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2 Kings 2:1-15
And it came to pass when the Lord would take up Elijah.
I. In the glorious end of Elijah’s earthly life we see not simply the reward of one faithful man, but the Divine grace manifested to every believer at the end of his earthly career. One of the purposes, doubtless, of this translation of Elijah was to make plainer to our dull understandings the upward heavenly going of every saint when his Work on earth is over. We are so apt to follow the body with our thoughts, and to imagine our departed friends in the grave, that here God made the body go upward that we may be weaned of this wrong and heathenish notion. To the spiritual mind the whole Old Testament is full o| views of the future state; and this ascent of Elijah is one of the many instances in which we behold the immediate contiguity of heaven to earth in the experience of God’s holy ones. When, therefore, we are called upon to bend over the mortal form of a departing saint, it is for us to feel how close at hand is the transfer to heaven. “The spiritual heaven is neither ‘up’ nor ‘down,’ and this narrative of Elijah’s disappearance from Elisha must not be pressed. In reply to this we say that we can press it. We assert that “up” is always used in accordance with the need or weakness (if you please) of our nature to designate the heaven of the departed soul where it abides with God. This is but in conformity with the uni-verbal instinct of man. Why it should be so we cannot tell, nor are we called on to explain. The prophet Elijah ascending through the air teaches us of a present heaven to which his life was transferred. We cannot otherwise regard the incident. The mind refuses to see in it that he went into unconsciousness or annihilation or to purgatory or to hell. The “heaven” is not simply the outward heaven of sense, but the heaven of bliss and of God, just as in the case of our Lord Jesus who led His disciples out as far as to Bethany; and it came to pass, while He blessed them, He was parted from them and carded up into heaven.
2. “Elijah went up into heaven.” It was Elijah that went up, not Ahab. It was a man of God, one who had been faithful to the Divine will and commands, one who had been jealous for God’s name and worship. It is well for us to note this. Only God’s saints go up to heaven. Without holiness no man shall see the Lord. Those who think God will or can take an unholy heart to heaven know nothing of God. “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart.” While no man can derive these requisites from his nature, depraved as it is, he can receive the blessing of the clean hands and pure heart from the Lord, even righteousness from the God of his salvation. (H. Crosby, D. D.)
The translation of Elijah
“When the Lord would take up Elijah,”--when. There is a great doctrine of Providence there. The life of man is absolutely at the disposal of the Lord--that is the doctrine. One might suppose that man would have some choice as to when he would go. Not the least in the world. We might think that man would be permitted to stay a year or two longer--he might be engaged in finishing a work which would require that time to complete it. No. Well, says one, I have built the column, and the capital is nearly ready to put on: I shall have it done the day after to-morrow--cannot I stay until then? No. “When the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven”; not when Elijah would go, but when the Lord would take him. Is there not an appointed time unto man upon the earth? God knows when our work is done; sometimes we think it is done when it is not; we wonder what more there is to do to it, it seems so trifling, as if it were not worth while doing, reminding us of what the great sculptor said to some one who wondered that he was so long over his marble: “I know I am doing but a few things that look like trifles, but trifles make perfection and perfection is no trifle.” So with us: many a poor life we have seen seems to be doing nothing, and we wonder why it does not go forward into the eternal state. “When the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven.”--What is heaven? Critics cannot tell us: they have met in council and can make nothing of it. We must die to know, It hath not entered into the heart of man to conceive God’s house. And so Elijah goes to Gilgal: it is set down here as if it meant nothing--on to Bethel and to Jericho, as if he were a restless kind of spirit, here and there, going on like some fussy old man who does not know where to rest. But there is plan here, purpose, scheme, Providence; and so there is in our travel and in our movements, “By a whirlwind.”--There is a lesson here for us: and it is this. That the way of our going, as well as the time, is of the Lord’s determination, and not of ours. He appoints the time, He makes the way, and thou hast nothing to do with it, poor dying man. One says, “I want to die on my birthday”; and God says, “No, perhaps the day after.” Another says “I want to die suddenly”; and God replies, “No, that is not the way: it is in the book, it is all written down in the book: you are to have a lingering death.” “I should like to die lingeringly, but quietly,” says another man; and God says, “That is not the way in the book: suddenly a bolt shall strike thee: thou shalt go to bed well, and in the morning be in heaven, without pang or spasm or notice given to any one: they shall find thee sleeping on the pillow like a child at rest.” Another man says, “I should like to die like a shock of corn fully ripe”; and God says, “No, thou shalt be cut down in the greenness of thy youth, in the immaturity of thy powers.” There are others who would like to die in childhood--pass away before five, when the eyes are round wonders, and they know nowise of anything--when everything round about is mystery and puzzle and enchantment; and God says, “No, you shall die at ninety: it is all focussed, all settled.” What have we to do, therefore? God allows us to express our own wishes and wills, He allows us to say what we would like to have done, and trains us to say, “Nevertheless, not my will, but Thine, be done.” He sends for some in a beautiful chariot made of violets and snowdrops and crocuses, and these are the young folks that go up to heaven in the spring chariot: the vernal coach is sent for them and they go away--so young! They have just left school, just finished the last lesson, and shut it up, and said “Good-bye” to master and governess, and are supposed now to be ready for life; and God says, “Now, come up”; and they go up amid all the sweet modest spring flowers. And others go up in old age, feeling as if they had been forgotten on the earth, allowed to linger and loiter too long, as if God had forgotten them--some by long affliction, some by sudden call. Elijah did not say to Elisha, “I am going to die,” Or “I am going to heaven,” but, “I am going to Bethel--stand there.” You know what we say to one another in view of the great event: we say, “If anything should happen to me”--a form of words we understand. We do not scene to be able to say plainly and with frankness, “Now, if I should die next week” No, but we say, “We do not know what may happen, and in the event of anything happening to me.” We do not like to mention the monster, and to point a long plain finger into the pit, so we say, “If anything should happen to me--in the event of anything happening to me--going to Gilgal, and to Bethel, and to Jericho, and to Jordan, and” The rest is silence. That is the way in the chamber of affliction. We say, “If the wind would only get round out of the east and into the south.west, perhaps we should get you up a little.” Never--and we know it. And our friend, unwilling to break our heart, says, “I have been thinking that if the weather were milder, I might perhaps be able to get out a little.” Thus touch is not made to the quick; this man says he is going to Gilgal, and he knows he is going to heaven; he says he is going to Bethel, as if it were nothing--only going to pray with the young ones there, lie says he is going to Jericho, as if he is going to stop there--he knows perfectly well he win only be there one night; he is a pilgrim with a staff in his hand and cannot linger. He says he is going to Jordan, and he knows perfectly well that he will never come back over Jordan, but all the time he never says anything about it. So we let our friends down easily, and prepare them for great events by doing certain intermediate things. Elijah says, “Ask what I shall do for thee.” Heaven is so near, yet he is still thinking about the earth: he is going to join the angels, and yet wanting to do something for the poor creatures yet to linger upon the earth for ten or twenty years. Oh, bold man, bold, bold Elijah! “Ask what I shall do for thee.” Leave me a blessing, leave me one of your old letters, let me have your old Bible: utter one more prayer for me, mention me in the last prayer, let the last sigh mean poor me--me--me. Ay, we can help one another in that way. “Ask what I shall do for thee.” Now, what is your supreme prayer? What do you want your father, mother, friend, to leave you? Let them leave you a good example, let them leave you a noble testimony on behalf of the truth, let them leave you an unsullied character, and then they will leave you an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away. “If thou see me.” And Elisha said, “I will see thee, if it be possible; I will keep my eye upon thee.” And did God ever disappoint the eyes that were turned upwards? Did lie ever say, “The morning shall not shine upon those who look towards the east”? Never. And so if you look into the perfect law of liberty--look into the Bible, you will find it always new, always a revelation, always something fresh--May bringing its own flowers, June her own coronal ever, August its own largess of vine and wheat. “If thou see me.” Is there any counterpart to that in the New Testament? There is: O wonderful counterpart,--“If thou see Me, thou shalt have it, if not, it shall not be so.” “And He led them”--that greater He--“led them out as far as to Bethany.” And He ascended, and they watched Him and saw Him, and a cloud received Him up out of their sight. They watched, they saw, they returned to Jerusalem, and were endued with power from on high. That is God’s law, that the watching man gets everything, the man who is nearest and looks keenest gets all and sees all--and it is right. The mountain gets the first gleam of the sun, and then the light gets down into the valleys by and by. And so--and so--these great rocks of God are watching men: Elisha was a watching spirit: those who see Christ taken up are endued with power from on high. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; look, and ye shall see; knock, and it shall be opened. Sir Isaac Newton was once asked why he was so much greater than other workers in his particular science. He said, “I do not know, except that I, perhaps, pay more attention than they do!” Just consider. What is attention? We think anybody can attend. Hardly a man in a hundred can attend to anything. The sluggard gets nothing, the shut eyes see not the morning when it cometh, the slumberer’s closed vision cannot see the first sparklings and scintillations of the coming day. Lord, open our eyes, that we may see! (J. Parker, D. D.)
The translation of Elijah means more than an historic statement. The theme is concerned with the great scriptural doctrine of immortality, in whose light we consider it. Observe--
I. The dual nature of man. This truth is directly implied in the account of the Creation. The bodily form was made “of the dust of the ground”; but when the “Lord God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, man became a living soul.” It is of this dual nature Paul speaks, “there is a natural body and there is a spiritual body; howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural.” A denial of this fact asserts that man is on a level with the brutes. The more common belief, however, asserts the existence of the two natures, yet clings to the idea that, somehow, the two are interdependent. This idea is unscriptural, since, in such a case, death could not be a gain. The spiritual body controls the material and earthly, but is not controlled by it.
II. Flesh and blood are not immortal. The apostle calls this the corruptible body, and then declares that corruption cannot inherit incorruption; that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. What is perishable cannot enter heaven.
III. The nature and ministry of death. “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned”; this is the sad history. “The sting of death is sin”; this is the law. In the translation of Elijah we behold what would, perhaps, be the type of death but for sin; but, aside from such a consideration, we turn to a few important lessons in the scene.
1. The power of the human purpose to perpetuate itself. It is in this manner we see the power of Elijah in his care for the schools of the prophets. These organisations were to continue, after his departure, what his unwearied efforts had begun. “I am left alone,” was his early cry; yet when upon the cloud of flame he ascended, Bethel, Gilgal, and Jericho, with their throngs of prophets, were left. The theocracy which, in spite of Ahab and Jezebel, he had founded was perpetuated in these schools. There is a future for all men on the earth if they will only plan wisely. As Elijah had been the founder and defender of the faith, so did he become, by these centres, the conserver of that same faith.
2. The unwearied activity of the good man. The true life has no spare hours apart from its purpose. It was “as they still went on and talked” that the chariot came. The last hours were as full of service as if no change were coming. The invisible world needed no further special thought.
3. The immortal life. The history of Carmel’s prophet seems hardly complete without the scene on Hermon. A thousand years had passed since the chariot of fire swept the sky. The three favoured disciples had fallen asleep even in their Master’s prayer. Nought but that wondrous voice broke in upon the stillness of night. By some revelation the disciples caught the accents of the heavenly visitors. The one, fifteen hundred years before, had trodden the crest of Sinai and spoken face to face with God. It was he who had surrendered his claim to Egypt’s crown for the reproach of Christ. It was he whose face had shone with a borrowed glory he wist not of. (Monday Club Sermons.)
The departure of good men
Two subjects are here presented for notice--
I. The departure of a good man from the earth. Death is a departure from the world, it is not an extinction, it is a mere change of place.
II. The power of goodness in a good man’s departure. See what a grand spirit Elijah displays in the immediate prospect of his exit.
1. A spirit of calm self-possession.
2. A spirit of strong social interest.
3. A spirit of far-reaching philanthropy.
Elijah goes to Bethel, but wherefore? Probably to deliver a valedictory address to the “sons of the prophets.” (Homilist.)
The Christian a native of heaven
A Christian man’s true affinities are with the things not seen, and with the persons there, however the surface relationships knit him to the earth. In the degree in which he is a Christian, he is a stranger here and a native of the heavens. That great city is, like some of the capitals of Europe, built on a broad river, with the mass of the metropolis on the one bank, but a wide-spreading suburb on the other. As the Trastevere is to Rome, as Southwark to London, so is earth to heaven, the bit of the city on the other side the bridge. (Alex. Maclaren, D. D.)
Here is a man on the borders of heaven. He is living in intimate fellowship with God. Of each step in that last journey he can say: “The Lord hath sent me.” Enoch, the first to be translated, “walked with God.” Elijah most clearly did the same. So St. Paul says: “If we live in the Spirit let us also walk in the Spirit”; or, literally, “let us also step in the Spirit.” Not merely the walk as a whole, but each successive step should be in fellowship with God. Nothing short of this can be adequate preparation for such a change. Surely if we knew the Lord was coming for us in a few days, those days would be days of infinite and unbroken fellowship; there would be no hours out of touch with the Master. We ought when thus in perfect fellowship to be able to say of each step, “The Lord hath sent me.” But this man on the borders of heaven, is found in a retired spot and seeks to be alone. We find him with Elisha at Gilgal, probably the “Gilgal beside the oaks of Moreh,” mentioned in Deuteronomy 11:30, R.V. There he proposes to leave Elisha whilst he journeys alone to Bethel. We can understand his desire for solitude. And he has no wish to parade his approaching honour. He will not talk about it to Elisha; and Elisha refuses to discuss it with the sons of the prophets. This man on the borders of heaven, is full of a genuine humility. No traces of self are seen in him during this last journey. There was a sweet attractiveness, however, about this grand old warrior. Elisha felt it, and refused to leave him. Who shall say how far Elisha’s brightness and buoyancy were the reflection of the glorious sunset, without clouds, which closed the earthly course of this truehearted veteran. But, again, this man on the borders of heaven takes an interest in his stewardship. There were schools for the sons of the prophets at both Bethel and Jericho. Elijah’s Steps were no doubt guided to these places that he might leave at each a parting message of counsel and direction. He who said, “Occupy till I come,” is not pleased if His servants neglect the work entrusted to them. Nor, however, should we be so engrossed in our work as to forget His promised return. Once more this man on the borders of heaven has no thought of his own needs, but is only anxious to leave a blessing behind. “Ask what I shall do for thee, before”--mark the limitation: Elijah knew his power of helping those on earth would cease when his life in the body was ended--“before I be taken away from thee.” And this desire of Elijah’s was fulfilled. He was staggered first of all at the boldness of Elisha’s request. Most truly, Elijah left a blessing behind him. The sons of the prophets were forced to acknowledge, “The spirit of Eli]ah doth rest on Elisha.” And nine hundred years afterwards the angel Gabriel could say no greater word concerning the promised forerunner than that be should “go before in the spirit and power of Elijah to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” And the very blessing which Elijah left behind him we may have. The Lord God of Eli]ah has not changed. Surely, as the coming of the Lord draweth nigh, and the promise, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord,” receives its fulfilment, we may look for an increase of the “spirit” and power of Elijah in our midst. Men say, “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” But this is the cynical pessimism of an unbelieving age. Really good men never die. Their influence lives; they reproduce themselves in those around them. Judged by earthly standards, Elijah’s career might seem almost a failure, for his chief public triumph was so soon discounted by unbelieving flight. But the man is more than his ministry. Character is more than success. (F. S. Webster, M. A.)
There is always something beautiful in the declining years of one who in earlier life has dared nobly and wrought successfully. Younger men gather round the veteran to whom they owe the inspiration and model of their lives; and call him “father,” enwreathing his grey locks with crowns in which love is entwined with reverence. Seeds sown years before and almost forgotten, or reckoned lost, yield their golden returns. Memory rescues from the oblivion of the past many priceless records; whilst hope, standing before the thinning veil, tells of things not perfectly seen as yet, but growing on the gaze of the ripened spirit. The old force still gleams in the eye; but its rays are tempered by that tenderness for human frailty, and that deep self-knowledge, which years alone can yield.
I. The work of the closing years of Elijah’s life. The Christian traveller among the Western Isles of Scotland will hardly fail to visit one small, bare, lone spot out amid the roll of the Atlantic waves. It is thy shore, Ions, of which I write! No natural beauties arrest the eye or enchain the interest. There is but one poor village, with its two boats, and a squalid population. Yet who can visit that low shore, and stand amid those crumbling ruins, without intense emotion?--since it was there that Columba built the first Christian church, to shed its gentle rays over those benighted regions; and to shelter the young apostles who carried the Gospel throughout the pagan kingdoms of Northern Britain. With similar emotions should we stand amid the ruins of Bethel, Gilgal, and Jericho; where, in his declining years, Elijah gathered around him the flower of the seven thousand, and educated them to receive and transmit something of his own Spiritual force and fire.
II. The attitude of his spirit in anticipating his translation. The old man clung to those young hearts, and felt that his last days could not be better spent than in seeing them once more; though he resolved to say nothing of his approaching departure, or of the conspicuous honour that was shortly to be conferred on him. Here is the humility of true greatness! Alas! what a rebuke is here for ourselves! The prophet’s trident desire to die alone shames us, when we remember how eager we are to tell men, by every available medium, of what we are doing for the Lord. There is not a talent with which He entrusts us, which we do not parade as a matter of self-laudation. There is not a breath of success that does not mightily puff us up. What wonder that our Father dare not give us much marked success, or many conspicuous spiritual endowments--lest we be tempted further to our ruin!
III. The affectionate love with which Elijah was regarded. It strongly showed itself in Elisha. The younger man stood with his revered leader, as for the last time he surveyed from the heights of Western Gilgal the scene of his former ministry. And, in spite of many persuasives to the contrary, he went with him down the steep descent to Bethel and Jericho. What is the Lord to thee? Is He a dear and familiar friend, of whom thou canst speak with unwavering confidence? Then thou needest not fear to tread the verge of Jordan. Otherwise, it becomes thee to get to His precious blood, and to wash thy garments white; that thou mayest have right to the tree of life, and mayest enter in through the gates into the city. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
The ascension of Elijah
I. The type.
1. The last intercourse between Elijah and Elisha is hardly what we should have expected. Elijah knew that he was about to leave Elisha, but almost seems to act with coldness towards him, and to want to throw him off. Elisha had left all to follow Elijah, to be his disciple and attendant.
2. It was a-mark of lowliness in the prophet. He was to be honoured by God in a most marvellous manner, and he shrank even from Elisha’s witness of the great event. The law of the spiritual life, “He that humbleth himself shall be exalted,” even then held good.
3. Further, it might have been to test Elisha, his affection, and his detachment. It would seem that there was something which governed Elijah’s request, though he does not reveal the motive of it. The strong asseveration, too, of Elijah, “As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee,” repeated thrice, shows how Elijah’s proposal had stirred the depths of Elisha’s soul.
4. The repeated suggestion that he should depart reveals the perseverance of Elisha. It gave to his will the opportunity of exercising steadfastness and constancy. In this mysterious intercourse we see how graces were set in motion and developed. The crossing of Jordan seems to have been the acme of Elisha’s probation; for now Elijah turns to him, and makes a proposal of a very different kind, “Ask what I shall do for thee,” etc.
5. Then Elisha is ready with the petition, “Let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.”
II. The antitype.
1. There are two ways of approaching the mysteries of Christ--one direct, the other indirect. One through the Gospels, thee other through the types and prophecies of the Old Testament. Besides these, there is the road of experience in the Epistles.
2. We take now the indirect route. We find in this narrative, first, a type of Christ’s ascension into heaven. Of the points of resemblance between the two events, no unbiased mind could doubt. Even Scott says it was “a prefiguration of the Redeemer’s ascension”. An both cases mere was the miraculous elevation of a human body from earth to heaven. Both had to be seen, to secure a gift.
3. But it is a law of the antitype to outstrip the type. Christ was self-raised. He who by His Divine power could walk on the water, could mount up into the air.
1. “Exception proves the rule.” Let the exemption of Elijah from the law of death remind us that we have to pass through the dark valley, and must prepare for the journey; for “what man is he that shall live, and shall not see death, that shall deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?” (Psalms 89:48, R.V.).
2. Dispositions are necessary for receiving spiritual gifts--the lowliness, detachment, steadfastness to be traced in the last intercourse between Elijah and Elisha, bear witness to this.
3. To approach the mysteries of Christ through the types of the Old Testament, seeing in them how all leads up to Him, and that therefore the disparagement of the Old Testament cannot but end in an under-valuation of the New (Luke 24:44). (Canon Hutchings, M. A.)
Elisha’s love for Elijah
The length of our lives in this world is in the hand of God. We have no independent lease of life, so that we may decide of our own accord that we will remain for a year, or ten, or twenty years on earth. We have only a lease at the will of God. All the physicians in the world could not insure our fives for a single year-nay, not for a single month, or even a single day. Elijah went when God called him. The record does not say that when Elijah saw that his work was done he decided that it was time for him to go home to heaven; there is nothing of that kind. It is, “When the Lord would take up Elijah to heaven.” God decided the matter. This thought ought to give us pause. He ought not to leave undone from one day to another what we would wish to do if we knew this day was the last, for we do not know that God intends to give us another day. Each day ought to see all our affairs in such a condition that we are all right with God and man if this day is the last, for our lives are just as certainly at the disposal of God as was Elijah’s, and we have no power that Elijah did not have to stay the hand of God when He would call us away. There is another thought which stands in the introduction to our theme which is very comforting and very precious, and that is the plain statement that God took Elijah direct to heaven. All the good are there, gathered from all ages and from all lands. It is a land of innocence and beauty, of love and worship; a land of music and of light, where the weary find rest, where heroic souls like Elijah’s sun themselves in the presence of God. It was Elijah’s last day on the earth. Elijah knew it, and said nothing to Elisha. The old man’s heart was tender towards the young man, and he was willing to spare himself the sorrow of parting as well as to spare Elisha if he could. But Elisha, too, had in some way been made aware that this was the day when Elijah would be taken from him. What thoughts must have filled the minds of the two men as they walked along the way on that momentous day. Perhaps they were very silent. Elijah’s mind must have been full of the past. And Elisha--what is he thinking of? How keenly he remembers that morning on his father’s farm, when Elijah came to him with the call of God; how well he remembers the farewell feast, and the tender parting with his parents, and his going forth with Elijah, who during all the years since that time has been to him not only teacher and leader, but father, and mother, friend, and in some sense in the place of God. Elijah has stood to him as the very incarnation of goodness, a goodness that is sustained by unwavering faith in God; and Elisha loves this man with a love in which admiration and reverence and devotion are mingled. His whole heart has gone out to him. His worship of God has seemed akin to his love for Elijah. As he has lived with Elijah he has daily come to know more of God, and the more he has loved Elijah the deeper has been his devotion to God, and he can hardly think what life will mean without Elijah present with him--to sustain him and inspire him. All must have been in his heart as he answered Elijah, “As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee.” There may well have been more than a present application to these words of Elisha. Elisha remained true to them after the death of Elijah; in heart and spirit he was never separated from his great friend and leader; throughout his life he remained true to Elijah, to his goodness, to his faith in God, to his heroic purpose, and to his lofty ideals. Now what message may we draw from the loyalty and love of this young man towards the older man? Should it not suggest to us that supreme love and devotion which we should show towards Jesus Christ our Saviour? True it is only a faint illustration, for Jesus has done infinitely more for us than Elijah did for Elisha. Elijah did not die for Elisha, but because he had by his goodness, by his obedience to God, and by his faithful affection, called Elisha to be God’s servant and son, Elijah loved him thus devotedly and was determined to cling to him for ever. What, then, shall we say of the proper devotion which we should feel and show towards Jesus Christ? Elisha not only remained with Elijah because of the tenderest considerations of love and fidelity, but because he felt that every moment he had with Elijah was precious, and only by imitating Elijah would he be able to do the great work awaiting him. A still nobler Elijah stands as our example. And both these considerations appeal to us, for surely every moment we spend with Jesus is precious. Every hour which you will spend reading about Jesus, talking about Him, meditating upon Him, or praying to Him will Be an hour of infinite value to you. Not only so, but as Elisha got his strength largely from his fellowship with Elijah in their common faith in God, so we are strong as we keep close to Jesus Christ. I would like to emphasise this message to all who have recently given themselves to the service of Christ. The secret of a growing Christian character, the secret of strength and steadiness in the Christian life, is to persistently keep close to Jesus Christ. Elijah could not remain with Elisha, but Jesus comes to us in the presence of the Holy Spirit to comfort our hearts. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)
2 Kings 2:2
And Elijah said unto Elisha, Tarry here, I pray thee.
The call that came to Elisha as he was ploughing at Abel-meholah was readily and gladly obeyed. There was no ten days’ tarrying between his master’s ascension and his own wonderful enduement, as in the case of the apostles, and this was, probably, because he had been sufficiently tested and prepared beforehand.
1. He had learned to stoop and serve. Not one of the chosen twelve volunteered to take the place of a servant at the passover feast on the night of the betrayal.
2. He had learned to obey God rather than men. Mrs. Walton, in her book, tells us that the beautiful orange groves near the town of Jaffa are so sheltered that for some part of the year the perfectly ripe fruit of last year is seen hanging side by side with the blossom of this. Blossom and fruit were side by side on this journey. Elijah, so fully matured that he was ready for translation, side by side with Elisha, who was just blossoming out in the beauty of early faith and devotion. And yet Elijah himself was to apply the second great test to Elisha, to see whether he would obey God rather than men. God had commissioned Elisha to minister to Elijah. Would he persevere to the end, or would he allow the persuasions of others to draw him off? So three times he was tested by his own master. “Tarry ye here, for the Lord hath sent me to Bethel.” “Tarry ye here, for the Lord hath sent me to Jericho.” “Tarry ye here, for the Lord hath sent me to Jordan.” It was that he might test Elisha’s devotion, and see if he would follow right on to the end. So Elijah does not express a desire to be alone. He simply tested Elisha, as Naomi tested Orpah and Ruth. It is eight miles from Jezreel to Bethel. The road descends a steep hill into a narrow gorge which runs for some four miles to an ancient spring now called “the Robbers’ Well.” So far the road is easy, but for the next four miles the rocky bed of a dry watercourse is the only path. So Elijah suggests that he might be left to tread the last stage of his earthly pilgrimage alone. Very different was the attitude of the sons of the prophets. There were theological colleges, so to speak, at Bethel and Jericho, and Elijah s last journey took him past these. It would be an encouragement to him to see that God was not left without witnesses--that his championship of God’s truth had not been in vain. But there was no special blessing for these sons of the prophets at this time. They fell far short of Elisha’s portion. Their attitude and spirit were very different from Elisha’s. Perhaps they wanted to discuss who was to succeed Elijah, and what effect his departure would have upon God’s work in Israel. But there was no holy awe as they stood in the presence of one so soon to be summoned to the glorious presence of the King of kings. They felt no sense of need; they had no thirst for personal blessing. There are many to-day like these sons of the prophets. When God is working mightily in the quickening and deepening energy of the Holy Ghost, it is those only who follow closely, and right through to the end, who receive the blessing. Those who look on from a distance will never see the heaven opened, or share in the outpoured blessing.
3. Elisha had learned to put first things first. Once more he was to be tested. The two had crossed Jordan. That river which is the symbol of death had parted when smitten by Elijah’s mantle. It was not fitting that he who was to be honoured by a deathless translation should wrestle with the swiftly flowing waters of Jordan. You say, “If I can get safely to heaven at the end, that is all I want”; but is that all God wants? How would you answer if the challenge, “Ask what I shall do for thee,” were put to you? Would your soul leap forth with ardent longing for fulness of spiritual blessing, or would some craving for ease and honour and advancement be uppermost in your heart? (M. G. Pearse.)
2 Kings 2:9
Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee.
A final interview between good men
The two names here mentioned represent two of the most remarkable men in the history of the world. Both stood faithful in a faithless age. Through both, heavenly wisdom announced its truths, and Almighty energy wrought its marvels. Both were valiant for truth. In this final interview of these illustrious men, we find something to lament, something to admire, something to study, and something to imitate.
I. Here is something to lament. The departure of a great and good man from this world is a subject for lamentation. There are two things that show this to be a lamentable occurrence,
1. The event involves a positive decrease in the amount of means for the world’s improvement. Heaven’s plan to raise the world is by the ministry of the good. Good men are God’s agents to improve the world.
2. The event involves a positive increase in the amount of the world’s responsibilities. The world’s responsibilities are proportioned to its means of improvement;--“Unto whomsoever much is given, cf him shall be much required.” The life of a good man adds to the world’s responsibility. Thus its mighty sum of accountability daily augments. The more good the life, the greater the addition to the amount. Christ’s life was the best, and hence He said, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin.”
II. Here is something to admire. What do we see here to admire?
1. Sublime calmness in the most solemn crisis. Truly solemn was the position Elijah now occupied, for he stands on the line that separates time from eternity. On one side of the line there were many scenes on earth dear to memory, many persons precious to his heart, many works that he had wrought, and much that he had left unfinished. On the other side there was eternity.
2. A generous interest in friends in the last hour of earthly life. “Ask me,” he says, “what I shall do for thee before I be taken from thee?” Though in close approximation to eternity, his affection for his friend was unimpaired. Death does not quench our love.
3. A consciousness of power to confer benefit in the last hour, “Ask what I shall do for thee,” implying a consciousness of power to confer good. A good man has power at all times to confer good, even on his deathbed; on his expiring couch he can exhibit fortitude under suffering, resignation to the Divine will, intercessory sympathies for the living. Deathbeds have often proved signally useful to attendant friends.
III. Here is something to study. There are two important principles suggested in this text which demand our attention:--
1. That men can only benefit their race while they are living upon earth. “Before I am taken away from thee,” said Elijah; implying I shall do nothing for thee when I am gone. I shall be where I cannot communicate thought, or render one act of service. Our work on earth is done when we leave it. When we die we cannot return to discharge any neglected duty.
2. That our power to benefit men will depend upon their consent. “Ask what I shall do for thee.” If men resist we are powerless; our instrumentality is moral, our best thoughts, our purest sympathies, our devoted efforts will all go for nothing, if men will not consent to our influence.
IV. Here is something to imitate. In the conduct of Elisha we see two things worthy of imitation.
1. A perception of real worth. “I pray thee let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.”
2. An aspiration after real worth. “I pray thee let a double portion.” Here is coveting earnestly the best gift. (Homilist.)
I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.
I. Its meaning.
1. “A double portion.”
(1) Not “twice as much as thou.” That might have been the prayer not of ambition to excel Elijah, but of humility. In myself so inferior that I need double portion to succeed thee.
(2) Better: the portion of first-born (Deuteronomy 21:17); twice as much as any other son of the prophets. All claim a portion. My work and responsibility greatest; to be head of the family in thy place. Give me right of the first-born-a double portion.
2. “Thy spirit.” God’s Spirit: who came upon Samson, Saul, David, Elijah himself (2 Kings 2:16). But still Elijah’s spirit (2 Kings 2:15). In three senses his:--
(1) His own. Not separable, as property, friends, means of grace, etc. In him (John 4:14). Not hand without upholding, but cordial within, strengthening.
(2) His characteristically. One Spirit, but manifold gifts. Natural character remains, etc.
(3) His in its influence. Elisha’s request granted. Character moulded by Elijah’s spirit, yet not obliterated. Still Elisha, not Elijah. Marked contrast between them. Elijah type of John Baptist, Elisha of Christ.
II. Its application.
1. To intercourse of friends. Elijah friend of Elisha.
2. To official relations. Elisha pupil of Elijah. Conclusion. Our intercourse with friends, our relations as teachers, parents, ministers, etc., are they such as, when the parting comes, to warrant the request, “I pray thee,” etc.? (Archdeacon Perowne.)
The spirit of Elijah
Elijah, with his clear-eyed vision, saw that Elisha and not himself was the man to be considered at this hour; the parting meant more to Elisha than it did to himself. Elijah knew that all was right between him and God. He had no doubts about his future. I do not suppose he had the slightest intimation as to the peculiar manner in which he would leave the earth, although his words indicate a premonition that he was not to die in the natural, usual way. But in whatever way God called him, Elijah was safe. His work was done. His record was made up. Heaven and immortal glory, with the crown of eternal life, remained for him. Elisha, however, was in the midst of the struggle of life. He was to remain in the warring and striving world. He was to stand before wicked kings and ungodly men as the messenger of God. He would need every possible help and blessing that he might not fall or faint by the day. Ah, it is not death that the good man needs to fear. Living is infinitely more serious than dying. If we live well, we shall die well. We are not for a moment to suppose that there was anything selfish or ambitious in the request of Elisha. He was not asking that he might be twice as great as Elijah. He was thinking of the great need of the people and how much the loss of Elijah would mean, and he felt how small were his own powers and gifts compared to those of the great man whom he had loved and followed. He is asking that upon his own gifts and powers, which seem to him so small, a double portion of the spirit that had made Elijah so great may rest and make him strong to do the work of God which was now to fall upon his shoulders. The response of Elijah was significant. He answered, “Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.” Dr. William M. Taylor sees in this answer of Elijah this meaning: The sight of Elijah’s ascension gave to Elisha a firmer and more vivid faith in the reality of the unseen life than he had ever had before and greater than even Elijah had ever known. It remains for us to find our message in considering what constituted this spirit of Elijah, a double portion of which Elisha desired as the greatest boon that could come to him. For every one of us who is striving to live the good life to-day will find it as valuable a possession as it was to Elisha.
1. It was a vital faith in the presence and power of God in the world. There was Elijah’s power. He believed God. God was real to him. God was not lost to Elijah’s sight by the creation which He had made. Elijah saw God present in the midst of His world with unlimited power and control. This gave him all his courage. It was the same force that made John Knox a greater terror to a wicked queen than all the armies of Scotland. It was the same force that made Luther the greatest man of Ms day.
2. The spirit of Elijah was the spirit of obedience. He obeyed God promptly, without questioning; we never should have heard of him but for that. He kept his ear open, listening to God, and he went swiftly to do the Divine bidding. That was what gave value to Elijah’s conduct. Think of the millions of Christians in the world to-day. If they all had Elijah’s spirit of obedience, what revolutions would come about. The gambling hell would be abolished for ever. War would die out of the earth, and the Gospel would speedily be preached to every creature, if only all the men and women who bear the name of Jesus Christ had Elijah’s spirit of implicit obedience to God.
3. Elijah’s spirit was a spirit of supreme courage born of this faith and obedience. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)
The noblest legacy of the departed good
I. The greatest need, the most solemn position, is not with those who are leaving the world, but with those who remain. Not Elijah, but Elisha requires strength and help. It was a perception of Elisha’s greater need that prompted the invitation.
II. Our power to bless others is limited by our lives. “Before I be taken away from thee.” Elijah cannot pledge himself to anything after his departure. While yet he lingers upon me earth he may help and mess his successor. We can only bless the world while we are present in it.
III. The noblest legacy of the departed good, and the measure in which we should ask to possess it. “Let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.” This was the wisest request Elisha could have presented. What are we to understand by “thy spirit”? We think he must mean that which was the animating principle of Elijah’s character, the master passion of his soul--his fidelity to God, and zeal for His name. This spirit of the great and good is their noblest legacy, our richest inheritance.
1. The spirit of Elijah was the secret of Elisha’s power. We are prone to place a man’s power in natural gifts and external advantages. But all experience proves that, in the work of the Lord, a simple, earnest, soul-possessing faithfulness is superior to all beside. He who has it, whatever else he may have or have not, is a true Elijah, who shall bring down the sacred fire, not upon a slaughtered bullock, but upon the souls of men.
2. The spirit of the great and good alone can compensate for their departure and loss.
3. The spirit of the great and good is alone unchanging in its character, and meets the requirements of every age.
4. To catch and inherit the spirit of the good and great is to attain the deepest and truest resemblance to them. (W. Perkins.)
What is the best service I can render my fellows
The giving fact of life is a fact permanent and wonderful. Steadily each of us is giving his fellows somewhat.
I. Volitionally we may give--e.g., money, place, knowledge. Better than these, we may volitionally give a helping sympathy.
II. But unvolitionally, unconsciously, we are giving to our fellows; St. Peter’s shadow (Acts 5:15). Every one of us is streaming upon his fellows an unconscious influence Our practical question is--What is the best gift any one can yield his fellows? I find the answer in our Scripture.
1. The best gift one can yield his fellows is character--the double portion of a noble spirit.
2. This fact, that the best gift we can yield our fellows is character, that the best service we can render them is the imparting of a noble spirit, has important applications--
(1) To our friendships--noble friendships, as Elisha did with Elijah, we shall get nobleness.
(2) To marriage. For the associations of marriage are the closest possible. And if each were noble, what nobleness has not each to each imparted?
(3) To parenthood. The character of the parent is reproduced in the child.
(4) The great character-giver is Jesus Christ. There is no failure in Him, as there was, to some extent, in Elijah. (Homiletic Review.)
2 Kings 2:11-12
And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked.
The ascension of Elijah
1. Observe, first, how he was employed at the time of his removal: they were “going on, and talking.” Without this information, many would have concluded that after he had received the intimation of his speedy departure, he was engaged alone in meditation and prayer. But it is a mistaken sentiment, that a preparation for heaven is to be carried on only by abstraction, contemplation, devotion.
2. Observe how he was conveyed from earth to heaven. “There appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” Was he removed by the instrumentality of a luminous cloud approaching and enclosing him, and then rising with a rapid curling motion? Or was he removed by the ministry of angels, disguised under these brilliant forms? This seems more probable. Is it not said that “He shall send forth His angels and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the one end of heaven to the other”? Is it not said that Lazarus died, “and was carried by angels into Abraham’s bosom”?
I. Let us consider it as a gracious recompense of singular piety.
II. Let us consider it as intimation of the future happiness that is reserved for the servants of God.
III. We may consider this translation as a substitute for death. In some such way as this, it is probable, would men have passed from earth to heaven had they never sinned. In some such way as this will those living at the last day be qualified for glory.
IV. We may regard it as a mode of transition much to be desired. Death is not a pleasing subject of meditation. It is called “an enemy.” It is said to be “the king of terrors.” Even exclusive of the future consequences, there is much to render it formidable. Nature cannot be reconciled to its own dissolution. (W. Jay.)
The translation of Elijah and the ascension of Christ
These two events, the translation of Elijah and the ascension of our Lord, have sometimes been put side by side in order to show that the latter narrative is nothing but a “variant” of the former. The comparison brings out contrasts at every step, and there is no readier way of throwing into strong relief the meaning and purpose of the former, than holding up beside it the story of the latter.
I. The first point which may be mentioned is the contrast between the manner of Elijah’s translation, and what of our Lord’s ascension. It is perhaps not without significance that 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 slopes of Olivet above Bethany. What a different set of associations cluster round the place of Christ’s ascension--“Bethany,” or, as it is more particularly specified in the Acts, “Olivet” In the very heart of the land, close by and yet out of sight of the great city, in no wild solitude, but perhaps in some dimple of the hill, neither shunning nor courting spectators, with the quiet home where he had rested so often in the little village at their feet there, and Gethsemane a few furlongs off: in such scenes did the Christ, whose delights were with the sons of men, and His life lived in closest companionship with His brethren, choose the place whence He should ascend to their Father and His Father. But more important than the localities is the contrasted manner of the two ascents. The prophet’s end was like the man. It was fitting that he should be swept up to the skies in tempest and fire. Nor is it only as appropriate to the character of the prophet and his work that this tempestuous translation is noteworthy. It also suggests very plainly that Elijah was lifted to the skies by power acting on him from without. He did not ascend; he was carried up; the earthly frame and the human nature had no power to rise. How full of the very spirit of Christ’s whole life is the contrasted manner of His ascension! The silent gentleness, which did not strive nor cry nor cause His voice to be heard in the streets, marks Him even in that hour of lofty and transcendent triumph. There is no outward sign to accompany His slow upward movement through the quiet air. No blaze of fiery chariots, nor agitation of tempest is needed to bear Him heavenwards. The outstretched hands drop the dew of His benediction on the little company, and so He floats upward, His own will and indwelling power the royal chariot which bears Him, and calmly “leaves the world, and goes unto the Father.” Nor is this absence of any vehicle or external agency destroyed by the fact that “a cloud” received Him out of their sight, for its purpose was not to raise Him heavenward, but to hide Him from the gazers’ eyes, that He might not seem to them to dwindle into distance, but that their last look and memory might be of His clearly discerned and loving face.
II. Another striking point of contrast embraces the relation which these two events respectively bear to the life’s work which had preceded them. The falling mantle of Elijah has become a symbol, known to all the world, for the transference of unfinished tasks, and the appointment of successors to departed greatness. The mantle that passed from one to the other 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.” So the world goes on. Man after man serves his generation by the will of God, and is gathered to his fathers; and a new arm grasps the mantle to smite Jordan, and a new voice speaks from his empty place, and men recognise the successor, and forget the predecessor. We turn to Christ’s ascension, and there we meet with nothing analogous to this transference of office. No mantle falling from His shoulders lights on any of that group; none are hailed as His successors. What He has done bears and needs no repetition whilst time shall roll, whilst eternity shall last. His work 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 work 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. Clearly the other narrative derives all its pathos from the thought that Elijah’s work is done. But that same absence from the history of Christ’s ascension, of any hint of a successor, has an obvious bearing on His present relation to the world, as well as on the completeness of His unique past work. When He ascended up on high, He relinquished nothing of His activity for us, but only cast it into a new form, which in some sense is yet higher than that which it took on earth. His work for the world is in one aspect 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 possible development. Long ages ago He cried, “It is finished,” but we may be far yet from the time when He shall say, “It is done”; and for all the slow years between, His own word gives us the law of his activity, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.”
IV. The ascension of Christ is still further set forth, in its very circumstances, by contrast with Elijah’s translation, as bearing on the hopes of humanity for the future. The prophet is caught up to the glory and the rest for himself alone, and the sole share which the gazing follower or the sons of the prophets, straining their eyes there at Jericho, had in his triumph, was a deepened conviction of this prophet’s mission, and perhaps some clearer faith in a future life. The very reverse is true of Christ’s ascension. In Him our nature is taken up to the throne of God. His resurrection assures us that “them which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him.” His passage to the heavens assures us that “they who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them,” and that all of both companies shall with Him live and reign, sharing His dominion, and moulded to His image. That parting on Olivet cannot be the end. Such a leave-taking is the prophecy of happy greetings and an inseparable reunion. The king has gone to receive a kingdom, and to return. Memory and hope coalesce, as we think of Him who is passed into the heavens, and the heart of the Church has to cherish at once the glad thought that its Head and Helper has entered within the veil, and the still more joyous one which lightens the days of separation and widowhood, that the Lord will come again. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
The chariot of fire
Life is often compared to a journey which a man makes from the cradle to the grave. The close of Elijah’s life on earth is very suggestive of such a figure. Elijah and Elisha had been walking all day from Gilgal to Beth-el, and from Beth-el to Jericho, and then across the Jordan, towards Gilead. Perhaps Elijah had that feeling, common to men, that he would like once more, before he died, to look on the old hills of Gilead where he was born and brought up. There are some striking and important lessons here:
1. We are all walking towards eternity. Every step we take brings the end nearer. We are going right on like Elijah and Elisha, walking and talking, when suddenly, it may be without an hour’s time to prepare for the change, God will call for us, and we must go to meet our Lord.
2. Elijah died as he lived. He had lived a life of wonderful faith, and striking manifestations of the presence of God had marked his whole career. His life was full of romance and heroism, through his faith in God and the supreme daring and implicit obedience to Divine commands which had marked his career. Through the last day of his life he kept up his work, serving God, trusting Him with his whole soul, and now, when God calls and sends His chariot down to the roadside on which he is walking, he is ready. He steps in, and is carried up to heaven. You must not imagine because the chariots are not seen, and the angels are not visible, that Elijah was the only man thus carried up to heaven. For aught we know God takes all His children home that way. Death will have no more effect on your character and personality than does your going out of one room into another. The Elijah that walked beside Elisha across the Jordan, who stepped into the chariot of fire, and was carried up to heaven, was the very same Elijah that Peter and James and John beheld at the transfiguration of Jesus on the holy mountain centuries afterwards. No, if you want to be a good man after you are dead, you must be a good man before you die. Death is not going to work any change of that sort in you. As the tree falls, so it will lie. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)
I. The fitness of this translation.
1. There was fitness in the place.
2. There was fitness in the method.
3. There was fitness in the exclamation with which Elisha bade him farewell.
He cried, “My father, my father! the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof!” Doubtless, amid that sudden flash of glory he hardly wist what he said. Yet he closely hit the truth.
II. The reasons for this translation.
1. One of the chief reasons was, no doubt, as a witness to his times. The men of his day were plunged in sensuality, and had little thought of the hereafter.
2. Another reason was evidently the desire on the part of God to give a striking sanction to His servant’s words. How easy was it for the men of that time to evade the force of Elijah’s ministry, by asserting that he was an enthusiast, an alarmist, a firebrand!
III. The lessons of this translation for ourselves.
1. Let us take care not to dictate to God.
2. Let us learn what death is. It is simply a translation, not a state, but an act; not a condition, but a passage. We pass through a doorway; we cross a bridge of smiles; we flash from the dark into the light. There is no interval of unconsciousness, no parenthesis of suspended animation. Absent from the body, we are instantly “present with the Lord.”
3. Let us see here a type of the rapture of the saints. We do not know what change passed over the mortal body of the ascending prophet. This is all we know, that “mortality was swallowed up of life.” (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Waggons came for Jacob to bear him to Egypt. Waggons will come for us by and by to carry us home. A chariot of fire, with horses of fire, came for Elijah, and bore him away into heaven. The chariots need not be visible--are not visible--that come for God’s people; nevertheless, they are real.
A nation’s true dependence
Elisha gives vivid expression here to his sense of his own and his nation’s loss at Elijah’s departure. His view of the situation was unselfish and patriotic; and yet it was the man who spoke rather than the Christian. Elijah had wrought wonders in Israel, and yet he was a man of like passions with others, as some acts of his life painfully show. Besides, he was simply God’s instrument, as Washington was. Israel’s true reliance was Jehovah Himself, and there was no occasion for the prophet’s despair. Nations are prone to make a similar mistake:
1. In the way of false reliance for deliverance and abiding prosperity.
2. In looking to the outward instrument rather” than the unseen guiding Power.
3. In magnifying natural laws rather than looking to supernatural forces.
4. In deploring their dangers and losses instead of falling upon their knees before God in prayer. (Homiletic Monthly.)
Chariots of fire for the New Year
Clear and distinct as the narration is in my text, both the actual circumstances and their significance have been popularly misconstrued. It is generally assumed that the prophet Elijah ascended in a chariot of fire, with horses of fire, although the narrative most,, unambiguously, asserts that “Elijah went up by a whirlwind rote heaven. This misconception has hidden from view, or at least obscured, the import of the appearance of the fiery chariot and steeds which appeared at that fateful juncture in the history of these two great prophets; and especially has it veiled the fact that it was not Elijah, but Elisha, who was in sorest need of the celestial chariot at that particular hour. In fine, I may say at once that, while the whirlwind came to transport Elijah to heaven, the chariot and horses of fire were sent to bear Elisha onward in the difficult way which lay before him, now that his leader and master was removed from his side. The dread responsibility which would descend upon his shoulders on the departure of Elijah had been weighing upon his mind as they travelled together. When the sons of the prophets asked him, “Knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head to-day?” he replied in tense accents, “Yea, I know it; hold ye your peace.” It was this new weight of responsibility that led him to seek at the last moment a double portion of the spirit of the departing prophet. To assure him of the Divine presence and power for his mission, he was granted, not only one wonderful glimpse of the translated prophet, but also a vision of the unseen chariots and horses of fire which were to remain as the permanent escort of the new prophet. The chariot and horses of fire “parted them both asunder.” As Elijah was snatched out of Elisha’s view, the empty space became filled with God’s flaming equipage. The eyes that had looked to the prophetic master for direction and encouragement were now fastened upon the embattled might of Jehovah. Elijah had ascended, but the chariots and horses of fire remained. The experience was similar to that of Isaiah when he received his prophetic call. The hopes based upon the good King Uzziah ended with the king’s death. Then Isaiah’s eyes were opened, and he writes, “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple.” The Lord God of Elijah remained to bear Elisha to the end of his journey. We have evidence that this vision remained as a permanent force and fact in the life of Elisha. In the sixth chapter of this Second book of Kings we read of Elisha’s servant being terrified by the surrounding host of Syrians, and of his receiving inward vision at the prayer of Elisha. “And he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” Clearly, they were the prophet’s permanent escort. I am glad to think that these fiery chariots were, not for the translated Elijah, who had but little need of them when he was being ushered into the immediate presence of the Lord of hosts, but for Elisha, whose earthly way needed to be sustained and cheered by an escort from the skies. Many are the mighty dead in whom cur confidence was great. But there is no gap in the world. The vacant spaces are filled with the hosts of God. The Lord of hosts is with us.
I. There can be no progress in life except through God’s chariots of fire. The only dynamic power is bestowed by invisible forces. We cannot make any real progress without the guidance of God s hand.
II. The chariots of fire represent also Divine protection. They declare the presence of the Angel who redeems us from all evil. Through the panoply of science a myriad foes invade our safety. For our journey through the perils of the year we must seek the escort of the mailed hosts of God.
III. The chariots of life represent the impartation of strength. It was a strengthened Elisha that smote the waters of the Jordan with Elijah’s mantle, and cried with strenuous energy, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?”
IV. The chariots of fire are also the forces of purification. To those whom God leads onward He is as a refiner’s fire. The true law of the survival of the fittest is the survival of the purified. Without purification, the material of life becomes corrupt as a stagnant fen, and dies of its own self-created malaria. Yet visible fires cleanse not the soul. God is the only Purifier.
V. It is further evident that the renewal of our strength can be obtained only through the renewal of our vision of the invisible God.
1. We need a new vision of Divine truth. God is a fire, and His chariots are flame. The vision shows the awful, immutable, all-pervasive energy of righteousness. His truth flames through creation in chariots of fire.
2. We must also have a new vision of the love of God. It is not well to see the infinite truth without beholding also the infinite love. It is impossible to understand the infinite love without having beheld the majesty of infinite truth. Love also is a fire, consuming all selfishness. Love in the heart of God is a fire that has kindled a mystery of sorrow in the temple of the Deity itself. The fires of God’s chariots form letters of flame, and the reading is, “God is love.”
3. We need a new vision of the nearness of God. His chariots are at hand. Leap into them, and His glory shall be round about you.
4. We need a new vision of God’s intensity. God’s horsemen linger not. (John Thomas, M. A.)
And he saw him no more.
Life is full of partings. Every day we see some one whom we shall never see again. Homes are full of these partings, and churches are full of these partings, and therefore Scripture also, the mirror of life, is full of these partings. When sin entered into the world, the first consequence was a murder, the second consequence was the Flood, but the third consequence was dispersion. “The Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth.” Speech itself--that dearest, most delightful communion between heart and heart--was confounded, was made a Babel of sounds. This was that great parting asunder of the human family, which had in it the type, and the substance too, of all partings--allowing but one real reunion, begun on Calvary, realised in Pentecost, to be consummated at the Advent. We speak of three partings.
I. Bodily partings. Those who were once near together in the flesh are no longer so. It is a thing 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. Some of these partings are easily borne. It is probable that every day we meet some one whom we shall never meet again till the judgment. There is little that is sorrowful in this--though even this has its solemnity. But some bodily partings have a more evident sadness. It is a serious thing to stand on the pier of some seaport town, and see a son or a brother setting sail for India or New Zealand. Such an experience marks, in a thousand homes, a particular day in the calendar with a peculiar, a lifelong sadness.
II. Partings between souls. I speak still of this fife. The sands of Tyre and Miletus were wet with tears when St. Paul there took leave of disciples and elders. But those separations were brightened by an immortal hope, and he could commend his desolate ones to the word of God’s grace, as able to give them an inheritance at last with him and with the saved. I call that a tolerable, a bearable parting;
III. The death-parting which must come. Set yourselves in full view of that--take into your thought what it is--ask, in each several aspect of earth’s associations and companionships, what will be for you the meaning of the text, “He saw him no more.” The life-partings, and the soul-partings, all derive their chief force and significance from the latest and most awful--the one death-parting, which is not probably, but certainly, before each and all. (C. J. Vaughan, D. D.)
Two prophets parted
In various ways we become associated in life--similarity of tastes in art pursuits, in literature, in polities, trade, religion. Sometimes, having travelled, we meet with some companion to whose soul ours is knit so long as life lasts. It is only natural that we should like companionship. Few men are fitted to live alone. Long-continued solitude is irksome; we become bored with self.
I. A suitable companionship on a heavenward journey. “They two went on.” The union between the two had been appointed by God.
II. Listen to elevating conversation between heavenward travellers. The text tells us that as they journeyed they “talked.” On what subject? Evidently it was concerning Elijah’s departure. Both found it “greatly wise,” not only to speak with the past, but to talk of the future. We should speak sometimes of the ending of life, not that we may become gloomy, but that we may realise the value of life--its seriousness and its far-reaching effects. The telegraph clerk holds in his hands, when at the dial plate, the power to communicate a wish at the distance of thousands of miles; and thus we hold in our hands the character of a life that shall extend deep down into the ages of eternity. Hence we should he most anxious as to the correctness of our aims in the present, and desirous that holy influence should not be lost in the hereafter. Words may flash along wires, and convey no meaning; music may flit from a string, and die in the distance; but the message and music of life should have meaning and volume, vibrating along the wires of immortal being.
III. We have now to witness the sudden separation between heavenward companions. “As they still went on and talked, behold! there appeared horses of fire and a chariot of fire, and parted them both asunder.” The ending was anticipated, yet sudden. What sort of companionship have we in our heavenward journey? What is the general tenor of our conversation as we journey? What sort of hope have we concerning the end of our journey? What state awaits us? (F. Hastings.)
2 Kings 2:13-14
He took also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him.
The mantle of Elijah
when Elijah swept away from the side of Elisha in his chariot of fire, guarded by angelic horsemen, Elisha was for a moment overwhelmed. Ere long his eye fell upon the mantle of Elijah. That was all that was left to him that was physically tangible, but it meant a great deal. As his eyes gazed on it, his heart grew tender and soft as memory carried him back to that morning on his father’s farm, years ago, when that mantle was thrown around his own shoulders and he recognised it as God’s call to the prophetic service. During all the years since that time that mantle had been constantly under his eyes. It had been the indication, the token, of the presence of God with Elijah. But it was only a token; the power was in the God who called Elijah and who strengthened him for his work. So we can imagine what deep pathos, what tender, worshipful emotion there was in the heart and voice of Elisha as with sincerest prayer he cried, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” As he said these words he smote the waters with the mantle, and God answered to his cry, and the waters stood back from the stroke, and he walked across on dry land. There is here:
1. A message for Christians in all ages who long to have in present emergencies the spiritual power known in the past. Our lesson is in this, that we cannot make the conditions of changing life conform to old conditions; but the attitude to God, the relation to God which made men and women the channels of Divine influence and blessing in any age of the world are possible to us. Elisha was a very different man from Elijah. If he had gone about trying to act like Elijah in all sorts of customs and habits of a minor nature he would have made himself the laughing-stock of his time. But we see that from the start Elisha grasped the kernel of the matter. It was not Elijah’s mannerisms, nor Elijah’s peculiar methods, but Elijah’s faith in God that gave him his power. And so his cry is, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” Joseph Parker says that by these words Elisha shows that he is not called to a merely official position, but that he is elected to represent the Divine Majesty upon earth. Had Elisha acted in a way which suggested self-sufficiency, his prophetic office would have been destroyed well-nigh before it was created. It is when we stand back in humility, and from the depths of our souls cry out of our desolateness to God, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” that we begin our work in the right spirit, and only then. Sometimes we hear men and women talking now about the days of Wesley, and of Whitefield, and the early fathers of the great Wesleyan revival and reformation, as though they thought by some change of clothing or change of outward physical living the power of those days could come back. But that cannot be true. That which was at the heart and was the moving centre of the great Wesleyan revival was the same power that made Elijah what he was and that gave Elisha force to continue his work. It was an abiding faith in God. What Christians need to-day, and what we must have if we are to know the power which has made the saints of God mighty in every age of triumph for the church, is the same spirit and the same faith that Elisha had when with the mantle of Elijah he smote the waters of the Jordan and cried from the depths of his soul, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?”
2. God never fails to answer when His children call upon Him in faith. He immediately responded to Elisha’s faith. He will be as faithful to us.
3. When with sincere hearts we serve God and surrender ourselves completely to do His will, God causes others to see. The young men at the prophetic school in Jericho were very quick to discern that the blessing of God rested on Elisha. They at once acknowledged that the spirit of Elijah had fallen on him. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)
The prophet’s mantle
Elijah’s solemn, silent act was sufficiently clear and eloquent to Elisha. When a great teacher dies, says Sir John Malcolm in his History of Persia, he bequeaths his patched mantle to the disciple that he most esteems. And the moment the elect disciple puts on the holy mantle he is vested with the whole power and sanctity of his predecessor. The mantles which were used by ascetics and saints have always been the objects of religions veneration in the East. The holy man’s power is founded upon his sacred character, and that rests upon his poverty and contempt of worldly goods. His mantle is his all, and its transfer marks out his heir. (Alex. Whyte, D. D.)
2 Kings 2:14
Where is the Lord God of Elijah?
The prophet as incarnating the Divine
I. The God of Elijah calls His servants to tasks impossible to unaided human strength. God’s servants in all ages are called to dare and do the impossible. In the common duties of our life we move constantly in that region. To conquer eight hundred and fifty priests of Baal was great; to conquer eight hundred and fifty thousand sinful influences assailing us week by week is as great. Elijah’s energy exhibited the normal state of man’s faculties inspired by God. We may share the same strength and achieve heroic things for Christ. The God of Elijah is with us, and will qualify us if we are but entirely consecrated to Him.
II. The God of Elijah is He Who makes the opposites of life conspire for the good of His servants. To the view of a shallow philosophy the universe is made up of opposite and contradictory forces that cannot be reconciled. The faith that declares, “As the Lord liveth before whom I stand,” sees in that light the contradictions of life harmonised in the one purpose of infinite goodness. So it was in the life of Elijah. There is the law of heredity, and the law of freedom and spontaneity. Faith unites and utilises both in the production of a new and original character. There is alternation in Providence. The years of plenty are followed by years of famine. Faith draws from each special benefit. Prosperity nurtured his inner life. Famine gave him his opportunity to drive home his lessons. John Bright and the Irish Famine in Free Trade Agitation. The faithless and faithful in society. The storm and the “still small voice.” His historic career,--his posthumous influence. Faith united all these facts, and made them tributary to his work.
III. The God of Elijah requires us to limit and suppress all that may hinder our one life-purpose. He was not aesthetic, but he won on Carmel.
IV. In the God of Elijah we see revealed the limitless portion of the good. He satisfied Elijah. Surely He will suffice for us!
V. The God of Elijah is the strength of the humbler prophet.
VI. The God of Elijah loves to have His goodness, wisdom, power, mirrored in His servants’ lives. Our knowledge is to reflect His thought, our benevolence His love, our strength His might. At the beginning of all enterprises, in contact with corrupt states of society, when we lament fallen heroes, when we face the difficult, we should catch the spirit of Elisha, and go on from conquering to conquer. (J. Matthews.)
“Where is the Lord God of Elijah?”
It was a great thing when we could get people to ask questions about God. Philosophers talked a great deal about “the God-consciousness.” Here was a man who had the “God-consciousness” wondrously developed. This man Elisha, when he asked this question, was not simply solicitous about God in general--he wanted a particular type of God. He wanted not any god nor every god, not any aspect of the tree God, but the Lord God of Elijah. But was the Lord God of Elijah different from the god of other people? The implicit doctrine of this question seemed to be that He was. Did God reveal Himself in a hundred different ways through a hundred different personalities? He did, and that was the great fact that appeared in the text. It must be so, for God was infinite. Most people would dismiss this statement as a foolish platitude. But if we realised what it meant it would be obvious that God transcended intellectual conception. Let us not be distressed because we cannot understand God. Nobody could understand Him. As one of the greatest modem theologians had said, “It takes a God to understand God.” In the ultimate sense no man could by searching find out God. Therefore, if we had an infinite God, He must be capable of expressing Himself in a hundred, in a thousand, ay, in ten thousand different ways. “Every man painted his own picture of God,” and every man must be warranted in doing so if God was infinite. One individual saw God from a certain angle, another individual saw Him from a different one; different churches saw Him from different standpoints; but all were right, for God was infinite. Elisha wanted the type of God he had seen manifested in Elijah. It was a glorious doctrine, this doctrine that God revealed Himself through personality. Jesus Christ was in the supreme sense what every man is in a lesser sense--God’s Word. A word was the manifestation of a man. What a grand opinion we should have of some people if they never opened their mouth! When we spoke a word we were known; a word was the expression of a personality. And Jesus Christ came down to this earth to articulate God to man. And what Christ did supremely every believer did in a lesser degree. Elisha had got all his theology from Elijah. Elijah never wrote a word; he left no volume of theology behind him, but there was no prophet who had made such a permanent impression on Israel and on the world. He lived his theology, and he gave such a revelation of God to his people that when he was gone they said, “Where is the God of Elijah?--the God of Elijah for me.” Some of us had gathered most of our conception of God from some noble personality. That was our aim in life as believers to give a theology to men, to live a theology before men. Infidelity could answer argument, but argument wag no answer to life. What sort of a God was the God of Elijah--God as represented in the teachings, and work, and life of Elijah? He was a God of wondrous power. We wanted a God of that sort to-day. The God of Elijah was a big God. What a little God some people had. Some people had a very shrivelled theology nowadays. People were doing to-day what the Israelites of olden times were charged with doing--they were limiting the High One of Israel, limiting the Illimitable. What a ghastly irony! There were people who were turning nature into a dungeon, imprisoning God in His own creation, chaining Him with what they called “Natural Law.” There were people nowadays who instead of having the God of Elijah had a God, to whom it was practically no use to pray. But what were natural laws but God s methods of working? Elijah s God was a God of marvellous power in Nature. It would be wonderfully refreshing to have a little more of the God of Elijah to-day Elijah’s God was a supernatural God. He was a miracle-working God. The God of Elijah was a God who would have right done at all costs. Did some one say Elijah represented a very stern righteousness--that we should not like a stern Master to-day? He was sure we should not. Elijah would not be at all popular nowadays. Did some one say that if Elijah had lived in these Christian days his sternness would have been modified? Surely it was not too great a stretch of the imagination to say that in the last glimpse we had of him, on that snow-clad mount of Christ’s transfiguration, he spoke no longer of justice but of redemption. But people said, “We believe nowadays in God’s Fatherhood.” But “Fatherhood” must be defined. It did not mean indifference to right and wrong. The manifestation of God that Elijah gave meant righteousness. Fatherhood was the great attribute of Elijah in the eyes of his disciple. He revealed God not only as a God of wondrous might, but as a tender Father. How tender that strong man could bet The Lord God of Elijah was also a God of intense zeal. We did not get that God very much in these days. It was an unpleasant fact that the great majority of people were outside the churches to-day; but what was worse was the fact that the majority of Christians were content with this state of things. It was an unpleasant fact that there was such a dearth of conversions, but it was worse that Christians were not concerned about it. Elijah’s conception of God allowed him to pray. There are people to-day whose theology scarcely permits them to pray. Elijah was a most remarkable man for solitary communion with God. We must be men of prayer if we would be living manifestations of God. (Dinsdale T. Young.)
The Lord God of Elijah
The meaning of the word Elijah is that Jehovah is God; and to impress this truth, carried in His own Name, on the hearts of a people that wished to forget Him, and that were always prone to worship other gods--this was the object of his wonderful career.
1. Now, the first point I wish to dwell upon is this, that the name, the Lord God of Elijah, carries in it a revelation of a God that we need believe in in these days. Once we get a name revealed in this Book, or by God Himself, it cannot be asked what there is in a name. There is a great deal in a name if it is revealed from on high.
2. Again, the Lord God of Elijah is a God who can wield all the powers of nature and providence to bring down a rebellious people to acknowledge Him.
3. Again, the Lord God of Elijah is a God who honours all who honour Him in every age. Now, Elijah was a man of great faith. He asked for things that were never asked for before, but he was never disappointed.
4. There are special occasions when we cannot help exclaiming, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” and one of them is when our leaders are taken from us. This was one such occasion.
5. Then, again, we are surprised that leaders are taken away in a time of great indifference with regard to religious truth.
6. Then, lastly, where is the Lord God of Elijah? Let me tell you. He is now ready as ever to clothe any man with power from on high who believes in that power and believes that he cannot do without it. The self-sufficient man will never get it. Where is the Lord God of Elijah? He is there, alive to the service of the most obscure of His servants; He reckons them all, and rewards them. (E. H. Evans.)
Good men, witness of God
The Rev. T. R. Stevenson says, in a sermon quoted in the Chinese Recorder: “During a recent visit to Japan I met with a gentleman who mentioned an incident which I can never forget. One rarely hears anything more impressive. He knew a missionary in China who one day encountered a Chinaman. The latter had been in the habit of watching the conduct of the former, and that very narrowly. He said, “I want your God to be my God.” The missionary answered, “What do you mean?” “I wish to be of the same religion as you. Why do you? Because if your God is like you, He must be good.”
God’s attractiveness as seen in the devout life
There was a boy dying in one of the English counties. He had heard Whitefield, with his marvellous voice, and glowing heart, preach about the Lord Jesus Christ, and the impression never left him. While yet a child, he had to die; and as the fever flush mounted to his brow, and as the fire burned in his eye, he said, “I should like to go to Mr. Whitefield’s God.” What a testimony! what a recommendation! I say to Paul to-day, as he tells me of how God’s grace was sufficient for him, “I should like to go to Paul’s God.” (J. Robertson.)
Calling upon the God of another
“God of Queen Clotilda,” cried out the infidel Clovis I. of France, when in trouble on the field of battle, “God of Queen Clotilda! grant me the victory!” Why did he not call upon his own god? Saunderson, who was a great admirer of Sir Isaac Newton’s talents, and who made light of his religion in health, was, nevertheless, heard to say in dismal accents on a dying-bed, “God of Sir Isaac Newton, have mercy on me!” (Daniel Baker.)
Elisha caught the mantle of Elijah, whose marvellous translation to heaven he witnessed. Smiting the waters of Jordan, as his master and predecessor had done, with the same mantle, Elisha cried, “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” Elijah had gone. Had God also gone? The parted river proved that Elijah’s God was with Elisha.
I. Elijah’s God. To see what kind of a God Elijah served, glance at some of the leading events in the prophet’s life. Dense darkness hangs over Israel (1 Kings 16:1-34.), idolatry being rampant. Elijah’s challenge to Ahab (1 Kings 18:1-46.). The prophet’s threat of famine fulfilled. God’s care over him by the brook Cherith. The unfailing oil and meal at Zarephath. The widow’s son restored to life. The contest on Carmel. The God that answereth by fire. It seems as if God puts Himself into Elijah’s hands, and the prophet receives whatever he asks for--a famine, or fire, or life for the dead, or the restoration of a nation to God. Why did God so honour Elijah? Because Elijah honoured God.
II. God’s Elijah. Do we want Elijah’s God? If so, we must be like Elijah. Notice the prophet’s--
1. Boldness. He was not afraid to stand alone.
2. Intense earnestness. His supreme desire was the salvation of Israel.
3. Earnest prayer. “He prayed earnestly.”
4. Strong faith. He relied absolutely upon God--before Ahab, by the brook, on Carmel, etc.
5. Purity. His character would bear the test of God’s searching eye. As the Lord God liveth, before whom I stand.
6. Obedience. He obeyed God implicitly.
7. Constant communion with God. The Lord was his chief companion.
8. Power, with God and with men. Do we want character. The Almighty is always on the side of His Elijahs. (Charles Cross.)
Elisha had now taken the place of Elijah, his master, and was going forth to prosecute Elijah’s duties and to continue his work. We notice here:--
I. There are different workmen, but one Master.
1. God does not need any one particular man Elijah was great, powerful, and good, but his departure did not hinder the Master’s work.
2. It is the master-power that carries on the Master’s plans. Elijah was nothing without God. Neither was Elisha. How deeply Elisha felt his powerlessness! He did not cry out “where is Elijah?” but “where is Elijah’s God?”
II. That the experience of others is an encouragement for ourselves. Elisha had seen the works of his predecessor, and knew that those works had been performed in the strength of the Lord. In that same strength he could also be helped.
1. The advantage of studying God’s work in the past.
2. The faith which appropriates that work.
3. The urgency of prayer. Elisha’s cry was a prayer, an appeal.
III. The cumulative power of the ministerial office.
1. Each minister inherits not only what his predecessor obtained, but what his predecessor did. And during the past thousand years all the knowledge, power, and experience of the whole army of preachers has been amassed and bequeathed to us. Elisha used Elijah’s old mantle. He was content to follow the old paths. The new is not always best. At the same time neither the old nor the new can profit. It is the God we want, and He is always the same; and His revelation is made more complete through every succession of His servants.
IV. The necessity of putting God to the proof. How many are content with crying out, “Where is God?” They cry, but don’t put Him to the test. It is so.
1. In our religious experience.
2. In our daily work.
3. In our numerous trims.
It is no use to cry unless you act. Elisha cried and smote the water. Then God proved His presence. The evil condition of the world now is because we cry so much and trust so little. (Homilist.)
Man’s cry and God’s response
I. The religious cry of humanity. “Where is the Lord God of Elijah?” This question comes out in all hearts, in all religions. Where is God? Where is He who made me and for whom I am made, and who alone can satisfy my nature? Where is He? Oh that I knew where I might find Him? etc. It is a cry rising from the deepest depths of human nature, old as the ages and wide as the race.
II. The merciful response of God. When he “had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over.” Elisha wanted the manifestation of the God of Elijah, and for this purpose he smote the waters. The response of God here to the cry was--
1. Symbolical. It came not in words, but in things. The response was--
2. Prompt. No sooner did Elisha touch the waters than they divided. He was not left in suspense. The answer was at hand. The answer of this question is always at hand. The response was--
3. Satisfactory. “And Elisha went over.” Every man who earnestly asks this question may find a satisfactory answer, and cross the stream of all difficulties. (Homilist.)
Power, or one’s might for duty
I was riding one night in the late winter on the elevated road through the Battery Park in New York City. As I looked out of the window I saw that the electric lights were blazing with almost the brilliancy of the sun. Their sharp scintillating beams fell on the branches of the trees that filled the park. But as those beams fell upon them I noticed that not a single leaf-bud stirred. I saw, too, that all the leaf-buds and all the twigs were eased in ice, and the imprisoning ice flashed back haughty gleam even to the powerful electric light. I began to think, if those trees were never to be touched by any other light there could never hang upon them any beautiful wealth of summer foliage. There is no force in that shining to push into movement the latent energy folded in those leaf-buds. There is only one force which can stir the trees to energy, and that is the marvellous power of the spring sun. Do you not think that Christians are often very like the folded dormant buds and the icy branches? Much light and various falls on them--light of knowledge, of worship, of Sabbaths, of preaching, of harmonious song, of culture; all the wonderful light of our Christian civilisation. But often they do not seem to stir much; they do not greatly grow; some churches, if they have a prosperous time financially, are not much discontented if there are no conversions. After all, is a tree with its leaf-buds folded snugly in and its branches ice-covered so bad a symbol of many a Christian, many a church? Is there any power that can stir them, as in the spring-time the wonderful sunlight stirs a tree, sending the life-currents thrilling through all its substance, swelling the leaf-buds till they must push out their folded banners, piling on to each least twig the succulent growth of another season One cannot believe the Scripture and say anything but yes to such a question.
1. There is the old gospel. Paul calls it the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). What a power it was in the city of the Caesars! What a power it is!
2. There is the living Christ. The powerful hand of Him who is death’s victor is on the helm of things.
3. There is the abiding Holy Spirit. The reason why Christianity is not a history merely, like the reigns of the Caesars, is because the abiding and vitalising Holy Spirit is in the world, charging the historic truth of Christianity with present energy. There is the power of the Spirit.
4. There is for Christians the promise of power. To such as have already become the sons of God, there is a promise given of still greater attainment, the power of the indwelling Spirit. But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto me. Plainly, such power will make duty easy and triumphant.
The conditions of the gaining of such power are well illustrated in our Scripture and its surroundings,
1. Determination to have it. Elisha would not leave Elijah (verses 2, 4, 6).
2. Determination to have it notwithstanding dissuasives. The sons of the prophets could not put sufficient obstacle in Elisha’s way (verse 5).
3. Such determination to have it as to dare to ask for it. “And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me” (verse 9).
4. Such purpose to have it as keeps us in communion with Christ at all hazards. When Elijah went beyond the Jordan Elisha would go over with him (verse 8).
5. Such determination to have it as makes us resolutely obedient to the conditions of its reception. Elisha would see the rapture of Elijah (verse 12). Brave use of what power we have, sure that in the using more power will be imparted. “And Elisha took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and smote the waters.” Christians or churches need not be like trees in winter with folded buds and branches ice-incased. There is melting, energising power for them. (W. Hoyt, D. D.)
2 Kings 2:15
They said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha.
The recognition of spiritual superiority
This is clearly an instance, not of the flunkey spirit, but of justifiable deference, a commendable acknowledgment of spiritual superiority. In the religious world, as in other spheres, some men are meant to lead and others to follow. Yes, but every man can select his own hero. Worship he must, but it is not necessary that he should become an idolater. He can determine for himself who or what shall be the object of his veneration and regard. No man is compelled to cast the pearl of admiration at the feet of swine. Hence to know the true status and quality of men it is sufficient to inquire at what shrine they prostrate themselves. To know the ideals he cherishes, the names he reveres, the heroes he admires, is to know a man at the most vital and central point. Where, then, does this test place these sons of the prophets that were at Jericho? It gives them the loftiest position; it stamps them as spirits of the wisest and noblest type.
1. How do we compare with these sons of the prophets which were at Jericho? What qualities do we require in men as the condition of our deferential regard? Is it enough that a man is of so-called royal descent? That by the accident of birth he occupies a throne and is called a king? How do we define these terms “royalty” and “kingship”? “Fine feathers” do not “make fine birds.” Neither do the trappings of kingly office constitute royalty and entitle their possessor to the loyal devotion of the people. There is a royalty of mere blood and lineage which may be, and frequently is, associated with vice and vulgar display and crass selfishness and intolerant pride. On the other hand, there is an aristocracy of the spirit, a royalty of soul, that comes not by a birth of blood, but by regeneration of the Spirit, and that displays itself in all sweet and gracious and noble living. To which of these do we Fay homage?
2. There is a further application of this thought on which we may dwell. It is sometimes said, “Oh, but we must have respect for the cloth.” What cloth? If “cloth” be the badge of authority, if the possession of it constitutes a man’s claim to special deference and regard, then how strangely is Elisha’s first and mightiest credential overlooked here. For he comes carrying in his hand the well-known mantle of the great man who has just ascended. But these sons of the prophets do not appear to have noticed it. We do not read, “Now when the sons of the prophets saw the mantle of Elijah in the hand of Elisha . . . they bowed themselves . . . “ Their homage was rendered on totally different ground. They saw that “the spirit of Elijah” did “rest on Elisha.” “The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha.” In the administration of the Kingdom of God on earth there is, of necessity, a law of succession. There is but one unchangeable priesthood. Every other servant of Jehovah, however great and apparently indispensable, is presently withdrawn from the busy sphere. But he leaves behind him his mantle. He does not take with him the source of power. So the Spirit of the Lord moves with sovereign freedom, alighting upon whom He will “The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisa.” Why Elisha? In almost every feature he is a striking contrast to his predecessor. “And when the sons of the prophets which were at Jericho saw . . . they said.” Then Elisha’s qualification for the high position was self-evident. It could be perceived and appraised by the onlooker. (H. Davenport.)
I. It was a legacy bequeathed with difficulty. There is a great, general truth underlying these words. It is a hard thing to communicate moral qualities It is easy to cause another to possess your material wealth; it is not so easy to enrich him mentally, morally, or spiritually. This is the experience of every good parent. You want to make men of your children. It is no easy task. What patience, what wisdom, what grace are needed to do it. Yet thank God it is a work in which many succeed. But, again, when Elijah said, “Thou hast asked a hard thing”--he meant, I think, that the request was beyond him. He could not give his servant what he sought. He might give him his mantle, and by doing so symbolise the transference of his office, but he could not give him his power. He could teach him--could from the resources of his own experience give him many a hint that was sure to be useful when he should fill his master’s place--but the power--the spiritual force--required, and required as the chief thing--that he could not cause him to inherit. So is it with us in whatever capacity we act for the good of others. We draw a distinct line between our work, what we can do, and what is beyond us--as possible only with One higher than we. We can plough the fields and sow the seed, but we cannot quicken it. We can preach and teach, but we cannot change the heart.
II. Elijah’s legacy was bequeathed with great willingness. When Elisha said, “Let me have a double portion of thy spirit,” Elijah’s first thought was, “You ask what is very hard to give”; but his second thought was, “Well, but I am after all pleased with your request. Now, I don’t say that I can give you this; but still what I cannot do I am sure the God whom I serve will do. Yes; it is a good desire, and if thou art faithful unto the end it shall be done unto thee.” There is surely an important lesson to be learned by us here. We ought not to do only the good that is of easy achievement. It will, indeed, be well for us if we always do what we can, yet the danger is to suppose that all we can do is what we can do with ease. We should remember that there is little value in the life that copes not with difficulties.
III. Elijah’s legacy was bequeathed because asked, “I pray thee let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.” From the promptness in which the request was made it is apparent that this was the blessing his heart was set upon obtaining. When the heart is fully resolved the tongue does not hesitate. His master confesses that it was a hard thing to grant; but if he had not asked it would have been impossible to endow him with such a blessing. It is the seeing soul that is enriched, not because God would enrich only the few, but His blessing can only enter the open receptive spirit. We have not because we ask not, or because we ask amiss. The thing I ask is great, but the greatness of my faith is commensurate, and, lo! the promise is spoken--“It shall be so unto thee,” and after the voice the heavens open and the blessing comes down. Let Elisha’s case encourage us to ask for what we need.
IV. Elijah’s legacy was bequeathed as the result of faithful service. A condition was attached to the bestowment of the blessing asked, “If thou see me when I am taken from thee it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.” (A. Scott.)
The true succession
The succession of Elisha was one marked by the sharpest and boldest contrasts.
I. In his origin. Elijah came from the mountainous country of Gilead. He was the wild man of the mountains. Elisha was called from the peaceful scenes of agricultural life.
II. The appearance of the men. This was totally unlike. Learn, that succession does not consist in dress; that a great man’s successors are those who carry forward his work, not those who ape his appearance. The true succession is one of character, and not one of clothes.
III. In their manner of life, so it should be always in the sphere of religion. There are other and better ways of succeeding to our Puritan forefathers than by singing Rouse’s version, adopting the nasal tone, sitting in cold meeting-houses, and listening to forty-headed sermons. But how slow some good people are to distinguish between religion and its accidental dress!
IV. The particular form of their work for God. Elijah’s was destruction; Elisha’s was construction. The first act of Elijah was to smite the land with a terrible curse. The first act of Elisha was to bless Jericho with the gift of good water. Lessons taught by the contrasts which I have mentioned:
1. The little stress which the Divine Arrayer and Architect places upon external sameness. We discover this Divine indifference far below the human level, and in the lowest spheres of life. The two blades of grass which grow at your feet are not exactly alike. They have their generic likeness, but they also have their points of difference. So with the roses. Each has its own style, its own peculiar blush. So with the noble pines which stand high up upon nature’s battlements waving their majestic plumes. Each one of them stands up an individual giant, itself in girth, itself in height, itself in beauty. Men come forth from the Divine Hand as unique, as peculiar, as are the roses or the planets. Each has his own beauty; each has his own orbit; each bears the stamp of the day in which he lives. Take an old Roman coin, and compare it with one which comes forth clearly cut from our own mint. What a difference between them! Yet both are precious metal, both are coin. So is it with the man whom God forms and equips for His work. He lays stress only upon the soul, only upon the spirit of a man.
2. The variety and flexibility of means and methods allowed in the kingdom of God. From the necessity of the ease, great flexibility and variety of method must be allowed to those who work for God. Because the generations change, knowledge increases, the line of battle shifts. He would be little better than a fool who should now preach to men in the style of the great divines of two centuries ago. As well might the soldier of to-day take the battle-axe, and go forth to the battlefield where the Minie whistles, and the shell shrieks, and the cannon-ball jumps miles at the touch of powder. And then as to Christian activity. Good men are afraid of many of its new forms. They shake their heads; as much as to question whether a soul, reached by the Gospel through the instrumentality of a layman, is after all much advantaged. Why, out yonder on the Western fields, the farmer harvests in one day with his reaping machine as much grain as he could do in a whole month with the old sickle. And he is not sorry; not sorry that he can cultivate five hundred acres instead of five. So, in these latter days, through the diversity of operations, the reaping power of the Gospel is multiplied a thousandfold. And yet men shake their heads. “This irregular preaching of the Gospel,” they exclaim. “Are we not going a little too fast? After all, hadn’t we better leave the world harvest to the priests and their orthodox sickles?” That God’s great work in this world always proceeds from that which is negative to that which is positive; from conversion to edification, from destruction to construction. In the Divine economy, threatening, correction, repression, destruction, mark only the first stage, the incipiency of the work. They are only ordered for the sake of an end outside of and beyond themselves. And this, the Divine method, we should follow.
1. In our working for others. We must lead the penitent forward into the life of positive righteousness, or we never form the “new man.” A man is like a vessel. He is formed to contain, and will surely be filled either with the good or with the bad. You cannot count on a vacuum in human nature; and, if you could, the world would get no benefit from it, and God would abhor it. You have not therefore Saved a man, if you have but emptied him of that which is bad.
2. This truth has also application to our own religious life. Christianity, piety, are more than negation, and our religion, if it is long to satisfy us, must have its positive side. Inanity is well-nigh as bad as foulness, and it would be to the shame of your manhood and your Saviour if you stopped with it. Take some aims worthy of a new life. Begin on something positive in the way of goodness.
3. The proper use of the great and good men who have gone before us. This is to take up their work, and to carry it forward; not, perhaps, just as they did, but as the Divine Providence intimates, and as we are best fitted to do it. (T. T. Mitchell, D. D.)
Possessing the spirit of another
Said the late Dr. Gordon: “Imagine one without genius and devoid of the artist’s training sitting down before Raphael’s famous picture of “The Transfiguration,” and attempting to reproduce it. How crude and mechanical and lifeless his work would be! But if such a thing were possible as that the spirit of Raphael should enter into the man, and obtain the mastery of his mind and eye and hand, it would be entirely possible that he should paint this masterpiece, for it would simply be Raphael producing Raphael. This is the solution of our imitation of Christ. To be filled with the Spirit is the secret of becoming like our Lord.
A holy succession
A good man died a little time since, and when his body had been carried to the grave, the little funeral party returned to the house; and the minister after a few words of kindly comfort was taking his departure, the eldest son called him aside for the moment and said, “There is a place empty in the church. My father is gone, will you take me instead? I want to fill up the gap: I want to be baptized for the dead.” (Helps for Speakers.)
2 Kings 2:19-22
And the men of the city said unto Elisha.
The bitter waters sweetened-Elisha the healer
Jericho, a city of high antiquity, was one of the most important in the land of Palestine. Its walls were so broad, that at least one person--Rahab--had her house upon them. Silver and gold were so abundant that one man--Achan--could stealthily appropriate 200 shekels. Between the city and the far East, there had existed for years, before its occupation by the children of Israel, a wide and extensive commerce, of which the “goodly Babylonish garment,” purloined in the act of dishonesty just mentioned, may be accepted as proof. The New Testament notices of Jericho are full of interest. The lonely limestone rocks behind the city formed the scene of our Lord’s temptation. It was down the banks of the Jordan, at Jericho, the Master had previously gone to be baptized. Three times in Jericho did our Blessed Lord give sight to the blind. Once in Jericho, the descendant of Rahab the “hostess” accepted the hospitality of Zaccheus the publican. For five hundred and fifty years a doom had lain upon Jericho. She had been the first city to resist the advance of Israel under the leadership of Joshua. She was therefore not only condemned to fall “before the captain of the Lord’s host,” and amid the much ceremony with which we are all familiar--the annihilation was accompanied with a terrible curse. The man who ventured to rebuild Jericho was to lay the foundation in his first-born, and in his youngest son to set up the gates. Josephus describes the district in his day as quite a fairyland, with its palms and roses, and fragrant balsams and thickly dotted pleasure grounds--a perfect garden and paradise of Eastern beauty. At the period of the text, however, things were very different. The spring was still suffering from the old doom pronounced against Jericho, it was noxious, unfit for drinking, prejudicial to the soil: “The men of the city said unto Elisha “--who was at this time residing here in the sacred college--“Behold. I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my Lord seeth, but the water is naught, and the ground barren.”
1. The Gospel is “a new cruse” for the world. Christianity comes not in “the oldness of the letter” and the law, but in “the newness of the Spirit.” The Gospel, too, begins at the origin of the evil--the heart--that is “the spring of the waters.” What is needed is “a clean heart and a right spirit”; the poison is at the fountain-head, and must be dealt with there. Once again, like the salt in the cruse, how unlikely and insufficient at first sight the simple Gospel appears for the world’s conversion. The words with which Elisha accompanied tile casting in of the salt, and the consequent working of the miracle, are very noticeable: “Thus saith the Lord,” exclaimed the prophet, “I have healed these waters.” How the change was effected, we cannot tell. Means were employed to show that God in His greatest works has a place for the instrumentality of man. Elisha “cast in” the salt.
2. In the redemption of a lost world, God has room for the energies of believing men. “As ye go, preach.” “Sow beside all waters.” But God is the grand agent. The power of the healing waters comes from the Great Physician. “The new cruse” and “the salt” in it, both are God’s sufficient honour for poor sinful men to be their administrators--let God be “All in All.” There was no mistaking the result of the Divine interposition by the hand of Elisha in relation to the bitter waters of Jericho. “Thus saith the Lord, there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land.”
3. The figure is that of the Gospel again, both in its influence on society at large and the individual believing heart. Put “the new cruse” and “the salt” once really in, and a new heart leads to a new life, and the world at large, once its springs are really touched, feels it through all its tributaries and ramifications. What has Christianity not done for the social life of man? It has abolished polygamy. It has put honour on the marriage tie. It has created lazar-houses for the sick, and asylums for the penitent profligate. What has it not done for the cause of civil liberty? It has struck the fetters from the negro. It has proclaimed freedom of conscience. What has Christianity not done for the commercial enterprise and the outward prosperity of the world? The missionary is the pioneer of the merchant. (H. J. Howat.)
Cleansing the fountain
Elisha began his work as a leader of the church of his time by a deed of mercy. Elisha made no claim that he had healed the waters himself, and he did not pretend that there was any power in the salt to work the change. He was simply God’s minister, and the salt was used simply as a symbol of God’s presence in the cleansing of the fountain. We have in this cleansing of the fountain suggested to us: that a man’s surroundings may be very pleasant, and his temporal circumstances such as to cause the envy of his neighbours, and yet his life may be embittered and his career utterly despoiled because of some malady of the spirit that takes away his peace, and ruins his happiness. Elisha assumed that it would be useless to change the water in the stream, for the evil fountain left unchanged would continue to pour forth its poisoned waters. So he went to the spring, and cast in the healing salt at the fountain-h cad. We are reminded of the words of Jesus where He declares that “A good man, out of the good treasure of heart, bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil mare out of the evil treasure, bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.” And again our Saviour says, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies”: and He adds, “These are the things which defile a man.” The poisonous stream of conduct is poured forth because the heart is evil. It is one of Aristotle’s axioms that the goodness or badness of anything is determined from its principle: hence it is that we call that a good tree that hath a good root, that a good house that hath a good foundation, that good money that is made of good metal, that good cloth that is made of good wool; but a good man is not so called because he has good hands, a good head, good words, a good voice, and all the lineaments of his body similar and composed, as it were, in a geometrical symmetry, but because he has a good heart, good affections, good principles of grace, whereby all his faculties, both of body and of soul, are always in a readiness to do that which is right. Plutarch tells us that Apollodorus dreamed one night that the Scythians took him and tortured him, and as they were putting him to death in the boiling cauldron, his heart said unto him, “It is I that have brought thee to this sorrow; I am the cause of all the mischief that hath befallen thee.” And it is certainly true that the heart of man is the forge and the anvil where all the actions of his life are hammered out. You must give your whole heart to God and obey Him in every way, or else all pretensions to religion are hypocrisy. The secret of Christianity’s great power in the world is in this transformation of the heart. Elisha made sure that the water in the stream would be clean and pure, by cleansing the fountain. Christ makes sure that the new life of the man who truly comes to Him shall be good, by cleansing the heart. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)
Elisha healing the water, and the means he used
What a true picture is here delineated of things on earth! What a living sample of its present state! Look where you will, go where you please, there is something pleasant and something unpleasant. May we not hereby learn how sin has defaced this fair creation, so that nowhere can perfection be seen. And now, therefore, the Lord will bring good out of evil. He will make this city a resting-place for his prophets.
I. In what part of the waters did Elisha exert his power? It was the spring. This conveys a deep spiritual truth. We can easily perceive that, had Elisha’s attention been directed to the water only a few yards from the fountain-head, his labour would have been for nought. As fast as he sweetened the running water, the bitter fountain would still pour out its venom. But we do not so readily see and allow that, except the corruption of human nature be attacked at the fountain-head, the heart, all other remedial measures can only work a passing effect, since the bitter stream of innate depravity will still run out.
II. The means Elisha used. “And he said, Bring me a new cruse,” etc. Salt is a conspicuous article in Scripture. It was a pledge of fidelity, and is so still in the East. If you once cat salt with an Arab, his life is pledged for your life, Some few grains of salt and bread pass the lips, and then the words are used--“By this salt and bread I will not betray thee”; and in the Book of Chronicles we read--“The Lord God of Israel gave the kingdom over Israel to David by a covenant of salt” (2 Chronicles 13:5). Salt was also a sign cf maintenance. Thus, in the Book of Ezra, the adversaries of Judah, in stating their case to Artaxerxes the king, say, “Now because we have maintenance from the king’s palace” (Ezra 4:14), which is literally, as rendered in the margin, “because we are salted with the salt of the palace”--i.e., supported at the king’s charge. When a native of the East means to say he is fed by any one, he uses the expression, “I eat such an one’s salt.” Salt was also a constant accompaniment of the ceremonial law. “Every sacrifice shall be salted with salt,” are the words of Jesus; and it is in this sense that we find our Lord and His apostles using salt figuratively for grace, saying, “If the salt have lost its saltness, wherewith will ye season it? “ (Mark 9:49; Mark 9:1). Thus the means used by Elisha to heal the waters point to another deep spiritual truth--they remind every one of this inquiry, Have ye salt in yourselves? Is grace working in your heart, “mortifying your evil and corrupt affections, and inclining you daily to exercise all virtue and godliness of living”? But there is another feature in the means here used which may convey a useful hint--they were contrary to nature, contrary to any means that man would have employed to produce a like effect. Salt, we know, renders water bitter and nauseous instead of sweet and pleasant to drink, and naturally, therefore, the salt would have served but to increase the brackishness of the fountain. The fact, then, of Elisha using a remedy opposed to the effect wanted, not only went to make the miracle more evident, more palpable, but it also confirmed a stumbling truth--namely, that grace and nature are contrary the one to the other--that the ways of God (so far as seen in this fallen world) and the ways of man in curing an evil are altogether different; both will use means, but the means which it pleases Jehovah to use are not those which man would choose or even think of. “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8). Surely these opposites--these unlikely means fetching a good end--are meant to teach us something. What can it be? They were intended to humble man, and to bring him into submission to the righteousness of God. “God chooses foolish things of the world,” or things foolish in the world’s sight, to “confound the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27). (G. L. Glyn.)
The pleasant and the painful
I. Life as it is. That is, with the pleasant and the painful associated. Now, this is a picture of every man’s life.
1. It is so materially. How much we have in this material world that is pleasant to our senses, and healthful and strengthening to our bodies; but amidst all there is the painful. There are malarial swamps, pestilential winds, roaring earthquakes, and poisonous minerals and plants, etc. etc.
2. It is so intellectually. There is much in the region of intellect that is pleasant--bubbling springs of thought, tempting regions of inquiry, bright visions and hypotheses bespangling the heavens. But with all this there is much that is painful--dense clouds of ignorance hanging over the scene, hideous doubts howling in the ear, terrific chasms yawning at the feet.
3. It is so socially. How much in social life is pleasant--the friendly grasps, the affectionate greetings, the sweet amenities of those with whom we meet and mingle. But with all this there is much that is painful--social unchastities, hypocrisies, frauds, insolences.
4. It is so religiously. The religious, where the idea of God fills the horizon, there is the infinitely pleasant But in this wonderful region how much of the painful do we experience, what temptation to doubt, what infidelity and blasphemy often assail us, and bring over us the horror of a “great darkness”.
II. Life as it might become. The painful and the pleasant separated. Elisha here separates the painful from the pleasant. Two remarks here.
I. The separation was a happy one. He did not take away the pleasant from the painful, but the painful from the pleasant.
2. The separation was a supernatural one. “And he said, Bring me a new cruse,” etc. The Gospel is the true” cruse” for separating the painful from the pleasant in the experience of human life. Thank God for the pleasant in your life. Seek earnestly that Gospel cruse whose salt alone can rid your life of all that is deleterious and distressing. (Homilist.)
2 Kings 2:23-24
And he went up from thence unto Beth-el.
Elisha and the naughty children
I. The event as regards the transgressors. They were the children of a small town among the hills, in one of the extremities of the land of Canaan, called Beth-el; the inhabitants depended chiefly for their living upon their flocks of sheep and the produce of the earth.
1. Wickedness arising from unexpected quarters. The children of Beth-el.
2. That there is a great responsibility connected with a family. Considering the tendencies of our nature to evil, and the bad examples around, us, nothing but strong common, sense, strong parental love and the fear of God, will enable parents to wash their hands from the blood of their offspring.
3. That neither age nor position exempts sin from being punished. The bears destroyed forty-two children of Beth-el. Rich and poor, high and low, old and young must be punished for their transgressions. God is no respecter of persons.
II. The event as regards the prophet.
1. It is dangerous to persecute God’s people. No weapon that is formed against them shall prosper, whether it be the stocks or the burning faggots, the Pope or the drunken vagabond. Seeing godly men in trouble, we might think that God is angry with them, but that is a great mistake.
2. That religion does not deprive man of the right of self-defence. Some people seem to think that a Christian must endure every species of injustice without uttering a word of protest.
3. That the kindest nature when aroused is the fiercest. In reading the history of the prophet we are struck with the generosity of his nature. (W. Alonzo Griffiths.)
The tearing of forty and two children by two she-bears
Elisha had started for Beth-el on prophetic business. As he was passing out of Jericho, he was followed by a crowd, not of innocent little children, but probably of servant boys. The phrase here translated “little children” was applied to himself by Solomon when he was twenty years of age (1 Kings 3:7); and by Jeremiah to himself when he was old enough to enter upon the prophetic office (Jeremiah 1:6-7); and it was applied to Joseph when he was at least seventy years of age (Genesis 37:2). These deriders were boys old enough to know what they were about, and old enough to have respect for the prophetic office. Probably they had had a pecuniary income from the business of fetching water into Jericho, so long as the water in the city was bad. As soon as Elisha healed the spring of the waters of the city, the occupation of these lads was gone. They were enraged at that. They were more interested in their pecuniary income than in the health of hundreds of citizens, old and young. Their cry after Elisha was not disrespect for old age. They did not call him “Bald-head.” He was not old. There is no evidence that he was baldheaded; but, if so, those boys probably would not have known it, as there is no proof that they ever had seen his uncovered head. He could have had no artificial baldness. That was forbidden (Leviticus 21:5, Numbers 6:5). Because of the miracle of the healing of the water, and the consequent loss to them of their gain, they cried after him, “Go up, thou shaver! Go up, thou shaver! “It is to be remarked that he had performed the miracle as the ambassador of Jehovah, and that when those boys cried out after him they were insulting Jehovah. The prophet did not take it as a personal offence He did not curse them in his own name. He cursed them in the name of Jehovah; and ii they had not committed any great sin against Jehovah he would never have visited them with so frightful a retribution. They, themselves, were murderously selfish and impious. They watched the prophet’s going out, and went out in a body for the purpose of insulting him as a prophet. It was justice that visited their sins upon them, and it was so connected with the miracle, that it seemed to be simply poetic justice, that whatever the punishment of their sins should be, it should be manifest as being of a kind with their sins. That is the principle which reigns throughout all intelligent moral government. They desired the death of others that they might make money. There is no lesson in this passage of respect for old age. There is no exhibition of bad temper on the part of the prophet. There is nothing of cruelty in the conduct of Jehovah. That God abhors selfishness, and that when human selfishness sets itself in opposition to the movements of God’s unselfish mercy and loving-kindness, then lie will administer to it a severe rebuke; this is the lesson. Selfishness and irreverence are the sins against which this narrative is levelled. If it be said that it is not likely that so many lads so large as these would have been torn, as represented in the text, it may be replied that she-bears, robbed of their whelps, are described as especially ferocious; and that when these lads heard the malediction pronounced by a prophet who had wrought the great miracle of cleansing the waters in their town, and then saw immediately two ferocious bears rushing toward them, their guilt and peril united to demoralise them, and while they were in this condition so many of them were hurt. It is to be noted that not one of the wicked boys is said to have lost his life. None perished, while many were punished. The story, instead of setting forth Jehovah as a cruel deity, actually presents him as a God who administers justice mercifully. (Sunday Magazine.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Kings 2". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent