For centuries, our most well-beloved stories have shared similar patterns, but did you know that the events recorded in the Bible model those popular patterns of effective storytelling? Today we will look at the coming-of-age story, in which a young apprentice matures through the guidance of a mentor, and how the Bible’s account of Elijah and Elisha are mirrored in the story-telling patterns that we find in Star Wars, with Yoda and Luke.
Introducing the Mentors
Yoda the Jedi Master: (The Empire Strikes Back)
This diminutive green Jedi master speaks back-to-front and hobbles around with a cane: “When 900 years old you be, look as good, you will not.” Despite his age, his cunning and wisdom make him an apt tutor.
Elijah the Tishbite: (You’ll find him in 1 Kings)
One of the most prominent prophets in Israel’s history. His prayers for drought, or rain, or fire from Heaven are answered, and his prophecies come true with chilling accuracy. He is known for his abrupt disappearances (1 Kings 18:1-15), his fluent use of sarcasm (1 Kings 18:27), and his bold stand for God’s law (1 Kings 18:17-18).
Introducing the Apprentices
When Luke crash-lands in a swamp in Dagobah, he is thrilled to meet the only living Jedi Knight left. Although he must learn to master his emotions, his raw loyalty, compassion, and boldness promise potential.
Elisha (1 Kings chapter 19):
When Elijah first meets Elisha, the young man is plowing with two oxen in a field. Upon learning that he is chosen to replace Elijah, he sacrifices the oxen, bids goodbye to his parents, and sets off with Elijah. (Note: Yes, the picture is correct. Elisha was bald.)
Step One: The apprentice follows the guidance of an older mentor.
Luke struggles to concentrate because of his many internal conflicts: fear versus loyalty, hate versus love, and insecurity versus confidence. Plus, his impatience to become a knight sometimes slows his progress.
We don’t hear much about Elisha and the mentorship process until he is ready to take Elijah’s place as chief prophet of Israel, but it can be inferred that he is involved in many of Elijah’s adventures.
Step Two: The apprentice goes through a training or testing phase.
Luke’s greatest test occurs when he has a vision in which he vanquishes Darth Vader in a lightsaber duel—only to discover his own face beneath Vader’s helmet. His hate has become his own enemy.
When Elijah prepares to leave, he tests Elisha three times by commanding him to remain behind, first at Bethel, then at Jericho, then at the Jordan River. Each time, Elisha refuses to leave Elijah’s side. At last, Elijah asks what Elisha desires to receive from Elijah before his mentor leaves. Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. Elijah gives Elisha this warning:
“Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.” (2 Kings 2:10)
Step Three: The mentor dies and the apprentice takes his place.
"Master Yoda, you can't die!" ~ Luke Skywalker
Impatient as he was to complete his training, Luke feels unready for his role as the only remaining Jedi Knight protecting the galaxy from the evil Empire. Yet Luke rises from his fears to battle an enemy even more deadly than Darth Vader—the Emperor himself.
Elisha’s future hangs on whether he will watch his beloved mentor leave.
“And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more.” (2 Kings 2:11-12a)
When Elisha returns to Jericho, all the lesser prophets exclaim in astonishment,
“The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha!” (2 Kings 2:15)
Elisha becomes a prophet even more astounding than Elijah—cleansing diseased waters (2 Kings 2:19-22), bringing supernatural victory to Israel (2 Kings chapter 3), and even raising the dead (2 Kings chapter 4).
Hundreds of years before Luke Skywalker and Yoda refamiliarized modern audiences with the classic coming-of-age story, Elijah and Elisha modeled that pattern in their own relationship.
What other stories model the mentor/apprentice relationship well?