ONE HUNDRED and two men of the army of Israel had been burned to death by lightning. They had defied God and attempted to arrest Elijah and to take him to Samaria. (II Kings 1:1-12.) When fifty more approached the prophet, their captain fell to his knees before Elijah and asked for mercy.
Soldiers Learn a Lesson
"We heard about how fire came down from the sky to consume those who came before us," the humbled officer told Elijah. "We didn't want to come here after you, lest we suffer the same fate, but we have been ordered by the king to respectfully ask you to go with us. We trust that your God knows that we are only carrying out orders, and that He will spare us." (II Kings 1:13-14.) Elijah was pleased that this officer would come to him with such a different attitude. But being taken back to Samaria was another matter. If that happened, he could be imprisoned or even face execution. "Go with him," a voice said to Elijah that only he could hear, and that he recognized as the voice of an angel. Regardless of what might happen to him at Samaria, the prophet obeyed. He nodded to the officer and stepped in with the soldiers to march with them to the capital of Israel, there to be taken before Ahaziah. From his bed the king regarded Elijah with a sort of sullen awe, as though he wondered if the prophet would call for lightning to strike the palace. "Why did you ask your God to destroy my men?" Ahaziah inquired resentfully, although with some hesitance. "I didn't ask God to destroy your men," Elijah answered. "God did it for reasons of His own. He also has reasons for soon dealing with you. Because you looked to a pagan god for advice and help, instead of the only true God, you shall die in your bed!" On orders from the distressed king, Elijah was escorted out of the city. Soon afterward the prophet learned that King Ahaziah had died. The king of Israel had no sons to succeed him. Jehoram, his brother, became the next king. For the next nearly twelve years he was to follow in the ways of Ahaziah, whose personal interests came before those of his people. (II Kings 1:15-18.) By this time, Elijah had long since established colleges for training prophets, or ministers of God, at two and possibly three towns in Israel. After leaving Samaria, he went to visit one of the colleges, and there conferred with Elisha, who had left his family about ten years before to be trained as a prophet by Elijah. Elisha had become the foremost minister under Elijah. It was evident to students and other followers of God that Elisha would in time take Elijah's position as the head, under God, of the colleges and groups of disciples. That time came with Ahaziah's death. Elijah's work was finished, inasmuch as he was getting well along in years, and the Creator had chosen Elisha to deal with the next king of Israel. Both Elijah and Elisha were aware of these things. They also realized that Elijah would be taken from his familiar surroundings, so that he wouldn't be regarded as an old has-been, as time went on, by his enemies.
Elisha's Loyalty and Dedication
"I should go visit the college at Bethel," Elijah told Elisha, hoping that he could thus slip away. "Then I'll accompany you," Elisha said, determined that the older man shouldn't leave by himself. Elijah hesitatingly gave in to Elisha's request, and the two rode on donkeys to Bethel. There some of the students, called in those days "sons of the prophets," excitedly came to Elisha to tell him that they had heard that Elijah was about to leave for some other part of the world. "I know about it," Elisha told the students. "Don't discuss the matter around others. There could be some who would start rumors." (II Kings 2:1-3.) Following a hasty inspection of the college at Bethel, Elijah told Elisha that God had directed him to go to Jericho, and that Elisha should wait for him in Bethel. "You shouldn't make the trip alone," Elisha hastily commented. "Count on me to stay with you wherever you go." Elijah couldn't gracefully forbid the younger prophet to go with him. Thwarted again in his desire to be alone, he smiled and nodded to Elisha, who didn't want to part with his superior any sooner than necessary. When they arrived at Jericho, Elisha was accosted by students and followers who anxiously informed him what they had learned about Elijah's leaving. "I am aware of it," Elisha told them. "Don't tell it around, or some of our people who follow God might become upset." (II Kings 2:4-5.) Shortly afterward, Elijah informed Elisha that he had been instructed to move on to the Jordan River, and that it was his wish that Elisha stay behind so that he could make the trip in lone meditation. "So be it," Elisha agreed. "If you want to be by yourself I'll stay behind. But I won't forsake you. I'll be behind only a short distance so that I can watch for your safety." This wasn't quite what Elijah meant. He sighed to himself, but at the same time he was pleased that this man should show so much loyalty. He shrugged his shoulders in resignation and motioned for Elisha to accompany him. When they arrived at the Jordan, Elisha looked back to see that about fifty men had followed from Jericho to see what would happen to Elijah. They didn't think that the two prophets would go any farther. The river in that area couldn't easily be forded, and they hardly expected the elderly Elijah to attempt to swim across. Neither Elisha nor the fifty men from Jericho could imagine what happened next. Elijah removed his cape, folded it up, walked to the edge of the river and struck the water with the piece of clothing. The water, moving from the north, ceased flowing past the spot where Elijah stood, but the water that had already passed continued flowing to the south, leaving an exposed river bed.
God Inaugurates a Leader
While water slowly rose deeper to the north, Elijah strode across the almost waterless bed of the river with Elisha close behind him. By picking their way from rock to rock, they kept from walking in the wet sand and mud. As soon as they reached the east bank, the growing wall of water broke away and ran swiftly off the south, and the river soon returned to normal in that spot. (II Kings 2:6-8.) While the students from Jericho stared in amazement, the two prophets walked out of sight on the east side of the river. When the two were alone, Elijah turned to Elisha. "I know that you know that I am about to be taken from here," the older prophet stated. "I know that you have stayed close to me for that reason, and I appreciate your fidelity. If there is anything that I can do for you before I go, tell me now what it is." "Because I was the first you chose to teach God's ways, I consider myself as sort of a first spiritual heir of yours," Elisha replied. "Because of that, I ask that you give me a double portion of your special power from God, just as a foremost heir is entitled to a double portion of his father's property. I need this so that I'll have the wisdom and power needed to deal with people and situations." "Your request is wise," Elijah replied, "but it wouldn't be possible for me to give you such a thing. Only God can do that, and it will be up to Him. If God allows you to witness my departure, then you will know that your request will be granted. If you don't see me go, it will be a sign that your desire will be denied." (II Kings 2:9-10.) As the two men continued to walk eastward from the Jordan, the sky took on a strange, glowing hue directly overhead. Something resembling a flaming chariot drawn by flaming horses emerged from the glowing sky, swooping toward the ground with great speed. There was a sound like a strong wind. It quickly grew to almost a roar. The younger prophet was aware that dirt and sand were stinging his face. He momentarily closed his eyes. The force of the wind suddenly abated, although a loud sound remained for a short time. Elisha opened his eyes and looked around. Elijah wasn't there. A glance upward gave Elisha a start. The flaming chariot was being drawn into the sky by what appeared to be a strong whirlwind. This time the chariot wasn't empty. Elijah was in it! "My teacher and master!" Elisha cried out sadly. "You have been of more value to Israel than all the horses and chariots of this nation!" (II Kings 2:11-12.)
Seconds later Elijah was out of sight. Elisha kept on trying to keep him in view, but there was nothing to see but empty sky. The younger prophet finally gave up and picked up Elijah's cape, which had fallen to the ground. He walked back to the east bank of the Jordan. There he struck the water with the cape, expecting that the river would be divided as it had been when Elijah performed the same act. The Jordan kept on flowing as usual. "God, give me the power that you gave Elijah," Elisha prayed, realizing that he had expected a miracle because the cape was Elijah's instead of looking completely to God as the source of power. Again he struck the water with the cape. Immediately the river broke apart in the same manner it had done only a short time before. While the fifty men from Jericho watched the twice-performed miracle, Elisha walked back across the bed of the river. (II Kings 2:13-14.) As he strode up the west bank of the stream, his mind was filled with one question: What had become of Elijah? For many centuries people have been taught that Elijah was taken from this planet to the realm where God lives and from which He rules, even though the Bible states that no one except Christ has ascended into the heaven where God's throne is located. (John 3:13; Acts 2:29-34.) The Scriptures show that Elijah was taken up into heaven, but there are three heavens mentioned in the Bible. The first is the atmosphere surrounding Earth to a depth of about forty miles, in the lower part of which birds fly. (Genesis 1:20.) The second heaven is the space of the whole universe, the starry expanse that is billions and billions of miles across. (Genesis 1:14-16; Ezekiel 32:8.) The third heaven is the unseen place or throne from which God controls the whole universe. (Isaiah 66:1; Acts 7:49; II Corinthians 12:2.) The first heaven, or atmosphere, is the one into which Elijah was taken. We live and move in that heaven, inasmuch as we need air to keep us alive. Elijah was taken up to a high altitude, but he still remained in the first heaven. Those who wrongly teach that Elijah was taken to the third heaven point to an account in the New Testament in which Christ went with three of his disciples to a mountain to pray. In a vision the disciples saw Elijah and Moses talking to Christ, who later told His companions not to tell others about the vision. (Matthew 17:1-9.) Because Elijah was taken from his old environment in Israel, that didn't mean that he died. He was put down safely in a distant place where he wasn't known, there to peacefully live out the rest of his life. Wherever that place was, Elijah surely kept aware of the events taking place both in Israel and Judah. A full four years later, when an evil man was king of Judah, HE RECEIVED A LETTER FROM ELIJAH. It warned him that he would soon become diseased and die because of the terrible things he had done. (II Chronicles 21:12.) How long Elijah lived after sending the letter is something that probably won't be known until the prophet tells about it after he is resurrected and again taken high into the first heaven to meet Christ coming down from the third heaven to rule Earth for the next thousand years. (I Thessalonians 4:15-18; Revelation 5:10, 20:4-6.)
"Elijah is Safe!"
Meanwhile, the fifty men from Jericho hurried to meet Elisha to anxiously inquire what had become of Elijah. Elisha briefly explained that God had taken him up in a whirlwind. He showed them the cape that the prophet had dropped. (II Kings 2:15.) "That means that you have been given the wisdom and power that Elijah had," one of the men declared as they bowed before Elisha. "Aren't you concerned about Elijah?" another asked. "Isn't it possible that he has been killed by falling onto some rocky mountain or into some deep valley? Shouldn't we search for his remains?" "God took him up, and God will take care of him," was Elisha's reply. "There is no reason to look for him." "But anything could have happened," one of the men insisted. "Even if Elijah comes down safely, he could become lost. All of us are anxious to go out and search. Would you deny us this effort to do something for God's servant?" "If it's so important to you, go search," Elisha replied, having been made to feel that he was responsible for Elijah's absence. "You'll only be wasting your time. God wouldn't take Elijah for the purpose of dropping him or causing him to become lost." For the next three days the fifty men searched for miles around for Elijah, but they found no sign of him. They returned to report to Elisha at Jericho, where he was staying for a time. "I knew that you wouldn't find him," Elisha reminded the weary searchers. "I also knew that you wouldn't be satisfied until you had looked for yourselves. Be assured that wherever Elijah is, he is safe and well, and that God will provide him with all his needs." (II Kings 2:16-18.) A few days later, while Elisha was still at Jericho, leaders of the city informed him that their source of water, a nearby spring, had become so impure that it was hindering the plant growth and causing ill health to the people. They hoped that Elisha could do something about it. Elisha did. He asked for a container of salt, which he carried to the spring and dumped therein. The city officials, who had followed him, were quite startled. The water was already bad enough without making it salty. "Why did you do that?" one of the officials asked. "How can you possibly improve water by putting salt in it?" "It can't usually be improved," Elisha answered. "But God instructed me to use salt because it is an emblem of purity. The salt itself won't improve the waters. God wants you to know that He has healed these waters, and that from now on they will impart good health to those who consume it and lush growth to all plant life in this area." Right away the people of Jericho noticed how much better the water tasted. In the months to come they were pleased because of the healthy growth of trees, shrubs, grass and gardens. This was the second outstanding miracle God performed through Elisha. (II Kings 2:19-22.) Soon afterward, as the prophet was going to Bethel, a group of rude youths — often mistakenly translated "little children" — came from Bethel to shout insults. "Look at baldy walking!" they jeered. "Why doesn't he fly the way he claims old Elijah did?" "He knows he can't fly!" they taunted him. "He lied about that crackpot Elijah, and a lot of religious idiots believed him!" "Mocking God's servants is mocking God!" Elisha warned them. "A curse from God should fall on you for acting like this!" The jeers ceased when angry roars came from a nearby wood. Seconds later, two huge, snarling bears ambled from under the trees and charged straight at the youths!"