As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire with horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up into heaven in a whirlwind.
away from him the very mention of his friend's departure! When the sons of the prophets asked him if he knew that God was going to take away his master from his head that day, he answered, in words of natural impatience, "Yes, I know it; hold ye your peace." Their words were a thoughtless intrusion on his grief, an unintentional probing of his keen emotions. And so it was as if he said, "Don't talk to me about it." "Talking of trouble makes it double." And when they had passed over Jordan, and still walked on, what a talk that was I. Those who have ever sat by the bedside of a dying friend know what such moments are. The time seems all too short. So much is to be said. So many questions to ask. So many counsels to be given. So many wonderings as to what it will all be like when next we meet. But the sharp, decisive moment comes at last. Strange forms fill the sky. They draw near to the earth. They are chariots and horses of fire. They touch the earth. Elijah enters, and suddenly, in a whirlwind, is lost to mortal sight. Elisha stands a moment like one in a dream. Then, recovering himself, and gazing after his beloved leader's vanishing form, he cries, "My father! my father I the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof!" He felt, in the poignancy of his grief, as if the strength of Israel had been that day taken from it. But he soon resigns himself, and passes on, to carry on Elijah's work. SO, too, will the Christian think of his departing friend.
"Sleep on, beloved, sleep, and take thy rest,
And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked.1. Observe, first, how he was employed at the time of his removal: they were "going on, and talking." Without this information, many would have concluded that after he had received the intimation of his speedy departure, he was engaged alone in meditation and prayer. But it is a mistaken sentiment, that a preparation for heaven is to be carried on only by abstraction, contemplation, devotion.
2. Observe how he was conveyed from earth to heaven. "There appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven." Was he removed by the instrumentality of a luminous cloud approaching and enclosing him, and then rising with a rapid curling motion? Or was he removed by the ministry of angels, disguised under these brilliant forms? This seems more probable. Is it not said that "He shall send forth His angels and gather together His elect from the four winds, from the one end of heaven to the other"? Is it not said that Lazarus died, "and was carried by angels into Abraham's bosom"?
I. Let us consider it as a GRACIOUS RECOMPENSE OF SINGULAR PIETY.
II. Let us consider it as INTIMATION OF THE FUTURE HAPPINESS THAT IS RESERVED FOR THE SERVANTS OF GOD.
III. We may consider this translation as A SUBSTITUTE FOR DEATH. In some such way as this, it is probable, would men have passed from earth to heaven had they never sinned. In some such way as this will those living at the last day be qualified for glory.
IV. We may regard it as A MODE OF TRANSITION MUCH TO BE DESIRED. Death is not a pleasing subject of meditation. It is called "an enemy." It is said to be "the king of terrors." Even exclusive of the future consequences, there is much to render it formidable. Nature cannot be reconciled to its own dissolution.
I. The first point which may be mentioned is the contrast between THE MANNER OF ELIJAH'S TRANSLATION, AND WHAT OF OUR LORD'S ASCENSION. It is perhaps not without significance that the place of the one event was on the uplands or in some of the rocky gorges beyond Jordan, and that of the other, the slopes of Olivet above Bethany. What a different set of associations cluster round the place of Christ's ascension — "Bethany," or, as it is more particularly specified in the Acts, "Olivet" In the very heart of the land, close by and yet out of sight of the great city, in no wild solitude, but perhaps in some dimple of the hill, neither shunning nor courting spectators, with the quiet home where he had rested so often in the little village at their feet there, and Gethsemane a few furlongs off: in such scenes did the Christ, whose delights were with the sons of men, and His life lived in closest companionship with His brethren, choose the place whence He should ascend to their Father and His Father. But more important than the localities is the contrasted manner of the two ascents. The prophet's end was like the man. It was fitting that he should be swept up to the skies in tempest and fire. Nor is it only as appropriate to the character of the prophet and his work that this tempestuous translation is noteworthy. It also suggests very plainly that Elijah was lifted to the skies by power acting on him from without. He did not ascend; he was carried up; the earthly frame and the human nature had no power to rise. How full of the very spirit of Christ's whole life is the contrasted manner of His ascension! The silent gentleness, which did not strive nor cry nor cause His voice to be heard in the streets, marks Him even in that hour of lofty and transcendent triumph. There is no outward sign to accompany His slow upward movement through the quiet air. No blaze of fiery chariots, nor agitation of tempest is needed to bear Him heavenwards. The outstretched hands drop the dew of His benediction on the little company, and so He floats upward, His own will and indwelling power the royal chariot which bears Him, and calmly "leaves the world, and goes unto the Father." Nor is this absence of any vehicle or external agency destroyed by the fact that "a cloud" received Him out of their sight, for its purpose was not to raise Him heavenward, but to hide Him from the gazers' eyes, that He might not seem to them to dwindle into distance, but that their last look and memory might be of His clearly discerned and loving face.
II. Another striking point of contrast embraces THE RELATION WHICH THESE TWO EVENTS RESPECTIVELY BEAR TO THE LIFE'S WORK WHICH HAD PRECEDED THEM. The falling mantle of Elijah has become a symbol, known to all the world, for the transference of unfinished tasks, and the appointment of successors to departed greatness. The mantle that passed from one to the other was the symbol of office and authority transferred; the functions were the same, whilst the holders had changed. The sons of the prophets bow before the new master; "the spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha." So the world goes on. Man after man serves his generation by the will of God, and is gathered to his fathers; and a new arm grasps the mantle to smite Jordan, and a new voice speaks from his empty place, and men recognise the successor, and forget the predecessor. We turn to Christ's ascension, and there we meet with nothing analogous to this transference of office. No mantle falling from His shoulders lights on any of that group; none are hailed as His successors. What He has done bears and needs no repetition whilst time shall roll, whilst eternity shall last. His work is one: "the help that is done on earth, He doeth it all Himself."
III. Whilst our Lord's ascension is thus marked as the seal of a work in which He has no successor, it is also emphatically set forth, by contrast with Elijah's translation, as THE TRANSITION TO A CONTINUOUS ENERGY for and in the world. Clearly the other narrative derives all its pathos from the thought that Elijah's work is done. But that same absence from the history of Christ's ascension, of any hint of a successor, has an obvious bearing on His present relation to the world, as well as on the completeness of His unique past work. When He ascended up on high, He relinquished nothing of His activity for us, but only cast it into a new form, which in some sense is yet higher than that which it took on earth. His work for the world is in one aspect completed on the cross, but in another it will never be completed until all the blessings which that cross has lodged in the midst of humanity, have reached their widest possible diffusion and their highest possible development. Long ages ago He cried, "It is finished," but we may be far yet from the time when He shall say, "It is done"; and for all the slow years between, His own word gives us the law of his activity, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work."
IV. The ascension of Christ is still further set forth, in its very circumstances, by contrast with Elijah's translation, as bearing on THE HOPES OF HUMANITY FOR THE FUTURE. The prophet is caught up to the glory and the rest for himself alone, and the sole share which the gazing follower or the sons of the prophets, straining their eyes there at Jericho, had in his triumph, was a deepened conviction of this prophet's mission, and perhaps some clearer faith in a future life. The very reverse is true of Christ's ascension. In Him our nature is taken up to the throne of God. His resurrection assures us that "them which sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him." His passage to the heavens assures us that "they who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them," and that all of both companies shall with Him live and reign, sharing His dominion, and moulded to His image. That parting on Olivet cannot be the end. Such a leave-taking is the prophecy of happy greetings and an inseparable reunion. The king has gone to receive a kingdom, and to return. Memory and hope coalesce, as we think of Him who is passed into the heavens, and the heart of the Church has to cherish at once the glad thought that its Head and Helper has entered within the veil, and the still more joyous one which lightens the days of separation and widowhood, that the Lord will come again.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
1. We are all walking towards eternity. Every step we take brings the end nearer. We are going right on like Elijah and Elisha, walking and talking, when suddenly, it may be without an hour's time to prepare for the change, God will call for us, and we must go to meet our Lord.
2. Elijah died as he lived. He had lived a life of wonderful faith, and striking manifestations of the presence of God had marked his whole career. His life was full of romance and heroism, through his faith in God and the supreme daring and implicit obedience to Divine commands which had marked his career. Through the last day of his life he kept up his work, serving God, trusting Him with his whole soul, and now, when God calls and sends His chariot down to the roadside on which he is walking, he is ready. He steps in, and is carried up to heaven. You must not imagine because the chariots are not seen, and the angels are not visible, that Elijah was the only man thus carried up to heaven. For aught we know God takes all His children home that way. Death will have no more effect on your character and personality than does your going out of one room into another. The Elijah that walked beside Elisha across the Jordan, who stepped into the chariot of fire, and was carried up to heaven, was the very same Elijah that Peter and James and John beheld at the transfiguration of Jesus on the holy mountain centuries afterwards. No, if you want to be a good man after you are dead, you must be a good man before you die. Death is not going to work any change of that sort in you. As the tree falls, so it will lie. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)
(L. A. Banks, D. D.)
1. There was fitness in the place.
2. There was fitness in the method.
3. There was fitness in the exclamation with which Elisha bade him farewell.He cried, "My father, my father! the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof!" Doubtless, amid that sudden flash of glory he hardly wist what he said. Yet he closely hit the truth.
II. THE REASONS FOR THIS TRANSLATION.
1. One of the chief reasons was, no doubt, as a witness to his times. The men of his day were plunged in sensuality, and had little thought of the hereafter.
2. Another reason was evidently the desire on the part of God to give a striking sanction to His servant's words. How easy was it for the men of that time to evade the force of Elijah's ministry, by asserting that he was an enthusiast, an alarmist, a firebrand!
III. THE LESSONS OF THIS TRANSLATION FOR OURSELVES.
1. Let us take care not to dictate to God.
2. Let us learn what death is. It is simply a translation, not a state, but an act; not a condition, but a passage. We pass through a doorway; we cross a bridge of smiles; we flash from the dark into the light. There is no interval of unconsciousness, no parenthesis of suspended animation. Absent from the body, we are instantly "present with the Lord."
3. Let us see here a type of the rapture of the saints. We do not know what change passed over the mortal body of the ascending prophet. This is all we know, that "mortality was swallowed up of life."
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
Homiletic Monthly.Elisha gives vivid expression here to his sense of his own and his nation's loss at Elijah's departure. His view of the situation was unselfish and patriotic; and yet it was the man who spoke rather than the Christian. Elijah had wrought wonders in Israel, and yet he was a man of like passions with others, as some acts of his life painfully show. Besides, he was simply God's instrument, as Washington was. Israel's true reliance was Jehovah Himself, and there was no occasion for the prophet's despair. Nations are prone to make a similar mistake:
1. In the way of false reliance for deliverance and abiding prosperity.
2. In looking to the outward instrument rather" than the unseen guiding Power.
3. In magnifying natural laws rather than looking to supernatural forces.
4. In deploring their dangers and losses instead of falling upon their knees before God in prayer.
I. THERE CAN BE NO PROGRESS IN LIFE EXCEPT THROUGH GOD'S CHARIOTS OF FIRE. The only dynamic power is bestowed by invisible forces. We cannot make any real progress without the guidance of God s hand.
II. The chariots of fire represent also DIVINE PROTECTION. They declare the presence of the Angel who redeems us from all evil. Through the panoply of science a myriad foes invade our safety. For our journey through the perils of the year we must seek the escort of the mailed hosts of God.
III. The chariots of life represent THE IMPARTATION OF STRENGTH. It was a strengthened Elisha that smote the waters of the Jordan with Elijah's mantle, and cried with strenuous energy, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?"
IV. The chariots of fire are also THE FORCES OF PURIFICATION. To those whom God leads onward He is as a refiner's fire. The true law of the survival of the fittest is the survival of the purified. Without purification, the material of life becomes corrupt as a stagnant fen, and dies of its own self-created malaria. Yet visible fires cleanse not the soul. God is the only Purifier.
V. It is further evident THAT THE RENEWAL OF OUR STRENGTH CAN BE OBTAINED ONLY THROUGH THE RENEWAL OF OUR VISION OF THE INVISIBLE GOD.
1. We need a new vision of Divine truth. God is a fire, and His chariots are flame. The vision shows the awful, immutable, all-pervasive energy of righteousness. His truth flames through creation in chariots of fire.
2. We must also have a new vision of the love of God. It is not well to see the infinite truth without beholding also the infinite love. It is impossible to understand the infinite love without having beheld the majesty of infinite truth. Love also is a fire, consuming all selfishness. Love in the heart of God is a fire that has kindled a mystery of sorrow in the temple of the Deity itself. The fires of God's chariots form letters of flame, and the reading is, "God is love."
3. We need a new vision of the nearness of God. His chariots are at hand. Leap into them, and His glory shall be round about you.
4. We need a new vision of God's intensity. God's horsemen linger not.
(John Thomas, M. A.)
And he saw him no more.
I. BODILY PARTINGS. Those who were once near together in the flesh are no longer so. It is a thing of everyday experience. They are part of our lot. They remind us of the great dispersion; they should make us long for the great reunion. Some of these partings are easily borne. It is probable that every day we meet some one whom we shall never meet again till the judgment. There is little that is sorrowful in this — though even this has its solemnity. But some bodily partings have a more evident sadness. It is a serious thing to stand on the pier of some seaport town, and see a son or a brother setting sail for India or New Zealand. Such an experience marks, in a thousand homes, a particular day in the calendar with a peculiar, a lifelong sadness.
II. PARTINGS BETWEEN SOULS. I speak still of this fife. The sands of Tyre and Miletus were wet with tears when St. Paul there took leave of disciples and elders. But those separations were brightened by an immortal hope, and he could commend his desolate ones to the word of God's grace, as able to give them an inheritance at last with him and with the saved. I call that a tolerable, a bearable parting;
III. THE DEATH-PARTING WHICH MUST COME. Set yourselves in full view of that — take into your thought what it is — ask, in each several aspect of earth's associations and companionships, what will be for you the meaning of the text, "He saw him no more." The life-partings, and the soul-partings, all derive their chief force and significance from the latest and most awful — the one death-parting, which is not probably, but certainly, before each and all. (C. J. Vaughan, D. D.) I. A SUITABLE COMPANIONSHIP ON A HEAVENWARD JOURNEY. "They two went on." The union between the two had been appointed by God. II. LISTEN TO ELEVATING CONVERSATION BETWEEN HEAVENWARD TRAVELLERS. The text tells us that as they journeyed they "talked." On what subject? Evidently it was concerning Elijah's departure. Both found it "greatly wise," not only to speak with the past, but to talk of the future. We should speak sometimes of the ending of life, not that we may become gloomy, but that we may realise the value of life — its seriousness and its far-reaching effects. The telegraph clerk holds in his hands, when at the dial plate, the power to communicate a wish at the distance of thousands of miles; and thus we hold in our hands the character of a life that shall extend deep down into the ages of eternity. Hence we should he most anxious as to the correctness of our aims in the present, and desirous that holy influence should not be lost in the hereafter. Words may flash along wires, and convey no meaning; music may flit from a string, and die in the distance; but the message and music of life should have meaning and volume, vibrating along the wires of immortal being. III. WE HAVE NOW TO WITNESS THE SUDDEN SEPARATION BETWEEN HEAVENWARD COMPANIONS. "As they still went on and talked, behold! there appeared horses of fire and a chariot of fire, and parted them both asunder." The ending was anticipated, yet sudden. What sort of companionship have we in our heavenward journey? What is the general tenor of our conversation as we journey? What sort of hope have we concerning the end of our journey? What state awaits us? (F. Hastings.)
(C. J. Vaughan, D. D.)
I. A SUITABLE COMPANIONSHIP ON A HEAVENWARD JOURNEY. "They two went on." The union between the two had been appointed by God.
II. LISTEN TO ELEVATING CONVERSATION BETWEEN HEAVENWARD TRAVELLERS. The text tells us that as they journeyed they "talked." On what subject? Evidently it was concerning Elijah's departure. Both found it "greatly wise," not only to speak with the past, but to talk of the future. We should speak sometimes of the ending of life, not that we may become gloomy, but that we may realise the value of life — its seriousness and its far-reaching effects. The telegraph clerk holds in his hands, when at the dial plate, the power to communicate a wish at the distance of thousands of miles; and thus we hold in our hands the character of a life that shall extend deep down into the ages of eternity. Hence we should he most anxious as to the correctness of our aims in the present, and desirous that holy influence should not be lost in the hereafter. Words may flash along wires, and convey no meaning; music may flit from a string, and die in the distance; but the message and music of life should have meaning and volume, vibrating along the wires of immortal being.
III. WE HAVE NOW TO WITNESS THE SUDDEN SEPARATION BETWEEN HEAVENWARD COMPANIONS. "As they still went on and talked, behold! there appeared horses of fire and a chariot of fire, and parted them both asunder." The ending was anticipated, yet sudden. What sort of companionship have we in our heavenward journey? What is the general tenor of our conversation as we journey? What sort of hope have we concerning the end of our journey? What state awaits us?