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Bible Commentaries
2 Kings 2

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



This chapter and through 2 Kings 10 compose what is often referred to as the Elisha Cycle. It does not occur in its proper chronological sequence, as most scholars affirm, based upon the fact that 2 Chronicles 21:12 mentions “a writing” of Elijah which came to Jehoram the king of Judah in the fifth year of his reign. It is significant that the Hebrew word for “letter” does not appear in that passage.(F1) “Such a writing might very well have been written by Elijah and handed to Elisha to be delivered to Joram at the proper time.”(F2) Furthermore, “the fifth year of Jehoram” might very well have referred to the fifth year of his co-regency with his father. Conclusions based upon 2 Chronicles 21:12 that Elijah was still on earth at that time must, at best, be considered very precarious. If he was still living then and wrote a personal letter to Jehoram, then of course, the narrative of his ascension in this chapter is out of chronological sequence. Later in Kings, we learn that Elisha anointed Jehu in the place of Elijah who had originally been instructed to do so, but who apparently assigned the task to Elisha. It is quite in keeping with what happened in that event that Elijah wrote a certain “writing” for Elisha to deliver to Jehoram at a later time.

The strong presence of the supernatural in the events recorded in this chapter has resulted in the declaration by a certain class of critics that these narratives are “pure imagination,”(F3) but such views are merely the opinions of servants of Satan who are actually unable to find anything supernatural in the entire Bible, not even the creation itself. The Christian faith is anchored in the supernatural; and apart from the supernatural aspect of it, it is totally worthless.

Verses 1-3


“And it came to pass when Jehovah would take up Elijah by a whirlwind into heaven, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. And Elijah said unto Elisha, Tarry here, I pray thee; for Jehovah hath sent me as far as Bethel. And Elisha said, As Jehovah liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they went down to Bethel. And the sons of the prophets that were at Bethel came forth to Elisha, and said unto him, Knowest thou that Jehovah will take away thy master from thy head today? And he said, Yea, I know it; hold ye your peace.”

“Jehovah would take up Elijah by a whirlwind into heaven” We hold these words to be the inspired affirmation of the sacred author of Kings that Elijah never died, but that he was translated into heaven by the direct action of God, in like manner to that which was done to Enoch. Therefore, the assertion that, “The text does not say that Elijah never died,” is incorrect.

“Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal” This was a Gilgal in the country of Ephraim, not far from Bethel, “about fifteen miles north of Lydda, the modern Jiljilyeh.”(F4) “This place is mentioned in Amos 4:4 and in Hosea 4:15, along with Bethel, as a seat of false worship.”(F5)

“Tarry here, I pray thee” We do not know why Elijah evidently wished to face the event of leaving the earth without any witnesses.

“The sons of the prophets… at Bethel” The word `sons’ here has the meaning of, “Followers and students attending the schools of the prophets.”(F6) There are no less than nine different meanings in the Biblical usages of the word `son.’ “We know of such `sons of the prophets’ in both Bethel and Jericho, there being at least fifty of them.”(F7)

Verses 4-6


“And Elijah said unto him, Elisha, tarry here, I pray thee; for Jehovah hath sent me to Jericho. And he said, Behold, as Jehovah liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they came to Jericho. And the sons of the prophets that were at Jericho came near to him, and said unto him, Knowest thou that Jehovah will take away thy master from thy head today? And he answered, Yea, I know it; hold your peace. And Elijah said unto him, Tarry here, I pray thee, for Jehovah hath sent me to the Jordan. And he said, As Jehovah liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And they two went on.”

From this paragraph, it is clear that God had made separate revelations both to Elisha and to the sons of the prophets concerning the marvelous event of the translation of Elijah; and they all knew that it was expected to occur that very day. Elisha was determined to be present with Elijah when it happened, and that accounts for the repeated conversations of these verses.

“Jehovah hath sent me to Jericho” “Jericho had recently been rebuilt by Hiel (1 Kings 16:34) in defiance of Joshua’s curse… This is the first mention of a prophetic community there.”(F8)

Verses 7-11


“And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood over against them afar off; and they two stood by the Jordan. And 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. And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said to Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee before I am taken from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. And he said, 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. And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, which 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 chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof.”

“And Elijah took his mantle… and smote the waters” There is a great deal of symbolism in the events revealed here. The Jordan River, in all ages, has been a symbol of death, and it was fitting indeed that Elijah should pass over the Jordan just prior to his translation. Elisha also crossed over, but he returned. Elijah never returned. The Septuagint (LXX) refers to “his mantle” here as “his sheepskin.” This type of hairy clothing was worn by prophets of those ages. Great authority and respect were granted to wearers of the prophetic mantle, and Adam Clarke noted that, even in modern times, the royal robes of kings and rulers, “Were adorned with the skins of the animal called the ermine.”(F9)

“Let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me” This did not mean that Elisha had dreams of eclipsing Elijah in the miracles, etc. which he would perform. The very words of this request are taken from Deuteronomy 21:17, where they refer to the double portion of a man’s inheritance which was always bequeathed to his heir, or to the firstborn. “Elisha was asking to be recognized as the `heir’ of Elijah in relation to the other prophets of that day.”(F10)

“Thou hast asked a hard thing” This was hard, because it was a gift that Elijah could not confer. Only God could do such a thing, but the Lord revealed to Elijah that it would indeed be granted, provided that Elisha was present and viewed the translation itself.

“My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof.” This does not appear to be Elisha’s description of the chariots and horsemen of fire, but an evaluation by Elisha of the importance of Elijah in the spiritual history of Israel. “The Chaldee translates these words thus, `My master, my master! Thy intercession was of more use to Israel than horses and chariots.’ This is probably the sense of the passage.”(F11) Significantly, these same words were uttered upon the occasion of the death of Elisha (2 Kings 13:14).

Verses 12-14


“And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces. He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of the Jordan. And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is Jehovah, the God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they were divided hither and thither; and Elisha went over.”

“He took hold of his own clothes and rent them” This, of course, was an evidence of the grief of Elisha in the loss of the companionship of Elijah.

“He took up the mantle of Elijah” “This means that the responsibilities and authority were transferred from one to the other.”(F12)

“The Vulgate version renders this place in such a manner as to indicate that Elisha struck the Jordan twice, one in vain, and a second time successfully; but none of the other versions accept this.”(F13)

Elisha’s smiting the waters of Jordan with Elijah’s mantle enabled him to return on dry ground, just as he and Elijah had crossed over eastward. Elijah’s thus dividing the waters of Jordan was interpreted by Martin, “As his `undoing’ the victorious crossing of Israel under Joshua some four centuries earlier.”(F14) There is surely a strong possibility of this being a true understanding of what happened; because Israel’s apostasy and their wholesale degeneration into the same wicked perversions of the prior Canaanites who had inhabited the land before them most positively did indicate a reversal of God’s purpose in dealing with the Northern kingdom.

“Where is Jehovah, the God of Elijah” “This question suggests that Elisha was not sure of the result at this time.”(F15) However, Elisha never again doubted that the power and spirit of Elijah indeed rested upon him.

Verses 15-18


“And when the sons of the prophets that were at Jericho over against him 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. And they said unto him, Behold now, there are with thy servants fifty strong men; let them go, we pray thee, and seek thy master, lest the spirit of Jehovah hath taken him up, and cast him upon some mountain, or into some valley. And he said, Ye shall not send. And when they urged him till he was ashamed, he said, Send. They sent therefore fifty men; and they sought three days, but found him not. And they came back to him while he tarried at Jericho; and he said unto them, Did I not say unto you, Go not?”

Keil pointed out that there were two purposes in the miracle of Elisha’s smiting the Jordan with Elijah’s mantle: (1) It confirmed in the mind of Elisha that God had granted his prayer for a double portion of the spirit of Elijah, and (2) it established Elisha as the legitimate successor to Elijah and the Divinely-appointed leader of the prophets. He then added that, “The two following miracles recorded in this chapter were also intended to accredit Elisha in the eyes of the people as a man endowed with the Spirit and power of God, as Elijah had been.”(F16)

“Till he was ashamed” “The New English Bible renders this `had not the heart to refuse.’“ “Elijah’s work was done; it was a fierce work of judgment that became symbolic (Malachi 4:5-6), even idealized (John 1:21) and seen again at the end of the Jewish era in the person of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-10). After the work of Moses and Elijah, God had nothing whatever fundamentally new to say to his rebellious people, - UNTIL the coming of that Holy ONE whom Moses and Elijah would meet upon the mount of transfiguration”!(F17)

Verses 19-22


“And the men of the city said to Elisha, Behold, we pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth: but the water is bad, and the land miscarrieth. And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him. And he went forth to the spring of the waters, and cast salt therein, and said, Thus saith Jehovah, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or miscarrying. So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the word of Elisha which he spake.”

“The water is bad” The spring which produced those waters was identified in later times with, “The spring of Ain es-Sultan, just above the present day city of Jericho.”(F18)

“The land miscarrieth” This is a little misleading, because it might appear to mean that the land was unfruitful; “But the Hebrew verb here for `casting of fruit’ (which is the Hebrew) is used only of human infertility and the destruction of babes.”(F19)

Stigers informs us that even today all of the springs that supply the city of Jericho with water are brackish, “But the principal spring is sweet and pure.”(F20)

Verses 23-25


“And he went up from thence unto Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, there came forth young lads out of the city, and mocked him, and said; Go up, thou baldhead; go up, thou baldhead. And he looked behind him and saw them, and cursed them in the name of Jehovah. And there came forth two she-bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two of them. And he went from thence to mount Carmel, and from thence he returned to Samaria.”

“There came forth young lads out of the city” The RSV renders this place `small boys’; however, this is an erroneous rendition. To begin with, small boys do not roam the forest in gangs of forty or more. What we have here is the ancient equivalent of those terrible motorcycle gangs that terrorized the country during the 1960’s. The New International Version renders the key words as “some youths,” which is far better than the common versions. The gang that mocked Elisha might have been teenagers, a vicious group of the same character as those whose murderous and undisciplined behavior is presently being reported in the daily newspapers. The notion that any innocence whatever pertained to such a group is ridiculous.

Adam Clarke discussed this passage at length, pointing out that, “The Hebrew words here may also be translated `young men,’ and they are so rendered frequently in the Bible. The word means not only a child, a servant, but even a soldier. Isaac was so-called at age 28; at age 39 Joseph was described by the same word; and Ahab’s bodyguard (the militia) received the same designation in 1 Kings 20:14.”(F21)

Hammond also agreed that such a rendition here as “little boys,” “small boys,” or “little children,” “Is an unfortunate translation, raising quite a wrong idea of the tender age of the persons spoken of.”(F22)

Therefore, we reject as totally irresponsible the snide comment that, “This story will not stand examination from any moral point of view.”(F23) Such opinions come from an utterly false view of God. The current fad of understanding God as a kind of fuddy-duddy Old Man who would not hurt anybody is derived from gross ignorance. The Great Deluge and the destruction of the inhabitants of Canaan upon the entry of Israel are dramatic demonstrations of God’s utter abhorrence of sin and the cosmic necessity of its punishment even to the extent of destroying many who are relatively innocent.

However, in the case of this episode, the attribution of innocence to these youthful mockers of Elisha is a gratuitous insult to the true teachings of the Bible.

It should be particularly noted that Elisha did not destroy that gang of insulters. Their fatal punishment came not from Elisha but from God. It is distressing indeed that some scholars imagine their alleged morality to be superior to that of God Himself. Honeycutt wrote that, “Few interpreters would defend the morality of such a narrative.”(F24) One wonders how a Christian writer can thus pass judgment upon an act of God! The original temptation was founded upon the false premise that, “Ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil.” Satan still deceives people with the same temptation.

“Go up, thou baldhead” The gang of young adults who spoke these words were not irresponsible babes, but young men. “They were morally responsible. Both Solomon and Jeremiah were identified by the same terminology (1 Kings 3:7; Jeremiah 1:6-7). This insult echoed the words of the sons of the prophets (2 Kings 2:3-5); baldness was the mark of a leper.”(F25) What these young ruffians meant was that, in their view Elisha was an outcast. They also meant, “Ascend, that we may be rid of thee and that we may continue unreproved by thee in our wicked ways.”(F26)

“He… cursed them in the name of the Lord” This Elisha did in obedience to Deuteronomy 27:14-26, which passage “required God’s ministers to curse the disobedient.”(F27) So, where is any blame upon Elisha? He did not summon the she-bears; God did that. As to the operation of natural laws in the execution of such Divine judgment, Adam Clarke mentioned an ancient opinion to the effect that these wicked young men had been engaged in hunting and killing bear-cubs, and that when they interrupted their hunt to make fun of Elisha, the bears, robbed of their whelps, had time to track them down and destroy them. Both the size of this gang and the question of what they were doing in the forest in such numbers are strong denials of any thought that these wicked despisers of God and his prophet were anything other than an extremely wicked youth gang. Their destruction was a righteous and moral act of God’s judgment upon the wicked.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Kings 2". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-kings-2.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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