‘Apart from the detour to Bethel, the journey therefore focuses on places connected with Israel’s entry into the promised land. The purpose of this, or at least of the writer’s account of it, is to draw attention to the special roles of Elijah and Elisha in Israel’s history. Previous events in Elijah’s life recalled aspects of Moses’ ministry, e.g. like Moses, Elijah received a revelation of God on Mt Horeb, and his slaughter of the prophets of Baal had echoes of the aftermath of the golden calf incident (Ex. 32:25–29). Now he crossed to the eastern side of the Jordan (in a manner similar to the crossing of the Red Sea under Moses’ leadership), where Moses’ ministry also came to an end. Indeed, the end of Moses’ life was almost as mysterious as that of Elijah’s (Dt. 34:6). The parallels between the lives of the two men are underlined in the NT when they both appear speaking to Jesus at his transfiguration (Mt. 17:3).’ (NBC)
‘If Elijah is identified as a second Moses, Elisha would appear to be in the mould of Joshua. As Joshua succeeded Moses as leader of the people, so Elisha succeeded Elijah, crossing the Jordan on dry land from east to west as Joshua did (14) and following in Joshua’s footsteps by going on to Jericho (15–22). (Even Elisha’s name recalls that of Joshua. Elisha means ‘God is salvation’, while Joshua means ‘Yahweh is salvation’.)’ (NBC)
In what ways does God demonstrate his approval of Elisha’s ministry in this chapter? In what ways do you expect to know God’s approval in your own life?
There are several incidents in this chapter in which people are shown that God’s power is with Elisha, just as it had been with Elijah. The most difficult of these is the one recorded in verses 23-24. With regard to this incident: (a) what does it tell us about God’s character? (b) would you say that it was typical or exceptional for a prophet to call down a curse in this way? (c) what does the New Testament say about this (see, for example, Luke 9:54f; Romans 12:19-21)? (d) do you agree that ultimately everyone will have to face the consequences of their loose words and false deeds (see, for example, Matthew 12:36)?
2 Ki 2:1 When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.
‘In the close of the foregoing chapter we had a wicked king leaving the world in disgrace, here we have a holy prophet leaving it in honour; the departure of the former was his greatest misery, of the latter his greatest bliss: men are as their end is.’ (MHC)
The Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind – As with Enoch, so to Elijah was given the honour of being translated, body and soul, to heaven, without seeing death. This is an anticipation of what will happen to those believers who are still alive when our Lord returns.
‘It is not for us to say why God would put such a peculiar honour upon Elijah above any other of the prophets; he was a man subject to like passions as we are, knew sin, and yet never tasted death. Wherefore is he thus dignified, thus distinguished, as a man whom the Kings of kings did delight to honour? We may suppose that herein, 1. God looked back upon his past services, which were eminent and extraordinary, and intended a recompence for those and an encouragement to the sons of the prophets to tread in the steps of his zeal and faithfulness, and, whatever it cost them, to witness against the corruptions of the age they lived in. 2. He looked down upon the present dark and degenerate state of the church, and would thus give a very sensible proof of another life after this, and draw the hearts of the faithful few upward towards himself, and that other life. 3. He looked forward to the evangelical dispensation, and, in the translation of Elijah, gave a type and figure of the ascension of Christ and the opening of the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Elijah had, by faith and prayer, conversed much with heaven, and now he is taken thither, to assure us that if we have our conversation in heaven, while we are here on earth, we shall be there shortly, the soul shall (and that is the man) be happy there, there for ever.’ (MHC)
Gilgal – ‘The journey in this narrative took in places which were heavy with associations with Israel’s past. Gilgal (1) was the first stopping-place after the Israelites had crossed the Jordan. Male Israelites born during the wilderness years were circumcised there, and a Passover was celebrated (Jos. 5). Bethel (2), some 14 miles (24 km) into the central hills, was the place of Jacob’s encounter with God (Gn. 28). Jericho (4), in the Jordan valley not far from Gilgal, was the first town to fall to Joshua (Jos. 6), and the Jordan (6) had miraculously stopped to let Israel enter the land (Jos. 3).’ (NBC)
2 Ki 2:2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the LORD has sent me to Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.
Three times (vv2, 4, 6) Elijah tried to make Elisha stay behind (why?); but Elisha insisted on going with him (again, why?).
2 Ki 2:3 The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “but do not speak of it.”
2 Ki 2:4 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the LORD has sent me to Jericho.” And he replied, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho.
2 Ki 2:5 The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know,” he replied, “but do not speak of it.”
2 Ki 2:6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.” And he replied, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on.
‘Three times Elijah had tested his successor; thrice Elisha stood the test (cf. Mt 4:1–11; Lk 22:31–62; Jn 21:15–27).’ (EBC)
2 Ki 2:7 Fifty men of the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan.
2 Ki 2:8 Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.
‘The fact that this group of prophets has seen this miracle becomes important later, for Elisha’s repetition of the act will confirm in their minds that Elisha is truly Elijah’s successor (cf. 2 Kgs 2:13–15).’ (NAC)
2 Ki 2:9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.
“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit” – Elisha was not asking for twice as much power as Elijah had. Indeed, Elisha had no thought of being treated as Elijah’s equal. His desire was to be treated his firstborn son, and therefore his heir and successor, cf. Deut 21:17.
2 Ki 2:10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise not.”
2 Ki 2:11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.
A chariot of fire and horses of fire – ‘Just as fire from heaven once proved Yahweh is more powerful than Baal, so now a similar heavenly fire proves that Elijah is the prophet par excellence. And just as another fire from heaven protected him from wicked King Ahaziah (1 Kings 1:9–12), so now it removes Elijah permanently from any further dangers or discouragements.’ (NAC)
Elijah went up to heaven – The translation of Elijah, along with that of Enoch, is one of the pieces of evidence concerning belief the continued existence of the soul in OT times. See Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5; 2 Kings 2:11; 1 Sam. 28:7-20.
‘In the fifth century bc, the prophet Malachi predicted that the return of Elijah would precede the ‘great and terrible day of the Lord’ (Mal. 4:5). In its context this indicates a prophet who would repeat Elijah’s ministry of calling the people back to God (Mal. 4:6), but it led to much speculation that Elijah would return in person (cf. Mt. 17:10; Mk. 8:28). Jesus indicated that the ministry of Elijah had been resumed by John the Baptist, fulfilling the words of Malachi (Mt. 11:14; 17:11–13).’ (NBC)
2 Ki 2:12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart.
“The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” – ‘which probably means Elijah’s prophetic powers and spiritual depth are the nation’s true strength.’ (NAC)
2 Ki 2:13 He picked up the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan.[stextbox id=”warning” caption=”Miracles of Elisha” float=”true” align=”right”]” width=”400
- Jordan divided 2 Ki 2:14
- Waters healed 2 Ki 2:21
- Mocking children torn by bears 2 Ki 2:24
- Water supplied 2 Ki 3:16
- Widow’s oil multiplied 2 Ki 4:5
- Pottage rendered harmless 2 Ki 4:41
- Loaves multiplied 2 Ki 4:43
- Child raised 2 Ki 4:35
- Naaman healed 2 Ki 5:10
- Gehazi struck with leprosy 2 Ki 5:27
- Iron caused to swim 2 Ki 6:6
- Syrians smitten 2 Ki 6:18
- Resurrection of a man 2 Ki 13:21
(Source unknown)[/stextbox]2 Ki 2:14 Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it. “Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.
“Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah” – ‘the God who caused drought, brought fire from the sky, raised the dead, and took Elijah to heaven.’ (NAC)
In this incident, Elisha discovers that though Elijah is gone, Elijah’s God is not. (NAC)
2 Ki 2:15 The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.
‘When Elisha approached the Jordan and it divided for him as it had done for Elijah, the event confirmed that the spirit active in Elijah now rested on him. The prophets from Jericho therefore acknowledged him as their new master (15).’ (NBC)
2 Ki 2:16 “Look,” they said, “we your servants have fifty able men. Let them go and look for your master. Perhaps the Spirit of the LORD has picked him up and set him down on some mountain or in some valley.” “No,” Elisha replied, “do not send them.”
2 Ki 2:17 But they persisted until he was too ashamed to refuse. So he said, “Send them.” And they sent fifty men, who searched for three days but did not find him.
2 Ki 2:18 When they returned to Elisha, who was staying in Jericho, he said to them, “Didn’t I tell you not to go?”
2 Ki 2:19 The men of the city said to Elisha, “Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see, but the water is bad and the land is unproductive.”
2 Ki 2:20 “Bring me a new bowl,” he said, “and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him.
2 Ki 2:21 Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt into it, saying, “This is what the LORD says: ‘I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.’”
2 Ki 2:22 And the water has remained wholesome to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken.
‘In this incident we may also see the curse which Joshua had pronounced on Jericho (Jos. 6:26) being revoked by the words of Elisha, the new Joshua.’ (NBC)
2 Ki 2:23 From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him. “Go on up, you baldhead!” they said. “Go on up, you baldhead!”
A third group of people now learn about Elisha’s power.
The law required that God’s prophets were to be taken seriously, Deut 18:19. To slight a prophet is to slight God and his word.
‘The way many read this text, a mild personal offense by some innocent little children was turned into a federal case by a crotchety old prophet as short on hair as he was on humor. Put in its sharpest form, the complaint goes: How can I believe in a God who would send bears to devour little children for innocently teasing an old man whose appearance probably was unusual even for that day?’ (HSB)
It is certainly wrong to see Elisha as an old man at this stage: he was probably around 25 years old age, for he lived another sixty years.
Youths – The rendering, in older translations, of the underlying term by ‘little children’ is unfortunate. From the use of the term elsewhere they were somewhere between twelve and thirty years of age. Nevertheless the original text includes the adjective ‘small’ (untranslated in the NIV).
“You baldhead” – Cf. Isa 3:17, 24. Actually, premature baldness was very rare in the ancient Near East, some scholars think that Elisha’s baldness was a prophetic tonsure. If so, then the insult was more against his prophetic office than his person.
On the other hand, this insult ‘may refer to some physical marking Elisha took on as a prophet rather than to a literal baldness. If this was the case, the insult was directed specifically at Elisha as a prophet and therefore at the Lord whom he represented.’ (NAC)
“Go on up!” – Probably not a reference to Elisha’s journey ‘up’ to Bethel, but to Elija’s translation to heaven (the same word is used for both). The youths are saying, in effect, “Get lost! Blast off just as Elijah has done! We’re fed up with both of you!” Thus, the youth’s insults were directed, not just at Elisha the prophet, but at the God on whose behalf he spoke. Their attitude was representative of their society, which increasingly was turning against the word of God and was inviting upon itself judgement more severe than the one that is here recorded.
‘It was his character as a prophet that they designed to abuse. The honour God had crowned him with should have been sufficient to cover his bald head and protect him from their scoffs. They bade him go up, perhaps reflecting on the assumption of Elijah: “Thy master,” they say, “has gone up; why dost not thou go up after him? Where is the fiery chariot? When shall we be rid of thee too?” These children said as they were taught; they had learned of their idolatrous parents to call foul names and give bad language, especially to prophets. These young cocks, as we say, crowed after the old ones. Perhaps their parents did at this time send them out and set them on, that, if possible, they might keep the prophet out of their town.’ (MHC)
2 Ki 2:24 He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.
‘The youths were typical of a nation that “mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets” (2 Chr 36:16). Some commentators think this story was originally meant “to frighten the young into respect for their reverend elders,” while others believe the account is legendary and represents the worst notions of certain prophetic circles.’ (NAC)
The point of this incident (and the one recorded in 2 Kings 1:1-17) is that God, his servants and his word are to be respected even when disrespect is rife. Elijah and Elisha did not go around calling down curses on people for fun. Both saved life too (1 Kings 17; 2 Kings 4). These are exceptional incidents, reminders to people then and know that God is not to be trifled with.
‘In the New Testament, Jesus forbade his disciples to call down fire on an unwelcoming village (Luke 9:54f) and Paul stresses that vengeance is to be left to God’s own timing (Rom 12:19-21). Christians are not called to curse, but to bless; the prophets are exceptional people called to give special revelation of God’s character in specific one-off incident and utterances. But we should also note that the New Testament teaches that everyone will have to face the consequence of loose words and false deeds. Getting away with them now does not guarantee future immunity from divine prosecution.’ (The Bible Application Handbook)
2 Ki 2:25 And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there returned to Samaria.