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It has been already remarked that the mission, or, at any rate, the proper ministry of Elijah closed with his own complaint against the children of Israel. God took him at his word. He pleaded against, instead of for, Israel. Now he was called to a ministry of a judicial character, but it ought to have been in communion with all that were of God and for His name, and there was, so far, a want of entrance into the mind of God. There was the full, complete remnant of the people according to the election of grace. They were as nothing to Elijah, but they were very much to God. It is evident, therefore, that God and His servant were totally at issue, and, therefore, if such was the condition of the servant, he was virtually resigning his office. So God, from that very moment, taking him at his own word, appoints Elisha to succeed him. Yet, nevertheless, God did not take him away in anger. Far from it. On the contrary, though it was the lack of grace on behalf of the people of God which was surely offensive to the Lord in His servant the prophet, there was no lack of grace on God's part. Elijah therefore remains, though by no means as before. There was a certain transition of position, before the Lord took him. But when he did take him it was with the highest honour that could be put upon man here upon earth he was caught up to heaven without even passing through death.
The opening chapter then of this Second Book of Kings presents in a very striking manner the acting, if not the ministry, of the prophet the proof that the power of God was still with him. For when the wicked king, now himself sick, sent to the power of evil to learn about himself, God answers him not the enemy God gives him a more speedy answer than he had looked for. To Elijah God communicates the fact, orders him to stop the messengers and to give that most solemn intelligence to the king that he was then lying on his death-bed, and should therefore by no means recover. It was not that the king was ignorant of Elijah, but he followed in the evil of his father, and, as his father was the open enemy of Elijah, he therefore counted him as his enemy. So the son in the very same footsteps walks after his father. Nevertheless, for this very reason, just as it was when God employed the daring of Pharaoh to manifest His glory, so it was now in Israel where it was come to this, that a large part the greater part indeed of the people of God was a sphere for the display of Jehovah's glory just because of their total departure from, and opposition to, His will. Consequently it bears this judicial character, for God was still dealing with His servant Elijah.
The messengers, then, arrested by the prophet, bring back the word of his coming death to the king, who soon finds out that it is none other than Elijah the Tishbite. He thereupon sends an officer with his company to take him. This was more easily said than done, and, in fact, brought an immediate judgment upon the heads of those that obeyed the king. We can understand that there are some who wonder at this. But it must never be forgotten that not even in Judah was it a mere monarchy, still less in Israel, now that they were divided. The government of the kingdom of Israel was a theocracy. No doubt the king was the representative of God's power, but still it was a throne of Jehovah. When, therefore, a king set himself in defiance of Jehovah he must take the consequences. No person, for instance, bearing the Queen's commission, is entitled to order his men against the Queen, and the Queen is perfectly entitled to punish them. Their pleading the order of the officer has nothing to do with the matter. The officer has no commission against the Queen. If the men choose to follow their officer's command against the Queen's authority they need not be surprised at what must be the issue.
And so in fact the king of Israel was in direct rebellion against God. I make this remark of a general kind, because it is the key to what otherwise must seem a little surprising, and of which infidelity constantly makes a difficulty, that is, the summary judgment executed every now and then in Israel. The constitution in Israel was strictly the law, and the law knows nothing but death for rebellion against the authority of God. This necessarily belongs to the law, and it is simply man who denies the title of God to put man under law. Such a thought is worthy of an atheist, for grant the Being of God, the reality of God, and God's authority is clearly entitled to act thus, if He think fit for His own glory. But then when once this is allowed, it is seen that the kingdom of Israel differs from all other kingdoms, inasmuch as if these kingdoms pretend to be theocratic it is merely a delusion and a falsehood, whereas in Israel it is the fact. And all the effort of Satan was to make the Israelites and their king forget that it was a theocracy forget the peculiarity of their place and of their calling. In all other cases the pretension was a mere spurious thing, the cover of downright hypocrisy and tyranny; in Israel it was the simple truth. Now this clears away heaps of difficulty in Scripture, because then God's dealing, even in a manner so terrible as the prompting His servant to ask for fire from heaven to consume a captain and his men, because of the daring defiance against God, the God of Israel, is simply a necessary consequence of the position of Israel. Instead of being a difficulty, it is what must be, what ought to be. God would be giving up His own authority otherwise.
Just as no parent ought to allow his children to deny his authority in his own house, and no master ought to allow it in his servants, so it would be the greatest absurdity if God were to permit defiance of His own authority in those that took the place of being His people. The king, therefore, sending out word was nothing to the purpose, because the king of Israel was the servant of Jehovah. He was merely the highest servant then. No doubt he was the expression of the visible authority, but then that authority could not be used against God. There is a limit necessary to all authority, "until he come whose right it is" to reign. And there indeed is what gives the true meaning of the place of the king of Israel, and it just ends when one comes who is not only man but God, and who will reign not only as man but as God. There will be one Jehovah, and His name one, and He will reign over all the earth.
This then clears away, I trust, any difficulty to a believer, that can be found in the scene before us. And indeed I have made the remarks more general in order to take in many other difficulties, for after all we must remember, even if we come to the general principle of it, that God is acting not in a close rigid way, but He is acting on the broad thought of His own plan with every man, woman, and child in the whole world. Because what is death if it be not an act of God's judging sin? And those who quarrel therefore with God's dealing with fifty men at a time forget that He is dealing with every person, and themselves among the rest, as objectors. I merely make this remark because people overlook the plainest facts before their eyes.
Another thing to which I would call your attention is this. Had there been compunction of heart and activity of conscience in the captains of these fifties, not one of them would have perished. We see that most clearly from the last captain and his company. He humbles himself, and the mercy of God flows out at once. We may be perfectly certain therefore that in the case of the others there was hardness of conscience and indifference. For there was not one of the captains and I doubt not, not one of the fifties that did not know the prophet Elijah, that had not the fullest testimony to his heart and conscience that that man was the most faithful representative of God's will and glory and power. If therefore men chose to bear the risk (and the object was great, the design was the injury, if not the death, of that very servant of God, and this, too, when God was acting on the grounds of righteousness and of law), they must take the consequences. It is plain that government by theocracy would be impossible if God did not reserve to Himself the right to punish, to impress upon others the necessity of obedience. In this scene, therefore, we have clearly that God still puts honour upon His servant. His proper ministry was closed, but in this there is no sign of one disgraced or one upon whom God is heaping dishonour not the slightest. And there cannot be a greater proof than this very fact in these closing scenes of Elijah, that when the leader of the last troop humbles himself before the prophet, the prophet goes down by the word of the Lord, for he at least, a servant, abides in obedience to God. He goes before the king and gives, to the king's face, what he little desired to hear "On that bed thou must die!" "So he died, according to the word of Jehovah which Elijah had spoken."
But the next chapter (1 Kings 2:1-46) shows us the closing and final scene of Elijah. "And it came to pass when Jehovah would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. And Elijah said unto Elisha, Tarry here, I pray thee; for Jehovah bath sent me to Bethel. And Elisha said, As Jehovah liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they went down to Bethel. And the sons of the prophets that were at Bethel came forth to Elisha and said unto him, Knowest thou that Jehovah will take away thy master from thy head today? And he said, Yea, I know it, hold ye your peace. And Elijah said unto him, Elisha, tarry here, I pray thee; for Jehovah hath sent me to Jericho. And he said, As Jehovah liveth and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they came to Jericho. And the sons of the prophets that were at Jericho came to Elisha and said unto him, Knowest thou that Jehovah will take away thy master from thy head today? And he answered, Yea, I know it, hold ye your peace. And Elijah said unto him, Tarry here, I pray thee; for Jehovah hath sent me to Jordan. And he said, As Jehovah liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And they two went on."
Elijah then tests the faith of Elisha. We find this constantly in Scripture. An easier path is presented. You may spare yourself the trouble. But where there is faith to see that it is but a test, the soul is prepared to go forward understands the mind of God about it. It is impossible for any person to lay down rules as to such a matter. It was not by a rule that the cleansed Samaritan knew the mind of the Lord. Outwardly, the nine were following more literally what the Saviour said, but the cleansed Samaritan knew better. The letter, even of Scripture, is insufficient to guide the child of God. We need the Holy Ghost to give the word of God power "The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life." I grant you that the natural mind of man, taking up such a principle, would make terrible havoc of the word of God, but there is just the difference. The Spirit of God wielding the word makes it to be the sword of God; the mind of man dabbling with the word of God only reflects itself. Now in the present case it was clearly the test of Elisha's faith. If he was not prepared to go on with the prophet, he need not take so much trouble. His heart was thoroughly willing; he was about to gain a good degree, as it is said, in the faith in a little, for he that is faithful in little is faithful in much, and he that not merely was called and knew that the prophet's mantle was cast around him, and understood by that significant token that he was to succeed Elijah here below that same prophet looks for more and he receives more.
"According to thy faith be it done unto thee." He waits. He well understood that the time was not come to fulfil his office. He looks for more. The sons of the prophets gave no intelligence; they were indeed but intruders. They would have liked him to occupy his mind with their information. Elisha told them to hold their peace. His heart was elsewhere it was with Elijah, and these great things that were in store for him that day. Nothing would suffer from the prophet. So Elijah said to him, "Tarry I pray thee here." He bade him remain in Bethel, and Bethel was a place of great note in Israel. And Jericho was a place, I will not say of note, but marked with a curse, and God would not allow His curse to slumber any more than His blessing. But Elisha would go on with Elijah.
Now they come to Jordan. "As Jehovah liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And they two went on. And fifty men, the sons of the prophets, went and stood afar off." They did not go on; they were arrested by the difficulties; but "they two," the two that were as one, so to speak, stood by Jordan. "And Elijah took his mantle and wrapped it together and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither so that they two went over on dry ground. And it came to pass when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee before I be taken away from thee." They had gone down through the great and well-known sign of death not now passing through death to enter into the land, but passing through death for one of them at least. And this becomes an epoch that gives its proper character to the prophet. He was right. Not merely his own mind, but a spiritual instinct of the Holy Ghost gave him to look for a higher degree still. He goes on, and now he is on the very eve of it. Elijah puts the question, "Ask what I shall do for thee before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me." Not a double portion as compared with Elijah's, but a double portion as compared with any other as a successor of Elijah. A double portion was the firstborn's portion. He asked for this, for the firstborn's portion. "And he said, 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."
Now came the moment to decide whether faith in this case was to have her commensurate blessing. "And it came to pass as they still went on, and talked, that behold there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven." Elijah was in fact a man with a heart and tongue of fire, if I may say so, and all his ministry was of this character consuming and judicial, of all men most unsparing. But if Elisha was given to see him caught up in a chariot of fire, with horses of fire, and with a whirlwind mounting up to heaven, this new starting-point of Elisha's becomes of importance. For heaven is not the place of fire. There may be exceptionally the bursting out of consuming judgments of God, but heaven, I repeat, normally is not the place of fire, but rather of love, of peace, of divine glory, of rest and peace, unbroken by sin. And Elisha accordingly was to have his ministry characterized by these very qualities.
We shall find him, therefore, instead of being a mere repetition of his fiery predecessor, a most suited successor, and one, in divine wisdom, given to meet the exigencies of God's glory in Israel. But Elisha has another character, for although righteousness be of God, righteousness is not all that is in God. And indeed if we look at God's attributes, righteousness is not the highest, although it is that which God can never sacrifice. But, nevertheless, if we are to speak of attributes, grace is surely of a higher character, and as the heavens are higher than the earth, so surely is the earth the place where righteousness must govern, and heaven is the place where grace must govern. And Elisha therefore becomes not merely what he began, but he became also the witness of grace; and it is not therefore merely as Elijah, for he starts just like the apostles themselves, who received once their commission in the land of Israel, and then went forth bearing the solemn message and wiping the dust from off their feet against those who rejected them as witnesses. But those apostles received another appointment of a higher ministry which that same Lord Jesus that sent them through the earth sent them from the heavens Himself ascending up there.
So it was with this beautiful witness to the truth of God, and almost, I must add, to the grace of God. "Elijah saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof." The double portion would be most surely his. "And he saw him no more; and he took hold of his own clothes and rent them in two pieces." But it is added, and most strikingly, "He took up also the mantle of Elijah" not merely flung it across his shoulders. Now it was his own, now it was perfectly his own, now there was the fullest confirmation of his place; and I repeat again, not merely as of a judging prophet on earth, but of a raptured prophet that had gone up to heaven. "He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and went back and stood by the bank of Jordan." and now came the test, whether in truth the double portion did rest upon Elisha. "And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters and said, Where is Jehovah God of Elijah? And when he also had smitten the waters they parted hither and thither; and Elisha went over."
Elisha was the true and God-given successor of Elijah, but not after the same sort; for God does not repeat Himself. The God with whom we have to do is a living God, and the God that sent Elijah was now sending Elisha for another work and of a different character, and this it will be my object to open a little tonight to show how the Spirit of God brings out this new ministry. For now Elisha has been waiting, just as Elijah himself had waited. There was this pause, and we can see the great purpose. For undoubtedly had Elisha gone forward before, we have no reason to believe that there would have been any such character to his ministry. He waited, and he waited to prove that it is not always those that are the quickest to go forward in a work of the Lord that have, and bear, and produce, the best fruits. By no means. But those who know what it is to wait a little while that the Lord may deal with them before they are competent to deal with others, and also at the particular season.
And here we find how truly his waiting upon the Lord had this result. "And when the sons of the prophets, which were to view at Jericho saw him they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha. And they came to meet him and bowed themselves to the ground before him. And they said unto him, Behold now, there be with thy servants fifty strong men; let them go, we pray thee, and seek thy master." Were these the men that could give information to Elisha? These same men now propose, and this proves how poor even the son of a prophet may be when he no longer speaks the word of the Lord, that they should seek Elijah, "Lest peradventure the Spirit of Jehovah hath taken him up and cast him upon some mountain, or into some valley. And he said, Ye shall not send. And when they urged him till he was ashamed, he said, Send." That is, he first deals with them according to wisdom. In the next place, if they will be foolish, let them prove their folly. "They sent, therefore, fifty men, and they sought three days but found him not. And when they came again to him (for he tarried at Jericho), he said unto them, Did I not say unto you, Go not."
But now we begin to see in the next instance recorded the peculiar action of the prophet Elisha. "And the men of the city said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth; but the water is naught, and the ground is barren. And he said, Bring me a new cruise and put salt therein." When God brought out the place of our Lord above, He brought out further all that was suitable to a new creation. When souls know that which is the truth of God and our Lord Jesus, and consciously look up to Him, we know that they belong to Him. When God was dealing by the law it was always the old creation. When the Lord Jesus took His place on high after the accomplishment of redemption, the new creation surely came in. And this we see most completely in the doctrine of the apostle Paul. Here we have as far as a sign or a token can be, the new cruise, as just the sign of this new creation in the mind of God. And the application of this is the place of a curse. Now if there was a spot in the Holy Land that was under a curse, it was Jericho. Every one knows that who reads his Bible. Jericho accordingly is the spot to which the prophet directs this new cruise with salt put in to be brought.
"And he went forth unto the spring of the waters" and so was dealing with the fountainhead "and cast the salt in there and said, Thus saith Jehovah, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more dearth or barren land. So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake.'' "Can anything more distinctly show that here we have to do with a new character of action. There is no longer the death-bed judgment of Jehovah, administered according to the word of the prophet. Here we have the power of sin and the power of evil, and according to the purpose of God, the new creation, for undoubtedly this new cruise with the salt therein is the type of it. Jericho is a sample of that which will be done universally by the Lord Jesus Christ in the day of His appearing. He means to reconcile all things unto Himself. It might be but a little here, but it is the sample of a very great result. "So the waters were healed according to the saying of Elisha which he spake."
And thence he goes up, not to the place which was under the curse, and where he brings in a divine power of blessing and healing, but, to Bethel. Bethel was not under the curse, but it was under the burden of corruption. It is the place where God had caused the pledge and promise of His faithful care to be given to one that needed it, to one that was under circumstances of the greatest possible distress forlorn, obliged to flee from the house of his father and mother, with a deadly burning hatred of his brother against him. There it was that Jacob has a vision of God, and there it was that God plighted His word for ever. There it was that there was the house of God, that there was the gate of heaven opened to the slumbering Jacob, and there it was too that God made good, in after days, the purpose that was to be broken alas! by the unfaithfulness of man. But there Satan had so gained over the hearts of Israel that they had lifted up their calf-god and there they had insulted the God of Israel to His face. It was here that the prophet came, not to challenge, not to make of it another Gomorrah, not to bring down the calf worshippers and slay them, but here Elisha came, for it is Elisha with a heavenly vision. And yet for all that, it is remarkable it is one of the great exceptions of the prophet, that although he had this heavenly vision, woe be to the man that slights him; for the returning Lord Jesus Christ is the moral judge upon the earth His severest judgments will be from heaven.
That which will deal with the last mockers is given here in a little way, if I may so speak. Here there were those that insulted the prophet. It might be only little children, but little children often let out what their parents mean. How often you may know what goes wrong at home by that which little children say. And so it was with these little ones that mocked Elisha, and said, "Go up, thou bald head! Go up, thou bald head!" Now it was mockery that filled the land; there is no question of it. Elijah had gone up, and it was as good as telling him that he had better follow; that Elisha had better take the same route as Elijah. No doubt it would have been a relief to the carnal and the worldly and the idolatrous and the wicked generally in the land of Israel were there no Elijahs and no Elishas. It was therefore the taunt of unbelief, for if men had seriously realized that Elijah had gone up to heaven, and that Elisha was one that was here upon earth doing the will of God, neither the little children nor their parents would have so uttered their evil thoughts and feelings against the Lord. And so it was. And here again we have the same solemn thing, only in an exceptional way, with Elisha we have judgment accompanying the heavenly testimony.
The very same thing we find in St. Paul. It is not only that Peter tells of the day of the Lord, but there is judgment, and necessarily judgment executed by the Lord Jesus Christ upon earth. These little ones then who so spake "he cursed in the name of Jehovah. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood and tare forty and two children of them. And he went from thence to mount Carmel, and from thence he returned to Samaria." Heaven is by no means the ordinary place from which judgment comes. Throughout the millennial reign heaven will be the source of countless comforts and blessings in a richer measure than the world has ever tasted before. So we find in Elisha a further illustration.
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Kelly, William. "Commentary on 2 Kings 2". Kelly Commentary on Books of the Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany