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THE TRANSLATION OF ELIJAH TO HEAVEN
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
2 Kings 2:1. Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal—Not the Gilgal in Judah, but the Gilgal (now Jilgil) in Ephraim, near Ebal and Gerizim (Deuteronomy 11:30). Both Amos (2 Kings 4:4) and Hosea (2 Kings 4:15) mention it as, together with Bethel, being the chief seat of the calf-worship. Here was one of the schools of the prophets, and from these young men Elisha followed Elijah, as being divinely impelled to become the great prophet’s successor.
2 Kings 2:2. Tarry here, I pray thee—Elijah thought none beside himself knew of his near translation; but Elisha knew it (2 Kings 2:3)—“Yea, I know it;” lit., I also know; and “the sons of the prophets,” both at Bethel (2 Kings 2:3) and Jericho (2 Kings 2:5) knew it. The Lord hath sent me to Bethel—Obeying the Spirit’s impulse, Elijah paid a farewell visit to each of these schools.
2 Kings 2:3. Sons of the prophets—The בְּנֵי־הַנְבִיאים were the scholars, and not necessarily natural sons, of the prophets. Take thy master from thy head—Scholars sat at their master’s feet (Acts 22:3); but the expression here has a more specific meaning than that custom suffices to explain, the phrase literally rendered being “from over thy head;” and Keil, Bunsen, Thenius, and Böttcher accept it as intimating his removal by ascension, as βναλαμβάνειν in Acts 1:10. Hold ye your peace—This is not a surly retort, nor merely an appeal that they would not spread the tidings, which might arouse public excitement and gather a concourse; but a request that they would preserve their minds calm, and neither afflict themselves nor him by sad thoughts of Elijah’s near departure.
2 Kings 2:7. Stood to view afar off—Watching in wonderment and anxiety their arrival at the river Jordan, over which there was no arrangement for these two to cross, and possibly anticipating for them some supernatural accommodation or sign. What occurred would necessarily remind them of Moses act (Exodus 14:16). The “rod” of Moses by which he smote the waters was the symbol of his commission as leader of the pilgrim hosts; the “mantle” of Elijah was the symbol of his prophetic office. And the parting of the waters was in each instance a Divine authentication of his office.
2 Kings 2:9. A double portion of thy spirit—The “two parts”—פִּי שְׁנַיִם—was the legal share in his father’s possessions appointed to the firstborn (Deuteronomy 21:17). Elisha requests—פִּי שְׁנַיִם בְּרוּחֲךָ—“a double portion in thy spirit.” Some expositors have sought to show that Elisha asked and received larger prophetic endowments than Elijah possessed; but this is a false interpretation of the words. Keil wisely says:—“He that is departing cannot bequeath to his heir more than he himself has.” Elisha only asks that he may inherit Elijah’s office, not merely as one of the prophets, but as a worthy successor to Elijah in foremost and powerful service for Jehovah.
2 Kings 2:10. Asked a hard thing—An extraordinary blessing and honour which is not mine to give, but God’s (comp. Christ’s answer to the sons of Zebedee, Matthew 20:23); yet if Elisha was divinely allowed to see Elijah’s departure—a favour denied to all other “sons of the prophets”—it would doubtless indicate his election to succeed his master to eminent prophetic dignity.
2 Kings 2:11. Chariots of fire and horses of fire—Oriental imagery (comp. Psalms 68:17; Isaiah 66:15; Habakkuk 3:8) suggestive of an angelic train: “His ministers a flame of fire” (Psalms 104:4); comp. also 2 Kings 6:14-12.6.17. Observe that the words “there appeared” are not in the text. Possibly a supernatural storm-cloud, illumined with lightning, rushed between them. Elijah went up by a whirlwind—Not in literal “chariots,” &c., at all, but simply in a whirlwind, בְּסַעָרָה, which confirms the idea of a storm-cloud.
2 Kings 2:12. My father, my father—Thus doubly asserting his sonship, and claiming his double portion. Own clothes and rent them—Expressive of extre me grief over his loss; perhaps, also, a sign of abandoning his own past humble lot, and taking up the mantle of a new and higher career.
2 Kings 2:14. Where is the Lord God of Elijah? and when, &c.—In the Hebrew text, following the word Elijah, come the words אף הוא which have been by some expositors changed into various forms, but unsatisfactorily; their natural meaning is, “even he,” and should be added to the question, Where is Jehovah, God of Elijah, even He?—
HOMILETICS OF 2 Kings 2:1-12.2.15
THE three great dispensations of religion has each its illustration of a glorious ascension into heaven. The translation of Enoch occurred in the patriarchal age. The scene on Olivet represents the ascension or translation of the Christian era. And the remarkable translation of Elijah recorded in this paragraph very appropriately belongs to the prophetic age. Regarding this event we remark—
I. It was at a time that harmonized with the Divine purpose. “And it came to pass when the Lord would take up Elijah” (2 Kings 2:1). The work of the great prophet was done—a work never agreeable to ordinary men—a work of stern reproof, of faithful warning, of fiery vengeance. The time of his departure was also revealed to Elijah. But mark the modesty of true greatness. He does not assemble Israel; he does not summon Jehoram and his court, nor his great opponent Jezebel, before whom he had once fled, to witness his triumphant ascent to glory. He would fain be alone; his love of solitude remains to the last, and he would like to leave the world as suddenly and unobtrusively as it had been originally entered. But he could not shake off the devotion of Elisha; nor could he hide his approaching departure from the sons of the prophets whom he had been for years preparing for their work. God chose the time; and it was not until due arrangements had been made to carry on and perfect the work which Elijah had for a time carried on almost alone. God knows the best time to send and take away His instruments. Men depart; but the work of God proceeds.
II. It was in a manner that harmonized with the spirit and character of his great life-work (2 Kings 2:11). The prophet whose life has been like a flame, bursting out now and then into an irresistible conflagration, very appropriately terminates his career in a blaze of heavenly light. “Suddenly over the valley, as in Ezekiel’s vision, there breaks an unwonted sight. There seems a burning equipage, speeding down from heaven, swift as the lightning, and more vivid than any flash. There seems a chariot of fire, with wheels of flame, and horses of fire snorting flame from mouth and nostril. There seem reins of fire and riders of fire, and wings of fire from fiery hosts on every hand. The aged prophet bows his head, conscious that his hour has come; and there, as the tempest weaves itself around him, we see him placed in the centre of the car of flame, and in the sight of the astounded Elisha and the fifty students on the heights of Jericho, Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” If our life has been in harmony with the will of God, we may safely leave the character of its close to Him.
III. It was a type of the triumph of the good over the power of death. Death is robbed of its sting and shorn of its terror to the lovers of Elijah’s God; it is but a change from a good to a better state of existence; it is not to be feared, but to be welcomed; it is the gateway into a more glorious life. The change which must have taken place in the body of Elijah was only more rapid and less evident than what must take place in ours. Death is the hour not of defeat, but of triumph.
Death is the crown of life’
Death wounds to cure; we fall, we rise, we reign;
Spring from our fetters; fasten in the skies,
Where blooming Eden withers in our sight.
Death gives us more than was in Eden lost.
IV. It intensified the power of the prophet’s influence. A man like Elijah could never be forgotten; but the miraculous and mysterious character of his exit tends to keep alive more vividly his reputation and memory. He was grievously missed, and his absence sincerely mourned (2 Kings 2:12); but he lived on in the spirit and power of Elisha; and he lives to-day in the spirit of every bold and faithful champion of the truth. “Where is the court of Samaria now? Passed away and perished like the smoke of its own idolatry. It is Elijah alone who lives in deathless and fadeless renown. We pass by Herod, and remember John the Baptist. We pass by Felix, and remember the apostle Paul. We pass by Charles V., and remember Martin Luther. We pass by Ahab and Jezebel, and remember only ELIJAH.”
1. Extraordinary times call forth extraordinary men.
2. The greatest men are made so by special Divine endowments.
3. The good influence of a great spirit is immortal.
THE PARTING OF ELIJAH AND ELISHA
ALL partings bring with them a measure of sadness. Life is short, and so the same parting can, at most, be only repeated a certain number of times; life is uncertain, and so each parting carries with it the possibility that it may be the last one. And if this is so with regard to the everyday partings of life—to the good-bye said to the child as he leaves the hall for school, or the cottage for service, to the farewell kiss to a daughter on her wedding morning, or to a dear son about to go abroad for some indefinite period, how is it with us when the parting is known on both sides to be (for this world) a final one? How is it with us when a father about to commend his spirit to the hands that gave it, calls his children about him to receive his latest blessing? When some loving and beloved wife commits the little dear ones that she is forced to leave behind her to the care of her agonized husband? When some bishop like Ambrose, some pastor like Bede, is solemnly resigning to the Great Shepherd the flock over which he has long and faithfully watched? Let those answer who have passed through one such scene. These are the partings which none can witness and remain unmoved; which no man can partake in, and continue altogether the same man that he was before.
I. Now it is such a parting that this chapter sets before us. The elder of those two men who are going down together to Jordan has been all in all to the younger for many years. From the time when Elijah silently cast his mantle on Elisha, from the day when Elisha “kissed his father and his mother,” and left his home to follow the stern prophet of the deserts—he has watched, he has listened, he has reverenced, and now he is watching, he is listening to him for the last time. And not on Elisha only, though on him most heavily, falls the awe of the coming parting. There are many young men, sons of the prophets, in training for the ministry of the Word, to whom it has been revealed that Elijah has now paid them his latest visit—has taught, warned, and advised them for the last time. Knowest thou not that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head to-day? were words addressed to Elisha at each school of the prophets—whether that of Gilgal, of Bethel, or of Jericho, to which he had accompanied Elijah on this his last visitation. And, from the last-named and nearest of these three places, fifty young men had followed the prophet and his friend, till, left behind at their miraculous passage of the Jordan, they stood on its farther bank only able to send wistful glances after them, in spite of their earnest longing to catch at least a glimpse of the glory of Elijah’s departure. These, in their measure, doubtless felt the pain of parting, and kept treasuring in their hearts the words addressed to them by their great teacher. But, if such the sorrow, such the love of Elijah’s scholars, what must have been the love, and what the sorrow, of his chosen companion and most intimate friend? We see something of them in Elisha’s firm resolve to stay with his master till all was over. We hear something of them in his reply, which he cannot vary, let it sound, if it will, like a refusal of his loved teacher’s last request. Thrice Elijah says to him, “Tarry here, I pray thee, for the Lord hath sent me unto Bethel, or to Jericho, or to Jordan;” thrice Elisha answers, with a firmness that admits of no rejoinder, “As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee.” The apparent disobedience is forgiven, nay, approved of; for it springs from the fountain of deep, long-tried holy affection. It turns Elijah’s mind from the thought of the glorious future, from the backward glance on the eventful past, to think how it is to fare with his dear Elisha in this wicked world in which he must leave him for awhile.
II. We can picture the prophet to ourselves walking on absorbed in solemn memories and in joyful expectation. Fearful dangers, wonderful deliverances, fight after fight with crowned and sceptred wickedness. Ahab rebuked, Jezebel denounced, Kishon reddened with the blood of Baal’s prophets, perils in the city, hidings in the wilderness—all these things lie behind him now. He is going to meet that God that sent the ravens to feed him by the lonely brook, and His angel to refresh him under the juniper tree of the desert; the God who granted his fervent prayer on Carmel, whose still small voice spoke to him at the entrance of the cave Horeb. And yet neither crowding recollections, nor eager thoughts of the coming glory and gladness, make him unmindful of his friend at his side. He turns to him with the words, “Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee,” and receives in answer the wise petition for a first-born’s portion of his spirit. The prophet’s last occupation on earth is to prefer this request, and to obtain an answer to it favourable—yet suspended on a condition which he thus reports to Elisha: “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.” Now to see this great sight must, in any case, have been the young man’s strongest wish. With so much depending upon it, how earnestly must he have prayed for strength to behold it! His prayer was granted; when the chariot of fire and horses of fire came down, and the angels of God carried Elijah with a whirlwind’s speed up towards heaven, Elisha was enabled to gaze steadfastly at the awful light that wrapped his master’s form: hidden in which it retreated from his view. Then, like a last message, Elijah’s mantle comes floating down to his feet. Elisha lifts it up, and knows by this token that he has been appointed the successor to the great prophet. He has just rent his own clothes with the plaintive cry of a bereaved heart, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof;” but now something tells him that the God who commissioned and upheld Elijah is giving a like charge to him, and will assuredly, therefore, not fail to give him a like support. He hushes the voice of lamentation, and with the mantle in his hand he goes back to Jordan. An hour before, Elijah had with that same mantle smitten the waters of the river, and they had parted, “so that they two went over on dry ground.” Now it is Elisha who stands alone by the river’s brink, crying, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” as he smites the waters as his master has done. And he finds Him close at hand. The waters part for Elisha, as they parted for Elijah. The young prophets, owning that the spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha, hasten to do him homage. And from that day begins Elisha’s long and noble career of wise and loving teaching, confirmed by sign and by wonder.
III. How often, since then, have two gone down to Jordan, and one returned alone, but filled with the spirit and power of the other! An Augustine receives a Monica’s last words, and the holy mother seems to live on in her holy son. A Timothy stands by a St. Paul in his condemned cell at Rome, and returns to Ephesus to earn from his Lord the praise—“For my name’s sake thou hast laboured, and hast not fainted!” A Polycarp listens to the aged St. John’s short sermon on love, and goes forth to “be faithful unto death.” How often to a mind overwhelmed—not more by a sense of personal bereavement than by that of an irreparable loss to the Church at large—has come the intimation: “You are to fill this vacant place: it may be with weaker powers, yet to the best of your ability you are to stand where that standard-bearer stood before!” And with the call there comes the strength to obey it. Elijah’s mantle, though grasped by a feeble hand, can smite the waters asunder still, if its holder only call faithfully on his master’s God.
IV. But no Christian can stop short at this reflection, without going on to another: can look at one of the plainest foreshadowings of Christ in the Old Testament, and not have the apostles’ feelings, as they witnessed their Lord’s ascension, vividly brought before him. For, as it was with Elisha beside the Jordan, so (only in more abundant measure) must it have been with them on Olivet. Each of them had been called to follow Him, as Elisha had been by Elijah: one of them, as Elisha did, had shown his joy at the summons by a feast. To each of them, doubtless, it would have been a grief of griefs not to have been allowed to follow Christ in His last walk on earth, past the Gethsemane of His agony to the mount of His ascension. But we do not find that their great Master tried their affections, as Elisha’s did his, by a request to remain behind. On His way to resume that glory which was His from eternity, our Lord’s mind could not be filled with the awe caused by the comin new and strange thing, which made even the undaunted Elijah shrink from all human observation. Nor could the Son of God doubt, as Elijah did, His own power to bestow the firstborn’s portion—the fulness of His Holy Spirit—on each of His beloved apostles. His word to them was not “Ye have asked a hard thing,” but “Behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you.” So when, not by “chariots of fire and horses of fire,” but by the might of His own Divine nature, Christ, with His hands yet raised to bless, goes up, and is lost to the apostles’ sight amid the clouds of heaven, there is no rending of their garments; no crying, as with an exceeding bitter cry, for a vanished defence, for a suddenly-withdrawn support: they have heard and believed these great words, “I will not leave you comfortless; lo! I am with you always, even unto the end of the world!” And so they worship their ascended Lord, and return with great joy to obey His commands at Jerusalem.
V. And surely this grand story supplies an antidote to the bitterness of every parting. The man who loves Christ, his friend in Christ, his enemy for Christ’s sake, is alone safe and happy. For he alone loses not one dear to him, to whom all are dear in Him, who cannot be lost. And who is this, but Thou, O our God! Thee none loses, but he who leaves Thee. Whoever, then, may be taken from our sight, Christ still remains with us. Only let us keep close to His foot-steps, cling to His Cross; see Him strike the waves with His sacred body, as He, by dying, overcomes death; behold those dark waters parted by His resurrection; see, by faith, His ascended glory, and daily seek and obtain by prayer our own double portion of His Spirit. So, grasping our Master’s mantle, His word and His sacraments, shall we find the waters of sin and sorrow divide before them, or rather before His might who will come with them; till at the last we stand beside the black river of death, yet fear no evil, for Christ is with us still: and that torrent, too, parts asunder, and lets us safe through to the other side.—Day of Rest for 1879.
THE NOBLEST LEGACY OF THE DEPARTED GOOD (2 Kings 2:9)
THE time had come for Elijah to leave the world in which he had been God’s faithful witness. The prophet’s stormy life is to receive appropriate termination in the whirlwind, whose close shall be in the calm of heaven. He is to be distinguished by such honour as have no others of God’s saints. When human greatness sinks and ceases, his shall be most manifest. And while Ahab, at the end of his days, falls from his chariot into the dust, and dies in dishonour, Elijah is caught up behind the flaming coursers, and in more than royal grandeur passes up to heaven. His own personal work upon the earth is over. All that God gave him to do, when he came to the prophet in his despair, and spake to him in the still, small voice, has been accomplished. There is no regret at departure, no desire to remain, no task undone that yet claims his presence. But in the absence of any personal need, he turns to his companion, the successor to his prophetic office. And ere yet the sound of the whirlwind is heard, or the sky is lit by the chariot of fire, he kindly requires of Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee.”
The inquiry suggest to us what we are often slow to recognise: The greatest need, the most solemn position, is not with those who are leaving the world, but with those who remain. Not Elijah, but Elisha, requires strength and help. It was a perception of Elisha’s greater need that prompted the invitation. For himself rest is at hand; the perils of his life are past; his enemies can no longer harm him. But the younger man, who is about to take the prophet’s place in Israel, with all its responsibilities and trials—his was the need. And this is often true where no chariot of fire waits to convey the departing, but where they die as other men. It is hard to die, say some. It may be; but it is a great deal harder to live. And when in peace and hope the good man is sinking down into rest, while our sympathy and affection go out to him, yet our most serious and solemn thought should be for ourselves; for those into whose lives, because of his departure, desolation and sorrow must come, and who have still to face the responsibilities, and duties, and temptations of life. Not the Elijah, for whom heaven’s chariot is waiting, but the Elisha, who has still to walk the world, and before whom lie years of toil and trial, must be chiefly considered. It suggests also that—Our power to bless others is limited by our lives. “Before I be taken away from thee.” Elijah cannot pledge himself to anything after his departure. While he yet lingers upon the earth he may help and bless his successor. We can only bless the world while we are present in it. It is true that many have conferred good and blessing upon others long after themselves had passed from the sight of men. But it is equally true that the good has come out of what they were, and what they did, while yet present with men. We have entered into a rich heritage of blessing from the departed good; we receive manifold benefits from them to-day; but it is not, so far as we know, from any direct relation in which they stand to us now—not from any unseen yet mighty influence they consciously and directly exert over us now—not from any efforts on our behalf made by them now, but simply from their characters and lives, their thoughts and words, before they were taken away from us. Looking mainly at the younger prophet’s request, it seems to present to us—The noblest legacy of the departed good; and, the measure in which we should seek to possess it. “Let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.” This was the wisest request Elisha could have presented. There were other things which he might have desired, and which it would seem natural in him to have requested. He might, for instance, have entreated Elijah to delay his departure, and to remain a little longer on the earth as his leader and friend. Or, failing this, he might have supplicated in passionate devotion that he, too, should accompany his father prophet through the skies. Or, dazzled by the glory of his master’s departure, he might have asked that for himself also a chariot of fire might be dispatched when his work on earth was done. But, passing by all the common instincts and feelings of men, he earnestly beseeches: “Let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.”
What are we to understand by “thy spirit?” Did Elisha refer to any supernatural endowment by which the prophet was of old distinguished, and by which he was fitted for the duties of the prophetic office? He surely could not refer to the Holy Spirit in the sense in which we understand the blessing. We think he must mean that which was the dominating principle of Elijah’s character—the master passion of his soul—his fidelity to God, and zeal for his Name.
I. This spirit of the great and good is their noble legacy—our richest inheritance.
1. The spirit of Elijah was the secret of Elisha’s power. It was this which had made him so mighty in Israel, which had enabled him to achieve the transformation on Carmel, and rendered him stronger in his single self than the hundreds of Baal’s priests and prophets. There was much that was strange and marvellous about him; much in his garb and mien and speech that impressed and overawed men. But his real grandeur was internal, not external; and his power lay not in natural gifts or even supernatural endowment, but in his sublime faithfulness to God—his burning jealousy for God’s honour and name. So has it been with the great and good of past ages, and with those who have been near and next to ourselves. We are prone to place a man’s power in natural gifts and external advantages. But all experience proves that, in the work of the Lord, a simple, earnest, soul-possessing faithfulness is superior to all beside. He who has it, whatever else he may have or have not, is a true Elijah, who shall bring down the sacred fire, not upon a slaughtered bullock, but upon the souls of men.
2. The spirit of the great and good alone can compensate for their departure and loss. Elisha felt that Elijah must go. But as he looked upon the faithful prophet of God, he says, in effect, “If I cannot have thy presence, let me have thy spirit. I can bear the loss of the one, if I gain the other.” So it is with the Church to-day. God is constantly removing his servants, lifting them from our sight into that sphere whither Elijah was taken in his chariot of fire. What is to compensate us for their departure? Not their generous gifts, but their earnest spirit. We can do without them, and still carry on successfully the work of the Lord, only as we catch and manifest their spirit. Their loss to the Church is only made up as their spirit is transmitted, received, and manifested in those who remain.
3. The spirit of the great and good is alone unchanging in its character, and meets the requirements of every age. Elisha’s work in Israel was very different to Elijah’s. A new generation was springing up, and many changes had taken place. The prophet’s person and office were very differently regarded. The method and form of Elijah’s ministry would have been out of place, and a slavish adherence to it would have been hurtful. But the same spirit was as needful as ever, and was still adapted to the altered conditions. This is true of all the ages of the world and of all the ages of Christianity. Vast and sweeping changes transpire: the face of society, the attitude and disposition of the world to the Church, are greatly altered in the course of years. We do not stand where our fathers stood. We are not required to think, to speak, to act, in all matters as they thought, and spake, and acted. But their spirit, their stern uncompromising hatred to evil, their unflinching fidelity to God, is required by us, and alone can fit us to serve our generation as they served theirs.
4. To catch and inherit the spirit of the good and great it to attain the deepest and truest resemblance to them. There were many respects in which the younger prophet could never be like his predecessor. They were two different men, presenting in many points a bold, clear contrast in each other. Some might have said to Elisha: “Go forth among the people in the rough garment they know so well, imitate Elijah’s gestures and movements, speak in his tone and manner, pursue his mode of life and labour, and men will say: ‘Lo, a second Elijah has appeared amongst us.’ ” But Elisha judged more wisely. He sought no outward resemblance such as would make him a feeble counterpart of the other—such as would do violence to his own nature, weaken his own powers, and lessen his usefulness. His cry was: “Let me have Elijah’s spirit, to work through my own powers and according to the modes God shall appoint and teach.” We do not honour, nor do we really resemble, the great and good by any servile imitation of them. We must study their lives, and characters, and works, not that we may conform ourselves in all things to them, but that their spirit may animate us, and work with equal, or even greater power, through our varied gifts. If this be not our object, we shall utterly fail. The man who studies the works of the great painters simply that he may reproduce their style, imitate their lines and colouring, will never attain a high position in the world of art. He only will succeed who studies those works in order to catch therefrom the inspiration, the enthusiasm, that glowed in the breasts of those who transferred to the canvas the visions of beauty that were given to them.
II. The measure in which we should seek to possess it. “Let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.” The request may, in this aspect of it, appear somewhat strange. It would seem as though Elisha coveted something higher and better than was to be found in Elijah himself. Yet it may have been the utterance of a genuine humility. It may mean: “My nature is so weak and poor compared with my master’s, that I need a larger measure of his spirit, in order to overcome my weakness and deficiency.” But, in any sense, the form of the petition is justifiable, and should serve as an example to us.
1. Each succeeding age brings with it largely increased responsibilities. We have greater means of knowledge, larger opportunities of usefulness, than men had before us. Our temptations, if not so gross and palpable, are yet more refined, and subtle, and ensnaring. The difficulties in the way of leading a thoroughly earnest Christian life, and of fulfilling its duties, are greater now than they ever were. The tremendous responsibilities of the age in which we live should prompt a prayer of this kind.
2. Christian character and usefulness should partake of the great law of progress everywhere observable. There is not a department of human thought and human life but is affected by it. And we should seek that our piety should be of a higher type, more complete, and free from the defects that have been manifested in others. It is in harmony with all that we see elsewhere that we should present for ourselves this prayer.
3. Such a petition in relation to the great and good is the echo of their own thoughts and wishes concerning us. The greater and better men have been, the more conscious have they been of their own infirmities and imperfections, and the more anxious that others should be free from them. It has been their earnest and continued prayer that those who should come after them should be greater and more useful than themselves.
4. This petition is based upon the great principle that absolute perfection is not to be found in any simply human example. We are not to set up human standards for ourselves, or limit ourselves by the attainments of others. We must learn to rise above the highest, to look through and beyond the noblest, of God’s servants. Our limit is not fixed for us in any like ourselves. We are called “to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”—W. Perkins.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2 Kings 2:1-12.2.15. Heavenward. It is clear that a great day is come. The young men in the schools of the prophets at Gilgal, at Bethel, and at Jericho, are in unusual agitation. Elijah visits them all in succession. His manner is that day even more than commonly solemn, and his countenance and converse more heavenward; and all his demeanour seems to say, “Ye shall see my face no more.” They fear to question their great master; but they venture to whisper to Elisha the inquiry, if he knows that his master and theirs was that day to be taken away? They seemed to want his confirmation of a fact of which they had received a Divine intimation, but feared to misapprehend. His answer was—“Yea, I know it. Hold ye your peace.” Being aware of this, Elisha resolves not to quit his master that day, notwithstanding Elijah plainly declares a wish to proceed alone. They came to the Jordan, for even an Elijah must cross the Jordan before he passes from the world, though it be not by the gates of death. But, lo, a wonder!—the prophet takes his mantle, and smites therewith the stream, which then divides to let the friends pass. Here, again, was faith; but Elijah knew that seas, rivers, and mountains are no obstruction to him who, with steadfast feet, walks in the path of duty. It was because he was in that path, and because he knew that what he asked was in accordance with God’s will, that his faith was met by miracles, which, apart from these conditions, it had been presumption in him to demand. Faith must have the word or promise of God on which to rest. It is in this we discern the difference between the sublime and effectual faith of the devout Elijah, and the insane pretensions of such men as William Hackett (afterwards hanged), who, in the reign of Elizabeth, had the hardihood to declare, that if all England prayed for rain, and he himself prayed against, there would be dry weather. “Thou, Lord,” he said, “hast the power, and I have the faith—therefore it shall be done!”
It was when they had passed the Jordan that the departing prophet asked his faithful disciple what last favour he desired of him. This was a trying question, which few would be able promptly to answer with entire satisfaction to their after-thoughts. But Elisha knew that of spiritual blessings too much could not be asked. He therefore said, “Let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.” His master confessed that this was a hard thing; but that it would be granted if he took care to be present at the moment of separation. But what was that double portion of Elijah’s spirit which his disciple desired? One would think that it expressed the possession of such qualities as should make him twice as great a prophet as his master. But it was not so; for although Elisha became a great prophet, and wrought miracles as great as those of Elijah, and in greater number, no one feels that he was greater as a prophet or as a man than his master, or so great. His meaning is explained by the fact that the heir was entitled to a double portion of his father’s goods; hence, in asking for the double portion of his master’s spirit, Elisha meant to claim the heirship or succession to Elijah in his place as prophet in Israel. He had reason to suppose that it was meant for him; but he wished to be assured of this by some token which should be satisfactory to himself and others. As they went on, conversing of high things, suddenly a whirlwind reft Elijah from his companion, and he was borne aloft like an exhalation, in a chariot with horses of fire, or glowing like fire, to heaven, followed by the cry of the forsaken disciple, as he rent his clothes—“My father, my father! the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof!” Meaning, as is generally understood, that he regarded Israel as bereft of its strength, its chariot, and its horsemen, by the departure of this great prophet. He failed not, however, to take up the precious mantle which fell from Elijah as he rose; and he felt, in the beating of his own heart, the assurance that his prayer had been granted. And he knew it still more when he reached and smote the waters with the mantle. At first, it seems, there was no response; but when he repeated the stroke with the words—“Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” the waters separated, and he passed over. The sons of the prophets noted this on their distant watch, and recognized by this sign their new master, on whom rested the spirit of Elijah. This is a strange transaction, and we cannot hope as yet to understand it fully. It seems to us, however, that it is but an isolated anticipation of that which shall happen collectively to the righteous that are alive on the earth at our Lord’s second coming. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-52.4.17). And, “in that sudden strange transition,” the body will undergo a change, divesting it of its earthly essence, and bringing it into conformity with the glorified bodies of the saints raised from the dead.
Then what hinders that this rapture of the living, and change in the art of rapture—change, because the flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, which is to take place on so large a scale on that great day—should be exemplified in one or two instances before—in this instance of Elijah, and in the earlier instance of Enoch?
Under this view, there is no more any objection to the departed Elijah having his place in heaven, seeing that his body must have undergone all that change which was needful to fit it for abiding in that place where nothing corruptible can exist. Not discerning this, the old schoolmen were of opinion that Elijah was taken to some place—doubtless a pleasant place—prepared of old, as they supposed, for those pious spirits which awaited the coming of the Messiah who should open paradise for them. Others have staggered at the text (John 3:16), understanding it to allege that none ascended to heaven before Christ. Hence they imagine that Elijah was taken to “Abraham’s bosom,” which they conceive to be an intermediate state in the air, granting, however, that his garments were burned in the fire, and his body changed and made immortal. But is that really a staggering text? We think not. It is not usually supposed to refer to the Ascension at all; but allowing it to have that reference, it could only mean that none of the dead should ascend to heaven before Christ, seeing that He was the first-fruits of them that slept—that is, that died. But Elijah did not die.
Elijah is supposed by the Jews to be frequently employed in missions to mankind, and as in some sense ubiquitous, being present in many places at one time. He is visible only to those deeply versed in the Cabbala, and is described as a venerable old man with a long beard. He is supposed to be alway present at circumcisions, and there is a chair kept vacant for him. Those who are the special objects of his notice are highly favoured.—Kitto.
2 Kings 2:1-12.2.15. As in patriarchal times Enoch walked with God, and was translated to heaven without tasting death (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5), so under the Mosaic dispensation we have this record of Elijah, whose whole life was a monumental wonder of Divine intercourse and power, and whose removal from the world without tasting death surpassed in sublimity and grandeur the translation of the patriarchal saint. To study and appreciate the closing scenes in the history of this great man is to tread on holy ground. The ascension of Elijah has ever been regarded as typical of the ascension of our Lord; and there are points of resemblance, as well as noticeable contrasts. Elijah, says Kiel, ascended in the fiery tempest, the symbol of the judicial righteousness of God. And appropriately; because, as a servant of the Lord, as minister of the law, he preached with fiery zeal to his apostate generation the fire of the anger of Divine righteousness. Christ ascended calmly and silently before the eyes of all His disciples, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. He ascended as the Son, to whom all power in heaven and earth was given. He was transfigured by His resurrection and ascension into the imperishable Divine nature, and returned, by virtue of His Eternal Godhead, to the Father. Since Elijah’s ascension took place near where Moses died and was buried (Deuteronomy 34:5), and since both these holy prophets met with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, it is natural for us to compare them in the manner of their leaving the world. Moses died on account of his sin at Kadesh (Deuteronomy 32:50-5.32.51), and, though he was lawgiver, he passed from his earthly life by the way of the law, which worketh death as the wages of sin. But Elijah, as typical forerunner of Christ, and who, appearing again in spirit and power in the person of John the Baptist, prepares His way by turning the hearts of the fathers to the children (Malachi 4:5-39.4.6; Matthew 11:14), ascends to heaven without tasting death, and thus further points to Him who, by His resurrection and ascension, destroys the power of sin and of death, and abolishes the curse of the law from every one that believeth.—Whedon.
2 Kings 2:1-12.2.10. The approaching dissolution of the good. I. While viewed with solemnity, creates no alarm. II. Does not interfere with the active duties of the hour. III. Gives a special significance to everything done for the Church of God. IV. Makes one anxious to catch and retain for the world’s good the ennobling influence of their divinely-endowed lives.
2 Kings 2:1-12.2.6. True friendship. I. Often exists between persons of opposite characteristics. The rough, intrepid, fierce Elijah stood in marked contrast with the calm, gentle, persuasive Elisha. II. Is founded on mutual admiration and affection. Contrasts of character react on loving friends. Elijah’s ruggedness would be somewhat smoothed by the tranquillising spirit of Elisha; and the timid Elisha would feel more courageous under the influence of the fearless Elijah. III. Is the more tenacious in the near prospect of separation. “I will not leave thee” (2 Kings 2:2; 2 Kings 2:4; 2 Kings 2:6). It was known to Elisha and to the sons of the prophets that Elijah would be speedily taken from their midst (2 Kings 2:3; 2 Kings 2:5). Notwithstanding Elijah’s craving to be alone—a craving that may often be noticed in the dying as the final hour draws near—Elisha persisted in his attendance, eager to prolong to the latest hour the hallowing fellowship, and perhaps expecting further revelations as to his own future conduct.
2 Kings 2:2-12.2.6. The faithful love of Elisha to his master and lord.
1. The ground and source of it. It does not rest upon a natural, human basis, but upon a divine and holy one. The bond which bound him to Elijah was living faith in the living God, and life and labour in and with Him. He honoured and loved his father after the flesh (1 Kings 20:20), but he left him; with his spiritual father he wished to remain unto the end.
2. Its test and successful endurance. Thrice did Elijah beg him to remain behind, but he would not be persuaded. Whithersoever the path may lead, and whatsoever may come to pass, I will not leave thee until God shall take thee from me. His love was not a mere passing, bubbling enthusiasm, but it was strong as death. That love alone is true which endures trial, and will not be turned aside by any prayers, for which no hindrance is too great, no journey too long and too hard.
3. Its victory and reward. Elijah opens for him the path through the Jordan after his fidelity has stood the test. He is allowed to see what no human being besides him might see. He attains to that which he has prayed for; with Elijah’s mantle he inherits also Elijah’s spirit; he is a witness of his master’s glory. That fidelity conquers and is crowned which holds fast to God and Jesus Christ.—Lange.
2 Kings 2:3. No over-hasty gossip or sensation ought to be made about acts of God, especially about those which are still future; they may not be treated as objects of curious or worldly questionings. The acts of God are meant to be awaited in respectful silence. Those who are capable of seeing the majesty of the living God kept silent of themselves; upon others they have to enjoin silence.—Vilmar.
2 Kings 2:6-12.2.8. They descended the long, weary slopes that led from Jericho to the Jordan. On the upper terraces, or on the mountain heights behind the city, stood afar off, in awe, fifty of the young disciples; and they two stood by Jordan. They stood by its rushing stream; but they are not to be detained even by this barrier. “The aged Gileadite cannot rest till he again sets foot on his own side of the river.” He ungirds the rough mantle from around his shaggy frame; he rolled it together as if into a wonder-working staff; he smote the turbid river as if it were a living enemy, and the waters divided hither and thither, and they two went over on dry ground. And now they were on that farther shore, under the shade of those hills of Pisgah and of Gilead, where, in former times, a prophet greater even than Elijah had been withdrawn from the eyes of his people, whence, in his early youth, Elijah had himself descended on his august career. He knew that his hour was come, he knew that he had at last returned home, and that he had to go whither Moses had gone before him.—Stanley.
2 Kings 2:7. Miracles are not purposed to silence and obscurity. God will not work wonders without witnesses, since He doth them on purpose to win glory to His name. His end were frustrate without their notice. Even so, O Saviour! when thou hadst raised thyself from the dead, thou wouldst be seen of more than five hundred brethren at once; and when thou wouldst raise up thy glorified body from earth into heaven, thou didst not ascend from some close valley, but from the Mount of Olives; not in the night, not alone, but in the clear day, in the view of many eyes, which were so fixed upon that point of thine heaven that they could scarce be removed by the check of angels!—Bp. Hall.
2 Kings 2:8. On the other side of Jordan is the place of the glorification of the prophet. Between him and this spot there flows yet a broad and deep stream. Through this he must go. There is no bridge, no ferryman; but he does not despair. He knows, He who has called me to the other side will help me to the other side. Such incidents occur to many on the pilgrimage of life. No stream is so deep, and no flood of calamity so dangerous, that God could not lead through it unharmed. The prophet-mantle, which to-day, as ever, when it falls upon any Jordan, divide, its waves, is faith—strong, glad, living, rock-firm faith.—Wirth.
—Jordan must be crossed by Elijah on his way to heaven. There must be a meet parallel betwixt the two great prophets that shall meet Christ upon Tabor—Moses and Elias. Both received visions on Horeb; to both God appeared there in fire and other forms of terror; both were sent to kings one to Pharaoh, the other to Ahab; both prepared miraculous tables—the one of quails and manna in the desert, the other of meal and oil in Sarepta; both opened heaven—the one for that nourishing dew, the other for those refreshing showers; both revenged idolatries with the sword—the one upon the worshippers of the golden calf, the other upon the four hundred Baalites; both quenched the drought of Israel—the one out of the rock, the other out of the cloud; both divided the waters—the one of the Red Sea, the other of Jordan; both of them are forewarned of their departure; both must be fetched away beyond Jordan; the body of Elijah is translated, the body of Moses is hid; what Moses doth by his rod, Elijah doth by his mantle; with that he smites the waters, and they, as fearing the Divine power which wrought with the prophet, run away from him and stand on heaps, leaving their dry channel for the passage of those awful feet.—Bp. Hall.
2 Kings 2:9. The reply of Elisha has been much misunderstood. As early as the days of Theodoret, these words were interpreted: “Let a gift of the spirit of prophecy twice as large as thine own rest upon me.” Luther renders them: “Let thy spirit be double in me;” and Krummacher, adopting the same view, justifies it by saying, “The spirit of Elisha as an evangelical spirit was twice as great as the spirit of Elijah as a legal spirit.” In all humility, we venture to differ from this interpretation, considering it entirely opposed to Elisha’s humility, entirely out of the power of Elijah to grant, and contradicted by the history of Elisha himself, in whom we have no proof of such superlative endowment. Literally translated the language of Elisha would run, “Let there be a mouthful or ration of two with thy spirit to me”—the reference being to the inheritance of the first-born son among the Jews, who, by reason of his primogeniture, was to have a double portion, or the ration of two, among his brethren, which peculiar phraseology was only a Hebrew synonym or figurative expression for being served heir and successor to the father of the dwelling. The request of Elisha, then, was simply this, that Elijah, the great father or head of the prophetic school, would in leaving the world complete the symbolic act begun in the field of Abel-meholah, by constituting him the inheritor of his position in the land of Israel, with authority to continue the work which he had begun.—Howat.
2 Kings 2:11-12.2.12. The Divine estimate of Elijah and his work. Seen—I. In the glorious method of his translation to heaven—a unique close to a unique career. II. In the testimony Elisha was enabled to bear to an idolatrous nation as to Elijah’s miraculous exit—the man whose messages had been despised was honoured by a removal unlike that of ordinary men. III. In the provisior made for carrying on Elijah’s work by a competent successor.
2 Kings 2:11. “And it came to pass as they still went on and talked.” A memorable conversation.
1. If we consider the characters of the talkers.
2. The probable themes discussed.
3. The abrupt and extraordinary manner of its termination.
—This translation of Elijah to heaven, and the appearance of the chariot and horses of fire, like other similar events of Old Testament Scripture, teach the existence of another world beyond us, unseen by the natural eye; a realm whose inhabitants and hierarchies and orders of ministries are numerous beyond all computation. But Elijah entered this heaven without tasting death, or at least by a marvellous transformation. The human body, with its earthly modes of life, must be unsuited to the heavenly state, and hence we suppose, in harmony with the Scripture, that at the moment of his separation from Elisha, Elijah was changed, as in the twinkling of an eye, and ascended with a renewed spiritualized body, made compatible with the nature of heavenly existence. Thus has he become a representative of those saints who shall not die, but be changed at the coming of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:51-46.15.52; 1 Thessalonians 4:17). It is contrary to the evident import of this account of Elijah’s departure, and contrary to the teachings of other Scriptures, to assume that his body must have become suddenly decomposed and dissolved into dust, or that it was thrown down again, as some of the sons of the prophets thought, on some mountain, or in some valley, a lifeless corpse (2 Kings 2:16). Elijah truly ascended bodily to heaven, but his body underwent such a spiritualizing change as fitted it for the heavenly life; hence our doctrine that man is all immortal, body as well as spirit.—Whedon.
2 Kings 2:12. In this inextricable interweaving of fact and figure, it is enough to mark how fitly such an act closes such a life. “My father, my father,” Elisha cried, “the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof.” So Elijah has stood a sure defence to his country against all the chariots and horsemen that were ever pouring in upon them from the surrounding nations. So he now seemed, when he passed away, lost in the flames of the steeds and the car that swept him from the earth, as in the fire of his own unquenchable spirit—in the fire that had thrice blazed around him in his passage through his troubled earthly career. According to the Jewish legends, he was at his birth wrapped in swaddling bands of fire, and fed with flames. During the whole of his course “he rose up as a fire, and his word blazed as a torch.” And as in its fiery force and energy, so in its mystery, the end corresponded to the beginning. He had appeared in the history, we know not whence, and now he is gone in like manner. The ascension or assumption of Elijah stands out, alone in the Jewish history, as the highest representation of the end of a great and good career; of death as seen under its noblest aspect; as the completion and crown of the life which had preceded it; as the mysterious shrouding of the departed within the invisible world. By a sudden stroke of storm and whirlwind—or, as we may almost literally say of the martyrs of old, by chariots and horses of fire—the servants of God pass away. We know not where they rest; we may search high and low, in the height of the highest peak of our speculations, or in the depth of the darkest shadow of the valley of death. Legend upon legend may gather round them, as upon Elijah; but the Sacred Record itself is silent. One only mode or place there is where we may think of them, as of Elijah—in those who come afterwards in their power and spirit, or in that One Presence which still brings us near to them, in the Mount of Transfiguration, in communion with the beloved of God.—Stanley.
2 Kings 2:13-12.2.15. The conscious endowment of Divine power. l. Tested and verified (2 Kings 2:13-12.2.14).
2. Publicly recognised. “And when the sons of the prophets saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha.”
3. Commands the reverence of the good. “And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him.”
2 Kings 2:14. The Lord God of Elijah. “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?”
1. This inquiry is suggested amid scenes of temporal embarrassment. Next in importance to the consecration of our life, and the cultivation of our intellect, is the honourable conflict in which we are engaged for the needed finance, the current sustenance. Its importance secured for it a distinct and prominent place in the model prayer. He on whose shoulders the responsibility of a home rests has the highest sanction for praying, as the morning dawns, “Father God, feed me and mine; give us this day our daily bread; continue to us our nightly shelter; keep the fire aglow on our hearth, and the bread sufficient, if not abundant, in our cupboard. And when Satan has suggested that the monetary obligation, when due, would not be met, and the bread, when needed, would not be found in the store, then the cruise of oil and the barrel of meal have yielded the required impetus. The mist has cleared away, the gathering clouds have dispersed, as the question has ascended, ‘Where is the Lord God of Elijah?’ ”
2. This inquiry has been suggested when, disconcerted by current guiles, the corruptions of society, you shrank from a task which seemed to have the absorbed attention and consecrated energy of but a few. You were lavish of health and life, in almost laborious loneliness. And so circumstanced, you were tempted to suspend further efforts; and, in comparative solitude, bewail the apathy of the Church, and the lapsed state of the world. But you thought of the cave near Horeb, which rung with the recalling cry of Jehovah, “What doest thou here, Elijah?” And from that date you have never indulged in any ideas about leaving your official duties, and passing to comfortable quietude. Hiding in the caves has been out of the question. You mean now to toil on, until at the close of a laborious life you may gratefully exclaim, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.”
3. The inquiry is suggested by the controversies upon which we are cast, the disputes with the settlement of which we may have something to do. The nineteenth century has certainly its Mount Carmel. Upon truths which we hold as sacred there is poured such apparent and, in some instances, rather acute contempt. Little is spared. Venerable names are traduced. Hoary facts are changed into airy fictions. A volume the most real is now regarded as the most mythical. Under these circumstances what is our main, our supreme want? Our secondary one is a body of Christian scholars and scientists who shall be quite equal to current discussions. Is the development theory obtruded? Then we want our Hugh Miller, who shall show us that different links in the development chain are wanting, and that, therefore, the very rocks thwart the whole theory. To meet the sophistries of Hume we need the logical acumen and elaborate learning of Campbell, Chalmers, and Ward-law. To meet the detractors, coarse and scholarly, of our adorable Redeemer, we need our Pye-Smith, with his “Testimony,” and our Hengstenberg, with his “Christology.” But while this is our subordinate want, we have a paramount, a supreme one, which no logic, however conclusive, and no scholarship, however extensive, can supply. We want the influence of the Holy Spirit—the power from on high—the baptism of fire. The fire on Mount Carmel settled the controversy, and nothing else would have done it. We may have everything else, but without this we may inevitably fail. Elijah reared the altar, he put the wood in order, he adjusted the sacrifice; but it was the descending fire which indicated the Divine honour, which clothed and crowned the whole. So we may build beautiful places of worship; we may have an erudite ministry, and most ornate and enamouring music; but that which is essential to the success of the whole is the cloud of the Divine glory over the mercy-seat.
4. This inquiry is suggested when, having done with life’s responsibilities and controversies, we arrive at the mystic river—the Jordan of death. Elisha, having wrapped his mantle around him, recalled those miraculous interpositions which were associated with the life of his prophetical predecessor; then the waters, having been smitten, “they parted hither and thither, and Elisha went over.” And are we to ford the river unescorted? Are we to die alone? Alone! “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” About the last hour, however, be not over anxious. Its security is guaranteed. Be most anxious about the current one. As they speed on, gather up the moments, as if they were grains of gold. Be loyal to the last. Evade no foe. Shrink from no encounter. You are in the militant Church; let the standard, therefore, be planted; let the banner wave. The clash of arms and the din of war will soon be hushed—hushed for ever. You will be more than a conqueror through the blood of the Lamb. Soon you will have arrived at the gates of pearl. Soon there will be thrown over your whole life the accurate interpretations of eternity. At eventide there shall be light. May you have, during the vicissitudes of your pilgrimage, guidance which is unerring; and in death, underneath you, may there be the everlasting arms—the everlasting arms of “the Lord God of Elijah.”—Homiletic Quarterly.
2 Kings 2:15. It was not the outside of Elijah they were wont to stoop unto with so much veneration; it was his spirit, which, since they now find in another subject, they entertain with equal reverence; no envy, no emulation, raiseth up their stomach against Elijah’s servant; but, where they see eminent graces, they are willingly prostrate. Those that are truly gracious do no less rejoice in the riches of others’ gifts, than humbly undervalue their own. These men were trained up in the schools of the prophets—Elisha at the plough and cart; yet now they stand not upon terms of their worth, and his meanness, but meekly fall down before him whom God had honoured. It is not to be regarded who the man is, but whom God would make him. The more unlikely the means are, the more is the glory of the workman. It is the praise of a holy ingenuity to magnify the graces of God wherever it finds them.—Bp. Hall.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
2 Kings 2:16. Lest peradventure, &c.—They had seen Elijah pass miraculously over Jordan, but did not witness his ascension. Even if he had been taken up to heaven, they imagined that his body would be remaining somewhere on earth.
HOMILETICS OF 2 Kings 2:16-12.2.18
THE MYSTERIOUSNESS OF THE DIVINE ACTIONS
I. A severe trial of faith. The sons of the prophets were slow to believe that Elijah had so utterly vanished as to return no more. It is true that one moment they saw him in company with Elisha; the next Elisha was alone, and their great leader was nowhere to be seen. Still it might be only another of the many sudden, abrupt disappearances which had marked Elijah’s erratic career. Besides, if the spirit had ascended to heaven, his body might have been dropped on some mountain side, or into the depths of some valley; and this should, if possible, be recovered, and reverently buried. Elisha’s account of the great prophet’s exit only increased the mystery, and they wearied him with speculations and suggestions. Faith must be prepared to take much on trust. Where there is no mystery, there is no faith. “Trials,” says F. W. Robertson, “bring man face to face with God—God and he touch; and the flimsy veil of bright cloud that hung between him and the sky is blown away; he feels that he is standing outside the earth, with nothing between him and the Eternal Infinite.”
II. Provokes diligent inquiry. The commonplaces of to-day were the mysteries of yesterday. The phenomena of nature, which to our fore-fathers were occasions of superstitious dread, are to us familiar friends, and our most valuable servants. Discoveries have been made by the diligent investigator which would have remained unknown secrets, and are secrets still, to the indolent and indifferent. Mystery piques curiosity, and curiosity keeps alive the investigating faculty. The more mystery there is surrounding a subject, the more eager is the earnest student to solve it.
III. Not always fathomed by the most laborious human endeavours. The search of the fifty strong men among the mountains of Gilead was fruitless: they found no trace of the missing Elijah, and they were compelled to accept the testimony of Elisha without further question. Much has been revealed to the diligent seeker after truth, there is much that is yet wrapped in mystery. We cannot know everything about every truth. Revelation is necessarily limited by two things: by the Divine will—there is nothing to impel the Divine Being to reveal Himself beyond what He wills to do—and by our human capacity. However effulgent the revelation on God’s part, its comprehension is necessarily limited on our part. We soon come to the extreme boundary of the known, and vainly we wave our hand in the darkness of the unknown. Much as we may discover by persevering study, more yet remains undiscovered. The pleasures of inquiry and discovery are endless. The investigation of all truth is ennobling, but none more so than the contemplation of those redemptive truths which, like the stars, their fittest emblems, fix the eye above in the very act of vision; a countless procession of brightness and wonder, lights visible to the humblest eye, yet fit to exercise the thoughts of angels: their full grandeur to be approached only when we shall have passed the grave, and, not less than sons of God, shall be free to enter into the mystery and magnificence of heaven.
1. The mystery of Divine truth is no sufficient reason for rejecting it.
2. The truth essential to salvation is plainly revealed.
3. More mysteries are solved by faith than by the most daring unbelief.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2 Kings 2:16-12.2.18. An obstinate incredulity. I. Is dissatisfied with the most reliable testimony. II. Constructs theories of its own (2 Kings 2:16). III. Persists in having its own way, notwithstanding repeated efforts to persuade to the contrary (2 Kings 2:17). IV. Suffers ignominious defeat (2 Kings 2:18).
—How many, especially young and inexperienced persons, will not be dissuaded from their opinions, views, and doubts, and will not heed the words of their teachers and parents, who have the best intentions towards them, and far more experience. They must become wise by bitter experience, and then hear to their shame, “Did I not say unto you, Go not?”
2 Kings 2:18. Some men are best satisfied when they have wearied themselves in their own ways Nothing will teach them wit but disappointment. Their painful error leads them to a right conceit of Elijah’s happier transportation. Those that would find Elijah, let them aspire to the heavenly paradise. Let them follow the high steps of his sincere faithfulness, strong patience, undaunted courage, fervent zeal, and constant obedience. Then God shall send the fiery chariot of death to fetch them up to that heaven of heavens where they shall triumph in everlasting joys.—Bp. Hall.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
2 Kings 2:20. A new cruse—“A symbol of the renewing power of the Word of God” (Keil).
2 Kings 2:21. Death or barren land; death or abortion.
HOMILETICS OF 2 Kings 2:19-12.2.22
THE HEALED WATERS A SYMBOL OF THE EFFICACY OF THE GOSPEL
It is a proof of the confidence Elisha has already won that the dignitaries of the city came to consult him about a matter of great public concern; they believed he could cure the malefic waters. How potent is the influence of a good man! It is in times of distress and difficulty that his neighbours discover his real value. The transactions related in this paragraph may be used to symbolize the power of the Gospel to heal the poisoned waters of humanity. Observe—
I. Humanity enjoys many privileges. “The situation is pleasant.” All travellers agree in representing the site of Jericho as exceedingly beautiful; its external surroundings were all that could be desired. So man’s position in the world has its peculiar advantages. Scenes of beauty and of grandeur meet his gaze in every direction. He is rich with the wealthy accumulations of the historic past. He is surrounded by living examples of noble enterprise and chivalry. He is on the current of an ever-advancing civilization. Opportunities of usefulness open invitingly at every step, and there is everything to call out and sustain his best energies. Life on earth is a grand opportunity which, wisely used, will be fruitful in everlasting good.
II. Humanity is infected with a dangerous and fatal malady. “The water is naught, and the ground barren.” In the fairest prospect there is some deformity; in the clearest and brightest crystal we may detect a flaw. So the beauties of Jericho were shadowed by the sufferings and disappointment of its inhabitants. The water was bad, and the land unfruitful. So is it with man. The springs of his being are poisoned with sin. Every part of his nature is tainted: “the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint.” The fatal malady infects every stream, disorders every project, blackens every prospect, chills every aspiration, withers every hope. The soil of the heart is barren, and every attempt to bring forth the fruit of righteousness is abortive.
III. The Gospel provides the power to heal humanity of its malady.
1. It is a Divine provision. “Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters.” The healing power was not in Elisha, or in the cruse or the salt; but in God. So the new cruse of the Gospel, and the salt of Christian doctrine, would be ineffectual to heal humanity of its evils without the permeating presence and active power of God. We should be careful, like Elisha, to give to God all the glory of His own work. Man cannot cure himself, any more than the broken pitcher can repair itself.
2. It is efficacious “So the waters were healed.” The prophet cast the salt into the spring of the waters. The fountain being healed, all its streams participated in the cure. So the Gospel begins its restorative work in the heart, the fountain head of human life. True reformation should ever begin at the source of evil; it will then be thorough and permanent. “If God cast into the fountain of our hearts but one cruseful of the salt of His spirit, we are whole; no thought can pass between the receipt and the remedy.” If we have not streams of Divine blessing in abundance, we may have enough to refresh, to heal, and fertilize.
If not full showers of rain, yet, Lord,
A little pearly dew afford;
A little, if it come from thee,
Will be of great avail to me.
1. The gospel has a remedy for every evil.
2. The remedy must be prayerfully sought.
3. Must be believingly applied.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2 Kings 2:19-12.2.22. As we see in the translation of Elijah a type of Christ’s ascension into heaven, so may we also see in the subsequent career of Elisha a type of the holy apostolic church, clothed with the spirit of the Master, and working even greater miracles than he.
2 Kings 2:19. The material facts thus combined and contrasted are very suggestive to the mind of spiritual conditions. The situation in which we stand is pleasant. While so many fair regions of the earth lie in spiritual darkness, the full and blessed light of God’s truth shines upon our habitations. We have the written word of truth—we have the uttered word of truth—one of the first sounds that entered our infant ears was that name which is above every name; and not a day passes in which, under some form or other, we may not see or hear the words of salvation. What situation could be more pleasant, more favourable to our spiritual progress? Surely our city stands upon the delectable mountain whence on any clear day we may have fair prospects of the goodly land that lies beyond the swelling Jordan. Yet, pleasant as all things seem, it is not well with us. “The ground is barren.”—Kitto.
—A crook in every lot.
1. True of the most pleasantly situated city.
2. Of the most highly favoured nation.
3. In the history of every individual life.
2 Kings 2:20. The injurious property and effect was not taken from the water by the salt poured in; for even if the salt actually possessed this power, a whole spring could not be corrected by a single dish of salt, even for one day, much less for a longer time or for ever. The pouring in of the salt was a symbolic act with which Elisha accompanied the word of the Lord, by which alone the spring was healed. Salt, on account of its power of preserving from putrescence and decay, is the symbol of incorruptibility and of life removing death. The new dish was also a symbol of purity and inviolateness.—Keil.
2 Kings 2:21. In a place where the spiritual fountains are poisoned, and the people receive to drink, from all the pulpits and school-teachers’ desks, not the water which streams forth unto eternal life, but the death-draught of that modern babble of deceit and falsehood, there is a more deadly curse upon the land than that which once lay upon the district of Jericho. May the Lord of Elisha raise up those who shall carry the healing salt also into these fountains.—Krummacher.
1. Begins in the soul—“He went forth unto the spring of the waters.”
2. Is accomplished by human agency—“And cast the salt in there.”
3. Is a divine work—“Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters.”
4. Is thorough and permanent—“There shall not be from thence any more death or barren land.”
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
2 Kings 2:23. Little children—see note on נַעַר in 1 Kings 3:7; same word as in 1 Kings 12:8; 1 Kings 12:10; 1 Kings 12:14, young men. נְעָרִים describes ages from children to young men inclusive. Possibly these youthful revilers in sceptical Bethel, scoffing at Elisha’s report of Elijah’s translation to heaven, derisively taunted him, bidding him likewise “go up.” Baldhead—an Eastern epithet of contempt used regardless of the person being bald or old. Baldness was a mark of shame (Isaiah 3:17; Isaiah 3:24); priests were forbidden to shave (Leviticus 21:5). Their destruction was appalling, but rendered necessary by the profanity of the town. Had no judgment followed this insolent contemning of Jehovah in the person of His newly-designated prophet, it would have confirmed the people in their defiance and impiety.—W. H. J.
HOMILETICS OF 2 Kings 2:23-12.2.25
THE DOOM OF THE SCOFFER
I. The scoffer reveals a spirit of hatred and opposition to that which is good. Bethel was the headquarters of the great apostasy—the home of idolatry. Here schools were established, in imitation of the schools of the prophets, to instruct the people in idolatrous practices, and to inflame their hearts with hatred towards Jehovah and His worship. Where people are taught to despise and detest that which is good, no wonder they are ever ready to indulge in profane, contemptuous, and splenetic scorn.
1. Scoffing is too common a sin of depraved youth. “There came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him.” We are not to understand infantile or irresponsible children, but those who had attained to youthful manhood, as distinguished from the middle-aged and the old. Perhaps these young people were the pupils of a teacher of the calf worship at Bethel, and, meeting with Elisha as they came from school, they assailed him with the contempt and ridicule in which they had been too well instructed. Wicked and badly trained youth take delight in holding the truth up to derision and mockery; they make sport of the holiest things, and glory in their own wickedness—“Fools make a mock at sin.” The scoffer is the lowest type of depravity; “the seat of the scornful” is the nearest seat to hell.
2. To scoff at the servants of God is an insult to God himself—“Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.” It is not likely that Elisha was really bald-headed, as he was then comparatively young. The word was applied to him out of pure contempt, and in a way that would be most insulting. It was “a term of great indignity with the Israelites—baldness being usually seen among them as the effect of the loathsome disease of leprosy. It was equivalent to calling him a mean and unworthy fellow—a social outcast. In this sense it is still used as a term of abuse in the farther East, and is often applied as such to men who have ample heads of hair.” These profane mockers had heard that Elijah had been taken up to heaven, and they sneeringly expressed their wish that Elisha might share the same fate, and they would be well rid of him. But the sequel shows that Jehovah regarded the insult to His servant as directed against Himself. He is jealous for the character, reputation, and influence of His servants; he that “toucheth them, toucheth the apple of His eye” (Zechariah 2:8).
II. The scoffer may rouse the indignant threatening of the gentlest nature. “And he turned back and looked on them and cursed them in the name of the Lord.” How unlike the gentle, kindly, tender-hearted Elisha, as we have so far been led to regard him! It is more like the fierce outbreak of the fiery Eljah, the prophet of denunciation and wrath. But even the placid spirit of Elisha is aroused when the honour of His God is concerned. He cursed (the mocking youths, “not from personal resentment, but under a Divine impulse, without which no prophet ever dared to pronounce a curse. He cursed, and that was all. He did not punish.” The servant of God may patiently endure the scoffs and frowns and persecution of the world when they refer to himself only; but when the character of his God is maligned and His grandest work derided, the meekest become bold in vindicating the Divine glory. When Terantius, captain to the emperor Adrian, presented a petition that the Christians might have a temple to themselves in which to worship God apart from the Arians, the emperor tore the petition in pieces and threw it away, bidding the soldier to ask something for himself and it should be granted. Terantius modestly gathered up the fragments of the discarded petition, and said, with true nobility of mind, “If I cannot be heard in God’s cause, I will never ask anything for myself.”
III. The scoffer is sometimes signally punished. “And there came forth two she-bears out of the wood and tare forty and two children of them.” The offence, writes Kitto, involving as it did a blasphemous insult cast upon one of the Lord’s most signal acts, made a near approach to what in the New Testament is called the sin against the Holy Ghost. It became the Lord to vindicate His own honour among a people governed by sensible dispensations of judgment and of mercy; and it became Him to vindicate the character and authority of His anointed prophet at the outset of His high career. The pride, irreverence, and heartless disregard of the scoffer, will sooner or later meet with due recompense.
Hear the just doom, the judgment of the skies:
He that hates truth shall be the dupe of lies;
And he who will be cheated to the last,
Delusions, strong as hell, shall bind him fast.
1. Not the least evil of idolatry is that it produces a race of scoffers of the true God.
2. A scoffer is hardened against ordinary rebukes.
3. But erelong the scoffer meets with the just punishment of his sin.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2 Kings 2:23-12.2.24. The demoralizing effects of idolatry upon the young. I. It trains them in false ideas of God. II. It destroys their appreciation of the truly good. III. It inflates them with basest impertinence. IV. It exposes them to confusion and suffering.
2 Kings 2:23. Young people are always ready to make wanton sport of any peculiar appearance which they do not understand. The unripe behaviour of the young generation which is growing up, always forms a shadowy reflection of the shallow opposition in moral and religious ideas which exists in public opinion. The separate bearers and supporters of the truth which is deep, and hence misunderstood by the masses, are, for the most part, objects of blind scorn to wild youth. That which found expression against Elisha has also fallen upon many in later times. He who, in the exercise of his calling, goes up to perverted Bethel, must expect it.—Cassel.
2 Kings 2:24. As Elisha was not silent, so also now a faithful servant of the Lord may not keep silent if young people are brought up badly and godlessly. He ought not to let pass unnoticed their wickedness and impudence, and their contempt for that which is holy. It is his duty to warn them and their parents of the Divine punishment. Woe to the watchmen who are dumb watch-dogs, who cannot punish—who are lazy, and who are glad to lie and sleep.—Lange.
—O fearful example of Divine justice! This was not the revenge of an angry prophet, it was the punishment of a righteous judge. God and His seer looked through these children at the parents, at all Israel: he would punish the parents’ misnurturing their children, to the contemptuous usage of a prophet, with the death of those children which they had mistaught. He would teach Israel what it was to misuse a prophet: and if he would not endure these contumelies unrevenged in the mouths of children, what vengeance was enough for aged persecutors?—Bp. Hall.
—So Dr. Whittington, returning from martyring a good woman at Chipping-Sadbury, was gored by a bull. Dr. Story, who narrated that he had burned so many heretics, was hanged at Tyburn for treason. Hemingius tells of a lewd fellow in Denmark, who, showing great contempt against a preacher, as he passed out of the church, was brained with a tile falling on him. Luther tells of another who, going to the fields to look to his sheep, after he had railed most bitterly against a godly minister, was found dead—his body being burned as black as coal. “Be not ye mockers, lest your bands be increased.”—Trapp.
2 Kings 2:25. The uses of retirement. I. Is sometimes sought by the most active spirits. II. Affords an opportunity for study and preparation. III. Gives new strength to grapple with sin in its greatest strongholds.
—Whither dare not a prophet go when God calls him? Having visited the schools of the prophets, Elisha retires to Mount Carmel, and, after some holy solitariness, returns to the city of Samaria. He can never be a profitable seer that is either always or never alone. Carmel shall fit him for Samaria; contemplation for action. That mother city of Israel must needs afford him most work.—Bp. Hall.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Kings 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany