Bible Study on Elisha - Gilgal, Bethel, Jericho, Jordan...
Elisha's Journey - How far do you want to go? (Part 2)
by I Gordon
We saw in the first study that Elisha went from being a ploughman,
working in the fields one day, to being a prophet of the Lord the next.
It's fair to say that's a mighty big change for Elisha! And you will
remember that what we also looked at the testing of Elisha. At each
step of the journey Elijah was saying 'stay here, don't go any further'
and he was testing Elisha to see if Elisha would stay with him and how
much Elisha wanted to follow him and to be with him. And Elisha passed
the test saying (in so many words!) 'Look, there's no way, no way at
all I am leaving you. I am staying with you and I don't want to be
What I wanted to do in this study is actually look at the four places
mentioned in 2 Kings 2:1-6. It's not a geography lesson and it's not
even a history lesson.
Each of the four places mentioned (Gilgal, Bethel, Jericho and the
Jordan) are highly significant in Israel's history and I believe they
are highly symbolic of stages in the Christians life. Here is the
2 Kings 2:1-6 'When the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a
whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha,
'Stay here; the LORD has sent me to Bethel.' But Elisha said, 'As
surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.' So
they went down to Bethel... Then Elijah said to him, 'Stay here, Elisha; the LORD has sent me to Jericho.' And he replied, 'As
surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.' So
they went to Jericho... Then Elijah said to him, ' Stay here; the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.' And he
replied, 'As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave
you.' So the two of them walked on.
Where it all starts: Gilgal (Separation)
So the first stop on the journey was Gilgal. Before we look at the
passage, let me ask you a question... 'If you were to go to Gilgal in the
days of the Israelites, what would you see?' The answer - stones. Of
course, you would see stones in any location, but in this case, there
were some pretty specific stones.
Joshua 4:19-24 'On the tenth day of the first month the people went up
from the Jordan and camped at Gilgal on the eastern border of Jericho.
And Joshua set up at Gilgal the twelve stones they had taken out of
. He said to the Israelites, 'In the future when your descendants ask
their fathers, 'What do these stones mean?' tell them, 'Israel crossed
the Jordan on dry ground.' For the LORD your God dried up the Jordan
before you until you had crossed over. The LORD your God did to the
Jordan just what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before
us until we had crossed over.
He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that
the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear
the LORD your God
This is the first real mention of Gilgal and it is very significant.
Gilgal was a very important place in Israel's history. It was a base
where Joshua and the Israelites used to go out from. And it was also
the very first place that they came to when they entered the Promised
Land. Now there are two important things in Gilgal. The first are these
stones that were set up as a monument and a reminder so that anyone
that looked at them would remember that God is alive and well. God
wanted it known and remembered that He is a living God and that He acts
on behalf of His people. That is why the stones were there. It is, of
course, something that we need to be reminded about repeatedly! So
often we think and act as if God was not even alive. We act like He
doesn't even know about the situation that we are going through. We
need to be reminded that God is a living God and that He acts on behalf
of His people.
But the second thing in Gilgal, is in Chapter 5 verse 2, 6-9:
At that time the LORD said to Joshua, 'Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.'... The Israelites had moved about in the desert forty years
until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had
died, since they had not obeyed the LORD. For the LORD had sworn to
them that they would not see the land that he had solemnly promised
their fathers to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. So he raised up their sons in their place, and these were
the ones Joshua circumcised. They were still uncircumcised because they
had not been circumcised on the way. And after the whole nation had
been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were
Then the LORD said to Joshua, 'Today I have rolled away the
reproach of Egypt from you.' So the place has been called Gilgal to
So this little passage gives us the reason why it is called Gilgal.
Gilgal means the 'rolling' or 'roll-away' and so it is called Gilgal
because God was saying to them 'I have rolled away the past. I have
rolled away the reproach of Egypt, I have separated you from all those
taunts that you had had that you would never get into the Promised
Land'. They were now a separated people, separated from the past, but
also separated unto a living God - which is what circumcision speaks
of. It was a sign that they had made a covenant with God. And so, if we
were going to boil it down to one word, Gilgal symbolically stands for
'separation' - being separated from the past and being separated unto
God. Now, I would remind you that this is where Elisha started from.
And this is where the nation of Israel always started from. As
mentioned earlier, Gilgal became a base of operations for the Israelite
nation. It is so important to not just talk the talk, but to actually
walk the walk in the Christian life. We should, in our lives, be
separated from that which would seek to draw us away from God, and be
separated, as living sacrifices, unto the living God.
Next stop... Bethel (House of God)
Elijah said to Elisha, 'Stay here; the LORD has sent me to Bethel.' But
Elisha said, 'As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not
The next stop on the journey was Bethel. Alright... here is a difficult
question. Can anyone remember who gave Bethel its name? No? Have a look
in Genesis chapter 28 verse 10-19:
Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he reached a certain
place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of
the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He
had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its
top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and
descending on it. There above it stood the LORD, and He said: 'I am the
LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give
you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.
Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will
spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south.
All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I
am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring
you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I
have promised you.' When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, '
Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it
.' He was afraid and said, '
How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God
; this is the gate of heaven.' Early the next morning Jacob took the
stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured
oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel, though
the city used to be called Luz.'
So it was Jacob who called the place Bethel. And Bethel means the
'House of God'. And he called it the House of God because he'd had this
amazing time with the Lord. He had been in the very presence of the
Lord. Later in Israel's history, during the time of Judges, Bethel was
where the Ark of the Covenant was kept. So people always used to go to
Bethel to enquire of the Lord. It was known as the House of God. Now,
what does that mean for us? Well, as a type, Bethel speaks to us about
the Lord's presence. It is where He is! It is the desire that we should
have to be in His presence. So this is the second stage. The first
stage is to do with separation. The second stage is to do with a desire
for God and a desire for His presence.
I was reading through the Psalms the other day and one small verse
stood out to me. It was talking about the nation of Israel and it said
'When He (God) afflicted them then they sought Him.' That is summing up
Israel's history. When things were hard or went wrong for them, then
they sought Him. Otherwise they didn't really seek him a heck of a lot.
And the nation of Israel speaks to us of what we are like in our
earthly natures. But how different was King David
. The presence of God was his desire. In good times and in bad.
- Walk by Faith
Then Elijah said to him, 'Stay here, Elisha; the LORD has sent me to
Jericho.' And he replied, 'As surely as the LORD lives and as you live,
I will not leave you.' So they went to Jericho.
The next stop in Elisha's journey was Jericho. Now the first real
mention of Jericho is back where we were before in Joshua. What do you
think of when you hear of Jericho? Walls comin' a tumbling down!
Absolutely! It is probably a story that many Sunday school participants
hear many times. It's a bit of a classic. So if Gilgal was the first
place that Israel came to when they entered the Promised Land, Jericho
was the first battle that they had to have in the Promised Land. But it
was no ordinary battle obviously.
Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man
standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua
went up to him and asked, ' Are you for us or for our enemies?' 'Neither,' he
replied, 'but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now
come.' Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and
asked him, ' What message does my Lord have for his servant?' '
Bit of a strange answer don't you think? Joshua sees this guy, he's got
a sword and he looks as if he is going to be a real good fighter and so
Joshua obviously wants to know whose side he is on - 'Are you with us,
or are you with our enemies?' he asks. To which the guy answers 'No'. I
love what Major Ian Thomas says about this. 'In so many words Joshua
was saying to Him 'whose side are you on, are you on our side or on
theirs?' But he said 'No, I haven't come to take sides. I have come to
take over!' And that is what he was meaning. Joshua was in the presence
of the Lord! And the Lord doesn't come merely 'to help'. He comes to
take over the situation. Obviously, as the first battle, God was going
to teach the Israelites something special here. Let's have a look -
Now Jericho was tightly shut up because of the Israelites. No one went
out and no one came in. Then the LORD said to Joshua, ' See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along
with its king and its fighting men.
March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six
. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams' horns in front of the ark.
On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the
priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast
on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the
wall of the city will collapse
and the people will go up, every man straight in.'
If you ask yourself, 'how is Israel going to win this battle?' The
answer is - they weren't... the Lord was. So what did they have to do?
Well, they had to walk and they had to walk in faith... quite literally.
Their job was to walk around the walls.
God, here in the first battle in the Promised Land, was teaching them a
new principle - and that was to walk by faith. So Gilgal speaks of
being separate... Bethel speaks of the presence of God and Jericho
teaches about the walk of faith. It's easy to talk about, but it's more
than likely that you've got problems. I know this because things are
seldom easy on this crazy planet. When you're in the midst of a
problem, it's very hard to simply trust that God is adequate for your
situation and to walk by faith, even though it sounds great and is so,
so, so biblical! But it means that you are not walking by sight. It
means that you are actually going through a situation where you cannot
see how things are going to turn out. And that can be dreadful at
times. But we need, obviously, to trust. We need to trust our Father.
The eternal principle of the Jordan - Death and Resurrection
Then Elijah said to him, 'Stay here; the LORD has sent me to the
Jordan.' And he replied, 'As surely as the LORD lives and as you live,
I will not leave you.' So the two of them walked on.
The final test for Elisha came with the Jordan. The Jordan, as I'm sure
you remember, is what the Israelites had to cross to pass into the
Promised Land. The Jordan separated the land of Canaan from their
wanderings in the wilderness and was a highly significant place in the
Israelites history. You will remember that God miraculously separated
the waters as the Israelites passed through on dry ground. In fact, God
even commanded Joshua to take 12 stones from the midst of the Jordan
and to set them as a memorial for the sons of Israel forever so that no
one would forget what God had performed there. So would Elisha go as
far as the Jordan?
Ok, so you already know that Elisha went as far as the Jordan so no
prizes there! But what about you?... What does the Jordan speak of for
you and me? The Jordan, like the Israelites Red Sea experience, speaks
to us of baptism - death and resurrection. The practical outworking of
this is a laying down of our lives. That is why I called this section
'the eternal principle'. Jesus' whole life demonstrated this principle,
but it was clearest as He contemplated the cross...
John 12:23-26 'Jesus said 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to
be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls
to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who
hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.
Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant
also will be
. My Father will honour the one who serves me.'
Notice that Jesus, while thinking of the cross, said that 'where I am,
my servant will be also.' This eternal principle of the wheat falling
to the ground and dying was not just for Jesus! No, Jesus clearly said
that to be His servant would mean that the same principle applied.
Elisha knew this, and when the call of God came his way, he readily let
go of his own life, his own hopes and dreams, and followed the call of
God to wherever that would lead him! What a fantastic attitude and a
great picture for our lives.
New Testament Confirmation
So we have looked at the four locations where Elisha was tested at.
Gilgal, Bethel, Jericho and the Jordan. And these speak of separation,
the presence of God, walking by faith, and death and resurrection
When I was thinking about those four places, in dawned on me that there
is a well know New Testament passage that corresponds to each of these
locations. It is Phil 3:6-10. To make things easy (hopefully!), I have
added the following table.
(from the flesh, the past, and unto God)
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence
in the flesh, I have more...
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss
for the sake of Christ
House of God
(a desire to know God and be in His presence.)
What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to
the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my
, for whose sake I have lost all things.
(Walk by faith and not righteousness or strength)
I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own
that comes from the law,
but that which is through faith in Christ - the
righteousness that comes from God and is by faith
Death & Resurrection
(Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground...)
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the
fellowship of sharing in his sufferings,becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the
resurrection from the dead.
We are back to where we were at the end of the first study on Elisha.
And that is with what was spoken about Elisha and his master Elijha -
'So the two of them walked on.'
Or, in the language of the New Testament passage of Philipians 3 -
'I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold
of me... But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining
toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize
for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.'
That was the heart of Paul. Even Paul didn't think that he had arrived,
and wasn't content with what he currently knew and had experienced in
the Lord. It's important not just to start the Christian life well.
It's important to carry on well and to finish well.
Press on Christian, to lay hold of that which God has for you.