By Jeff Pulse –
The Old Testament text for Transfiguration Sunday, February 11, 2018, is from the second book of Kings. The text is II Kings 2:1-12 and is the account of Elijah being taken up into heaven in a whirlwind right before the eyes of Elisha, his chosen successor. There are several interesting things to consider in this text, especially as one considers why it was chosen to compliment the Mark account of the Transfiguration of Jesus. We especially want to look at two things: 1) The aspect of death and resurrection demonstrated in this text and 2) the movement through water into eternal life/heaven that is so prevalent in the pages of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments.
Many theologians have questioned the level of understanding/belief that the Old Testament Hebrews had in the afterlife. Because they do not always use language specific terms they assume there is either no, or at most, a rather primitive understanding of heaven and hell. However, while we do not have the specific terms, we do have these kind of accounts that help us to see that they indeed do have a belief in the afterlife. Elijah was not merely taken up into the sky; there are the divine chariots and the presence of God in the whirlwind to accomplish the event.
As far as the movement through water into eternal life, we see the crossing of the Jordan and then the ascending to heaven. Earlier, we see the crossing of the Jordan into the promised land of Canaan. The “promised land” is another word for the dwelling place of God, or heaven, in Scripture. Now, Elijah cross over the Jordan to be taken directly to heaven; then Elisha will cross the Jordan again into the Promised Land. Namaan will go into the Jordan 7 times before he is given new life, etc. By now, we should be able to see also a picture of Baptism in which we are brought through the waters into the kingdom of God.
In Jesus, we see a reversal of this as we frequently do. Christ Jesus gives us a glimpse of Heaven on the Mount of Transfiguration but then He descends the Mount and journeys to the cross. This reversal takes place in order that WE might have eternal life.
2:1 basarah “in the whirlwind”
wayelek—root: halak “to go; went”
2:2 poh “here” (please stay here)
shelachaniy—root: “to stretch out; to send forth”
eezveka—root: azab “to leave” (I will leave you not)
2:3 hecheshu—root: chashah—hiphil—“to be silent; to show silence”
2:4-5 Note the similar construction here as in verse 2-3
2:6 Again the language is repetitious. Note that it appears that prophets from each of the “schools” follow along until they have a group of fifty. (vs 7)
2:7 merachoq “distance; from/at a distance”
2:8 adarto “coat; cloak”
wayiglom—root: galam “to wrap; wrap up; fold up”
wayechatsu—root: chatsah—niphil “to divide; be divided; part”
henah wahenah “hither and thither; to and fro; one side to the other”
becharavah “dry ground; dry land”
2:9 beterem/terem “before”
2:10 hiqshiytha—root: qashah—hiphil “to make difficult; to cause to be hard”
2:11 wayaphridu—root: parad—hiphil “to cause to divide; to separate”
basearah “high wind; wind associated with a storm”
2:12 upharashay “horsemen; horse” (parash)
wayiqraem—root: “to rend; tear; rip”
As you go through this text, make note of the movement and the verbs of movement. This is significant as we consider the movement from earth to heaven of Elijah and of the faithful people of God!