The Prophet Series: Elisha, part 5
The Prophet Series: Elisha, part 5
No two prophets are identical, just as the ministries or plans of any two Christians are not identical. There are similarities of course, and Eljah and Elisha have many of them, including their names, but we see differences right at the beginning of Elijah's course.
Elijah came walked into Israel's history from practically nowhere and he walked right up to Ahab, king of Israel, pronounced terrible judgment, and then lived in the wilderness. He never seemed to have a permanent home. Elisha, the peaceful farmer from Abel-Meholah, now that his mentor Elijah has ascended into heaven, settles for a while in Jericho. Almost all in Israel knew him since leading up his promotion, he had served Elijah for several years. Unlike Elijah, his first public act was not one of judgment but of mercy. Elijah's first act concerned the drying up of all the water in Israel. In contrast, Elisha will make clean, pure water flow in Jericho.
2KI 2:19 Then the men of the city said to Elisha, "Behold now, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful."
The differences between the two prophets are more informative than their similarities. The one is the Law the other is the gospel. The one is John the Baptist and the other our blessed Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Elijah was the precursor of the Baptist. He was the warning of judgment and with him all the water in Israel was licked away by the scorching sun, and by his word on Mt. Carmel fire rained down from heaven in judgment of Israel's idol worship. Elisha, on the other hand, was the precursor of our beautiful Lord. He was the conveyor of mercy and the gospel. The people of Jericho come to him with dirty water and Elisha makes it clean. The Baptist and the Lord are not opposites. The one is the forerunner of the Other.
Elisha waits in Jericho while he anticipates the Lord's instructions. When we have given ourselves to the service of the Lord we must be careful to wait upon His leading, and not to brashly set out on a course of our own way and our own idea of service. Wait patiently. "Who [God] acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him." (ISA 64:4)
Elisha likely stayed in Jericho for some time and during this time we see that he is quite approachable. The men of the city come to him. One might imagine a stern, brooding, angry prophet sitting in his house anticipating his call to pounce in judgment upon the idolatrous people of Israel, but instead we find him approachable and ready to show mercy. We are called to be sanctified from the world, which means that we live and conduct ourselves like our Lord and not like the "worldlings." We do not condone or approve of worldly ways. Yet this does not make us harsh, judgmental, cruel, or alone and singular.
Distinctness is not singularity. Singularity is the monk in the monastery who sternly and stoically sits alone and no one of the world dare approach him for he will unleash a torrent of scripture that will bang them on the head in condemnation. Singularity is one of the most unattractive things in a person. The aloof self-importance of the stoic does not attract the souls of men. Distinctiveness is attractive. It is sanctification. To be as Christ in this life is to be His love, His patience, His compassion, His mercy; inviting to those who are lost, and abundantly giving the gospel, the good news of the salvation that they could have never dreamed of, freely given to the one who believes. Such people are rare and lovely in this world. The children of God are children of light and the light of Christ along with His gospel shine through them to the dark world. We do not portray the rugged outlines of our own character, which is so often mistaken for spirituality, when in fact it is the unbending uncharitableness of the unloving.
The people of Jericho have a need that no human means can reach. Their water has decayed in contamination just as the human position has descended from the fall. The need is urgent and only God can fulfill it.
The city of Jericho was destroyed and subsequently cursed by God. It was never rebuilt, though not due to a lack of trying (1KI 16:34). Jews live in the area at this time because it is a fruitful land. Josephus and others described it as almost a fairy land of tropical paradise. But for the beautiful to remain so, God must continually provide in grace. A tropical paradise will quickly descend into fields of despair without a continual supply of clean water. God had seen fit to allow the water of Jericho to turn bad and the area fell into depravity.
Water is used as an image in the Bible for God's blessings as well as His judgments. In this case it is a picture of blessing. Through the prophet Isaiah, God invites everyone who is thirsty to come to the waters and to drink without cost. This entreaty is repeated by the Lord Jesus at the end of the Bible in REV 21:6. God also mentions living water or running water as a great blessing. Jesus described living water flowing out from His brethren from their innermost being by the power of God the Holy Spirit. He offered this water to the Samaritan woman at Jacob's well in Joh 4. He said to her that anyone who drinks it will never thirst again. There is an historical reason concerning the desire for running water. In the hot countries of the East, streams and wadis of running water would dry up in the summer and autumn forcing them to rely on well water to survive. Well water is stagnant and it can sometimes become unpleasant due to a variety of contaminants. For us, the word of God and the Spirit of God are alive and dynamic. They are always flowing and so they are always sweet to us.
The bad water flowing from the spring of Jericho is polluted, and this is a picture of the soul of the country. Israel has not grown in God's word, promises, and covenants which have been given to them. They are not alive with them. Yet the man of God can turn the bitter water into sweet through the power of God that flows through him. Having good water again in Jericho will be a great blessing to the people and their economy, as their livestock and crops depend upon it, but this is not the real blessing that is given to them through Elisha. They need to see through the eyes of faith that sweetness of life lies within the man of God, and that if they followed God as he did, not becoming prophets, but just loving God with all their heart, then they would too drink of the sweetness of life.
A people and a nation without the spiritual life is like fields of Jericho without water. What should be a paradise is a wasteland. When a great number of people in a city-state or nation behold and follow the Lord there is an abundant capacity for justice and goodness. There is industry and learning. There is freedom, and the morality of righteousness is exemplified. This is analogous to a large community of farms that has a season of desirable conditions and an abundance of sweet, clean water. Such a land without water is as a land where the Lord's name is never spoken in reverence.
A land of religion does not suffice. Religious sincerity is not enough. True Christianity, which is a right relationship to God in proper fellowship with Him, fulfills the need. Jericho is not devoid of water just as many nations and states are not devoid of houses of worship. So often men are willing to drink any sort of water, so long as it is labeled accordingly. They will drink of its bitterness time and again and hold its cup stubbornly. For whatever reason, they have become convinced that the bitter water is sweet. They have become convinced that good is evil and evil is good. It is as if it were of no importance where the road led that the man pursues, provided he travels on it fast and far enough. It's not the lack of water that is the problem, but that it is rotten.
The water is poisoned at the spring's source. It is out of the heart, the source of all that man honors, values, decides, that bitterness or grace flows. Elisha goes right to this source with a new jar containing salt. It is not a matter of changing one particular habit or of changing our outward conduct. Change and transformation occur in the heart, at the very source. No amount of pruning will heal a plant that has a disease in its roots. A complete transformation must be made.
2KI 2:20-22 And he said, "Bring me a new jar, and put salt in it." So they brought it to him. And he went out to the spring of water, and threw salt in it and said, "Thus says the Lord, 'I have purified these waters; there shall not be from there death or unfruitfulness any longer.'" So the waters have been purified to this day, according to the word of Elisha which he spoke.
The salt represents the gospel. The jar must be new because the gospel comes from heaven. It is not something that man has devised and used. The gospel is not for man's use at all. It is for his salvation. It is his gift. When the gospel is used for any reason by man; to make wealthy, to condemn others, etc. it is no longer the gospel. When used by man it becomes one of his old jars. The gospel of the freely given grace of God from heaven purifies the soul as this salt purified the waters of Jericho. All may come and drink without cost.
The power is in the gospel and not in the person privileged to communicate it. "Thus says the Lord, 'I have purified these waters.' The prophet disclaimed all power.
God says this as if it were done before the salt ever touched the water. "I have purified." This sounds so much like the gospel. "It is finished." "For the Lord has called you." "He called you through our gospel." "He has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light." He said to Jeremiah:
JER 1:5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
God gave His Son to the world before the foundation of the world (ACT 2:23). No one in the world is in the process of earning his salvation, his freedom, his cleansing. It has already been provided and when that one puts his faith in the gospel of our precious Lord, what was so perfectly and completely done before he took one breath, is given to him in grace. Faith is the moment when the reality of what has been done becomes our own reality.
Finally, we see that the waters never became bitter again. The healing of the waters was immediate and permanent and so is our salvation. We are cleansed forever. The sin nature will never again master us. It is true that we can be carnal Christians, but the sin nature will never fit us again, like it did before our regeneration. If we pursue it, we are pursuing a dead thing and the Lord will make our foolishness abundantly known. It is also true that we can be quite stubborn in our fleshly pursuits, but we must agree that God is far more stubborn than we could ever be. He will never quit on us. Our position before Him as sons is permanent and forever. Our place in His Son is eternal and immutable. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ Jesus?
It is of no use fearing another contamination or further poisoning. Trust in Him and wait on Him and He will act on your behalf and show you who you are in Him. When you see it you will behold Him. It will be like having a deep thirst satisfied by the sweetest water. Would you not return again and again to such a spring and drink of it? Would you not protect such a spring, love it, and be extremely grateful for it? The love of Christ restrains us.
2CO 5:14-15 For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
When we deal with others, we may be presented with all kinds of sins, selfish behaviors, evil motivations, etc. But we must remember, that the one great need that they have is that the bitter waters become sweet. We possess the salt that will accomplish it - the gospel. They don't need to work on their ways or fix any one thing that is ailing them and us. It is the gospel alone that heals the sick and gives sight to the blind.
In His love,