The Word Made Fresh
1Now the LORD was about to carry Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind. Elijah and Elisha were returning from Gilgal 2when Elijah said, “You remain here. The LORD has sent me on to Bethel.”
Elisha said, “As the LORD lives, as long as you live, I won’t leave you.” So, they traveled to Bethel together.
3The prophets who were in Bethel approached Elisha and said, “Are you aware that the LORD is about to take your master away from you?”
“I know,” said Elisha. “Don’t say anything.”
4Elijah said, “Elisha, stay here. The LORD has sent me on to Jericho.”
“As LORD lives,” said Elisha, “and as long as you live, I won’t leave you.”
So, they traveled on to Jericho. 5The prophets who were there came out to ask Elisha, “Do you know that today is the day the LORD will take your master Elijah away?”
“I know,” said Elisha. “Don’t say anything.”
6Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here. The LORD has summoned me to the Jordan.”
“As the LORD lives,” said Elisha, “and as long as you live, I will not leave you.” The two of them journeyed on.
7Fifty men of the prophetic guild stood and watched them approach the Jordan from a distance. 8Elijah removed his cape, rolled it up and struck the river with it, and the water parted and made a path for the two of them to cross over on dry ground.
9When they reached the other side, Elijah said to Elisha, “What do you want me to do for you before I’m taken away?”
Elisha said, “Let me receive a double share of your spirit.”
“That is a difficult thing you have requested,” said Elijah. “But if you see me as I am being taken away from you, it will be yours. If not, it won’t.”
11They had resumed their journey, walking together and talking, when a fiery chariot and horses came between them, and a whirlwind carried Elijah up into heaven. 12Elisha saw it happen, and cried out, “Father! Father! The chariots and horses of Israel!” He watched until they were out of sight, and then he tore his robe into two pieces. 13Elijah had dropped his cape, and Elisha picked it up. At the Jordan he struck the water with it and called out, “Where is the LORD, the God of Israel?” The water parted and Elisha walked across on dry ground.
15When the prophets at Jericho saw Elisha approaching at a distance they said, “The spirit of Elijah has come to rest on Elisha!” They ran out to meet him and bowed down in front of him. 16They said, “Look, there are fifty young men among us. Let them go and search for your master. Perhaps the LORD has caught him up and then put him down on some hilltop or in some valley.”
Elisha said, “No. There is no need to send them.”
17But they begged him until he was ashamed to refuse them, so he said, “Go ahead. Send them.”
They sent fifty men who searched for three days but did not find Elijah. 18When they returned to where he had stayed at Jericho, he said, “Didn’t I say there was no need to go?”
19The townspeople told Elisha, “This city is in a good location, as you can see, but the water is not good and the soil is not good, either.”
20Elisha said, “Bring me a new bowl filled with salt.” They brought it, 21and he went to the well and threw in the salt. He said, “The LORD says this water is good, now. No one who drinks it will die and no pregnant woman will suffer a miscarriage.” 22That water has been drinkable to this day just as Elisha said.
23He travelled then to Bethel, and on the way some little boys came out and made fun of him, calling out, “Go away, old baldhead! Go away, old baldhead!” 24Elisha turned around and saw them, and cursed them in the LORD’s name. Two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys.
25He went on then to Mt. Carmel and returned to Samaria.
1-3: The story of Elijah is nothing short of legendary, and the narrative of his end is suitably dramatic. We are told right out that God is going to take Elijah to heaven by a whirlwind. He and Elisha are together, and as they leave Gilgal Elijah tells Elisha to go back, that he is going on to Bethel where the LORD is sending him. Elisha, however, refuses to leave him. We expect the event to take place in Bethel, then, and when they arrive in Bethel the prophetic community there tells Elisha that his master will be taken by the LORD that very day. Elisha tells them to be quiet, that he already knows it. So begins a curious journey. Elijah is going to be taken by the LORD, and Elisha is determined to be with him when it happens.
4-5: The same thing happens a second time. Elijah says he’s going to Jericho, Elisha goes with him, the prophets there warn Elisha, and Elisha shushes them.
6-8: Elijah says he’s going on to the Jordan, Elisha insists on going with him, and this time 50 other prophets follow to see what will happen. Elijah rolls up his cape and strikes the Jordan River, then the two of them walk across on the dry riverbed.
9-12: Elijah asks what Elisha wants before he is taken away, and Elisha asks for a double share of his spirit. The double share of an estate was given to the eldest son; it appears that Elisha is asking for that status. Elisha is not asking to be twice as powerful as Elijah; he is asking to be the lead prophet in the country after Elijah is gone. Elijah tells him that if he sees him taken away, he will receive the double portion. A chariot and horses of fire come between them as they walk along, and Elisha sees Elijah carried away on a whirlwind. Elisha is overcome with emotion. Elijah is not taken up in the fiery chariot, but in a whirlwind, and there is no further explanation of “the chariots of Israel and its horses,” or “horsemen.” It almost seems as if their purpose is simply to prevent Elisha from following Elijah again!
13-14: Elisha picks up Elijah’s mantle, whacks the Jordan with it, and the waters part again, letting him back across.
15-18: The 50 prophets see that and come and bow down to Elisha – so he has gotten his request to be the leader of the prophets of Israel. They want to go search for Elijah. At first Elisha refuses, but finally relents, and waits at Jericho until they return after searching for three days. He can’t help saying “I told you so.”
19-22: The people of Jericho complain about the water, and Elisha purifies it. If you’re looking for a Biblical precedent for social works of public health, here it is.
23-25: Elisha was a bit self-conscious about his hair, though. Or lack of it. Pretty touchy, too.
It occurs to me that Elijah and Elisha and a handful of other prophets are God’s way of announcing that Israel is not going to be disowned altogether in spite of the pagan worship of one king after another. I am convinced God is that determined not to give up on any of us. But it is not a limitless determination. At some point God may determine that a change of heart just isn’t going to happen. “Do not hold back; do not delay – return to God this very day!”