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2 Kings 2:1-25
THE REMOVAL OF ELIJAH FROM EARTH, AND SOME EARLY MIRACLES OF ELISHA. The great prophet of Israel was to have a departure from earth as marvelous as his life had been. Ewald's words, though not intended in an historical, but only in a literary sense, embody very forcibly what the humble believer may accept as the actual rationale of the occurrence related in 2 Kings 2:1-12 : "An earthly career which had no equal in the purity of its devotion to the service of Jehovah, and was at the same time consummated by such powerful efforts to promote the kingdom of God, could only have a corresponding close. It ceases before the very eyes of men, only to he taken up into the realm of pure spirit, that is, to heaven, there to carry on its work with less disturbance, and with greater power; and at that moment heaven itself descends to earth, to take to itself that spirit which is already entirely its own. And so a fiery chariot with fiery horses comes down from heaven and bears Elijah in the tempest up to heaven". In Ewald's view, the narrative is pure imagination, the beautiful conception of one who greatly admired the Tishbite, and invented for him an end in ideal harmony with his life. But may not Omnipotence sometimes work out ideal harmonies in the actual matter-of-fact universe? And is it "advanced criticism," or sound criticism at all, to take a professed history, and pick and cull from it certain portions as absolute facts, quite indubitable, while rejecting other portions, which have exactly the same external testimony, as pure fictions absolutely devoid of the slightest historical foundation?
The record of Elisha's early miracles (2 Kings 2:13-24) prepares the way for the position which Elisha is to occupy in the next section of the history, under the Israelite monarchs, Jehoram, Jehu, Jeheahaz, and Jehoash. On Elisha falls the mantle of Elijah (2 Kings 2:13), and with it a portion of his spirit, sufficient to enable him to carry on the prophetic office with vigor and steadfastness.
2 Kings 2:1
And it came to pass, when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven. The subject is introduced as one of general notoriety, the writer professing rather to give the exact details of a well-known fact, than to relate a new fact unknown to his readers. "When the time came," he means to say, "for Elijah's translation, of which you, my readers, all know, the following were the circumstances under which it took place." The fact itself was deeply impressed on the Jewish consciousness. "Elias," says the Sou of Sirach, "was taken up in a whirlwind of fire, and in a chariot of fiery homes" (Ecclesiasticus 48:9). He was ranked with Enoch, as not having seen death (Josephus, 'Ant. Jud.,' 9.2. § 2), and was viewed as "continuing in heaven a mysterious life, which no death had ever interrupted, whence he was ready at any time to return to earth". The scribes thought that he was beyond all doubt to make his appearance upon the earth in person, before the coming of the Messiah (Matthew 16:10). By a whirlwind. Sa'arach is not so much an actual "whirlwind" as a storm or atmospheric disturbance (συσσεισμός, LXX.). It is a word which only occurs here in the historical Scriptures. That Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. Elisha had become to Elijah what Joshua was to Moses (Exodus 24:13)—his "minister," or regular attendant, from the time of his call at Abel-meholah (1 Kings 19:21). Elijah had no fixed residence, but moved from place to place as the Spirit of God suggested. His wanderings had now brought him to Gilgal (probably Jiljilieh, near Nablous), one of the most ancient sanctuaries of the land (1Sa 10:8; 1 Samuel 11:15, etc.), celebrated in the history of Saul and Samuel.
2 Kings 2:2
And Elijah said unto Elisha, Tarry here, I pray thee; for the Lord hath sent me. Elijah makes three efforts to rid himself of the presence of his faithful attendant (see 2 Kings 2:4 and 2 Kings 2:6), either really desirous to pass in solitude the few remaining hours of his earthly life, for he knows that his end is approaching (2 Kings 2:9, 2 Kings 2:10), or for the purpose of testing his fidelity and affection. Under ordinary circumstances, the servant would naturally have obeyed his lord, and submitted to a temporary separation; but Elisha has a presentiment, or something stronger than a presentiment, of what is impending (2 Kings 2:3, 2 Kings 2:5), and will not be induced to accelerate by a single moment the time of the last parting. He will remain with his master, ready to do him all needful service, until the end. To Bethel. Bethel was the spiritual center of the kingdom of the ten tribes. There may have been many reasons why Elijah should visit it once more before he quitted the earth. He may have had directions to leave, consolation to give, words of warning to speak. We must not suppose that the narrative before us is complete. And Elisha said unto him, As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth. These were ordinary forms of earnest asseveration with the Israelites, generally used separately (Judges 8:19; Rth 3:13; 1 Samuel 1:26; 1 Samuel 14:39; 1 Samuel 17:55; 1Sa 19:6; 1 Samuel 20:21; 2 Samuel 4:9; 2 Samuel 11:11, etc.); but on occasions of special solemnity united, as here and in 1Sa 20:3; 1 Samuel 25:26; 2 Kings 4:30). The prophet is not to be blamed for using them, since the command, "Swear not at all," had not yet been given. I will not leave thee. The resolve indicates strong attachment, deep fidelity, combined, perhaps, with a reasonable curiosity to see how the end would be brought about. So they went down to Bethel. The expression, "went down," shows that the Gilgal of 2 Kings 4:1 is not that of the Jordan valley, but the mountain-city between Sichem and Bethel.
2 Kings 2:3
The sons of the prophets that were at Bethel (On the expression, "sons of the prophets," see the comment upon 1 Kings 20:35.) The institution of the "schools of the prophets," or theological colleges where young prophets were brought up, is usually assigned to Samuel, one of whose habitual residences for a part of the year was Bethel (1 Samuel 7:16). Probably he had established a "school" there which continued to this time. Came forth to Elisha, and said unto him. The students did not venture to address the master himself, who was a person of too much dignity to be intruded on; but sought out the servant, to give him a warning of what their prophetic instinct assured them was about to happen. Knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head (i.e. from his position as teacher and master) today? There was, perhaps, something a little officious and self-assertive in this question. They might have felt sure, if they had been properly modest, that Elisha would have at least as much prophetic instinct and foresight as themselves. Hence he answers them with something of rebuke: And he said, Yea, I know it—literally, I too know it—hold ye your peace; or, "Hush—do not chatter about what is so sacred; do not suppose that you are wiser than any one else; be a little modest and a little reticent."
2 Kings 2:4
And Elijah said unto him, Tarry here, I pray thee. The first trial of Elisha's fidelity is followed by a second. The master suggests his tarrying at Bethel, the sacred center, where he will have the company of the "sons of the prophets," and will not be companionless, as perhaps he would have been at Gilgal. He himself is ordered to take a second journey, longer and rougher than the first. For the Lord hath sent me to Jericho. Will it not be better that Elisha shall spare himself the long and rugged descent from the high-land of Ephraim to the deep gully of Jordan, and remain with the friends who have sought him out, while his master accomplishes the remainder of Iris journey alone? And he said, As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. Absolute unchangeableness of resolution is best shown by absolute un-changingness of speech. Elisha, therefore, simply repeats his previous words. And the master once more yields. So they came to Jericho.
2 Kings 2:5
And the sons of the prophets that were at Jericho came to Elisha, and said unto him; Knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head today? And he answered, Yea, I know it hold ye your peace. At Jericho, too, as well as at Bethel, there was a school of the prophets, though the two places were not more than about twenty miles apart. This would seem to imply the existence of a large number of such seminaries at this period. No doubt, when the secular power was most strongly opposed to true religion, the prophetical order had to make increased efforts to raise its numbers and multiply its schools. The prophets of Israel, it must be remembered, were, after the withdrawal of the priests and Levites (2 Chronicles 11:13, 2 Chronicles 11:14), the sole teachers of the people in true religion.
2 Kings 2:6
And Elijah said unto him, Tarry, I pray thee, here; for the Lord hath sent me to Jordan. Elijah makes a third effort to detach his follower from him, or a third trial of his fidelity. He is ordered, not to a town, where his follower might find lodging and refreshment and companionship, but into the open country—to the Jordan. And then, who can say whither? Will it not be best for Elisha to leave him now, and not continue a wandering which threatens to be endless? But the follower is staunch; nothing daunts him; and he makes the same reply as before. And he said, As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And they two went on.
2 Kings 2:7
And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood to view. It is a harsh judgment to blame the "sons of the prophets" for an idle and shallow curiosity in merely "standing" at a distance "to view" the wonderful event, which Elisha was determined to witness as closely, and associate himself with as intimately, as possible. For the sons of the prophets to have approached nearer, and hung on the skirts of Elijah, would have been an impertinence, Elisha's persistence is only justified by his strong affection, and the special office which he held, of attendant minister. The fifty students showed a courteous sense of what was due to the prophet's desire of seclusion by not pressing on his footsteps, and at the same time a real interest in him, and a reasonable curiosity, by quitting their college and "standing to view" on some eminence which commanded a prospect of the lower Jordan valley. There were many such eminences within a short distance of Jericho. And they two stood by Jordan. At length all other human companionship was shaken off—"they two" stood, side by side, on the banks of the sacred stream, which had played so important a part, and was still to play so far more important a part, in the theocratic history. All the world, except their two selves, was remote—was beyond their ken; the master and the servant, the prophet of the past and the prophet of the coming generation, were together, with none to disturb them, or interfere between them, or separate them. Jordan rolled its waters before their eyes, a seeming barrier to further advance; and Elisha may naturally have looked to see the final scene transacted in that "plain below a plain," the Jordan bed, sunk beneath the general level of the Ghor, green with lush grass and aquatic plants, and with beds of reeds and osiers, but squalid with long stretches of mud and masses of decaying vegetation, brought down from the upper river, and with rotting trunks of trees torn from the banks higher up. But the end was not yet. Jordan was to be crossed, and the ascension to take place from the plain whence Moses, when about to quit earth, had made his ascent to Pisgah.
2 Kings 2:8
And Elijah took his mantle (the LXX. have τὸν μηλωτήν); the sheep-skin cape or capote, which covered his shoulders. And wrapped it together; rather, and rolled it up (εἴλησε, LXX.); so that it resembled in some degree a rod or staff. And [with this he] smote the waters; consciously imitating the act of Moses when he "stretched out his hand over the Red Sea" (Exodus 14:21), and divided its waters asunder. And they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground. The parallelism with the miraculous acts of Moses and Joshua (Joshua 3:13) is obvious, and allowed even by those who view the acts themselves as having no historical foundation. It was intended that Israel should regard Elijah and Elisha as a second Moses and Joshua, and should therefore yield them a ready obedience. If miracles are impossible, cadit quaestio; exegesis of Scripture, and even reading of Scripture, may as well be put aside. But if they are possible, and have a place in the Divine economy, here was a worthy occasion for them. The powers of the world were arrayed against the cause of true religion and so against God; the cause was about to lose its great champion and assertor, Elijah; a weaker successor was about to take his place;—without some manifest display of supernatural might the cause of religion would evidently have lost ground, perhaps have been ruined altogether. It pleased God, therefore, just at this time, to grant that signs and wonders of an extraordinary character should be done by the hands of his servants Elijah and Elisha, that a halo of mystic glory should encircle them, for the better sustentation of his own cause against his adversaries, for the exaltation and glorification of his faithful ones, and for the confusion and dismay of those who were opposed to them. Now, surely, if ever, was there a dignus vindice nodus, justifying a miraculous interposition.
2 Kings 2:9
And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. Elijah knows that the time is growing now very short. He will soon have left the earth. A yearning comes over him, before he goes, to leave his faithful follower, his trusty, persevering adherent, some parting gift, some token of his appreciation, some sign of his love. What does his "minister" desire? Let him ask what he will, and his master will, if it be possible, grant it. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. Elisha's request has been variously explained. The older commentators regarded him as having asked for twice as much spiritual and prophetical power as Elijah had possessed; and this interpretation is certainly favored by the reply of Elijah, as recorded in the next verse. But it is objected
(1) that Elisha's modesty would prevent him from asking so much; and
(2) that double the spirit and power of Elijah certainly did not rest upon him.
This latter fact is quite undeniable. As Keil says, "It is only a quite external and superficial view of the career of Elisha that can see in it a proof that double the spirit of Elijah rested upon him" ('Commentary on Kings,' ad loc.). To one who looks beneath the surface, and regards something besides length of life and number of miracles, Elisha is a very faint and feeble replica of Elijah. Ewald's judgment is here correct: "Elisha is great only so far as he continues and carries out with more force than any other man of his time the work which Elijah had begun with new and wonderful power … he did not possess any such intensity of inward power as his master". Accordingly, Ewald, rejecting the old explanation, suggests one of his own—that Elisha asked for "two thirds of Elijah's spirit"; but this would be a very strange and unusual request, even if the Hebrew could be made to mean it. Who ever asks for two-thirds of a thing? The third explanation, to which most modern commentators incline (Keil, Thenius, Patrick, Clarke, Pool, Bottcher), is that Elisha merely requested that he might receive twice as much of Elijah's spirit as should be received by any other of the "sons of the prophets." He made a reference to Deuteronomy 21:17, and asked for the "double portion" (literally, "double mouthful") which was the right of an eldest son. The only objection to this view is Elijah's answer (see the next verse).
2 Kings 2:10
And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing; literally, thou hast been hard in asking (ἐσκλήρυνας τοῦ αἰτήσασθαι, LXX.). Perhaps the "hardness" of the request was in the thing asked, not in the quantity of the thing. Had Elisha asked for anything that Elijah had it directly in his power to give, as for his mantle, or his blessing, or his prayers in the other world, to grant the request would have been easy. But he had asked for something that was not Elijah's to give, but only God's. Elijah could not bequeath his spirit, as a man bequeaths his property; he could only pray God that Elisha's pious request might be granted. Nevertheless, if thou see ms when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so. Our translators have thought to clear the sense by inserting "nevertheless" and "when I am." But the inserted words would be better away. As Elijah cannot either grant or refuse a request for a spiritual gift, which it is not in his power to Bestow, he is divinely instructed to give Elisha a sign, by which he shall know whether God grants his prayer or not. The sign of acceptance is to be his actually seeing his master's translation. Probably the chariot and horses were not visible to the natural human eye, any more than the angelic hosts were who compassed Elisha himself about at Dothan (2 Kings 6:17).
2 Kings 2:11
And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked (comp. Luke 24:50, Luke 24:51,). The antitype answers to the type in little details as well as in the general outline. That behold, there appeared a chariot of firs, and horses of fire. God's "angels are spirits, and his ministers a flaming fire" (Psalms 104:4). When the eyes of Elisha's servant were opened, and he saw the angelic host that protected his master, it appeared to him that "the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha" (2 Kings 6:17). Material fire is, of course, not to be thought of. But the glory and brightness of celestial beings, when made visible to man, has some analogy with fire, or at any rate brings the conception of fire before the mind. The historian doubtless reports the account which Elisha gave of what he saw on this memorable occasion. And parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven; literally, and Elijah went up in a storm into the heavens. There is no mention of a "whirlwind;" and "the heavens" are primarily the visible firmament or sky which overhangs the earth. Elijah, like our Lord, rose bodily from the earth into the upper region of the air, and was there lost to sight. Three only of the seed of Adam—Enoch, Elijah, Jesus—have passed from earth to heaven without dying.
2 Kings 2:12
And Elisha saw it. The condition was fulfilled which Elijah had laid down, and Elisha knew that his request for a "double portion" of his master's spirit was granted. And he cried, My father! my father! It was usual for servants thus to address their masters (2 Kings 5:13), and younger men would, out of respect, almost always thus address an aged prophet (2 Kings 6:21; 2 Kings 13:14, etc.). But Elisha probably meant something more than to show respect. He regarded himself as Elijah's specially adopted son, and hence had claimed the "double portion" of the firstborn. That his request was granted showed that the relationship was acknowledged. The chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof; i.e. the best earthly defense of Israel. "In losing thee," he means, "we lose our great protector—him that is more to us than chariots and horsemen—the strength of Israel, against both domestic and foreign foes." The sight of the fiery chariot and horses may have determined the imagery, but they are not spoken of. Note the substitution of "horsemen" for "horses," and comp. 2 Kings 13:10, where the same expression is used in reference to Elisha. And he saw him no more. Elijah passed beyond Elisha's ken. So far as we can gather from the expressions employed, no cloud received him (Acts 1:9), but he gradually vanished from sight. And he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces; an action marking extreme horror or extreme grief—here the latter (comp. Genesis 37:29; 2 Samuel 13:19; Job 1:20; Job 2:12, etc.).
2 Kings 2:13
He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him; and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan; literally, the lip of the Jordan; that is, the brink of the stream, at the point, probably, where he and his master had crossed it.
2 Kings 2:14
And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him; and smote the waters—imitated, i.e; the action of Elijah (2 Kings 2:8), as Elijah had imitated the action of Moses at the passage of the Red Sea—and said, Where is the Lord God of Elijah? The present Hebrew text reads, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah, even he?" the last two words being emphatic; but the emphasis scarcely appears to be needed. Hence the translators have very generally detached the two words from Elisha's question, and, attaching them to the succeeding clause, have rendered it, And when he also had smitten the waters; but the position of the van conjunctive, after אַף־הוּא and before יַכֶּה, makes this division of the clauses impossible. It has therefore been proposed by some to read אֵפוֹא, "now," for אַף־הוּא, "even he" (Houbigant, Thenius, Schultz, Botteher, Dathe), and to translate, "Where now is the Lord God of Elijah?" Is he still here, with me, or has he withdrawn himself from earth with his prophet, and left me alone to my own unaided strength? This gives a good meaning, but is perhaps too bold a change. The LXX. had evidently our present Hebrew text before them, and, as they could make nothing of it, transcribed it into Greek characters, Ποῦ ὁ Θεὸς Ηλιοὺ ἀφφώ; they parted hither and thither: and Elisha wont over. God showed, i.e; that he was still with Elisha by enabling him to repeat Elijah's last miracle, and thus gave him an assurance that he would be with him thenceforth An his prophetic ministry.
2 Kings 2:15
And when the sons of the prophets, which were to view at Jericho (see 2 Kings 2:7), saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah cloth rest on Elisha. It is not quite clear upon what grounds the sons of the prophets came to this conclusion. Probably they had seen the passage of the Jordan by the two prophets, the disappearance of Elijah, and the return of Elisha across the stream in a way which they may have suspected to be miraculous. But the Jordan is four or five miles distant from the city of Jericho, and their apprehension of the various circumstances would be incomplete, and more or less vague. Perhaps there was something in Elisha's appearance and expression of countenance which impressed them, and appeared to them to mark his exaltation to a higher dignity and spiritual position. And they came to meet him; and bowed themselves to the ground before him; thus acknowledging him for their master, as they had been wont to acknowledge Elijah.
2 Kings 2:16
And they said unto him. Thenius suggests that Elisha first related to them what had befallen his master; but the impression left by the narrative is rather that they began the conversation, being aware of Elijah's disappearance, which in that clear atmosphere they may have distinctly perceived, though the ascension may not have been visible to them. Keil thinks that they saw the ascension, but supposed that the body, after being taken up a certain height into the air, would necessarily fall to earth, and that they wished to find it and bury it. But the natural interpretation is that they thought the prophet had been "caught away" by a Divine influence, as Philip the evangelist was in later times (Acts 8:39), and would be found somewhere alive, as Philip "was found at Azotus." Behold now, there be with thy servants fifty strong men; literally, sons of strength; i.e. stout, active persons, capable of climbing the rough and precipitous rocks among which they thought that Elijah might be east. Let them go, we pray thee, and seek thy master: lest peradventure the Spirit of the Lord hath taken him up, and cast him upon some mountain, or into some valley. On either side of the ciccar, or Jordan plain, are rugged districts, consisting of alternate rocky mountain slopes and narrow gulleys, or water-courses, dry during the greater part of the year. The sons of the prophets think that Elijah has been carried by the Spirit of God into one or other of these mountain tracts, and wish to search them. And he said, Ye shall not send; or, do not send; meaning, "it will be useless—you will find nothing—it is not as you suppose."
2 Kings 2:17
And when they urged him, till he was ashamed, he said, Send; literally, when they urged him until shame; which some expound to mean, "until they were ashamed to press him any more" (Gesenius, Winer, Keil); but others, with more reason, "until he was ashamed to persist in his refusal" (ἑὼς οὗ ἠσχύνετο, LXX.). It is always a hard thing for one man to refuse the repeated and earnest request of a multitude. When Elisha said, "Send," he had not in the least changed his mind; he only meant to say, "Send, then, if you insist upon it, to satisfy yourselves, not me. There is no harm in your sending." They sent therefore fifty men; and they sought three days, but found him not. The result bore out the advice and anticipations of the prophet. It was simply nil. No trace was found of the aged seer who had been translated from earth to heaven.
2 Kings 2:18
And when they came again to him, (for he tarried at Jericho,) he said unto them, Did I not say unto you, Go not? The prophet was not above vindicating the propriety of his past conduct. He waited at Jericho until the fifty men returned from their vain search, and then reminded them that his advice to them had been not to start on a useless errand. The ministers of God have to vindicate themselves, because God's honor is concerned in their being without reproach.
2 Kings 2:19-25
The historian passes to the record of some of Elisha's minor miracles, belonging to the time whereof he is writing, and helping to explain the position of dignity and respect which he is found to occupy in the next chapter (2 Kings 2:11-14). The miracles showed his twofold power, both to confer benefits and to punish.
2 Kings 2:19
And the men of the city—i.e. the inhabitants of Jericho; probably the civic authorities, having heard of the recent miracle—said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth. According to the unanimous voice of travelers, the situation of Jericho (now Eriha) is charming. Lying on a broad plain which is traversed by an abundant river, at the point where one of the main wadys debouched from the Judaean upland upon the low country, shaded by groves of palm trees (Deuteronomy 34:3) and fig-mulberries (Luke 19:4), the air scented with aromatic shrubs, opobalsam, myroba-lanum, and the like, facing the Orient sun, and commanding a wide prospect both across and also up and down the Ghor, with the mountains of Moab in the distance, Jericho was, no doubt, even before the miracle of Elisha, a "pleasant" place. But—there was one drawback—the water is naught, and the ground barren. Bitter and brackish springs, of which there are many in the Jordan valley, gushed forth from the foot of the mountains, and formed rivulets, which ran across the plain towards the Jordan, not diffusing health and fertility, but rather disease and barrenness. Untimely births, abortions, and the like prevailed among the cattle which were fed in the neighborhood, perhaps even among the inhabitants of the locality, and were attributed to the bitter springs, which made the land "miscarrying" (ἀτεκνουμένη, LXX.). It was the prayer of the men of Jericho that Elisha would remove this inconvenience.
2 Kings 2:20
And he said, Bring me a new cruse. Impurity must be cleansed by means that are wholly clean and pure. The prophet called for an absolutely new cruse, one that had been put to no use at all, and therefore could not have been defiled. And put salt therein. Salt, which physically would be most unapt to heal an unwholesome stream already holding too much salt in solution, is selected doubtless as emblematic of purity, being that by which corruption is ordinarily prevented or stayed. Under the Law every offering was to be purified by salt (Le 2 Kings 2:13). The same symbolism is still employed under the gospel. And they brought it to him.
2 Kings 2:21
And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there. The "spring" intended is supposed to be that now called Ain-es-Sultan, "the spring of the Sultan," which is the only copious source near the site of the ancient Jericho. The modern town lies at a distance of two miles from it. Ain-es-Sultan is described as "a large and beautiful fountain of sweet and pleasant water", and as "scattering, even at the hottest season, the richest and most grateful vegetation over what would otherwise be a bare tract of sandy soft." The other springs of the neighborhood are mostly brackish. And said, Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence—i.e; from the waters—any more death or barren land; rather, or miscarrying.
2 Kings 2:22
So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake. It was not a mere temporary, but a permanent, benefit which Elisha bestowed upon the town.
2 Kings 2:23
And he went up from thence unto Bethel. The ascent is steep and long from the Jordan valley to the highlands of Benjamin, on which Bethel stood, probably one of not less than three thousand feet. The object of Elisha's visit may have been to inform the "sons of the prophets" at Bethel (2 Kings 2:3) of the events that had befallen Elijah. And as he was going up by the way—i.e; by the usual road or pathway, for, in the strict sense of the word, roads did not exist in Palestine—there came forth little children out of the city. "Little children" is an unfortunate translation, raising quite a wrong idea of the tender age of the persons spoken of. On the other hand, Bishop Patrick's assertion that the words are to be "understood of adult persons, who had a hatred to the prophet," is quite untenable. Naarim ketanaim would be best translated "young lads"—boys, that is, from twelve to fifteen. Such mischievous youths are among the chief nuisances of Oriental towns; they waylay the traveler, deride him, jeer him—are keen to remark any personal defect that he may have, and merciless in flouting it; they dog his steps, shout out their rude remarks, and sometimes proceed from abusive words to violent acts, as the throwing of sticks, or stones, or mud. On this occasion they only got as far as rude words. And mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head! go up, thou bald head! It has been maintained that the scoff of the lads contained an allusion to the ascension of Elijah (Patrick, Pool, Clarke), of which they had beard, and was a call upon Elisha to follow his master's example in quitting the world, that they might be no longer troubled with him. But it is not at all apparent that the lads even knew who Elisha was—they would probably have jeered at any aged person with whom they had fallen in; and by "Go up" they merely meant "Go on thy way; 'the force of their jeer was not in the word' aleh, but in the word kereach, "bald head." Baldness was sometimes produced by leprosy, and then made a man unclean (Leviticus 13:42-44); but the boys probably flouted the mere natural defect, in which there was no "uncleanness" (Leviticus 13:40, Leviticus 13:41), but which they regarded as a fit subject for ridicule. Their sin was disrespect towards old age, combined, perhaps, with disrespect for the prophetical order, to which they may have known from his dress that Elisha belonged.
2 Kings 2:24
And he turned back, and looked on them; rather, and he looked behind him, and saw them, as in the Revised Version. The boys, after the manner of boys, were following him, hanging upon him, not daring to draw too near, hooting him from behind, as ill-bred and ill-intentioned youths are apt to do. And cursed them in the name of the Lord. The action cannot be defended from a Christian point of view—Christians have no right to curse any one. But we can well understand that, under the old covenant, a prophet newly installed in office, and commencing his ministry, might deem it right to vindicate the honor of his office by visiting such conduct as that of these misguided youths with a malediction. Under the Law God's ministers were required to curse the disobedient (Deuteronomy 27:14-26). Elisha could not tell what would be the effect of his curse. It could have no effect at all excepting through the will and by the action of God. And there came forth two she-bears out of the wood; or, the forest; i.e. the forest, which, as all knew, lay within a short distance of Bethel, and was the haunt of wild beasts (see 1 Kings 3:24). And tare forty and two children of them. It is not said how far the lads were injured, whether fatally or not. But the punishment, whatever its severity, came from God, not from the prophet, and we may be sure was just. For "shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" A severe example may have been needed under the circumstances of the time, when a new generation was growing up in contempt of God and of religion; and the sin of the lads was not a small one, but indicated that determined bent of the will against good, and preference of evil, which is often developed early, and generally goes on from bad to worse.
2 Kings 2:25
And he went from thence to Mount Carmel. Ewald thinks that Carmel was, on the whole, the main residence of Elijah, and "through him became a special prophetic locality". If so, we may account for Elisha's visiting it on this occasion by his desire to communicate the facts of Elijah's removal from earth to those who had been his intimates in that quarter. And from thence he returned to Samaria. Elisha does not imitate the wild, half-savage life and almost constant seclusion of his master. He "prefers from the first the companionship of men," fixes his home in the capital of his country, Samaria (2 Kings 5:9; 2 Kings 6:32); is a friendly counselor of the king (2 Kings 6:9), and highly honored by him (2 Kings 8:4); his whole life, indeed, is, compared with that of Elijah, one of ease and tranquility. But, though living "in the world," he is not "of the world." As Ewald says, "In spite of all the seductions to which he was abundantly exposed through the great consideration in which he was held, he retained at every period of his life the true prophetic simplicity and purity, and contempt for worldly wealth and advantages". He is thus, far more than Elijah, a pattern for Christian ministers, especially for such as are highly placed, who will do well to follow his example.
2 Kings 2:1-10
Preparation for our departure from earth.
Abnormal as was the mode of Elijah's departure from the earth, his conduct in prospect of departure may be to some extent a lesson to Christians. Note—
I. HIS RESIGNATION. No murmur escapes him; he shows no unwillingness to depart, no clinging to earth, no fear of removal, no shrinking from entrance on the unseen world. When God determines that the objects with which he has been placed upon the earth are accomplished, and that the Divine purposes will now be best carried out by other agents, he is quite ready to go, satisfied to depart, content that God should do with him as seemeth him good. Occupied with listening intently to the Divine voice which speaks within him, and executing its mandates, he moves from place to place, as ordered, indifferent where he is or what toils he undergoes, so that to the last he may faithfully perform the Divine will.
II. HIS ABSORPTION IN DIVINE CONTEMPLATION AND MEDITATION. The things of earth concern him no more. He moves on in a holy calm, wrapt in pious thought, not even speaking, except in rare snatches, to his attached follower. The unseen world, the coming change, the things of heaven, occupy him. He does not address, perhaps he scarcely sees, the "sons of the prophets," who come forth to take their last look on the great teacher of the day. The time is too solemn a one for greetings, or conversations, or even exhortations. He does not seek to "improve the occasion," as shallower spirits might have done. In silence he goes his way, his mind fixed on God and the things of God—things ineffable, inexpressible—which "eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man" to conceive, but which are revealed in flashes to the soul about to depart, and give it a foretaste of the final "joy of the Lord."
III. HIS CONSIDERATION, DESPITE HIS ABSORPTION, FOR HIS ATTACHED FOLLOWER. Nothing is more common than for persons, in the near prospect of death, to be wholly occupied with themselves, and to have no consideration at all for others—to lose them out of sight, to forget them. Elijah, though wrapt in holy contemplation, is constantly mindful of his follower. Three times he suggests that his attendance is not necessary, and that he should spare himself the toil and trouble of tedious journeys (2 Kings 2:2, 2 Kings 2:4, 2 Kings 2:6). Finally, he invites him to ask whatever boon he pleases, with a replied pledge that, if it be within his power, he will grant it. The boon asked is one not directly in his power to grant; but he does not refuse it on that account. He consults God secretly as to the Divine will with respect to it, and obtains an answer which sustains the spirit of his follower, and makes the moment of his bereavement one also of comfort and triumph to him.
2 Kings 2:2-12
Though Elisha is said to have "ministered" to Elijah (1 Kings 19:21), and to have "poured water on his hands" (2 Kings 3:11), yet he was far more Elijah's friend than his servant. There was no broad difference of rank between the two to hinder this. Rather Elisha was, in original worldly position, the higher of the two. The glimpse we get of his early home in 1 Kings 19:19-21 is indicative of comfort and wealth. In education and manners he must have been quite Elijah's equal. A friendship, in the proper sense of the term, was thus possible between them, and seems to have existed, and to have been warm and true. It was a friendship, however, in which a certain disparity was recognized on either side—the φιλία καθ ὑπεροχὴν, of Aristotle. Elijah was the elder man of the two; he had, when the two became acquainted, the higher social position, being familiar with the court at the time when Elisha was a mere well-to-do farmer; and, as the recognized head of the prophetical order, he had a quasi-ecclesiastical position far higher than that which Elisha occupied during his lifetime. The French proverb says, "Darts les amities il y a toujours un qui aline, et l'autre qui est aime;" and, under the circumstances, it was natural that the attachment should be warmest on Elisha's side.
1. Elisha shows his attachment by that continuous ministry which caused him to be designated as "Elisha, which poured water on the hands of Elijah" (2 Kings 3:11)—that constant waiting upon the great prophet, and unceasing service, which lasted from the casting of the mantle at Abel-Meholah to the ascent in the chariot and horses of fire.
2. He shows it by his determination to see the last of his friend, to remain in his company as long as he possibly can.
3. He shows it very remarkably by the sympathy which he displays with Elijah's mood on the journey from Gilgal to the plain east of Jordan, the silence which he keeps, the brief replies which he makes, the care which he takes that his master's meditations shall be kept free from disturbance. 4. Finally, he shows it by his deep grief when the hour of parting comes; the exclamation forced from him, "My father! my father!" and the violent rending of his clothes into two pieces, which was something very different from the conventional rending of ordinary mourners. As David and Jonathan furnish the scriptural model for a friendship between equals, so Elijah and Elisha may properly be regarded as the model for a friendship between unequals, both equally constant, but perhaps not both equally loving—one the protector, the director, the benefactor, the teacher, the master, the guide; the other the dependent, the scholar, the servant, the faithful devotedly attached follower, admirer, almost slave; bound together in a lifelong bond always becoming more and more close, and presented to us, not merely to awaken in us a passing interest, but to stir us under suitable circumstances to imitation.
2 Kings 2:9
Desire for spiritual exaltation.
The Apostle Paul exhorts his converts to "covet earnestly the best gifts" (1 Corinthians 12:31). Selfishness can intrude everywhere; and no doubt there may be a selfish desire for high spiritual gifts and powers, merely to promote our individual glorification. We must be on our guard, not only against the more vulgar forms of selfishness, but also against those rarer and more recondite forms of it which constitute the special temptations of minds not accessible to low motives of the ordinary kind. It is, perhaps, difficult for us, in all eases, to discern our own motives; but an honest wish to discern them will go a long way towards enabling us to arrive at the truth. Desire for spiritual exaltation is noble, pure, and right—
I. WHEN OUR MOTIVE IS TO BE OF GREATER USE TO OTHERS. In this case our wish will be for the gifts which tend most to the good of others—for the power to edify, for the power to console, for the power to convert the wicked, for the power to strengthen the upright. We shall not desire to be clever, or eloquent, or logical, or deeply learned; but to be able to win souls to Christ. We shall not be concerned about other persons' estimates of us; we shall not want their admiration, or their praise, or even their good opinion; but we shall want to see some fruit of our ministerial labors, some increase of earnestness and spiritual-mindedness amongst those who are committed to our charge, some improvement in their habits, some greater zeal, some warmer devotion, some higher spirit of self-sacrifice.
II. WHEN OUR MOTIVE IS THE GREATER GLORY OF GOD. God is glorified in the perfection of his creatures; and desire of spiritual exaltation is right when we really and truly desire it for this end. But it is hard to know when this is the case. Great saints, no doubt, have attained to such a condition, and have longed to reach nearer and nearer to spiritual perfectness, not from any selfish motive, but purely to do more honor to God, to glorify him in their souls and spirits, which are God's. But so few attain to this spiritual height, that a man can scarcely be justified in assuming to himself that he has reached it. We shall do well to suspect our own motives; to keep strict watch upon ourselves, to be on our guard against the insidiousness of self-seeking. Ascetics in all ages, and some in the present age who do not affect any remarkable strictness or severity of life, but call themselves searchers after occult science, or after the higher wisdom, or esoteric Buddhists, or by some other similar outlandish name, and profess to be seeking high spiritual perfection as their own highest good, do not for the most part seek to conceal the selfishness of their aims, or pretend to be actuated either by the wish to benefit others or the desire to promote the glory of God. Their self-training and self-culture begin and end in self, and have nothing noble, or grand, or admirable about them; but, if they are insincere, are a cloak for ordinary vulgar self-seeking, and, if they are sincere, are the result of a delusion cast on them by Satan.
2 Kings 2:14-24
The signs of a teacher sent from God.
No man is entitled to assume the position of a teacher sent from God of his own mere motion, or without some external authorization. "How can men preach, except they be sent?" (Romans 10:15). Where an organization has been established by Divine agency, human authorization, the mission of those to whom the power of mission has been assigned, is sufficient. But where there is no such established Church system, the commission has to be given directly by God, and can only be attested to man by the accompaniment of miraculous powers. Miraculous operations may be of three kinds:
(1) τέρατα, mere "wonders," suspensions of or departures from the ordinary course of nature;
(2) ἰάματα, "cures," works of mercy, miraculous interpositions for the benefit of mankind at large, or of certain persons; and
(3) φθοραί, "destructions," miraculous hurts to persons or things, withering up of limbs, smitings with leprosy, or with palsy, or with death itself. It has often been remarked that our Lord's miracles were predominantly of the second kind. The same may be said of Elisha's. But as, in the providence of God, it was thought fitting that our Lord, besides his numerous miracles of mercy, should work some mere wonders, as walking on the sea, passing through closed doors (John 20:19), ascending up in his human body to heaven; and should also work at least one miracle of destruction, the withering up of the barren fig tree through his curse; so also Elisha's mission was attested by miracles of all three kinds. First of all, he exhibits a "wonder" by dividing Jordan; then he works a miracle of mercy, by healing the bitter waters; thirdly, by his curse, he brings about a miracle of destruction, or at least of serious injury, through the she-bears tearing the children. He is thus shown forth to his nation as God's accredited messenger, endowed with miraculous power of each kind, and therefore entitled to speak to them with fall and complete authority.
HOMILIES BY C.H. IRWIN
2 Kings 2:1-8
Here, through the telescope of Scripture story, we are permitted to witness the closing scene of a great life. Let us draw near and look carefully at what happens there, for the like of it only happened once before—and of that we have little record—and it has never happened since. Only two men, Enoch and Elijah, went straight from earth to heaven without passing through the valley of death. It was true of Elijah as well as of Enoch, that "he walked with God." It is a solemn time, surely, in a man's life when he knows that his earthly journey is drawing to a close, that the shadows of death are closing in upon him, and that eternity is opening up before him. It is well for those who, like Elijah, are ready to depart. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." It is a solemn time, too, for those who are left behind. What anxious questioning! What possible doubts about the future! What eagerness to look behind the veil and penetrate the darkness which hides the loved one from our view! How happy those who by the eye of faith can see their departed ones entering through the gates into the city, to be forever with the Lord! It is quite evident that God had conveyed to Elijah some intimation of the fact that he was so soon to be taken away from earth. The sons of the prophets were aware of it, and Elisha knew it also. But Elijah seems to have felt no personal anxiety at the thought. Many hundred years after this, when John Knox—the Elijah of Scotland—was on his death-bed, he said to those who stood around him, "Oh, serve the Lord in fear, and death shall not be terrible unto you!" Something like this was Elijah's experience. He had been faithful to God's cause and commands during his life, and now he was not afraid that God would forsake him at its close. How, then, did Elijah spend the few hours that remained to him before he entered into the presence of his Maker? Some there are who would like to spend those hours in peaceful contemplation alone with God. Elijah was himself a man of contemplative disposition. He loved to he alone with God. His "soul was like a star, and dwelt apart." And yet, with all this, the active was stronger in him than the contemplative; or rather, the two were so well balanced that the one was a help to the other. From his hours of solitude and communion with God he drew inspiration and strength for his stern conflicts with men and sin. If he was a man of contemplation, he was also a man of action. And so we find him spending the greater part of his closing hours in busy activity and usefulness—visiting the schools of the prophets. Is there not a lesson here? Ought we not to imitate Elijah in redeeming the time, in working while it is day? Do you want to spend your last hours well! If so, you should spend everyday, as you would like to spend your last. One day a lady asked John Wesley how he would spend that day if he knew it was to be his last. She doubtless expected some rules for pious meditation and seclusion. His answer was, "Just, madam, as I intend to spend it;" and then he proceeded to tell her what his busy program of work was for the day. Oh, that we could all say that every day, that if it was to be our last we would spend it just as we intend to spend it! We ought to be able to say it, for any day may be our last. No doubt there are many whom God lays aside by age, or infirmity, or suffering for weeks, or months, or years before he calls them home. They cannot spend their closing hours in what is usually called work for Christ, though they may be really working for him by their patience in suffering, by their faith and hope, by their words of counsel to others. But so long as God gives us health and strength to work for him, then it is best to do as Elijah did—to live in harness to the last. Notice the scene of Elijah's closing labors. He visited the schools of the prophets, the colleges or institutions where young men were trained for their future work of teaching others the truths of religion. It was amongst the young his last hours were spent. Elijah felt the importance of these colleges, he realized that the young were the hope of the Church. Hence he would devote to them his last, and probably his best, hours. He would give them words of counsel and exhortation—words that, under such circumstances, few of them would ever forget. There is a lesson here for us all. Parents need to realize more the importance of personally instructing their children. They need to take more interest in the kind of education they receive. They need to be more careful about the companions with whom they permit their children to associate. Not merely parents, but all members of the Christian Church, should take a deeper interest in the education of the young. How little our people know, as a rule, about our theological colleges! and how little encouragement do those laboring in them receive from the Church as a whole! Elijah's closing hours were spent in active work, and that active work consisted in visiting among the young. Such were his parting visits.—C.H.I.
2 Kings 2:9
A parting request.
After visiting the schools of the prophets at Bethel and Jericho, which were both on the west side of Jordan—the side nearest Jerusalem, the side nearest Europe—Elijah, accompanied by Elisha, crossed over to the other side, that is, the east side of Jordan, the side nearest the center of Asia. Why was this? Elijah was a Tishbite, of the inhabitants of Gilead, on this east side of Jordan. Like the mountaineer of Switzerland, or the Highlander of Scotland, he was brought up amid the mountains of Gilead. Like them, he was fearless and brave. And he would seem also to have had all the love of the Swiss or the Highlander for his native hills. He wishes to end his earthly life where it had first begun. Perhaps in the dim distance he can see the spot where nestles the home of his childhood. His life has been a stormy one, and now, ere he leaves it for the peaceful life of heaven, he takes one last fond, lingering look at the quiet home of earth. The friends of his youth are gone. Those whom he knew in childhood have forgotten him. But by his side there is a faithful friend who forsook home and friends for his sake and the sake of the truth of God. Elijah was not a rich man. Silver and gold he had none. But he was one of those who could say, "As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich." Such as he had, he wanted to give to his friend. "And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said to Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me." As Solomon, when he came to the throne, asked not for riches, or honor, or long life, but for a wise and understanding heart, so Elisha also realized what was of most importance for a minister of God, for a teacher of others. Character is the best gift. You may give your children a good education, you may store up a fortune for them, but if they have not a good character, all else is useless and worse than useless. The spirit of Elijah—that was just what a minister of God needed then, and what the minister of the gospel needs still. The spirit of Elijah was a spirit of fidelity to duty, a spirit of faithfulness in rebuking sin, a spirit of fearlessness and courage in the presence of opposition and danger, and at the same time also a spirit of tenderness and love. Such a spirit every Christian worker should seek to possess. And just as Elisha sought to obtain a double portion of it to qualify him for his responsible and prominent position, so also, the minister of Christ needs to be doubly endowed with the Spirit of God. He who would lead and teach others must be doubly spiritual, doubly wise, doubly careful, doubly holy, doubly zealous and scrupulous for the honor and cause of Christ. The spirit of Elijah was needed then, and it is needed still. The sins of his time are the sins of our own time. There are the same immorality, the same covetousness, the same forgetfulness of God, the same absorption in the concerns and pleasures of the present world. We need more men with the spirit of Elijah, who will be faithful to God and conscience at any cost, who will rebuke sin in high places and in any place—the sins of royalty and rank as well as the sins of the poor. How much indecision and worldliness and timidity and timeserving there are on the part of many professing Christians! We need more men with the spirit of Elijah, to ask, "Who is on the Lord's side?" and to cry aloud to the faltering, weak-kneed, half-hearted Christians, "How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord Be God, follow him; but if the world Be your god, follow it." Elisha's parting request is a request which we might all appropriately make in prayer to God, that a double portion of Elijah's spirit may rest upon us.—C.H.I.
2 Kings 2:11, 2 Kings 2:12
Elijah seems to have had a desire to avoid a final parting. Either for that reason, or to try Elisha's devotion, he urged him to tarry first at Gilgal, and afterwards at Bethel. But in vain. Elisha remained with him to the last. What hours of emotion those must have been for Elisha! How he put away from him the very mention of his friend's departure! When the sons of the prophets asked him if he knew that God was going to take away his master from his head that day, he answered, in words of natural impatience, "Yes, I know it; hold ye your peace." Their words were a thoughtless intrusion on his grief, an unintentional probing of his keen emotions. And so it was as if he said, "Don't talk to me about it." "Talking of trouble makes it double." And when they had passed over Jordan, and still walked on, what a talk that was I. Those who have ever sat by the bedside of a dying friend know what such moments are. The time seems all too short. So much is to be said. So many questions to ask. So many counsels to be given. So many wonderings as to what it will all be like when next we meet. But the sharp, decisive moment comes at last. Strange forms fill the sky. They draw near to the earth. They are chariots and horses of fire. They touch the earth. Elijah enters, and suddenly, in a whirlwind, is lost to mortal sight. Elisha stands a moment like one in a dream. Then, recovering himself, and gazing after his beloved leader's vanishing form, he cries, "My father! my father I the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!" He felt, in the poignancy of his grief, as if the strength of Israel had been that day taken from it. But he soon resigns himself, and passes on, to carry on Elijah's work. SO, too, will the Christian think of his departing friend.
"Sleep on, beloved, sleep, and take thy rest,
Lay down thy head upon thy Savior's breast
We love thee well, but Jesus loves thee best:
When friends are parted by death, perhaps the one who remains wonders why one was take, and the other left. Perhaps you were not prepared to die. Perhaps you had done but little for your Master, and he wanted you to do some more for him. He gave you another chance. If God spares our lives, if he raises us up again from a bed of sickness, we may be assured that there is a gracious purpose in it all. But Elijah not only passed out of mortal sight. It is recorded that he went up into heaven. There is no word of an intermediate state. On through the pearly gates, on through the strains of heavenly music, on into the presence of the King. "Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his." Let me live as Elijah lived, and I shall—even though I pass through the valley of the shadow of death—enter as Elijah entered into that house of many mansions, that home eternal in the heavens, that "city that hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God."—C.H.I.
2 Kings 2:13-18
The beginning of Elisha's work.
I. DIVINE POWER TESTED. Elisha wanted a token that God's presence and power were with him. To obtain this he used Elijah's mantle as he had seen Elijah use it. He smote the waters, and said, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" We learn from this a twofold lesson.
1. The best way to prove the power of Divine grace is to exercise the gifts we have. "Neglect not the gift that is in thee." We shall not accomplish much in the world if we stand gazing up into heaven.
"We may not make this world a paradise
By walking it together with clasped hands."
2. All effort should be accompanied by prayer. Elisha knew that the mantle of Elijah was of little use, unless the Lord God of Elijah was with him. "Apostolical succession" profits little if there be not also the baptism of the Holy Ghost. If we would succeed in our business, we must look for the Divine guidance, help, and blessing. "Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it."
II. THE DIVINE PRESENCE MANIFESTED. "When he had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over." If we had faith to undertake great things for God, then we might expect great things from God. Are we attempting as much as we might for our Lord? Are we putting his Divine promises and power to the test? Have we not his own assurance, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world"? Why should our efforts be so feeble, when we have all the resources of Divine grace at our disposal? The Divine presence was manifest not only to Elisha himself, but to the sons of the prophets also. When they saw him, they said, "The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha." If we are walking with God, abiding in Christ, the evidence of it will soon be manifest in our lives.
III. DIVINE PURPOSES DOUBTED. Although, as we have seen above, the sons of the prophets knew that Elijah was to be taken from them, yet they were slow to believe in his actual removal. They asked Elisha's permission to send fifty strong men to seek for Elijah, "lest peradventure the Spirit of the Lord hath taken him up, and cast him upon some mountain, or into some valley." Elisha knew how vain it was, and forbade an expedition so futile. But in response to their urgent and repeated entreaties he gave them permission to send. After the exploring party had been searching for Elijah for three days in vain, they at length gave up the quest and returned to Jericho. So the human heart is ever reluctant to submit to God's purposes. Because we cannot see the meaning of some good man's removal, we think it was ill-timed. Yet God's work does not depend upon the human instruments whom he uses. No doubt there is something beautiful and pathetic about this affection of these young men for their old teacher. But when he was gone, why spend their time in profitless brooding over his loss, instead of showing his spirit, and fulfilling his desires by throwing themselves heartily into their work under Elisha? The Church of Christ best shows its regard for the workers of the past and for their work, not by standing still where they have left off, but by carrying forward and improving the work they have begun. There are ever-new conditions of life opening up, and these must be considered as well as the memories of the past.—C.H.I
2 Kings 2:19-22
The waters healed.
A beautiful city was Jericho. It stood in the midst of a small but luxuriant plain. Fig trees and palm trees, and wheat, aromatic flowers and plants, grew there in great profusion. A few miles distant rolled the river Jordan, "the most interesting river on earth," and in the background lay the rugged hills of Quarantana. Jericho, too, had a famous history. It was the first city to which the Israelitish spies came when they set out to view the land of promise. It was the first city taken by the Israelites, when its walls fell down as they were compassed about by the priests and people of Israel. Five hundred years after that its walls were rebuilt, in the days of Ahab, by Hiel the Bethelite, who suffered the judgment pronounced by God against the man that would rebuild them (1 Kings 16:34). Yet despite their history and their beautiful surroundings, the inhabitants of Jericho were not happy. The city, rich in so many natural advantages, lacked one of the most important of all necessities of a large town—pure water. The water was diseased or bad, and its badness seems to have affected even the fertile land. The men of the city tell Elisha that the water is bad and the ground barren. (The word translated "barren" really means in the original that the ground cast its fruit or did not bring its fruit to perfection.) Beautiful Jericho with its bad water is like many another place on earth. Many a city is fair without, but all corrupt within. Many a mansion, outwardly gorgeous, is full of wretchedness within. Many a man who presents a smiling face to the world has the canker of a guilty conscience gnawing at his heart. Those who are wrong and want to get set right may find some thoughts of comfort and hope in the passage before us. It points us to Jesus, the only One who can set all right and keep all right. "Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters."
Notice here SOME WATERS THAT NEED HEALING, AND CHRIST'S POWER TO HEAL THEM.
1. There are waters of sin. Men may dispute about the universality of the Deluge in the days of Noah. But here is a flood about whose universality there is no doubt. The Gulf-stream has a well-defined course. But the stream of sin is everywhere. Certain forms of disease are peculiar to certain countries. But the disease of sin is found in every land.
(1) There are corrupt currents in our national life. Our political parties are far from being what they ought to be. Compared with those concerned in the government of other countries, perhaps our statesmen may stand high. But compared with the requirements of God's Law, compared with the standard which ought to be required of those who would legislate for a Christian nation, how far short they come! We may thank God for a Christian queen, but who will say we have a Christian legislature? There are Christian men in it, no doubt. But, alas I what an absence of Christian principle in many of the representatives of our people! Some of them notorious atheists. Some of them trampling on the most sacred laws of God and man; and yet—what a mockery!—the professed lawmakers of the nation. What laws in the interests of the Sunday observance, in the interests of morality, in the interests of sobriety and temperance, could we expect from lawgivers who care for none of these things? Truly our political life needs to be purified. We need a reformed parliament in the highest and best sense.
(2) There are corrupt currents in our social life. Perhaps, after all, our legislature is but a fair reflection of our national life. No community that was decidedly Christian would return an avowed atheist as its representative. No community that had a high standard of morality would return men notorious for their wickedness. And then the condition of the press also affords an index to the state of public religion and morality. What vile rubbish is circulated in the form of the novel! What corrupting abominations in the shape of newspapers issue from the London press! The same demoralization and degradation which in heathen lands and in ancient Israel were wrought by the worship of idols, are now being wrought by the circulation of bad literature. The immense circulation which some of the worst of these publications have reached affords an unhappy indication of a low standard of public morality.
(3) There are corrupt currents in our commercial life. Those who are engaged in business know well that it is so. Customers too often attempting to defraud those who supply them with what they need. Sellers too often attempting to defraud those who buy their goods. Those who are in the employment of others robbing them with one hand while they take their pay with the other. There is a curse upon all ill-gotten gain, that all the excuses of the world, all the benedictions of the wicked, never can undo. Wealth gotten by dishonesty or fraud, wealth gotten at the temporal, moral, or spiritual expense of others, is a foul stream, that will bring its blight upon the whole life, and leave it smeared with slime.
2. How are these corrupt currents to be cleansed? How is this foul stream to be purified? Ah! there is only One who can do it. Laws will not do it. Good resolutions will not do it. Jesus is the great Healer. He pours in the fresh stream of water of life upon the diseased currents of the world.
(1) He works through his Word. As Elisha cast the salt into the bad water of Jericho, so Jesus casts the purifying influence of the gospel into the polluted stream of human life. He brings its influence to bear upon the conscience and the heart, alarming men by the fear of death and the terrors of the judgment, and winning them by the still small voice of kindness and of love.
(2) He works also through his people. Christians are to exercise a purifying influence upon the world's life. "Ye are the salt of the earth," are the words of Jesus. The full force of this statement is only realized when we remember that in the natural world salt is the great antidote against corruption. To withhold salt from a prisoner used to be, in the dark ages, the most cruel way of bringing about a slow and gradual death, and that under its most loathsome form. Hence it is that the ocean is, as it has been called, "the chemical bath of the world." It is the salt that is in it which is its chief preservative against corruption, and not only so, but which renders it such a source of life and health. Now, just what the salt is to the sea, and what the salt was to the waters of Jericho, Christians are to be to the life of the world. They are not to lose their savor by not exercising an influence upon the world. Then the world is pretty sure to exercise an influence upon them. No; but they are to carry with them into all the relationships of life the teachings of the gospel and the Spirit of Christ. Here is the practical work which Christians have to do in reference to the corrupt currents of which we have been speaking. Every grain of salt exercises an influence, small though it may be. Exercise what influence you have as citizens to secure that public positions shall be filled with Christian men. Resist the spread of impure and vicious literature, and counteract it so far as you can by helping to circulate books and newspapers and magazines of a healthy and moral tone. Let your influence in business and in social relationship be on the side of Christ and purity and truth.
3. Is there one in whose heart and life the stream of sin is still flowing unchecked and unchanged? What have those waters of sin done for you that you thought so pleasant to the taste? Have they never been bitter waters? Have you never suffered the penalty of sin's consequences? Have you never startled at the whisper of an accusing conscience? Has not sin left its blight upon your life? Have you not found, like the men of Jericho, that though the outward surroundings of your life are pleasant, yet the current of your desires and pleasures is only bringing evil with it, and your life is barren of any good or useful fruit? If you think, as some do, that you can yet make it all right by your own exertions, you are making a great mistake. You can never undo the past. Christ alone can give you forgiveness through his blood. Go to him and ask his mercy. Go to him and ask his help to overcome temptation, to conquer old habits, to get rid of old associates. How happy the moment when you hear the Savior of the world, the Son of God, your future Judge, saying to you, "Thy sins be forgiven thee; go in peace"! What moment in the sinner's experience on earth can compare with that when he bears a voice from heaven saying, "Thus saith the Lord, I have healed the waters"?
4. But even God's people sometimes need a healing of the waters too. The Christian, too, needs a purifying from sin's corrupting influence. Let the salt of the Divine Word be freely used by God's children, that it may exercise its purifying, preserving influence upon their spiritual life. Our lives would be far holier, far purer, far happier, far more fruitful than they are, if we kept our minds more in contact with the influence of the Word of God.
5. And then there are the bitter waters of sorrow. Trial and suffering will always be bitter to the taste. But he who is the "Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" knows how to sweeten the bitter cup. Many a tried and troubled Christian has experienced that, "though no chastisement for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous, nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them that are exercised thereby." Many a time our most bitter trial proves to be our sweetest blessing. We fear as we enter into the cloud, but we see a new vision of Jesus there, and before all is over we learn to say, "Master, it is good for us to be here." The salt of God's Word, here also, has power to purify the diseased waters of unbelief and to sweeten the hitter waters of affliction. In all our troubles we may hear the voice of Jesus saying, "I have healed the waters."
6. To every one who has experienced the healing power of Jesus the exhortation may be given—Be a sweetener of life for others. Is there strife between neighbors, between brethren, between fellow-Christians? Don't do anything to embitter it. Rather seek to be at peace and to cultivate peace with all men. "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God." Are there persons known to you in poverty. Try to sweeten life for them by giving them a little of your comforts. Are there young persons, lonely, and far from home and friends? Try to sweeten life for them by a little kindness and attention. Are there some known to you who are going down the broad way to destruction? Give them some message from God's Word, spoken in kindness, that may help, as the salt at Jericho, to purify the muddy current of their life. Learn of Jesus how to do good to others. And though you may but cast in the salt into life's bitter waters, he will bless your efforts, and you will hear him say, "Thus saith the Lord, I have healed the waters."—C.H.I.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
2 Kings 2:1-14
The departure of good men.
"And it came to pass, when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven." Two subjects are here presented for notice—
I. THE DEPARTURE OF A GOOD MAN FROM THE EARTH. Death is a departure from the world; it is not an extinction of being, but a mere change in its mode. There are two facts concerning Elijah's departure which mark the departure of all men.
1. The time is of God. "It came to pass, when the Lord would take up Elijah." There is an appointed time for man on the earth; when the hour is up, he must go: not before or after. Elijah's time had come. There are no accidental deaths, no premature graves. "Thou turnest man to destruction;" "Thou takest away his breath."
2. The manner is of God. Elijah was to be taken away by a "whirlwind." That was the method God appointed for him. He takes men away by various methods, sometimes by devastating winds, sometimes by scathing lightnings, sometimes by boisterous billows, sometimes by accident or starvation, sometimes by prolonged disease, etc. All that is with him. We are not the creatures of chance. He "careth for us;" for each, for all.
II. THE POWER OF GOODNESS IN A GOOD MAN'S DEPARTURE. See what a grand spirit Elijah displays in the immediate prospect of his exit.
1. A spirit of calm self-possession. When Elijah knew of the solemn event awaiting him, how calmly he talked to Elisha, and wended his way to Bethel, according to the Divine commandment! There was no excitement or perturbation. He moves and talks with a majestic calmness. Religion alone can give this peace. "He will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on him."
2. A spirit of strong social interest. See how it affected Elisha. Bow tenderly and strongly he felt bound to him! Elisha says, "As the Lord liveth, and as thy son liveth, I will not leave thee." He repeated this thrice; And when the sons of the prophets spoke to him about it he said, "Hold ye your peace." As if he had said, "I cannot bear to hear it." No doubt these sons of the prophets and all who came under the godly influence of Elijah felt thus bound to him. There is no power by which one man can link another so closely and mightily to him as the power of goodness. Goodness is a mighty magnet.
3. A spirit of far-reaching philanthropy. Elijah goes to Bethel, but wherefore? Probably to deliver a valedictory address to the "sons of the prophets." They were in college there, in the college, perhaps, which Elijah himself had founded. Would that his address had been reported! His great solicitude was that these young men should hand down the religion of God to the men of coming times. The spirit of genuine religion is not a narrow spirit, a spirit confined to a Church, a country; or a period, but a spirit that embraces in its loving sympathies the spiritual interests of the race.—D.T.
2 Kings 2:15-22
The proper spirit for theological students.
"And when the sons of the prophets which were to view at Jericho," etc. The "sons of the prophets were theological students, and they here manifest a spirit which may be considered alike becoming and necessary in all those who are set apart to study the revelations of God.
I. Here is a SPIRIT OF REVERENCE. "And when the sons of the prophets which were to view at Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him." Being convinced by the fact that Elisha had performed the same marvel that Elijah had—divided the waters of Jordan—that he was a Divine prophet, they bowed in reverence before him. Though, perhaps, they knew that Elisha was taken from the plough, the manifestation of the Divine in him inspired them with solemn awe. He who has in him most of the Divine should be the most reverenced. Reverence is an essential qualification for a student. The volatile and the frivolous, however superior in intellect, and however persistent their investigations, will never reach a true knowledge of God. Nothing is more incongruous, nothing more distressing to the eye of earnest men, than the spirit of irreverence in theological halls. Biblical students should see in their tutors so much of the Divine as to cause them to bow in reverence before them. True reverence is neither superstition nor sadness.
II. Here is a SPIRIT OF INQUIRY. These students earnestly desired to know what had become of Elijah, and they urged Elisha to send out fifty strong men in quest of him. No man will ever get true knowledge unless he has in him the spirit of earnest inquiry. The deepest cry of the student's soul should be, "Where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding?" This spirit was strong in these "sons of the prophets' on this occasion. They so "urged" Elisha to send forth in quest of Elijah that, we are told, Elisha was "ashamed" to refuse them. But although the spirit of inquiry is essential to a student, and its earnestness is to be commended, it is often, alas! defective. It was so now.
1. It was wrongly directed. They had a wrong apprehension; they imagined that the body of Elijah had been borne up to "some mountain," or "cast into some valley." Perhaps all science begins with an hypothesis, but the hypothesis is vain unless it have some foundation. There was no foundation for the supposition of these "sons of the prophets." Inquiry should start from facts.
2. It was unsuccessful. The fifty men went forth according to the students' request, and searched for "three days, but found him not" It is useless to search for subjects beyond our reach. You cannot find in the Bible what is not there, such as scientific systems.—D.T.
2 Kings 2:23-25
"And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going," etc. These verses lead us to consider ridicule in three aspects.
I. AS INFAMOUSLY DIRECTED.
1. Directed against an old man on account of his supposed personal defects. "Go up, thou bald head!" This meant, perhaps, "Go up, as Elijah has gone, if thou canst; we want to get rid of thee." Though baldness of the bead is not always a sign of age, Elisha was undoubtedly far advanced in years. Nothing is more contemptible or absurd than to ridicule people on account of constitutional defects, whether of body or mind. Direct the shafts of ridicule, if you like, against defects of moral character, against vanity and pride, sensuality, but never against constitutional defects,—that is impious; for no man can make one hair white or black, or add a cubit to his stature.
2. Directed against an old man of most distinguished excellence. Elisha was a man of God, and everything concerning him shows manifestations of a godly character. To ridicule a good man is not only more impious, but more absurd, than to laugh to scorn the very sun in its brightness.
3. Directed against a man engaged in a mission of mercy. He was Heaven's messenger of mercy to his country. He came to Bethel to bestow wise counsels on the sons of the prophets in their seminary, and to bless all who would listen to his counsels. How often has ridicule been thus infamously directed! Christ himself was once its victim; ay, its chief victim. "They that passed by wagged their heads." They put on him a "crown of thorns."
II. MALEVOLENTLY INSPIRED. The animus in this ridicule was that of an intolerant religion. There were two schools of religion in Bethel, two rival sects; one was the religion of the true God, and the other that of idolatry. One of Jeroboam's calves was there established as the object of worship. There is no malevolence so inveterate and ruthless as that inspired by false religion and rival sects. Perhaps these children had not this infernal passion to any extent, but were the mere instruments of their intolerant parents. Probably their parents sent them out now to meet the prophet, and put the very words into their mouths, taught them by what notes, grimaces, and attitude they should ring them out. This ridiculing the men of God was one of the crying sins of Israel. "They mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets." These children were but the echoes and the instruments of their parents' religions malignant intolerance.
III. TERRIBLY PUNISHED. "And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she-bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them."
1. They were punished by the will of the prophet. He "cursed them." Perhaps there is no arrow more poignant than that of ridicule. One might have thought, however, that one of Elisha's moral strength and stature would not have felt it at all, especially when directed by children. But he knew their ridicule was but the ridicule of their mothers and fathers, and perhaps of the townspeople in general, who were all about him; and his righteous indignation was kindled. The more loving a man is the more fierce his wrath rages when set on fire. The "wrath of the Lamb" is the most tremendous wrath in the universe.
2. They were punished by the justice of God. The prophet's indignation was righteous, and, because it was righteous, the justice of God sanctioned it by causing "two she bears out of the wood to tear forty and two children of them." This was a tremendous homily of Divine justice to the whole population—a sermon that would thunder in the hearts of the fathers, the mothers, and the neighbors.
CONCLUSION. Take care how you use your faculty of ridicule. It is a useful faculty in its place. Satire is the east wind of thought. Scorching sarcasm has withered to the roots many a noxious weed; satire has humbled to the dust, has struck to the earth, many a proud and haughty soul. Elijah used it on Carmel's brow, Job used it to his arrogant friends, and Paul to the conceited members of the Corinthian Church. Ridicule, rightly inspired and directed, is
"A whip of steel, that can as with a lash
Imprint the character of shame so deep,
Ev'n in the brazen forehead of proud sin,
That not eternity shall wear it out."
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
2 Kings 2:1-6
Preparative to translation.
The time had come when the Lord would take Elijah up in a whirlwind into heaven. It was a singular honor to be put upon a singularly great and good man. No case had happened like it since the days of Enoch—that other great prophet, who maintained a witness for God amidst the all but universal wickedness of antediluvian times (Jud 2 Kings 1:14). No other would happen till the ascension of Christ. We observe—
I. THE PROPHET'S MOVEMENTS. It is to be remarked concerning these that they were:
1. Directed by the Spirit of the Lord. "The Lord hath sent me to Bethel;" "The Lord hath sent me to Jericho;" "The Lord hath sent me to Jordan." But this was true of Elijah's life throughout. "He was as if constantly in the hand of God. 'As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand,' was his habitual expression—a slave constantly waiting to do his master's bidding (Stanley). He had grown so entirely into the habit of taking his direction from God, that his life was already half unearthly. The invisible world was more real to him than the visible. Thus he was inwardly prepared for translation. To merge one's will in God's is already to be living a heavenly life on earth. Elijah was in this a forerunner of Christ (John 5:19).
2. Directed to the schools of the prophets. From Gilgal Elijah was sent first to Bethel, then to Jericho, then to Jordan, at two of which places were seminaries or communities of "the sons of the prophets." His last movements thus took the form of a farewell visit to these seats of prophetic instruction. It was these schools of the prophets, with Elisha at the head of them, that were to retain and perpetuate his influence after he was gone. He had doubtless had much to do with the organization and fostering of them, and he appears amongst his disciples once more, in their various centers, ere he departs. If he did no more, he would leave with each, at least, a parting blessing. The blessing of a dying believer is ever to be valued (Genesis 48:1-22; Genesis 49:1-33.; Deuteronomy 33:1-29.). It was in the act of blessing his disciples that Jesus "was parted from them, and carried up to heaven" (Luke 24:51).
3. A sign of approaching removal. The prophetic atmosphere is electric. Elijah knows that he is to be removed; Elisha knows it (2 Kings 2:3, 2 Kings 2:5); the sons of the prophets have some intimations of it. These rapid, yet purposeful, movements from place to place portend the coming change. Like the restlessness of birds on the eve of migration, they tell that Elijah is not long to be on earth.
II. ELIJAH AND ELISHA. Elisha stands nearer to Elijah than any other (2 Kings 3:11). He is found here in his company at Gilgal. A study of the relations between the prophet and his destined successor, in view of the approaching departure of the former, is full of interest.
1. Elijah's desire for solitude. Once, twice, and a third time Elijah requested Elisha to tarry behind, and leave him to go whither he was sent alone.
(1) In the expression of this desire we can trace a very natural craving of a man in his position. The sense of awe in connection with what was about to rake place, which made Elisha himself desire not to talk of it (2 Kings 2:3, 2 Kings 2:5), would, in a far intenser measure, indispose Elijah to have his private thoughts disturbed.
(2) But the request was of the nature of a test to Elisha. It gave him the opportunity of saying whether he would go or stay. It drew out the qualities of his nature, which showed that he was fit for such a privilege as that of seeing Elijah taken up. It is not every one who has the spiritual meekness for being a witness of sacred scenes. Jesus took only Peter, James, and John with him to the Mount of Transfiguration, into the house of Jairus, and into the recesses of Gethsemane.
2. Elisha's determination to follow Elijah. Elisha was not to be baulked of his determination to see the last of what should befall his beloved master. "As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth," was his reply on each occasion, "I will not leave thee." In this speaks:
(1) Affection for Elijah. The nearer came the hour for parting with him, the more precious was his society. He could not bear the thought of losing one moment of the time that yet remained for converse. It is only when dear friends are either actually taken away or on the point of being taken from us, that we realize how invaluable is the boon of their presence.
(2) A desire to see the wonders of God's working. It was no vain curiosity which prompted Elisha to go with Elijah, but a rational wish to see the crown of glory put on a career that had already received so much honor. He wished to see the completion of one of God's great works. He felt that it could not but teach him more of God, thrill and inspire him with more zeal for service, fix past impressions of Elijah on his soul, and altogether leave lasting results in his nature, to witness this "great sight." Therefore he would not miss it.
(3) A hope of blessing. Could he but see Elijah as he was taken from him, something whispered that he could not fail to bring away a blessing from the sight. And so it happened (verses 10, 15).
3. Perseverance rewarded. Elisha's importunity prevailed. He and Elijah went on together. Mostly perhaps in silence, but latterly, at least, in converse (verse 11). There is a holy boldness in seeking a blessing—the spirit of Jacob, "I will not let thee go except thou bless me" (Genesis 32:26), which never fails of its reward.
III. ELISHA AND THE SONS OF THE PROPHETS. At each new center, as the travelers went on, bands of "the sons of the prophets" came forth to Elisha, and said, "Knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head today?" His answer, as befitted one who felt the unspeakable sacredness of the event in prospect, was, "Yea, I know it; hold ye your peace" There is a time to speak, and a time to be silent (Ecclesiastes 3:7), and this was the hour for silence. Speech would jar on the solemnity of the occasion. The deeper experiences of life are to be meditated upon, rather than much spoken about. The tongue has great power over the heart. The effects of many a solemn hour have been dissipated by unseasonable talk about them.—J.O.
2 Kings 2:3, 2 Kings 2:5, 2 Kings 2:7
The sons of the prophets.
It is surely instructive to find, even in godless Israel, these numerous bands of young men, congregated under prophetic oversight, and receiving sacred instruction. The origin of "schools of the prophets" seems traceable to Samuel (1 Samuel 19:20). But the order took a new impulse under Elijah. "The companies of the prophets now reappear, bound by a still closer connection with Elijah than they had been with Samuel. Then they were 'companies, bands, of prophets;' now they are 'sons, children, of the prophets;' and Elijah first, and Elisha afterwards, appeared as the 'father,' the 'abbot,' the 'father in God,' of the 'whole community' (Stanley). In the development and fostering of these communities, we see Elijah working with an eye to the future. He takes care that the fruits of his reforming labors shall not be lost, but shall be handed down to after-generations. He provides for the preservation and propagation of his influence. We do well to take a leaf out of his book, and study like means for the creation and consecration of godly influence. Wherever men have desired to perpetuate their principles they have formed schools, clubs, guilds, associations, colleges, and by means of these their teachings have been spread abroad. The infidel clubs of the last century, e.g; spread the principles which led to the French Revolution. The prophetic schools seem to have devoted themselves largely to sacred history, poetry, and music; but taught the pupils also to labor in honest occupations for self-support. Any mode of binding together and instructing the youth of our time, which shall combine religious training and sound education with an inculcation of the principles of honest independence, deserves every support.—J.O.
2 Kings 2:7-15
Elijah taken up.
The translation was to take place on the eastern side of Jordan. Dean Stanley quotes the remark, "The aged Gileadite cannot rest till he again sets foot on his own side of the river,"
I. CROSSING JORDAN.
1. The fifty disciples. "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'" (Stanley). Of all the prophetic company, Elisha alone was permitted to accompany the master. The others do not seem to have ventured to ask. But they did not feel themselves precluded from reverentially standing at a distance, to observe what might take place. They did not witness the translation, but they saw the waters divided. There may be neophytes in spiritual experience, who are unqualified for the reception of God's grander revelations, but even to these, "standing to view," God will reveal his power in some measure.
2. The stream divided. The river flows between the travelers and the further bank, but Elijah hesitates not a moment. As if his conscious nearness to eternity had already raised him above natural conditions—had given him the faith and power before which natural obstacles are non-existent—he roiled his mantle together, and "smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground." A miracle! Truly, but there are situations in which miracles seem almost natural. When men are on the point of being taken up bodily to heaven, we need not wonder if "therefore mighty works do show forth themselves" in them (Mark 6:14). Natural laws are fixed only till, in the grasp of a higher influence, they become flexible, and bend and yield. This miracle is a repetition of an earlier one (Joshua 3:14-16), and, on a lesser scale, of an earlier still (Exodus 14:21, Exodus 14:22).
II. ELISHA'S REQUEST.
1. Encouragement to ask. Elisha had "stood the trial of his unchangeable fidelity and perseverance," and Elijah now said to him, when they had gone over Jordan, "Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee." Elijah did not put himself in place of God. He probably expected Elisha to ask for a parting blessing, or for some other favor which it was in his own power to grant—at most to prefer a request which God might grant through him. A greater than Elijah said to his disciples, when he was about to be taken from them, "Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my Name: ask, and ye shall receive" (John 16:24).
2. A bold petition. Elisha was not slow to avail himself of the opportunity given. He had in view the position he would be called to occupy as the successor of Elijah, and his request took the form of a prayer for a double portion of Elijah's spirit. He "coveted earnestly the best gifts" (1 Corinthians 12:31). He asked, like Solomon, not for any earthly good or glory, but for spiritual endowment for his great office (1 Kings 3:5-14). Or rather, he asked for the office itself, with the spiritual endowment which accompanied it—for there is no reason to suppose that hitherto Elisha was a prophet, or more than the servant of a prophet. The "double portion," by general consent, is to be taken in the sense of Deuteronomy 21:17; i.e. the two portions of a firstborn son, in comparison with the portions received by the other sons. Viewing certain features of the ministry of Elisha—its longer duration, the number and character of its miracles, etc.—we might almost think that Elisha had received literally "a double portion" of the spirit of Elijah, i.e. as some have held, twice as much. But this is not the meaning, and reflection will convince us that, with all his eminence, Elisha is a lesser prophet than Elijah—less forceful, original, creative.
3. The decisive sign. Elijah replied that Elisha had asked "a hard thing"—one which there might be a difficulty in granting. To designate a prophet, and bestow on him the prophetic spirit—especially in exceptional measure—belongs only to God; and the grounds of his action in such high matters are not for man to prejudge. There was, however, a natural probability that it would be God's will to designate Elisha as heir of the prophetic gift, and a sign was given by which it might be known whether it was or not. If Elisha saw Elijah when he was taken from him, he might conclude that his prayer was answered—possibly because it was only in an exalted, that is prophetic, state of mind that the vision could be had (cf. 2 Kings 6:16); if he saw nothing, God had not answered it. There is "a vision and a faculty Divine," which is the surest token of answer to a prayer for God's Spirit. Christ's parting legacy to his disciples was his Spirit; and in this, not one, but all, may richly share (John 14:16, John 14:17; John 15:26; John 16:13-15). We do well to realize, like Elisha, that it is not by might nor power of our own, but only by God's Spirit, that we are fitted for any great work in his service.
III. CHARIOTS OF FIRE.
1. The media of translation. As the two went on, and talked, suddenly there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and Elijah was parted from Elisha, and went up by a whirlwind into, or towards, heaven.
(1) There was an actual appearance to Elisha's vision of fiery chariot and horse. It is wholly against the text to explain this, as Bahr does, by mere figure of speech, even though Elisha afterwards uses this metaphor of Elijah (Deuteronomy 21:12).
(2) It remains doubtful whether the representation is that of a chariot which conveys Elijah to heaven, or of a host of chariots and horses which surrounds him as he ascends. The word is commonly used as a collective (cf. 2 Kings 6:17), and probably denotes "chariots." In this case, the heavenly chariots appear, but the actual mode of Elijah's ascent is by the whirlwind.
(3) At most, Elisha's vision could only follow Elijah's ascent for some little way upwards, till, perhaps, as in the ease of the Savior, "a cloud received him out of his sight" (Acts 1:9). The realm to which Elijah was taken is not situated in the material heavens, so that, by traversing so much space, he could arrive at it: The change that passed over him, which culminated in his reception into the invisible world, was after a fashion unknown—possibly at present incomprehensible—to us.
(4) We must hold, however, that Elijah was really taken in the body to heaven. Bahr's supposition that he was simply whirled away, and disappeared from earth, perhaps undergoing some secret death and burial as Moses did (for this seems to be his idea), is too much akin to the error of the disciples who sent out fifty strong men to seek for him among the hills (Deuteronomy 21:16, Deuteronomy 21:17). It was not Elisha's view, and has no support in the narrative.
2. The lessons of the translation. Besides being a signal honor put upon a great servant of God, and a striking Old Testament anticipation of the ascension of Christ, it gave to the Israelites, in midtime of their history, a powerful confirmation of the fact of immortality. "The impression made by the history of Enoch, that 'God took him,' is marked by the repetition of the word as to the ascension of Elijah" (Pusey). It is noteworthy, also, that the immortality typified by these cases is an immortality in the body. We believe, if careful examination of passages is made, it will be found that it was in this form, that is, as connected with a resurrection, and not as an abstract immortality of the soul in Sheol, which had no attractions for the Hebrew mind, that the hope of immortality was entertained by believing Hebrews.
3. Elisha's lament. As Elijah was parted from him, and taken up, Elisha broke out into loud lament: "My father, my father! the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof." This no more implies that Elisha did not believe that his master was being taken up to heaven, than the mourning of Christians for the loss of some revered teacher or guide implies doubt as to his eternal happiness. It is the sense of personal loss, and of loss to the world, which prevails on these occasions. Elisha did not overestimate the value of Elijah to Israel—more than chariots and horsemen—and we cannot overestimate the worth to a nation of the presence and labors of the servants of God in it. The religion of a nation is its best bulwark, and those who do most for religion are those who serve their country best. Armaments without God in the midst are of poor avail.
IV. THE FALLEN MANTLE. Elisha had seen the prophet ascend, and he knew that his request was granted. He accordingly picked up the mantle of Elijah, which had fallen from him, and which be rightly regarded as a symbol of the new spirit with which he was to be endowed. Popular speech embodies the thought of this passage when it figures succession to greatness as the descent of the mantle of the great man upon his successor.
1. Test of the new power. Elisha's possession of the "spirit and power of Elias" was soon to be tested. The Jordan waters again rolled between him and his destination, but, invoking Divine power in the words, "Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah, even he?" he smote the waters with the wonder-working mantle, and, as before, they divided apart.
2. Acknowledgment of the new power. The "sons of the prophets" still "stood to view" at Jericho, and when they saw the prophet's deed, and still more, perhaps, when they looked on his person, to which inspiration lent a new grandeur and dignity, they said, "The spirit of Elijah cloth rest on Elisha." Then they bowed to the ground before him, and acknowledged him master.
(1) The Spirit of God in a man readily betrays its presence.
(2) Where the Spirit of God manifestly possesses a man, others will not be slow to make acknowledgment of the fact, and to yield him appropriate honor.
(3) It is mainly the possession of this Spirit which entitles a man to obedience in the house of God.—J.O.
2 Kings 2:16-18
Seeking the translated.
It is plain from this passage that, while the prophets of Jericho knew from Divine intimations that Elijah was to be parted from them, they did not understand the full meaning of their own revelations. They still clung to the belief that the parting might only be temporary—that, as on other occasions, the Spirit of God had caught him up, and carried him away to some place, where, by searching, he might be found (cf. 1 Kings 18:10-12). They desired, therefore, permission to send out fifty strong men to look for him among the mountains and valleys. Elisha knew better, but, as they persisted, he allowed them, for the satisfaction of their minds, to send. When they had sought for three days, and found him not, they returned, and Elisha said, "Did I not say unto you, Go not?" One result of the search, in any case, would be to set doubts at rest and confirm Elisha in his position of authority.
I. IT IS THE MARK OF A GREAT MIND THAT IT DISTINGUISHES BETWEEN THE TEMPORARY AND ACCIDENTAL, AND THE PERMANENT AND FINAL. In this Elisha's superiority is seen to the "sons of the prophets." He took in at once the essence of the situation. He know that it was useless to seek further for Elijah—that he was parted from them forever. They dwelt on formal resemblances to previous disappearances on the accidents of the event; Elisha penetrated to its real meaning. The same mark of distinction between superior and inferior minds appears in all departments. Paul was a notable example of this power to distinguish between substance and accident-between what was temporary and what was final; while his opponents in the Christian Church exhibited the opposite defect. Apply to creed, ritual, Church-government, etc.
II. THIS DEFECT IN INSIGHT OFTEN LEADS TO MUCH NEEDLESS TROUBLE. It caused, in this case, three days of needless search. It is often the occasion of dispute, division, delay in executing reforms, fruitless experiments to attain impossible ends. All are not like the children of Issachar, "men of understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do" (1 Chronicles 12:32). Men go about, holding on by, or seeking the revival of, that which has served its day, and is being left behind.
III. A CIRCUITOUS WAY OF ATTAINING TO CERTAINTY IS BETTER THAN NO WAY AT ALL. These sons of the prophets satisfied themselves at length, though after much useless trouble. It was welt they did so, since they could not otherwise be assured. There are direct ways to certainty which the better class of minds perceive, but which are like roads shut to others. These must take a more laborious and circuitous route. We see this, e.g; in Christian evidences. The other apostles were satisfied, but Thomas had to put his fingers in the print of the nails, etc. (John 20:24 John 20:29). The need of bearing with man's weaknesses and imperfections, and of allowing him to reach conviction by the way he is capable of, explains much that seems circuitous in God's government of the world.—J.O.
2 Kings 2:19-22
The healing of the spring.
This first miracle is a fitting introduction to—in some respects a symbol of—the whole ministry of Elisha. In contrast with his predecessor, Elisha was a gentle, beneficent power in Israel. His miracles, like those of Christ, were, with two exceptions only (in this like Christ also), miracles of mercy, not of judgment. He is the "still small voice" coming after the whirlwind, the earthquake, and the fire (1 Kings 19:11, 1 Kings 19:12). He is as Melancthon to Elijah's Luther; we may even say, with reverence, as the "Son of man" to Elijah's John the Baptist. Unlike Elijah, he is not a child of the desert, but a man of the city. He came "eating and drinking" (Matthew 11:19). He mixed with the people; lived a homely life; was the friend and counselor of kings. Of all this, his first deed of mercy is the image.
I. THE REBUILT CITY AND THE UNHEALED SPRING.
1. The city and its curse. The city was Jericho. After the curse pronounced on it by Joshua (Joshua 6:26), it had lain in ruins till the reign of Ahab, when it was rebuilt by Hiel the Bethelite, at the cost of his eldest and youngest sons' lives (1 Kings 16:34).
2. The unhealed spring. The city was rebuilt, hut the spring on which its prosperity then, as ever since, depended, remained unhealed. The situation of the city was pleasant, but the water was bad, and the laud "miscarried," i.e. the water had a deleterious effect on those with child.
3. The heart and its issues. How striking an image is this rebuilt city, with its unhealed spring, of godless civilizations, founded on self-will and defiance of God's counsel (Genesis 4:17), often stately and imposing, yet ending in vanity, because no means exist to cure the spring of the corrupt human heart! "Of republican Athens, of imperial Rome, it might well be said, 'The city was pleasant.' In both there was learning, genius, high civilization, the cultivation of the fine arts to an extent that has made the Elgin marbles, for example, the wonder of the world. But 'the water was naught, and the ground was barren,' because there was the absence of true religion. No country whatever can in the highest sense prosper without it" (Revelation T.H. Howat). Politics, literature, art, science, material civilization, will dwindle and decay unless a pure stream can be made to flow from the people' s heart; for "out of it are the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23).
II. THE PROPHET'S HEALING OF THE SPRING. The case of the city of Jericho was brought under the notice of Elisha by the men of the city—a lesson to us not to fail to improve our spiritual opportunities.
1. The means of cure. The means by which Elisha effected the cure of the unwholesome waters wore exceedingly simple. He obtained "a new cruse"—new, and therefore free from all defilement, and in this was put some salt. The salt appears here as the symbol of what is uncorrupt and purifying. There lay in it no natural virtue to heal the water—a circumstance which made the miracle more conspicuous.
2. The Agent in the cure. In casting the salt into the spring, Elisha spoke in the name of the Lord, and attributed, as was right, all the power to him. "Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters." The miracle looks back to an earlier wonder—that of the healing of the bitter waters at Marah, where God declared, "I am the Lord that healeth thee" (Exodus 15:26). One act of mercy lays the foundation for expecting a second.
3. The effect of the cure. There was not to be from thence (the spring) any more death or barrenness. The result of Elisha's word was that "the waters were healed unto this day." "Down to the present hour all travelers to Palestine—Robinson, Dean Stanley, Professor Porter—speak in glowing terms of the cool, sweet, and pleasant waters of the 'Fountain of Elisha.' The soil is extensively cultivated. Sugar-yielding canes are plentiful. Fig trees abound on all sides" (Howat). All which things may again be interpreted as a parable. The gospel is the new cruse, and in it is the healing salt—the word of truth—which, cast into the diseased spring of the human heart, heals and purifies its waters; yet is the effect not wrought by the natural action of the truth, apart from the Divine and omnipotent operation of the Holy Spirit, who works through human means, yet is himself the efficient Agent in all conversion. The work is of God, and the effects are incalculable. "Old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17). The most marvelous influence is exerted by Christianity on the spring, not only of private, but of public and social life; and State as well as Church is blessed. Christianity is the salvation of peoples—the source of true national as well as of individual well-being.—J.O.
2 Kings 2:23-25
The mockers at Bethel.
This miracle, in contrast with the preceding, is one of judgment. Its apparent severity has made it a stumbling-block to many. The deed is one in "the spirit of Elias" in the harsher sense, and leaves a painful impression. But the painful aspect of the miracle need not be made greater than it is, nor must it be overlooked that the occasion was one when some display of the "severity of God" was necessary.
I. NATURE OF THE SIN. Elisha, going up to Bethel, was assailed by a band of young people from the city, who mocked him, and said to him, "Go up, thou bald bead!"
1. The mockers. These were not, as the text might lead us to infer, "little children" of six or seven years of age, but "young lads," boys and young men, who had come to the age of responsibility. They came out of Bethel—once a patriarchal sanctuary, but now a focus of Israelitish idolatry—and had evidently been trained in utter ungodliness.
2. The mocking. Either Elisha was actually bald—in which case there was added to profanity the ridiculing, so common to boys, of a physical defect—or, as some have thought, "bald head" is a synonym for "leper," this being one of the signs of that disease. In either case there was manifested a spirit, contracted probably from their elders, of bitter hatred of the pure religion of Jehovah, and reviling of its prophets and professors. Levity, ridicule, and profane reviling of the pious and their ways is something on which God must always put the brand of his stern disapprobation.
II. AGGRAVATIONS OF THE SIN. These must be considered in forming a fair judgment on the case. They enable us also better to draw out the lessons of the offence. There was:
1. Dishonor to a sacred place. Bethel means "the house of God." It was one of the places where God had recorded his name (Genesis 28:16-19). Now it was Beth-avert, "the house of the idol" (Hosea 10:5). The jeering outburst of impiety of these young men of the city was only a symptom of the iniquity which abounded in it. God was dishonored in a holy place.
2. Dishonor to a sacred person. Elisha was God's prophet, and, in some sense, the living representative at that time of the prophetic order. In him, mockery was heaped on all God's servants, and on true religion in general. He was known and eminent as the successor of Elijah, and probably it was on this account that he was singled out for these hostile manifestations.
3. Dishonor to a sacred subject. It is not certain, but it is the view of some, that in the words, "Go up, thou bald head!" there is allusion to the recent translation of Elijah. Sacred places, sacred persons, and sacred things are all to be honored, and contempt poured on any of them is insult done to God.
III. PUNISHMENT OF THE SIN. After bearing the contumely for a time, Elisha, doubtless by God's inward direction, turned round, and pronounced a curse on these youthful mockers. The curse was God's, not his, as shown by the effect immediately given to it. "There came forth two she-bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two of them." How many escaped we are not told, nor whether all these forty-two were actually killed. But as connected with Elisha's curse, the event was an awful and unmistakable warning, both to those who escaped and to the population of the city. Had these she-bears issued from the wood without the previous word of Elisha, no one would have wondered at forty-two of this band of youths being attacked and slain. It would have been a "calamity." Here the event is the same, and it is the same Providence which is concerned, only the hidden reason of the dispensation comes to light. The whole incident teaches in a very emphatic manner the responsibility of youth. "I take this story as teaching us what I think we very much need to be taught, namely, that the faults of our youth, and those which are most natural to us at that age, are not considered by God as trifling. You may hear grown-up people talk in a laughing manner of the faults which they committed at school, of their idleness, and their various acts of mischief, and worse than mischief. And when boys hear this, it naturally makes them think it really does not matter much whether they behave well or ill—they are just as likely to be respectable and amiable men hereafter. I would beg those who think so to attend a little to the story in the text" (Dr. Arnold, quoted by Rev. T.H. Howat).—J.O.
2 Kings 2:25
Elisha, after his endowment with the prophet office, retired for a time to his master's old haunt at Carmel, and then returned to Samaria. So Paul, after his conversion and call to the apostolic office, retired to Arabia (Galatians 1:17).
1. Retirement as a means of preparation for active duty. The need of retreat, of private communion with God, of time to digest the lessons of the past, of reflection and meditation.
2. Active work as the fruit of retirement. Retirement is not to degenerate into monkery.—J.O.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Kings 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent