Here I will do an introductory survey of 2 Kings 2:1-25.
1. Pray for wisdom, insight, the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
2. Review introductory information about the book of the Bible in which the text appears.
We can start by looking at the author, audience, date, occasion, genre and outline of 1 and 2 Kings.
Most Bible scholars agree that the book of 2 Kings is part of a larger work that includes Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings. These books give evidence of being influenced by the book of Deuteronomy. For that reason, they are sometimes referred to as the “Deuteronomic History.”
The author of the Deuteronomic History is unknown. Richard Friedman has speculated that he may have been Baruch, the scribe who worked with Jeremiah. Whoever he was, he appears to have used a variety of sources for his work. Among these sources were materials about the prophets Elijah and Elisha.
John Gray writes, “Some of this matter is concerned with the role of these prophets in historical and social crises in Israel…. There is a great deal of other matter, however, which is concerned with more personal incidents on the career of these prophets….” Gray calls these “traditions orally preserved by prophetic circles.” Wiseman, in his commentary, gives the following account:
“In a variety of incidents which could well have been treasured memories retained by groups of prophets and recorded in prophetic memoirs, as for Samuel, Nathan and Ezra, a vivid and memorable picture is portrayed.”
2 Kings ends with the Judean king, Jehoiachin, being released from prison in Babylon in 562-561 B.C. (2 Kings 25:27-30). Thus, the date on which the final edition of the Deuteronomic History was completed cannot have been before then. But the stories about Elijah and Elisha must have been circulating in oral or written form for many years prior to that.
The audience for the book in its final form were Jewish exiles in Babylon who were trying to come to terms with their captivity and the destruction of God’s temple and Jerusalem. 1 and 2 Kings shows them that this disaster has happened not because the LORD has failed, but because God’s people and their kings have failed to keep the covenant that God made with them.
The genre of the book of 1 and 2 Kings is narrative history. Ian Provan gives the following description:
“The book of Kings tells us a story; it is narrative literature. It is a story that is certainly about the past (whatever else it may also be about); it is literature with historiographical intent. It is, finally, didactic literature—it seeks to teach its readers a number of things about God and the ways of God.”
The Reformation Study Bible has the following outline of the end of 1 Kings and the beginning of 2 Kings:
III. PROPHETS AND KINGS (1 KIN. 17:1–2 KIN. 8:15)
A. The Prophets and Ahab (1 Kin. 17:1–22:40)
B. Jehoshaphat of Judah (1 Kin. 22:41–50)
C. Ahaziah of Israel Defies Elijah (1 Kin. 22:51–2 Kin. 1:18)
D. Elijah Succeeded by Elisha (2:1–18)
E. The Ministry of Elisha (2:19–8:15)
1. Elisha and the prophets (2:19–25)
2. Elisha and the war against Moab (ch. 3)
3. Elisha’s ministry to the needy (ch. 4)
4. Elisha and Naaman of Syria (ch. 5)
5. Elisha and the prophets (6:1–7)
6. Elisha and the Syrian siege of Samaria (6:8–7:20)
7. Elisha and the Shunammite woman (8:1–6)
8. Elisha and Hazael of Syria (8:7–15)
3. Read the chapters that surround the text.
To get the context of 2 Kings 2, it makes sense to go back to 1 Kings and read 1 Kings 19, where Elisha is first mentioned. One could then begin reading at 2 Kings 1:1 and read through 2 Kings 6:7, since 2 Kings 6:1-7 mentions the “sons of the prophets” (or “company of the prophets”), who also appear in 2 Kings 2.
In 1 Kings 19, we see that the LORD appears to Elijah and reassures him, telling him to anoint successors to those currently reigning in Aram and Israel, and then to anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah as he own successor. Each of these successors will be instruments of God’s judgment. And yet the LORD will reserve 7,000 people who are faithful to him (1 Kings 19:15-18).
Elijah immediately goes and finds Elisha. He throws his cloak around Elisha to show that Elisha will succeed him. Elisha slaughters the yoke of oxen he has been plowing with and uses the plowing equipment to make a fire and cook the meat for his workers. Then he follows Elijah and becomes his attendant (1 Kings 19:19-21).
We next hear about Elisha in our text and note his association with the sons of the prophets. After that, in 2 Kings 4, Elisha assists the widow of one of the sons of the prophets who dies (ch. 4:1-7). He also makes some poison stew edible and provides bread for a hundred men (ch. 4:38-44). In 2 Kings 6:1-7 he helps one of the sons of the prophets by making an axhead float.
4. Read the text in multiple translations.
This can be done on Bible Gateway. In my case, I have read several translations of the text on Logos Bible software.
5. Review where the text begins and ends.
One could choose 2 Kings 2:1-18 as the text. These verses describe the process by which Elisha becomes the successor of Elijah. On the Bible Hub website, the Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges deals with ch. 2:1-18 as a unit. You can see the same separation between ch. 2:1-18 and ch. 2:19-25 in the outline above.
However, many commentators deal with ch. 2:1-25 as a single unit. Verses 19-25 serve to make clear that the Spirit that rested on Elijah does indeed rest on Elisha. He is at work both to bring blessing (verses 19-22) and judgment (verses 23-25).
There are additional indicators of the unity of the chapter. As Nelson notes, “Journeys start and finish the chapter, finally returning the action to Samaria, the locale of chapter 1.”
Davis highlights the movement of the narrative from Bethel (verse 2) to Jericho (verse 4) to the Jordan (verse 6), and then from the Jordan (verse 13) to Jericho (verse 18, cf. verse 18) to Bethel (verse 23). He comments:
“I think this geographical pattern is quite deliberate and hardly accidental. First, it shows that the water (vv. 19–22) and bear (vv. 23–25) episodes are integral parts of the narrative and not rootless tales floating around looking for a literary home. Take these sections out and one destroys a conscious geographical-literary pattern. Hence we have an argument for the unity of the chapter. Further, this pattern shows that Elisha really did receive the first-born share (cf. Deut. 21:17) of Elĳah’s spirit (v. 9), because Elisha retraces Elĳah’s very steps doing his mighty works.”
In light of these considerations, I believe it is helpful to deal will the entirety of 2 Kings 2 in a single sermon.
5. Ask questions of the text.
Now I will ask some questions of 2 Kings 2:1-25 and record my answers.
What is the main thought of the text, around which other thoughts are organized?
When God removes Elijah, he transfers his word and Spirit from Elijah to Elisha, so that as blessing and judgment came through Elijah, they now come through Elisha.
Is there conflict in the text or behind it?
Tension builds throughout the first episode as Elijah seems to be testing Elisha by telling him to not to accompany him, and Elisha persists in staying with him.
Then we wonder if Elisha will be granted his request for a double portion of the Spirit that is on Elijah. There is a minor conflict between Elisha and the sons of the prophets.
In the last episode (verses 23-25), there is a kind of conflict between Elijah and the jeering boys.
What is the fallen condition focus?
Apart from God, we experience bitterness and barrenness. We need God’s word and Spirit to give us life and fruitfulness.
What question is the text seeking to answer?
How does God continue to provide his word and Spirit to his people from one generation to the next?
What is the text saying? What is the text doing?
From one generation to the next, God provides those gifted with his Spirit to speak to his people, bringing blessing to those who revere him and judgment to those who despise him.
The text is giving insight and reassurance.
How is the text related to God’s gracious redemption in Christ? How does it show the meaning of or the need for redemption?
It points forward to Christ, the Word made flesh, anointed with the Spirit, who is our chief prophet and brings God’s word of blessing to those who trust in him and will bring God’s word of judgment on those who reject him.
- Richter, S. L. “Deuteronomistic History” eds. Bill T. Arnold and H. G. M. Williamson. Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2005. ↑
- Friedman, Richard E. Who Wrote the Bible? Second edition. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 2011. Chapter 7. ↑
- Gray, John. I and II Kings: A Commentary. Second, fully-revised edition. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1970. The Old Testament Library. 371. ↑
- Ibid. ↑
- Wiseman, Donald J. 1 and 2 Kings: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 9. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. 47. ↑
- Provan, Iain W. 1 & 2 Kings. Ed. W. Ward Gasque, Robert L. Hubbard Jr., and Robert K. Johnston. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series. 1. ↑
- Sproul, R. C., ed. The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2015. 545. ↑
- https://biblehub.com/commentaries/2_kings/2-1.htm, accessed 12/6/19. ↑
- Mays, James Luther, ed. Harper’s Bible Commentary. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988. 324; Jones, Gwilym H. 1 and 2 Kings, Volume II. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984. The New Century Library. 381.; Hobbs, T. R. 2 Kings. Vol. 13. Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1985. Word Biblical Commentary. 13; Nelson, Richard D. First and Second Kings. Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1987. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. 157. Provan. 172; Wiseman. 207. ↑
- Nelson. 157. ↑
- Davis, Dale Ralph. 2 Kings: The Power and the Fury. Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2005. Focus on the Bible Commentary. 30 ↑