Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And it came to pass, when the LORD would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal.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).
And Elijah said unto Elisha, Tarry here, I pray thee; for the LORD hath sent me to Bethel. 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.2. Tarry here] Not only was Elijah himself conscious of some great event at hand but Elisha and the bands of prophets in Bethel and Jericho had an intimation that the departure of Elijah was very near. But the subject is too solemn for words. The two chief persons do not speak of it, and it is only when the separation is just about to take place that direct allusion is made to it (verse 9). We can see however in Elijah’s request, here and afterwards, that Elisha should stay behind how awful the immediate future appeared to him, and in Elisha’s persistence the great love which the disciple felt for his master. Elijah, feeling that soon he was to stand before God, and was drawing near to the gate of heaven, would save his disciple from the sight of a glory on which man, as the Jew felt, cannot gaze and live, while Elisha is resolved that nothing but the last necessity shall take him from his master’s side.
the Lord hath sent me to [R.V. more precisely, as far as] Beth-el] The whole journey has been marked out for him, and devised that those who were to carry on the work after Elijah’s departure might at this last interview see, and remember hereafter, the last looks, fixed on heaven, and the last words, though they seem to have been but few, spoken, of him who had been their guide and father for a long while and amid constant perils.
As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth] The combination of the two phrases imparts much solemnity to the resolve. They are not un-frequently found apart. Thus ‘As the Lord liveth’ occurs alone in Jdg 8:19; Ruth 3:13; 1 Samuel 14:39 &c., and ‘As thy soul liveth’ in 1 Samuel 1:26; 1 Samuel 17:55; 2 Samuel 14:19 &c. Beside the places in this chapter the double form is found in 1 Samuel 20:3; 1 Samuel 25:26 and is expressive of the most intense earnestness. Elisha’s master may be withdrawn from him: he will not be withdrawn from his master.
And the sons of the prophets that were at Bethel came forth to Elisha, 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.3. the sons of the prophets] They were called ‘sons’ in the same way as Elisha calls Elijah ‘father’. See below verse 12. Whether the prophetic body in Gilgal had been warned before Elijah’s departure from them that they would see him no more wé are not told; but it seems highly probable that it was so from what is said of Bethel and of Jericho. Thus Elisha started on his journey prepared for what its end would be.
Beth-el] This was the city which in old time had been called Luz (Joshua 18:13) though from one passage (Joshua 16:2) there seems to have been a distinction between Bethel and Luz, as though the latter had been the old town, and the former a sacred spot near to it. It lay in the northern part of the tribe of Benjamin, and when the kingdoms were divided and Jeroboam set up the calf-worship in Israel, Bethel was constituted the southern sanctuary. Perhaps it was as a protest against this worship that the sons of the prophets made one of their centres in Bethel. It was at Bethel that the voice of God’s prophet was first raised against Jeroboam’s altar (1 Kings 13:1).
came forth to Elisha] The solemn event of which they had been forewarned checks them from addressing Elijah. His thoughts must have been all absorbed in meditation on the revelation which he was so soon to experience, and heaven, not earth, nor the things of earth, was in his mind. Silence when God is so near is the only homage man can pay.
the Lord will take away thy master from thy head to day] We can see from this language that the communion between Elijah and Elisha had been much closer than that which the aged prophet had held with the other sons of the prophets. Hence he is rather spoken of as Elisha’s master, than theirs. This is what we should expect from the special way in which Elisha was appointed (1 Kings 19:16). The prophetic bodies were therefore prepared to accept Elisha as their head, when Elijah had been taken away.
hold you your peace] Elisha had marked the solemn and meditative frame of his master’s mind, and would not have it disturbed by any prolonged conversation between himself and the sons of the prophets. He cannot bear the questioning. He thinks of his own weakness and of the terrible burden which will be laid upon him when he is left alone without the friend on whom he has hitherto leaned.
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.4. hath sent me to Jericho] The famous city which played a part in the history of Israel from their first entry into Canaan. It had been rebuilt in Ahab’s reign (1 Kings 16:34) in spite of the divine curse pronounced in Joshua’s time on any who should restore it (Joshua 6:26). And now it had been chosen as the seat of one of the prophetic colleges.
And the sons of the prophets that were at Jericho came to Elisha, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the LORD will take away thy master from thy head to day? And he answered, Yea, I know it; hold ye your peace.
And Elijah said unto him, Tarry, I pray thee, here; for the LORD hath sent me to Jordan. And he said, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And they two went on.6. to Jordan] The journey tends across the river to that part of the country whither Elijah had at first fled for fear of Ahab. In that same land of Gilead, which was Elijah’s birthplace (1 Kings 17:1) and whither we find the prophet’s first flight directed (1 Kings 17:2-3), is to be the scene of his assumption into heaven.
they two went on] It was felt by the whole prophetic band that none but the faithful minister could presume to go as Elijah’s companion at such a moment. They watched the departing master and servant, standing only afar off, if perchance they might be allowed to witness something more of the approaching separation.
And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood to view afar off: and they two stood by Jordan.7. And fifty men] It is not without surprise that we come at one single centre upon so large a body of men devoting themselves to a holy life in the service of Jehovah, while Ahab’s children are still on the throne of Israel. There seems also to have been, beside Jericho and Bethel, similar colleges at Gilgal and perhaps on Carmel. It would almost appear as though all those who were true adherents of the Lord had betaken themselves to this life of retirement, that they might escape from the evils which followed so thick in the train of the worship of the Baalim.
stood to view] R.V. over against them, and similarly in verse 15. This rendering stands also as one margin of the A.V. The Hebrew word [neged] originally signifies ‘in front’ of anything; but since we are in front of anything which faces us, and it may be said to be in front of us, the adverb in the text has a double use. Here it refers to the position of the sons of the prophets as they stood looking towards the departing couple, while in the next chapter (2 Kings 3:22) it is applied to the blood which the Moabites supposed they saw ‘on the other side’ of the valley. R.V. has ‘over against them’ in that verse also.
And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground.8. And Elijah took his mantle] In 2 Kings 1:8 the mantle was not mentioned, but the word here is the same as in Zechariah 13:4, so that there can be little doubt that the expression ‘hairy man’ above refers to the garment, and not to the head and beard.
and wrapt it together] Making thus a sort of roll or rod, and reminding us by his action of Moses, who smote with his rod the waters of the Nile (Exodus 7:17; Exodus 7:20) when they were to be turned into blood.
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. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.9. when they were gone over] Or, with margin of R.V., ‘as they went over’. There was now no other place to visit, and the end was felt to be close at hand. Both probably thought how near they were coming to the spot where the earlier prophet Moses had been taken from the earth. In crossing the Jordan Elijah stood again on the slopes of his native Gilead. Was he impelled by that strong desire which so often makes men wish to die among the scenes of their childhood?
before I be taken away from thee] R.V. omits ‘away’, rather inconsistently, for ‘take away’ is kept as the rendering of the same verb in verses 3 and 5.
The subject which had been filling both their hearts, the approaching separation, is at last mentioned. The master would help in whatever way he could the disciple who has been chosen to fill his place; and the question tests the character of Elisha. It shews that he felt that he must act with the same undaunted courage and boldness, and that he knew the needs of the times.
let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me] The request is not, as some have thought, for twice the spirit of the departing master. And the attempts which have been made to shew that in some ways Elisha went beyond Elijah are utterly pointless. What Elisha wants is what a father may rightly give to a firstborn son. In Deuteronomy 21:17 it is prescribed that to the firstborn shall be given a double portion of all which the father possesses, so that he may have twice as much as each of the other sons. But we are not to think here of the whole of the schools of the prophets as sharing in the gift which Elijah was to bestow. Such slavery to the letter is absurd. What Elisha longs for is such a blessing as will shew that he is esteemed as the dearest member of that band whom Elijah had most trusted.
And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.10. Thou hast asked a hard thing] Because it was not Elijah’s to bestow. He knew that except for God’s strengthening power and comforting revelations his own heart would often have fainted. He therefore leaves the result to depend on God’s judgement. If He permit Elisha to behold the assumption, then it shall be for a token that the petition is granted, and Elisha counted worthy to be blessed as he desires.
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.11. as they still went on, and talked] Elisha is to remain to the last. And now that the silence has been broken, and the request made, we can understand how much Elijah would find of exhortation and encouragement to bestow as parting counsels on his successor.
a chariot of fire, and horses of fire] Compare with this description the notice of the sight which Elisha’s servant (2 Kings 6:17) was permitted to behold, when he was terrified by the king of Syria’s hosts. ‘The mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.’ There it was in answer to Elisha’s prayer, ‘Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes that he may see’, that the encouraging enlightenment was vouchsafed. And here we may well think that it was of God’s grace and as an assurance that Elisha should receive his petition, that his eyes were opened to behold the glory which carried away his master. Henceforth he was sure that that power was constantly near God’s servants, and could say with firm assurance, ‘They that be with us are more than they which be with them’. The vision was a source of strength and encouragement in the labours which were before him with no master at his head. He learnt the source of his master’s spirit.
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.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.
He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan;13. He took up also the mantle of Elijah] Not with any view of using it as clothing, but as a precious memento of the departed master, and as a sort of pledge of the promise which had been made to him. This heirloom was taken of the inheritance on which he was now about to enter.
And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the LORD God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over.14. and smote the waters] He acts upon the faith that he would receive from God the power which he had desired. He is in a degree to represent Elijah and therefore he acts as Elijah had done. After these words the Complutensian text of the LXX. gives καὶ οὐ διῃρέθη, ‘and they were not divided’. This is represented also in the Vulgate ‘percussit aquas et non sunt divisæ’. To explain this it has been said that at first Elisha took the mantle, and wrapping it together smote the waters, without any words, expecting the virtue to make itself apparent at once. When no effect was thus produced he then called upon Jehovah and the waters parted asunder. As there is no warrant in any Hebrew text for the words added in the Greek and Latin it is needless to point out that the above explanation is of no authority.
Where is the Lord God [R.V. the God] of Elijah?] The question does not imply any doubt of God’s presence, of which Elisha had so lately seen a manifestation; but should rather be explained as an entreaty for His power to shew itself and give a foretaste of the spirit of Elijah which had been promised. ‘As if he had said: Lord God, it was thy promise to me by my departed master, that if I should see him in his last passage, a double portion of his spirit should be upon me. I followed him with my eyes in that fire and whirlwind; now therefore, O God, make good thy gracious word unto thy servant: make this the first proof of the miraculous power wherewith thou shalt endow me. Let Jordan give the same way to me as it gave to my master’ (Bp Hall).
But at this point there is a difficulty in the Hebrew text. Immediately following the question just noticed come two words אַף־הוּא which the Massoretic pointing connects with what follows, and which the A.V. (and many later authorities) renders by ‘he also’. The next word in the Hebrew=‘and he smote’. It is apparent at once that the collocation ‘he also and he smote’ can only by an act of some violence be rendered ‘and when he also had smitten’. But if the Massoretic text be adhered to, this is the only solution, and it has been retained in the text of the R.V. by the rule which fixed the accepted text as that which was to be translated. On the margin however the Revisers give ‘the God of Elijah, even He?’ thus combining the two Hebrew words which cause the difficulty with the first portion of the sentence, and continuing ‘And when he had smitten &c.’ This, though not without some awkwardness, for אַף־הוּא nowhere else is found in the sense of ‘even he’, yet seems better than the solution of the A.V. The LXX. merely transliterated the difficult words by ἀφφώ, and some interpreters of the Greek have treated this as a mysterious name of Jehovah, placed in apposition with ‘the God of Elijah’. There is another Hebrew word אֵפוֹא = now, which in 2 Kings 10:10 the LXX. represents in the same way by ἀφφώ. Hence some have proposed that that word should be read here, and so the Massoretic pointing preserved. This would be rendered ‘Where is now the Lord God of Elijah?’ The margin of R.V. though not free from difficulty seems the rendering to be preferred.
they parted [R.V. were divided] hither and thither] The word is the same as in verse 8. By this the Lord confirmed the promise made to Elisha by Elijah, and shewed that the spirit of the master had been bestowed on the disciple.
And when the sons of the prophets which were to view at Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him.15. which were to view at Jericho] R.V. which were at Jericho over against him. See above on verse 7. They were in a position from which they could see him, and he might see them.
bowed themselves to the ground] Thus expressing their acknowledgement of him as their head, and the divinely appointed successor of Elijah. ‘It was not the outside of Elijah which they had wont to stoop unto with so much veneration; it was his spirit, which since they now find in another subject, they entertain with equal reverence. No envy, no emulation raiseth up their stomachs against Elijah’s servant; but where they see eminent graces, they are willingly prostrate’ (Bp Hall).
And they said unto him, Behold now, there be with thy servants fifty strong men; let them go, we pray thee, and seek thy master: lest peradventure the Spirit of the LORD hath taken him up, and cast him upon some mountain, or into some valley. And he said, Ye shall not send.16. there be with thy servants fifty strong men] Doubtless some from among the company of the prophets are meant. In chapter 2 Kings 4:1-4 they are described as men equal to the labour of telling trees, and doing the work of building. We cannot suppose that in such a society there were many persons retained for the service of the college. As Elisha served Elijah, so they did all that was needful for themselves.
seek thy master] Throughout the narrative there is implied a much closer connexion between Elijah and Elisha than between Elijah and the rest. He is ‘thy master’ not ‘our master’.
the spirit of the Lord hath taken him up] Compare 1 Kings 18:12, where Obadiah speaks of the spirit of the Lord carrying Elijah away to some unknown spot. A like expression is found in the introduction to Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 37:1) of the dry bones. ‘The hand of the Lord was upon me and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord.’ The ‘sons of the prophets’ appear to have thought that the body of Elijah might be discovered somewhere, though God had taken away his soul. They had knowledge, as is seen from the previous part of the narrative, that the prophet was to be taken away from life, but seem to have expected his body would be left lifeless near the spot where he was separated from Elisha. It cannot be supposed after what they had before said to Elisha, that the Lord would take away his master from him on that day, that they expected to find Elijah somewhere alive. ‘Could they think that God would send such a chariot and horses, for a less voyage than heaven?’ (Bp Hall).
and cast him] Here the LXX. adds ‘in the Jordan or’, an addition which seems due to a desire to express every possible place into which the body could have been thrown. If it were not on a hill or in a valley, it might perhaps be in the river. The use of the word ‘cast’ seems to indicate that they thought of the body of the prophet as merely the wrapping of that better part which God had taken to Himself, and that the body was of small account when the spirit had been taken from it.
Ye shall not send] There could be no doubt in Elisha’s mind about the taking up of the body of his master. The garment left as a symbol of the granted petition was all that had fallen to the ground. But though he described, as no doubt he did, the glory which he had beheld and the way in which his master was translated, the sons of the prophets could not be moved from their notion that the body of Elijah might somewhere be discovered, and it is easy to understand how they would desire to give it reverent burial, if it were to be found.
And when they urged him till he was ashamed, he said, Send. They sent therefore fifty men; and they sought three days, but found him not.17. till he was ashamed] i.e. to refuse longer so urgent, though as he knew resultless, a petition. There is no pronoun expressed in the original. Hence some have thought the expression meant ‘to a shameful extent’ and was to be applied to the undue persistence of the petitioners. But the same phrase occurs in Jdg 3:25 of Eglon’s servants who waited till they were ashamed to wait longer. Here it implies that Elisha was at a loss how to refuse them any longer. His narrative was unprecedented in its character, and if they refused to be persuaded by that, he had no more that he could do.
And when they came again to him, (for he tarried at Jericho,) he said unto them, Did I not say unto you, Go not?18. And when [R.V. omits when] they came again [R.V. back] to him, (for [R.V. while] he tarried at Jericho)] The alteration of the R.V. of course removes the parenthesis. The Hebrew has in both places only the conjunction usually rendered ‘And’. The two clauses are literally ‘And they came back and he was tarrying’ &c. Having acceded to their request, he waited for the return of the searching party. ‘They turn back as wise as they went. Some men are best satisfied when they have wearied themselves in their own ways. Nothing will teach them wit but disappointments’ (Bp Hall).
We cannot dismiss the history of Elijah, which is brought to a close in this chapter, without some notice of the powerful hold which that history took upon the minds of the Jewish people, and of the prominent place which the prophet fills in the writings of the New Testament. In the Old Testament Elijah is rarely mentioned except in these chapters of the books of Kings, yet from the way in which Malachi (2 Kings 4:5-6) foretells his coming again we can see that the character of his mission had been fully appreciated. It was felt to be a mission suited for evil times, for times when God might be expected to come and smite the earth with a curse, if men repented not. Elijah is therefore set forth as mighty rather in works than in words. His was hardly the day for preaching. He is also, nearly always, seen to be supported by the loftiest faith, and his message is on that account attested by signs more striking than usual. On the contrary among his countrymen the decay of faith was so complete, that no work of mercy was wrought by this prophet except for a stranger, the widow of Zarephath.
The son of Sirach (Sir 48:1-12) speaks of Elijah as a fire, no unfit comparison, and of his word as a lamp. He calls him a prophet ordained for the reproof of the times in which he lived, and to pacify the wrath of the Lord’s judgement before it brake forth into fury. The day of the Lord was at hand, and his warnings were sent by a startling messenger. And although the wrath of the Almighty was not ultimately diverted from Israel, we can see how the mighty works of Elijah stirred up a more devout spirit in the land, and thus put back the day of vengeance. This influence of Elijah’s life is specially to be noted in the days of his successor. We come constantly upon evidence that even in the house of Ahab itself the prophet of the Lord was held in some esteem, while Jehovah was truly worshipped by not a few in the land, though Baal and the calves had captivated the multitude.
Hence in later days, to the mind of the pious Jew, Elijah was deemed to be ever interested in the spiritual welfare of the Lord’s people, and a place was set for him at every circumcision-service. We can see too how his ministry for help was in all men’s minds from the mistake which was made at the Crucifixion, when our Lord’s cry of agony was interpreted into a call for Elijah. That his intervention was ever expected to be salutary is testified by the language ‘Let us see whether Elijah will come and save him’. The large place which Elijah filled in the thoughts of the Jews of our Lord’s day is shewn by the mention in the New Testament of his name and his work more frequently than those of any other prophet; while both in his despondency over the evil condition of the nation (Romans 11:2) and in the mention of his effectual prayer (James 5:17) he is identified most closely with the people whom he so earnestly served as ‘a man subject to like passions as we are’.
For such a prophet men were looking in those evil days which preceded the coming of Christ, and from a like obscurity in the desert John the Baptist suddenly emerged in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17) and all men recognised him as God’s prophet. ‘Art thou Elijah?’ was the first question of those who saw and heard him (John 1:21) and Jesus pointed out to His disciples that the office of Elijah was truly fulfilled by the Baptist (Matthew 11:14).
The ‘taking up’ of Elijah was accepted by the Jews as a testimony to the doctrine of man’s immortality. ‘Blessed are they that saw thee’ … says the writer of Ecclesiasticus … ‘for we shall surely live.’ Hence the great fitness of the appearance of Elijah with Moses at our Lord’s, Transfiguration. Christ came and brought life and incorruption to light, the former by the fulfilling of the Mosaic law, the latter by taking again His body after it had lain three days dead in the grave. The discourse on the mount of Transfiguration was of the decease which He was shortly to accomplish at Jerusalem. The presence of the prophet who had long before been taken from this world by the chariots of heaven calmed the minds of the disciples concerning the coming decease, taught them that to disappear from among men was not to perish, and so prepared them in a measure to believe the Master’s promise ‘In three days the Son of Man shall rise again’. Hence at a later time they could return in joy to Jerusalem when the angel had announced that this same Jesus whom they had seen taken up, should come again in like manner as they had seen Him depart. They had seen Elijah and by that they were assured that Jesus would be sent again. Thus they became preachers of the times of refreshing when God should send Jesus, the Christ, to bless men, as Elijah in his day fain would have done, by turning them away from their iniquities.
And the men of the city said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth: but the water is naught, and the ground barren.19–22. Elisha heals the noxious water at Jericho (Not in Chronicles)
19. And the men of the city] These are the ordinary inhabitants. From the sons of the prophets they would gather that Elisha was now gifted with the spirit and power of Elijah. The situation of Jericho, near the passage of the Jordan, was such as to attract a considerable population after it was rebuilt, and for the sake of the prosperity which came to them in other ways they were content to dwell in such an unwholesome place. Now however they saw a hope of benefit and with this thought they came to Elisha. ‘It is good making use of a prophet while we have him’ (Bp Hall).
I [R.V. we] pray thee] The Hebrew is a mere interjection. The change in the English is justified because the petitioners were numerous.
the situation of this city is pleasant] Jericho was a part of that country which, in Genesis 13:10, is compared to ‘the garden of the Lord’.
the water is naught] This word is of frequent occurrence in the English of the 16th century in the sense of ‘bad’. So too ‘naughty’. Cf. Jeremiah 24:2, ‘naughty figs’. And for ‘naught’ cf. Shakes. As You Like It, I. 2. 68, ‘The mustard was naught’. Much Ado, v. I. 157, ‘If I do not carve most curiously, say my knife’s naught’.
and the ground barren] R.V. and the land miscarrieth. The R.V. is explained in a margin ‘casteth her fruit’. The evil effect was clearly in consequence of the hurtful water, for the healing of the spring is to bring a remedy for the other evils. It seems therefore that the water was such as caused the trees to shed their fruit prematurely and the cattle which fed on the herbage which it watered to cast their young untimely, and it may be that the mischief extended also to the human beings who drank thereof.
And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him.20. Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein] The purity and freshness of the vessel were to typify the purification wrought upon the spring. Salt too is significant of preservation and purity. We are not however to think of this as the means whereby the healing was wrought, but only as an outward sign to point to the work which was supernaturally performed. The old word ‘cruse’ = a cup, is akin to the more modern ‘cruet’ and ‘crucible’, and occurs before in the A.V. (1 Kings 14:3).
And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the LORD, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land.21. Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters] The prophet by his words carries the thought away from the sign to the thing signified, the power of God exerted at the prayer of the prophet. We cannot suppose, though no mention is made of it, that the healing was attempted without a calling upon God.
any more death or barren land] R.V. or miscarrying. The R.V. thus conforms to its rendering of verse 19, and gives a wider sense than that conveyed by the A.V. This is to be preferred because the root of the word applies in the first instance rather to deprivation of children than to sterility of soil.
So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake.22. unto this day] A note of a faithful reproduction by the compiler of what was written in some earlier document. See note on 1 Kings 9:21. There is but one spring in the neighbourhood of Jericho, called now Ain es Sultan, and this is probably the same which existed in Elisha’s time. Its waters spread over the plain of Jericho.
And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.23–25. Elisha curseth the mocking children and some of them are destroyed (Not in Chronicles)
23. from thence unto Beth-el] Going back by the same way which he had come some days before with Elijah.
there came forth little children] The margin of R.V. gives ‘young lads’. The word in the original is that which Solomon uses in his prayer at Gibeon (1 Kings 3:7), ‘I am but a little child’. This was at the time when he had just been elevated to the throne. So that although the word may mean ‘a little child’ it is not necessary nor possible in the present passage to understand by it anything but such young persons as were well aware of the outrage and wickedness of their conduct.
Go up, thou bald head] As the prophet drew near to the city these youths recognised him by his garb for one of the Lord’s prophets. It may be that he was wearing Elijah’s mantle. Such a man would be thought fit sport for the children of the Baal-worshippers of Bethel, and they were most probably set on and encouraged in their mockery by their parents. Their home education and all the associations of the place would have given them a contempt for the true servants of God. The fault of what they did lay as much in their surroundings as in themselves. It would seem that Elisha was prematurely bald, for he lived a long time after Elijah’s assumption, and this physical defect the insolent youths seized upon at once as a ground for ridicule. Elijah, the hairy man, had probably long shaggy locks, and so the contrast between the two would be marked at once.
And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.24. And he turned back, and looked on them] R.V. And he looked behind him and saw them. The young lads had come forth from the city, and Elisha had, as it seems, passed by them, before they began their mockery. The word translated ‘turned’ in A.V. is used specially of turning the face toward any object. It is so rendered by A.V. in Genesis 18:22, ‘And the men turned their faces’. Elisha turned about and saw in them the malice and evil spirit of their parents and kindred.
and cursed them in the name of the Lord] It was not to avenge himself. Their insult to him was but a symptom of their hatred of all that was connected with the pure worship of Jehovah. It was as Jehovah’s servant and in vindication of Jehovah’s honour that Elisha invoked a curse upon the revilers. ‘God and His seer looked through these children at the parents, at all Israel. He would punish the parents’ misnurturing their children, with the death of those children which they had mistaught’ (Bp Hall).
two she bears] Of the prevalence of wild beasts in the immediate neighbourhood of cities we have indications in the history of David who slew a lion and a bear as he was keeping his father’s flock (1 Samuel 17:36), and in the story of the disobedient prophet who was torn by a lion near this very city of Bethel (1 Kings 13:24).
tare forty and two] The punishment would touch the parents in a way which nothing else could have done.
And he went from thence to mount Carmel, and from thence he returned to Samaria.25. he went from thence to mount Carmel] At which place, either for the purposes of devotion or because there also was a college of the prophets, we see from 2 Kings 4:25, that Elisha was known to reside from time to time. The Shunammite mother in her distress knows where the prophet is to be found.
and from thence he returned to Samaria] In which city we learn, from the story of Naaman in chapter 5 below, that Elisha had a house. The Israelitish maid also speaks of him there as ‘the prophet that is in Samaria’. His most permanent home therefore was most likely in the royal city, and his visits to Carmel and other places made from time to time, as need required.