When Elisha is about to die, Jehoash the king goes to visit Elisha and cries before him:

Now Elisha was suffering from the illness from which he died. Jehoash king of Israel went down to see him and wept over him. "My father! My father!" he cried. "The chariots and horsemen of Israel!"

Elisha said, "Get a bow and some arrows," and he did so. "Take the bow in your hands," he said to the king of Israel. When he had taken it, Elisha put his hands on the king's hands.

2 Kings 13:14-16 (NIV empahsis mine)

This strikes me as just a very strange thing to say. Is this some kind of petition? Is Jehoash just worried that the armies of Israel are going to lose if Elisha dies? Why would Jehoash cry out "The chariots and horsemen of Israel" while at Elisha's deathbed?

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    To note, Elisha uttered the same phrase upon watching Elijah be taken to heaven. See 2 Kings 2:12. blueletterbible.org/…
    – user862
    Dec 22, 2012 at 8:06

9 Answers 9


This is indeed a fascinating and cryptic statement... As was pointed out in a comment on the question, this phrase actually occurs twice: earlier, as Elijah was ascending to heaven, Elisha sees "a chariot of fire and horses of fire" (II Kings 2:11), and then cries out, "My father, my father! The chariot[s] of Israel and its horsemen!". Biblical scholars and commentators have different opinions about the symbolism of this phrase.

Many (like the Aramaic Targum cited in another answer) understand this as a reference to the prophet [Elijah] being more important to Israel, especially in its military defense, than chariots and horsemen. Interestingly, a few chapters later (II Kings 6:13-18) Elisha is surrounded by the enemy forces of the king of Aram, including horses and chariots; Elisha's servant/helper fears, but Elisha prays and the youth's eyes are opened and he sees that Elisha is surrounded by "horses and chariots of fire". The Dutch Biblical scholar Martinus Adrianus Beek writes that this story illustrates the theme of the prophetic message: "'those who are on our side are more than those on theirs' [II Kings 6:16]... Therefore every prophet has a right to the title rekhev yisrael upharashaw [chariot and horsemen of Israel]." Beek then connects this to the story of the Exodus from Egypt and the Song of the Sea, where the words "chariot" and "horsemen" also feature prominently, to suggest that this phrase emphasizes the role of the prophet in focusing the people's devotion and trust to G!d rather than Egypt/military might/political alliances. Cf. the passages Beek brings: II Kings 18:21-24, Isaiah 31:1-3, Psalms 20:7, and others, that demonstrate that this title for the prophet represents the direct contrast between the physical horses and chariots of Pharaoh and other mortals versus the word of the prophet, the carrier of G!d's will.

Note: Beek's article, "The Meaning of the Expression 'The Chariots and the Horsemen of Israel'" can be read online here.

Similarly, medieval Jewish commentators (like Rashi, Abarbanel, and Gersonides), understand this as referring directly to the figure of the prophet (Elijah or Elisha) as being the symbolic "chariot and horsemen of Israel". Biblical scholar Joseph Blenkinsopp suggests that this draws on the imagery of YHWH as master charioteer of the hosts of heaven (cf. Psalms 68:5, 68:18), and thus reinforces the image of the prophet as carrier of the Divine word.

Thus, if this reading is correct, Jehoash is referring to Elisha and mourning the loss of the great prophet and spiritual defender of Israel, rather than what might appear to be an unrelated cry regarding Israel's army.

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    Thanks, your last remark resonates quite a bit given that the phrase is used at the end of the lives of each prophet. Also, welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics!
    – Soldarnal
    Jan 4, 2013 at 5:28

Clarke seems to have a good quote to borrow on the matter. According to him the Chaldee translates 2 Kings 2:12 (where Elisha uses the same phrase with respect to Elijah) as: "My master, my master! who, by thy intercession, wast of more use to Israel than horses and chariots."

This seems to make sense. Basically Elisha looked upon Elijah as his spiritual father and great defender of Israel. In the death of Elisha Jehoash has the same attitude and cries with the same words in his mourning. Possibly also to comfort Elisha knowing about the previous use by him for Elijah.


I believe that the prophets were surrounded by a spiritual army. Yes the prophets are a representation of God's military strength on the side of the Israelites but how...through supernatural strength. Jesus is called the Lord of angel armies. We also see a promise in Psalm 91 that God will command His angels over us. Therefore Elisha cried out to Elijah not only for the double portion, but also for the angelic army that surrounded Elijah , so that Israel would remain protected. King Jehoash knew too that should Elisha die, this protection would be lifted. That is why he cried out to Elisha. In order to comfort him Elisha had him do the prophetic act with the arrows, because he knew there was no other great prophet left in the land. There is definately a connection there between the presence of a prophets and the protection of Israel. Once Elisha died it was downhill from there for Israel. The angel armies had been withdrawn from God.


Yes, it is a kind of petition.

Before Elijah was to be taken to heaven, he quieted everyone who spoke aloud of the matter and also tried to get rid of Elisha three times (2Kings2:1-3). But Elisha followed Elijah who understood Elisha wanted something. So Elijah asked him what he wanted and Elisha asked for a double-portion of Elijah's spirit, to which Elijah replied that Elisha may receive that spirit on a condition that implied the will of the Lord and Elisha's readiness (2Kings2:10).

In 2Kings13:14, Joash came to the departure of Elisha with the same words of the departure of Elijah. It can be understood that by the same reason that Elisha was understood by Elijah, Elisha understood that Joash wanted something. Elisha stated the will of the Lord for Joash, but only according to the faith of Joash. The will of the Lord was the total independence from Syria (five or six arrows), but Joash, and maybe the entire nation, lacked readiness or willingness (three arrows), maybe also representing some lack of faith.

The Lord's will in these two parallel stories can be shown in 2Kings2:14 (where the Jordan river parted) and 2Kings13:23-25 (where Ben-hadad was defeated and cities returned to Israel).

I would also conject that the blessings every person receives is proportionate to their level of faith (trust and obedience in the Lord). If a person is half-hearted (like Joash at the time), their blessings are proportionately less. But if a person is fully reliant on God (like Elisha at his time), their blessings are full.


Because of Jehoahaz's sins, God gave Israel into the hands of Hazael king of Aram, and his son Ben-hadad, though Jehoahaz "... entreated the favor of the LORD, and the LORD listened to him." (2 Kings 13:4 NASB)

But Israel did not turn away from the sins of the house of Jeroboam, and left the Asherah standing in Samaria. So Jehoahaz was left with "not more than fifty horsemen and ten chariots." (2 Kings 13:7 NASB)

Jehoahaz's son Joash knew how vulnerable Israel was, having lost so many horsemen and chariots, and surely knew that it was his father's fault. Without Elisha's help he's in deep trouble.


It can also be translated, "Israel's chariot and horseman!" (i.e. singular, as the LXX translates it also) metaphorically calling Elisha the one whom Israel depended on to win battles, that is, the one who leads and guides Israel in war in an indispensible manner, just as the horseman is needed to steer the horse.


Saint Gregory Palamas presented the consensus of the [orthodox] fathers formed by that time (14 century) that these words (when uttered during the ascent of Elijah) were a prophetic description of the vision of the uncreated Light (same as shone at the event we know as Transfiguration); to put it bluntly, the Light which is an uncreated energy of God, and God.


The chariot of Israel is the divine work of redemption pulled by the two divine witnesses to Gods righteousness

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    Hello! On this site we expect answers to explain what they say and give evidence for their claims. Please edit this to add much more detail.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 16, 2021 at 3:03

Chariots and horsemen is a figurative term. The Bible says that by faith we understand that the world was framed by the Word of God so that the things which are seen were not made by the things which do appear. In other words for every occurrence in the physical, there is a spiritual representation that preceded it. Whether it be buildings or wars.

In Daniel, He says that this matter is by the decree of the watchers and by the demand of the holy ones, to the intent that the living may know that the Lord God ruleth in the kingdom of men and He giveth it to whomsoever He chooses, and of the basest of men. Territories on the earthly have spiritual representations and therefore have those God appoints over them. He said I sought for a man among them that should make up the hedge and stand in the gap before me for the land that I should not destroy it, but I found none.

There are rankings spiritually just as there are physically. Elisha calling his master the chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof denotes his responsibility in the spirit. That when you had Elijah, you didn't need an army. That was his placing by God. The man could call fire down from heaven. Even if angels were not involved he was still a formidable force. Despite the fact that there were prophets in Israel, this man's declaration stopped the rain for 3 and a half years.

There is a reason the term only appears twice and from the mouths of men who had a certain relationship with the man to whom the term is inferred.

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