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TEXT: II Kings 2:19-22

SUBJECT: Elisha #4: Bad Waters Made Good

There once was a prophet in Israel whose name was Elisha. One day he came to the city of Jericho to meet with and encourage young men who were training for the ministry. After some time with them, others came to him asking a favor. As far as we know, they were not God-fearing men, but they believed in miracles, and hoped the prophet would do one for them.

Jericho was a lovely place to live and would have been a rich one too, except for one thing: the water was no good. It was so full of lead or mercury, or some other bad thing, the land became unfruitful and the people faced poverty if not starvation.

Can Elisha do something for them? No he cannot. He's got no more power over the elements than you and I do. But they're not really asking him for a favor, but the One he serves. Will he ask the Lord to purify the waters of Jericho?

Yes he will and the Lord agrees to do it. The prophet calls for a bowl of salt. When it's brought to him, he tosses it into the spring-

Thus says the Lord, 'I have healed this water; from it there shall be no more death or barrenness'.

The Lord's Word proved true. Some years after the miracle, the writer of II Kings said,

So the water remains healed to this day, according to the saying of Elisha which he spoke.

Just for the record, a friend of mine was in Israel a few years ago, and said the water was the best he ever tasted. The power of God's Word is still in effect; the bitter waters of Jericho are sweet to this day.

STORIES

What do you say about this story? For a time, it might be better to say nothing. Good stories have a way of working on you over the years. You understand them the first time you hear them, but forty years later, you're still skimming the surface.

Last week, I told you to read Bible stories to your children and your grandchildren. But don't think 'stories' are for kids only; they're for everyone! Tell yourself the story; tell your husband or wife the story.

Without a Story, we don't know where we came from, where we're going or where we fit in. Americans used to have a story, but under the pressure of Political Correctness, we've lost it or have to apologize for it. This partly explains the alienation from which so many people suffer. Because they have no Story, they don't know who they are, and they have to create themselves out of nothing-and nobody can do that but the Lord.

We don't have to try to do it because we already have a Story. It starts in a Garden and it ends in a City. It is God's Story, and by His grace, we're part of it. This means: the miracle in today's story is not Elisha's story only, but yours and mine as well.

HISTORY AND PROPHECY

The story should be read on two levels. It is both history and prophecy. It is history because it really happened. In time and space, the bad waters of Jericho were made good.

We mustn't rush over this to find a 'spiritual' meaning, for the miracle itself is spiritual and full of meaning, both to the people who lived back then, and to us.

If the story points first to itself, it doesn't stop there; it goes on to something else. The history of Israel points to the True Israel, who is our Lord Jesus Christ. This is true, not only in the 'proof texts' we so often quote, but in every detail. In other words, the whole story is His Story. That's what Philip meant when he told his friend,

We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law, and also the Prophets wrote-Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

He wasn't thinking of a verse here and a type there, but the entire Old Testament Scripture! All of which brings us to Christ.

THE GREAT CITY

The place of the miracle is worth thinking about. Jericho was once a great city. Back in the days of Joshua (and before) it was the fortress of Canaan. Its walls were high and thick and deeply dug in. No army had ever stormed the city, and it was thought none ever would. The former greatness of Jericho means the waters of the city were once good.

But then something happened.

THE CURSED CITY

When the children of Israel crossed the Jordan River, they offered peace to the peoples of the land. Except for the Gibeonites, none took the offer. The first city to resist Israel was Jericho. At first they took a defensive posture, bolting the gates and arming behind their mighty walls.

They had withstood sieges before, and they would do it again. When the armies of Israel got tired and discouraged, the gates would come open and the soldiers of Jericho would have their way with the People of God. That was their plan, at least.

But God had other plans. Instead of camping outside the walls hoping to starve the people into submission, the armies of Israel marched around the walls led by their priests, who were following the Ark of the Covenant. For six days-Sunday through Friday, the armies marched around the wall one time a day, and went home.

But on the Sabbath, the men circled the city seven times, at the end of which the trumpets were blown, a shout was raised, and the walls came tumbling down.

Israel put the whole city to the sword, killing every man, woman, child, and beast, except for Rahab and her family who had helped them. Then Joshua pronounced a curse on the city. The spoil must not be touched for it-and the people who once owned it-were under the wrath of God. The curse on Jericho was not uttered in the heat of battle and soon forgotten. It was permanent.

Cursed be the man before the Lord who rises up and builds this city Jericho; he shall lay its foundation with his firstborn, and with its youngest he shall set up its gates (Joshua 6:26).

At this time, it seems, the wholesome waters of Jericho became poisonous. And so they remained; for five hundred years, nobody dared to live in this evil place. But then Ahab and his pagan queen came to the throne of Israel. Under their wicked rule a man called, Hiel, the Bethelite,

Built Jericho. He laid its foundation with Abiram his firstborn, and with his youngest son, Segub, he set up its gates, according to the word of the Lord, which He had spoken through Joshua, the son of Nun (I Kings 16:34).

Mocking the curse of God, he fulfilled it, losing his oldest son at the start of the project, and his youngest at the end.

THE ELECT

Jericho was a hateful place, hateful to God and good men alike. Yet, the Lord had His people there. More than fifty young prophets were living in Jericho. They must have been grieved by what they saw and heard all around them, but they didn't cut and run to a safer and 'holier' place. God did not call them to be light in light places, but light in dark places!

And so they doggedly stayed in Jericho, praying, preaching, and hoping.

There's a lesson in here for us. Who are we having dinner with-saints or sinners? We prefer the company of God's People; after all, they're like us and we can say grace at the table, and talk about the Bible. This is the safe and easy choice, to be sure. But is it the right one? Of whom was our Lord the friend? Of saints and prophets, priests and Pharisees? Or was He the friend of publicans and sinners?

We have to admire the young men for sticking it out in Jericho. For staying put-not because they liked it there, but because they were needed there! Christians are needed in Sodom and Gomorrah, in San Francisco, and Hollywood.

There's a story in the Bible that illustrates the point. Amos was about a hundred years younger than Elisha. Like the older man, he served the Lord in Israel and spent a lot of time denouncing the sins of its Royal and Priestly families. At that time, things were fairly good in Judah. Uzziah and Jotham were godly kings (for the most part) and ruled their people in the fear of the Lord.

Israel, of course, was going the other way-from bad to worse. One day, while he was preaching in the capital of Israel, he was met by a powerful and angry priest named Amaziah. The priest said,

Go you seer! Flee to the land of Judah. There eat bread, and there prophesy.

Do you see what he's getting at? He's saying 'Go to your own kind, preach to the worshipers of the Lord and leave the Golden Calf servants to me and my kind'.

That sounds like a good deal to me! But Amos didn't think so.

I was no prophet, nor was I a son of a prophet, but I was a herdsman and a tender of sycamore fruit. Then the Lord took me as I followed the flock and the Lord said, 'Go prophesy to the people of Israel'.

The Lord had not called him to spend his life with a God- fearing people, but with a godless nation. And to them he went, whether they wanted him or not!

THE HEALING

What impact did the young prophets have on Jericho? The Bible doesn't say. They must have had some, but how much, we don't know. Or what form it took. One thing, however, seems sure: the prophets introduced Elisha to their neighbors, and told them he had a double portion of Elijah's spirit.

The men of the city knew Elijah, and they knew he had the power to do miracles. And, if Elisha had the other man's spirit on him, maybe, he would do a miracle for them.

So they asked him.nicely,

Please notice the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad and the ground is barren.

Elisha agrees, pours salt into the spring, speaks the Word of God, and, the poison waters of Jericho are made good.

What did this say to the Israelites at the time? It said Elisha was the prophet of the Lord and ought to be listened to and obeyed. But more than that, it said the Lord would rather save His People than judge them. It says, although He is just and even angry with the wicked every day, He prefers grace. Micah 7:18 may be the finest poetry in the Bible,

Who is a God like You, pardoning iniquity, and passing over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not retain His anger because He delights in mercy.

We need to remember God's character when witnessing to the lost. And witnessing to ourselves! The message of the Bible is not hell, but heaven, not damnation, but salvation! Will everyone be saved? No. Will some be lost? Yes. Yet the Lord is gracious and kind and patient and more willing to forgive us than we are to accept His forgiveness. If He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, we should make sure our neighbors and friends know He came that they might have life and might have it more abundantly!

Of course, the Gospel has its dark side, but the darkness is only a shadow cast by the light.

The healing of the waters of Jericho meant-and means-God is the Friend of sinners!

CHRIST

The miracle performed that day pointed beyond that day. Like the rest of Israel's history, it pointed to Christ.

Like Jericho, the whole earth was once a splendid place. Created by God without sin, it was set in order in six days. On the Seventh Day God rested and, looking over all He had done, He could only say,

Very good.

But the world-like Jericho-rebelled against the Lord and brought down His judgments upon it. The Garden of Eden was a walled garden, you might say, but when Adam and Eve sinned, the walls came crashing down. The spot of ground is still there, you know, somewhere in Iraq. But it's no longer a Paradise; it's not even a Garden! It's now a wilderness, a desert, a place you wouldn't want to live.

The ruin of Eden symbolizes the whole world and what's wrong with it. The world was not made the way it is now. As long as its king and queen obeyed God, it was not subject to disappointment, decay and death. But when they turned from the Lord they caused a natural disaster-one far worse than the earthquake and tidal wave we read about a few days ago.

The ruin of Eden is not mainly a natural one, but a spiritual catastrophe. The thorns and thistles that grew up from the earth only followed the weeds and stickers that grew up in the hearts of Adam and Eve, and all their descendants.

Our sins have poisoned the world and left it barren, barren of holiness and mercy, of peace and contentment. Like Jericho, there's a hint of past glory in us, but its overgrown with thorns and thistles.

The Lord has every right to leave us as we are. But He doesn't. If Elisha visits the cursed city of Jericho, then Christ comes to a world under a deeper curse. And what does He come with? Scorn and disgust, hatred and wrath? No! He came to us with love and compassion.

The wickedest class in Israel was the Publicans. And the wickedest publican in Israel was Zacchaeus. Yet the Lord singled him out to have dinner with one day-and to save him from his sin and misery.

Do you remember where that rascal lived?

Jericho.

The Lord entered the most cursed city in a cursed world. To save the most cursed sinner in it.

You wouldn't think salt would make bad water good. You'd think it would make it worse. In the same way, you wouldn't think the Lord's death would make bad men good. But it does. The Gospel does for us what the salt did for the waters of Jericho. It heals our sin and guilt and fear and futility.

And not only these spiritual things. We often emphasize this part of His death, but this is grave mistake. The Gospel does not simply aim to take us to heaven when we die.

It redeems the universe! When we believe our souls are saved. At the resurrection our bodies are saved. And this-the redemption of the body-sets in motion the Lord's final purpose for creation. Not to destroy it so we can live as angels forever on some cloud or other, but to renew it all. Paul says,

The creation (that now groans) will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

On that day, we'll see clearly what David saw through a glass darkly,

The earth is the Lord's

And the fullness thereof;

The world and they who dwell

in it.

CLOSE

Someone has said, the whole glory of God is found in a single rose. That may be true; after all, it would take no one less than God to create a rose. But be that as it may, I'm sure of this: all the power and wisdom and mercy of God are seen in one of His smallest, and least known miracles.

If healing the bad waters of Jericho was a blessing to the residents of that town, then it's an even greater blessing to us. Because most of them never saw past the water. We do. In them, we see the Water of Life, our Lord Jesus Christ.

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