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II Kings 2:1-12 1
1 When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the LORD has sent me to Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. 3 The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “but do not speak of it.” 4 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the LORD has sent me to Jericho.” And he replied, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So they went to Jericho. 5 The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?” “Yes, I know,” he replied, “but do not speak of it.” 6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.” And he replied, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on. 7 Fifty men of the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. 8 Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground. 9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied. 10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise not.” 11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart.

clip_image054Background 2

Often called the Deuteronomic History of the Kings of Israel and Judah because of the prominence attached to the Deuteronomic law of the Central Sanctuary, Kings discusses the attitudes of Israel’s kings toward the observance of the law of the Central Sanctuary as the most important factor in their various reigns. In this respect, the kings’ conduct determined more than anything else whether they did that which was evil or that which was good in the sight of Yahweh. Although some of the kings ruled for a comparatively long time and others occupied the throne for only a brief period, all were judged by the same standards. Any king who failed to destroy the high places of worship or permitted the people to offer sacrifices at any place other than the Temple in Jerusalem was said to have performed evil in the sight of Yahweh and was responsible for the disasters that fell upon the nation.

Biblical Truths and Theology 3

During the reigns of the kings of Israel and Judah the courts and local sanctuaries were frequented by groups of prophets (the word used is nabi’, pronounced naa-vee). Not all of these were prophets of Yahweh. In the story of Elijah we are told that Jezebel, Queen of Israel, had about 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah at court. Many of the prophets of Yahweh had been murdered by Jezebel, although some had been saved (1 Kgs 18:3-4).
It was the task of prophets to advise kings and others what action or policy to adopt. Kings and other officials needed to be aware of what the gods planned or were up to. One could not afford to be at odds with divine plans. From the story of Elijah, and that of Micaiah in 1 Kings 22, we see that prophets had a very important religious and political role. The risks of bad advice to a king were high. As with political advisers today, the possibilities of overly strong influence on the king on the one hand or a weak ‘yes-man’ capitulation on the other were also high. It is little wonder that laws and traditions developed in Israel and Judah dealing with the notion of a true prophet (see Deut. 13:1-5; 18:15-22 and 1 Kings 13).

Elisha seems to have gathered a group of disciples around himself who had possibly belonged to cultic sites like Bethel or Gilgal. Early stories of such prophets note their sometimes ecstatic behaviour, believed to be caused by the ruach or ‘spirit of the Lord’ (e.g. 1 Samuel 10) coming upon them. On the other hand, Elijah was an independent figure. He is called ‘man of God’, as distinct from ‘nabi’’, and leads a wandering existence, appearing when Yahweh directs him to confront one or other of the kings. Unlike Elisha, he does not seem to be attached to any sanctuary, court, or group, although he could have been the spiritual master of a guild of nabi’s (cf. 1 Sam. 19:18).

As today’s passage begins Elijah is nearing the end of his life and is engaged in what appears to be a farewell tour of the sanctuaries of Gilgal, Bethel and Jericho. With him is his heir apparent, Elisha, who seems keen to inherit the prophetic mantle of Elijah, and his personal calling by Elijah seems to have been settled (see 1 Kgs 19:19-21). The nabi’s at each sanctuary come out and tell Elisha what he already knows; Elijah is soon to be taken away by Yahweh. Elisha silences them, a motif which reminds us of the ‘messianic secret’ in Mark (e.g. Mark 9:9 etc.). Perhaps Elisha is pictured as resisting the inevitable, or perhaps it is a literary device to maintain the mystery of the event. Nevertheless, fifty of the nabi’s accompany Elijah and Elisha to the Jordan river, where Elijah demonstrates his status as a ‘second Moses’ by parting the waters. Even the course of Elijah’s journey – Gilgal, Jericho, Jordan – echoes the journey of the people after entering the promised land and hence portrays Elijah as somehow following on from Moses.

Elisha’s request that he inherit a double portion of Elijah’s prophetic power (2 Kgs 2:9) echoes the double portion of the first-born. Elisha will succeed Elijah. The fact that his request would be granted only if he has a vision of Elijah’s translation signifies the mystery of the transmission of these spiritual gifts and that they are indeed divine gifts. Elisha receives the gifts, along with the prophetic mantle. He and Elijah are separated by a chariot and horses of fire representing the presence of Yahweh even as Elijah is taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. The fire and the whirlwind and Elisha’s later visit to Mt Carmel recall Elijah’s earlier deeds, especially the calling down of divine fire on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:20-35), and the solitary mountain-top experience (1 Kgs 19:1-15a). Elisha inherits the authority of Elijah, but only at the behest of Yahweh. This is reinforced later in the chapter, beyond today’s reading, by Elisha’s following in Elijah’s footsteps and parting the Jordan with Elijah’s mantle (2 Kgs 2:13-14), by the testimony of the nabi’s that “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha” (v. 15), by the miracle Elisha now performs (vv. 19-22), and finally in the gruesome tale of the bears and the boys (vv. 23-24).

Items for Discussion

  • Would you want to know exactly when and how you would be taken to heaven?
  • What are the frightening parts about knowing and what are the comforting parts?
  • Elisha’s request for a double portion of prophetic power sounds like an arrogant request. When it comes to gifts from God, what can we discern from this story?
  • What symbolism do you see in the use of a chariot for Elijah?
  • How would you tell this story today using modern symbolism?
  • What is the symbolism connected with the parting of the waters?
  • Why is symbolism important to understand our God?

 

Mark 9:2-10
2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) 7 Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” 8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.

Background 4

The Gospel of Mark is one of four gospels in the Holy Bible and is the second book in chronological order presented in the New Testament. Mark (John Mark was his full name) was an associate with Simon Peter, one of the 12 apostles that followed Jesus Christ throughout His public ministry on earth. Peter was the name given to Simon by Jesus Christ personally (Mark 3:16). He was very close to Jesus and after the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, Peter was one of the founders of the early Christian church. Although the book was written by Mark, the facts contained in it are thought to be the accounts of Peter during his ministry with Jesus. The consensus among scholars is that the book of Mark was written between 50 and 60 A.D. The author is referenced several times in the New Testament starting in the book of Acts, chapters 12 and 13, in Colossians 4:10, and finally in 2 Timothy 4:11. The book of Mark was probably written in Italy, and perhaps even Rome. This book has 16 chapters and is the shortest book of the four gospels. However, the details of the events and miracles of Jesus in this book are consistent with the other three gospels; Matthew, Luke and John.

Biblical Truths and Theology 5

This passage has been chosen to accompany Mark’s account of the transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9). The stories have many features in common, especially the recall of Moses and Elijah, the mysterious translation of the central character in the presence of his disciple(s), and the ‘passing’ of a ‘mantle’ to the disciple(s). Both stories speak of the divine authority vested in the central character. This is a turning point in the Gospel as we pass from a predominant focus on miracle stories, which in their own way point to who Jesus is, to his journey to the cross. In the transfiguration God himself clearly attests to Jesus’ true identity. This reinforces the great confession of Peter that Jesus is the messiah (Mark 8:29). Both stories also speak of the transmission of authority to (a) disciple(s). In 2 Kings 2 prophetic authority has clearly moved to Elisha. In Mark, Jesus has just begun to teach his disciples what their calling really means (Mark 8:34-9:1). It is news which by themselves they cannot bear, as Peter’s refusal (Mark 8:32) and the disciples’ later confession that they could not help the possessed boy (Mark 9:28) make clear.

Finally, while both stories have a sense of mystery about them and convey a sense of mystery in the matters of prophetic authority and Jesus’ mission, they are not stories concerned only with ‘other worldly’ things. In the stories of Elijah and Elisha there is a strong political theme where Yahweh’s prophet is embroiled in the political and religious issue of the day. Likewise with Jesus, he comes down from the mountain of mystery only to be run down (literally) by a crowd concerned about what to do (if they can) for a boy horribly ‘possessed’ of some malady. Divine authority, in prophet, or disciple as in Jesus, is not something blissfully removed from the struggles and maladies of this world. Rather, it is both the thing that gives one strength and confidence in the face of such matters, and the thing which reveals their true nature.

Items for Discussion

  • How is the idea of symbolism used by Mark?
  • What are some of the symbols used and how to they relate to who Christ is?
  • Why is transfiguration important to the Christian faith?
  • The stories told in these verses are filled with political and religious crisis. How are these stories relevant to us today?

Discussion Challenge

  • In what way can a congregation reassure the faithful that God is completely in charge?
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