by J. Randal Matheny
“From there he traveled to Mount Carmel and then back to Samaria.” –2 Kings 2:25 NET
Elisha had just lost his mentor. He’d insisted on following him from Gilgal to Bethel, to Jericho, and then to the Jordan, where he saw the fiery prophet swept up into heaven. Elisha crossed back over the Jordan River and went to Jericho where he cured the city’s water supply. From there he went up to Bethel and on the way called down God’s judgment on 42 unrespectful boys.
A map is helpful just now. From Bethel Elisha goes to Mount Carmel and then to Samaria. This is a major zigzag, not unlike when the airline company, as they are wont to do inexplicable malabarisms, sent my son from Memphis to Chicago for his flight south to Brazil. But Elisha did not have a fickle airline charting his route. He chose to go to Mount Carmel. The question is why there, why now?
The text quoted above does not answer our question. It merely mentions that Elisha traveled to Mount Carmel. Any idea as to why must therefore be put in the realm of conjecture. We are on dangerous ground here. Any time we start conjecturing we must tread carefully. Yet. And yet, the time and place are both suggestive, when we remember the mountain’s previous mention in Scripture. 1 Kings 18. Elijah confronts Baal’s prophets in a fiery showdown before all Israel. Both 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah closed ranks against him.
It is the Carmelian confrontation that is also responsible, indirectly, for Elisha’s anointment as prophet. From the heights of Carmel, Elijah runs for his life, fearing the wrath of Queen Jezebel. In a desert cave some miles from Beer Sheba, afraid and depressed, Elijah saw manifestations of the Lord and received mandate to pick back up his work, anointing Elisha, among other tasks.
Carmel was the watershed. Besides a great victory for Israel, it marked the beginning of the end of Elijah’s ministry. There the seeds were sown for Elisha to assume his place. When Elijah was calling down fire from heaven, Elisha was farming.
It would appear safe to conclude, therefore, that, before beginning his ministry in earnest, Elisha wants to tread the spot where his predecessor made his greatest stand. And whence he ran in fear.
We can imagine the new prophet finding the place of the confrontation, noting the drops of blood, not from bulls, but from pagan prophets. We can see him examining the altars, touching the scorched rocks and earth around one of them. He may yet feel the electrified air from the fire fallen from heaven.
He has Elijah’s cloak, dropped as he went to heaven in a windstorm. He has a double portion of his mentor’s prophetic spirit. The prophetic task has now fallen to him.
No doubt, he descends Carmel, perhaps even passing by the bone heap of the pagan prophets in Kishon Valley, never to look back, never to forget the lesson God showed that day. Never to fear, even when a good-sized Syrian army surrounds Dothan to capture him.
The echoes of Carmel stay with Elisha. To the last.
Why does Elisha go to Mount Carmel after the death of his mentor, Elijah?