2 Kings 2:1-3
“Now when the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. And Elijah said to Elisha, “Please stay here, 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. And the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take away your master from over you?” And he said, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.”
Dramatic miracles had accompanied Elijah throughout his life, so it is no surprise that a dramatic event marks his departure from this earth.
We can tell from the text that the Lord had told Elijah he would be taken up to heaven, and apparently the Lord also told him that his departure would take place at the Jordan. So we see Elijah moving from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho and then the Jordan. The schools of the prophets were located in these cities, and possibly Elijah wanted to meet one last time with these young prophets-in-training and offer words of encouragement to those who would be the agents of truth after his departure.
At both Bethel and Jericho the sons of the prophets asked, “Do you know that the Lord will take away your master from over you today?” Both times Elisha answered by saying, “Yes, I know. Now be quiet.”
This was a solemn and reflective time for the aging Elijah, and his servant Elisha did not want the sons of the prophets to pester him with questions and conjecture about his imminent, supernatural departure. If there was going to be conversation, Elijah would initiate it and ask the questions.
Gilgal marked the starting point of his final journey, and appropriately so. It had also been the first stopping place of Israel—led by Joshua—after they crossed the Jordan and entered the land of Canaan. It was there the children of Israel pitched their camp and set up the tabernacle. It was there they had first kept the Passover in the promised land.
Bethel was the next stop in this final journey. Bethel means “house of God,” and it was the place where Abraham built an altar and would often meet with God. As Gilgal marked a place of beginning, Bethel marked a place of worship and prayer.
Jericho was next, which marked a place of victory in battle as the Israelites had entered the promised land. Not just any victory, but victory by the hand of God.
Finally, they came to the Jordan, the river that marked the dividing line between the Israelites’ old life in the wilderness of Sinai and their new life in the promised land; their old life of bondage to Egypt and their new life of obedience to God.
Elijah’s final journey was a symbolic message to the people of Israel (and to us) of the faithfulness of God. Under the evil leadership of Ahab and Jezebel, the people of Israel had given themselves to the worship of Baal and other false gods.
Elijah’s last journey from Gilgal to Bethel to Jericho to the Jordan was a reminder that Baal is a false god, and that the God of Abraham, Moses and Joshua is the one true Lord. It was especially a symbolic reminder to the young prophets to continue to call the people of Israel back into obedience to the covenant with the Lord.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might … It is the Lord your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve.” (Deuteronomy 6.4-5, 13)
The Lord is calling.