The Translation of Elijah

2 Kings 2:1‑14  •  4 min. read  •  grade level: 7
These verses give us the first distinct portion. Long before this, Elijah had invited Elisha into ministry with him (1 Kings 19) by passing by and casting his mantle upon him; but Elisha was not then quite prepared. He pleaded his father and mothe: “Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee.” Upon which Elijah, as it were, withdrew his mantle from him and recalled his invitation, saying, “Go back again: for what have I done to thee?” (The Lord seems to refer to the call of Elisha, in Luke 9:6262And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:62). Elisha was then at the plow but seemed to look a little back. See 1 Kings 19:19-2019So he departed thence, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth: and Elijah passed by him, and cast his mantle upon him. 20And he left the oxen, and ran after Elijah, and said, Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee. And he said unto him, Go back again: for what have I done to thee? (1 Kings 19:19‑20).)
This was significant. For though Elisha is for a moment seen ministering to Elijah after this (1 Kings 19:2121And he returned back from him, and took a yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the instruments of the oxen, and gave unto the people, and they did eat. Then he arose, and went after Elijah, and ministered unto him. (1 Kings 19:21)), yet we do not again find him expressly in company with his master until now that his master is just about to be taken from him.
And to what end is he now seen with him? Just to abide the fire, just to stand the test, whether indeed he were or were not fully prepared for the mantle.
Elijah can leave his mantle behind him. He needed it not in heaven to which he was going. As soon as he entered the fiery chariot on which the whirlwind attended—as soon as he was borne by angels (Heb. 1:77And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. (Hebrews 1:7)) up to heaven, he may, and must, disrobe himself. The mantle stands for the instrument of power, the gift for service here—and the servant lays that aside when his service is over; just as the sinner at his conversion, when his old estate is passed, can cast away his garments (Mark 10:5050And he, casting away his garment, rose, and came to Jesus. (Mark 10:50)). “We know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.”
But though Elijah may now dispense with his mantle, is Elisha prepared for it? That is the question. And this trial is made by two instruments—Elijah himself, and the sons of the prophets. Both were used by God to prove if, indeed, Elijah’s mantle were chief in Elisha’s esteem—whether he carried within him the spirit of a true Levite, of one with whom the Urim and Thummim might be,now being found able to say to his father and his mother, “I have not seen him” (Deut. 33:8-98And of Levi he said, Let thy Thummim and thy Urim be with thy holy one, whom thou didst prove at Massah, and with whom thou didst strive at the waters of Meribah; 9Who said unto his father and to his mother, I have not seen him; neither did he acknowledge his brethren, nor knew his own children: for they have observed thy word, and kept thy covenant. (Deuteronomy 33:8‑9)). This was the test: the Lord was weighing Elisha’s value of the glory. He was ascertaining how heavy a share in the joy and honor of being in the spirit and ministry of Elijah was in the scales of Elisha’s affections, and he stands the test; nothing slackens his hand. He silences all temptations; he declares plainly that he coveted the mantle, the double portion of the Spirit. He turns his eye from every object but the glory. It is no more his father or his mother behind him whom he would return to kiss, but it is his father in the faith, his kindred in the Spirit, he clings to and follows, upward and onward. “My father, my father,”he said, as Elijah was ascending, “the chariot of Israel, and the horsemen thereof”!
This was enough. There was a slight flaw in his title to the mantle at first, as we saw (1 Kings 19), but now his title is perfect. He is a true Levite. “He knows no man after the flesh,” and the mantle is his.
And this is a holy lesson for us. For how little do our hearts, surely we know, value the mantle—value the honor of serving Jesus, or a share of His coming glories! This tested not the prophet’s title to God Himself, or salvation. Elijah had no doubt that Elisha was the Lord’s; but this was trying his estimation of glory. And that is properly our only question. We are to examine ourselves whether we are walking worthy of the Lord’s glory—whether we value a share in it. And well for us if discipline lead us to covet it, as it did Elisha—well if nature, which is so tenacious of its life and its rights in us, be rebuked. While it says, “Go back and kiss father and mother,” we rather listen to the voice of the mantle which tells us to go forward after the prophet of God.
And humbling it is to know that the heart, left to itself without the Spirit, cares not for God or His glory. It once sold Him for a mess of pottage, then for a herd of swine, and then for thirty pieces of silver—and would still, for anything. The chariot may go back to heaven empty for all we care. This is the language of the heart. But, oh for grace to value a portion with Thee, blessed Savior! Oh for power in our souls to long for a seat with Thee in that heavenly chariot that shall separate us from earth and its interests, and take us in Thee, and with Thee, and through Thee, to the height of glorious bliss!