The story of Elijah’s departure into heaven follows the sequence of a sacrificial rite (Lev. 1). By their mutual journey around the land, Elijah and Elisha form a unit, a “two of them” (2 Kgs. 2:7). They cross the Jordan, as parts of a sacrificial animal will be washed before being placed on the altar.
Fire descends from heaven, dividing them in two, one ascending in fire to God, as the altar portions of the animal ascend in smoke to heaven. In the ascension (or “wholly burnt”) offering, the skin of the sacrificial animal is given to the priest, and the mantle-skin of Elijah, the hairy garment of the “baal of hair,” is left for Elisha.
Through this human “sacrifice,” Elisha becomes a successor to Elijah, and a new phase of prophetic history begins. In this sense too the story is a type of the sacrifice of Jesus, who is washed in the Jordan, gives himself over to be cut in two, ascends into a cloud, and leaves his Spirit and his mantle with his disciples.
Sacrifices are completed in celebration, in a meal, and following the “sacrificial” departure of Elijah, Elisha embarks on a ministry of feasting. Already in 2 Kgs. 2 Elisha is characterized by what he eats. When Jesus promises that his Father will not deny the Spirit to those who ask, he uses food metaphors: a father will not deny bread and fish to his children, so the heavenly Father will not deny the Spirit (Luke 11:11–13).
Elijah’s response to Elisha’s request for the spirit also uses a food image. In the Hebrew Elisha asks for “two mouths of your spirit” or “a double mouthful of the Spirit” (2 Kgs. 2:9). For both Elisha and Jesus, the Spirit is food, and Elisha can provide abundant food because his mouth is filled with the Spirit.
Following on the sacrifice of Jesus, our Father offers bread and wine, a token that he will not deny the Spirit to those who seek him. And more than a token: through this meal, we eat and drink spiritual food (1 Cor. 10:1–4), as we feed on the Son through the Spirit. “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it,” says the Lord, and the greater Elijah who has ascended into heaven fills us with a double mouthful of his Spirit.