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Deeper Commentary

2Ki 2:1 It happened, when Yahweh would take up Elijah-
The Lord Jesus likens Himself to Elijah at times. Jesus sent fire on earth as Elijah did (Lk. 12:49). He quotes Elijah’s words “Your son lives” (1 Kings 17:23 = Jn. 4:50-53). What this shows is that the Lord saw what was good in Elijah, and He didn’t separate Himself from someone who didn’t have His Spirit. And here we have another example. The context of the Lk. 9:54 reference to Elijah is that the Lord’s time had come that he should be “received up”, and “he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Lk. 9:51). This is all very much the language of Elijah being received up into the sky / heaven. Elijah set his face to do this; but it was a setting of his face to have the humility to give up his much coveted ministry to Elisha. Elijah set his face, he was determined... to be humble. To not cavil against God's word that Elisha was to replace him. And so the Lord set His face to the humility required for the cross, and the ascension not into the sky [as Elijah did] but into Heaven itself.

By a whirlwind into heaven, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal-
Elijah didn't go to Heaven itself, for no man has ascended to Heaven (Jn. 3:13). He was a sinner and the wages of sin is death. The time for reward and eternal life is not after death, but at the return of the Lord Jesus. We know from 2 Chron. 21:12-15 that Elijah died, and wrote a letter soon before his death. So indeed he was snatched away and taken to another point on earth. Obadiah had implied this was a regular occurrence. Hence the young men later went out looking for Elijah.

Gilgal was where there was a school of the prophets (2 Kings 4:38). Before being snatched away, Elijah was it seems touring the groups of "sons of the prophets".

2Ki 2:2 Elijah said to Elisha, Please wait here, for Yahweh has sent me as far as Bethel. Elisha said, As Yahweh lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you. So they went down to Bethel-
"Leave" is "deny". Elijah's ascension into the sky has remarkable similarities with that of the Lord, into Heaven itself- a group of men sent to take him; Elisha cp. Peter saying ‘I will not deny you’ (2 Kings 2:2 Heb.); a cloud of Angels receive him; men stand watching on earth; the Holy Spirit given on his ascension… 


2Ki 2:3 The sons of the prophets who were at Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, Do you know that Yahweh will take away your master from your head today? He said, Yes, I know it. Hold your peace-
The day for Elijah to be publically removed and Elisha to take his place had been set, and the other prophets knew this. Elisha was to take over as their chief. We can appreciate how hopeless it was for Elijah to be leader of the various schools of the prophets, if he had been persuaded that they were all insincere and he alone was left Yahweh's only true prophet. For this reason he was removed from the office. See on :5,23.


2Ki 2:4 Elijah said to him, Elisha, please wait here, for Yahweh has sent me to Jericho. He said, As Yahweh lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you. So they came to Jericho-
It seems Elijah was being sent around the various schools of the prophets (all of whom, as noted on :3, he had despised as apostate). They were to see him as their leader for one last time. There is no sense that they were that distressed about losing him, unlike the weeping at Troas when Paul told the disciples they would see his face no more. This is understandable, seeing he had claimed he was the only true prophet and they were all astray on this or that point of doctrine or practice.


2Ki 2:5 The sons of the prophets who were at Jericho came near to Elisha and said to him, Do you know that Yahweh will take away your master from your head today? He answered, Yes, I know it. Hold your peace-
We note that all the sons of the prophets speak to Elisha of Elijah as "your master" rather than "our master" (also :3). Perhaps Elijah had formally disfellowshipped them for some apostacy or other, and demanded they never call him their master. No wonder he needed to be replaced. Or perhaps they didn't share Elisha's huge respect for Elijah.  


2Ki 2:6 Elijah said to him, Please wait here, for Yahweh has sent me to the Jordan. He said, As Yahweh lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you. They both went on-
It seems Elijah didn't want Elisha to be present when he was snatched away. He keeps asking him not to follow him. Perhaps he knew that his mantle would then drop to the earth and Elisha would have it. And he was resistant, still, to the idea of another man taking his ministry. He knew that if Elisha saw him ascend into the sky, then Elisha would have a double portion of his spirit (:10), making him greater than Elijah. And Elijah apparently didn't want that. 


2Ki 2:7 Fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood opposite them at a distance; and they both stood by the Jordan-
We recall how Obadiah had hidden prophets by groups of 50 in a cave. There had been one cave for the two groups of 50 (1 Kings 18:4). So perhaps a 'group of 50 prophets' was not a literal group of 50 men, but a kind of prophetic division of prophets. Rather like a "thousand" likewise refers to a family or military subdivision of an army, rather than literally 1000.


2Ki 2:8 Elijah took his mantle, wrapped it together and struck the waters, and they were divided here and there, so that they two went over on dry ground-
This recalls the great miracles of Joshua and Moses. To ask for a double portion of this Spirit was reflective of quite some spiritual ambition on Elisha's part. We see here Elijah acting as Moses; although when in Moses' cave on Sinai, he had been shown that he was not as Moses because he lacked Moses' humility. Although he had been set up to be as Moses; see on 1 Kings 19:11. Perhaps he was trying still to assert himself as Moses; or maybe he had finally arrived at the required humility, and so was permitted to act as Moses. And that is why he is given a role parallel to Moses  at the transfiguration. See on :21. 


2Ki 2:9 When they had gone over, Elijah said to Elisha, Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you-
Maybe he knew that he would be snatched away east of Jordan, and so now they had crossed the river, he knew the end was near.

Elisha said, Please let a double portion of your spirit be on me-
The allusion may be to the double portion of the firstborn (Dt. 21:17). The "sons of the prophets" had Elijah as their father; and so Elisha as now the senior prophet is asking to be treated as the firstborn of Elijah amongst the sons of the prophets (:12). That Elijah should have rejected them all, considering himself the only prophet of Yahweh, was as bad as a father disowning his children. No wonder Elijah had to be replaced as the 'father' of the sons of the prophets. But by asking to be treated as the firstborn, Elisha is showing that he considers himself just another son of the prophet Elijah, even if the firstborn. But he is thereby not making any claim to be a new father to them. He therefore considered Elijah an impossible at to follow, even though Elijah had earlier condemned him. He focused on the positive in Elijah rather than being fazed by his arrogant rejection of all his brethren. This is indeed a challenge to us; for self congratulatory brethren who condemn all others are some of the hardest people to be positive about. It is so hard to make ourselves see the good in them, as Elisha clearly did to Elijah. 

2Ki 2:10 He said, You have asked a hard thing. If you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so-
It's difficult to see why the gift of a double portion should be predicated upon this. Maybe Elijah means that if Elisha will continue to follow him to the absolute end, then he would support this idea. But the give of the Spirit was God and not Elijah. So Elijah may mean that if Elisha truly follows Elijah to the very end, when none of the other sons of the prophets apparently wanted to personally accompany him, then he was sure that God would indeed do so. See on :6.


2Ki 2:11 It happened, as they still went on, and talked-
This has similarities with the lead up to the Lord's ascension (Lk. 24:50,51).

That behold, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into the sky-
This may have been visible only to Elisha and Elijah, just as Elisha's servant alone saw the horses and chariots at Dothan (2 Kings 6:17).

It could be that after the triumph on Carmel, there had been another vision of God’s glory in order to humble Elijah. I say this on the basis that the description of the cloud in 1 Kings 18:44 “like a man’s hand” recalls “the likeness of a man’s hand” under the cherubim in Ezekiel’s visions. Clouds and rain are invariably part of theophanies. Elijah spoke of how, by faith, he heard “the feet of rain” (1 Kings 18:41 LXX), as if he believed that the Angels were coming with rain. Perhaps Elijah therefore told Ahab “prepare your chariot” and ride with the rain- i.e. ‘be part of the vision of glory / cherubim chariots on the ground as it passes overhead’. This was the point of Ezekiel’s vision; Israel were to reflect the Cherubim on earth, just As David moved in step with the Spirit / the sound of marching in the mulberry trees. Therefore in 1 Kings 19:42 when in the face of all this, Elijah places his  face between knees, he may be doing the same thing as when he hides his face in the mantle. He sensed the glory of God near him but didn’t want to face up to it personally. He didn’t want to become part of the Cherubic vision of glory, even though he advised Ahab to do so. We must identify ourselves with the vision of God’s glory, and face up to the life-changing implications of it.

Elijah ultimately did this, although it took him a lifetime- he was caught up in another cherubic vision and threw away his mantle and became part of the vision of glory; and hence he was called “the chariot of Israel and the [great] horseman thereof” [reading “horsemen” as an intensive plural]. The chariots and horsemen of God appeared; and Elisha perceived that Elijah had finally become identified with them. For Elisha sees them and then describes Elijah as being them- the chariot and horseman of Israel (2 Kings 2:11,12). Finally, Elijah became part of God’s glory; He merged into it rather than resisting it for the sake of his own  glory. He was the charioteer of the cherubim; for his prayers had controlled their direction. This identification of ourselves with God’s glory, this losing of ourselves and our own insistence upon our rightness, and our focus on others’ wrongness... this is the end result of our lives if they are lived out after the pattern of Elijah’s. 


2Ki 2:12 Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father-
We saw on :9 that Elisha considered himself as Elijah's spiritual son, indeed his firstborn.

The chariots of Israel and its horseman! He saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and tore them in two pieces-
Although Elijah had been rejected from his ministry as lead prophet of Israel because of his refusal to accept other prophets and believers as valid, and those included Elisha, Elisha really respects Elijah and the tearing of his own clothes reflects that. In this he showed the humility which was so necessary for the prophetic office.

Israel had been forbidden horses and chariots in Dt. 17. Elisha is saying that Elijah was the true horse and chariot of Israel, it was his ministry which had brought victory.


2Ki 2:13 He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of the Jordan-
In 1 Kings 19:13, Elijah had wrapped his face [s.w. “before” the Lord] in his mantle and “stood” [s.w. ‘stand’ before the Lord] in the cave mouth before the Angel. In Hebrew, the words for ‘face’ and ‘before’ are the same. Too ashamed to really stand before the Lord, Elijah therefore wrapped his face. Earlier, he had been so keen to use this phrase of himself (1 Kings 17:1; 18:15); he had prided himself on the fact that he stood before the Lord. But now he hid his face, a common idiom often used by God for withholding fellowship. The fact we too are God’s covenant people can initially be a source of pride to us as we do our theological gladiatorship with others. But the implications are so far deeper; and through Angelic work in our lives, we too are brought to see this. The word for “Mantle” is translated “glory” in Zech. 11:3; Elijah wrapped his presence in his own glory, rather than face up to the implications of God’s glory. A desire for our own glory prevents us perceiving God’s glory. Perhaps Elijah was being pseudo-humble, misquoting to himself a Biblical precedent in all this, namely that the cherubim wrapped their faces (Is. 6:2). In this case. Elijah was doing a false impersonation of the cherubim, manifesting himself before God’s manifestation of Himself. Only at the very end does Elijah cast away his mantle (2 Kings 2:13), his human strength, allowing himself to merge with God’s glory. He should have cast away his mantle earlier, when he stood before the still small voice on Horeb. The question of 1 Kings 19:13 “Why are you still here, Elijah?” may imply that Elijah should have allowed himself to be carried away by the cherubim, he should have surrendered himself to the progress of God’s glory, rather than so obsessively insist upon his own personal rightness and the wrongness of others. And this was why God’s ultimate response to Elijah’s attitude on Horeb was to dismiss him from his prophetic ministry and instate Elisha as his successor (1 Kings 19:16). Elijah seems to have finally learnt his lesson, for he calls Elisha to the ministry by ‘passing by’ Elisha as in a theophany, taking off his mantle and throwing it upon Elisha (1 Kings 19:19). He realized that he had hidden behind that mantle, using it to resist participating in the selfless association with God’s glory [rather than his own] to which he was called. But he got there in the end; hence the enormous significance of Elijah giving up his mantle when he finally ascends to Heaven in the cherubim chariot (2 Kings 2:13). 


2Ki 2:14 He took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and struck the waters, and said, Where is Yahweh, the God of Elijah?-
The LXX says that the first time Elisha smote the waters, they didn't open. Hence his question. Perhaps this happened, as such things happen to us, to make Elisha realize that the action of God is not automatic. It requires intense personal faith, and not merely following the pattern of other believers. 

When he also had struck the waters, they were divided here and there; and Elisha went over-
Elisha is being taught that indeed, the spirit and power of Elijah had fallen upon him. He could perform the same miracles. The parting of water at the Red Sea and by Joshua at the same Jordan river had all been for the salvation of God's people, towards their entry into the kingdom. And so it was with Elisha's work too. This was the reason he was being given this power.


2Ki 2:15 When the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho opposite him saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha. They came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him-
The present site of Jericho is about four miles from the Jordan, but perhaps "Jericho" is being used of the region around the city. "Which were over against him" (AV) could imply, as we shall see later, that they were not particularly supportive of Elisha.


2Ki 2:16 They said to him, See now, there are with your servants fifty strong men. Please let them go and seek your master-
They still call Elijah "your master" rather than "our master". A noted earlier, this suggests a lack of respect toward Elijah. And yet I will suggest on :18 that they respected Elisha even less. I suggested on :7 that a 'group of 50 prophets' was not a literal group of 50 men, but a kind of prophetic division of prophets.

Perhaps the spirit of Yahweh has taken him up, and put him on some mountain, or into some valley. He said, You shall not send them-
As Obadiah earlier pointed out, such snatching away of Elijah, from one place on earth to another, had been quite common (1 Kings 18:12). It was just as Philip was snatched away from the Ethiopian and then found at Azotus, and Ezekiel likewise (Ez. 37:1). It further indicates that Elijah was snatched away into the sky, not to Heaven itself. 


2Ki 2:17 When they urged him until he was ashamed-
Probably a figure of speech meaning that he finally reluctantly agreed, for their benefit rather than his. He wanted them to accept the Divine word that Elijah had been removed and replaced by himself.

He said, Send them. They sent therefore fifty men; and they searched for three days, but didn’t find him-
This strong desire to find Elijah likely reflected their dissatisfaction at the prospect of having Elisha as the 'father' of their school of sons of the prophets. Although they could not doubt that Elisha did now have the spirit of Elijah.


2Ki 2:18 They came back to him while he stayed at Jericho; and he said to them, Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t go?’- 
Elisha appeared angry that they were so persistent in trying to find Elijah. By being so desperate to have Elijah back with them, they were effectively going against the Divine intention that he be replaced by Elisha. So in political terms, things didn't start well for Elisha. The sons of the prophets at Jericho hankered after Elijah rather than Elisha; and those at Bethel despised both Elijah and Elisha (see on :23). 

2Ki 2:19 The men of the city said to Elisha, Behold, please, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the land miscarries-
2 Kings 2:19 (AV mg.) records how the people complained that “the water is naught, and that ground causing to miscarry”. This was evidently an incorrect superstition of the time; barren ground cannot make the women who live on it barren. But Elisha does not blow them into next week for believing such nonsense. Instead he performed the miracle of curing the barrenness of the land. The record says that there was no more barrenness of the land or women “according to the word of Elisha which he spoke” (:22). Normally the people would have recoursed to wizards to drive away the relevant demon which they thought was causing the problem. But the miracle made it evident that ultimately God had caused the problem, and He could so easily cure it. This was a far more effective way of sinking the people’s foolish superstition than a head-on frontal attack upon it. The Lord's attitude to the ideas of demon possession in the NT is similar.


2Ki 2:20 He said, Bring me a new jar, and put salt in it. They brought it to him-
The Jordan valley, especially around Jericho, is full of salty springs which don't give good water. The Dead [Salt] Sea is not far from there. So putting salt into the salty spring to change it is a way of showing that God uses that which appears the problem in order to cure the problem. We think of the Lord Jesus having our human nature in order to make a way to overcome it. The jar perhaps represented the well.


2Ki 2:21 He went out to the spring of the waters, and threw salt into it, and said, Thus says Yahweh, ‘I have healed these waters. There shall not be from there any more death or miscarrying’-
Immediately after Moses had parted the waters, he made bitter waters "sweet" through casting a tree into them, looking ahead to the cross, so that the people could drink from them (Ex. 15:25). Elisha had just parted the waters, and he does a similar miracle to Moses. I discussed on :8 and 1 Kings 19:11 how Elijah was set up as another Moses, but he failed to completely attain that potential because unlike Moses, he was not meek enough. Elisha is being shown that he too is called to be as Moses. See on 2 Kings 3:9.

 

2Ki 2:22 So the waters were healed to this day, according to the word of Elisha which he spoke-
The miracle was essentially by the word of Yahweh which Elisha spoke; the use of the salt in the new jar was shown not to essentially be the cause for the cure. See on :19.


2Ki 2:23 He went up from there to Bethel-
Now the mantle had fallen upon Elisha, he visits the schools of the prophets at Jericho, Bethel (:3) and then at Carmel (see on :25).

As he was going up by the way, some youths came out of the city and mocked him, and said to him-
"Youth" is the same word used of Solomon when he became king. It can apply to young men and not just children.

Go up, you baldy! Go up, you baldhead!-
I suggest they were challenging him to "go up" into the sky as Elijah had. They mock him as being bald, rather than being as Elijah, who was famed for being a hairy man (2 Kings 1:8). These young people from Bethel were doubtful that Elisha could indeed carry the mantle of Elisha, which he was presumably wearing. Elijah and Elisha had visited the "sons of the prophets" in Bethel just before Elijah was snatched away (:3), and at that time they had spoken of Elijah as Elisha's master, "your master", rather than "our master". They were not great enthusiasts for Elijah, and it seems they were the "youths" here. They disliked the way Elisha was now claiming to be as Elijah, a prophet for whom they had no respect. I suspect therefore that it is some of them who were these youths, and they were not just random cheeky kids who were punished for their cat calling.

 
2Ki 2:24 He looked behind him and saw them, and cursed them in the name of Yahweh. Two female bears came out of the woods, and mauled forty-two of those youths-
That he "looked behind him" shows they did not confront him, but called out these words from a secluded place. The extreme punishment, as explained on :23, was because they were the sons of the prophets at Bethel who had refused Elijah's leadership (probably because he despised them as unfaithful and rejected them when he should have accepted them)- and now refused that of Elisha, seeing he was acting as Elijah. The death of 42 of them may have meant the entire community of sons of the prophets there was virtually wiped out. For it could be argued from :16 that there were only 50 sons of the prophets at Jericho, and perhaps there were only the same at Bethel. There seems a connection with the disobedient prophet who was killed by a lion near this same city of Bethel (1 Kings 13:24). And these were disobedient sons of the prophets.


2Ki 2:25 He went from there to Mount Carmel-

Elijah seems often associated with Mount Carmel, and it seems likely he had a school of the prophets there, which Elisha now visited- having just visited the school of the prophets at Bethel (:3,23). This would corroborate the suggestion on :23 that the disrespectful youths were sons of the prophets.

And from there he returned to Samaria-
We learn from the account of Naaman in 2 Kings 5 that Elisha had a house there. Hence Naaman's maid talks of Elisha as "the prophet that is in Samaria".