Studies in the life of Elijah - The Whirlwind - 2 Kgs. 2. 1-11
Graeme Hutchinson, Moneyreagh
The exit of Elijah was as swift and dramatic as his entrance in 1 Kings chapter 17 verse 1. As Joseph Hall remarks, ‘he comes in like a tempest, who went out in a whirlwind’.1 He laboured during the reign of King Ahab when the pernicious tide of Baal worship was rampant throughout Israel. In response, he prayed for drought as a sign of divine punishment, and even this was based on his knowledge of scripture and confidence in God.2 His overriding message was that only a return to Jehovah, the living and eternal God of the universe, could bring salvation to Israel. We too live in days of departure, and the same Elijah-spirit of courage and devotion is required among the people of God.3 As we retrace his final footsteps, certainly as far as his initial ministry was concerned, it is worth contemplating the legacy of Elijah’s service.
As an iterant prophet, Elijah travelled throughout Israel and his closing walk took him from Gilgal to glory.4 On this occasion, he encountered his successor – Elisha – and the sons of the prophets who were privileged to observe, firsthand, the character of this remarkable man of God. Elijah had certainly remained steadfast throughout his service. Like Moses before him, he witnessed several mountain-top and valley experiences, but it is significant that both remained devoted to God until the very last.5 As believers today, we serve in the knowledge of the imminent return of the Saviour,6 and we too need to remain faithful to God and His word. The pathway of Elijah took him from Gilgal to Bethel, v. 2, and then to Jericho, v. 4, and Jordan, v. 6. The key phrase peppered throughout the section is, of course, ‘the Lord hath sent me’. This is another hallmark of the prophet. He remained submissive to the word of the Lord, for he went where he was told.7 There can be no substitute for the simple adherence to the teaching of scripture, Jas. 1. 22. Then, with the news of his departure beginning to circulate, v. 3, the passage reveals the sensitive nature of Elijah. For, prior to leaving earth, he would spend the day educating his understudy Elisha, for surely this is the explanation of the repeated test of allegiance in verses 2, 4, and 6. Perhaps Elijah’s greatest legacy is seen in the ministry of Elisha, who must have benefited greatly from the example of his spiritual father, v. 12. The blessing of every believer, but especially those who teach in the local assembly, is to pass on the teaching of scripture to up-and-coming generations.8
Undoubtedly, there were occasions when Elijah was isolated in his service,9 and this may have impacted on his outlook.10 However, with his name meaning ‘God is Jehovah’, he was living proof that he served One who is unchanging, and faithful. Indeed, in the current passage we have important insights into the character of Jehovah. Consider, for example, the extent of His mercy. Elijah had been commissioned to warn Israel of their idolatrous practices, and his accompanying miracles testified to the God-given nature of his ministry. But the response was patchy. and, among the ruling family, non-existent. However, notwithstanding this negative reaction, Elisha was then sent to continue the ministry of Elijah, and both men testify to the mercy of God.11 There are also glimpses of the omnipotence of Jehovah. The ‘chariot of fire’, v. 11, and ‘whirlwind’, vv. 1, 11,12 are a comforting reminder that ‘with God all things are possible’, Mark 10. 27. Indeed, it is significant that Elijah’s ministry is again associated with fire,13 for this displays the impotence of Baal over Jehovah.14 For believers who contemplate a rapid and radical change necessary to fit us for glory15, it is worth dwelling on this particular aspect of God’s character. Finally, there is the intriguing irony that the prophet who prayed for death was the one who was taken to glory without dying!16 God was faithful to reward His servant with the special blessing of entering eternity without the need of dying. Elijah’s character is, therefore, stamped with the clear and unmistakable words, ‘God is Jehovah’!
One joy in reading the Bible is that we can visualize the exploits and dedication of men of God such as Elijah. This is true as we follow him in his journey to heaven, for the Bible narrative records plenty of intriguing details. Note, for example, the following:
In leaving Gilgal, v. 1, Elijah visited the prophets at Bethel, vv. 2-3. This was a place with an important history, for it was there that the nation’s namesake, Jacob (later named Israel) had a remarkable revelation of God.17 Sadly, however, the sin of the nation had led this historic place to become associated with idolatry.18 This initial stop served as a reminder that much work remained if the nation was to be restored to its former glory. From Bethel, the path led to Jericho, and this again was a place noted for its past history, though the fact that it was rebuilt testified to rebellion in Israel.19 From Jericho, the two prophets went to Jordan, which was the place where Israel began to possess their inheritance – it was to be the same for Elijah. The pathway was, therefore, divinely chosen, and illustrates that while Elijah was being taken, much work remained for Elisha. The same holds for us as we experience the departure of fellow believers – we need to keep our hands to the plough.20
We have already noted that Elisha accompanied Elijah throughout his journey.21 The previous occasion when the two men were recorded as being together was 1 Kings chapter 19 verse 21 when ‘he [Elisha] arose and went after Elijah and ministered unto him’. We can be certain that the same spirit of support prevailed on this occasion. We are grateful that God, in grace, provides spiritual companions to provide support and fellowship as we journey to glory. However, there is something just as important as ‘having a friend’, and that is ‘being a friend’ to other believers.
Like the Israelites before them,22 both Elijah and Elisha crossed the Jordan on ‘dry ground’, v. 8. This detail is neither superfluous nor incidental, but highlights the care God took to ensure a smooth transition for Elijah’s journey to heaven (and Elisha’s preservation for future service). We serve a gracious and powerful God who plans our pathway in the same meticulous manner as He did for His servants in a previous dispensation.
Aside from testing Elisha’s commitment, Elijah asked him a direct and probing question, ‘ask what I shall do for thee’, v. 9. It would appear that in this father-son relationship, v. 12, Elisha acted in the position of the firstborn son and requested a ‘double portion’ of Elijah’s spirit to help him discharge his duties.23 Put simply, Elisha requested that he would be heir to Elijah, as prophet in Israel, and that he was equipped to do the work of his spiritual father.24 A wise choice on the part of Elisha, but the key aspect is that the discussions between these two prophets remained spiritual right to the end. It is worth reflecting on our own discussions with fellow believers – are they predominantly spiritual?
In concluding our consideration of Elijah, it is clear that he rightly occupies an honoured position in scripture and within the nation of Israel. He is, after all, linked to two important Bible characters in the Old Testament. Firstly, his departure was similar to that of Enoch, who also walked with God.25 Secondly, his ministry replicated that of Moses. For example, they were sent to kings;26 Jehovah revealed Himself to both by fire;27 they separated waters;28 had an advance warning of their departure from this world;29 and were privileged to catch a glimpse of the Lord on the Mount that prefigured His millennial reign.30 It is therefore fitting that scripture describes Elijah as a prophet, master, and father.31 He did much more than reveal the mind of God; he was also the faithful servant in Israel, and a role model for Elisha. The fact that he was taken to heaven without dying indicates that he is well placed to resume his service. As a believing Israelite, Elijah’s hope was in a spiritually restored nation, with Messiah at its head. Whereas John the Baptist acted in the spirit and power of Elijah at the Lord’s first coming, Luke 1. 17, both the forerunner and Messiah were ultimately rejected by the nation. It will therefore be necessary for Elijah to literally return as forerunner for the victorious and all-conquering Messiah when He comes the second time to establish His kingdom. It is then that the prophecy of Malachi will be fulfilled and the world will again witness the courage and devotion of this remarkable man of God.32
- Hall J., Contemplations on the Historical Passages of the Old and New Testaments, reprinted Soli Deo Gloria, 1995, 2, pg. 179.
- Deut. 11. 16-17; Jas. 5. 17.
- Rom. 13. 11-14.
- 2 Kgs. 2. 1, 11.
- Compare Deut. 35. 5-7.
- 1 Thess. 4. 16-17.
- Compare 1 Kgs. 17. 3-5, 7-10; 18. 1-2.
- 2 Tim. 2. 2.
- 1 Kgs. 17. 5-6.
- 1 Kgs. 19. 10.
- Ps. 130. 7.
- Job 38. 1; 40. 6.
- Compare 1 Kgs. 18. 38; 19. 12; 2 Kgs. 1. 10; 2. 11.
- ‘Many of these elements – water, flour, oil, fire, and wind – were polemics against Baal, the god of rain, lightening (fire) and vegetation. Even the restoration of two boys back to life (one by Elijah and one by Elisha) was a polemic against the practice of child sacrifice and against the myth that Baal was dead six months each year and then was raised annually’, Constable T. L., 2 Kings, Bible Knowledge Commentary, Victor Books, 1986, pg. 541.
- 1 Cor. 15. 50-57.
- 1 Kgs. 19. 4.
- Read Gen. 28. 16-22.
- 1 Kgs. 12. 25-29; Amos 4. 4.
- Josh. 6. 26; 1 Kgs. 16. 34.
- Josh. 1. 1-2; Luke 12. 62.
- 2 Kgs. 2. 1, 2, 4, 6-8, 11.
- Josh. 3. 17.
- Compare Deut. 21. 17.
- ‘Elisha, resting his foot upon this law, requested of Elijah as a first-born son the double portion of his spirit for his inheritance. Elisha looked upon himself as the first-born son of Elijah in relation to the other sons of the prophets, inasmuch as Elijah by the command of God had called him to be his successor and to carry on his work’, Keil C. F., Delitzsch F., Commentary on the Old Testament, Hendrickson Publishers, reprinted 1996, 3, pg. 207.
- Gen. 5. 24.
- Exod. 4. 10; 1 Kgs. 17. 1.
- Exod. 3. 2; 1 Kgs. 18. 38.
- Exod. 14. 21-22; 2 Kgs. 2. 8.
- Deut. 34. 4; 2 Kgs. 2. 1, 10.
- Matt. 17. 4.
- Mal. 4. 5; 2 Kgs. 2. 3, 5, 16, 19; 2 Kgs. 2. 12.
- Mal. 3. 5-6; Rev. 11. 1-13.