Please explain 1 Kings 19:20 in the light of passages such as Matthew 3:18‒22; 10:37; and Luke 14:26 and 27.
The setting of 1 Kings 19:20 is God’s prophet Elijah finding his successor; Elisha, who had one item of business before embarking on his prophetic ministry:
And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah, and said, “Please let me kiss my father and my mother; and then I will follow you!” And he said to him, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?”
Verse 21 continues,
So Elisha turned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen and slaughtered them and boiled their flesh, using the oxen’s equipment, and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah, and served him.
So before Elisha would take up where Elijah left off, he wanted to literally say good-bye to his parents. Elijah let him, and Elisha punctuated the adieu with the equivalent of a farewell banquet or party today.
The New Testament passages you refer to might at first glance contradict this action on Elisha’s part. When the would-be disciples of Christ left their nets or occupations to follow Christ, Scripture indicates that they did so immediately. Luke 14:26 further reads,
If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother; wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.
But the Old and New Testament passages you cite do not contradict each other at all. If they did, it would be wrong for us to host farewells and to offer other expressions of love toward missionaries going to the field, for example. It would be wrong for those going into ministry to make any advance preparations whatever for serving the Lord, literally going at the moment of their calling and wearing the clothes on their backs. Any missionary would tell you this scenario is impossible. Were we to take these verses in a rigid manner; we would literally “get up and go.” Only the most foolhardy person would attempt such a thing, except in unusual circumstances.
I would suggest these points for helping to understand the issue:
1. Elisha was making his calling and “internship” known to his family as an occasion for rejoicing and support. This idea was noble and right. Apparently Elisha’s family was godly and would appreciate Elisha’s opportunity.
2. Elijah was still living. What was the hurry? Elisha would not take Elijah’s place until God called Elijah Home. We, too, as believers need to learn not to be in a hurry to the point that we can’t see and hear God’s step-by-step leadings and lessons. It doesn’t seem that Elisha was the type of person who acted in haste and repented in leisure.
3. Elijah—a godly, perceptive servant of God—gave Elisha permission to bid farewell.
4. Elisha would have been a picture of the New Testament passages about a person’s loving parents more than God only if he had refused to follow his divine calling. There is no indication of this attitude on his part
5. It appears that the disciples got up and left to follow Jesus on the spur of the moment, but it may be that they, too, had to take care of a few personal matters that Scripture doesn’t record. If that is so, who would dare to suggest that they disobeyed? They did follow the Lord without hesitation and delay. That is what counts. We must also obey Christ completely, move on His time schedule, and not make excuses.
Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.