Life from Death

Moses and Elijah had many obvious things in common. Both fasted for 40 days. Both worked miracles. Both stood fearlessly before powerful, evil rulers. Both met with God on mount Horeb. Both appeared with Jesus on the mountain of transfiguration.

Less obviously, both prayed that they might die. In 1Kings 19 we read: “He (Elijah) came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, YHWH,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” In Numbers 11:15 Moses prayed: “If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now -- if I have found favour in your eyes -- and do not let me face my own ruin.”

Jonah, Job and Jeremiah prayed similar prayers when subjected to various stresses and strains.

Such prayers, as far as I know, are not common in prayer meetings; but then nor are people like Moses and Elijah.

What happened when they prayed these prayers? Did God answer them? God said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders ... and I will take of the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them” (Num 11:16-17).God answered Elijah in the same way: “Go back the way you came ... and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet” (1Kings 19:16). Subsequently the spirit of Elijah came upon Elisha.

Strangely, in both cases, the answer to their prayer was that God took the spirit that was on them and passed it on to others who would carry on their work.

No one else in the Old Testament was able to pass on his spirit. All other men of God achieved great things, but lacked successors who could continue what they had begun. Thus all too often the Old Testament was a story of failure. A great prophet, priest or king had no one to continue the good that he had done.

That was the problem in the Old Testament, and even with Moses and Elijah they only passed on their spirits for one generation, but in the New it was different. Jesus did more than Moses and Elijah. He didn’t just pray to die. He went all the way and died and returned to his Father. From his father’s throne he was able to pour out his spirit. And that outpouring was not just to one successor or just for one generation, but in the words of Peter, “... and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The “promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call” (Acts 2:39).

So Jesus appointed his successors, for all generations to come, to carry on the work he had begun. How were they to do it? Not in their own strength, but by receiving the same spirit that had been in him. No one can do what he did or, more importantly, be like him without receiving the same spirit that was in him.

But there is another lesson from these prayers of Moses and Elijah. At what stage were they able to pass on their spirits? It was when they reached their own limits. When we come to the end of what we can do in our own strength, we can experience the power of God. It is not our skills, our pleasant personalities, our powers of speech or writing, our education, our knowledge of the Bible, or any other gifts we have that enable us to do the work of God. Only when we have died to ourselves and all that we have and are can we become channels through which the Holy Spirit can move.