1 Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 And Elijah said to Elisha, “Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. 3 And the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from over you?” And he said, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.”
4 Elijah said to him, “Elisha, please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. 5 The sons of the prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from over you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.”
6 Then Elijah said to him, “Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. 7 Fifty men of the sons of the prophets also went and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8 Then Elijah took his cloak and rolled it up and struck the water, and the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground.
9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” 10 And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.” 11 And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. 12 And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more.
Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. 13 And he took up the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 Then he took the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” And when he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over. – 2 Kings 2:1-14 ESV
For years, the prophet Elijah had performed his role as God’s spokesman with faithfulness. He had been given the difficult assignment of prophesying on behalf of God during the reign of Israel’s most vile and apostate king – Ahab. To make matters worse, he had been forced to live with a bounty on his head, placed on him by the queen, Jezebel. She had sought to have him killed because he had executed 450 of the prophets to her false god, Baal. Elijah stood as a beacon of light in the spiritual darkness that pervaded the northern kingdom. It was a land filled with apostasy and evil, where Yahweh had been replaced by the pagan gods of Jezebel. Ahab, the king, and Elijah, the prophet, had become spiritual enemies who each represented the polar extremes of God’s relationship with the people of Israel. Ahab was an ambitious schemer who had long ago abandoned his relationship with Yahweh. He operated according to his own agenda and lived to satisfy his personal passions and desires. But Elijah was a man of intense faith who took great risks in order to fulfill the will of God. He regularly stood opposed to the wickedness that permeated Israel, sometimes feeling as if he was the last man standing.
“I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” – 1 Kings 19:10 ESV
But God had proven to Elijah that he was far from alone. There were others who had refused to bow the knee to Baal, including the young man, Elisha, whom God had chosen to be Elijah’s replacement. And now that Ahab was dead, God made it clear that Elijah’s assignment was complete. He had done his job, and now it was time for him to receive his reward. God was going to call him home.
But Elijah’s departure would be anything but normal. God had something spectacular in store for Elijah’s final day on earth, and it would serve as a sign approving of Elijah’s faithfulness. But this remarkable event would also provide Elisha with the proof he needed that his all-powerful God would be with him as he began his role as Elijah’s replacement.
It seems evident from the text that God had previously informed Elijah that this would be his last day, and God had told him the nature of his departure.
…the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind. – 2 Kings 2:1 ESV
But Elijah did not seem to know exactly when or how this supernatural event would take place. He and Elisha began their journey in Gilgal, and three separate times Elijah gave his young protégé the opportunity to remain behind. By offering Elisha the option of staying behind while he continued his God-ordained journey, Elijah was testing the young man’s commitment. Was Elisha willing to stand beside his mentor as he followed the path God had laid out before him? And the answer seems apparent. Elisha repeatedly refused to abandon his mentor, saying, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you” (2 Kings 2:2 ESV).
When they arrived in Bethel, Elisha was met by 50 prophets of Yahweh who questioned whether he knew of Elijah’s imminent departure. He assured them that he was well aware of what was about to happen and asked that they say nothing more about it. One can only imagine the fear and sadness that gripped Elisha as he considered the prospect of losing his friend and mentor. He was faced with the formidable task of filling the sandals of one of Israel’s greatest prophets. And he knew that the wickedness of Israel had not abated with Ahab’s death. Ahaziah had proven to be just as idolatrous and unfaithful as his father. When Ahaziah died after a short, two-year reign, his brother Jehoram became king, and he too followed in the footsteps of Ahab.
He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, though not like his father and mother, for he put away the pillar of Baal that his father had made. Nevertheless, he clung to the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin; he did not depart from it. – 2 Kings 3:2-3 ESV
So, Elisha was fully aware that he was going to have his work cut out for him. And Elijah’s repeated offers that he remain behind would have been extremely tempting. But he refused to compromise his convictions or renege on his commitment to remain by Elijah’s side. The two of them continued their journey from Bethel to Jericho, then on to the banks of the River Jordan. This circuitous route must have confused Elisha because it seemed to have them walking in circles. There appeared to be no clear destination in mind. Yet, Elisha stayed by Elijah’s side every step of the way.
When they arrived at the banks of the Jordan, “Elijah took his cloak and rolled it up and struck the water, and the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground” (2 Kings 2:8 ESV). Elijah’s cloak, like Moses’ staff, was a symbol of his God-given authority and power. And just as Moses used his staff to part the waters of the Red Sea, Elijah used his cloak to provide him and Elisha with a miraculous pathway through the waters of the Jordan. This display of supernatural power was meant to remind Elisha that he served a great God. But for the young prophet, it seems to have had a different result. He appears to have focused on his own inadequacy and ill-preparedness for what lay ahead. So, when Elijah asked him what he could do for him before departing, Elisha asked for a double portion of his spirit. Whatever it was that Elijah had, Elisha wanted twice as much. This was not a power grab or a sign of greed on Elisha’s part. It was an admission of need. He felt inadequate for the job. He didn’t believe that he measured up to Elijah’s standards. So, he asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit.
And Elijah seemed to indicate that the young man’s request, while difficult, was tied to his faithfulness. As long as he remained committed to staying by Elijah’s side, he would receive that for which he asked.
As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. – 2 Kings 2:11 NLT
Literally, out of nowhere, a fiery chariot appeared and separated the two men. This sudden and spectacular display of God’s power could have sent Elisha running for his life. But he remained where he was. And as he stood watching this remarkable scene, Elisha cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” (2 Kings 2:12 NLT). But as he was distracted by the horses and chariots, Elijah had been carried away by a whirlwind. God had miraculously transported the great prophet into His presence.
And when Elisha came to his senses, he realized what had happened. All that was left of his friend and mentor was his cloak. Elijah was gone, and Elisha was on his own. Or was he? As he made his way to the eastern shore of the Jordan, Elisha held the cloak of Elijah in his hand. And as he stood facing the waters and the prospect of serving as the prophet of God, he cried out, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” (2 Kings 2:14 ESV). He knew that any hope he had of surviving his tenure as a prophet would be by placing His trust in the God of Elijah. He was going to need Yahweh’s presence and power to succeed. And when he struck the water with Elijah’s cloak, the water parted, and he crossed over on dry ground. Elijah was gone, but Elijah’s God was still there.
The mantel had been passed. Elisha was the God-appointed heir to Elijah. He had the cloak and the double-portion of Elijah’s spirit. But, more importantly, he had access to the power of God. And as Elisha walked across the dry river bed, he had no idea what challenges he would face in the days ahead. But he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was God’s chosen vessel to carry on the work of Elijah. Evil still reigned in Israel. Darkness still pervaded the land. And Elisha was going to have his work cut out for him.
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