Chariots of Fire
‘And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.’ (2 Kings 2:11 ESV)
If there is one thing that Elijah is well known for it is the Chariots of fire. His last few moments on this earth seem to sum up his life, and seal his testimony as the greatest of all Israel’s prophets. He is always known as the prophet of fire, the one whom God answered with fire upon the altar. At the end Elijah is remembered for the chariots of fire that were to sweep him up to heaven. It is appropriate that this great man who has single handedly raised up the altar of the Lord in Israel once again, and championed the cause of his God like no other is taken up to heaven in such a glorious way.
The very expression ‘Chariots of Fire’ has entered into the common consciousness in our times in no small part due to Hugh Hudson’s oscar winning masterpiece ‘ Chariots of fire’, as well as William Blake’s rather strange poem Jerusalem which includes the lines quoted at the very end of the film ;
Bring me my Bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!
However the Chariot of Fire was exclusively for Elijah , no-one else. Here in these great verses we see Elijah being translated, taken away from this life and world without experiencing death as Enoch was in Genesis 5.
What these verses show us is Elijah as a type of Christ in his being taken up to heaven in this way. This world was not his home, he might have been from Tishbe in Gilead but in these chapters we do not read of him actually spending much time there. Like the Lord Jesus, Elijah had no home, nowhere to rest his head. There was nothing tame or domestic about Elijah, instead he pressed onward as Paul puts it “toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”(Philippians 3:14 NIV)
Like the apostle Paul Elijah could say ”I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8 ESV)
I think it is well worth our noting that it is after they have crossed through the Jordan , and safely reached the other side ( verse 9) that Elijah is taken away. After Elisha had been given permission to ask for one thing from Elijah before he is taken away from him ( verse 9-10). It is on the other side and not in Israel itself that Elijah was taken up to glory. Israel was thanks to kings like Omri, Ahab and Ahijah a dark , backslidden, polluted nation. The Jordan symbolises death, but it also symbolises a separation from the corruption of the world. It was there on the other side, that the chariot came for Elijah , and we read that wonderful verse ‘Then it happened, as they continued on and talked, that suddenly a chariot of fire appeared with horses of fire, and separated the two of them; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.'(2 Kings 2:11 NKJV)
In a time when almost all had turned their backs on God, the last moments of Elijah show us that there is a reward for living a life God’s way. There is a reward that was Elijah’s that no-one else would have. It may seem to us at times as if it is the wicked who prosper, and that graft, deceit, hypocrisy and many other evils thrive, yet it is only for a moment and fleeting. But the blessing that God’s children know are far greater and of eternal value.
As Elijah leaves the scene , he leaves a blessing behind him as we shall see tomorrow. His life still inspires those who would seek to follow the Lord, and in his death , he inspires us still. His end shows us that there is an eternal hope for God’s children through the one who has conquered death itself. Matthew Henry puts it like this “ When God will take up his faithful ones to heaven, death is the Jordan which they must pass through, and they find a way through it. The death of Christ has divided those waters, that the ransomed of the Lord may pass over. O death, where is thy sting, thy hurt, thy terror’ 55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (1 Corinthians 15:55 KJV