Chariots, Horsemen, and God's People

Two men in Scripture had the incredible blessing of never dying because they were brought directly to the spiritual realm by God. We know very little about the first man granted this privilege. His name was Enoch. The historical account of his life is very brief; Moses simply records that he “walked with God,” had children including Methusaleh, and “was not, for God took him” (Genesis 5:22, 24). New Testament authors describe him as a prophet who proclaimed the Lord’s judgement (Jude 14-15) and state that being “taken” was a reward due to his faith and the fact “that he pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5).

We know a fair bit more about the second man who didn’t die. His name was Elijah, and like Enoch, he was a prophet of God. One can surmise that Enoch prophesied in a very dark time given his words recorded in Jude and the fact that in the year that his son Methusaleh died, God destroyed the world with a flood because of rampant wickedness. Elijah lived in a similar time, prophesying the need for repentance to the 10 tribes of the Northern kingdom which were heading rapidly towards their own day of judgment. His impact upon Jewish history was so great that some people confused Jesus with him (Matthew 16:14). His importance to God is underscored by the fact that he appeared alongside of Jesus along with Moses when Jesus was transfigured (Matthew 17:1-3). Elijah’s ministry is recorded in detail in 1 & 2 Kings.

We don’t know how Enoch was taken by God, but the details of Elijah’s journey to heaven are recorded for us in 2 Kings 2:1-14. One day, as Elijah talked with his protégé and fellow prophet Elisha, “suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire.” The chariot separated Elijah and Elisha, and, after this, “Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven” (2 Kings 2:11). The Bible records, “And Elisha saw it, and he cried out, ‘My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!’ So he saw him no more” (2 Kings 2:12).

It’s not uncommon for commentators to conclude that Elisha’s comment about “the chariot of Israel and its horseman” has something to do with the chariot that he had just seen. However, just a few chapters later, Elisha’s death is recorded, and even though the fiery chariot, horses, and whirlwind are nowhere to be seen, king Joash says to Elisha who is on his deathbed, “O my father, my father, the chariots of Israel and their horsemen!” (2 Kings 13:14).[1] Though the exact meaning of this phrase is lost to us, it stands to reason that the statements were intended to underscore what Elijah and Elisha meant to the ones who used it. Elijah and Elisha were both seen as fathers to those who weren’t their sons. More than that, they were seen as men who both carried and conveyed the entire nation of Israel forward. And, as chariots weren’t just used for transportation but were also considered formidable armaments in the ancient world, the presence of both men protected Israel; their absence left her weakened.  

Reflecting on the words in 2 Kings 2:12 and 2 Kings 13:14 gives us cause for pause. Elijah and Elisha were fathers, not in the religious sense that Jesus forbad (Matthew 23:9) but in the relational sense, like Paul was to Timothy and Titus (1 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4). A question to ponder: I may or may not be old enough to be thought of as an adult’s father or mother, but am I close enough, impactful enough to be thought of as one someday? More than that, what is my role in “the Israel of God” today, Jesus’ church (Galatians 6:16)? Do I carry, transport, and protect the precious bride of Jesus Christ? Or do I actually prevent her progress and weaken her defenses?

It stands to reason that Elijah “pleased God” just like Enoch did (Hebrews 11:5) given that he too didn’t taste of death. It also stands to reason that Elisha also pleased God given he had the same impact upon others that Elijah had on him. So, what will people say about me when I die? How others see me is very closely related to how my God sees me. Let’s all strive to fathers, mothers, chariots, and horsemen to the people of God.
Patrick Swayne
[1] Though “chariot” appears in 2:12 and “chariots” in 13:14 and though some translations read “chariots” in both passages, the word is singular in both the Hebrew and in the Greek Septuagint. Some see it as a collective noun (i.e., chariotry).
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