Elijah Wrote a Letter?

Tucked away in the annals of the ancient kings of Israel – Chronicles – is an obscure letter from a famous prophet. 2 Chronicles 21.11-15 is a letter written by Elijah to wicked King Jehoram. For some reason, when preachers/teachers lecture on Elijah, they usually don’t touch this letter. For example, A. W. Pink did not mention it is his book Elijah, nor did M. B. Van’t Veer in My God is Yahweh.

Perhaps it is untouched because it is almost untouchable. That is, it is one of those relatively rare places in Scripture where dates and events just don’t quite seem to line up. Many commentators – liberal and conservative – say that this letter was written and/or delivered after the whirlwind snatched Elijah away (2 Kings 2.11). In other words, when Jehoram was ruling and committing his terrible murders, Elijah was most likely not around! What do we do with that?

We have a few options here. 1) The tornado/whirlwind that took Elijah did not take him into heaven, but supernaturally transported him to a hidden location. First of all, the word that most Bibles translate “heaven” can also mean sky, firmament, or something else in this creation (i.e. Gen 1.1). Secondly, after this event, other prophets thought that Yahweh’s Spirit took him elsewhere (as when Obadiah said ‘Yahweh’s Spirit will carry you away!’ 1 Ki 18.12). Third, this did happen to Phillip (Acts 8.39). Fourth, though Scripture does elsewhere say Enoch did not die (Heb 11.5), it does not explicitly say Elijah did not die. Roy E. Knuteson makes a laudable case for this in his Bibliotheca Sacra article (on 2 Chr. 21.12-15) #162, 2005, pages 23-32 (Simon De Vries also takes a position close to this). Summary: Elijah did write this letter after he was supernaturally transported to a hidden location and after Jehoram committed the terrible crimes.

2) We could say with Keil, Gaebelein, and others that Yahweh revealed Jehoram’s wickedness before he (Elijah) was taken away, and that Elisha or someone else delivered the letter at the appropriate time (a few years later). Keil also mentions that this would perhaps be a more effective way to bring judgment to Jehoram, as if Elijah were speaking from the grave. This view can be called the prophetic view, and does indeed fall in line with other biblical teaching on prophetism. Summary: Elijah wrote this letter before he was taken away to heaven and before Jehoram’s terrible crimes. God used Elijah’s pen prophetically as if the thing had already happened; the letter was delivered by someone else. Note: F. Turretin discusses this as well in his Institutes, II.259.

A few commentators have suggested that Elijah wrote from heaven (Menken), or that the text is corrupt and the narrator meant Elisha (Jamieson/Fausset/Brown); others have said that Elijah didn’t write this letter at all (Williamson); still others (Merrill) say that Elijah lived into the reign of Jehoram and was transported later; but – in my opinion – these options are not as helpful as the above two.

Comments? Thoughts?

shane lems

sunnyside wa

4 Replies to “Elijah Wrote a Letter?”

  1. 2 Kings 15-18 seems to implicitly deny the plausibility of option 1.

    Matthew Henry suggests a possibility that Jehoram was on the throne for just a short time before Elijah’s translation. Henry postulates the letter was written and given to Elisha for delivery because Elijah knew his time was short. John Wesley seems to have nearly plagiarized this view in his commentary.

    Let me know when you figure it out.

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  2. Thanks, guys; I am much closer to #2, for sure. I need to dig into more history of this period, as well as other commentaries before I’m totally settled. I agree with one comment someone made here (on The Reformed Reader) a week or two ago: we’re working around 80% when we’re “sure” concerning exegesis/interpretation. I’m not to the 80% here yet…maybe 60%!

    shane lems

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