Where Is the God of Elijah?
If expositional preaching is something new to you, it is difficult to listen fruitfully at the beginning sometimes because you can wonder where this sermon is going. Because with the other forms of communication, usually there are lots of stories or jokes or other compelling things that kind of move the story along. So, in short, what we mean when we say, “expositional preaching,” it’s not a style because there are various styles of preaching expositionally, but it is a mindset and a direction.
So, when you say, “what’s the direction of this message?” The message, if faithfully preached, is moving in the same direction as the passage. In other words, our posture as listeners for all of us, including the speaker, is to place our ear underneath the mouth of God so that what he communicates is what we are eager to hear, not what we want to hear, not what we think we need, not what we think he should say. But we need to hear what he has to say. And isn’t that amazing that right now this morning, God is speaking to his people as his word is faithfully communicated.
So, if the movement of this and the message of this sermon is not consistent with the Word, you can ignore that. But if the message is communicating what God is actually saying, then we would do well to listen.
This story in 2 Kings 2 is being moved along geographically. As Davis has pointed out, the action begins in Bethel (verse 2), then moves to Jericho and Jordan, and then Jordan and then Jericho and Bethel. That’s the whole chapter. We’re not going to be able to cover it all today, but you’ll notice the flow of the geography is in what is often called a chiasm, and it’s pointing toward, if you look at what is the question that’s raised in almost the middle of the passage is, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” (verse 14) And that seems to be, if we miss that, we in a sense have missed the point of the story.
There are lots of interesting, some confusing, elements to this story. We don’t want to miss that. The whole flow of that moves to that question, “where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” Now, why would anyone ask that question? Let’s step back for a minute and see if we can remember throughout this whole series on Elijah why someone might ask that question. And there are some indicators that we have seen all along the way.
For example, the story began in 1 Kings 17 in an economic recession. There was a drought. Brooks were drying up. Widows didn’t think they had enough food to find another meal and were preparing to starve to death. There was no rain, no food. Economic depression, really.
Secondly, there was political opposition from the highest levels of government. There was intense opposition to the word of God. Queen Jezebel genocidally tried to cut off the prophets of God (18:4). She vowed to kill the prophet Elijah (19:2). Elijah was labeled an enemy of the state. So, there was intense political opposition.
Thirdly, personal depression. Nothing can cause us to question where God is, even the God of Elijah, than going through personal depression. And it’s so interesting that God includes this part of Elijah’s journey that he, himself, experienced depression. He, as James 5:17 says, was a “man with a nature like ours.” So, don’t stick him up on a pedestal as if he’s something different. No. He felt like a failure. He experienced fear and despair. He was convinced he was alone at times. He even wanted to die at times (19:4), personal depression.
Fourthly, we’ve seen systemic corruption. When the queen concocted a scheme to eliminate Naboth, the town’s leaders (21:11) actually carried it out. Now when an innocent man can be framed, eliminated, and his property confiscated, and nobody has the guts or the means to resist, then you’re dealing with systemic corruption and mafia-like environment.
Number 5 is leadership transition. This is the one we want to focus on today that I think is the most relevant in prompting that question, “where is the God of Elijah?” Elijah represented the word of God among his people in the midst of very dark days. His departure would feel like God’s departure. When someone whom God has used greatly in your life is taken away, it can feel like God has departed. It doesn’t just feel like you’ve lost a friend, or a parent, or a mentor, or a leader. It can feel like you’ve lost God. You could fill in “Where is the God of ________? And some of you know what that’s like. When you have buried loved ones and felt like the presence of God was buried with them.
This is a relevant question for all of us when we sense the presence of God has departed and, even more specifically, in relation to this passage connecting to, where are we today as a church? When the apostles died, did the power of God die with them? When the apostles or Jesus departed from this earth, did miraculous power depart with them? Did God’s working powerfully through gifted believers, like Elijah, like the early Christians, depart with them?
This is the great temptation of death: the reality that death does not merely steal a friend, a person from us, it can actually feel like it steals everything. C.S. Lewis wrestles with this on a very personal level in his A Grief Observed, which is his brutally raw complaint regarding the death of his wife Joy. When his friends tried to comfort him with the assurance that she has gone on and she is with Jesus, he responded,
“You tell me, ‘she goes on.’
But my heart and body are crying out, ‘Come back, come back…’
But I know this is impossible. I know that the thing I want is exactly the thing I can never get. The old life, the jokes, the drinks, the arguments, the lovemaking, the tiny heartbreaking commonplace. On any view whatever, to say, ‘H. is dead’ is to say, ‘all that is gone.’ It is a part of the past. And the past is the past, and that is what time means, and time itself is one more name for death.”
Do you see what he just said? It’s not just that he lost a person that was who was very dear to him. He is lamenting the fact that when I lost that person, it feels like I lost time because of all the events that I experienced with that person, I experienced in time, and also time becomes synonymous with death because time guarantees that everything we love, we will eventually lose.
Does that make sense? Can you think of anything on this earth that you love that you will not lose because of time? Matthew McCullough in his brilliant book Remember Death describes this reality as impermanence meeting irreversibility. He writes this,
“The problem of impermanence is simple: with time, everything changes, and nothing lasts. Impermanence shows itself all around us, once we’ve learned to see it. It’s in every delicious meal that comes down to the last bite. It’s in every great book that comes to its last page. It’s in every great show that comes to a final episode. We see it in the changing of every season and in the coming and going of every holiday. Everything good is temporary.”
This impermanence, though, while it can add to the spice and variation of life, ultimately raises huge doubts about the meaning of life. If everything good will be gone, can we enjoy anything? And McCullough develops this a little bit through the imagination of the French philosopher Montaigne in his essay “To Philosophize is to Learn How to Die,” Montaigne imagines a group of condemned criminals, and these condemned criminals know they’re going to be executed at a certain time. And they’re being led step by step, rather than through torture, he suggests, he imagines them being led step by step through pleasure. And they go to various homes, and they eat great food, and they watch entertainment, but they know each meal they have, each entertainment is a step closer to their execution.
So, he raises the question: if they know even these pleasurable things are leading them closer to their execution, can they enjoy any of these pleasurable things? Now, we wrestled with this question more broadly in our Ecclesiastes series. Remember that? The book everybody either loves or hates? But what I want us to do today in the passage we’re about to look at, it is wrestling with this question in a very specific way.
It narrows the focus down to this question: can we trust that God is with us when people he has used in our lives are taken away? In other words, do you see the connection to the other? Does the fact that God takes someone away or will, we fear, but does the fact that God takes someone away negate the ability to either enjoy what we’re experiencing now or cause us to doubt God’s presence with us then?
When God takes a parent or a child or a friend or a pastor or a spiritual mentor or a leader who has been a conduit of great amounts of grace in our lives, we can begin to wonder, “how can we go on?” And it can even feel like a betrayal to the person that we experienced lots of grace from to keep going on. It can also feel very foreign because if God pours grace into our lives through the conduit of this friend or parent or leader, that person, as God always works through individuals who add a certain flavor to God’s grace. God designs it that way. And when he takes that person away, the flavor of God’s grace can taste very different.
It’s almost like going back to your high school where you walk in many years later, and it all looks familiar, but no one knows you, and you don’t know anyone else. And it feels very foreign. And so, it is when God takes people he has used in a big way in our lives, we can begin to doubt, “God, are you the same God? Are you working in the same way when you’ve taken a means of your working from us?
These, I believe, are just parts of the question that is being asked in this text, where is the God of Elijah? And this question is asked in the setting, in the story of Elijah’s departure. What is ironic about Elijah’s departure is it is described in such a small way. Look at chapter 2:11. That’s the actual statement of the departure.
“Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.”
That’s it. Eight words in English. In Hebrew, it’s actually four. Alexander McLaren, the 19th century Scottish preacher, said,
“Surely never was a miracle told so quietly.”
Elijah went up in a whirlwind into heaven. The bulk of this story is in the preliminaries and the results, for they help us to see where the God of Elijah really is. Let’s notice three of these things.
Number 1: he is revealing what we need to know. He is revealing what we need to know. Where is the God of Elijah? He is revealing what we need to know. In verses 2-5, you have two identical (pretty much) conversations and they go this way. Elijah asks Elisha to stay in Gilgal. Elisha refuses. They go to Bethel. The sons of the prophets warn Elisha. Elisha asks them to be quiet.
And that warning, the third point, the sons of the prophets warn Elisha is the saints. Interesting they say, “Hey, do you know that God is going to take away Elijah?” and he uses the same Hebrew word that is used of Enoch, back in Genesis 5, the only other one who walked with God and God took him. Same Hebrew verb. So, “Did you know? God is going to take away your master.” He’s like “Shhh! We’re not talking about that!”
Second set, Elijah asks Elisha to stay in Bethel. So, you see the statements are the same, geography changes. Elisha refuses. They go to Jericho. The sons of the prophets warn Elisha again. “They’re going to take him.” Elisha asks them to be quiet.
We’re not talking about that. Verses 6 to 8 begin the same. Elijah asks Elisha to stay in Jericho. You would think by now he would know. Elisha refuses. They go to Jordan. Now here’s a change. The sons of the prophets watch. They set up bleachers. There’s 50 of them. And they’re just watching as Elijah parted the Jordan River, and Elisha and Elijah cross.
Whoa… Anybody familiar with the Old Testament is going to be seeing the connection between the fact that they are parting and crossing the Jordan at the exact same place that Moses passed on his leadership to Joshua, and Joshua, leading the people of God, when the Ark of the Covenant touched the waters and it parted, crossed on dry ground.
So, what is going on here? Elijah seems to be on some kind of a farewell tour, t-shirts and all, but the text doesn’t describe him saying anything. It just describes his journey. And the various schools of prophets seem to already know that Elijah is about to be taken away, but there is kind of a curious code of silence.
Have you ever been to a surprise birthday party that everybody knew about, including the birthday boy, but no one’s talking about it? Everyone’s acting like nobody knows, and then even the birthday person is like, wow! That’s the feel of this story at this point. Do you know he’s going to be taken away? Shhh! It’s a secret. We’re not talking about this. I’m not sure what’s going on here. But I think anyone who has lost a loved one to an illness has probably seen this sacred silence settle on a family who has a loved one about to be taken, where everyone seems to know, but hardly anyone is talking about it. Everyone seems to be concerned about everyone else, and not wanting to say what they already know.
One thing is clear though. God is not silent. He is revealing what they need to know. You say, “what are the indications of that?” Well, notice all the sons of the prophets know what’s going on. Elijah seems to know what’s about to happen. Elisha seems to know. Everybody seems to know. God is revealing, but the way they know seems to be incrementally revealed. It’s almost like, let’s go to this place.
Have you ever done a scavenger hunt? Let’s go to this place, and then you find out you need to go to this place and this place. So, they know kind of where they’re going, but it seems like God is revealing things step by step. Isn’t that so often how God leads us? He very rarely gives us a full itinerary, like this what it’s going to look like for your next 50 years. But he leads and reveals what we need to know when we need to know it. Big revelation of God’s presence. So, he is revealing what we need to know.
Second, he is providing what we need to have. And he does this a couple of different ways. One is he does this collectively through the sons of the prophets. Verse 3, verse 5, verse 7 mention these sons of the prophets, which, you can go all the way back to 1 Samuel 10, where you first get a glimpse of this band of prophets. This seems to be a little different, but it seems to be some kind of guild or school of prophets, that each has a different location in a different community, but the overall leadership seems to be Elijah holding this network of prophet schools together.
Once again, I think this is a big revelation of the presence of God because, despite Jezebel’s (Queen of Israel) intense desire to wipe out all prophets, God is raising up what we need. He’s bringing up a new generation of his word being spoken to his people. But this is most powerfully communicated individually through Elisha. Collectively through the sons of the prophets, we have what we need, but individually through Elisha being raised up in a very clear way. Elisha knows his calling is tied to Elijah’s departure. So, he refuses to leave him.
Three times Elijah says, “please stay here.” Verse 2, verse 4, verse 6: “please stay here.” And almost like someone who is bad – this is me as when I owned a dog – bad at training your dog. Stay. Elisha keeps saying, “Sure. Let’s go.” And keeps following. So why? Why does, first of all, why does Elijah keep saying, “stay?” The text doesn’t say. Three options. Probably more. One is Elijah does not want, perhaps, Elisha to experience the trauma of his departure.
Or possibly, he is a humble man. He doesn’t want to be glamorized in the way God transitions him into his presence, or well, there are many other possibilities. He might have even just wanted to experience the transition alone with God as a very sacred moment. Regardless of the motive, three times Elisha responds the same way, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”
We find out why in verse 9. Elijah says to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you.” And Elisha says, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” If you are going to leave, you need to leave two of you so that I can keep going after you are gone. This double portion is the language of inheritance. If you go back to Deuteronomy 21:17, for example, the eldest son is to inherit a double portion.
And Elijah responds in verse 10, “You have asked a hard thing.” Why? Why is it a hard thing? It doesn’t seem to be a hard thing for a father to pass down toys or tools or money to his kids. It doesn’t seem to be a hard thing for a teacher to pass down lesson plans, drills, or teaching methods. It doesn’t seem to be a hard thing for a coach to pass down tactical maneuvers or other ways of training. However, it is a really hard thing to pass down spirit, to pass down who you are at the core
of who you really are. And just kind of meditating on that, not just the actual passing down of spirit is difficult, but I think another hindrance to passing down spirit is the fact that, at times, if we try to find our identity in our success as a businessman, as a mom, as a pastor, or as a whatever, businesswoman, whatever you feel you’re good at. It can feel like, “Okay, I’m fine with passing down certain products of what I do or methodologies, but to pass down spirit would make me feel unnecessary.”
So, it could be a hard thing because it reminds us, if we can pass down the core of who we are to the next generation, then I’m not really needed. Whoa…
News flash! That’s a really big thought to think about because you think about Jesus, here for a very short time. His ministry: telling his disciples it’s actually needful for me to leave, and you’re going to do greater works than I have done, and I’m going to enable that by breathing my Spirit on you. Remember that in John 20? “He breathed on his disciples,” and that was just an appetizer of Pentecost. So, Elijah knew that if Elisha saw him depart, if his eyes beheld his ascension (huge pictures here of Jesus), he would receive this double portion. God would provide this. So, it is true. It is a hard thing for us to give spirit. God is the one who does that.
Number 3: he is continuing what we need to see. So, he is not only providing what we need to have, he is continuing what we need to see. And we get a glimpse of this, beginning in verse 11, when chariots and horses of fire burned a wall between Elisha and Elijah. God had to actually split them up. Again, don’t miss that. Even till his final moments, Elijah and Elisha are, in a sense, joined at the hip. Elijah is pouring into Elisha, communicating indirectly we never retire from mentoring. There’s no such thing as retirement from mentoring or discipling those who come behind us, pouring into the next generation.
But as soon as this chariot of fire, chariot, and horses of fire divided the two, Elijah was swept up in this whirlwind to heaven. Now flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of heaven, so God apparently gave Elijah a glorified body en route, and (verse 12) when Elisha saw it, he exclaimed,
“My father! My father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!”
Now, Elisha was not only lamenting his deep love for Elijah and the feeling of loss, but he was also stating that Elijah’s life and ministry was Israel’s very strength. That’s why he uses that image of chariots and horsemen, which in that day, is just another way of saying the most powerful military might that you could possibly describe. And Elisha felt the weight of Elijah’s departure, like Israel is losing its very strength. So, pause here for a second and just imagine the love that Elisha had for Elijah.
So, you get these two things going on. How am I going to keep going without you? This deep loss. How is our country going to survive without the influence of this great man of God? Grief is real, even when you have a miraculous departure like this. Elisha immediately tore his clothes, symbolizing this mourning, but also a death of his own calling, and then gathering up the clothes that had fallen, the mantle from Elijah, he put that on. And then he went back, and he struck the Jordan, raising that question (verse 14) “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” And there was an immediate answer: “And the water parted.” This is not a miracle of convenience as if God cares that the prophet of God not get his feet wet.
What this is, is much more. This is a sign of a multi-generational presence. The presence of God linking Elisha with Elijah, linking Elijah with Joshua, who was linked to Moses and this continuous line of God’s presence and power being passed down from one generation to another.
And the point of this, well, you notice in verse 15, “The sons of the prophets who were at Jericho saw him opposite of them. They said, ‘The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.’”
Here it is. People come and go. God comes and stays. He is continuing what we need to see, that even in dark days, his covenant faithfulness will not end. Moses picks up this same theme near the end of his life and ministry. In Psalm 90:1, he prays, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in” how many generations? How many? “all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you are God.” So what does it mean that he is our dwelling place?
We get glimpses of this in our lives because we all have dwelling places, right? We have places we go when we feel alone, places we try to go when we feel afraid, places when we’ve had a cruddy day and everybody’s on our nerves or whatever. We don’t know what… we go to these places. And for some people, they may be a particular room or a particular chair, a place in their home. For others, it’s a particular food or a particular shopping establishment or a particular alcoholic beverage. It’s someplace we go that we think is our place of security, refreshment, help, and what Moses is saying is if you turn to those things, not that those things are all in and of themselves wrong, they may be very right, but they are not true dwelling places, no matter what kind of false security they give us. Because there is only one true dwelling place from everlasting to everlasting.
If we put our hope, our source of refreshment, our source of security in anything else, we will live insecure lives no matter how stable we think that thing might be. When God takes someone that we don’t think we can live without, he is revealing what we need to know. He is providing what we need to have. He is continuing what we need to see. He is our dwelling place. He is our source of hope and power. Brothers and sisters, we have to hear this because we live in a culture that is constantly changing.
And as young people you can think, “Well, yeah, we just go with this change and this change because everything’s going to be different.” And as you get older, you realize, “Wait. I’ve seen that. That looks really familiar. It comes in a different color now, but it’s the same thing.”
Generation to generation, people desperately craving to find some kind of security in things that can never bring it. Psalm 90 moves from that statement that he is our dwelling place, and you would think that it would then go to a false description of our security, but it actually describes us in trying to find our own security, and it uses these five images throughout the chapter. We are like dust, we are like debris floating in a flood, a dream passing, seasonal grass. We are like a sigh. We come, and we go. “We fly away” as Psalm 90 says, but that does not lead us to hopelessness.
As a matter of fact, it leads us to do two things according to Psalm 90. One is to number our days, to be aware of the fact that our time here on earth is limited. But then two, in verse 14, it says,
“Satisfy us early in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”
Do you want to live a really joyful life? Then don’t try to find satisfaction in things that will come and go. Find it in his love that is a steadfast kind of love that will not come and go.
It comes and stays! And then look at the way the psalm ends. Verse 16,
“Let your work be shown to your servants and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us and establish the work of our hands upon us. Yes, establish the work of our hands.”
You know “your glorious power to their children” is another way of saying, “Lord, pour out your power in a double portion to the next generation.” So as culture shifts and as things are constantly changing and as we live very short lives and lose the very ones we love most, what Psalm 90 is saying, our dwelling place is God. He satisfies us in his steadfast love, and he gives us a vision to see that steadfast love passed down through his glorious power from generation to generation. That is so hopeful!
You notice that is not saying,
“Hey, friends, things are getting really bad in our country, so you need to get your Y2K supply and some Spam and get a weapon in your bomb shelter, hunker down, and hold on till the end because it’s looking bad. And I don’t even think I want to have any kids because it’s going to be so stinking bad for them. I’m going to skip the kids and just try to live as long as I can until I die and everything’s over.”
Do you see any of that here? No, it’s actually the opposite. Elisha’s request for a double portion is saying we have not even seen the best yet. The best is yet to come. You see the change there? It’s like, do we have that vision for our church? I really believe the best is yet to come for our church. I really believe that my kids are going to experience the grace of God in ways that I can only imagine or maybe can’t. We want to pour into the next generation because “where is the God of Elijah?” He is right here. He has not changed. And he hasn’t gone anywhere, and he’s not going anywhere.
I think this is an interesting thing to be wrestling with when, you know, another election comes about because so many Christians put so much hope in political victory. I’m all for that. I’ve talked about it many times that we as Christians have a responsibility to be engaged, to vote this Tuesday, to pray for our leaders.
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. But we are not like those whose hopes rise and fall with political victories and defeats because our dwelling place is much more secure than in Columbia or Washington D.C. That is not, if you put your hope there, sister or brother, you’re doomed to rise and fall in a bipolar rise and fall with every news. There is a multi-generational vision.
So older saints, yes, you have seen God work in powerful ways, and you have seen God work through people in very beautiful ways. But when you look at the younger generation, I thank God that we have older saints who have this vision. They’re not lost in styles or image. That generation looks so different from us. They’re excited about the grace of God, that double portion coming forth in the next generation.
I could tell so many stories about this which is just so beautiful. Senior saints in our church who are praying so consistently and faithfully and loving high school students in our church and seeing the fruit of that. That’s beautiful! We see that over and over again with hundreds of volunteers through Kidstuff and Alive and Treehouse and the other ministries, college, pouring into the next generation with the confidence that the best is yet to come.
We are confident that Spirit of God is going to work through the next generation. And for younger saints, I think you can see from this passage – do you see a little bit of obstinance in Elisha? “No, I’m not going to leave you.” So, this would be really cool if our senior saints look out their window and there are some of our high school students saying, “Hey, we talked about you mentoring me. It’s me again!” Whatever form that comes in. There’s a little bit of stubbornness saying, “You have something I can learn from you.” And I know you feel… I feel this way. I know we all feel this way. I don’t have anything that I can teach you.
You’ve just got to get that somewhere, somehow. But for our younger generation to humbly, yet persistently, say, “Lord, show me people in our church who are older walking with you, not glamorous or anything like that, but just I see something in them that I want to learn. Hey, how did you get there? How did you learn? What is that? What does that really mean?” You get a glimpse of that in this story.
Where is the God of Elijah? God is still here, and God will be here, and he will still fill people, and he will still use people. He is going to give us what we need. I love the way Paul in 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26, when he’s actually talking about the Lord’s Supper, but look at the way he begins. “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you.” Stop. He does that all the time. Don’t miss that. We can all do this. He’s talking about as an apostle receiving revelation, but we can receive from the Lord and deliver it.
That’s what we’re doing. Each morning when we wake up and we say, “Satisfy me early with your steadfast love,” I’m receiving from the Lord and then I’m passing it on, passing it on to those around me, passing it on to the next generation. He goes on, “that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, also, he took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” So, as we prepare to take the Lord’s Supper, don’t miss the optimism in this passage. That as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we are preaching the fact that the Lord came, he died, he was buried. It wasn’t the end. He rose and he’s coming again. And we are reenacting one generation after the other the fact that the God of Elijah is among us, the God who called Elijah, the God who called Elisha, the God who sent Jesus. Let’s pray.
Father, you are our dwelling place, not our house or bank or family or friends or country. You are our dwelling place. We pray that you would satisfy our hearts in your steadfast love. There is no greater love than yours, than self-sacrificing love.
So even right now as we quiet our hearts before you, we pray you would remove any obstacle, fears of the future, fears that you can’t forgive whatever sin we’ve committed, fears that we can’t live if you take a certain thing or person from us. You are our dwelling place.
You have proven your covenant faithfulness, not just to Moses and Joshua and Elijah and Elisha, but you have proven it to us through the sacrifice of Jesus. We are swept into that stream of covenant faithfulness. So, as we remember your broken body, your shed blood, fill us with gratitude and also remove our skepticism. Our eyes are on you. Our faith is in you. Our confidence is in you. And the best yet to come. We thank you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.