Elijah took in the news: King Ahab was dead. We may imagine the elderly prophet stroking his beard thoughtfully, his eyes unfocused, as he cast his thoughts back over decades of dealing with that wicked king. Elijah had endured so much! He had been threatened and hunted and had even faced death—all at the hands of Ahab and his queen, Jezebel. The king had done nothing to stop Jezebel from ordering the slaughter of many of Jehovah’s prophets. Together the couple had also conspired to murder an innocent and righteous man, Naboth, along with his sons, purely out of greed. In response, Elijah had delivered Jehovah’s judgment message condemning Ahab and his entire dynasty. Now, God’s words were coming true. Ahab died in the way Jehovah had foretold.—1 Kings 18:4; 21:1-26; 22:37, 38; 2 Kings 9:26.
Nonetheless, Elijah knew that he needed to continue enduring. Jezebel was still alive, and she continued to exert her awful influence over her family and the nation. Elijah would face more challenges, and he had much yet to teach his companion and successor, Elisha. So let us consider three of Elijah’s final assignments. As we see how his faith helped him to endure, we may see better how to strengthen our own faith during the troubled times in which we live.
Ahaziah, the son of Ahab and Jezebel, was now king of Israel. Instead of learning from the folly of his parents, he followed in their wicked steps. (1 Kings 22:52) Like them, Ahaziah worshipped Baal. Baalism was a religion that degraded everyone whom it touched, promoting temple prostitution and even the sacrifice of children. Would anything persuade Ahaziah to change his ways and steer his people away from such gross disloyalty to Jehovah?
Tragedy suddenly struck the arrogant young king. He tumbled through a grating in his roof chamber and was seriously injured. Though his very life was threatened, he still did not turn to Jehovah for help. Rather, he sent messengers to the enemy Philistine city of Ekron to ask the god Baal-zebub if there was any hope of recovery. Jehovah had had enough. He sent an angel to Elijah, telling him to intercept those messengers. The prophet sent them back to the king with a scathing message. Ahaziah had sinned grievously by acting as if Israel had no God. Jehovah had determined that Ahaziah would never leave his sickbed.—2 Kings 1:2-4.
Unrepentant, Ahaziah demanded: “What did the man look like who came up to meet you and spoke these words to you?” The messengers answered by describing the simple garb of a prophet, and Ahaziah instantly said: “It was Elijah.” (2 Kings 1:7, 8) It is worth noting that Elijah led such a simple, focused life that he could readily be identified by just a description of his rustic clothing. Surely, no such thing could be said of Ahaziah or his parents, who were greedy materialists. Elijah’s example reminds us today to live by Jesus’ counsel to keep our life simple, our eye focused on what truly matters.—Matthew 6:22-24.
Bent on vengeance, Ahaziah dispatched a contingent of 50 soldiers and their chief to arrest Elijah. When they found Elijah “sitting on the top of the mountain,” a the army chief brusquely ordered Elijah in the king’s name to “come down”—likely meaning to be led off to execution. Imagine! Even though they knew that Elijah was a “man of the true God,” those soldiers actually thought it right to bully and threaten him. How wrong they were! Elijah told the chief: “Well, if I am a man of God, let fire come down from the heavens and consume you and your 50 men.” God then acted! “Fire came down from the heavens and consumed him and his 50 men.” (2 Kings 1:9, 10) The tragic end of those soldiers is a vivid reminder that Jehovah does not take it lightly when people treat his servants with contempt or disrespect.—1 Chronicles 16:21, 22.
Ahaziah sent another chief with 50 men. The second chief was even more reckless than the first. For one thing, he learned nothing from the deaths of those 51 men, though their ashes may still have littered the hillside. For another, not only did he repeat his predecessor’s contemptuous order to Elijah to “come down” but he added the word “quickly”! How foolish! So he and his men lost their lives in the same way as the first group did. Even more foolhardy, though, was the king. Unmoved, he sent a third contingent of soldiers. Happily, this third chief was a wiser man. He humbly approached Elijah and pleaded that he and his men be spared. Elijah, a man of God, no doubt reflected Jehovah’s mercy when he responded to the humble chief. Jehovah’s angel directed Elijah to go with these soldiers. Elijah obeyed and then repeated Jehovah’s pronouncement on the wicked king. True to God’s words, Ahaziah died. His rule had lasted just two years.—2 Kings 1:11-17.
How did Elijah endure in the face of the stubborn, rebellious behavior of those around him? That question is relevant today, is it not? Have you ever been frustrated when someone you care about refused to listen to good sense and insisted on pursuing a harmful course? How can we endure such disappointments? We may draw a clue from the place where the soldiers found Elijah, “on the top of the mountain.” We cannot say dogmatically why Elijah was there, but we may be quite certain that as a man of prayer, he found that the solitude of that place offered him good opportunities to draw closer to his beloved God. (James 5:16-18) We likewise can regularly make time to be alone with God, calling on him by name and confiding our troubles and concerns to him. We will then be better able to endure when those around us act in reckless and self-destructive ways.
Transferring the Mantle
The time had now come for Elijah to relinquish his official assignment. Note what he did. As he and Elisha were leaving the town of Gilgal, Elijah urged Elisha to remain there while he went on, alone, to Bethel, about 11 kilometers (7 mi) distant. Elisha’s response was firm: “As surely as Jehovah is living and as you are living, I will not leave you.” After the pair arrived at Bethel, Elijah advised Elisha that he would be traveling alone to Jericho, some 22 kilometers (14 mi) away. Elisha steadfastly replied as he had before. A third time, at Jericho, the same scene was played out before they headed toward the Jordan River, some 8 kilometers (5 mi) away. Again the younger man held firm. He would not leave Elijah!—2 Kings 2:1-6.
Elisha was demonstrating a vital quality, loyal love. This is the kind of love that Ruth showed for Naomi, the kind of love that is firmly committed to its object and refuses to let go. (Ruth 1:15, 16) All servants of God need that quality—today more than ever. Do we see its importance as clearly as Elisha did?
It surely touched Elijah to see the loyal love of his young companion. Because of it, Elisha had the privilege of seeing Elijah’s final miracle. By the bank of the Jordan River, which tends to be swift and deep in places, Elijah struck the water with his official mantle. The waters parted! Also watching this miracle were “50 of the sons of the prophets,” evidently part of a growing school of men being trained to take the lead in pure worship in the land. (2 Kings 2:7, 8) Elijah likely oversaw that training program. There had been a time some years earlier when Elijah felt that he was the only faithful man left in the land. Since then, Jehovah had rewarded Elijah’s endurance, allowing him to see a great deal of progress among His worshippers.—1 Kings 19:10.
After they crossed the Jordan, Elijah said to Elisha: “Ask what you want me to do for you before I am taken from you.” Elijah knew that the time for his departure had come. He did not begrudge his younger friend the privileges and the prominence that lay ahead. Rather, Elijah was eager to help him in any way possible. Elisha made only this request: “Please, may I receive a double portion of your spirit?” (2 Kings 2:9) He did not mean that he wanted double the amount of holy spirit that Elijah had received. Rather, he was asking for an inheritance like that of a firstborn son, who by law received the largest, or double, inheritance to match his new responsibilities as family head. (Deuteronomy 21:17) As Elijah’s spiritual heir, he evidently saw the need to have Elijah’s courageous spirit in order to get the work done.
Humbly, Elijah left the answer in Jehovah’s hands. If Jehovah allowed Elisha to see Elijah as God took the older prophet away, then God’s answer to Elisha’s request was yes. And before long, as the two longtime friends were walking along, “speaking as they walked,” something wonderful happened!—2 Kings 2:10, 11.
The friendship of Elijah and Elisha surely helped both men to endure hard times
A strange glow lit up the sky and loomed nearer and nearer. We may imagine a roaring, whooshing sound as a windstorm suddenly arose, accompanying a bright object that was hurtling toward the two men, forcing them to part, perhaps to stagger back in awe. What they saw was a vehicle, a chariot, gleaming as if made of fire. Elijah knew that his time had come. Did he climb aboard? The account does not say. In any case, he felt himself being lifted up, up, high in the air, carried off in the windstorm!
Elisha watched, awestruck. Because he was seeing this amazing spectacle unfold, Elisha knew that Jehovah would, indeed, give him “a double portion” of Elijah’s courageous spirit. But Elisha was too sad to think of that. He did not know where his dear old friend was going, but he likely did not expect to see Elijah again. He cried out: “My father, my father! The chariot of Israel and his horsemen!” He watched as his beloved mentor disappeared in the distance; then Elisha ripped his garments in grief.—2 Kings 2:12.
As Elijah rose into the sky, did he hear the forlorn cry of his young friend and perhaps shed a tear or two himself? At any rate, he surely knew that having such a friend had helped him endure some difficult times. We do well to learn from Elijah’s example and build friendships with people who love God and seek to do his will!
The Final Assignment
Where did Elijah go next? Some religions teach that he was taken up to heaven to be with God. But that is impossible. Centuries later, Jesus Christ stated that no one had ascended to heaven prior to his own time. (John 3:13) So when we read that “Elijah ascended to the heavens in the windstorm,” we must ask, What heavens? (2 Kings 2:11) The Bible uses “heavens” to refer not only to the place where Jehovah lives but also to the atmospheric heavens of our earth, where clouds float and birds fly. (Psalm 147:8) To those heavens—the sky—Elijah ascended. And then what?
Jehovah simply transferred the beloved prophet to a new assignment, this time in the neighboring kingdom of Judah. The Bible record shows Elijah still at work there, perhaps over seven years later. Ruling Judah at the time was wicked King Jehoram. He had married the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, so their evil influence was still at work. Jehovah commissioned Elijah to write a letter pronouncing judgment on Jehoram. As foretold, Jehoram died a horrible death. Worse, the account concludes: “No one regretted it when he died.”—2 Chronicles 21:12-20.
What a contrast between that evil man and Elijah! We do not know just how or when Elijah died. But we know that he did not die as Jehoram did, with no one to regret his passing. Elisha missed his friend. The other faithful prophets surely did as well. Jehovah himself still valued Elijah some 1,000 years later, for he used a representation of that beloved prophet in the transfiguration vision. (Matthew 17:1-9) Do you want to learn from Elijah and develop faith that endures despite hardships? Never forget, then, to build friendships with others who love God, to keep your life focused on spiritual things, and to pray often from the heart. May you likewise find a permanent place in the loving heart of Jehovah!