Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
B.—Elijah’s departure and Elisha’s first appearance as Prophet
2 KINGS 2:1–25
1And it came to pass, when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. 2And Elijah said unto Elisha, Tarry here, I pray thee; for the Lord hath sent me to Beth-el. And Elisha said unto him, As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they went down to Beth-el. 3And the sons [pupils] of the prophets that were at Beth-el 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. 4And 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. 5And 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. 6And 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. 7And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood to view [over against them] afar off: and they two stood by Jordan. 8And 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. 9And 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. 10And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing [to obtain, Bähr]: 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. 11And 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 [towards] heaven. And Elisha saw it, 12and he cried, My father, my father, the [thou, omit the] chariot of Israel, and the [omit the] horsemen thereof! And he saw him no more: and so he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.
13[Then] He took up also [omit also] the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan; 14And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the Lord God of Elijah [even He]? And when he also [omit also] had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went o2 Kings 2:15And when the sons of the prophets which were to view [omit to view] at Jericho saw him [from the opposite side],1 they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him. 16And 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,2 or into some valley.2 And he said, Ye shall not send. 17And when they urged him till he was ashamed [to refuse them, Bähr], he said, Send. They sent therefore fifty men; and they sought three days, but found him not. 18And when they came again to him, (for he tarried at Jericho,) he said unto them, Did I not say unto you, Go not?
19And the men of the city said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation [inhabiting]3 of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth: but the water is naught 20[bad], and the ground barren [the locality causes barrenness].3 And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him. 21And 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 [barrenness, omit land].4 22So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake.
23And he went up from thence unto Beth-el: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children [young persons] out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. 24And 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. 25And he went from thence to mount Carmel, and from thence he returned to Samaria.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
2 Kings 2:1. And it came to pass, when, &c. The following event certainly belongs to the time after the death of Ahaziah (2 Kings 1:17), and probably to the beginning of the reign of Jehoram, for in the 19th verse the public activity of Elisha begins, i.e., that is the time when he stepped into the place of Elijah, and stood at the head of the prophets. The war with the Moabites, in which Elisha assumes so important a position (cf. chap. 3), must have begun soon after Jehoram’s succession to the throne (2 Kings 1:1). The letter which came into the hands of Jehoram from Elijah, according to 2 Chron. 21:12, proves nothing to the contrary (see below, Historical, § 3, b).—On בְּהַעֲלוֹת see notes on 2 Kings 2:11. The first half of the verse forms the title of the entire passage.—Gilgal cannot here be a place between Jericho and the Jordan (Jos. 4:19; 5:10), for Elijah and Elisha went down from there to Bethel (וַיֵּרְדוּ), and came from Bethel to Jericho. It is rather, as in Deut. 11:30, the place known now as Jiljilia, which was on an elevated site, southwest of Seilun (Shiloh), near to the road leading from the latter place to Jericho (cf. Thenius and Keil on the passage; Raumer, Paläst. s. 155). This Gilgal, which lay in Ephraim, and not the one in Judah, is the one referred to also by the prophets Amos (4:4) and Hosea (4:15) who mention it, together with Bethel, as chief seat of the false worship of Jehovah. Probably it was precisely on this account that schools of the prophets were founded there, which should counteract the error.
2 Kings 2:2. And Elijah said, &c. It was known not only to Elijah himself (2 Kings 2:9), but also to Elisha (2 Kings 2:3), and to the “sons of the prophets” at Bethel and Jericho (2 Kings 2:3 and 5), that the time of his departure was come. Evidently the object of his visit to the three schools of the prophets, one after another, was to see them once more before his departure, and to warn and strengthen them. Keil, following the older expositors, says: “The Lord had revealed to both (Elijah and Elisha) that the seal of the divine ratification should be set to the work of Elijah by his miraculous translation to heaven,.… but to each of them separately, so that Elijah did not surmise that Elisha was aware that he was to be taken away. For this reason he wished to separate himself from his servant, not in order to test his love and attachment (Vatablus), but from humility (Corn. a Lapide, and others). He did not wish to have any witness of his glorification, without being fully satisfied that such was the divine will.… His ascension had been revealed to the disciples of the prophets also…. He took this road (to Bethel and Jericho) by the direction of the Divine Spirit,.… without supposing that they (the disciples of the prophets in those places) had been informed of his approaching departure from this life by the Spirit of God. God had revealed it to so many in order that they might be established in their calling by the miraculous glorification of their master, still more than by his words and teachings and warnings.” But the most important considerations are opposed to this very common conception of the passage. In the first place, the assertion that a divine revelation had given, not only to Elijah, but also to Elisha, and to the disciples of the prophets at Bethel and Jericho, information of the approaching ascension of the first, is a pure hypothesis: the text knows nothing of it, and even any remote hint of it is wanting. To pass over that, however, in the second place, no analogy can be found in the Scriptures for any such thing as that different persons, nay, even entire communities, in different places, at one and the same time, received the same divine revelation; and no one of these persons surmised that the same thing had happened to others. Thirdly, the disciples of the prophets at Jericho would never have urged so perseveringly upon Elisha, after his return, to allow fifty men to seek for the departed master on the mountains and in the valleys (2 Kings 2:16–18), if they had been informed in regard to Elijah’s ascension into heaven by a divine revelation. We are therefore compelled to conceive of the event, we might almost say, more simply and naturally. As concerns Elijah himself, he knew, of course, that the time of his departure was come, and that the Lord was going to take him away; the manner in which he would be taken, however, he did not know, nor did he say a syllable about it; especially he did not know, as Krummacher affirms, that “the horses of fire and the chariot of flame were already standing behind the clouds ready to come for him,” and that he “should ride, in a few days, past Orion and the Pleiades, on a gleaming road, far above the sun and the moon, and away through the veil into the divine sanctuary.” Still less did Elisha and the disciples of the prophets know it. In the 3d and 5th verses the latter only say that “now” (הַיּוֹם does not mean here “to-day,” but as in 1 Sam. 12:17; 2 Kings 4:8; Job 1:6, at this time) Elijah is going to be taken away from them and from Elisha; even this they could only know from Elijah himself. For Elijah had no reason for wishing to conceal his departure from Elisha; on the contrary, he must have felt himself driven to make it known to him, since Elisha was now to step into his place and be his successor. Neither did he conceal it from the disciples of the prophets; for his visit to them had for its chief object to take leave of them. He simply did not wish that his departure should be much spoken of, and still less would he permit that any one should be a witness of it; therefore he urged Elisha himself to remain behind. This he did, however, not “from humility,” in view of his approaching glorification, but “because he was uncertain whether it was agreeable to God that Elisha should go with him; cf. 2 Kings 2:10” (Thenius). Only when Elisha would not allow himself to be held back, and had declared earnestly three times over (cf. the similar triple repetition, John 21:15 sq.) that he would not leave him until the final moment—only when he had thus stood the trial of his unchangeable fidelity and perseverance, and thus maintained himself as competent and fit to carry on the office of prophet, did Elijah yield his scruples, and allow Elisha to accompany him. (Cf. in general on the verse the apt remarks of Vilmar, Pastoraltheol. Blätter, 1862, s. 234.)
2 Kings 2:3. And the sons of the Prophets…. came forth, &c. [The בְּנֵי־הַנְּבִיאִים are the pupils or disciples of the prophets; not necessarily their sons in a literal sense, though they probably were such in very many cases.—W. G. S.] This does not mean: “In Bethel, the disciples of the prophets came to meet Elisha, with the information, ‘Knowest thou?’ &c.” (Keil), but that after Elijah had come with Elisha to Bethel (2 Kings 2:2), in order to take his leave there also, the disciples of the prophets came forth with them, that is, accompanied them, and said to Elisha: “Dost thou also ponder,” &c.? In like manner they were accompanied by those of Jericho (ver 7). [This explanation does violence to the meaning of the preposition אֶל, which never contains any idea of accompaniment, above all with a verb of motion; moreover, 2 Kings 2:7 is not the parallel, but 2 Kings 2:5. וַיֵּצאוּ אֶל can only mean “They came forth to” (cf. Gen. 19:6), and it is stated that they came forth to “Elisha,” which certainly seems to imply that they already had heard of the expected event. זַיִּגְּשׁוּ אֶל, 2 Kings 2:5. is less certain. It might mean that as they were all standing in a group, and after Elijah had declared that he had come to them for the last time, some of them approached Elisha. The objection taken to the theory of independent revelations is, however, a just one, and must be maintained, even if we cannot fix definitely the details of the occurrence which the words refer to. Many hypotheses suggest themselves, as, for instance, that Elijah went on to the schools of the prophets in the first place alone, and that they then “came forth to Elisha.”—W. G. S.] לָקַח מֵעַל רֹאשֶׁךָ, according to Keil, “expresses graphically the removal from his side by elevation into heaven.” Thenius also says, following Böttcher: “Nihil aliud nisi viam modumque tollendi pingit: away off above thine head.” [So also Bunsen.] It is very improbable, however, in the first place, that the disciples of the prophets, at Bethel as well as at Jericho, should have expressed themselves “graphically,” independently of one another, and just on this occasion. The words מֵעַל רֹאשֶׁךָ are equivalent to מֵעִמָּךְ and מֵאִתָּךְ, which are used by Elijah, in 2 Kings 2:9 and 10, for the same idea, i.e., literally, “from with you,” the sense being “out of connection or companionship with you,” except that the first form hints at the nature of this connection more distinctly than the others. Luther, in a marginal gloss on the passage, says: “To be at the head is to be master and teacher; to be at the feet is to be pupil and subject. For when the teacher teaches he sits in a more elevated position than the pupils, so that he has them at his feet, and they have him at their head. Therefore St. Paul says (Acts 22:3), that he had learned the law at the feet of Gamaliel.” (Cf. Schöttgen, Hor. Hebr. on this passage.) Elisha is the disciple of Elijah; the latter is his “master,” as he is called here. The words, “The Lord will take away thy master from thy head,” do not therefore mean, He will cause Elijah to arise away above thy head towards heaven, but, He will take him away from thy head, i.e., break up the relationship which has existed hitherto between you, as pupil and master, and as thy chief thou wilt lose him. (מֵעַל is used as in Gen. 48:17; Amos 7:11.) When the words are thus taken, each gets its full force, and it is easy to see why both the disciples at Bethel and those at Jericho put the question to Elisha, “Knowest thou?” &c. The separation touched Elisha nearest of all, and was more important for him than for any of the rest. The question signifies: Knowest and considerest thou also, that thou wilt now lose the master whose servant and disciple thou art (1 Kings 19:21)? What will become of us when thy guide and ours is gone? The answer of Elisha, which would otherwise be obscure and difficult, is then appropriate to this question: “Yea, I know it,” i.e., Alas! I know it and consider it well, even as ye do. When he then adds, “Hold ye your peace,” he does not mean to say: Tell no one that he is now going to ascend into heaven, in order that there may be no concourse of people (Clericus, J. Lange), nor: Speak no further of it, for Elijah, on account of his modesty and humility, does not wish that much should be said of his glorification (Seb. Smith, Keil), but: Compose yourselves, yield to the will of Jehovah; do not sadden my heart now that I am about to lose my beloved master and lord. [Bunsen.]
2 Kings 2:7. And fifty men of the sons, &c. As Elijah and Elisha departed in the direction of the Jordan, a band of prophets followed them at a distance, and remained standing at a point (probably on an elevation) from which they could see “whether and in what way the departing ones would get over the Jordan at a place where there was no arrangement for crossing” (Hess, Thenius); that is to say, they followed, out of sympathy and anxiety, and not “that they might be eyewitnesses of the removal of their master” (Keil), for, according to 2 Kings 2:10, it was not certain that even Elisha, who accompanied him, would see this. They were witnesses only of that which is narrated in 2 Kings 2:8. The manner of crossing the Jordan must have reminded them involuntarily of Ex. 14:16 (cf. Josh. 4:23). As once Moses struck the water and divided it, in the presence of the whole people, with his staff, which was the insigne of his office as teacher, and is called the “rod of God” (Ex. 17:9), whereby he was confirmed and accredited as chief, so Elijah, the second Moses, here strikes the water, and divides it in the presence of the band of the prophets, with his mantle, the sign of his prophetical calling (1 Kings 19:19), an action which confirms him, before the disciples of the prophets, just as he is leaving them, in his position as chief of the prophets. He folds or rolls the mantle together, possibly in order to give it at the same time the appearance of a staff, for in other cases the water is always struck with a staff (Isai. 11:4; 10:24; Num. 20:11). [The first two passages cited refer to a beating with a rod as punishment or correction, and the third to the smiting of the rock to make water come out. There is no ground for supposing that the words in the text have any further significance than such a folding as would make the mantle convenient to handle in smiting the water.—W. G. S.] However, the very fact that he makes use of the prophet’s mantle instead of making use of the staff, makes the action a distinctly prophetical, i.e., symbolical one. The miraculous power is no more attached, in any magical way, to the mantle than to the staff; but it is the prophetical calling which God has armed with such power for the attainment of His ends, as was shown immediately afterwards in the case of the successor and representative of Elijah (cf. 2 Kings 2:14, 19 sq.).
2 Kings 2:9. And it came to pass when they were gone over, &c. The command of Elijah: “Ask,” &c., and the reply of Elisha, “Let a double portion,” &c., are to be explained by their relation to one another, which was not so much that of a master to his servant or of a teacher to his disciple, as rather that of a (spiritual) father to his son (2 Kings 2:12). Elisha had maintained his attachment, love, and fidelity to the very end, in that he would not quit Elijah; and now the latter treats him as a dying father would (Gen. 27:4), and says: “If thou hast yet any wish in thine heart, tell it to me;” he is ready to grant him the blessing of a father and of a prophet. Elisha answers as son to father: “I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me!” According to the law (Deut. 21:17), the first-born son received, of what the father left behind, פִּי שְׁנַיִם, i.e. two parts, twice as much as the other sons received. According to this analogy, Elisha begs that Elijah will regard him as his first-born, and will give to him, as compared with the other sons of the prophets, a richer measure of his (prophetic) spirit, that is to say, of that רוּחַ, which is the condition of all prophetical activity, whether in word or deed, and which is not only a spirit of knowledge and wisdom, but also of strength and power (Isai. 11:2). The translation of the words of Elisha, “That thy spirit may be doubled in me.” (Luther, following the Sept. and Vulg.), is unquestionably false. Still this interpretation is found again and again in modern expositions. Krummacher even asserts, as a result of this interpretation, that the spirit of Elisha, as an evangelical (?) spirit, was certainly twice as great as the spirit of Elijah, which was Mosaic and legal. If this had been the prayer of Elisha, however, it would have been, not only in the highest degree immodest, but also incomprehensible, since Elijah could not give more than he himself had. Elisha did not wish to be more or greater than his master and lord. He only desired so much as was necessary for him, in order that he might be that to which Elijah had destined him, namely, the one who should succeed to his place as leader of the prophets. Menken’s interpretation of the words of Elijah is also a mistake, i.e., that Elisha should give him a commission for the other world, and beg for himself some service there, where the Lord would not refuse Elijah any request he might make on behalf of his faithful servant. Not to notice other objections, Elijah says: “Ask what I can do for you before I be taken away,” and not when I am in heaven. Neither can this place, therefore, by any means be cited as a support of the Roman Catholic dogma of the effectual mediation of the saints in heaven, as is often done.—Elijah means to say, by the words in 2 Kings 2:10: Thou hast prayed for something which it is not in my power, nor in that of any man, to give, but only in the power of God; if it is granted to thee alone, of all the sons of the prophets, to remain with me until my removal, and to be a witness of it, then thou mayest know, by this fact, that thou art to continue the prophetical work, which I have begun, and which I must now abandon, and then shalt thou also receive that measure of the prophetical spirit of which thou hast need for this work.
2 Kings 2:11. And it came to pass, as they still went on, &c. The verse is generally translated as it is by Luther, “Behold! there came a chariot of fire and horses of fire,.… and so Elijah rode, in a whirlwind, towards heaven.” This is then understood to mean, that a fiery chariot with fiery horses attached to it came, and that it received Elijah and took him to heaven. According to that, Elijah really “rode” into heaven, as indeed we find it often represented, especially in pictures. This conception of the event has struck such deep root that people scarcely inquire whether the text really justifies it or not. It is especially welcome to those who explain the story of Elijah as myth and poetry, because, as they think, such an ascension would remove all doubt as to the mythical character of the narrative. Here it is necessary, before all else, to take the words of the text accurately, and not to add or fill out anything which is not absolutely demanded. In the first place, the text knows nothing whatever of a fiery chariot, with fiery horses attached, but only says: “Behold! chariot of fire and horses of fire!” Then it does not say that Elijah mounted into this literal chariot, as it is supposed to be, and rode in it towards heaven, but the עָלָה took place “in a whirlwind” (בַּסְעָרָה), and not in the chariot. Still further הַשָּׁמָיִם does not mean: up into heaven, but: towards or in the direction of heaven, heavenwards; especially when it is used with עָלָה (Judges 20:40; Ps. 107:26; Jerem. 51:53). Finally, עָלָה is not ride, but go up, in the sense of disappear [like the German aufgehen, it is used in the sense of come to an end, disappear, be consumed.—W. G. S.], see Judges 20:40: “The entire city [E. V. has, incorrectly, “the flame of the city”] עָלָה הַשָּׁמָיְמָה, arose towards heaven, i.e., disappeared, was consumed by the fire. Also, Ezek. 11:24: “So the vision that I had seen (וַיַּעַל) went up from me,” i.e., it disappeared (Vulg.: et sublata est a me visio); it was taken away. In the hifil (2 Kings 2:1) it means exactly tollere, auferre, take away, as, for instance, in Ps. 102:25: “Take me away in the midst of my days,” cf. Job 5:26; 36:20; Amos 3:5. Furthermore, the word עֹלָה is the name of the burnt offering, because it, in distinction from the other sacrifices, disappears entirely—is completely consumed by the fire. The clearest proof that the word here has the signification, take away, remove, is the fact that the disciples of the prophets, as well as Elisha himself, always make use of the word לָקַח, and not of עָלָה, when speaking of Elijah’s removal (2 Kings 2:3, 5, 9 & 10), and say nothing of any taking up into heaven. It is not possible, therefore, that עָלָה should signify something altogether different from לָקַח here. Precisely this latter word is used, Gen. 5:24, in reference to Enoch: “And he was not (וְאֵינֶנּוּ, i.e., he disappeared suddenly, and left no trace behind, Job 7:8; cf. Delitsch on Hebr. 11:5. Luther: ‘He was seen no more’); for God took him (לָקַח).” The removal is therefore the main point; and it is only stated here in addition—which is not done in the case of Enoch—in what way the removal took place, viz.: בַּסְעָרָה, in the whirlwind; and besides, הַשָּׁמָיִם, towards heaven. סְעָרָה signifies not only “the rapidity of the elevation” (Thenius), but also a storm, combined with thunder, dark clouds, wind, and fire (Isai. 29:6; Ezek. 1:4; 13:11, 13; Ps. 107:25). Through such a storm, then, Elijah was separated from Elisha, and removed heavenwards. Now when Elisha sees, in this fiery storm-cloud, “chariot and horses” of fire, that does not mean to say that he saw a literal chariot and literal horses. On the contrary, he recognized, in the fiery appearance, that which “chariot and horses” signify. According to the usage of the Old Testament language, these things, as the principal means of protection and defence of a people against foreign aggression, are the representation of its might and strength, of its glory and fearfulness (cf. Isai. 31:1 sq.; 36:9; Ex. 14:9, 17; Deut. 20:1; 1 Kings 10:29). They art also ascribed to Jehovah, and then they are an indication of His great might, majesty, and glory, with which He conquers and annihilates His opponents, but protects and saves His own. Thus Habakkuk: “Was thy wrath against the sea, that thou didst ride upon thine horses and thy chariots of salvation?” Also Isaiah (66:15): “For behold the Lord will come with fire, and with his chariots, like a whirlwind, to render his anger with fury, and his rebuke with flames of fire.” Cf. also Ps. 104:3: “Who maketh the clouds his chariots.” That we have here also to think of the chariot and horses of Jehovah, is shown by the אֵשׁ which occurs with both words, for fire is the well-known form of theophany in the Old Testament (Ex. 24:17; Deut. 9:3 sq.; Ps. 1:3; Isai. 29:6; Ezek. 1:4, 27). Just in the same manner, the servant of Elisha, after his eyes have been opened, in accordance with the prayer of the prophet (2 Kings 6:14–17), sees, opposed to the “horses and chariots” with which the Syrians had surrounded the city in which Elisha was, the whole mountain full of “horses and chariots of fire;” i.e., over-against the earthly power, he sees the infinitely greater protecting and saving might of Jehovah. The following verse (12), where Elisha calls Elijah “Chariot of Israel and Horsemen thereof,” especially supports the figurative interpretation. Recognizing the inadmissibility of the literal acceptation, which presupposes the existence of literal fiery chariots, with fiery horses attached to them, passing down from heaven and up again into heaven, in which one could ride without being burned, some expositors have understood by “chariot and horses,” as Grotius does, Angeli ea specie apparentes. “The vehicle,” says, among others, J. Lange, “or the outward sign with which Elijah rose towards heaven, was doubtless a cloud. Still, as Elijah was no doubt accompanied by an entire band of angels, as Christ was afterwards, these gave to the cloud the form of a fiery chariot and fiery horses, by virtue of the divine power and the divine will, so that the cloud took the form of a heavenly triumphant chariot.” Similarly Menken says that Elijah “was taken up by the service of angels; but that the appearance was that of a flaming chariot and flaming horses.” But the text, in this place, says not a word about angels, although, according to this view, they would be the chief agents; and although the history of Elijah makes mention of the service of angels, in other places (1 Kings 19:5, 7; 2 Kings 1:3, 15). Ps. 68:17 cannot be cited to support this interpretation, for there also רֶכֶֹב is not equal to angel, but is a designation of the immeasurable and mighty war-power of Jehovah. The interpretation of Keil seems more probable: “The storm-gust is the earthly substratum of the theophany; the fiery chariot with the fiery horses is the symbolic form in which the translation of the master into heaven presents itself to Elisha, who remains behind.” The chariot and the horses would, however, in that case, hare been just as much definite and visible forms, even if symbolic ones, and we should have to suppose that Elisha saw Elijah actually in the chariot and riding in it towards heaven, of which the text knows nothing. It is not the form and outline which is symbolic, but the expression “chariot and horses of fire.” We have not to think of a “symbolic form” in 2 Kings 2:11 any more than in 2 Kings 2:12, when Elisha calls Elijah “Chariot of Israel and Horsemen thereof.” In this way, under a more accurate observation of the text, it is true that the supposition that Elijah rode away into heaven in a fiery chariot, drawn by fiery horses, which is still so generally adopted, is overthrown; by no means, however, is the miraculous removal or translation of Elijah overthrown: that is the main point of the narrative, with which we must satisfy ourselves, just as we must satisfy ourselves with what is said, Gen. 5:24 (cf. Hebr. 11:5), in regard to the translation of Enoch. So Von Gerlach remarks on the passage in Genesis: “All the questions in regard to the departure of this patriarch and that of Elijah, whither they were removed? where they now are? what changes they underwent in the translation? are left unanswered by the Scriptures.” Keil also says: “All further questions, e.g., in regard to the nature of the chariot of fire and the place to which Elijah was translated,…. are to be set aside as useless subtleties concerning things which surpass the limits of our understanding.” We are only justified in thus setting them aside, however, if we have rejected the fiery horses and the fiery chariot and the ride up into heaven, which Keil does not do. It is well worth observing that the primitive church, little inclined as it was to shrink back from a miracle, still did not know anything of any heavenward ride of Elijah. The Sept. render הַשָּׁמָיִם, in 2 Kings 2:1 and 2 Kings 2:11, by ὡς εἰς τὸν οὐρανόν, and thereby show clearly that they conceived of a raising up towards, but not into, heaven. Ephraim Syrus says, “Suddenly there came a fiery storm-gust from on high,…. and divided the two from one another; the one it left upon earth, the other, Elijah, it bore away on high: but whither the Ruach bore him, or in what place it let him down, the Scriptures do not tell us.” (Cf. Keil’s remarks on the passages.) Theodoret says: ‘Ο μέγας ’Ηλίας ἀνελήφθη μέν, ἀλλ̓ οὐκ εἰς τὸν οὐρανόν, ἀλλ̓ ὡς εἰς τὸν οὐρανόν. In like manner Chrysostom, Theophylact, and Œcumenius (see the citations in Suicer, Thesaur, Ecclesiast. i. 1317). That the Jews also, before and at the time of Christ, knew nothing of an ascension of Elijah into heaven, is clear from the fact that in the great eulogy of Elijah (Sirach 48:1–12), where this wonderful removal is mentioned, neither in 2 Kings 2:9 nor in 2 Kings 2:12 do we find εἰς τὸν οὐρανόν: Josephus, also, who narrates all the miracles in the history of Elijah, says, at length (Antiq. xi. 2, 2): ’Ηλίας ἐξ ἀνθρώπων ἠφανίσφη.—καὶ οὐδεὶς ἔγνω μέχρι τῆς σήμερον αύτοῦ τὴν τελευτήν, and then he adds that the Scriptures declare of Enoch and Elijah: ὅτι γεγόνασιν ἀφανεῖς· θάνατον δὲ αὐτῶν οὐδεὶς οἶδεν. In the Scriptures themselves there is no mention whatever of the ascension of Elijah into heaven, not even in Hebr. 11. where we should most expect it. Now if this ascension was, as is asserted, “one of the most glorious, significant, and joyful events which the world, before the time of Christ, had seen” (Krummacher), how does it happen that, however often mention may be made of Elijah, just this event, which is asserted to be the most important in his career, remains utterly unmentioned? Kurtz (in Herzog’s Encyclop. iii. s. 758) asserts indeed that “as regards the ascension of Elijah, all those who are not ready to look upon the gospel history as a collection of myths will be compelled to adopt the opinion which regards this as an historical event, for the Transfiguration of Christ, Matt. 17, can only be maintained as a fact if 2 Kings 2 is also a fact; the one narrative stands of falls with the other.” This conclusion, however, is incorrect; for, if Elijah could only appear in and at the Transfiguration of Christ, because he had ascended into heaven, then Moses also, who appears with him, must have ascended into heaven, of which there is not the least mention, either in Deut. 34:5 sq. or anywhere else. [A general protest should also be raised against the last clause of this opinion of Kurtz. The mode of defending a disputed point by connecting it with some other very important and generally accepted one, and then asserting that they stand or fall together, is very often adopted, but it is on every account to be condemned. It is not a sound method of procedure either according to logic or history, and it is fatal to all exegetical science.—W. G. S.]
2 Kings 2:12. And Elisha saw it, &c, i.e., that Elijah “was miraculously carried away” (Keil). By the words: “My father, my father!” Elisha expresses what the departing one was for himself (see 2 Kings 2:9), and by the words: “Thou chariot of Israel and horsemen thereof!” what he was for the whole nation. King Joash makes use of the same figurative expression in 2 Kings 13:14, in regard to Elisha. It does not mean “that Elijah had been the protection and help of Israel even in war” (Calwer Bibel), but “Elijah is thereby designated as the one in whom consisted that true defence of Israel, which far surpassed its physical strength.” (Thenius.) See notes on 2 Kings 2:11. Elijah was the might for war and the strength for defence of Israel, especially in so far as he defended it against its greatest and most dangerous enemy, who threatened it with ruin—against the intruding idolatry, with which he struggled victoriously. The exclamation stands, as was noted above, in unmistakable connection with the words “chariot of fire and horses of fire.” If this is a designation of the protecting, saving, and conquering might of Jehovah, then it was very natural to call the great prophet, who had maintained himself, in all his career, as an instrument of this power in its dealings with Israel, “the Chariot of Israel and the Horsemen thereof.” If, on the other hand, this fiery phenomenon which separated the two prophets from one another had had the form and figure of a chariot drawn by horses, which was intended to bring Elijah to heaven, it would be inexplicable how a mere equipage, even if it were ever so wonderful a one, could have led Elisha to call his departing master a “Chariot.” Elijah’s whole nature was fiery and energetic: “He burst forth like a fire, and his word burned like a torch,.… thrice brought he down fire” (Sirach 48:1, 3). To this the mode of his removal in the fiery whirlwind corresponded, and it was, as it were, the divine seal upon his entire career; so that he stands, for all coming time (εἰς καιρούς, Sir. 48:10), as the man of the fiery jealousy of God.—And he saw him no more; that is, he did not see how Elijah rode into heaven in a fiery chariot, but from the moment when the fiery blast, the storm-cloud, separated them from one another, he saw him no more: ἐν λαίλαπι ἐσκεπάσθη (Sir. 48:12), he disappeared suddenly from his eyes, became ἀφανής. Then Elisha rent his garments, and that too “in two pieces,” i.e., from top to bottom, as a sign of the greatest grief and the deepest sorrow. If he had been a witness of the “triumphal entry” of his master into heaven, as it has been often supposed that he was, he would have had more cause to rejoice than to rend his clothes for grief; his feelings were by no means joyous, they were rather in the highest degree sad.
2 Kings 2:13. He took up also the mantle, &c. The mantle is here, as in 2 Kings 2:8, the insigne of the office of the prophetical leader. When Elijah chose Elisha as his successor he threw this mantle upon him (1 Kings 19:19). Now, however, he leaves it to him as a bequest and sign that his prayer in 2 Kings 2:10 is fulfilled, and that he must now undertake the leadership of the prophets. He returns with this symbol in his possession, and, when he arrives at the Jordan, has to make the trial whether the power itself has been granted him together with the symbol. As Elijah had done in passing over the Jordan, he also strikes the water with the mantle, and says: Where is the Lord God of Elijah, even He? Jer. 2:6, 8, where the severest charge against the people, and especially against the priests and teachers, is, that they have not asked the question אַיֵּה יְהוָֹה, “Where is Jehovah?” but have turned away from Him, shows that this was not a question of doubt or imperfect faith. On the contrary, Elisha presents a prayer, full of faith and confidence, to Jehovah, in the more emphatic form of a question: “Thou God of Elijah, if Thou art also mine, and if I am Thy servant according to Thy will and command as he was, then let this become evident by granting that that may take place at my word which Thou grantedst should come to pass at his”(Menken). The massoretic punctuation separates the words אַף־הוּא from the question, and joins them with the following sentence. Accordingly De Wette translates: “Also he (as Elijah had done before) smote the water,” [and Bunsen: “Also when he smote the water;”] and Ewald: “Hardly had he smitten the water, when it divided again.” But the ו before יכה is a bar to this interpretation, and אַף nowhere has the meaning of “hardly.” [Apparently feeling the force of this latter objection, Ewald, ed. 7. s. 853, note, changes אַף to אַךְ. The reading of the E. V. agrees with that of De Wette and Bunsen.—W. G. S.] Böttcher and Thenius following Houbigant wish to read אֶפוֹא: “Where is now Jehovah, the God of Elijah?” This reading, however, is entirely without authority, and the position of the word at the end of the question is also against it. The Sept. render it meaninglessly by the same sounds in Greek letters: ἀφφώ. We take אַף here as in Prov. 22:19, (where Gesenius translates: doceo te, te inquam,) that is to say, even He; He, I say. (So also Keil [and Scott].) The Vulg. has in 2 Kings 2:14: et percussit aquas, et non sunt divisœ. Et dixit: ubi est Deus Eliœ etiam nunc? percussitque aquas et divisœ sunt. The Complutensian edition of the Sept. has the addition: καὶ οὐ διηρήθη, following which Theodoret and, later, Dathe explain the verse thus: that Elisha considered the mantle of Elijah capable of working miracles, and, in the first place, struck the water with it, without saying anything; but that, as this was unsuccessful, he called upon the God of his master complainingly. It is evident, however, that the addition is only an explanatory gloss, occasioned by the repetition of וַיַּכֶּה, which does not, however, indicate any repetition of the act of striking.
2 Kings 2:15. And when the sons of the Prophets, &c. They saw Elisha come back alone, and, since he had been able to do the same as Elijah, they concluded that the רוּחַ of Elijah rested upon him, that is, that the same extraordinary power and gifts had been given to him by Jehovah, as preparation for the same calling; therefore they went to meet him and showed their respect for him. From their words in 2 Kings 2:16, however, it is clear that they were uncertain whether Elijah had been “taken up” forever, or only for a time, perhaps in the manner referred to by Obadiah, 1 Kings 18:12. It would have been impossible for them to speak in this way if they had had especial information, by a divine revelation, of a formal ascension of Elijah into heaven, as has been deduced from 2 Kings 2:3 and 5. It is a supposition which cannot be maintained, that, although Elisha had no doubt narrated to them what had occurred, they still believed that “the Lord had taken his (Elijah’s) soul up into heaven, but that his earthly body had fallen down somewhere upon the earth, and that they desired to find this in order that they might show it the last honors” (Keil), for, in this case, Elisha must have answered them: I saw Elijah ride on a fiery equipage in glory into heaven; he is therefore no longer upon earth, but in heaven, as was revealed to you beforehand:—or else, what reason did he have for not saying this? Moreover their words, 2 Kings 2:16, do not indicate by any means that they simply desired to find his corpse, in order to bury it. It is evident that they expected to find the living and not the dead. The fact that they insisted upon their proposition in spite of Elisha’s attempts to dissuade them shows plainly that he had not communicated anything in regard to an ascension into heaven to them. He was certain that Elijah had departed or been taken away forever. Hence he said: “Ye shall not send.” When, at length, he permits them to send, on account of their ceaseless persistency, he does so in order that they may become satisfied, by their own investigation, that he has now succeeded to the position of Elijah, and that they have henceforward to attach themselves to him as their leader. עַד־בּשׁ (2 Kings 2:17) does not mean: very long, justo diutius (De Wette and others), nor: more than was becoming, nor: in a shameless manner (Menken, Thenius), but: until he was himself disappointed in the hope (of dissuading them from their purpose). בּוֹשׁ often has this meaning (cf. Ps. 22:5; 25:2, 3, 20; 69:6), and it is also a very appropriate signification for Judges 3:25, and 2 Kings 8:11. The sons of the prophets wished to have “strong men” sent out, because the search over mountains and in valleys was attended with difficulty and danger. It should also be observed that Elisha on the return of the fifty men, only reminds them of his advice which they had neglected, but does not say a word of the ascension of Elijah, much as we might expect that he would now do so.
2 Kings 2:19. And the men of the city said, &c. Perhaps it was the authorities who, in the name of the city, addressed themselves to Elisha, who now stood at the head of the prophets, and whose affable disposition had inspired them with confidence. הָאָרֶץ cannot here mean “ground” (Keil), for it is not the ground, but, as 2 Kings 2:21 says distinctly, “the water” which was drunk, which caused miscarriage, and “in fact the direct use or enjoyment of this or that water has either a beneficial or a prejudicial effect on the functions of conception and parturition” (Thenius). אֶרֶץ stands here, therefore, as it does Gen. 9:19; 11:1; 19:31. It was “pleasant to dwell” in Jericho, for it lay in a magnificent situation, “rising like an oasis from a broad plain of sand” (Winer, R.-W.-B. i. s. 543). 2 Kings 2:20. Elisha calls for a “new” vessel, i.e., one which had not yet been used for any purpose whatever, because it was intended for a religious act, for, in general, all that was employed in the service of Jehovah must be as yet unused, i.e., uncontaminated (cf. Numb. 19:2). Keil takes the “new cruse” “as a symbol of the renewing power of the Word of God,” but it was only the receptacle for the salt, by means of which the water was to be made good and healthful, and it had nothing to do with the “Word of God.” The prophet made use of salt because it is used as a means of preserving that into which it is placed, and keeping it from rottenness and decay (death), in that it draws out the impure particles. In so far, then, it has healing and vivifying power (cf. Symbol. des Mosa. Kultus, ii. s. 325 sq.); it is a symbol of the purifying, restoring power which proceeds from Jehovah, for it was He, and not the salt, as such, who purified the spring and made the waters uninjurious, as 2 Kings 2:21 distinctly declares. [The “salt” was neither more nor less significant in this case than the “meal” in 2 Kings 4:41.—W. G. S.] The act of casting the salt into the spring was a prophetical, symbolical action, in which (see 1 Kings 17. Hist. § 6) the prophet represents that which the Lord is about to do, by visible signs, and with the corresponding natural means. When P. Cassel (Der Prophet Elisa, s. 21) declares that there is a reference here to the salt of the covenant in the sacrifices (Levit. 2:13; Numb. 18:19), and says: “The miracle of Elisha signified, for the inhabitants of Jericho and for Israel through all time, a covenant of salt with the word and promise of God,” it is an evident error, for Jehovah does not say: I make with you a covenant of salt! but: I make this water healthful, I heal it. It is true that salt serves as the symbol of a covenant, to indicate its durability and sanctity, but only on account of its power of preserving and protecting from corruption and decay, which is the only thing that here comes into consideration. In this connection there is no reference whatever to a “covenant of salt.”—The spring in question exists “unto this day,” 2 Kings 2:22; and is “doubtless the spring now known as Ain es Sultan, the only spring in the neighborhood of Jericho. Its waters spread over the plain of Jericho.…. A large spring of water, which is indeed not cold, but at the same time not warm, and has a sweet and pleasant taste” (Keil.; cf. Robinson, Bibl. Res. in Palest. i. 554–5, or, ii. 283–4, ed. of 1841).
2 Kings 2:23. And he went up from thence unto Bethel, &c. As the successor of Elijah in the office of leader of the prophets, Elisha wished to visit, for the first time, the school of the prophets at Bethel, the principal seat of the illegal worship (2 Kings 2:3). The נְעָרִים קְטַנִּים can scarcely be “little boys” (Luther), i.e., irresponsible children, who do not know what they say. In the first place their mocking address is opposed to this view, and still more the judgment which fell upon them. Solomon was at least twenty years old when he commenced to reign, and yet he calls himself נַעַר קָטֹן (1 Kings 3:7). Jeremiah also calls himself a נַעַר at the time of his calling to be a prophet, Jer. 1:6, 7, likewise Joseph was so called at a time when he was at least seventeen years old (Gen. 37:2). It is also shown by 1 Kings 12:8, 10, 14, where the young counsellors of Rehoboam are called יְלָדִים, that this word (2 Kings 2:24) need not necessarily be understood of little boys. Therefore Krummacher and Cassel translate correctly by “young people.” [There is an element of modesty in the use of the word by Jeremiah and Solomon, at a comparatively advanced age. There were quite a number of these persons, more than forty-two, according to 2 Kings 2:24. נְעָרִים is the word which would be used of them if they were of various ages, from children up to young men. It would not exclude the possibility that there were two or three older persons among them.—W. G. S.] Both the older and more recent expositors, Krummacher, J. Lange, and Kurtz, translate the mocking address by “Ascend, bald-head! (i.e., like Elijah).” so that there would be in it, at the same time, scorn for the ascension of Elijah [Patrick and Comp. Comm.], and the sense would be: “Let him also ascend and be off, that they might be rid of him,” or: “Elisha, fool that thou art, show thyself a prophet. If thou canst do anything, let us see it!” (Krummacher.) This is certainly incorrect, for עֲלֵה evidently refers to the preceding עֹלֶה, and it is impossible that it should mean something entirely different from this. Furthermore, עלה never means ascend (see notes on 2 Kings 2:11); and how could these young people have heard and known already about the “ascension” of Elijah, which (2 Kings 2:16) was not known even to the disciples of the prophets? Doubtless the young people had recognized him from a distance by his prophet’s mantle (perhaps the one left behind by Elijah, 2 Kings 2:13), as a prophet, and therefore, as a zealous opponent of the calf and Baal worship, which had its principal seat in Bethel (1 Kings 12:29); as they saw him now going up the hill to the city, they called to him in mockery: Go up into our city, thou bald-head, what dost thou want here among us? The expression “bald-head” is not to be understood as it generally is, of actual baldness, nor of “a smooth place on the back of the head” (Keil), for how were the young people to notice this in Elisha as he approached them from a distance? Moreover, Elisha was still in his best years, and he lived for at least fifty years after this time, so that he could not possibly have been bald-headed already on account of age. Still less can there be any reference to an artificial bareness of the head, for the Law forbade directly all persons who were consecrated to the service of Jehovah, as, for instance, the priests and nazarites, to shave the hair of the head (Levit. 21:5; Numb. 6:5). In general, to make bald the head was a sign of dishonor and disgrace (Isai. 3:17; 15:2), and baldness was also a mark of leprosy (Levit. 13:43). “Bald-head” is, therefore, a disgraceful epithet, which refers, not to a bodily imperfection, a “natural fault” (Keil), but to the calling of Elisha as man of God and prophet; he is thereby designated as one who is the opposite of that which he pretends to be and appears to be, as an impure and expelled person. Cassel remarks: “The expression of the Jews for Roman Catholic priests, during the Middle Ages, and until recent times, was ‘bald-heads:’ the tonsure passed among them as a mark of the very opposite of consecration and holiness.” [The epithet either had its origin in fact and Elisha was prematurely bald, or else it was a standing epithet of insult used for old or reverend people, independently of the fact whether the particular person addressed was bald or not.—W. G. S.] It is evident, then, from this epithet, that the young people had recognized, in Elisha, a prophet, and that they meant to scoff at him precisely as such. Therefore the prophet had to deal here with something very different from mere wantonness, such as little boys sometimes practise with a failing old man.
2 Kings 2:24. And he turned back, &c. That which Moses and Aaron say to the people about their complaints: “Your murmurings are not against us but aganist the Lord” (Ex. 16:8; cf. Acts 5:4), is also applicable here. The scorn of the children attacked not so much the person of Elisha as the calling which had been bestowed upon him by Jehovah, and, in so far, it was a contemning of Jehovah himself, which the prophet, on his first appearance in that capacity, and here in Bethel, of all places, could not allow to pass in silence and unrebuked, without denying his holy calling. He cursed them in the name of the Lord, that is, he threatened them with a divine judgment, which in the sequel did not fail to befall them. There came forth two she-bears, whether at once, and in the presence of Elisha, or not, is uncertain (Köster: “How long afterwards, is not mentioned”). Bears, especially she-bears, are represented as very fierce and ravenous (Prov. 17:12; 28:15; Hos. 13:8; Dan. 7:5. Cf. Winer, R.-W.-B. i. s. 130). That they ate up forty-two of the children is not asserted in the text, for תְּבַקַּעְנָה only means: they split, opened, i.e., tore to pieces (Hos. 13:8). Perhaps it only means to say in general that they perpetrated a great massacre among them; the word מֵהֶם shows that there were many more than forty-two of them in all, and this has led to the conjecture that their meeting, for the purpose of reviling the prophet, was planned and prepared. It is possible that they had heard of the coming of a new head of the prophets, and had gone out to meet him in a body, in order to revile him. Nevertheless, the number, forty-two, which cannot be a round or symbolic number, is a very large one to be destroyed by two bears. In general, such is the brevity and disconnectedness of the narrative, that all sorts of questions arise, which remain unanswered, although they do not justify us in declaring the story a simple legend, or indeed a mere fiction.
2 Kings 2:25. And he went from thence to Mount Carmel, &c. It can hardly be that Elisha stayed for any length of time at Bethel. Whether, as Krummacher thinks, he hastened away because “the vision of the monstrous act which he had performed lay upon his heart with the weight of mountains,” and because the consciousness: such a deed have I done! drove him into retirement, in order that “he might take breath again and recover his composure in the arms of Jehovah,” is very doubtful. On the contrary he seems to have sought solitude after the manner of the prophets (see Exeg. on 1 Kings 17:3), as soon as he had presented himself to the sons of the prophets as the successor of Elijah, in order to prepare himself for his further public life. He chose Carmel for this purpose, because this mountain, with its numerous grottos and caves, was especially fitted for a residence in concealment; perhaps, also, because Elijah had there first broken the power of idolatry (see notes on 1 Kings 18). After the return from Carmel he dwelt in Samaria (cf. 2 Kings 6:32), from which fact we see that under Jehoram, although Jezebel still lived, the persecution of the prophets had diminished or indeed entirely ceased.
HISTORICAL AND ETHICAL
1. The removal of Elijah, with which the visible existence of this great prophet ends, is the main point of the narrative before us, and is, therefore, before all else, to be thoroughly comprehended. In the first place, the mode and form in which it took, place, come into consideration. It was not a mere disappearance, a becoming invisible, but it was brought about by a fiery stormblast. The peculiar mode of Elijah’s removal stands in an unmistakable relation to his vocation, which consisted in this, that he was to be, by word and deed, the herald and the instrument of the divine judgment against apostasy and idolatry, and was to renew the broken covenant (see 1 Kings 17 Hist. § 1). His entire public life and work had, therefore, the character of that of a judge—on the one side destroying and consuming, and on the other reforming and constructing. Just as everywhere in the Scriptures, and especially in the Old Testament, fire is the form in which all the action of God as judge presents itself (Deut. 4:24; 9:3; 32:22; Numb. 11:1, 2; 16:35; Isai. 4:4; 26:11; 29:6; Ps. 21:9; 50:3; Zeph. 1:18; Hebr. 12:29; 2 Peter 3:7, 12, &c.), so the words of this instrument of the divine energy were words of fire, and his deeds were deeds of fire. Thus he appears, not only in the historical books, but also especially in the great panegyric of the holy fathers, in the book of Sirach, which begins its description, when it comes to this prophet, with the words: “And Elijah arose, a prophet like fire, and his words burned like a torch,” and closes with these: “And he was taken up in a whirlwind of fire, in a chariot of fiery horses. And he is appointed for the discipline of future times, to soothe away anger before judgment, and to convert the heart of the father to the son, and to establish the tribes of Jacob” (Sirach 48:1, 9, 10). When now this fire-prophet is removed and carried away by God in a fiery storm, it is clear that it is not a divine judgment which was executed upon him, but a divine confirmation of his work, in its predominant aspect, viz., the judicial; so that it is, as it were, the seal of God upon that which Elijah was for his own and for all future times, viz., the surety for and the herald of, every great judgment-day of God, i.e., of the fire, which acts as well to purify and build up as to destroy and devastate (Mal. 3:2; 4:1–6. Cf. Hengstenberg, Christologie des A. T. iii. s. 441 sq.). As such an actual witness of the all-conquering judicial might of God, he was not destined to come to his end in weakness and decay, to experience the usual death, the embodiment of all human powerlessness and transitoriness, but he was destined to be removed in divine power and might. His translation, far from being indifferent, accidental, and insignificant, bore the same stamp as his temporal and earthly appearance, and corresponded perfectly to his peculiar and unparalleled position in the divine economy of salvation. Only in this way can his removal and the mode of it be explained, whereas, according to that conception of the event, which lays all the stress upon a chariot, drawn by horses, instead of upon the fire, any connection between it and the life and peculiar work of the prophet is wanting, and we can at best only suppose that this was an extraordinary reward for his labors. The question, What became of the body of Elijah upon his translation? is exactly like the other one, Into what place did he come? and it must remain, to say the least, an open question, since the Scriptures are entirely silent in regard to it. Those expositors, both in earlier and later times, who maintain a formal ascension of Elijah, adopt either the idea of a transmutation of his body during the ascension (Krummacher: “While he is riding on, lo! his body, the dust, is gradually transmuted.” [“His body being transformed in his passage toward heaven, he was carried up to live among the angels.” Patrick]), or that of a sudden transformation, citing 1 Cor. 15:51 sq.: “But we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump.” (Keil: “Elijah did not die, but was taken up by a transformation into heaven,” and he remarks on Gen. 5:24: “Whoever is raised above death by the grace of God, cannot arise from the dead, but arrives at the ἀφθαρσία, or the purified state of perfection, by a transformation, or ‘being clothed upon,’ 2 Cor. 5:4.”) But, not to speak of other objections, “transformation,” or new-clothing of the believers in Christ, presupposes the entire work of Christ, especially his elevation to the right hand of God and his second advent; it is conditioned upon that second coming, and it is something which is to take place but once, in an extraordinary manner (cf. 1 Thess. 4:15, 16). So St. Paul designates it as a “mystery,” which he could not have done if it had already taken place in like manner under the old covenant. To carry back, therefore, [this Christian conception of the resurrection of the dead, in a spiritual and incorruptible body,] and apply it to Enoch and Elijah, is an inadmissible mixing up of the economies of salvation of the Old and New Testaments.
2. The translation of Elijah has been compared in many ways with the ascension of Christ, and taken as a type of the same. So, for instance, Richter says: “By this means it was intended that the Ascension of Christ should be typified and made more credible,” and Keil: “Elijah … as forerunner of Christ (Mal. 3:3; Matt. 11:10 sq.) was received up into heaven without tasting death, in order to foretell the ascension of our Lord, and to typify it, after the manner of the Old Testament.” This opinion rests, however, directly upon the premise that Elijah ascended into heaven in the same manner as Christ. Yet the Scriptures speak with very different, and in fact very definite, expressions of the departure of Christ, not as a removal or translation, but as an ascent into heaven and a reception there, an entrance into the glory, which he had before the foundations of the earth were laid (Mark 16:19; Luke 24:51; Acts 1:9–11; 2:33 sq.; 7:55; John 17:5, 24). Christ actually tasted death, but he arose from the dead and was elevated, as victor over sin and death, to the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (Hebr. 8:1). He himself says: “No man hath ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man, which is in heaven” (John 3:13); although these words may refer, in the first instance, to the insight into, and knowledge of, divine things, yet they also testify, nevertheless, to something which the Son of Man alone is capable of, as the Apostle also writes: “He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things” (Eph. 4:10). In the case of Christ, the Ascension forms an integral and essential moment in His work of salvation. There begins His kingly function, and that redemptive work which lasts into eternity (Hebr. 4:14; 5:9, 10; 9:12). In the case of Elijah, on the contrary, his entire work ceases upon his translation. It is not the entrance into a broader, higher activity in heaven, but the end, even though a glorious end, of his work, and on this account it cannot pass for a type of the Ascension of Christ. To compare it with this, therefore, or to put it on the same line with this, is to take from Christ what belongs to Him alone, and, according to the nature of the thing, can belong only to Him. If Elijah had ridden upon a fiery chariot, drawn by fiery steeds, up into heaven, his ascension would have been far more glorious and brilliant than that of the Lord of Glory, when He was raised to the right hand of the Majesty on high; how then can it be a type of this? If Keil, in spite of this, insists upon an “ascension” of Elijah, and observes: “He, to be sure, who does not know how to estimate the spirit and nature of the divine revelation of salvation, will also be unable to comprehend this miracle,” then we may assert, at least with just as much right: He who does not know how to estimate Christ and the significance of His Ascension into heaven, will indeed also talk about an ascension of Elijah into heaven. Even Theodoret, in his day, wrote on Ps. 24:9: Αἰωνίους δὲ πύλας ἀνοιγῆναι παρακελεύονται ὡς μηδέποτε τῇ φύσει τῶν ἀνθρώπων ὑπανοιγείσας. Οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἐκείνας τῶν ἀνθρώπων διεπέρασε πώποτε, ἀλλ’ ὁ ἐνανθρωπήσας Θεὸς λόγος, τὴν ἡμετέραν ἀναλαβὼν ἀπαρχήν, ἀνήγαγέ τε εἰς οὐρανούς, καὶ ἐκάθισεν ἐν δεξιᾷ τῆς μεγαλωσύνης ἐν τοῖς ὑψηλοῖς, ἐπάνω πάσης ἀρχῆς καὶ ἐξουσίας κ. τ. λ.. (Eph. 1:21). ὁ δὲ μέγας ’Ηλίας ἀνελήφθη μέν, ἀλλ’ οὐκ εἰς τὸν οὐρανόν, ἀλλ’ ὡς εἰς τὸν οὐρανόν.
The departure of Elijah points back to that of Enoch and Moses, rather than forward to that of Christ. It is not only said of Enoch, as it is of Elijah, “God took him away” (Gen 5:24); but also that he announced (προεφήι ευσε) to the rebellious and godless of his time the coming of the Lord “to execute judgment upon all, and to convince (ἐξελέγξαι, cf. Sir. 68:10; ἐν ἐλεγμοῖς) all that are ungodly among them of their ungodly deeds” (Jude 14 sq.). He, therefore, had a calling like to that of Elijah in its essential character; and, as “the seventh from Adam” (through Seth), he marks an epoch in the divine plan of redemption (see the COMMENT. on Gen. 5:24, and Jude 14). Then, in regard to Moses, it is not indeed stated that God “took him away,” but, that he buried him, and that no one learned anything of his sepulchre, or, as some say, of his burial (Deut. 34:6). The Jewish tradition goes still further. According to Origen (Περὶ ’Αρχῶν, iii. 2), Jude took what he states in 2 Kings 2:9, about the struggle for the body of Moses, from a well-known Jewish document, which had for its title: ’Ανάβασις τοῦ Μωσέως; and, according to Josephus (Antiq. iv. 8, 48), after Moses had embraced Joshua and Eleazar for the last time, while he was still talking with them, he was suddenly carried away (ἀφανίζεται) by a cloud into a valley, and disappeared from their eyes. However it may be with regard to the authority of these traditions, so much remains certain, that the departure of Moses is “placed in the same category” with that of Enoch and that of the second Moses, Elijah (Kurtz, Gesch. des Alten Bundes, ii. s. 526). All these mark definite epochs in the development of the Old Testament plan of salvation—they are prophets in the highest sense of the word. Enoch walked “with God,” i.e., in the most intimate intercourse with him; Moses stood in such close relation to God that he talked with him face to face, as a man talks with his friend (Ex. 33:11); Elijah’s entire life was consumed in fiery zeal for the cause of the Lord, so that Sirach closes his panegyric with the words: μακάριοι οἱ ἰδόντες σε. No one of the three witnesses and preachers of the divine judgments, for his own and for all future times, was destined to undergo the sentence of death and corruption. The world was not to “see them submit to death” (Schultz). God took them away: and although Moses died, on account of his transgression in the desert of Zin (Deut. 32:51), nevertheless he died עַל־פִּי יְהוָֹה [“according to the word of the Lord” (Deut. 34:5). The author does not translate these words, but seems to give them a peculiar signification. It is true that עַל־פִּי often means “according to the command of,” i.e., something was executed or performed, according as some one had commanded, but it never means that something took place at or upon some one’s command or fiat. The author seems to give it some such signification as this last, that is, that although Moses died—passed through the individual experience and the physical change which we know as death, yet he did so, not as a result of disease, or after decline and weakness and age, but “at the word of the Lord,” which omnipotently removed him, in a moment, from life to death. If such an interpretation were justified by the usage of the language, it would go far to establish the parallel between Enoch and Elijah on the one hand, and Moses on the other, and to put his end on the same line with theirs. As it is, the interpretation is rather born of the attempt to make out the parallel, than founded on the usage of the language. The end of Moses was mysterious, and its significance is most justly stated in the remark quoted above from Schultz. We are not justified in saying more about it; and the Hebrew words in the text mean simply that he died, as God had said that he would, without entering Canaan. It is right to deny the parallelism between the end of Elijah and the Ascension of Christ, and to bring the former into relation with the end of Enoch certainly, and, perhaps, with that of Moses also, to some extent; but the latter parallelism must not be urged too far.—W. G. S.] After he had ascended (עלה) Mount Nebo, and enjoyed a view of the Land of Promise, he was withdrawn forever from the sight of the world. This removal was the main point in the case of all three, however different the mode of it was in the separate instances. It has, however, as a “taking away,” only an essentially negative character (וְאֶינֶנּוּ Gen. 5:24; cf. 2 Kings 2:12; Deut. 34:6), whereas the Ascension of Christ, as the elevation of the victor over sin and death, to be Lord over all which can be mentioned, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come (Eph. 1:21), is of a purely positive nature, and in fact, as well as in significance, something totally different.
3. The different views of the end of Elijah may be divided into two classes.
(a) The old realistic view, which maintains an actual “ascent into heaven,” has been presented, in recent times, most definitely, and with the most earnest hostility to any other view, by Krummacher (Elias der Thisbiter, s. 414–425). By way of introduction he says: “We are on the side of biblical realism. Whosoever takes that from us, takes from our heart everything: for facts—facts are what it must have, this human heart; the more palpable and substantial they are the better.… My taste is for the massive in the Bible.” Having adopted this stand-point, he refuses to be satisfied with “fiery clouds, in the form of a chariot and horses” (Calwer and Hirschberger Bibel), or with a cloud of angels, by whose ministry Elijah was received up to heaven, as Grotius, Menken and others suppose, but he gives the following representation of the event: “The black clouds fringed with glowing fire, burst. A gigantic gate of fire opens,.… and out of this blazing portal there dashes forth into the air a flaming chariot and gleaming horses of fire, who spring with it to the earth as if harnessed to a pole of adamant,.… only a few steps from the man of God, an invisible charioteer draws up the reins, and the horses stop..… How wonderful, how unheard-of is the event! Here stands a chariot of fire! Here are real horses from on high! … Raised upon invisible hands, the prophet mounts, with joyful courage, into the blazing chariot.… The horses of fire raise themselves, and swiftly as an arrow from a bow, they spring away upon the road of air, heavenwards, toward the open flame-gate of the firmament. Ha! how it rolls away from cloud to cloud! When the gleaming wheels touch a cloud, the thunder rolls; where the supple steeds set down their feet, there the lightnings flash forth under their hoofs.… . The King of kings himself it is who guides the equi- page by invisible reins.…. They have soon flown through the atmosphere of the earth, and now the road loses itself in those regions where the mortal eye stands at the limit of its sight. Between the heavenly orbs they fly along, these flaming steeds, and the thundering wheels roll on, as it were through a fiery ocean, past thousands of suns and stars.…. The fire-steeds plunge forward, as with redoubled steps, toward the open portal, and now through it into paradise—into the ever-green meadows and the palm-groves of heaven. The chariot stops,” &c., &c. This entire representation, in which the fiery steed of the phantasy seems to have run away with his rider, only shows what we may come to, if we take the words of the text, “chariot of fire and horses of fire,” in a literal sense. The war against every figurative interpretation of these words as a “spiritual dish of froth, offered by an over-estimated wisdom,” appears all the more remarkable, as the words which immediately follow: “The chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof,” and which correspond to the previous words, cannot possibly be understood literally, but only figuratively, as they are understood also by Krummacher himself. Passing by all else, it only remains now to call attention to one point, viz., how mean, we might almost say, the Ascension of Him who was more than all prophets, and who was elevated to the right hand of the Majesty on high, appears in contrast with this supposed magnificent ascension. For the rest, Krummacher is good enough to declare, for the comfort of those whose taste is not for the “massive in the Bible,” that “in truth, it is not belief in these horses which brings us salvation, just as doubt of their existence would not damn anybody.”
(b) The rationalistic view will not hear anything of an ascension into heaven, nor of a miraculous removal of Elijah. On the authority of the passage, 2 Chron. 21:12, J. D. Michaelis asserts (Anmerkungen für Ungelehrte XII. on 2 Kings 2:1) that Elijah was only carried away out of Palestine, and that he lived at least twelve years longer, for “no one receives letters from people in heaven.” For the same reason Winer (R.-W.-B. i. s. 318) also believes that he “only withdrew into solitude, leaving it to his pupil to carry on the prophetical ministry.” So also recent Jewish expositors, as, for instance, Philippson. But in 2 Chron. 21. there is not a word about a letter (סֶפֶר), but only about writing (מִבְתָּב), which is said to have reached Jehoram from the prophet Elijah. Such a writing, however, Elijah might very well have written before his removal, and entrusted to Elisha, that he might send it, at the appropriate time, to the king (Keil); and it is not necessary to suppose, as some do, a mistake between the names Elijah and Elisha. Precisely this passage of the Chronicle can, least of all, be brought to bear against the story in 2 Kings 2. Bertheau says in regard to it: “It is not mentioned anywhere else that Elijah performed any prophetical action by means of writing. At the time when Jehoram ruled in the southern kingdom, Elijah might still have been alive, according to the chronological data of the Old Testament. It is probable, to begin with, that he did speak in regard to Jehoram’s sin, and that he threatened him with punishment; but the ‘letter’ is composed in general terms, and gives only a prophetic explanation of the misfortunes by which Jehoram was visited. From this we must conclude that it proceeds, in the form in which we have it, from a later historian, who, drawing from sources which we do not know, described the relation between Jehoram and Elijah with a few words, and according to its broad and general features.” Still less is it possible to uphold the different attempts which have been made to explain the miraculous event in some natural manner, as, for example, that Elijah was carried off by a water-spout, with accompaniment of thunder and lightning (Jahn, Einleit. in’s A. T. ii. 1, s. 261), or that he was hurled away by a storm-wind, or that he lost his way in a cloud, or that the king caused him to be seized and hurried off in a chariot, during a storm (Exeget. Handbuch des A. T., on the passage), or, finally, that a whirlwind drove dust and sand into the air, as often takes place when horses and chariots run over sandy ground, and that Elisha imagined, when he heard the thunder-like rolling of wheels, and saw the frequent lightnings, that his master had ridden away towards heaven in a fiery equipage (Hetzel, on the passage). Even Knobel (Der Prophet. der Hebr. ii. s. 85) declares that all these explanations are “very forced.” They are to be regarded as antiquated, and they do not deserve refutation. It is not much better, however, to put the removal of Elijah on the same line with the apotheosis of Ganymede (Hom. Iliad, xx. 233), or of Romulus (Liv. 1:16), (Knobel, l. c.), for what does this genuine Old Testament narrative contain in the slightest degree similar to the genuine heathen and Roman legend of Romulus, who did not live till a hundred and fifty years after Elijah, or with the genuine heathen and Greek legend of Ganymede, who was thought worthy of the society of the immortal gods on account of his physical beauty? Such comparisons prove as great self-will as thoughtlessness.
(c) The purely idealistic view, which has been maintained, especially by Ewald (Gesch. Israels, iii. s. 543 [3d ed., 584]), followed by Eisenlohr and Bunsen, starts from the premise (see Prelim. Rem. after 1 Kings 17) that the history of Elijah, in the form in which it lies before us, was remoulded by an historian who lived two hundred years later than Elijah, and who was gifted with a genuine poetical soul, and that he presented the highest prophetical truth in historical form. “A life on earth, purer than that of any other man of that time, consecrated to the service of Jehovah, and yet spent in such all-controlling exertion for the advancement of the kingdom of God, could only have a corresponding termination: ceasing to be in the visible world, it will work all the more powerfully and undisturbedly in the spiritual realm, that is, will be received up into heaven. In that moment heaven bends itself down here to earth, to raise up from hence to itself that soul which already belongs to it. Therefore, a fiery chariot with fiery steeds moves down from heaven and takes up Elijah in a whirlwind to heaven. It is only eternal truth which seeks to explain itself in this bold expression.” Especially, however, it is said the remainder of the description represents, at the same time, more precisely “how an Elijah quits his friends on earth and they him,” and thus gives expression to the following truth: “When the moment approaches when a holy man like Elijah is to be taken away from the earth, then a discrimination takes place among those who have hitherto passed for his friends and followers. The great mass of these draw back in fear and unbelief—only a few remain faithful unto the end; but only upon these (as in this case upon Elisha) does the blessing and spirit of the saint who is to be removed from the earth directly fall.” According to this mode of acceptation, the entire narrative of the translation of Elijah would be an allegorical fiction. But, elevated as the delineation certainly is, it still bears by no means the features of poetical composition, in which “every limitation of the vulgar historical material has been disregarded.” On the contrary, as Menken has observed: “The tone of the narrative is the same which predominates in the preceding, and which we also find in the following, chapters. This incident is narrated just as simply, prosaically, and unpoetically as the entire history of both prophets, or anything else which is historical in both Books of the Kings.” (See also Prelim. Rem. after 1 Kings 17) Not to dwell upon that, however, where under the heavens would a poet of the Old Testament suppose the “purely spiritual realm” to be? and, bold as the figurative expressions of the Old Testament certainly are, where does anything occur which would be in any degree similar to this: that “a fiery chariot and fiery horses” should be the expression for the purely spiritual realm which receives up into itself the soul which already entirely belongs to it? There would be no need of such a detailed historical dress as we here find for the utterly simple and prosaic truth, that on the end of a great man a discrimination between his followers is wont to occur; and besides that, in the case before us, no such discrimination or distinction took place. There is no sign whatever of any “contrast between Elisha and the ordinary pupils of the prophets;” on the contrary, they are so warmly and faithfully attached to Elijah, that, in spite of the dissuasion of Elisha, they will not be prevented from sending out fifty men to seek for the translated master and lord. It is impossible, therefore, that they should be a figure for the “great mass,” which “draws back in fear and unbelief,” when the master is taken away from the earth. However fine and spiritual the idealistic acceptation may appear, it shows itself, on a more close investigation, to be utterly unmaintainable both as a whole and in the details.
[A peculiar interest has always attached to the prophet Elijah, differing in nature from that which is felt for the other prophets, just as he differed from them. The manner in which he appears in the narrative, suddenly, without preparation or introduction, and without reference to his antecedents; the way in which he traverses the history, from time to time, each appearance forming a crisis; the enigmatical character of his existence; the doubt as to where he had been in the meantime, how he went, how he returned, and how he had lived during his absence; finally, his mode of working, which was despotic, all-controlling, sure of itself, free from hesitation or doubt, and, as it seemed, from any deliberation; self-assuming to a degree which nothing could warrant but the inner conviction of the very highest prophetical calling, and which could only be maintained by the most direct and certain inspiration;—all these things conspired to make his name one of terror and wonder, and to leave a deep impression on the popular mind, so that we find that his name still lives in wild legends and fables among the Mohammedans and ignorant Christians of the East (see Mr. Grove’s article in Smith’s Dict. of the Bib. and authorities there referred to). The question is sometimes asked, Why have we no Elijahs any more? Why are there no men so penetrated and inspired by the Divine Spirit now-a-days? Why have we no men whom the world, with its temptations of all sorts, cannot touch, but itself lies open to their insight and judgment, with all its deceits and weaknesses, all its follies and vices, all its corruptions and falsehoods? Many men aspire to purity, communion with God, elevation above the world, and seek to obtain influence over it. that they may improve it and lead it up to God, but, although kings and rulers are depraved, and are often seduced into vice and injustice and corruption, although laws and institutions are unjust, and nations forget God and abandon Him for false worship of all sorts, yet no Elijah appears to destroy and dash in pieces what is base and wrong, and to consume it with a fire of divine vengeance, or to nourish and build up institutions which may regenerate the world. The first reason is that we do not believe that any such men will arise. We have made up our minds that they cannot be and so they never will be. Here again faith is the grand postulate. Who knows what measure of His Spirit God might give to-day to any one who held himself ready to receive it? Elijah, if he were here to-day, would hear and understand the Spirit of God as much as he did centuries ago. Few men, in the whole history of the world, are ready to accept the necessary preconditions of such a calling. The first of these is utter self-abnegation and self-surrender. He who thinks of himself at all, or carries with him one care for self and one consideration of his own pleasure, profit, or renown, is no prophet. A prophet must cast himself utterly into the plan and providence of God, and exist, thereafter, only for it. His calling is to be above the world and to oversee, weigh, condemn, and correct, from the elevated stand-point of God’s eternal providence, all which men do and plan and hope for, or despise and reject and battle against, on earth. He must see, to some extent, as God sees. He must judge, so far as a man can, as God judges; that is, according to His eternal providence and plan. He must be in and of his own time, but so elevated above it as to grasp its significance in the history of redemption, as a product of the past and a fountain of the future. From this standpoint he must judge all separate incidents, all individual characters, all proposals and plans, all new institutions, which it is proposed to found, all old ones which it is proposed to abolish. To such a calling no man is called for his worldly honor that he may be the adored of millions. The world has too strong a hold on all who are in it. They can never tear off its bands while they are touched by its attractions. No man can raise himself above his time while his interests are all in it. It is only in the severance of all these ties that he can gain freedom to mount up to God. If there were men, however, who were capable of this absolute denial of the world and absolute surrender to God, let no one dare to say what they could not receive from God. A false idea of Elijah and other Old Testament prophets, as if they had possessed powers of divination and magic, which, as we well know, no man now possesses, has led us to despair of such gifts as they had, and to regard them as belonging entirely to a past age. The “arm of the Lord is not shortened,” however, and He can fill His servants with as rich a measure of His Spirit for their work to-day as He did His prophets of old, if they will only expect it and wait for it. If such men as Elijah were needed to-day for carrying on the work of salvation, God could raise them up. This brings us to another reason why none such arise. Elijah was a phenomenon of a turbulent period, in a disorganized state. He was a hero, in a heroic age. For him it was possible to live in a desert, to appear only at intervals, and then to speak with majestic authority. The later prophets, especially those of Judah, lived among their countrymen and had homes and families. They could not lay aside the cares of life. They lived in an organized state and a well-ordered society, whose obligations they could not throw off. The heroic period had given way to that of law. Their work was, therefore, no longer the same in character as that of Elijah. They could not demolish opposition with such dictatorial absoluteness as he. They could not step forth so surely, nor speak in such a commanding tone, nor have recourse to such terrible instruments and means. They had to maintain the truth of God, proclaiming it at the right moment, and the right point, bearing witness against all falsehood and wrong, and then to wait for the truth to prevail. It was not given them to command, they had to teach. They could not presume to wield the instruments of punishment as Elijah did, they must warn, and admonish, and threaten. They therefore had recourse to writing. Their words were not commands which required instant obedience, but testimonies, whose truth time and experience must prove. Still more is all this true of our times. We live in a society with fixed institutions and traditions. Men move now not in a mass, controlled by a few individuals, but in an organized body, moved by its own intelligence and the general convictions. All which presents itself from outside the social order, and bases itself upon a violation of the same, is met with suspicion and ridicule, and moreover (for this would be a light thing in itself), must remain destitute of any deep influence. Society has come into absolute dependence upon, and faith in, law. No man and no doctrine can work efficiently in this society if it tries to work from without the social order. The efficient means of operation now-a-days are organized combinations of men of similar opinions and aspirations. Individuals cannot attain controlling positions. The power has been broken up and diffused. Individuals are assigned to positions in the organization which moves as a whole. The mass is stubborn, and can only be acted on from within. It will not submit to dictation. The only means of influence is, to form a smaller opinion, inside of the great one, and so leaven the whole lump. The calling of the prophets has been inherited by institutions, above all by the Church, and these are the influences to which we must look to regenerate modern society. The ministers of the Church are the bearers and perpetuators of this calling. Their duty it is to bear witness of God and of His judgment in the world. Their duty it is to advise, exhort, warn, and condemn, with the fearlessness of Elijah, even if not with his tone of authority and command.—W. G. S.]
4. The prophet-communities, or so-called schools of the prophets, which Elijah visited again before his departure, are a phenomenon which is in many respects important and deserving of attention (cf. in general, with regard to them, Knobel, Prophet. der Hebr. ii. s. 39–52; Winer, R.-W.- B. ii. s. 281; Keil, on 1 Sam. 19:24, s. 146–151; Kranichfeld, De iis quœ in V. T. commemorantur, prophetarum societatibus. Berol. 1861, where the older literature is also mentioned). They come into consideration here principally in their relation to Elijah. Such communities are mentioned as early as the time of Samuel (1 Sam. 10:5, 10; 19:20), but not sooner, so that he is commonly regarded as their founder, and indeed he is mentioned in the last place quoted as their נִצָּב, governor or overseer. They appear, from their names, חֶבֶל, i.e., band, company, or crowd, and לַהֲקָה (for קַהֲלָה), i.e., congregation, not to have been organized and exclusive unions or “orders,” but freely united companies. Under David we find no sign of their existence whatever. Not until the time of Elijah and Elisha do they appear again, and here they always bear the name בְּנֵי הַנְּבִיאִים, which refers to a more definite relation, to firmer and closer connection, similar to that between father and son, and especially to the relation between teacher and pupil, for the Hebrew always calls his teacher “father” (1 Sam. 10:12; 2 Kings 2:12; Matt. 23:9), and his pupil, “son” (Prov. 1:8, 10, 15; 2:1; 4:1; Titus 1:4). We see, from the passage before us, and 2 Kings 4:38; 6:1, that they dwelt together in definite places, and lived in common; therefore, that they were not unregulated companies, but exclusive unions or communities. They stand in a subordinate relation to their teachers and masters (at first Elijah, and after him, Elisha, cf. 2 Kings 2:15), and call them “master” (2 Kings 2:3; 6:5) and themselves “servants” (2 Kings 2:16; 4:1; 6:3). According to all this, these schools of the prophets can hardly be identified with the free unions of the prophets under Samuel, or be considered as the immediate continuation of those. In the latter was concentrated the religious life, which at that time lacked a fixed arrangement. When this was established by David, they ceased to exist, although prophets continued to appear from time to time. The real schools of the prophets, however, came into existence for the first time, at the period of apostasy and idolatry under Ahab, and their founder was Elijah, who may, nevertheless, have had those combinations under Samuel in mind, though he gave them a different organization, and made of them institutions for planting and preserving the pure worship of Jehovah, in opposition to the intruding idolatry. Such certainly the combinations of the prophets under Samuel never were. Even if we were willing to allow Elijah to pass, not for the founder, but simply for the restorer of the schools of the prophets, yet these remain, nevertheless, an actual and important testimony that this prophet not only stepped forth publicly, in fiery zeal and heroic strength, to battle against idolatry, but also, at the same time, worked to build up and to lay foundations. Although this quieter part of his influence did not attract so much attention, yet it was not less successful. He must have understood well how to draw hearts to himself and enchain them, as is evident from the number of these pupils of the prophets (cf. 1 Kings 18:4; 2 Kings 2:16; 4:43; 6:1). The bloody persecution of them under Ahab and Jezebel did not avail to exterminate them, or even to diminish their numbers. In the evening of the prophet’s life we even find schools of the prophets in precisely those places where the worship of the Calf and of Baal had their principal seats, so that we see that they had to be endured at last publicly—a proof that the general strength of the apostasy had been broken by Elijah. How much the heart of the faithful servant of God was set upon these foundations, is evident from the fact that he visited the three schools at Gilgal, Bethel, and Jericho before his departure, and spoke to them encouragement and consolation.
5. The prophet Elisha is the chief person after Elijah in the passage before us, from which the relation which we must think of as existing between the two prophets may be directly deduced. This relation is often conceived of as one of specific difference or even contrast. So Krummacher says (Elisa, 2d ed. Elberfeld, 1844, i. s. 7): “Elisha was appointed to appear as an evangelist in Israel, whereas Elijah, as the second Moses, was to enforce due respect for the Law, which had been forgotten and trodden under foot. Elisha’s duty was, as herald of the divine tenderness, to restore and lead back to the father’s arms, with tempting invitations, the hearts which his predecessor had broken with the hammer of the law,” and (Elias der Thisb. s. 409): “As an evangelist he needed, first of all, that his own heart should acquire a thoroughly evangelical disposition, and that he should, in his internal relation to the Lord, himself foretaste, so far as was possible, the tender nature of the New Testament” (see also 1 Kings 19. Hist. § 8). This opinion springs from the utterly false interpretation of the spirit of 2 Kings 2:9, which makes it mean that Elisha prayed for a double measure of the spirit of Elijah. Under this interpretation Elisha’s manifold acts of healing and assistance, have then been brought into connection with this prayer. Accordingly, this view falls to the ground with the correct exposition of 2 Kings 2:9. As for the acts referred to, they were not by any means like those of the Saviour, altogether in the nature of assistance, but many of them served as punishments (cf. 2 Kings 2:24; 5:27; 7:19, 20). On the other hand, the miracles. of Elijah were not entirely punishment-miracles (1 Kings 17:6, 14, 23; 18:45). Moreover, the time of Elisha was so far from being a time of “divine tenderness,” and “gentle murmuring after the storm,” that, on the contrary, it was exactly in this time that the most violent convulsion inside the kingdom (2 Kings 9 and 10), and the most violent struggles abroad (2 Kings 6 and 7), took place. Finally, according to the oracle, 1 Kings 19:17, it was Elisha’s destiny to “slay” all who should escape from the sword of Jehu, which certainly was no New Testament calling. The spirit for which he prays (2 Kings 2:9), and which then rests upon him (2 Kings 2:15), is the “spirit of Elijah,” not a different one, much less a contrasted one. This spirit of Elijah is so far from being a New Testament spirit, that the Saviour rebukes His disciples who desire to act in accordance with it (Luke 9:55), and says: “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” [Bähr takes it as a question, and emphasizes the latter “ye.” So also many good authorities, whom Meyer is inclined to join. Lachmann and Tischendorf omit it from the text. There is a heavy weight of authority against it, and the only argument for retaining it is the one suggested by Meyer, that it is difficult to account for its interpolation; while, on the other hand, it might have been omitted out of a false consideration for the reputation of Elijah.—W. G. S.] It was one and the same spirit which inspired both prophets, and worked in and through them. Elisha was not indeed “a feeble copy” of Elijah; but neither was he, what, as an evangelist before the time of the evangelists, he would have been, viz., greater than Elijah. He only desired, as first-born son of the prophet, a richer measure of the spirit than the other sons of the prophets were to obtain, because he was to be their leader and master. His relation to Elijah was like that of Joshua to Moses. Elijah had broken the strength of the apostasy in Israel—fought with fiery zeal against idolatry, and laid anew the foundation of the law and the covenant. On this foundation Elisha was to continue to build. The same spirit which, in Elijah, had to work chiefly to destroy and condemn, was to work in Elisha chiefly to cultivate and preserve. “Elijah had done the work of laying the foundation. There had been introduced among the people, in the schools of the prophets, which had arisen again under the shield of Elijah’s mighty energy, a healing salt of life, which now only needed to be kept from losing its savor and to be preserved in its vigor, and blessing would proceed from it in silence and without display. To guard these germs of the newly-awakened life—to nourish them and bring them to vigorous development—was … the task of Elisha” (Sartorius, Vorträge über die Prophet. s. 38, 41). Like Elijah, Elisha was also the “chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof” (2 Kings 2:12; 13:14).
6. The three acts of Elisha after the translation of Elijah, of which we have an account, are not by any means arbitrarily placed in succession, as it were mere anecdotes of the prophet, but they belong together in time, as well as in significance, and form, to some extent, a whole, by means of which Elisha, on his first independent appearance as successor of Elijah, is represented as heir of his spirit and calling. The last act of the master before the eyes of the pupils of the prophets (2 Kings 2:8) was also the first performed before them by the disciple, after he had succeeded to the position of Elijah, and he performed it with the significant mantle of his former master. This was a sign for him that his prayer for the רוּחַ of Elijah had been fulfilled, and for the sons of the prophets that the spirit of his master now rested upon him, and that they must henceforth recognize him as leader and guide (2 Kings 2:15). In this capacity he returns with them to Jericho, their dwelling-place. Here, when the men of the city, full of confidence, complain to him of their misfortune, he maintains himself as the Man of God, who helps and protects, and brings safety and blessing. At Bethel, on the other hand, when they come to meet him with derision and contempt, it becomes evident what judgment falls upon those who impudently despise the servant and messenger of Jehovah. Thus Elisha, like Elijah, to whose place he had succeeded (see 1 Kings 17 Hist. § 1), in his first appearance, is seen to be a prophet of action—he inaugurates himself, not by a detailed speech to the sons of the prophets and the believing or unbelieving people, but by actions. These actions, however, are of a prophetical character, not insignificant workings of superhuman power, but rather “signs,” and therefore also testimonials (cf. John 10:25). The passage through the Jordan bears witness that the Lord opens paths for those whom He has chosen and called to be His messengers and servants. It is a surety for the words: “Fear not, for I have redeemed thee. I have called thee by thy name: thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee: and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee” (Isai. 43:1, 2; Ps. 124:4). The act at Jericho proclaims aloud that it is the Lord who gives health. It is surety for the words: “I am the Lord that healeth thee” (Exod. 15:25; 23:25, 26), “who healeth all thy diseases [infirmities]” (Ps. 103:3; 147:3; cf. Jer. 8:22). Finally, the event at Bethel is a sign for the rebellious and apostate that judgment waits for the scoffers—a testimony to the truth of the words: “The Lord revengeth and is furious; the Lord will take vengeance on his adversaries” (Nahum 1:2); “who visits the sins of the fathers upon the (likeminded) children” (Exod. 20:5).
7. Many have taken offence, in various ways, at the judgment which befell the derisive youths at Bethel. For instance, Köster (Die Prophet. s. 85) says: “The story sounds very unworthy of the great prophet: it appears as if he ought not to have noticed the derision of irresponsible children;” and Thenius remarks on the passage, that “the immorality of cursing (especially wanton children) has been lost sight of in the desire to bring into prominence the inviolability of the prophetical dignity, which stands under the protection of God.” The incident appears, however, in a very different light when the persons in question, as was shown above, are not wanton little children, but youths who knew what they were doing and saying. Neither must we overlook the fact that these youths belonged to the city which was the centre and principal seat of the apostasy, and which, on this account, is called by the prophets, “Beth-Aven,” i.e., House of the Idol, instead of Beth-El [House of God], (Hos. 4:15; 10:5; Amos 5:5). They were, therefore, literally the offspring of apostasy, and they represented in general the offspring of apostates which was growing up. The older expositors, e.g., Bochart, suppose, not improbably, that the older people had incited the younger ones, and that the object was to make the new head of the class of the prophets ridiculous and contemptible at the very commencement of his career. When, therefore, Elisha threatened with divine punishment the impudent youths who despised in the prophet the holy office to which Jehovah had called him, it was no immorality, nor was it unworthy of him; on the contrary, he therein did what belonged to his prophetical office. He did not, however, execute the punishment himself; he left that to Him who says: “To me belongeth vengeance and recompense” (Deut. 32:35). It was no more Elisha who caused the bears to come (but Jehovah, 2 Kings 2:21) than it was he who caused the waters at Jericho to become healthful. It was a judgment of God which befell those depraved youths and, indirectly, the whole city out of which they came, and it referred back to that threat of the law: “If ye walk contrary unto me, and will not hearken unto me,.…. I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children and destroy your cattle; and your highways shall be desolate” (Levit. 26:21 sq.). Nevertheless, the narrative bears a strongly Old Testament character; it is no portion of the gospel; we cannot make out of Elisha an “Evangelist” and disciple of the Saviour; we must bear in mind that he was the successor of an Elijah, and that the God of Israel is a jealous God. Cassel’s application of the incident seems very far-fetched (Der Prophet Elisa, ss. 7 and 9): “The wrath and judgment upon the youths is an image of that wrath and judgment which falls upon all Israel.…. Who does not seek in it the faithful image of the fortunes of Israel itself!.…. Like bears from a wood Hazael and Jehu burst in upon the people and the royal race. Without pity and without mercy they strangled the youth of Israel. Even the number—forty-two—signifies such a judgment, for forty-two was the number of the sons of Ahaziah whom Jehu fell in with in his capacity of avenger.” That the author of these books did not think of that, is at all events certain.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
2 Kings 2:1–12. BENDER: Elijah’s Departure from the Earth. (a) The solomn journey on the eve of his departure, and (b) the glorious exit of the departing prophet.
2 Kings 2:1–6. KRUMMACHER: The Vigil. (a) How Elijah seeks retirement; (b) how he comes to the schools of the prophets; (c) what reception he meets with there.—Elijah on the Approach of his End. (a) He goes to meet it quietly and submissively, for he had fought a good fight and kept the faith (2 Tim. 4:7 and 8). (b) He takes leave of his friends and companions in faithful love; as he had “loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end” (John 13:1).
2 Kings 2:1. STARKE: God does not leave His faithful children and servants forever in unrest, but delivers them finally from all evil and helps them to come to his heavenly kingdom (Ps. 55:23; 2 Tim. 4:18).
2 Kings 2:2–4. MENKEN: That which Elijah had done and labored at throughout his life, that he also pushed forward and did in his last hours: he was still active for the advancement of the kingdom of God, still active in the labor of assisting and serving love, which does not seek its own. Even his last hours were consecrated to others. He was in a state of the soul, in which he was ready, at every step, in every occupation and in every conversation which might occur, to pass over into the invisible world, without need of any further preparation. Oh! let us employ all diligence, that we, too, may arrive at such a precious and blessed soul-state.… that we, too, in all our conversation and business, whether it is spiritual or worldly, whether it is grand or small, may not only think of eternity with pleasure, but also be ready at any moment, if our Lord should so please, to pass on into the invisible world.
2 Kings 2:2–6. The faithful Love of Elisha to his Master and Lord. (a) The ground and source of it. (It does not rest upon a natural, human basis, but upon a divine and holy one. The band which bound him to Elijah was living faith in the living God, and life and labor in and with him. He honored and loved his father after the flesh [1 Kings 19:20], but he left him; with his spiritual father he wished to remain unto the end [2 Kings 2:12]. Cf. Matt. 10:37) (b) Its test and successful endurance. (Thrice did Elijah beg him to remain behind, but he would not be persuaded. Whithersoever the path may lead, and whatsoever may come to pass, I will not leave thee until God shall take thee from me. His love was not a mere passing, bubbling enthusiasm, but it was strong as death and firm as hell. That love alone is true which endures trial and will not be turned aside by any prayers, for which no hindrance is too great, no journey too long and too hard. Cf. John 21:17) (c) Its victory and reward. (Elijah opens for him the path through the Jordan, after his fidelity has stood the test. He is allowed to see what no human being besides him might see. He attains to that which he has prayed for; with Elijah’s mantle he inherits also Elijah’s spirit; he is a witness of his master’s glory. Cf. Rev. 2:10: “Be thou faithful,” &c. That fidelity conquers and is crowned, which holds fast to God and Jesus Christ.)—The words of Elisha: As the Lord liveth, &c., as marriage-vow. The right foundation, the trial, and the duration, of conjugal love (until God shall separate).—Elijah and the Sons of the Prophets, (a) Elijah had not only one disciple and pupil, but a great company of them, which he collected from among those who had not bowed the knee to Baal, and to whom he stood in the relation of a father to his children, whom he led and taught, protected and nourished. This was the other side of the activity of the great Man of God.—MENKEN: In his public life he was, according to the needs of his time, a fire to consume rather than to warm; in his more retired life he was an enlightening and warming light.—Labor in the kingdom of God consists not only in tearing down and removing superstition and unbelief, but at the same time in building up faith, in planting and nourishing a divine and holy life. Compare the great reformers. (b) The children of the prophets were not children, but sons, young men, bound to a life in common, in the fear of God. Reading and hearing the Word of God, prayer and praise of the Lord, practice in obedience, mutual encouragement and strengthening, these were the aim and end of their union. They were, therefore, in a time of apostasy, communities for the cultivation of the knowledge of God and of the life which proceeds from God. They were for Israel the salt which gave savor, and the light which gave light, to all in the house (Matt. 5:13–15), schools of true wisdom, whose beginning is the fear of God, through which alone, until this day, all knowledge and learning receive their true value.—Yea, I know it; hold ye your peace! We should not make the heart of a departing friend heavy in the moment of separation, but with him, yield quietly and peacefully to the holy will of God, who is calling him away.—Neither Elijah nor Elisha wished to have that which was about to befall the former according to the decision of God, made a subject of conversation.—VILMAR: No over-hasty gossip or sensation ought to be made about acts of God, especially about those which are still future; they may not be treated as objects of curious or worldly questionings. The acts of God are meant to be awaited in respectful silence..… Those who are capable of seeing the majesty of the living God keep silent of themselves, upon others they have to enjoin silence.
2 Kings 2:7–10. The two Prophets before their Separation, (a) Elijah’s last act; (b) Elisha’s last request.
2 Kings 2:7, 8. KRUMMACHER: The Passage through the Jordan. (a) The escort of the sons of the prophets; (b) the position of the two men of God at the Jordan; (c) the marvellous passage through it.—MENKEN: Elijah was to finish his course by an act of faith, he was to build for himself, in a certain sense, the path to his glorious end, by an act of faith, and so impress indelibly upon the hearts of his friends and followers, who saw him, even in the hour of separation, the grand truth that Jehovah is the sole living and all-controlling God, and that faith pleases Him above all else, and that.… no other way than faith in God’s promises leads to the higher and better inheritance in light.—WIRTH: On the other side of the Jordan is the place of the glorification of the prophet. Between him and this spot there flows yet a broad and deep stream. Through this he must go,.… there is no bridge, no ferryman; but he does not despair. He knows: He who has called me to the other side will help me to the other side.…. Such incidents occur to many on the pilgrimage of life.… No stream is so deep, and no flood of calamity so dangerous, that God could not lead through it unharmed..… The prophet-mantle, which to-day as ever, when it falls upon any Jordan, divides its waves, is faith, strong, glad, living, rock-firm faith.… “Faith leads through fire and flood.”
2 Kings 2:9 and 10. The parting Conversation of the two Prophets, (a) Elijah calls upon Elisha to make a request; (b) the request of Elisha; (c) the answer of Elijah.
2 Kings 2:9. Elijah speaks in the name of God: Ask what I shall do, &c. The Lord will not only listen to our prayers, but He even demands of us that we shall pray to Him, and pour out our hearts with all our wishes before him (Ps. 62:8). Not only are we allowed to pray to Him, but it also is our duty to do so (Matt. 7:7 sq.).—WÜRTEMB. SUMM.: If the saints in heaven could hear our prayers and could aid us, there would have been no necessity that Elisha should beg anything of Elijah before he went thither. The invocation of deceased saints is therefore to be regarded as erroneous and false.—MENKEN: If we were called upon to make a request, as Elisha was, what would we choose? Would we pray for things of this world, which might delight us for the few days of this life here below; or would we pray as he did, and choose spiritual and heavenly things, in the possession and enjoyment of which we should have rich and pure sources of joy in the other world throughout eternity? The sincere and conscientious response to this question can give us an instructive indication of the nature and worth of our sentiments and of our spiritual value.—STARKE: The highest good on earth is not gold nor money, but the Holy Spirit.—WÜRTB. SUMM.: We see and learn from Elijah that we ought only to pray for necessary and useful things, even where we have the choice.
2 Kings 2:10. CALWER BIBEL: The request was great, but even great prayers are permitted when they serve the ends of the kingdom of God.—KYBURZ: Pray, dear soul, pray freely for something great; it is equally hard for God to give thee something great or something small. He does not charge it upon thee as ambition if thou prayest so soon for a large faith, or a great measure of the spirit, or a high grade of holiness. Thou must only possess all in humility and use it for the honor of the giver.—OSIANDER: We may indeed pray for glorious gifts of the Spirit from God, yet we must not make a display of them, but only serve the Church usefully.
2 Kings 2:11 and 12. Elijah’s Departure from this World. (a) The mode in which he was taken away by God; (b) cause and aim of this removal (see the Exeget. and Histor. sections).
2 Kings 2:11. They still went on and talked, certainly not about a temporal inheritance nor about anything temporal at all, or any worldly affairs, but about God and eternity, life and death, rest after labor, the eternal Sabbath. How consoling it is, in the last days and hours, to have a friend with whom one can hold such a conversation, and how elevating for him who must still remain in the world, to hear words from the mouth of the departing one, which sound already as if from the other world.—STARKE: “Blessed is that servant whom his Lord, when He cometh, shall find so doing” (i.e., watching. Matt. 24:46).—THE SAME: Pious Christians ought to remain faithful to one another in life and in death, and not to separate until God separates them by earthly death.…. At our death we ought to be glad to have faithful Christians about us, and be glad to converse with them and to entrust our souls with our Heavenly Father in the midst of their song and prayer.—We shall not, indeed, pass out of this world as Elijah did, without tasting the death of the body, but we shall be received into heaven, for we trust in Him who said: “I go to prepare a place for you;” and: “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 14:2; 12:21).—In storm and whirlwind Elijah was taken away, just as his life, outwardly, had been a storm-tossed one. This last storm, however, brought him to eternal rest and eternal peace. So still, in our day, human life is often stormy, but when it is led in and with God and directed by Him, eternal sunshine follows the storm of time, there, where there is no suffering or crying any more, and where God will wipe away all tears from our eyes. There is rest prepared there for all who have fought the good fight of faith.—MENKEN: He who could not here gain any taste for heavenly things, who his whole life long only grubbed in the earth like an earthworm, can he hope to pass away toward heaven with joy? Our life and death lie in the hands of the Almighty, who takes one away in storm and whirlwind and another in the enjoyment of happiness and pleasure. Thou knowest not when and where and how thou shalt die, therefore pray: let me set my house in order in time, that I may be ready at all times, and say continually in all circumstances: O Lord! dispose of me as Thou wilt.
2 Kings 2:12. Elisha’s Exclamation. (a) My father, my father! (An exclamation which does no less honor to Elisha than to Elijah. If such an exclamation from an equally full heart might only follow every teacher from every one of his pupils, and every shepherd of souls from every one of the souls entrusted to him!) (b) The chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof. (Elisha does not forget what the entire people has lost in Elijah, in the thought of what his master has been to himself. One such man as Elijah is more than equivalent to an entire army. Such was Luther for the German people. Lord, send us one such man in this time of apostasy and unbelief.)—STARKE: If God takes away faithful teachers out of the world, it ought justly to touch our hearts and to fill us with pain, but we ought also to hope that He will not leave us desolate (John 14:18), and to pray diligently Lord, send faithful laborers into Thy vineyard.
2 Kings 2:13–25. The three significant Signs which confirm Elisha as Prophet and Successor of Elijah. The sign (a) of his path-making, (b) of his preserving and conserving, and (c) of his avenging work (see Historical, § 6).
2 Kings 2:13–15. KRUMMACHER: The Bequest. (a) Elisha with Elijah’s mantle, (b) with Elijah’s God, (c) with Elijah’s spirit, (d) with Elijah’s office.
2 Kings 2:13–18. Elisha’s Return to the Sons of the Prophets. (a) What he brings with him (the mantle of Elijah as a precious souvenir and significant sign—with the sign, however, the thing itself. The spirit of Elijah rests upon him, and by virtue of this spirit he makes a path for himself through the stream of the Jordan. How many a one is in possession of a prophet’s mantle, but lacks the prophetical spirit! He who has not this spirit is not fit and capable for the prophetical office; it is given, however, to him who earnestly prays for it. Luke 11:13). (b) The manner in which they receive him. (They go to meet him and evince their respect for him, because he had shown by his first act, which was also the last one of Elijah, and which they themselves had seen, that he is appointed by God to be Elijah’s successor. At the same time, however, they did not forget their former father and master, and would not let themselves be dissuaded from seeking for him. These sons of the prophets are, therefore, a type of true and noble fidelity, and they teach us by their deed that to which Hebr. 13:7 exhorts us.
2 Kings 2:16–18. How many, especially young and inexperienced persons, will not be dissuaded from their opinions, views, and doubts, and will not heed the words of their teachers and parents, who have the best intentions toward them, and far more experience; they must become wise by bitter experience, and then hear to their shame: Did I not say unto you?—HALL: Nothing makes a man wise better than to tire himself out in prosecuting his own courses and yet to fail of his object.
2 Kings 2:13–15. It was not the mantle but the spirit of Elijah, by virtue of which Elisha divided the water and went through the Jordan. So also now, the coat of Christ does not help us to go through life unharmed and holy, but only His spirit, which He has promised to those who believe on Him from the heart. He who has not the spirit of Christ is not His (Rom. 8:9).—STARKE: We may well preserve relics of holy people, but we must not worship them.
2 Kings 2:19–25. Elisha’s Reception at Jericho and Bethel. In the former place they come to meet him with confidence and respect, in the latter with derision and contempt. Thus he has to experience, at the very commencement of his course as a prophet, what is the inevitable fate of all true prophets and servants of God; they are sought and honored and loved by some, rejected, despised, and hated by others. So it was with the Lord himself—His whole life long, until His end upon the cross (Luke 23:39 sq.); so also with His apostles, as He foretold to them (Luke 10:5–12). He who enters upon an ecclesiastical office may indeed hope for respect and love, but he must also make up his mind to disrespect and hate.
2 Kings 2:19–22. Elisha’s Assistance at Jericho. (a) The need, out of which he helps; (b) the manner in which he helps.
2 Kings 2:19. God is wont, in most cases, to put some internal or external need by the side of prosperity and good fortune, in order that men may bear in mind their weakness and need of help, and in order that they may not be too well off upon earth. Where nothing is wanting that the place may be pleasant to dwell in, there that comes to pass which is written, Hos. 13:6. In the districts and countries where there is no want of anything, and nothing to complain of, there is, as a general rule, the least religious life and the least morality.—When the men of Jericho perceived that a man of God, upon whom the spirit of Elijah rested, was within their walls, they sought him and presented their concern to him. How many trouble themselves about everything that takes place in their city, or about everything which is to be seen or heard, but not about a faithful servant of God, who proclaims the way of salvation.—STARKE: It is not enough to have teachers and preachers; it is necessary also to make use of their counsel, at the right time (Acts 16:30).
2 Kings 2:20 and 21. KYBURZ: Would that all rulers, preachers, and others, to whom souls are entrusted, would exert themselves to fill up every spring of evil in the country, or, like Elijah, to heal and improve it and make it healthful.…. For this, however, salt is necessary, the salt of heavenly wisdom. This does not come in an old vessel, but is stored in a new heart.—KRUMMACHER: In a place where the spiritual fountains are poisoned, and the people receive to drink, from all the pulpits and school-teachers’ desks, not the water which streams forth unto eternal life, but the death-draught of that modern babble of deceit and falsehood,.… there there is a more deadly curse upon the land than that which once lay upon the district of Jericho.…. May the Lord of Elisha raise up those who shall carry the healing salt also into these fountains.—It was not the natural salt which Elisha cast into the fountain which purified it, but that of which the salt was a figure and sign, viz.: the Word of the Lord, by means of which He created heaven and earth and continually carries and preserves all things (Ps. 33:6, 9; Hebr. 1:3), which also creates anew the hearts of men, and brings them out of death unto life, preserves them from internal decay, and purifies them from all uncleanness. Therefore the Lord says: “Have salt in yourselves” (Mark 9:50; cf. Ps. 19:8 sq.).
2 Kings 2:21. I have healed these waters. The Lord is the right Physician for both Soul and Body (Ex. 15:26). (a) He makes healthful those who are diseased in body and saves them from death; the human physician is only an instrument in His hand, as Elisha was here, for without Him, His strength, His blessing, no physician can accomplish anything (Sir. 38:1, 2). Therefore when thou hast regained thy health, give to Him before all others the honor, and say: “Praise the Lord,” &c. (Ps. 103:1–5). How many sick persons travel about to every physician of whose skill they have heard, without turning, with all their hearts, to Him who says: “I give health” and “Call upon me,” &c. (Ps. 50:15). (b) He healeth the broken in heart and bindeth up their wounds (Ps. 147:3). We are all sick and in need of the physician who came into the world to seek and to save that which was lost. God directs us all to this physician, and He alone can help us, of whom it is said: “Neither is there salvation in any other” (Acts 4:12). He gives life and true health, and that man remains diseased in time and eternity whom He, the Saviour, does not heal and sanctify. Therefore, listen to His voice when He calls: “Come unto me,” &c. (Matt. 11:28).
2 Kings 2:22. Faithful and genuine servants of God, who cast the salt of the divine, healing, purifying, and sanctifying Word into the springs of life, are a blessing for every village and every city, unto children and children’s children, for whom God can never be thanked enough.
2 Kings 2:23–25. KRUMMACHER: The Judgment at Bethel. (a) The cause of the insult; (b) the insult itself; (c) the results of the same.—Elisha on the Road to Bethel. (a) The derision of the youths. (Bethel had been for many years the seat and home of apostasy. “The fathers have eaten sour grapes,” &c., Ezek. 18:2. As the old ones sing so the young ones twitter. Brought up without discipline and exhortation to follow the Lord, having grown up in rudeness, unbelief, and superstition, these youths had lost all reverence for what is holy, so that they not only held the men of God in light esteem, but even practised their wit upon them. Are there in our time no longer such youth?) (b) The curse of the prophet (was no vulgar, rude cursing from ill-temper and anger, no misuse of the holy name of God, but the correct use of this name, threatening with divine punishment those who, in the prophet, treated with contumely Him who had sent him. The punishment itself he left to Him who ever judges rightly, and whom no one may ask: Lord, what doest thou? As Elisha was not silent, so also now a faithful servant of the Lord may not keep silent if young people are brought up badly and godlessly; he ought not to let pass unnoticed their wickedness and impudence, and their contempt for that which is holy. It is his duty to warn them and their parents of the divine punishment. Woe to the watchmen who are dumb watch-dogs, who cannot punish, who are lazy, and who are glad to lie and sleep!) (c) The avenging judgment of God. (It is certain, and will not fail to come, for: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked,” &c., Gal. 6:7. The judgment at Bethel is recorded as a warning to us, 1 Cor. 10:11. If God punished the mocking children so severely, what will He do to the older mockers, who seduce youth and incite it to mocking? Though He may send no bears from the wood, yet He has countless other means in time and in eternity, whether earlier or later, for executing his just judgments. Those who mocked the Lord upon the cross had afterwards to call “to the mountains: Fall on us; and to the hills,” &c., Luke 23:30; Rev. 6:16. Nor will those be better off who, now-a-days, exercise their wit upon the story of the cross, however learned and enlightened, spirituel and witty, they may be. “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,” Ps. 1:1). [“In vain do we look for good from those children whose education we have neglected; and in vain do we grieve for those miscarriages which our care might have prevented.” Bp. Hall, quoted in the COMP. COMM.]—KRUMMACHER: A man in whom Christ has found a dwelling, cannot go unattacked through Dan or Bethel.—CALWER BIBEL: The prophets, even, in their day, were despised on account of righteousness, and the name of God. Be not astonished at the contemptuous epithets of to-day for pious people.—CASSEL: Young people are always ready to make wanton sport of any peculiar appearance which they do not understand. The unripe behavior of the young generation which is growing up, always forms a shadowy reflection of the shallow opposition in moral and religious ideas which exists in public opinion. The separate bearers and supporters of the truth, which is deep, and hence misunderstood by the masses, are, for the most part, objects of blind scorn to wild youth. That which found expression against Elijah has also fallen upon many in later times. He who, in the exercise of his calling, goes up to perverted Bethel, must expect it. [The Residence at Carmel. “He can never be a profitable seer who is either always or never alone.” Bp. Hall, quoted in the COMP. COMM.]
2 Kings 2:15.—[מִנֶּגֶד from over against. Sept. ὲξεναντίας: Vulg. e contra: Bunsen: “on the other side.”
2 Kings 2:16.—[The Sept. add ἐν τῷ ’Iορδάνῃ. The chetib גֵּיאָוֹת would be the regular form for the plur. of גַּיְא. The form found, however (in Ezekiel), is גֵאָיוֹת, which the keri proposes to insert here.
2 Kings 2:19.—[מוֹשַׁב וגו, literally, inhabiting the city good; i.e., the city is a good one to inhabit, מְשַׁבָּלֶת, causing barrenness. The district, or locality, probably on account of its bad water, produces barrenness and miscarriage in all animals.
2 Kings 2:21.—[מְשַׁבָּלֶת, a participial noun, describing the action, miscarrying; “there shall be no more death or miscarrying from it” (as a cause). Cf. on 2 Kings 2:19.—W. G. S.]
And it came to pass, when the LORD would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal.