Though this passage is most familiar for Elijah’s ascension into heaven (v. 11), the narrative is about Elisha inheriting the prophetic mantle. Its concentric structure is ordered geographically:
Introduction (v. 1)
A Bethel (vv. 2-3)
B Jericho (vv. 4-5)
C Jordan (vv. 6-8)
X Transjordan (vv. 9-12)
C′ Jordan (vv. 13-14)
B′ Jericho (vv. 15-22)
A′ Bethel (v. 23-24)
Conclusion (v. 25)
The structure suggests that the three similarly worded episodes at Bethel, Jericho, and the Jordan, in which Elisha vows never to leave Elijah (vv. 2, 4, 6), are to be balanced with their counterparts, in each of which Elisha performs a miraculous act. Thus, verses 2-8 present three tests of Elisha’s faithfulness to his mentor at Bethel, Jericho, and the Jordan, matched in verses 13-24 by three confirmations of his new status as Elijah’s successor at the Jordan, Jericho, and Bethel.
Standing in the center is the transfer of prophetic authority as symbolized in the mantle (vv. 9-12). Elisha may have been troubled that all the other members of the prophetic guild seemed to know that today was the day God would take Elijah away from him (vv. 3, 5). His request for a “double portion [“mouthful” in Hebrew] of your spirit” signifies the inheritance rights of the firstborn (v. 9; compare Deuteronomy 21:17) and is Elisha’s request to succeed his master. Elijah claims that if Elisha sees him ascend to heaven, his request will be granted (v. 10). Elisha’s witnessing of the ascension indicates that his request has been granted; more important, his reduplication of the miracle performed by Elijah with the mantle (v. 8) in verses 13-14 also suggests that this is the case.
The three confirmations of Elisha’s new power testify to three areas of prophetic authority:
- At the Jordan (vv. 13-14), the reduplication of Elijah’s parting of the Jordan authenticates Elisha’s prophetic status as Elijah’s successor.
- At Jericho (vv. 15-22), the purification of the water that was causing miscarriage testifies to Elisha’s power over death and ability to bring Blessing is the asking for or the giving of God's favor. Isaac was tricked into blessing Jacob instead of his firstborn Esau. At the Last Supper Jesus offered a blessing over bread and wine. To be blessed is to be favored by God. More (compare 1 Kings 17).
- At Bethel (vv. 23-25), his summoning of the she-bears testifies to his prophetic authority and ability to bring curse. Attempts to soften this graphic portrayal by presenting the young boys as surly members of an adolescent gang–claiming, for example, that the epithet “Baldy” was a mockery of his prophetic tonsure rather than his follically challenged scalp–misses the theological point.