2 Kings 2: Elijah Taken Up
We have learned about the prophet Elijah. Especially you remember him with all the people and the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, when the fire from heaven kindled his offering and the people said, “The Lord, He is the God.” The faithful Elisha was now with Elijah as his servant, and he was to be prophet after him. He was known as the one who poured water on the hands of Elijah. (2 Kings 3:11) This was a servant's duty when the master washed his hands, for in the East they do not wash in a basin but in running water.
We learn today how faithfully Elisha went with his master as the time drew near when the Lord would take away Elijah into heaven. They went on together from one place to another, from Gilgal in the hills near the middle of the land to Bethel and to Jericho. At each place, Elijah asked Elisha to stay, but he would not, and they went on together across the meadows to the Jordan. How did they cross the river? “Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground.” Does it remind you of a day long before when the Jordan was divided by the power of the ark for people to pass over? Then the power was with the ark, and now it was with the prophet's mantle.
As they walked on, Elisha asked that a double portion of his master's spirit might be upon him. He did not ask to be a greater prophet than Elijah, but to have a large, a double gift, such as a father gave to his oldest son. It was promised if he should see Elijah when he was taken from him. He did see him, for “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.” He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and it had the same power in his hands that it had had in the hands of Elijah. Listen and we will read this part of the story. (2 Kings 2:1-8)
As you read of the faithful Elisha going with Elijah from place to place, please take your map and follow the journey. Gilgal, Bethel, and Jericho were all places where companies of prophets lived. (See 2 Kings 4:38.) Gilgal was not the town of this name which we knew in the days of Joshua and Samuel, in the Jordan valley near Jericho, but a place to the north of Bethel. Bethel we know, the place of Jacob's vision of the ladder; and since the days of Solomon it had been a place of idol worship for the people of the northern kingdom. Jericho we also know in the edge of the broad meadow of Jordan. The two went on together from place to place, the faithful servant unwilling to leave his master, knowing all the while what was soon to happen.
Compare the parting of the Jordan in this story with the parting when the tribes of Israel entered the land. In both cases it was the power of the Lord's Word that divided the river: His power with the commandments, and His power with the prophet who spoke His word. Get clearly the grand picture of the horses and chariot of fire that were seen by Elisha when Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven, his rough mantle falling to the earth, to be picked up by Elisha.
Two other short stories of Elisha follow in this chapter. There is a beautiful spring at Jericho called “Elisha's fountain,” and you learn why as you read this story. Compare the healing of the bitter water in Gen. 15:23-25. The people of Jericho called the situation of the city pleasant. Cliffs sheltered the city on the west, and it looked out eastward across the meadows of the Jordan to the purple hills beyond. In those days, these meadows were tilled with gardens; the name Jericho means a “fragrant place.” The situation was pleasant, “but the water is naught, and the ground barren,” causing the trees to drop their fruit. The story tells you how Elisha healed the water.
Elisha went from Jericho to Bethel, climbing up into the hills by the way that he and Elijah had come down.
Little children are spoken of who came out of Bethel and mocked Elisha. It does not mean little children, but boys who laughed and jeered at the prophet, calling him “bald head.” Bears out of the wood killed many of them. It seems a hard punishment for what they had done, but it pictures the harm to our souls if we are irreverent to the Lord and His Word. “The Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain.”
From Bethel Elisha went on to Mt. Carmel, perhaps to the place of Elijah's sacrifice. It seems to have been a place where he often went. (2 Kings 4:23) From there, he returned to Samaria, Ahab’s city, where he had a home. (2 Kings 5:3, 9)
1. Where were Elijah and Elisha when they were parted and Elijah was taken into heaven? What did Elisha see?
2. What fell from Elijah when he was taken up? How was the power of the prophet's mantle shown?
3. How was water healed at Jericho?
4. What happened to the children who called the prophet “bald head”? What was the meaning of this punishment?
Compare with the vision in this chapter another vision of horses and chariots of fire in 2 Kings 6:17.
The horses and chariot of fire, and the prophet's mantle. Do they have the Bible in heaven? Do we take it with us when we go to heaven? They have the Bible, but not its letter which is made up of things of this world. That is represented by Elijah's mantle which fell from him as he was taken up. But in heaven they have a spiritual understanding of the Bible and a perception of the Lord’s love in it. These are represented by the horses and chariot of fire that Elisha saw: for horses represent a spiritual understanding and fire represents love. Even while we live in this world the power of heavenly truth and love is with us in the Bible to protect us, like the horses and chariots of fire which filled the mountain round about Elisha. These visions of the horses and chariots of fire should help us to remember the protecting power that is in the Lord's Word. (A. 2762, 5321) Elisha received a large portion of Elijah's spirit when he had seen the horses and chariot of fire. Having seen something of the inner glory of the Lord's Word and of its heavenly meaning, we return to the letter with a fuller sense of its power.
Get help on the parting of the Jordan by the power of Elijah's mantle from the parting of the Jordan before the ark. Both stories show the power of the Lord's Word in its letter, to overcome what is false and to introduce to a good life. (A. 4255, E. 395)
The water of Jericho was bad; it made the trees drop their fruit unripe. Such water is like truth that is unfruitful because it is not faithfully obeyed. The cure is to make a new beginning of faithful obedience. This is represented by the new cruse of salt with which the prophet healed the water; for salt which helps food and drink to unite and to nourish the body represents the union of truth with goodness in life. (A. 9325, 10300)
We have learned that Elijah's hairy mantle represented the letter of the Lord's Word. So also did the long hair that many of the prophets wore, and especially the long hair of Samson. This was the cause of reverence for long hair. To mock the prophet and call him “bald head” represents ridiculing the Lord's Word in its letter, and denying that it is holy. We cannot do this without danger to our souls, without danger of destroying the beginnings of heavenly life. Bears represent thoughts of the Word so unenlightened as to be destructive. (A. 3301: R. 573; E. 781)