Biblical Theology Briefings

Chariots, Whirlwinds, and Jesus

Graham Beynon

1. Context

This chapter clearly brings the Elijah narrative to an end and functions as the start of the Elisha narrative. The reader has in fact been waiting for something like this ever since 1 Kings 19:16-21. In that episode, where Elisha becomes Elijah's assistant, Elijah symbolically pictures the succession by putting his cloak on Elisha.

The issues of Elijah calling Israel back to the Lord and confronting idolatrous worship of false gods are also in the background. However this chapter stands on its own as a unit about succession of the prophet rather than about those issues themselves.

2. What this passage is not about

It is clear that the chapter focuses on succession from Elijah to Elisha. However the most common focus in commentaries and talks on this passage is what we can learn about succession as a topic and about the character of Elijah and Elisha. Hence we are often talked through the details of the passage with ‘nuggets' on these topics. In fact the passage easily becomes a string on which to thread these pearls and in consequence has no message of its own. The following were some of the take home applications I discovered in reading on the chapter:

  • Elijah's concern for Elisha is seen in trying to persuade him to stay at points along their route so that he won't be traumatised by seeing him taken. Hence we should be concerned for those whom we pass on responsibility to
  • Elisha's anguish at Elijah's departure indicates the close relationship there should be in with one's protégés.
  • Elijah's tour of groups of prophets on the day of his departure is indicative of how we should ‘always be about our master's business right to the end'.
  • Elisha's command to the prophets not to speak of Elijah's departure tells us how they didn't want a man-centred show of emotion, but rather a trust in God.
  • Elijah's question to Elisha as to what he could do for him before he departed demonstrates his concern for others in the midst of personal distress.
  • Elisha's request for a double portion of Elijah's spirit shows his humility and awareness of his own weakness (see below on this).
  • Elisha's healing of the waters at Jericho reminds us of the healing God wants to bring in our lives, if we take our requests to him.

3. What the passage is about: Part I - Immediate context

3.1 Topic of the chapter

The topic of the chapter is stated for us in verse 1: God is going to take Elijah to heaven in a whirlwind. This is phrase is then repeated in describing the event itself in v11. Given the reader's knowledge of 1 Kings 19 when they read verse 1 the immediate question in mind is Elisha's succession. The whole chapter should then be read with this in mind.

3.2 Geographical markers and their significance

The geographical route described in the first half of the chapter is then retraced in the second half as follows:

(A) Gilgal (in Samaria, the setting of chapter 1) to (B) Bethel, to (C) Jericho to (D) the Jordan

(D) the Jordan to (C) Jericho, to (B) Bethel and to (A) Samaria (via Mount Carmel, which may be the mountain in chapter 1:9).

The significance of this is two-fold. Firstly the whole chapter should be read as a unit i.e. the stories of verses 19-22, and 23-25 are integral to the message of the chapter, not separate from it (as some commentaries suggest they are). Secondly we see Elisha retrace the steps of Elijah and visit one of the scenes of his greatest triumphs; this already hints at the message of his succession.

3.3 Verses 1-6

Verses 2-6 form a unit with an emphasis on Elisha's insistence on staying with Elisha. The pattern of speech, reply and movement is repeated exactly three times but with a change in ending in v6: rather than ‘So they went to...' as in v2 and v4, we are told ‘So the two of them walked on'. This emphasises their togetherness. In fact from the end of v6 onwards they are repeatedly referred to as ‘the two of them'. [The NIV's use of ‘Elijah and Elisha' in v7 is a clarification of this same phrase as is the ESV's ‘they both'.]

The repeated pattern is emphasised by the fact that within it speech phrases are repeated in precisely the same words: the command to stay from Elijah to Elisha and his reply in each case (v2, 4, 6) and the question from the groups of prophets (v3, 5). We should also note that with the inclusion of the personal pronoun Elisha's reply is emphatic each time (‘I certainly will not...'), indicating that it is one of the key foci of the section.

The significance of this section is debated. Clearly the assumption is made that everyone knows today is the day Elijah is going. I would suggest that given the background mentioned the implicit question is ‘Is Elisha going to succeed him?'. Hence the question from the company of prophets is as if they are saying, ‘Are you taking over?'. Despite knowledge of the prediction of his succession, Elisha appears to want to wait and see. This thought is confirmed by the request in v9 and following events (see below).

Why Elijah tells Elisha to stay at point along the route is hard to determine. The best possibility is that it serves to raise tension until v10 where the requirement of seeing him is stated. At this point the reader sees how important it was that Elisha persisted in sticking with him; but it remains unclear as to whether Elisha knew this. Elijah's command to stay is permissive in nature (‘You may stay...'). It could be that leaving him on this day was equivalent to resigning from the role of successor - certainly that would seem to have been the outcome if he had. If so, then Elisha's persistence is demonstrative of his willingness to take up the role.

3.4 Verses 7-15

Verse 7 begins a new section by use of a vav-disjunctive and forms an inclusio with v15 where the group of prophets is mentioned again. This serves to demonstrate that they are witnesses of the events described.

There is a chiasm in v7-15 although the precise matching of this can be debated. It looks something like this:

Inclusio in verses 7-15

The most debatable parallel is that of the request for a double portion and Elisha's question regarding where God is. However it is argued below that this is a precise parallel. This chiasm clearly focuses on Elijah being taken to heaven as the central feature of the chapter.

The miracle of dividing the Jordan is clearly reminiscent of the Jordan being divided in Israel's arrival into the land (Joshua 3-4), which itself is framed in terms of the crossing of the Red sea. The mention of crossing on ‘dry ground' (v8) stresses this. This does not mean this event is necessarily an re-enactment of those crossings but it does bring them to mind and especially the people associated with them i.e. Joshua and Moses. This will be mentioned further below under biblical theology.

The request from Elisha for a double portion of Elijah's spirit is of great importance. It alludes to Deut 21:17 and the double portion that the eldest son had. This indicates that what Elisha was asking for was to be the equivalent to the first born heir who took charge of the family i.e. to be the true successor of Elijah.

The reply that this is a ‘difficult/hard thing' is often taken to mean something like, ‘It's going to be hard for you to fulfil the requirement.' However the requirement turns out to been have met already in Elisha's insistence on not staying behind, as Elijah is taken in the very next verse. I think it's therefore better to read the ‘difficult thing' as the request to be Elijah's successor - not in the sense of being difficult to be appointed, but that it is a hard role to fulfil. In which case the persistence of Elisha in staying with Elijah earlier makes sense as a demonstration of his commitment and willingness to take up the role.

The chariot of fire (note it is singular, contra ESV) and horses of fire are not the means of transportation for Elijah to heaven as is often stated; he is taken up by a whirlwind (v11). Rather they are what separates ‘the two of them', which is the phrase used of Elijah and Elisha in combination from v6. Hence this serves to stress that Elisha has remained close by until God intervenes to separate them.

The importance of Elisha fulfilling the requirement of seeing Elisha going to heaven is emphasised by use of the vav-disjunctive at the start of v12. His cry at this point is often taken to be reference to the chariot and horses of verse 11. However this would have the oddity of Elisha pointing out the presence of chairot/horses once Elijah had gone. Also the words used are different - chariot is the same but the second reference is to horsemen, not horses. The more natural explanation is that this a cry with reference to Elijah himself - he is the father, and he is the chariot and horsemen of Israel. This interpretation is confirmed by 13:14 which uses the same expression of Elisha on his death-bed (with no vision of chariots present). Elisha's cry is therefore focussing on the loss of Elijah, both personally, and to Israel. He is God's ‘army' on behalf of Israel, and his loss now is devastating.

Verses 13-15 are carefully constructed to slow the narrative and so demonstrate the importance of this event. It is emphasised that the cloak is Elijah's - the same phrase is repeated twice. This is significant given the background of 1Kings 19 and the symbolic transfer of the cloak, which acted as some kind of uniform of the prophet. Clearly this is a re-enactment of v8, and in fact there is careful verbal similarity between v8 and v14 which emphasises the parallel of Elijah and Elisha separating the water in the same way. The first step is therefore to see this as a repeat performance but by Elisha.

We must then observe the importance of v14. Some commentators read this verse as saying Elisha had to strike the water twice because of the apparent repetition either side of Elisha's question. However that is not to appreciate the way the question functions. It is placed between striking the water (v14a), and the description of the result of striking (v14c) because it is the question that striking the water will answer. God was clearly with Elijah, but where is he now? Is he with Elisha? This moment will tell us.

Hence the climax is when the prophets who've been watching cry out in v15, ‘The Spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha' and bow down before him. Elisha is the true successor of Elijah - he is now the chariot and horsemen of Israel who will fight for God and speak his word.

3.5 Verses 16-25

We now have three episodes described that all function to confirm the new status of Elisha. The first is clearly linked with Elijah and serves to confirm his departure. However its primary purpose is to stress that Elisha knew the truth of the matter, and should have been listened to. Given the common knowledge that God was taking Elijah that day, it is most likely that this is a search for his body so that he can be buried, rather than a search for him alive and well somewhere (in which case he could have returned himself anyway).

The healing of the water at Jericho and then the cursing of the youths at Bethel act to show Elisha to be the new prophet who speaks God's word - note the phrasing of 2:22, ‘according to the word Elisha had spoken' which picks up on this phrasing for Elijah's earlier words (e.g. 2 Kings 1:17).

These episodes therefore function as contrasting attitudes towards Elisha, and hence towards God, and contrasting outcomes in line with the covenant promises. It is the last aspect that is often overlooked. The blessings for obedience in the covenant included promises of productivity in the land; the curses for disobedience included children being killed by wild animals.

Both of these elements of the covenant are found in Leviticus 26 which probably forms the background to the Jericho and Bethel incidents. Interestingly the verb used of the land being unproductive in 1 Kings 1:19 and 21 is literally that of being bereaved or barren, and is the verb used of parents being robbed of their children by wild animals in Lev 26:22. Hence we have the land being healed from ‘barreness' while parents are made ‘barren' of their children.

With regard to the waters of Jericho we should also remember the curse pronounced by Joshua over the city (Joshua 6:26) which was firstly fulfilled by the death of Hiel's son (1 Kings 16:34). It may be that water being bad and the land unproductive is a carry over from that cursing. If so then Elisha's word is a repealing of the curse of Joshua. However this is not explicitly stated.

4. What this passage is about: Part 2 - Biblical theology

This passage raises several areas within biblical theology. Within the narrower scope of 1 and 2 Kings it functions as the bridge between the ministry of Elijah and Elisha, and serves to authenticate Elisha's subsequent acts. The reader knows that the work of Elijah has not yet been completed, for example the command to anoint Hazael and Jehu as kings of Aram and Israel (1 Kings 19:15-16), has not yet been done by Elijah. Elisha is now the anointed prophet to speak God's word he in fact performs these outstanding tasks (2 Kings 8:13, 9:1-13).

The second is that of the role of the prophets within the context of Israel as a covenant community. They have been spoken of as ‘covenant enforcers' and we see that they speak God's word in accordance with the covenant. Hence as soon as Elisha receives the spirit of Elijah he proceeds to speak a word of blessing or a word of cursing in accordance with the covenant. People's attitude to God's anointed prophet is reflective of their attitude to God himself, and so they receive through that prophet God's blessing or punishment. In this manner the prophet calls people back to covenant loyalty with God.

The third area of biblical theology is seeing parallels with God's anointed servants through salvation history. We've already mentioned how this passage carries a reminder of Joshua crossing the Jordan and hence also of Moses. However we can go further in the parallels between Elijah / Elisha and Moses / Joshua.

Elijah's experience on Mount Horeb in 1 Kings 19 is a replay of that of Moses in Exodus 19 and 33-34 (Horeb being another name for Mount Sinai). Elijah's ascension to heaven on the east side of the Jordan is the same place as Moses death - in fact this parallel is one of the few convincing reasons as to why Elijah had to cross the Jordan before his ascension. While Moses died naturally and Elijah did not, there is another similarity in that Moses' grave remained unknown - perhaps this is what we are being reminded of in the search for Elijah's body in 2 Kings 2:16-18.

Moses assistant was of course Joshua who is then paralleled with Elisha. There is a similarity in names (Joshua - the Lord saves; Elisha - God saves). Joshua was authenticated as Moses' successor by a particular miracle - that of dividing the Jordan for the nation to cross (Joshua 3:7), and now Elisha is authenticated in the same way.

These two parings Moses / Joshua and Elijah / Elisha stand then in the OT as two high points of salvation history: the redemption of Israel and entrance into the land as people of the covenant, and then apostacy being challenged and being called to return to that same covenant.

Looking the other way in salvation history we are well aware of the connections between Elijah and John the Baptist (Malachi 4:5; Matthew 17:11-13). At which point we have to ask if there is not a parallel being made between Elisha and Jesus; in this case John hands over to the one he was preparing for, rather than his assistant, but the parallel can still stand.

There is again a similarity in names (‘Jesus' meaning ‘the Lord saves'). There are also interesting parallels in miracles, especially those mentioned in Matthew 11:2-6. This is when John the Baptist sends messengers to ask if Jesus is the Messiah and the answer comes in the form of miraculous signs - sight restored, lame walking, leprosy cured, deaf hearing and dead being raised. This answer is clearly framed in terms of Isaiah 35:5-6 (and 61:1 with regard to the good news being proclaimed). However the Isaiah reference does not include raising the dead or healing a leper; it seems Jesus may be including these miracles of Elisha who did just those things (2 Kings 4, 5). There are then also the intriguing parallels of Elisha's miraculous feeding of a hundred men with bread and a corpse being brought back to life by being thrown in his tomb (2 Kings 4:42-44; 13:21).

I presume that biblical theology means we see each ‘saviour' of the OT as a type of Christ to at least some degree; however in this passage and the subsequent ministry of Elisha I'd suggest we're seeing something fuller. Perhaps then there is no surprise that Jesus' ministry starts in exactly the same place as that of Elisha's when he receives the Spirit at the Jordan.

5. Sermon shape and structure

I wanted this sermon to raise the whole question of how the OT points to Christ which formed the introduction. As a result I structured the sermon with an ‘investigative' feel which showed more of my working to the congregation. Hence rather than a homiletic structure which led into applications naturally, there was more of an exegetical structure that asked questions of the passage. This was for the express purpose of helping people think through the exegetical biblical theological issues.

I began then with the structure of the passage and used the geographical markers to indicate that it formed one unit. We used a map on Powerpoint to demonstrate this with arrows appearing to show the movement described. This description finished like this:

Samaria and Jerico map

So the writer is showing us the whole passage starts and ends in the same place, and so it is all one unit, its one story here, we need to think about it all together. And it also gives us a clue about its theme - we begin to notice a similarity between Elijah and Elisha, its only at the level of their movements round the country but it's there, and we'll come back to that.

Then I raised the question I thought was posed by v1; that of succession to Elijah; I put this in terms of ‘who will finish the job' as follows:

The second thing for us to do is look at the question the passage raises for us. It's a very simple question, Elijah is going home, so Who will finish the job?

See v1... Out of nowhere comes the declaration that ‘lift off' for Elijah will be any time now. But he's the one who's been leading the fight against the false god Baal, he can't go now. There have been some decisive victories, but the battle's not won yet we can't lose the general.

And to help understand this I jumped ahead to the titles used for Elijah in v12:

You get a feel for how Elijah was regarded in v12 when he's taken up, see what Elisha says...

Now we might think when he says that he's pointing out the chariots and horsemen, saying look my father, the chariots. But actually that phrase is a title for Elijah - he is the chariots and horsemen of Israel. We know that because as Elisha is about to die in chapter 13, someone says to him, ‘My father, my father, the chariots and horsemen of Israel.'

This is a cry of grief, because the person Elisha is losing is like a father to him, and he is the chariots and horsemen of Israel. What that means is he the person God has empowered, who God was specially with, his anointed servant. And so to have him is to have the chariots and the horsemen of Israel, he's like a one man army. And to lose him is to lose the army. So who will take over?

Then we came back to the question of the prophets in v2-6:

That question is reinforced by the query of these prophets v3, 5...‘Don't you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?'. ‘I know', says Elisha, ‘but don't talk about it.' They're saying ‘Elijah is off today', and the sub-text is, ‘Are you taking over?'. Elisha it seems either isn't sure; or doesn't want to assume so.

And finally to Elisha's request:

And then it's raised most clearly by Elisha's request to Elijah in v9...

When he says double portion he's not asking for twice as much as Elijah had. He's referring to the law about first-born sons, who inherited a double-portion from their father. Twice as much as any other son. That marked them out as the first-born, the heir who took charge of the family, who assumed responsibility, and took over. This is Elisha asking to be Elijah's successor, the one who will take over and finish the job.

Having raised the question, I said it was pretty clear that Elisha was the answer - no surprises there. But then wanted to explain the tension within the account, and how it built up to the declaration of v15. This is how it went:

See how Elijah replies to Elisha's request v10...

It's rather odd condition isn't it? When we read it we think to ourselves, ‘Well Elisha had better stick close now'. Better not let him out of his sight. But then Elijah is gone in the very next verse, there was no time to stick with him; it doesn't turn out to be a very hard condition to fulfil does it?.

Except we should then remember those curious instructions from Elijah earlier on telling Elisha to stay put, and not come with him. V2, 4, 6. Three times he says ‘Stay here' and three times Elisha swears that he won't leave him. We're not told there why its so important that Elisha sticks to him like glue, but come v10 we say ‘Ah, there's a condition, he had to see him'. What a good job he stuck so close, he's fulfilled the condition already. And so he will take over.

In fact what's probably going on is that Elijah is giving Elisha the chance to turn the job down: he can stay behind if he wants, but that is to say, ‘I don't want to be your successor'. Elisha's reply in each case is really strong, ‘I certainly won't leave you'. He's saying he's willing to go through with what he was called to do way back in 1 Kings 19 when Elijah said come and be my assistant. So we see he's committed to the task God's given him, and is willing to go through with it, despite what a hard thing it will be.

So Elisha sees Elijah go, and then comes the real moment of drama. He picks up Elijah's cloak which was the sign of the prophet, like a uniform, showing that he thinks he is going to take over. And he comes to water of the Jordan and he strikes it with the cloak just like Elijah had done in v8. But before we're told what happened, we're told what he said as he struck it. See v14...

Where is God now that Elijah is gone. He was with Elijah, Elijah was the one man army of the Lord, the anointed prophet, where is God now, is he with me? And he asks the question as he hits the water, because what happens right now will answer it, v14 again...

And so all of the prophets who are all watching from across the bank say; the spirit of Elijah is resting on a Elisha. God is with him now; he's the anointed prophet, the chariots and horsemen of Israel. God gets him to perform the same miracle that Elijah did to demonstrate that it is so.

And what do the prophets do when they go to meet him v15...they bow to the ground before him, and they call themselves his servants. This is the one God is with now.

Then we move to the three events at the end:

And then to drum the point home we get a quick series of events that tell us again, God is with Elisha. The prophets want to go and look for Elijah, probably to look for his body actually so they can bury it - they knew today was the day he was going, they've just seen Elisha has taken over, so its unlikely they think Elijah is alive and well somewhere. But they want to try and recover the body as it were. And Elisha is immediately proved superior in his knowledge over the rest of the prophets, because he is the one God is with.

And then we get two miracles at Jericho and Bethel, one of healing and one of cursing, both very much of the sort that Elijah did. To show that God is with Elisha now. That's why we have this retracing of the steps that we saw of the map, it all emphasises, Elisha has taken his place.

Which brings us to the element of the prophet enforcing the covenant which I explained like this:

And so the last thing to see is that there is a certain outcome from all this. Elisha speaks the word of the Lord either to save or to destroy. Look at these last two events. In Jericho first of all, Elisha is told about the bad water. The people there recognise that Elisha is now the man God is with; see how they address him in v19 as ‘our lord'. And they make their request.

And Elisha speaks the word of the Lord, v21...

But then the opposite happens on the way to Bethel. Instead of a respectful ‘our lord' Elisha gets a taunting, ‘Baldy, baldy'. It may be that prophets shaved their head as a sign of being a prophet, or it may be Elisha just happened to be bald. When they say ‘Go on up you baldhead', they might be referring back to Elijah going up to heaven, and telling him to repeat the trick, or it might be just go on back to where you came from.

It doesn't really matter, because the main point is that instead of a respectful request for help, Elisha receives a chorus of jeering derision. And to reject God's anointed prophet like that, is to reject God; to mock and deride God's messenger is to mock and deride the God who sent him. And so he speaks another word in name of the Lord, but instead of a word of healing it's word of cursing. And two bears appear and maul some of these youths.

Now we need to remember here the function of the prophets like Elijah and Elisha. They came on the scene to call people back to God. You'll know from this series that Israel has turned its back on God, they've rejected him, they're following other gods, specifically Baal. And what the prophets do is call people back to the original covenant they had with God, the covenant they made back at Mt Sinai, where they pledged their allegiance to God, and God pledged his goodness and love to them.

The prophets message is ‘Turn around, and go back to that; that covenant still stands, so be loyal to that, be loyal to God, if you do you'll receive his blessing, but if you don't you'll receive his cursing.'

And that's exactly what these two events are about. God had promised the people his blessing; part of that was having a productive land, a land flowing with milk and honey remember. And so as this group in Jericho turn to Elisha and so to God, and ask for help they receive God's blessing, and the water is healed to make the land productive.

But God had also promised curses if they rejected him. Those curses included mention of wild animals robbing them of their children. And so as this other group reject Elisha and so reject God, they receive one of the promised curses.

Now I backed up to the more general role of prophets:

What lies behind all this is one of the main themes of the Bible - God wants a relationship with people, and he makes a promise, a covenant to them to have that relationship. But all too often they turn away, like rebellious children; and so God sends his anointed prophets to call people back to the covenant. That's what's happening here: Elisha takes over from Elijah, and he is now the one who speak God's word. A word of salvation or destruction, all depending on people's response.

Then I returned to the opening question of how this points us to Jesus. I began with a very general statement:

So finally we come to question; how does this point us to Jesus? Well I hope you have a bit of a feel for that already. God sends Jesus as his anointed, empowered agent, to bring people back to him. And this shows us Jesus is God's anointed saviour. Just like he worked here to demonstrate that Elisha was taking over from Elijah, so God worked in Jesus' life to show who he was. Lots of NT writers points to the miracles that Jesus did, and say that was God accrediting Jesus; that was God testifying to who he was, pointing him our as his anointed Saviour.

Then I moved to the idea of the patterns between the saviour figures:

But we can go further than that as well. Because what we also have in the Bible is God acting in certain patterns. Not that he just repeats himself, but there's a certain similarity in how he acts, so that some parts of the Bible remind you of others, and if you step back you see a pattern emerging; and it makes you see that God is working in history to a specific end.

With an attempted illustration:

I saw a school display recently showing a 100 years of the school's life. One of those series of pictures along a wall. And you could look at each picture in turn in detail, but if you then stood back, you saw certain ideas repeated. Common themes running through. You get the same thing in music don't you - a particular melody appearing and reappearing. And usually at the end, you get lots of the previous patterns all arriving together, in a final triumphal climax. You realise those repetitions have been building up that moment.

Here I used another Powerpoint slide to show the connections between the different people mentioned:

Moses>Elijah>John = Josua>Elisha>Jesus

Well that's a lot like how the Bible works from OT to NT. Patterns emerge and they all culminate in one final moment that God's been working towards. Let me show how I think that works here. We have Elijah, and the first readers of this book they couldn't have failed to spot the connections between Elijah and a previous character in the OT. They'd have immediately thought of the person of Moses.

There are similarities in some of their miracles and in fighting rebellion against God. Then there's Elijah's experience at Mount Horeb, with the wind and the earthquake and the fire, which is virtually identical to Moses' experience of God passing by him at Mount Sinai, which is another name for Mount Horeb. Same place.

And of course it's the covenant that Moses received at Sinai, that Elijah is trying to get the people to return to. And then Elijah's life ends just a little east of Jordan across from Jericho, which is exactly the area where Moses died. Also a mysterious death because we're told no one knows where he's buried.

And then after Elijah comes Elisha, who was his assistant and took over from him. And that would remind us of Joshua who was Moses assistant who took over from him. There's a similarity in their names - Joshua means the Lord saves, Elisha means God saves. And God demonstrated to Israel that he was with Joshua by performing a particular miracle; he divided the Jordan so the people could cross over. And now God demonstrates he's with Elisha by doing exactly the same thing.

Now looking forward in salvation history:

And then we remember that God promised a great day to come, a day when his final Saviour would come, a day when he would make a new covenant with his people. And it was predicted that Elijah would return before that day, to usher it in.

And that was fulfilled in John the Baptist; those predictions in the OT are quoted by the gospel writers to introduce John's ministry. And Jesus says explicitly of John he fulfilled that promised return of Elijah.

And John was followed too, but this time not by his assistant, but by the one he was preparing the way for; Jesus. There's a similarity in names again, Jesus means, the Lord saves. The transfer from Elijah takes place at the Jordan river, and Elisha is anointed by God there. And then Jesus takes over from John at the Jordan and the Spirit descends on him there.

There's a similarity in some actions; John the Baptist sends messengers to Jesus one time to ask if he is the promised Saviour and Jesus replies by referring to the miracles he's performed, the dead being raised, lepers being cured, which were things Elisha did. Elisha also fed a 100 men with a few loaves of bread and with some left over, just as Jesus did with 5000.

And then there's that reference after the end of Elisha's life; that when a corpse was thrown into his grave, it came back to life. A man's tomb being able to bring others back to life; which is of course supremely true of Jesus empty tomb, which brings us life.

We didn't have time to discuss all these, and so I felt I should say:

Each one of those may not be a substantial connection - but overall, its no accident. These are repeated themes, of God using these pairs of anointed saviours, to make a covenant with people, and then call them back to that covenant, and then finally to bring a new covenant.

Then to a climax as to what this means for our thinking about Jesus:

So how does it point to Jesus. We've already said he's God's anointed Saviour, but all this shows us that all the previous history is leading up to Jesus. He's not just another anointed Saviour who God points out, he's God's final saviour; he the one who brings the full and final salvation, that all of the others pointed to. That's why these connections are here.

And so Jesus is the one who now speaks God's final word. And just like with Elisha it is a word of healing or a word of destruction. Jesus brings the offer of a new covenant with God, of the blessing of a relationship with him, but if it is spurned, he also says there will be the curse of punishment.

And so challenge and application remained at the fairly general level of our response to Jesus; I put it like this:

And so we have to ask our final question. How do we respond to Jesus? All history leads up to him, he is the final saviour, who speaks the final do you respond to him?

Because how you respond to him, is how you respond to God. And the word he will speak to us all depends on that response. I have to say to you this morning, if you will come to him and ask for his help and healing, he will speak a word of salvation, he will give you the blessings of the new covenant, a relationship with God now, and in eternity. But if you reject him, then he will speak a word of cursing, you will remain separated from God now, and in the future receive his judgement.

How do you respond to the one who fulfils all that we see in the OT? The full and final Saviour? The one who history is organised around? How do you respond to Jesus?


Raymond B. Dillard, Faith in the Face of Apostasy: The Gospel According to Elijah and Elisha, Presbyterian & Reformed, 1999. Asks lots of good questions and makes some interesting observations and comparisons; however this seems uncontrolled at times, with multiple possibilities being placed alongside each other. .Sermon on first half of the chapter - some good observations but illustrates some of the hazards. Bible study notes on 2 Kings 2 - some excellent observations, but a few faulty ones as well.

T. R. Hobbs, 2 Kings (Word Biblical Commentary), Word Books, 1985. Makes some helpful grammatical comments and looks at how the passage functions within 1 and 2 Kings, but fails to make any biblical theological observations.

Dale Ralph Davis, "The Kingdom of God in Transition: Interpreting 2 Kings 2," WTJ 46 (1984): 384-395. Excellent analysis on the text, and asks all the right questions, but ends up seeing the message to us as regarding succession of Christian leaders today.

The following commentaries have some helpful insights on the text, and rightly see the focus on succession, but overall fail to make meaningful biblical theological connections to us today:

Iain W. Provan, 1 and 2 Kings (New International Biblical Commentary), Hendrickson, 1995.

H. J. Austel, Expositors Bible Commentary, Vol 4, 2 Kings

Richard D. Nelson, First and Second Kings (Interpretation), Westminster John Knox, 1987.

Donald J. Wiseman, 1 & 2 Kings (Tyndale), Inter-Varsity, 1993.

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