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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

2 Kings 2

Verses 1-25

Elijah's Farewell to Elisha

2 Kings 2:9

I. We see here the last act of a great life. It is not perhaps what we should have expected from a man like Elijah the Tishbite. But, in truth, the greatest and the strongest men are not unfrequently the simplest and the tenderest; and Elijah, whose life had been passed in vehement speech and in heroic action Elijah is thinking, just like any humble peasant, of what he can best do for his, as yet, undistinguished follower. 'Ask what I shall do for thee before I am taken away from thee.'

All that had preceded in Elijah's career led up to that incident as to the very crown and flower of his life. It was an act of pure unselfishness, of simple thought for the needs of another. A deathbed does two things. It puts the finishing stroke on life, and it yields a revelation of character. When there is nothing more to be looked for here, men are real and simple, if simplicity and reality are ever possible for them at all.

II. The solemnity of the scene consists in this, that Elijah is visibly about to take his departure for another world. 'Before I be taken away from thee.' Elijah was, indeed, taken in body as well as in spirit. It is the survival, the certain, the necessary survival, of the soul of man, which, in Christian eyes, gives to death its tremendous meaning.

III. The doctrine which denies that there is any spiritual element in man, which survives death, ordinarily rests itself upon two propositions, each of which may be shown to be inaccurate.

1. There is the assumption that all a man's knowledge comes to him through the activity of his senses. Now, in point of fact, just as many perceptions of our senses elicit no thought at all, so many thoughts present themselves every day, every hour of our lives, which cannot by any means be traced to the mechanical action of sense. Memory that is, thought acting upon the past is independent, from the nature of the case, of any present activity of sense.

2. And he can test the second of the two propositions or assumptions to which I have referred with equal facility, namely, that all mind is merely an effect of matter, so that, if the brain be irritated in a certain way, thought must necessarily follow. Why if this were true, the orangoutangs ought to be great thinkers. Their brains, as we are constantly reminded, differ from those of men only in a lesser degree of intricacy, and in a certain peculiarity of form. The weight and size of their brain is substantially the same. The more you insist upon the similarity of their brain substance to ours, the more obvious it becomes that man can only compass results so astonishingly beyond them in virtue of a higher something that acts upon, but is independent of, his brain a something that is himself.

We do not need a voice from heaven to suggest to us that our whole being will not be destroyed at the moment when our hearts shall cease to beat. But considering the pressure of the things of sense considering the indecision with which we men habitually lay hold on the unseen if it be not certified to us from without, we are mercifully we are altogether lifted up by the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour out of this region of high probabilities that commend themselves to the reason, in favour of our immortality, into that of certainties which are known to be such to faith.

H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, vol. XIII. No. 751, p. 189.

2 Kings 2:9

Elijah was soon to be taken away from his friend and successor, Elisha, in a very wonderful way. Elisha was soon to have to call out, with a wellnigh crushing sense of loneliness and weakness, 'My father! the chariots of Israel, and the horsemen thereof in the day of trouble. And this is a fine and noble feature of Elijah's character that comes out during these last hours his sympathy with Elisha, and his thoughtfulness of him and his work, amid the strange and hallowed musings and prospects that must have filled his heart at the time. The fiery chariot did not blind his view of his lowly friend and fellow-worker. It reminds us of the Saviour's thoughtful and tender message from the cross, 'Woman, behold thy son! Son, behold Thy mother!'

I. God's Goodness in Giving us Human Friendships. Elijah and Elisha have a time of sweet communion and mutual helpfulness before Elijah is 'taken away'. God setteth the solitary in families. How strange and beautiful is the attraction of one nature to another! This world and the town and house in which we live might have been as full of men and women, and among them all there might not have been one whom we could call friend, or, with the peculiar tenderness and confidence with which the words are steeped and coloured, father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter. We know that the loneliest of all places is a city of thousands or millions in which we have no friend. But common friendships, as well as marriages, are made in heaven. There are wonderful affinities and pre-established harmonies which are potent, if not resistless, at almost every point of our lives. The boy goes to school, the young man to a university or work or business, and among the hundreds whom he meets there is one whom he soon learns to call friend. Such friendships are cemented and strengthened by interest in and pursuit of some common work, or the sharing of some common danger and trouble. The words comrade, fellow-worker, companion in tribulation, are pure and tender words. David and Jonathan, Elijah and the young prophet over whom he had cast his mantle, Jesus and John, Paul and Timothy, Luther and Melanchthon, are friendships of fragrant memories; and they all grew out of common work, and were purified by common trials.

II. The Brevity of Human Friendships. Ten short years ago or thereabouts Elijah's and Elisha's friendship was formed, and now the time has come when Elijah must be taken away. A few short years and the closest of friends must part on earth. This thought should surely nip in the bud any growing estrangement, and silence unseemly and unkindly words and feelings towards each other. If a man has only a little garden, every foot and inch of it must be turned to account by growing fruit or flower. The garden of sweets which men have in human loves and friendships is very small; let no root of bitterness spring up to disfigure it, and draw the nourishment from its soil.

III. Mutual Help. 'Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee.' How unspeakably sad if we do our friends harm rather than good while we are by their side. It cannot be but. that we are doing them either good or harm. There is an unconscious influence ever going out from us. What can we do for them? should be a serious question with us. Can we strengthen goodness in them? Can we plant loving memories in them? Can we present Christ and religion to them in such a lovely guise that they must almost perforce be drawn to these if as yet they are strangers to their influence?

IV. Seek the Good. 'Ask,' says Elijah, 'what I shall do for thee.' By sincere sympathy and desire we must ask the good which we receive from our friends. Our minds must be enlightened and our hearts enlarged. A child in his father's house, an ignorant and inexperienced man in the society and sharing the friendship of a wise man, a young friend with an old, or an old man with a young friend, will derive benefit in proportion to their docility and humility and openness of mind and heart. A round piece of marble brings up no water when plunged into the well; when hollowed it brings up its fill. And this is specially true of our relations with Christ, the great Friend. 'Ask and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.'

2 Kings 2:9

'I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.' Elisha's words to his master are a noble expression of the ideal relationship which ought to exist not only between teacher and taught, but between young and old, between the waning and the rising generation. Could there be a finer statement of the true principle of progress? a more excellent motto for the guidance of human affairs? The transmission of spiritual heritage is a concern of our individual lives: the relationship of father to son, of young to old, of those who are passing away to those who are to take their place. A relationship of some kind there must be; and it concerns us all. The next generation will consist of the children of this generation; and these children will largely owe their characters to their parents' example and precepts. Elijah might be conscious of his failures, but Elisha could carry on his work. There may be an Elijah and an Elisha in every home. Is this the case? Do men work for this result? Too frequently we find a wall of separation between the old and young. The young complain that the old are hard, unsympathetic, unreasonable, interfering, exacting. The old complain that the young are ungrateful, arrogant, disrespectful: too often the father complains that he does not understand his son; the son, that he can find no sympathy from his father. A gulf once formed soon widens, and the natural link between generations is unnaturally severed. Much might be said in either case in excuse of one or the other. The duties of children to parents are perhaps sufficiently emphasized; let us consider the duties of the old towards the young. The old are masters of the situation; if the young break away from them, the fault must be largely theirs.

I. The duties of parents to children.

1. It is useless to demand a respect, an affection, from others which you are conscious in your own heart that you do not deserve. Could all parents honestly wish that the young should say to them, 'Let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me'? Would they be content that their own spirit should rule their children?

2. The pressure of business is often an excuse why a parent sees little of his children. He is from home during the day, at night he is weary. He intends to see more of them later on in life, when they are older and more appreciative. Meanwhile they grow up strangers to him; and later on he will find it difficult to establish relations with them on his own terms. However busy a man is, he may and ought to spare a few minutes regularly with his children, to watch their development, to keep his hold on their affections. He will find true relaxation in this. Moreover, a man's character and truest social gifts ought to be exhibited most fully in his own home, and brighten his immediate circle. Nothing can excuse a neglect or scant performance of domestic duties.

II. This duty is one of general and universal application.

All of us, in our respective stations, are influencing the character of the next generation. There is nothing which more entirely brings its own reward than sympathy with the young. Old age divides men sharply into two strongly contrasted classes. Amongst some we find isolation and querulousness; amongst others, geniality and contentment. Strive so to walk that the last wish of others towards you may be, 'I pray that a double portion of thy spirit may be upon me'.

III. The following practical hints will enable us to use our influence aright in the most intimate relationships of life, especially in connexion with the young.

1. Beware of beginning to treat a young man with a sympathy which you are not prepared to carry beyond a certain point.

2. Beware of demanding gratitude from the young. It is selfish to expect it; it is useless to demand it. Take it thankfully when it is proffered. The young are always ungrateful on account of their inexperience. They do not know, and so they cannot appreciate, the acts of self-sacrifice of which they have been the objects from their earliest days. Let the sincerity of your own efforts for their good be its own reward; let the motive of your action be the sense of duty that you owe to the future of your race.

3. Do not aim at making the young mere copies of yourself. Years are rolling on, and opinions are changing. The world is not the same as it was in the old man's youth; its problems are different in many ways: new difficulties require new armour; new dangers, new precautions. Do not try to alter, try rather to direct, the development of a young heart.

No subject so much repays our study as the development of the young mind. We see it in the germs of the future, and the sight strengthens us to look more trustfully, more hopefully on the present. Think of the last thanksgiving of Jesus: 'Of those whom Thou gavest Me have I lost none'. How beautiful! And God commits others to our charge. Let us accept the gift for the Giver's sake, and try to realize its greatness. Let us set ourselves to illumine by our example the path of those who are to come; to aid them by our precepts; to strengthen them by our love; striving to hand on to sturdier runners in the race of life the torch which we have borne with too unequal steps.

References. II. 9. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Holy Tide Teaching, p. 202. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iii. p. 1. R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Life, vol. ii. p. 153. J. H. Newman, Sermons Bearing on Subjects of the Day, p. 185. II. 9, 10. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iii. p. 63; see also Readings for the Aged (3rd Series), p. 69. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches (2nd Series), p. 242.

"If Thou See Me "

2 Kings 2:10

What is the meaning of this test? It was a searching, it was the essential test. God help us, and God help those whom we seek to help, if we have not had experience of it! For, consider what happened at Elijah's departure. Something evident and startling, something that could not be unseen a blaze and a parting. And something else something that a prophet's eye alone could see.

I. What Elisha Saw. 'Elisha saw it,' we are told. What did he see? He cried, 'My father, my father!' What thrust forth that cry from his heart? The vision that a prophet sees? Nay, it needs no prophet's sense to express the pain of physical parting. It is the natural cry that sounded in the air when the first father died, and has been sounding ever since. 'My father! the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof.' Ah! that is a different cry. It is no mere natural plaint: 'Change and decay in all around I see'. It is not a revelation due to flesh and blood. It is not a recognition of the merely visible occurrence of the moment. It takes this cry does the incident of the moment, and sets it in the light of the Eternal Providence. It carries the heart to the consolation and security of the Everlasting Arms. 'Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations.'

II. Not Elijah's but God's Chariot. It is the cry of one who sees the real significance of life, the real dignity of work, the real background of sorrow. For what chariot bears Elijah away? Not Elijah's, but God's. The great prophet has not by some never-to-be-repeated spiritual achievement fashioned for himself this dazzling apotheosis. Else by his going this mighty 'father's' loss the good earth had been wretchedly impoverished; and Elisha might have gone back to Jordan to trim his and his pupils' aspirations to fit the times and the court and the common length of a man's days. But 'Elisha saw'. He saw the passing away of a beloved master, but not of the power that had worked in the master's life. He saw the 'chariot of Israel'. He saw that the admired prophet was not the source of the wonders that had flowed forth during the years of protest and ministry. It is God the everlasting God of Israel Who has worked by Elijah, Who is working in His departure, and Who will work by His holy prophets and with His own right hand for all ages. God God alone is the source of the prophet's power; and God is not passing away. He will not forsake His Israel.

III. So Elisha can be a Prophet He need not lament that Elijah has not left his like; that his successors cannot do more than conjure with his name. He is doubtless insufficient a poor figure to wear the mantle and follow the gait of the elemental Tishbite. But what matter? Ministerial fitness is not a case of flesh and blood. Able ministration is 'of the Spirit'. It is not the prophet or the charioteer of today or tomorrow, it is the 'chariot of Israel' that is the Church's strength and cheer in all the ages.

Do we face duties, troubles, shall we some day face death, in this faith, and in this temper of freedom and triumph? Do we know 'how to be abased and how to abound'; or, are we happy today for trifling reasons, and shall we tomorrow, for trifling reasons, be wretched because our landscape is too small for God's chariot to be seen in? There are men who do valiantly there have been men who have said joyful things in martyrdom because amid all changes and chances their hearts' love and trust are surely set upon their God. In times when heart and flesh have failed, God has been the strength of their heart and their eternal portion. They have seen Jesus. They have seen Him because they have run their race looking unto Him.

References. II. 10. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, vol. ii. p. 595. II. 11. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture 2 Samuel , , 1 and 2 Kings, p. 322. R. C. Trench, Sermons New and Old, p. 1. T. K. Cheyne, The Hallowing of Criticism, p. 165. II. 11-14. J. McNeill, Regent Square Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 1.

Fellowship with the Past

2 Kings 2:12 ; 2 Kings 13:14

The words recall the continuity of work which marked the service of two widely different men. They are, in the first place, the witness of Elisha to the worth of Elijah. And, long after, King Joash repeats the same witness as he stands by the deathbed of Elisha himself. It points a lesson of continuity developing itself in contrast. The work is the same, the men differ. The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha; and Elisha receives his training under the eye and in the service of Elijah. The continuity is complete, and yet the difference between the two men is manifold. We can see the same spirit manifesting itself in a diversity of gifts.

I. It is a Commonplace Remark that the Present Age Produces Few Great Men. There were giants, they say, in those days, but the race of giants is dying out It is at best but a half-truth. Great men have not been, as it were, sown broadcast all down the world's pathway, but rather have been raised up at special turning-points to deal with special needs. We are easily tempted in this way to foreshorten the distant views of history. Just as we look back on a tract of country through which we have passed, and, seeing mountain piled upon mountain, and hill upon hill, forget the deep impressions of valley and plain which separate them, so we look back on the days that are gone and remember the years that are past, and we only count the giants and forget that the majority of men were small of stature. And that is not all. We also forget that the world often knows little of its greatest men until their work is done Are we quite sure that there is no work now being carried out patiently and unobtrusively, by some who stand amongst ourselves, which shall help to make this present age as useful, if not so brilliant, as some that are past? There are still some chariots and horsemen left in Israel.

II. The Work of One Generation Prepares the Way for the very Different Work of Another. Elijah may strike the imagination as a greater man than Elisha, and yet the more human prophet who dwelt in the town of Samaria, and lodged in the little chamber on the wall of Shunem, and entered into the social life of the sons of the prophets, was doubtless the better implement in God's hand to carry forward and to complete the work of the stern recluse of Gilead, and Cherith, and Horeb. The prophet of the desert and the mountain had done his duty and had passed in glory, the times now needed another type of workman. Thus the great thinkers of the early eighteenth century, Butler, Warburton, and Waterland, were very different men from their enthusiastic successors, John Wesley and George Whitefield. Yet how many forget that the work of the one was the essential to the work of the other, and that if Butler had not reasoned even Wesley might have preached in vain!

III. The Contrast of Character and Service is as Marked in this Story as the Continuity of Work. There were new responsibilities of service which belonged to the age of Elisha, and for which God had trained him through the discipline of ministering to Elijah. Faithful as he was to the traditions of the past, sternly as he refused to the last to leave the company of his master, he yet struck out his own line of service, and sought to employ his own gifts and not to imitate those which he did not possess. It was by this happy combination of the spirit of loyalty to the past with that of devotion of his own personal gifts to the present service of mankind that Elisha was able to serve his generation by the will of God. There can be no doubt that we have at this time responsibilities peculiarly our own. To be loyal to our past, and yet to reach out wisely to the new arrangements of the age, needs men, who, like Zachariah in the days of King Uzziah, 'had understanding in the visions of God'. We have to hold fast to the great traditions that we inherit, and to inspire them with such fresh life and meaning as God shall reveal. Now such revelation can only come by the willing devotion of personal life to God's work in self-denying service for mankind. Elisha's history tells us that the culture of the gifts which God has given to each of us, and the consecration of those gifts to the work which God appoints, is the great means by which we may fulfil our true destiny.

IV. This Estimate of the Value of Continuity Brings us to One Other Thought, the Inspiration of Hope. There is no trace of discouragement in the life of Elisha. The mighty works of Elijah might have led to despairing thoughts of his own powers, but they simply beckon him on to do his part, to use his gifts, to make proof of his own peculiar ministry. That last glimpse of the great prophet as he passed in glory must have made Elisha feel the insignificance of his own service. But to that vision was attached a promise, and its very brightness left an afterglow of hope. And so he bravely takes up the mantle of Elijah, calls upon 'the Lord God of Elijah,' smites the waters as Elijah had done, and passes over to his own altered stage of service. Just so, our fellowship with the great ones of the past is unbroken, for we with them and they with us are in union with the same Lord, and share the same service. We cannot all soar and reach the heights which some of them reached, but we can patiently climb upwards, remembering that God does not call us to do what they did, but to do what we can. The retrospect must not dishearten us, as we think of our own feebleness and failures in the past, but rather quicken and cheer us, as we see beyond the cloud of difficulty, perplexity, and doubt, the bright hope of some small usefulness even for ourselves in the service of God. For of Elisha as Elijah, those words were true, 'My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof.

References. II. 12. C. J. Vaughan, Last Words in the Parish Church of Doncaster, p. 276. II. 12; XIII. 14. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture 2 Samuel , 1 and 2 Kings, p. 333. II. 12-15. W. H. Simcox, The Cessation of Prophecy, p. 142. II. 13-22. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture 2 Samuel , 1 and 2 Kings, p. 340. II. 14. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xliv. No. 2596. H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, God's Heroes, p. 158. W. Walsh, Christian World Pulpit, vol. li. 1897, p. 387. II. 15. H. Davenport, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 124. II. 16. G. Matheson, Voices of the Spirit, p. 22. II. 21. J. M. Neale, Sermons for the Church Year, vol. ii. p. 136. II. 21, 22. F. W. Farrar, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlviii. p. 356. III. 3. W. Lee, University Sermons, p. 262. III. 4-24. J. McNeill, Regent Square Pulpit, vol. iii. p. 33. III. 15. C. Bigg, The Spirit of Christ in Common Life, p. 33. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii. No. 1612. III. 16. E. Browne, Some Moral Proofs of the Resurrection, p. 31. W. E. Hurndale, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvi. 1894, p. 196. III. 16, 17. J. M. Neale, Sermons for the Church Year, vol. ii. p. 41. III. 16-18. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xiii. No. 747. III. 17. J. Parker, Studies in Texts, vol. i. p. 171. IV. J. McNeill, Regent Square Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 241. IV. 1-7. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iii. p. 69; see also Readings for the Aged (4th Series), p. 220. IV. 3. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxv. No. 2063. IV. 6. Ibid. vol. xxv. No. 1467. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. ii. p. 163. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture 2 Samuel , 1 and 2 Kings, p. 345. IV. 8-37. Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxii. p. 165.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 2 Kings 2". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. 1910.