Imagine your bishop, stake president, or other Church leader has just been released. In the space of just a few moments, you have raised your hand twice, once to express gratitude and once to sustain a new leader. During such a time it is common to experience some sadness as well as anxiety. What will the new leader be like? What changes are likely to come? Some youth and children may wonder if they will like their new leader as much as the previous one.
The prophet Elisha and an Old Testament group known as "the sons of the prophets" (see Bible Dictionary, "Schools of the Prophets," 770) experienced a similar situation. The story of how the mantle of prophetic authority was passed from Elijah to Elisha offers helpful counsel when the Lord releases one Church leader and calls a new one.
A New Leader Is Prepared
No danger or duty was too severe to shake the confidence of the prophet Elijah. "His recorded words are few but forceful, and his deeds are explicit evidences of his strength of will, force of character, and personal courage" (Bible Dictionary, "Elijah," 664). Perhaps you have known a bishop, stake president, or other Church leader much like Elijah.
Some six or seven years before the end of Elijah's mortal ministry, the Lord revealed to him that Elisha would be his successor (see 1 Kgs. 19:16). So Elijah went to meet him and found Elisha plowing a field. Elijah approached him and threw his mantle (cloak) over Elisha's shoulders, signifying Elisha's call to be his attendant and disciple. Elisha then kissed his parents good-bye, gave away all he owned, and "arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him" (see 1 Kgs. 19:19-21).
Elisha served and matured spiritually under Elijah's direction through several major events. First, Elijah confronted King Ahab and Queen Jezebel and reproved them for the murder of Naboth (see 1 Kgs. 21:1-29). Then Elijah twice called down fire from heaven to consume 50 soldiers sent by the king to arrest him (see 2 Kgs. 1:1-12). Finally, Elijah rebuked Ahab's son King Ahaziah for seeking counsel from false gods, prophesying of Ahaziah's imminent death (see 2 Kgs. 1:13-17). Elisha was an eyewitness to the power of Elijah's priesthood keys. In like manner we can be assured that the Lord is preparing mighty leaders today to move His latter-day kingdom forward through their service to the Master, Jesus Christ.
The Mantle Is Passed
Chapter 2 of 2 Kings records the final dramatic events of Elijah's mortal ministry. Elijah set out on a journey with Elisha from Gilgal to Bethel, then from Bethel to Jericho, and finally from Jericho across the Jordan River (see Bible Map 4). At each place Elijah directed his faithful disciple, "Tarry here, I pray thee" (2 Kgs. 2:2, 4, 6). But each time Elisha refused to leave his master's side. He was determined to follow his leader until the very end of his ministry.
At each stopping place, Elisha was questioned by the sons of the prophets, "Knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head to day?" (2 Kgs. 2:3, 5). Elisha's simple reply each time was, "Yea, I know it; hold ye your peace."
Elisha's loyalty to Elijah and his response to the sons of the prophets reminds us of the importance of sustaining our leaders right up to the time they are formally released, even when we know this may be soon.
As Elijah and Elisha approached the banks of the Jordan River, Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up, and struck the water with it. Then something occurred that hadn't happened since the days of Joshua over 450 years before: the water "divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground" (2 Kgs. 2:8; see also Josh. 3:14-17). This was witnessed by 50 of the sons of the prophets.
Once across the river, Elijah and Elisha continued their journey. Elijah asked his student-prophet what he would desire of him before his departure. "I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me," Elisha replied (2 Kgs. 2:9). The term double portion refers to Elisha's desire for the special inheritance that belongs to the worthy firstborn male in a family (see Bible Dictionary, "Firstborn," 675). Elijah deferred the granting of this request to the will of the Lord, saying, "If thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee" (2 Kgs. 2:10).
They continued to walk and talk, when suddenly a chariot with horses of fire descended from heaven, sweeping Elijah up off the ground toward heaven in a whirlwind. As they parted Elisha cried out, "My father, my father!" Elijah then dropped his well-worn cloak to his faithful follower. When Elijah had disappeared from view, Elisha was overcome with grief, tearing apart his own outer garment (see 2 Kgs. 2:12). The sense of sadness over the release of a leader is often felt deeply by those who have been most affected by the leader's ministry.
Taking Elijah's cloak, Elisha began the journey back to Jericho. When he approached the Jordan River, he struck the water as Elijah had and walked through again on dry ground. Witnessing this, the sons of the prophets who had seen the earlier miracle of parting the water exclaimed, "The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha," and paid appropriate respect to their newly chosen leader (see 2 Kgs. 2:15). When we sustain a new leader, it is our privilege to pray and come to know by revelation that those who have been called to lead us have indeed received authority from God.
Elisha's ministry lasted more than 50 years and presents similarities and differences to that of his master. Elijah's mission brought word of the Lord's judgment upon Israel's wicked kings, while Elisha's ministry was primarily that of a supportive adviser to well-intentioned kings. Both men were healers; both were men of many mighty miracles, of kindness, and of mercy.
When a newly called leader comes into our lives, we need to recognize that no two leaders or their ministries are the same. Yet they have one thing in common: they each are expected to bring all that they are and have to the altar of God and offer it for the benefit and blessing of those over whom they preside.
Sustaining Our New Leaders
Members of the Lord's Church in every dispensation have been asked to sustain new leaders who have been called to replace loved and trusted ones. President Harold B. Lee (1899-1973) has said, "The measure of your true conversion ... is whether or not you are so living that you see the power of God resting upon the leaders of this church and that testimony goes down into your heart like fire."
The Lord has given us the course we are to follow, one faithfully marked by His ordained prophets. The Lord has also given us leaders in our wards, branches, and stakes. When we raise our hands to sustain them, we are solemnly promising to uphold them by our faith and prayers (see D&C 26:2). The Lord richly blesses those who are true to the mantle of authority He gives His servants.
President James E. Faust of the First Presidency has said, "In my lifetime, there have been very few occasions when I questioned the wisdom and inspiration given by key priesthood leaders. I have always tried to follow their counsel, whether I agreed with it or not. I have come to know that most of the time they were in tune with the Spirit and I was not. The safe course is to sustain our priesthood leaders and let God judge their actions."
Like the sons of the prophets in Elisha's day, we may seek and obtain the reassuring comfort of the Holy Ghost as a witness that we are led by a living prophet and local leaders who have received the Lord's mantle of authority. We may assuredly know that the spirit of the Lord "doth rest" upon the new one.