And it came to pass, when the LORD would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal.
Verse 1. - And it came to pass, when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven. The subject is introduced as one of general notoriety, the writer professing rather to give the exact details of a well-known fact, than to relate a new fact unknown to his readers. "When the time came," he means to say, "for Elijah's translation, of which you, my readers, all know, the following were the circumstances under which it took place." The fact itself was deeply impressed on the Jewish consciousness. "Elias," says the Sou of Sirach, "was taken up in a whirlwind of fire, and in a chariot of fiery homes" (Ecclus. 48:9). He was ranked with Enoch, as not having seen death (Josephus, 'Ant. Jud.,' 9:2. § 2), and was viewed as "continuing in heaven a mysterious life, which no death had ever interrupted, whence he was ready at any time to return to earth" (Ewald, 'History of Israel,' vol. 4. p. 113). The scribes thought that he was beyond all doubt to make his appearance upon the earth in person, before the coming of the Messiah (Matthew 16:10). By a whirlwind. Sa'arach is not so much an actual "whirlwind" as a storm or atmospheric disturbance (συσσεισμός, LXX.). It is a word which only occurs here in the historical Scriptures. That Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. Elisha had become to Elijah what Joshua was to Moses (Exodus 24:13) - his "minister," or regular attendant, from the time of his call at Abel-meholah (1 Kings 19:21). Elijah had no fixed residence, but moved from place to place as the Spirit of God suggested. His wanderings had now brought him to Gilgal (probably Jiljilieh, near Nablous), one of the most ancient sanctuaries of the land (1 Samuel 10:8; 1 Samuel 11:15, etc.), celebrated in the history of Saul and Samuel.
And Elijah said unto Elisha, Tarry here, I pray thee; for the LORD hath sent me to Bethel. And Elisha said unto him, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they went down to Bethel.
Verse 2. - And Elijah said unto Elisha, Tarry here, I pray thee; for the Lord hath sent me. Elijah makes three efforts to rid himself of the presence of his faithful attendant (see vers. 4 and 6), either really desirous to pass in solitude the few remaining hours of his earthly life, for he knows that his end is approaching (vers. 9, 10), or for the purpose of testing his fidelity and affection. Under ordinary circumstances, the servant would naturally have obeyed his lord, and submitted to a temporary separation; but Elisha has a presentiment, or something stronger than a presentiment, of what is impending (vers. 3, 5), and will not be induced to accelerate by a single moment the time of the last parting. He will remain with his master, ready to do him all needful service, until the end. To Bethel. Bethel was the spiritual center of the kingdom of the ten tribes. There may have been many reasons why Elijah should visit it once more before he quitted the earth. He may have had directions to leave, consolation to give, words of warning to speak. We must not suppose that the narrative before us is complete. And Elisha said unto him, As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth. These were ordinary forms of earnest asseveration with the Israelites, generally used separately (Judges 8:19; Ruth 3:13; 1 Samuel 1:26; 1 Samuel 14:39; 1 Samuel 17:55; 1 Samuel 19:6; 1 Samuel 20:21; 2 Samuel 4:9; 2 Samuel 11:11, etc.); but on occasions of special solemnity united, as here and in 1 Samuel 20:3; 1 Samuel 25:26; 2 Kings 4:30). The prophet is not to be blamed for using them, since the command, "Swear not at all," had not yet been given. I will not leave thee. The resolve indicates strong attachment, deep fidelity, combined, perhaps, with a reasonable curiosity to see how the end would be brought about. So they went down to Bethel. The expression, "went down," shows that the Gilgal of ver. 1 is not that of the Jordan valley, but the mountain-city between Sichem and Bethel.
And the sons of the prophets that were at Bethel came forth to Elisha, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the LORD will take away thy master from thy head to day? And he said, Yea, I know it; hold ye your peace.
Verse 3. - The sons of the prophets that were at Bethel (On the expression, "sons of the prophets," see the comment upon 1 Kings 20:35.) The institution of the "schools of the prophets," or theological colleges where young prophets were brought up, is usually assigned to Samuel, one of whose habitual residences for a part of the year was Bethel (1 Samuel 7:16). Probably he had established a "school" there which continued to this time. Came forth to Elisha, and said unto him. The students did not venture to address the master himself, who was a person of too much dignity to be intruded on; but sought out the servant, to give him a warning of what their prophetic instinct assured them was about to happen. Knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head (i.e. from his position as teacher and master) today? There was, perhaps, something a little officious and self-assertive in this question. They might have felt sure, if they had been properly modest, that Elisha would have at least as much prophetic instinct and foresight as themselves. Hence he answers them with something of rebuke: And he said, Yea, I know it - literally, I too know it - hold ye your peace; or, "Hush - do not chatter about what is so sacred; do not suppose that you are wiser than any one else; be a little modest and a little reticent."
And Elijah said unto him, Elisha, tarry here, I pray thee; for the LORD hath sent me to Jericho. And he said, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they came to Jericho.
Verse 4. - And Elijah said unto him, Tarry here, I pray thee. The first trial of Elisha's fidelity is followed by a second. The master suggests his tarrying at Bethel, the sacred center, where he will have the company of the "sons of the prophets," and will not be companionless, as perhaps he would have been at Gilgal. He himself is ordered to take a second journey, longer and rougher than the first. For the Lord hath sent me to Jericho. Will it not be better that Elisha shall spare himself the long and rugged descent from the high-land of Ephraim to the deep gully of Jordan, and remain with the friends who have sought him out, while his master accomplishes the remainder of his journey alone? And he said, As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. Absolute unchangeableness of resolution is best shown by absolute un-changingness of speech. Elisha, therefore, simply repeats his previous words. And the master once more yields. So they came to Jericho.
And the sons of the prophets that were at Jericho came to Elisha, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the LORD will take away thy master from thy head to day? And he answered, Yea, I know it; hold ye your peace.
Verse 5. - And the sons of the prophets that were at Jericho came to Elisha, and said unto him; Knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head today? And he answered, Yea, I know it . hold ye your peace. At Jericho, too, as well as at Bethel, there was a school of the prophets, though the two places were not more than about twenty miles apart. This would seem to imply the existence of a large number of such seminaries at this period. No doubt, when the secular power was most strongly opposed to true religion, the prophetical order had to make increased efforts to raise its numbers and multiply its schools. The prophets of Israel, it must be remembered, were, after the withdrawal of the priests and Levites (2 Chronicles 11:13, 14), the sole teachers of the people in true religion.
And Elijah said unto him, Tarry, I pray thee, here; for the LORD hath sent me to Jordan. And he said, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And they two went on.
Verse 6. - And Elijah said unto him, Tarry, I pray thee, here; for the Lord hath sent me to Jordan. Elijah makes a third effort to detach his follower from him, or a third trial of his fidelity. He is ordered, not to a town, where his follower might find lodging and refreshment and companionship, but into the open country - to the Jordan. And then, who can say whither? Will it not be best for Elisha to leave him now, and not continue a wandering which threatens to be endless? But the follower is staunch; nothing daunts him; and he makes the same reply as before. And he said, As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And they two went on.
And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood to view afar off: and they two stood by Jordan.
Verse 7. - And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood to view. It is a harsh judgment to blame the "sons of the prophets" for an idle and shallow curiosity in merely "standing" at a distance "to view" the wonderful event, which Elisha was determined to witness as closely, and associate himself with as intimately, as possible. For the sons of the prophets to have approached nearer, and hung on the skirts of Elijah, would have been an impertinence, Elisha's persistence is only justified by his strong affection, and the special office which he held, of attendant minister. The fifty students showed a courteous sense of what was due to the prophet's desire of seclusion by not pressing on his footsteps, and at the same time a real interest in him, and a reasonable curiosity, by quitting their college and "standing to view" on some eminence which commanded a prospect of the lower Jordan valley. There were many such eminences within a short distance of Jericho. And they two stood by Jordan. At length all other human companionship was shaken off - "they two" stood, side by side, on the banks of the sacred stream, which had played so important a part, and was still to play so far more important a part, in the theocratic history. All the world, except their two selves, was remote - was beyond their ken; the master and the servant, the prophet of the past and the prophet of the coming generation, were together, with none to disturb them, or interfere between them, or separate them. Jordan rolled its waters before their eyes, a seeming barrier to further advance; and Elisha may naturally have looked to see the final scene transacted in that "plain below a plain," the Jordan bed, sunk beneath the general level of the Ghor, green with lush grass and aquatic plants, and with beds of reeds and osiers, but squalid with long stretches of mud and masses of decaying vegetation, brought down from the upper river, and with rotting trunks of trees torn from the banks higher up. But the end was not yet. Jordan was to be crossed, and the ascension to take place from the plain whence Moses, when about to quit earth, had made his ascent to Pisgah.
And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground.
Verse 8. - And Elijah took his mantle (the LXX. have τὸν μηλωτήν); the sheep-skin cape or capote, which covered his shoulders. And wrapped it together; rather, and rolled it up (εἴλησε, LXX.); so that it resembled in some degree a rod or staff. And [with this he] smote the waters; consciously imitating the act of Moses when he "stretched out his hand over the Red Sea" (Exodus 14:21), and divided its waters asunder. And they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground. The parallelism with the miraculous acts of Moses and Joshua (Joshua 3:13) is obvious, and allowed even by those who view the acts themselves as having no historical foundation (Ewald, 'History of Israel,' vol. 4. p. 111, note, Eng. trans.). It was intended that Israel should regard Elijah and Elisha as a second Moses and Joshua, and should therefore yield them a ready obedience. If miracles are impossible, cadit quaestio; exegesis of Scripture, and even reading of Scripture, may as well be put aside. But if they are possible, and have a place in the Divine economy, here was a worthy occasion for them. The powers of the world were arrayed against the cause of true religion and so against God; the cause was about to lose its great champion and assertor, Elijah; a weaker successor was about to take his place; - without some manifest display of supernatural might the cause of religion would evidently have lost ground, perhaps have been ruined altogether. It pleased God, therefore, just at this time, to grant that signs and wonders of an extraordinary character should be done by the hands of his servants Elijah and Elisha, that a halo of mystic glory should encircle them, for the better sustentation of his own cause against his adversaries, for the exaltation and glorification of his faithful ones, and for the confusion and dismay of those who were opposed to them. Now, surely, if ever, was there a dignus vindice nodus, justifying a miraculous interposition.
And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.
Verse 9. - And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. Elijah knows that the time is growing now very short. He will soon have left the earth. A yearning comes over him, before he goes, to leave his faithful follower, his trusty, persevering adherent, some parting gift, some token of his appreciation, some sign of his love. What does his "minister" desire? Let him ask what he will, and his master will, if it be possible, grant it. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. Elisha's request has been variously explained. The older commentators regarded him as having asked for twice as much spiritual and prophetical power as Elijah had possessed; and this interpretation is certainly favored by the reply of Elijah, as recorded in the next verse. But it is objected
(1) that Elisha's modesty would prevent him from asking so much; and
(2) that double the spirit and power of Elijah certainly did not rest upon him.
This latter fact is quite undeniable. As Keil says, "It is only a quite external and superficial view of the career of Elisha that can see in it a proof that double the spirit of Elijah rested upon him" ('Commentary on Kings,' ad loc.). To one who looks beneath the surface, and regards something besides length of life and number of miracles, Elisha is a very faint and feeble replica of Elijah. Ewald's judgment is here correct: "Elisha is great only so far as he continues and carries out with more force than any other man of his time the work which Elijah had begun with new and wonderful power... he did not possess any such intensity of inward power as his master" ('History of Israel,' vol. 4. p. 82, Eng. trans.). Accordingly, Ewald, rejecting the old explanation, suggests one of his own - that Elisha asked for "two thirds of Elijah's spirit" (ibid., p. 81); but this would be a very strange and unusual request, even if the Hebrew could be made to mean it. Who ever asks for two-thirds of a thing? The third explanation, to which most modern commentators incline (Keil, Thenius, Patrick, Clarke, Pool, Bottcher), is that Elisha merely requested that he might receive twice as much of Elijah's spirit as should be received by any other of the "sons of the prophets." He made a reference to Deuteronomy 21:17, and asked for the "double portion" (literally, "double mouthful") which was the right of an eldest son. The only objection to this view is Elijah's answer (see the next verse).
And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.
Verse 10. - And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing; literally, thou hast been hard in asking (ἐσκλήρυνας τοῦ αἰτήσασθαι, LXX.). Perhaps the "hardness" of the request was in the thing asked, not in the quantity of the thing. Had Elisha asked for anything that Elijah had it directly in his power to give, as for his mantle, or his blessing, or his prayers in the other world, to grant the request would have been easy. But he had asked for something that was not Elijah's to give, but only God's. Elijah could not bequeath his spirit, as a man bequeaths his property; he could only pray God that Elisha's pious request might be granted. Nevertheless, if thou see ms when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so. Our translators have thought to clear the sense by inserting "nevertheless" and "when I am." But the inserted words would be better away. As Elijah cannot either grant or refuse a request for a spiritual gift, which it is not in his power to Bestow, he is divinely instructed to give Elisha a sign, by which he shall know whether God grants his prayer or not. The sign of acceptance is to be his actually seeing his master's translation. Probably the chariot and horses were not visible to the natural human eye, any more than the angelic hosts were who compassed Elisha himself about at Dothan (2 Kings 6:17).
And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
Verse 11. - And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked (comp. Luke 24:50, 51,). The antitype answers to the type in little details as well as in the general outline. That behold, there appeared a chariot of firs, and horses of fire. God's "angels are spirits, and his ministers a flaming fire" (Psalm 104:4). When the eyes of Elisha's servant were opened, and he saw the angelic host that protected his master, it appeared to him that "the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha" (2 Kings 6:17). Material fire is, of course, not to be thought cf. But the glory and brightness of celestial beings, when made visible to man, has some analogy with fire, or at any rate brings the conception of fire before the mind. The historian doubtless reports the account which Elisha gave of what he saw on this memorable occasion. And parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven; literally, and Elijah went up in a storm into the heavens. There is no mention of a "whirlwind;" and "the heavens" are primarily the visible firmament or sky which overhangs the earth. Elijah, like our Lord, rose bodily from the earth into the upper region of the air, and was there lost to sight. Three only of the seed of Adam - Enoch, Elijah, Jesus - have passed from earth to heaven without dying.
And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.
Verse 12. - And Elisha saw it (comp. ver. 10). The condition was fulfilled which Elijah had laid down, and Elisha knew that his request for a "double portion" of his master's spirit was granted. And he cried, My father! my father! It was usual for servants thus to address their masters (2 Kings 5:13), and younger men would, out of respect, almost always thus address an aged prophet (2 Kings 6:21; 2 Kings 13:14, etc.). But Elisha probably meant something more than to show respect. He regarded himself as Elijah's specially adopted son, and hence had claimed the "double portion" of the firstborn. That his request was granted showed that the relationship was acknowledged. The chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof; i.e. the best earthly defense of Israel. "In losing thee," he means, "we lose our great protector - him that is more to us than chariots and horsemen - the strength of Israel, against both domestic and foreign foes." The sight of the fiery chariot and horses may have determined the imagery, but they are not spoken cf. Note the substitution of "horsemen" for "horses," and comp. 2 Kings 13:10, where the same expression is used in reference to Elisha. And he saw him no more. Elijah passed beyond Elisha's ken. So far as we can gather from the expressions employed, no cloud received him (Acts 1:9), but he gradually vanished from sight. And he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces; an action marking extreme horror or extreme grief - here the latter (comp. Genesis 37:29; 2 Samuel 13:19; Job 1:20; Job 2:12, etc.).
He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan;
Verse 13. - He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him; and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan; literally, the lip of the Jordan; that is, the brink of the stream, at the point, probably, where he and his master had crossed it.
And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the LORD God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over.
Verse 14. - And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him; and smote the waters - imitated, i.e., the action of Elijah (ver. 8), as Elijah had imitated the action of Moses at the passage of the Red Sea - and said, Where is the Lord God of Elijah? The present Hebrew text reads, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah, even he?" the last two words being emphatic; but the emphasis scarcely appears to be needed. Hence the translators have very generally detached the two words from Elisha's question, and, attaching them to the succeeding clause, have rendered it, And when he also had smitten the waters; but the position of the van conjunctive, after אַף־הוּא and before יַכֶּה, makes this division of the clauses impossible. It has therefore been proposed by some to read אֵפוא, "now," for אַף־הוּא, "even he" (Houbigant, Thenius, Schultz, Botteher, Dathe), and to translate, "Where now is the Lord God of Elijah?" Is he still here, with me, or has he withdrawn himself from earth with his prophet, and left me alone to my own unaided strength? This gives a good meaning, but is perhaps too bold a change. The LXX. had evidently our present Hebrew text before them, and, as they could make nothing of it, transcribed it into Greek characters, Ποῦ ὁ Θεὸς Ηλιοὺ ἀφφώ; they parted hither and thither: and Elisha wont over. God showed, i.e., that he was still with Elisha by enabling him to repeat Elijah's last miracle, and thus gave him an assurance that he would be with him thenceforth An his prophetic ministry.
And when the sons of the prophets which were to view at Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him.
Verse 15. - And when the sons of the prophets, which were to view at Jericho (see ver. 7), saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah cloth rest on Elisha. It is not quite clear upon what grounds the sons of the prophets came to this conclusion. Probably they had seen the passage of the Jordan by the two prophets, the disappearance of Elijah, and the return of Elisha across the stream in a way which they may have suspected to be miraculous. But the Jordan is four or five miles distant from the city of Jericho, and their apprehension of the various circumstances would be incomplete, and more or less vague. Perhaps there was something in Elisha's appearance and expression of countenance which impressed them, and appeared to them to mark his exaltation to a higher dignity and spiritual position. And they came to meet him; and bowed themselves to the ground before him; thus acknowledging him for their master, as they had been wont to acknowledge Elijah.
And they said unto him, Behold now, there be with thy servants fifty strong men; let them go, we pray thee, and seek thy master: lest peradventure the Spirit of the LORD hath taken him up, and cast him upon some mountain, or into some valley. And he said, Ye shall not send.
Verse 16. - And they said unto him. Thenius suggests that Elisha first related to them what had befallen his master; but the impression left by the narrative is rather that they began the conversation, being aware of Elijah's disappearance, which in that clear atmosphere they may have distinctly perceived, though the ascension may not have been visible to them. Keil thinks that they saw the ascension, but supposed that the body, after being taken up a certain height into the air, would necessarily fall to earth, and that they wished to find it and bury it. But the natural interpretation is that they thought the prophet had been "caught away" by a Divine influence, as Philip the evangelist was in later times (Acts 8:39), and would be found somewhere alive, as Philip "was found at Azotus." Behold now, there be with thy servants fifty strong men; literally, sons of strength; i.e. stout, active persons, capable of climbing the rough and precipitous rocks among which they thought that Elijah might be east. Let them go, we pray thee, and seek thy master: lest peradventure the Spirit of the Lord hath taken him up, and cast him upon some mountain, or into some valley. On either side of the ciccar, or Jordan plain, are rugged districts, consisting of alternate rocky mountain slopes and narrow gulleys, or water-courses, dry during the greater part of the year. The sons of the prophets think that Elijah has been carried by the Spirit of God into one or other of these mountain tracts, and wish to search them. And he said, Ye shall not send; or, do not send; meaning, "it will be useless - you will find nothing - it is not as you suppose."
And when they urged him till he was ashamed, he said, Send. They sent therefore fifty men; and they sought three days, but found him not.
Verse 17. - And when they urged him, till he was ashamed, he said, Send; literally, when they urged him until shame; which some expound to mean, "until they were ashamed to press him any more" (Gesenius, Winer, Keil); but others, with more reason, "until he was ashamed to persist in his refusal" (ἑὼς οῦ ἠσχύνετο, LXX.). It is always a hard thing for one man to refuse the repeated and earnest request of a multitude. When Elisha said, "Send," he had not in the least changed his mind; he only meant to say, "Send, then, if you insist upon it, to satisfy yourselves, not me. There is no harm in your sending." They sent therefore fifty men; and they sought three days, but found him not. The result bore out the advice and anticipations of the prophet. It was simply nil. No trace was found of the aged seer who had been translated from earth to heaven.
And when they came again to him, (for he tarried at Jericho,) he said unto them, Did I not say unto you, Go not?
Verse 18. - And when they came again to him, (for he tarried at Jericho,) he said unto them, Did I not say unto you, Go not? The prophet was not above vindicating the propriety of his past conduct. He waited at Jericho until the fifty men returned from their vain search, and then reminded them that his advice to them had been not to start on a useless errand. The ministers of God have to vindicate themselves, because God's honor is concerned in their being without reproach.
And the men of the city said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth: but the water is naught, and the ground barren.
Verses 19-25. - The historian passes to the record of some of Elisha's minor miracles, belonging to the time whereof he is writing, and helping to explain the position of dignity and respect which he is found to occupy in the next chapter (vers. 11-14). The miracles showed his twofold power, both to confer benefits and to punish. Verse 19. - And the men of the city - i.e. the inhabitants of Jericho; probably the civic authorities, having heard of the recent miracle - said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth. According to the unanimous voice of travelers, the situation of Jericho (now Eriha) is charming. Lying on a broad plain which is traversed by an abundant river, at the point where one of the main wadys debouched from the Judaean upland upon the low country, shaded by groves of palm trees (Deuteronomy 34:3) and fig-mulberries (Luke 19:4), the air scented with aromatic shrubs, opobalsam, myroba-lanum, and the like, facing the Orient sun, and commanding a wide prospect both across and also up and down the Ghor, with the mountains of Moab in the distance, Jericho was, no doubt, even before the miracle of Elisha, a "pleasant" place. But - there was one drawback - the water is naught, and the ground barren. Bitter and brackish springs, of which there are many in the Jordan valley, gushed forth from the foot of the mountains, and formed rivulets, which ran across the plain towards the Jordan, not diffusing health and fertility, but rather disease and barrenness. Untimely births, abortions, and the like prevailed among the cattle which were fed in the neighborhood, perhaps even among the inhabitants of the locality, and were attributed to the bitter springs, which made the land "miscarrying" (ἀτεκνουμένη, LXX.). It was the prayer of the men of Jericho that Elisha would remove this inconvenience.
And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him.
Verse 20. - And he said, Bring me a new cruse. Impurity must be cleansed by means that are wholly clean and pure. The prophet called for an absolutely new cruse, one that had been put to no use at all, and therefore could not have been defiled. And put salt therein. Salt, which physically would be most unapt to heal an unwholesome stream already holding too much salt in solution, is selected doubtless as emblematic of purity, being that by which corruption is ordinarily prevented or stayed. Under the Law every offering was to be purified by salt (Leviticus 2:13). The same symbolism is still employed under the gospel (see Matthew 5:13; Mark 9:49; Luke 14:34). And they brought it to him.
And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the LORD, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land.
Verse 21. - And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there. The "spring" intended is supposed to be that now called Ain-es-Sultan, "the spring of the Sultan," which is the only copious source near the site of the ancient Jericho. The modern town lies at a distance of two miles from it. Ain-es-Sultan is described as "a large and beautiful fountain of sweet and pleasant water" (Robinson, 'Researches,' vol. 2. p. 384), and as "scattering, even at the hottest season, the richest and most grateful vegetation over what would otherwise be a bare tract of sandy soft." The other springs of the neighborhood are mostly brackish. And said, Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence - i.e., from the waters - any more death or barren land; rather, or miscarrying.
So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake.
Verse 22. - So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake. It was not a mere temporary, but a permanent, benefit which Elisha bestowed upon the town.
And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.
Verse 23. - And he went up from thence unto Bethel. The ascent is steep and long from the Jordan valley to the highlands of Benjamin, on which Bethel stood, probably one of not less than three thousand feet. The object of Elisha's visit may have been to inform the "sons of the prophets" at Bethel (ver. 3) of the events that had befallen Elijah. And as he was going up by the way - i.e., by the usual road or pathway, for, in the strict sense of the word, roads did not exist in Palestine - there came forth little children out of the city. "Little children" is an unfortunate translation, raising quite a wrong idea of the tender age of the persons spoken cf. On the other hand, Bishop Patrick's assertion that the words are to be "understood of adult persons, who had a hatred to the prophet," is quite untenable. Naarim ketanaim would be best translated (as by our Revisers in the margin) "young lads" - boys, that is, from twelve to fifteen. Such mischievous youths are among the chief nuisances of Oriental towns; they waylay the traveler, deride him, jeer him - are keen to remark any personal defect that he may have, and merciless in flouting it; they dog his steps, shout out their rude remarks, and sometimes proceed from abusive words to violent acts, as the throwing of sticks, or stones, or mud. On this occasion they only got as far as rude words. And mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head! go up, thou bald head! It has been maintained that the scoff of the lads contained an allusion to the ascension of Elijah (Patrick, Pool, Clarke), of which they had beard, and was a call upon Elisha to follow his master's example in quitting the world, that they might be no longer troubled with him. But it is not at all apparent that the lads even knew who Elisha was - they would probably have jeered at any aged person with whom they had fallen in; and by "Go up" they merely meant "Go on thy way; 'the force of their jeer was not in the word' aleh, but in the word kereach, "bald head." Baldness was sometimes produced by leprosy, and then made a man unclean (Leviticus 13:42-44); but the boys probably flouted the mere natural defect, in which there was no "uncleanness" (Leviticus 13:40, 41), but which they regarded as a fit subject for ridicule. Their sin was disrespect towards old age, combined, perhaps, with disrespect for the prophetical order, to which they may have known from his dress that Elisha belonged.
And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.
Verse 24. - And he turned back, and looked on them; rather, and he looked behind him, and saw them, as in the Revised Version. The boys, after the manner of boys, were following him, hanging upon him, not daring to draw too near, hooting him from behind, as ill-bred and ill-intentioned youths are apt to do. And cursed them in the name of the Lord. The action cannot be defended from a Christian point of view - Christians have no right to curse any one. But we can well understand that, under the old covenant, a prophet newly installed in office, and commencing his ministry, might deem it right to vindicate the honor of his office by visiting such conduct as that of these misguided youths with a malediction. Under the Law God's ministers were required to curse the disobedient (Deuteronomy 27:14-26). Elisha could not tell what would be the effect of his curse. It could have no effect at all excepting through the will and by the action of God. And there came forth two she-bears out of the wood; or, the forest; i.e. the forest, which, as all knew, lay within a short distance of Bethel, and was the haunt of wild beasts (see 1 Kings 3:24). And tare forty and two children of them. It is not said how far the lads were injured, whether fatally or not. But the punishment, whatever its severity, came from God, not from the prophet, and we may be sure was just. For "shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" A severe example may have been needed under the circumstances of the time, when a new generation was growing up in contempt of God and of religion; and the sin of the lads was not a small one, but indicated that determined bent of the will against good, and preference of evil, which is often developed early, and generally goes on from bad to worse.
And he went from thence to mount Carmel, and from thence he returned to Samaria.
Verse 25. - And he went from thence to Mount Carmel. Ewald thinks that Carmel was, on the whole, the main residence of Elijah, and "through him became a special prophetic locality" ('History of Israel,' vol. 4. p. 68). If so, we may account for Elisha's visiting it on this occasion by his desire to communicate the facts of Elijah's removal from earth to those who had been his intimates in that quarter. And from thence he returned to Samaria. Elisha does not imitate the wild, half-savage life and almost constant seclusion of his master. He "prefers from the first the companionship of men," fixes his home in the capital of his country, Samaria (2 Kings 5:9; 2 Kings 6:32); is a friendly counselor of the king (2 Kings 6:9), and highly honored by him (2 Kings 8:4); his whole life, indeed, is, compared with that of Elijah, one of ease and tranquility. But, though living "in the world," he is not "of the world." As Ewald says, "In spite of all the seductions to which he was abundantly exposed through the great consideration in which he was held, he retained at every period of his life the true prophetic simplicity and purity, and contempt for worldly wealth and advantages" ('History of Israel,' vol. 4. p. 83). He is thus, far more than Elijah, a pattern for Christian ministers, especially for such as are highly placed, who will do well to follow his example.