2 Kings 2:12
And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(12) And Elisha . . . cried.—Literally, And Elisha was seeing, and he (emphatic) was shouting. (Comp. 2Kings 2:10, “If thou see me taken away.”)

My father, my father.—Expresses what Elijah was to Elisha. (See Note on 2Kings 2:9.)

The chariot (chariots—rèkeb) of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.—Expressing what Elijah was to the nation. The Targum paraphrases, “My master, my master, who was better to Israel than chariots and horsemen by his prayers.” The personal work and influence of a prophet like Elijah was the truest safeguard of Israel. The force of the expression will be seen, if it is remembered that chariots and horsemen constituted, in that age, the chief military arm, and were indispensable for the struggle against the Aramean states. (Comp. 2Kings 7:6; 2Kings 10:2; 2Kings 13:14; 1Kings 20:1; Psalm 20:7.)

He saw him no more.—After his outcry. He had seen him taken up.

Rent them in two pieces.—From top to bottom, in token of extreme sorrow. (For the phrase, comp. 1Kings 11:30.)

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 2:12. Elisha saw it, and cried, My father, &c. — So he calls him for his fatherly affection to him, and for his fatherly authority which he had over him; in which respect the scholars of the prophets are called their sons. He saw his own condition like that of a fatherless child, and laments it accordingly. The chariot, &c. — Who, by thy example, and counsels, and prayers, and power with God, didst more for the defence and preservation of Israel than all their chariots and horses. The expression alludes to the form of chariots and horses which he had seen.2:9-12 That fulness, from whence prophets and apostles had all their supply, still exists as of old, and we are told to ask large supplies from it. Diligent attendance upon Elijah, particularly in his last hours, would be proper means for Elisha to obtain much of his spirit. The comforts of departing saints, and their experiences, help both to gild our comforts and to strengthen our resolutions. Elijah is carried to heaven in a fiery chariot. Many questions might be asked about this, which could not be answered. Let it suffice that we are told, what his Lord, when he came, found him doing. He was engaged in serious discourse, encouraging and directing Elisha about the kingdom of God among men. We mistake, if we think preparation for heaven is carried on only by contemplation and acts of devotion. The chariot and horses appeared like fire, something very glorious, not for burning, but brightness. By the manner in which Elijah and Enoch were taken from this world, God gave a glimpse of the eternal life brought to light by the gospel, of the glory reserved for the bodies of the saints, and of the opening of the kingdom of heaven to all believers. It was also a figure of Christ's ascension. Though Elijah was gone triumphantly to heaven, yet this world could ill spare him. Surely their hearts are hard, who feel not, when God, by taking away faithful, useful men, calls for weeping and mourning. Elijah was to Israel, by his counsels, reproofs, and prayers, better than the strongest force of chariot and horse, and kept off the judgments of God. Christ bequeathed to his disciples his precious gospel, like Elijah's mantle; the token of the Divine power being exerted to overturn the empire of Satan, and to set up the kingdom of God in the world. The same gospel remains with us, though the miraculous powers are withdrawn, and it has Divine strength for the conversion and salvation of sinners.The chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof - These difficult words are probably said of Elijah, whom Elisha addresses as "the true defense of Israel, better than either the chariots or horsemen" which he saw. Hence, his rending his clothes in token of his grief. 12. Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father—that is, spiritual father, as the pupils of the prophets are called their sons.

the chariot of Israel, and the horseman thereof—that is, that as earthly kingdoms are dependent for their defense and glory upon warlike preparations, there a single prophet had done more for the preservation and prosperity of Israel than all her chariots and horsemen.

took hold of his own clothes and rent them—in token of his grief for his loss.

My father, my father; so he calls him for his fatherly affection to him, and for his fatherly authority which by his office he had over him, in which respect the scholars of the prophets are called their sons, as 1 Kings 20:35.

The chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof; who by thy example, and counsels, and prayers, and power with God, didst more for the defence and preservation of Israel, than all their chariots and horses, or other warlike provisions. The expression alludes to the form of chariots and horses which he had seen. And Elisha saw it,.... The ascension of Elijah to heaven, the manner of it, and all relative to it, as the disciples saw the ascension of Christ, between which and this there is a great agreement, see Acts 1:9, and so Elisha had the token by which he might expect to have the double portion, as the disciples after the ascension of Christ had an extraordinary effusion of the Spirit and gifts upon them:

and he cried, my father, my father; or my master, my master, as the Targum; Elijah being a father to Elisha, and the rest of the prophets, in the same sense as disciples of the prophets are called sons:

the chariots of Israel, and the horsemen thereof; who was a greater defence to Israel, and was of more service to them by his instructions and prayers, than an army consisting of chariots and horsemen; so the Targum,"he was better to Israel by his prayers than chariots and horsemen:"

and he saw him no more; he was carried up in the above manner into the heaven of heavens, out of the sight of mortals, and never seen more, but at the transfiguration of Christ on the mount:

and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces; not on account of Elijah's case and circumstances, who was now in a most happy and glorious state and condition, but as lamenting his own loss, and the loss of the public.

And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
12. My father, my father] That this title of affection was given by the younger prophets to an elder seems clear from 1 Samuel 10:12, where the question ‘Who is their father?’ appears to refer to Samuel, and the whole passage to shew that men need not be surprised at Saul being among the prophets, if they only know that he is coming from close communication with Samuel. The use of the title ‘father’ suits perfectly with the request that has just been made for the share which falls to the firstborn.

the chariot [R.V. chariots] of Israel, and the horsemen thereof] These words are in apposition with the former clause, and mark the sense which Elisha had of the protection afforded to the land by the presence of Elijah. Horses and chariots might be prepared in abundance, but they who had God’s prophet as their guide, and his voice lifted to heaven for their help, were guarded by a might against which armies were powerless. Though the noun in the Hebrew is in the singular, it has a plural sense here, and signifies ‘the chariotry’, the mounted force of the nation, to which Elijah’s presence is here compared.

and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them] Grief prevailing over every other feeling, and the Oriental demonstrativeness being uncontrollable even in the lonely gorges of Gilead.

We may compare this ‘taking away’ with the translation of Enoch, and the Ascension of Christ, as marking the three periods of the world’s history, giving witness to each of man’s immortality, but in very different degrees.Verse 12. - And Elisha saw it (comp. ver. 10). 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. And he cried, My father! my father! It was usual for servants thus to address their masters (2 Kings 5:13), and younger men would, out of respect, almost always thus address an aged prophet (2 Kings 6:21; 2 Kings 13:14, etc.). 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. The chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof; i.e. the best earthly defense of Israel. "In losing thee," he means, "we lose our great protector - him that is more to us than chariots and horsemen - the strength of Israel, against both domestic and foreign foes." The sight of the fiery chariot and horses may have determined the imagery, but they are not spoken cf. Note the substitution of "horsemen" for "horses," and comp. 2 Kings 13:10, where the same expression is used in reference to Elisha. And he saw him no more. Elijah passed beyond Elisha's ken. So far as we can gather from the expressions employed, no cloud received him (Acts 1:9), but he gradually vanished from sight. And he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces; an action marking extreme horror or extreme grief - here the latter (comp. Genesis 37:29; 2 Samuel 13:19; Job 1:20; Job 2:12, etc.). In Bethel, and again in Jericho, to which they both proceeded from Bethel, Elijah repeated the appeal to Elisha to stay there, but always in vain. The taking away of Elijah had also been revealed to the disciples of the prophets at Jericho. Thus they both came to the Jordan, whilst fifty disciples of the prophets from Jericho followed them at a distance, to be eye-witnesses of the miraculous translation of their master. The course which Elijah took before his departure from this earth, viz., from Gilgal past Bethel and Jericho, was not merely occasioned by the fact that he was obliged to touch at these places on the way to the Jordan, but had evidently also the same higher purpose, for which his ascension to heaven had been revealed both to Elisha and to the disciples of the prophets at Bethel and Jericho. Elijah himself said that the Lord had sent him to Bethel, to Jericho, to the Jordan (2 Kings 2:2, 2 Kings 2:4, 2 Kings 2:6). He therefore took this way from an impulse received from the Spirit of God, that he might visit the schools of the prophets, which he had founded, once more before his departure, and strengthen and fortify the disciples of the prophets in the consecration of their lives to the service of the Lord, though without in the least surmising that they had been informed by the Spirit of the Lord of his approaching departure from this life. But as his ascension to heaven took place not so much for his own sake, as because of those associates in his office who were left behind, God had revealed it to so many, that they might be even more firmly established in their calling by the miraculous glorification of their master than by his words, his teaching, and his admonitions, so that they might carry it on without fear or trembling, even if their great master should no longer stand by their side with the might of his spiritual power to instruct, advise, or defend. Btu above all, Elisha, whom the Lord had appointed as his successor (1 Kings 19:16), was to be prepared for carrying on his work by the last journey of his master. He did not leave his side therefore, and resolved, certainly also from an inward impulse of the Spirit of God, to be an eye-witness of his glorification, that he might receive the spiritual inheritance of the first-born from his departing spiritual father.
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