2 Kings 13:14
Now Elisha was fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died. And Joash the king of Israel came down to him, and wept over his face, and said, O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(14-21) The visit of Joash to the dying Elisha.

This section is obviously derived from another documentary source than the preceding. What a fresh and life-like picture it presents in contrast with the colourless abstract which it follows!

(14) He died.—Rather, he was to die.

Came down to him—i.e., to his house. Comp, the Note on 2Kings 5:24; 2Kings 6:33.

Wept over his face.—As he lay on the bed.

O my father, my father.—Comp, the Note on 2Kings 2:12. Joash laments the approaching loss of his best counsellor and helper. The prophet, by his teaching and his prayers, as well as by his sage counsel and wonder-working powers, had been more to Israel than chariots and horsemen.

2 Kings

ELIJAH’S TRANSLATION AND ELISHA’S DEATHBED

2 Kings 2:12
. - 2 Kings 13:14.

The scenes and the speakers are strangely different in these two incidents. The one scene is that mysterious translation on the further bank of the Jordan, when a mortal was swept up to heaven in a fiery whirlwind, and the other is an ordinary sick chamber, where an old man was lying, with the life slowly ebbing out of him. The one speaker is the successor of the great prophet, on whom his spirit in a large measure fell; the other, an idolatrous king, young, headstrong, who had despised the latter prophet’s teaching while he lived, but was now for the moment awed into something like seriousness and reverence by his death.

Now the remarkable thing is that this unworthy monarch should have come to the dying prophet, and should have strengthened and cheered him by the quotation of his own words, spoken so long ago, as if he would say to him, ‘All that thou didst mean when thou didst stand there in rapturous adoration, watching the ascending Elijah, is as true about thee, lying dying here, of a common and lingering sickness. My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof.’ Seen or unseen, these were present. The reality was the same, though the appearances were so different.

I We have in the first case the chariot and horsemen seen.

To feel the force of the exclamation on the lips of Joash, we must try to make clear to ourselves what its original meaning was. What did Elisha intend when he stood beyond Jordan, and in wonder and awe exclaimed, ‘The chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof’?

It does not seem to me that the interpretation of the words now in favour is at all satisfactory. It tells us that the expression is to he taken as in apposition with the exclamation ‘My father, my father’; and that both the one phrase and the other mean-Elijah! Yet what a preposterous and strange metaphor it would be to call a man a chariot and pair, or a chariot and cavalry! It seems to me that the very statement of this explanation, in plain English, condemns it as untenable. It is surely less probable that Elisha in that exclamation was describing Elijah than that he was speaking of that wondrous chariot of fire and horses of fire that had come between him and his master, and that his exclamation was one of surprised adoration as he gazed with wide-opened eyes on the burning angel-hosts, and saw his master mysteriously able to bear that fire, ringed round by these flaming squadrons, possibly standing unscathed on the floor of the chariot, and swept with it and all the celestial pomp, by the whirlwind, into heaven.

But why should he say ‘the chariot of Israel’? I think we take for granted too readily that ‘Israel’ here means the nation. You will remember that that name was not originally that of the nation, but of its progenitor and founder, given to Jacob as the consequence and record of that mysterious wrestling by the brook. And I think we get a nobler signification for the words before us if, instead of applying the name to the nation, we apply it here to the individual. When Elijah and Elisha crossed Jordan they were not far from the spot where that name was given to Jacob, ‘the supplanter,’ whom discipline and communion with God had elevated into Israel. And they were near another of the sites consecrated by his history, the place where, just before the change of his name, the angels of God met him and ‘he called the name of the place Mahanaim.’ That means ‘the two camps,’ the one, Jacob’s defenceless company of women and children, the other, their celestial guards.

It seems reasonable to suppose that, in all probability, a reminiscence of that old story of the manifestation of the armed angels of God as the defenders and servants of His children broke from Elisha’s lips. As he looks upon that strange appearance of the chariot and horses of fire that parted him and his friend, he sees once more ‘the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof,’ the reappearance of the shining armies whose presence had of old declared that ‘the angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear Him, and delivereth them.’ And now the same hosts in their immortal youth, unweakened by the ages which have brought earthly warriors to dust and their swords to rust, are flaming and flashing there in the midday sun. What was their errand, and why did they appear? They came, as God’s messengers, to bear His servant to His presence. They attested the commission and devotion of the prophet. Their agency was needful to lift a mortal to skies not native to him. Strange that a body of flesh should he able to endure that fiery splendour! Somewhere in the course of that upward movement must this man, who was caught up to meet the Lord in the air, have been ‘changed.’ His guards of honour were not only for tokens of his prophetic work, but for witnesses of the unseen world and in some sort pledges, suited to that stage of revelation, of life and immortality.

How striking is the contrast between the translation of Elijah and the Ascension of Christ! He who ascended up where He was before needed no whirlwind, nor chariot of fire, nor extraneous power to elevate Him to His home. Calmly, slowly, as borne upwards by indwelling affinity with heaven, He floated thither with outstretched hands of blessing. The servant angels did not need to surround Him, but, clad no longer in fiery armour, but ‘in white apparel,’ the emblem of purity and peace, they stood by the disciples and comforted them with hope. Elijah was carried to heaven. Christ went. The angels disappeared with the prophet and left Elisha to grieve alone. They lingered here after Christ had gone, and turned tears into rainbows flashing with the hues of hope.

II. We have in our second text the chariot and horsemen present though unseen.

We are now in a position to appreciate the meaning of Joash’s repetition to Elisha of his own words, spoken under such different circumstances.

Elisha was by no means so great a prophet as Elijah. His work had not been so conspicuous, his character was not so strong, though perhaps more gentle. No such lofty and large influence had been granted to him as had been given to the fiery Tishbite to wield, nor did he leave his mark so deep upon the history of the times or upon the memory of succeeding generations. But such as it had been given him to be he had been. He was a continuer, not an originator. There had been a long period during which he appears to have lived in absolute retirement, exercising no prophetic functions. We never hear of him during the interval between the anointing of Jehu to the Israelitish monarchy and the time of his own death, and that period must have extended over nearly fifty years. After all these years of eclipse and seclusion he was lying dying somewhere in a corner, and the king, young but impressible, although, on the whole, not reliable nor good, came down to the prophet’s home, and there, standing by the pallet of the dying man, repeated the words, so strangely reminiscent of a very different event-’ My father, my father! the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof!’

And what does that exclamation mean? Two things. One is this, that the angels of the Divine Presence are with us as truly, in life, when unseen as if seen. So far as we know, it was only to Elisha that the vision had been granted of that chariot of fire and horses of fire. We read that at Elijah’s translation on the other side of Jordan, and consequently at no great distance off, there stood a company of the sons of the prophets from Jericho to see what would happen, but we do not read that they did see. On the contrary, they were inclined to believe that Elijah had been caught up and flung away somewhere on the mountains, and that it was worth while to organise search-parties to go after him. It was only Elisha that saw, and Elijah did not know whether he would see or not, for he said to him, ‘If thou shalt see me when I am taken from thee, then’ thy desire shall be granted.

The angels of God are visible to the eyes that are fit to see them; and those eyes can always see them. It does not matter whether in a miracle or in a common event-it does not matter whether on the stones by the banks of Jordan or in a close sick chamber, they are visible for those who, by pure hearts and holy desires, have had their vision purged from the intrusive vulgarities and dazzling brightnesses of this poor, petty present, and can therefore see beneath all the apparent the real that blazes behind it.

The scenes at Jordan and in the death-chamber are not the only times in Elisha’s life when we read of these chariots and horses of fire. There was another incident in his career in which the same phrase occurs. Once his servant was terrified at the sight of a host compassing the little city where Elisha and he were, with horses and chariots, and came to his master with alarm and despair, crying, ‘Alas! my master, how shall we do?’ The prophet answered with superb calmness, ‘Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them . . .. 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.’ They had always been there, though no one saw them. They were there when no one but Elisha saw them. They were no more there when the young man saw them than they had been before. They did not cease to be there when the film came over his eyes again, and the common round took him back to the trivialities of daily life.

And so from the mouth of this not very devout king the prophet was reminded of his own ancient experiences, and invited to feel that, unseen or seen, the solemn forms stood ‘bright-harnessed,’ and strong, ‘in order serviceable,’ ranged about him for his defence and blessing.

And are they not round about us? If a man can but look into the realities of things, will he see only the work of men and of the forces of nature? Will there not be-far more visible as they are far more real than any of these-the forces of the Eternal Presence and ever operative Will of our Father in Heaven? We need not discuss the personality of angels. An angel is the embodiment of the will and energy of God, and we have that will and energy working for us, whether there are any angel persons about us or not. Scripture declares that there are, and that they serve us. We may be sure that if only we will honestly try to purge our eyes from the illusions and temptations of ‘things seen and temporal,’ the mountain or the sick chamber will be to us equally full of the angel forms of our defenders and companions.

Do we see them for ourselves; and, not less important, do we, like Elisha, lying there on his deathbed, help else blind men to see them, and make every one that comes beside us, even if he be as little impressible and as little devout as this king Joash was, recognise that in our chambers there sit, and round our lives there flutter and sing, sweet and strong angel wings and voices? Will anybody, looking at you, be constrained to feel that with and around you are the angels of God?

Still further, another cognate application of these great words is that one which is more directly suggested by their quotation by Joash. It does not matter in what way the end of life comes. The reality is the same to all devout men; though one be swept to heaven in a whirlwind, and another lady slowly away in old age, or ‘fall sick of the sickness wherewith he should die.’ Each is taken to God in a chariot of fire. The means are of little moment, the fact remains the same, however diverse may he the methods of its accomplishment. The road is the same, the companions the same, the impelling-I was going to say the locomotive-power, is the same, and the goal is the same.

Of Enoch we read, ‘He was not, for God took him.’ Of Elijah we read, ‘He went up in a whirlwind to heaven.’ Of Elisha we read, ‘He died and they buried him.’ And of all three-the two who were translated that they should not see death, and the one who died like the rest of us-it is equally true that ‘God took’ them, and that they were taken to Him. So for ourselves and for our dear ones we may look forward or backward, to deathbeds of weariness, of lingering sickness, of long pain and suffering, or of swift dissolution, and piercing beneath the surface may see the blessed central reality and thankfully feel that Death, too, is God’s angel, who’ does His commandments, hearkening to the voice of God’s word’ when in his dark hearse he carries us hence.2 Kings 13:14. Elisha was fallen sick, &c. — Elisha lived long; for it was now about sixty years since he was first called to be a prophet. It was a great mercy to Israel, and especially to the sons of the prophets, that he was continued so long a burning and a shining light. Elijah finished his testimony in a fourth part of that time. For God’s prophets have their day appointed them, longer or shorter, as infinite wisdom sees fit. The time of Elisha’s flourishing, however, was much less than the time of his living. During all the latter part of his life, from the anointing of Jehu, which was forty-five years before Joash began his reign, we find no mention made of him, nor of any thing he did, till we find him here upon his death-bed. He was, no doubt, useful to the last, yet, it seems, not so famous as he had formerly been. The king came down, and wept over his face — While he leaned over him to kiss him. This was an evidence of some good in Joash, and that he had a value for a faithful prophet. So far was he from hating and persecuting him as a troubler of Israel, as Ahab had hated and persecuted Elijah, that he loved and honoured him, as one of the greatest blessings of his kingdom. Thus it has sometimes happened, that those who, like Joash, would not be obedient to the word of God, yet have been compelled to hold his faithful ministers in honour, fully convinced of their being upright and holy men of God. And said, O my father, my father, &c. — Thus he laments over him in the same words which Elisha himself had used when he lamented the removal of Elijah. Probably he had heard or read of them, and judged them as applicable to Elisha as they had been to his predecessor: see on 2 Kings 2:12. Joash seems to have intended by these words to express Elisha’s fatherly care of Israel, the great authority he had maintained among them, that by his counsels, and prayers, and miracles, they had obtained great and glorious victories over their enemies; and that he and his kingdom would sustain an inestimable loss by his death.13:10-19 Jehoash, the king, came to Elisha, to receive his dying counsel and blessing. It may turn much to our spiritual advantage, to attend the sick-beds and death-beds of good men, that we may be encouraged in religion by the living comforts they have from it in a dying hour. Elisha assured the king of his success; yet he must look up to God for direction and strength; must reckon his own hands not enough, but go on, in dependence upon Divine aid. The trembling hands of the dying prophet, as they signified the power of God, gave this arrow more force than the hands of the king in his full strength. By contemning the sign, the king lost the thing signified, to the grief of the dying prophet. It is a trouble to good men, to see those to whom they wish well, forsake their own mercies, and to see them lose advantages against spiritual enemies.The closing scene of Elisha's life. It was now at least sixty-three years since his call, so that he was at this time very possibly above ninety. He seems to have lived in almost complete retirement from the time he sent the young prophet to anoint Jehu king 2 Kings 9:1. And now it was not he who sought the king, but the king who sought him. Apparently, the special function of the two great Israelite prophets (Elijah and Elisha) was to counteract the noxious influence of the Baalistic rites; and, when these ceased, their extraordinary ministry came to an end.

The chariot of Israel ... - See the marginal reference. Joash must have known the circumstances of Elijah's removal, which were perhaps already entered in the "book of the chronicles of the kings of Israel;" and he must have intended to apply to Elisha his own words on that solemn occasion; "Thou too art about to leave us, and to follow Elijah - thou who hast been since his departure, that which he was while he remained on earth, the true defense of Israel."

14-19. Elisha was fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died—Every man's death is occasioned by some disease, and so was Elisha's. But in intimating it, there seems a contrast tacitly made between him and his prophetic predecessor, who did not die.

Joash the king of Israel came down unto him, and wept over his face—He visited him where he was lying ill of this mortal sickness, and expressed deep sorrow, not from the personal respect he bore for the prophet, but for the incalculable loss his death would occasion to the kingdom.

my father, my father! &c.—(See on [341]2Ki 2:12). These words seem to have been a complimentary phrase applied to one who was thought an eminent guardian and deliverer of his country. The particular application of them to Elisha, who, by his counsels and prayer, had obtained many glorious victories for Israel, shows that the king possessed some measure of faith and trust, which, though weak, was accepted, and called forth the prophet's dying benediction.

Wept over his face; not for any true love and respect to him, for then he would have followed his counsel, in forsaking the calves, and returning to the Lord; but for his own and the kingdom’s inestimable loss in him.

The chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof: see 2 Kings 2:12. Now Elisha was fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died,.... The prophets do not live for ever; this sickness was unto death; Elisha died, and was not translated as Elijah was:

and Joash the king came down unto him; from his palace to the prophet's house, to visit him in his sickness; which was an instance of great condescension and respect, and especially in a wicked prince that could not be reformed by him:

and wept over his face; held his head over him, and wept, perceiving he was near his end, and sensible that his death would be a public loss; the nation having often reaped the benefit of his prayers, though his counsel and advice were neglected and despised:

and said, O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof; the same words Elisha said to Elijah, as he went up to heaven, which very probably Joash had heard of; See Gill on 2 Kings 2:12, and here, as there, the Targum is,"my master, my master, who was better to Israel by his prayers than chariots and horsemen.''

Now Elisha was fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died. And Joash the king of Israel came down unto him, and wept over his face, and said, {h} O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.

(h) Thus they used to call the prophets and servants of God, by whom God blesses his people, as in 2Ki 2:12 meaning that they prospered their country more by their prayers than by force of arms.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
14–21. The visit of Joash to Elisha on his deathbed. Elisha’s prediction of victory over Syria. A dead body brought to life on touching Elisha’s bones (Not in Chronicles)

14. and wept over his face] R.V. over him. ‘Face’ in Hebrew is constantly used for ‘a person’, and it seems more suitable to omit the very literal rendering here. For examples cf. Genesis 19:21, ‘I have accepted thee’, margin ‘thy face’; Genesis 43:34, ‘He sent messes from before him’, margin ‘his face’.

It is manifest from this history that though Jehoash continued the worship of the calves, the worship of Jehovah can have met with no opposition from him, and Jehovah’s prophet was held in the highest esteem. Indeed the picture presented of the king leaving his palace to visit the house of the dying prophet, and weeping over the approaching loss which Israel was to suffer makes us wonder that Elisha’s influence had not the effect of banishing the calves. The political significance of these objects must have been very great to have outweighed the counsels which we cannot doubt Elisha gave for their abolition.

O my father, my father] R.V. omits ‘O’, which A.V. does not give in the corresponding passage 2 Kings 2:12. Elisha’s help had been so often given to Israel against their enemies, that the words seem to apply even better to him than to Elijah.

the chariot [R.V. chariots] of Israel] The word is meant to embrace the whole mounted host, the chariotry of the land. Hence the plural is the more correct rendering. See the note on 2 Kings 2:12.Verse 14. - Now Elisha, was fallen sick of his sickness whereof he died. Elisha, who was grown to manhood before the death of Ahab (1 Kings 19:19), must have been at least eighty years old at the accession of Joash: His illness was therefore probably the result of mere natural decay. And Joash the King of Israel came down unto him. The visit of a king to a prophet, in the way of sympathy and compliment, would be a very unusual occurrence at any period of the world's history. In the East, and at the period of which the historian is treating, it was probably unprecedented. Prophets waited upon kings, not kings upon prophets: If a king came to a prophet's house, it was likely to be on an errand of vengeance (2 Kings 6:32), not on one of kindness and sympathy. The act of Joash certainly implies a degree of tenderness and consideration on tits part very uncommon at the time, and is a fact to which much weight should be attached in any estimate that we form of his character. He was, at any rate, a prince of an amiable disposition. And wept over his face - i.e., leant over the sick man as he lay on his bed, and shed tears, some of which fell on him - and said, O my father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. As Elisha had addressed Elijah, when he was quitting the earth (2 Kings 2:12), so Joash now addressed the dying Elisha, using exactly the same words, not (certainly) by a mere coincidence. Joash must have known the circumstances of Elijah's departure, which had probably been entered before this in the 'Book of the Kings,' and intended pointedly to allude to them. "O my father, my father," he meant to say, "when Elijah was taken from the earth, thou didst exclaim that the defense of Israel was gone" (see the comment on 2 Kings 2:12): "how much more must it be true that it is gone now, when thou art on the point of departure! He left thee as his successor; thou leavest no one!" Close of the reign of Jehoahaz. Jehoahaz had probably shown his might in the war with the Syrians, although he had been overcome.
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