Partner with as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

Sermon Bible Commentary

2 Kings 2

Verse 1

2 Kings 2:1

Of the two great figures which the wild highland race of Gilead contributed to the history of Israel Jephthah and Elijah Elijah is incomparably the more commanding. Great in himself, he was made greater by the circumstances with which he was in almost perpetual conflict. Elijah was emphatically a prophet of judgment. His life was by turns that of a statesman, whose strong will swayed the fall and rise of kingdoms, and that of a hermit, whose long visions and prayers were unwitnessed by any human eye.

In the narrative before us we notice:

I. The strong, over-mastering affection which bound Elisha to Elijah. It was a relationship on the one side of fatherly affection, on the other of devoted, reverent service. Out of affection for Elisha, no less than for personal feelings of reverence, Elijah said, "Tarry here, I pray thee, for the Lord hath sent me to Bethel." But affection like Elisha's does not always enter into the motives which rule Elijah. It takes, indeed, no thought of self. If it is true affection, it would rather suffer from being close to its object than escape suffering by distance from its object. Hence the exclamation of Elisha, "As the Lord liveth and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee." To be tended by the love of an Elisha is a great blessing; to be an Elisha to some solitary soul is perhaps a greater.

II. The vexations and annoyances to which Elisha's devotion to his master exposed him during the last hours of Elijah's life. The schools of the prophets at Bethel and Jericho do not seem to have looked upon Elisha with very favourable eyes. Their jealousy of him was too keen to allow them to understand what was due to the last hours of the great prophet who was so soon to leave them. The answer of every reverent and healthy soul to such a question as theirs is that of Elisha: "Yea, I do know it; hold ye your peace."

III. Notice the solemn interchange of confidence between the departing prophet and his successor. The meaning of Elisha's request was not for a prophetical gift twice as great as Elijah's. It meant, as the Hebrew term implies, the double portion of an elder son. He asked it, not for himself, but that he might be able to do something for others. But the value to Elisha of that parting scene was independent of, and higher than, the great gift which it won for him. Faith does not now see the chariots and horses of fire, but she listens for words which, since the consecration they received on Calvary, mean infinitely more: "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit, for Thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, Thou God of truth."

H. P. Liddon, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. ii., p. 330 (see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvi., p. 145).

Verses 1-6

2 Kings 2:1-6

(1) The Christian's work is finished before his removal, just as Elijah's was. The Elijahs are removed that the Elishas may take their place. (2) The Christian at death, like Elijah in his translation, is removed from the scene of labour to the scene of recompense.

I. Notice the wonderful composure of the prophet in the immediate prospect of such a momentous and glorious change.

II. Another noticeable thing about Elijah is his desire to pass away without the presence of others.

III. A third noticeable thing in the prophet is his visit to the scene of his works.

Application: How important that our work should be such as will bear inspection on the eve of death and when the light of eternity is falling upon it.

W. Landels, Contemporary Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 108 (see also Christian World Pulpit, vol. i., p. 129).

References: 2 Kings 2:1-7 . J. R. Macduff, The Prophet of Fire, p. 283. 2 Kings 2:1-8 . A. Edersheim, Elisha the Prophet, p. 12. 2 Kings 2:1-10 . Parker, Fountain, Sept. 9th, 1880. 2 Kings 2:1-11 . Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 176; Parker, vol. viii., p. 80.

Verses 1-19

2 Kings 2:1-19

The account of Elijah's translation suggests:

I. That the life of man is absolutely at the disposal of the Lord. (1) God knows when our work is done. (2) We are taken from a lower to a higher service. (3) We are not absorbed; we are elevated, dignified, and ennobled. (4) We do not sleep in an intermediate state; we go into another world.

II. That the way of man's going from the world is determined by a higher wisdom than his own. The Lord takes life up into heaven: (1) by the chariot of youth; (2) by old age; (3) by long affliction; (4) by sudden calls.

III. That the close of a man's work is often known to himself and to others apart from a distinct expression of the fact in words. Elijah and Elisha did not mention the subject. They both knew what was going to happen.

IV. That the cessation of our individual work should not put an end to our interest in those we leave behind.

V. That though the prophet has gone, the Lord remains.

Parker, Fountain, March 1st, 1877.

Reference: 2 Kings 2:3 . Clergyman's Magazine, vol. xviii., p. 129.

Verse 6

2 Kings 2:6

Elisha's resolution to face the worst, to meet the severest trial, to hear the parting words, comes straight from a soul's secret, the secret of a prophet's power.

I. One prominent feature in the character of the younger prophet was faithfulness, minute and accurate, to an unmistakable vocation.

II. Again, there is evidenced in Elisha's words a spirit of deep personal loyalty loyalty, in the first instance, to his teacher and friend. The love of the younger for the older was certainly no mere act of hero-worship. There is present an unwavering sternness in every Hebrew prophet. In such men there is no dilettantism of hero-worship; if there, it must spring from deep and noble principle. In Elisha it did. His love for Elijah represented at its inner core a strong belief in goodness goodness as a practical possibility, because a realised fact. That belief lived in him, through the example of Elijah, in an evil time.

III. Elisha had a keen sense of the claims and the nearness of God. Nothing is more needed in the daily life of religion than this, nothing so abundantly productive of strength, so potent in unfolding power, and maintaining in vigour the sense of responsibility, and keeping aglow the fire of purpose, in a prophet's soul. Hence in such there is one all-absorbing fear, the fear of losing Him; one governing desire, the desire to please Him a mighty secret in a prophet's power. By such nothing can be forsaken which teaches of His presence and His will. "As the Lord thy God liveth, I will not leave thee."

W. J. Knox-Little, Manchester Sermons, p. 243.

References: 2 Kings 2:7 . Bishop Thorold, Good Words, 1878, p. 821. 2 Kings 2:8 . J. M. Neale, Sermons in Sackville College, vol. iii., p. 55. 2 Kings 2:8-15 . E. de Pressensé, The Mystery of Suffering, p. 233. 2 Kings 2:8-18 . J. R. Macduff, The Prophet of Fire, p. 297.

Verse 9

2 Kings 2:9

As Elijah represents the Baptist, Christ's forerunner, so Elisha prefigures Christ's successors, His servants who come after Him and inherit His gifts. Let us go through some points of the resemblance.

I. Though Elijah was so great a prophet, yet Elisha had a double portion of his spirit. This has its parallel in Christian history. Even the extraordinary gift of John the Baptist was as nothing compared with that presence of the Spirit which Christ's followers received, and by which they were regenerated.

II. Notice the special communion and citizenship which Elisha enjoyed with the unseen world. He had the privilege of knowing that he was one of a great host who were fighting the Lord's battles, though he might be solitary on earth. We have privileges surely far greater than Elisha's, but of the same kind.

III. Another gift bestowed on Elisha and on the Christian Church which he prefigured is the gift of discernment. He detected the sin of Gehazi; he saw in the face of Hazael his future fortunes.

IV. A further power vouchsafed to Elisha was the power of inflicting spiritual censures and judgments. In like manner, to all the ministers of Christ is committed the awful power of retaining or remitting sin (John 20:23 ).

V. Elisha's person seems to have been gifted with an extraordinary sanctity and virtue. Even the touch of his relics after his death raised a dead man. Our Saviour had this power in its fulness, and His Apostles inherited it in their measure.

VI. There is much in Elisha's miracles typical of the Christian Sacraments. Naaman's cleansing in Jordan is a figure of Holy Baptism; the multiplying of the oil is a type of Holy Communion.

VII. In Elisha's close connection and intercourse with matters of this world he resembled Christ and His Church.

VIII. Lastly, it is well to notice the dignity and state which he assumed in his dealings with men, high and low, in which he was a fit type of that holy Church catholic to whom it is promised, "The nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted."

J. H. Newman, Sermons on Subjects of the Day, p. 164.

References: 2 Kings 2:9 . J. M. Neale, Sermons in Sackville College, vol. iii., pp. 1, 63; Clergyman's Magazine, vol. ix., p. 82; Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. no; J. J. S. Perowne, Sermons, p. 313; H. P. Liddon, Penny Pulpit, No. 752, and Old Testament Outlines, p. 73. 2 Kings 2:9 , 2 Kings 2:10 . J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes, 3rd series, p. 98; I. Williams, Characters of the Old Testament, p. 224. 2 Kings 2:9-14 . A. Edersheim, Elisha the Prophet, p. 22.

Verse 11

2 Kings 2:11

(with Luke 24:51 )

The translation of Elijah and the ascension of Christ.

I. The first point which may be mentioned is the contrast between the manner of Elijah's translation and that of our Lord's ascension. (1) The place of the one event was on the uplands or in some of the rocky gorges beyond Jordan, and that of the other, the slope of Olivet, above Bethany. Elijah's career ended amidst the stern silence where he had so often sought asylum and inspiration; Christ ascended close by, and yet out of sight of, the great city, neither shunning nor courting spectators. (2) The prophet's end was like the man. It was fitting that he should be swept up to the skies in tempest and fire. Our Lord's ascension was full of the spirit of His whole life. A silent gentleness marked Him even in that hour of lofty and transcendent triumph. (3) Elijah was carried up; his earthly frame and human nature had no power to rise. Christ ascended by His own inherent power. He was not taken; he went.

II. Another striking point of contrast embraces the relation which these two events respectively bear to the life-work which preceded them. The mantle that passed from Elijah to Elisha was the symbol of office and authority transferred; the functions were the same, whilst the holders had changed. The sons of the prophets bow before the new master; "the spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha." We turn to Christ's ascension, and there we meet with nothing analogous to the transference of office. No mantle falling from His shoulders lights on any in that group; none are hailed as His successors. His link is one; "the help that is done on earth, He doeth it all Himself."

III. Whilst our Lord's ascension is thus marked as the seal of a link in which He has no successor, it is also emphatically set forth, by contrast with Elijah's translation, as the transition to a continuous energy for and in the world. Elijah's work is done, and nothing more is to be hoped for from him. Christ's work for the world is in one sense completed on the Cross, but in another it will never be completed until all the blessings which that Cross has lodged in the midst of humanity have reached their widest possible diffusion and their highest development.

IV. The ascension of Christ is set forth, by contrast with Elijah's translation, as bearing on the hopes of humanity for the future. That parting on Olivet cannot be the end; we look for His coming again.

A. Maclaren, The Secret of Power, p. 174.

The ascension of the Lord was prefigured, foreshown, and, we may say, anticipated in part by the translation of Elijah.

I. Elijah's work was done; his long controversy with Israel, with an apostate king and a rebellious people, was drawing to a close. He was to be withdrawn in a wonderful way from the earth. Our thoughts carry us on to One who, like the prophet of the elder dispensation, had finished the work which His Father had given Him to do, and who now, about to leave the earth, announced to His faithful disciples that legacy of love, that double portion of the Spirit, which He would bequeath to them.

II. Compare the actual translation of Elijah with the ascension of our Lord. Elijah is translated; a chariot of fire and horses of fire are commissioned to snatch him away from the earth and carry him to heaven; but our Lord is borne upward by His innate power. He is not translated; He ascends. He came from heaven, and He returns to heaven, as to His natural home.

III. In. what follows after Elijah has been taken up, we have a dim foreshadowing of the history of the Church, above all the Apostolic Church, after the ascension of its Lord. (1) Elisha wrought a miracle with the mantle of Elijah; the mantle of our ascending Lord has fallen upon the Church. (2) Elisha wasted not his time in idle lamentations; he girt himself to his own work. The Apostles returned to Jerusalem; and when they received the promise of the Father, they became witnesses to Christ "in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost parts of the earth."

IV. Notice: (1) Christ's ascension is the complement of His resurrection. (2) We have not now a King only sitting on the throne of power, but a High-priest as well, who has passed within the veil, there to appear in the presence of God for us. (3) We should find in the contemplation of our ascended Lord a motive to heavenly-mindedness, for where our treasure is, there our heart should be also.

R. C. Trench, Sermons Preached in Westminster Abbey, p. 202 (see also Sermons New and Old, p. 1).

Reference: 2 Kings 2:11 . G. Huntington, Sermons for the Christian Seasons: Advent to Trinity, p. 215.

Verse 12

2 Kings 2:12

I. Bodily partings. Such partings are matters of everyday experience. They are part of our lot. They remind us of the great dispersion; they should make us long for the great reunion. The word of God is so tender to us, so full of sympathy, that it paints this kind of parting in all its bitterness. In reference to these partings we must remember: (1) that they must be borne. They are part of life's discipline. (2) Remember in reference to bodily separations that coexistence is not union. To be present in the body is often to be furthest away in spirit.

II. There are partings between souls. I speak still of this life. (1) There are those who once knew each other intimately, called each other friends, who now scarcely know whether the once-beloved be dead or living. Ghosts of old, obsolete, worn-out friendships haunt the chambers of this being, to remind us of the hollowness of human possessions and the utter transitoriness of all affections save one. (2) Still more painfully is this seen in cases where early friends have become, not forgetful, but hostile, by reason of conflicting opinions and antagonistic creeds. The most dreadful parting is that which consists in living for opposite objects the one for some device of man, the other for God's truth and God's salvation.

III. Go on from the partings of time to the death-parting which must come. It is through the death-parting that the everlasting meeting begins. Never till we die shall we have quite discarded those infirmities and those meannesses which cling to the friendships and loves of the fallen. Let us learn not to dread, but rather to desire and be enamoured of, that mysterious close, which, in our blindness and darkness, we so often shrink from. The death-parting is but that brief laying to rest from which we shall awake refreshed and invigorated for a glorious eternity.

C. J. Vaughan, Last Words at Doncaster, p. 276.

Reference: 2 Kings 2:12-25 . Parker, Fountain, March 8th, 1877, and vol. viii., p. 91.

Verse 13

2 Kings 2:13

(with 2 Timothy 2:2 )

How can we carry on to the future the electric spark of moral, intellectual, and spiritual life which is the essence of true religion? How shall Elisha catch the mantle of Elijah? What shall be the succession by which the torch of truth and power of goodness shall be handed on from generation to generation? This is a question which may receive many answers. It is a question which concerns us all.

I. There is, first, a succession less important, yet not to be despised, what may be called the outward or mechanical succession, at which, in default of anything higher, men have often grasped. There has been a succession of the relics or remains of those who have gone before us. The bones of Elisha still seem instinct with the immortality of the prophet. These are symbols; they are witnesses; they represent to us in outward form the continuity of the Church, but they are not the very grace itself. Christ is risen, and His presence must be continued in nobler, more enduring channels.

II. There is the succession of office. It is no slight assistance towards continuing the moral strength of former times to find one's self seated in the very place, surrounded by the very circumstances, filled by the very associations, encompassed by the very beauties, which inspired our forerunner in earlier days. There is a genius loci, the spirit of the race and place, which hangs about us and transforms us we know not how.

III. What is it of which the outward shapes or the high offices of Church and State are the living framework? It is the communication of the same ideas, of the same qualities, of the same graces. It is that the wise, and great, and good of former times may be remembered, imitated, and followed. The perpetuation of these graces is the true Apostolical succession, is the true identity of spiritual life, is the true continuity of the Christian Church, the true communion of the saints.

A. P. Stanley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xi., p. 200 (see also Sermons and Addresses at St. Andrews, p. 105).

Verse 14

2 Kings 2:14

Elisha was anxious to make his work in his day and generation to be one of service, and this anxiety showed itself in the petition he presented. The answer which was given by Elijah was that he could have that spirit of fitness if he had another spirit, viz., that of insight. He proved that he had that power of insight, and now the time was come when he must put into effect the powers he desired. The river Jordan rolled between him and his work. Could he break down that obstacle and enter in and take possession of the sphere of duty where his heart desired to dwell? It was a moment of crisis, but he remembered the strength which had made his master strong, and the difficulties disappeared, and the obstacles were vanquished.

I. The effort put forth by Elisha was the assertion of his own personality, and this every man is bound to make some time or other in the face of the world. It was in the realisation of his own personality that he found power and gained the submission of the sons of the prophets.

II. It is only in a crisis of life that we are encouraged, almost coerced, to assert this responsibility. When some change comes over our life, and we stand for the first time consciously alone, then we discover how very weak have been the resources at our command. We have been living as Elisha lived, dependent largely on the intellectual superiority and moral fervour of some great religious teacher. We have been like men trading on borrowed capital. Such a time of crisis brings its snares, and there are two temptations peculiar to it. There is (1) the suppression of personality due to vanity, and (2), the suppression of personality due to mistrust and, it may be, to imitativeness. There is danger from both these tendencies. To ignore the past is impossible, and to reach forward to grasp the heritage of the future depends on our taking our stand on the highest point to which past generations have brought us. Elisha grasped the mantle of Elijah, the legacy of the past, but he also made it his own. So it became to him a power.

III. The principle of personality is the vital principle of Christianity. Because beneath the Christian creed an ever-living personality exists, so till He die it must live.

Bishop Boyd-Carpenter, Oxford and Cambridge Journal, Feb. 7th, 1884.

References: 2 Kings 2:14 . Homiletic Magazine, vol. xiii., p. 202; E. Monro, Practical Sermons on the Old Testament, vol. ii., p. 391; Spurgeon, My Sermon Notes, p. 87. 2 Kings 2:14-18 . A. Edersheim, Elisha the Prophet, p. 31; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 113.

Verse 15

2 Kings 2:15

The lessons which may be derived from the story of the departure of Elijah and the succession of Elisha are twofold, and quite distinct from each other.

I. Elijah's translation is intended to be a representation of a good man's death in its noblest aspect. In all the various forms in which the inevitable day of death may come upon us what we should most wish for would be that our death, like Elijah's, should seem to those we leave behind but as the completion of that which they have already known. Elijah had seemed in life a firmer defence and guard to his country than all the chariots and horsemen that were ever pouring in upon them from the surrounding tribes, and so he seemed when he passed away lost in the flames of a fiery chariot and the fiery horsemen.

II. Notice the succession of gifts by which in different ages of the world the purposes of Providence are carried on. The lesson is forced upon us by the problem of the extreme diversity of the forms and genius of philanthropy which exist in each succeeding generation. The mantle of Elijah descended on Elisha, who was himself altogether different in aspect, in character, in life, from his mighty predecessor. His life was not spent in unavailing struggles, but in wide successes. He was sought out, not as the enemy, but as the friend, of kings. His works of mercy were known far and wide, and after his death his sepulchre was well known, and wonders were wrought at it, continuing the beneficence of his long and gentle life. From his history we see the variety and, at the same time, the continuous succession of the Divine gifts to the world.

A. P. Stanley, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 177.

References: 2 Kings 2:15 . D. J. Vaughan, The Days of the Son of Man, p. 270; A. Scott, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 156. ii. 18. I. Williams, Characters of the Old Testament, p. 234. 2 Kings 2:18-22 . A. Edersheim, Elisha the Prophet, p. 41; T. T. Carter, Sermons, p. 343. 2 Kings 2:19-21 . J. M. Neale, Sermons for the Church Year, vol. i., p. 233.

Verse 21

2 Kings 2:21

"The spirit of Elijah," they said, "doth rest on Elisha." It was true, yet who is not struck with the difference, with the contrariety, between them? At first sight the succession is a deterioration. The glow, the rush, the genius, the inspiration, the awe, the prowess, seem to have died with the master. Viewed in one aspect, no position was ever more level, no work more human, no office less heroic, than that of Elisha. Yet it is upon this life that "a double portion" of Elijah's spirit rested. If the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elias, it was "Eliseus the prophet" who dimly prefigured Christ.

There is one point peculiar to this parable, and that is the stress laid upon "the spring of the waters." "The water is nought, and the ground barren." God's prophet goes to the spring of the waters, and casts the healing "salt" in there.

I. Man might have been satisfied to deal with the symptoms: with the water and with the ground. When the miracle is interpreted into parable, we see how infinite may be its applications. It is the parable of thoroughness. It bids us go to the spring of our disease and never rest till the antidote is at work there.

II. There are two aspects of our earthly being, each impressive, each admonitory. The one is that which represents it as a multitude, the other that which represents it as a unit. Our life is a unit life, and this is what gives significance and solemnity to its starting. We are here at the spring of the waters, and here therefore must a more than prophet's hand cast in the salt. The Gospel of a free forgiveness for the sake of a dying, living Lord, the Gospel of a Divine strength given in the person of an indwelling Spirit this is the healing "salt," this is the life-giving life, for the sake of which Christ came and suffered, and died, and rose. "He went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there.... And the Lord said, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land."

C. J. Vaughan, Words of Hope, p. 189.

References: 2 Kings 2:23 , 2 Kings 2:24 . Bishop Ryle, Boys and Girls Playing, p. 65; G. Phillips, Sunday Magazine, 1875, p. 193; S. Cox, Expositor, 1st series, vol. iii., pp. 414, 452. 2 Kings 2:23-25 . A. Edersheim, Elisha the Prophet, p. 50.

Verse 24

2 Kings 2:24

I. This story teaches that the faults of our youth, and those which are most natural to us at that age, are not considered by God as trifling, but are punished by Him after the same measure as the sins of men. Men measure faults by the harm which they do in this world, and not by the harm which they do in unfitting us for the kingdom of God, by making us unlike God and Christ.

II. What is it that Jesus Christ means when He tells us that "he who is unjust in the least is unjust also in much," and that "if we have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to our trust the true riches"? He means that when we talk of the consequences of our actions, we forget that as in one point of view the consequences of the greatest crimes that the most powerful tyrant ever committed are as the least thing in the sight of God, so in another the consequences of the common school faults of the youngest boy are infinitely great. That is important to God, and that He wills His creatures to regard as important, which is an offence against His laws, a departure from His likeness. And of this, even of sin, He has willed the consequences to be infinite, not confined to the happiness and misery of a few years, but of all eternity. Here is the reason why the faults of boyhood are so serious: because they show a temper that does not love God and a heart unrenewed by His Holy Spirit.

T. Arnold, Sermons, vol. ii., p. 42.

References: 2 Kings 2:0 Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxxi., No. 1826. 2 Kings 2:0 W. M. Taylor, Elijah the Prophet, p. 203. 2 Kings 3:1-12 and 2 Kings 3:13-27 . A. Edersheim, Elisha the Prophet, pp. 60, 71.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Kings 2". "Sermon Bible Commentary".