2 Kings 2:1-18 – Elijah Taken to Heaven

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2Kings 2:1-3

  1. In the Old Testament, it was very unusual to speak of “being taken up to heaven”. Only the deaths of Elijah and Hanoch are really described in this way. About Hanoch it says: “After Hanoch had thus walked with God, he was no more, for God took him away. ” (Genesis 5:24)
    1. The more normal thing was to “gather to your people” (Abraham in Gen 25:7-8) or “go to rest with your fathers” (David in 1 Kings 2:10) when you died.
      1. Perhaps these men of God ended up in the kingdom of death, resting and waiting for the death and resurrection of Jesus, when they will have the opportunity to enter heaven.
  2. The fact that the prophet Elijah’s disciple is called “Elisha”, an almost identical name, testifies to the connection between them and how a calling and task can be passed on to a devoted and faithful disciple who wants to work in the same spirit.
    1. The name “Elijah” contains both of the two most common Hebrew words for “God”, namely “El” and “Yahweh”. “Elijah” means “Yahweh is God” or “Yahweh is my God”.
    1. The name “Elisha” means “God is salvation” and is in this way very similar to the name “Joshua/Jesus” which means “Yahweh is salvation”. In Hebrew, God is usually called “El” or “Yahweh”.
  3. Elijah takes his prophet’s apprentice Elisha on a journey to Bethel, Jericho and the Jordan River, and then Elisha goes back alone from the Jordan River to Jericho and Bethel.
  4. Elijah knew that his last hour had come and that the Lord would soon call him home. Elijah therefore wants to make a final farewell journey and say a final goodbye to his prophet disciples in Gilgal (2 Kings 4:38), Bethel (2 Kings 2:3) and Jericho (2 Kings 2:5) before he leaves earthly life. Elijah wants his important work for the Lord to continue even after his death, so he intends to hand over the leadership to Elisha, who may therefore accompany him in order to both test and strengthen his faith and loyalty.
  5. It was customary for a dying man to pronounce blessings on his loved ones just before they died (Genesis 49), and when Elisha understood that Elijah was going to go away and die, he did not want to miss the opportunity to receive such a blessing from Elijah.
    1. How did Elisha know that Elijah was about to die? It seems that the disciples of the prophets also knew this, so perhaps they had all experienced this prophetically, or perhaps Elijah had told them at some earlier time.

2Kings 2:4-7

  1. Although Elijah, and probably Elisha, already knew that Elisha was called by God to be Elijah’s prophetic successor (1 Kings 19:16-21), Elijah asks Elisha to leave him three times. Clearly, this is Elijah’s way of testing Elisha’s devotion, zeal and loyalty. Each time Elisha replies that he will not leave Elijah, clearly showing that he wants nothing more than to continue in Elijah’s footsteps as a prophet of the Lord.
    1. A wise man once said to me: “If you can do anything else, anything at all, do it instead of becoming a pastor.” Answering God’s call means many hard things, and if you’re not prepared to go all in, maybe you should do something else.
  2. Elisha replies to the prophet disciples that he is well aware of Elijah’s imminent death and that they should “keep quiet” about it. The Hebrew word for “keep quiet” is “chachshâh” and sounds like someone “shushing” someone or the Norse inhalation sound “schoo”.
    1. Elisha seems to calm the prophet disciples’ concerns by confirming that he knows what is about to happen and that the situation is under control. Elisha does not want the prophet disciples to make a big fuss about Elijah’s death, but to let him go in the way he wants.
  3. It certainly seems that the disciples of the prophets knew that God would now bring Elijah home in a spectacular way. They follow and observe from a distance.

2Kings 2:8

  1. A prophet’s cloak was “hairy” (Zech 13:4) and symbolized his office and mission from the Lord. The reason Elijah strikes his prophet’s cloak on the water, and not any other garment, etc., is that Elijah wants to clearly show Elisha the connection between God’s miracles and the mission as God’s prophet. It is not Elijah himself who performs the miracles, but they are God’s miracles that he performs through his faithful servant.
    1. When Elijah meets Elisha for the first time, he places his cloak over him as a sign that he will become a prophet’s apprentice (1 Kings 19:19).
    1. John the Baptist was also dressed in a cloak of hair with a leather belt around his waist, which among other things led people to associate John with Elijah (John 1:19-21).

2Kings 2:9-10

  1. It was only after Elisha had refused to leave Elijah three times that Elijah asked Elisha what he wanted him to do for him.
    1. Although both Elijah and Elisha knew that it was God’s plan that Elisha should succeed Elijah as the prophet of the Lord, Elijah wanted Elisha to say it in his own words.
  2. According to the Law of Moses, the birthright of the firstborn meant that the firstborn son would receive a double lot as an inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:17). So when Elisha asks for a double inheritance, he is asking to be heir to the prophetic office of Elijah in order to continue Elijah’s calling and mission.
    1. But while the concept of “double inheritance” does not necessarily mean that Elisha would inherit twice as much “spiritual power” as Elijah had, it is interesting to note that Elisha actually witnessed exactly twice as many miracles as Elijah; namely, 28 miracles compared to Elijah’s 14!
      1. Miracles of Elijah: 1 Kings 17:1, 1 Kings 17:4, 1 Kings 17:14, 1 Kings 17:22, 1 Kings 18:38, 1 Kings 18:45, 1 Kings 21:22, 1 Kings 21:23, 2 Kings 1:4, 2 Kings 1:10, 2 Kings 1:12, 2 Kings 2:8, 2 Kings 2:10, 2 Kings 2:11.
      1. The miracles of Elisha: 2 Kings 2:14, 2 Kings 2:21, 2 Kings 2:24, 2 Kings 3:17, 2 Kings 3:22, 2 Kings 4:4, 2 Kings 4:16, 2 Kings 4:34, 2 Kings 4:41, 2 Kings 4:43, 2 Kings 5:14, 2 Kings 5:26, 2 Kings 5:27, 2 Kings 6:6, 2 Kings 6:9, 2 Kings 6:17, 2 Kings 6:18, 2 Kings 6:20, 2 Kings 7:1, 2 Kings 7:2, 2 Kings 7:6, 2 Kings 8:1, 2 Kings 8:10, 2 Kings 8:12, 2 Kings 9:7, 2 Kings 13:17, 2 Kings 13:19, 2 Kings 13:21.
  3. Since both Elijah and Elisha knew that Elisha was called by God to be Elijah’s successor, I interpret Elijah’s response “you have asked for something difficult” as Elisha asking for something more than just to be a successor and heir. Given that Elisha witnessed exactly twice as many miracles as Elijah, I interpret this to mean that Elisha was actually asking to succeed Elijah with double power!
    1. It is not enough for the Lord to let the successors inherit the work of the predecessors, but God also wants to bless abundantly and multiply the work of the Lord. But this presupposes loyalty to one’s predecessor and a willingness to continue the mission in the same spirit.
  4. Elijah’s response “you have asked for something difficult” also shows Elijah’s humility that no matter what he thinks of Elisha, it is ultimately up to God to decide who will be his successor.

2Kings 2:11-13

  1. Elijah is taken up to God in heaven by a storm wind. When Elisha sees this, he utters an expression that testifies that Elisha looked to Elijah, and not, for example, the king of Israel, as Israel’s protection against enemies. King Joash utters the same expression when Elisha dies (2 Kings 13:14). Then he mourns Elijah by tearing his clothes in half (Gen 37:34, 2 Sam 13:31).
    1. When Elisha tears his own clothes and then puts on Elijah’s prophet’s cloak, it may also symbolize that he is now leaving his old life and entering into his new calling as a prophet of the Lord.
  2. Elijah’s cloak did not fall on Elisha’s shoulders, it fell to the ground in front of Elisha. So when Elisha saw Elijah’s cloak lying there on the ground, he had to make his own decision whether he wanted to pick up the prophet’s cloak or walk away empty-handed. Entering the call of the Lord is always a conscious choice one must make, an affirmative response, an acceptance of a mission.

2Kings 2:14

  1. God did not need Elisha to be charismatic, miraculous or a great speaker in order for him to be a prophet of the Lord. God would do all that through Elisha. No, what God needed from Elisha was his loyalty, devotion and faithfulness.
  2. Elisha could have taken Elijah’s cloak as a memento of her good master and then put it on a nice shelf in her home. But Elisha didn’t do that, but he shouldered Elijah’s prophet’s mantle in a double sense; he put it on AND he used it.
  3. Elisha was called by God to succeed Elijah as the prophet of the Lord. It was therefore a natural first step to call out to “the God of Elijah” and then to perform as a first miracle the same as Elijah had just done. In this way, God confirms the continuity between Elijah and Elisha and their common calling.
    1. It was probably on purpose that Elijah had taken Elisha on a journey that ended with the miracle of sharing the waters of the Jordan. In this way Elisha had seen his master act and was able to imitate his teacher at the beginning of his mission as a prophet. He had only recently seen Elijah perform a miracle and could therefore learn from him and do the same.
      1. Going in as a leader without first being given the opportunity to walk alongside is difficult and unnecessary. God bless us with a good teacher who can show us how to work for the Lord and what we are expected to do. Then you get to try doing the same for a while, before you are ready to lead independently.

2Kings 2:15

  1. When Elisha returns to the disciples of the prophets, they immediately recognize him as their new leader and confess that the same Spirit that was with Elijah is now with Elisha.
    1. Succeeding a valued and talented leader is no easy task. Therefore, having a congregation that accepts and recognises the new leadership is a prerequisite for being a leader. But this depends on everyone involved, both the new leader and the congregation, recognizing that good leadership depends on the leader’s responsiveness and humility before the Spirit of the Lord.

2Kings 2:16-18

  1. Elisha’s first task as a new leader is to decide whether or not the disciples of the prophets should go and look for Elijah’s body. Elisha knows it’s useless, because he’s seen Elijah go up to heaven. But the disciples have only seen this from a distance and so do not know for sure exactly what has happened. They respect Elisha as their new leader, but don’t yet feel enough confidence in him to trust his word blindly. They insist on seeing for themselves. Elisha probably wants to go ahead and begin the Lord’s work, but if he doesn’t allow the disciples to go off and look, he risks them going off anyway and then his authority as leader is destroyed. In order not to lose his authority while building trust when they realize he is right, he sends the disciples off on a futile search. Elisha lost three days but won the trust of the prophet disciples.
    1. At the beginning of a leadership, it is easy for the congregation to have formally accepted who the leader is, but they still mentally cling to the old leader. By sometimes allowing the congregation to make their “mistakes”, time is lost, but hopefully trust is gained when they realize that the old leader is no longer with us and we must trust the new leader. As a leader, you can’t go faster than the congregation can go, you can’t go further than they can go.
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