16 June 2010

2 Kings 2:1-14

"Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit." (v.9)


Succession planning is always difficult. For Elijah, it has been taking place since 1 Kings 19 when Yahweh (another name for God) informed him that Elisha will be his successor. But here he seems reluctant to pass on the baton and seeks to avoid the moment.

Their hastily arranged expedition is a wild goose chase of crisscrossing journeys, in which Elisha is regularly asked if he is aware that his mentor will depart. At each stage it appears that Elijah seeks to dispose of his junior's presence. Elisha repeats his devotion and commitment to Elijah - "As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you". This is reminiscent of Ruth to Naomi (Ruth 1:15-17), and commitment is rooted in the call of God as well as respect. Elijah is described as Elisha's 'father' - a term of the greatest respect.

"Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" shouts Elisha when Elijah ascends to heaven in the whirlwind. This seems an incredulous concept to contemporary readers. However, in this context, Baal (a local god) was thought to be the cloud-riding deity. The lesson here for Israel is that it is Yahweh who is the power in the storm and the rider of the chariot.

This is a threshold experience between two prophets but also between the reigns of the kings Ahaziah and Jehoram. The life of Elijah reminds us that the tussle with evil regimes is at personal cost and sometimes breakdown. But Elijah's resilience illustrates how God supports and enables those who minister in God's name. Above all, God will establish justice and peace.

This passage is often read on the Sunday before Lent, when the Gospel reading is the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8). Both the story of Elijah's ascension and Jesus' transfiguration emphasise the mystery of God, the otherness of God. Today's passage suggests that we can glimpse, occasionally, with the eyes of faith, the reality and mystery of a transcendent god.

The request of Elisha in verse 9 is both telling and full of pathos. Elisha cannot bear to be parted from his mentor and asks for a double portion of his spirit. The garment (called an ephod) - a splendid outer garment probably colourful with precious metals woven in - becomes the sign of the handover. Elisha can now do what Elijah had done - and he must wear the ephod.

To Ponder

If you could have a double portion of the spirit of someone you admire what and who would that be?

What is it that you cannot do without?


Resilience in the face of opposition is wearing. How do you think Elijah coped? How might you cope in such situations?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Howard Mellor

Howard Mellor is a Methodist presbyter. Together with his wife Rosie they are currently serving as Mission Partners in Hong Kong.