2 Kings 2:1-14

   Print this page

2 Kings 2:1-14

Background to the Book of 1 Kings

What's happening in Judah at this time?

The books of Samuel tell us in great detail about the rise of the kings, how they came about and the role of the prophet in this new form of government. The decline of Saul, the rise of David and the relationship between Saul's son Jonathon and David is given many chapters. The second book of Samuel describes the rise of David and the gradual defeat of the countries surrounding Israel. The geographic size of the kingdom is the greatest it will be until the advent of the Six Day War in the 20th century. The Philistines are particularly difficult to overcome if the records in the Hebrew Scriptures are in chronological order. It appears as though they are defeated once and for all and then pop up as a threat in the next chapter. David has problems within his own household which indicate also the union of the twelve tribes is on a very fragile footing.
The Books of Kings are divided into two for convenience sake and contain the story of the death of David, the reign of Solomon and the circumstances which lead to the division of the North and Southern Kingdoms. They give a potted and biased theological history of the next 350 years ending with the release of Jehoiachin in Babylon.
1 K 1-11 = SOLOMON

It is highly likely that 1 & 11 Kings forms part of the Deuteronomistic History most of which was written in the time of Josiah with additions in exile to speak to a new situation. The books of Kings have been a major focus for finding the particular theological emphases of the Deuteronomic Historian.  The whole history is set up to evaluate the kings in light of the Law. All kings of Israel are condemned and only two of the Judean kings other than David are viewed positively, Hezekiah and Josiah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. Major interests which govern the material are as follows: Cultic orthodoxy as set out in the Book of Deuteronomy with Jerusalem as the place of worship. There is no compromise between Yahwistic faith and Canaanite or other cults. Apostasy led to disaster. This is demonstrated very clearly in the stories of Jeroboam who attempted to build the sanctuaries of Dan and Bethel, 11 K 13:1-10.

Fulfilment of the Word of God in prophecy (von Rad, The Problem of the Hexateuch and other Essays, pp.205-221).
Some examples of this occurrence can be seen in the following passages:
11 Sam 7:13 ---> 1 K 8:20
1 K 11:29ff -----> 1 K 12:15b
1 K 13 ------> 11 K 23:16-18
1 K 14:6ff ------> 1 K 15:29
Joshua 6:26 -----> 1 K 16:34
1 K 22:17 ------> 1 K 22:35ff
1 K 22:21ff -----> 1 K 21:27-29
11 K 21:10 ------> 11 K 24:2
11 K 22:15ff ------> 11 K 23:30
Divine punishment occurs because of the disobedience of the kings and people to the law.
History is interpreted in light of Yahweh's purpose, so the loss of the North is because of their disobedience to the law of Moses, 11 K 17:7f, 18:12, 21:8, 23:25. That the people were now in exile was their own fault and Not Yahweh's and indeed justified his anger. David is also a measuring rod alongside the Mosaic law by which the kings are judged . The laws are the will of God for the people of Israel, punishment follows when the laws are flouted. On the other hand God's patience and faithfulness is demonstrated throughout Deuteronomic History:
1 K 11:13 - I will not tear away all the kingdom; 1 K 11:32, 1 K 11:36 et al. Many of them based on the promise made to David. Any information which does not line up directly onto these themes gets little attention e.g.Omri's extensive building programme in Samaria.

The first 10 years of Josiah's reign hardly signifies only the reformation is of real importance. 
The two reasons given for the loss of the 10 tribes is the defection of Solomon from the law (1 K 11:31-39) and Jeroboam's apostasy with his attempt to build sanctuaries at Dan and Bethel. A number of Literary Sources are identified within the books of Kings: it will be noted the author uses these written sources for his own particular theological purpose.
Book of the Acts of the Kings
Book of Chronicles of the Kings of Israel
Book of Chronicles of the Kings of Judah
Account of Ahab's wars with Damascus
Prophetic traditions of Elijah, " " Elisha" " Isaiah in 11 Kings 18-20 " " Ahijah
History within the Text:

The books of Samuel tell us in great detail about the rise of the kings, how they came about and the role of the prophet in this new form of government. The decline of Saul, the rise of David and the relationship between Saul's son Jonathon and David is given many chapters (Samuel = 25, Saul = 22, David = 29, Solomon = 10). The second book of Samuel describes the rise of David and the gradual defeat of the countries surrounding Israel. The geographic size of the kingdom is the greatest it will be until the advent of the Six Day War in the 20th century. The Philistines are particularly difficult to overcome if the records in the Hebrew Scriptures are in chronological order. It appears as though they are defeated once and for all and then pop up as a threat in the next chapter. David has problems within his own household which indicate also the union of the twelve tribes is on a very fragile footing. (More detailed description is given in previous Lectionary Readings)

What is happening in the surrounding great empires? (Extracts from the Anchor Bible Dictionary)

Babylonia and Assyria (ca. 1000-627 B.C.). a. A Period of Weakness (ca. 1000-748 B.C.). During the 2d millennium Assyria increasingly became an important background presence in Babylonian history, and in the 1st half of the 1st millennium this was even more evident. Other peoples and powers, such as the Arameans and Elamites, had a significant impact upon Babylonia, but it was Assyria which gradually gained the leading control over Babylonia. At the beginning of the 1st millennium Babylonia was independent once again, for Assyria was struggling against the Arameans for its very survival. The Arameans penetrated Babylonia, too, winning land and wealth and causing much chaos.

Egypt: Third Intermediate Period

The era immediately succeeding that of the New Kingdom (NK) witnessed varied developments in society, culture, and economy (Kitchen 1973). Notwithstanding the apparent paucity of royal inscriptions, much has been revealed by recent research concentrated on this hitherto presumed Dark Age of Egypt. However, the paramount and consistent trend in the dynasties following the fall of the NK is one of political decentralisation and corresponding lack of a firm unified monarchy (Yoyotte 1961). Foreigners, too, made an impact on the Nile valley, and not one but three different contenders for the prize of Egypt left their mark. First, there were the Libyans, who had already settled in the north during the reign of Ramesses III; then Egypt was faced with a southern incursion, that of the Kishites; finally, the mighty Assyrians attempted to conquer the land. As a result, the political history of this time is difficult to view as a whole if only because Egypt was not unified as before. For the sake of simplicity and ease of comprehension, modern scholarship now uses the term "Third Intermediate Period" to cover Dynasties 21-25 (ca. 1069-664 B.C.). This, in turn, was followed by the Saite Period, Dyn. 26 (664-525 B.C.), an era of unity (De Meulenaere 1951; 1967; all dates follow Kitchen 1982-83). However, it should be stressed that the 3d Intermediate Period is purely a global designation, revealing little about the 400-year span of Egyptian history, a time that witnessed the emergence of a society quite different than any preceding.

As it can be seen from the brief paragraphs describing the scenarios in Egypt and Mesopotamia there was little time or energy for intrusion into Palestine which allowed David to extend his empire without interference from the Empires either side. This does not deny the military acumen and charisma that David needed to weld the tribes together and fight as a cohesive unit.
Context of 2 Kings 2:1-14
This story, like that of last week, is part of the Elijah cycle of stories which begins in 1 Kings 17 when Elijah has the first of many conversations with the King Ahab who had not long come to the throne. Ahab was condemned in the writings because he did evil in the sight of the Lord, married a foreign princess and encouraged the worship of foreign idols. Elijah spoke the word of God to the King and the people. He spent three years with a widow in Sidon who was provided with food by a miracle performed by Elijah who later performed another miracle when he raised the widow's son from the dead. The drought which had been prophesied by Elijah was broken after Elijah went to speak with the King. On the way he met Obadiah who had hidden and fed a hundred of his prophets from the Jezebel who wanted to kill all the prophets of Yahweh.

Elijah declares that he, Ahab, has forsaken Yahweh and Elijah challenges him and his 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah to a contest on the top of Mount Carmel. The people are challenged also about which god they will follow. Elijah wins the contest when the sacrifice is burnt by fire after it has been soaked by barrels of water, to prove the power of Yahweh. The prophets of Baal are killed as was the custom of those times when a victor killed the challengers. Rain came to break the drought and Elijah went with Ahab to break the news to Jezebel about the loss of her prophets.

After his experience of God in the wilderness Yahweh commands Elijah to return and anoint a foreign king in Damascus. He is to anoint Hazael King of Syria. This is most unusual to anoint a foreign king in a foreign court. He is also to anoint the successor of Ahab who is Jehu and his own successor Elisha. Prophets were an active part of the political scene. They were never coy about this involvement. 1 Kings 20 describes the battle with Benhadad King of Syria, and the resultant covenant made between the King of Israel (Ahab) and Syria. Apparently because Ahab spared Benhadad whom he was supposed to kill he was condemned by one of the prophetic band (1 Kings 20:42). The Elijah saga continues in 1 Kings 21 with the story of Ahab and Jezebel who cheat and kill Naboth in order to get hold of his vineyard. We looked at 1 Kings 21 in detail in the Pentecost 2 readings. This treachery of Ahab is the final seal on his House and when Elijah confronts Ahab with his actions he prophecies that Ahab will die and Jezebel be eaten by dogs. The chapter following picks up the conflict with Syria and now Judah comes on the scene when Ahab asks the King of Judah (Jehoshaphat) to fight with him to reclaim some territory which Syria occupies.

The Kings of Judah and Israel do the right thing and consult the Lord through the prophets who say it will be all right to go into battle, but Jehoshaphat is still nervous and so they consult with Micah ben Imlah who agrees that it is the right time to go against the King of Syria. Along with these prophetic words was the prophecy that Israel would be without a leader. This came true when Ahab was struck by a stray arrow and carried from battle mortally wounded. Ahaziah ascended th throne and became ill, and Elijah sent a mesenger telling him that he would die. This occurs in 2 kings 1 and in 2 Kings 2 Elijah is taken up into heaven watched by Elisha and 50 sons of the prophets. We have the narative about elisha in the folowing chapters.

Several times in the Elijah stories we hear about a prophecy which later is shown to come true, for example, Elijah prophecies the end of the house of Ahab and a couple of chapters later the story demonstrates how this comes to pass. This was an important aspect of the Deuteronomistic writings. We must never forget that the Prophets were part of the political, social and religious life. There was no separation of the political and religious spheres in the life of Israel and Judah.

Insights/Message of 2 Kings 2:1-14

V.1 forecasts the main event of this chapter which is the translation of Elijah into heaven vv.7-15. Vv.1b-6 use the journey and dialogue to get to the place where this event will happen and vv.16-18 confirm that Elijah has really been taken up. The journey is in 3 stages: Elijah and Elisha are on their way from Gilgal when Elijah announces he has to go on ahead to Bethel. Elisha refuses to leave him and they continue to Bethel. This saga is repeated at Bethel and they both continue to Jericho and again the same story until they arrive on the banks of the Jordon.

At Bethel and Jericho there were sons of the prophets who reminded Elisha that Elijah was about to die and at the Jordon fifty of the sons of the prophets came with them. In each instance of the reminder to Elisha, he states that he knows and commands them to hold their peace.
Three times Elisha uses an oath which confirms his loyalty to Yahweh and his commitment to Elijah. It has the same flavour as Ruth's avowal of loyalty to Naomi.

We have arrived with the one who will die, the one who will succeed and fifty witnesses. The act of Elijah striking the water with his cloak and the Jordan parting is reminiscent of Moses and the crossing of the Red Sea. It is not the first time Elijah is seen to be in the footsteps of Moses.
Long has quite a helpful inclusio for vv.7-15:

Sons of the prophets at some distance (v.7) River divided, Elijah and Elisha cross over (v.8) Vision in the Transjordan (vv.9-12)

River divided, Elisha crosses back (vv.13-14)

Sons of the prophets at some distance (v.7) (Long, 25)

Elisha's request for a double portion of Elijah's spirit is in response to Elijah's question asking Elisha "what shall I do for you?" Because it is a hard thing which Elisha has asked it will dependent on Elisha's ability to see Elijah's transportation into heaven. This seeing includes the full spiritual understanding of a prophet's role and spirituality. An heir has a right to double the inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:17). The response of Elisha when he saw Elijah's ascension was to acknowledge him as father. Not sure if this is in reverence to Elijah as master and the father/son relationship which was depicted in wisdom circles.


This passage is the record of Elijah's successor after he has ascended into heaven. Verse 1 tell us what is to happen before we are taken on the journey. The 'sons of prophets' act as witnesses and it is they who acknowledge in v.15 that "The spirit of Elijah, rests on Elisha". It is obviously important that the successor to Elijah is truly recognised as the rightful heir. He asks for what is know to be the proper request - a double share, except here it is the spirit of Elijah and not worldly goods. When the text states that Elisha "saw it" (v.12), it implies that he understands the full significance of the role he now inherits in response to Elijah's condition that he" sees" (v.10) his ascension.

This chapter is seen by many scholars to verify the idea that there were schools of prophets who gathered around and were disciples, much like the twelve disciples of Jesus. It is important to have a line of approved prophets to whom God speaks and the action of Elijah in parting the waters puts him in line with Moses, as it does for Elisha who parts the water on his return journey. The image of the fiery chariot and horses of fire all point to a theophany of God.
Through the centuries the church has passed on the mantle of leadership to people within the community in order that there can be those who give express their gifts in this way. In the Uniting Church in Australia it is done through ordination and also in commissioning of people for a variety of ministries. The role of prophecy changed totally in New Testament church and prophets in line of Old Testament prophets are much harder to recognise because like prophet of old they stand on the edge of the church and confront the community in a variety of ways.

Elijah has become an important figure in the Christian tradition. John the Baptist was seen in line with the Elijah figure and he was the person called upon by Jesus on the cross.
Resources/ Worship for 2 Kings 2:1-14
Resources: Commentaries
The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the book.
The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.
Childs, B.S. Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture. London: SCM Press, 1993
Devries, S.J. 1 Kings. WBC. Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1985
Gray, J. 1 & 11 Kings. OTL. London: SCM Press, 1964
Jones, G.H. 1 and 2 Kings, NCB. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984.
Long, B.O. 1 Kings, with an Introduction to Historical Literature. FOTL. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984.
Nelson, R.D. 1 and 2 Kings. Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1987.
Seow, C-L, The First and Second Books of Kings, NIB 111. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: