Elijah – Assumption and Return (2 Kings 2)

This is our last week in studying Elijah. Next week is the study group’s Christmas Party. This week we will be reading about Naboth’s Vineyard in 1 Kings 21 and Elijah’s assumption in 2 Kings 2:1-18. Please read these chapters and the intervening chapters as well.

The Continuing Story: (1 Kings 22 – 2 Kings 1)

If you have time today, 1 Kings 22 – 2 Kings 1. 1 Kings 22 does not feature Elijah at all but a prophet by the name of Micaiah. This chapter is a continuation of the Israel-Syrian war that began in 1 Kings 20. In Chapter 22, the battle is over Ramoth-Gilead, which is probably located near the modern Golan Heights. In this chapter, a lying spirit spent by God entices the prophets to tell Ahab that he will be victorious in battle. The result of the battle, however, is that Ahab dies. He is succeeded by his son Ahaziah.

In 2 Kings 1, Ahaziah suffers a severe accident. He inquires of the Philistine God Baal-zebub as to his recovery. Elijah confronts him and prophesies that he will not recover. Ahaziah soon died and was succeeded by his brother Jehorem. The story of the kings does not pick back up until 2 Kings 3 after Elijah has left the scene.

Elijah’s Farewell: (2 Kings 2:1-12a)  

Chapter 2 opens with the words “Now when the Lord was about to Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind.” Like the prophets themselves, we know where this story is headed. The story takes place in the border area between the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. You can see on the map the three towns mentioned in Chapter 2 – Gilgal, Jericho, and Bethel – are located just west of the Jordan River and just north of the Dead Sea. Gilgal is where Joshua and the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land centuries before with Jerico and Bethel two of the first towns taken by Joshua. Josh. 3:14-8:35.

Elijah, Elisha, and their band of prophets are traveling together. Three times, Elijah tells Elisha to stay put while he (Elijah) moves on. Three times, Elisha demurs. The prophet and his second cross the Jordan River. Like Moses at the Red Sea or Joshua at the Jordan, Elijah, using his cloak, parts the waters, and the two walk on dry land to the other side. Elisha asks Elijah for a share of his spirit, not unlike how Moses shared his spirit with the seventy elders in Number 11:25.

As Elijah and Elisha were speaking, “a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” v.11. God sends an instrument of war to escort Elijah. (These same divine instruments of war will be used in a later battle with the Syrians in 2 Kings 6:17.)

Elisha: (2 Kings 12b-18)

Elisha sees the chariot of fire but is somewhat uncertain as to exactly what occurred. He does not appear to have seen the whirlwind. Elisha rents his clothes as a sign of mourning the loss of Elisha. Elisha picks up Elijah’s cloak and returns to the bank of the Jordan. There he inquires as to the power of “Elisha God” as he strikes the river which parts at his command. The prophets who had accompanied Elijah and Elisha to the edge of the Jordan, now go and see if they can find Elijah. Elijah is gone.

The Advent of Elijah:

At this time of Elijah, the dead simply went to Sheol. The word used for heaven, shamayim, usually means sky. In Genesis 1, both the stars and the birds are located in the “heavens.” The word is also used as the place where God dwells. See, 1 Kings 8:30. Heaven is also where things are stored, such as rain or manna. In Jewish thought at this time, there was not any real difference between these places, like there is today.

Five hundred years after Elijah’s assumption, Malachi prophesies (c.500 BC). He is one of the last of the biblical prophets and lived during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah when the Jews were returning to Jerusalem after the Babylonian Captivity. Malachi is the very last prophet in the Scriptures, and he ends with the statement that:

 “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the statutes and ordinances that I commanded him at Horeb for all Israel. Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”

Malachi 4:4-6

In the book of Sirach (c.200 BC), part of the Apocrypha which are Jewish Scriptures accepted by Greek-speaking Jews but not Aramaic-speaking Jews during the time of Jesus, the writer also looks forward to a return of Elijah.

You who were taken up by a whirlwind of fire,
    in a chariot with horses of fire;
you who are ready at the appointed time, it is written,
    to calm the wrath of God before it breaks out in fury,
to turn the heart of the father to the son,
    and to restore the tribes of Jacob.

Sirah 48:9-10

Elijah never died, and therefore, he can return. The prophesies in Malachi, Sirach, and other parts of Jewish thought, proclaim that Elijah will return. Malachi says that the Law and Moses must be remembered, but that Elijah will be directly encountered. Elijah’s mission upon his return is one of reconciliation, reunification, and restoration.    

Dinner is at 6. The menu is sweet potato lasagna. Discussion about 6:45. Hope to see you here!

And, behold, I will send to you Elias the Tishbite, before the great and glorious day of the Lord comes; who shall turn again the heart of the father to the son, and the heart of a man to his neighbor, lest I come and smite the earth grievously.

Malachi 4:4-5 (LXX)

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