Saturday, April 17, 2010
Who's Gonna Plow Shaphat's Field Now?
Here's another plowing story I had fun with after reading an Old Testament passage (1 Kings 19:16, 19-21).
Before we had Torah, the spirit of God ran wild upon the earth. It would drop down on someone and make them prophesy to the people, showing them the way, pointing to the light, etc. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it led to conflict, like when the spirit took hold of Elijah and he tried to shake the nation into righteousness. When King Ahab resisted, Elijah spoke a drought upon the earth, then called down fire from heaven. God’s power was made manifest, but that just led to more fighting and killing.
It was going to take more shaking than one man with the spirit of God could do, so one day Elijah headed out to the countryside to direct the wild spirit of God on another. He found Elisha out plowing his father’s field with 12 yoke of oxen. He must have been expecting lots of wheat that year. Then right there in the middle of the day, in the middle of the field, Elijah walked up to Elisha, son of Shaphat, and threw his cloak over the plowman. That was it – no more plowing for Elisha. He wanted to take care of things at home first, see to his mother and father. The old prophet said he could try that if he wanted but what was he going to do about that wild spirit that had just dropped on him? Elisha broke down his plow right then and there, killed his team of oxen, built a fire with his wooden farming tools, had a big community barbeque, and off he went to the city on the hill. The spirit of God was very dramatic in those days.
All of this was good for the nation of Israel, but poor Shaphat was left with a half-plowed field and a desperate need for some new farming equipment. After years of ups and downs, Israel settled down and built a temple so God could have a house and be less inclined to run wildly upon the earth. Nations and temples do not last, however, and things got wild again before the people finally set everything down in a book. Now we have Torah to guide us. We do not need so much drama, and everyone can tend his own field knowing that the spirit of God is alive and well, resting in the written word and enlivening the people whenever the scroll is opened.