Waiting for the Whirlwind.2 Kings 2: 11-14–June 30, 2019—DBC. Dr. Denny
Introduction: I’m going to start with a question and I don’t want you to stretch the truth (like fish stories—I caught one this. Big). Just be honest. Ready? How long did it take you to run your last marathon? The fastest marathon was set in 2018 at 2 hours, 1 min and 39 seconds by a Kenyan. The slowest marathon was set in 2003 by Lloyd Scott who took 6 days, 30 min and 56 seconds. (He was wearing a 130 lb. deep-sea diving suit and he said he got food poising and so he had to keep stopping to go the bathroom and it took him forever to get out the suit etc.).
Background and commentary: This morning we will follow Elijah who walks a marathon to his whirlwind departure from this world. The distance he travels from Gilgal to the Jordan River is about 26 miles so I wanted to put it into perspective so you could understand how this amazing story unfolded. This is a tale of life and death and since we all only have so many years and days allotted to us by God we want to make the most of the days we have. But make no mistake: we will all do what Elijah did on this last day of his life. We will walk one day to the very edge of life and then we will be gone, swept up in a final exit to eternity.
- Gilgal to Bethel—8 miles. Elijah lived such an incredible life. He was a man of enormous spiritual power. He had command of nature like Jesus did. *Once after years of famine, he stood on the edge of Mt Carmel that looked out over the Mediterranean sea and called for rain. He bowed his face to the ground between his knees and prayed for rain. After each prayer, he sent his servant to the edge of the cliff to peer out over the sea scanning the horizon for a cloud. 7 times Elijah bowed and prayed and on the seventh time the servant reported back. “I see a cloud, so tiny, so distant, like a small hand.” Run for your life shouted Elijah and before they knew it the clouds were black and torrent fell from the heavens. Elijah sprinted the 17 miles back to safety in Jezreel.
But in our story today God has whispered an electrifying statement into his ear—“Elijah. Today is your final day.” Just as He will whisper to you one day. When Elijah hears this private message from the Lord, he sets in motion his final activities. He calls Elisha his prophet in training and asks him politely to remain while he travels to Bethel about 8 miles southeast. It is as I see it an act of profound kindness to the younger prophet. He doesn’t want to alarm him or frighten him by telling him that today he will die. He simply asks to remain at Gilgal while he makes a quick trip to town. It is difficult to watch a loved one fade away and often little is said in the last hours. Elijah too feels a sense of solitude and silence and he wants to walk alone. But Elisha will have none of it. He won’t leave the prophet’s side who makes no objection to the young man following him.
When Elijah arrives at Bethel the school of prophets in the town run out to see him for somehow they know what is about to happen. They don’t approach the venerable Elijah for his a man you don’t confront without permission. Instead, they run to Elisha with their chatter and speculation. But Elisha refuses to entertain them. It is a solemn day and he won’t have it disturbed by gossiping students. “Quiet!” he shouts to them. “Hush!” says the Hebrew text.
- Bethel to Jericho—Our final day is often a journey revealed only in moments. Elijah stood in Bethel awaiting direction. Then God says to him: “Go down to Jericho.”12 miles down the mountain—a descent of nearly 3000 feet to the Jordan valley. But once again he urges Elisha to remain behind. Again the young man refuses and shares the journey with the dying man. *So many times I have been the young man walking to the brink with an older person. So many times I have been by the bedside or said a final prayer not long before the whirlwind came and took them away. It is a sacred time and Elisha wanted to share it and Elijah was happy for the company. And once again when they arrived at the town of Jericho flocks of religious students rushed to see the prophet chattering and squawking. Elisha told them to “Hush!” It is a quiet time. Be silent.” And so once again Elijah waited for God to guide him on for even a journey’s end is often unclear. We don’t know if we will leave in the morning or at noon or in the long night’s reverie. But then as always, God whispers the words we need. He is there with us on in our last hours and He shows us the way.
- Jericho to Jordan–And so he says to Elijah, go down to the Jordan. And Elijah one last time tried to spare the young prophet of the sorrow of the final departure. But Elisha says no. I will not leave you. And so the final 6 miles down to the Jordan commences. The two prophets walk alone until their feet wriggle in the river’s edge. Off to the right in the distance, they see Mt. Nebo where Moses stood and glanced longingly oat the promised land and then died, forbidden to cross over. They remembered that it was at this very place the Ark of the Covenant had parted the river as the Israelites crossed into the Promised land led by Joshua. But now the journey takes them back across into Gilead where Elijah was born. He is going home. He knows the mountains in the distance and he remembers the history of this very place.
Then, in an explosive moment in time, Elijah took off his mantle and struck the river which shuddered at the command and split apart instantly. The two men walked across the dry river bed as their ancestors had done. And then Elijah turns to Elisha and makes a profound statement. “Ask what I shall do for you before I am taken from you.” This profound moment brimming with intimate generosity displays for us the heart of the old prophet. Such love and kindness he offers to the young man. Ask me for something. Anything. And it shall be yours., he said to him. What would you ask for in such a rarified hour? Elisha doesn’t hesitate for a second. His request comes from a heart of gold who only intent is to honor the prophet and God. “I want to like you, he says. Just give me a double portion of your spirit.” And the old man was shocked but pleased. “If God wills it when I am gone it will be so.
- The Whirlwind—Suddenly as they were considering the request, walking casually along away from the Jordan, a chariot of fire pulled by a team of fiery horses separates the two men. Elisha falls back enraptured at the sight before him. The great whirlwind spins the chariot of fire heavenward and within seconds it is gone and Elisha is left behind hearing only the sounds of the desert wind blowing softly against the mantle that lay at his feet.
Conclusion: One day your whirlwind will come for you. Will you be ready? Will your final day be filled with kindness, generosity, happy remembrances? This can only be so if you have faith in Christ who died for you on the cross. Don’t let your whirlwind catch you by surprise. Make your peace with God now.