Friday, June 21, 2019

July 7, 2019 - 4th Sunday after Pentecost

                                                                     Biblical Words                                         [612] 

II Kings 5:1-14; Psalm 30; Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20.

            Prophets and apostles bring healing and a time of decision 
            for villages along the way.  
II Kings 5:1-14. 
Elisha is mostly about miracle stories. 
The closest parallels to Jesus’ healing miracles in the Bible are the Elisha stories (e.g., the stories in II Kings 4).  The miracles of Moses are always woven into the narrative structure of the plagues in Egypt or Israel’s trials in the wilderness, and the miracles of Elijah are mostly subordinated to his reenactment of the sacred history as a prophetic revolution.  But with Elisha, there are miracle stories just for the sake of good miracles – or sometimes not so good miracles (e.g., II Kings 2:23-24).  The story of Naaman the leper comes to us in such a collection of Elisha’s miracles. 
The story is well told (with considerable humor at the expense of royal and noble egos).  

Naaman, top general for the victorious forces of Aram, has a scaly skin-disease he can’t get rid of (conventionally called “leprosy”).  An Israelite girl captured as a slave and working for Naaman’s wife lets word drop about Elisha the miracle healer in Samaria, capital of the kingdom of Israel.  Naaman gets his king’s endorsement and goes to Samaria.  A letter to the King of Israel throws that gentleman into a fit of paranoia because his current overlord demands that he heal leprosy – as if he were God! 
Hearing of his king’s panic, Elisha sends word to pass the problem on to him.  Accordingly, Naaman appears at Elisha’s residence, only to receive a curt message, “Go wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored…”  Such treatment is a gross insult to Naaman, and we hear an excellent speech expressing indignation at the affront to his noble dignity and the insult to the fine rivers of Damascus compared to the muddy Jordan.  When he has left in a fury, his more pragmatic-minded servant says, “If he had asked you to do something really difficult wouldn’t you have done it?” 

Naaman didn’t get this far without some good sense, so he goes and washes in the Jordan and is healed.  (Bless the sharp-eared Levites who kept this story going for us!)   
Psalm 30.  
The Psalm reading is a thanksgiving for deliverance from death – or as it might be construed from the near-death of severe disease.  Should we play with the idea that Naaman, the recovered leper and Secretary of Defense for Damascus, might have uttered such a psalm?  
There is more to the Naaman story than we heard in the above reading.  The story goes on to tell how Naaman returned to Elisha and made a glowing confession of the great God of Israel.  “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel,” and he takes two mule-loads of earth from Israel to Damascus to set up an altar to the Lord of Israel (II Kings 5:15-17, NRSV).  
At that altar to the Lord he has set up in Damascus, it is perfectly credible that Naaman could have said, 
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, 
      and you healed me. 
O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, 
      restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit. 
                        (verses 2-3, NRSV)  
Naaman might also have previously said, “I shall never be moved,” for when he was in his original power God had established him “as a strong mountain” (verse 7).  Then, however, the divine face was turned away:  “you hid your face and I was dismayed.”  That is, the proud Naaman was brought low by the onset of his leprosy and finally, learning humility with Elisha’s help, came to accept the true source of healing, which would turn his mourning into dancing (verse 11). 

Because he has not died or been banished to a leper colony, Naaman can say, “my soul may praise you and not be silent, O Lord my God…” (verse 12).   
Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16. 
The Epistle reading includes the last words of Paul’s letter dictated to the Galatians, with a postscript written with his own hand.  
The last words of the dictated part (verses 7-10) are an assurance that God will reward perseverance in doing good by giving a good harvest.  Living “toward the flesh” will be rewarded with “corruption,” that is, only decayed flesh.  Living “toward the Spirit” will be rewarded with “eternal life,” that is, a life as free from boundaries and burdens as is the wind (the spirit).  Doing good will have its “opportunity,” its “right time” (kairos, verse 10), and those living by the Spirit will discern the times and realize the opportunities for “the good of all.”  
Paul’s own postscript (verses 11-18) is a bit rough and ready.  It is mainly a quick punch at his opponents in the Galatian churches who are promoting circumcision:  “It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh [pun certainly intended] that try to compel you to be circumcised…” (verse 12, NRSV).  He includes a personal note that he has nothing to boast of except being crucified to the world with Christ.  
Then he makes the final declaration repeating the hammer-blow of the whole letter:  “For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!” 

So Paul hopes to keep his non-Judean Christians free from literalistic conformities – which will only cause them to “bite and devour one another” (5:15).   
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20.  
The story of Naaman had to do with God’s grace to a non-Israelite officer, and Paul’s concern for the Galatians was that they not be discriminated against for not conforming to Judean law.  At first sight the Gospel reading does not seem to continue this emphasis on non-Judean people.  
But Luke has significantly complicated the missions of the disciples that Jesus sends out.  
Luke has the same account of Jesus sending the Twelve on a mission in Galilee that Mark and Matthew report (Luke’s version of the Twelve is in 9:1-6, paralleling Mark 6:6-13 and Matthew 10:1-16).  Matthew has Jesus restrict this mission of the Twelve exclusively to Israelites; no one from the nations and no Samaritans were to be approached (Matthew 10:5-6). 
Luke, however, also has a second mission of disciples, the one reported in our reading.  This second mission has Jesus send out, not twelve disciples, but seventy-two.  (Prefer the NRSV marginal reading.  Many texts, especially later ones, make the number just seventy.)  The instructions given to the seventy-two partly repeat what was said to the Twelve earlier, but some other instructions to the larger group are more elaborate.  (These additional instructions are mostly from the Q source, common to Luke and Matthew.)  
Luke places this second mission at the beginning of the “journey” to Jerusalem that began in 9:51.  These seventy-two disciples are sent “on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go” (verse 1, NRSV).  They seem to be an advance guard, a softening up force, preparing people for the real show still to come. 
Luke’s narrative, however, does not seem to follow up this line.  We do not have a village-to-village circuit carried out by Jesus.  (Such a village-to-village narrative might have organized the materials of Luke chapters 10-19 more effectively than we now have them.)  Nevertheless, Luke intends us to understand that the villages sooner or later were to encounter these pairs of vagrant preachers, and to be told that “the kingdom of God has come near to you” (verse 9). 
Certainly Luke, and the churches he wrote for, understood that these instructions from Jesus were to guide missionary work long after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  In that case, Jesus sent out two missions, one to Israel and one to villages far and wide, meaning the nations beyond Israel.  (The alternate number for the disciples, seventy instead of seventy-two, may be intended to match the number of nations in the world listed in Genesis 10.)  Thus, these second-wave missionaries, commissioned after Jesus had “set his face toward Jerusalem,” anticipate the spreading of the gospel narrated in the book of Acts. 
The journey of Jesus toward Jerusalem begins with a mission of apostles, sent potentially to all the nations of the earth.  As these apostles come to a village, it is that place’s time of judgment.  The people there may hear and offer hospitality to the mendicant messengers of the Lord, or they may reject the message and have the dust of their streets witness to their condemnation. 

Our reading concludes with the return of the apostles (verses 17-20) and Jesus’ rejoicing at the fall of Satan because of them.  We seem to be leaping pretty far ahead, anticipating a success that is in fact only yet hinted at.  But when the Gospel was written, Luke already knew about many years of work among the nations by such disciples as these, and he would begin to tell about them in his second volume, the Acts.  

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

June 30, 2019 - 3rd Sunday after Pentecost

                                                                     Biblical Words                                         [611]

I Kings 17:8-16, (17-24);  Psalm 146;  Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17. 
Unexpected interventions make possible new life. 
I Kings 17:9-16 (17-24). 
Elijah in prophetic tradition is a kind of Moses figure.  (See the Special Note on Elijah and Elisha in last Sunday’s Biblical Words.)  

Like the great leader of the exodus, Elijah is a being larger than life, presenting folks with big scary and awesome happenings.  He first appears in the Scriptures to make a challenging announcement, without any introduction or preparation:  “As Yahweh the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word” (I Kings 17:1, NRSV modified).  This announcement sets the stage for the coming warfare of the gods! 
A period of years must now pass while the drought and famine become severe so the final test can be held of what god controls the weather (the contest in I Kings 18:20-46).  These years become a kind of waiting period during which the divine promise has been given but the reality lies in the future.  During those years Elijah moves mysteriously around the country – or outside the country – to avoid confrontation with the authorities (see the discussion in I Kings 18:7-16).  During these wanderings God provides for the prophet’s needs. 
Our reading presents two incidents of this waiting period. 
When things have gotten bad because of the drought, God sends Elijah to a widow in Zarephath, a town in the territory of the city-state of Sidon (in modern Lebanon). The widow is out gathering a few sticks of wood to cook a last meal for herself and her son.  She is surprisingly patient as the prophet asks her first for water, then for food.  Asked for food, she laments, “As Yahweh your God lives, I have … only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug,” and she concludes by telling him they are about to die.  Elijah doesn’t let go!  “First make me a little cake… afterwards make something for yourself and your son” (verse 13).  This seems a bit outlandish to us, but Elijah tips his hand by saying,  “Thus says Yahweh the God of Israel:  
The jar of meal will not be emptied
and the jug of oil will not fail
until the day that Yahweh sends rain on the earth.  
      (Verse 14, NRSV, modified.)
(This looks like a cultic oracle, assuring that rain will come before famine.)  
It seems clear that the mysterious prophet has tested the poor woman.  Will she yield to the holy man’s extravagant claim upon her last meager resources, or will she close him out because of her own desperate need?  The story makes clear that God sent the prophet to a compassionate and admirable non-Israelite woman.  (Jesus would encounter such a passionate non-Israelite woman as he wandered in this same territory of Sidon, Mark 7:24-30.) 
The optional reading (verses 17-24) tells a second incident with the same widow.  Her son becomes very ill and dies.  Just as the holy man is the cause of the good that comes to them, so he must be the cause of the evil that comes.  So the widow says, “You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to cause the death of my son!” (verse 18).   To prove that he is not an agent of doom, Elijah takes the child upstairs, raises an aggressive lament to Yahweh, performs a few magical operations, and brings the boy back to life. 
Besides the food in the famine, bringing the dead back to life is a sign of a major-caliber intervention of God into the dismal affairs of innocent and depressed folks among Israel’s neighbors. 
Psalm 146.  
The psalm reading is a hallelujah piece in which the speaker shouts out a few affirmations that are background chorus to both the prophetic and the Gospel readings.  
Do not put your trust in princes, 
      in mortals, in whom there is no help. 
When their breath departs, they return to the earth; 
      on that very day their plans perish.  

[The Lord] who keeps faith forever;
      who executes justice for the oppressed; 
      who gives food to the hungry.  

The Lord watches over the strangers; 
      [the Lord] upholds the orphan and the widow.  (verses 3-4, 6-7, 9, NRSV)
Galatians 1:11-24.  
The Epistle readings continue from the letter to the Galatians.  This letter is the most informative writing we have about the events of Paul’s early career.  (Acts on early Paul is second or third hand at best.  Galatians itself is very direct and under oath, see verse 20.)  Our reading is Paul’s own account, not of the great revelation experience – which we would like so much for him to describe – but of certain of his movements and contacts during his first seventeen years as a believer in Christ.  
The urgent point that leads Paul to recite these events is the divine intervention that caused Paul’s apostolate and that established the gospel for the nations, the gospel that transcended the Judean torah.  Paul’s gospel is God’s work, not the work of humans.  “The gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (verses 11-12, NRSV). 
The total letter to the Galatians insists that a new thing has happened.  As with all great movements and institutions in human history, times come when the past structures, forms, and customs have become burdensome, have come to require more effort to sustain than the benefit they provide is worth.  Even if the old forms are retained, in whole or in part, they must be infused with new life, a new power to generate history and not just suffer it.  There must be reformations, even revolutions, for humankind to continue in creative and flourishing life.  
Such a time, Paul announces, has come through the coming and death of Jesus Christ.  The discussions of “justification” and the polarity of law and grace in Galatians are about such a new departure, about such a new advent of life in, or in place of, old ways of being in the world.  
Luke 7:11-17. 
The Gospel reading is a twin to the prophetic reading.  A widow whose only son has died receives him back from death through the care of a holy man.  In a world that would normally know only a funeral, a divine intervention occurs and life continues because of a radically new possibility.  
The story set in the Galilean village of Nain is told only by Luke.  It follows the story of healing the servant of the Roman centurion in Capernaum, and this episode takes Jesus to yet another Galilean town.  Unlike the prophetic story of Elijah raising the widow’s son, this is not set in foreign territory, but also, Jesus had no prior contact with this widow so he is not somehow responsible for the family, as Elijah was in Zarephath. 
In part, Luke has put this story here because of the next episode in Luke’s narrative.  (The surrounding material, the Centurion before and the Baptist material after, are from the Q source; see Matthew 8:5-13 and 11:2-6.)  When Jesus reported to John the Baptist the marvelous things happening in this messianic dawn, the list includes “the dead are raised” (7:22, NRSV).  The Nain story documents that “sign” of God’s intervention in the present age.  

Perhaps more to the point, the Nain story emphasizes Jesus’ compassion.  Coming upon the funeral with no prior connection (that we are told of), Jesus “had compassion for her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’” (verse 13).  As life is going on its ordinary tragic way, a compassionate one intervenes and a whole new life possibility begins.  

Friday, June 7, 2019

June 23, 2019 - 2nd Sunday after Pentecost

                                                                     Biblical Words                                         [610]

I Kings 18:20-21, (22-29), 30-39;  Psalm 96;  Galatians 1:1-12; Luke 7:1-10. 
The Lord performs awesome wonders that change things for peoples and nations.   
Ordinary Time.  
After Pentecost and Trinity Sundays, the Christian year has over six months of  “ordinary time,” time between the holy seasons of Advent-Epiphany and Lent-Pentecost.  The Lectionary selections for this period are not fixed by sacred themes, but are designed for general exposure of the people to the scriptures.  Each of the three years of the Lectionary cycle has its own strategy, but when people have gone through the cycle two times (six years) their Sunday readings have exposed them to most of the Christian Bible. 
In Year C, the primary readings from the Hebrew scriptures provide a history of prophecy. The selections move from the work of Elijah through the great eighth century prophets Amos, Hosea, and Isaiah, then dwell at length on the words of Jeremiah in the last period of the kingdom of Judah, and conclude with some post-Exilic prophesies.  
In the same period the Epistle selections are taken from Paul’s letters, reading most of Galatians and Colossians for two months, and, after a period on the Letter to the Hebrews, continuing with the Pastoral letters written in Paul’s name.  A block of readings from the Letter to the Hebrews is included in each year of the Lectionary cycle, approximately a third of the Letter in each year.  The readings in Year C are the third part (chapters 11-13), dealing with the Christian pilgrimage in the world.  
The Gospel readings during Ordinary Time of Year C are taken entirely from Luke, covering much of chapters 7 through 21, though mainly selected from the materials of the Journey to Jerusalem in chapters 10-19, where many teachings found only in Luke are given.  
I Kings 18:20-21, (22-29), 30-39. 
For the next several weeks our readings from the Hebrew scriptures concern the prophets Elijah and Elisha.  The Special Note below on the background to Elijah and Elisha may be useful for this group of readings.  
Our reading presents a great ordeal – contest – to determine what religion the people of the kingdom will follow.  
On the surface it is a one-sided contest:  one prophet for Yahweh against 450 prophets for Ba‘al (with another 400 backups in the wings, see 18:19).  It is an all-or-nothing contest, with drastic political consequences.  The kingdom is not big enough for both Elijah and Jezebel; one will have to go, and even though he wins the contest, it is Elijah who becomes the hunted man (19:1-2).  (This non-sequitur is probably due to the conventional story-pattern also reflected in the Exodus story:  after winning release from Egypt in the tenth plague [Exodus 12], the Israelites are still pursued by Pharaoh out into the wilderness [Exodus 14:5-9].)  
The contest is to decide which deity controls the weather – who can make it rain.  The first words of the Elijah story-cycle announce to the king the coming of a three-year drought.  The drought raises to the Nth degree the issue of who gives rain (I Kings 17:1).  The contest on Mount Carmel settles the issue in favor of the one true God, Yahweh, God of Israel.   (The Canaanite Ba‘al was a storm god bringing the rainy season, just as was Yahweh in his youth, e.g., Judges 5:4-5; Nahum 1:3b-5.  Psalm 29 is apparently a Ba‘al hymn to the storm-god adapted for praise of Yahweh.)  
The details of Elijah’s procedure are intriguing (verses 30-35).  He rebuilds an old Yahweh altar.  He uses exactly 12 stones, he pours 12 jars of water over the wood and altar, and he digs a trench around the altar, all of which is probably cosmic symbolism.  The Ba‘al prophets in their turn (in the optional reading, verses 22-29) had performed ritual dances and bodily mutilations, presumably congruent with their deity’s character.  
It is clear that in northern Israelite tradition this contest on Mount Carmel was the equivalent of the Exodus:  it was the violent triumph of Yahweh over the gods of the land, determining the future of the chosen people.  Though this was a north-Israelite event, its truth would outlast that kingdom and endure for prophets and reforming kings in the later kingdom of Judah.  
Psalm 96 
The psalm is certainly a response to the prophetic reading:  the triumphant Yahweh of Mount Carmel is celebrated as the lord of all – cosmos and nations.  
It is well to hear the key verses in a translation (the New Jerusalem Bible) that retains the proper name Yahweh, the God who emerged from the polytheistic world of Canaan to take possession, in time, of a modest servant people with astonishing destinies before them.  
Give to Yahweh, families of nations, 
give to Yahweh glory and power, 
give to Yahweh the glory due his name! 

Say among the nations, “Yahweh is king.”
The world is set firm, it cannot be moved.  
He will judge the nations with justice.
[For he is] coming to judge the earth, 
he will judge the world with saving justice, 
and the nations with constancy.
            (Verses 7-8a, 10, 13, New Jerusalem Bible.) 
Galatians 1:1-12.  
While the prophetic and psalm readings proclaim that there is no other God, the opening of Paul’s letter to the Galatians insists that there is no other gospel.  
This is the first of six Sunday readings from Galatians, which will cover most of the contents of that fiery letter.  The opening is unusual among Paul’s letters because he leaps into his urgent business after only a short address and greeting.  “I am astonished...,” he probably shouted to his amanuensis.  How could these “foolish” Galatians (3:1) so quickly distort the central message Paul had brought to these non-Judean folks in central Asia Minor?  
After pronouncing a couple of curses on those who distort the gospel, Paul insists that the true gospel is not human (not variable) but the result of divine revelation.  “[T]he gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (verses 11-12, NRSV).  Next week’s reading will develop this claim in detail.  
Like Elijah, Paul was a witness to something decisive for the future of God’s people, and his life was at stake in proclaiming it to the peoples of the nations.  
Luke 7:1-10. 
The Gospel reading is not a mighty act of God, settling the destinies of peoples.  Instead it is an episode in Jesus’ Galilean ministry that proved to have many meanings for the later followers.  Our reading is one version of Jesus healing the servant (or son) of an Officer in Capernaum.  
Second generation Christians told (at least) three versions of this story:  (1) Matthew 8:5-13; (2) Luke 7:1-10; and (3) John 4:46-54.  Each version has its own emphasis.  
Matthew presents the basic story in its simplest form:  the Centurion with the sick servant declares that Jesus can heal simply by giving a command.  Jesus’ authority is like that of a military commander:  he speaks and it is done.  Matthew adds a special point:  This great faith on the part of a non-Judean person is a prophecy that the peoples of the nations will replace the current Judeans in the kingdom to come (Matthew 8:11-12).  
In the Gospel of John, the “royal official” does not make a fancy statement about Jesus’ word of command.  When, however, Jesus, in Cana, says that the officer’s son, in Capernaum, is now healed, the officer believes (has faith in) Jesus, and his faith is subsequently justified by the healing that happened at a distance in Capernaum (John 4:50-53).  
Luke’s version of the story has several distinctive features.  (1) Here the Centurion never comes in contact with Jesus.  Instead, he sends messengers to Jesus.  In fact, he sends two sets of messengers, one made up of Judean elders of the community (verse 3) and one made up of his own “friends,” perhaps not all Judean (verse 6).  
(2) The Judean messengers give powerful reasons why Jesus should help this foreign resident in their community:  “...for he loves our people [ethnos, nation], and it is he who built our synagogue for us” (verse 5, NRSV).  
Thus, what Luke presents is a Roman career soldier who is a decided friend of the Judean people in Galilee.  (There were no Roman military units based in Galilee, so such a man would have been in the service of Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee from 4 BCE to 39 CE.)  The rest of the story shows that this non-Judean pillar of the community was a man of faith.  Besides his great sympathy for the Judean tradition, he has acquired a firm belief in Jesus’ power to heal, and seeks the benefit of this power for his servant, who is at the point of death.  
What Luke has in common with Matthew is the Centurion’s long declaration about the power of an authoritative command.  “But only speak the word, and let my servant be healed,” for he, the Centurion, is also a man of authority whom subordinates obey without hesitation (verses 7-8).  This is what Luke and Matthew see as the great “faith” of this foreigner.  He has heard the message of Genesis 1.  God speaks, and it happens.  THAT is the “faith,” of which Jesus says, “Not even in Israel have I found such faith” (verse 9).  
(It is a bit ironic that in Luke’s text Jesus never utters that word of power!  Luke doesn’t bother to say, “ And Jesus said, ‘Let him be healed.’”  Hearers are expected to fill in the gaps themselves!) 

Commentators have spotted other links for this multivalent story.  
Some think the non-Israelite military commander who seeks healing power from an Israelite prophet is like Naaman, the chief-of-staff of the Syrian army whom Elisha healed from leprosy (II Kings 5:1-19).  Perhaps more likely is the suggestion that this Centurion who gets help from Jesus anticipates the later Centurion, representing non-Judean folks, whom God directs Peter to bring into the chosen community (Acts 10).  Luke seems to make a big deal of keeping Jesus separate from the non-Judean man and house, but Luke knows that will change in good time, in God’s time, and thus he can maintain Jesus’ separateness in Galilee.  
Others make the following point:  There are only two cases in the Gospels where Jesus heals foreigners (Samaritans don’t count), and both of those are healing of a child (or servant) at the request of a master or parent.  Also, both healings take place at a distance.  Besides the Centurion with his servant in Capernaum, there is the Syrophoenician woman whose daughter is healed after the woman wins her word contest with Jesus (Mark 7:24-30).  
Special Note:  The Elijah and Elisha stories.  
It was in the time of Elijah (and Elisha) that Israel’s obligation to serve “Yahweh alone” became a great public issue.  The revelation that Israel must have no other God than Yahweh was the point of the battle of the gods on Mount Carmel (I Kings 18), and the rest of the Elijah-Elisha cycle of stories demonstrates at length how radically serious that revelation had to be taken in Israel.  (Jehu’s revolution, II Kings 9-10, slaughtered many people, ostensibly for religious reasons, but clearly to eliminate supporters of the old dynasty who could become future threats.)  
The overall framework of the Elijah-Elisha block of materials in I Kings 17 through II Kings 10 is that of a great dynastic revolution.  The framework is clearer if we concentrate only on the following passages, which are the essential components of the Elijah-Elisha and King Jehu story:  
I Kings 17              Elijah brings drought and works miracles.
I Kings 18              Elijah brings rain, defeating Baal prophets on Mount Carmel.
I Kings 19              Elijah receives God’s revolutionary commands on Mount Horeb.  
I Kings 21              Ahab and Jezebel are condemned for Naboth’s vineyard.  
II Kings 1               Elijah condemns Ahab’s son Ahaziah.  
II Kings 2               Elijah’s Mantle passes to Elisha.  
II Kings 8:7-15       Elisha sanctions revolution in Damascus.  
II Kings 9:1-13       Elisha anoints Jehu king for revolution in Israel.  
II Kings 9-10         Jehu executes the judgment of the Lord on Ahab’s house.  
It may be noticed that the Elijah-Elisha story is parallel in basic structure to the traditional Israelite story.  
Elijah and Elisha replicate the work of Moses and Joshua.  Elijah’s defeat of the Baal prophets on Mount Carmel is the same kind of decisive mighty deed of the Lord as the defeat of Pharaoh in the Exodus; Elijah’s trip to Mount Horeb (with miraculous feeding in the wilderness) and the revelation there of God’s plan parallels Moses at Mount Sinai; and the revolution precipitated by Elisha, parallel to Joshua, equals the Conquest of a new life order for God’s people (meaning the reign of a new dynasty with a radically new religious policy).  
The history behind the tradition.  All of the Elijah-Elisha materials were preserved in later generations in Jerusalem, harmonized with a Jerusalem viewpoint.  Somehow that Jerusalem viewpoint had accepted the internal rationale of this story cycle, accepted the Jehu dynasty’s own view that the God of Israel had sanctioned Jehu’s rule in Israel just as God had sanctioned the dynasty of David in Jerusalem.  It was by Yahweh’s own command that Jehu and four generations of his heirs reigned over the northern kingdom from 842 to about 745 BCE, the longest single dynasty of that kingdom.  Jehu’s revolution was a religious war, fought to the finish, leaving no doubt that there is only one God in Israel’s destiny.  
As Jerusalem saw it, a hundred and thirty years later (in the time of king Hezekiah), the northern kingdom did not sufficiently learn that lesson, and suffered the fate of defeat and exile because of their apostasy from Yahweh.  Jerusalem preserved the stories of Elijah and Elisha to make sure that Judah mastered the lesson of Yahweh as the Only God of Israel.  It was to that God that the Judeans looked for their own deliverance and whatever peace was possible for them. 

“Minimalist” historians would have it that all the Elijah-Elisha stories are simply fiction.  As a serious historical issue, however, there is no satisfactory explanation of the details and few tight connections with external history that these stories reflect without some historical core to the Elijah figure and Jehu’s religiously-based dynastic revolution.  The Elijah era, with the emergence of the Yahweh-Only religious-political movement, was a decisive point in the evolution that created the Hebrew scriptures as we know them.