Filling the Gap - 2 Kings 2. 1-15

G. B. Fyfe, London

Category: Exposition

THIS IS A REMARKABLE CHAPTER, giving as it does an account of Elijah's translation and the rather curious incidents leading up to that event. Things worked out differently for Elijah from what he originally expected. The opening words of the chapter afford us a glimpse of the divine purpose which designs our lives - for there is a pattern in our lives had we but eyes to see it. 'And it came to pass when the Lord would take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind . . .' What a dignified and fitting climax was this to the life and witness of the fiery prophet! God has purposed a far more splendid and triumphant end than ever Elijah imagined. Once he had asked to die in failure under a lone juniper tree in the wilderness, having fled in terror from the threat of an evil woman. But God had planned his exodus from earth in a quite different setting and in a distinctly grander manner. Not under the juniper, but over the Jordan; not in despondency, an overwrought servant; but in dignity, a commanding figure with a clear faith in God, suddenly swept upwards from the earth in the spiral of a mighty whirlwind. This was the unique depar┬Čture from the realm of time God had reserved for His servant Elijah. Marvellous grace ! What a mercy it is that an all-wise God does not always take us at our word, but bears with us in our ignorance and folly, as He did in the case of Elijah! To die alone in petulant mood under a juniper tree would have been an ignominious departure; but to be swept from earth to heaven in the fury of a whirlwind was a glorious and impressive exit. Elijah circumvented death, following the path of Enoch who also vanished from the earth when God took him. Thus Elijah made a good finish despite a sad lapse in the midst of his service, and a good ending to our life and witness is most important, for then is our probation over, and our life on earth with its possibilities ended - and as in the race, a good finish is vital.
The matter in view in this passage is that of succession in office - the continuity of witness - the filling of the gap in service for God. As one is taken, his place must be filled by another, for the work of God must go on. Like David of old, we can each but serve his generation, by the will of God, then hand on the blazing torch to another. And happy it is if another hand, trained and eager, reaches out to receive it. This is one of the big problems of our day. Many aged servants of the Lord who have poured out their lives in sacrificial labour, are passing on to their reward, but alas there do not appear to be the younger men and women ready or willing to fill the gaps in the assemblies. Some, it is true, essay to do so but they have not all trained themselves for the task, and this preparation cannot be achieved in a week or a month or a year. The situation presents a challenge to all young Christians in the assemblies to see that their latent gift is cultivated and utilized, so that when the gaps appear, they are ready to fill them for God.
Here there was a young man ready - a trained young man. A young man who had imbibed the teaching of his master; who had beheld the example of his master; who had followed the steps of his master. A young man, moreover, who had acquired a clear understanding of spiritual values, and at the crucial moment was ready to step out of the shadows to assume the role of leader and to fill the office of prophet in his master's stead.
Some ten years before this, Elisha had been called from the plough to become the prophet, 1 Kings 19. Now he is commissioned for his special task. Between those two points, there was steady preparation. Progressively he was equipping himself in the school of experience and instruction, and the product of the training shines out conspicuously now. The marks of the true servant appear in the context. They are simple, but costly, viz., fidelity to a person, and tenacity to a purpose.
His fidelity to his master is emphasized in the recurrent statement, 'I will not leave thee'. His tenacity to a purpose is demonstrated in that, neither by the testing of Elijah nor the cold cynicism of the sons of the prophets, could he be deflected from his fixed resolve. The Lord has need of young men and women of this calibre today! I wonder how we measure up to these two regulating principles of Christian conduct. For us the person is Christ. He is not our Saviour only - He is our Lord and Master as well. Do we always show allegiance to Him? How frequently, alas, do we fail Him in our lives and service. For us the purpose is the continuance, despite the hazards and obstacles, in the pathway marked out for us in the Scriptures of truth - we too must follow the steps of our Master. Our great purpose ought to be the glorifying of His name in all we are and do. May God give us all the urge to be more faithful and more tenacious in the days that lie ahead!
Before the great event of his translation. Elijah set out to complete his last tour of service. From Gilgal he journeyed to Bethel; from Bethel to Jericho; from Jericho to Jordan. This, be it noted, was not an aimless, self-imposed journey which he took, like the one when he fled from die irate Jezebel. This journey was carried out under divine direction. We quote Elijah's own significant words: 'The Lord hath sent me to Bethel. . . The Lord hath sent me to Jericho . . . The Lord hath sent me to Jordan'. So there was meaning to his movements, and a purpose behind the choice of places to which he went. There will always be meaning in our movements when our steps are prompted by divine guidance. To be always in the line of God's will should be our constant desire. An important factor in our service is to be, as Elijah was, conscious of having been sent by the Lord. This realization will enable us to operate with confidence in the sphere to which we have been led.
By the occurrences recounted in the chapter, the worth of Elisha was severely tested. Firstly, by his own master, who at each point on the last itinerary addressed him: 'Tarry here, I pray' - Do not come any further - You have accompanied me far enough. It was not really that Elijah wished to shake off his servant, but rather to test the latter's willingness to continue. Sometimes, too, the Lord similarly tests His servants, to discover the strength of their desire for Himself. The case of Ruth presents a parallel. In response to the request of Naomi that her daughters-in-law should remain in their own land while Naomi returned to her native country, Orpah kissed her and left her but Ruth 'clave unto her' saying, 'Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go'. The message is clear and compelling. Young man be faithful, be tenacious -as exemplified by Elisha! Young woman, be loyal, be steadfast - as seen in Ruth!
There came a second test for Elisha, this time from an outside source - from the sons of the prophets. Said they, in effect, What are you going to do now, Elisha? Your master is soon to be taken away from you. How will you fare then, Elisha? Can you really hope to fill his shoes, or perform his strenuous role? Think of it! the redoubtable Elijah gone, the influential prophet, and how can you, so weak and insignificant, hope to take the great man's place? How derisive and cynical they sounded. But although accosted in this way at each town of call by those arrogant young 'prophets', Elisha remained unmoved. He refused to discuss the matter with the sons of the prophets at all. In reply he merely said, 'Yes, I am fully aware of the position - be quiet!'. It might be deduced from those incidents, that Elisha was not a very popular choice as a successor to the famous Elijah. This situation repeats itself not infrequently in the experience of the Lord's servants to-day. It tests the mettle of the servant, and causes him to rely more fully on the strength of his Lord and Master.
At any rate, under no pretext would Elisha be shaken off". He clung tenaciously to Elijah, and as the two men set out for the Jordan, the boundary of Canaan, we read, 'And they two went on'. When they reached the rapid river, 'they two stood by Jordan'; and then, 'they two went over on dry ground'. After the crossing, it is recorded, 'they still went on'. These recurrent expressions accentuate the close agreement and intimate communion between Elijah and Elisha. The moments were precious, the time of fellowship short, the crisis was near - and they two went on together and talked. Parting advice and instruction may have formed the substance of their conversation as they moved on into the wilderness beyond Jordan.
It was here that Elisha was confronted suddenly with a further test - a more subtle and searching one than the previous two. Already he had given ample proof of his fidelity and tenacity. Now it was a question of, shall we say, his perspicacity.
Here was a man about to step into heaven, and his last act was to confer some benefit upon his faithful servant. He has no estate to bequeath, no material wealth to bestow. Nevertheless, with authority the heaven-bound prophet is empowered to gratify the desire of Elisha. 'Ask what I shall do for thee before I be taken away from thee'. Make choice of a parting gift from me. The response was bound to be most revealing. It would reflect the bent of Elisha's mind - it would disclose the supreme ambition in his life. What would be our reaction to an offer of this kind? Would our request be for wealth, or worldly eminence, or popularity, or an easy time and a trouble-free life? Elisha did not hesitate. He knew what he wanted most of all. It was a commendable request, revealing spiritual maturity and penetrating insight, for he asked for a double portion of his master's spirit. The double portion is the right of the firstborn - the son and heir. Elisha desired to move into the place about to be vacated by Elijah. He coveted the honour of being God's prophet in Israel; and to function in this high office with efficiency, he made request for a double portion of his master's spirit. 'Thou hast asked a hard thing', replied Elijah. Did he mean a hard thing to give - or a hard thing to receive? Was it going to be difficult for Elijah to grant his request - or would it be difficult for Elisha to accept it? Perhaps the latter. In any event it was not going to be an automatic bestowal. The receiving of the double portion was to be dependent upon a condition - an important proviso was attached to it. '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'. It all turned upon the matter of clearness of vision - herein lay the test for Elisha. He did not fail; his eye was keen, his vision clear, and when the critical moment arrived he saw his master swept from his side as he began his extraordinary journey into space and up to heaven. Elisha had fulfilled the condition imposed upon him, and as the fiery chariot with its attendant horsemen drove in and separated the two, he glimpsed the amazing exodus of Elijah, borne aloft, not in the chariot, but by the whirlwind, until he vanished beyond the ken of human vision. Out of the swirling wind there fluttered down the cloak of the prophet. This was promptly taken up by Elisha, who accepted it as the insignia of his great office. With it, too, came the double portion of his master's spirit, which enabled him to carry on the onerous task of prophet for God in Israel. It is interesting to note that, whereas Elijah performed eight miracles, Elisha was responsible for double that number - sixteen.
The analogy is plain. By the power of the Spirit of the ascended Christ alone, will we be able to labour acceptably for our Lord, during the period of his absence and our occupation.
It remains to notice the complete change in attitude, from derision to deference, on the part of the sons of the prophets to Elisha now. Out of curiosity those young fellows had gone forth to see the mysterious departure of Elijah. But standing afar off, on the opposite side of Jordan, they saw it not. What they did see was the miraculous display of power when Elisha, coming back alone, used the familiar cloak, and calling upon the God of Elijah, stayed the torrent of the Jordan until he had crossed into Israel again on dry ground. 'Why!' exclaimed the sons of the prophets, 'the spirit of Elijah doth rest on Elisha', and they came to meet him, and bowed respectfully before him. God had set His seal to the choice of Elijah's successor. The gap had been effectively filled.
Is there a gap waiting for you to fill, and are you qualified to fill it?
This helpful and practical treatment of Elijah's translation will enable our readers to obtain additional benefit from a study of the subject by S. Rogers, which we hope to publish in our next issue.