17 September 2011

"When thay 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.'" (v. 9)


Having established Elijah as 'a prophet like Moses' (that is, a true prophet) in the narratives about him in the books of 1 and 2 Kings, the writers turn in this passage to the end of his earthly ministry, his bodily ascension into heaven and the passing of his prophetic power to his disciple Elisha.

Elijah goes with Elisha to Bethel, named 'heaven's gate' by Jacob after his dream (Genesis 28:18-19), and long a place of worship associated with the ark of the covenant (Judges 20:18-28). Elijah commands Elisha to stay there, with the company of prophets in the place, but Elisha refuses. They continue to Jericho, associated with the beginning of the invasion of the promised land by Joshua (Joshua 3:14-17). From there, again leaving the company of prophets behind, they journey the short distance to the River Jordan, the place where the Israelites crossed over with the ark from the wilderness (Joshua 4:7-17). All of these places were associated with God's presence and prophetic activity, and help to link Elijah with the great prophet Moses.

Elijah rolls up his mantel (verse 8), the symbol of his prophetic power, and strikes the water. In an action that recalls Moses' parting of the sea (Exodus 14), the water separates, enabling them to cross without getting wet. Once on the other side, the prophet's last word is to ask Elisha what he can do for him, and Elisha requests "a double share" of Elijah's prophetic spirit, the share that would appropriately be given to the firstborn son and heir. Elijah agrees that if Elisha sees his departure, it will be a sign that God has given him what he asked. Elisha then has a vision of Elijah in a chariot of fire being drawn up in a whirlwind, a natural phenomenon associated with the presence of God, as was fire. Sure of God's gift to him, Elisha picks Elijah's mantel up and strikes the river, which miraculously parts once again, allowing him to cross. The company of prophets who have followed him there recognise Elisha as Elijah's true successor, with the same power and authority.

To Ponder

In their journey, Elijah and Elisha travel to various places which may symbolise stations in the life journey of God's people, crossing the River Jordan, taking possession of the promised land, following the God in the ark, and finally rising to the heavenly realms. How might these places symbolise your Christian journey?

Elisha's vision of Elijah ascending to heaven made him sure that God had given him the gifts he had asked for, so he could relax and receive God's love, power and authority. How might Elisha serve as a role model for your journey with God?

Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Susan Graham

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