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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
2 Kings 2

 

 

Verse 1

2 Kings 2:1. When the Lord would take up Elijah — It is supposed, though not expressly revealed, that Elijah flourished about twenty years, before he was translated, body and soul, to heaven, only undergoing such a change as was necessary to qualify him for being an inhabitant in that world of spirits. By translating him, God gave, in that dark and degenerate age, as, in a similar age he had given by the translation of Enoch, a very sensible proof of another life, together with a type of the ascension of Christ, and the opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers.


Verse 2

2 Kings 2:2. Tarry here — This he desires, either, 1st, That being left alone, he might better prepare himself for his great change. Or, 2d, Out of indulgence to Elisha, that he might not be overwhelmed with grief at so sad a sight. Or, 3d, That he might try his love, and whet his desire to accompany him; it being highly convenient for God’s honour, that there should be witnesses of so glorious a translation. The Lord hath sent me to Beth-el — Which was truth, though not the whole truth: for he was to go a far longer journey. But he was first to go to Bethel, and also to Jericho, to the schools of the prophets there, that he might comfort and strengthen their hearts in God’s work, and give them his dying counsels.


Verse 3

2 Kings 2:3. The sons of the prophets that were at Beth-el — In these very corrupt times God did not wholly forsake the Israelites, but continued the schools of the prophets among them, in which men were trained up and employed in the exercises of religion, and to which good people resorted to solemnize the feasts of the Lord with prayer and hearing portions of the law read, although they had not conveniences for sacrifices, as they had in Judah, where they had priests and Levites, and the temple service. Even in Beth-el, the chief place of idolatry and impiety, where one of the golden calves was worshipped, these schools were not wanting. This was a great testimony of God’s love to that apostate people: among whom he thus left prophets to recover them from their idols. And, what is still more remarkable, prophets of greater eminence for their miracles were continued in Israel than in Judah, because they needed them more, both to turn the idolaters among them from their false worship, and their other vices, and to encourage the truly pious that still remained, and preserve them from being led away by the error of the wicked. Knowest thou not, &c.? — God had revealed to some of them, that Elijah was to be taken away that day, of which they advised Elisha, that he might more diligently attend him. From thy head — Hebrew, from above thy head; which phrase may respect the manner of sitting in their schools, for the scholars used to sit below at their masters’ feet, and the masters above, over their heads, when they taught them. Houbigant renders it, The Lord will elevate thy master above thy head to-day, alluding to his being carried up into heaven. And he said, Yea, I know it, hold ye your peace — Do not aggravate my grief, nor divert me by any unseasonable discourses. He speaks as one who was himself, and would have them to be calm and sedate, and with awful silence waiting the event. Some think he gave them this charge, lest, the extraordinary matter being divulged, there should be a great concourse of people collected about Elijah; for as the Israelites had not renounced their idolatries, notwithstanding that so many and so great miracles had been done among them, they were altogether unworthy of being witnesses of the prophet’s miraculous assumption, even as the Jews in our Lord’s time were of being permitted to be present when he ascended.


Verse 4

2 Kings 2:4. Tarry here, I pray thee — Elijah seems to have said this only with a view to try Elisha, whether he would accompany him to the last, and be the witness of his translation. And Elisha certainly, by not leaving him, testified, both great fidelity to his master, and great faith in what God had revealed respecting the taking him up to heaven.


Verse 5

2 Kings 2:5. The sons of the prophets that were at Jericho — Here also was a school, where the same revelation had been made to the sons of the prophets, concerning Elijah’s removal, which had been communicated to those at Beth-el. And their thoughts, like the thoughts of the others, were wholly occupied about the extraordinary matter, and big with expectation.


Verse 7

2 Kings 2:7. Fifty men stood to view — To observe this great event, Elijah’s translation to heaven, which they expected every moment: and whereof they desired to be spectators, not to satisfy their own curiosity, but that they might be witnesses of it to others. Afar off — As they were not permitted to accompany him to the place where he was to be taken up, as Elisha was, they looked after him as far as they could see, probably from some eminence that overlooked Jordan. They two stood by Jordan — The rest, it is likely, being forbidden to go thither with them.


Verse 8

2 Kings 2:8. And smote the waters — These waters of old yielded to the ark, now to the prophet’s mantle; which to those that wanted the ark, was an equivalent token of God’s presence. When God will take his children to himself, death is the Jordan which they must pass through. And they find a way through it, a safe and comfortable way. The death of Christ has divided those waters, that the ransomed of the Lord may pass over.


Verse 9

2 Kings 2:9. Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee — Elijah, undoubtedly, had an inward assurance that God would grant him his last request that he should make; but we may observe here, that he expressly confines it to its being made before he was taken away, and gives no manner of hope to his disciple, that his asking any thing of him after he was removed would be of any avail, or that he could then render him any service. I pray, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me — Double to what the rest of the sons of the prophets receive at thy request. He alludes to the double portion of the firstborn, Deuteronomy 21:17. But though Elisha desired no more, yet God gave him more than he desired or expected; and he seems to have had a greater portion of the gifts of God’s Spirit than even Elijah had.


Verse 10

2 Kings 2:10. He said, Thou hast asked a hard thing — A rare and singular blessing, which I cannot promise thee; which God only can give, and which he gives only when and to whom he pleases. Nevertheless, if thou see me, &c. — Mark, this is a sign whether thou shalt obtain what thou desirest or not. This sign he proposed, not without the direction of God’s Spirit, that hereby he might engage him more earnestly to wait, and more fervently to pray for this mercy.


Verse 11

2 Kings 2:11. As they still went on and talked — Of the happy state, probably, to which Elijah was going; behold, a chariot of fire, and horses of fire — A bright resplendent cloud, perhaps thrown into the form of a chariot and horses, by the angels who came in it; or rather, as some think, the angels themselves appearing in this form. The souls of all the faithful are carried by an invisible guard of angels into the bosom of Abraham. But Elijah being to carry his body with him, this heavenly guard appeared visibly: not in a human shape, though so they might have borne him in their arms; but in the form of a chariot and horses, that he might ride in state, might ride in triumph, like a prince, like a conqueror. See the readiness of the angels to do the will of God, even in the meanest services, for the heirs of salvation! Thus he who had burned with holy zeal for God and his honour, was now conveyed in fire into his immediate presence.


Verse 12

2 Kings 2:12. Elisha saw it, and cried, My father, &c. — So he calls him for his fatherly affection to him, and for his fatherly authority which he had over him; in which respect the scholars of the prophets are called their sons. He saw his own condition like that of a fatherless child, and laments it accordingly. The chariot, &c. — Who, by thy example, and counsels, and prayers, and power with God, didst more for the defence and preservation of Israel than all their chariots and horses. The expression alludes to the form of chariots and horses which he had seen.


Verse 13

2 Kings 2:13. He took up also the mantle of Elijah which fell from him — God appointing it to fall, for Elisha’s comfort, and the strengthening of his faith and as a pledge that, together with this mantle Elijah’s spirit should rest upon him, according to his promise. And Elijah himself was now gone to a place where he needed not the mantle, either to adorn him, or shelter him from the weather, or to wrap his face in.


Verse 14

2 Kings 2:14. And said, Where is the Lord God of Elijah? — Who at Elijah’s request divided these waters, and is able to do it again. But according to this translation, two words are left out, namely, אŠ הוא, aph-hu. The clause literally rendered is, Where is the Lord God of Elijah, even He? which a learned foreigner interprets thus; that Elisha having asked this question, Where is? &c., answers himself in the two last words, aph-hu, yea, he is yet in being. Abarbinel expounds them, Though Elijah be not here, yet his God is. The servant is wanting, but not the Lord. The blessed God is still present, and will supply his place. And when he also had smitten the water’s, they parted hither and thither — As when Elijah smote them with the same mantle, which they both used, as Moses did his rod, not imagining that there was any inherent virtue in it, or at all trusting therein; but using it as a mere sign of the presence and power of God, in which alone they confided to work this wonder. Thus Elijah’s last miracle was Elisha’s first, and the disciple began where his master left off, taking up and carrying on the same blessed work of witnessing for God against idols and idolaters.


Verse 15

2 Kings 2:15. And bowed themselves to the ground before him — In token of their reverence for and subjection to him, as Elijah’s successor, the father of the prophets, and their master and teacher. They had been trained up in the schools; Elisha was taken from the plough: yet, when they perceive that God is with him, and that this is the man whom he delights to honour, they readily submit to him as their head and father, as the people did to Joshua when Moses was dead. “Those that appear to have God’s Spirit and presence with them, ought to have our esteem and best affections, notwithstanding the meanness of their extraction and education.”


Verse 16-17

2 Kings 2:16-17. Behold, there be with thy servants fifty strong men — Able to take such a journey. Let them go, we pray thee, and seek thy master — They had received but an imperfect revelation of God’s design, with respect to Elijah, when they asked Elisha if he knew that the Lord would take away his master: for they seem to have supposed that the Spirit of God might have taken him up and cast him, either dead or alive, upon some mountain, or in some valley at a distance; see on 1 Kings 18:12; and if alive, they wished to find him, that they might minister to his necessities; and if dead, that they might give his body an honourable burial. And he said, Ye shall not send — For he knew it would be to no purpose. They urged him till he was ashamed — That is, to deny them any longer, lest they should think his denial proceeded from a neglect of his master, or a contempt of them. Or, as the Hebrew, עד בשׁ, gnad bosh, may with equal propriety be rendered, till they were ashamed, namely, because he so often and so obstinately denied their request. And they sought him three days — Searching every place where they thought it likely he might be cast. But found him not — Thus still further evidence was given of his translation, and they, having lost their labour, and tired themselves with their fruitless search, would be more ready to submit to Elisha’s authority, and acquiesce in his judgment another time.


Verse 19

2 Kings 2:19. The water is naught, and the ground barren — Either it was so originally, at least as to that part of the city where the college of the prophets was; or it became so from the curse of God inflicted upon it, either when Joshua first took the city, or when Hiel rebuilt it: however, upon the prophet’s care it became exceeding fruitful, and therefore is commended for its fertility by later writers. Thus the ministers of the gospel should endeavour to make every place they come to some way or other the better for them; labouring to sweeten bitter spirits, and to make barren souls fruitful by a due application of God’s word.


Verse 20

2 Kings 2:20. And he said, Bring me a new cruise — He says new, partly that there might be no ground of suspicion that the cure was wrought by the natural virtue of any thing which was or had been in the cruise before, but only by God’s power; and partly that there might be no legal pollution in it which might offend God, and hinder his miraculous operation by it. And put salt therein — A most improper remedy; for salt naturally makes waters brackish, and lands barren, Hereby therefore he intended to show, that the change desired was to be effected, not by any natural means, but solely by the divine power, which could work either without means or against them. Thus Christ anointed the eyes of a blind man with clay, when he was going to restore him to sight, that he might show that no natural cause was concerned in his cure; clay, according to its natural effect, being more likely to injure his eyes than benefit them.


Verse 21-22

2 Kings 2:21-22. He went forth unto the spring, and cast the salt in there — If the salt had been a proper remedy for the brackishness of these waters and the barrenness of the land, what could so small a quantity have done, and especially as cast into the fountain? For a fountain quickly works out any thing cast into it. But Elisha only used it as a sign of God’s power, which was to produce the effect, and to render the operation of that power more conspicuous. Therefore he says, Thus saith the Lord God, I have healed these waters — He himself; the new cruise and the salt were no more than mere instruments, or channels through which God was pleased to convey this healing virtue. There shall not be from thence any more death — Hurt or danger, to man or beast, by drinking the water. So the waters were healed unto this day — There is a fountain at this very day, toward the west of Jericho, which rises about three quarters of a league above the town in the way to Jerusalem, and, yielding a great deal of water, very excellent in its kind, runs along and fructifies the plain: and many authors speak of the extraordinary fruitfulness and pleasantness of the country hereabouts, after this time. See Josephus, Bell. Jud., book 5, cap. 4.


Verse 23

2 Kings 2:23. He went up from thence unto Beth-el — To the other school of the prophets, to inform them of Elijah’s translation, and his succession to the same office; and to direct, and comfort, and establish them, as he saw occasion. And — there came forth little children — The word נערים, negnarim, here rendered children, often evidently signifies, and is translated, young men, or lads, as Genesis 22:5; Genesis 22:12; Genesis 41:12; Genesis 43:8; 2 Chronicles 13:7, and that even when the epithet קשׂנים, ketannim, little, is, as here, added to it: see 1 Kings 3:7, and Isaiah 11:6. Here Dr. Waterland renders the words, young lads. It is more than probable they were, at least, old enough to discern between good and evil. They came out of the city, that is, Beth-el, the mother city of idolatry, where the prophets had planted themselves that they might bear witness against it, and dissuade the people from it, though, it seems, they had but small success there. These youths, it appears, did not meet with Elisha by accident, but went out with a design to insult him, knowing him to be a prophet of the true God, an advocate for his worship, and an enemy to the idolatry of the place; and having imbibed the prejudices of their parents against the true religion. They likewise went in a body, which showed that their motive was malice, and their going out not casual: from whence some think it probable that they went out, not only to deride the prophet, but likewise to prevent his entering into the city. They feared he would be as zealous against their idolatries as Elijah had been, and by this insult they intended to free themselves from his remonstrances. And mocked him — With great petulancy and vehemency making game of him, as the word יתקלסו, jithkallesu, here used, signifies; deriding, probably, both his person and ministry, and that from a profane contempt of the true religion, and a passionate love of that idolatry which they knew he opposed. And said unto him, Go up, thou bald-head, go up, thou bald-head — Thus mocking his natural infirmity, which was a great sin, and repeating the words to show their earnestness, and that their scoff was no sudden slip of the tongue, but proceeded from a rooted impiety, and hatred of God and his prophets: and very probably it was their usual practice to jeer the prophets as they went along the streets, that they might expose them to contempt, and, if possible, drive them out of the town. Many commentators think, that by this expression, עלה, gnalee, Go up, ascend, which they repeat, they intended to make a jest of the ascension of Elijah, which no doubt they had heard of: as if they had said, “Go up, ascend into heaven, whither thou pretendest Elijah is gone. Why didst thou not accompany thy friend and master to heaven?” thus shutting their eyes against an astonishing miracle, which seems to have been wrought, partly at least, to reclaim them, as well as to the two other signal miracles recently wrought, and, no doubt, spread abroad through the country, namely, of both Elijah and Elisha’s dividing the waters of Jordan, and passing through on dry ground. Perhaps, however, as the story mentions his going up, or ascending, the rising ground, unto Beth-el, and going up by the way, they might only mean, Go along, by the expression, Go up, or ascend, and might not allude to Elijah’s ascension. Be this as it may, their abuse of a prophet whom God had so evidently accredited, and marked out as the successor of Elijah, whose miracles had been so many and so wonderful, was a most heinous sin, and a manifest insult offered to the true God, and was accordingly punished as such by him, all whose ways are just and holy, and who never exceeds the degree of sin in the measure of punishment, but always in the present world punishes the guilty infinitely less than they deserve.


Verse 24

2 Kings 2:24. He looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the Lord — “The word curse has in Scripture three different acceptations. It signifies, to inflict a curse; and in this sense God is said to have cursed the ground after the fall. It signifies, to wish a curse; and in this sense Shimei is said to have cursed David. Lastly, it signifies, to pronounce, or foretel, a curse or punishment; and in this sense Elisha is said to have cursed the children. The historian expressly asserts, that he cursed them in the name of the Lord. To speak in the name of the Lord, is to deliver what he commands; to prophesy in the name of the Lord, is to foretel what he reveals; and to curse in the name of the Lord, is to declare a curse which he is determined to inflict, and has authorized the prophet to denounce: so that in cursing these supposed children, Elisha acted as a minister of the Supreme Ruler of the world, and by his order foretold the punishment that was going to be inflicted upon these idolaters. His pronouncing this curse was not the cause of their catastrophe; but the certainty of their catastrophe, and the command of God, were the causes of his pronouncing this curse.” See Dr. Dodd, and Morris, vol. 1. ser. 7.

There came forth two she-bears out of the wood — Which probably had been robbed of their whelps, and thereby made more fierce and outrageous; and tare forty and two children of them — Here the word translated children is different from that used above, namely, ילדים, jeladim; but this also signifies, not only young children, but also those that are grown up to maturity, as Genesis 32:22; Genesis 34:4; Genesis 37:30; Ruth 1:5. In this extraordinary punishment, inflicted evidently by the hand of God on these young persons, we have demonstration, that the curse which the prophet denounced against them was not owing, as some have supposed, to the peevishness of his temper, or the ebullition of his anger: for though his rage had been ever so furious, it would not have supplied him with power to command these savage creatures to leave the woods at an instant, and to come to a place they did not frequent, as a public road must be supposed to be, in order to destroy these insolent youths. As his curse would have had no effect had it proceeded from a peevish temper, or from the violence of his passion, we have no just cause, from his cursing them, to suspect that he was actuated by any such principle. No: it was in the name of the Lord; not from any revengeful passion, but by the motion of God’s Spirit, and by God’s command and commission that he denounced the curse: and God caused the punishment to follow, partly to show his displeasure at such profaneness and malignity of mind against God, and his cause, and worship, as these youths were guilty of, for the terror and caution of all other ungodly persons, who abounded in that place; partly to vindicate the honour and maintain the authority of his prophets; and particularly of Elisha, now especially in the beginning of his sacred ministry; and partly to convince the people of the heinousness of idolatry, and to recover them to that purity of worship which the law was peculiarly intended to preserve.

Upon the whole, it appears that the persons who mocked Elijah were not infants, but arrived to years of maturity; that they did not insult him by chance, but by design; that they went out in great crowds on purpose; that they mocked him because he was the prophet of the true God, from whom they had apostatized; and that he did not wish their untimely end from a principle of revenge, but only predicted it as a prophet. The punishment will appear just, if we consider the time, place, persons, and all the circumstances of the case. These young persons might be guilty of many other heinous crimes, known to God and his prophet, besides that here recorded: they were at least guilty of idolatry, which by God’s law deserved death: add to this, that the idolatrous parents were punished in their children; and that if any of these children were more innocent, God might have mercy on their souls, and then the death they suffered was not a misery, but a real blessing to them, taking them away from that education which was very likely to expose them, not only to temporal, but eternal destruction.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Kings 2:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/2-kings-2.html. 1857.

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