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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1And it came to pass, when the LORD would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal.
The events of this chapter are related out of their chronological order. Elijah's translation did not take place until after the accession of Jehoram in Judah 2 Chronicles 21:12, which was not until the fifth year of Jehoram of Israel 2 Kings 8:16. The writer of Kings, having concluded his notices of the ministry of Elijah in chapter 1, and being about to pass in 2 Kings 3 to the ministry of Elisha, thought it best to insert at this point the final scene of Elijah's life, though it did not occur until several years later.
Gilgal - The modern Jiljilieh, on the highland between Nablous and Beitin (Bethel), about eight and a half miles from the latter, is now commonly supposed to be the Gilgal here mentioned. Some regard it as the ordinary residence of Elisha 2 Kings 4:38.
2And Elijah said unto Elisha, Tarry here, I pray thee; for the LORD hath sent me to Bethel. And Elisha said unto him, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they went down to Bethel.
Tarry here - Elijah's motive in making this request is not clear. Perhaps he thought that so awful and sacred a scene as that which he was led to expect 2 Kings 2:9, should be kept as secret as possible.
The Lord hath sent me to Bethel - Elijah may have been directed to Bethel, because of the "School of the prophets" there, that the sight of him - if not his words - might console and encourage them before they lost him forever.
As the Lord liveth ... - This double oath, repeated three times 2 Kings 2:4, 2 Kings 2:6, is very remarkable. The two clauses of it are separately used with some frequency (see Judges 8:19; Ruth 3:13; 1 Samuel 1:26, etc.), but it is comparatively seldom that they are united (see the marginal references).
3And the sons of the prophets that were at Bethel came forth to Elisha, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the LORD will take away thy master from thy head to day? And he said, Yea, I know it; hold ye your peace.
Came forth to Elisha - It does not appear that any interchange of speech took place between "the sons of the prophets" (see the marginal reference note) and Elijah; but independent revelations had been made to the two "schools" at Bethel and Jericho 2 Kings 2:5, and also to Elisha, with respect to Elijah's coming removal.
From thy head - i. e. from his position as teacher and master. The teacher sat on an elevated seat, so that his feet were level with the heads of his pupils (compare Acts 22:3).
Hold ye your peace - i. e. "Say nothing - disturb us not. The matter is too sacred for words."
4And Elijah said unto him, Elisha, tarry here, I pray thee; for the LORD hath sent me to Jericho. And he said, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they came to Jericho.
5And the sons of the prophets that were at Jericho came to Elisha, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the LORD will take away thy master from thy head to day? And he answered, Yea, I know it; hold ye your peace.
6And Elijah said unto him, Tarry, I pray thee, here; for the LORD hath sent me to Jordan. And he said, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And they two went on.
7And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood to view afar off: and they two stood by Jordan.
Fifty men of the sons of the prophets - We see by this how large were the prophetical schools. It is implied that the "fifty" were only a portion of the school of Jericho. They ascended the abrupt heights behind the town, from where they would command a view of the whole course of the river and of the opposite bank for many miles.
8And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together, and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground.
They were divided ... - The attestation to the divine mission of Elijah furnished by this miracle would tend to place him upon a par in the thoughts of men with the two great leaders of the nation named in the marginal references.
9And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me.
Let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me - Like Solomon, Elisha asks for no worldly advantage, but for spiritual power to discharge his office aright. The "double portion" is that which denotes the proportion of a father's property which was the right of an eldest son Deuteronomy 21:17. Elisha therefore asked for twice as much of Elijah's spirit as should be inherited by any other of the "sons of the prophets." He simply claimed, i. e., to be acknowledged as Elijah's firstborn spiritual son.
10And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so.
It would be better to omit the words "when I am," which are not in the original. The sign was to be Elisha's seeing the actual translation, which he did 2 Kings 2:12.
11And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
Elijah went up ... - No honest exegesis can explain this passage in any other sense than as teaching the translation of Elijah, who was taken from the earth, like Enoch Genesis 5:24, without dying. Compare Ecclesiasticus 48:9.
12And Elisha saw it, and he cried, My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof. And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces.
The chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof - These difficult words are probably said of Elijah, whom Elisha addresses as "the true defense of Israel, better than either the chariots or horsemen" which he saw. Hence, his rending his clothes in token of his grief.
13He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan;
14And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the LORD God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over.
Where ... - Some prefer, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah, even he? And when he had smitten, etc." Or, according to others, "now when he, etc." Elisha's smiting of the waters seems to have been tentative. He was not sure of its result. Hence, the form of his invocation - "Where is the Lord God of Elijah? Is He here - i. e. - with me, or is He not?" Answered by the event, he appears never subsequently to have doubted.
15And when the sons of the prophets which were to view at Jericho saw him, they said, The spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha. And they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him.
16And they said unto him, Behold now, there be with thy servants fifty strong men; let them go, we pray thee, and seek thy master: lest peradventure the Spirit of the LORD hath taken him up, and cast him upon some mountain, or into some valley. And he said, Ye shall not send.
Compare the marginal references. The words "cast him upon some mountain," rather imply that they expected to find the prophet alive.
17And when they urged him till he was ashamed, he said, Send. They sent therefore fifty men; and they sought three days, but found him not.
Till he was ashamed - i. e. to refuse them any longer.
18And when they came again to him, (for he tarried at Jericho,) he said unto them, Did I not say unto you, Go not?
19And the men of the city said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth: but the water is naught, and the ground barren.
The water is naught - i. e. "bad."
And the ground barren - Translate "and the land apt to miscarry." The stream was thought to be the cause of untimely births, abortions, and the like, among the cattle, perhaps also among the people, that drank of it.
20And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him.
The "new cruse" and the "salt" are evidently chosen from a regard to symbolizm. The foul stream represents sin, and to cleanse it emblems of purity must he taken. Hence, the clean "new" dish previously unused, and thus untainted; and the salt, a common Scriptural symbol of incorruption (see Leviticus 2:13; Ezekiel 43:24; Matthew 5:13, etc.).
21And he went forth unto the spring of the waters, and cast the salt in there, and said, Thus saith the LORD, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land.
The spring of the waters - The spring intended is probably that now called Ain-es-Sultan, which is not much more than a mile from the site of the ancient town. It is described as a large and beautiful fountain of sweet and pleasant water. The springs issuing from the eastern base of the highlands of Judah and Benjamin are to this day generally brackish.
22So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake.
23And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.
As Beth-el was the older seat of the calf-worship 1 Kings 12:32-33; 1 Kings 13:1-32, a prophet of Yahweh was not unlikely to meet with insult there.
By the way - i. e. "by the usual road," probably that which winds up the Wady Suweinit, under hills even now retaining some trees, and in Elisha's time covered with a dense forest, the haunt of savage animals. Compare 1 Kings 13:24; and for the general prevalence of beasts of prey in the country, both earlier and later than this, see Judges 14:5; 1 Samuel 17:31; 2 Kings 17:25; Amos 5:19, etc.
24And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.
On this occasion only do we find Elisha a minister of vengeance. Perhaps it was necessary to show, at the outset of his career as a prophet, that he too, so mild and peaceful could, like Elijah, wield the terrors of God's judgments (1 Kings 19:19 note). The persons really punished were, not so much the children, as the wicked parents 2 Kings 2:23, whose mouth-pieces the children were, and who justly lost the gift of offspring of which they had shown themselves unworthy.
25And he went from thence to mount Carmel, and from thence he returned to Samaria.
Carmel - Where Elisha held gatherings for religious purposes 2 Kings 4:23-25 during one period of his life, if he did not actually reside there.