I think that it drives my wife crazy among other things, but I can't seem to help it. When I get a new issue of Reader's Digest in the mail, I have some bad habits. Before I even read the first joke or the first article, I shake it real good and all those little card fall out. Then I save one for a bookmark. And then, what s worse, I'll go through it page by page, and if there s a page with advertising on both sides, I tear it out and I throw it in the trash. You'd be surprised how thin the Reader s Digest will get. I hate those pages that have an ad on half of it and part of an article on the other half of it. You can't get rid of that. Do you know what most of those adds are for? Medicines and drugs! A cure for everything that you never even heard of. The advertisement for one pill can take up three or even four pages. The first page has a picture of the drug and how it will make you feel better or live longer and happier, all in large, easy to read letters. Then that is followed by two or three pages in microscopic print that tell how this drug will make you wish you were dead. "Yes, you will no longer have a runny nose, but you may experience a dry mouth, hearing loss, diarrhea, blindness, constipation, hair loss, hair growth, and or you may grow a tail. Should not be taken if pregnant, if your mother was ever pregnant, if you eat doughnuts, have pets, or if you are a human being. It has been known to cause emotional instability and hallucinations in laboratory rats. What s with this stuff?
But worse, yesterday, while driving to the church, I heard the best one yet on the radio. Have you heard this? "There is a new purple pill. It s Nexium!" Its New! And maybe you should know about it!" And that's all the ad said, over and over. It s purple and it's new." I don't know what... A doctor left for service and told me what this pill does. I'm glad it doesn't do something embarrassing like, "It helps acid reflux." or something. Maybe you're on it. But the ad doesn't say what it's for. It just said that you need it. Maybe you should know about it.
This is scary. Are there people that are listening to this add that are getting excited that a new purple pill is on the market? I can see myself going to a doctor; "Doc. I just heard on the radio about a new purple pill. Do I need to know about it? Am I not getting enough purple in my diet? It is a nice color you know. One of my favorites!"
Unfortunately, many people are looking for just that. A quick fix, a pill to solve every problem they might have, whether it be physical, financial, relational, or spiritual. Not a true cure, merely something to make one feel better for the short term. A new purple pill that will take away my desire to get to the root of the problem.
Turn with me to 2 Kings 2. As we continue our sermon series on Elisha, we find him being faced with the need to cure some things early in his ministry.
2 Kings 2:19, a story of Elisha. The men of the city said to Elisha, "Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see, but the water is bad and the land is unproductive." There's the problem.
"The men of the city..."----What city is this? All you have to do is look at the previous verse. Al you have to do is look at the previous verses to find out this was Jericho. Elisha went to Jericho where he said farewell to Elijah. Elijah is taken up in the fiery chariot. On his way back he passes through Jericho and stays there. Jericho? Why is Jericho a city? Wasn't Jericho destroyed by Joshua 500 years earlier? Wasn't there not a curse placed on it? Why is there a city of Jericho? Keep your place in 2 Kings marked and look at Joshua 6:26.
Joshua 6:26 This happened just after the walls of Jericho came down. This is what Joshua said: At that time Joshua pronounced this solemn oath: Cursed before the Lord is the man who undertakes to rebuild this city, Jericho: This is the first curse we'll study today.
"At the cost of his firstborn son
Will he lay its foundations;
at the cost of his youngest
Will he set up its gates." Well now, that's a curse.
Anybody who is going to rebuild this city will lose two children. Their firstborn and their youngest.
Well, why is Jericho there? What happened? Now, let's move forward in time 500 years to 1 Kings 16:34. This event took place in the time of Ahab and Jezebel, just before Elijah delivered his message about the coming famine. 1 Kings 16:34 In Ahab's time, Hiel of Bethel rebuilt Jericho. He laid its foundations on the cost of his firstborn son Abiram, and he set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, in accordance with the word of the Lord spoken by Joshua son of Nun.
The curse was still on Jericho. Five hundred years later the curse came to fruition. The land which had been an oasis in the desert was now barren due to bad water in the spring. The word "unproductive" to the Hebrew mind would carry connotations greater that just the grass not being green. The water was more than "bad", it was evil. The fruit from the trees would be falling before it was ripe. The cattle would be miscarrying. The people would be barren as well. Everything was unproductive. This spring was responsible for much of the water for Jericho. The muddy Jordan was over four miles away.
So why did they call upon Elisha! This is actually quite amazing. Elisha is basically an untested prophet. Like I said, Elijah is gone. He'd been serving Elijah all these years now, but Elijah is gone. But the men of this evil city, the city that was built for idolatry at the request of Jezebel, saw hope in the abilities of the man of God. Their Gods had done nothing. Their city was cursed. Their city had been rebuilt for the purpose of idolatry. Yet, the leaders of the city showed their respect to the man of God by asking him to help. Even though people can be evil, God shows His love by making the rain fall on the just as well as the unjust.
2 Kings 2:20 and 21 "Bring me a new bowl," he said, "and put salt in it." So they brought it to him.
Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt into it, saying, "This is what the Lord says: "I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive."
Here we find a test of faith. This is a similar test later faced by Naaman. "Yes, you came to me. But are you willing to do something that seems strange if I ask you to?" They passed the test! They brought him the bowl. They brought him the salt. But this was more than a test. There is great symbolism here and I can't help wondering, did the evil men of the city pick up on the symbolism? Or did Elisha do this for the school of the prophets which was nearby? "Hey, watch this. You might learn something." Or was the symbolism for us? Let's see what we can learn.
The first item asked for was a new bowl. God wants His people set apart from common standards and common use. He wants us clean inside and out. God is looking for a people ready to change the world because they have been made new in Him. Washed in His blood. Salt was acquired in huge quantities from the shores of the nearby Dead Sea. Rapid evaporation in that hot climate left a 25 percent saline content in those waters, and unusual formations of deposited salts were accumulated on the shore. If this salt lay around unused, then over time, the effect of rain and sun on theses salt deposits was to leech out the saline content leaving only a useless grit behind. Jesus spoke of "salt that has lost its saltiness" and which is fit for nothing (Luke 14). Many Christians are like salt that has lost its saltiness-- useless grit. However, salt in good condition was used primarily for two purposes in the ancient world: as a preservative, to slow down corruption, and as an additive, to bring out the flavor in food.
Elisha threw this salt into the place where it was most needed, the polluted spring, the source of Jericho's life, and that is exactly where Christians need to be active--in the lives of others. In school, at work, in the mall, and at home, wherever you are touching lives, you are the salt of the earth. God wants us there to slow down the corruption of this world, to purify, and to bring a new flavor and quality into the lives we touch. Water, in the Bible, is often symbolic of people. We need to be with the people, mingle with the people, bearing the Good News. Otherwise, our saltiness is leeched from us and we become useless grit.
I just recently heard about a person that had never really spoken to anyone but a Seventh-day Adventist. What good are you? Useless grit. You've lost your saltiness. You're not benefitting anybody. Salt in the shaker is of no use. If we don't use it, we lose it. Just like the salt of the Dead Sea.
Look at verse 22. What happened? And the water has remained wholesome to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken.
Today, the name of that spring is Ain es-Sultan. But most residents of the area know it as the Spring of Elisha. It is still blessed.
Now we move into another story. At first it seems that these stories are not related but I believe that they are. Look at verse 23. From there Elisha went up to Bethel.
The Hebrew text begins with these words; "And he went up." The "and" indicates a connection. These are not two disjointed stories. Watch for the connection. The name Bethel means: The House of God. You might expect good things to come from the house of God, in Bethel. Well, what happened?
As he was walking along the road, some youths came out of the town and jeered at him.
Much speculation has gone into who these people were. I have speculated much as well and have no firm answer. Two different Hebrew words are used for "Youths" in this passage, and neither is conclusive as to their age. Some have said, "small children on a lark." One of the words has been used to describe everything from a "young adult" to a "fetus." I picture a gang of young men, maybe teens, I don't know, causing this trouble, jeering at Elisha. What were they doing?
"Go on up, you bald head!" they said. "Go on up, you bald head!"
What were they saying? What were they doing? Was this just a gang of boys having some fun at Elisha's expense, making fun of him for his lack of hair? No! On the surface, yes. But there was much deeper than that. This was not just some boys making fun of Elisha s appearance, having a joke at his expense.
Elisha and Elijah had passed this way a short time before. Now Elisha was returning alone. They were wishing that Elisha would disappear just like Elijah did. "I know, we've heard the rumors that some fiery chariot came down and he's probably off in the woods somewhere and we wish you would go with him. We don't want any prophet around here." Having a prophet around the neighborhood can really cramp your style. It makes people think about what they are doing.
As Susan and I moved into our first house in a new subdivision, the realtor with whom we had become very good friends told us that our neighbors were nervous. The last thing that they wanted was a preacher in the neighborhood! We won't be able to smoke and drink in our own yards without feeling condemned. Our realtor assured them that we did not seem at all judgmental. We gained some really good friends there.
But these boys did not want to give Elisha a chance to even move in. They did not want God's visible presence in their affairs. Look at verse 24. He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse (That's curse number two.) on them in the name of the Lord."
This sounds more like something impulsive Elijah would do, You know, he was the guy that was hot-headed, not mild, peaceable Elisha. Shouldn't he be able to take an insult? Shouldn't he be able to turn the other cheek? Shouldn't he act more like Jesus did? Actually, he is acting like Jesus did. Yes, Jesus took insults, and He turned the other cheek, except when His Heavenly Father was being insulted. You remember the story of when Jesus threw the people out of the temple, twice? He wasn't actually calm, and collected. But He was not standing up for Himself. He was standing up for the respect due to His Father's house, respect for the sacrifices that were going on there, that indicated Who the anointed one would be. Elisha is doing the same thing. He knows that these youth are not just making fun because he doesn't have enough hair on his head, in truth, they're making fun of God and His power and His anointed. Elisha is not standing up for himself. He is standing for the respect and honor due to the Creator of the universe. God's work was being threatened by their disrespect. If this was allowed to happen here, it would follow him everywhere.
Well, the curse happened. How did God answer it? Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths. Don't feed the bears.
In your Bible you may have the word, "she bear." This is a correct translation, and it took me a while to figure out because I had always grown up hearing the story of the she bear. When I looked in the Hebrew, it just said, "bear." You can go either way. But then I read the word, "two" and it's in its feminine form so these are two feminine bears. That is also how we know that these youth were men because the word "two" and "forty" are masculine. So, here we have two she bears after all these boys making fun of God's chosen.
Not that it matters, but I got curious as to what kind of bears these were. We're not told here in Scripture. Maybe God prepared His own bears for this prophet like He prepared a "great fish" for another prophet. But if He used the local bears, they would have been Syrian Brown Bears.
Syrian Brown Bears were a common problem in that part of the world. David killed one that was after his sheep. They are related to the Alaskan Brown and I was wondering, how big are these bears? Not many are left. During World War II soldiers shot most of them for sport. There are few left in zoos now. Well, how big are they? The ones left now are about the size of our black bear. Archeologist from La Sierra University in the Madaba Plains Project have dug up a pit that had two lions and one bear in it. This was a Syrian Brown bear. It was slightly smaller than our grizzly. That's what God called on to take care of this curse. And, God did that didn't He.
God, who knows everything, evidently thought that this curse was fair. He's been put on trial for this story. "How could He do that to these young people?" But God who knows everything thought that this was a fair curse. He not only punished the youths but also the parents that had to deal with the aftermath for the way they had brought up their children. Be careful how you raise your children. You, too, are accountable. I'm accountable for what we say around the dinner table about what went on at church. It may come back to haunt you. Speak with reverence of God's things. Teach our children respect. Let's teach them respect for the church, for its leaders, for their parents, for everyone. For when you get down to it, aren't we all the "anointed of God?" Haven't we all received the commission to go and spread His word? When we think of it that way, we should be more respectful of each other.
How are these stories, the purifying of the water and the revenge of the bears, connected. All one has to do is look a few years earlier at the story of Elijah. You remember, he had a great victory on Mount Carmel and that was followed by and that was followed by a near defeat in the desert. Often the follower of God who experiences a victory will almost immediately be set for some kind of hardship. Satan seeks revenge for every step we make in coming closer to God or in bringing someone else closer. Every thing we do for God's work, Satan tries revenge for it. Jesus was baptized by John at the start of His ministry. The next thing are trials and temptations in the wilderness. I warn people that I am giving Bible studies to that they are making Satan very unhappy by their choices and he is not one to let it slide.
I gave studies to a young man that had been on Satan's ground for many years. He had lived a life that most of us can not even imagine. One of his jobs had been as a body-guard for a drug-dealer, bouncer in bars, he had done it all. He had the scars to show for it. Then he decided to turn his life over to Jesus. As I studied with him I warned him that he was in for trouble because he had been so far on Satan's ground, Satan was not going to give him up without a fight. Sure enough, after his decision for Christ, the phone call were almost a daily thing. "What happened today?" I didn't ask "Did anything happen today." Just, "What happened today?" "Today, my wife was in an accident." "What happened today?" "I was in an accident." "What happened today?" "Someone stole the tools for my trade out of my truck." "What happened today?" "Someone stole my truck." It was a daily thing!
Don't let Satan win by doing this. It is an indication that you have made the right choice. Elisha faced the same thing. He had a victory in the healing of the waters followed by persecution by these youth. I love to make Satan angry by following Jesus! Don't you?
These two stories are also connected in that they are pictures of the kind of people that we will meet along the way while we do the work of God. We will meet good people in bad places and bad people in good places. We will meet sincere people in a sinful world, "Jericho," and we will meet hypocrites in a church, "the House of God." "Bethel." We are to mingle as salt with them all. Then, whether in the world or in the church, healing can begin.
You live in a dirty barren world. You are the bearer of the cure! You are the Salt spoken of by Jesus. This world does not need a quick fix, another new purple pill. It need a pure cure. It needs to see the pure character of Jesus made manifest in the life of His chosen messengers. It needs to gain a new respect for the holy things of God. We, ourselves, can begin by everyday giving Him all the glory, laud, and honor for what He does for us.
Bulletin for the Church Service Hymn of Praise: #93, All Things Bright and Beautiful Scripture: II Kings 2:19-22 Hymn of Response: #230, All Glory, Laud and Honor
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last updated 7/17/2001 by Bob Beckett.