Matthew Henry Complete Commentary2 Kings 2
on the Whole Bible
In this chapter we have,
I. That extraordinary event, the translation of Elijah. In the close of
the foregoing chapter we had a wicked king leaving the world in
disgrace, here we have a holy prophet leaving it in honour; the
departure of the former was his greatest misery, of the latter his
greatest bliss: men are as their end is. Here is,
1. Elijah taking leave of his friends, the sons of the prophets, and
especially Elisha, who kept close to him, and walked with him through
2 Kings 2:1-10.
2. Elijah taken into heaven by the ministry of angels
(2 Kings 2:11),
and Elisha's lamentation of the loss this earth has of him,
2 Kings 2:12.
II. The manifestation of Elisha, as a prophet in his room.
1. By the dividing of Jordan,
2 Kings 2:13,14.
2. By the respect which the sons of the prophets paid him,
2 Kings 2:15-18.
3. By the healing of the unwholesome waters of Jericho,
2 Kings 2:19-22.
4. By the destruction of the children of Bethel that mocked him,
2 Kings 2:23-25.
This revolution in prophecy makes a greater figure than the revolution
of a kingdom.
||B. C. 895.|
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.
2 And Elijah said unto Elisha, Tarry here, I pray thee; for the
LORD hath sent me to Beth-el. And Elisha said unto him, As the
LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So
they went down to Beth-el.
3 And the sons of the prophets that were at Beth-el 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.
4 And 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.
5 And 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.
6 And 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
7 And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood to
view afar off: and they two stood by Jordan.
8 And 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.
Elijah's times, and the events concerning him, are as little dated as
those of any great man in scripture; we are not told of his age, nor in
what year of Ahab's reign he first appeared, nor in what year of
Joram's he disappeared, and therefore cannot conjecture how long he
flourished; it is supposed about twenty years in all. Here we are
I. That God had determined to take him up into heaven by a whirlwind,
2 Kings 2:1.
He would do it, and it is probable let him know of his purpose some
time before, that he would shortly take him from the world, not by
death, but translate him body and soul to heaven, as Enoch was, only
causing him to undergo such a change as would be necessary to the
qualifying of him to be an inhabitant in that world of spirits, and
such as those shall undergo who will be found alive at Christ's coming.
It is not for us to say why God would put such a peculiar honour upon
Elijah above any other of the prophets; he was a man subject to like
passions as we are, knew sin, and yet never tasted death. Wherefore
is he thus dignified, thus distinguished, as a man whom the Kings of
kings did delight to honour? We may suppose that herein,
1. God looked back upon his past services, which were eminent and
extraordinary, and intended a recompence for those and an encouragement
to the sons of the prophets to tread in the steps of his zeal and
faithfulness, and, whatever it cost them, to witness against the
corruptions of the age they lived in.
2. He looked down upon the present dark and degenerate state of the
church, and would thus give a very sensible proof of another life after
this, and draw the hearts of the faithful few upward towards himself,
and that other life.
3. He looked forward to the evangelical dispensation, and, in the
translation of Elijah, gave a type and figure of the ascension of
Christ and the opening of the kingdom of heaven to all
believers. Elijah had, by faith and prayer, conversed much with
heaven, and now he is taken thither, to assure us that if we have our
conversation in heaven, while we are here on earth, we shall be there
shortly, the soul shall (and that is the man) be happy there, there for
II. That Elisha had determined, as long as he continued on earth to
cleave to him, and not to leave him. Elijah seemed desirous to shake
him off, would have had him stay behind at Gilgal, at Bethel, at
2 Kings 2:2,4,6.
Some think out of humility; he knew what glory God designed for him,
but would not seem to glory in it, nor desired it should be seen of men
(God's favourites covet not to have it proclaimed before them that they
are so, as the favourites of earthly princes do), or rather it was to
try him, and make his constant adherence to him the more commendable,
like Naomi's persuading Ruth to go back. In vain does Elijah entreat
him to tarry here and tarry there; he resolves to tarry nowhere behind
his master, till he goes to heaven, and leaves him behind on this
earth. "Whatever comes of it, I will not leave thee;" and why
so? Not only because he loved him, but,
1. Because he desired to be edified by his holy heavenly converse as
long as he staid on earth; it had always been profitable, but, we may
suppose, was now more so than ever. We should do all the spiritual good
we can one to another, and get all we can one by another, while we are
together, because we are to be together but a little while.
2. Because he desired to be satisfied concerning his departure, and to
see him when he was taken up, that his faith might be confirmed and his
acquaintance with the invisible world increased. He had long followed
Elijah, and he would not leave him now when he hoped for the parting
blessing. Let not those that follow Christ come short by tiring at
III. That Elijah, before his departure, visited the schools of the
prophets and took leave of them. It seems that there were such schools
in many of the cities of Israel, probably even in Samaria itself. Here
we find sons of the prophets, and considerable numbers of them,
even at Bethel, where one of the calves was set up, and at Jericho,
which was lately built in defiance of a divine curse. At Jerusalem, and
in the kingdom of Judah, they had priests and Levites, and the
temple-service, the want of which, in the kingdom of Israel, God
graciously made up by those colleges, where men were trained up and
employed in the exercises of religion and devotion, and whither good
people resorted to solemnize the appointed feasts with praying and
hearing, when they had not conveniences for sacrifice or incense, and
thus religion was kept up in a time of general apostasy. Much of God
was among these prophets, and more were the children of the
desolate than the children of the married wife. None of all
the high priests were comparable to those two great men Elijah and
Elisha, who, for aught we know, never attended in the temple at
Jerusalem. These seminaries of religion and virtue, which Elijah, it is
probable, had been instrumental to found, he now visits, before his
departure, to instruct, encourage, and bless them. Note, Those that are
going to heaven themselves ought to be concerned for those they leave
behind them on earth, and to leave with them their experiences,
testimonies, counsels, and prayers,
2 Peter 1:15.
When Christ said, with triumph, Now I am no more in the world,
he added, with tenderness, But these are. Father, keep them.
IV. That the sons of the prophets had intelligence (either from Elijah
himself, or by the spirit of prophecy in some of their own society), or
suspected by the solemnity of Elijah's farewell, that he was now
shortly to be removed; and,
1. They told Elisha of it, both at Bethel
(2 Kings 2:3)
and at Jericho
(2 Kings 2:5):
Knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head
to day? This they said, not as upbraiding him with his loss, or
expecting that when his master was gone he would be upon the level with
them, but to show how full they were of the thoughts of this matter and
big with expectation of the event, and to admonish Elisha to prepare
for the loss. Know we not that our nearest relations, and dearest
friends, must shortly be taken from us? The Lord will take them;
we lose them not till he calls for them whose they are, and who
taketh away and none can hinder him. He takes away superiors
from our head, inferiors from our feet, equals from our arms; let us
therefore carefully do the duty of every relation, that we may reflect
upon it with comfort when it comes to be dissolved. Elisha knew it too
well, and sorrow had filled his heart upon this account (as the
disciples in a like case,
and therefore he did not need to be told of it, did not care for
hearing of it, and would not be interrupted in his contemplations on
this great concern, or in the least diverted from his attendance upon
his master. I know it; hold you your peace. He speaks not this
peevishly, or in contempt of the sons of the prophets, but as one that
was himself and would have them composed and sedate, and with an awful
silence expecting the event: I know it; be silent,
2. They went themselves to be witnesses of it at a distance, though
they might not closely attend
(2 Kings 2:7):
Fifty of them stood to view afar off, intending to satisfy their
curiosity, but God so ordered it that they might be eye-witnesses of
the honour heaven did to that prophet, who was despised and rejected
of men. God's works are well worthy our notice; when a door is
opened in heaven the call is, Come up hither, come and
V. That the miraculous dividing of the river Jordan was the preface to
Elijah's translation into the heavenly Canaan, as it had been to the
entrance of Israel into the earthly Canaan,
2 Kings 2:8.
He must go on to the other side Jordan to be translated, because it was
his native country, and that he might be near the place where Moses
died, and that thus honour might be put on that part of the country
which was most despised. he and Elisha might have gone over Jordan by a
ferry, as other passengers did, but God would magnify Elijah in his
exit, as he did Joshua in his entrance, by the dividing of this river,
As Moses with his rod divided the sea, so Elijah with his mantle
divided Jordan, both being the insignia--the badges of their
office. These waters of old yielded to the ark, now to the prophet's
mantle, which, to those that wanted the ark was an equivalent token of
God's presence. When God will take up his faithful ones to heaven death
is the Jordan which, immediately before their translation, they must
pass through, and they find a way through it, as safe and comfortable
way; the death of Christ has divided those waters, that the ransomed of
the Lord may pass over. O death! where is thy sting, thy hurt,
9 And 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.
10 And 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.
11 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.
12 And 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
I. Elijah makes his will, and leaves Elisha his heir, now anointing him
to be prophet in his room, more than when he cast his mantle upon
1 Kings 19:19.
1. Elijah, being greatly pleased with the constancy of Elisha's
affection and attendance, bade him ask what he should do for him, what
blessing he should leave him at parting; he does not say (as bishop
Hall observes), "Ask of me when I am gone, in heaven I shall be
better able to befriend thee," but, "Ask before I go." Our friends on
earth may be spoken to, and can give us an answer, but we know not that
we can have access to any friend in heaven but Christ, and God in him.
Abraham is ignorant of us.
2. Elisha, having this fair opportunity to enrich himself with the best
riches, prays for a double portion of his spirit. He asks not
for wealth, nor honour, nor exemption from trouble, but to be qualified
for the service of God and his generation, he asks,
(1.) For the Spirit, not that the gifts and graces of the Spirit were
in Elijah's power to give, therefore he says not, "Give me the Spirit"
(he knew very well it was God's gift), but "Let it be upon me,
intercede with God for this for me." Christ bade his disciples ask what
they would, not one, but all, and promised to send the Spirit, with
much more authority and assurance than Elijah could.
(2.) For his spirit, because he was to be a prophet in his room,
to carry on his work, to father the sons of the prophets and face their
enemies, because he had the same perverse generation to deal with that
he had, so that, if he have not his spirit, he has not strength
according to the day.
(3.) For a double portion of his spirit; he does not mean double
to what Elijah had, but double to what the rest of the prophets had,
from whom so much would not be expected as from Elisha, who had been
brought up under Elijah. It is a holy ambition to covet earnestly
the best gifts, and those which will render us most serviceable to
God and our brethren. Note, We all ought, both ministers and people, to
set before us the example of our predecessors, to labour after their
spirit, and to be earnest with God for that grace which carried them
through their work and enabled them to finish well.
3. Elijah promised him that which he asked, but under two provisos,
2 Kings 2:10.
(1.) Provided he put a due value upon it and esteem it highly: this he
teaches him to do by calling it a hard thing, not too hard for
God to do, but too great for him to expect. Those are best prepared for
spiritual blessings that are most sensible of their worth and their own
unworthiness to receive them.
(2.) Provided he kept close to his master, even to the last, and was
observant of him: If thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall
be so, otherwise not. A diligent attendance upon his master's
instructions, and a careful observance of his example, particularly now
in his last scene, were the condition and would be a proper means of
obtaining much of his spirit. Taking strict notice of the manner of
his ascension would likewise be of great use to him. The comforts of
departing saints, and their experiences, will mightily help both to
gild our comforts and to steel our resolutions. Or, perhaps, this was
intended only as a sign: "If God favour thee so far as to give thee a
sight of me when I ascend, take that for a token that he will do this
for thee, and depend upon it." Christ's disciples saw him ascend, and
were thereupon assured that they should, in a little time, be filled
with his Spirit,
Elisha, we may suppose, hereupon prayed earnestly, Lord, show me
this token for good.
II. Elijah is carried up to heaven in a fiery chariot,
2 Kings 2:11.
Like Enoch, he was translated, that he should not see death; and
was (as Mr. Cowley expresses it) the second man that leaped the
ditch where all the rest of mankind fell, and went not downward to the
sky. Many curious questions might be asked about this matter, which
could not be answered. Let it suffice that we are here told,
1. What his Lord, when he came, found him doing. He was talking with
Elisha, instructing and encouraging him, directing him in his work, and
quickening him to it, for the good of those whom he left behind. He was
not meditating nor praying, as one wholly taken up with the world he
was going to, but engaged in edifying discourse, as one concerned about
the kingdom of God among men. We mistake if we think our preparation
for heaven is carried on only by contemplation and the acts of
devotion. Usefulness to others will pass as well in our account as any
thing. Thinking of divine things is good, but talking of them (if it
come from the heart) is better, because for edification,
1 Corinthians 14:4.
Christ ascended as he was blessing his disciples.
2. What convoy his Lord sent for him--a chariot of fire and horses of
fire, which appeared either descending upon them from the clouds or
(as bishop Patrick thinks) running towards them upon the ground: in
this form the angels appeared. The souls of all the faithful are
carried by an invisible guard of angels into the bosom of Abraham; but,
Elijah being to carry his body with him, this heavenly guard was
visible, not in a human shape, as usual, though they might so have
borne him up in their arms, or carried him as on eagles' wings, but
that would have been to carry him like a child, like a lamp
they appear in the form of a chariot and horses, that he may ride in
state, may ride in triumph, like a prince, like a conqueror, yea,
more than a conqueror. The angels are called in scripture
cherubim and seraphim, and their appearance here, though
it may seem below their dignity, answers to both those names; for
(1.) Seraphim signifies fiery, and God is said to make
them a flame of fire,
(2.) Cherubim (as many think) signifies chariots, and
they are called the chariots of God
and he is said to ride upon a cherub
to which perhaps there is an allusion in Ezekiel's vision of four
living creatures, and wheels, like horses and chariots; in Zechariah's
vision, they are so represented,
Compare Rev. vi. 2,
&c. See the readiness of the angels to do the
will go God, even in the meanest services, for the good of those that
shall be heirs of salvation. Elijah must remove to the world of angels,
and therefore, to show how desirous they were of his company, some of
them would come to fetch him. The chariot and horses appeared like
fire, not for burning, but brightness, not to torture or consume him,
but to render his ascension conspicuous and illustrious in the eyes of
those that stood afar off to view it. Elijah had burned with holy zeal
for God and his honour, and now with a heavenly fire he was refined and
3. How he was separated from Elisha. This chariot parted them both
asunder. Note, The dearest friends must part. Elisha had protested he
would not leave him, yet now is left behind by him.
4. Whither he was carried. He went up by a whirlwind into
heaven. The fire tends upward; the whirlwind helped to carry him
through the atmosphere, out of the reach of the magnetic virtue of this
earth, and then how swiftly he ascended through the pure ether to the
world of holy and blessed spirits we cannot conceive.
|"But where he stopped will ne'er be known,
'Till Phenix-nature, aged grown,
To a better being shall aspire,
Mounting herself, like him, to eternity in fire."
Elijah had once, in a passion, wished he might die; yet God was so
gracious to him as not only not to take him at his word then, but to
honour him with this singular privilege, that he should never see
death; and by this instance, and that of Enoch,
(1.) God showed how men should have left the world if they had not
sinned, not by death, but by a translation.
(2.) He gave a glimpse of that life and immortality which are brought
to light by the gospel, of the glory reserved for the bodies of the
saints, and the opening of the kingdom of heaven to all
believers, as then to Elijah. It was also a figure of Christ's
III. Elisha pathetically laments the loss of that great prophet, but
attends him with an encomium,
2 Kings 2:12.
1. He saw it; thus he received the sign by which he was assured of the
grant of his request for a double portion of Elijah's spirit. He looked
stedfastly towards heaven, whence he was to expect that gift, as the
He saw it awhile, but the vision was presently out of his sight; and
he saw him no more.
2. He rent his own clothes, in token of the sense he had of his own and
the public loss. Though Elijah had gone triumphantly to heaven, yet
this world could ill spare him, and therefore his removal ought to be
much regretted by the survivors. Surely their hearts are hard whose
eyes are dry when God, by taking away faithful useful men, calls for
weeping and mourning. Though Elijah's departure made way for Elisha's
eminency, especially since he was now sure of a double portion of his
spirit, yet he lamented the loss of him, for he loved him, and could
have served him for ever.
3. He gave him a very honourable character, as the reason why he thus
lamented the loss of him.
(1.) He himself had lost the guide of his youth: My father, my
father. He saw his own condition like that of a fatherless child
thrown upon the world, and lamented it accordingly. Christ, when he
left his disciples, did not leave them orphans
but Elijah must.
(2.) The public had lost its best guard; he was the chariot of
Israel, and the horsemen thereof. He would have brought them all to
heaven, as in this chariot, if it had not been their own fault; they
used not chariots and horses in their wars, but Elijah was to them, by
his counsels, reproofs, and prayers, better than the strongest force of
chariot and horse, and kept off the judgments of God. His departure was
like the routing of an army, an irreparable loss. "Better have lost all
our men of war than this man of God."
|Elijah's Mantle on Elisha.
||B. C. 895.|
13 He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and
went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan;
14 And 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.
15 And 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.
16 And 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.
17 And 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.
18 And when they came again to him, (for he tarried at
Jericho,) he said unto them, Did I not say unto you, Go not?
We have here an account of what followed immediately after the
translation of Elijah.
I. The tokens of God's presence with Elisha, and the marks of his
elevation into Elijah's room, to be, as he had been, a father to the
sons of the prophets, and the chariots and horsemen of Israel.
1. He was possessed of Elijah's mantle, the badge of his office, which,
we may suppose, he put on and wore for his master's sake,
2 Kings 2:13.
When Elijah went to heaven, though he did not let fall his body as
others do, he let fall his mantle instead of it; for he was unclothed,
that he might be clothed upon with immortality: he was going to a world
where he needed not the mantle to adorn him, nor to shelter him from
the weather, nor to wrap his face in, as
1 Kings 19:13.
He left his mantle as a legacy to Elisha, and, though in itself it was
of small value, yet as it was a token of the descent of the Spirit upon
him, it was more than if he had bequeathed to him thousands of gold and
silver. Elisha took it up, not as a sacred relic to be worshipped, but
as a significant garment to be worn, and a recompence to him for his
own garments which he had rent. he loved this cloak ever since it was
first cast over him,
1 Kings 19:19.
He that then so cheerfully obeyed the summons of it, and became
Elijah's servant, is now dignified with it, and becomes his successor.
There are remains of great and good men, which, like this mantle, ought
to be gathered up and preserved by the survivors, their sayings, their
writings, their examples, that, as their works follow them in the
reward of them, they may stay behind in the benefit of them.
2. He was possessed of Elijah's power to divide Jordan,
2 Kings 2:14.
Having parted with his father, he returns to his sons in the schools of
the prophets. Jordan was between him and them; it had been divided to
make way for Elijah to his glory; he will try whether it will divide to
make way for him to his business, and by that he will know that God is
with him, and that he has the double portion of Elijah's spirit.
Elijah's last miracle shall be Elisha's first; thus he begins where
Elijah left off and there is no vacancy. In dividing the waters,
(1.) He made use of Elijah's mantle, as Elijah himself had done
(2 Kings 2:8),
to signify that he designed to keep to his master's methods and would
not introduce any thing new, as those affect to do that think
themselves wiser than their predecessors.
(2.) He applied to Elijah's God: Where is the Lord God of
Elijah? He does not ask, "Where is Elijah?" as poring upon the loss
of him, as if he could not be easy now that he was gone,--or as
doubting of his happy state, as if, like the sons of the prophets here,
he knew not what had become of him,--or as curiously enquiring
concerning him, and the particular of that state he was removed to (no,
that is a hidden life, it does not yet appear what we shall be),--nor
as expecting help from him; no, Elijah is happy, but is neither
omniscient nor omnipotent; but he asks, Where is the Lord God of
Elijah? Now that Elijah was taken to heaven God had abundantly
proved himself the God of Elijah; if he had not prepared for him that
city, and done better for him there than ever he did for him in this
world, he would have been ashamed to be called his God,
Now that Elijah was taken to heaven Elisha enquired,
[1.] After God. When our creature-comforts are removed, we have a God
to go to, that lives for ever.
[2.] After The God of Elijah, the God that Elijah served, and
honoured, and pleaded for, and adhered to when all Israel had deserted
him. This honour is done to those who cleave to God in times of general
apostasy, that God will be, in a peculiar manner, their God. "The God
that owned, and protected, and provided for Elijah, and many ways
honoured him, especially now at last, where is he? Lord, am not I
promised Elijah's spirit? Make good that promise." The words which next
follow in the original, Aph-his--even he, which we join to the
following clause, when he also had smitten the waters, some make
an answer to this question, Where is Elijah's God? Etiam ille adhuc
superest--"He is in being still, and nigh at hand. We have lost
Elijah, but we have not lost Elijah's God. He has not forsaken the
earth; it is even he that is still with me." Note, First, It
is the duty and interest of the saints on earth to enquire after God,
and apply to him as the Lord God of the saints that have gone before to
heaven, the God of our fathers. Secondly, It is very comfortable
to those who enquire of him; it is even he that is in his
and nigh to all who call upon him,
Thirdly, Those that walk in the spirit and steps of their godly
faithful predecessors shall certainly experience the same grace that
they experienced; Elijah's God will be Elisha's too. The Lord God of
the holy prophets is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever; and what
will it avail us to have the mantles of those that are gone, their
places, their books, if we have not their spirit, their God?
3. He was possessed of Elijah's interest in the sons of the prophets,
2 Kings 2:15.
Some of the fellows of the college at Jericho, who had placed
themselves conveniently near Jordan, to see what passed, were surprised
to see Jordan divided before Elisha in his return, and took that as a
convincing evidence that the spirit of Elijah did rest upon him,
and that therefore they ought to pay the same respect and deference to
him that they had paid to Elijah. Accordingly they went to meet him, to
congratulate him on his safe passage through fire and water, and the
honour God had put upon him; and they bowed themselves to the ground
before him. They were trained up in the schools; Elisha was taken
from the plough; yet when they perceived that God was with him, and
that this was the man whom he delighted to honour, they readily
submitted to him as their head and father, as the people to Joshua when
Moses was dead,
Those that appear to have God's Spirit and presence with them ought to
have our esteem and best affections, notwithstanding the meanness of
their extraction and education. This ready submission of the sons of
the prophets, no doubt, was a great encouragement to Elisha, and helped
to clear his call.
II. The needless search which the sons of the prophets made for Elijah.
1. They suggested that possibly he was dropped, either alive or dead,
upon some mountain, or in some valley; and it would be a satisfaction
to them if they sent some strong men, whom they had at command, in
quest of him,
2 Kings 2:16.
Some of them perhaps started this as a demurrer to the choice of
Elisha: "Let us first be sure that Elijah has quite gone. Can we think
Elijah thus neglected by heaven, that chosen vessel thus cast away as a
vessel in which was no pleasure?"
2. Elisha consented not to their motion till they overcame him with
2 Kings 2:17.
They urged him till he was ashamed to oppose it any further lest he
should be thought wanting in his respect to his old master or loth to
resign the mantle again. Wise men may yield to that, for the sake of
peace and the good opinion of others, which yet their judgment is
against as needless and fruitless.
3. The issue made them as much ashamed of their proposal as they, by
their importunity, had made Elisha ashamed of his opposing it. Their
messengers, after they had tired themselves with fruitless search,
returned with a non est inventus--he is not to be found, and
gave Elisha an opportunity of upbraiding his friends with their folly:
Did I not say unto you, Go not?
2 Kings 2:18.
This would make them the more willing to acquiesce in his judgment
another time. Traversing hills and valleys will never bring us to
Elijah, but the imitation of his holy faith and zeal will, in due
|The Waters of Jericho Healed; the Death of the Mocking Children.
||B. C. 895.|
19 And 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.
20 And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And
they brought it to him.
21 And 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
22 So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the
saying of Elisha which he spake.
23 And he went up from thence unto Beth-el: 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.
24 And 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.
25 And he went from thence to mount Carmel, and from thence he
returned to Samaria.
Elisha had, in this respect, a double portion of Elijah's spirit, that
he wrought more miracles than Elijah. Some reckon them in number just
double. Two are recorded in these verses--a miracle of mercy to Jericho
and a miracle of judgment to Bethel,
I. Here is a blessing upon the waters of Jericho, which was effectual
to heal them. Jericho was built in disobedience to a command, in
defiance to a threatening, and at the expense of the lives of all the
builder's children; yet, when it was built, it was not ordered to be
demolished again, nor were God's prophets or people forbidden to dwell
in it, but even within those walls that were built by iniquity we find
a nursery of piety. Fools, they say, build houses for wise men to dwell
in. Here the wealth of the sinner provided a habitation for the just.
We find Christ at Jericho,
Hither Elisha came, to confirm the souls of the disciples with a more
particular account of Elijah's translation than their spies, who saw at
a distance, could give them. Here he staid while the fifty men were
searching for him. And,
1. The men of Jericho represented to him their grievance,
2 Kings 2:19.
God's faithful prophets love to be employed; it is wisdom to make use
of them during the little while that their light is with us. They had
not applied to Elijah concerning the matter, perhaps because he was not
so easy of access as Elisha was; but now, we may hope, by the influence
of the divinity-school in their city, they were reformed. The situation
was pleasant and afforded a good prospect; but they had neither
wholesome water to drink nor fruitful soil to yield them food, and what
pleasure could they take in their prospect? Water is a common mercy,
which we should estimate by the greatness of the calamity which the
want or unwholesomeness of it would be. Some think that it was not all
the ground about Jericho that was barren and had bad water, but some
one part only, and that where the sons of the prophets had their
lodgings, who are here called the men of the city.
2. He soon redressed their grievance. Prophets should endeavour to make
every place they come to, some way or other, the better for them,
endeavouring to sweeten bitter spirits, and to make barren souls
fruitful, by the due application of the word of God. Elisha will heal
their waters; but,
(1.) They must furnish him with salt in a new cruse,
2 Kings 2:20.
If salt had been proper to season the water, yet what could so small a
quantity do towards it and what the better for being in a new cruse?
But thus those that would be helped must be employed and have their
faith and obedience tried. God's works of grace are wrought, not by any
operations of ours, but in observance of his institutions.
(2.) He cast the salt into the spring of the waters, and so
healed the streams and the ground they watered. Thus the way to reform
men's lives is to renew their hearts; let those be seasoned with the
salt of grace; for out of them are the issues of life. Make the tree
good and the fruit will be good. Purify the heart and that will
cleanse the hands.
(3.) He did not pretend to do this by his own power, but in God's name:
Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters. He is but the
instrument, the channel through which God is pleased to convey this
healing virtue. By doing them this kindness with a Thus saith the
Lord, they would be made the more willing hereafter, to receive
from him a reproof, admonition, or command, with the same preface. If,
in God's name, he can help them, in God's name let him teach and rule
them. Thus saith the Lord, out of Elisha's mouth, must, ever
after, be of mighty force with them.
(4.) The cure was lasting, and not for the present only: The waters
were healed unto this day,
2 Kings 2:22.
What God does shall be for ever,
When he, by his Spirit, heals a soul, there shall be no more
death nor barrenness; the property is altered: what was useless and
offensive becomes grateful and serviceable.
II. Here is a curse upon the children of Bethel, which was effectual to
destroy them; for it was not a curse causeless. At Bethel there was
another school of prophets. Thither Elisha went next, in this his
primary visitation, and the scholars there no doubt welcomed him with
all possible respect, but the townsmen were abusive to him. One of
Jeroboam's calves was at Bethel; this they were proud of, and fond of,
and hated those that reproved them. The law did not empower them to
suppress this pious academy, but we may suppose it was their usual
practice to jeer the prophets as they went along the streets, to call
them by some nickname or other, that they might expose them to
contempt, prejudice their youth against them, and, if possible, drive
them out of their town. Had the abuse done to Elisha been the first
offence of that kind, it is probable that it would not have been so
severely punished. But mocking the messengers of the Lord, and
misusing the prophets, was one of the crying sins of
Israel, as we find,
2 Chronicles 36:16.
Now here we have,
1. An instance of that sin. The little children of Bethel, the
boys and girls that were playing in the streets (notice, it is likely,
having come to the town of his approach), went out to meet him, not
with their hosannas, as they ought to have done, but with their scoffs;
they gathered about him and mocked him, as if he had been a fool, or
one fit to make sport with. Among other things that they used to jeer
the prophets with, they had this particular taunt for him, Go up,
thou bald head, go up, thou bald head. It is a wicked thing to
reproach persons for their natural infirmities or deformities; it is
adding affliction to the afflicted; and, if they are as God made them,
the reproach reflects upon him. But this was such a thing as scarcely
deserved to be called a blemish, and would never have been turned to
his reproach if they had had any thing else to reproach him with. It
was his character as a prophet that they designed to abuse. The honour
God had crowned him with should have been sufficient to cover his bald
head and protect him from their scoffs. They bade him go up,
perhaps reflecting on the assumption of Elijah: "Thy master," they say,
"has gone up; why dost not thou go up after him? Where is the fiery
chariot? When shall we be rid of thee too?" These children said as they
were taught; they had learned of their idolatrous parents to call foul
names and give bad language, especially to prophets. These young cocks,
as we say, crowed after the old ones. Perhaps their parents did at
this time send them out and set them on, that, if possible, they might
keep the prophet out of their town.
2. A specimen of that ruin which came down upon Israel at last, for
misusing God's prophets, and of which this was intended to give them
fair warning. Elisha heard their taunts, a good while, with patience;
but at length the fire of holy zeal for God was kindled in his breast
by the continued provocation, and he turned and looked upon
them, to try if a grave and severe look would put them out of
countenance and oblige them to retire, to see if he could discern in
their faces any marks of ingenuousness; but they were not ashamed,
neither could they blush; and therefore he cursed them in the
name of the Lord, both imprecated and denounced the following
judgment, not in personal revenge for the indignity done to himself,
but as the mouth of divine justice to punish the dishonour done to God.
His summons was immediately obeyed. Two she-bears (bears perhaps robbed
of their whelps) came out of an adjacent wood, and presently killed
2 Kings 2:24.
Now in this,
(1.) The prophet must be justified, for he did it by divine impulse.
Had the curse come from any bad principle God would not have said
Amen to it. We may think it would have been better to have
called for two rods for the correction of these children than two bears
for the destruction of them. But Elisha knew, by the Spirit, the bad
character of these children. He knew what a generation of vipers those
were, and what mischievous enemies they would be to God's prophets if
they should live to be men, who began so early to be abusive to them.
He intended hereby to punish the parents and to make them afraid of
(2.) God must be glorified as a righteous God, that hates sin, and will
reckon for it, even in little children. Let the wicked wretched brood
make our flesh tremble for fear of God. Let little children be afraid
of speaking wicked words, for God notices what they say. Let them not
mock any for their defects in mind or body, but pity them rather;
especially let them know that it is at their peril if they jeer God's
people or ministers, and scoff at any for well-doing. Let parents, that
would have comfort in their children, train them up well, and do their
utmost betimes to drive out the foolishness that is bound up in their
hearts; for, as bishop Hall says, "In vain do we look for good from
those children whose education we have neglected; and in vain do we
grieve for those miscarriages which our care might have prevented."
Elisha comes to Bethel and fears not the revenges of the bereaved
parents; God, who bade him do what he did, he knew would bear him out.
Thence he goes to Mount Carmel
(2 Kings 2:25),
where it is probable there was a religious house fit for retirement and
contemplation. Thence he returned to Samaria, where, being a public
place, this father of the prophets might be most serviceable. Bishop
Hall observes here, "That he can never be a profitable seer who is
either always or never alone."