5 November, 2023
Transition is never easy.
Whether it’s from one generation to the next, from one government to the next, or from one minister to the next, the transfer of leadership can produce tension and anxiety in any community. This was certainly the case with Elijah and Elisha and their prophetic community in 2 Kings 2. Today’s portion marks the conclusion of Elijah’s career, the point at which he must concede his power and position to his younger apprentice, Elisha.
Emerging in 9th century, in the wake of the division of the United Kingdom of Israel into two separate nations — Israel and Judah — Elijah and Elisha also mark a transition in Israelite prophecy. Unlike those before them who fulfilled prophetic responsibilities as part of their larger callings as leaders (i.e., Moses, Deborah, Samuel), Elijah and Elisha were called to be prophets in a new way.
They operated completely outside the system, with no official recognition or compensation. Much like the Blues Brothers, they were free agents who were “on a mission from God!” In 1 Kings 13–2 Kings 17, they marked out careers in which they performed miracles and healings and called Israel and its leaders to task, sometimes by violent means.
2 Kings 2 begins with no advance warning by announcing that the transition in prophetic leadership is imminent: “Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind” (2 Kings 2:1). The text almost seems to assume that we as readers were expecting this to come at some point and shouldn’t really be surprised. But there really isn’t any narrative build-up to this moment. It comes out of left field, taking us by surprise.
Elisha is relucent for this change that is coming. Just as we can be relucent about change around us. But as I have said many a time, change is a normal part of everyday living.
The other bringer of change we remember today is the loss of loved ones, family members, good friends, special people in our lives. I believe it is a really important thing for us to stop and remember those who are no longer with us. Yes, it is sad, but it is also a part of living and continuing the remembrance.
Just as Elisha took up the mantle of Elijah’s ministry, that mantle was the reminder of the impact that Elijah had on him and on those around him.
So, as we hear about Elijah being taken into heaven, we will also remember those who have gone before us.