2 Kings 1 (NLT) When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal…
…8 Then Elijah folded his cloak together and struck the water with it. The river divided, and the two of them went across on dry ground!
9 When they came to the other side, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away.”
And Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.”
10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah replied. “If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you won’t.”
11 As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress.
13 Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen when he was taken up. Then Elisha returned to the bank of the Jordan River. 14 He struck the water with Elijah’s cloak and cried out, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” Then the river divided, and Elisha went across.
15 When the group of prophets from Jericho saw from a distance what happened, they exclaimed, “Elijah’s spirit rests upon Elisha!” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.
Though much more meaningful than a “What do you want for Christmas?” type of question, Elisha is still given a wide open set of possibilities when Elijah asks him what he would like. It’s a question of what Elijah will “do” so some type of blessing is in view here, but Elisha’s response is unique in scripture.
Most translations refer to the request as for a “double portion” but we also have:
- Let me have twice your spirit (CEB)
- Please give me twice as much of your power as you give the other prophets (CEV)
- Please, let me inherit two shares of your spirit. (Holman)
- Your life repeated in my life. I want to be a holy man just like you. (Peterson)
- Leave me a double share of your spirit. (NCV, NRSV, NLT and others)
Even with the help of various translations, I still wasn’t clear as to what was meant by the request. Did he want be Elijah-times-two? Actually, the translation by Peterson above (The Message) is closest to what I read at sermonnotebook.org : (I’ve underlined key sentences)
The Content Of His Request – Elisha asked to receive double portion of Elijah’s spirit! The request was not for twice the power that had rested on Elijah. The request was to be recognized as Elijah’s replacement. Of course, he had already been selected by God for that position – 1 Kings 19:16. It was common for firstborn children to receive a double portion of their father’s estate. This was mandated by the Law, Deut. 21:17. (Note: He called Elijah “my father” in verse 12.) Elisha was asking for the right of the firstborn! He was asking that the same Spirit that had empowered the ministry of this great man of God be given to him as well. What kind of spirit was he asking for?
1. A Spirit Of Faith – Elijah learned to trust in the presence and power of God in this world. He knew that God was in absolute control of every situation. He walked by faith!
2. A Spirit Of Obedience – Elijah instantly and without question, even when the commands of God made no sense at all!
3. A Spirit Of Courage – His faith in God and his obedience to God combined to give him the courage to stand for God, even when others ran away.
He merely wanted to take over where Elijah had left off. He wanted to be the next prophet to Israel!
But scripture, ever rich in meaning, can offer us multiple perspectives, insights and applications. At biblestudytools.com the double portion is said to be: (again, I’ve done some underlining; read slowly)
…The two parts of the gifts of the spirit he had, that of prophecy, and that of doing miracles, as some think; or two parts out of three of what Elijah was possessed of; or rather double as much, and which he might desire, not from a spirit of vanity and ambition to be greater than his master, but from an eagerness to promote the glory of God, and the interest of religion, to reclaim the Israelites from their idolatry, and establish the true religion, which he might observe Elijah was not able to do with that measure of grace and gifts he had; or however this phrase denotes an abundance, a large portion or measure, as it everywhere does.
Many… have thought it refers to the double portion of the firstborn, and that Elisha does not mean a double portion with respect to Elijah, but with respect to the junior prophets, with whom he might be considered as a firstborn, and so desired a double or greater portion than they, and which may be most correct; and when he asked this, he did not suppose it was in Elijah’s power to give him it, only that he would pray to God, at parting with him, that he would bestow it on him.
So when you’re asked what you want for Christmas, you can give the person who asked you something to think about when you say, “A double portion of God’s Spirit.” Seriously, what better thing could Elisha, or any of us, ask for?
We’ve covered the meaning of “double portion” before here in May of 2012 in an excellent devotional study by K.W. Leslie.
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