“And it came to pass, when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal…”2 Kings 2:1
One of the most intriguing stories of the Old Testament is the narrative of the translation of Elijah into heaven in the ninth century BC. Elijah was one of the great prophets of Israel. For almost 20 years he ministered beginning in the reign of King Ahab (876-854 BC) the seventh king of Israel, and ending in the reign of Joram, the ninth king of the land (853-841 BC). The years passed quickly and the time came for Elijah to leave. He was going to a far away place. He was going to heaven, not by death but by translation. Along with Enoch who walked with God prior to the Flood, Elijah was going to be taken directly into the presence of the Lord by a whirlwind. He was going to heaven because his work on earth was done. Elijah was not going to heaven because he was a great prophet or because he merited such a reward for his labors. He was going because of his faith. In like manner, Billy Graham has said,
“I’m not going to heaven because I’ve preached to great crowds of people. I’m going to heaven because Christ died on that cross. None of us are going to heaven because we’re good. And we’re not going to heaven because we’ve worked. We’re not going to heaven because we pray and accept Christ. We’re going to heaven because of what he did on the cross. All I have to do is receive him. And it’s so easy to receive Christ that millions stumble over its sheer simplicity”.
Elijah did not stumble. Elijah did not stagger at the promises of God. And so, before the day ended he would walk with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “His feet would tread the streets of gold. His eyes would see the beauty of the universe. His ears would hear the angels sing. His knees would bow in the presence of the Almighty. Before the day ended a chariot of fire with flaming horses of fire would arrive to take him to his heavenly home. Elijah would step on to the royal carriage and travel from time into eternity”.
Such an event seems almost too fantastic to comprehend, but all of life is a great mystery. There are many things that challenge the credulity of the heart. It was not too long ago that people scoffed at the idea of man walking on the moon, or walking in space. It was but yesterday that people smiled at the thought of traveling faster than the speed of sound. But many a modern person has stepped onto a fiery rocket to ride beyond earth and heaven into the vastness of the universe.
The translation of Enoch and Elijah into heaven that they should not see death reminds the Church that there is coming a whole generation that will not die. There is a Terminal Generation that will be changed instantly. And all the Laws of Nature as we know them, will be transformed. Behold I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. (1 Cor. 15:51,52)
When the details are considered as to how Elijah could be transported from this sphere of existence into the next, consideration should also be given to the spiritual lessons from the narrative. As the story unfolds, Elijah, Elisha, and the Sons of the Prophets are brought into view. (2 Kings 2:1-2)
The Sons of the Prophets refers to a large group of religious men who had arisen during the dark days of the national apostasy to minister to the people. The Sons of the Prophets were not Levites, nor were they the sons of Aaron. They could not have taken part in the Temple service at Jerusalem, and yet the people who discerned their spirituality and recognized their devotion to the Lord, honored them. The Sons of the Prophets were men who were set aside by society to be trained and employed in the exercise of religion and devotion.
Such men were needed, because religious chaos and confusion abounded as the Kingdom of Israel collapsed. There was political unrest. Following the death of Solomon (d. 931 BC) civil war erupted among Twelve Tribes. Ten tribes united to form the Northern Kingdom of Israel, while two tribes united to form the southern kingdom of Judah. To solidify his control over the people, the new king of Israel, Jeroboam (937-915 BC), instituted the worship of Baal, so no one would have to go to Jerusalem where the priesthood was intact.
The practical problem for Jeroboam was that many people in Palestine did not want to worship Baal, and regretted being cut off from the ceremonies of the Temple. To fill the spiritual void, the Lord allowed the Sons of the Prophets to emerge. They gave meaning and dignity to the appointed Feast Days with prayers and explanation.
As spiritually sensitive men, the Sons of the Prophets knew that God was going to take Elijah home. How they knew is unclear, but they knew. They told Elisha of it both at Bethel (2 Kings 2:3) and at Jericho. (2 Kings 2:2:5) Knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head today? Elisha knew, but he did not want to hear it said. He did not want to talk about it—nor did he want to hold Elijah back. Elijah was going where he was meant to be and he should not settle for anything less. No one should, though many do.
Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, told a story about a goose who was wounded and who landed in a barnyard with some chickens. He played with the chickens, and ate with the chickens. After a while that goose thought he was a chicken. One day a flock of geese came over, migrating to their home. They gave a honk up there in the sky, and he heard it.
Kierkegaard said, “Something stirred within the breast of this goose. Something called him to the skies. He began to flap the wings he hadn’t used, and he rose a few feet into the air. Then he stopped, and he settled back again into the mud of the barnyard. He heard the cry, but he settled for less.”
Elisha did not want his master to settle for anything less. Elijah had heard the call to another sphere of service and he must go, as the prophets pointed out.
In all of this, the Sons of the Prophets were not being mean with their comments. They were simply stating the obvious and the inevitable. Elijah was going to leave. His work in Palestine was complete. Now, he was to go on the journey of a lifetime as he moved from Earth to Heaven in a most unusual way.
Obviously, Elisha did not want Elijah to leave. For ten years they had been together. For ten years they had been inseparable on a daily basis. Now there was to be a time of great separation, but there would still be the fragrance of special memories. In these final hours together, Elisha remembered many things. Perhaps he remembered how he had first met Elijah. It had been a dramatic encounter, for it had come unexpectedly. (1 Kings 19:19-21)
Elisha (lit. God is Savior) had been working on the family farm owned by his father Shaphat (lit. judge). He was in Abel-meholah (lit. meadow of the dance) N of the Jordan Valley. Elisha was not alone in the field that day. Eleven other men were ploughing with eleven other oxen. Elisha was the twelfth man with the twelfth oxen, which reveals that he was not lazy. Despite the wealth of his father to hire many servants, Elisha was also engaged in hard labor and honest toil.
While he worked, Elisha saw in amazement the most famous religious leader in Palestine walking through the Meadow of the Dance in Issachar. He was all the more astonished when Elijah walked right up to him and stopped. Then, without saying a word, Elijah took off his mantle and cast it upon the shoulders of Elisha. It was a majestic gesture full of great meaning, for Elijah was casting the insignia of the prophetic office upon Elisha.
In this way Elisha was called to serve the Lord as a prophet. But what would he do with the call? Would he reject the Divine summons? Some do. Would he receive it, and obey the will of the Lord? It was a defining moment for receiving the mantle to preach was no small matter. The issue was clearly drawn. To enter upon the prophetic office, to identify himself with Elijah, meant a drastic change in his manner of life. It meant the giving up of a lucrative worldly position, the leaving of the farm, for the servant and soldier of Jesus Christ must not entangle himself with the affairs of this life. (2 Tim. 2:4)…It meant breaking away from home and natural ties. (A.W.Pink)
Elisha made his decision. He picked up the prophetic mantle and put in on willingly. All he asked was that he be allowed to tell his parents goodbye. Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee. (1 Kings 19:20a) With these words Elisha crossed the line into the service of the Lord and took his place as a servant. He was now under the spiritual authority of another and would do nothing without permission. Such humility is pleasing to the Lord.
Regarding his request, Elijah responded with blunt words of wisdom. And he [Elijah] said unto him [Elisha], Go back again: for what have I done to thee? What Elijah was telling Elisha was to count the cost. It was no light thing for him to engage in the work of the ministry. There was much danger ahead. Count the cost. Elijah did not seek to influence Elisha for a simple reason. He knew that if God had called Elisha, then He would complete the work of separation and Elisha would come. (cp. Jer. 20:9)
There is much practicality here. Many a young person has been encouraged to go into the ministry by well-meaning parents or friends. And it has been a mistake. Only the Holy Spirit can set men apart for the ministry. (Acts 13:2) Jeremiah spoke of those who proclaimed to be prophets only to hear the Lord say, I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. (Jer. 23:21) To intrude into the sacred office uninvited brings down heavens curse. (2 Sam. 6:6-7)
By accepting the call from God, Elisha gave up worldly position and physical comforts and became a target of hatred and hostility as he identified himself with Elijah. Sometimes the enemies he makes can measure a person, and now the enemies of Elijah, became the adversaries of Elisha. In particular, Queen Jezebel and her priests wanted to destroy Elijah and now they would want to destroy Elisha—and they would have if the Lord had not protected His own.
To prove his personal sincerity in entering into the ministry, the Bible says that Elisha returned back from him [Elijah] and took a yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh. (1 Kings 19:21) Symbolically this action spoke of two things: the joy of being called by God to service, and a total renunciation of his former way of life. Those oxen and tools of industry, wherein his former labors had been bestowed, were now gladly devoted to the celebration of the high honor of being called to engage in the service of God Himself. (A.W. Pink)
Elisha separated himself for service, and by so doing followed in the footsteps of others before him, such as Moses. (Heb. 11:24-26) By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward. If that sounds noble, it is. If it sounds romantic, it is not. There is nothing easy about the work of the ministry, if the Word of God is faithfully communicated. Nevertheless, Elisha arose and went after Elijah.
The next ten years passed far too quickly, and the end seemed to come suddenly. The day of separation was a day of mixed emotions, for it meant many things to different people. To Elijah it meant he was going to heaven. To Elisha it meant a time of testing. On the day that Elijah left, Elisha was tested in several areas.
There was the testing of his affections. Elisha was not a stoic. He was man with tremendous passions. He loved Elijah, with all of his heart to the point that when the final moment of departure came he cried out, “My father! My father! The chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof.” But as Elijah moved swiftly into the skies above Elisha went on to whisper, “Nevertheless, Father, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Elisha loved Elijah, but he loved God more, and submitted to the will of the Lord.
There was the testing of his friendship sincerity. Ten years earlier Elisha had promised to follow Elijah wherever he went, and he did. Elisha was not like Demas, of whom Paul had to write, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica.” (2 Tim. 4:10) Where Elijah journeyed, Elisha followed to the end. He honored his commitment.
There was the testing of his patience. The Sons of the Prophets were saying some things that Elisha did not want to hear. Finally, he had to simply tell them, “Hold ye your peace.” (2 Kings 2:3) Later, he would come again and minister to these men, but for now he needed for them to be quiet, and so spoke to them in a gentle but firm manner.
There was the testing of his faith. Though encouraged to turn back, Elisha was willing to walk once more with Elijah through the various stages of the Christian life in summary form, reflected in the various geographical locations that were visited: Gilgal, Bethel, Jericho, and the crossing of the Jordan.
Historically, Gilgal was the first stopping place of Israel after they entered Canaan. It was here that the children of Israel were required to wait before they set out on the conquest of Palestine. (Josh. 5:9) While they waited, all the males who had been born in the wilderness received the sign of the covenant. The symbolic ritual of circumcision of the flesh spoke of the circumcision of the heart (Rom. 2:29) which is the distinguishing mark of God’s spiritual children. Gigal is the place where the Christian life begins, as the flesh is put away, and a commitment is made to Christ.
From Gilgal the journey was made to Bethel, which means house of God. It was here that Jacob had spent his first night as he fled from the wrath of his brother. Here he had been favored with that vision of the ladder whose top reached unto heaven and beheld the angels of God ascending and descending on it. Here it was Jehovah had revealed Himself, and given him precious promises. When he awakened, Jacob said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place…this is none other but the house of God and this is the gate of heaven.’ (Gen. 28) Every Christian must know something about going to the house of God. Every Christian must enjoy the communion of Christ in order to enjoy spiritual victories represented by the next geographical place, Jericho. Symbolically, Jericho represents the sinful fortresses of this world that must be conquered. They must be torn down. And faith is the victory that overcomes the world.
After a lifetime of separating ourselves from sin, after sweet fellowship with the Lord in the house of God, after finding victory over our greatest enemies, it will be time to cross the Jordan. But, like Elijah, we will not have to cross Jordan alone. Our Christian friends and family will be there, and the Lord will send the angels to meet us as He waits to welcome us home. Elisha, turn back. But Elisha said to Elijah, By faith, I will walk on with you. I will watch you go on the journey of a lifetime for someday I will go too.
A few years ago, one of America’s most gifted humorous writers went away. Her family and friends, and millions of fans, thought she was too young to go away but the Lord was calling her. Erma Bombeck needed an organ transplant, and even though she could have been moved to the head of the waiting list, due to her prominence and wealth, like Mickey Mantle, she refused to do such a thing, and subsequently died from organ failure. Before she died, Erma wrote an article she titled, If I Had My Life to Live Over.
If I Had My Life to Live Over….
“I would have talked less and listened more.
I would have invited friends over to dinner, even if the carpet was stained, or the sofa faded.
I would have eaten the popcorn in the ‘good’ living room, and worried much less about the dirt when someone wanted to light a fire in the fireplace.
I would have taken the time to listen to my grandfather ramble about his youth.
I would never have insisted the car windows be rolled up on a summer day because my hair had just been teased and sprayed.
I would have burned the pink candle sculpted like a rose before it melted in storage.
I would have sat on the lawn with my children, and not worried about grass stains.
I would have cried and laughed less while watching television-and more while watching life.
I would have shared more of the responsibility carried by my husband.
I would have gone to bed when I was sick instead of pretending the earth would go into a holding pattern if I weren’t there for the day.
I would never have bought anything just because it was practical, wouldn’t show soil, or was guaranteed to last a lifetime.
Instead of wishing away nine months of pregnancy, I’d have cherished every moment and realized that the wonderment growing inside me was the only chance in life to assist God in a miracle.
When my kids kissed me impetuously, I would never have said, “Later. Now go get washed up for dinner.”
There would have been more “I love you’s”… more “I’m sorry’s”…
But mostly, given another shot at life, I would seize every minute…look at it and really see it …live it…and never give it back.
Stop sweating the small stuff. Don’t worry about who doesn’t like you, who has more, or who’s doing what. Instead, let’s cherish the relationships we have with those who do love us. Let’s think about what God HAS blessed us with.
And what we are doing each day to promote ourselves mentally, physically, emotionally, as well as spiritually.
Life is too short to let it pass you by”. The final journey of a lifetime is just across the Jordan.