April 21 Reading: II Kings 1-4 Commentary
“And so it was, when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?’ Elisha said, ‘Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.’ So he said, ‘You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so.’ Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” (II Kings 2:9-11)
II Kings 1 – God Judges Another King
When Ahab died, Israel’s enemies saw an opportunity. One of those nations was Moab. They rebelled against Israel at the beginning of the reign of Ahaz, Ahab’s son.
Ahaziah had an accident where he “fell through the lattice of his upper room in Samaria, and was injured” (v. 2). It must have been severe because it appears Ahaziah feared for his life. Why? Because he sent messengers to inquire of Baal-Zebub a false god of the people of Ekron, a city known for its practice of divination (I Sam. 6:2; Isa. 2:6).
An angel came to Elijah and told him to intercept the messengers en route. When they met, he told them “Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?’ Now therefore, thus says the Lord: ‘You shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die'” (vv. 3-4).
Ahaziah was surprised the messengers returned so soon (v. 5). When he heard what Elijah said, he sent a captain with 50 men to retrieve Elijah (vv. 7-9). When the group arrived to confront him, Elijah called down fire from heaven to consume the men (vv. 9-10). We’ve seen this movie from Elijah before (see I Kings 18).
The king sent another 50 men with the same result (v. 12). On the third attempt, the captain leading the men fell down and pleaded with Elijah not to take his life (vv. 13-14). At that, the angel of the Lord told Elijah to go down with the man and confront Ahaziah about his sin.
Elijah did so and confirmed the word of the Lord to Ahaziah. And “Ahaziah died according to the word of the Lord” (vv. 15-17).
II Kings 2 – Elijah Transfers His Role to Elisha
Elijah’s life had been filled with dramatic events. It seems only fitting that his life on earth would end that way. The event is so dramatic that the writer of this text announces it in verse one of chapter 2 – Elijah would be taken to heaven in a whirlwind.
Elisha seems to know something is up. Three times in the first six verses, Elijah pled with Elisha to stay behind and let him go on alone. And three times Elisha responded in the same way, “As the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you!” (vv. 2, 4, 6).
The two of them are being followed by 50 men of the sons of the prophets. When they approached the Jordan, Elijah took his mantle (cape) and struck the waters of the Jordan so that it divided and the two of them walked across on dry land (vv. 6-8). When the two of them crossed and were alone, Elijah revealed to Elisha that he was leaving him that day.
Elijah’s Dramatic Exit
Once alone, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask! What may I do for you, before I am taken away from you?” Elisha responded by saying, “Please let a double portion of your spirit be upon me” (v. 9). It was a difficult thing to ask for. But Elijah promised that if Elisha saw him taken away, then his request would be granted (v. 10).
What happened next is one of the most dramatic scenes in the Bible. “Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (v. 11).
Elisha was scared to death crying out, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!” (v. 12). He’d just seen his spiritual mentor taken to heaven and was heartbroken at the loss of his friend. But he also realized he’d seen heavenly beings of some kind. So he tore his clothes in a mix of anguish and reverence.
However, left behind for Elisha was Elijah’s mantle. He picked it up and struck the banks of Jordan with it. When the sons of the prophets saw Elisha’s miracle of parting the waters, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha” (v. 15).
The prophets convinced Elisha to allow them to do a search for Elijah. Elisha told them it was useless but let them go anyway. Of course, they didn’t find Elijah which is just as Elisha had predicted (vv. 15-18).
What Happened to Elijah?
Elijah was an extraordinary Old Testament figure. God used him in mighty ways to speak on his behalf. His life ended in an unusual way, not from natural causes or at the hands of an enemy in battle. In fact, Elijah did not die at all.
As his servant Elisha watched, Elijah was miraculously taken to heaven in what the Bible describes as a “chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire…” (2:11). Use your imagination to visualize what that looked like. Somehow a chariot swooped in, secured Elijah and carried him off to heaven.
However, Elijah wasn’t the first person to escape death. In Gen. 5, God also spared Enoch from dying. Enoch “walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away” (Gen. 5:24). As far as we know, they are the only two people in human history not to experience a physical death.
Elijah resurfaced later though in the New Testament. In Matthew 17, he appeared along with Moses when Jesus was transfigured on a mountain. Peter, James and John were present to see this interaction between the three.
So why did God do this for these two men? We don’t really know. Some have speculated that Elijah and Enoch will reappear again as the two end times prophets the book of Revelation describes (see Rev. 11).
These witnesses perform miracles and prophecy for 1,260 days. They are then killed and resurrected 3 days later, before ascending to heaven in front of many people. Hebrews 9:27 says that it is appointed for all men to die once. If this theory holds, then everyone in all history would have experienced that phenomenon.
Elisha Enters the Prophetic Role
Elisha had stayed in Jericho as the prophets searched for Elijah. Some men of the city asked him about the water supply. It is interesting that they asked him as though he could do something about it. Perhaps word had begun to spread that Elisha was now prophet in Elijah’s place and might be able to perform a miracle.
Elisha did just that. He told them to “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. Then he went out to the source of the water, and cast in the salt there, and said, ‘Thus says the Lord: ‘I have healed this water; from it there shall be no more death or barrenness'” (vv. 20-21).
Immediately the water was made and remained pure (v. 22).
After that, Elisha left Jericho and traveled to Bethel. On the journey, some youths mocked him saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” (v. 23). This was clearly disrespectful of God’s prophet and may have indicated their disbelief that Elijah had actually been whisked away into heaven.
Elisha pronounced a curse on them for mocking the Lord’s prophet. With that, 2 female bears came out of the woods and mauled 42 of the youths (v. 24).
II Kings 3 – Israel and Judah Fight Moab
Once again, Israel and Judah align to fight a foreign enemy that is a danger to them both. This time it is Jehoram, king of Israel and the son of Ahab teaming up with Jehoshaphat king of Judah, who had previously helped Ahab defeat the Syrians (I Kings 22). The alliance this time is to fight Mesha, king of Moab who had decided to stop paying tribute to Israel after Ahab died (vv. 4-5). The king of Edom also joined with Israel and Judah because those armies had to advance to Moab through the land of Edom (vv. 8-9).
After three days of marching with no water (v. 9), Jehoram is worried the Lord has brought all three kings together to deliver them into the hands of Moab (v. 10). Jehoshaphat asked about finding a prophet of the Lord to give them guidance. It’s no surprise this suggestion came from him because we are told he followed the Lord like his father Asa (I Kings 22:43-44).
One of the servants told Jehoram about Elisha who had a close relationship with Elijah. When the three kings arrived at Elisha’s location, he scoffed at them saying, “What have I to do with you? Go to the prophets of your father and the prophets of your mother” (v. 13). There was no way he was going to aid those who consulted with the prophets of Baal.
However, because of Jehoshaphat’s presence and Elisha’s respect for his obedience to the Lord, he agreed to bring them a word from God (v. 14). The simple answer: God would deliver the Moabites into their hands (v. 18). And he would do it by using the one thing they lacked: water.
Water to the Rescue
Elisha told the kings that they would not “see wind, nor shall you see rain; yet that valley shall be filled with water, so that you, your cattle, and your animals may drink” (v. 17). And in the morning, “water came by way of Edom, and the land was filled with water” (v. 20). Meanwhile, the Moabites prepared for war against the three kings (v. 21).
But when “they rose up early in the morning, and the sun was shining on the water; and the Moabites saw the water on the other side as red as blood. And they said, ‘This is blood; the kings have surely struck swords and have killed one another; now therefore, Moab, to the spoil!'” (v. 22-23). So they charged in to attack only to find the camp of Israel completely prepared for battle. The three kings entered their land, killed the Moabites, stopped up all their springs of water and cut down all their good trees (v. 25).
II Kings 4 – Elisha’s Miracles
God worked through Elisha just as effectively as He had worked through Elijah. We’ve already seen Elisha part the Jordan, turn bitter water sweet, and redirect the intentions of animals. Chapter 4 records four more miracles that put him on par with anything Elijah had done.
First, he encountered the wife of a unnamed prophet who had died. Evidently, this man owed someone money because creditors were coming to take her two sons away as slaves until the debt could be repaid (v. 1).
Elijah told her to gather as many empty vessels from her neighbors as she could. Then she was to go home, get what little oil she had, and start pouring it into the vessels. When she did, the oil never ran out until she had filled all the other vessels. Elisha then instructed her to sell the oil to pay her debts and save her sons from slavery (vv. 1-7).
On another occasion, Elisha fixed a pot of stew that the cooks had accidentally put poison ingredients in. Elisha threw in some flour and the stew became edible. God miraculously altered the chemistry of the stew so that it did not affect the men eating it (vv. 38-41).
And, in a miracle that had similarities to Jesus feeding the 5,000 (see Matt. 14:13-21), a man gave Elisha 20 loaves of barley bread and some ripened grain. Elisha multiplied it so that it fed 100 men and there was food leftover (vv. 42-44).
But the miracle that put him in Elijah’s league was an encounter with a woman and her son.
Elisha Promises a Son
One day Elisha met a “notable woman” from Shunem who invited Elisha to her house to eat. Her hospitality towards Elisha became so great that anytime he passed by, he stopped in for some food. So her and her husband decided to prepare a small upper room for Elisha so that he could sleep there whenever he came to them (vv. 8-11).
In time, Elisha wanted to do something nice for her. The woman did not want any favors. But Elisha’s servant Gehazi informed the prophet that she had no son (and probably wouldn’t because her husband was old)(vv. 11-14).
So Elisha called the woman and informed her that “this time next year you shall embrace a son” (v. 15). She didn’t believe him. But as it turned out, the woman conceived and bore a son. It was a Abraham-Sarah scenario all over again (see Gen. 18:1-15).
One day years later, the child was in the field with his father and fell ill for some reason. A servant brought him home and the child laid on his mother’s lap until noon when he died. Grief-stricken, the mother set out on some donkeys to find Elisha (vv. 18-24). She knew exactly where to find him – at his home on Mount Caramel (v. 25).
Elisha Raises the Son
Gehazi recognized the woman from afar and ran to meet her. The woman lied to him saying that everything was fine. But when she came to Elisha, she fell at his feet. Gehazi tried to push her away but Elisha said, “Let her alone; for her soul is in deep distress, and the Lord has hidden it from me, and has not told me” (v. 27).
To that the woman replied cryptically, “Did I ask a son of my lord? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me’?” (v. 28). This statement made Elisha understand that her child had died.
He gave his staff to Gehazi and told him to go place it on the child’s body. Elisha and the Shunammite woman followed after him. Gehazi tried as Elisha asked but the child did not awaken like Elisha had hoped (vv. 29-31).
So Elisha went by himself into the upper room. The woman had placed the child on the bed in the room where Elisha stayed with them. He shut the door behind him so that he was alone with the dead child.
And then God worked through Elisha liked he done with Elijah when the woman of Zarephath’s son had died (see I Kings 17):
“And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands; and he stretched himself out on the child, and the flesh of the child became warm. He returned and walked back and forth in the house, and again went up and stretched himself out on him; then the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes” (vv. 34-35).
Another prophet, another dead child brought back to life. Such was the power of God flowing through these two men.
Questions to Consider:
In the end, all you can leave behind that matters is your legacy, working its way out in the lives of others. What are you doing now to help make sure that happens?
What will be said about you when you are gone? How will people take the best of you and live it out in their own life? Elijah left a powerful legacy that was picked up and carried on by the prophet Elisha. That should be our goal – to leave a mark in this world that others can carry forward.
The woman at Shunem probably never thought about what reward she might get from Elisha for being hospitable. She had no agenda for being kind to him other than to be kind. In the end, her hospitality and graciousness was rewarded with a son and ultimately led to God being glorified when Elisha raised him from the dead. Why do you treat people with kindness? Do you have an agenda for your kindness other than because God commands us to be kind to others?
What other points would you want to know about in our II Kings 1-4 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.