Sunday, 11 May 2014

(132) May 12: 2 Kings 1-3 & John 3:22-36

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read consider the ways that Elisha is like Elijah.

To ponder:
Ahazriah sends messengers to consult the false prophets of Baal about whether he will recover from his injury. God sends Elijah to meet them. His question stresses that there is “a God in Israel,” and he says the king will die. Hearing this, three times the king sends a detachment of fifty men to apprehend Elijah. They command him to come down from his hill because “the king says.” Elijah’s refusal shows the king’s commands are subject to God’s will. And his refrain: “If I am a man of God” shows the point of calling fire from heaven is to prove that he is a true prophet. So he refrains the third time because the captain clearly accepts and respects that fact. Moreover, the angel tells Elijah to go and “not be afraid” of this captain, suggesting the fire had protected Elijah on the other occasions from those who would harm him. Because Elijah is a true prophet, after repeating his message directly to the king, the king dies “according” to his “word.” He has no son, so he is succeeded by his brother Joram (1v17, 2v1). This event highlights the importance of sticking with the LORD, but also respecting those who speak his word. Jesus stressed how serious this is (Lk 10v16).
            Before we pick up Joram’s reign, we see the mantel passed to Elisha - the transition point between the two books. The text is matter of fact about God taking Elijah in a whirlwind showing the story must have been very well known (2v1). God may have sent Elijah to Bethel, Jericho and the Jordan (25 miles in total) specifically to meet the company of prophets at each location – perhaps for some final words before Elijah died. It seems these companies gathered around key prophets rather like disciples. Elijah may have told Elisha to stay behind each time because he knew he would die with Elisha with him (2v10) and wanted to forestall that. As each company of prophets raises the fact God was going to take Elijah that day, the tension mounts.
            What then occurs is witnessed by Elisha and 50 other prophets at the Jordan. Elijah’s God-given authority is demonstrated as the water parts when he strikes it with his cloak, like Moses at the Dead Sea, and Israel here at the Jordan when the ark was taken into it. This shows the possibilities for Elisha when Elijah asks what he can do for him. Elisha’s zeal is seen in requesting “a double portion” of Elijah’s spirit – ie. to be twice as able. Elijah’s response suggests he may have left the answer to the providence of God (2v10). So if God allows Elisha to be with him when he is taken, then God would grant Elisha’s request. The fact that Elijah is immediately taken shows this clearly was God’s will. The chariot and horses of fire could be a bestowal of heavenly honour taking Elijah to glory just as a commander of armies would ride in a chariot. Indeed, Elisha’s response hints at the heavenly host who are ready to fight for Israel (2v12). This fits the context of chapter 1 where Elijah can call fire from heaven to defeat detachments of soldiers. It therefore shows how Israel’s security depended on heeding her prophet. The whirlwind is a sign of the Holy Spirit (see 2v16). With similar theme, the strong wind and fire at Pentecost mark the time all God’s people will speak his word in the gospel, and the importance of heeding it.
            Elisha’s question “where now is the God of Israel?” and God’s response of parting the water for him as for Elijah shows he has granted Elisha’s request, which is confirmed by the onlookers. And from that point Elisha does twice as many miracles as Elijah. As the prophets knew Elijah was going to die, their search for him must have been for his body and confirms for the reader that he really was taken to heaven without dying, as Elisha realised. This is the sign of one who “walks with God” in a pre-eminent way (Gen 5v24).   
            Just as Elijah was like Moses, so like Moses, Elisha immediately turns bad water good in Jericho (Ex 15v22-26), and like Elijah calls down God’s judgement with a curse on those disrespecting him (as 1v9-14).
            We then see Jehoshaphat once more allied with Israel and urging Joram to enquire of a prophet of the LORD. (2 Kings 1v17 suggests Jehoshaphat’s son reigned Judah at this time, probably as a co-regency.) Elisha tells Israel’s king to consult his false prophets, but for Jehoshaphat’s sake gives instruction. By whatever means, God fills a valley with water. Because it hadn’t rained, the Moabites could comprehend water appearing so mistook it for blood in the sun’s reflection, perhaps acting hastily because the army contained many civilians (3v21). God’s people then defeated them just as Elisha predicted. The wickedness of the Moabites that warranted such judgement is seen when their king sacrifices his own son to his god. And rather than sickening his people, this emboldens them. So, having gained victory, God’s people withdraw and go home.

Praying it home:
Praise God for continuing to raise up those to speak his word to his people. Pray that you would so honour God that you would respect his ministers and their teaching.

Thinking further: Elijah
Elijah is a key figure in salvation history. Moses was the first and model prophet through whom Israel came to know “the LORD is God,” and through whom God gave the law to Israel. Despite Elisha having double his spirit, Elijah was therefore the one seen as the pre-eminent prophet in his role of calling Israel back to the law and to knowing that “the LORD is God” (1 Kgs 18v16-46). As we’ve seen, he is therefore portrayed as like Moses throughout. His particular role of bringing Israel back to the LORD is why God promises through Malachi that he will “send” his people “the prophet Elijah” to call them back to the law of Moses before he himself comes (Mal 3v1, 4v1-6). This is fulfilled in John the Baptist (Lk 1v16-17), who purposefully dresses like Elijah (2 Kgs 1v8, Mk 1v6), and prepares people for the LORD’s coming in the person of Christ (Mk 1v1-11). When Moses and Elijah appear on the Mount of Transfiguration, we are therefore seeing Israel’s two most important prophets, who testify that “the LORD is God” now affirming Jesus. In the light of their presence it is particularly significant that the Father affirms Jesus is his Son and says “listen to him” (Mk 9v7). The point is not just that he should be listened to just as Israel should have listened to Moses and Elijah. It is also that he fulfils the law and prophets as “the prophet” Moses spoke about (Deut 18v18-19), and the LORD himself that Elijah was to prepare people for. Listening to Jesus couldn’t therefore be more important. And his first words after his transfiguration are his prediction of his own death and resurrection (Mk 9v9-13). This is the heart of what we need to hear from him.

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