Previously, I pointed out that God commanded the prophet Elijah to anoint horrible Hazael king of Syria. And that Elijah didn’t do so.
Remarkably, God didn’t punish Elijah for his disobedience. In fact, God gave Elijah a unique “reward.”
How so? Because Elijah didn’t die like others. His departure was miraculous. As stated in 2 Kings 2:1-14, in the lectionary reading for yesterday, he was taken up in a whirlwind, with chariots of fire.
Elijah’s departure reminds us of Enoch, about whom Genesis 5:24 says “God took him,” unlike others whom the chapter says “died.”
God’s special treatment of Elijah is doubly surprising.
How so? Because he disobeyed two of God’s commands. Not only did he not anoint Hazael king of Syria. He also did not anoint Jehu king of Israel.
In his mountain-top experience with God (1 Kings 19:8-18) he was told to anoint (appoint) Hazael, Jehu and Elisha. He only anointed Elisha.
But Hazael and Jehu were later anointed by Hebrew prophets and did become kings. Who anointed them? What prompted them to do so?
As I said previously, Elisha anointed Hazael.
Elisha anointed Hazael when the latter came to him on an errand for his commander, King Ben-hadad of Syria. Elisha gave courage to Hazael to lie to his king and later kill him. Elisha secretly anointed Hazael as king. We are not told what prompted him to do so.
Elisha wept as he anointed Hazael, because he knew the horrible harm Hazael would do to his fellow Israelites during his reign. You can read all about it in 2 Kings 8:7-15. As I said previously, Hazael ruled for 47 years.
Who fulfilled God’s command to Elijah to anoint Jehu king of Israel? The answer is and isn’t Elisha.
How so? It isn’t Elisha because the prophet who anointed Jehu is not named (2 Kings 9:1-10). It is Elisha because the unnamed prophet was acting on order of Elisha.
What are we to make of Elijah’s seeming disobedience and God’s response? There are two things we can observe.
First, Hazael and Jehu were anointed by prophets and did become kings.
Second, the prophets who did the anointing were “in the line of” Elijah.
Before Elijah “departed,” he asked Elisha what he’d like as a parting gift. Elisha asked for a “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit. Elijah answered that he would get it if he saw Elijah being “taken” (2 Kings 2:9-10).
The text continues, in verses 11-12, to tell us that Elisha did indeed see Elijah being taken. So, did Elisha get what he requested?
Commentators, who are good at counting, say Elisha did much more than Elijah did. 2 Kings 13:21 tells us even his bones had resurrecting power.
However, it’s Elijah who features in Jewish and Christian memory. Bible scholar Judith M Hadley points this out in her article “Elijah and Elisha” in The New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegisis:
Elijah is frequently mentioned in postbiblical literature, particularly as forerunner of the Messiah in the end time. In the NT, both Jesus and John the Baptist are reportedly identified by some as Elijah redivivus [reborn]. In Luke’s post-transfiguration narrative, a contrast is drawn between Jesus – like Elijah, “about to be taken up” (Luke 9:51; cf. 2 Kgs 2:1) – and Elijah in respect of their response to their opponents (2 Kgs 1:10; cf. Luke 9:54-56). His mysterious departure captured the imagination, and apocalypses were attributed to him.
In contrast, Elisha is mentioned once in the NT (Luke 4:27), and the first post-biblical reference is in Sirach 48:12-14, in a paraphrase of the Kings texts.
The biblical accounts of Elijah and Elisha include two stories which remind us how human they were: Elijah became very depressed after his “high and bloody” moment on Mount Carmel. Elisha was so railed by bad boys of Bethel who called him botak that he had them mauled to death.
Elijah didn’t directly fulfil at least two commands given to him by God; Elisha told a soldier to lie to his king, start a revolt and grab the throne. Are these stories recorded in order to give us permission to disobey God and to sanction lying “for the greater good” (punishing our relatives!)?
I can only respond that some things will remain mysteries till the end of time. As the Apostle Paul put it: “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12b)