Bible Study on Elisha

Elisha's Journey - How far do you want to go? (Part 2)

 

By I Gordon

 

Introduction

 

We saw in the first study that Elisha went from being a ploughman, working in the fields one day, to being a prophet of the Lord the next. It’s fair to say that’s a mighty big change for Elisha! And you will remember that what we also looked at the testing of Elisha. At each step of the journey Elijah was saying “stay here, don’t go any further“ and he was testing Elisha to see if Elisha would stay with him and how much Elisha wanted to follow him and to be with him. And Elisha passed the test saying (in so many words!) “Look, there’s no way, no way at all I am leaving you. I am staying with you and I don’t want to be anywhere else.”

 

What I wanted to do in this study is actually look at the four places mentioned in 2 Kings 2:1-6. It’s not a geography lesson and it’s not even a history lesson.[1] Each of the four places mentioned (Gilgal, Bethel, Jericho and the Jordan) are highly significant in Israel’s history and I believe they are highly symbolic of stages in the Christians life. Here is the passage again:

 

2 Kings 2:1-6 ‘When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. 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… 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… 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.

 

Where it all starts: Gilgal (Separation)

 

So the first stop on the journey was Gilgal. Before we look at the passage, let me ask you a question… “If you were to go to Gilgal in the days of the Israelites, what would you see?” The answer - stones. Of course, you would see stones in any location, but in this case, there were some pretty specific stones.

 

Joshua 4:19-24 ‘On the tenth day of the first month the people went up from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho. And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of the Jordan. He said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground.’ For the LORD your God dried up the Jordan before you until you had crossed over. The LORD your God did to the Jordan just what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God.”

 

This is the first real mention of Gilgal and it is very significant. Gilgal was a very important place in Israel’s history. It was a base where Joshua and the Israelites used to go out from. And it was also the very first place that they came to when they entered the Promised Land. Now there are two important things in Gilgal. The first are these stones that were set up as a monument and a reminder so that anyone that looked at them would remember that God is alive and well. God wanted it known and remembered that He is a living God and that He acts on behalf of His people. That is why the stones were there. It is, of course, something that we need to be reminded about repeatedly! So often we think and act as if God was not even alive. We act like He doesn’t even know about the situation that we are going through. We need to be reminded that God is a living God and that He acts on behalf of His people. 

 

But the second thing in Gilgal, is in Chapter 5 verse 2, 6-9:

 

At that time the LORD said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.”… The Israelites had moved about in the desert forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the LORD. For the LORD had sworn to them that they would not see the land that he had solemnly promised their fathers to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey.  So he raised up their sons in their place, and these were the ones Joshua circumcised. They were still uncircumcised because they had not been circumcised on the way. And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed. Then the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal to this day.

 

So this little passage gives us the reason why it is called Gilgal. Gilgal means the ‘rolling’ or ‘roll-away’ and so it is called Gilgal because God was saying to them “I have rolled away the past. I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt, I have separated you from all those taunts that you had had that you would never get into the Promised Land’. They were now a separated people, separated from the past, but also separated unto a living God - which is what circumcision speaks of.  It was a sign that they had made a covenant with God. And so, if we were going to boil it down to one word, Gilgal symbolically stands for ‘separation’ - being separated from the past and being separated unto God. Now, I would remind you that this is where Elisha started from. And this is where the nation of Israel always started from. As mentioned earlier, Gilgal became a base of operations for the Israelite nation. It is so important to not just talk the talk, but to actually walk the walk in the Christian life. We should, in our lives, be separated from that which would seek to draw us away from God, and be separated, as living sacrifices, unto the living God.

 

Next stop… Bethel (House of God)

 

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.”

 

The next stop on the journey was Bethel. Alright… here is a difficult question.  Can anyone remember who gave Bethel its name? No? Have a look in Genesis chapter 28 verse 10-19: 

 

Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the LORD, and He said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.  Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.’

 

So it was Jacob who called the place Bethel. And Bethel means the ‘House of God’.    And he called it the House of God because he’d had this amazing time with the Lord.  He had been in the very presence of the Lord. Later in Israel’s history, during the time of Judges, Bethel was where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. So people always used to go to Bethel  to enquire of the Lord. It was known as the House of God. Now, what does that mean for us? Well, as a type, Bethel speaks to us about the Lord’s presence. It is where He is! It is the desire that we should have to be in His presence. So this is the second stage. The first stage is to do with separation. The second stage is to do with a desire for God and a desire for His presence. [2]

 

I was reading through the Psalms the other day and one small verse stood out to me.  It was talking about the nation of Israel and it said ‘When He (God) afflicted them then they sought Him.’ That is summing up Israel’s history.  When things were hard or went wrong for them, then they sought Him. Otherwise they didn’t really seek him a heck of a lot. And the nation of Israel speaks to us of what we are like in our earthly natures. But how different was King David[3]. The presence of God was his desire. In good times and in bad.

 

Jericho – Walk by Faith

 

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.

 

The next stop in Elisha’s journey was Jericho. Now the first real mention of Jericho  is back where we were before in Joshua. What do you think of when you hear of Jericho?  Walls comin’ a tumbling down! Absolutely! It is probably a story that many Sunday school participants hear many times. It’s a bit of a classic. So if Gilgal was the first place that Israel came to when they entered the Promised Land, Jericho was the first battle that they had to have in the Promised Land. But it was no ordinary battle obviously.

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?” ’ (Joshua 5:13)

 

Bit of a strange answer don’t you think? Joshua sees this guy, he’s got a sword and he looks as if he is going to be a real good fighter and so Joshua obviously wants to know whose side he is on - ‘Are you with us, or are you with our enemies?‘ he asks. To which the guy answers ‘No’. I love what Major Ian Thomas says about this. ‘In so many words Joshua was saying to Him ‘whose side are you on, are you on our side or on theirs?’ But he said ‘No, I haven’t come to take sides. I have come to take over!’ And that is what he was meaning. Joshua was in the presence of the Lord! And the Lord doesn’t come merely ‘to help’. He comes to take over the situation. Obviously, as the first battle, God was going to teach the Israelites something special here. Let’s have a look –

 

Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went out and no one came in. Then the LORD said to Joshua, “See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in.”

 

If you ask yourself, ‘how is Israel going to win this battle?’ The answer is - they weren't… the Lord was. So what did they have to do? Well, they had to walk and they had to walk in faith… quite literally. Their job was to walk around the walls.[4] God, here in the first battle in the Promised Land, was teaching them a new principle - and that was to walk by faith. So Gilgal speaks of being separate… Bethel speaks of the presence of God and Jericho teaches about the walk of faith. It's easy to talk about, but it's more than likely that you've got problems. I know this because things are seldom easy on this crazy planet. When you’re in the midst of a problem, it's very hard to simply trust that God is adequate for your situation and to walk by faith, even though it sounds great and is so, so, so biblical! But it means that you are not walking by sight. It means that you are actually going through a situation where you cannot see how things are going to turn out. And that can be dreadful at times. But we need, obviously, to trust.  We need to trust our Father. [5] 

 

The eternal principle of the Jordan – Death and Resurrection

 

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.

 

The final test for Elisha came with the Jordan. The Jordan, as I’m sure you remember, is what the Israelites had to cross to pass into the Promised Land. The Jordan separated the land of Canaan from their wanderings in the wilderness and was a highly significant place in the Israelites history. You will remember that God miraculously separated the waters as the Israelites passed through on dry ground. In fact, God even commanded Joshua to take 12 stones from the midst of the Jordan and to set them as a memorial for the sons of Israel forever so that no one would forget what God had performed there. So would Elisha go as far as the Jordan?

 

Ok, so you already know that Elisha went as far as the Jordan so no prizes there! But what about you?... What does the Jordan speak of for you and me? The Jordan, like the Israelites Red Sea experience, speaks to us of baptism – death and resurrection. The practical outworking of this is a laying down of our lives. That is why I called this section ‘the eternal principle’. Jesus’ whole life demonstrated this principle, but it was clearest as He contemplated the cross…

 

John 12:23-26 “Jesus said ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.  I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.  The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.[6] Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.’

 

Notice that Jesus, while thinking of the cross, said that ‘where I am, my servant will be also.’ This eternal principle of the wheat falling to the ground and dying was not just for Jesus! No, Jesus clearly said that to be His servant would mean that the same principle applied. Elisha knew this, and when the call of God came his way, he readily let go of his own life, his own hopes and dreams, and followed the call of God to wherever that would lead him! What a fantastic attitude and a great picture for our lives.

 

New Testament Confirmation

 

So we have looked at the four locations where Elisha was tested at. Gilgal, Bethel, Jericho and the Jordan. And these speak of separation, the presence of God, walking by faith, and death and resurrection respectively.

 

When I was thinking about those four places, in dawned on me that there is a well know New Testament passage that corresponds to each of these locations. It is Phil 3:6-10. To make things easy (hopefully!), I have added the following table.

 

Location

Principle

N.T Verse

Passage

Gilgal

Separation
(from the flesh, the past, and unto God)

Phil 3:6-7

If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more… But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ

Bethel

House of God
(a desire to know God and be in His presence.)

Phil 3:8

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.

Jericho

Faith
(Walk by faith and not righteousness or strength)

Phil 3:9

I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ   and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.  

Jordan

Death & Resurrection
(Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground…)

 

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,  and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

 

 

Conclusion

 

We are back to where we were at the end of the first study on Elisha. And that is with what was spoken about Elisha and his master Elijha –

 

“So the two of them walked on.”

 

Or, in the language of the New Testament passage of Philipians 3 -

 

“I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me… But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

 

That was the heart of Paul. Even Paul didn't think that he had arrived, and wasn’t content with what he currently knew and had experienced in the Lord. It's important not just to start the Christian life well. It's important to carry on well and to finish well.[7] Press on Christian, to lay hold of that which God has for you.  

 



[1] I heard someone say one time that some theologians can tell you the distance from Jerusalem to Jericho but they can’t tell you the distance from the heart of man to the heart of God.  So when we look at this I am not talking about what Jericho is like in the spring or how big it is. Get a bible dictionary if you’re after that. But I do believe that these places are highly significant and do speak to us. And at the end of this study I will hopefully show how all four places tie in exactly with a well known passage in the New Testament.

[2] I read a quote from A. W. Tozer recently. Most of A. W. Tozer’s quotes are quite convicting! He said ‘Contentment with earthly goods  is the mark of a saint. Contentment with our spiritual state is a mark of inward blindness.  Orthodox Christianity has fallen to its present lower state from lack of spiritual desire.  Among the many who profess the Christian faith, scarcely one in a thousand reveal any passionate thirst for God.’ 

I found that convicting anyway. I don’t know about you but it’s hard living in this world. Often we get those two things mixed up. We become content with where we are at in our relationship with God and not content with earthly goods and worldly things! It is very easy to get the wrong priority. 

 

[3] Bethel is summed up by the heart of King David when he wrote;

One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple.(Psalm 27:4)

 

[4] You can imagine Joshua trying to explain what they were going to do to his generals and the people of Israel. They would be thinking, how are we going to beat Jericho? How are these walls going to come down?. Are we going to go through the gate, are we going to try and go under it, is there anything we can throw over the top? Joshua said "No - we are going to walk around the walls. We are going to walk around it for six days. And then on the seventh day we are going to walk around it seven times.’   They would be thinking 'OK right, are we looking for a way in here? ‘No, no, no’ Joshua says. ‘Here is the cool part - On the seventh day after we have walked around it seven times we are going to blow our trumpets and the walls are going to come crashing down! Cool plan huh?’ They would be thinking -'RIGHT - who else have we got for a leader! Joshua has obviously had to much desert sun!’. But God’s ways are not our ways. His ways bring glory to the one who truly deserves the glory – God! 

 

[5] A friend of mine has a son who is about 18 months old. Quite often, when he is at church, he will throw his son up in the air and just catch him. The little boy will laugh his head off because he trusts his dad.   Probably if he knew my friend’s butter fingers as well as I do, he wouldn’t be laughing! But that’s another matter. The fact is that he knows his dad will catch him. And it's the same with us. When there are any little hiccups, bumps on the road, we need to remember that God is not going to let us fall.  He is our Father. And He's more than any earthly father could ever be. We need to learn to relax like this little boy does in the hands of his father. 

 

[6] Jesus repeatedly said ‘He who loses his life for my sake shall find it.” In fact, this saying is repeated in all four gospels (sometimes more than once) and is one of His most frequent sayings! (See Matt 10:39, 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, 17:33, John 12:25). Why? Because we all try so very hard to hang on to all that we think is ours… our possessions, our rights, our independence, our wisdom, our strength… And yet, standing against all this is an eternal principle that does not move. The principle that states that unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides ALONE.

 

[7] I was watching the Winter Olympics recently. Now I really enjoy the ice hockey and snow boarding.  And I was watching the women's border cross (snow board racing down a narrow track with jumps and berms). It got to the final and everyone crashed, apart from one American girl! As she approached the last jump, there was no one else in camera shot and the commentators were saying - Oh, she's doing a lap of honour now! She’s got this completely wrapped up.’ Now I don’t know what she was thinking, but she got casual, possibly showing off a bit, and went for a rail grab on the last jump. As she came down she tumbled over and she quickly tried to get to her feet to glide down to the finish line to get gold. Unfortunately, the girl in second place, who had crashed earlier, had a lot more momentum and went past her just before the finish line. She ended up coming second. Can you imagine how she must have been kicking herself?  She could have just slowed down and glided down the hill for first place but just let it slip. I guess to try and fit it into this passage - Paul was saying here 'I am not going to let it slip - I am not going to get complacent. I am going to carry on, press on right to the very goal.  It's not good enough that I just started well and I'm okay at the moment.  I'm taking this the whole way '. Think also of the second girl who went on to get gold. She had crashed earlier. She could have given up and thought that there was no point in carrying on because the others were too far ahead. But she didn’t. She forgot what was behind and pressed on with her goal. And she ended up with gold!