This was Elijahs last day on earth. He was about to be taken up into heaven. What did he do? He did the same as he did every other day of his life. He obeyed the Lords leading. "For the Lord hath sent me", occurs three times (vv.2,4,6). Would you have to change anything if you knew that the Lord was coming today?
Elijah is visiting the schools of the prophets at Gilgal, Bethel, and Jericho for the last time before crossing the Jordan and ascending to heaven. Where is Elisha in all this? He follows his master closely. In response to the statements that the Lord had sent him Elisha asserts, "I will not leave thee". May God give us the consciousness of the Lords leading and that closeness of communion as we follow the Master every day of our lives.
As Elijah and Elisha progressed from Gilgal to the Jordan, so believers may make progress towards their goal by applying lessons from the names and history of the places that were visited.
Gilgal ("Rolling Away")
The journey commenced here. Historically this was the place of Israels first encampment in Canaan. Here Joshua circumcised the people and the Lord commented, "This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you" (Josh 5.3,9). The New Testament commentary on circumcision is in Colossians 2.11: "In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ". This tells us what God has done once and for all, through the cutting off of Christ at Calvary, in relation to the entirety of the flesh, i.e. the carnal and evil propensities which express themselves through our bodies. The practical side of circumcision is: "Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry" (Col 3.5). In practice these things are very much alive. We must bring the flesh and its passions into subjection by reckoning them to be in the place of death.
Paul writes in a similar vein to the Philippians (3.3): "For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the Spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh". In parliament a vote of no confidence in the government can topple that government and bring a political victory. Similarly, a vote of no confidence in the flesh on the part of the believer will bring a spiritual victory.
Once the nation submitted to circumcision at Gilgal, other blessings followed. The Passover was celebrated for the first time since the wilderness of Sinai. The food changed from manna to the old corn of the land, and Joshua had a revelation of God "as captain of the host of the Lord". Only when we submit to the revealed mind and will of God can we expect further blessing.
The flesh is of no value whatsoever to God and of no help to the believer in making spiritual progress. "Know your enemy", is Moses instruction. The flesh cannot be eliminated but it can be mortified: kept in the place of death.
Bethel ("The House of God")
After a journey of some fifteen miles, Elijah and Elisha reached Bethel, formerly called Luz. Here, Abraham set up his altar and Jacobs "conversion" took place at the age of 77. The experience of Jacob recorded in Genesis 28 taught him the value of the presence of God, the promise of God, and the protection of God. In ch.35, however, the purity of the God of Bethel caused him to get rid of the idols which he buried at Shechem under an oak tree. The idols included teraphim which Rachel had purloined from Laban when leaving Padanaram as well as other idols accumulated along the way by family members and servants. The holiness of God should keep us from divided loyalties. John exhorts us in the last verse of his first epistle, "Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen". Paul lists idolatry as one of the works of the flesh which is contrary to the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5.20). "Covetousness, which is idolatry", concludes Paul in Colossians 3.5. Anything or anyone that displaces Christ in a believers affection is an idol.
The dearest idol I have known,
Whateer that idol be,
Help me to tear it from its throne
And worship only Thee.
Jericho ("City of the Moon")
After a further fifteen miles Elijah and Elisha reached Jericho. Cursed by Joshua, it was rebuilt 400 years later by Hiel of Bethel in the reign of the wicked King Ahab (1 Kings 16.34). Cities often remind us of different aspects of the world. Jericho pictures the world subject to the curse. It was Israels first obstacle to be overcome in the land of Canaan. "By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days" (Heb 11.30). The world is another of the believers enemies. Its allure is well known as illustrated when Demas left Paul in prison because of his love for this present world (2 Tim 4.10). We are warned against friendship with the world. It is spiritual adultery; whilst claiming to be married to Christ we are flirting with the world. During His upper-room ministry the Lord said, "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world". Read 1 John 5.4: "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith". Faith is the victory that overcomes the world.
Jordan ("The Descender")
Another five mile journey brings Elijah and Elisha to the river Jordan. Israel crossed Jordan when they finally left the wilderness for the Promised Land. Our Lord was baptised by John in the Jordan. The river descending to the Dead Sea symbolises death. In Israels case it was the end of Egypt and the wilderness wanderings and the start of a new life in Canaan. Looking back to His Jordan experience and on to the Cross, our Lord said, "I have a baptism to be baptised with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" (Lk 12.50).
The two men crossed the Jordan together: the servant returned to continue his ministry in the power of the Spirit; the master ascended into heaven. "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me" (Gal 2.20). "Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin (Rom 6.6). In Gods reckoning we died representatively with Christ when He died upon the Cross.
The flesh at Gilgal, the idols at Bethel, the world of Jericho, and the big "I" of self at the Jordan, must all be dealt with if we are to make spiritual headway in the things of God.