A Hairy Man and Grief, Part I
CLOAKS. ROBES. CLOTHING MADE OUT OF ANIMAL HAIR.
We could call it Old Testament fashion, but it all appears in the Book of Kings. In 2 Kings 1, Ahab’s son Ahaziah received the awful truth that he wouldn't recover from his fall. After sending for messengers to inquire of Baal about whether he would live, God sent Elijah to intercept and ambush them with the truth that Ahaziah would die.
But Ahaziah's messengers didn't know Elijah. They had only learned a name. Elijah’s name meant My God is Yah-weh. We know Moses learned firsthand that Yahweh meant I am who I am. Once Ahaziah heard of Elijah, he had to know who the man was. How was he identified by the messengers? By his clothes! He wore a garment of hair with a leather belt, yes, just like John the Baptist in Matthew, except John wore camel hair. One Jewish translation reads that Elijah didn’t wear hairy clothes, but that he was a hairy man!
As the account in Kings continues in 2 Kings 2:6-8, it was time for Elijah to go to heaven. He said to Elisha, Please stay here, for the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the sons of the prophets also went and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his cloak and rolled it up and struck the water, and the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground.
AN ACT OF FAITH
Elijah had already anointed Elisha to take his place as prophet because God told him to in 1 Kings 19. Everyone knew Elijah would be taken up to heaven that day. After he asked Elisha what he wanted from him, Elisha responds, I want a double portion of your spirit. Or I want double of the gift that is in you as a prophet of God. Almost immediately the fiery horses and chariot appear to whisk Elijah away. It’s as if God and Elijah were waiting for Elisha to complete that act of faith. Elijah had completed his purpose on this earth. He had given away what he had been given by God, and God multiplied it to Elisha.
Elisha cried “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen! And he saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces. 2 Kings 2:12
Why tear his clothes? When someone dies in Jewish culture, family members and friends tear their clothes immediately when it happens or when they hear the news. In Genesis, Jacob, for instance, tore his clothes when he thought his son Joseph had died. David tore his when King Saul died. Even Levitical priests weren't allowed in the temple if they were observing keriah. It doesn’t mean tearing clothes to bits and ruining them, but it is an outward expression signifying grief. Some say it is symbolic of the soul shedding its garments.
Elisha tore his entirely. He was no longer the apprentice but the prophet of Israel. He was not going from the old to the new but walking into a new season in his life.
Continue reading next week to see how this connects to Christ and the temple.
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