“My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and its horsemen!”
Elisha shouted this out in 2 Kings 2: 12 when Elijah was being taken up in the fiery chariot. The question that ought to come up in our minds, though it often doesn’t, is “How did he know what this was?”
Is there another reference to “the chariot of Israel” in the Bible? This would be the primary verse. I’ve heard others point to the fiery angels in Ezekiel 1 who seem to move with a wheel. This is not totally clear though, and it isn’t explicit in Ezekiel 1. We’d need to know what the chariot is first in order to see it there.
So is there another place to find the chariot?
The only other reference to “the chariot” is in 1 Chronicles 28. This is a section describing temple furniture. It says:
16 And by weight he gave gold for the tables of the showbread, for each table, and silver for the tables of silver; 17 also pure gold for the forks, the basins, the pitchers of pure gold, and the golden bowls—he gave gold by weight for every bowl; and for the silver bowls, silver by weight for every bowl; 18 and refined gold by weight for the altar of incense, and for the construction of the chariot, that is, the gold cherubim that spread their wings and overshadowed the ark of the covenant of the LORD.
So, the chariot is the piece of furniture that covers the ark of the covenant and would be used for carrying it. It has gold cherubim that spread their wings over the ark. More can be found in Exodus 25:10-22. Here we see that the Lord would meet with his people atop the chariot. He would speak to his people from the mercy seat, between the cherubim. In 2 Samuel 6:2 we even read that the Lord dwells between the cherubim.
And so when Elisha sees a fiery chariot, with angels presumably, carrying Elijah up to heaven, he sees the chariot. He recognizes it from the temple. Elijah was being taken up in the ark of the covenant’s own covering.
He was being taken up in the reality, of which the temple furniture only served as a sign.
The extra neat part of all of this is that we are not told that this piece of furniture is called the chariot until the book of Chronicles, which was the last book written in the Old Testament. The piece of furniture existed, but we, living today, don’t know that until we get to Chronicles. So we learn that you have to use a stream-of-consciousness hermeneutic. =)
This is the same way the New Testament works though. It tells us all about the Old Testament, and it isn’t just making up a new way to read. Rather, it is explaining to us about what was there all along.