Today we begin the book of 2 Kings. It picks up the history right where 1 Kings leaves off. The two were originally one book, but because of its length, it took up two scrolls. 2 Kings is where the second scroll began. Ahaziah is now king in Israel, and he has an accident that leaves him with serious injuries (1:2). Like his father before him, he worships false gods, so he sends messengers to speak to the prophets of Ekron (Philistine land) so they can seek Baal-zebub and inquire of him. By New Testament times, Baal-zebub and Satan were believed to be the same being.1
In verse 3, the Angel of the Lord tells Elijah to intercept Ahaziah’s envoy and prophesy. Throughout the Old Testament, we have seen that the Angel of the Lord is actually YHWH Himself – the pre-incarnate Son of God. I believe this is likely the case here. But notice how there is no dramatic appearance recorded. He just says this to Elijah. I think that Elijah lived his life with unusual supernatural sense, that is, the reality of the spiritual realm was part of his everyday reality (we will see that this is also true for Elisha after him). This is likely why Elijah and Elisha after him perform supernatural feats with such confidence (as we are about to see).
So Elijah prophesies against the king, and the envoy returns to Ahaziah (vv. 4-5). When they describe the clothing of the prophet (v. 8), Ahaziah knows that it is Elijah. Remember, Elijah placing his cloak on Elisha (1 Kings 19:19) was enough for Elisha to know what Elijah was doing. His dress was well-known. We will see that John the Baptist dresses similarly during his prophetic ministry (Matt 3:4). So the king wants to see Elijah in person, and sends some soldiers to bring him in (v. 9). It may seem harsh to us that these men are consumed by fire (v. 10), but there is a reason. They call him “man of God” (v. 9), acknowledging that he is a prophet. But Elijah’s prophetic ministry was to pronounce judgment on the Northern Kingdom. The fire, as we have seen, is symbolic of God’s presence. This is God punishing these idolaters. It is a summary of Elijah’s mission to Israel.
We see this happen a second time (vv. 11-12). But note that when the third commander of the soldiers shows humility before Elijah (and God), his life is spared along with his men. The symbolism cannot be missed. God deals with the haughty idolaters one way, and the humble another. We see this further confirmed in Ahaziah’s death after Elijah pronounces God’s judgment on him (vv. 16-17). Having no son of his own, his brother Jehoram becomes king (v. 17 – note that Jehoram king of Israel’s reign crosses over with Jehoram, king of Judah’s reign. Don’t get confused!).
Chapter 2 records a well-known incident: the translation of Elijah to heaven. We are told that YHWH is about to take Elijah to heaven by a “whirlwind” (2:1).2 Elijah tries to get Elisha to stay behind (v. 2), likely to spare him from witnessing what is about to happen. Elijah says he is going to Bethel, and we read that when he gets there, the prophets there “came out” to Elisha and asked him if he knew what was about to happen (v. 3). There are a few possibilities here. Either Elisha and the other prophets knew through a revelation from God what was going to happen, or Elijah told them all (which isn’t explicitly recorded). I think the most likely order of events is that Elijah wants to spare Elisha of seeing what’s about to happen, so asks him to stay in Gilgal. Elisha, being sensitive to the Spirit, already knows what is about to happen, hence his emphatic refusal to stay behind. When Elijah gets to Bethel, he tells the school of prophets about his impending departure. That is what God sent him to Bethel for: to tell the prophets. When the prophets tell Elisha what Elijah told them, he tells them to keep quiet. He knows, and doesn’t want to talk about it.
This seems to track considering Elijah once again tries to convince Elisha to stay behind, and Elisha again vehemently refuses (v. 6). We also see that some of the prophets keep Elijah in their sight, hoping to see what is about to happen (v. 7). In verse 8, Elijah confidently performs one of those supernatural works (v. 8). This is the final allusion to Moses3 in the life of Elijah – the parting of a body of water. In verse 9, now knowing that Elisha is going to see what’s about to happen, Elijah asks him what he can do for him (v. 9). Elisha’s request for a “double portion” of his spirit is in the legal language of inheritance for the firstborn son (see Deut 21:17). Elisha is asking to be the Elijah’s heir – the leading prophet of Israel – over and above the other prophets. Elijah says that it will be granted to him (because it is for God alone to grant) if he sees him ascend to heaven.
In verse 11, we again see that fire that represents the presence of God. That Elisha sees the chariots of fire (v. 11 – see 2 Kings 6:17) shows that he has indeed inherited that spiritual sense of Elijah; a double portion, in fact! And the whirlwind takes Elijah to heaven. God came personally to get him. And as Elisha sees it and knows that he has received the inheritance as the heir, he calls Elijah “my father” (v. 12). And Elisha signifies his mourning over losing Elijah by tearing his clothes. But he also takes up Elijah’s cloak, symbolizing that he has now “taken up the mantle” of prophet to Israel (v. 13). His question “where is YHWH, the God of Elijah” (v. 14) is a genuine question. He is asking God: “will you really be with me like you were with Elijah?” He gets his answer when he, like Elijah before him, separates the waters.
In verse 15, we see that the other prophets are aware of what has just transpired and they humbly show their recognition of Elisha’s status. Then they ask that they may seek Elijah (v. 16). But Elisha knows he can’t be found in this world. When they press him, he allows them to prove it for themselves (vv. 17-18). And we see the miraculous nature of Elisha’s prophetic ministry immediately in the healing of the water (vv. 19-22).
In the incident of the group of boys being killed by bears (vv. 23-24), we may again think that the response is harsh and unwarranted. But what happens here is a rejection of Elisha – God’s prophet – by these boys. Their call for him to “go up” is telling him “get out of here like Elijah did.” They were glad Elijah was gone, and wanted Elisha to go, too. They did not want a prophet of God because they did not want to hear the Word of God. They did not want anything to do with YHWH. Elisha, who took the mantle from Elijah, would also be a prophet of judgment for unbelief.
In chapter 3, Jehoram of Israel is brought back into focus (3:1). Note the discrepancy between 3:1 and what we saw in 1:17. Who was Judah’s king when Jehoram began to reign in Israel? Jehoram (of Judah) or Jehoshaphat. The answer is yes. There is believed to be a four-year overlap where Jehoshaphat and his son were co-regents of Judah. During that time, Jehoram (of Israel) came to power. And we see, he was not quite as evil as Ahab and Jezebel (low bar!), yet he did not turn the people from their idolatry (vv. 2-3).
We then read of the rebellion of the previously subservient king of Moab (v. 5). We see that Jehoshaphat is still willing to be an ally to Israel (v. 7). The king of Edom also joins in the war (v. 9). Because of how long they are marching, they run out of water. Jehoshaphat again shows himself to be a Godly man in the style of David, because he wants to seek a prophet of YHWH (v. 11). So they seek Elisha (v. 12).
When Elisha sees the king of Israel, he tells him to go to the prophets of Baal that Ahab and Jezebel trusted (v. 13). When Jehoram insists he help, Elisha says that it is because of Jehoshaphat that he will help (v. 14). Remember, Judah was still the people of God even though Israel had been rejected. So Elisha prophesies. Not only will God supernaturally provide water (like He has done so many times before), but He will provide victory (like He has so many times before) over Moab (vv. 16-19). We see in verse 20 that God fulfills His promise and provides water. We also see that He uses that same miracle to cause Moab’s undoing (vv. 21-24).
But once again we see that there is a spiritual battle going on behind the physical one. When the king of Moab sees no other way to victory, he takes his oldest son – his heir! – and sacrifices him (v. 27). We are then told that “there came great wrath against Israel” as a result. The wrath is so great, that Israel retreats. What is going on here? Well, there are two ways to interpret this. First, the king of Moab’s sacrifice inspired him and his 700 men so much that they were able to fight off the armies of Israel, Judah, and Edom in great wrath. I do not think this is very likely. The other option is that the sacrifice the king made (it would have been to Chemosh, the god of Moab) actually incited the gods of Moab to fight for them. These, of course, would be demons, and not gods. It would appear that demonic forces came against Israel (who is singled out here), and they fled because of their lack of faith in the true God.
1 It is likely that Baal-zebub was actually a lesser demon and not Satan.
2 The word used here that is translated “whirlwind” (ESV) is used elsewhere in the Old Testament to talk about the presence of God. God speaks to Job out of the whirlwind (Job 38:1, 40:6). The prophet Zechariah predicts YHWH’s appearance from the whirlwind (Zec 9:14). Ezekiel sees God’s glory come out of the “stormy wind” (Eze 1:4). Isaiah predicts God will come to judge Jerusalem with a “tempest” (Isa 29:6). So what the writer of 2 Kings is saying, is that God is coming down to get Elijah Himself.
3 I believe there is a very good chance that when Elijah got to heaven, he is met Moses who was in a resurrection body. This is why nobody ever found his body, and why they both appear bodily at the Transfiguration (Matt 17:3).