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2 Kings 2:1-25 by Robert Dean
Series:Kings (2007)
Duration:49 mins 57 secs

Key Character Qualities for Successful Believers II; 2 Kings 2:1-25


Whatever area of life we may fond ourselves in we have some realm of leadership. Even if that leadership arena may be relatively narrow, relatively small we all have leadership in terms of our families, of someone at works perhaps, and perhaps we have large areas of responsibility and leadership. As a believer one of the qualities that is produced in us by the Holy Spirit, and one that is a result of, also, our own positive volition has to do with the whole concept of perseverance. This has been introduced by four basic words: perseverance, persistence, spiritual tenacity, aggressiveness. It is important for us to think about these things in terms of our own life, of how we would rate ourselves in our spiritual life. Perseverance basically needs to press on in our spiritual growth in spite of difficulties or discouragement, not being satisfied with the status quo. Persistence is to continue doggedly or obstinately on a course in spite of difficulty or opposition or failures. It is spiritual tenacity, hanging on, unwilling to let go, to give up, holding on firmly to our spiritual priorities and the Word of God, no matter what pressures come in our life to distract us, trying to keep that singleness of focus that the reason we were saved is to be able to serve the Lord. To serve the Lord we have to be able to do that from a position of strength, which means we have a solid knowledge of His will which comes from His Word in our life. Being spiritually aggressive is like being a fanatic (which has certain negative overtones today) and this has the concept of zeal. It shows an energy and enthusiasm for the Word of God, because of we believe this is true then it should be more real to us than anything else in life. It is more important to us than our job, than our family, more important than anything else; because we know that ultimately the one thing that defines for us our involvement in all other areas is that relationship with God. And so we put that to the forefront of our life no matter what other things may come up.


2 Kings 2:1 states that God is going to take Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, which is actually a storm. There is a transition of leadership that takes place here that is very important. There are many transitions in life and one of the transitions that occurs is the transition of leadership in Christianity—transitions from one pastor to another pastor, one generation of leaders to another generation of leaders. Sometimes these transitions are handled well and sometimes not. Sometimes these transitions don't appear to be handled well for reasons that we may not understand. We think of the transition from the apostles who were alive throughout the first century. By 95 AD the last of the apostles, John, died and by then there was already a transition into the next generation of leaders into the church, of the referred to as the apostolic fathers. They are called that because they were close to the apostles. In many cases they were taught and trained by the apostles, but they themselves were not apostles, they did not have the gift of God the Holy Spirit in the same way that the apostles did because of their unique ministry and they could not write under the inspiration and authority of God the Holy Spirit, and so their thinking was not at the same level of inerrant, infallible truth as the apostles. So there was a marked decline in the quality of their understanding of doctrine after the death of the last apostles. From that point on the dynamic that was to govern the church age was the study of the Word of God. God does not give us understanding of His Word by simple osmosis. The spiritual gift of pastor-teacher is not a gift where we can somehow just open the Bible, read it ands know what it says. You have to learn the original languages, you have to study theology and the Word, and it takes time and meditation.


What we understand as we go through church history is that men who have been serious students of the Word grow and progress in their understanding of God's Word. In the early generations of the apostolic fathers they were not clear on many things. In fact, in that first generation they often simply quoted Scripture in what we might call an unanalyzed way. The apostles who preceded them clearly understood much more than what they wrote. So the growth in understanding God's Word in the church age progressed as men persevered and were persistent in the study of God's Word and coming to understand it, so that each generation built upon the previous one and came to understand it. So there have been the generational changes that have taken place down through the history of Christianity. One leader of one generation is often surpassed by a leader in the next generation because he builds upon what the previous leader had done. One of the problems that people run into is the tendency of getting involved in personality cults and the worship of certain key leaders. There are some who are so focused on one or another Reformation leader that their theology has never advanced beyond the theology of a Calvin or a Luther or a Zwingli. Others may focus on later church leaders.


So we see that these transitions take place and that in the midst of those transitions there is always a challenge or a test for the new leadership. Now Elijah is testing Elisha in terms of his perseverance, his persistence and his spiritual tenacity. Does he really want to carry out the responsibility that God is giving him? He is testing Elisha so he takes him on this journey where they began at Gilgal (near Shechem), then to Bethel and Jericho. At each of these locations there is something that comes up to distract Elisha and to challenge him. At each of these locations Elijah said to him, "Stay here and I will go on." Elisha shows his persistence and says he is not going to stop.


At this point we are going to get into the translation and transfer of Elijah to heaven and the transfer of power and authority from Elijah to Elisha. 2 Kings 2:8 NASB "Elijah took his mantle and folded it together and struck the waters, and they were divided here and there, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground." This is a scene that reminds us of scenes earlier in the Scriptures. First of all we are reminded of the parting of the Red Sea under Moses, that Moses took his staff put it in the waters to divide the waters of the Red Sea. God parted the waters of the Red Sea, the ground was immediately dry and the Israelites were able to cross over. The army of Egypt was destroyed and the focus goes on Israel. This allows Israel a time to build and grow in the land without worrying about military powers on their southern flank. The second event we think of is when the Israelites in the next generation, the conquest generation, crossed the Jordan into the land. This is marked by a covenant renewal ceremony that took place at another location called Gilgal which was near Jericho. This generation was a generation of obedient believers and there is a reconfirmation of the Abrahamic covenant, marked by the circumcision ceremony at Gilgal and then when they had conquered Jericho, Ai and Bethel they went up to Shechem to Mounts Gerezim and Ebal where they had a rehearsal of the blessings and cursings of the Mosaic Law. All of this speaks of those promises of God given in relationship to the land, so that this ministry that is being passed on from Elijah to Elisha is a ministry that focuses back on those covenants.


Elijah here doesn't use a staff as was used by Moses to part the waters of the Red Sea, he uses this mantle. The first time we saw it was in 1 Kings 19:15-18 when he had fled south to Mount Horeb (Sinai). At that time God had told Elijah that he was still part of the instrument that He was using to bring discipline on the nation. Moses' staff is also an instrument of discipline, and it is this mantle of Elijah's that He is also going to pass on to Elisha showing that both of these prophets functioned as the rod or staff of God's discipline on the nation. As a matter of fact this is showing that Elisha carries in that same particular ministry which God had pronounced back in 1 Kings 19:15-17 NASB "The LORD said to him, 'Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus, and when you have arrived, you shall anoint Hazael king over Aram; and Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint king over Israel; and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place.  It shall come about, the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall put to death.'" So there is an authorization as part of that role as the prophet to execute the enemies of God, because this must be viewed in terms of the broader spiritual warfare battle that is going on within Israel itself. Elisha will inherit that authority and the power is symbolized by the mantle which is being used as a rod, just as Moses' staff was used as a rod.


2 Kings 2:9 NASB "When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, 'Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you.' And Elisha said, 'Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.'" Again this is a test. Elisha is tested in terms of his desire to do the right things, to persevere in terms of his mission and not to be turned from one side to the other. One thing we see here is that it is not wrong to want certain things in terms of spiritual blessings in our lives. God may not answer those prayer requests, but we don't know what the answers are before we ask for them. We see that there is a value to a certain spiritual ambition. Elisha shows here that he has a spiritual ambition to be the very best that he can be and to be used by God in his ministry to the fullest. He doesn't want God's mission limited by his own lack of desire or his own lack of will. Elisha makes a significant statement. He is not just being greedy, he recognizes that he has a mission and a purpose and so he wants all of the power that Elijah has and more. But the idea of the double portion doesn't focus on that as much as it focuses on the transfer of authority from one to the other and a recognition of Elisha as being the preeminent prophet succeeding Elijah. This concept of double portion relates to inheritance rights. So there is the imagery here of Elijah as the father (which Elisha calls him later on) and Elisha as the firstborn son. Deuteronomy 21:17 NASB "But he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength; to him belongs the right of the firstborn." This is the principle. It is a recognition of the preeminence of Elisha over the other prophets who may try to claim some sort of position. There will be evidence in Elisha's ministry from God through the miraculous demonstrating that Elisha is definitely God's choice to succeed Elijah. What Elisha is asking for is that he will be able to carry on the ministry that God had given Elijah and this will be symbolized by the double portion of blessing that would go to the elder son.


Elijah recognizes that this is not his to give and that God has to be the one to confirm this. 2 Kings 2:10 NASB "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.}' [11] As they were going along and talking, behold, {there appeared} a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven." He is taken up by the whirlwind, not by the chariot. The chariot and the horses have a significant imagery that is then conveyed later on. The whirlwind is a storm, perhaps a thunder storm, a tornado, something of that nature, but it is a massive storm that comes along and takes Elijah up to heaven. We see the same kind of thing in Nahum 1:3 NASB "The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, And the LORD will by no means leave {the guilty} unpunished. In whirlwind and storm is His way, And clouds are the dust beneath His feet." This depicts the power of God and that He controls what seems to be to us even the most uncontrollable weather.


There is another picture in 2 Kings 2:12 NASB "Elisha saw {it} and cried out, 'My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!' And he saw Elijah no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces." The chariot is a picture of power associated with military power. What this depicts is that this identification between military power and might and the ministry of the prophet. Elisha is saying that it is really Elijah in his ministry as a prophet who is the real source of security and power in Israel because he represents God. It is God that gives security to the nation; it is not their own flesh, their military power. It is clear in the Hebrew that this is all addressed to Elijah and he is calling Elijah this. Then Elisha expresses his grief by tearing his own clothes.


There is a verse that corresponds to this and documents what we are saying, that he is not talking about Elijah going up in this chariot, he is going up in a whirlwind. The chariot there is a symbol of something else. 2 Kings 13:14 NASB "When Elisha became sick with the illness of which he was to die, Joash the king of Israel came down to him and wept over him and said, 'My father, my father, the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!'" Here we see the end of Elisha's life. Joash is calling Elisha the chariots of Israel, the same thing that Elisha did to Elisha. He is assigning to the ministry of the Word of God the real source of strength and power and security in the nation. It is not in human efforts, and this is something we always have to remember. Political solutions are to the answer to the problems we have in our nation, the real solution and real security that any nation has is in the relation that we have to the Lord. Until there is a real change spiritually in this nation there will be no real security because that is the only solution that has any eternal value.


Elijah is taken up into heaven and Elisha witnesses the entire event. 2 Kings 2:13 NASB "He also took up the mantle of Elijah that fell from him and returned and stood by the bank of the Jordan." He does not dwell upon the grief or the fact that he now cannot see his mentor again, he takes up the mantle of Elijah which is the sign of his authority and power as the successor to Elijah in his prophetic ministry, and he went back and stood by the Jordan. God is going to give several miracles that begin here and extend through the next couple of chapters that will confirm the authority of Elisha. First Elisha took the mantle that had been give to him and struck the water. He does the same thing is reverse and he crosses over the Jordan on dry ground. Then when he is on the western side and goes towards Jericho the fifty sons of the prophets are still down there watching and when they saw Elisha they said, v. 15 NASB "The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha." And they came to meet him and bowed themselves to the ground before him." They understood that he now had that power because they witnessed what happened as he came back across the Jordan. They bowed down in recognition of his authority. But they don't quite get it because they didn't see what happened. Only Elisha saw Elijah being taken to heaven. They just saw probably the thunderstorm and the fact that Elijah was not with him anymore, so now they are going to put pressure on Elisha to make him feel guilty. They are going to try to manipulate his emotions: "You just left Elijah out there to rot in the desert. How terrible!"


Even though Elijah had seen Elijah taken to heaven he yields to them. Sometimes is just better to yield and to be able to get on because nothing spiritual was at stake. 2 Kings 2:16-18 NASB "They said to him, 'Behold now, there are with your servants fifty strong men, please let them go and search for your master; perhaps the Spirit of the LORD has taken him up and cast him on some mountain or into some valley.' And he said, 'You shall not send.' But when they urged him until he was ashamed, he said, 'Send.' They sent therefore fifty men; and they searched three days but did not find him. [18] They returned to him while he was staying at Jericho; and he said to them, 'Did I not say to you, 'Do not go'?" He reinforces the fact that he is the one who is in authority and they need to listen to him.


2 Kings 2:19 NASB "Then the men of the city said to Elisha, 'Behold now, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad and the land is unfruitful.'" This takes us back to the curses, the judgment sin the Mosaic Law, that when the nation is in rebellion against God then the wombs and the fields would be barren and there would be no production in the land. This was Jericho which was left unresconstructed after the conquest, until one man came along in Ahab's reign and rebuilt it. He didn't care about the curse that his firstborn would die and that when he finished his youngest would die. Now Jericho has been rebuilt but it still has problems. The water is bad and this is a picture of the spiritual barrenness of the northern kingdom. But it is through Elisha that God is going to be disciplining the northern kingdom and bringing them back to some level of spiritual production. Hopefully that is the goal and Elisha will depict this.


He calls for a new bowl. It hasn't been tarnished by anything else and it is without flaw. He put salt in it, went out to the source of the water and cast the salt there, and said, "Thus says the LORD, 'I have purified these waters; there shall not be from there death or unfruitfulness any longer.'" Again, this is a picture that it is only God who can bring life out of death. It is only God who can bring spiritual life into our life that began when we were spiritually dead. It is only God who can regenerate those who were born dead is their trespasses and sins. And this is a picture of the fact that it is only God who can solve our problems.


Then Elisha continues his journey, reversing the original course. 2 Kings 2:23 NASB 'Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, 'Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!'" This is one of those unusual passages in the Scripture. It is possible that Elisha was literally bald, but that is not necessary. This more than likely is the use of a pejorative or insulting idiom to Elisha indicating that they do not accept his authority. It is based on vv. 3, 5 of this passage where the sons of the prophets had informed Elisha that Elijah his master was about to die. That word for "master" is a Hebrew word that literally means "the one over your head." That's the person in authority over you, over your head. So when the one over your head is removed then you have nothing over your head so you are bald. Therefore this would be a play on words based on the idea that he had lost the one in authority over him, he is now without a master, so he would be figuratively bald. So they are saying, "You are a nobody." They are refusing to accept the transition of authority and leadership and so they are taunting him and ridiculing him as being impotent now that Elijah is gone. This gives us an understanding of what transpires next.

Remember that this is Bethel. When Jeroboam I became king after the division of the kingdom he recognized that he would have problems in the north if everybody was trotting down to Jerusalem several times a year in order to worship in the temple. He set up his own alternate religion. Bethel is the site of the false temple with the golden calf and it is the center of apostasy. So these juvenile delinquents would be involved in all of the false worship that is going on there and are therefore clearly in spiritual rebellion and reject the authority of Elisha. 

Elisha has to reinforce his authority. 2 Kings 2:24 NASB "When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number." This isn't a black magic curse, it is a judgment. That is how the word curse is used in the Scripture. The bears don't kill them, they just maul them. This is a sign of discipline because they have rejected the messenger of God and shown this high level of disrespect for him.  

2 Kings 2:25 NASB "He went from there to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria."

The point of all of this is to show that ultimately the real source of security for us as individuals and for our nation is the Lord. David rehearses this is Psalm 18:2 NASB "The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold." There is nothing wrong with a nation having military power but that is not the source of their strength. The source of strength is their relationship with God.