Scriptures

2 Kings 2

Introduction

As Elijah was coming to the end of his ministry, God directed him to anoint a younger man named Elisha to take his place. Elisha was the son of Shaphat and lived in Abel Meholah, 1 Kings 19:16.

In a matter of years Elisha became God’s spokesman to the northern kingdom of Israel and his ministry would be one of signs, miracles, proclamations and warnings. Over a period of time he would become known as the prophet of peace and healing.

Elijah was commissioned to deliver fearless messages of condemnation and judgment to the king and to the people, warning them to turn from sin and Elisha’s ministry was to build on the work that Elijah had begun by teaching the people God’s ways.

Elisha’s Ministry Of Miracles

Elijah’s ministry began by shutting up the heavens for three and a half years, whereas Elisha’s ministry began by healing a spring of water near Jericho, 2 Kings 2:19-22. This spring of water was unfit to use and so, Elisha asked to have some salt in a new bowl brought to him, he threw the salt into the spring and the water was suddenly healed, 2 Kings 2:21.

His second recorded miracle granted an impoverished family of faith a financial blessing. A man dies and his wife becomes a widow. She was very poor and owned just one item of value, a jar of olive oil. She had two sons to care for, and she asked Elisha to help her as she feared her sons would be taken away to pay a debt.

Elisha instructed her to go to all her neighbours and borrow as many empty jars as she could. The one jar of oil was multiplied miraculously, and she was able to sell enough of the valuable oil to pay off her debt and live off the rest, 2 Kings 4:1-7.

Two more miracles were performed for a married couple living in the town of Shunem. Elisha the prophet often stayed at the home of this childless couple, as his ministry would take him from town to town. As a gesture of appreciation for their hospitality he prophesied that they would have a son who would bring them great joy.

Later, the little boy suffered an illness while out in the field, and his mother went searching until she found Elisha. He went back to her house to see what could be done. The boy had died but Elisha prayed, and God raised the boy from the dead, 2 Kings 4:8-22 / 2 Kings 4:23-37.

Elijah Taken Up To Heaven

‘When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here; the LORD has sent me to Bethel.’ But Elisha said, ‘As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.’ So they went down to Bethel. The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, ‘Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?’ ‘Yes, I know,’ Elisha replied, ‘so be quiet.’ Then Elijah said to him, ‘Stay here, Elisha; the LORD has sent me to Jericho.’ And he replied, ‘As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.’ So they went to Jericho. The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, ‘Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?’ ‘Yes, I know,’ he replied, ‘so be quiet.’ Then Elijah said to him, ‘Stay here; the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.’ And he replied, ‘As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.’ So the two of them walked on. Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground. When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?’ ‘Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,’ Elisha replied. ‘You have asked a difficult thing,’ Elijah said, ‘yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.’ 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, ‘My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!’ And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.’ 2 Kings 2:1-12

We were finished introduced to Elisha back in 1 Kings 19:19-21, when Elijah was preparing him to take over as God’s prophet. Now was the time when Elisha was to take over as God’s main prophet for His people. Gilgal was about fifteen miles north of Lydda, in the country of Ephraim, not far from Bethel. It was known as the seat of false worship, Amos 4:4 / Hosea 4:15.

The company of prophets at Bethel weren’t false prophets but true prophets of God who were under Elijah’s leadership, 1 Samuel 10:9-13. There’s a strong possibility that this was a school for prophets which begun with Samuel and continued after his death, 1 Kings 18:4 / 1 Kings 20:35 / Isaiah 8:16.

They appear to travel in groups and their main homes may have been cities like Bethel, Gilgal and Jericho. This is the first mention of a prophetic community in Jericho. Jericho hadn’t long been rebuilt by Hiel, 1 Kings 16:34, in disobedience to Joshua’s words, Joshua 6:26.

It’s here we read that they received a revelation from God that Elisha was to take the place of Elijah. Elisha asks Elijah for a ‘double portion of his spirit’, I don’t we’re to believe that Elisha twice as much miraculous powers as Elijah had, only God could grant such a thing.

He was simply asking Elijah for the ‘double portion’ as someone would receive as the firstborn son, Deuteronomy 21:15-17. Elisha obviously saw himself as the firstborn son of Elijah, hence why he asks for the firstborn privileges. Elisha was asking to be recognised as the ‘heir’ of Elijah in relation to the other prophets.

As they walked on together talking suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated them. Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind to heaven and Elisha saw it and cried, ‘My Father, my Father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen and he saw him no more.’

This basically means that one prophet had done more for Israel than all the earthly kingdoms chariots and horses. Significantly, these same words were uttered upon the occasion of the death of Elisha, 2 Kings 13:14.

Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, Exodus 19:16-25 / Psalm 18:7-15, it appears that God wanted Elisha to witness this miracle, as a way of confirming the start of his ministry.

‘Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. ‘Where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?’ he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over. The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, ‘The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.’ And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. ‘Look,’ they said, ‘we your servants have fifty able men. Let them go and look for your master. Perhaps the Spirit of the LORD has picked him up and set him down on some mountain or in some valley.’ ‘No,’ Elisha replied, ‘do not send them.’ But they persisted until he was too embarrassed to refuse. So he said, ‘Send them.’ And they sent fifty men, who searched for three days but did not find him. When they returned to Elisha, who was staying in Jericho, he said to them, ‘Didn’t I tell you not to go?’ 2 Kings 2:13-18

Elisha had asked for a ‘double portion’ from Elijah and Elijah’s cloak was the sign of the responsibility that was given to Elisha, in doing so, Elisha was ‘anointed’, to take Elijah’s place as God’s prophet. God’s power would now come upon Elisha as it did with Elijah.

Elisha takes Elijah’s cloak and struck the water and asks, ‘where now is the LORD, the God of Elijah?’ He asks this question because he had been given the responsibility of being God’s prophet but he needed the power of God to demonstrate that God was working through him as He did with Elijah.

This was going to be demonstrated when Elisha performed miracles, the people would now know that God was with him and working through him. Here the fifty prophets now knew that the spirit of Elijah was with Elisha. They wanted to go and look for Elijah, simply because no one else had witnessed Elijah being taken up to heaven.

And so, Elisha tells them to go and look for Elijah’s body, by doing this it would remove any doubts about Elisha’s account of what happened to Elijah. Because they wouldn’t find Elijah’s body, this would reinforce the fact this Elijah’s departure was miraculous.

Coffman says the following in his commentary.

‘Elijah had finished his work as God’s prophet, it was intense work of judgment that became symbolic, Malachi 4:5-6, even idealised, John 1:21, and seen again at the end of the Jewish era in the person of John the Baptist, Matthew 3:1-10. After the work of Moses and Elijah, God had nothing whatever fundamentally new to say to his rebellious people, until the coming of that Holy One whom Moses and Elijah would meet upon the mount of transfiguration, Matthew 17:1-8 / Mark 9:2-8 / Luke 9:28-36 / 2 Peter 1:16-18.

Healing Of The Water

‘The people of the city said to Elisha, ‘Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see, but the water is bad and the land is unproductive.’ ‘Bring me a new bowl,’ he said, ‘and put salt in it.’ So they brought it to him. Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt into it, saying, ‘This is what the LORD says: ‘I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.’ And the water has remained pure to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken.’ 2 Kings 2:19-22

The people of the city tells Elisha that the water is bad and as a result the land couldn’t produce any food. Elisha didn’t hesitate to produce a miracle; he asks God to heal the waters and God did so immediately.

The reason God acted quickly here in performing this miracle was simply to establish and reinforce the fact that God was working through Elisha.

Elisha Is Jeered

‘From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ they said. ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the LORD. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. And he went on to Mount Carmel and from there returned to Samaria.’ 2 Kings 2:23-25

Here we read an account which many believe is very disturbing, a story, which on the surface seems a little ‘unjust’ for those involved and for some a little ‘over the top,’ in terms of their punishment. It’s the account where Elisha receives some verbal abuse from some ‘boys’ which results in those very same boys being eaten by bears.

Let’s go ahead and look at some background information before we deal with the text.

Boys!

Elisha travelling from Jericho went up to Bethel which was at this time the centre of idol worship and home to many false prophets. Notice as he is walking along the road, some ‘boys’ came out of the town and jeered at him. The N.I.V uses the word, ‘boys’ but other translations like the E.S.V. and the K.J.V. use the words, ‘little children’.

Often people will ask how could Elisha do such a thing to these ‘little children’? They are only ‘children’, why should they receive such a horrible death? This is a bit much, it’s just children being children!

The phrase ‘little children’ or ‘boys’ is very misleading in our English language, the word used is the Hebrew word, ‘na’ar’ which is a word used to describe any child from the age of infancy to adolescence, 1 Kings 3:7 / Jeremiah 1:6-7.

When we think about this logically, we know that ‘little children’ or ‘very young boys’, wouldn’t be roaming around in a forest on their own, never mind roaming around in a forest in gangs of forty or more. The NET uses the words, ‘young boys’, the A.S.V. uses the words, ‘young lads’, both of which would indicate that they were probably teenagers.

The Insult

Whatever age they were, they were old enough to assume responsibility for their disrespectful behaviour toward a man of God. Remember that Elisha was well known in the area and these young men would have known him or at the very least, heard of him.

By telling Elisha ‘to get out of here’ implies they were saying Elisha didn’t belong amongst them, he wasn’t wanted, and the reason he wasn’t wanted is simply because Elisha was reminding them of the sinful lifestyles they were living.

They wanted to continue in their sin without being reminded about how God felt about their sinfulness. The KJV has the words, ‘go up’ which would indicate they wanted him to leave the earth, just like Elijah did, 2 Kings 2:11.

It’s highly possible that Elisha was around 30 years of age during this time, and most commentators agree that he was around 80 years old when he died, 2 Kings 13:14. Twice these youths shouted, ‘Get out of here, baldy!’ It’s not likely that Elisha was completely bald but possibly starting to go bald, keep in mind that baldness was also the mark of a leper.

Some believe these youths were pronouncing a divine curse upon Elisha, for which baldness was often the outward sign, Isaiah 3:17 / Isaiah 3:24. The point is that these youths were insulting him, an insult which Elisha took as an insult against God Himself.

The Curse

When Elisha cursed them in the name of the Lord, we must remember that there are a few words in Scripture used for the word ‘curse’, here it is the word, ‘qalal’ which simply means a severe rebuke. In other words, Elisha gave them a firm telling off. As we will see in a moment, Elisha wasn’t responsible for their death.

The Two Bears

We know that Elisha wasn’t responsible for the youth’s death because he simply cursed them. He gave them a severe telling off, he rebuked them, he didn’t call upon the two bears to devour them. It was God who brought the bears to the youths to punish them for their disrespectful and insulting behaviour towards one of His prophets.

God using animals to punish evil people shouldn’t come as a surprise to us as God had done this on many occasions, He sent snakes to bite the disobedient Israelites, Numbers 21:6, He sent a lion to punish a disobedient prophet, 1 Kings 13:23-25.

It was God who closed the mouths of the lions to protect Daniel whilst he was in the den, Daniel 6:22, it was God who prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah, Jonah 1:17, and it was God who guided Peter’s hook to the fish He provided to pay the temple tax, Matthew 17:24-27. Surely, this tells us that it was God who brought those bears out of the forest.

Their destruction was a righteous and moral act of God’s judgment upon the wicked. We must remember there were ten offences under the Mosaic Law which carried with it the death sentence, one of those offences was disobedient children, Deuteronomy 21:18-21. They subsequently reaped the consequences of their insults, receiving immediate judgment from God, 2 Chronicles 36:16.

The Purpose Of Their Punishment

The purpose of the miracle was to instil fear in others to greatly respect Elisha as a prophet of God. The people who lived in and around Bethel would certainly now know that they can’t play with God, but they would also know they have to respect Him, Deuteronomy 6:4-5.

Conclusion

It’s very easy to read a passage of Scripture without thinking about the background and circumstances. What we’ve read in 2 Kings 2:23-25 is one of those passages, which can easily be misunderstood. These ‘children’ were old enough to know what they were doing and old enough to be severely rebuked but also old enough to punished for their actions, Deuteronomy 21:18-21.

Go To 2 Kings 3

DAILY BIBLE VERSE

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

Hebrews 11:1

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