Elijah’s Coronation Day
2 Kings 2:1-15
The coronation of an earthly monarch usually takes place early in life and commences his reign. For the believer, however, the coronation day takes place at death when he is raised to a higher realm of glory. Such is the case with Elijah who would never have been mistaken for a king during his earthly life. Yet, when his task on earth was over, God elevated him to His throne in Heaven by a supernatural exit from this world.
We do not know exactly how Elijah spent his last days, but he probably gave much of his time to teaching “the sons of the prophets”(1 Ki. 20:35; 2 Ki. 2:3, 5, 7,15; 4:1,38). These were groups of young men who had begun to exercise their prophetic gift under the tutelage of a more experienced “man of God.”’ Such work, though not as spectacular as the performing of miracles, was of even greater importance in the ongoing work of God. The time spent by Christ in training the apostles produced more lasting fruit than the miracles He performed before the multitudes.
The Test 2 Kings 2:1-8
“And it came to pass, when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. And Elijah said unto Elisha, Tarry here, I pray thee; for the Lord hath sent me to Bethel. And Elisha said unto him. As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they went down to Bethel” (2:1-2). We can rest assured that God had revealed to Elijah that his day had arrived. While he was with his successor Elisha at GiIgal, Elijah asked him to part company, Elisha steadfastly refused. This request was simply to test the strength of his attachment and faith. Eiisha had said earlier, “I will follow thee” (1 Ki. 19:20). But would he cleave to the prophet to the end? His tenacity reminds us of Ruth’s decision to follow Naomi even after she had been discouraged from doing so: “And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to turn away from following after thee; for where thou goest, i will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God, my God” (Ruth 1:16).
When the pair made their next stop at Bethel, the sons of the prophets joined in by stating that to follow Elijah was fruitless because the Lord was taking him that day. But Elisha remained firm in his resolve to accompany his mentor (2:3-4).
Finally, they arrived at Jericho, near the banks of the Jordan River. There, another group of fledgling prophets repeated the discouraging refrain. Elijah also urged Elisha to remain on this side of the river. But the spiritually resolute Elisha was not to be deterred (2:5-6).
Elisha’s determination not to look back (cf. Lk. 9:62) is an example to ail who desire the full blessing of the Lord on their ministries. It was Jacob’s determination to continue wrestling with God that resulted in his being blessed: “… I will not let thee go, except thou bless me” (Gen. 32:26).
In many ways Elisha and Elijah were different. While Elijah grew up in the poor area of Gilead, Elisha probably came from a wealthy family (1 Ki. 19:19). While Elijah preferred the rural outdoors, Elisha was more at home in cities and palaces. While Elijah seemed to be a man of extreme moods, Elisha appeared more even-tempered. One characteristic, however, they shared in common – a godly inflexibility that insured their success against the ungodly forces of their day.
Even though the curious “sons of the prophets” stood to watch Elijah’s translation (2:7), only Elisha was permitted to see the event. “And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided to the one side and to the other, so that they two went over on dry ground” (2:8). That mantle was the badge of Elijah’s distinctive office (cf. 1 Ki. 19:13,19). It was with his rod that Moses had divided the sea (Ex. 14:16); here it was with his mantle that Elijah divided the river. The classic commentator, Matthew Henry, long ago remarked on this incident: “The miraculous dividing of the river Jordan was the preface of Elijah’s translation into heavenly Canaan, as it had been to the entrance of Israel into the earthly Canaan. He and Elisha might have gone over Jordan by a ferry, but God would magnify Elijah in his exit, as he did Joshua in his entrance.”
The Request 2 KIngs 2:9-12
“And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I am taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me” (2:9).
Elijah offered to Elisha anything that his heart desired! He could do this because he knew that his young successor would not abuse such a privilege. The Lord God appeared to the young Solomon and said, “Ask what I shall give thee.” He could do this because He knew that Solomon would not request long life, riches, or a military victory, but an understanding heart (1 Ki. 3:5-12).
The request for a “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit may appear perplexing, but understanding the use of this Old Testament phrase will help to illustrate its meaning. Deuteronomy 21:17 declares that the firstborn son has the right to inherit a “double portion” of his father’s estate, In legal terminology, this is called the right of primogeniture. Elisha did not ask for something superior to that which his master enjoyed, but for a portion “double” that which was communicated to the other prophets. Elisha looked upon himself as the firstborn son of Elijah in relation to the other “sons of the prophets.” One might see a parallel here to the statement by the Lord Jesus in John 14: 12: “Verily, verily, I say unto you. He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do, because I go unto my Father,” particularly when this promise of the Lord was associated also with the coming of the Spirit (Jn. 14:16 ff.).
Elijah acknowledged -the hardness of his request, but promised the answer if Elisha never removed his eyes from him until he was gone (2:10). The big moment finally arrived, “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 separated them, and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2:11).
Their pleasant journey was interrupted when a fiery chariot pulled by fiery horses came between them. This would not be the last time that Elisha would experience such a visit from Heaven. In 2 Kings 6:17, the Lord opened the eyes of Elisha’s fearful servant so he could see the “horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” From this parallel passage and Psalm 68:17 (“The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels. . .”), it is safe to conclude that the chariot and horses were mighty angels sent to conduct Elijah to Heaven (cf. Lk. 16:22: “And it came to pass that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom; the rich man also died, and was buried”). The popular artist’s conception of Elijah as riding in the chariot is not stated in the text. The chariot actually came between the two prophets while “Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2:11).
“And Elisha saw it, and he cried. My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and its horsemen. And he saw him no more; and he took hold of his own clothes, and tore them in two pieces” (2:12). Elisha followed his master’s orders right to the end. Yet even though he knew that the prophet would be taken, his grief at the departure was still great. The rending of garments was a sign of mourning among the Hebrews (Gen. 37:29; 44:13; 2 Sam. 3:31; Joel 2:13). It should be noted that Elisha called Elijah “. . . the chariot of Israel, and its horsemen . . .” (2:12). The significance of this title can be understood when one is reminded that when Elisha was dying. King Joash lamented his condition by addressing him with the same title (see 2 Ki. 13:14). Ancient kings measured their strength by the number of horses and chariots they possessed. This phrase is a reminder that the greatness of Israel lay not in armaments, but in spiritual men of God who were the real strength of the nation. Although Elisha bewailed the loss of this true pillar of strength, he replaced that pillar himself.
The Bequest 2 Kings 2:13-15
“He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of the Jordan” (2:13). At the funeral of a great Christian leader whom many thought could never be replaced, a speaker reminded the sad hearers, “God buries His workmen, but He carries on His work!” Elijah was gone, but his mantle fell to the ground to be worn now by another prophet of God.
“And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the Lord God of Elijah? And when he also had smitten the waters, they parted to the one side and to the other; and Elisha went over. And when the sons of the prophets, who were looking on at Jericho, saw him, they said. The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him” (2:14-15). Elijah’s last miracle was Elisha’s first miracle. He had learned well. His cry, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” reminds us that even though Elijah was missing, Elijah’s God was still present and active in the continuing ministry of his successor.
Elisha commenced a ministry that was destined to bring help to the needy (2 Ki. 4:1-7); joy to the bereaved (2 Ki. 4:18-37); health to the sick (2 Ki. 5:1-14); judgment to the wicked (2 Ki. 6:8-23); and life to the dead (2 Ki. 13:20-21). Although to compare Elijah and Elisha would be unfair to both, it is interesting that Elisha’s ministry lasted about twice as long as Elijah’s and that he apparently performed twice as many miracles as his illustrious predecessor.
Elijah, however, was privileged to have a part in two events which Elisha and no other prophet experienced. First, Elijah passed through the portals of Heaven without dying. Only Enoch, “the seventh from Adam” (Jude 14), was privileged to pass directly from earth to Heaven without experiencing death (Gen. 5:24). Secondly, Elijah was chosen to play a role in prophecy, i.e., to return to this earth again. “Behold, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord” (Mal. 4:5). The fulfillment of that prophecy, however, will be explained in the last installment of this series on Elijah in the next issue of Israel My Glory.