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18. The Translation of Elijah--Part 1 (2 Kings 2:1-11)


In 2 Kings 2 we are given a glimpse of the mighty works of God through Elijah and Elisha. This in itself teaches us again about the might and power of our God. It also demonstrates a God who is loving and gracious and who cares for us as His people. As we study this passage, we must also remember that normally God does not work today as he did in the Old Testament or even in the New Testament. Even in the Bible, miracles were the exception not the norm or the rule. This is not to say that God does not have the ability to perform such miracles today or that He does not, on occasions, work in miraculous ways for He does. I am only saying that this is the exception. Today we do not have miraculous gifts as did Elijah and Elisha, and the Disciples of the first century. Remember, from a careful study of the New Testament, the disciples apparently lost their miraculous gifts even before the New Testament was completed (cf. Heb. 2:1-4; 2 Tim. 4:20; 1 Tim. 5:23).

Regardless of this fact, this chapter reminds and teaches us that our God is a mighty God and is both transcendent and immanent. By transcendent we mean that God is exalted above and is distinct from the universe. God is the source of all the immense power of the universe. There is no law, power, or fate that transcends Him since He alone is the absolute sovereign. By immanent we mean God is very much involved with our lives and our being. He pervades, sustains, and controls the universe. In His infinite and divine nature He is even concerned with our personal lives and needs no matter how small (e.g. Elisha and the ax head). This means that God did not simply create the universe and then withdraw, but He is personally involved with all of creation in a most intimate way.

God is above the creation and never bound by its laws which He Himself established. At the same time, He is personally involved with all our ways. These miracles both demonstrate and declare God’s transcendence and His immanence.

As we study this passage, we want to be alert to the fact there is much to be seen in the personal working of God in the lives of these men to change and use them in His purposes. There are lessons to be learned which are not so obvious as in the parting of the waters of the Jordan. They are, nevertheless, still the mighty providential works of an intimate, personal and immanent God working in the normal events of life just as He is also doing today in our lives.

The Test of Elisha’s Commitment

Verse 1 calls our attention to the fact that the events of this chapter all occurred shortly before the translation of Elijah, who was one of the key voices for the Word of God. The Lord wanted a replacement for Elijah and Elisha was to become that person. He would take over the ministry of Elijah, but this would mean a great deal of responsibility for this young prophet. Would he be equal to the challenge? Would he have what was needed?

The power that Elisha would need was not a problem. His power would come from God, but he would also need spiritual character to face the trials and pressures in these decadent times. He would need courage, endurance, loyalty, and biblical longings and priorities. I believe the story and events that follow in verses 2-6 were designed to test these character qualities in Elisha and demonstrate his preparedness for the task before him.

After months of training and following Elijah, would Elisha be willing to continue? Would he be as good in the mile as he was in the hundred-yard dash? Was he determined to follow through and stay with Elijah to the very end that he might take on the tremendous responsibility that would follow Elijah’s departure? Or could he be persuaded to throw in the towel?

Please note that three times in verses 2, 4 and 6 Elijah asks Elisha to stay where they were while he journeyed on as commanded by the Lord: first from Gilgal to Bethel, then from Bethel to Jericho, and finally from Jericho to Jordan. At both Bethel and Jericho there were schools for the training of prophets, virtual seminaries for training young men to teach the Word and use their gifts for the Lord. Elijah was evidently the head of these schools and God was undoubtedly sending him to bid them farewell and to encourage them in their work before he was taken (cf. 2 Pet. 1:12f).

Our text does not tell us why Elijah requested Elisha to stay behind. Some believe it was because of humility. Perhaps he did not want anyone to see the glorious thing that was about to happen to him, but God wanted a witness. I also believe he was testing Elisha. Perhaps the Lord was using Elijah’s humility and reluctance to have anyone see him taken to test the depth of Elisha’s commitment.

God often uses the personalities and lives of others to work in our own lives in various ways. We need to recognize this and respond in faith to what He is doing. Is there someone whose life motivates or encourages you? Or perhaps the opposite exists. Is there someone who irritates you, tries your patience, or who challenges your viewpoints or opinions? Proverbs teaches, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17).

Each time, Elisha refused to stay behind. He even used a double oath to show his “bulldog tenacity” to stay with his teacher to the very last. He said, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” Please note that Elijah consents each time. He was not dead set against allowing Elisha to follow and this would suggest this was a test to prove the metal of Elisha. What does this teach us about Elisha and about the kind of character God wants in leaders and all believers since we are all leaders to some degree?

(1) It demonstrates a teachable spirit, a desire to learn and know more about the Lord and ministry. Certainly by this time, as Elijah’s servant and student, Elisha knew a great deal. He also knew he had really only begun. Isn’t that the case with all of us? No one has a corner on knowing God. Elisha was a man eager to learn and experience more of knowing the Lord.

(2) He was loyal, loving and committed to ministry. Elijah could certainly use his help and companionship over these journeys. This demonstrated Elisha’s commitment to others as a servant, the most fundamental requirement of leadership.

Are you an elder? God has put you there to serve, not just sit on a board and make a few decisions once in a while in an occasional elders’ meeting. Are you a spouse, a parent, a Sunday School teacher, a neighbor? God has called you and me to serve and minister to others. This means a willingness to go the extra mile.

This shows us Elisha really cared for his teacher. How we need loyal Christians who are not just looking out for themselves and what they can get out of a church or their leaders. We need servants who are genuinely concerned for others and determined to find ways to serve. By contrast, we are too often quick to criticize and cut others down when we ought to be looking for ways to help.

(3) He was devoted to God’s calling. This means God’s priorities and goals directed and controlled his life. The Lord had gifted him with the gift of a prophet. He was called to the work of a prophet. He was not ruled by other desires that could turn him off course and make him unavailable to God and others. In New Testament terms, he was a Spirit-controlled man. His attitude was like what the Apostle Paul expressed in Philippians 3:12, “Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.”

As a prophet, he undoubtedly knew that Elijah would be taken. Elisha somehow sensed that being there at that time was vital to his calling and the fulfillment of the work God had called him to do. He was determined, by God’s grace, that nothing was going to keep him from being the person and the man God wanted.

Lesson for Elisha in Crossing the Jordan

With verse 7 we have the third mention of the sons of the prophets (the school of the prophets). Evidently the prophets also knew Elijah was about to be taken and they too were interested in what was about to take place. Elisha had been Elijah’s personal attendant and it was perhaps assumed that he would become the new leader of the prophets. Yet the prophets were not even sure Elijah’s departure would be permanent (cf. 2:16f).

Still, there was the need to authenticate Elisha’s ministry to show he was qualified to succeed Elijah. So we find the students from the school of the prophets, at least part of them, standing at a distance observing what was going on. There was undoubtedly an air of excitement and expectation. Note that at Bethel and at Jericho Elisha was asked, “Do you know that the Lord will take away your master from over you today?” We aren’t told why this question was asked, but perhaps part of the reason was to see what Elisha was going to do? Would he stay by his master to the end?

God calls all believers and especially leaders to be models of Christlikeness. Our profession needs to be backed up with authentic Christian living, not to give us assurance of salvation but to demonstrate the life-changing power of the gospel and to give people confidence in the message of Jesus Christ.

This also reminds us that people are watching to see evidence of the blessing of God’s work in our lives. People want to see the authenticity of changed lives, lives of integrity, love, courage, commitment, faithfulness, and ministry. Only God can see our hearts. People must be able to see our works, the fruit of the Spirit, if it is going to have an impact on believers and non-believers alike (1 Tim. 4:12; James 2:14; Heb. 13:7).

So, Elijah and Elisha were standing by the Jordan as the prophets were looking on. Why the Jordan? Because in Scripture, the Jordan has a certain symbolic meaning. It represents barriers to the plan of God. It speaks of that which stands in the way of entering into God’s blessing, service, and will. On the other hand, crossing the Jordan represents moving out under the power of God. It speaks of faith in God’s power that removes the barriers and allows us to move on to fulfill God’s call and work (1 Thess. 2:18; 3:10-11; 2 Thess. 3:1-2). What follows becomes an object lesson and an encouragement to Elisha. Later it would become a means of authenticating his ministry to the other prophets and to people in Israel.

Are there any Jordan rivers in our lives right now that need to be removed by faith and prayer so we can move on for the Lord. Such barriers would include things like wrong values and goals, laziness, preoccupation with the wrong things, or any form of some life-dominating pattern? Their removal becomes an opportunity for God to display His power, an encouragement to you and me, and a testimony to others.

Note the process: Elijah ministers to Elisha which in turn prepares him for ministry to others, and so on and so on. We see in this the principle and need for biblical multiplication (cf. Matt. 28:19, 20 and 2 Tim. 2:1-2).

Are we involved sufficiently in this process? Do we see ourselves first as a disciple, a learner, one teachable and willing to learn from others like Elisha? And do we see ourselves as disciplers, available and involved in helping others to grow? Or do we see ourselves simply as one called to be ministered to? In other words, do we believe in a professional clergy paid to minister to us and do the work of ministry while we sit in the bleachers as spectators.

In verse 8, Elijah took his mantle, folded it together and struck the waters of the Jordan. The waters divided and the two prophets crossed over on dry ground, just as at the Red Sea and at the Jordan when Joshua led the people into the Land. This was an overt act by Elijah, but it was a visible display of an inward and invisible faith in the power of God.

It was also a lesson for Elisha. As God had parted the waters of the Jordan, so He would enable Elisha to both be and do all that was needed for his work and life as Elijah’s successor. Elisha was filling a large pair of shoes and he needed confidence in the Lord. I am sure this event stood as a reminder and a constant source of strength and faith not only to Elisha, but to all those who witnessed it.

The same God who worked for Elijah and Elisha is ever present today and available to our needs, working intimately and personally. No matter what our problem or needs are, God cares and will work to enable us to do what He has called us to do (1 Pet. 5:7; Phil. 4:13, 19). We must remind ourselves, however, that God does not work to meet needs indiscriminately or for selfish purposes. He cares and loves us and He meets needs because of that. But He must also often engineer failure and pain in order to conform us to His Son and to carry out His sovereign plan and purposes for our lives (Rom. 8:28-29; James 1:2f).

In this instance, God worked miraculously to remove an obstacle in order to teach, comfort, encourage, demonstrate His power, motivate, and bear testimony to a life. Therefore, a question we must regularly ask ourselves is, what is God doing in my life through this problem, circumstance, person, or condition? Remember, God is immanent! Too often we accept things as merely the product of natural forces or as accidental happenings and fail to see that it is God who has put the bend in the road (Eccl. 7:13-14).


We cannot all be an Elijah or an Elisha. As mentioned earlier, God does not generally work through miraculous events--not even in Old Testament or New Testament times. Today we have the completed canon of Scripture, the Holy Bible which is an even greater miracle. It is God’s final revelation that records the mighty historical acts of God from creation through the early church and anticipates His miraculous acts in the last days.

While God is generally not working directly by such miracles like we will see Him performing in the following chapters and events in the life of Elisha. Nevertheless, He is still working providentially in a multitude of ways--through His Word, through people, through circumstances of trials and blessings, and through His precious Spirit.

Here are some questions we should ask ourselves:

(1) Am I like Elijah, seeking to be a blessing to others and used of God throughout my life right up to the end? Or have I placed myself on the shelf with a horde of excuses?

(2) Am I like Elisha, truly committed to the Lord’s calling no matter what that calling may be according to my gifts and the needs in my family, in my church, in my community?

(3) Am I loyal and committed under all circumstances like Elisha--as a servant, as a disciple, as one behind the scenes learning to trust, serve and obey? Am I also willing, if gifted for it, to step out to be a leader, to step out into the thick of battle or into the spotlight, and to take on responsibilities?

(4) Am I willing to accept God’s assignment whether it means latrine duty or duty in the front office? Whatever the assignment, Elisha was available--and not just on his terms.

This is not a direct quote, but I think it was Howard Hendrix who said: “the acid test is a person’s response to the uninspired moments of the more behind-the-scenes ministries, the ministries which are less glorious, more trivial, and sometimes the more thankless jobs, the situations which may not necessarily turn you on, but which are still needed.”

This scene, along with what has preceded it, reminds me of Luke 16:10-13:

He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. If therefore you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous mammon, who will entrust the true riches to you? And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Ultimately, mammon is any false god that gains the allegiance that only the true God deserves. It is any false god we depend on for our security, satisfaction, and significance that only the true God can provide.

Related Topics: Character Study

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