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The Life and Times of Elijah (6)

J Hay, Comrie


The miracle of Genesis 5.24 was about to be re-enacted: a man would be taken to Heaven without dying (v.1). Enoch and Elijah stand as prototypes of the great company that will hear the assembling shout, and, in bodies changed in an instant, will meet the Lord in the air.

We’re waiting for Jesus, His promise is plain;
His word sure and steadfast, He’s coming again;
A numberless people shall meet in the air
The Lord who redeemed them - but will you be there?


To the very end, Elijah was conscious of divine leading. The man who at the start had responded to the command, "Get thee hence" (17.3), was still as sensitive to the voice of God. "The Lord hath sent me" (vv.2,4,6). It is so good when the passing of time does nothing to deaden spiritual awareness, or diminish the devotion of a submissive heart.


The last journey took him from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho, and from there across Jordan. For Israel, these places were rich in history, but each of them was now a testimony to the abysmal state of the nation. Gilgal was where they had dealt with the flesh as they entered the land (Josh 5.2-9), but it had become a hotbed of idolatry (Hos 9.15; Amos 4.4.). Bethel was where Jacob was promised the land and where God had pledged His presence (Gen 28.10-22), but it now played host to a golden calf (1 Kings 12.28,29). Jericho was where divine power gave the earnest of Israel’s conquest of the land (Josh 6.20), but it had been rebuilt in defiance of God (1 Kings 16.34). Jordan was the point at which Israel entered the land, but such was the state of things, that God withdrew His servant across the river before removing him to heaven. The young man who accompanied Elijah would revisit these districts, and give evidence of his divine calling. At Jericho he healed the suspect water supply (vv.19-22). At Bethel there was a miracle of judgment on the mockers (vv.23-25). At Gilgal he made the noxious pottage safe (4.38-41). At Jordan the leprous Naaman was cleansed (5.1-19), and the axe head was made to float (6.1-7).

Somehow, the sons of the prophets and Elisha knew that Elijah was about to be taken (vv.3,5). The language of these scholars indicates that Elisha’s devotion to Elijah was obvious - "thy master", taken away "from thy head" - and yet Elijah put the younger man to the test. Naomi tested the loyalty of Ruth (Ruth 1.15). David probed the motives of the men of Judah and Benjamin who defected to him (1 Chr 12.16-18). At the crisis with Absalom, he checked the intentions of Ittai who had but recently aligned himself with him (2 Sam 15.19-22). Genuine devotion will always bear investigation. The story of the rich young ruler demonstrates that it is wise to test expressed interest. Elisha was unwavering in his intention to be with Elijah to the end (vv.2,4,6). Persistent testing did nothing to break him; sadly, later in the chapter, persistent argument wore him down (v.17), just as persistent harassment got the better of Samson (Judg 16.4-22). Here, "they two went on" (v.6), "they two went over" (v.8), "they still went on, and talked" (v.11). So they walked together and they talked together, surely a picture of the devoted believer and his Lord, the saint who "with purpose of heart" is cleaving to the Lord (Acts 11.23). It is important to "go on" (Heb 6.1), to still go on, that is, to be still progressing, to be still productive - "They shall still bring forth fruit in old age" (Ps 92.14), and to be still praising - "They will be still praising thee" (Ps 84.4). "I will not leave thee", said the faithful Elisha, an echo of the determined words of Ruth, "Intreat me not to leave thee" (Ruth 1.16). May we all exhibit a similar devotion to our Lord.


A barrier now impeded the progress of the two companions as "they two stood by Jordan" (v.7). Inquisitive spectators surveyed them, a reminder that we are under constant scrutiny. On three different occasions it is said of our Lord that, "they watched him" (Mk 3.2, Lk 14.1; 20.20). In Him, the inspection revealed no flaw: for us, close scrutiny finds us wanting. Centuries before Elijah’s day, the River Jordan was no obstacle to God’s people entering the land. The raging torrent was parted to allow them passage. Similarly, on this occasion, the waters were parted when smitten by the prophet’s mantle (v.8): obstacles are no problem to omnipotence! For Zerubbabel, a "great mountain" would become a plain by the power of the Spirit (Zech 4.6-9). Let that encourage us all: seemingly insurmountable problems can be resolved by the God with whom "nothing shall be impossible" (Lk 1.37).

East of Jordan, Elijah gave Elisha the opportunity of one final request. Like Solomon, he had no desire for wealth or prestige, but his appeal was for "a double portion of thy spirit" (v.9). His desire would be granted if he saw Elijah when he was taken, perhaps an illustration that, for believers, spiritual power is dependent on our keeping sight of an ascended Man. Some interpret the reception of the double portion as being fulfilled, in that Elisha performed more miracles than Elijah, but perhaps the reference is to the portion of the firstborn (Deut 21.17). Elisha was not content to be ordinary in the things of God: he craved the double portion of the firstborn. Never be satisfied with mediocrity. Of Jabez it was said, "Jabez was more honourable than his brethren" (1 Chr 4.9). He expressed healthy spiritual desires (v.10). Like Elisha, "God granted him that which he requested". Be like these dear men and have lofty spiritual ambitions rather than settling for being run of the mill.


As they journeyed and talked there was a sudden interruption: Elijah was raptured. Similarly, many a journey and many a conversation will be cut short dramatically by the return of the Lord Jesus! The fiery horses and chariot parted them, and Elijah went up by a whirlwind (v.11). Now that he was gone, Elisha had a deep sense of loss, for his affection for Elijah was genuine, expressed in his cry, "My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof" (v.12). Elijah had no more need of these fiery angelic protectors, but Elisha did, and they continued to encamp around him (6.17) as promised by the psalmist (Ps 34.7). What encouragement for this servant of God, now bereft of his experienced fellow-servant. Let us be encouraged too. God has removed those "that had the rule over (us)" (Heb 13.7, RV), but Jesus Christ is "the same yesterday, and today, and for ever" (v.8).

Elisha now grasped the mantle first cast upon him when he ploughed his field (1 Kings 19.19). His mentor was gone, but he was quick to take up the responsibility of filling the ranks. Gideon’s firstborn refused responsibility (Judg 8.20); better to be like Elisha and have a sense of commitment to the things of God.


The young prophet retraced his steps to the river bank, and he did for himself what Elijah had done for him. Precisely, he followed the example of the older man and the waters "parted hither and thither" (v.14). Similarly, Peter’s manner at the bedside of Dorcas (Acts 9.36-43) was so reminiscent of the actions of the Lord Jesus in the home of Jairus. We can learn from the pattern that others set for us. "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?", Elisha cries, a play on the meaning of the old prophet’s name, "Jehovah is my God". He would learn quickly that the power of God was not the possession of any one generation. Elijah was gone, but Elijah’s God was ever present, and His power was still evident. Let us be assured of that. Never relegate divine activity to history. The God who worked through departed believers still uses available people today. Let us then be vessels "unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use" (2 Tim 2.21).

Elijah was gone: for Elisha, a prop had been removed, but he continued to stand. Jehoiada the priest was a prop for young King Joash (2 Kings 12.2). When the old man died, there was moral and spiritual collapse (2 Chr 24.17-27). Do not become so dependent on others that when they are removed you fail to stand on your own two feet.

The search for Elijah was futile (vv.15-18). Like Enoch, he "was not found" (Heb 11.5). After the rapture, neighbours, families and colleagues will seek the missing millions. They will be sought in homes, offices, factories, meeting halls, and in every other familiar haunt. They will not be found, having been translated to glory: "What a day, glorious day that will be"!



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