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In 2 Chronicles 21, the wicked King Jehoram of Judah receives a letter from the prophet Elijah. The letter from Elijah said this, in part: “This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: ‘. . . You have followed the ways of the kings of Israel, and you have led Judah and the people of Jerusalem to prostitute themselves, just as the house of Ahab did. You have also murdered your own brothers, members of your own family, men who were better than you. So now the Lord is about to strike your people, your sons, your wives and everything that is yours, with a heavy blow. You yourself will be very ill with a lingering disease of the bowels, until the disease causes your bowels to come out’” (verses 12–15).

The account of Elijah’s grim and graphic letter to Jehoram seems fairly straightforward—a prophet of God delivers a divine message of judgment to a wicked ruler. However, matters are complicated by a comparison with 2 Kings chapters 2 and 3. In 2 Kings 2, Elijah is translated to heaven in a chariot of fire. Then, 2 Kings 3 relates the story of King Jehoshaphat taking military action against the Moabites and receiving advice from Elisha, Elijah’s successor. The order of events presents a conundrum: if Elijah was taken to heaven during the reign of Jehoshaphat, then how can he send a letter to Jehoram, who was the king after Jehoshaphat?

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    @NigelJ It's not a problem for this site to also have a definitive answer for each alleged contradiction. However most of them have also already been asked here before!
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Sep 10, 2021 at 23:27

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This question is an exact replica of the same question on Got Questions.

The answer is - also - on Got Questions, after the question.

So I have just copied the answer to here :

  1. Jehoram is anointed king of Judah (2 Kings 1:17), ruling with his father, Jehoshaphat, for the final 5 or 6 years of his father’s reign.
  1. Elijah is translated to heaven (2 Kings 2:1–18).
  1. Jehoshaphat, advised by Elisha, teams with the king of Israel in a fight against Moab (2 Kings 3).
  1. Jehoshaphat dies, leaving Jehoram to rule alone (2 Chronicles 21:1).
  1. Jehoram murders all his brothers (2 Chronicles 21:4) and builds idolatrous high places in Judah (verse 11).
  1. Jehoram receives a letter from Elijah that details his judgment (2 Chronicles 21:12–15).

According to the above chronology, Elijah was taken from this world during the joint reign of Jehoshaphat and Jehoram. The question then becomes, how did Elijah send a letter to Jehoram about the evil the king did, when Elijah was not around during that time?

There are several reasonable explanations for how Elijah’s letter was delivered to King Jehoram seemingly after Elijah’s translation to heaven:

First, it’s possible that the author of 2 Kings did not place the account of Elijah’s translation to heaven in chronological order with the surrounding chapters. Elijah could have still been serving as prophet until much later in the reign of Jehoram.

Another possibility is that Elijah wrote the letter to Jehoram before his departure to heaven and left it for Elisha or someone else to deliver. Elijah was a prophet, after all. God could easily have given him the words to write ahead of time.

Another possibility is that, before his translation to heaven, Elijah told Elisha what Jehoram would do and what God’s judgment would be. When the time came, Elisha wrote out Elijah’s prophecy and delivered it to King Jehoram.

It’s also been suggested that Elijah was not translated to heaven but was whisked away to another location, much like Philip was in Acts 8:39–40. Elijah then was able to write the letter personally at the time of Jehoram’s sin and have it delivered through a courier. According to this theory, after the whirlwind experience of 2 Kings 2, Elijah lived out the remainder of his days in a secret location.

In any case, the letter from Elijah was prophetic in that it condemned Jehoram’s sin and predicted his judgment before the king became ill.

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How did Elijah send a letter to King Jehoram, if Elijah had already been taken to heaven?

The problem here is with the interpretation of "heaven".

The word "heaven" can refer to:

  • Earth's atmosphere.
  • Space, including all the stars and planets.
  • God's home.

The third one is in fact referred to as "the third heaven" in 2 Corinthians 12:2.

In this case, Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind, so the reference to "heaven" obviously refers to the Earth's atmosphere. Elijah was taken up, but then he was transported elsewhere and returned safely to the surface of the Earth.

The fact that Elijah was heard from well after this event simply confirms that the whirlwind did not take him to the third heaven, as is popularly believed.

For more details, see:

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  • Would you agree that Acts 8:39 parallels 2 Kings 2:11-12? It seems to me that Luke used elements of the Elijah's disappearance story to tell us about the end of Philip's encounter with the eunuch. Which suggests Luke himself did not think that Elijah had gone to heaven. Commented Sep 13, 2021 at 23:53
  • @ארקדיוס, yes. The events are similar enough that it's hard to argue that Elijah and Enoch went directly to heaven but Philip stayed here. Commented Sep 14, 2021 at 0:14
  • The events are "similar enough"? How? They're not even in the same language, and they don't use similar wording. They're only similar in your mind, to fit to your eisegesis.
    – Andrew
    Commented Jun 27, 2022 at 22:30
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The question and the answers remind of the story of monks in midieval times arguing about how many angels can dance on a pinhead. Does my salvation hinge on this matter? No. Is the Church edified by this discussion? No We know in part, when we go to heaven, we shall know fully.

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Elijah

Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Elisha then ... stood on the bank of the Jordan.

2 Kings 2:7,11-12 NIV

Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water ... And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.

Acts 8:36,38-39 NIV

There are many direct and indirect parallels between these two events.

'As they were walking along and talking together ...'

'As they traveled along the road ... and told him ...'

Both events record the pairs "going on together" - ἐπορεύοντο also in the LXX and both strongly figure horses and chariots.

'... suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared ...'

'“My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”'

'And he gave orders to stop the chariot.'

Philip - from philos and hippos - that is 'lover of horses' - and the eunuch, in a chariot - with horses of its own, obviously.
There are many further instances of this in the accounts of Elijah and Elisha :

'And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.' 2 Kings 6:17

'Now Elisha had been suffering from the illness from which he died. “My father! My father!” he cried. “The chariots and horsemen of Israel!”' 2 Kings 13:14

Both also feature baptism.

The circumstances of the departure of Elijah a re-enactment, not only of the entry of Israel into the land under Joshua - dividing the Jordan and walking across on dry ground - where the later spirit of Elijah in John would baptise into the new promise, but obviously also the dividing of the sea in the exodus under Moses :

'Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him ... Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.' (Matthew 17:12-13)

'For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors ... were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.' (1 Corinthians 10:1-2)

There are also parallels in the circumstances of the baptisms.

'Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan.'

'Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.'

'Elisha ... stood on the bank of the Jordan.'

Both Elijah and Elisha, but then Elisha on his own after the departure of Elijah.
This is paralleled in the departure of Philip.

'When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away ...'

However more pertinently, there are considerable parallels between the station and conversion and baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch and Naaman, the Syrian, the later gentile "convert" of Elisha.

Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded ...

2 Kings 5:1 NIV

... on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”).

Acts 8:27 NIV

The conversion and baptism of Namaan being recorded thusly :

So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan ..."

2 Kings 2:9-10 NIV

A significant difference being the willingness of the eunuch in that regard :

... the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”

Acts 8:36 NIV

There is also a concomitant significant parallel between the operation of the spirit and its transfer.

Elijah is the archetypal prophet, and one of two, the other being Elisha, that had the spirit or power of the father given to them in a manner where they seemingly used it autonomously, but certainly they were the only two that had the capacity to raise the dead (Elijah at 1 Kings 17:17-24 and Elisha at 2 Kings 4:8-36 and 2 Kings 13:20-21).

Elisha receives the spirit - a transfer between prophets, but cannot transfer it himself. The spirit of Elijah ceases with Elisha.

'Elisha died and was buried.' 2 Kings 13:20

This is a mirror of the circumstances surrounding the spirit gifts in the period following the ascension of christ.

'... the Spirit was given at the laying on of the apostles’ hands ...' Acts 8:18 - concerning Philip's ministry.

Although Philip was one of "the seven" (Acts 6:5), and had the capacity to perform miracles, the Apostles were the chosen vessel for granting that power (Acts 8:4-25).

This generational transfer and no futher, being communicated by Peter at its inception.

'... you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children ...' Acts 2:38-39

'... where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.' 1 Corinthians 13:8

'For, in part, are we gaining knowledge, and, in part, are we prophesying,–– But, as soon as that which is complete is come, that which is in part, shall be done away.' 1 Corinthians 13:9-10 Rotherham

The fullness or completeness spoken of being the revelation delivered to John - the fullness and completeness of the prophetic word and the oracles of god.

Ultimately, neither Namaan the Syrian, nor the Ethiopian eunuch, receive spirit power, and return to their separate gentile kingdoms after their conversions and baptisms.

In the case of Elijah and Elisha, there is a request for a reception of Elijah's power by Elisha and a resultant transfer depending on a condition :

'When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?” “Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied. “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”' 2 Kings 2:9-10

'Elisha saw this ...' 2 Kings 2:12

'The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.”' 2 Kings 2:15

There are no conditional requests involving the eunuch witnessing the airbone extraction of Philip and there is no transfer of spirit.

There's a confluence of two "ceremonies" here. The baptism and operation of the spirit involving Elijah and Elisha being found in the interaction between the apostles and Philip.

But, the baptism recorded of the Ethiopian eunuch having an analog in the washing of Namaan the Syrian, both of these performed by the successors, Elisha and Philip, and neither involving a transfer of spirit power.

Ultimately we are told of both :

'And Elisha saw him no more.' 2 Kings 2:12

'... and the eunuch did not see him again ...' Acts 8:39

It should be noted, that although these direct parallels strongly tie the events in Kings with those in Acts as a type, it is also indicated that Elijah encountered circumstances similar to Philip in his taking to a geographically divergent place and identical with Philip in that he continued his work for some time afterward - both with the kings relevant to their dispensation.

'When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away ... Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.' Acts 8:39-40

'... Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.' 2 Kings 2:11

The "went up" applicable as in english in the general sense of going somewhere but more pertinently "to heaven" - הַשָּׁמָֽיִם - being the same word used to signify not only the abode of the father, but also the sky generally.

'... the birds in the sky (הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם) ..." Genesis 1:26

'... the floodgates of the heavens (הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם) were opened.' Genesis 7:11

Etcetera.

Perhaps critically, we are also informed that some years after the whirlwind, when Elisha had come into his own, that the subsequent king of Judah received a letter from Elijah.
The progression being :

'... and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.' 2 Kings 2:11

'And Elisha saw him no more.' 2 Kings 2:12

It is clear at this point, some time after the disappearance of Elijah, that Jehoshaphat is king of Judah :

'Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, if I did not have respect for the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not pay any attention to you.' 2 Kings 3:14

'Then Jehoshaphat rested with his ancestors and was buried with them in the City of David. And Jehoram his son succeeded him as king.' 2 Chronicles 21:1

'Jehoram received a letter from Elijah the prophet ...' 2 Chronicles 21:12

Philip likewise continuing "preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea." Caesarea being the "city of the king". A gentile king.

Elijah continued his ministrations to the community.

But, along with the geographical movement there is a concomitant transfer of focus from the kings of Israel to Judah - a message being sent both literally and figuratively - foreshadowing the removal of the lampstand from the children of Isaac, and that while there was a continuance of the kingdom under the law in Judah, there was a spirit operating outside all, that would become the greater manifestation.

A process being revisited in Philip and his work in Caesarea, with the gentile kings in a figure. The supplanting of law by the greater Abrahamic faith and lowering of the "sheet" from heaven and the way being opened for all.

'So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.' (Galatians 3:24 NIV)

'... since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.' (Hebrews 11:40 NIV)

This victory over the law through the operation of the spirit of the father and faith - the man Moses by contrast having a publicly decreed and observed end.

These Moses and Elijah both appearing later as the great types of the law, which pertained to the flesh and brought death, and the prophets, as emblematic of the operation of the father, through which life came.

'... not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.'

'Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!'

2 Corinthians 3:6-9

Of necessity, while the scripture is eloquent to the death of Moses, it is silent as to the ultimate fate of Elijah, emblematic, of life.

A Melchizedek figure.

'This Melchizedek ...'

'Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God ...'

(Hebrews 7:1,3)

And as we are plainly informed, this Melchizedek of necessity, also died.

'... why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek ...'

'And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.'

(Hebrews 7:11, 15-16)

There is every indication directly and indirectly that Elijah was deposited elsewhere after being taken up to the sky. To suggest otherwise is contrary to the direct testimony of scripture and contrary to all the indications from the type and the significance of both.

Regardless. The fanciful notions put forward as alternatives - one can only guess as to the motivation to do so - require an incredible wresting of bible doctrine with regard to the fate of all the children of Adam and Eve.

John 3:13 stands.

As does the entirety of the rest of the bible as to these matters.

'Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.' (Romans 5:14)

That pattern typified in Jesus. We are explicitly told numerous times that death is the end of all the children of Adam, christ being the firstruits of redemption, the way and the life.

Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned— (Romans 5:12 NIV)

But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death ... and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way ...

Hebrews 2 : 9, 10-11, 14-15, 17

Etcetera.

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