2 Kings 2 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of 2 Kings 2)

Verse 1

[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.

About to take, … — It is supposed, (tho' not expressly revealed) that Elijah flourished about twenty years, before he was translated, body and soul, to heaven, only undergoing such a change, as was necessary to qualify him for being an inhabitant in that world of Spirits. By translating him, God gave in that dark and degenerate age, a very sensible proof of another life, together with a type of the ascension of Christ, and the opening of the kingdom of heaven to all believers.

Verse 2

[2] And 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 — This he desires, either, 1. That being left alone, he might better prepare himself for his great change. Or, 2. Out of indulgence to Elisha, that he might not be overwhelmed with grief at so sad a sight. Or, 3. That he might try his love, and whet his desire to accompany him; it being highly convenient for God's honour, that there should be witnesses of so glorious a translation.

To Beth-el — Which was truth, tho' not the whole truth: for he was to go a far longer journey. But he was first to go to Beth-el, as also to Jericho, to the schools of the prophets there, that he might comfort, and strengthen their hearts in God's work, and give them his dying counsels.

Verse 3

[3] And 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.

And said — This was revealed to some of the sons of the prophets, and by them to the whole college. In the kingdom of Judah they had priest and Levites, and the temple service. The want of these in the kingdom of Israel, God graciously made up by these colleges, where men were trained up and employed, in the exercises of religion, and whither good people resorted, to solemnize the appointed feasts, with prayer and hearing, tho' they had not conveniencies for sacrifice.

From thy head — Heb. from above thy head: which phrase may respect, either, the manner of sitting in schools, where the scholar sat at his master's feet. Or, the manner of Elijah's translation, which was to be by a power sent from heaven, to take him up thither.

Hold you your peace — Do not aggravate my grief, nor divert me with any unseasonable discourses. He speaks as one that was himself, and would have them calm and sedate, and with awful silence waiting the event.

Verse 7

[7] And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood to view afar off: and they two stood by Jordan.

To view — To observe this great event, Elijah's translation to heaven, which they expected every moment: and whereof they desired to be spectators, not to satisfy their own curiosity, but that they might be witnesses of it to others.

Verse 8

[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.

Smote the waters — 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 his children to himself, death is the Jordan, which they must pass through. And they find a way thro' it, a safe and comfortable way. The death of Christ has divided those waters, that the ransomed of the Lord may pass over.

Verse 9

[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.

A double portion — Or, rather double to what the rest of the sons of the prophets receive at thy request. He alludes to the double portion of the first-born, Deuteronomy 21:17. But though Elisha desired no more, yet God gave him more than he desired or expected; and he seems to have had a greater portion of the gifts of God's Spirit, than even Elijah had.

Verse 10

[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.

A hard thing — A rare and singular blessing, which I cannot promise thee, which only God can give; and he gives it only when, and to whom he pleaseth.

If thou seest — This sign he proposed, not without the direction of God's Spirit, that hereby he might engage him more earnestly to wait, and more fervently to pray for this mercy.

Verse 11

[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.

A chariot of fire — 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 appeared visibly: Not in an human shape, tho' so they might have borne him in their arms, but in the form of a chariot and horses, that he may ride in state, may ride in triumph, like a prince, like a conqueror. See the readiness of the angels to do the will of God, even in the meanest services for the heirs of salvation! Thus he who had burned with holy zeal for God and his honour, was now conveyed in fire into his immediate presence.

Verse 12

[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 pieces.

My father — So he calls him for his fatherly affection to him, and for his fatherly authority which he had over him, in which respect the scholars of the prophets are called their sons. He saw his own condition like that of a fatherless child, and laments it accordingly.

The chariot, … — Who by thy example, and counsels, and prayers, and power with God, didst more for the defence and preservation of Israel than all their chariots and horses. The expression alludes to the form of chariots and horses which he had seen.

Verse 13

[13] He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and went back, and stood by the bank of Jordan;

Which fell — God so ordering it for Elisha's comfort, and the strengthening of his faith, as a pledge, that together with Elijah's mantle, his Spirit should rest upon him. And Elijah himself was gone to a place, where he needed not the mantle, either to adorn him, or to shelter him from weather, or to wrap his face in.

Verse 14

[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.

The Lord — Who at Elijah's request divided these waters, and is as able to do it again.

Verse 15

[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.

Bowed themselves — They had been trained up in the schools: Elisha was taken from the plough. Yet, when they perceive, that God is with him, and that this is the man whom he delights to honour, they readily submit 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."

Verse 16

[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.

Strong men — Able to take such a journey.

Lest, … — They thought, either that God had not finally taken him away from them, but only for a time; or that God had only taken away his soul, and that his body was cast down into some place, which they desired to seek, that they might give it an honourable burial.

Verse 17

[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.

Was ashamed — That is, to deny them any longer, lest they should think his denial proceeded from a neglect of his master, or a contempt of them.

Verse 19

[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.

Barren — Either it was so originally, at least, as to that part of the city where the college of the prophets was: or, it became so from the curse of God inflicted upon it, when Hiel rebuilt it. However, upon the prophet's care, it grew exceeding fruitful, and therefore is commended for its fertility in later writers.

Verse 20

[20] And he said, Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him.

A new cruse — That there might be no legal pollution in it which might offend God, and hinder his miraculous operation.

Put salt — A most improper remedy; for salt naturally makes waters brackish, and lands barren. Hereby therefore he would shew, that this was effected solely by the Divine power, which could work either without means, or against them.

Verse 21

[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 barren land.

Death — Hurt, or danger, to man or beast, by drinking of it.

Verse 23

[23] And 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.

To Beth-el — To the other school of prophets, to inform them of Elijah's translation, and his succession to the same office; and to direct, and comfort, and stablish them.

Children — Or, young men: as this Hebrew word often signifies. It is more than probable they were old enough to discern between good and evil.

The city — Beth-el was the mother-city of idolatry, where the prophets planted themselves, that they might bear witness against it, and dissuade the people from it; though, it seems, they had but small success there.

Mocked him — With great petulancy and vehemency, as the word signifies; deriding both his person and ministry, and that from a prophane contempt of the true religion, and a passionate love to that idolatry which they knew he opposed.

Go up — Go up into heaven, whither thou pretendest Elijah is gone. Why didst not thou accompany thy friend and master to heaven? Bald-head - So they mock his natural infirmity, which is a great sin. The repetition shews their heartiness and earnestness, that it was no sudden slip of their tongue, but a scoff proceeding from a rooted impiety and hatred of God and his prophets. And very probably it was their usual practice, to jeer the prophets as they went along the streets, that they might expose them to contempt, and if possible drive them out of their town. Had the abuse done to Elisha been the first offence of the kind, they might not have been so severely punished. But mocking the messengers of the Lord, was one of the crying sins of Israel.

Verse 24

[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.

Cursed them — Nor was this punishment too great for the offence, if it be considered, that their mocking proceeded from a great malignity of mind against God; that they mocked not only a man, and an ancient man, whose very age commanded reverence; and a prophet; but even God himself, and that glorious work of God, the assumption of Elijah into heaven; that they might be guilty of many other heinous crimes, which God and the prophet knew; and were guilty of idolatry, which by God's law deserved death; that the idolatrous parents were punished in their children; and that, if any of these children were more innocent, God might have mercy upon their souls, and then this death was not a misery, but a real blessing to them, that they were taken away from that education which was most likely to expose them not only to temporal, but eternal destruction.

In the name — Not from any revengeful passion, but by the motion of God's Spirit, and by God's command and commission. God did this, partly, for the terror and caution of all other idolaters and prophane persons who abounded in that place; partly, to vindicate the honour, and maintain the authority of his prophets; and particularly, of Elisha, now especially, in the beginning of his sacred ministry.

Children — This Hebrew word signifies not only young children, but also those who are grown up to maturity, as Genesis 32:22; 34:4; 37:30; Ruth 1:5.