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Exposition of the Old and New Testament, by John Gill, [1746-63], at

4 Kings (2 Kings) Chapter 2

4 Kings (2 Kings)

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This chapter relates, how that Elisha accompanied Elijah to several places, and on the other side Jordan Elijah was taken up from him to heaven, which occasioned great lamentation in him, Kg2 2:1, but having the mantle of Elijah, he divided the waters of Jordan, and passed over, Kg2 2:13, and the sons of the prophets at Jericho, perceiving the spirit of Elijah on him, showed him great respect, and proposed sending men to seek his master, which they did in vain, Kg2 2:15, when he healed the waters at Jericho, at the request of the men of it, Kg2 2:19, and the chapter is concluded with the destruction of forty two children at Bethel by bears, who mocked him, Kg2 2:23.

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And it came to pass, when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind,.... Thereby lifting him up from the earth, and which, as it was the purpose and will of God, Elijah had notice of, as appears by his motions to different places, under a divine direction:

that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal, where it seems they met, a place where the Israelites first pitched when they came over Jordan, and where the tabernacle was for some time, and was famous for religious services, see Jos 4:19.

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And Elijah said unto Elisha, tarry here, I pray thee,.... Seemingly unwilling he should go with him, and be present at his assumption; which was either out of modesty, not affecting the spread of the honour and glory to be conferred upon him; or to prevent the grief of Elisha at his departure, or to try whether Elisha knew any thing of it, and what affection he had for him:

for the Lord hath sent me to Bethel; to give some comfort and some instruction and advice to the college of prophets there:

and Elisha said unto him, as the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee; being determined to see the last of him, and to have the benefit of his company and conversation, his heavenly discourse, and instruction from him as long as he could, and in hope of receiving a blessing from him at parting:

so they went down to Bethel; together, which, according to Bunting (h), was six miles.

(h) Travels, &c. p. 205.

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And the sons of the prophets that were at Bethel,.... Or the disciples of them, as the Targum; here, though a place where one of Jeroboam's calves was set up, was a school of the prophets, perhaps founded by Elijah as a nursery for religion, and a check upon the idolatry of the times:

came forth to Elisha; out of their college: and said unto him, knowest thou that the Lord will take away thy master from thy head today? who was, as Abarbinel observes, the crown and glory of his head; or else this is said, as generally thought, in allusion to disciples sitting at the feet of their masters, and so they at the head of them; the rapture of Elijah was by a spirit of prophecy revealed unto them:

and he said, yea, I know it; being revealed to him in the same way:

hold your peace: not caring to continue any discourse with them on the subject, that his thoughts, which were intent upon it, might not be interrupted, and that his master might not know that he knew of it, and lest he should be snatched away from him, and he not see him, while discoursing with them.

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And Elijah said unto him, Elisha, tarry here, I pray thee,.... At Bethel:

for the Lord hath sent me to Jericho; to the school of the prophets there, to strengthen, encourage, and advise them:

and he said, as the lord liveth, &c; using the same form of oath as before:

so they came to Jericho; together, which, as the above writer says (i), was four miles from Bethel.

(i) Travels, &c. p. 205.

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And the sons of the prophets that were at Jericho,.... For though this place was lately rebuilt under a curse to the builder, yet was blessed with a school of the prophets: whose disciples came to Elisha, and said unto him; as in Kg2 2:3 and to whom he made the same reply.

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And Elijah said unto him, tarry, I pray thee, here,.... At Jericho, seemingly very desirous to get rid of him, that he might not see his assumption:

for the Lord hath sent me to Jordan: where passing that he was to be taken up:

and he said, &c; Elisha swore, as before, he would not leave him:

and they two went on; to Jordan, which was six miles from Jericho (k).

(k) Travels, &c. p. 205.

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And fifty men of the sons of the prophets went, and stood to view afar off,.... To have a view, if they could, of the assumption of Elijah to heaven, and be witnesses of it:

and they two stood by Jordan; on the banks of it, even Elijah and Elisha.

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And Elijah took his mantle, and wrapped it together,.... Folded it up close together, in a position to smite with it; this is thought to be not his hairy garment, but a shorter robe, that was worn upon his shoulders; but the Greek version renders it by "melotes", and so in Kg2 2:14, which, according to Isidore (l), was a goat's skin, hanging down from the neck, and girt at the loins; and being thus clothed, perhaps, may be the reason of his being called an hairy man, Kg2 1:8,

and smote the waters, and they were divided hither and thither; just as Moses lifted up his rod, and the waters of the sea were divided for the Israelites:

so that they two went over on dry ground; in like manner as the Israelites did through the sea.

(l) Origin. l. 19. c. 24.

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And it came to pass, when they were gone over,.... Had got on the other side Jordan:

that Elijah said unto Elisha, ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken from thee; for, having followed him so closely, he now made no more a secret of his assumption, and having had full trial of his attachment to him, and affection for him:

and Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me; the two parts of the gifts of the spirit he had, that of prophecy, and that of doing miracles, as some think; or two parts out of three of what Elijah was possessed of; or rather double as much, and which he might desire, not from a spirit of vanity and ambition to be greater than his master, but from an eagerness to promote the glory of God, and the interest of religion, to reclaim the Israelites from their idolatry, and establish the true religion, which he might observe Elijah was not able to do with that measure of grace and gifts he had; or however this phrase denotes an abundance, a large portion or measure, as it everywhere does. Many, after Ben Gersom, have thought it refers to the double portion of the firstborn, and that Elisha does not mean a double portion with respect to Elijah, but with respect to the junior prophets, with whom he might be considered as a firstborn, and so desired a double or greater portion than they, and which may be most correct (m); and when he asked this, he did not suppose it was in Elijah's power to give him it, only that he would pray to God, at parting with him, that he would bestow it on him.

(m) See Weemse of the Moral Law, l. 2. c. 7. p. 41.

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And he said, thou hast asked a hard thing,.... Not a common privilege, but what is rarely enjoyed, and difficult to obtain, few are so favoured of God:

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; meaning, that if his rapture was visible to Elisha, and he was favoured with a sight of his assumption, and be an eyewitness of it, this would be a token both to Elijah that it was agreeable to the Lord to ask of him this favour for him, and to Elisha to expect it, otherwise not.

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And it came to pass, as they still went on and talked,.... About the donation of the gifts of the Spirit requested, about the state of religion in Israel, and about the training up of prophets in the colleges, and about Elisha's succession as a prophet in his room, and his discharge of that office, and such like things, as may be supposed, in which he gave him instruction and advice:

that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire; either angels in this form, see Psa 104:4, in which they appeared for the glory and honour of the prophet, and as emblems of his flaming love and zeal for the purity of religion, and that his assumption might be conspicuous to Elisha; and perhaps by this means might be seen by the fifty men on the other side Jordan: this chariot, drawn with these horses, was not seen in the heaven, but as running on the earth, and came between the two prophets, and separated them from each other, taking up Elijah into it by means of a wind whirling about him, and which was no other than the ministry of angels; or these might be a conflux of exhalations or clouds, formed in this likeness by a supernatural power, and, by the solar rays striking on them, might appear fiery or red; and so his assumption was much in such like manner as our Lord was taken up in a cloud, Act 1:9,

and Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven; body and soul; such a change passing on him, as he went through the region of the air, which divested him of his mortality and corruption, and fitted him for the invisible world.

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And Elisha saw it,.... The ascension of Elijah to heaven, the manner of it, and all relative to it, as the disciples saw the ascension of Christ, between which and this there is a great agreement, see Act 1:9, and so Elisha had the token by which he might expect to have the double portion, as the disciples after the ascension of Christ had an extraordinary effusion of the Spirit and gifts upon them:

and he cried, my father, my father; or my master, my master, as the Targum; Elijah being a father to Elisha, and the rest of the prophets, in the same sense as disciples of the prophets are called sons:

the chariots of Israel, and the horsemen thereof; who was a greater defence to Israel, and was of more service to them by his instructions and prayers, than an army consisting of chariots and horsemen; so the Targum,"he was better to Israel by his prayers than chariots and horsemen:"

and he saw him no more; he was carried up in the above manner into the heaven of heavens, out of the sight of mortals, and never seen more, but at the transfiguration of Christ on the mount:

and he took hold of his own clothes, and rent them in two pieces; not on account of Elijah's case and circumstances, who was now in a most happy and glorious state and condition, but as lamenting his own loss, and the loss of the public.

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He took up also the mantle of Elijah that fell from him,.... Which he had now no further need of, and Elisha had, having rent his clothes in two; and this falling into his hands was a token of his succeeding him in his office, and that he should have the double portion of his spirit:

and he went back, and stood by the brook of Jordan; at the place where he and Elijah had passed over together.

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And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters,.... He wrapped it together, as Elijah had done, and smote the waters in like manner, to make trial whether he had the same spirit and power conferred on him:

and said, where is the Lord God of Elijah? let him appear now, and show his power as he did by him; he knew the mantle would not do without the Lord, and the exertion of his might:

and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither; as when Elijah smote them. The words "aph-hu", rendered "he also", is left untranslated by the Septuagint, and is interpreted by Theodoret (n) "hidden". They stand immediately after "the God of Elijah", and may be rendered, "yea he", even he himself; meaning not Elijah, as if he was inquired after, or was present and smote the waters; but rather, as we and others, Elisha, even he also smote the waters; though some take it to be the name of God, as "Hu" was, and is with the Arabs to this day; see Gill on Isa 43:13. Athanasius (o) interprets it of God, "Appho"; and so Elisha calls him by his title and attribute, "Aph-hu": but the words may be an answer to the prophet's question, "where is the Lord God of Elijah?" here he is, even he himself, in the faith of which the water, being smitten, parted; and with this agrees Abarbinel's note on the text; the meaning is, though we are deprived of Elijah, yet not of the providence of God; and though the servant is wanting, the Lord or master is not; for even he, the blessed God, is in his room, and his excellency is as it was before; which sense is approved of by Frischmuth (p).

and Elisha went over; the river Jordan, as on dry land.

(n) Apud Flamin. Nobil. in loc. So Suidas in voce (o) De Commun. Essent. Patris, &c. vol. 1. p. 374. See Weemse of the Moral Law, l. 1. c. 7. p. 162. (p) Dissert. de Eliae Nomine, &c. sect. 11, 12.

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And when the sons of the prophets, which were to view at Jericho, saw him,.... Who went out from thence towards Jordan, to have a sight if they could of the assumption of Elijah; these, when they saw Elisha come over Jordan, the waters being parted by him:

they said, the spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha; or he has the same power and spirit to work miracles as he had, which they discerned by his dividing the waters of Jordan with his mantle:

and they came to meet him, and bowed themselves to the ground before him; in reverence of him as their master, in the room of Elijah.

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And they said unto him, behold, now, there be with thy servants fifty strong men,.... Perhaps meaning themselves, Kg2 2:7 who were young, stout, and strong, and able to travel for days together:

let them go, we pray thee, and seek thy master; for though they knew he was to be taken away, yet knew not for what time, and imagined he might be found again:

lest peradventure the Spirit of the Lord hath taken him up; as it seems he was wont to do, see Kg1 18:12.

and cast him upon some mountain, or into some valley; where he sometimes had his abode; or they might fancy, if he was taken up to heaven, yet in his soul only, and that, when that was separated, his dead body would be left on a mountain, or in a valley; and therefore they were desirous of seeking and finding it, that it might not be exposed to birds and beasts of prey, but that they might bury it in a decent and honourable manner:

and he said, ye shall not send; he knew it was to no purpose, since he was translated to heaven, body and soul, and which he was an eyewitness of.

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And when they urged him until he was ashamed,.... To deny them any longer, being so very pressing and importunate:

he said, send; lest they should think he had not the respect for his master he should have had; or was so fond of his office, that he did not choose he should be found alive if he could, and return and reassume it:

they sent therefore fifty men; some one way, and some another:

and they sought three days, but found him not; and then returned.

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And when they came again to him, for he tarried at Jericho,.... Waiting their return to hear the report they made: which when they had:

he said unto them, did I not say unto you, go not? assuring them it would be fruitless, and to no purpose; though this search of theirs served both to confirm the assumption of Elijah, and the truth of Elisha being a prophet of the Lord.

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And the men of the city said unto Elisha,.... The inhabitants of Jericho, perceiving him to be a prophet, and endowed with a power of working miracles:

behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth; in a plain, surrounded with gardens and orchards, with vineyards, oliveyards, and groves of palm trees, and other odoriferous ones:

but the water is naught, and the ground barren; that is, that part of it where this water was, or ran, for from thence it became barren; or "caused to miscarry", as the word signifies (q); not only trees cast their fruit, which it watered, but women became abortive that drank of it, as Josephus says (r), and so cattle. Abarbinel thinks it was so from the times of Joshua, being cursed by him; but, if so, it would not have been inhabited again; rather this was owing to a new curse, upon its being rebuilt; though this might affect only a small part of the ground, not the whole, as before observed.

(q) "orbans", Montanus, Vatablus; "facit abortum", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator. (r) De Bello Jud. l. 4. c. 8. sect. 3.

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And he said, bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein,.... One that had never been used, that it might not be thought that the virtue was owing to anything that had been, or was, put into it:

and they brought it to him; the pot with the salt in it.

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And he went forth unto the spring of the waters,.... The fountain from whence they flowed, the head of them:

and cast the salt in there; which was an unlikely means of making bad water good, since that makes it brackish, and not so drinkable, and what makes ground barren; but this method, contrary to nature, was taken, that the miracle might appear the greater; or, as the Jews express it, be a miracle within a miracle:

and said, thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; he did not pretend to heal them in his own name, and by his own power, but in the name and by the power of the Lord, to whom he would have it ascribed:

there shall not be from thence any more death, or barren land; or miscarrying; no more noxious and mortal diseases should be got by drinking them, nor any abortions occasioned by them in women, cattle, and fruit trees, as had been.

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So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spake. In the name of the Lord; and not only they remained so unto the time of the writer of this history, but to the times of Josephus, as he testifies (s), and even to ours; for there is a spring now called Elisha's spring or fountain, of which Mr. Maundrell says (t),"its waters are at present received in a basin about nine or ten paces long, and five or six broad; and from thence issuing out in good plenty, divide themselves into several small streams, dispersing their refreshment to all the field between this and Jericho, and rendering it exceeding fruitful.''So some other travellers (u) say of it, that the water is very clear and cool, and issues in a copious steam. Pliny (w) gives it the name of "Calirroe", the beautiful stream, and speaks of it as hot, wholesome, and medicinal, and of great note.

(s) De Bello Jud. l. 4. c. 8. sect. 3. (t) Journey from Aleppo, &c. p. 80. (u) Egmont and Heyman's Travels, vol. 1. p. 331. (w) Nat. Hist. l. 5. c. 16.

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And he went up from thence unto Bethel,.... From Jericho, which lay in a plain, to Bethel, situated on an hill, and therefore is said to go up to it; hither he went, to acquaint the sons of the prophets with the assumption of Elijah, to condole their loss of him, and to comfort and encourage them, and confirm his own authority among them as a prophet in his stead:

and as he was going up by the way; the ascent to the city:

there came forth little children out of the city; the word for "children" is used of persons of thirty or forty years of age; and though these are said to be "little", they were so well grown as to be able to go forth out of the city of themselves, without any to guide them, or to take care of them; and were of an age capable not only of taking notice of Elijah's baldness, but knew him to be a prophet, and were able to distinguish between good and evil; and, from a malignant spirit in them, mocked at him as such, and at the assumption of Elijah; which they had knowledge of, and to whom, taught by their idolatrous parents, they had an aversion: some Jewish writers (x) say, they were called "Naarim", which we render "children", because shaken from the commandments, or had shaken off the yoke of the commands; and "little", because they were of little faith:

and mocked him, and said unto him, go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head; meaning not up the hill to Bethel, where his coming was not desirable to the greater part in it, being idolaters; and perhaps these children were sent out to intimidate him with their flouts and jeers from entering there; but having heard of Elijah going up to heaven, as was said, they jeeringly bid him go up to heaven after him, and then they should have a good riddance of them both; thus at the same time mocking at him for his baldness, and making a jest of the wondrous work of God, the assumption of Elijah; which, with behaving so irreverently to an hoary head, a prophet of the Lord, was very heinous and wicked, and therefore what befell them need not be wondered at.

(x) T. Bab. Sotah, fol. 46. 2.

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And he turned back, and looked on them,.... With a stern countenance, thereby reproving them, and in order to intimidate them, and make them ashamed, and cause them to leave off, but to no purpose; they repeated their mockeries with great vehemence:

and cursed them in the name of the Lord; moved thereunto, not from passion and a spirit of revenge, but by an impulse of the Spirit of God:

and there came forth two she bears out of the wood; which are fiercest, and especially when bereaved of their whelps, as these might be; the wood seems to be near to Bethel, perhaps in the wilderness of Bethel, of which see Jos 8:15, and Reland (y) thinks it is the same with the wood of Ephraim, Sa2 18:6, though the Jews, to increase the miracle, say (z) there was no wood at all, and, if there was, that there were no bears in it; but though those creatures are mostly in northern countries, yet there were of them in Judea, see Sa1 17:34.

and tare forty and two children of them; it seems there were more than these; but such a number of them they tore to pieces and destroyed; which was very extraordinary, and was an awful punishment for their wickedness, which they knowingly and willingly committed, and of their parents in them, who had trained them up in such impiety, and put them upon it, and sent them out to do it.

(y) Palestin. Illustrat. p. 378. (z) T. Bab. Sotah, fol. 47. 1.

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And he went from thence to Mount Carmel,.... Where Elijah used to frequent, and where also there might be a school of the prophets; this, according to Bunting (a), was fifty six miles from Bethel:

and from thence he returned to Samaria; the capital of the kingdom of Israel; there to bear his testimony against idolatry, to reprove for it, and reclaim from it; this, as the same writer says (b), was thirty two miles from Carmel.

(a) Travels, &c. p. 206. (b) Ibid.

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