2 Kings begins with the simple statement: “After Ahab died, Moab rebelled against Israel”. Moab had been under Israel’s control since the beginning of the divided kingdom. The northern kingdom controlled a vast area, much larger than the southern kingdom of Judah. But their control is weakening under the deteriorating administration that is known for the evil they did in the sight of the LORD.
Ahab’s son Ahaziah is now king, he will reign for two years and is currently confined to his bed due to an injury made in a fall. King Ahaziah sends his messengers to Philistine city of Ekron to inquire of their god Baal-Zebub whether he would survive his injury. Even after the repeated encounters with Elijah during his father’s life, including the recent fulfilled prophecy about his father’s death, Ahaziah still persists in seeking out pagan gods. He may have had the same attitude as Ahab, seeking only good news from the pagan gods, not the bad news received from Elijah. But, his failure to inquire of Yahweh, the God of Israel, reveals the depth of his apostasy. He was looking for some favorable prophetic word from Baal-Zebub, rather than hear the TRUTH from the LORD.
Nonetheless God sends an angelic messenger to Elijah telling him to meet the messengers of Ahaziah to give them the true message from the LORD. Ahaziah sends messengers to a false god instead the Lord God Almighty sends him a direct message: “You will not leave the bed you lie on, for you will certainly die!” Elijah delivers the message then retreats to the top of a hill to await Ahaziah’s response.
The messengers return to the king and report the message from the prophet. Ahaziah asks for a description of the prophet and they reply “He was a hairy man and had a leather belt tied around his waist.” The king said, “He is Elijah the Tishbite.” Ahaziah knows who Elijah is and immediately sends a captain and 50 men to forcibly bring Elijah to the king. Ahaziah’s response is to send an army against one man, like Jezebel. Pagan beliefs at that time thought that if they killed the prophet or cause him to recant then they could nullify the curse. We are reminded of Queen Jezebel’s searching for Elijah and her killing of the prophets of God. The captain approaches the mountain and demands that Elijah come down, Elijah replied to the captain, “If I am indeed a prophet, may fire come down from the sky and consume you and your fifty soldiers!” Fire then came down from the sky and consumed him and his fifty soldiers. So Ahaziah sends another captain and 50 men to retrieve Elijah, and fire from God came again and consumed the men. Then the king sent a third captain and 50 men, but this time the captain approached Elijah with respect for the LORD and His prophet, he assumed a position of submission and pleaded for the life of his men and himself. The LORD’s angelic messenger said to Elijah, “Go down with him. Don’t be afraid of him.” So he got up and went down with him to the king.
Elijah said to the king, “This is what the LORD says, ‘You sent messengers to seek an oracle from Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron. You must think there is no God in Israel from whom you can seek an oracle! Therefore you will not leave the bed you lie on, for you will certainly die.’” He died just as the LORD had prophesied through Elijah. In the second year of the reign of King Jehoram son of Jehoshaphat over Judah, Ahaziah’s brother Jehoram replaced him as king of Israel. He will rule for twelve years.
Elijah and Elisha are traveling through Israel; this last journey together will go from Gigal to Bethel, Jericho and the Jordan River. As they begin Elijah told Elisha to stay in Gigal but he will travel to Bethel. Three times Elisha will say, “As certainly as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” Two times in their journey Elisha is met by prophets of the LORD who tell him that Elijah will die soon. Determined to be with his father in the faith till the very end Elisha refused Elijah’s suggestion that he remain comfortably in Gilgal. Additionally a dying person often pronounced blessings on others and Elisha did not want to miss out on this opportunity to receive God’s blessings on his life and ministry.
When Elijah and Elisha approach the Jordan River the 50 prophets from Jericho watch from the shore as Elijah folds up his cloak and strikes the water with it. The water immediately divided, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground. When they had crossed over, Elijah said to Elisha, “What can I do for you, before I am taken away from you?” Elisha answered, “May I receive a double portion of the prophetic spirit that energizes you.” Elijah replied, “That’s a difficult request! If you see me taken from you, may it be so, but if you don’t, it will not happen.” Elisha is not asking for twice the ministry or power of Elijah. He is asking for the inheritance of Elijah’s ministry, as a firstborn son would receive a double portion Elisha was asking to be the successor of Elijah and to be privileged to carry on his ministry under God. Elijah is leaving the inherited double portion in the Lord’s hand, but reveals that if Elisha sees Elijah taken up to be with the LORD that would be the sign that he has received his request. This was not a condition for Elisha to receive the double portion but the evidence that he would.
As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a fiery chariot pulled by fiery horses appeared. They went between Elijah and Elisha, and Elijah went up to heaven in a windstorm. This whirlwind was similar to the pillar of cloud that led the Israelites in the wilderness, it represented God’s presence. Elisha responds with grief, he tore his own clothes as an act of mourning over the loss of this great spiritual warrior. From then on Elisha would wear Elijah’s cloak and would serve with the authority and power it symbolized.
Elisha picks up Elijah’s cloak and begins his journey alone retracing the path he took with Elijah. He stood on the shore of the Jordan, folded his cloak as Elijah had, struck the water of the Jordan and the river parted again showing he now possessed the power of Elijah. The 50 prophets of the LORD from Jericho were standing on the shore and witnessed him doing this. As Elijah approached them they bowed down to the ground in respect.
Then they make a request to send 50 men to search for Elijah, for the wind sent from the LORD may have carried him away and dropped him on one of the hills or in one of the valleys. Elisha had no doubt that Elijah was in heaven with God, but the men were insistent so they looked for three days but could not find any trace of Elijah.
While Elisha was in Jericho the men of the city approach him to do something about the water which has gone bad and was killing their crops. Jericho is experiencing the curses of the covenant, their wells are bitter and their land is unproductive. Elisha instruct them to get a new jar with some salt in it, he goes out to the spring and throws the salt into it. Elisha says, “This is what the LORD says, ‘I have purified this water. It will no longer cause death or fail to produce crops.” Salt is known to both preserve and purify, but adding salt to water normally makes water worse, not better. When the salt was put into the Jericho water the situation miraculously improved. This miracle showed the people of Jericho that the Lord, not Baal, the so-called god of fertility, could heal their barrenness.
From Jericho Elisha retraces his journey to Bethel, remember that Bethel was one of the alternate worship sites in direct conflict with God’s covenant. As Elisha approaches the town he is met by a large group of young boys who are heckling him, calling him names. The youths were expressing their disdain for the Lord’s representative – Elisha, saying his baldhead showed he was without power. Elisha turned and called down God’s judgment on the boys, and then two bears come out of the woods and rip the 42 boys to pieces. From there Elisha travels to Mount Carmel then on to Samaria the capital of Israel. Elisha’s ministry would continue what Elijah began on Mt. Carmel, with the power and authority of his spiritual mentor.