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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

2 Kings 2

Verses 1-14

The transfer of prophetic power 2:1-14

The Gilgal in view may have been the one between Jericho and the Jordan, or it may have been one about seven miles north of Bethel since Elijah and Elisha went down to Bethel (2 Kings 2:2). [Note: Wiseman, p. 195.] This account presupposes previous revelation, not in Scripture, that this day was to be Elijah’s last on earth (2 Kings 2:3). By granting Elisha permission to remain behind (2 Kings 2:2, et al.), Elijah was testing Elisha’s commitment to himself and to his calling as Elijah’s successor (cf. Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 22:31-62; John 21:15-25). Elisha’s refusal to speak of Elijah’s departure (2 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 2:5) probably reflects Elisha’s sorrow at the prospect of losing his friend and mentor. It was not uncommon for prophets to give a valuable parting blessing (cf. Genesis 49; Deuteronomy 33), and Elisha did not want to miss that. A prophet’s mantle (cloak) was the symbol of Elijah’s authority as God’s spokesman (cf. 1 Kings 19:19). As Moses had parted the Red Sea with his rod, so Elijah parted the Jordan River with his mantle (2 Kings 2:8; cf. Exodus 14:21-22). Israel’s God was as able as ever to lead His people out of bondage and into promised blessing.

The double portion that Elisha requested was the privilege of God’s richest blessing on his life that customarily went to the first-born son in the ancient Near East (cf. 1 Kings 3:3-9). It would be a hard thing for Elijah to guarantee this double portion since blessing with His Spirit was God’s prerogative (2 Kings 2:10). Evidently Elijah intended to reward Elisha’s continued faithful commitment to him with this blessing, but if Elisha turned back from following him he would not get it (2 Kings 2:10). The eldest son, whose role Elisha filled, was responsible to carry on his father’s name and work.

"The visible vehicle of his removal would be a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:1) that manifest [sic] itself to onlookers as a fiery chariot (2 Kings 2:11)." [Note: Merrill, "2 Kings," p. 272.]

The chariot and horses of fire symbolized God’s powerful heavenly army (cf. 2 Kings 6:17). This display of the instruments of spiritual warfare separated the two prophets and apparently could have frightened Elisha into running away and losing his desired blessing (2 Kings 2:11). The chariot and horses of fire had polemic value since the Canaanites called Baal "the rider of clouds." [Note: Battenfield, p. 27; et al.] A polemic is a presentation of evidence designed to discredit someone or something. The whirlwind (shekinah?) took Elijah miraculously into heaven, not the fiery horses and chariot (2 Kings 2:11). Elijah had thought he was indispensable to God at one time (1 Kings 19:10; 1 Kings 19:14), but God had told him that He would remove him and work through others (1 Kings 19:11-18). Elijah’s translation to heaven was a blessing for him since he entered heaven without dying.

"The contrast between the deaths of Elijah and his enemies could hardly be any more stark. Elijah, the faithful servant of God, ascends to heaven. Ahab and Jezebel, the sworn enemies of Yahwism and the prophets, die at the hands of their foes." [Note: Paul R. House, 1, 2 Kings, p. 210.]

Elijah had been Elisha’s spiritual father and mentor (2 Kings 2:12). Elisha mourned the departure of one of Israel’s great spiritual warriors (2 Kings 2:12). By referring to Elijah as "the chariots of Israel and its horsemen" (2 Kings 2:12; cf. 2 Kings 13:14), Elisha probably meant that Elijah’s prophetic powers and spiritual depth were the nation’s true strength. [Note: M. A. Beek, "The Meaning of the Expression ’The Chariots and the Horsemen of Israel’ (II Kings ii 12)," Oudtestamentische Studiën 17 (1972):1-10. See also Jack R. Lundbom, "Elijah’s Chariot Ride," Journal of Jewish Studies 24:1 (Spring 1973):47-48.] He was a one-man army. The chariot was the mightiest weapon then known, and it was symbolic of God’s supreme power. [Note: Harold Stigers, "First and Second Kings," in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 342. Stigers wrote the commentary on 2 Kings in this volume.] By asking, "Where is Elijah’s God?" (2 Kings 2:14), Elisha was calling out to Yahweh to demonstrate His power through him as He had done through Elijah.

"In their persons they symbolized two aspects of the divine power toward the people: Elijah was the divine judicial power opposing a rebellious people and containing wholesale violence; Elisha was the dispensing of divine blessing when people repented." [Note: Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology, pp. 185-86.]

Miracles Involving Elisha
MiracleReferenceElements
Jordan River parted2 Kings 2:8Water
Jericho spring water purified2 Kings 2:21Water
Youths cursed2 Kings 2:24Animals
Water provided2 Kings 2:20Water
Widow’s oil multiplied2 Kings 4:6Oil
Shunammite’s dead son raised to life2 Kings 4:35Life
Poisonous stew purified2 Kings 4:41Flour
Prophets’ food multiplied2 Kings 4:44Bread and grain
Naaman healed of leprosy2 Kings 5:14Water
Gehazi’s leprosy inflicted2 Kings 5:27Disease
Ax head floated2 Kings 6:6Water
Horses and chariots surrounded Dothan2 Kings 6:17Fire
Aramean soldiers blinded2 Kings 6:18Sight
Aramean army scattered2 Kings 7:6-7Sound
Hazael’s future predicted2 Kings 8:13Future

Verses 1-15

4. Jehoram’s evil reign in Israel 2:1-8:15

Jehoram reigned 12 years in Israel (852-841 B.C.). His reign overlapped with Jehoshaphat and Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram’s coregency (853-848 B.C.) as well as Jehoram of Judah’s sole reign (848-841 B.C.). During these 12 years Elisha, whose name means "my God is salvation," was very active in Israel. In keeping with his theological purpose, the writer of Kings again emphasized incidents of spiritual significance that took place at this time (cf. 1 Kings 17-19, the Elijah narrative). [Note: See Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Priests, p. 352, for the chronological sequence of events in the Elisha narrative (2:1-8:15) and their dates.]

"Testimony against evil, and consequent suffering, mark the history of Elijah. Power, and grace in using it for others, mark that of Elisha. Both are seen in the Lord Jesus Christ, whose shadows, of course, they were. In one aspect of His history on earth, we see the suffering, driven, persecuted Witness; the world hating Him, because He testified that its works were evil; in another we see the powerful, gracious, ready friend of others, all that had sorrows or necessities getting healing and blessing from Him." [Note: J. G. B., Short Meditations on Elisha, p. 6.]

Verses 15-25

The evidence of Elisha’s succession 2:15-25

Had Elijah still been alive on the earth, Elisha could not have exercised authority as his successor. In this chapter there are parallels between the succession of the prophets and the succession of the kings that the writer recorded elsewhere in Kings. Elisha gave the skeptics opportunity to verify Elijah’s departure (cf. 1 Kings 18:12). After all, Elijah had been known to disappear and reappear suddenly (cf. 1 Kings 18:12). The same Spirit that had empowered Elijah now rested on Elisha (2 Kings 2:15).

The miracle that attested God’s messenger and his message evidently took place at Jericho (2 Kings 2:15). The physical condition in the town was symbolic of the spiritual condition of the nation (2 Kings 2:19). One writer suggested that the Jericho spring had become contaminated by radioactive matter as a result of Joshua’s curse (Joshua 6:26). [Note: Ian M. Blake, "Jericho (Ain es-Sultan): Joshua’s Curse and Elisha’s Miracle-One Possible Explanation," Palestine Exploration Quarterly 99 (1967):86-97.] Refreshment and fertility had suffered as a result of apostasy. Elisha was a new vessel in God’s hand similar to the new jar he requested (2 Kings 2:20). Salt seemed like the worst thing to add to brackish water to make it pure, just as return to Yahweh must have appeared to be a backward step to many idolatrous Israelites. Nevertheless, since salt is what God ordered, it was effective. The use of salt may have symbolized a break with the past, since this is what rubbing certain sacrifices with salt to sanctify them indicated (Leviticus 2:13; Numbers 18:19; Ezekiel 43:24). [Note: John Gray, I & II Kings, p. 427.] Yahweh, not Baal, could restore blessing and fertility to His people. This miracle was another polemic against Baal worship (cf. 1 Kings 18; et al.). Baal’s worshippers credited him with ruling over the waters on and beneath the earth, including underground springs and fountains. [Note: Battenfield, p. 27.] 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.

Bethel was a center of idolatry in Israel; it was one of the golden calf sites (2 Kings 2:23). Evidently Elisha’s approach triggered a mass demonstration against him by many young men. The Hebrew word na’ar translated "lads" in 2 Kings 2:23 describes young men, not boys, in many other places in the Old Testament. Some of the individuals this Hebrew word describes were Gehazi, Elisha’s servant (2 Kings 4:12), an unnamed young man (2 Kings 4:19), and the Shunammite’s servant (2 Kings 4:24). "Baldhead" was and is a term of disrespect. The idolaters challenged Elisha to "go up" to heaven as Elijah had done if Elisha could. [Note: Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Hard Sayings of the Old Testament, p. 124.] These youths were typical of a nation that "mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at his prophets" (2 Chronicles 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 (2 Kings 2:24; cf. 2 Peter 3:3-7). As before, God used wild animals to judge the rebels (cf. 1 Kings 13:24). Wild bears were common in ancient Israel. [Note: James A. Montgomery, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Books of Kings, p. 366.] These early miracles identified Elisha as God’s spokesman who possessed Yahweh’s power to bless or to curse. [Note: For some other interpretations of this incident, see David Fass, "Elisha’s Locks and the She-Bears," Journal of Reform Judaism 34:3 (1987):23-29.]

These two miracles set the tone of Elisha’s whole ministry. He would be a source of blessing to the needy, but he would be a source of judgment to those who did not respect Yahweh.

"Though having the same objectives in view as Elijah, Elisha’s manner in reaching them was somewhat different. In keeping with this contrasting background [i.e., wealthy rather than poorer], he was more at home in cities and was often in the company of kings. Also whereas Elijah had been more a man of moods, either strongly courageous or despairing to the point of death, Elisha was self-controlled and even-tempered. Elisha never staged dramatic contests nor sulked in a desert. It may be, too, that Elisha was more interested in the needs of people, for many of his miracles were for the purpose of aiding and giving relief to persons in difficulty." [Note: Leon J. Wood, The Prophets of Israel, p. 246.]

"In their persons they symbolized two aspects of the divine power toward the people: Elijah was the divine judicial power opposing a rebellious people and containing wholesale violence; Elisha was the dispensing of divine blessing when people repented." [Note: Kaiser, Toward an . . ., pp. 185-86.]

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Kings 2". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/2-kings-2.html. 2012.