VI. ELISHA SUCCEEDS ELIJAH#The story of Elisha’s succession to Elijah’s prophetic office is oddly set between the death of Ahaziah (1:17) and the accession of his successor (3:1). The effect is to place this scene, which is the central scene in the whole of 1–2 Kings, outside of time. It thereby becomes almost mythic in its import and reminds us that, behind the transitory flow of kings and kingdoms, stand the eternal word of God and the prophets who give it voice. Just as 1–2 Kings pivots on this chapter, so this scene too is concentrically constructed. Together Elijah and Elisha journey to Bethel, thence to Jericho, and thence across the Jordan. There Elijah is taken up in the whirlwind and Elijah’s mantle of power comes to Elisha. Now alone, Elisha crosses the Jordan again, returns to Jericho and thence back to Bethel.
1When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, he and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.#Gilgal: there are several places in the Hebrew Bible named Gilgal; the word probably means “circle,” viz. of stones. Here the route of the prophets’ journey rules out the most famous Gilgal (Jos 4–5), the one near Jericho. This Gilgal may have been located in the area of modern Jiljulieh, approximately seven miles north of Bethel, which seems to preserve the ancient name.
2Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, please. The Lord has sent me on to Bethel.” Elisha replied, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. 3The guild prophets who were in Bethel went out to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master from you?” He replied, “Yes, I know that. Be still.”
4Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here, please. The Lord has sent me on to Jericho.” Elisha replied, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. 5The guild prophets who were in Jericho approached Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master from you?” He replied, “Yes, I know that. Be still.”
6Elijah said to him, “Stay here, please. The Lord has sent me on to the Jordan.” Elisha replied, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two went on together. 7Fifty of the guild prophets followed and stood facing them at a distance, while the two of them stood next to the Jordan.
Elisha Succeeds Elijah.
8Elijah took his mantle, rolled it up and struck the water: it divided, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.#a. [2:8] Ex 14:15–22; Jos 3:14–17.
9#b. [2:9–15] Nm 11:16–17, 24–29. When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, “Request whatever I might do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha answered, “May I receive a double portion of your spirit.”#Double portion of your spirit: as the firstborn son inherited a double portion of his father’s property (Dt 21:17), so Elisha asks to inherit from Elijah his spirit of prophecy in the degree befitting his principal disciple. In Nm 11:17–25, God bestows some of the spirit of Moses on others. 10He replied, “You have asked something that is not easy. Still, if you see me taken up from you, your wish will be granted; otherwise not.” 11As they walked on still conversing, a fiery chariot and fiery horses came between the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind,#c. [2:11] Gn 5:24; 1 Mc 2:58; Sir 48:9–12; Acts 1:9. 12and Elisha saw it happen. He cried out, “My father! my father!#My father: a religious title accorded prophetic leaders; cf. 6:21; 8:9; and 13:14, where King Joash of Israel reacts to Elisha’s own impending death with the same words Elisha uses here. Israel’s chariot and steeds!” Then he saw him no longer.
He gripped his own garment, tore it into two pieces, 13and picked up the mantle which had fallen from Elijah. Then he went back and stood at the bank of the Jordan. 14Wielding the mantle which had fallen from Elijah, he struck the water and said, “The Lord, the God of Elijah—where is he now?”#The LORD, the God of Elijah—where is he now?: the words in Hebrew have an incantatory quality, as if Elisha is invoking both the divine name and the name of his departed master in an attempt to duplicate Elijah’s miracle. He struck the water: it divided, and he crossed over.
15The guild prophets in Jericho, who were on the other side, saw him and said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” They went to meet him, bowing to the ground before him.#d. [2:15] 1 Kgs 19:19; Sir 48:12. 16They said, “Among your servants are fifty brave men. Let them go in search of your master. Perhaps the spirit of the Lord has lifted him up and left him on some mountain or in some valley.” He answered, “Do not send them.”#e. [2:16] 1 Kgs 18:12. 17But they kept urging him, until he was embarrassed and said, “Send them.” So they sent the fifty men, who searched for three days without finding him.#f. [2:17] 1 Kgs 17:2; 18:10. 18When they returned to Elisha in Jericho, where he was staying, he said to them, “Did I not tell you not to go?”
19#g. [2:19–22] 2 Kgs 4:38–41. The inhabitants of the city complained to Elisha, “The site of the city is fine indeed, as my lord can see, but the water is bad and the land sterile.” 20Elisha said, “Bring me a new bowl and put salt into it.” When they had brought it to him, 21he went out to the spring and threw salt into it, saying, “Thus says the Lord: I have purified this water. Never again shall death or sterility come from it.” 22And the water has stayed pure even to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken.
23#This story probably was told to warn children of the importance of respect for prophets. From there Elisha went up to Bethel. While he was on the way, some little boys came out of the city and jeered at him: “Go away, baldy; go away, baldy!” 24The prophet turned and saw them, and he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the children to pieces.
25From there he went to Mount Carmel, and returned to Samaria from there.