In 2 Chronicles 21:12–15, we read that King Jehoram of Judah received a letter from Elijah. But based on the chronology of events in 2 Kings, we know that Elijah had been taken to heaven alive in a whirlwind by that point. So did Elijah write a letter from heaven? And is it possible he personally delivered it? Let’s look at the different potential answers to these questions.
We know from 2 Kings 1:17 that either Ahaziah or Jehoram was king of Israel when Elijah was taken to heaven. We also know from the same verse that Jehoram of Judah was reigning in at least his second year as coregent with his father Jehoshaphat (when compared with 2 Kings 3:1). So we know that Elijah lived at least until the second year of Jehoram of Judah’s coregency and quite possibly longer. We have no idea how much time took place between 2 Kings 1:17–18 and 2 Kings 2:1. It may have been a few months but likely not much longer based on 2 Kings 3:11–14, at which point we know Elijah had been taken to heaven and Elisha was prophet in his stead. But we know that Elijah would have witnessed Jehoram of Judah as a prince and a coregent with his father. Perhaps Elijah had noticed a tendency in young Jehoram of Judah for evil, and based on this he wrote the letter (likely giving it to the prophetic schools of the sons of the prophets who were at Bethel or Jericho (2 Kings 2:3–5)). Elijah must also have received some prophetic insight of the murderous deeds of Jehoram upon his ascension to the throne (2 Chronicles 21:4) and his death after eight years of reign (2 Chronicles 21:15) and recorded this in a letter before he died.
It is also possible that the entire letter was prophetic. God gave Elijah intricate details of what the reign of Jehoram of Judah would be like, and Elijah wrote it down along with the prophesied death pronounced by God beforehand. It was not unusual that a prophet be given insight about a future leader. In 1 Kings 13 an unnamed prophet declared that King Jeroboam’s altar in Bethel would be desecrated by a king named Josiah of Judah (and this occurred about 300 years later). Cyrus was prophesied by name in Isaiah 44 and 45, over 300 years before he was born, and Alexander the Great was prophesied by Daniel in Daniel 8:5–21, though unnamed, more than 200 years before he was born. In a similar manner then, Elijah prophetically received insight and wrote the letter. He could have entrusted it to the school of prophets and asked it to be delivered when Jehoram became openly idolatrous. Once the king appointed high places to be built, which happened in 2 Chronicles 21:11, this met the criteria and the letter was given to King Jehoram.
The letter may have been started by Elijah and entrusted to Elisha to finish or entirely written by Elisha, who was alive and on earth during the full reign of King Jehoram of Judah. As we read in 2 Kings 2:15, it is said of Elisha that the spirit of Elijah rested on him. So Elisha, writing in the spirit of Elijah, was aware of the murderous treachery of Jehoram of Judah and also his swift decline into idolatry, and the letter was attributed to Elijah. Interestingly, we are also told in Scripture that another person came “in the spirit of Elijah”: John the Baptist (Luke 1:17). And even though John the Baptist denied that he was Elijah (John 1:21), Jesus told his disciples that John, because he came in the same spirit, was Elijah (Matthew 7:12–13). Likewise, Elisha could have been described as Elijah since he had the same spirit (jealous for the Word and worship of God and bold in his denunciation of false worship).
Keep in mind that in Scripture it is not uncommon for a person to be credited with something, even though that action is accomplished or delivered by an intermediary. If a king sent an emissary, the words he said were considered the very words of the king (2 Kings 18:28–32). And when word was sent via King Ahaziah’s emissaries to answer the questions of the king himself (2 Kings 1:2–6), Elijah responded to Ahaziah directly even though he was speaking to messengers, not the king himself. Just so, Elijah could be credited with a prophecy that was delivered after his death, since Elisha or the school of the prophets could have been acting on his orders from before his death.
Whether partially or entirely prophetic, or not prophetic at all and delivered from heaven, we can be sure that the Bible is true and inspired (breathed out) by God (2 Timothy 3:16).
Since Elijah did not die but was taken to heaven, it is possible Elijah wrote this letter from heaven. It is even possible that God sent Elijah physically back down to earth to deliver this letter. While this would be a rare if not unique occurrence in the Old Testament (depending on whether Samuel’s appearance to Saul in 1 Samuel 28:14–19 was really Samuel), we know that God sent Elijah back to earth at the Transfiguration of Jesus, so it is not out of the realm of possibility nor precedence. However, nothing in the text states that Elijah personally delivered the letter, so it is more likely that the letter was delivered by Elijah to Elisha or the school of prophets, who then gave it to Jehoram. While this last possibility may be the most unusual method, ironically it is the least prophetic, as Elijah would have seen all the events of Jehoram’s life occur and needed no prophetic insight for the letter.
Since Scripture does not specifically tell us which method was employed in the delivery of this letter, any hypothesis must be tentative. But all of the possibilities mentioned above are plausible and within the confines of information gleaned from the text. Whether partially or entirely prophetic, or not prophetic at all and delivered from heaven, we can be sure that the Bible is true and inspired (breathed out) by God (2 Timothy 3:16).