The Heir Becomes a Servant: Chapter 2

2 Kings 3:11  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 7
“Thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” So said the wisest of men, King Solomon. Never were his words truer than in the case of young Elisha. On one bright morning he awoke in the comfortable farm in the Valley of the Dance - a rich man, for he was the heir to that pleasant estate - a powerful man, for he was placed over his father’s many servants - a comfortable man, having a good home, all the food he could wish and every luxury available.
Yet, when the next day dawned, how did it find him? It found him an outcast, the servant of an outcast. It found him with the lonely cave for his shelter, wild fruits and herbs for his food, a hunted man for his master, and wild beasts for his companions. Elisha the young master, the heir of Abel-meholah, has become simply this: the servant who pours water on the hands of Elijah.
What a remarkable change, what a wonderful descent, what a transformation of every detail of the young man’s life! Instead of being the one to give orders to others, he is the one to obey. Instead of being waited upon, he waits upon another. Instead of the servants bringing the basin to their young master when he comes in from work and respectfully pouring the water over his hands and feet, it is he, Elisha, who pours water over the hands of another. He, the heir, has become the servant.
One born in a hot, Eastern land washes often. So stifling is the heat and so thick is the dust that the greatest refreshment which a person can enjoy is the free use of cold water. In the early morning he takes his bath, but that amount of washing is not sufficient for the day. Two parts of the body are constantly exposed to the heat and dust: the hands and the feet. Therefore, water is kept always ready, standing in stone or brass vessels by the door, to be used in the frequent washing of the hands and feet.
Since no shoes are worn, but only sandals, the upper part of the foot becomes covered with dust and dirt as the man trudges over the roads. When he returns home, before he enters, he must have the dirt and defilement of the filthy streets washed from his feet.
When dinnertime comes, before he eats, he must carefully wash, for he will have no knife or fork or spoon. He will eat with his fingers. Not only so, but he will have no plate of his own. Food will be placed on a small, round table, and all will eat out of the same dish. How very necessary then that he should wash before he partakes of food!
Now the work of washing the hands was always done by the servant or one who took the servant’s place. In families where no servant was kept, the youngest in the household performed the office. But in larger houses it was always the slave’s work. He brought the brass basin, poured water upon the master’s feet and carefully dried them with the towel.
And this is exactly the position which Elisha took in following Elijah. This is the very work he did; he did it so often that he became known by it. Some years afterward, when the servant of a king of Israel wanted to describe him, he could find no better words than these: “Elisha the son of Shaphat, which poured water on the hands of Elijah.”
Elisha did not know it, but this change in his life from master to servant was a picture of the great Coming One, the Christ, the Messiah! Elijah, his master, was like John the Baptist in so many ways. He dwelt in the wilderness, feeding on wild fruits and herbs, dressing in the skins of beasts, and preaching repentance to his nation. And, just as Elijah was the picture of John, so his successor, Elisha, tells us of our Lord Jesus Christ who left His home and place in heaven to come down into the world and become a servant.
His very name is almost the same. Jah Oshea -Jesus - means “Jehovah saves.” El Oshea - Elisha -means “God saves.” His manner of life, as we shall see, was the same, for when he began his work as the successor of Elijah, he left the wilderness and the secluded cave to live the life of an ordinary citizen, even as our Lord dwelt in Nazareth and in Capernaum. His character of grace, too, foreshadowed that of the loving, sympathizing Savior who, touched with the feeling of our infirmities, was ever ready to help all in distress or sorrow.
Still more clearly can we trace this descent of Elisha from riches to poverty, from being master to becoming the servant, from being looked up to and waited upon as the heir of Abel-meholah to being thought of and spoken of as merely Elisha who “poured water on the hands of Elijah.”
O Lord Jesus, how Thou didst stoop for us! One day in heaven - Thou, the Son, waited on by hosts of angels, surrounded on every side by glory, loveliness and holiness - the next day entering the world as a poor infant, of no account in the world, which gave Thee no welcome, a world of sorrow and sin.
“Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.” For our sakes He left riches, honor and glory to become the homeless One who had not where to lay His head, the despised One - despised and rejected of men, the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. For our sakes He made this fearful descent.
Would you know how low He stooped? “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant.”
Yes, the Heir of Glory, the Lord of the universe, becomes a servant, and, being a servant, He does the servant’s work. It is evening. Our Lord and His disciples are in the upstairs room of a house in Jerusalem. They have taken off their dusty sandals and left them at the door. Close by the door stands the earthenware jar of water used to wash the feet of those who have entered the room. But who is to pour the water? Who is to carry the brass basin around and pour water over the feet of the rest? That is the servant’s work, and they have no servant with them. Who will take the place of the slave and do this work?
Who carries the basin? It is the Lord. He has taken off His robe, wrapped a towel around His waist for a girdle, just as the slaves did, and He goes around, washing one and then another. There is silence in the room. Only impetuous Peter attempts to speak the feelings of his heart.
Then, when the washing is finished and the servant’s work is done, the Lord puts down the basin by the door, takes off the towel, puts on His outer robe again, and takes His seat at the table. He then asks them a question: “Know ye what I have done to you?”
Then he explains the lesson. “Ye call Me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” Each of them was to learn to serve his brother and to care for his spiritual feet as well as his physical feet.
What a tendency there is among Christian workers today, instead of treading in the footsteps of the Master, to follow in the track of that Christian of whom the Apostle John spoke: “Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence.” How many in the Lord’s vineyard want to be the head of all, the leaders of the rest. How few are willing to be just what the Master would have them be, to do just what He calls them to do, even though it be to wait as a servant upon the rest! They love to have the preeminence, and if they cannot have it, they will leave the work to take care of itself. They are not content to be like the Lord or like Elisha, who pours water on the hands of Elijah.
What does the Lord say to us today? He asks us the very question which He asked the twelve: “Know ye what I have done to you?” I have given you an example, and I bid you follow Me. “Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: even as the Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
For no less than seven years Elisha attended the great prophet as his servant. For seven years he washed his hands and waited on him in all the ups and downs and the discomforts of his pilgrim life. Where they spent those seven years is uncertain. Most of the time they appear to have been hidden, avoiding the cities and keeping out of sight of Jezebel’s spies and emissaries. But now and again his master boldly came forward, and the burning and shining light was seen flashing across the darkness of his country.
Did Elisha repent his choice? Was he sorry that he had left all for his God? Did the young heir regret that he had become a servant? Surely not. Nothing is ever really lost when left at God’s call. If Elisha became poorer as to worldly substance, he at the same time became richer in spiritual life. Consider what sweet communion those two, the master and the servant, must have had together. How many holy lessons the elder servant of God must have imparted to the younger! How wonderfully Elisha’s faith and courage must have grown year by year as he saw his master’s devotion to Jehovah! And oh, how he must have loved the old prophet! Surely he would count it no disgrace, but rather a high honor, to be known among the people as Elisha who “poured water on the hands of Elijah.”
A young Jewess, who was turned out of her home and shut out from everything that had once been dear to her, because she confessed Christ and wished to follow Him, went out as a missionary to Egypt. There she lived in a close, stifling back street of Cairo, laboring patiently for the Master. Once she lay very ill on her bed, weak and suffering, exhausted by heat, tormented by flies, very lonely and desolate. She was tempted to think of the old home and of the comforts she had left behind. There, had she been ill, she would have been waited on and cared for; there tempting dishes would have been brought to her and everything that money could buy would have been at her service. Here she was deprived of all that to which she had been accustomed. But, even as this thought crossed her mind, she remembered our Lord’s words, “Everyone that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”
And she felt that she had indeed received the hundredfold - joy and peace in her heart, God’s smile upon her life, the sunshine of Christ’s presence in her little home, and beyond this life the joy of going to be with Christ in the Father’s house.
Few of us are called upon to make the sacrifices she made. God graciously leaves us the home love and the home comforts. They are but small sacrifices to which He calls us - tiny self-denials, which yet seem to us far from easy.
What is it the Lord calls me to do? Whatever it be that the Lord requires of me, that will I do. For my sake the Heir of all things became a servant; for His sake I will take up my little cross and follow Him. Is this your resolve? Then listen: “If any man serve Me, let him follow Me; and where I am, there shall also My servant be: if any man serve Me, him will My Father honor.”