A tale of two cities – part one – Jericho
22 So the water has been healed to this day, according to the word that Elisha spoke.(2 Kings 2:22 ESV)
Two very well known Biblical cities are mentioned in 2 Kings 2- Jericho and Bethel. Both in their own way are very well known throughout scripture, but both were in Elisha’s day spiritually dead and far from God. Tomorrow we’ll look at Bethel, today I’d like to look briefly at Jericho.
The first act that Elisha was to do in succeeding Elijah as a prophet of the Lord was to strike the river Jordan with his mantle, and thereby showing that the spirit of God indeed did rest upon him (verse 15). Something that was affirmed even by the prophets who were at Jericho . It is a curious thing that there were prophets in both Jericho and as we will see tomorrow at Bethel, yet neither place was exactly on fire for God. In fact it might be said to be the opposite. The prophets at Jericho show a remarkable lack of prophetic vision in claiming that the Holy Spirit had taken up Elijah and dropped him down in a valley somewhere ( verses 16-18). Elisha knows better.
Then the narrative changes to show Elisha’s first miracle. It is remarkable that when Elisha was asked by his great mentor what he would desire from him , he asked for a double portion of his spirit (verse 9 & 10) . As Elisha was able to see Elijah being taken from him (verse 12) Elijah’s promise to Elisha is fulfilled . It does seem as if a double portion of Elijah’s spirit did indeed rest upon Elijah and throughout his life, he lived in a very different way from Elijah. While Elijah’s life was solitary , Elisha’s life was spent much more among people, and what is more twice as many miracles were undertaken by Elisha as by Elijah. He was going to make his own mark , and what is more fulfil the plans that God had revealed to Elijah a while before (1 Kings 19: 16).
Finding himself at the river Jordan, Elisha is at the ancient city of Jericho, but it is plain from what the people have to say that things are not good there. ‘ Now the men of the city said to Elisha, “Behold, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees, but the water is bad, and the land is unfruitful.” (2 Kings 2:19 ESV) Jericho is ‘ the city of Palms’ and situated in a pleasant oasis on the Jordan river, It is 800 feet below sea level, and is richly blessed with almost perpetual sunshine, very good fertile ground from the alluvial deposits of the Jordan and a constantly flowing spring Ein es Sultan ( mentioned in verse 21) that irrigates the land. Yet in Elisha’s time something is badly wrong in Jericho. The water is bad and soil unfruitful , and Elisha sees immediately what is wrong , Jericho has been cursed.
To find out the reason for this we have to go back further in scripture. In the book of Joshua 6 the city of Jericho had fallen to the victorious Israelites in the famous battle of Jericho. At that time Joshua actually pronounced a curse on Jericho in this way ’ Joshua laid an oath on them at that time, saying, “Cursed before the Lord be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho (Joshua 6:26 ESV). Centuries later and shortly before the beginning of the story of Elijah we read this in 1 Kings 16:34 ‘ In his days Hiel of Bethel built Jericho. He laid its foundation at the cost of Abiram his firstborn, and set up its gates at the cost of his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spoke by Joshua the son of Nun. (1 Kings 16:34 ESV)
The word of God spells out clearly the blessings for obedience, and the curses for disobedience. (See Deuteronomy 28 for example)
It is interesting that Elisha offers salt in order to purify the water and land. On one level it might seem as if this is simply using the well known purifying properties of salt in a symbolic way to bring about the healing of the land. What Elisha was doing was more than this though. He was actually renewing the covenant between God and this place and people by means of offering a convenient of Salt. In Numbers 18: 19 we read ” All the holy contributions that the people of Israel present to the Lord I give to you, and to your sons and daughters with you, as a perpetual due. It is a covenant of salt forever before the Lord for you and for your offspring with you (Numbers 18:19 ESV) 5 Ought you not to know that the Lord God of Israel gave the kingship over Israel forever to David and his sons by a covenant of salt?
(2 Chronicles 13:5 ESV)
Elisha sets about reversing the curse by asking for a new and unused bowl, one undefiled by human use and taking salt and throwing the salt in the spring. Elisha’s words show that it was God who healed the water, and who had reversed the Covenant curse on Jericho., not Elisha this was not magic “Thus says the Lord, I have healed this water; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it (2 Kings 2:21 ESV). But it is what was done by Elisha that was interesting , he demanded a clean, new and unused vessel to contain the salt, in other words a vessel that was not polluted, adulterated or compromised in any way that surely has something to say to the church of day and indeed to all those who would minister in God’s name ? What a challenge and convicting thought this is. It was not the prophetic school long established at Jericho that was used to bring God’s word and blessing but a newly ordained prophet , offering a clean and Holy vessel to the Lord . This whole episode shows us how the New Covenant or relationship with God was so necessary. It was not a case of patching up and repairing the Old. A sinless, spotless offering was all that God would accept, ” but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot”. (1 Peter 1:19 ESV)