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2 Kings 2:1-25 – Elisha Succeeds Elijah


Elisha succeeds Elijah and carries on the battle against Baal.


Though this passage is most familiar for Elijah's ascension into heaven (v. 11), the narrative is about Elisha inheriting the prophetic mantle. Its concentric structure is ordered geographically:

Introduction (v. 1)
    A    Bethel (vv. 2-3)
        B    Jericho (vv. 4-5)
            C    Jordan (vv. 6-8)
                X    Transjordan (vv. 9-12)
            C′    Jordan (vv. 13-14)
        B′    Jericho (vv. 15-22)
    A′    Bethel (v. 23-24)
Conclusion (v. 25)

The structure suggests that the three similarly worded episodes at Bethel, Jericho, and the Jordan, in which Elisha vows never to leave Elijah (vv. 2, 4, 6), are to be balanced with their counterparts, in each of which Elisha performs a miraculous act. Thus, verses 2-8 present three tests of Elisha's faithfulness to his mentor at Bethel, Jericho, and the Jordan, matched in verses 13-24 by three confirmations of his new status as Elijah's successor at the Jordan, Jericho, and Bethel.

Standing in the center is the transfer of prophetic authority as symbolized in the mantle (vv. 9-12). Elisha may have been troubled that all the other members of the prophetic guild seemed to know that today was the day God would take Elijah away from him (vv. 3, 5). His request for a "double portion ["mouthful" in Hebrew] of your spirit" signifies the inheritance rights of the firstborn (v. 9; compare Deuteronomy 21:17) and is Elisha's request to succeed his master. Elijah claims that if Elisha sees him ascend to heaven, his request will be granted (v. 10). Elisha's witnessing of the ascension indicates that his request has been granted; more important, his reduplication of the miracle performed by Elijah with the mantle (v. 8) in verses 13-14 also suggests that this is the case.

The three confirmations of Elisha's new power testify to three areas of prophetic authority:
•    At the Jordan (vv. 13-14), the reduplication of Elijah's parting of the Jordan authenticates Elisha's prophetic status as Elijah's successor.
•    At Jericho (vv. 15-22), the purification of the water that was causing miscarriage testifies to Elisha's power over death and ability to bring blessing (compare 1 Kings 17).
•    At Bethel (vv. 23-25), his summoning of the she-bears testifies to his prophetic authority and ability to bring curse. Attempts to soften this graphic portrayal by presenting the young boys as surly members of an adolescent gang-claiming, for example, that the epithet "Baldy" was a mockery of his prophetic tonsure rather than his follically challenged scalp-misses the theological point.

2 Kings 2:1-25

Elijah Ascends to Heaven

2Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me as far as Bethel.’ But Elisha said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they went down to Bethel. 3The company of prophets* who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I know; keep silent.’

Elijah said to him, ‘Elisha, stay here; for the Lord has sent me to Jericho.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So they came to Jericho. 5The company of prophets* who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, ‘Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?’ And he answered, ‘Yes, I know; be silent.’

Then Elijah said to him, ‘Stay here; for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.’ But he said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ So the two of them went on. 7Fifty men of the company of prophets* also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. 8Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, ‘Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.’ Elisha said, ‘Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.’ 10He responded, ‘You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.’ 11As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12Elisha kept watching and crying out, ‘Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’ But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

Elisha Succeeds Elijah

13 He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, ‘Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?’ When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over.

15 When the company of prophets* who were at Jericho saw him at a distance, they declared, ‘The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.’ They came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. 16They said to him, ‘See now, we have fifty strong men among your servants; please let them go and seek your master; it may be that the spirit of the Lord has caught him up and thrown him down on some mountain or into some valley.’ He responded, ‘No, do not send them.’ 17But when they urged him until he was ashamed, he said, ‘Send them.’ So they sent fifty men who searched for three days but did not find him. 18When they came back to him (he had remained at Jericho), he said to them, ‘Did I not say to you, Do not go?’

Elisha Performs Miracles

19 Now the people of the city said to Elisha, ‘The location of this city is good, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.’ 20He said, ‘Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.’ So they brought it to him. 21Then he went to the spring of water and threw the salt into it, and said, ‘Thus says the Lord, I have made this water wholesome; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.’ 22So the water has been wholesome to this day, according to the word that Elisha spoke.

23 He went up from there to Bethel; and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, ‘Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!’ 24When he turned round and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys. 25From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and then returned to Samaria.

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