Useful Bible Studies > 1 Kings Commentary > chapter 19

Why Elijah put his coat on Elisha’s shoulders

1 Kings 19:20

Elisha seemed hardly aware when Elijah placed his coat on Elisha’s shoulders. Elijah simply carried out this action and then walked away. However, when Elisha became aware of it, his reaction surprised even Elijah. Elisha seemed to understand immediately the meaning of what Elijah had done. In fact, Elisha wanted to leave his parents and his work at once, to become Elijah’s servant.

The meaning of Elijah’s action seems to be this. In the ancient world, poor people could afford few clothes. Therefore, a man’s oldest son would receive his fathers’ coat when he died. With it, that son would also receive his fathers’ authority over the rest of the family. So, to receive Elijah’s coat meant that Elisha was receiving Elijah’s authority as Israel’s prophet (holy man).

To cover a person with your coat also had another meaning. It meant that you were accepting that person into your home, under your protection. By such an act, Boaz agreed to marry Ruth (Ruth 3:8-11). So, for Elisha this meant that he must serve Elijah as Elijah’s personal servant (2 Kings 3:11).

Elisha very much wanted that. It would give him the opportunity to learn from Elijah before he (Elisha) began his special work for God. He would be able to pray with Elijah; together, they would study God’s law. Elijah would show Elisha how to live in a holy manner. He would teach Elisha to recognise when God was speaking to him. From Elijah’s own actions, Elisha would learn how and when to declare his own messages from God.

Next part: Elisha kills his oxen (1 Kings 19:21)


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