By J.R. Miller
2 Kings 2:1-11
Elijah's work was finished. The words of the record are very striking: "It came to pass, when Jehovah would take up Elijah by a whirlwind into heaven." The words show how completely Elijah's life was at the disposal of God. The prophet himself had nothing to say as to when he would go--or how he would go. It would be when and how the Lord would take him.
The unusual manner of Elijah's departure would seem to have been a mark of divine commendation, a reward for his faithfulness. Yet we cannot state with any positiveness, why the prophet was thus lifted over death as he was. All we can say is that it was the divine will concerning his departure. In this way he would best glorify God.
The brief account opens another window, a window into the Father's house: "Jehovah would take up Elijah . . . into heaven." His departure was a promotion, an exaltation, a translation. We know he did not cease to live. We have but to turn the pages over, until we come into the New Testament to see him again, nearly nine hundred years later, living and active still in God's work. This is just as true of the Christians who die in our time--as it was of the old prophet. The Lord takes them up into heaven, and they live on in blessedness and service forever.
One cold autumn day I saw an empty bird's nest on a tree. It looked desolate and forsaken--but I knew that the birds which once sang there were living yet, away in the warm southland, beyond the reach of winter's storms, singing there the same sweet songs they used to sing here. Just so, there is an empty love nest in many a home, in many a heart--but we know that the dear one who has gone is living with God in blessedness.
Elijah's last day on earth was a busy one. He was sent from place to place, first to Bethel, then to Jericho, then to the Jordan. God reveals His plan to His children step by step as they go on. Elijah was faithful also to the very last moment, and went swiftly from task to task. It was to visit the schools of the prophets that he went to Bethel and Jericho. He wished to give his last counsels to these young students whom he had been training and on whom the religious work for the people would depend when he was gone.
We should continue in our work until we come to the end. In fact, when we know that the time is short--we should be all the more diligent and earnest, that nothing may be left undone. Some godly men think they may retire from active service when they get well on in years, living leisurely in the closing days. But the knowledge that we have only a little while to live--should make us eager to do all we can in the world where so much needs to be done. The shortening days--should call us to intenser activity.
Elisha's friendship must have been a great comfort to Elijah. He came into his life that day in the field when the old prophet came upon the young man plowing, and called him. Elijah needed greatly such glad and cheerful companionship. Probably he had not known much of friendship. His life had been that of a recluse. His mission was stern and his work had been severe. Elisha had in him just the qualities that were needed to give comfort to Elijah in his advancing years. Elisha went with him everywhere, a constant help and cheer. He clung to him to the very last. "As Jehovah lives, and as your soul lives--I will not leave you!" he said.
Again and again Elijah begged him to tarry behind. Just why Elijah sought to slip away from him, we are not told. Perhaps he was trying to save him from the pain of parting. But Elisha would not allow Elijah to get out of his sight a moment. He owed everything to Elijah, and it was fitting that he should cling to him to the last and refuse to be separated from him. There are many young people who owe more than they know to older friends--parents, teachers, pastors, or others--and it is fitting and beautiful that they should show their grateful love and interest to the end.
Notice, too, what Elisha would have missed--if he had not clung to his master. He would not have seen the miracle at the Jordan or the glorious translation, nor would he have received the mantle of the ascending prophet. There are always rich rewards at the end of every path of faithfulness; and the harder and steeper the path--the greater are the rewards. God always pays His servants well, and we do not know what we miss, when we shrink from our duty in any way.
Elisha seems to have been much annoyed by the insistence of the young prophets. They kept asking him if he knew he was to lose his master that day. He said to them, "Do not speak of it!" The words seem harsh and ungentle, especially when spoken at such a time, in the midst of the sacred scenes which this chapter describes--yet the rebuke was merited. These sons of the prophets were impertinent chatterers, breaking in upon the solemn moments of most loving ministry with their thoughtless questionings. They had no conception of the sacredness of what was passing before their eyes. They had no appreciation of the grief of Elisha, before which their hearts should have been awed. They needed to learn just the lesson which Elisha's sharp rebuke gave them.
Many of us need to be taught the same lesson. We like to air our little bits of knowledge and information, letting everybody know what we have heard. Especially is this true when the knowledge we have gained is something we have no right to know, or at least no right to repeat. When we meet one in sorrow--we feel that we must say something about the trouble, and so we begin to chatter or to ask questions, when really we ought not to refer to the matter at all. There is a time to speak even in the presence of sorrow--but there is also a time to be silent. We would better be quiet always in time of grief--than to speak the wrong words or to speak them in a wrong spirit. Impertinence is always a miserable offense--but it is most miserable of all when it flings its crude words upon a breaking heart.
Elijah warmly returned the love of Elisha. The deepest wish in true friendship is not to receive--but to give; not to be ministered unto--but to minister. Elijah desired to bestow upon Elisha all he could bestow upon him. He wished to leave behind for him not merely the memory of his love--but a blessing which should make his successor more ready for his work. So he said, "Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you." He knew he was about to depart, and his heart yearned for the young man who had been so true a friend to him, whom he loved so tenderly. He wanted to give him some parting blessing.
We see illustrations of the same love ofttimes, when parents are about to leave this world. Their affection for their children grows more and more tender as the moment of parting draws near. This incident suggests also that our friends may often do more for us in dying--than they could do even in the midst of life. They are nearer heaven then than they ever were before, and have special power in prayer. Many of us are richer forever, for the last benediction and prayer of some beloved one.
Elisha's choice in answer to the request of Elijah showed the nobleness of his heart. He did not ask for position or health or ease or honor--but for more spiritual power. He had watched his master in his work, in his zeal for God, in his intense earnestness, and he wanted to have a double measure of the same spirit. He desired most of all--to be a better man, a holier man, more active and efficient in the Lord's work. Believers should seek, above all things, the graces and virtues which make a noble Christlike character. The highest desire of a true-hearted man should be that he may be divinely qualified for the work he is called to do. That was the longing of Elisha, as he knew that his master was about to leave him and that the burden of his great ministry was then to fall upon him.
Elijah promised conditionally that Elisha should have the blessing he sought. He told him that if he saw him depart, the favor should be granted to him. Godly men do not die out of the earth when they die. Their influence remains. They leave part of their spirit in other men's lives. Elisha received a double portion of the spirit of Elijah, because the work which the older man had been doing--would pass into the hands of the younger. The true mother leaves much of the power and the beauty of her character, in the hearts of her children. The teacher leaves his words in the minds of those he has taught. All people, good or bad, leave their life behind them in influence, when they go away. How important it is that we shall live well, that our characters be true, holy, pure, so that those upon whom any portion of our influence may fall--shall be blessed by what they get from us.
The last scene of all was very glorious. "As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind!" So the most devoted friends must sometimes be separated. This parting came very suddenly at the last. We walk on together talking for many days, not dreaming of separation, then suddenly, as the chariot is waiting, the one is taken and the other left! We should not overlook the certainty of ultimate separation in every friendship we form. Some day, one of the two who are now walking together in love--will be taken and the other left to weep by a grave and to walk on thereafter lonely and sorrowing.
The departure of Elisha suggests also--that heaven is not far away. One of the chariots from the King's country came down that day and carried the old prophet home. Another came down to the door of the house when your believing father, mother, brother, or sister passed away. We shall not leave the world as Elijah did, missing death--but we shall have the heavenly chariot for our freed spirits just as truly as he had. Jesus said that Lazarus, when he died, was borne by angels home to glory. We shall have angels to carry us up to heaven!