Reader: “My father! My father! I see the chariots”
Response: “and charioteers of Israel!”
Scripture: II Kings 2:1-12
When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal. And Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Bethel.”
But Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you!” So they went down together to Bethel.
The group of prophets from Bethel came to Elisha and asked him, “Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?”
“Of course I know,” Elisha answered. “But be quiet about it.”
Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Jericho.”
But Elisha replied again, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you.” So they went on together to Jericho.
Then the group of prophets from Jericho came to Elisha and asked him, “Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?”
“Of course I know,” Elisha answered. “But be quiet about it.”
Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to the Jordan River.”
But again Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you.” So they went on together.
Fifty men from the group of prophets also went and watched from a distance as Elijah and Elisha stopped beside the Jordan River. Then Elijah folded his cloak together and struck the water with it. The river divided, and the two of them went across on dry ground!
When they came to the other side, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away.”
And Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.”
“You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah replied. “If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you won’t.”
As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress.”
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
Yesterday we commented on the ascension of Jesus. As you recall, there were a couple of ascensions in the First Testament, that of Enoch, about whom we know very little (Gen. 5:24) other than it says he “walked in close fellowship with God. Then one day he disappeared, because God took him.” The second ascension you just read about, the departure of Elijah from this earth. His name comes from El “God” and Yah “YHWH” meaning “my God is YHWH.” Think of all the names in the Bible that have “el” in the name: Eli, Gabriel, Daniel, Joel, Ezekiel, Samuel, Elisha, even Eliphelet (!) to name a few. Why these two men did not experience death, I do not know. What we do know is that both were very tuned to God’s voice and walked closely with him. Elijah apparently knew that he was about to depart this world. In preparation for his “ascension,” God told him to go from Gilgal to Bethel (meaning “house of God”). Gilgal speaks of faith and trust in God rather than in this fallen world. It was at Gilgal that Joshua and all his men were circumcised upon entering Canaan, cutting themselves off from this world as it were in renewing and obeying their covenant with God. Gilgal means “rolling.” God rolled away Israel’s reproach in Egypt. Elijah leaves the place of rolling to enter Bethel, the heavenly realm. From there they traveled to Jericho, the first city conquered when the Israelites entered the Promised Land, then on to the Jordan River, crossing it by the same means as the Israelites entered Canaan. Crossing the Jordan has always been symbolic of death, that of leaving this world for heaven. It is also symbolic of baptism. It is somewhat ironic that Elijah is going the opposite way. Like the Israelites crossing the river, he parts it and crosses on dry land, he’s just going the other way! He’s heading east which is symbolic of the resurrection. (This same Elijah appears some 800 years later at the Transfiguration of Jesus to talk with him and Moses about Jesus’ own “crossing the Jordan,” his departure from this world. That would have been a fascinating conversation to listen in on, Moses, who died with no one near to be buried by God in an unmarked grave, and Elijah, who skipped the death thing all together and went to heaven in a chariot of fire [God’s presence]). As the time drew near for Elijah’s departure, Elisha asked his mentor for a double portion of his spirit and to also become his successor. It was granted as the Bible records exactly twice as many miracles performed by Elisha as related to Elijah, including some of the same ones. So, once again where does all of this fit into your life this 22nd day of May in the year 2020? What do we glean? First, there is most certainly a very conscious life that continues after we depart this world. Second, walking closely with the Lord is vital. Third, when we leave this earthly life, we have nothing to fear. Fourth, God alone has the keys to your life and death. Fifth, in walking closely with the Lord, you couldn’t be in a better place.
Music: “Then Did Elijah Break Forth” from “Elijah” Mendelssohn New York Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus
In the oratorio, this is the point where Elijah dramatically ascends to heaven in a fiery chariot! Note the “horse gallop” in the rhythm of the orchestra.
Then did Elijah the prophet break forth like a fire; his words appeared like burning torches. Mighty kings by him were overthrown. He stood on the mount of Sinai and heard the judgments of the future, and in Horeb its vengeance. And when the Lord would take him away to heaven, lo! There came a fiery chariot with fiery horses, and he went by a whirlwind to heaven.
Who can tell what a day may bring forth? Cause me therefore, gracious God, to live every day as if it were to be my last, for I know not but that it may be such. Cause me to live now as I shall wish I had done when I come to die. O grant that I may not die with any guilt on my conscience, or any known sin unrepented of, but that I may be found in Christ, who is my only Savior and Redeemer.
―Thomas à Kempis, 1380-1471, from Eerdmans’ Book of Famous Prayers, p. 37