For the most part, the Old Testament speaks very little about life after death, at least compared to the New Testament. Some take that to mean that God’s people knew nothing about it then. But how much the people of God knew or thought about it is actually pure (and often, I believe, incorrect) speculation. It is clear from God’s word that His people were told something about, and had been given hope for, some sort of fellowship with God after death. Among the notable places in scripture where this is evident are Genesis 5:24, where Enoch was “taken” by God, Psalm 23:6, Ecclesiastes 12:7, and certainly here in 2 Kings chapter 2, where Elijah is taken up in a whirlwind.
We know little about most of the prophets of the Old Testament because God gave us what we need to know through the prophets that gave us His word in the scriptures. But there were many more than most people think (remember Obadiah hiding 100 of them from Ahab in caves in 1 Kings 18:4). Here, Elijah has been preparing Elisha to be his successor as God told him in 1 Kings 19:15-18; and some of the prophets make it clear that God has revealed to them what is about to happen to Elijah (verse 5). Clearly, Elijah is in some way their leader, and is held in reverence. When Elijah asks him what he would have Elijah do for him, Elisha asks for a double portion of his spirit. Though God had already declared that Elisha would be Elijah’s successor, this could have symbolic meaning as Elijah is like a father to him (verse 12). He has already left his old life behind and an inheritance with it; and a first son would expect a double portion in his inheritance.
Elisha tearing his clothes before he takes the cloak that Elijah left behind (verse 12-14)appears to have a double meaning. The tearing of ones own clothing in the Old Testament was an act of mourning or deep dismay, but it also seems to symbolize the transformation of Elisha to Elijah’s role. Upon Elisha’s return, the other prophets can tell that Elijah’s spirit “rests on Elisha” (verse 15). And in verses 19-22, he makes it clear that he has the favor of the Lord. The fate of the “boys” in verses 23-24 when they were disrespectful to Elisha may seem harsh, but remember that Bethel was at the center of Israel’s apostasy; and traveling in a gang of around 50 (or possibly many more), their behavior and intentions were likely more threatening than mere taunts.
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some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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