THE MIRACULOUS ASCENSION OF ELIJAH COMPLETES THE TRANSFER OF AUTHORITY AND POWER TO ELISHA
This passing of the mantle from Elijah to Elisha demonstrates the ongoing authority and power of the Lord as He leads and protects and provides for His people. Once again we see both mercy and judgment. But Elisha will stand resolutely for the truth and prophecy faithfully the Word of God just as his predecessor. The signs that are performed by Elisha confirm that the spirit of Elijah has now been transferred to Elisha.
Peter Pett: The events that will follow, in which YHWH’s power through his prophet Elisha is remarkably revealed, were crucial to the maintenance of faith in YHWH at a time of gross apostasy. Just as YHWH through Moses had boosted the faith of Israel at the Exodus with specific miracles, and just as Jesus Himself would evidence His Messiahship by even greater miracles (Matthew 11:2-6), followed by miracles which accredited His Apostles (Mark 16:17-18; Acts 4:29-30; Acts 5:12; Hebrews 2:3-4) so now in these perilous times for Yahwism (the worship of YHWH, the God of Israel), God encouraged the faithful by miracles, some of which were remarkably similar, although lesser in extent, to those of Jesus. To call them pointless, as some have done, is to ignore the privations and dangers facing the ‘sons of the prophets’ and all true Yahwists, dangers under which the very core of the faithful in Israel were living. Under such circumstances they needed their faith boosted in special ways.
Donald Wiseman: Elijah’s successor had already been designated (1 Kgs 19:19–21), but the dramatic event which marks Elijah’s unique departure or ascension (vv. 1–18) also introduces the commissioning of his successor who is immediately confirmed as, and by, having similar miraculous powers. These are not the mere emphasis of an expansionist editor but a fitting climax in confirmation of Elisha’s commission by God. Two examples given, the healing of the waters (vv. 19–22) and the judgment on mockers (vv. 23–25), can be shown to have a moral, ethical and didactic purpose.
Dale Ralph Davis: Just as Joshua 1 addresses the question, How shall we go on now that Moses has died?, so 2 Kings 2 raises—and answers—the question, How can we go on when Elijah is going to be taken from us? . . . So Elijah has been ‘taken’. But it’s all left—power and wisdom, grace and judgment. Elisha asked the right question: Where is the God of Elijah? Answer: Right here, with his struggling, suffering servants. Elijah is gone, Yahweh remains.
August Konkel: Elijah and Elisha had a particular calling and mission during a critical period of Israel’s history, when power of the Baal cult was extended through the alliances of Israel and Judah and the intermarriage of the royal families. The supporters of these two prophets in their struggle against the Baal cult were designated as “sons of the prophets.” Prophecy manifested itself in a variety of forms in ancient Israel; its function was always to call for faithfulness to the covenant. Inspired prophecy was the means God used to confront false teaching at the highest levels of power. Followers of Elijah who had not bowed before Baal were both recipients of a revelation that the mantel would be transferred to another prophet and witnesses to the anointing of Elisha as the prophet who would bring an end to the power of the house of Omri.
Bob Deffinbaugh: The section we are dealing with in 2 Kings describes the transition of power from Elijah to Elisha. While there were a number of prophets in Israel, it would seem that Elijah was the “senior prophet” of his time. After his departure, it was necessary that his successor be designated in a way that would make it clear he was the one in whom the spirit of Elijah had come to abide.
(:1-6) FAREWELL TOUR –
LOYALTY OF ELISHA TO ELIJAH IN PREPARATION FOR THE PROPHET’S ASCENSION AND TRANSFER OF AUTHORITY AND POWER
A. (:1) Departure from Gilgal
“And it came about when the LORD was about to take up Elijah by a whirlwind to heaven, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal.”
Peter Pett: Note the stress on the fact that Elijah’s being taken up in a whirlwind was to be the sovereign act of YHWH. There is no suggestion that Elijah or anyone else sought it. It was YHWH’s sovereign choice. He had planned to take him up.
MacArthur: Although some take this to be the Gilgal located W of the Jordan River near Jericho (cf. Jos 4:19; 5:9), the close affinity to Bethel (v. 2) and its distance from Jericho (v. 4) seem to indicate that the Gilgal mentioned here was located in the hill country of Ephraim about 7 mi. N of Bethel.
Peter Pett: The significance of the details of the journey should not be overlooked. They moved from Bethel, to Jericho, to the Jordan, followed by the miraculous crossing of the Jordan, which was the precise reversal of what had happened when Israel had first taken possession of Canaan under Joshua. In view of the parallel miracle at the Jordan this surely cannot be coincidental. Elisha would then reverse the journey the opposite way round. It was an indication that YHWH was offering Israel, through Elisha, a new beginning, something which increases the significance of what then happened at Bethel.
Sermonwriter.com: Gilgal is where the Israelites crossed the Jordan River to occupy the Promised Land (Joshua 4:1-9). Bethel is mentioned several times in the account of Israel occupying the Promised Land (Joshua 7:2, 8:9, 12, 17; 12:9, 16; 16:1). Jericho was the site of Israel’s first great victory in the occupation of the Promised Land (Joshua 6). The Jordan River is the barrier that the Israelites crossed to occupy the Promised Land (Joshua 3). By visiting these places, Elijah is reconnecting with the great Joshua narratives of Israel’s early history.
B. (:2) Continuation to Bethel
1. Lobbying for Elisha to Stay by Elijah
“And Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here please, for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel.’”
2. Loyalty of Elisha
“But Elisha said, ‘As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they went down to Bethel.”
MacArthur: A town in Benjamin about 8 mi. N of Jerusalem where one of Israel’s false worship centers was located.
C. (:3-4) Continuation to Jericho
1. (:3) Lament by the Sons of the Prophets
“Then the sons of the prophets who were at Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, ‘Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I know; be still.’”
MacArthur: “take away” – The same term was used of Enoch’s translation to heaven in Ge 5:24.
John Gates: God had revealed to Elijah that he was soon to depart. And Elijah had made known the revelation in order to prepare both Elisha and the sons of the prophets for his going.
Bob Deffinbaugh: this journey is divinely directed. God instructed Elijah to go to Bethel (verse 2), then Jericho (verse 4), and finally the Jordan (verse 6). I believe God wanted Elijah to visit the prophets one last time. I believe this is where the “school of the prophets” was located, and that God directed Elijah and Elisha there so that these prophets would prophecy concerning Elijah’s departure. As a result, virtually every prophet in Israel knew this was Elijah’s day to “depart,” to be “taken from Elisha.” It would appear that God wanted Elijah to make this last circuit with Elisha, so that by the time the day was over all the prophets would realize that Elijah was gone and that Elisha was his replacement. God was orchestrating the final events of Elijah’s life in such a way as to designate and accredit Elisha as his replacement.
2. (:4) Loyalty of Elisha
“And Elijah said to him, ‘Elisha, please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to Jericho.’ But he said, ‘As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they came to Jericho.”
D. (:5-6) Continuation to the Jordan River
1. (:5) Lament by the Sons of the Prophets
“And the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho approached Elisha and said to him, ‘Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?’ And he answered, ‘Yes, I know; be still.’”
2. (:6) Loyalty of Elisha
“Then Elijah said to him, ‘Please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.’ And he said, ‘As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So the two of them went on.”
I. (:7-14) AUTHORITY AND POWER OF ELIJAH TRANSFERRED TO ELISHA
A. (:7-8) The Miraculous Crossing of the Jordan River by the Authority and Power of Elijah
1. (:7) Observation by the Fifty Sons of the Prophets
“Now fifty men of the sons of the prophets went and stood opposite them at a distance, while the two of them stood by the Jordan.”
2, (:8) Operation of Crossing the Jordan River Orchestrated by Elijah
“And Elijah took his mantle and folded it together and struck the waters, and they were divided here and there, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground.”
MacArthur: Elijah rolled up his cloak into a kind of rod and struck the water of the Jordan River. Immediately, the water parted, leaving a dry path through the river bed for the two prophets to cross. Elijah’s act recalled Moses’ parting of the Red Sea with his rod (Ex 14:21, 22) and the parting of the Jordan when Israel crossed over into the Land (Jos 3:14-17). The crossing put Elijah on the Jordan’s E bank, the area where Moses’ life came to an end (Dt 34:1-6).
B. (:9-11) The Transporting of Elijah Up to Heaven
1. (:9-10) Special Request by Elisha for a Double Portion of Elijah’s Spirit
“Now it came about when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you.’ And Elisha said, ‘Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.’
And he said, ‘You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.’”
David Guzik: The idea of a double portion was not to ask for twice as much as Elijah had, but to ask for the portion that went to the firstborn son, as in Deuteronomy 21:17. Elisha asked for the right to be regarded as the successor of Elijah, as his firstborn son in regard to ministry. Yet Elisha had already been designated as Elijah’s successor (1 Kings 19:19). This was a request for the spiritual power to fulfill the calling he already received.
Sermonwriter.com: most think that he is asking for the double-portion of the inheritance that is the right of the firstborn son (Deuteronomy 21:17). A double portion of an inheritance would not be twice the father’s material worth. On the contrary, the father would divide the inheritance into equal parts—the number of parts equal to the number of sons plus one. For instance, a father with five sons would divide the inheritance into six parts. He would give the firstborn son two parts and every other son one part. The firstborn son would thus inherit twice as much as any of his brothers, but far less than his father’s total worth—certainly not double his father’s worth.
2. (:11) Special Effects in Conjunction with Elijah’s Ascension
“Then it came about as they were going along and talking, that behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.”
Meyer: “As they continued on and talked” — What sublime themes must have engaged them, standing as they did on the very confines of heaven, and in the vestibule of eternity! The apostasy of Israel and its approaching doom; the ministry just closing, with its solemn warnings; the outlook towards the work upon which Elisha was preparing to enter – these and cognate subjects must have occupied them.
Constable: The whirlwind (shekinah?) took Elijah miraculously into heaven, not the fiery horses and chariot (v. 11).
C. (:12-14) The Miraculous Crossing of the Jordan River by the Authority and Power of Elisha
1. (:12) Observation of Elisha
“And Elisha saw it and cried out, ‘My father, my father,
the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’”
Sermonwriter.com: We can’t know with certainty what Elijah means by this phrase. He could be seeing a grand vision of a heavenly host, or he could be referring to Elijah’s ministry to Israel—a ministry more powerful than chariots and horsemen.
Dan Bockenfeld: In what Elisha says, we can see how deep of a relationship that they had. Elisha calls Elijah his father. They had been together for so many years that their relationship was like that of a father and son. They cared for each other and treated each other like family. There was no animosity or patronizing, but there was grooming. Their relationship was not haphazard; it was deliberate. The Lord told Elijah to search for his successor in Elisha and Elijah sought him out. This allowed Elijah to know without a doubt that Elisha would be his successor.
“And he saw him no more.”
“Then he took hold of his own clothes
and tore them in two pieces.”
2. (:13-14) Operation of Crossing the Jordan River Orchestrated by Elisha
a. (:13) Assuming the Mantle of Elijah
“He also took up the mantle of Elijah that fell from him,
and returned and stood by the bank of the Jordan.”
Wiersbe: in taking up Elijah’s mantle, Elisha was making clear that he accepted the responsibilities involved as he succeeded the great prophet and continued his work. By using the mantle to open the waters of the Jordan, he was declaring that his faith was not in the departed prophet but in the ever-present living God.
b. (:14a) Addressing the God of Elijah
“And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and struck the waters and said, ‘Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?’”
Constable: By asking, “Where is Elijah’s God?” (v. 14), Elisha was calling out to Yahweh to demonstrate His power through him as He had done through Elijah.
c. (:14b) Accomplishing the Miracle of Dividing the Waters
“And when he also had struck the waters, they were divided here and there; and Elisha crossed over.”
II. (:15-18) AUTHORITY AND POWER OF ELISHA TO PROPHECY THE TRUTH
A. (:15) Recognition of Transfer of Authority and Power
1. Summation of Their Testimony Regarding Transfer from Elijah to Elisha
“Now when the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho opposite him
saw him, they said, ‘The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.’”
Dale Ralph Davis: Yahweh’s power is still available through Elisha.
2. Submission to the New Leadership of Elisha
“And they came to meet him
and bowed themselves to the ground before him.”
MacArthur: This action symbolized the submission of the prophets to the preeminence of Elisha as the prophet in Israel.
B. (:16a) Request to Search for Body of Elijah
“And they said to him, ‘Behold now, there are with your servants fifty strong men, please let them go and search for your master; perhaps the Spirit of the LORD has taken him up and cast him on some mountain or into some valley.’”
C. (:16b-17) Relenting Under Pressure to Allow for a Search
1. (:16b) Conviction Expressed — that Elijah Would Not Be Found
“And he said, ‘You shall not send.’”
2. (:17a) Conviction Investigated
“But when they urged him until he was ashamed, he said, ‘Send.’
They sent therefore fifty men;”
3. (:17b) Conviction Substantiated
“and they searched three days, but did not find him.”
D. (:18) Repetition of His Earlier Prophecy
“And they returned to him while he was staying at Jericho;
and he said to them, ‘Did I not say to you, Do not go ‘?’”
III. (:19-22) CONFIRMING SIGN #1 = AUTHORITY AND POWER OF ELISHA TO BLESS AND GIVE LIFE
A. (:19) Curse of Jericho Needs Healing by Appeal to Elisha
“Then the men of the city said to Elisha, ‘Behold now, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.’”
B. (:20-21) Curse of Jericho Receives Healing by the Instrumentation of Elisha
“And he said, ‘Bring me a new jar, and put salt in it.’ So they brought it to him.
And he went out to the spring of water, and threw salt in it and said, ‘Thus says the LORD, I have purified these waters; there shall not be from there death or unfruitfulness any longer.’”
MacArthur: The healing of Jericho’s water, through Elisha, freed the city from Joshua’s curse, making it habitable for humans once again (cf. Jos 6:26; 1 Ki 16:34).
C. (:22) Curse of Jericho Maintains its Healing by the Word of Elisha
“So the waters have been purified to this day,
according to the word of Elisha which he spoke.”
Constable: God’s permanent healing of the spring would have served as a continuing reminder of Yahweh’s ability to bring fruitfulness and blessing out of the deadly sterility of idolatry.
IV. (:23-25) CONFIRMING SIGN #2 = AUTHORITY AND POWER OF ELISHA TO CURSE AND DESTROY
A. (:23) Disrespect Shown to the Prophet of God
“Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, ‘Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!’”
Bob Deffinbaugh: It was, indeed, a long, hot twenty-five mile trek from Jericho (some 1300 feet below sea level) to Bethel (which was 2,000 feet above sea level). Bethel was not just any Israelite city, either. Bethel was one of two cities that Jeroboam had designated as places of worship for the northern kingdom of Israel when Solomon’s kingdom was divided between his son Rehoboam and his enemy, Jeroboam. Jeroboam feared that these two kingdoms might be tempted to re-unite because of the one central place of worship (Jerusalem) which was located in Judah. And so Jeroboam made a bold move—he established two places of counterfeit worship in Israel. One was in Dan, at the northern edge of Israel. The other was in Bethel, at the southern edge of Israel, a mere 12 miles from Jerusalem. One of the golden calves Jeroboam had provided for Israel to worship was placed in Bethel (see 1 Kings 12). This was a very pagan place, where God and His Word were no longer revered. The disrespect which Elisha received by these young Bethel boys was typical of the attitude of the general population in Bethel toward any true prophet of God. . .
These were not innocent little boys, naively teasing a prophet in an inappropriate fashion. Elisha was not needlessly harsh, nor was God. God’s judgment was poured out on those who rebelled against God, who disobeyed His Word, and who mocked His servants, the prophets. If there was one lesson that the people of Bethel learned that day, it was that they must reverence God and His spokesmen.
Dilday: The lack of hair was not a result of old age; since he lived about fifty years after this incident, he was at the time a relatively young man. Elisha’s baldness must have been in striking contrast to Elijah’s hairy appearance.
Peter Pett: Hair was seen as a sign of virility, and long hair was a sign of being dedicated to YHWH (Numbers 6:5; Judges 13:5). . . Thus the suggestion that he was ‘bald’ was a deliberate denigration of his status. It was saying that his claim to dedication was false. There may be behind this the idea that without Elijah being with him he was to be seen as ‘shorn’, and therefore helpless. This would tie in with their suggestion that he should ‘go up’ as Elijah had. They may well have been belittling the idea of his succession to Elijah as the prophet of YHWH supreme and suggesting that if he really was he should demonstrate it by copying him.
B. (:24) Divine Judgment
1. Judgment Initiated by the Curse of Elisha
“When he looked behind him and saw them,
he cursed them in the name of the LORD.”
Constable: These youths were typical of a nation that “mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets” (2 Chron. 36:16). Not motivated by personal pride but by a desire for God’s glory, Elisha pronounced God’s curse on them for their disrespect of His prophet and Himself (v. 24; cf. 2 Peter 3:3-7). As before, God used wild animals to judge the rebels (cf. 1 Kings 13:24).
John Schultz: Elisha did not call for bears to come and devour the boys; that was God’s doing. In cursing them he took them, so to speak, out from under the umbrella of God’s blessing upon Israel. And, as suggested above, we could see this as God’s punishment upon those who had turned from His worship to the service of idols.
2. Judgment Executed by Two Female Bears
“Then two female bears came out of the woods
and tore up forty-two lads of their number.”
Dale Ralph Davis: Had Elisha been wrong to curse, one would assume Yahweh would not have fulfilled the curse. That Yahweh did so validates Elisha’s curse. Here is not an irritable prophet but a judging God.
John Whitcomb: No wild animals could match the savage cruelty that would be heaped upon this hardened people by that specially-prepared rod of God’s anger, the Assyrian army; and that rod would strike within four generations.
August Konkel: The first event confirming the anointing of Elisha demonstrates the power of prophetic blessing to those who affirm the prophet. The second event demonstrates the power of a curse that rests on all who deny him.
C. (:25) Departure of the Prophet of God
“And he went from there to Mount Carmel,
and from there he returned to Samaria.”
Iain Provan: The succession narrative ends with Elisha’s trip to Mount Carmel (v. 25), the scene of Elijah’s great victory over the priests of Baal. It is an appropriate ending since it reminds us of Elisha’s place in the story of Israel taken as a whole. His prophetic credentials having been established, he is now ready to pick up where Elijah left off in the war against Baal. It is to pursue that war that he returns to Samaria.