HOW WOULD YOU SPEND YOUR LAST DAY ON EARTH?
SERIES: ELIJAH: GOD'S INSTRUMENT OF GRACE
by Ron Ritchie
A reporter for the Palo Alto Weekly named Karen Jordan walked along
University Ave recently and asked a most profound question of those who
were passing by: "If today were your last day on earth, how would you
spend it?" She reported the following answers: Tony said, "I would
get drunk as hell, do as much dope as I can, and be with two pretty women.
That's my dream." Chris responded, "I would spend it in the desert
or a very peaceful place. I would just try to enjoy every moment and get
connected to God and nature." Vera, an older woman, said, "I would
phone my family and visit my friends." Lou Ann said, "I would
ride around in my new, old convertible. I just bought a 1968 250 SL."
And finally Jacqueline said, "I would spend my last day with Gene."
As we turn to 2 Kings 2:1-18, we will gain some wonderful spiritual insight
from the lives of Elijah, God's wonderful instrument of grace to
Israel, on his last day on earth, with his young disciple Elisha. As we
go through this passage I would like us to be asking ourselves as followers
of Jesus Christ, How would I spend my last day on earth?
Elijah prepared Elisha for his departure
2 Kings 2:1-6
And it came about when the LORD was about to take up Elijah
by a whirlwind to heaven, that Elijah went with Elisha from Gilgal. And
Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here please, for the LORD has sent me
as far as Bethel." But Elisha said, "As the LORD lives and as
you yourself live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel.
Then the sons of the prophets who were at Bethel came out to Elisha and
said to him, "Do you know that the LORD will take away your master
from over you today?" And he said, "Yes, I know; be still."
And Elijah said to him, "Elisha, please stay here, for the LORD has
sent me to Jericho." But he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you
yourself live, I will not leave you." So they came to Jericho. And
the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho approached Elisha and said
to him, "Do you know that the LORD will take away your master from
over you today?" And he answered, "Yes, I know; be still."
Then Elijah said to him, "Please stay here; for the LORD has sent me
to the Jordan." And he said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself
live, I will not leave you." So the two of them went on.
What an interesting prophet Elijah was, and what an amazing ministry he
had! We have been privileged to view only a few years of his apparently
long life in the ninth century BC. This hairy man with a leather belt around
his waist came onto the stage of Israel's history from the village of Tishbeh
in Gilead as a prophet of the one and only living God, Yahweh, in
some of Israel's darkest days of idolatry. We know that he was a righteous
man of prayer (James 5:16-18) and that he was used by God as an instrument
of grace during the reign of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel to challenge God's
"holy people" in the northern tribes to leave the state of double-mindedness
in which they were trying to serve both Baal and Yahweh at the same
time. We also know that he was a "natural man" like we are; he
could be the most faithful and powerful prophet of God one moment, with
the courage to slay 850 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, and then in the
next moment he could allow a single woman, Jezebel, to frighten him into
a hundred-mile run into the desert, where he fell into a deep depression.
But the Lord confronted, healed, encouraged, and commissioned Elijah; and
with his eyes back on the Lord again, he anointed Elisha to succeed him
in his ministry and in turn anoint Hazael king of Syria and Jehu the new
king of Israel (1 Kings 19:16).
Let me give you a quick overview of the historical context of Elijah's last
day on earth. At that point King Ahab had been killed in battle with the
Syrians, but Jezebel was still alive. Their evil son Ahaziah had become
the eighth king of Israel with a reign that lasted only two years (852-850
BC), cut short by an accidental injury. He sent servants to call on the
god Baal-zebub to see if he would live, but the angel of the Lord told Elijah
to intercept them and send back this message to the king: "Is it because
there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-zebub the
god of Ekron? You shall not get up from your bed; you shall surely die."
The king was furious and sent fifty men to arrest the prophet, but they
were consumed by fire from heaven. He sent another fifty and they too were
consumed by fire from heaven. Finally he sent a third fifty, and the captain
pleaded for mercy and went with Elijah, who told the king personally that
he was going to die. (1 Kings 22:51-53; 2 Kings 1:1-16.) Because he died
childless, Ahab's second son Joram became king in his place. (2 Chronicles
21:12-15 for his word to Jehoram, king of Judah during this season)
The next and final event in Elijah's life, before his departure to heaven,
we find him having left Samaria with Elisha and they walked some seventeen
miles south to Gilgal. Apparently the Lord had informed Elijah that this
was to be his last day on earth, so the old prophet may have wanted to test
his young disciple to see if he would be with him to the end, by telling
him to stay in Gilgal while he went on to Bethel by himself. Elisha would
have none of it; he was going to make sure that he remained faithful until
the last moment of Elijah's life on earth. So together they walked another
eight miles south to Bethel. But now in spite of the slaughter of many of
the prophets of Yahweh by the hand of Jezebel, it was a town that
still housed a school for the sons of the prophets.
If you had asked Elijah how he would spend his last day on earth, he would
have replied, "I want to spend the day with my disciple Elisha and
my seminary students in Bethel and Jericho who will need a word of encouragement
from the Lord." It appears that Elijah had told the sons of the prophets
that the Lord was going to take him that day. Elisha was either told by
Elijah, or he had direct revelation or a strong suspicion that his mentor
was not going to be on earth much longer. So when he was informed by the
sons of the prophets of this reality after they arrived in Bethel, Elisha
told them that he knew. He wanted them to "be still," which may
be interpreted either, "I don't want to talk about it" (out of
his heart of love for Elijah), or, "No tears, no party, no speeches---let's
give glory to God rather than to the prophet."
Once again Elijah tested Elisha as he asked him to stay in Bethel while
he set out to go some fifteen miles southeast to the city of Jericho, which
was on the north shore of the Dead Sea and just east of the Jordan River.
But again Elisha would not leave Elijah. So they walked into the city of
Jericho and met some fifty prophets of the living God. Like the others,
they had received word that this was Elijah's last day on earth and informed
Elisha, who again said, "Be still."
Twice Elijah had tried to get Elisha to stay put where he was, first in
Gilgal and then in Bethel, while he moved toward his departure. And twice
Elisha had refused to leave the prophet. Now finally the Lord moved Elijah
five miles east to the Jordan River, where the history of Israel had begun
under Joshua so long ago; where the presence, power, and protection of God
had been so real for Israel. For the third time Elijah tried to convince
Elisha that he should stay behind, but for the third time Elisha refused
to leave his spiritual father. So the two of them walked toward the river.
Notice that at no time do we get a sense of panic, anxiety, or regret in
Elijah, but rather of peacefulness and trust in God even on his last day
on earth. He knew he was going to die, and there isn't even any clue in
this text as to how he thought it was going to happen.
Elijah spent his last day on this earth loving and caring for his disciple
and God's anointed prophet Elisha, and encouraging the faithful sons of
the prophets in Bethel and Jericho. As I read this, I couldn't help but
remember Ray Stedman's doing this same thing in 1992. Knowing he had only
a few months of life left on this earth because of cancer, he spent most
of that time encouraging his wife, children, and grandchildren and his spiritual
sons and daughters in the things of the Lord. He showed up at our men's
conference at Mount Hermon, and I was one among many who were called into
his room for a time of love, encouragement, and prayer. He also called all
the elders from PBC North and South together during one of his final trips
to Stanford Hospital, and in our fireside room most of us heard him for
the last time encourage us to "preach the word of God" followed
by a time of sharing, tears, prayers, and hugs. What a wonderful way to
spend his last days on this earth, and what a meaningful life and ministry
he had and still has among so many of us.
Then Elijah was moved by the Spirit to cross the Jordan river.
Elisha asked for "eyes to see"
2 Kings 2:7-18
Now fifty men of the sons of the prophets went and stood opposite
them at a distance, while the two of them stood by the Jordan. And Elijah
took his mantle and folded it together and struck the waters, and they were
divided here and there, so that the two of them crossed over on dry ground.
Now it came about when they had crossed over, that Elijah said to Elisha,
"Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you." And
Elisha said, "Please, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me."
And he said, "You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see
me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall
not be so." Then it came about as they were going along and talking,
that behold, there appeared a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated
the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven. And Elisha
saw it and cried out, "My father, my father, the chariots of Israel
and its horsemen!" And he saw him no more. Then he took hold of his
own clothes and tore them in two pieces. He also took up the mantle of Elijah
that fell from him, and returned and stood by the bank of the Jordan. And
he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and struck the waters and
said, "Where is the LORD, the God of Elijah?" And when he also
had struck the waters, they were divided here and there; and Elisha crossed
Now when the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho opposite him saw him,
they said, "The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha." And they came
to meet him and bowed themselves to the ground before him. And they said
to him, "Behold now, there are with your servants fifty strong men,
please let them go and search for your master; perhaps the Spirit of the
LORD has taken him up and cast him on some mountain or into some valley."
And he said, "You shall not send." But when they urged him until
he was ashamed, he said, "Send." They sent therefore fifty men;
and they searched three days, but did not find him. And they returned to
him while he was staying at Jericho; and he said to them, "Did I not
say to you, 'Do not go'?"
As the old prophet Elijah and his young disciple Elisha walked some five
miles eastward toward the Jordan River, fifty of the sons of the prophets
quietly walked along behind them to see what God was going to do. When the
two godly men came to the water's edge of the Jordan River they needed to
go across, so Elijah took off his mantle, folded it to form a stick, and
"struck the waters." The waters parted and they crossed over on
dry land. Once again Elijah was acting in the spirit of Moses, who some
five hundred years earlier had walked up to the Red Sea with six hundred
thousand Israelites, the pursuing Egyptian army behind them and the Promised
Land just ahead but out of reach on the other side of the Red Sea. But Moses
was told by God, "...Lift up your staff and stretch out your hand over
the sea and divide it, and the sons of Israel shall go through the midst
of the sea on dry land" (Exodus 14:16). Now, this was of course the
Jordan River, not the Red Sea. But the same thing had happened to Joshua
forty years later almost at this very spot; he had brought the people of
God into the Promised Land after the Lord had parted the waters for them
and they had crossed over on dry land (Joshua 3:14-17).
Elijah was very much in tune with the Spirit of God, and he realized that
his hour was quickly drawing near. He asked his disciple what he could do
for him in the final hour of his life on earth. Rather than wanting to be
served he was willing to serve, just as our Lord Jesus was on the last night
of his life on earth when he washed his disciples' feet.
Elisha answered as a spiritual firstborn son to his spiritual father, "Please,
let a double portion of your spirit be upon me." According to Deuteronomy
21:17, the firstborn was to receive a double portion of the father's inheritance.
But Elisha was not looking for materialistic gain, for he came from a rich
family. Rather Elisha was thinking about his anointing to replace Elijah
as the prophet to Israel, the task that lay before him, and his youth. His
desire was not for all the beer he could drink and two pretty women, but
'a double portion of the Spirit upon him.' He was saying, "Elijah,
as I have walked with you and listened to you I have sensed that although
you are on this earth, when you are walking in the Spirit your eyes of faith
are able to see the spiritual world. You talk to the living God of Israel
as if he were right here, and you told me he talked to you in 'the cave'
at Mount Sinai. You are able to see the unseen ralm of spiritual realities
in which God is always at work to accomplish his will."
Jesus, his life threatened by a Jewish crowd for healing a sick man on the
Sabbath and for calling God his own Father, would say to them: "Truly,
truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something
He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the
Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him
all things that He Himself is doing...." (John 5:19-20.)
Paul as an apostle of the risen Lord would also, like the prophets of old,
"see" beyond the physical into the spiritual world, and he said
to the Ephesian believers (1:18), "I pray that the eyes of your heart
may be enlightened, so that you may know what is the hope of His calling
[we are new creatures in Christ who are being transformed into the very
image of Jesus], what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in
the saints [we belong to God and he delights in us and delights to use us],
and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe
[his power eliminates fear and is available to us for ministry]." Paul
would also write in his second letter to the Corinthians (4:17-18), "For
momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory
far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen,
but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are
temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." Faith is
seeing with the eyes of the heart.
Elijah, led by the Spirit, told his disciple, "If you see me when I
am taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if not, it shall not be so.
Elisha, this request is in the hands of God, and the only way you will know
that God has heard you is if you see me leave this earth; then you can be
reassured that he has blessed you with the eyes of faith in order to see
into the spiritual realm of God's kingdom."
What a scary moment this young disciple was about to experience. One minute
he was walking and talking to his spiritual father about his future ministry,
and the next minute, as if out of nowhere, "...behold, there appeared
a chariot of fire and horses of fire which separated the two of them. And
Elijah went up by a whirlwind to heaven." (Note that it was in the
whirlwind, not the chariot, that Elijah went to heaven.) Chariots of fire
are a symbol of the royal presence of God, appearing in power to bring salvation
(Habakkuk 3:8) or judgment to the earth. Years earlier, King David had understood
that the chariots of God ran into the thousands upon thousands (Psalm 68:17).
And Isaiah some two hundred years after Elijah would encourage the nation
of Israel that before they could have comfort in Jerusalem the Lord would
judge their enemies (66:15):
Jeremiah also spoke of God and his army in these symbolic forms (Jeremiah
"For behold, the LORD will come in fire
And His chariots like the whirlwind,
To render His anger with fury,
And His rebuke with flames of fire."
We live in an evil world in which the kingdom of Satan and the kingdom of
God are at war. The chariot was in this case a symbol of war in the battle
between Baal and the one and only living of God of Israel, a war fought
on a spiritual plane over the eternal souls of men and women. At this time
the Commander-in-Chief of all the hosts of heaven, the one who met Joshua
just before the battle for Jericho (Joshua 5:13-15), called one of his faithful
warriors home and left the other warrior standing on earth in his place,
for there were many more battles to fight before the final victory over
Elisha wanted to see spiritually what Elijah had seen with the eyes of faith:
the presence and power of God behind the physical realities, especially
how he would deal with Israel and its bent toward idolatry. The fact that
Elisha saw the spiritual chariots of Israel and its horsemen was the first
answer to his request. He saw how God was at work behind the curtains of
time and space. And the eyes of faith in turn gave him the life of faith---the
same life of faith that Abraham and all his spiritual sons and daughters
are given when they place their faith in God alone.
This would be dramatically illustrated later in Elisha's ministry. The evil
king Aram of Syria was at war with Israel and wanted to kill Elisha because
God was giving him spiritual insight about his movements, and then he would
warn the King of Israel to avoid going in certain areas with his army. Finally
King Aram found out that Elisha was living in Dothan and sent his army with
chariots and horses and surrounded the city. When Elisha's servant got up
early the next morning he walked out of the house, saw the surrounding army,
and cried out to Elisha, "Alas, my master! What shall we do?"
Elisha answered, "Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than
those who are with them." Then Elisha prayed, "O LORD, I pray,
open his eyes that he may see." And the Lord opened the servant's eyes
and he saw; "...and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots
of fire all around Elisha. And when they came down to him, Elisha prayed
to the Lord, "Strike this people with blindness," and God struck
them with blindness (2 Kings 6:8-17). The servant was given the spiritual
eyes to see the invisible but always present army of the Lord that was there
for their defense. He saw as Elisha did "the unseen realm of spiritual
realities in which God is always at work to accomplish his will" (to
borrow a phrase from Dave Roper)
We need to keep reminding ourselves that the physical events we experience
are only a cover for what is going on in the spiritual realm. When we see
the news and the things that happen in our own lives---sickness, trouble,
death---we always need to take a step back and ask, "What is behind
this? What is God doing? Where is his army? And what does God want me to
be doing?" What a tremendous difference this will make in our way of
life! It won't eliminate the pain, affliction, and death, but it will eliminate
the fear we naturally feel about those things.
David McCasland has just written a book entitled Oswald Chambers:
Abandoned to God. Chambers, as you probably know, was the author of the
well-known book My Utmost for His Highest. McCasland writes of Chambers'
season as a young art student at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.
Chambers wrote about his struggle with the Lord over whether he should become
an artist or a minister:
"I hear a voice you cannot hear
That says I must not stay.
I see a hand they cannot see
Which beckons me away.
...if this is indeed the Spirit of Almighty God striving within me,
He will speedily open the door, I will not fear."
To return to the story at hand, "My father, my father," Elijah
cried, "the chariots of Israel and its horsemen!" (Joash king
of Judah would use these same words of sorrow at the time of the death of
Elisha [2 Kings 13:14].) Elisha tore his clothes in two, then picked up
the mantle of Elijah, cried out to God, and in faith struck the waters of
the Jordan. They divided again, and he returned to the western side of the
river to be met by the sons of the prophets of Jericho. They had seen what
had just happened at the Jordan, and when they all met again the prophets
of the Lord said, "The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha" and bowed
before him. Because they had not seen Elijah taken up in the whirlwind,
they thought the Spirit of God may have just moved him to some other place,
and they wanted to look for him. Elisha wouldn't let them, but then he was
shamed into letting them form a search party. They looked for him for three
days, then returned empty-handed and were rebuked by Elisha.
Elijah became the second man in Biblical history to not experience a physical
death, Enoch being the first. He had passed the mantle on to his disciple
Elisha, as do all the servants of the Lord who have invested themselves
in discipling others to follow them. And yet Elijah's own ministry would
continue in a peculiar and fascinating way.
Elijah's continuing ministry
Elijah is alive and well today! After his trip to heaven in a whirlwind,
the prophet Malachi some five hundred years later wrote about the coming
judgment on the wicked, at the same time giving a word of exhortation and
encouragement: "Remember the law of Moses My servant...which I commanded
him in Horeb [Mount Sinai] for all Israel. Behold, I am going to send you
Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the
LORD. And he will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children, and
the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land
with a curse." (4:4-6) This prophecy had a double fulfillment:
First, some four hundred years later it was said of John the Baptist by
an angel, "And it is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the
spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the
children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous; so as to
make ready a people prepared for the Lord" (Luke 1:17). And Jesus would
say of John the Baptist, "And if you care to accept it, he himself
is Elijah, who was to come" (Matthew 11:14). Jesus would also say,
"...Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him....' (Matthew
17:12), and his disciples understood that he was speaking about John the
Second, both Moses and Elijah appeared on the mount of transfiguration with
Jesus (Matthew 17:1-8; Luke 9:28-36), where they discussed the closing down
of his ministry on earth, the cross, and his departure in order to return
again to this earth as Lord of lords and King of kings.
(There may be one final ministry for both Moses and Elijah. Two witnesses
who sound very much like Moses and Elijah are presented in Revelation 11.
They will be sent to earth on behalf of God to be the light of truth in
the terrible dark days of the last 3 1/2 years of the great tribulation
just before our Lord's return. "These are the two olive trees and the
two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if any one desires
to harm them, fire proceeds out of their mouth and devours their enemies...These
have the power to shut up the sky, in order that rain may not fall during
the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn
them into blood, and to smite the earth with every plague, as often as they
desire." (Revelation 11:4-6.) Then the beast will kill them and they
will lie in public for 3 1/2 days, after which they will be resurrected
to life and call back into heaven. In that hour seven thousand people will
be killed in a great earthquake, and the rest will be terrified and give
glory to the one and only living God [Revelation 11:13].)
Elijah, God's instrument of grace, was called to serve the Lord right up
to the very last moment of his life on earth. And as we come back to the
present, let's think about the question Karen Jordon asked the people on
University Avenue: "If today were your last day on earth, how would
you spend it? I would like to encourage all of us to live each day as if
it were our last day on this earth. As followers of Jesus Christ we know
that like Elijah we have no fear of physical death, for it is but a door
into the wonderful presence of our Lord and Savior forever. But as long
as we have life left in these bodies, I would like to encourage us to spend
our time walking with the Lord, talking with the Lord, and asking him each
day to "open the eyes of our hearts" so that we may be able to
see the "unseen realm of spiritual realities in which God is always
at work to accomplish his will." Then I hope that we will ask him to
surround our lives with other believers whom we can help to see with eyes
of faith and bring the next generation in turn along, until Christ comes
Catalog No. 4372
2 Kings 2:1-18
August 22, 1993
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