Passing on the Mantle

2 Kings 2

March 15

Today’s reading starts out, “When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind…” And to think, some people say reading the Bible is too boring.  Sorry, I can’t agree.

Elijah and Elisha did a lot of walking that day.  They started at Gilgal, walked to Bethel, then to Jericho, then to the Jordan River.  Each time they moved on, Elijah asked Elisha to stay behind, but Elisha would not be separated.  When he promised to follow Elijah, in 1 Kings 19:20, he meant to follow him to the end, and he was going to.  Elisha was dedicated.

They walked through areas of spiritual significance.  It had been at Gilgal that the Israelites first camped when they had entered the promised land, and it was there they were circumcised, and officially became “sons of the covenant” (Joshua 4:2-9).  Bethel had been the place Jacob had a dream with a stairway to heaven, with angels going up and down; and where God had promised to be with him wherever he went (Genesis 28:11-19).  Jericho had been the site of Joshua’s amazing victory as a result of just obeying God by walking around the city – no matter how ridiculous that seemed (Joshua 5-6).  And the Jordan River was where the river parted before Joshua and the Isrealites on their way into the promised land.  Elijah and Elisha walked down memory lane together.

In their travels, they visited two schools of the prophets (Bible Colleges), where the students told Elisha that Elijah was going to be taken away from him that day.  It seemed like everybody knew what was about to happen, and it broke Elisha’s heart.  

When they got to the Jordan River, Elijah hit the water with his cloak, the water divided, and they walked across on dry land.  It was then that Elijah asked Elisha if there was a parting gift Elijah could leave to Elisha.  Elisha replied, “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit.”  Interesting.  The thing Elisha wanted most in this world was to be closer to God than even Elijah had been.  Elisha had his priorities right.

Elijah told Elisha that if he saw Elijah being taken away, he would receive his wish.

2 Kings 2:11-12 then says, “As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.  Elisha saw this and cried out …” 

Now Elisha couldn’t rely on Elijah’s help anymore.  He was alone…  or was he?  God was still on His throne.

Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak.  I think this is significant in that he was picking up the mantle of Elijah’s ministry.  But now Elisha was stranded on the East side of the Jordan River.  How was he going to get across?  You guessed it. Elisha struck the river with Elijah’s cloak, the water separated, and he walked across on dry ground.  God was with Elisha!  And the 50 Bible College students that were watching knew that Elisha was now the new head prophet.

Elijah then went on to Jericho, where he healed the water and land around Jericho (which Joshua had cursed in Joshua 6:26).  

The final miracle in this chapter is a little gruesome.  Elisha went to Bethel, where a bunch of punks mocked Elisha, saying, “Go on up, you baldhead!” repeatedly.  Presumably, they were saying that Elijah had been caught up to heaven and they were rid of him, now they wanted to get rid of Elisha’s godly influence (and condemnation) too.  Elisha called a curse down on them, and two bears came out of the woods and mauled 42 of them.  We’re not told that they were killed, so I assume they were scarred and maybe disfigured for the rest of their lives as a living testimony to what may happen when someone rebels against God.

After that, Elisha went to Mount Carmel, where Elijah had initiated the “god contest” that we talked about in yesterday’s devotion.  Then, Elisha started his own ministry.

So how can we apply stories from this chapter to our own lives today?

Elisha was committed to spending as much time as possible with Elijah – to learn as much as possible from him – as long as he had the opportunity.  I think it is important for less mature Christians to learn as much as they can from more mature Christians, while they have the chance.  I also think more mature Christians need to seek out those they can mentor in the faith (2 Timothy 2:2).  And while we’re on the topic, I also have to wonder if Elijah intentionally visited those Bible Colleges to encourage those students one last time before he was taken away.  What are you doing to learn from those more mature and to share with those less mature?

Elisha was completely dedicated and followed Elijah to the end.  Are you as dedicated to following God to the end?

Elisha’s greatest desire was to be even more godly than Elijah had been.  And it was granted.  (By my count, God performed 8 miracles at Elijah’s request, and 16 at Elisha’s request.)  What is your greatest desire?

Elisha picked up the mantle when it was his turn to lead.  And he then lived by faith.  How about you?

And how often do you grumble against your preacher?  Remember those 42 mauled hoodlums. 

Elisha revisited places where he had treasured memories of Elijah, then struck out on his own to start his own ministry.  We can’t live in the past either (although I personally would prefer to).  We need to be looking forward to what God still has for us to do, and we need to take action.  How are you doing on that front?

Finally, while we can’t expect to be caught up to heaven in a whirlwind like Elijah was, we do have this promise in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, “For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.  After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…”  But this only applies to the righteous.  When Christ returns, will you rise to meet the Lord in the air?  I hope to. I hope you do, too.

-Steve Mattison

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. What are you doing to learn from those more mature in the Christian faith and to share with those less mature? Why is each important?
  2. Elisha was completely dedicated and followed Elijah to the end.  Are you as dedicated to following God to the end?
  3. What is your greatest desire? What else gets in the way? How can you be more devoted to your greatest desire?
  4. Elisha picked up the mantle when it was his turn to lead.  And he then lived by faith.  How about you? What do you think God still wants you to do for Him?
  5. Do you grumble against or put-down the leaders God has put in place?

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