So for the past couple of weeks we've been talking about Elijah. Elijah is a significant prophet during the time of the Divided Kingdom of Israel--when what was originally the nation of Israel was split into the Northern Kingdom called Israel and the Southern Kingdom called Judah. When we first met Elijah, it was while he was prophet under the king of Israel named Ahab.
Ahab was a really bad guy. He worshiped a god called Ba'al, who was a Mesapotamian weather god and also led a large portion of the country to worship this god. Then to top it all off, he was complicit in the murder of the prophets of God--thereby eliminating the people who would help the people of Israel get right with God.
Elijah worked the majority of his life to help the people get right with God. When we last left off, he was tired. He had worked his entire life tirelessly for God and what had it gotten him? He was basically Ahab's most wanted and at every turn Ahab had tried to kill him. Elijah had brought drought and rain to Israel. He had showed before all of Israel that God was more powerful than Baal by having a challenge on a mountainside where he called down fire from heaven. But still people didn't believe. And he was tired of it.
But God wasn't done with Elijah yet and had more work for him to do. And as we talked about last time, God came to Elijah--not in thunder, not in fire, not in earthquake--but in silence, in the form of a still small voice.
And God promised Elijah he would no longer be alone, that he would have back up--a guy named Elisha who Elijah would train up to take his place.
And that's exactly what happened. Elijah after his encounter with God went out and found Elisha and the other man chose to follow Elijah and learn from him so that when it was finally Elijah's time to die there would be a replacement for him, to continue on his good work.
In this class we're mostly focusing on Elijah's story here and not Ahab's, but I'm going to summarize real quick what happened to Ahab. Ahab continued to be a bad king. He didn't listen to Elijah or any other prophet and he got in a series of wars that didn't go well for him. Then one time he decided to kill one of his subjects just so he could steal his vineyard, which is really awful and an abuse of power.
Ahab just kept doing awful after awful thing and eventually he was killed in battle by one of the foreign kings he was battling against. And so his son, Ahaziah was crowned king. And that's where we're picking up. Ahaziah is king, and Elijah is still out there kicking as a prophet of God.
So go get your Bibles and please turn to 1 Kings 22:51-54.
51 Ahaziah son of Ahab began to reign over Israel in Samaria in the seventeenth year of King Jehoshaphat of Judah; he reigned two years over Israel. 52 He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and walked in the way of his father and mother, and in the way of Jeroboam son of Nebat, who caused Israel to sin. 53 He served Baal and worshiped him; he provoked the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger, just as his father had done.
Ahaziah could have learned from his father’s mistakes and decided to follow God. Instead he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and worship the weather god Baal. This does not make God happy. As king, Ahaziah has a lot of power to set the path of the people under him, to set a good example for all of Israel. He could have gotten right with God and encouraged his people to be right with God. Instead he decides to make the same mistakes as his dad.
Alright now someone read 2 Kings 1:1-4.
1 After the death of Ahab, Moab rebelled against Israel.
2 Ahaziah had fallen through the lattice in his upper chamber in Samaria, and lay injured; so he sent messengers, telling them, “Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this injury.” 3 But the angel of the Lord said to Elijah the Tishbite, “Get up, go to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say to them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron?’ 4 Now therefore thus says the Lord, ‘You shall not leave the bed to which you have gone, but you shall surely die.’” So Elijah went.
Ahaziah becomes king of Israel and the nearby kingdom of Moab rebels. You would think that if Ahaziah is going to get injured it would be in battle, right? But no. Instead Ahaziah is walking through his house and it says he “falls through a lattice.” You can imagine this like a trellis or some other sort of woven like structure—maybe the roof—that he’s walking on and it just can’t hold his weight so he falls and get seriously injured.
Ahaziah wants to know whether he will recover from this fall, so he decides to have his people ask a god. But he doesn’t ask the God of Israel. No instead—like his father before him—he turns to Baal. So he sends messengers out. I’m not sure where they’re supposed to go—maybe a nearby prophet or priest of Baal? But they seem to know where to go, because off the messengers go!
Meanwhile an angel appears before Elijah and tells him where the messengers are going to be and to go out and meet them and demand what in the heck they are doing. Because why would the king of Israel need to inquire of a foreign god when Israel has a God—a god proven to be real and powerful. Ahaziah is breaking the first commandment, he is putting another god before the God of Israel and because of that, it says God will say “surely you will die.”
Is this a punishment? Is God like killing him? I don’t think so. I think the implication is that God is just going to let Ahaziah die from his injuries, as he would naturally do. But if Ahaziah had thought to turn to the God of Israel and pray to him, maybe God would have been able to heal him. But since Ahaziah turns to the unreal false god of Baal—well Baal isn’t going to heal Ahaziah. So Ahaziah will succumb to his injuries and die.
So Elijah goes out to meet these messengers. Someone please read 2 Kings 1:5-8.
5 The messengers returned to the king, who said to them, “Why have you returned?” 6 They answered him, “There came a man to meet us, who said to us, ‘Go back to the king who sent you, and say to him: Thus says the Lord: Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore you shall not leave the bed to which you have gone, but shall surely die.’” 7 He said to them, “What sort of man was he who came to meet you and told you these things?” 8 They answered him, “A hairy man, with a leather belt around his waist.” He said, “It is Elijah the Tishbite.”
We’re not actually shown the meeting between Elijah and the messengers. Just that Elijah goes out to meet them and the result is that the messengers return to the king. They must return a lot sooner than expected—so the place they were supposed to go must have been far away—because the king is surprised to see them back so soon. The messengers tell the king that they ran into a dude who told them to go back to the king and deliver the message that he will die.
And the king was like, “What man? Describe him to me?”
And they do describe him and Ahaziah immediately knows it’s Elijah. This shows that Ahaziah has no excuse—it’s not like he’s never heard of Elijah or God and is therefore following Baal. Ahaziah is acting with full knowledge that Elijah is a prophet of God and that the God of Israel exists but he is deciding to put Baal before God anyway.
Alright someone please read 2 Kings 1:9-15.
9 Then the king sent to him a captain of fifty with his fifty men. He went up to Elijah, who was sitting on the top of a hill, and said to him, “O man of God, the king says, ‘Come down.’” 10 But Elijah answered the captain of fifty, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Then fire came down from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.
11 Again the king sent to him another captain of fifty with his fifty. He went up[a]and said to him, “O man of God, this is the king’s order: Come down quickly!” 12 But Elijah answered them, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Then the fire of God came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.
13 Again the king sent the captain of a third fifty with his fifty. So the third captain of fifty went up, and came and fell on his knees before Elijah, and entreated him, “O man of God, please let my life, and the life of these fifty servants of yours, be precious in your sight. 14 Look, fire came down from heaven and consumed the two former captains of fifty men with their fifties; but now let my life be precious in your sight.” 15 Then the angel of the Lord said to Elijah, “Go down with him; do not be afraid of him.” So he set out and went down with him to the king,
The king sends out fifty men to get Elijah, presumably because he wants to talk to Elijah himself. And they call him a man of God. Elijah is like, “Pfft, if I’m a man of God, then fire will come down from heaven and kill you.” And that’s exactly what happens. Twice. In a kingdom that denies the power of God and turns to Baal, Elijah shows God’s might and power but also that Elijah doesn’t answer to the king’s authority. As a man of God, he answers to the higher authority—God. So Elijah only talks to the third captain because God tells him to—not because the man begs.
But finally, Elijah does go to the king. Let’s read what happens when Elijah does talk to the king. Please read 2 Kings 1:16-18.
16 and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: Because you have sent messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron,—is it because there is no God in Israel to inquire of his word?—therefore you shall not leave the bed to which you have gone, but you shall surely die.”
17 So he died according to the word of the Lord that Elijah had spoken. His brother, Jehoram succeeded him as king in the second year of King Jehoram son of Jehoshaphat of Judah, because Ahaziah had no son. 18 Now the rest of the acts of Ahaziah that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel?
So Elijah tells the king what God told him. That because Ahaziah turned to a false god and asked help of a god who was not the God of Israel, Ahaziah will not recover. He will get the kind of help a false god can give him, which is nothing.
And so Ahaziah dies. He has no son so his brother succeeds him. And this is the last big story of Elijah interacting with a king, of Elijah actively working to bring people back to God. But it’s not the last story of Elijah, not yet, because Elijah isn’t dead yet.
So let’s see what happens to Elijah next. Someone please rad 2 Kings 2:1-6.
2 Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. 3 The company of prophets[a] who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”
4 Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. 5 The company of prophets[b] who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.”
6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on.
The first verse of this section says that God is about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind—we’ll talk a little more in a bit what that actually means, but for simplicity, it simply means at this moment that the end of Elijah’s time on earth is near and soon Elisha will be taking over for him.
So God tells Elijah to go to Bethel and Elijah tells Elisha to stay but Elisha basically responds, “As long as God and you are live, I will not leave you.” And Elijah allows it. They go down to Bethel together.
When they get there Elisha is confronted by a group of other prophets and they’re basically like, “Hey do you know today is the day that Elijah is going to die?” And Elisha does now and he doesn’t want to talk about it. Elijah is his mentor and friend; he probably doesn’t want Elijah to leave him. So of course he doesn’t want to talk about it. Dealing with someone important like that leaving us is hard.
Then God sends Elijah to Jericho and once again Elijah tells Elisha to stay behind and Elisha refuses to. And when they get to Jericho another group of prophets confront Elisha and he still doesn’t want to talk about it.
Then Elijah goes to the Jordan and Elisha goes with him.
Someone please read 2 Kings 2:7-10.
7 Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8 Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.
9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” 10 He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.”
The other group of prophets also follows and though they stay back. Elijah and Elisha meanwhile get to the Jordan river and when they get there, Elijah takes off his cloak, rolls it up, and strikes the water with it, and Jordan parts so that Elijah and Elisha can cross on dry ground.
This is supposed to remind us of all the times that Moses parted rivers and seas, but also of when the Israelites crossed the Jordan River and the God parted the river for them so they could enter the promised land. It’s another reminder that Elijah is just as trusted and powerful as Moses.
When they get across, Elijah is like, “Hey I know my time on earth is nearing an end, what can I do for?” And Elisha says, “Please let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.” This is a reference to the inheritance laws. In Deuteronomy 21:17, it says that the firstborn child gets a double portion of the father’s inheritance—meaning he gets more than all the other kids. If you had two sons, basically the first born would get 2/3 of the father’s wealth and the second son would only get 1/3. So if your dad had $30 dollars, the oldest would get $20 and the younger $10. Not necessarily fair, but it was the law of the land.
Elisha is hearkening to this law by asking for a double portion. It shows he thinks of himself as Elijah’s spiritual son—who should inherit from him. But Elisha is not asking for a double portion of wealth, which the law applies to, but of spirit. Basically asking for Elijah’s spiritual strength and connection to God.
Elijah is like, “That’s a hard thing for me to give you, but if I’m taken from you, you will have it.”
Now someone read 2 Kings 2:11-12.
11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
They’re walking and talking and suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appear. Now fire has been really important in the Elijah narrative and in this story—as well in the Moses burning bush story—represents God. So these are a heavenly chariot led by heavenly houses, sent by God. And basically Elijah ascends to heaven in this fiery chariot.
What does this mean? Elijah doesn’t die. Most people die and that’s how we get to heaven. Elijah on the other hand gets a heavenly chariot ride, and is basically taken up into heaven. He gets to go to heaven without dying.
Does anyone know what other Biblical person was taken up into heaven without dying? I’ll give you a hint. The answer is not Jesus. Remember, Jesus died. That’s part of what makes Jesus’s story so miraculous. He experienced death like the rest of us and then came back. I’m looking for the name of another Biblical person who didn’t die at all, but rather got taken up into heaven. Anyone know?
[Let them answer.]
Someone flip back to Genesis 5:21-24.
21 When Enoch had lived sixty-five years, he became the father of Methuselah. 22 Enoch walked with God after the birth of Methuselah three hundred years, and had other sons and daughters. 23 Thus all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty-five years. 24 Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him.
Enoch is a guy from before the time of Noah and the great flood. He was apparently so awesome that God just snatched him up into heaven rather than let him die. And he’s the only other person than Elijah to be described about this. If you’ll remember, Moses died and was buried. Even he didn’t get taken up into heaven. But Elijah and Enoch both did. Something about people with E names I guess. 😉
When Elijah is taken up, Elisha is naturally distraught. We already saw that he views Elijah as a sort of father. So he’s very upset that Elijah is taken from him.
Let’s see what he does next. Someone please read 2 Kings 2:13-18.
13 He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.
15 When the company of prophets who were at Jericho saw him at a distance, they declared, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” They came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. 16 They said to him, “See now, we have fifty strong men among your servants; please let them go and seek your master; it may be that the spirit of the Lord has caught him up and thrown him down on some mountain or into some valley.” He responded, “No, do not send them.” 17 But when they urged him until he was ashamed, he said, “Send them.” So they sent fifty men who searched for three days but did not find him. 18 When they came back to him (he had remained at Jericho), he said to them, “Did I not say to you, Do not go?”
Elisha picks up Elijah’s mantle—which is literally a cloak and metaphorically Elisha taking up Elijah’s job as prophet of God in Israel. He goes back to cross the Jordan river and he too is able to part the Jordan river, showing Elisha actually has taken on Elijah’s job and can part the river now just like Elijah did.
On the other side of the river, he meets those prophets who were following them and they all react with the appropriate respect for the new prophet of God. And basically they’re like, “Hey let us go see if we can catch Elijah.”
Maybe they didn’t see what happened to Elijah and actually think he just got lost or hurt somehow. But Elisha saw what happened and he’s like “there is no point.” But these men are like “no please let us go.” And Elisha relents.
So these men go and search and search and search, but do they find Elijah? No. Because Elijah was taken up by heaven. And they come back to Elisha and report and he’s basically like, “I told you so.”
And that’s the end of the story of Elijah and how Elisha came to take up his burden as prophet of Israel.