2 Kgs 2:1-13:25

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Home > The Old Testament > Kings > 2 Kings 2-13
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Historical setting[edit]

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  • 2 Kgs 2:9: Double portion. According to the Word Biblical Commentary, in asking for a double portion, "Elisha is asking for the status as rightful heir to the prophetic leaders's role. The phrase indicates twice as much as any other heir, not double the amount Elijah had." (Cf. Deut 21:17.)
Nachman Levine (see reference below) discusses a further meaning building on a Midrashic tradition claiming that Elijah did eight miracles whereas Elisha did sixteen. Levine argues that "Elisha's miracles not only double Elijah's but seem to parallel and multiply them in their themes, elements and language." Levine points to "keys of the womb, the grave and the rains . . . (life, death, and the sustaining of live)." For example, Elijah provided oil for a widow and her son until it rained (1 Kgs 17:13-16) whereas Elisha provided not only enough oil to sustain a widow and her multiple sons but there was also enough left over to sell (2 Kgs 4:1-7). Levine's other examples are more complex.
Note also that Elijah's drought lasts 3.5 years (1 Kgs 17:1; 18:1; Luke 4:25; James 5:17) whereas Elisha's drought lasts 7 years (2 Kgs 8:1).
See Nachman Levine's article "Twice as Much of Your Spirit: Pattern, Parallel and Paronomasia in the Miracles of Elijah and Elisha" in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, v. 85 (1999), pp. 25-46.
  • 2 Kgs 2:11. Scholars have suggested this verse forms a center-piece to an extended chiasmus of chapters 1 and 2:
(A) 1:1-8, 16-17: Sickness and healing
(AA) 1:9-15: Challenge to prophetic calling
 (B) 2:2-6: Question about Elijah's departure
   (C) 2:7: "Sons of prophets"
     (D) 2:8: Crossing of water
       (E) 2:9: Request for spirit
         (F) 2:10: Seeing
           (G) 2:11: Departure of Elijah
         (F') 2:12: Seeing
       (E') 2:13: Taking of spirit (garment)
     (D') 2:14: Crossing of water
   (C') 2:15: "Sons of prophets"
 (B') 2:16-18: Request to confirm Elijah's departure
(AA') 2:19-22: Challenge to prophetic calling
(A') 2:23-24: Challenge
  • 2 Kgs 2:23ff: Little children. According to footnote a, "little children" is more aptly translated as "youths." Although still a graphic story if taken literally, the modern reader may be significantly less shocked understanding that the story refers to youths (perhaps delinquent teenagers?) rather than little children.
  • 2 Kgs 2:23ff: Baldy and prophetic succession. Fred Woods (see reference below) suggests that the reference to baldness here has more to do with prophetic succession than literal baldness. In Zech 13:4 and Matt 3:4 the hairy mantle of authority is referenced that Elijah had. This, coupled with various textual links to the story of Korah in Num 16:31-40, suggests that the youths in this episode are being punished for mocking (or at least questioning) Elisha's authority. The punishment of these children, then, may be viewed as a fulfillment of the warning given in Lev 26:21-22.
The story in verses 23-24 is not easy to explain. There is a good chance that we need more information or that, perhaps, we are missing some verses, so the best answer is probably "we don't really know what happened here."
However, we are not the only ones who find this passage difficult. One Jewish explanation of it is that these are young men who have been studying in an ancient school of the prophets but refuse to recognize Elisha's prophetic authority. What they say to him amounts to "Go away, you old man!" and, so, is a rejection of the priesthood. Another explanation is that these young men are mocking Elisha, daring him to be translated as Elijah had just been translated (2 Kgs 2:11). A third explanation, based on an assumed word-play in Hebrew, is that these were young men who were completely without religion and who mocked the prophet as the leader of Israel.
It is also interesting that the Talmud asserts that Elisha was later punished for using his authority in this way (Sanhedrin 46b, 47a).

Unanswered questions[edit]

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Prompts for life application[edit]

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Prompts for further study[edit]

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  • 2 Kgs 2:23ff: The story beginning in verse 23 seems awfully savage. Is this a story that should be understood literally (which would seem to depict a God who is mean at best), or should it be understood symbolically, perhaps to show us the spiritual consequences of challenging God's anointed?


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  • 2 Kgs 3:17-19: Fulfilment of prophecies. See "Elisha's True Prophecy in 2 Kings 3" by Raymond Westbrook in JBL v. 124/3 (Fall 2005), pp. 530-32. Westbrook argues that the not-so-obvious fulfillment of these prophecies indeed occurs. In particular, although Kir-haraseth was not destroyed (verse 25), the walls were "smitten" by slingshots (the meaning of the Hebrew word translated "smite" allows for this meaning; see also Judg 20:18-48 where the oracle informs the Israelites twice about the tactics to be used, but only on the third occasion does the passage explicitly predict victory...).
  • 2 Kgs 5:10-14: Blind obedience? See BrianJ's blog post "Blindly Following the Prophet" for thoughts on "faithful obedience" vs. "blind obedience" (the latter suggests that there is not prior experience upon which faith is built, faith which can justify further obedience).


Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.

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