They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

A Double Portion of the Spirit

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 and ElijahWhile studying the stories about Elijah and Elisha in 1 and 2 Kings and reading some rabbinic commentaries on their lives, I came across an interesting thought concerning these two great prophets.

In the Jewish mind, the consummate idea of discipleship is found in these two men. According to the biblical account, Elijah came to the village where Elisha lived and found him plowing his field (1 Kings 19:21). Throwing his cloak over Elisha, Elijah recruited him to become his m’sharet or assistant (see also M’sharet-God’s Assistant). Elisha faithfully followed Elijah until the time came for Elijah to pass the mantle of God’s prophet onto Elisha, his successor. In 2 Kings 2:9-10, before Elijah was taken up to heaven, Elisha asked him if he could have a double portion of His Spirit. Elijah answered that he had asked for a difficult thing, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours, otherwise not.”

We know from the next verses that Elisha did see Elijah as he was taken up to heaven and that God authenticated Elisha’s succession to Elijah’s ministry by giving him the same divine powers that had accompanied Elijah’s ministry. But, did Elisha receive a double portion of his spirit?

There are seven miracles attributed to Elijah in 1 and 2 Kings (some scholars count more because they count prophecy as a miracle). When Elisha comes to the end of his life in 2 Kings 13:20, he has had thirteen miracles recorded in scripture (again, more can be counted). The fourteenth miracle of Elisha occurs in a bizarre story after his death, when a dead body touches Elisha’s bones and and the dead body is brought back to life (2 Kings 13:21-22). Elisha did receive a double portion of the spirit of Elijah! Was this a coincidence or did the Hebrew writers pen it that way so that the digging student of the text would pick up the connection? It ‘s a fascinating thought and would be just like God and the Eastern mindset to deposit that nugget in scripture.

Note: If you Google “Miracles of Elijah and Elisha”, you will find the miracles of each man that are recorded in scripture. Depending on what you consider a miracle (prophecy, etc.), you can get up to 16 miracles for Elijah and 32 for Elisha. I read another commentary that had 8 for Elijah and 16 for Elisha, but 7 and 14 was the most common figure. The fact that Elisha’s miracles exactly double Elijah is just a neat way of saying through the text that God gave Elisha a double portion of His spirit.

The Law vs. the Spirit

As Christians, many of us have grown up with a negative attitude toward the word, “law”. We have been taught that the word “law” refers to excessive and burdensome regulations. The word “law” is always used in the context of the law vs. grace, or the law vs. the spirit. But the word that we translate “law” actually has a very different meaning in Hebrew. Let’s look at what the Hebrews thought when they heard the word that is translated in our Bible as law. That word in Hebrew is Torah.

The Hebrew word Torah is derived from the root word Yarah, (see “The Task of Teaching” lesson for more information) and means to point out, teach, instruct, or give direction toward a goal. It is that which aims you, (like a bow) so that you can hit the mark. Torah could best be described in English as instruction, God’s instruction to man. When God teaches us something we must obey. When the Bible was translated from Hebrew to Greek, the translators used the word “nomos” for Torah. “Nomos” was then translated into English as “law”. Obviously the word “law” is part of the definition of Torah, but it is not the main emphasis. The word law has a very negative connotation and makes us only think of harsh rules that we are required to obey. It is much more life-giving to God’s word to insert the word instruction or teaching for law. This makes the Text read in a much more positive light.

The Jewish Bible (also called Tanakh) translates the word Torah as “teaching” in almost every case. Look at the difference it makes in the following verses where the Jewish Bible translation is compared to the NIV.

Psalm 1:2 (NIV) “ His delight is in the law of the Lord and on His law he meditates day and night…”

Psalm 1:2 (JPS) “The teaching of the Lord is his delight and he studies that teaching day and night..”

Joshua 1:7-8 (NIV) “ Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you…Do not let this book of the law depart from your mouth, meditate on it day and night”.

Joshua 1:7-8 (JPS) “But you must be very strong and resolute to observe faithfully all the teaching that my servant Moses enjoined upon you… Let not this book of the Teaching cease from your lips, but recite it day and night, so that you may observe faithfully all that is written in it”.

What a difference it makes to think of God’s words to us as loving guidance and instructions for life instead of oppressive laws to buckle under. Obviously, there are many laws in the Bible, but these are given to us in a positive way to make us into the people God intended us to be. (See also, “10 Commandments: Marriage Contract“)

The first five books of the Bible are usually referred to as the Torah or Law, but they contain much more than just laws. In the Torah there is the story of creation, the fall of Adam and Eve, the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and God’s deliverance of the Hebrew people from slavery in the Exodus. The actual laws take up a very small portion of the Torah. The reason the first five books of the Bible were given the name, “Torah”, was to emphasize that they were God’s teachings given to Moses, not that it was the law.

In the future, when you read God’s Word, when the word, “law”, appears, say, “teaching” instead as the Hebrews did. This emphasis will help you see God in a more positive light, not as a judge ready to punish, but as a loving Father teaching and instructing us how to live.

This knowledge also leads us to take a different look at the law vs. the Spirit. When Timothy wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16 that all Scripture was inspired by God, which Scripture was he talking about? The only Scripture he knew was the Torah! The word inspired at it’s root means, “in spirited”. The Torah was a gift of the Holy Spirit, written by the finger of God, (Exodus 31:18). “Finger of God” is a Hebrew idiom for the “Spirit of God”. Also, look at these verse in Romans; Romans 7:14 ,”We know that the law (Torah or His Teaching) is spiritual” and Romans 7:22, ”For in my inner being (inner spirit), I delight in God’s law (teaching, Torah)”. Also, think of this point: The law was given to Israel after they had been saved out of Egypt. The law was not the basis or means by which He saved them; He saved them by His grace. The Torah was given to the Hebrew people to guide and teach them and to bring them to the appointed place of promise. These verses and many others show that the “law” and the “Spirit” are really one and the same and are not in contradiction to each other. Hopefully, the next time you hear some negative words about the law vs. the Spirit or the law vs grace, you will be able to call this lesson to mind and turn it into a positive message.