Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, May 25th, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
2 Kings 2

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary

Verse 3

2 Kings 2:3. Knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head to-day? Houbigant renders this, the Lord will elevate thy master above thy head to-day, alluding to Elijah's being carried up into heaven.

Verse 8

2 Kings 2:8. His mantle In the two books of kings there is mention made five times of this mantle, and in every place it is called אדרת adret, which denotes a royal, as well as a prophetical mantle. As the high priesthood and supreme civil authority centered in the same person, mantles made of skins, furs, &c. which were worn at first in a religious view, came to be afterwards the insignia of civil authority. See Gen 27:15 and compare Genesis 3:21.Leviticus 7:8; Leviticus 7:8.

REFLECTIONS.—Elijah's bright sun is now about to set, or rather to rise brighter in another world of glory.

1. God gives him notice of his intended removal, not in the ordinary course of nature, but by a change sudden and glorious, which, without the pangs of death, would prepare him for his abode in that world where flesh and blood cannot enter. Note; Though we may not expect Elijah's translation, yet, if like him, whilst on earth, we maintain our conversation in heaven, our passage thither will be as safe and sure through the grave, as if we were caught up thither in the whirlwind.

2. Before he is removed, he goes to take his farewel of the school of the prophets at Beth-el, the hopes of the rising generation; and, to try Elisha's affection and adherence to him, proposes to him to stay at Gilgal; but he resolves never to forsake him. He knew the time was short that he could enjoy his company, and therefore desired to improve every moment which remained by his holy conversation, and receive at least his parting benediction. Note; (1.) The rising generation is the great concern of the departing prophets, and their last breath they would gladly employ in encouraging, by their experience and dying testimony, their younger brethren to follow those happy paths which lead to life and never-ending glory. (2.) We should make the most of the conversation of those men of God which now for a moment we enjoy; lest, when they are taken from us, we should have to lament not only their loss, but our own negligence in not profiting by them as we might have done.

3. From Beth-el Elijah passes to Jericho on the same errand. In both places his intended translation is known. The sons of the prophets acquaint Elisha with it; he is no stranger to it, and bids them be silent; for now either his thoughts were too much engaged to enter on any discourse, or this mournful theme was grievous to him. Elijah there renews his request that he would stay; but nothing can divert him from his attendance. Note; A persevering attachment to the Prince of the prophets will be crowned at last.

4. Onward they pass to Jordan, while fifty of the sons of the prophets stood afar off to wait the issue; and Elijah's mantle, like the rod of Moses, there opens them a passage through the waters. Note; (1.) It is very desirable to see the last of dying christians. (2.) Through the waters of death the redeemed will find a safe passage, while the wicked will be hurried down the stream, into the gulph of eternal perdition.

Verse 9

2 Kings 2:9. Let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me Elisha speaks to Elijah as a son to his father, from whom he requests that he would esteem him as a first-born son, to whom a double portion of goods was assigned. Nor does he ask a double quantity of that spirit which Elijah had, but only so much of that spirit, as a father leaves of his inheritance to his first-born son. This is the meaning of the expression, שׁנים פי pi shenayim, which is usually applied in the dividing of an inheritance. So Houbigant. Some, however, think, that as Elijah had no other successor, upon whom he was to bestow any prophetic gift, but Elisha, there can be no objection to our understanding the expression in the simple sense of a double portion of the prophetic spirit; since it is evident that he did many more miracles than Elijah, and even after his death exerted a divine power, in raising the dead man, ch. 2 Kings 13:21. Had he desired this double portion, indeed, out of a principle of vain-glory, there might then be something said against his request; but since he did it with a pure intent to become thereby more serviceable in his generation, we cannot perceive why he was to blame in requesting what our blessed Saviour granted to his apostles; viz. the power of working greater miracles than he himself performed. See Calmet and Le Clerc, and 2 Kings 2:15.

Verse 11

2 Kings 2:11. A chariot of fire, &c.— We cannot presume to enter into any precise explanation of these words. We may suppose, that a bright and radiant cloud, which, as it ascended, might appear like a chariot and horses, raised Elijah from the earth, and, leaving this globe behind, wafted him into the seats of the blessed. See Genesis 5:24. The design of this assumption, as well as that of Enoch, seems to have been not only to give the world a sensible proof of another, and a better country, even a heavenly, but also to shew God's interposition for the sake of his servants, as well as to typify the future ascension of his son. See Calmet's Dissertation upon Enoch. Indeed, Elijah was, in various respects, a type both of Jesus Christ and of John the Baptist. I. The New Testament sufficiently points out the conformity between Elijah and John the Baptist: nay, John is even called by the name of this prophet: and Christ himself so calls him in the encomium which he passed upon John; Matthew 11:14. And if ye will receive it, this is the Elijah who was to come; who was promised, by the prophet Malachi, to appear before, and as the precursor of the Messiah. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and illustrious day of the Lord. And accordingly, the angel told Zecharias, the father of the Baptist, that his son should go before the Messiah, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, &c. So that Elijah was a type of John the Baptist, as to the spirit and power of his ministry; and so remarkably, that he is even called by his name. He was, as it were, another Elijah in spirit and ministry, though not in person; and thus we may account for his answer, when the priests and Levites sent to him; Art thou Elijah, &c. and he said, I am not. "I am not the prophet personally, as you expect him to appear, though I am come in his spirit and in his power, mystically, but not identically the same." There was some analogy between there two great personages also in their outward garb and deportment, the hairy raiment and leathern girdle; and also in their lonely and mortified lives in the wilderness; and their being persecuted by wicked princes, Elijah by Ahab and Jezebel, John by Herod and his wife Herodias. But chiefly was Elijah a type of John in his sanctity, courage, and undaunted zeal for reformation; and in the spirit and purpose of his ministry, to awaken a sinful generation, to bring many, both of the rising and declining age, to that real piety towards God, which is the surest band of mutual duty to each other; to bring many, who were before totally ignorant and regardless of duty, to the knowledge of God, which is the only wisdom. This Elijah eminently performed, when he caused the people to cry, The Lord he is God, the Lord he is God: this John also eminently performed, when numbers flocked to his baptism on the banks of Jordan, and he pointed but to the awakened penitents, the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world. II. But Elijah was more especially a type of JESUS CHRIST, not only with respect to his ascension into heaven, but also in reference to the miracles that he wrought; his invincible courage and zeal in the cause of God; and his commissioning successors to carry on the work of his ministry, after his departure from this world. Elijah fasted forty days and forty nights in mount Horeb, the place where God appeared to Moses, and gave the law to his people Israel, and where also Moses fasted the same length of time; who, with Elijah, was the only person of whom we read this extraordinary miracle, and who therein figured our Saviour Christ, the great prophet and lawgiver of his people, who fasted forty days and forty nights in the wilderness: and hence we read, that in our Saviour's transfiguration on the mount, these two distinguished persons appeared with him in glory; Moses the great giver, and Elijah the zealous restorer of that law which led to Christ, its end and perfection, and in whose honour their respective ministrations terminated. Elijah was entertained by a widow, whose son notwithstanding died, and he raised him to life again; so Christ was entertained by Martha and Mary, whose brother Lazarus nevertheless died, and was also raised by him from the dead. The spirit of Elijah relied upon Elisha. He cast his mantle upon him, which had such an influence, that he left all and followed him. Through the like miraculous influence of the spirit, Christ called his apostles, who left all, and followed him; and upon these his appointed successors he caused his spirit to rest, when, like Elijah, he ascended up before them into heaven, and a cloud received him out of their sight. See a fine encomium upon the prophet, Sir 48:1, &c.

Verse 12

2 Kings 2:12. My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof! He calls him his father, as being his master and instructor; and the expression, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof, most probably alludes to the chariot and horses which he had just then beheld, and seems to imply that Elijah, by his example, counsel, prayers, and power with God, did more for the defence and preservation of Israel, than all their chariots, and horses, and other warlike preparations. All good men, but especially men of extraordinary wisdom and piety, are the guard and defence of their country; they are better than an army. See Hosea 12:3.

Verse 16

2 Kings 2:16. The Spirit of the Lord hath taken him up From some expressions in Scripture it seems as if the Spirit of the Lord frequently used to carry the prophets through the air, and with great swiftness remove them to distant places. Obadiah speaks of it as a common thing, 1 Kings 18:12. And in the New Testament we are told of Philip, that when they were come out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught him away, that the eunuch saw him no more:—And Philip was found at Atzotus; Acts 8:39-40.

REFLECTIONS.—Elijah is gone, but Elisha remains. When God removes one light from his church, he can raise up another to supply his place.

1. Elisha with delight gathers up the mantle which fell from his departed father: he loved it since the day it was first cast over him, and not only for his sake preserved it, but, as the earnest of his petition being granted, received it with deepest thankfulness, and wore it as successor in office to the great prophet who had left it behind him. Note; (1.) Those tokens given us by our departed friends, which stir us up to imitate their virtues, are truly valuable. (2.) They who wear the livery of a prophet should read in their very clothes the obligations lying on them to discharge with diligence their weighty office.

2. Clothed now with Elijah's spirit, as well as with his mantle, he returns to the waters of Jordan, and there, in faith invoking the Lord God of Elijah, smites the waters, and they divide. Where is he? he cries; אפּאּהוא Aph-hu follows in the original. Here he is, even he, as immediately answering to the call. Note; (1.) Even while the prayer of faith is uttering, God will answer. (2.) They who walk in Elijah's spirit will find with them the presence and power of Elijah's God.

3. The sons of the prophets, who beheld the miracle, received with deep respect the returning prophet, as Elijah's appointed successor. Note; It is not material whence a man came, or what has been his education; if God endues him with eminent gifts, and eminent graces, even the sons of prophets need think it no dishonour to bow before him.

Verse 21

2 Kings 2:21. And he—cast the salt in there, and said, &c.— The manner in which Elisha sweetened this fountain, and made the soil fruitful by casting salt into the water, was in order to make the miracle more conspicuous; for salt is a thing which of all others makes water less drinkable, and ground more barren. There is a fountain at this very day towards the west of Jericho, which rises about three quarters of a league above the town in the way to Jerusalem, and yielding a great deal of water very excellent in its kind, runs along and fructifies the plain. See Josephus Bell. Jud. book 5: cap. 4 and Exodus 23:25.

Verses 23-24

2 Kings 2:23-24. There came forth little children, &c.— Young lads. In order to rescue the character of the prophet from the objections of infidels on account of the catastrophe of these children, we may observe, that it appears from other passages of Scripture, (as Genesis 43:8. 1 Kings 3:7; 1 Kings 3:28.) that the persons termed little children, were grown to the age of maturity, and consequently were capable of being concerned in any riotous proceedings. Nay, their coming out of the city implied as much. They came out of Beth-el, the chief seat of idolatry; they had strongly imbibed the prejudices of their parents, and were old enough to distinguish between idolatry and the worship of the true God. They probably had heard that Elijah was taken up into heaven. The prophets of the true God, who resided in this place, were apprised of this event before it happened; and it could not but be supposed, that an event of so astonishing a kind would become the chief topic of their conversation. The manner in which Elisha had repassed the river was undoubtedly spread abroad during his abode at Jericho, and his mission as a prophet was confirmed beyond dispute. They knew him to be a prophet of Jehovah, and derided him on account of his office; nay, they made a jest of the ascension of Elijah, a strong reprover of their idolatries; and in making a jest of that remarkable event, they shut their eyes against a miracle which seems to have been wrought partly to reclaim them. The words, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head, plainly refer to the ascension of Elijah; and if our translators had made use of the word ascend, instead of the words go up, this allusion would have appeared plainer and stronger. What still aggravates their guilt is, that they did not meet with the prophet by accident, but went out with a design to insult him; this is evident from the very context. They likewise went in a body, which shewed that their motive was malice, and their going not casual. Hence it seems probable, that they went out not only to deride the prophet, but likewise to prevent his entering into the city. They feared that he would be as zealous against their idolatries as Elijah had been; and by this insult they intended to free themselves from his remonstrances. Though the prophet could not but be displeased with the insult, yet no part of the narrative will countenance us in supposing that the curse he denounced against them was owing to the peevishness of his temper, or the ebullition of his anger. Though his rage had been ever so turbulent, it would not have supplied him with power to command these savage creatures to leave the woods at an instant, and to come to a place which they did not frequent, as a public road must be supposed to be, in order to destroy these insolent youths. As his curse would have no effect had it proceeded from a peevish temper, we have no just cause from his cursing them to suspect, that he was agitated by any furious or malicious passion. The word curse has in Scripture three different acceptations. It signifies to inflict a curse; and in this sense God is said to have cursed the ground after the fall. It signifies to wish a curse; and in this sense Shimei is said to have cursed David. Lastly, it signifies to pronounce or foretel a curse or punishment; and in this sense Elisha is said to have cursed the children. The historian expressly asserts, that he cursed them in the name of the Lord. To speak in the name of the Lord, is to deliver what he commands; to prophesy in the name of the Lord, is to foretel what he reveals; and to curse in the name of the Lord, is to declare a curse which he is determined to inflict, and has authorized the prophet to denounce: so that in cursing these supposed children, Elisha acted as a minister of the supreme ruler of the world; and, by his order, foretold the punishment that was about to be inflicted upon these idolaters. His pronouncing this curse was not the cause of their catastrophe; but the certainty of their catastrophe, and the command of God, were the causes of his pronouncing this curse. On the whole, it appears, that the persons who mocked Elisha were not infants, but arrived at years of maturity: it appears, that they did not insult him by chance, but by design; that they went out in great crowds on purpose; that they mocked him because he was the prophet of the true God, from whom they had apostatized; and that he did not wish their untimely end from a principle of revenge, but only predicted it as a prophet. The punishment itself will appear just, if we consider the time, place, persons, and likewise how well it was adapted to convince the people of the heinousness of idolatry, and to recover them to that purity of worship which their law was peculiarly intended to preserve. Dr. Gregory Sharpe, in his Second Argument in Defence of Christianity, has very satisfactorily vindicated the conduct of Elisha. He observes, that if we inquire into the character of Elisha, we shall always find him good, merciful, and compassionate. He who restored life to the son of the good Shunammite, and so often saved the lives of others, would not have slain in anger with his curses little children. Indeed, if the curse pronounced by Elisha had not proceeded from the Lord, if it had been the effect of anger in the prophet only, and not the just denunciation of the prophet upon obstinate incorrigible idolaters, so signal an event in the destruction of the youth of Bethel, would not so soon have followed it. See more in the work above referred to, and Waterland's Script. Vind. part 2: p. 120.

REFLECTIONS.—Elisha, being returned in the spirit of Elijah, multiplied miracles to confirm his divine mission.

1. At the request of the men of Jericho, he heals their waters, casts in the salt at the fountain-head, and in the name of the Lord commands the cure, which is instant as his word. Note; (1.) Opportunity must not be lost; whilst we have a prophet among us, let us employ him. (2.) Few people think how ill they could spare the most common necessaries: we could much better want every other liquor, than be without wholesome water. (3.) Nothing but the salt of divine grace can sweeten the bitterness or heal the barrenness of the corrupted heart. (4.) It is every prophet's labour to cast in this salt, and that not merely into the streams, for present reformation, but into the spring, in order to abiding conversion. (5.) Though the prophet speaks, it is God alone that works. (6.) They who have tasted of God's healing grace, will make it manifest in the fruitfulness of their lives.

2. Another miracle of a different kind marked his return to Carmel. As he passed through Beth-el, where another school of prophets lay, a company of young persons mocked him. The idol calf had there the general sway, and they hated those who were zealous to rebuke their sins. They cried in derision, Go up, follow your master, and let us be rid of you both; and because his head was bald, they derided the defect. With a look of indignation, he turned upon them, not in anger for the personal affront, but in holy displeasure at their contempt and dishonour of God, and, by a divine impulse from him, denounced upon them the curse that they had provoked; the executioners of which are near; two bears, rushing from a neighboring wood, tore to pieces forty-two of these insolent mockers, and changed their shouts into dying groans. Note; (1.) It is no new thing for prophets to be abused, even in the streets, and for children, taught by their ungodly parents, to point at and hoot them. (2.) It is a high reflection upon God, to reproach any man with his natural defects or infirmities. (3.) Wicked children should read and tremble at this judgment.

3. Having visited Carmel, Elijah's late residence, and where might be another school of prophets, he went to Samaria, the metropolis, to testify against their idolatry, where it was most confirmed under the royal sanction. Note; When iniquity most reigns, and the largest field is open to labour for God, there is the zealous prophet's call.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 2 Kings 2". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/2-kings-2.html. 1801-1803.
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