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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
2 Kings 2

 

 

Verse 1

1. When the Lord would take up Elijah — There was a set time in Jehovah’s purpose when this great miracle should be wrought. It was an event of importance to all ages, inasmuch as it would teach lessons of incalculable worth.

Into heaven — Literally, the heavens. Into what heaven? Does it merely mean the sky, where the birds fly and the clouds float? That would be a supposition unworthy of the sublime transaction. The only rational interpretation of the words involves the doctrine that Elijah ascended to the heavenly abode of the saints of God. See on 2 Kings 2:11.

By a whirlwind סערה, a storm, a tempest. This was the immediate instrumentality or agent by which he was taken up.

From Gilgal — They went from Gilgal down to Beth-el. 2 Kings 2:2. Hence this Gilgal could not have been identical with the place of the same name on the east of Jericho, where Joshua first encamped after passing the Jordan, (Joshua 4:19;) but the modern Jiljilia, on a lofty eminence about half way between Jerusalem and Shechem. Here, in Elijah’s time, there seems to have been a school of the prophets.


Verses 1-18

ELIJAH’S ASCENSION, 2 Kings 2:1-18.

We have in this chapter the record of one of the most impressive narratives of the Old Testament history. As in patriarchal times Enoch walked with God, and was translated to heaven without tasting death, (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5,) so under the Mosaic dispensation we have this record of Elijah, whose whole life was a monumental wonder of divine intercourse and power, and whose removal from the world without tasting death surpassed in sublimity and grandeur the translation of the patriarchal saint. To study and appreciate the closing scenes in the history of this great man is to tread on holy ground. The ascension of Elijah has ever been regarded as typical of the ascension of our Lord; and there are points of resemblance, as well as noticeable contrasts. Elijah, says Keil, ascended in the fiery tempest, the symbol of the judicial righteousness of God. And appropriately; because as servant of the Lord, as minister of the law, he preached with fiery zeal to his apostate generation the fire of the anger of Divine righteousness. Christ ascended calmly and silently before the eyes of all his disciples, and a cloud received him out of their sight. He ascended as the Son, to whom all power in heaven and earth was given. He was transfigured by his resurrection and ascension into the imperishable Divine nature, and returned, by virtue of his eternal Godhead, to the Father.

Since Elijah’s ascension took place near where Moses died and was buried, (Deuteronomy 34:5,) and since both these holy prophets met with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, it is natural for us to compare them in the manner of their leaving the world. Moses died on account of his sin at Kadesh, (Deuteronomy 32:50-51,) and, though he was lawgiver, he passed from his earthly life by the way of the law, which worketh death as the wages of sin. But Elijah, as typical forerunner of Christ, and who, appearing again in spirit and power in the person of John the Baptist, prepares his way by turning the hearts of the fathers to the children, (Malachi 4:5-6; Matthew 11:14,) ascends to heaven without tasting death, and thus further points to Him who, by his resurrection and ascension, destroys the power of sin and of death, and abolishes the curse of the law from every one that believeth.


Verse 2

2. Tarry here — Why should Elijah thus exhort Elisha? Some think, to prove his fidelity and love; but others, with greater probability, think that Elijah wanted no human eye to witness his departure from the world, and that feelings of deep humility prompted this request.

I will not leave thee — Elisha seems to have had a revelation, or at least a premonition, that his master was about to be taken away from him that day, and “no dread of that final parting could deter him from the mournful joy of seeing with his own eyes the last moments, and of hearing with his own ears the last words, of the prophet of God.” — Stanley.


Verse 3

3. The sons of the prophets that were at Beth-el — Here, at the very place where the calf-worship of Jeroboam was chiefly observed, there existed a school of the prophets. Their zeal and devotion to the true God of Israel perhaps served largely to counteract the prevalent idolatry, and preserve among the hosts of the people a faithful seven thousand. See notes on 1 Samuel 10:5, and 1 Kings 19:18.

Knowest thou — The schools of the prophets, both at Beth-el and Jericho, (2 Kings 2:5,) have also a premonition that Elijah is to be taken away. Perhaps, as Kitto suggests, his unusually solemn manner that day, his countenance and conversation more heavenward, and all his demeanour, seemed to say, “Ye shall see my face no more.”

Take away thy master from thy head — That is, from being thy head; thy spiritual father, teacher, leader, and director. The expression, which literally is, taken from over thy head, might also intimate the manner of Elijah’s removal.

Yea, I know — He replies with emphasis, but solemnity. Literally, the Hebrew is, Of course I know; hush!


Verse 4

4. Jericho — A city in the Jordan valley. See on Joshua 2:1. In Ahab’s reign Hiel, the Beth-elite, had rebuilt this city. 1 Kings 16:34.


Verse 7

7. Fifty men… stood to view afar off — What all they saw we are not told. They probably saw the waters of Jordan divided, and the two prophets pass beyond the stream; and possibly they beheld Elijah at the moment he was parted from Elisha; but they probably did not behold his ascension, for of that Elisha had only a momentary glimpse, and that by special grace of God.


Verse 8

8. His mantle — The shaggy garment that had been so long his prophetical badge.

Wrapped it together — Rolled it up in the form of a twisted cord, or a wonder-working rod.

Smote the waters — As if they were an enemy in his way. Elijah’s mantle was to him at Jordan what the rod of God was to Moses at the Red Sea; (Exodus 14:16; Exodus 14:21;) and many things in the lives of these two great prophets were strikingly parallel. Bishop Hall beautifully says: “There must be a fit parallel between these two great prophets who should meet Christ on Tabor. Both fasted forty days; both had visions of God in Horeb; both were sent to rebuke kings; both prepared miraculous tables; both opened heaven; both revenged idolatry; both quenched the thirst of Israel; both divided the waters; both of them are forewarned of their departure; the body of Moses is hid; the body of Elijah is translated.”


Verse 9

9. Ask what I shall do for thee — One last request Elisha is permitted to make, and at a moment when his emotions might have made it a difficult thing for him to present an appropriate request.

Before I be taken away — The departing Elijah consciously carries with him into heaven the sympathies and memories of earth. After his departure he will be no less Elijah than before, and he will remember and think of Elisha no less than Elisha will of him; but there will be no more personal communion between them; and so what Elisha has to ask must be asked before Elijah departs, for there may be no requests made of the saints after they are gone from earth.

A double portion of thy spirit — This is the sense of the Hebrew, which literally reads, A mouth of two in thy spirit; that is, a mouthful for two persons, a twofold portion. It has an allusion to the law of Deuteronomy 21:17, which provides that a double portion of an inheritance shall be given to the firstborn son; that is, a portion double that given to any other heir. Elisha, as the first and chief spiritual son of Elijah, wisely asks, not that he may become greater than his spiritual father, but that an unusually large endowment of the same spirit that dwelt in Elijah may also rest on him, and thus qualify him to be at least a somewhat worthy successor of Elijah. He wished that he might have more of Elijah’s spirit than any other of the sons of the prophets, and thus be honoured as the first one among them.


Verse 10

10. A hard thing — It was a request which Elijah had no power to grant; but his own prayer to God might be largely instrumental in procuring it as a Divine gift to Elisha. The fervent prayer (James 5:16-17) that brought abundant showers from heaven (1 Kings 18:42-45) might also bring gifts of the Spirit. The passage clearly shows that Elijah was to be somehow instrumental in procuring for Elisha his desire, and he may have prayed for Elisha after he had been translated, or even while he was being carried up into heaven. We may make requests of our departing friends before they leave us, and they may remember us, and pray for us in heaven; but after their departure we may not pray to them.

If thou see me… taken from thee — That is, at the moment when I am taken, not after I am gone. Here was no pledge to appear unto Elisha after his departure. The meaning is explained by what follows; Elisha saw the chariot and horses of fire, and Elijah carried up in a whirlwind, and this sight was to be to him a sign that what he had asked should be granted. Elijah was enabled by Divine inspiration to inform Elisha of this sign beforehand.


Verse 11

11. They still went on, and talked — What moments were those, what conversation never to be forgotten! It was a walking and talking on the verge of heaven!

A chariot of fire, and horses of fire — These were creations of the spiritual world; a part of that Divine machinery by which God consummates the purposes of his wisdom and providence. There are not only angels in heaven, but horses and chariots ready to do the bidding of the Most High. This heavenly scene which Elisha witnessed was no hallucination, nor were the chariot and horses of fire a mere ideal symbol seen only in vision, like the living creatures which Ezekiel saw by the river Chebar, (Ezekiel 1:5-14;) but they had actual existence in the spiritual world, and were only a part of that vast host, the sound of whose movements David once heard over the mulberry trees, (2 Samuel 5:24,) and who at a later time filled the mountains round about Elisha. 2 Kings 6:17. Why should we doubt this as a fact of the unseen world when we are told (Psalms 68:17) that the chariots of God are אלפי שׁנאן רבתים, two myriads, repeated thousands, and they that minister unto him are thousand thousands, and they that stand before him are myriad myriads. Daniel 7:10.

Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven — That is, the moment the fiery chariot separated the two prophets a sudden tempest broke upon Elijah and carried him aloft into heaven. It is not said that Elijah went up in the fire-chariot, but in a tempest, the chariot serving to separate Elijah from Elisha, as if defining a boundary between the earthly and the heavenly states. It has been usually and very naturally assumed, however, that the translated prophet ascended in the chariot, and the chariot was borne aloft on the wings of the wind. Compare Psalms 104:3. The heaven to which Elijah went was the abode of God’s saints, who rest from their earthly labours, but employ themselves in higher and holier works than it enters our minds to conceive. There he met with Moses, who had died and was buried not far from the place whence he ascended; and with that elder prophet he afterwards descended from his heavenly home to appear to the three disciples, and to talk with Jesus of his exit from the world. Luke 9:30-31. This translation of Elijah to heaven, and the appearance of the chariot and horses of fire, like other similar events of Old Testament Scripture, teach the existence of another world beyond us, unseen by the natural eye; a realm whose inhabitants and hierarchies and orders of ministries are numerous beyond all computation. But Elijah entered this heaven without tasting death, or at least by a marvellous transformation. The human body, with its earthly modes of life, must be unsuited to the heavenly state, and hence we suppose, in harmony with other Scripture, that at the moment of his separation from Elisha, Elijah was changed, as in the twinkling of an eye, and ascended with a renewed spiritualized body, made compatible with the nature of heavenly existence. Thus has he become a representative of those saints who shall not die, but be changed at the coming of the Lord. 1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:17. It is contrary to the evident import of this account of Elijah’s departure, and contrary to the teachings of other Scriptures, to assume that his body must have become suddenly decomposed and dissolved into dust, or that it was thrown down again, as some of the sons of the prophets thought, (2 Kings 2:16,) on some mountain, or in some valley, a lifeless corpse. Elijah truly ascended bodily to heaven, but his body underwent such a spiritualizing change as fitted it for the heavenly life; hence our doctrine that man is all immortal — body as well as spirit.


Verse 12

12. Elisha saw — Saw the whole scene; the chariot, and horses, and the transfigured Elijah moving away from the earth. Elisha saw this, however, not with his natural eyes, for it was a scene belonging to the spiritual world, and to behold it he must, like the young man mentioned, 2 Kings 6:17, have his inner senses unvailed. This sight was a special Divine favour, and was made by Elijah the conditional sign of Elisha’s obtaining a double portion of his spirit. 2 Kings 2:10.

My father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof — These words should be understood as an exclamation of wonder and amazement. Elisha sees his spiritual father depart, and he sees the chariot and the celestial steeds, and he calls after them all. We can hardly suppose that by this exclamation he meant at that moment to express the thought which the Targum attaches to the words: “My master, my master, who wast better to Israel by thy prayers than horses and chariots.” Doubtless Elisha afterwards often related this marvellous scene, and uttered these words in the hearing of men; and as he was ever associated in the minds of the people with his ascended master, and they spoke of him as the one “who poured water on the hands of Elijah,” (2 Kings 3:11,) so it was very natural for the king of Israel when he visited him in his last sickness to weep over his face and repeat these very words. See 2 Kings 13:14.

He saw him no more — His inner vision was closed again, and all that wondrous scene vanished from his view.

Rent them in two pieces — In token of sorrow and bereavement. He would fain have gone with Elijah into heaven. He had closely followed his master all that day, persistently refusing to leave him; and now, when the chariot and horses of fire separate them, and he suddenly finds himself alone, a bitter sense of loneliness comes over him, and he acts like a heartbroken mourner.


Verse 13

13. He took up also the mantle of Elijah — The same mantle which the ascended prophet had cast upon him at Abel-meholah as a symbolic call to be prophet in his stead. 1 Kings 19:16; 1 Kings 19:19. It was thenceforth to be to Elisha what it had been to Elijah, and served to designate him as Elijah’s successor.


Verse 14

14. Smote the waters — Elisha’s first miracle is identical in nature with the last of Elijah, and so the spirit and power of the father rests upon his spiritual son, and by him continues active in the world. The sons of the prophets beheld, from their mountain height, (2 Kings 2:7,) this miracle, as they probably had the last one of Elijah, and hence it served to confirm them as well as Elisha himself in the belief that Elijah’s spirit rested on him. 2 Kings 2:15.

Where is the Lord God of Elijah — According to the Vulgate he smote the waters once, and they were not divided; then he spoke these words and again smote them, and they divided hither and thither. This thought, however, has no support in the Hebrew text. The words were spoken with the conviction that the last miracle of the ascended prophet would now be repeated as a confirming sign to Elisha that Elijah’s God would be with him.

And when he also had smitten — This is a faulty rendering of the Hebrew. We should read: Where is the Lord God of Elijah, even he? and he smote the waters and they were divided, etc.


Verse 15

15. Saw him — The prophets saw all that was done at Jordan, and were thereby confirmed in the belief that Elisha was the divinely ordained successor of Elijah.


Verse 16

16. Cast him upon some mountain — The fifty men that stood afar off to view, (2 Kings 2:7,) had perhaps seen that Elijah was suddenly snatched away from view, or else Elisha at once told them how his master had departed; but they could not fully believe that he had gone bodily to heaven. Their search to find him, however, was as fruitless and idle as the attempt of some moderns to explain away the idea of a bodily ascension into heaven.


Verse 19

19. The men of the city — Prominent citizens of the place. Perhaps, as Bahr says, they were the elders of the city who thus applied to Elisha, and their action shows that he had their confidence. As he had now attained the highest eminence in the prophetic office, they, possibly, expected that he might be able to rid their city of its plague.

Situation of this city is pleasant — Travellers all agree in representing the site of Jericho as exceedingly beautiful.

The water is naught — Bad, harmful.

The ground barren — Better, The land suffers from abortions, or causes untimely births. הארצ, the land, refers here to the inhabitants, rather than the soil, and 2 Kings 2:21 shows that the bad waters caused the land to suffer from abortions.


Verses 19-22

ELISHA HEALS THE WATERS OF JERICHO, 2 Kings 2:19-22.

As we see in the translation of Elijah a type of Christ’s ascension into heaven, so may we also see in the subsequent career of Elisha a type of the holy Apostolic Church, clothed with the spirit of the Master, and working even greater miracles than he.


Verse 20

20. A new cruse — Never used in any common or unholy service.

Put salt therein — Elisha, in working this miracle, would seem to make use of means just as did Jesus when he put spittle on the blind man’s eyes.

John 9:6; Mark 8:23. “The injurious property and effect was not taken from the water by the salt, poured in; for even if the salt actually possessed this power, a whole spring could not be corrected by a single dish of salt, even for one day, much less for a longer time, or forever. The pouring in of the salt was a symbolic act with which Elisha accompanied the word of the Lord, by which alone the spring was healed. Salt, on account of its power of preserving from putrescence and decay, is the symbol of incorruptibility, and of life removing death. The new dish was also a symbol of purity and inviolateness.” — Keil.


Verse 21

21. The spring of the waters — “The fountain bursts forth at the eastern foot of a high double mound, or group of mounds, situated a mile or more in front of the mountain Quarantania, and about thirty-five minutes from the modern village of Jericho. It is a large and beautiful fountain of sweet and pleasant water; not, indeed, cold, but also not warm. It is the only one near Jericho, and there is every reason to regard it as the scene of Elisha’s miracle.” — Robinson.

I have healed these waters — Not Elisha, but Elisha’s God was the author of that miraculous change in the mineral sources of the fountain. This miracle, says Wordsworth, “was typical of the work done by the Lord after the ascension of Christ, by means of the apostles and their successors casting the salt of Christian doctrine from the new cruse of the Gospel into the unhealthful waters of the Jericho of this world, and healing them.” Compare with this miracle that of the healing of the poisonous pottage, 2 Kings 4:38-41, and the waters of Marah, Exodus 15:25.


Verse 23

23. Unto Beth-el — Whence he had lately come down with Elijah, and where was a school of the prophets. 2 Kings 2:3.

Little children — Youths; persons who had attained to youthful manhood, as distinguished from the middle aged and the old. The word נערis often used for a youth, without determining at all his exact age, and with קשׂן, little, means a young man who has not arrived at maturity, a lad. Compare 1 Samuel 20:35; 1 Kings 11:17. ילדים, rendered children in 2 Kings 2:24, is often used in the same sense, and in 1 Kings 12:8 is applied to the young men who had grown up with Rehoboam, in contrast with the old men who had acted as the counsellors of Solomon. So that by little children, here, we are not to understand infantile or irresponsible children, but young persons from fifteen to twenty or twenty-five years old. Some have plausibly conjectured that they composed the school of some teacher in that city. If so, the school was probably established to offset and counteract the influence of the school of the prophets in that place, and to advance the interests of the calf-worship, which had its principal seat at Beth-el. The pupils of such a school would naturally soon learn to mock and scoff at every holy person and thing connected with the true worship of Jehovah. They were, as Kitto says, “a rabble of young blackguards.”

Go up — That is, ascend into heaven. They had heard of Elijah’s ascension, and were taught to treat the story with ridicule; and now when Elisha, the most distinguished follower of Elijah, is approaching the town, they go out on purpose to meet him and treat him with derision.

Bald head — If Elisha were really bald headed, it was not the result of age, for he was yet a comparatively young man. But the word might have been applied to Elisha out of pure contempt, and not because he was actually bald. The term “was one of great indignity with the Israelites — baldness being usually seen among them as the effect of the loathsome disease of leprosy. It was a term of contempt, equivalent to calling him a mean, unworthy fellow, a social outcast. In this sense it is still used as a term of abuse in the farther East, and is often applied as such to men who have ample heads of hair.” — Kitto.


Verses 23-25

THE MOCKING CHILDREN CURSED, 2 Kings 2:23-25.

We pass from a miracle of blessing to a miracle of cursing. The one was wrought in the element of inanimate nature; the other, in that of human life. The one was wrought on unconscious water for the temporal benefit of the surrounding country; the other, on conscious and responsible persons to vindicate the honour of Jehovah, and teach a salutary moral lesson. “The offence of the mocking children, involving, as it did, a blasphemous insult upon one of the Lord’s most signal acts, made a near approach to what in the New Testament is called the sin against the Holy Ghost. It became the Lord to vindicate his own honour among a people governed by sensible dispensations of judgments and of mercy; and it became him to vindicate the character and authority of his anointed prophet at the outset of his high career.” — Kitto.


Verse 24

24. Cursed them in the name of the Lord — It would not do to let such malice and blasphemy go unnoticed before the people of Beth-el, and so the insulted prophet called down on those young blasphemers the vengeance of the Lord who was mocked and scorned in the person of his holy prophet. It then remained to be seen whether the Lord would hear a prayer for vengeance.

Tare forty and two children of them — The word for children here is different from that so rendered in 2 Kings 2:23, and though the two words are nearly synonymous, “the change, with the dropping of the word little, is probably intended to mark a distinction. Wherever there is a mob of idle young men, there is sure to be a number of mischievous urchins, who shout and bawl, as they do, without knowing much of the matter. Although, therefore, there were, no doubt, little children among this rabble of young Beth-elites, there is every reason to suppose that the forty-two of them who were destroyed were the oldest ones, the ringleaders of the set, and who very well knew what they were about.” — Kitto.


Verse 25

25. Thence to mount Carmel… thence… to Samaria — Thus he follows in the steps of his departed master, and frequents the scenes of that master’s ministry.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 2 Kings 2:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/2-kings-2.html. 1874-1909.

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