elisha will put to death any who escape the sword of Jehu. Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.”

Is God's command to Elijah to appoint Elisha as his successor also a decommissioning of the Elijah from the same post? Had Elijah displeased the Lord?

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2 Answers 2

As Mawia notes, this cannot be an immediate decommissioning because Elijah continues to act as a prophet as he carries out God's instructions in this chapter. The mantle of prophecy passed from Elijah to Elisha; it wasn't revoked and later given fresh, or it wouldn't make sense for God to tell Elijah to annoint Elisha as successor.

(I note in passing that transferring prophecy like this is unusual; for most of the prophets the text tells us "the word of God came" or similar, and that's how they begin their prophetic careers. Here it's different.)

While God is not decommissioning Elijah here in this passage, the text makes clear that God intends to, that God is displeased with Elijah. Look at the sequence:

  • Elijah flees (and is compassionately nourished by divine messengers along the way).
  • God asks "what are you doing here?"
  • Elijah explains his complaint that the people have been unfaithful and are killing prophets.
  • God leads Elijah through a series of divine encounters in which Elijah doesn't see God -- God was not in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but only when we get to the still small voice does Elijah react to God.
  • God asks "what are you doing here?"
  • Elijah repeats his complaint, word for word. Nothing has changed for him.

To me this sounds like a prophet who has lost faith and given up, so God tries to bring him back by various means. But even when a connection is finally made (the still small voice) Elijah doesn't hear the message -- he sees only the bad. A prophet's job includes bringing the people back onto the right path, and it seems to me that a prophet who doesn't believe that is possible will no longer be effective. Further, it seems here that Elijah is no longer able to hear/perceive God clearly, which is certainly a weakness in a messenger.

So after this exchange God tells Elijah to appoint his successor. That God brings Elijah up into heaven, rather than, say, striking him down after the mantle is passed, suggests that God is more frustrated than angry. We know from other incidents (such as Nadav and Avihu and Korach) that God does not hesitate to express divine anger; that it doesn't happen here seems significant.

Elijah is no longer able to do the job, so God arranges for an orderly transfer.

Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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It did not sound like decommissioning because Elijah still had the power of God. God was still using him and he could still perform miracles.

2 Kings 2:8 Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

God wanted to appoint a successor for Elijah because God intended to take him away alive shortly. There are only 2 people in the Bible who did not face death and were caught up to heaven, Enoch and Elijah. Before Elijah was taken up, he gave his last blessings to his successor Elisha by promising to give anything Elisha asked for and was granted.

2 Kings 2:9-10 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied. “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”

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