19He [Elijah] set out from there and came upon Elisha son of Shaphat as he was plowing. There were twelve yoke of oxen ahead of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah came over to him and threw his mantle over him. 20He left the oxen and ran after Elijah, saying: “Let me kiss my father and mother good-by, and I will follow you.” And he answered him, “Go back. What have I done to you?” 21He turned back from him and took the yoke of oxen and slaughtered them; he boiled their meat with the gear of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and followed Elijah and became his attendant.     1 Kings 19/19-21 Tanakh JPS 1985.

 

Commentary:

G-d had instructed Elijah to anoint Elisha as the prophet to succeed Elijah. Elijah walks by Elisha who is plowing a field with twelve yoke of oxen and throws his mantle (robe) over him. Elisha runs to him and says let me kiss my mother and father and I will follow you.

Elijah is offended and says what have I done to you?

Elisha, instead of kissing his parents and following Elijah slaughtered one yoke of oxen (two ox most likely), boiled them and gave it to people unidentified and “they” ate.

Then Elisha arose and followed Elijah and became his attendant.

These three verses are for describing Elijah and Elisha by their actions and deeds. We know Elisha is a hardy farming man with a lot of strength and Elijah is arrogant and touchy. Elisha is also self righteous. He offered to hurry and follow but when Elijah snubbed him Elisha took his sweet time in following. It takes a long time to slaughter two oxen and boil and eat them. Elijah would have been well down the road to be followed. All ended well though with Elisha becoming the attendant to Elijah.

The twelve yoke of oxen brings to mind the twelve tribes and is just unusual enough to indicate that the number of yokes makes a real story a little more interesting to read and interpret if it is twelve like the tribes. We do not know how many oxen were slaughtered and how many people were fed.

What if two oxen had fed 2,000 people? And what about using the yoke for the fire and boiling the meat. Is that enough kindling? Why boiled? Were the boiling oxen in one huge pot? So many questions from a short story but it gives a good description of Elijah and Elisha.

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