Where is God? Chariots and fire – 2 Kings 2

“Where is God?” is a question many people as in various situations.

In Victorian times, there was a sense that science and industry was moving humanity into a new, glorious, peaceful future. Soon, science would tell us all there was to know. People would work together for a new society in peace. Then the 20th Century came along. WWI and WWII, not to mention countless other conflicts – many of which you’ve never heard of.

You can look at your TV and ask, “Where was God in that?”

But for millions of people, these are more than images on a TV. They have empty places at the table; flowers to take to graves. They wonder, “Where is God in this?”

It’s a question many of us face – in grief, or pain, or worry.

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube preached on Remembrance Sunday in 2021. You can find more in the series in our Sermon Index.

Where is the LORD?

We’ve been following the prophet Elijah in 1 & 2 Kings. The kings of northern Israel have been worshippers of Baal, not the true and living God, the LORD. The kings have led the national worship of Israel away from God. But Elijah has been the chief and champion of God’s cause:

  • At Mt Carmel he called for fire from heaven to demonstrate both God’s utter supremacy over Baal, and as a reminder to return to God by the way he has given.
  • Then at Mt Sinai (Horeb), he stated to God the covenantal case against Israel – back at the place God had given the covenant through Moses.
  • That’s when Elijah appointed Elisha as his successor (1 Kings 19), but we’ve not heard of him again until now.
  • Last time we saw judgment and justice against King Ahaziah (after falling through a window), and against soldiers with no respect for God or his prophet.

Elijah stood as this lone voice for God in a world opposed to God. He always showed grace to the humble; always demonstrated God’s protection for his own people (and his own reputation, attached to his people); and always there was a call to covenantal faithfulness.

The champion departs

But here in 2 Kings 2, Elijah’s leaving. The champion departs.

  • Elisha walks with him.
  • They go to Bethel (v2). Elijah tells Elisha not to go with him, but Elisha will have none of it.
  • They both know it’s Elijah’s last day. All the prophets in Bethel know it too (v3).
  • Then (v4) they go to Jericho. The prophets there know too, and again Elisha refuses Elijah’s instruction to stay.
  • From Jericho they go to the river Jordan.
  • Elijah strikes the huge river with his cloak and they go through on dry ground, like Moses through the Red Sea, or Joshua through the Jordan itself.

Read 2 Kings 2:9. He’s not asking to be “twice as powerful” or anything like that. Instead, he’s asking for the firstborn heir’s share. He’s committed to following in Elijah’s footsteps, however difficult that may be.

Then Elijah is taken – but not by chariots of fire. Read 2 Kings 2:11-12. Literally, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen” – Elijah is Israel’s chariot and horsemen – he’s the nation’s one-man army against wickedness & idolatry. And he’s gone. Taken by a whirlwind, separated from Elisha by a chariot of fire and horses of fire.

So read 2 Kings 2:13-14. Where is the LORD, when evil is all around and the champion of God’s cause is lost? When all hope is gone; where is he? Elisha was clearly grieved for his loss – we know how that feels. There would be real concern – who will help God’s people now? Will Baal worship take over forever?

Where is the Lord, today?

In more modern words…

  • Will all churches in Afghanistan be destroyed and abandoned forever? Can it be that no-one ever be saved?
  • Will Christians in North Korea ever be safe to own a Bible, or sing a hymn, or join for prayer?
  • Have any of the lessons of WWI or WWII been learned?
  • Will we forever see repeats of terrorist attacks in New York, London, Manchester, Paris – over and over?
  • Where is God in all this? Where’s his champion now?

Elisha divided the river. He told the prophets not look for Elijah as they wouldn’t find him (they looked; they didn’t find him). He travelled to Jericho where he brought grace to the humble. He went Bethel, bringing curse to the arrogant. In retracing Elijah’s steps and doing as Elijah did, he answers the question, “Where is the LORD?”

God is where he has always been: With his people, in covenant relationship, faithful to his promises.

Where is he now?

That may seem unsatisfactory. Too historical. 

To understand how it relates to God now, you need to step back a bit.

  • After Moses, there was Joshua (“the LORD saves”)
  • After Elijah, there was Elisha (“God saves”)
  • The Old Testament tells us that there was to be another Elijah who would make paths for the Messiah, God on earth. That Elijah was John the Baptist.
  • And after John the Baptist, there was Jesus (“he saves”)

We’ll explore more of this in the future, but for now:

  • Elisha took over as the champion of God’s cause after Elijah, just as Joshua succeeded Moses.
  • But Jesus is the one they’re all pointing towards.
  • He is the ultimate Messiah, chief and champion.

Jesus is truly God’s one-man army, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!

  • He’s conquered temptation, sin, Satan and death itself!
  • He reigns over all creation in majesty and splendour.

Psalm 2 speaks of him: The kings of the earth prepare for battle; the rulers plot together against the LORD and against his anointed one… Submit to God’s royal son, or he will become angry… 

  • The world is full of hate and division.
  • Bombs and guns; words and slogans; labels and discrimination.
  • It is a sea of tension, with Satan himself pulling nation against nation, idea against idea, everyone thinking they’re right. The war in our hearts spills onto our streets.

God is still where he has always been

Where is God in that? Where he has always been. With his people, in covenant relationship, faithful to his promises.

  • Christ is triumphant already.
  • One day, he will return to the earth and every knee will bow before him. Today is your opportunity to do that voluntarily.
  • He will end all wars forever. All his enemies will be banished, crushed, removed, forever.
  • Jesus, the very Prince of Peace, will rule his people with blissful government forever.

Which is hope for you today. 

  • His people in North Korea’s hard labour camps are waiting for the day when they will see Jesus.
  • His people locked in shipping containers in Eritrea know that they can face that because they will see Jesus.
  • You can face your trials today, because you will see Christ and you know he is the same yesterday, today and forever.
  • Jesus came to save you, and you are saved now.

Elisha wasn’t abandoned; Israel wasn’t abandoned by God.

“Where is the LORD?” Right here with his people doing what he had always done. Which means you need to be ready for him:

Where are you?

When Elisha came out of the Jordan he went to Jericho then Bethel.

Jericho was a cursed town. The water was basically poisonous. The men of Jericho asked Elisha for help. He gave instruction, which they followed. Miraculously, the water was healed. It’s the blessing of fruitfulness promised by God’s covenant in Leviticus 26.

But then as he went to pass Bethel, a bunch of lads came out shouting “Go away, baldy!” Bethel was home to a statue of a golden calf put up by Jeroboam son of Nebat – it was a seat of idolatry. Theses weren’t ignorant, rude scally kids. They were deliberately abusing God’s prophet – they had come out of the town to abuse him verbally.

Also in Leviticus 26, one of the curses for disobedience to God’s word is that “wild animals will rob you of your children”. These bears aren’t weird biblical randomness – they’re as much part of the covenant outcome as the healed water in Jericho.

God brings you judgment and grace:

  • When Elijah called down fire from heaven on Mt Carmel, the burnt offerings were a reminder to come back to God through the means he had given.
    • There was also judgment on those who wouldn’t
  • The same Lord is now with Elisha, bringing grace to the men of Jericho – and judgment against those who abuse him.
  • Because to abuse God’s people is to reject their God.
  • And as you reject God, you are rejected by him. Cursed.

The regimes oppressing Christians all around the world will be dealt with as surely as any in the Bible, including those lads. When Christ returns, he will wipe all the conflict away. He will bring in eternal peace – judgment against his enemies, grace to those who come to him.

Why does God wait?

So why doesn’t he do it now? Where is he, that he doesn’t bring peace now?

  • He’s being patient with you.
  • 2 Peter 3:3-4 Most importantly, I want to remind you that in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth and following their own desires. They will say, “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again?
  • 2 Peter 3:9 The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.
  • 2 Peter 3:14 And so, dear friends, while you are waiting for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in his sight.

Grieve over the conflict in the world, for sure. Grieve more over the sin in your own heart – that’s the root of all the conflict you see. Know that you can have peace with God – he delights for you to come to Jesus for forgiveness and grace.  He invites you today.