2 Kings 2:1-15.

Preparing Others for Ministry 

        American Journal of Biblical Theology               June 6, 2004                    Copyright 2004, J.W. Carter
www.biblicaltheology.com          Scripture quotes from KJV


The books of Kings are a historical account of the reign of the kings, with most of 1 Kings describing those in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, and most of 2 Kings describing those in the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  The books answer the question, "Why were Judah and Israel destroyed and why did they lose their land?"  We find that, though there were a few godly kings in the succession between David and the captivities, most were not.  Starting with Solomon, the son of David who gave minimum attention to spiritual leadership, bankrupted the country with his rebuilding campaign that indebted Israel to Phoenicia, and placed his own people into bondage to that effort.  His son, Reheboam, was determined to increase the burden of that bondage, and the rebellion by the northern tribes split the country into two nations.  Eventually, the line of kings in both nations would lead them down a path that would lead to pagan worship practices and the loss of their land when each was respectively overrun and taken into captivity.

The book of Second Kings, is essentially, an unbroken continuation of First Kings.  Scholars argue that the reason for the break between the books is simply dictated by the limited length of the scrolls upon which the books were written.  The transition from one book to another takes place in the reign of Ahaziah, on of Ahab, one of the most wicked kings of Israel.  1 Kings introduces his rise to the throne, and 2 Kings opens with his demise.  ! Kings concludes with an account of the ministry of the prophet, Elijah.  2 Kings opens with an account of the transfer of prophetic leadership from Elijah to Elisha.  This lesson focuses on that transfer.

Prophets played an important part in God's progressive revelation of Himself and His purpose to mankind, with the first arguably being Moses, and the last prophet being John the Baptist.  During the period of the kings, the remnant of faith was maintained and led by the prophets and their disciples.  This group was referred to as the "school of prophets," often organized as small clusters of disciples who were located in the major communities.  The lead prophet would travel from town to town, and would encounter these groups, teaching them, and preparing them for ministry.  We do not have accounts of God speaking through the prophet's disciples, and there is some evidence that this was a much sought for gift.  However, without exception, those prophets who are recorded as sharing the word of God did not aspire to the position, but were called by God in some way.  We see this in the call of Elisha, recorded in 1 Kings 19 as God revealed to Elijah that Elisha would succeed him (vs. 16).  Elijah then went to Elisha and revealed this calling to him (vs. 19).  

So he departed thence, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth: and Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle upon him. 20And he left the oxen, and ran after Elijah, and said, Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee. And he said unto him, Go back again: for what have I done to thee? 21And he returned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave unto the people, and they did eat. Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him. (1 Kings 19:19-21)

Though Elisha is not mentioned again in 1 Kings, it is evident that Elisha stayed near Elijah as he was being prepared for service.  Elisha would serve as Elijah's personal aide, staying close to him in his travels, learning from the prophet the things of God as he is being prepared for his future ministry.  There were, no doubt, many opportunities for Elijah to strengthen Elisha's faith, and at the end of Elijah's ministry, that need was heightened.  We find reference to Elisha again in the second chapter of 2 Kings.

2 Kings 2:1-2.

And it came to pass, when the LORD would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. 2And Elijah said unto Elisha, Tarry here, I pray thee; for the LORD hath sent me to Bethel. And Elisha said unto him, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they went down to Bethel.

The last act of Elijah would be the transfer of the "mantle" from himself to Elijah.  The mantle, also mentioned in 1 Kings 19:19, refers to the hairy coat that Elijah wore.  Elijah was characterized by this coat, and he was known for it among those who knew of him.  The transfer of this coat to Elisha would be a symbol of Elisha's new responsibility before the Lord, and a visual evidence to the people that Elisha was indeed the successor of Elijah.  The transfer would take place in a most unusual way.  God had revealed to Elijah that he would be taken up to heaven in a "whirlwind."  Furthermore, this would be the day of the event.  So, as Elisha is filled with expectation and wonder at what is about to take place, Elijah presents Elisha with an unusual request.  Before Elijah leaves, he is to visit the prophetic schools in Bethel and Jericho, presumably to give the disciples some encouragement as they face the coming events.  

If you knew this was your last day on earth, what would you be doing?  Elijah went about his usual routine as he visited with his disciples and continued to prepare Elisha for the transition.  We do not see Elijah thinking of himself, but rather of those to whom he had been ministering over the years.  Elijah was an emotional individual, often experiencing great heights of elation and great depths of depression.  

Elijah had been discipling Elisha for many years.  Still, was Elisha ready for the transition?  Rather than promote one who is not ready, Elijah provided a final test.  As they were about to leave for Bethel, Elijah asked Elijah to stay.  Thought the English language does not convey the idea, in the Hebrew, the statement is more of a permissive suggestion than a command.  What would be the consequences if Elisha remained and did not travel with Elijah?  They both knew that the mantle would be transferred this very day, and if Elisha were to remain behind, the transfer would not take place.  Elijah was providing Elisha with an opportunity to turn down the call to this very difficult and thankless ministry.  Elijah was not going to force Elisha into something that he was not spiritually ready for.    What was Elisha's response?  Elisha may have been anxious in the same manner that Joshua expressed anxiety when called to take the mantle of leadership from Moses.  Actually, there are many parallels in these two transfers of leadership.  Elisha knew that he was called by God, and immediately and emphatically told Elijah that he was not intending on staying behind.  Elisha may not have been sure of his qualifications and ability, but he was sure of his calling.  Given an opportunity to be released of the responsibility, Elisha demonstrated courage and commitment to the task.

2 Kings 2:3.

And the sons of the prophets that were at Bethel came forth to Elisha, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the LORD will take away thy master from thy head to day? And he said, Yea, I know it; hold ye your peace. 

The school of prophets knew that the Lord would take Elijah soon.  Rather than approach Elijah directly, they went to Elisha to inquire if this were the day that it would take place.  Elisha responded affirmatively, that this is the day.  However, Elisha also asked that they would not speak of it.  Elisha knew Elijah well, and handled the situation in a manner that would not interfere with God's plan for the day.  Elijah's integrity required an honest answer to the question, while the necessity of the day requires that the young disciples do not get out of control and create a big event for Elijah in the midst of God's, quite different, plan.  Though neither Elijah or Elisha probably knew the exact details of what would happen today, they knew that it would be one orchestrated by God, and any effort take over that task would only diminish God's plan and His received glory.  

2 Kings 2:4-5.

And Elijah said unto him, Elisha, tarry here, I pray thee; for the LORD hath sent me to Jericho. And he said, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they came to Jericho. 5And the sons of the prophets that were at Jericho came to Elisha, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the LORD will take away thy master from thy head to day? And he answered, Yea, I know it; hold ye your peace. 

It is possible that Elijah was not aware of the discourse between Elisha and the Bethel disciples.  As he finished his greetings there, he planned on visiting the school of prophets in Jericho.  Again, Elijah have Elisha an opportunity to abdicate his call.  At this point, Elijah is communicating something like, "are you sure you really want to do this?"  Again, Elisha affirms his commitment and they travel together to Jericho.  Again, as they encounter the disciples there, they ask of Elisha if this is Elijah's last day.  Elisha's answer to them is the same as to those in Bethel as he attempts to avoid any group behavior contrary to God's purpose.  

It may be interesting to note that these were the disciples of the school of the prophets.  One might think that, as prophets, they would know that this was the day.  However, such a position illustrates a lack of understanding of what a prophet truly is.  Many think of a prophet as one who intrinsically can tell the future, that is, they have a special "gift" that opens their eyes to see coming events.  However, this description is more like a pagan seer than an Old Testament prophet.  Old Testament prophets were (1) called of God, and (2) repeated God's word when, and only when, it was spoken to them.  The prophets did not have any intrinsic power to look into the future.  They were simply those people whom God chose to reveal himself through.  Likewise, the gift of prophesy exists in some form today.  God reveals His will and His word to Christians through many means, with the scriptures serving as the clearest voice.  Paul lists prophesy among the sought-for gifts in 1 Cor. 12.  When we understand the nature of a true prophet, we can understand that they are not seers, and would be full of questions, for it is God who gives the message to the prophet through His word, rather than the prophet who finds it.

2 Kings 2:6.

And Elijah said unto him, Tarry, I pray thee, here; for the LORD hath sent me to Jordan. And he said, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And they two went on. 

Finally, Elijah inquires of Elisha one last time prior to his last journey to the Jordan.  There is no school of prophets at the Jordan for Elijah to visit.   There is only a river.  Elisha knows that this is leading to the culminating event of the day.  There is a finality imposed on the third opportunity, as there will not be a fourth.  This pattern is common in scripture as we often see statements repeated three times when a particularly emphatic point is being addressed  (Matt. 4:1-11, Luke 22:31-62, John 21:15-27.  Elisha's response is unchanged, and at this point, he knows that it is final.  After responding to Elijah this time, there is no turning back.  Elisha is fully committed to the task, though we can see from the context and some coming events, and like Joshua, he is responding in a humble manner, and not one of confidence.  He does not feel prepared or able to fill Elijah's shoes, but has learned from Elijah to trust in God.

2 Kings 2:7-8.

And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood to view afar off: and they two stood by Jordan. 8And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground.

It is evident that, as Elijah and Elisha traveled from Bethel to Jericho and from Jericho to the Jordan, they were accompanied by their disciples.  All knew this was the day that Elijah would end his ministry, and they would be there to witness it.  At some point Elijah left the disciples behind and took Elisha to the river.  Still, the disciples would be able to see what was taking place at the river.  

As they approached the shore, Elijah took off his coat of hair for which he was known and identified, and rolled it up to form a rod, much in the manner that Moses held the rod at the Red Sea (Ex. 14:21-22).  Upon striking the waters with the coat, they parted.  The stream stopped, parted, and the ground was dry in the same manner that the river was parted by Joshua as he entered the promised land (Josh. 2:10 ff. 3:14 ff, 4:22 ff).  The two then passed over the Jordan River on dry ground.  Why did Elijah lead Elisha out of the promised land?  The Jordan held great significance as the boundary between the past wanderings of the nation and their promised land.  This motif can serve as a metaphor of a life separated from God to one that is eternally with Him.  It can serve as a similar metaphor as a life wandering in sin who finds forgiveness, rest, and peace in the Lord.  In this manner, the Jordan River is also commonly used as the boundary between life on this earth and life in heaven as the experience of death is often referred to as "crossing over the Jordan."  By crossing the Jordan to the East, Elijah would be setting up the scene for Elisha's return, providing him with an experience similar to that of Joshua.  Elisha's faith would be profoundly strengthened by these events, and his ministry among the disciples would be validated.  

2 Kings 2:9-10.

And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. 10And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so. 

As Elijah's last opportunity to help prepare Elisha for the task he was about to undertake, he asked of Elisha a very open-ended question, simply asking Elisha to request of himself anything in his power to provide.  Elisha's answer indicates much of his heart.  At first reading, "double portion of thy spirit" sounds like a commodity that Elisha desires in order to be empowered.  However, this phrase is a Hebrew idiom that refers to the inheritance of the first born son, the inheritance that he receives upon the blessing of his father.  Essentially, Elisha is asking Elijah for the blessing that a father gives to the son who will represent him and his family in his absence.  This blessing involves the transfer of the responsibility to care for the family and for the land which is now his.  All of these things, received by the inheriting son, are beyond the ability of the son to attain on his own, and are conferred only upon the blessing.  

The scope of Elisha's request is evident in Elijah's response:  the request was beyond Elijah's ability to give.  This is something that only God could do.  Only God could confer on Elisha the resources that he would need in order to serve in the capacity to which he was called.  So, Elijah simply told Elisha to stay with him to the end and he would receive the blessing.  

2 Kings 2:11.

And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. 

It was over in an instant.  As they were walking, they were overtaken by what is described as a chariot and horses of fire that swept in between them, gathered up Elijah, and ascended in a whirlwind.  It is difficult, and not very important, to ascertain the nature of the "chariot."  Seen only by Elisha, it could only be described in the vocabulary that Elisha knew.  The ancients might refer to a modern automobile as a chariot, and a helicopter as a large metal locust.  Had they seen my old brown Plymouth Champ, they might refer to it the same way I did:  a very large cockroach.  It is sufficient to understand that Elijah's ascension to heaven was dramatic, sudden, and final.  The context certainly implies that Elijah did not experience physical death.  It appears that he, possibly like Enoch, was simply taken home without the experience of pain and suffering.

2 Kings 2:12.

And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.

All of the preparation for Elijah's departure still could not quell the shock of such an experience.  Even today we have difficulty understanding with any clarity exactly what happened to Elijah, and the concept of one's actual  and live departure to heaven while riding on a fiery chariot tests the faith of many.  Elisha's response was clearly shock, awe, dread, and mourning.  Alone in the wilderness, Elisha's only response was to rend his clothes, a cultural act of mourning.  Elijah had promised that, if Elisha had stayed with him to the end, he would be empowered by the Spirit as he had requested.  Having witnessed this dramatic act of God, along with the parting of the river, Elisha could only be encouraged and his faith strengthened as he witnessed God's hand in motion.  Still, were there remaining doubts in Elisha's mind about his ability to fill Elisha's shoes? 

2 Kings 2:13.

He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan; 

Elijah first held the mantle when Elijah met him in the field and called him to follow.  Elijah placed it over his shoulders as a symbol, identifying Elisha's future ownership of it and all that goes with what it represents.  Given three opportunities by Elijah to turn away from his call, Elisha looked down at the ground where the chariot had departed, and there lay the mantle.  This time, Elijah did not place the mantle on his shoulder, but rather, Elisha was required now to pick up the coat on his own initiative.  Still faced with the opportunity to turn away, Elisha picked up the coat, placed it on his shoulders ("took up" refers to putting it on), and walked back to the Jordan river.  In "picking up" the mantle, Elisha also picked up all of the responsibilities of the office he accepted, all of the blessings of the experiences that such ministry would offer, and all of the persecution that obedience to God engenders in this wicked world.  Undoubtedly, Elisha was considering this as he walked back to the river.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

However, he was now faced with a problem.  Across the river, standing at a distance were the fifty disciples, watching as Elisha approaches the shore of a river that cannot be crossed.  Elisha knew of Joshua's entrance into the promised land, and his subsequence entrance into ministry via the parting of the waters.  He had only a short period earlier watched as Elisha rolled up the coat and smote the waters.

2 Kings 2:14-15.

And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the LORD God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over. 15And when the sons of the prophets which were to view at Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him. 

Elisha's second act of faith as God's anointed prophet was demonstrated as he crossed the river, (the first was the taking up of the mantle.)  The Hebrew words used by Elijah are difficult to accurately translate.  "Where" contains an immediacy.  A literal translation could be "Where are you now, Lord of Elijah? (Are you with me?).  God demonstrated his presence to Elisha by again parting the waters, allowing Elisha to pass into the promised land on dry ground.  Not only did God confirm his presence in Elisha's heart, but He also demonstrated to the fifty disciples the transfer of the prophetic leadership.  Elisha carried back to the disciples the highest accreditation in the ownership of the mantle and the visible anointing by God.

The call of the church is simple:  make disciples (Matt 28.)  How does one go about this very important task?  The call, development, and initiation of Elisha's call is an excellent example of discipleship in action.  The call of the church is to make disciples by immersing them in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Since the scriptural meaning of "name" includes all of the nature and attributes of the one named, the call is to immerse disciples in the Word of God, in who God is, who Jesus is, and who the Holy Spirit is, along with teaching all of their nature in order that the disciple can know, love, and obey God.  Observe the process used by Elijah:

(1)  The call.  The discipler makes it known to the disciple that he/she is called of God for a purpose.  For this lost, that purpose is initially a personal relationship with Him.  For the saved, that purpose is to be empowered for the ministry or ministries  that God has gifted the individual for.  The call must be understood by the discipler.  Elijah called Elisha to prophetic leadership using a means that Elijah would clearly understand, and communicated to him the nature and profundity of that calling.

(2)  Mentoring.  The discipler then spends the time, energy, effort, and love to train up the disciple through the process of immersion.  Elijah spent years working with Elijah as he also served as God's prophet to the nation and interacted with its kings.  Elisha was able to see first-hand how the ministry is accomplished.

(3)  Transfer.  At some point, the discipler must give the disciple the opportunity to walk alone, to hand over to the disciple the full and real responsibility of the ministry to which he/she is called.  Perhaps Elijah's method was a little more dramatic than one would currently attempt, but certainly the assignment of the responsibility to Elisha was clear.

(4)  Acceptance.  The disciple, however, must have ownership over the ministry.  When Elijah departed, he did not place the mantle on Elisha's shoulder, but rather left it for Elisha to pick up for himself.  If one places the mantle on the disciple, the discipler maintains the responsibility for that choice, and the disciple may not be in full agreement, or be fully ready.  By requiring the disciple to pick up the mantle, the disciple takes final and full ownership of the ministry.  He/she has been prepared for the ministry, and now, upon acceptance, that ministry can begin.

This is the call for all Christians:  to discipleship.  All Christians have a responsibility to pick up the mantle.  Many are so focused on their worldly desires and choices, that they do not see the mantle laying on the ground before them.  Some see the mantle, but out of fear, or for lack of preparation, cannot pick it up.  It is the responsibility of the church leadership to set aside their drive for personal power and control, and use that energy to empower others for ministry, for that is the call of leadership, the very call of the church.