Have you ever heard the phrase “burning the plow”? It comes from the story of Elisha’s call to ministry. The prophet Elijah sought out Elisha while he was busy plowing a field. The text says, “He was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him” (1 Kings 19:19).
This story has always been very rich to me. I was a teenager when I first experienced something similar to what Elisha experienced that day on the farm. I have always identified with Elisha because I was raised on the farm and know something of the hard work that goes with that farm life. This was a prosperous farm because Elisha was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen. In other words there were eleven other men plowing, and he was using the twelfth pair. This is the equivalent of twelve large tractors plowing in the same field today.
Elisha responded by running after Elijah and letting him know that he accepted the call. He then went back and killed the two oxen and burned the plow as fuel to roast the meat for all the people. He bid his mother and father and all the people goodbye and left to follow Elijah in a prophetic ministry. The burning of the plow was symbolic of saying “I am never coming back to this life again.”
Later on, Elisha was with Elijah as they traveled to various places in preparation for Elijah’s unusual departure to heaven without facing death. That day finally arrived as the two men arrived in Jericho and then stood on the bank of the Jordan River. Elijah struck the water with his mantle, and the waters parted for them. Elijah asked Elisha, “What do you want me to give you before I leave?” Elisha responded "Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit." "You have asked a difficult thing," Elijah said, "yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours — otherwise not" (2 Kings 2:9-10). As they stood there, suddenly, a chariot of fire and heavenly horses flew between the two men, and then Elijah was caught up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha walked over and picked up Elijah’s mantle that had fallen to the ground. As he struck the water he cried out, “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” (1 Kings 19:14), and the water divided.
We refer to this incident as the moment that the anointing rested on Elisha or at least a double portion of it. I like to define the anointing as the endorsement of the Holy Spirit upon a person or movement. Elisha is the kind of person the Spirit anoints—a person who is willing to be obedient and burn the plow, thus leaving the old life behind and becoming a servant.
Ministry with the anointing is a wonderful experience, and ministry without the anointing is a dreadful experience. I was sixteen when God called me into the ministry. I was so young, but the call was nonetheless very real. I was so overwhelmed with the call of God on my life that I sold my guns and a boat and gave the money to the church. God never asked me to do that, but it was my way of burning the plow. It was my response to having experienced that anointing for the first time in my life. Now 46 years later, I still value the anointing of God’s Spirit on my ministry.