Before Elijah is taken up to heaven, he and Elisha make a trip to some of the most famous places in Israel. He travels from Gilgal to Bethel, then to Jericho, and finally to the Jordan. Elisha later will visit all these places (2Kgs 2:18; 4:38; 6:2).
These places are known from the ancient history of the people of God:
1. Gilgal is the place of circumcision, the starting point for the conquest of the promised land (Jos 4:19; 5:9; 10:43).
2. We already know Bethel from the book of Genesis. It is the place where God reveals Himself to the patriarch Jacob and where He gives him His unconditional promises of blessing; Bethel is the place where God wants to live – Bethel means “house of God” (Gen 28:11-19; 35:1-4,14-15).
3. In Jericho, the LORD reveals Himself to Joshua as the Prince of the LORD's army, the Commander of His army (Jos 5:13-15). Jericho is the great stronghold that prevents the Israelites from entering the promised land, but that falls for the power of Israel's God (Jos 6:20-21).
4. The Jordan is the river that prevents the Israelites from entering the land, however of which the water are cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD, so that all Israel can cross over on dry land (Jos 3:1,14-17).
Unfortunately in the days of Elijah and Elisha it is no longer the case that these places only bear witness to the great deeds of God. They have become much more monuments of the sinfulness of the people, places of degeneration and idolatry. Jeroboam has introduced the calf service, which originates from Egypt, in Bethel and in Dan (1Kgs 12:28-29). The prophets Hoshea and Amos condemn the idolatry cult in Bethel, together with that in Gilgal (Hos 4:15; 9:15; 12:12; Amos 4:4; 5:5).
Jericho is not well known either. It is the city of the curse, which according to God’s command should not have been rebuilt. In the days of Ahab this happened anyway, still by a resident of Bethel. This man had to pay for his transgression of the word of the LORD with the lives of two of his sons (Jos 6:26; 1Kgs 16:34). It is remarkable that precisely this fact of the rebuilding of Jericho forms the link between Ahab’s iniquities – it concludes the enumeration thereof (1Kgs 16:34) – and Elijah’s sudden appearance as a prophet of judgment (1Kgs 17:1). It is as if the rebuilding of Jericho has reached the height of iniquity and the judgment of the people and their wicked ruler has become unavoidable.
As he walks along these places, Elia says goodbye to his earthly career. He will have thought of all that God has done for Israel, but also of Israel's decay and apostasy from their privileged position. God takes him in His glory outside the promised land, after he has travelled through the Jordan with Elisha. It seems that God cannot give him this homage in the land that has departed so much from Him.
His accession cannot take place in Gilgal, or in Bethel, or in Jericho, or on the landside of the Jordan. Elijah has to move on and on, until God takes him away from the earth in the wilderness side of the Jordan. We would almost say that it is a variant of what happened to Enoch. From Enoch we read that he "walked with God, and he was no longer, for God took him away" (Gen 5:24; Heb 11:5). Elijah pleases God, as Enoch did, and God honors him by taking him up to heaven, as He did with Enoch.
However, this last journey of the prophet is also of great significance for Elisha, who accompanies him faithfully and does not want to leave his side. For Elisha this long trip is on the one hand a good opportunity to prepare for the departure of his master and on the other hand a good introduction to his own career. Here we see him walking next to his honored master, whose work he must continue. He is not only Elijah’s companion, but also his successor. If his master is in heaven, he must continue his task below.
This is an important lesson for us as Christians, who are connected with a Lord in heaven. We serve a glorified Lord and may “represent” Him here on earth. We do this in the power of the Holy Spirit Whom He has given us from heaven. As the spirit of Elijah rested upon Elisha, Christ has given us His Spirit, that we may be readable letters of Him (2Cor 3:2-3).
But we also need the necessary preparation to serve Him in a dignified manner. We will have to walk by His hand and follow Him where He leads us. Although Elisha is tested here three times, he remains inseparably on the side of Elijah (2Kgs 2:2,4,6). Together they move on and even go on dry land through the Jordan, the dead river. “So they both went on” (verse 6; cf. Gen 22:6,8; Rth 1:19).
When we walk with the Lord, He leads us step by step, from one “stop-place” to another. We then will, like Elijah and Elisha, consider the situation of God’s people. We, in turn, will be confronted with the deep decay, the corruption that has entered into the midst of what is now the people of God on earth, the confessing Christianity.
1 Taken up to Heaven and Leaving Gilgal
1 And it came about when the LORD was about to take up Elijah by a whirlwind to heaven, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal.
The emphasis is on Elijah’s ascension. Elijah is thus also a picture of the Lord Jesus Himself and of the believers of the church who will also go to heaven. In Elijah we see the fact that the Lord Jesus passed through death and resurrection and took His place in heaven. In Elisha we see a picture of the Lord Jesus who, through the Spirit of God, maintains on earth today a testimony before God. Elijah is replaced by Elisha. Elijah is also a picture of John the baptist, the forerunner of the Lord Jesus and Elisha a picture of the Lord Jesus Who comes with blessing after John, as Elisha comes with blessing after Elijah.
The testimony on earth is given in the Spirit of Him Who has gone to heaven. This testimony is often forgotten, but faithful are allowed to see and show it again in days of decay. Elijah has left the apostate people behind him by his passage through the Jordan, but Elisha returns to do a service that starts from heaven, as it were. In order to be able to perform this service properly, Elisha receives education based on the four places he travels along with Elijah.
The days of Elijah’s ascension are the starting point for this education. The education shows what God has done and what the people have subsequently done with it. In every service it is important to know how God thinks about the things we meet and also to see how man has dealt with them.
The “whirlwind” and the “fire”– a chariot of fire and horses of fire – in which the LORD takes Elijah up to heaven (verses 1,11), are phenomena that are more common in Old Testament. We see them in a revelation or personal intervention of the LORD God (Exo 3:2; 24:17; 1Kgs 19:11-12; Job 38:1; 40:1; Psa 18:8; 50:3; 104:3-4; Isa 30:27; 66:15; Eze 1:4; Zec 9:14).
However, these are not just impressive natural phenomena, which, incidentally, fit in well with Elijah’s character as a prophet of judgment. Whirlwind’ and ‘fire’ also represent angelic powers (Heb 1:7). Therefore we can imagine the taking away of Elijah as follows: the LORD Himself comes as the Ruler of His heavenly armies, surrounded by His mighty angels (cf. 2Kgs 6:17), to take up His faithful warrior in heaven.
What a tribute to Elijah. God takes him away, as He once did with Enoch and as He will soon do with the living who remain until the coming of the Lord. God takes him away so that he will not see death, but will enter heaven in in the twinkling of an eye (cf. Gen 5:24; 1Cor 15:51-52; 1Thes 4:15-18; Heb 11:5).
In Elijah we see the Lord Jesus returning to heaven and in Elisha we see that the Lord Jesus came to earth in the Spirit to give testimony. The testimony is given in the Spirit of Him Who ascended to heaven. Both aspects express the essence of Christendom, which is
1. a glorified Man in heaven and
2. God the Holy Spirit on earth.
True service is only possible as far as we have received an impression of the glorified Man at the right hand of God. The impression we have of this will characterize our testimony.
Elisha has accompanied Elijah all the way. He did not start his service until after the ascension of Elijah. It is in picture the way of the remnant that is traveling with the Lord Jesus and testifying in the power of the Holy Spirit. The remnant presented in the disciples who are on earth with the Lord Jesus forms the core of the church.
It does not say that Elisha goes with Elijah, but that Elijah goes with Elisha. It is in fact Elisha’s way, but Elijah goes with him give him Divine teaching. It is the teaching that is needed for servants of God.
At the beginning of the chapter we are immediately informed of what is going to happen to Elijah: he will be taken up to heaven. Thus we hear early in the Gospel to Luke that the Lord Jesus is going to Jerusalem because “the days were approaching for His ascension” (Lk 9:51). Over the cross, that is His departure about which Moses and Elijah speak with Him on the mountain of glorification (Lk 9:30-31), the Holy Spirit directs the eye to His ascension into heaven.
Gilgal is the first place of education. In Gilgal the people have been circumcised (Jos 5:7-9). Gilgal is also the place from which the people depart for the conquest of Canaan. This has a spiritual meaning for us. We participate in the circumcision of Christ, because we are united with Him in the judgment that has struck Him in our place on the cross (Col 2:11). That is our ‘Gilgal’, and from there we may take possession of our heavenly inheritance in Christ. Gilgal means ‘rolled away’. Spiritually it is the application of the death of Christ to our flesh. In the death of the Lord Jesus, God ‘rolled away’ from us the reproach of the world.
We need to know the unchanging wickedness of our flesh. That is where every true service begins for the servant. Without the lesson of Gilgal, that is to say the deep awareness of the unchanging wickedness of our flesh and God’s judgment about it, we cannot serve. That Gilgal has become a place of idolatry and corruption has something to tell us. If the lesson of Gilgal is forgotten, Gilgal becomes the place of the revelation of the flesh. What God calls evil is then praised.
2 - 3 The Lesson of Bethel
2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here please, for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. 3 Then the sons of the prophets who [were at] Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?” And he said, “Yes, I know; be still.”
When Elijah wants to leave Gilgal to go to Bethel, he says to Elisha to stay where he is, because the LORD sends him to Bethel. He seems to say that the LORD’s commission is for him personally and that this does not mean that Elisha necessarily has to go with him. With this he places Elisha for a personal choice. Elijah does this at every subsequent location.
With this remark Elijah tests, as it were, the motives of his companion to go with him, whether he does so for Elijah, or whether he also sees a personal assignment from the LORD in it. Elisha passes the test with flying colors every time. He wants to learn the lessons that are connected to each place, so that the better he can serve the people of God as a man of God. Every time he accompanies Elijah without expressing a single reservation. Elisha goes with Elijah as Ruth used to go with Naomi (Rth 1:19).
Bethel speaks of the unchanging faithfulness of God, “for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). God was faithful to Jacob, the ancestor of Israel. He wanted to dwell with His people and have His ‘Bethel’, that means ‘house of God’, with them. Likewise, God is faithful to His heavenly people, the church of the living God. He wants and will also have His ‘Bethel’ with us.
The church is built to an eternal dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Eph 2:22: Rev 21:2-3). God will also reach His glorious final goal with us. This can never be undone by our unfaithfulness and our failure. It is good and necessary that we should always realize this, although we will also have to bow our heads ashamed of so many things that have crept in and that are dishonors of God, such as heresy, materialism, idolatry and sinful practices.
But what is left of what God meant by Bethel? Elisha observes that in Bethel a false religion has been established around a golden calf. The religion of the flesh has supplanted and replaced the true service to God. People have made their own houses of worship, according to their own ideas and shapes. A servant must see that too.
The right understanding of what the house of God is, is also of immeasurable importance today in order to be able to do a service. Abraham learned the lesson. He set up his tent and altar by Bethel (Gen 12:8). Jacob knew that place too, he met God there (Gen 35:9-15). There God teaches about His faithfulness to His promises. In the application for us it means that servants are formed in the church. First learn what Gilgal means, the judgment of the flesh, and then learn what Bethel means, the house of God to know God as the God of the house of God.
At Bethel are also sons of the prophets, or student prophets (1Sam 10:5b; 19:20). At the schools of prophets in Bethel, and also in Jericho (verse 5), the ‘students’ have been taught about the taking up of Elijah. The students think they should inform Elisha about this, without having a connection with Elijah themselves. They speak to Elisha about Elijah not as ‘our’ lord, but as ‘your’ lord. They also notice that Elisha teaches things they don’t learn at their school. They don’t go along the way that Elisha goes with Elijah, but stand at a distance. The student prophets tell Elisha nothing new. Despite the fact that he cannot boast of training at an approved institute, he is aware of what will happen to Elijah. Elisha has no education, he only has his calling.
The expression ‘take away … from over you’ indicates that Elijah is above Elisha and teaches him. This is also literally the case when Elisha is at his feet and Elijah therefore is standing over his head. Elisha will soon have to do his job independently without the instructions of his master.
4 - 5 The Lesson of Jericho
4 Elijah said to him, “Elisha, please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. 5 The sons of the prophets who [were] at Jericho approached Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from over you today?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be still.”
Also in Bethel Elisha is tested to stay there. But he goes along to third place, Jericho. When they come at Jericho, Elisha should have seen ruins, for that is God’s judgment he pronounced on that city. However, Jericho was rebuilt against God’s command, and still by someone from Bethel (1Kgs 16:34). The power of the world, of which Jericho is a picture, still has great attraction for those who do not see the world as God sees it. The eyes must be open for it, because it seems as if Jericho is a flourishing city. In the same way, Christianity seems to be a flourishing city, but faith sees that this is only a pretense. The power of godliness is denied there (2Tim 3:5a).
Also in Jericho is a school of prophet with student prophets who have a certain knowledge of future events. They also think they should inform Elisha about this. But is all. They don’t go with Elisha. The truth they know has no effect on them.
They think they are telling something Elisha doesn’t know yet. However, these truths are not primarily taught at theological colleges or bible schools, but by the Spirit of God. Pupil-prophets are at a distance. They are not idolaters, yet they do not know the true intentions of God.
6 - 8 The Lesson of the Jordan
6 Then Elijah said to him, “Please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.” And he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. 7 Now fifty men of the sons of the prophets went and stood opposite [them] at a distance, while the two of them stood by the Jordan. 8 Elijah took his mantle and folded it together and struck the waters, and they were divided here and there, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground.
Elijah is sent by the LORD to a different place each time and Elisha is again advised by Elijah not to go along. By saying this to him, Elijah puts Elisha to the test every time. Every time Elisha has to consider what he is doing and take his decision. He is not forced to go with Elijah. That he goes with him is his own choice. Happily Elisha has persisted until the end. He certainly did not regret that.
From Jericho the journey goes to the Jordan, to go through it outside God’s land which has become an idolatrous land. They go through the Jordan, after Elijah has struck it with his mantle. The power of Elijah lies in his conduct, his walk – of which his mantle speaks – to the glory of God. After they have passed through the Jordan, Elijah can speak of blessing for Elisha. They are, as it were, outside the camp, like once Moses and Joshua (Exo 33:7-11). The blessing in connection with the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus – of which the Jordan is a picture – lies outside the land.
Fifty student prophets did go along a part of the journey, but then still do not go through the Jordan. Thus the people gaze after Moses when he goes to the tent he has put up outside the camp, where Joshua is (Exo 33:8). Some Christians have an eye for what the different places represent, but who have no knowledge of having been died and risen with Christ. They do not enjoy the heavenly blessings that result from being placed in Christ in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3).
9 - 10 Elisha’s Question
9 When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.” 10 He said, “You have asked a hard thing. [Nevertheless], if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be [so].”
When they have come to the other side of the Jordan, Elijah says to Elisha he may make a wish. Elisha then asks for a double portion of the spirit of Elijah. With this he asks for something that belongs to the birthright (Deu 21:17). He badly needs this double portion as a confirmation of his service. Elisha desires Elijah’s authority and strength to act as Elijah has acted. What Elisha wants and asks for is strength, so that he can be a true representative of Elijah when Elijah is absent. For us it is the power of the Holy Spirit to represent Christ, to live Him out (cf. Lk 24:49).
Elisha is aware that he is the successor of Elijah, his heir – much more so than the student prophets, who can be compared sometimes with nominal Christians, sometimes with ignorant believers. If we can call them heirs of Elijah at all, then Elisha is the ‘firstborn son’ who is entitled to a double portion of the inheritance. Elisha claims his birthright here, so to speak, after Elijah has given him the opportunity to make a wish just before his removal (verse 9a).
What is striking here is that Elisha does not wish to inherit wealth, honor or power, but a double portion of the spirit of Elijah. His request therefore resembles the plea of Solomon, who at the beginning of his task as king did not desire riches or power, but a wise and understanding heart to govern Israel (1Kgs 3:9,12). With this he shows that he has the right spiritual attitude. The double portion is also reflected in his service: Elisha has performed about twice as many miracles as Elijah.
Elijah does not take it for granted that Elisha inherits a double portion of his spirit. He sees it as “a hard thing”, perhaps in the awareness that it is not a human being’s right and it is even impossible for a human being to communicate the Spirit of God to others. Elijah does not know whether Elisha’s wish can be fulfilled. Therefore he puts this matter in God’s hand with the following words: “If you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be [so]”. Elijah cannot give that double portion, but God can. He leaves to God what He will do.
Elijah makes the fulfillment of Elisha’s wish dependent on whether Elisha will be eyewitness of his rapture. The only question, then, is: Will Elisha focus his eye on Elijah? Will he accept the great challenge of Elijah going to heaven and simply keep his eye on him continuously when he goes?
It is the blessed reality to renounce oneself and everything and to see at Christ (Heb 12:2). When the eye renounces everything else and is only focused on Him, we find the power of the Holy Spirit in action. It’s that simple. Peter experienced this when he was walking on the water (Mt 14:29). Stephan also experienced it (Acts 7:56), as did Mo-six (Heb 11:27).
11 Elijah Goes up to Heaven
11 As they were going along and talking, behold, [there appeared] a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven.
The statement that they were “going along and talking” shows that they got to know each other’s thoughts and treated each other confidentially. Over the years a close relationship will have developed between the two men. A “the slave does not know what his master is doing” (Jn 15:15), but Elisha is well aware of what will happen to his “master” (verses 3,5). Elisha is also not at a distance like the student prophets (verse 7), who are not even mentioned as having personally spoken to Elijah that day (verses 3,5). He therefore emphatically calls Elijah “my father” when he says: “My father, my father! (verse 12).
We can learn a practical lesson from the way Elijah and Elisha treat each other. This is an example of how older and younger believers could and should interact with each other. Although Elisha’s faithfulness is put to the test by his older companion, we also see here the harmonious union of an older servant of the Lord with a younger servant of the Lord. Elijah is the spiritual father of Elisha (verse 12), as Paul was of Timothy, whom he calls his “child” (1Tim 1:2; 2Tim 1:2). In this way young men of God are prepared for the task that awaits them.
So the condition is that Elisha is an eyewitness to the ascension of Elijah and that then his eyes will be opened by God Himself for the miracle that will take place. And indeed Elisha is allowed to see the taking away of his master and thus to look into the invisible world (verses 11-12; cf. 2Kgs 6:17). He sees how God sends a chariot from heaven, “a chariot of fire and horses of fire”, to take Elijah – the faithful and lonely warrior for God’s glory on earth – in His glory. Thus we also know that the Lord Jesus was taken up into heaven “while they were looking on” (Acts 1:9) and “sat down at the right hand of God” (Mk 16:19).
12 Reaction of Elisha
12 Elisha saw [it] and cried out, “My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw Elijah no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
After rapture, Elijah’s service ends and Elisha’s service begins. After his calling, Elisha first stayed for a while in the shade, in the school of exercise of God. The task of Elisha begins with the question of a double portion, the question of the birthright. He is given this, because the condition was met that he would see Elijah go to heaven. It says emphatically here: “Elisha saw [it]”.
Elisha calls Elijah “my father” and “the chariot of Israel and its horsemen”. In doing so he says that he is the spiritual child of Elijah and that he sees in Elijah the whole power of the army of Israel concentrated. The spiritual power of God’s people rests in times of decay, in the last days, not with the masses, but is present in the individual who is a man of God, man or woman. The Lord Jesus is in everything the true Man of God, the true Israel. He went to heaven. Who, in His power, bear now witness before God in the midst of an apostate Christianity?
Elisha “saw Elijah no more”, just as we no longer see the Lord Jesus on earth. The Lord Jesus is now at the right hand of the Majesty on high. Paul also did not know Him any more according to the flesh (2Cor 5:16). Like Elisha, the (spiritual) Christian walks through the Spirit of the glorified Lord (Gal 5:25). Elisha is a picture of Christ coming to His people in the Spirit. The Lord Jesus said that after His going away He would come to His disciples: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (Jn 14:18). This is happened when the Holy Spirit came to earth (Jn 14:16-17).
Then Elisha tears his clothes into two pieces. He is the man of grace, but he can only be because he radically deals with the old. We have already seen this when, after his calling by Elijah, he leaves his oxen and slaughters a pair of oxen and cooks their flesh on the wood of the yoke of the oxen (1Kgs 19:20-21). The tearing of his clothes means that Elisha put on side the old in order to put on the new (2Cor 5:17).
13 - 14 Elijah’s Mantle
13 He also took up the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and returned and stood by the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and struck the waters and said, “Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” And when he also had struck the waters, they were divided here and there; and Elisha crossed over.
Elijah could not take his mantle to heaven. Thus the Lord Jesus could not continue in heaven the service He had done on earth. He has surrendered it in the hands of His servants. That service would be greater, just as the service of Elisha is also greater than that of Elijah (cf. Jn 14:12). This service however does happen in the characteristics of the one who went to heaven. This also applies to us as servants who do the work of the Lord on earth. Our service should bear the features of Him Who is in heaven.
Elisha takes up the mantle. With this he actually steps into the service of the LORD instead of Elijah. He takes up, so to speak, the challenge of his calling to fulfill the service associated with it. With the taken up mantle he stands near the Jordan. He has previously been there with Elijah. Now he is alone. Each servant can be pointed by another servant to the starting point of the service: the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. The moment comes when he must stand alone there and realize that his service is only meaningful if it is connected to what the Jordan speaks of: a dead, risen and glorified Lord in heaven. The servant must always remain aware of this.
The mantle of Elijah has the same function in this history as the staff of Moses with his passage through the Red Sea (Exo 14:16) and the ark of the covenant on his entry into Canaan (Jos 3:13). Both with the staff and the ark and the mantle, the water must give way to the power of the God of Israel, who creates a path for those who belong to Him.
Elisha calls here the name of the LORD with the words “where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” He knows that the miracle that divided the waters when he went through them together with Elijah (verse 8), did not occur by the power of Elijah. If he wants the waters to divide again, it is not by his own strength, but again by the mighty working of their God. In His power, these men of God could go a way that a man by nature cannot go.
Elisha does not compare with Elijah, but calls upon the LORD, the God of Elijah. That God has not changed. Elisha calls upon the God who was with Elijah, that that God may be with him. God also wants to support us with His power in the service we may do for Him. The God Who has given men of God strength will also give us strength.
15 - 18 The Sons of the Prophets
15 Now when the sons of the prophets who [were] at Jericho opposite [him] saw him, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” And they came to meet him and bowed themselves to the ground before him. 16 They said to him, “Behold now, there are with your servants fifty strong men, please let them go and search for your master; perhaps the Spirit of the LORD has taken him up and cast him on some mountain or into some valley.” And he said, “You shall not send.” 17 But when they urged him until he was ashamed, he said, “Send.” They sent therefore fifty men; and they searched three days but did not find him. 18 They returned to him while he was staying at Jericho; and he said to them, “Did I not say to you, ‘Do not go’?”
There is a great contrast between Elisha and the student prophets from Jericho, who in everything that has happened have remained at a distance and therefore have not been eyewitnesses to the ascension of Elijah (verses 7,15). The student prophets, both in Bethel and in Jericho (verses 3,5), are well informed about the impending event –perhaps by a prophetic revelation of which Elisha has also been informed. However, they did not see with illuminated eyes, like Elisha, how Elijah was triumphantly led to heaven. Only Elisha has had eyes opened for the rapture of Elijah.
However, the student prophets see something else. They notice with Elisha the consequences of what he has seen. The ascension of Elijah radiates, as it were, from him. Such a testimony will also radiate from us when people see in us the Spirit of the Lord Jesus. That will be if they through our actions will be reminded of Him (Acts 4:13). This Spirit does not rest on the student prophets of Jericho. They also did not see Elijah go to heaven. Christians who have no knowledge of a glorified Lord cannot show much of His Spirit, that Spirit Who bears witness of Him.
The student prophets feel that Elisha, so to speak, is spiritually above them. But they don’t get any further. They do not ask why it is that the spirit of Elijah rests on him, and even less is there the desire to receive that same Spirit. Instead they do as Obadiah did before Elijah and bow down before him (1Kgs 18:7). They also reason exactly like Obadiah, who was afraid that the Spirit of LORD would suddenly move Elijah to another environment (1Kgs 18:12). They believe that the Spirit may have taken Elijah “up and cast him on some mountain or into some valley”.
When they ask to search for Elijah, they show that their horizon is limited to the earth. They do not take into account a real taken up to heaven. In the same way there are people in our days who are characterized on the one hand by religious confusion and on the other hand by open idolatry. There are many well-intentioned confessors, who belong to the “prophets of the LORD” (1Kgs 18:13), but still think of earthly things. Unfortunately they have – at least in the practice of Christian life – no eye for a heavenly Christ (Phil 3:19-20; Col 3:1-4).
Elisha answers the question of the student prophets with a clear ‘no’. Because they want to search anyway, he finally agrees. Their search shows that they have not understood the truth of the ascension of Elijah. The action by fifty men of the student prophets of Jericho is both superfluous and in vain. Elijah is not found, just as Enoch in his days “was not found because God took him up” (Heb 11:5). It is possible that after the taking up of Enoch a futile search for him was organized; the words ‘he was not found’ may indicate this. When they return without any result, Elisha gently points out their unbelief to them.
19 - 22 The Water of Jericho
19 Then the men of the city said to Elisha, “Behold now, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad and the land is unfruitful.” 20 He said, “Bring me a new jar, and put salt in it.” So they brought [it] to him. 21 He went out to the spring of water and threw salt in it and said, “Thus says the LORD, ‘I have purified these waters; there shall not be from there death or unfruitfulness any longer.’” 22 So the waters have been purified to this day, according to the word of Elisha which he spoke.
Before we look more into detail to the miracles of Elisha, first a general remark about these miracles. When we see all the miracles in which Elisha is involved, there is a remarkable order to be discovered. The striking of the water of the Jordan is the first miracle of Elisha. His last miracle takes place when he has already died and lies in the grave. If a dead man is thrown into his grave, the dead man becomes alive (2Kgs 13:21). There is a similarity between the two miracles. They both have to do with death and resurrection. The Jordan is a picture of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus, the dead man thrown into the tomb of Elisha, becomes alive by the touch of Elisha’s bones. This is why his first and his last miracle belong together.
Several miracles in between seem to belong together two by two. In any case, there is a connection between the following six miracles. Thus, in the two miracles that now come to our attention first, the water of Jericho and the bears from the forest, we can see miracles that are related to nature, where one miracle is blessing and the other miracle is judgment. The next two miracles are about what is empty and is filled by the LORD: empty trenches and empty vessels are filled with water (the Word) and oil (Spirit) respectively. The following two miracles have to do with life from the dead.
The first revelation of grace in the service of Elisha takes place in Jericho, the city of the curse (Jos 6:26). What man has built up seems pleasant. The situation of the city is pleasant. But it remains the place of the curse, a place which, as we have already seen, has been rebuilt in rebellion toward God (1Kgs 16:34). Death reigns there and causes death. The men of the city go with their need to the man of God. With the words “behold now” they point out the situation to him to observe it with his own eyes. In this way they involve him in their situation.
Then Elisha acts. The prophet of grace comes to the place of death. He does not come to judge, but to give life. That is the hallmark of our time. God’s patience still postpones judgment (2Pet 3:9b). God wants to give life, but does so on His own terms. It is only possible to escape death through the man of God, that is now the Lord Jesus.
Elisha says that a new jar with salt in it needs to be created. When God starts working in a place of the curse, He does so through something new and not through something that has already been used and is old. This symbolically represents that God does not restore the old nature, but makes a new beginning. He does not connect something new to something that is old (Mt 9:16). The salt speaks of “the salt of the covenant” of God with His people (Lev 2:13). Salt is preservative and spoilage. That is how it is with God’s covenant that holds against everything. God keeps it in Christ, Who is the new Man. Only in Him is everything protective and perverse, in Him are all the promises of God yes and amen (2Cor 1:20). In Him we are a new shovel ping (2Cor 5:17).
The salt is thrown into the spring of Jericho. In the history of Christianity we see how the influence of Christianity has brought life and prevented corruption. We see this also in the lives of converted people. Its influence on the world around it is life. That is what the Lord Jesus means when He tells His disciples and tells us: “You are the salt of the earth” (Mt 5:13a).
Unfortunately, it must also be added that “the salt has become tasteless” (Mt 5:13b). Now we see how in Christianity the salt loses its strength. All Christian values and norms derived from the Bible are increasingly disappearing from society and legislation. In the midst of increasing decay, the command of God for the faithful disciple, the man (man or woman) of God is, to show in marriage and family how He intended it. The Christian who does this has “salt in himself” (Mk 9:50b) and will speak words of grace that are “seasoned with salt” (Col 4:6).
Such a person is a true blessing to his surroundings and glorifies God in his life. He is a source that is healthy. Everyone with whom he comes into contact with will experience the healthy influence of it. The life of such a person does not give rise to death or unfruitfulness, but life. This is the result of acting “according to the word of Elisha which he spoke”. The word of the man of God is nothing but the word of God. We have nothing but the Word. If we speak according to the Word of God, there will be healthy spiritual growth.
We see in this event that Elisha brings grace and blessing to a place of judgment like Jericho. In the next chapters we will see that Elisha brings blessing for what in picture represents the future faithful remnant (2Kings 4) and that he has blessing for the nations (2Kings 5). Like the Lord Jesus, Elisha uses his power for the benefit of others and not for himself.
23 - 25 Judgment on Mocking Boys
23 Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!” 24 When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number. 25 He went from there to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria.
There is in the service of Elisha not only grace. Three times he has also judged: here about mocking boys, about Gehazi (2Kgs 5:21-27) and about the officer of the king (2Kgs 7:1-2,17-20). After the Jordan and Jericho, the city of curse, Elisha sets off for Bethel, which means ‘house of God’. At the place of the curse blessing is brought. In connection with the house of God, judgment is brought.
Elisha goes on his way to Bethel, but he doesn’t get there. After his meeting with and judgment over the mocking boys he goes to Carmel. These boys from Bethel have no respect for a servant of God. Such young people will not grow spiritually, but die. If young people have no respect for those who do God’s work, the bears will do their tearing work with them. We may ask ourselves what kind of young people the local church produces where we are. The local church can be seen as a reflection of the house of God.
These “young lads” are not innocent little children. We have to estimate them so around fifteen years. They know what they say. What they say proves their contempt for the truth. Their appreciation of the truth is according to what became Bethel: the place where the golden calf stands and the Baal is worshipped. Thus Bethel has become a place where God has no place left.
“Baldhead” is a swearword and a judgment. It speaks of uncleanness (cf. Lev 13:40-44). By calling to Elisha to “go up” they mock the ascension of Elijah. They scold Elisha, they don’t want him and they want him to leave. They can be compared to the mockers of the end time in which we live (2Pet 3:3-4). The ascension of the Lord Jesus has been abolished. There is no belief in His ascension and even less in His return to earth.
Elisha pronounces judgment. He does so “in the Name of the LORD”. Thus will come the judgment of the unbelieving mockers. The young people from the Christian families, so to speak from ‘Bethel’, will be torn apart by ferocious and cruel female bears. David is compared to a bear who is robbed of young (2Sam 17:8; Pro 17:12; Hos 13:8). These female bears are tearing animals for boys who have no respect for life, for something that comes from God.
After this event Elisha goes to Carmel. On Carmel, Elijah’s service has reached a climax. There, Elisha will have thought about Elijah’s service. Then he goes to Samaria, where the king of Israel, Jehoram, lives.