Melachim II Two: Elijah Goes to Heaven

Elijah and Elisha are together, and it’s almost time for Elijah to die. Well, not to die exactly, according to tradition. “And it was when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, that Elijah and Elisha went from Gilgal (Kings II 2:1).” So Elijah is going to be taken up to heaven, but the oddness and the ambiguity in this verse has led to a great deal of lore about whether or not he really died, and if he’ll return someday. But at this point, Elijah and Elisha stay together and go to Bethel. Both men know that this is the day that Elijah will go to heaven, and Elisha promises to stay with him until that moment. Their travels continue, and they go to Jericho, and then to the Jordan.

“And Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water, and it divided to this side and to that side; and they both crossed on dry land (Kings II 2:8).” There are plenty of allusions here to the previous times when the Israelites have crossed the Jordan, and to when Moses split the sea in the Exodus. At this point, Elijah and Elisha have left the holiness of the land, ceremoniously crossing the border into the unknown and unfamiliar. Elijah asks Elisha what he wants as a reward for his loyalty. All that Elisha wants is a double portion of the spirit of his mentor, which seems like a very noble request. He wants the blessings of the great prophet. It’s a very touching scene. The two clearly have deep affection for one another, and they’re walking and talking in a very intimate way.

“And it was that they were going, walking and talking, and behold a fiery chariot and fiery horses, and they separated them both. And Elijah ascended to heaven in a whirlwind (Kings II 2:11).” I can’t even imagine such a dramatic, awesome scene. Elisha is overwhelmed by it, and cries for Elijah. Elijah was his father figure, his mentor and guide, and now he’s gone. Even though they were together up until the very last minute, they don’t get to say goodbye. I think this shows that no matter what, when someone is taken away, there are always things that we didn’t get to say and feelings of regret over moments that weren’t taken advantage of. But Elisha quickly picks himself up, takes Elijah’s mantle, both literally and figuratively, and goes back to the river. Elisha is now the one who splits the river and crosses back. The disciples, who remained in Jericho, see him returning and know that he is the new prophet. His wish came true, and Elijah’s blessings have settled on him.

 

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