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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(1) And it came to pass . . . whirlwind.—The compiler has prefixed this heading to the following narrative by way of connection with the general thread of the history. It seems to be indicated that the event happened in the beginning of the reign of Jehoram; but see Note on 2Chronicles 21:12.

When the Lord would take up.When Jehovah caused Elijah to go up, or ascend. This anticipates the conclusion of the story.

Into heaven.—Heb., accusative of direction, as in 2Kings 2:11. The LXX. renders, ὡς εἰς τὸν οὐρανὸν “as into heaven,” perhaps to suggest that not the visible heavens, but God, was the real goal of the prophet’s ascension.

By a whirlwind.In the storm.

Gilgal.—Heb., the Gilgal, i.e., the Ring (comp. Isaiah 28:28, “wheel”), a descriptive name of more than one place. Here, Gilgal in Ephraim, the present Jiljîlia, which stands on a hill south-west of Seilûn (Shiloh), near the road leading thence to Jericho. (See Deuteronomy 11:30; Hosea 4:15; Amos 4:4.) Hosea and Amos connect Gilgal with Bethel, as a sanctuary. It was probably marked by a ring of stones like those at Stonehenge and Avebury. From this spot the mountain land of Gilead, the Great Sea, and the snowy heights of Hermon, were all visible; so that the prophet could take from thence a last look at the whole country which had been the scene of his earthly activity.

2 Kings

THE CHARIOT OF FIRE

2 Kings 2:1 - 2 Kings 2:11
.

Elijah’s end is in keeping with his career. From his first abrupt appearance it had been fitly symbolised by the stormy wind and flaming fire which he heard and saw at Horeb, and now these were to be the vehicles which should sweep him into the heavens. He came like a whirlwind, he burned like a fire, and in fire and whirlwind he disappeared. The story is wonderful in pathos and simplicity. Surely never was such a miracle told so quietly. The actual ascension is narrated in a sentence. Its preliminaries take up the rest of this narrative.

I. This journey from Gilgal to the eastern side of Jordan is minutely described in its stages. Apparently this Gilgal is not the well-known place so called, which was down in the Jordan valley close to Jericho, else the road from it to Bethel could not have been called a going down {2 Kings 2:2}. It probably lay to the north of Bethel, which would then be between it and Jericho, where the Jordan was to be passed. Elijah was not sent on an aimless round of farewell visits, but by the direct road to his destination. Note that he and Elisha and the ‘sons of the prophets’ all know that he is near his end. How this came about we are not told, and need not speculate; but though all knew, none seems to have known that the others knew. Elijah does not explain to Elisha why he wished him to stay behind, nor Elisha to Elijah why he was so resolved to keep by him. The knowledge and the silence would give peculiar solemnity and sweet bitterness to these last hours. How often a similar combination weighs on the hearts of a household, who all know that a dear one is soon to be taken away, and yet can only be silent about what is uppermost in their thoughts!

Why did Elijah wish Elisha to stay behind? Apparently to spare him the pain of seeing his master depart. With loving concealment, he tried to make Elisha suppose that his errand to Bethel and then to Jericho was but a common one, to be soon despatched. It was a little touch of tenderness in the strong, rough man. Note, too, the gradual disclosure to Elijah of the places to which he was to go. He is only bid to go to Bethel, and not till he gets there is he further sent on to Jericho, and, presumably, only when there is directed to cross Jordan. God does not show all the road at once, even if it lead to glory, but step by step, and a second stage only when we have obediently traversed the first. We get light as we go. Elisha’s clinging to his master till the very last is but too intelligible to many of us who have gone through the same sorrow, and counted each moment of companionship with some dear one about to leave earth as priceless gain, to be treasured in the sacredest recesses of memory for evermore.

It has been thought that the object of the visits to Bethel and Jericho was to give parting directions to the schools of the prophets at each place; but that is read into the narrative, which gives no hint that Elijah had any communication with these. Rather the contrary is implied, both in the fact that the ‘sons of the prophets’ came to the travellers, not the travellers to them, and in their addressing Elisha, as if some awe of the master kept them from speaking to him. An Elijah marching to his chariot of fire was not a man for raw youths to approach lightly. Their question is met by Elisha with curtness and scant courtesy, which indicates that it was asked in no sympathetic spirit, but from mere love of telling bad news, and of vulgar excitement. Even the gentle Elisha is stirred to rebuke the gossiping chatterers, who intrude their curiosity into that sacred hour. There are abundance of such busy-bodies always ready to buzz about any bleeding heart, and sorrow has often to be stern in order to be unmolested.

II. The second stage is the passage of Jordan. The verbal repetition of the same dialogue at Jericho as at Bethel increases the impression of prolonged loving struggle between the two prophets. At last, they stand on the western bank of Jordan, at their feet the spot where the hurrying river had been stayed by the ark till the tribes had passed over, before them the mountains bordering Elijah’s homeland of Gilead on the left, and away on the right the lone peak where Moses had died ‘by the mouth of the Lord.’ The soil was redolent of the miracles of the Mosaic age, and the dividing of the waters by Elijah is meant to bring the present into vital connection with that past, and to designate him as parallel with the former leader. Note the vigour with which he twists his characteristic mantle into a kind of rod, and strikes the waters strongly. The repetition of the former miracle is a sign that the unexhausted Power which wrought it is with Elijah. The God of yesterday is the God of to-day, and nothing that was done in the past but will be repeated in essence, though not in form, in the present. ‘As we have heard so have we seen.’ The former miracle had been done for a nation; this is performed for two men. It teaches the preciousness of His individual servants in God’s eyes. The former had been done through the ark; this, by the prophet’s mantle. Power is lodged in the faithful messenger. God’s strength dwells in those who love Him. The former miracle had been the close of the desert wanderings and the gateway to Canaan. Though Elijah’s face is turned in the opposite direction, does not its repetition suggest that for him, too, the impending translation was to be the end of wilderness weariness and toil, and the entrance on rest?

III. Elisha’s request is the next stage in the story. How far they two ‘went on’ is not told. The Bible does not foster the craving to know the exact situation where sacred things happened, the gratification of which might feed superstition, but could not increase reverence. Possibly they had drawn near the eastern hills, and were out of sight of the fifty curious gazers on the other hank. Elijah at last spoke the truth which both knew. How true to nature is that reticence kept up till the last moment, and then broken so tenderly!-’Ask what I shall do for thee, before.’ Probably he did not mean any supernatural gift, but simply some parting token of love; for he is startled at the response of Elisha. A true disciple can desire nothing more than a portion of his master’s spirit. ‘It is enough for the disciple that he be as his Master.’ They covet wisely and with a noble covetousness who most desire spiritual gifts to fit them for their vocation. It was an unworldly soul which asked but for such a legacy.

The ‘double portion’ does not mean twice as much as Elijah’s portion had been, but twice as much as other ‘sons of the prophets’ would receive. Elisha reckoned himself Elijah’s first-born spiritual son, and asked for the elder brother’s share, because he had been designated as successor, and would require more than others for his work. The new sense of responsibility is coming on him, and teaching him his need. Well for us if higher positions make us lowlier, in the consciousness of our own unfitness without divine help! Elijah knows that his spirit was not his to give, and can only refer his successor to the Fountain from which he had drawn; for the sign which he gives is obviously not within his power to determine. If the Lord shows the ascending master to him who is left, He will give the servant his desire.

A portion of their ‘spirit’ is the very thing which teachers and prophets cannot give. They may give their systems or their methods, their favourite ideas or cut-and-dry maxims and principles, and so leave a race of pygmies who give themselves airs as being their disciples, but their spirit they cannot impart. Contrast with this limitation of power confessed by Elijah, His consciousness who breathed on eleven poor men, and said, ‘Receive ye the Holy Ghost.’ No man could say that without absurdity or blasphemy. The gift impossible to man is the very characteristic gift of Jesus, who ‘has power over the Spirit of holiness.’ Must He not thereby be ‘declared to be the Son of God’?

IV. The climax of this lesson is that stupendous scene of the translation. Note how the ‘Behold’ suggests the suddenness of the appearance of the fiery chariot, which came flaming between the two men eagerly talking, and drove them apart. The description of the departure, in its brevity and incompleteness, sounds like the report of the only eye-witness, who had the fiery chariot between him and Elijah, and was too bewildered to see precisely what happened. All he knew was the sudden appearance of the fiery equipage, and then that, suddenly, and apparently swiftly, a rushing mighty wind swept away chariot and prophet into the heavens. He saw it, as the next verse after this passage tells us, only long enough to break into one rapturous and yet lamenting cry, and then all vanished, and he stood alone with an apparently empty heaven above him, the whirlwind sunk to calm, and Elijah’s mantle at his feet.

The teaching of the event is plain. As for the pre-Mosaic ages the translation of Enoch, and for the earlier Mosaic epoch the mysterious death of Moses, so for the prophetic period the carrying to heaven of Elijah, witnessed of a life beyond death, and of death as the wages of sin, which God could remit, if He willed, in the case of faithful service. Enoch and Elijah were led round the head of the valley on the heights, and reached the other side without having to go down into the cold waters flowing in the bottom; and though we cannot tread their path, the joy of their experience has not ceased to be a joy to us, if we walk with God. Death is still the coming of the chariot and horses of fire to bear the believer home. The same exclamation which fell from Elisha’s lips, as he saw the chariot sweep up the sky, was spoken over him as he lay sick ‘of the sickness whereof he should die.’

But the most instructive view of Elijah’s translation is its parallel and contrast with Christ’s Ascension. The one was by outward means; the other by inward energy. Storm and fire bore Elijah up into a region strange to him. Christ ‘ascended up where He was before,’ returning by the propriety of His nature to His eternal dwelling-place. The one is accomplished with significant disturbance, of whirlwind and flame; the other is gentle, like the life which it closed, and the last sight of Him was with extended hands of blessing. Each life closed in a manner corresponding to its character. The one was swift and sudden. The other was a slow, solemn motion, vividly described as being ‘borne upwards’ and as ‘going into heaven.’ The one bore a mortal into ‘heaven.’ In the other, the Son of God, our great High Priest, ‘hath passed through the heavens,’ and now, far above them all, He is ‘Head over all things.’2 Kings 2:1. When the Lord would take up Elijah — It is supposed, though not expressly revealed, that Elijah flourished about twenty years, before he was translated, body and soul, to heaven, only undergoing such a change as was necessary to qualify him for being an inhabitant in that world of spirits. By translating him, God gave, in that dark and degenerate age, as, in a similar age he had given by the translation of Enoch, a very sensible proof of another life, together with a type of the ascension of Christ, and the opening the kingdom of heaven to all believers.2:1-8 The Lord had let Elijah know that his time was at hand. He therefore went to the different schools of the prophets to give them his last exhortations and blessing. The removal of Elijah was a type and figure of the ascension of Christ, and the opening of the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Elisha had long followed Elijah, and he would not leave him now when he hoped for the parting blessing. Let not those who follow Christ come short by tiring at last. The waters of Jordan, of old, yielded to the ark; now, to the prophet's mantle, as a token of God's presence. When God will take up his faithful ones to heaven, death is the Jordan which they must pass through, and they find a way through it. The death of Christ has divided those waters, that the ransomed of the Lord may pass over. O death, where is thy sting, thy hurt, thy terror!The events of this chapter are related out of their chronological order. Elijah's translation did not take place until after the accession of Jehoram in Judah 2 Chronicles 21:12, which was not until the fifth year of Jehoram of Israel 2 Kings 8:16. The writer of Kings, having concluded his notices of the ministry of Elijah in chapter 1, and being about to pass in 2 Kings 3 to the ministry of Elisha, thought it best to insert at this point the final scene of Elijah's life, though it did not occur until several years later.

Gilgal - The modern Jiljilieh, on the highland between Nablous and Beitin (Bethel), about eight and a half miles from the latter, is now commonly supposed to be the Gilgal here mentioned. Some regard it as the ordinary residence of Elisha 2 Kings 4:38.

CHAPTER 2

2Ki 2:1-10. Elijah Divines Jordan.

1-7. when the Lord would take up Elijah—A revelation of this event had been made to the prophet; but, unknown to him, it had also been revealed to his disciples, and to Elisha in particular, who kept constantly beside him.

Gilgal—This Gilgal (Jiljil) was near Ebal and Gerizim; a school of the prophets was established there. At Beth-el there was also a school of the prophets, which Elijah had founded, notwithstanding that place was the headquarters of the calf-worship; and at Jericho there was another [2Ki 2:4]. In travelling to these places, which he had done through the impulse of the Spirit (2Ki 2:2, 4-6), Elijah wished to pay a farewell visit to these several institutions, which lay on his way to the place of ascension and, at the same time, from a feeling of humility and modesty, to be in solitude, where there would be no eye-witnesses of his glorification. All his efforts, however, to prevail on his attendant to remain behind, were fruitless. Elisha knew that the time was at hand, and at every place the sons of the prophets spoke to him of the approaching removal of his master. Their last stage was at the Jordan. They were followed at a distance by fifty scholars of the prophets, from Jericho, who were desirous, in honor of the great occasion, to witness the miraculous translation of the prophet. The revelation of this striking event to so many was a necessary part of the dispensation; for it was designed to be under the law, like that of Enoch in the patriarchal age, a visible proof of another state, and a type of the resurrection of Christ.Elijah, taking his leave of Elisha, with his mantle divideth Jordan, 2 Kings 2:1-8; and granting Elisha his request on condition, is taken up by a fiery chariot into heaven, 2 Kings 2:9-11. Elisha, dividing Jordan with Elijah’s mantle, is acknowledged his successor, 2 Kings 2:12-18. He with salt healeth the waters at Jericho, 2 Kings 2:19-22. Children mock him; he curseth them, and they are devoured by two bears, 2 Kings 21:23-25.

No text from Poole on this verse.

And it came to pass, when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind,.... Thereby lifting him up from the earth, and which, as it was the purpose and will of God, Elijah had notice of, as appears by his motions to different places, under a divine direction:

that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal, where it seems they met, a place where the Israelites first pitched when they came over Jordan, and where the tabernacle was for some time, and was famous for religious services, see Joshua 4:19.

And it came to pass, when the LORD would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from {a} Gilgal.

(a) Which was the place where the children of Israel were circumcised after they came over Jordan and had been forty years in the wilderness, Jos 5:9.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Ch. 2 Kings 2:1-18. Elijah is carried up into heaven. The Spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha. His first prophetic appearance (Not in Chronicles)

1. when the Lord would take up Elijah] The whole of the following narrative about Elijah’s assumption must be drawn from what was communicated by Elisha. It was probably collected by some among the sons of the prophets, and added to the previous record of Elijah’s life. The insertion of the history here would appear, from 2 Chronicles 21:12-15, to be a departure from the strict order of events. Jehoshaphat king of Judah is still alive, and in the next chapter we shall find an account of his expedition, in conjunction with Jehoram of Israel against the Moabites. In the passage just cited, however, the Chronicler tells of a letter which Elijah sent to Jehoram, the son of Jehoshaphat, at a time, as it appears, after his father’s death. Jehoram had risen up to the kingdom of his father and had slain all his brethren with the sword, and was walking in the ways of the northern kings of the house of Ahab. The letter was to warn him of the punishment which awaited his evil deeds. We can hardly place such acts as are there described during the period in which Jehoram was as it seems associated with Jehoshaphat in the kingdom. The father must have been dead ere one brother could slay all the rest of the family. The margin of the A.V. in 2 Chronicles 21:12 describes Elijah’s letter as ‘writ before his death’, apparently with the meaning that it was prepared by prophetic foreknowledge and sent by some one else when the time came that its warning was needed. It seems much more likely that the compiler of Kings decided to make his history of Elijah complete before he went on to other matters, and has by so doing put the final scene of the prophet’s earthly life a little earlier than its proper place in the history.

into heaven by a whirlwind] The R.V., to preserve the same order of words as the original, has ‘by a whirlwind into heaven’. The writer uses the figure which most nearly describes such a manifestation as that by which Elijah was translated. Human speech must of course fail to convey a true picture of so sublime a scene.

Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal] No mention of Elisha as Elijah’s companion is given in the history between the day of Elisha’s call and the time of the events in this chapter. But in 1 Kings 19:21 we read that Elisha ‘ministered unto’ Elijah, and in 2 Kings 3:11 he is called ‘Elisha the son of Shaphat which poured water on the hands of Elijah’: i.e. who performed for the aged prophet such services as a young attendant could yield to his master. We may therefore conclude that Elisha’s time had been mainly spent in Elijah’s company. The ‘Gilgal’ spoken of here must be a different place from that so named in Joshua 4:19; Joshua 5:9-10. That was situate in the Jordan valley and not very far from Jericho. But here the travellers are described (verse 2) as ‘going dawn’ from Gilgal to Bethel. There is however another place of the same name in the hill country of Ephraim, which is also the place alluded to in Deuteronomy 11:30 and is now known as Jiljilia, and by making this the starting-point of Elijah’s last journey, the description in the text becomes quite accurate, for that place stands considerably higher than Bethel. It is known from 2 Kings 4:38 that at Gilgal there was a colony of the prophets. At the time when he was to be translated Elijah was probably dwelling among the prophetic body, and passed to the other two centres, Bethel and Jericho, that to them he might leave the precious memory of a visit on the last day when he was seen on earth. ‘For a meet farewell to the earth, Elijah will go visit the schools of the prophets, before his departure. These were in his way: of any part of earth, they were nearest unto heaven’ (Bp Hall).Verse 1. - And it came to pass, when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven. The subject is introduced as one of general notoriety, the writer professing rather to give the exact details of a well-known fact, than to relate a new fact unknown to his readers. "When the time came," he means to say, "for Elijah's translation, of which you, my readers, all know, the following were the circumstances under which it took place." The fact itself was deeply impressed on the Jewish consciousness. "Elias," says the Sou of Sirach, "was taken up in a whirlwind of fire, and in a chariot of fiery homes" (Ecclus. 48:9). He was ranked with Enoch, as not having seen death (Josephus, 'Ant. Jud.,' 9:2. § 2), and was viewed as "continuing in heaven a mysterious life, which no death had ever interrupted, whence he was ready at any time to return to earth" (Ewald, 'History of Israel,' vol. 4. p. 113). The scribes thought that he was beyond all doubt to make his appearance upon the earth in person, before the coming of the Messiah (Matthew 16:10). By a whirlwind. Sa'arach is not so much an actual "whirlwind" as a storm or atmospheric disturbance (συσσεισμός, LXX.). It is a word which only occurs here in the historical Scriptures. That Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. 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). Elijah had no fixed residence, but moved from place to place as the Spirit of God suggested. His wanderings had now brought him to Gilgal (probably Jiljilieh, near Nablous), one of the most ancient sanctuaries of the land (1 Samuel 10:8; 1 Samuel 11:15, etc.), celebrated in the history of Saul and Samuel. The king, disregarding the punishing hand of the Lord, which, even if it might possibly have been overlooked in the calamity that befell the captain who was first sent and his company, could not be misunderstood when a similar fate befell the second captain with his fifty men, sent a third company, in his defiant obduracy, to fetch the prophet. (שׁלשׁים after חמשּׁים is apparently an error of the pen for שׁלישׁי, as the following word השּׁלישׁי shows). But the third captain was better than his king, and wiser than his two predecessors. He obeyed the command of the king so far as to go to the prophet; but instead of haughtily summoning him to follow him, he bent his knee before the man of God, and prayed that his own life and the lives of his soldiers might be spared.
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