top Elijah #8 Monday, September 1, 2014
Elijah’s Translation To Heaven
By James L. Thornton
2 Kings 2:1 "And it came to pass, when the LORD would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal."
/////---------- Introduction: ----------/////
With this sentence the author of Kings introduces us to one of the grandest events in human history, the translation of Elijah. As far as the history of man, as recorded for our learning, only two men have not tasted death, Enoch of the Antediluvian age, and Elijah of the Prophetic age. Each of the three great dispensations of religion has had its special illustrations of a literal ascension to glory. In the Patriarchal age, Enoch, probably the best of the world’s old men was yet the shortest lived. His years were precisely as the days in a solar revolution, three hundred and sixty five. And having fulfilled a glorious life, “He walked with God; and was not; for God took him” (Genesis 5:23-24).
The scene on Olivet of our Lord represents the ascension, or translation, in the Christian age.
“He led them out as far as Bethany” and there, while the Eleven were gazing in rapt amazement, the Master rose, personally, visibly, triumphantly, till “a cloud received Him out of their sight.” (Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:9-10)
God had said, “Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19). Out of the ground was man’s body taken, and because of sin, unto the ground it shall return. More than three thousand years had passed since that sentence was pronounced against the fallen race, and Enoch had been the only person who was exempted from it. Why Enoch rather than Noah, Abraham, Moses, or Samuel should have been so honored we know not.
And now another was on the point of being transported bodily to heaven, but why such peculiar honor should be conferred upon Elijah rather than any other of the prophets we cannot say, and it is idle to speculate.
1. Elijah's Preparations For Departure 2. Elijah Has Finished His Course.
3. Directed By The Spirit Of The Lord. 4. Elisha Cleaves To Elijah.
5. A Farewell Visit. 6. A Parting Blessing.
7. Elijah Tries Elisha’s Fidelity Again. 8. And They Two Went on.
9. Proof of Elijah’s Translation. 10. They Two By The Jordan.
11. A Time Of Reflection. 12. Parting Of The Jordan.
13. Encouragement To Ask A Favor. 14. Elisha’s Bold Request.
15. Character Is The Best Gift. 16. A Hard Thing
17. Key To Receiving God’s Best. 18. Final Words.
19. Chariot Of Fire, Horses Of Fire. 20. Elisha Saw It.
21. The Mantel Fell. 22. We Say, Elijah, Farewell.
1. ELIJAH MAKES PREPARATIONS FOR DEPARTURE:
In this chapter (2 Kings 2) we have, that extraordinary event, the translation of Elijah. Elijah’s age is unknown. First we will take up his preparation for departure.
I thought, how much time the Lord allows us to make preparations for our departure from this life is mostly unknown to us. The writer of Hebrews says, “It is appointed unto man once to die, and after this the Judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). If we knew the day or the hour we could be better prepared to meet it.
In the close of the last chapter we had a wicked king leaving the world in disgrace, here we have a holy prophet leaving it in honor; The departure of the former was his greatest misery, of the latter his greatest bliss: Men are as their end is.
We must note that some period of time would have passed between the time when Elijah pronounced the death sentence on Ahaziah (2 Kings 1:16), and his departure to heaven, maybe as many as seven years.
From the hints conveyed by the divine record in 2 Kings we gather that Elijah’s last days here on earth were not idle ones. While nothing spectacular and dramatic is recorded of that period, he was employed in doing what was good and useful.
It would seem that both he and Elisha, not only instructed the people in private, but also founded and superintended schools of the Prophets in various parts of the land. By training them to read and teach the Word Of God, those young men were prepared for ministry, and to carry on the work of reformation in Israel, just as our Lord did many centuries later with his Apostles which had more lasting fruit than the miracles He preformed before the multitudes.
2. Elijah Had Finished His Course:
Elijah had now almost finished his course. The time of his departure is at hand, and How Does He Occupy His Last Hours?
Does He ask for an assembling of Israel for His own glorification, as He once asked for the Glory of God (1 Kings 18:19)? Is there an invitation sent to Jehoram and the court with special mention to Jezebel that they may attend and see who is victor now? No; for were it possible, the Prophet would dispense with even Elisha’s presence. He desires no display, wishes no demonstration. In His closing hours His old love of solitude seems to return.
Let us follow His footsteps as He makes his last journeys on this His last days on earth, which ends outside the Promise Land and back in His home country not far from Tishbe.
2 Kings 2:1. And it came to pass, when the LORD would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal.
This was known, not only by Elijah himself, and to Elisha, but even the sons of the prophets. By divine notification Elijah had received notice of the Lord’s intentions to give him a supernatural exit from this world.
The day begins with Elijah and Elisha in Gilgal, where no doubt one of the schools for prophets was located, and was a very sacred place in Jewish history. Gilgal marked the starting point of Elijah’s final journey, and most suitably so since it had been the first stopping place of Israel after they crossed the Jordan and entered the land of Canaan (Joshua 4:19). It was where the children of Israel pitched their camp and set up the tabernacle.
It is interesting to note that this is the first mention of Elisha (2 Kings 2:1) since Elijah commissioned him to be his successor (1 Kings 19:16-21) several years before, possibly 10 or 12 years. Elisha had given up great worldly position and wealth to pour water on the hands of Elijah (2 Kings 3:11), and now his role as servant is near an end.
We come to the conclusion from what we read in 2 Kings 3:11 that Elisha acted as Elijah’s personal servant, and observing very closely his spiritual walk with God. Yet he was far more Elijah’s friend than his servant. Now we read that he accompanied Elijah when they left Gilgal, but not before they had the following conversation.
3. Directed By The Spirit Of The Lord:
2 Kings 2:2a. “And Elijah said unto Elisha, Tarry here, I pray thee; for the LORD hath sent me to Bethel.” (Elijah’s life seemed always to be directed by the Lord.)
I would like to insert a little note here on the distance they walked on Elijah’s last journey, and the ruggedness of the desert prophet. As we mark the beginning of the journey to the end or the point of the taking away, it was possibly as much as 50 miles, and this on foot, it would be a long day.
Yet there is no proof or indication that one day was all that was involved. With the several stops they made along the way and the conversations and meetings with the sons of the prophets I feel that it took possibly two or three days.
The day began early by Elijah saying to Elisha “Tarry here (at Gilgal) I pray thee; for the Lord hath sent me to Bethel.” We note that Elijah made three efforts to rid himself of the presence of his faithful attendant (2 Kings 2:2; 4; 6). Either really desirous to pass in solitude the few remaining hours of his earthly life, for he knows that his end is approaching (2 Kings 2:9, 10) or for the purpose of testing Elisha’s fidelity and affection. (See Ruth 1:8, 12; Luke 9:57-62; John 21:15-19). I feel the the last is the real reason.
Under ordinary circumstances, the servant would naturally have obeyed his lord, and submitted to a temporary separation; but Elisha has a presentiment, or something of what is going to happen (2 Kings 2:3, 5), and will not be induced to speed up by a single moment the time of the last parting.
We should note that this was not a direct command for Elisha to stay in Gilgal, otherwise Elisha would have readily obeyed. But it was a test of Elisha’s nature. It gave him the opportunity of saying whether he would go or stay. It drew out qualities of his nature which showed that he was fit for such a privilege as that of seeing Elijah taken up.
It is not everyone who has the spiritual fitness for being a witness of sacred scenes. Jesus took only Peter, James, and John with him to the mount of transfiguration (Luke 9:28), and into the house of Jairus (Luke 8:41; 51), and into the garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:33).
4. Elisha Cleaves To Elijah:
2 Kings 2:2b. And Elisha said unto him, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they went down to Bethel.
The nearer came the hour for parting with Elijah, the more precious was his company. Elisha could not bear the thought of losing one moment of the time yet remaining for conversing with Elijah. Elisha’s perseverance prevailed and he and Elijah went on together to Bethel. Elisha had become to Elijah what Joshua was to Moses (Exodus 24:13), his “minister,” or regular attendant, from the time of his call at Abel-Meholah. (1 Kings 19:21)
When first called by Elijah, Elisha had declared, “I will follow thee, ..” (1 Kings 19:20-21). Did he really mean it? Would he cleave to the Prophet unto the end? Elijah tried his faith to determine whether his avowal was activated by a passing impulse or if it was a steadfast resolution.
Elisha had meant what he said, and refused now to forsake his master when given the opportunity to do so. He was determined to have the benefit of Elijah’s company and instructions as long as he could, and clave to him in hope of receiving his parting blessings as the disciples did many years later. (Luke 24: 59-51)
“So they went down to Bethel.”
Bethel means “house of bread.” Bethel was the spiritual center of the kingdom of the ten tribes of Israel. It is first mentioned in scripture as where Jacob spent his first night alone after leaving home for fear of his brother Esau and God gave him a vision of a ladder set up to heaven and angels ascending and descending on it. Jacob anointed the stone that had been his pillow and called it the house of God. (Genesis 28:11-22)
There may have been many reasons why Elijah should visit it once more before he was taken away. He may have had directions to leave, consolations to give, words of warning to speak as Moses did before he died (Deuteronomy 33:1-29), and Joshua (Joshua 24), And Jacob to his sons (Genesis 49:1-33).
We must suppose that the narrative before us is incomplete.
5. A Farewell Visit, And Why He Visited:
2 Kings 2:3a. “And the sons of the prophets that were at Bethel came forth ..”
It is surely instructive to find, even in Godless Israel, these numerous bands of young men, congregated under prophetic oversight, and receiving sacred instructions. The origin of these “schools of the prophets” seems traceable to Samuel (1 Samuel 19:20), but the order took new impulse under Elijah.
The companies of the prophets now reappear, bound by a still closer connection with Elijah than they had been with Samuel. Then, under Samuel, they were “companies,” bands of prophets, and now, under Elijah, they are “sons,” or children of the prophets. Elijah first, and Elisha afterwards, appeared as the “Father,” the “Abbot,” the “Father in God,” of the whole community.
In development and fostering of these communities, first Samuel, then Elijah and Elisha, was working with an eye to the future, taking care that the fruits of their labor shall not be lost, but shall be handed down to after-generations. Without these schools, teaching, training, and promoting the ways and laws of Jehovah to the young, monotheism would soon have been swallowed up by the idolatry around them.
The same is true today except the Gospel of Jesus Christ is engraved in our youth Christianity will soon perish from the earth. Whenever men have desired to perpetuate their principals they have formed schools, clubs, guilds, associations, colleges, and by means of these their teachings have been spread abroad.
We see this at work, especially in the last century under Lenin and Adolph Hitler.
6. A Parting Blessing:
It is not to be construed that when the prophets came forth to meet Elijah and Elisha, that Elijah did not greet and address them in each of the places he visited on this, the last time to be with them.
We must not contend that the narrative is complete on everything that is said and done on that day. But, I do not believe that in silence Elijah goes on his way, why else would he have even gone by their schools if he did not have a word for them.
In some manner the “sons of the prophets” had been made aware of the fact of Elijah being taken away that day, whether through spiritual intuition, or by being told by Elijah himself.
2 Kings 2:3 “... And said unto him, Knowest thou that the LORD will take away thy master from thy head to day? And he said, Yea, I know it; hold ye your peace.” “Hush Up!”
The prophetic atmosphere is electric. Elijah knows that he is to be removed; Elisha knows it (2 Kings 2: 3, 5); and the “sons of the prophets” have some knowledge of it.
When asked by the “sons of the prophets” if he was aware that Elijah was to be taken away from him today, Elisha felt it was too sacred to even talk about.
7. Elijah Tries Elisha’s Fidelity Again:
2 Kings 2:4 And Elijah said unto him, Elisha, tarry here, I pray thee; for the LORD hath sent me to Jericho. And he said, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they came to Jericho.
Elijah tries Elisha’s fidelity once more by suggesting he remain at Bethel with the company of prophets, because he himself has orders from God to go to Jericho, and would it not be better to remain with friends so as to have company after his departure? But Elisha simply repeats his previous words. He has absolutely not changed his mind, and Elijah once more yields.
“So they came to Jericho.”
At Jericho, too, as well as at Bethel there was a school of the prophets, though the two places were not more than twenty miles apart. This gives us an indication of the importance and the large number of these schools. These “sons of the prophets” would become the sole teachers of the way of the Lord to the people after the priests and Levites were cast out of their offices by later Kings (2 Chronicles 11:13-14; 12:9), and without these schools to raise up and train these young men, the way of the Lord would have perished.
No doubt, when the secular powers were most strongly opposed to true religion, the prophetical order had to make increased efforts to raise its numbers and multiply its schools. Hence Elijah would devote to them his last, and probably his best, hours. He would give them words of counsel and exhortation—words that, under such circumstances, few of them would ever forget. Like our Lord did to his disciples.
2 Kings 2:6a. “And Elijah said unto him (Elisha), Tarry, I pray thee, here (at Jericho); for the LORD hath sent me to Jordan.”
But the follower is staunch; nothing daunts him; for he makes the same reply as before.
2 Kings 2:6b. “And he said, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And they two went on.”
8. “And they two went on.”
The things of earth concern Elijah no more. He determines that the work which God has placed for him on earth is accomplished, and the Divine purpose will now be best carried out by other people. He is quite ready to go, satisfied to depart, content that God should do with him as seemeth good.
Elijah is occupied with listening intently to the Divine Voice which speaks within Him, and executing its mandates. He moves from place to place, as ordered, so as to the last, He may faithfully perform the Divine will. He moves in a Holy calm, completely immersed and absorbed in Pious thought, not even speaking, except in rare occasions to his devoted followers, the unseen world, the coming change, the things of heaven, occupying him.
It is a solemn time, surely, in a person’s life when he knows that his earthly journey is drawing to a close, and that the shadows of death are closing in upon him, and that eternity is opening up before him. It is well for those who, like Elijah, and Paul, are ready to depart. The latter said before his departure, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).
It is a solemn time, to, for those who are left behind. What anxious questionings! What possible doubts about the future! What eagerness to look behind the veil and penetrate the darkness which hides our loved ones from our view!
How happy are those who by the eye of faith can see their departed loved ones entering through the gates into the city, to be forever with the Lord. It is quite evident such thoughts were running through Elisha’s mind as they neared the Jordan River.
2 Kings 2:7a. “And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood to view afar off:”
9. Proof Of Elijah’s Translation:
It is quite possible, due to the revelation given them that Elijah would be taken from their midst on that day, that some of the prophets had followed them from each school they had visited.
And due to the fact that Elijah seemed to want to be alone when the event took place, the prophets showed a courteous sense of what was due to the prophet’s desire for seclusion, so they did not press on his footsteps, and yet at the same time showed a real interest in him, and a curiosity, by leaving their schools and “standing to view” on some high place which overlooked the Jordan valley.
This is a touching scene now which meets our view. Two travelers have left Jericho behind. It is the last stopping place before the Jordan, and, conscious of this, fifty sorrowing students go up to the heights behind the ancient town, that from that high ridge, and in all clearness of an eastern sky, they may have the last look of the departing seer.
What a distinguished privilege thus was granted these fifty men, to be a witness of one of the grandest events of human history. In this we have another proof of the wisdom of God.
We could ask, why, in the case of our Lord’s ascension, were the eleven led out “as far as Bethany?” The answer, that to all time they might be witnesses of its reality, and have visible evidence of another state.
The position of these fifty students, is precisely the same, that so, when scattered all over the land in the following days, they may attest the fact of their master’s translation, and even under Old Testament days, have unmistakable proof that earth is not the only home of man.
10. “And They Two Stood By The Jordan:”
2 Kings 2:7b. “and they two stood by Jordan.”
It must have been late afternoon, near the close of a long day, if all took place the same day (which is doubtful), when Elijah and his trusting servant stood alone on the bank of the Jordan River. All other companionship had reverently distanced themselves from them.
The Jordan rolled its waters before their eyes as a seeming barrier to further advance. And Elisha may naturally have looked to see the final scene transacted in that sacred spot near the “heap of stones” that represented the entrance of Israel into the promise land (Joshua 4:9).
But the end was not yet. The Jordan was to be crossed, and the final scenes to take place from the plain whence Moses began his assent to Pisgah, when called by his master to leave his duties and responsibilities to Joshua, and be promoted to higher service.
11. A Time Of Reflection:
It would be well for us to reflect back over the past seven to ten years since God had directed Elijah, when he was in a state of great despondency, to anoint Elisha to take his place as prophet. (1 Kings 19:16)
Though Elisha is said to have “ministered” to Elijah (1 Kings 19:21), and to have “poured water on his hands” (2 Kings 3:11), yet Elisha was far more Elijah’s friend than his servant. When they first met they were of two very different ranks, both socially and financially. Elisha was originally in a higher worldly position of the two.
The glimpse we have of Elisha in 1 Kings 19:19-21 is indicative of comfort and wealth. In education and manners he must have been equal or above Elijah.
Elisha may have somehow escaped the wrath of Ahab and Jezebel and her false prophets, while Elijah had been despised, and ridiculed, and persecuted even to the point of death threats.
Elijah was, no doubt, the elder of the two; he had, when the two met, the higher social position, being familiar with, and access to, the king’s court at a time when Elisha was merely a well-to-do farmer.
And as the recognized head of the prophetic order, Elijah had an ecclesiastical position far higher than that which Elisha occupied during his lifetime. Under the circumstances, it was natural for the attachment to be warmest on Elisha’s side.
1. Elisha showed his attachment to Elijah by his continuous ministry, and constant waiting upon the great prophet, and unceasing service, which lasted from the casting of the mantle at Abel-Meholah (1 Kings 19:19) to the ascent in the chariot and horses of fire.
2. He shows it by his determination to see the last of his friend, and remain in his company as long as he possibly can.
3. Elisha shows it by his deep grief when the hour of parting comes; the exclamation from him, “My Father! My Father!” And the violent rending of his clothes into two pieces, which was something different from the usual rending of ordinary mourners.
Here we have a scriptural model for a friendship. The one, Elijah, the protector, the director, the benefactor, the teacher, the master, the guide, the other Elisha, the dependant, the scholar, the servant, the faithful devotedly attached follower, admirer, almost slave, bound together in a lifelong bond, always becoming more and more close.
This is presented to us, not merely to awaken in us a passing interest (2 Timothy 3:16), but to stir under similar circumstances to imitate.
12. The Parting Of The Jordan:
“And they two stood by the Jordan”
2 Kings 2:8a. “And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, …”
Elijah could have looked up-stream, or down-stream, for a ford, or a shallower place to wade through the waters of the Jordan. Instead he looked to a higher power to help make a path for them to cross.
Elijah took the sheep-skin cape or capote, which covered his shoulders and rolled it up, so that it in some way resembled a rod or staff. This mantle had, for many years, been the badge of the office conferred upon him by Jehovah. (1 Kings 17:1)
As a High-Way Patrolman wears a badge which represents the authority of the state, and not his own authority, but the power of the entire state of which he is charged to protect and defend, is behind it.
2 Kings 2:8b. “and smote the waters;”
Consciously imitating the act of Moses when he, “lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea,” (Exodus 14:16), and divided its waters asunder, and Joshua at the Jordan. (Joshua 3:13)
2 Kings 2:8c. “and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground.”
If miracles are impossible, as some say, exegesis of Scripture, and even reading of Scripture, may as well be put aside. But if they are possible, and have a place in the Divine economy, here is a worthy occasion for them. At a time when the powers of the world were arrayed against the cause of true religion and so against God; and the cause was about to lose its great champion and assertor, Elijah; and without some manifest display of supernatural might the cause of religion would evidently have lost ground, perhaps ruined altogether.
Natural laws are fixed only till in the grasp of a higher influence, and then they become flexible, and bend, and yield. It pleased God, therefore, just at this time, to grant that signs and wonders of an extraordinary character should be done by the hands of his servants Elijah and Elisha, for a demonstration of his (Gods) glory, and for the confusion and dismay of those who were opposed to them.
“And they two went over on dry ground.”
They had visited the schools of the prophets at Bethel, at Jericho, which were both on the west side of Jordan—the side nearest Jerusalem, the side nearest Europe and America, now Elijah, accompanied by Elisha, crossed over to the other side, that is the East side of Jordan, the side nearest “that great and terrible wilderness” (Deuteronomy 1:19), and of the inhabitants of Gilead.
Why was this? Elijah was a Tishbite, brought up amid the mountains of Gilead, on the East side of Jordan. Perhaps in the distance he can see the place where he was born, and more clearly the spot where he received his summons from God and the Prophetic call.
His life had been a stormy one, and now, ere he leaves it for the peaceful life in heaven, he takes one last fond, lingering, look at his desert home on earth. The friends of youth are gone; those whom he knew in childhood have forgotten him. But by his side there is a faithful friend who forsook home and friends for his sake and the sake of the truth of God.
13. Encouragement To Ask A Favor:
2 Kings 2:9a. “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.”
When Elijah and Elisha had crossed over the Jordan a yearning came over Elijah to do something for his faithful friend before he was taken away, to leave him some parting gift, some sign of his love of him, some token of his appreciation because he had stood the test of fidelity. What does his “minister” desire? Let him ask what he will, and his master will, if possible, grant it.
Elijah was not a rich man. He did not have silver and gold to bequeath. His earthly possessions consisted of only what was on his person, his sandals, his clothes, his staff, and his mantel. He had lived by what God supplied along the way. But he was one of those who could say, “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things (2 Corinthians 6:10). Such as he had, he wanted to give to his friend.
Elijah probably expected Elisha to ask for a parting blessing, or some other favor which it was in his own power to grant—at most to prefer a request which God might grant through him.
Some 900 years later a greater than Elijah said to his disciples, when he was about to be taken away from them, “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16:24).
Later one would pen these words for our benefit, “ye have not, because ye ask not” (James 4:2). All this is given to help us to be encouraged to ask.
14. Elisha’s Bold Petition:
2 Kings 2:9b. “And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.”
Desire for spiritual exaltation is noble, pure, and right. Elisha was not slow to avail himself of the opportunity given. He had in view the position he would be called to occupy as the successor of Elijah, and his request took the form of a prayer for a “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit. He, like Paul, “coveted earnestly the best gifts. (1 Corinthians 12:31)
If Elisha had desired earthly possessions he, no doubt, could have returned to his home in A-bel-me-ho-lah and resumed plowing the ground of his family inheritance.
He asked, like Solomon (1 Kings 3:5-14), not for any earthly gold or glory, but for spiritual endowment for his great office, or rather, he asked for the office itself, with all the spiritual endowments which accompanied it—for there is no reason to suppose that hitherto Elisha was a prophet, or more than the servant of a prophet.
15. Character is the best gift:
You may give your children a good education, you may store up a fortune for them, but if they have not a good character, all else is useless and worse than useless.
The spirit of Elijah — that was just what a minister of God needed then, and what the minister of the gospel needs still. The spirit of Elijah was a spirit of fidelity to duty, a spirit of faithfulness in rebuking sin, a spirit of fearlessness and courage in the presence of opposition and danger, and at the same time also a spirit of tenderness and love. Such a spirit every Christian worker should seek to possess.
And just as Elisha sought to obtain a double portion of it to qualify him for his responsible and prominent position, so also, the minister of Christ needs to be doubly endowed with the Spirit of God. He who would lead and teach others must be doubly spiritual, doubly wise, doubly careful, doubly holy, doubly zealous and scrupulous for the honor and cause of Christ.
The spirit of Elijah was needed then, and it is needed still. The sins of his time are the sins of our own time. There are the same immorality, the same covetousness, the same forgetfulness of God, the same absorption in the concerns and pleasures of the present world.
We need more men with the spirit of Elijah, who will be faithful to God and conscience at any cost, who will rebuke sin in high places and in any place — the sins of royalty and rank as well as the sins of the poor.
How much indecision and worldliness and timidity and timeserving there are on the part of many professing Christians!
We need more men with the spirit of Elijah, to ask, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” and to cry aloud to the faltering, weak-kneed, halfhearted Christians, “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord Be God, follow him; but if the world be your god, follow it.” (1 Kings 18:21)
Elisha’s parting request is a request which we might all appropriately make in prayer to God, that a double portion of Elijah’s spirit may rest upon us.
16. A Hard Thing:
2 Kings 2:10a. “And he (Elijah) said, Thou hast asked a hard thing:”
Had Elisha asked for anything that Elijah had directly in his power to give, as for his mantle, or his staff (which father’s usually left their son), or his blessing, or prayers in the other world, to grant the request would have been easy.
But Elijah had asked for something that was not Elijah’s to give, but only God’s. Elijah could not bequeath his spirit, as a man bequeaths his property. He could only pray to God that Elisha’s earnest request might be granted.
To designate a Prophet, and bestow on him the Prophetic spirit—especially in exceptional measure—belongs only to God, and the grounds of his (God’s) action in such matters are not for man to prejudge.
Now a few of the Prophets we are informed of their call and sometimes the circumstances of their life when the call from God came upon their life. Some were born to be Prophets, such as Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:4-10), and John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-17) others were simply “raised up,” or “sent,” by God himself.
The best answer to the question is given by God Himself.
1 Samuel 16:6. And it came to pass, when they were come, that he looked on Eliab, and said, Surely the LORD'S anointed is before him.
7. But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.
Eliab was at the right location, he was of the right household, he had all the physical qualifications and outward appearances, but he did not have the right heart—only God can truly tell the difference.
17. Spiritual Perception, Key To Receiving God’s Best:
2 Kings 2:10b. “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.”
Elisha had been with Elijah night and day for 10 to 12 years and he (Elijah) knew Elisha better than anyone else—he knew all of Elisha’s personal traits—he had observed him under a thousand different circumstances—and noted his reaction, whether verbal or other expressions.
Elijah had observed Elisha’s sincerity in worship and prayer and listened as he communicated with God and other people. Yet Elijah realized he could not really know Elisha’s heart. How true were the secret chambers, the place where Elisha truly lived? Only God can read our thoughts and know our inclinations.
And only when God reigns supreme is one ready for spiritual elevation. A wonderful example of this is found in John chapter 12.
John 12:28. “Father, glorify thy name." Then came there a voice from heaven, saying, I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again.
29. The people therefore, that stood by, and heard it, said that it thundered: others said, An angel spake to him.”
A Large number of people were gathered around Jesus as he taught in Jerusalem. In verse 28 Jesus prayed to the Father asking him to glorify His Name. And God answered the prayer in verse 28. The point I would like to make about this incident is found in verse 29. The large group of people heard the same sound as John did. Notice that some only heard something that sounded like thunder, other thought that an angel had spoken to Jesus, only John recognized the voice of God.
Let us analyze what we have read. John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, had the spiritual intuition to recognize who was making the sound and to understand what he said. Others had enough spiritual intuition to recognize it as something spiritual but did not recognize it as being God’s voice.
Of the twelve who followed Jesus and observed and heard everything Jesus did and said, John seemed to have the deepest spiritual perception. And he was the first to believe Jesus’ resurrection. (John 20:8)
Of those who were close to Jesus, John was the one chosen to be transported spiritually into heaven and hear and see the Glory thereof (Revelation 4:1). It was not that Peter, James, Matthew, or a dozen others, who followed Jesus as faithfully as John, were not spiritually minded, but God saw something in the others that was not as completely given over as was John.
The same holds true to this statement Elijah made to Elisha. “If ye see me when I am taken away from thee, it shall be so unto thee, but if not, it shall not be so. (2 Kings 2:10)
What Elijah is saying, “if your spiritual perception is developed to the point where God allows you to see me when I am transported into heaven, then you will receive the office you crave, and all the power that comes with it."
This was because it was only in an exalted, that is, prophetic, state of mind that the vision could be had, We know that there were 50 young men with good natural vision, who stood to watch, who did not see the Angelic Host or otherwise they would not have wanted to go look for Elijah (2 Kings 2:16).
There are some things that cannot be seen with the best of natural eyesight. Just as there are some things that cannot be understood by the best of human reasoning. First there is another world hidden from natural eyesight. All around us are spirits, both good and evil, that are striving for control of events and people. Let us read of an event that took place in 2 Kings 6 when Elisha and his servant were surrounded by an army.
2 Kings 6:17. And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.
18. And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed unto the LORD, and said, Smite this people, I pray thee, with blindness. And he smote them with blindness according to the word of Elisha.
18. Final Words:
2 Kings 2:11a. “And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked,”
And when they had passed over Jordan, and still walked on, what a talk that was. How we wish that we had a copy of that final conversation. We can only guess at what was said in those last few moments. Those who have ever sat by the bedside of a dying friend know what such moments are. The time seems all too short. So much is to be said. So many questions to ask. So many counsels to be given. So many wonderings as to what it will all be like when next we meet.
19. Chariot Of Fire, Horses Of Fire:
The sharp, decisive moment arrives at last:
2 Kings 2:11. "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."
Strange forms fill the sky. They draw near to the earth. There is a chariot of flames and horses of fire. They touch the earth. Elijah enters, and suddenly, in a whirlwind, is lost to mortal sight. But Elijah not only passed out of mortal sight, it is recorded that he went up into heaven. He was carried on through the pearly gates, on through, to the strains of heavenly music, on into the presence of the King, before whom he had stood while on earth. (1Kings 17:1) There is no word of an intermediate state.
The fact, of course, has been largely questioned by those who would eliminate all the supernatural from Scripture. Some say Elijah must have been struck by lightening, or lost in a mist, or carried away by a water-spout, or drowned in the Jordan, or buried in the desert, or taken captive in a chariot by Jeroram’s guards.
Nothing can be plainer than the sacred narrative itself; therefore, without exerting our ingenuity to twist or explain it away, we believe that a bright flame-cloud from heaven ‘parted’ the prophets from each other, and that, swept up in the storm that followed, Elijah was taken away. Traditional Jewish History says in July B.C. 896.
“Let me die the death of the righteous, and let my last end be like his.” Let me live as Elijah lived, and I shall — even though I pass through the valley of the shadow of death — enter as Elijah entered into that house of many mansions, that home eternal in the heavens, that “city that hath foundations, whose Builder and Maker is God.”
“The wilderness is left, the Jordan shrinks;
Southward o’er Sinai sweeps the meteor strange;
The moon appears above the waste, is neared,
While low beneath it shines a mottled earth,
Stars flit and fall, as he pursues his path,
Rushing to meet him, see vast streams of suns,
Then a wide ocean of essential light,
Then a great darkness, horrid and forlorn;
Till now, like mountains in the morning beam,
Appears the gateway of God’s city. High---
. . . . . . . . . . . When lo!
From the deep shrine of Unspeakable:
“Welcome, thou faithful servant of thy God!”’
(Abridged from a long passage in NIGHT, By Rev, George Gilfillan)
How characteristic was the close of the prophet’s career! It was fiery grandeur to the last. He who had twice called down fire from heaven, once on Carmel, and again on the solders who were sent to arrest him (2 Kings 1:9-14), and stood amid its terrors on Horeb (1 Kings 19:12)—ascends in flames, nor needs now to put off a body, which the burning soul within has already spiritualized.
The body of Elijah must have undergone a refining in its passage through the upper air, and regions of suns and star systems. What that refining was, we do not know; but in the opinion of many, had man not sinned, he would have passed as painlessly as Elijah, and Enoch did, from one stage of existence to another.
20. And Elisha Saw It:
2 Kings 2:12a. “And Elisha saw it,”
The historian doubtless reports the account which Elisha gave of what he saw on this memorable occasion. The condition was fulfilled which Elijah had laid down, and Elisha knew that his request for a “double portion” of his master’s spirit was granted.
2 Kings 2:12b. “and he cried,” My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.”
As Elijah was parted from him, and taken up, Elisha broke out into loud lament: “My father, my father! the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.” This no more implies that Elisha did not believe that his master was being taken up to heaven, than the mourning of Christians for the loss of some revered teacher or guide implies doubt as to his eternal happiness. It is the sense of personal loss, and of loss to the world, which prevails on these occasions.
Elisha did not overestimate the value of Elijah to Israel — more than chariots and horsemen — and we cannot overestimate the worth to a nation of the presence and labors of the servants of God in it. The religion of a nation is its best bulwark, and those who do most for religion are those who serve their country best. Armaments without God in the midst are of poor avail.
But Elisha probably meant something more than to show respect. He regarded himself as Elijah’s specially adopted son, and hence had claimed the “double portion” of the firstborn. That his request was granted showed that the relationship was acknowledged.
2 Kings 2:12c. “And he saw him no more:”
Elijah passed beyond Elisha’s range of vision. So far as we can gather from the expressions employed, no cloud received him, as it did Jesus (Acts 1:9), but he gradually vanished from sight.
2 Kings2:12d. “and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.”
This was an action marking extreme horror or extreme grief — here the latter.
“Then shall two be in the field, the one shall be taken, and the other left.” (Matthew 24:40) Aaron is taken and Moses is left; Moses is taken and Joshua is left; Elijah is taken and Elisha is left. It is a world of meeting and parting, of coming and going, of dropping away and being succeeded, as the leaves fall and come anew on the tree.
But it is something to be missed. “They mourned for Aaron thirty days:” (Numbers 20:29) a similar period “they wept for Moses in the plains of Moab:” (Deuteronomy 34:8)) and it came to pass when Elisha saw Elijah’s rapture, “he rent his garments in two pieces.” (2 Kings 2;12d)
There is a great Divine principal exemplified and operating here
Isaiah 6:12. And the LORD have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.
13. But yet in it shall be a tenth, and it shall return, and shall be eaten: as a teil tree, and as an oak, whose substance is in them, when they cast their leaves: so the holy seed shall be the substance thereof.
Dark and desolate was Isaiah’s vision, yet it is the precisely the same still, whether politicians and diplomats believe it or not. Just as Elijah was Israel’s temporal savior, as righteous Lot preserved Sodom from destruction for years, as Paul was assured in the storm he was to be the means of delivering his fellow-voyagers from shipwreck, so, the Godly are the true conservators of civil society.
It is not her mines of coal and iron, her forests and fields, her factories and schools that have made our country great; and it is neither the exhaustion of the one nor the other that will bring about her decline and fall. Point rather to the Bible, the prayers of her Saints, the religion of our churches, the piety of our homes—these are our ‘chariots and horsemen,’ which in the hand of Providence, will do more for us than a thousand arsenals, to keep evil from our shores, better than fleets of ships and carriers, and planes, or thousands of troops of military personal.
Psalms 33:16 “There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength.”
Our true place of defense, like Israel’s in Elijah’s day is weapons of the Spirit. Each chamber of prayer is a ‘chariot,’ each holy man ‘a horseman,’ standing valiantly up in the nations cause.
We may well prize our Elijahs while we have them,--our Godly parents, our Godly ministers, our religious minded statesmen; and it is at once their due and our duty, that when God calls them away, we should take our place with Elisha in that lonely valley—never so lonely as the moment he saw Elijah go up—and testify that, while their services have been great, their memories shall be sweet, and their examples most quickening for us who remain to live and labor.
A moment never to be forgotten that, when you see your parent draw his last breath, see the spirit gone, the mysterious change come, and what was life before, lie cold, and stiff, and silent clay. And although Elisha was not, in the ordinary sense, Elijah’s son, and although Elijah himself left the world without encountering the last great foe, and became--- “The second man that leaped the ditch, Where all the rest of mankind fell, ...” (Cowley)
2 Kings 2:12c. “And he saw him no more:”
The translation was Elijah’s, but Elisha was left behind; his loss was Elijah’s gain, and yet Elijah’s gain was his loss. Mourning in trial is not forbidden, it is only mourning. We cannot help sorrowing for those who are gone; the comfort is, we neither sorrow without hope nor compensation, if, while chastened, we are also purified, knowing that they who leave us, only ‘depart for a season, that we should receive them for ever,’ in holier and more enduring bonds.
But the question arises, “Can Elijah be spared? Just remember all he has done, and was yet capable of doing.” The question is proper enough. Yet Elijah is taken away. God is not dependent on instruments, even the boldest and best. His work will go on, even while the workers are removed; no fears of the ark being stolen, so long as its great Divine Guardian is yet alive. It is well that we know this, less we magnify and exaggerate our own importance. In the world how soon the place of the greatest among us is filled. Somewhere there are always wet eyes, and yet busy men move on as if nothing had happened.
21. The Mantle Fell:
2 Kings 2:13. “He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan;”
The closing act alone remains; the mantle fell. It was indeed a precious relic, but far too precious to be laid aside in some secret shrine. Elisha took it up; he put it on his shoulders; it was to be the badge of his future investments as prophet, the visible sign to Israel that, in Elijah’s place, and with Elijah’s authority, he came to complete Elijah’s work.
How solemn the lesson to us all, in the midst of all our ways and workings, to go about with the mantle of a departed Master, not indeed to supplement his ‘finished work,’ but to diffuse its knowledge, to press its claims, and alongside of both, to display our own lovely and Holy Mind.
Let me say to all who minister in the service of our Lord. Think of your occupation in relation to the Lord Jesus, whose ‘mantle’ you profess to wear. Like an artist who, with painstaking strokes with his brush, copies an original masterpiece. Then like the aspiring artist, let us more and more make Christ our model. “Let the same mind be in you which was also in the Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5)
Begin here with the outline of the likeness; add daily some new grace, some new feature borrowed from the original; blot out remaining sin; tint with brighter coloring the beauties of holiness; and then when the copy pleases the eye of the great Master in heaven, He will take you to himself, not in a chariot of fire, but to an enjoyment of glory which, in brimming fullness and divine security, shall not be exceeded by even an Elijah’s rapture.
22. We Say, ELIJAH, FAREWELL:
Of him we may say, ‘God gave him stern work to do, and he did it.’ True he was rough and rugged; but so is that rock that juts out on the roaring sea, and which, though it grows neither violets nor roses, and has no grassy knolls where lovers may sit or children play, yet beats back with bold front the ever advancing billows, and prevents their encroachment on fields where the golden grain waves, and homes where hundreds are sitting in peace.
We Say, Elijah, FAREWELL!
He left his mark on Israel. He shook the shrines of Baal; confronted a court which truly ‘did evil,’ and which, but for him, might have done much more; gave the ancient faith a position again, and revived the sacred schools. True, at times he was the Avenger; but better that priest of Baal, or royal troopers, perish on Carmel, than one-half of a nation perish in ‘time’ for defense of faith, and the other half in ‘eternity’ for its lack of it altogether.
We say, Elijah, FAREWELL!
Ye that seek for immortality study the life of Elijah. Those only have ‘the chariot of fire, snd the horses of fire,’ who, wherever they have failed, wherever succeeded, have humbly and perseveringly served the Lord. Those only have the approval of heaven, and seats in glory, who have lived in the exercise of these solemn words, ‘Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.’
They may have had their trials, their hours of sorrow, their hard battles, but for their end—Behold Elijah. No mantle he has now; but, better far, the white robe of those who overcome. No staff he has now; but, better far, the palm of victory which shall never fade away.
He was the uncrowned king of Israel on Earth; now one of the great crowned priests he is forever in heaven. In the desert, the juniper-tree, the flight from Jezreel, all forgiven and forgotten in his illustrious peacefulness. It will be something to meet Elijah there.
Where is the court of Samaria now? Passed away and perished like the smoke of its own idolatry. It is Elijah alone who lives in deathless and fadeless renown.
We pass by Herod, and remember John the Baptist.
We pass by Felix, and remember the Apostle Paul.
We pass by Charles V., and remember Martin Lither.
We pass by Ahab and Jezebel, and remember only Elijah
“And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3)
‘Thus saints that seem to die in earth’s rude strife,
Only win double life;
They have but left our weary ways,
To live in memory here, in heaven by love and praise;
And oh! Most happy when His call,
His welcome call, at last is given;
“Come where thou long hast stored thy all,
Come see thy place prepared in heaven!”
We shall leave Elisha for the time being to serve out his days as the successor of Elijah, proving that even when God takes his prophets away He leaves another in his place. In regards to the ‘double portion of Elijah’s spirit,’ Elisha served more than twice as long as Elijah in God’s service and preformed twice as many recorded miracles as did Elijah. What a wonder is God’s Prophets?
The two saints speak of His passion. (Luke 9:31)
A strange opportunity! In His highest exaltation, to speak of Jesus’ sufferings; when His head shone with glory, to tell Him how it must bleed with thorns; when His face shone like the sun, to tell Him it must be buffeted and spit upon; when His garments glistened with that celestial brightness, to tell Him they must be stripped and divided; when He was seen between two saints, to tell Him how He must be seen between two thieves,--in a word, in the midst of His Majesty, to tell Him how He must be disfigured upon the cross.
Yet these two heavenly prophets found this the fittest time for this discourse; rather choosing to speak of His suffering in the height of His glory, than of His glory after His sufferings. It is most seasonable, at our best, to think of our worst estate.
This is the last of the studies on Elijah and we hope you have the opportuniy to read each one. We spent several years getting these lessons together into the book I have entitled "Running In The Rain." We have it all on this web site in 8 sections.
By, James L. Thornton
Write To Us Godsgrazingfield@att.net
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