Anybody who thinks that the bible is easy and shallow hasn’t actually read it or hasn’t thought very much about it. I love how deeply I can find myself immersed in scripture. Each time I come back, it’s got something new for me.
Tomorrow, it’ll be my privilige to speak at Fellowship Church about 2 kings chapter 2. This is the point when the prophet Elisha takes over from the prophet Elijah. I’m focusing on how Elisha seems to grow up as his mentor leaves him. And as I was preparing to speak, I just got blown away anew by how conflicted Elisha seems to be. You don’t have to look very deeply to see how intensely he seems to feel in two quite opposite directions. It’s simply brilliant writing.
It begins with them alone together, presumably preparing for Elijah’s departure. The things that jump out at me from this verse is the word “together” from the first half, and the word “seperated” in the second half. The two opposites really intensify each other, in a way. It’s also pretty amazing how simply and quickly it all happens: Blam! They come down! Wham! They are gone. Scripture continues:
12 Sh saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Sh saw him no more.
By calling him father, Elisha emphasizes how close they are. But he focuses on the fact that they are the chariots and horseman of Israel: these are not the messengers of any random God, these are the soldiers of the God who has declared himself Lord over the people of the two Elis. In a way, it’s like Sh is saying, “We are so close, and I will miss you, yet I am with joy because of who is coming to get you.
Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them apart.
13 He picked up the cloak that had fallen from J and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 Then he took the cloak that had fallen from him and struck the water with it. “Where now is the LORD, the God of J?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.
The bible is filled with people who tear at their clothes to show their sorrow, rage, and distress. But this is a fairly unique riff on that theme: tearing at clothes, and then putting some one else’s clothes on. Sh’s old identity no longer fits him. The person he was is left in the past. He is stepping into the role that J was grooming him for.
And what a profound moment. Underneath the question, “Where now is the LORD, the God of J?” is the question “Is the Lord, the God of J, still with me?”
As the waters part, Elisha recieves his answer. He walks through parted water. Not only in the way he did a few minutes before, when Elijah parted the water, but also as his ancestors did, all those generations before, when Moses lead them.
(A note on the title: in the technical, psychological sense, ambivalence is not when a person does not care one way or the other; on the contrary, ambivalence is when a person experiences intense emotions in two opposite directions at the same time.)