2 Kings 1.
With Elijah's visit to Ahaziah, as recorded in the previous chapter, his mission ended. Amid all the darkness that prevailed in Israel during Ahab's reign, the testimony of the prophet was the only light, whether for guidance or for warning. It is true that there were seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal; and, if Elijah had not been too much occupied with the evil around, he might have found in this faithful remnant a comfort and support in his arduous service. Still he was left alone as a witness, and, though he had failed when he fled from Jezebel, a more notable or faithful servant is not found in the Old Testament. Along with Moses he stands conspicuous as one whom God especially honoured with His favour and approbation. He enjoyed moreover the special distinction, accorded only to Enoch besides himself, of not seeing death; and when the Lord was upon the earth, Elijah with Moses was chosen to appear in glory on the mount of transfiguration, and both he and the lawgiver were permitted to speak with the Lord concerning His decease which He should accomplish at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:30, 31.)
The event of this chapter therefore is highly significant, every one of its details being fraught with deepest instruction. The key of all is found in verse 1: "And it came to pass, when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal." Three things should be observed. The time is marked as that when Jehovah was about to take His servant up into heaven - the end, fruition, and recompense of his laborious path! Then, the prophet has Elisha as his companion. Until now Elisha, though Elijah had cast his mantle upon him, had not been seen. He had followed Elijah, and ministered unto him; but his existence, so to speak, had been merged in that of his master. Now he is seen rather as Elijah's companion, for he was about to become prophet in his room (see 1 Kings 19:16, 19-21), and to receive his qualification for his work. Lastly, it is from Gilgal that Elijah, with Elisha, commences his journey before he is caught up to heaven; and this is a most significant circumstance.
Gilgal was the place where the children of Israel were circumcised, where the reproach of Egypt was rolled from off them, and where they were therefore set apart through death, through the application of death, to the service of Jehovah, and brought, figuratively, into moral correspondence with their position. Hence it was, moreover, that they were directed to return thither after every conflict. Gilgal, it will thus be seen, is the true starting-point for heaven, even as it is the place of power for the believer while waiting for the Lord. Of Elijah at this moment, another has strikingly said, that "he attains the mind of God with respect to the people, as separated from evil and consecrated to God. He sets out with this. He thinks with God; this is faith." When he fled from Jezebel other thoughts, even his own, filled and depressed his soul; but now on the eve of his departure, led of the Lord to Gilgal, he sees with "the vision of the Almighty," and the people are beautified according to the counsels of God.
From Gilgal he went down to Bethel, with the faithful Elisha still as his companion. Bethel had become practically, like Gilgal, the home of all the abominations of idolatry. (See Hosea 9:15, 10:5-8, 12:11; Amos 5:5, 6.) From the house of God, Bethel had changed into "the king's chapel," and "the king's court" (Amos 7:13), where the word of God was no longer tolerated. But Elijah travelled back in spirit to the Bethel of the beginning, where God had appeared to Jacob, and made him in His grace the depositary of His earthly promises - "the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed." Bethel became thus to Jacob the house of God and the gate of heaven, and thenceforward the symbol, for all His believing people, of God's unchangeable faithfulness, inasmuch as He had bound Himself to Jacob and to his seed by His unconditional and absolute promises. To understand His thoughts, whether concerning Israel or the church, it is always necessary to go back to the commencement, to the original revelation of His purposes, knowing that what He has promised He will surely perform. That Elijah did so on the eve of his rapture reveals that he was now in fullest communion with the mind of God.
From Bethel, Elijah was sent to Jericho, expression of the enemy's power, the walls of which had fallen down before Jehovah's host, but had now been rebuilt spite of the curse pronounced on the builder. It was therefore the city of the curse, and death rested upon it; for the water was naught, and the ground barren. And Israel by transgression, indeed through apostasy, had now brought themselves under the curse of the broken law. There Elijah could not remain; and he said to Elisha, "Tarry, I pray thee, here; for the Lord hath sent me to Jordan." Elisha still clave to his master and they went on until "they two stood by Jordan." Elijah was chosen to ascend to heaven without dying, and yet he typically passed through death; and it was as if in the power of the life on which he was entering that he smote the waters of the Jordan, and they were divided hither and thither, so that they two went over on dry ground. Elijah traversed, as has been well remarked, all that had to do in type with God's relationship with Israel, even death itself (and that dry shod), up to heaven.
The place whence he ascended to heaven is much to be remarked. Across the Jordan he was outside the limits of the land of promise, and he thus was now beyond the sphere of Israel's responsibility, thereby declaring indeed that all had been forfeited on that footing. "The law having been broken, and prophecy - which set before the people their relation to God on earth, and His blessing on that earth - having been proved powerless for restoration, the faithful prophet, forsaking a land which had rejected him, had taken his place outside a blind and ungrateful people. . . Up to Jordan Elijah demanded, by his ministry, that the righteous claim of God upon His people should be satisfied. He sets these claims before them. He must withdraw, and God takes him away from a people who did not know him."
If God, however, acted thus in regard to Elijah, it was only because He still had, in His longsuffering, thoughts of grace towards His guilty people. If they would not hear Elijah, He would yet send Elisha, as it were in the power of resurrection, as a new channel of blessing in the midst of Israel. Accordingly Elijah, as soon as they were over the Jordan, divinely guided, even if he did not fully know the purport of his words, said unto Elisha, "Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee." And Elisha, as distinctly guided in his answer as Elijah in his question, said, "I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me." It was an endowment he would surely need for the mission on which he was about to be sent; and Elijah - surely in this an adumbration of Him who, after His ascension, baptized with the Holy Ghost - 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."
All was now finished, the path of service and sorrow was ended; and Elijah was at last to enter upon his eternal recompense. "And 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." "The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels" (Psalm 68:17), and we may therefore conclude that the chariot and the horses of fire are the expression of angelic power. And, as it is added in the psalm, "The Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place," we may also gather, that the Lord Himself was in the midst of this display of His power, and the more certainly in that the whirlwind is often used in scripture as a symbol of His presence, though in judgment. The fire also speaks of judgment, but we know that the holiness of God, which must ever assume the aspect of judgment to His people when not walking in His ways (Heb. 12:29), is nevertheless their eternal security and blessedness. In such a manner Jehovah rapt away His faithful and precious servant from the scene of his testimony to be for ever with Himself, thereby exhibiting in a most signal way His appreciation of his service, and bestowing upon him an abundant entrance into the heavenly kingdom.
Elisha saw Elijah ascending, and exclaimed, "My father, my father, the chariot of Israel, and the horse-men thereof." Faith being in exercise he connected the chariot of God with Israel, and saw therein the promise of the display of God's delivering power for His people. Moreover, as he lost sight of Elijah, "he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces. He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him." His past history was closed, so to speak, with the departure of his master, and, together with Elijah's mantle, he received, according to promise, a double portion of his spirit, as the endowment for his new service which he was to carry on, in the power. of resurrection and grace in the midst of Israel.