Shortly before the LORD took Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal,
he walked with God." It is a solemn time, surely, in a man's life when he knows that his earthly journey is drawing to a close, that the shadows of death are closing in upon him, and that eternity is opening up before him. It is well for those who, like Elijah, are ready to depart. "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." It is a solemn time, too, for those who are left behind. What anxious questioning! What possible doubts about the future! What eagerness to look behind the veil and penetrate the darkness which hides the loved one from our view! How happy those who by the eye of faith can see their departed ones entering through the gates into the city, to be forever with the Lord! It is quite evident that God had conveyed to Elijah some intimation of the fact that he was so soon to be taken away from earth. The sons of the prophets were aware of it, and Elisha knew it also. But Elijah seems to have felt no personal anxiety at the thought. Many hundred years after this, when John Knox - the Elijah of Scotland - was on his death-bed, he said to those who stood around him, "Oh, serve the Lord in fear, and death shall not be terrible unto you!" Something like this was Elijah's experience. He had been faithful to God's cause and commands during his life, and now he was not afraid that God would forsake him at its close. How, then, did Elijah spend the few hours that remained to him before he entered into the presence of his Maker? Some there are who would like to spend those hours in peaceful contemplation alone with God. Elijah was himself a man of contemplative disposition. He loved to he alone with God. His "soul was like a star, and dwelt apart." And yet, with all this, the active was stronger in him than the contemplative; or rather, the two were so well balanced that the one was a help to the other. From his hours of solitude and communion with God he drew inspiration and strength for his stern conflicts with men and sin. If he was a man of contemplation, he was also a man of action. And so we find him spending the greater part of his closing hours in busy activity and usefulness - visiting the schools of the prophets. Is there not a lesson here? Ought we not to imitate Elijah in redeeming the time, in working while it is day? Do you want to spend your last hours well! If so, you should spend everyday, as you would like to spend your last. One day a lady asked John Wesley how he would spend that day if he knew it was to be his last. She doubtless expected some rules for pious meditation and seclusion. His answer was, "Just, madam, as I intend to spend it;" and then he proceeded to tell her what his busy program of work was for the day. Oh, that we could all say that every day, that if it was to be our last we would spend it just as we intend to spend it! We ought to be able to say it, for any day may be our last. No doubt there are many whom God lays aside by age, or infirmity, or suffering for weeks, or months, or years before he calls them home. They cannot spend their closing hours in what is usually called work for Christ, though they may be really working for him by their patience in suffering, by their faith and hope, by their words of counsel to others. But so long as God gives us health and strength to work for him, then it is best to do as Elijah did - to live in harness to the last. Notice the scene of Elijah's dosing labors. He visited the schools of the prophets, the colleges or institutions where young men were trained for their future work of teaching others the truths of religion. It was amongst the young his last hours were spent. Elijah felt the importance of these colleges, he realized that the young were the hope of the Church. Hence he would devote to them his last, and probably his best, hours. He would give them words of counsel and exhortation - words that, under such circumstances, few of them would ever forget. There is a lesson here for us all. Parents need to realize more the importance of personally instructing their children. They need to take more interest in the kind of education they receive. They need to be more careful about the companions with whom they permit their children to associate. Not merely parents, but all members of the Christian Church, should take a deeper interest in the education of the young. How little our people know, as a rule, about our theological colleges! and how little encouragement do those laboring in them receive from the Church as a whole! Elijah's closing hours were spent in active work, and that active work consisted in visiting among the young. Such were his parting visits. - C.H.I.
And it came to pass when the Lord would take up Elijah.I. In the glorious end of Elijah's earthly life we see not simply the reward of one faithful man, but the Divine grace manifested to every believer at the end of his earthly career. One of the purposes, doubtless, of this translation of Elijah was to make plainer to our dull understandings the upward heavenly going of every saint when his Work on earth is over. We are so apt to follow the body with our thoughts, and to imagine our departed friends in the grave, that here God made the body go upward that we may be weaned of this wrong and heathenish notion. To the spiritual mind the whole Old Testament is full of views of the future state; and this ascent of Elijah is one of the many instances in which we behold the immediate contiguity of heaven to earth in the experience of God's holy ones. When, therefore, we are called upon to bend over the mortal form of a departing saint, it is for us to feel how close at hand is the transfer to heaven. "The spiritual heaven is neither 'up' nor 'down,' and this narrative of Elijah's disappearance from Elisha must not be pressed. In reply to this we say that we can press it. We assert that "up" is always used in accordance with the need or weakness (if you please) of our nature to designate the heaven of the departed soul where it abides with God. This is but in conformity with the uni-verbal instinct of man. Why it should be so we cannot tell, nor are we called on to explain. The prophet Elijah ascending through the air teaches us of a present heaven to which his life was transferred. We cannot otherwise regard the incident. The mind refuses to see in it that he went into unconsciousness or annihilation or to purgatory or to hell. The "heaven" is not simply the outward heaven of sense, but the heaven of bliss and of God, just as in the case of our Lord Jesus who led His disciples out as far as to Bethany; and it came to pass, while He blessed them, He was parted from them and carded up into heaven.
2. "Elijah went up into heaven." It was Elijah that went up, not Ahab. It was a man of God, one who had been faithful to the Divine will and commands, one who had been jealous for God's name and worship. It is well for us to note this. Only God's saints go up to heaven. Without holiness no man shall see the Lord. Those who think God will or can take an unholy heart to heaven know nothing of God. "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? or who shall stand in His holy place? He that hath clean hands and a pure heart." While no man can derive these requisites from his nature, depraved as it is, he can receive the blessing of the clean hands and pure heart from the Lord, even righteousness from the God of his salvation.
(H. Crosby, D. D.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Monday Club Sermons.The translation of Elijah means more than an historic statement. The theme is concerned with the great scriptural doctrine of immortality, in whose light we consider it. Observe —
I. THE DUAL NATURE OF MAN. This truth is directly implied in the account of the Creation. The bodily form was made "of the dust of the ground"; but when the "Lord God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, man became a living soul." It is of this dual nature Paul speaks, "there is a natural body and there is a spiritual body; howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural." A denial of this fact asserts that man is on a level with the brutes. The more common belief, however, asserts the existence of the two natures, yet clings to the idea that, somehow, the two are interdependent. This idea is unscriptural, since, in such a case, death could not be a gain. The spiritual body controls the material and earthly, but is not controlled by it.
II. FLESH AND BLOOD ARE NOT IMMORTAL. The apostle calls this the corruptible body, and then declares that corruption cannot inherit incorruption; that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. What is perishable cannot enter heaven.
III. THE NATURE AND MINISTRY OF DEATH. "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned"; this is the sad history. "The sting of death is sin"; this is the law. In the translation of Elijah we behold what would, perhaps, be the type of death but for sin; but, aside from such a consideration, we turn to a few important lessons in the scene.
1. The power of the human purpose to perpetuate itself. It is in this manner we see the power of Elijah in his care for the schools of the prophets. These organisations were to continue, after his departure, what his unwearied efforts had begun. "I am left alone," was his early cry; yet when upon the cloud of flame he ascended, Bethel, Gilgal, and Jericho, with their throngs of prophets, were left. The theocracy which, in spite of Ahab and Jezebel, he had founded was perpetuated in these schools. There is a future for all men on the earth if they will only plan wisely. As Elijah had been the founder and defender of the faith, so did he become, by these centres, the conserver of that same faith.
2. The unwearied activity of the good man. The true life has no spare hours apart from its purpose. It was "as they still went on and talked" that the chariot came. The last hours were as full of service as if no change were coming. The invisible world needed no further special thought.
3. The immortal life. The history of Carmel's prophet seems hardly complete without the scene on Hermon. A thousand years had passed since the chariot of fire swept the sky. The three favoured disciples had fallen asleep even in their Master's prayer. Nought but that wondrous voice broke in upon the stillness of night. By some revelation the disciples caught the accents of the heavenly visitors. The one, fifteen hundred years before, had trodden the crest of Sinai and spoken face to face with God. It was he who had surrendered his claim to Egypt's crown for the reproach of Christ. It was he whose face had shone with a borrowed glory he wist not of.
(Monday Club Sermons.)
Homilist.Two subjects are here presented for notice —
I. THE DEPARTURE OF A GOOD MAN FROM THE EARTH. Death is a departure from the world, it is not an extinction, it is a mere change of place.
II. THE POWER OF GOODNESS IN A GOOD MAN'S DEPARTURE. See what a grand spirit Elijah displays in the immediate prospect of his exit.
1. A spirit of calm self-possession.
2. A spirit of strong social interest.
3. A spirit of far-reaching philanthropy.Elijah goes to Bethel, but wherefore? Probably to deliver a valedictory address to the "sons of the prophets."
(Alex. Maclaren, D. D.)Deuteronomy 11:30, R.V. There he proposes to leave Elisha whilst he journeys alone to Bethel. We can understand his desire for solitude. And he has no wish to parade his approaching honour. He will not talk about it to Elisha; and Elisha refuses to discuss it with the sons of the prophets. This man on the borders of heaven, is full of a genuine humility. No traces of self are seen in him during this last journey. There was a sweet attractiveness, however, about this grand old warrior. Elisha felt it, and refused to leave him. Who shall say how far Elisha's brightness and buoyancy were the reflection of the glorious sunset, without clouds, which closed the earthly course of this truehearted veteran. But, again, this man on the borders of heaven takes an interest in his stewardship. There were schools for the sons of the prophets at both Bethel and Jericho. Elijah's Steps were no doubt guided to these places that he might leave at each a parting message of counsel and direction. He who said, "Occupy till I come," is not pleased if His servants neglect the work entrusted to them. Nor, however, should we be so engrossed in our work as to forget His promised return. Once more this man on the borders of heaven has no thought of his own needs, but is only anxious to leave a blessing behind. "Ask what I shall do for thee, before" — mark the limitation: Elijah knew his power of helping those on earth would cease when his life in the body was ended — "before I be taken away from thee." And this desire of Elijah's was fulfilled. He was staggered first of all at the boldness of Elisha's request. Most truly, Elijah left a blessing behind him. The sons of the prophets were forced to acknowledge, "The spirit of Eli]ah doth rest on Elisha." And nine hundred years afterwards the angel Gabriel could say no greater word concerning the promised forerunner than that be should "go before in the spirit and power of Elijah to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." And the very blessing which Elijah left behind him we may have. The Lord God of Eli]ah has not changed. Surely, as the coming of the Lord draweth nigh, and the promise, "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord," receives its fulfilment, we may look for an increase of the "spirit" and power of Elijah in our midst. Men say, "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones." But this is the cynical pessimism of an unbelieving age. Really good men never die. Their influence lives; they reproduce themselves in those around them. Judged by earthly standards, Elijah's career might seem almost a failure, for his chief public triumph was so soon discounted by unbelieving flight. But the man is more than his ministry. Character is more than success.
(F. S. Webster, M. A.)
I. THE WORK OF THE CLOSING YEARS OF ELIJAH'S LIFE. The Christian traveller among the Western Isles of Scotland will hardly fail to visit one small, bare, lone spot out amid the roll of the Atlantic waves. It is thy shore, Ions, of which I write! No natural beauties arrest the eye or enchain the interest. There is but one poor village, with its two boats, and a squalid population. Yet who can visit that low shore, and stand amid those crumbling ruins, without intense emotion? — since it was there that Columba built the first Christian church, to shed its gentle rays over those benighted regions; and to shelter the young apostles who carried the Gospel throughout the pagan kingdoms of Northern Britain. With similar emotions should we stand amid the ruins of Bethel, Gilgal, and Jericho; where, in his declining years, Elijah gathered around him the flower of the seven thousand, and educated them to receive and transmit something of his own Spiritual force and fire.
II. THE ATTITUDE OF HIS SPIRIT IN ANTICIPATING HIS TRANSLATION. The old man clung to those young hearts, and felt that his last days could not be better spent than in seeing them once more; though he resolved to say nothing of his approaching departure, or of the conspicuous honour that was shortly to be conferred on him. Here is the humility of true greatness! Alas! what a rebuke is here for ourselves! The prophet's trident desire to die alone shames us, when we remember how eager we are to tell men, by every available medium, of what we are doing for the Lord. There is not a talent with which He entrusts us, which we do not parade as a matter of self-laudation. There is not a breath of success that does not mightily puff us up. What wonder that our Father dare not give us much marked success, or many conspicuous spiritual endowments — lest we be tempted further to our ruin!
III. THE AFFECTIONATE LOVE WITH WHICH ELIJAH WAS REGARDED. It strongly showed itself in Elisha. The younger man stood with his revered leader, as for the last time he surveyed from the heights of Western Gilgal the scene of his former ministry. And, in spite of many persuasives to the contrary, he went with him down the steep descent to Bethel and Jericho. What is the Lord to thee? Is He a dear and familiar friend, of whom thou canst speak with unwavering confidence? Then thou needest not fear to tread the verge of Jordan. Otherwise, it becomes thee to get to His precious blood, and to wash thy garments white; that thou mayest have right to the tree of life, and mayest enter in through the gates into the city.
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)I. THE TYPE.
1. The last intercourse between Elijah and Elisha is hardly what we should have expected. Elijah knew that he was about to leave Elisha, but almost seems to act with coldness towards him, and to want to throw him off. Elisha had left all to follow Elijah, to be his disciple and attendant.
2. It was a-mark of lowliness in the prophet. He was to be honoured by God in a most marvellous manner, and he shrank even from Elisha's witness of the great event. The law of the spiritual life, "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted," even then held good.
3. Further, it might have been to test Elisha, his affection, and his detachment. It would seem that there was something which governed Elijah's request, though he does not reveal the motive of it. The strong asseveration, too, of Elijah, "As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee," repeated thrice, shows how Elijah's proposal had stirred the depths of Elisha's soul.
4. The repeated suggestion that he should depart reveals the perseverance of Elisha. It gave to his will the opportunity of exercising steadfastness and constancy. In this mysterious intercourse we see how graces were set in motion and developed. The crossing of Jordan seems to have been the acme of Elisha's probation; for now Elijah turns to him, and makes a proposal of a very different kind, "Ask what I shall do for thee," etc.
5. Then Elisha is ready with the petition, "Let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me."
II. THE ANTITYPE.
1. There are two ways of approaching the mysteries of Christ — one direct, the other indirect. One through the Gospels, thee other through the types and prophecies of the Old Testament. Besides these, there is the road of experience in the Epistles.
2. We take now the indirect route. We find in this narrative, first, a type of Christ's ascension into heaven. Of the points of resemblance between the two events, no unbiased mind could doubt. Even Scott says it was "a prefiguration of the Redeemer's ascension". In both cases there was the miraculous elevation of a human body from earth to heaven. Both had to be seen, to secure a gift.
3. But it is a law of the antitype to outstrip the type. Christ was self-raised. He who by His Divine power could walk on the water, could mount up into the air.
1. "Exception proves the rule." Let the exemption of Elijah from the law of death remind us that we have to pass through the dark valley, and must prepare for the journey; for "what man is he that shall live, and shall not see death, that shall deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?" (Psalm 89:48, R.V.).
2. Dispositions are necessary for receiving spiritual gifts — the lowliness, detachment, steadfastness to be traced in the last intercourse between Elijah and Elisha, bear witness to this.
3. To approach the mysteries of Christ through the types of the Old Testament, seeing in them how all leads up to Him, and that therefore the disparagement of the Old Testament cannot but end in an under-valuation of the New (Luke 24:44).
(Canon Hutchings, M. A.)
(L. A. Banks, D. D.)
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