2 Kings 2 – “Elijah Ascends to Heaven; Elisha’s Miracles”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Elijah splits the Jordan river and rides to heaven on a chariot of fire. Elisha splits the Jordan, purifies the waters of Jericho, and kills forty-two children when they call him “baldy.”

II. Photo
Elisha miraculously purifies the waters of Jericho: “The water has remained wholesome to this day, in accordance with the word spoken by Elisha.” (v. 22)

III. Important Verses
8: Thereupon Elijah took his mantle and, rolling it up, he struck the water; it divided to the right and left, so that the two of them crossed over on dry land.
9-10: As they were crossing, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” Elisha answered, “Let a double portion of your spirit pass on to me.”  “You have asked a difficult thing,” he said. “If you see me as I am being taken from you, this will be granted to you; if not, it will not.”
11-12: As they kept on walking and talking, a fiery chariot with fiery horses suddenly appeared and separated one from the other; and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw it, and he cried out, “Oh, father, father! Israel’s chariots and horsemen!” When he could no longer see him, he grasped his garments and rent them in two.
14-15: Taking the mantle which had dropped from Elijah, he struck the water and said, “Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?” As he too struck the water, it parted to the right and to the left, and Elisha crossed over. When the disciples of the prophets at Jericho saw him from a distance, they exclaimed, “The spirit of Elijah has settled on Elisha!” And they went to meet him and bowed low before him to the ground.
23-24: From there he went up to Bethel. As he was going up the road, some little boys came out of the town and jeered at him, saying, “Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!” He turned around and looked at them and cursed them in the name of the LORD. Thereupon, two she-bears came out of the woods and mangled forty-two of the children.

IV. Outline
1-7. Elisha shadows Elijah; The prophets discuss what is about to happen
8. Elijah and Elisha cross the Jordan on dry land
9-10. Elisha asks Elijah for his spirit
11-12. Elijah ascends to heaven in a fiery chariot
13-14. Elisha splits the Jordan
15. The prophets follow Elisha
16-18. A search committee cannot find Elijah
19-22. Elisha purifies the water of Jericho
23-24. Elisha curses the children who mock them; 42 are killed by a bear
25. Elisha returns to Samaria

V. Comment
Chapter 2 is both the end of the Elijah narrative and the beginning of the Elisha narrative. Because the chapter is the coda of the Elijah narrative it is fitting to characterize this prophet’s singular place in ancient literature. Cogan and Tadmor write: “Ancient Near Eastern literature does not know of a figure similar to Elijah; individual motifs from that literature, however, may be compared with certain features in the present narrative. Legendary Etana, king of Kish, for example, ascended to heaven on the back of an eagle in search of he ‘plant of birth’ which would insure him offspring and an heir. Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, however, returned empty-handed from his worldwide quest for eternal life. He learns that only once had a mortal been admitted into the assembly of the gods, a gift granted Utnapishtim, who survived the flood. The ascent of Elijah thus remains unique.” (34-35)

Elisha leads the benei hanevi’im “disciples of the prophets” when Elijah dies: “When the disciples of the prophets at Jericho saw him from a distance, they exclaimed, ‘The spirit of Elijah has settled on Elisha!’ And they went to meet him and bowed low before him to the ground.” (v. 15) Who were the “disciples of the prophets”? Although the Bible does not say much about this enigmatic group, Hobbs makes two important points. First, the group seems to have been well-known because they do not receive an introduction. Second, aside from Amos 7:14 (which may or may not be referencing this group), all of the references to the benei hanevi’im are found in the following verses of the Elisha narrative: 1 Kings 20:35; 2 Kings 2:3, 5, 7, 15; 4:1, 38; 5:22; 6:1; 9:1. Thus, as Hobbs writes, “The fact that the term ‘sons of the prophets’ is only used, with one exception, in connection with the ministry of Elisha and the fact that most of the data used for the reconstruction of the prophetic ‘guilds’ is found in the same collection of material should caution against hasty conclusions regarding the nature of the entire prophetic movement in the mid-ninth century in Israel.” (25)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Cogan, Mordechai and Hayim Tadmor. “II Kings” The Anchor Bible v. 11 (USA: Doubleday, 1988).
Collins, John J. “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Hobbs, T.R. “2 Kings” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 13 (Waco, Texas: Wordbooks, 1985).
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