July 30, 2017 Elisha

Scripture reading: 2 Kings 2:15-25.


[I. Introduction] Elisha had been following Elijah for several years. He had left his former occupation as a farmer and had become an apprentice to the great prophet. He had been discipled by Elijah, to use a term more familiar to us. Then Elijah was taken up directly into heaven without dying, one of only two people in recorded history to have done so.


There were other prophets in Israel who were familiar with Elijah and ministered with him. They were called the “sons of the prophets.” This phrase does not mean that their parents were prophets. Rather, the expression simply means “members of” or “belonging to the guild.”[1] After Elijah had been raptured in chariots of fire, Elisha takes the cloak of his predecessor and strikes the Jordan river with it. The river parts (vs. 14). When the other prophets see this they say, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.”


Verse 15 says, “And they came to meet him and bowed down to the ground before him.” This was not worship. Rather, this is a manifestation of reverence and respect as practiced in the Middle East. Here is, also, a high sign of God gaining something in the hearts of his servants. Those who have been touched by the Living God, as were these prophets who came to Elisha, will show respect to those in authority. A lack of respect for those in authority is a revealing of a rebellious heart. It is so because those in authority represent God, even if they do so imperfectly, even if they do so wrongly. When people display disrespect to those in authority they reveal their own disrespect for God Himself.


These prophets showed great respect for the man of God.


They find it hard to believe that Elijah is truly gone. They knew that the Spirit of the Lord had taken him away but they think he may have just been taken to another valley somewhere. Elisha knows better but gives them permission to search and they do so for three days.


Here is another incidental lesson. Elisha had said, “You shall not send.” (vs. 16) But the other prophets insisted. How often will a man of God give direction or counsel and his hearers ignore it or insist on their own way? What is the result? The result is fruitlessness. These other guild members wasted three days of time and food looking for one who would never be found. Often, when God’s people ignore or reject the counsel of their spiritual guides more happens than just wasting time. Great disappointment and a falling into sin with its consequences may result. Listen to those whom God has placed you under! Going your own way can be perilous.


It is sad in some ways. Do you not know some people who claim to be followers of Christ, and maybe they are, whose lives are just a mess? They have problems. Yet, when you give them counsel they just keep doing things their own way. Now, where has their own way gotten them thus far? It’s gotten them a basket full of problems! But they keep doing it their own way! God has raised up brothers and sisters in the church who have wisdom and who are full of the Spirit of the Living God, as was Elisha. Listen to what the Lord is saying through them! Save yourself three days.


What can we learn from Elisha? This account is Elisha’s first enterprise in public ministry and we may gather three truths from it. The truths that we find in Holy Scripture are like precious metal coins. You know that inflation diminishes the value of money over time. This is one reason why many investors recommend having precious metals in one’s portfolio – to hedge against both inflation and the volatility of the stock market. Precious metals retain and usually increase their value over time.


If you had a one ounce gold coin in your pocket today, it would be worth about $1240. That same coin in 2007 would have been worth half of that. If you had three of those coins in your pocket now, you would have $3,720 in purchasing power. How many of you would like to have three gold coins, given to you freely, in your pocket or purse right now?


The truths that we find in God’s word are like that. They never diminish over time and their value is greater than anything else. Both God’s commands and His wisdom are not only likened to gold, but are said to be better than gold! David could say:


Therefore I love your commandments

above gold, above fine gold. [2]


His son, Solomon, wrote:


Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,

and the one who gets understanding,

14    for the gain from her is better than gain from silver

and her profit better than gold. [3]


The three truths that we will see this morning will be like three coins that you can carry with you and apply when you need deliverance for yourself or for another.


In verse 19 of 2 Kings 2 we read:


“Now the men of the city said to Elisha, ‘Behold, the situation of this city is pleasant…’”


The city is Jericho. What did they mean by the situation being pleasant? It had to do with the water.  Gold and silver are precious commodities but they are not essential. Most people of the world will never even own an ounce of either. But water is essential. You die without it and, when it is limited, life is more difficult. In Jericho was a perennial spring. In modern times it is known as Ain es-Sultan. That name means “the spring of Sultan.” A sultan is just a ruler in the Middle East.


They add, “…but the water is bad…” Why was the water bad? It is bad because Joshua cursed it.


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.

“At the cost of his firstborn shall he

lay its foundation,

and at the cost of his youngest son

shall he set up its gates.” [4]


Indeed, this curse and its consequences were fulfilled in the life of a man by the name of Hiel several years before the events in 2 KINGS 2.


            “And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him. 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. “[5]


The men from Jericho say that the land is unfruitful. There is death in the water that not only kills people but even plants.


What does Elisha do?


            He said, “Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. 21             Then he went to the spring of water and threw salt in it and said, “Thus says the Lord, I have healed this water; from now on neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.” 22             So the water has been healed to this day, according to the word that Elisha spoke. [6]


Here is our first precious coin:


[II.] The Lord brings life from death through the words of his prophet. The curse is removed.


Observe how Elisha brought life out of death. He asks for a new bowl and instructs the men to put salt in it. You must realize that throwing a small quantity of salt into a spring can never, through natural means, mend or treat a poisonous spring. This was a supernatural act of God through Elisha. But see how he did it. He did it through tokens and through his words. The new bowl is a token and the salt is a token. The new bowl is symbolic of a new work of God – a new direction  for this town. The salt is symbolic of a new promise[7] of healing and improvement.


We still need healing. We have springs within us that have been poisoned by Adam’s sin. Things rise up within us that may bring death to those around us. Today, we have a prophet greater than Elisha. His name is Jesus. He is the greatest of all the prophets. Indeed, he is more than a prophet.


When we take the tokens of Jesus – the water of baptism and the bread and wine of the Lord’s Table – and we listen to his words then we will see our death turned into life.


This is why we must read his life-giving words found in the New Testament. They will change our death into life. Listen! These men of Jericho were in God’s covenant already! They belonged to the Lord and they followed the prophets. But they were still experiencing fruitlessness (vs. 19) because they needed to hear Elisha’s words spoken over their spring and they needed the bowl and the salt.


We are part of God’s new covenant, if we have believed in Christ and repented of our sins, but we may still be experiencing fruitlessness. We need the words of our Prophet! They will bring you life! Brothers and sisters, we must read the words of our Lord and his apostles if we would see our fruitlessness and death turned into life!


Next, we come to a section of Scripture that has offended many people.


            He went up from there to Bethel, and while he was going up on the way, some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” 24             And he turned around, and when he saw them, he cursed them in the name of the Lord. And two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys. 25             From there he went on to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria. [8]


The way some have read this passage, they think that some elementary school-aged children are having fun with the prophet and the crotchety old man calls a curse down upon them so that two bears killed most of them. Even if that were to have happened (it almost certainly did not), does not God have the right to take life and preserve it?[9] To make one rich and another poor?[10] To make one see and another blind?[11] To bring down one and exalt another? If God did deign to take the lives of little children because they sinned that is his right.


Notwithstanding that some versions of the Bible translate the noun clause in verse 23 as “little children,” these mockers were, almost certainly, not little children. The version I read from this morning, the ESV, translates the phrase “small boys” – the same idea as “little children,” which is the KJV translation.


There are two Hebrew words in the phrase just as there are two English words in many translations. The second word, the one that is sometimes translated “boys” or “children” is better translated “lads” or “men.” The first word, the one that is rendered “small” or “little” is better understood as “young.”


And so, the NASB has “young lads.” The NIV, GNT, and NLT (among others) translates the two words as simply “boys” because that is what “young men” often are.


The same two words are translated as “young men” in the KJV in I Kings 20:14-15 and it describes those going out to battle in an army!


These young men were probably in their late teens or they were young men in their 20’s. Further, there was a large group of them. There were probably more than 60 or 70 of them, since 42 were torn by two bears, surely, some would have gotten away when the bears attacked. This was a gang!


Bethel was known as a city of rebellion and idolatry, sort of like Berkeley, CA or East St. Louis. In other words, Elisha was in a bad neighborhood. Now, we have a better picture of what happened. Elisha is walking near Bethel and a large gang of ominous rebels comes out. They say, “Go up!” They want him to leave not only their vicinity but the earth itself as did Elijah.


They want to reject God’s word by rejecting the prophets of God. By rejecting God’s messenger they reject God. Then they insult him, calling him baldhead. By insulting God’s messenger they insult God. But the Lord protects and stands by his messengers.


In verse 26 Elisha calls a curse down upon them. Here is our second coin:


[III.] The Lord brings death from life through the words of his messengers. God’s Spirit is upon Elisha and he has authority to speak and see his words fulfilled. God has established authority in his universe. There are worldly authorities and there are spiritual authorities. Both must be respected because they have been established by God. Even angels understand and respect authority.


Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. 9             But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.” [12]


The apostle Jude reveals that it is the ungodly people who reject authority. Yet, even Michael the archangel did not rebuke the devil, who was higher in rank than he, but only passed on the Lord’s judgment.


Elisha had authority. These young rebels were full of natural life, biological life, but they had no spiritual life. Spiritual life begets respect and submission to authority. They hated God’s prophets and so they hated God. What life they did have would be turned into death and destruction at the words of Elisha.


There is a name for the kind of curse that Elisha called down. Imprecatory prayers, declarations, and entire psalms are right when they are directed against the enemies of God. We ought never to invoke imprecatory prayers or declarations against others if they have only come against us – if they have offended you or cheated you. It is when they defy the Living God and come against his move on the earth that they are appropriate.


The words of God’s messengers have prophetic authority to bring about negative things as well as positive.


[Illustration of Ed Zajac here.]


Observe, then, what has come about:


  • The water was healed when Elisha spoke.
  • Death and maiming came when Elisha spoke.


Here is our third coin:


[IV.] Words are instruments of power to bring great change if spoken in the name of the Lord.


There is a false teaching that is present in the prosperity movement, the so-called “Faith movement,” that pretends that the words themselves have power and that we can declare just about anything and it will come to pass. This perverse teaching did not originate from the Scriptures but is a New Age teaching that was originally labeled as “New Thought Metaphysics.” It is almost 200 years old and it has been “Christianized” by the prosperity movement teachers.


There is no power in words, just as there is no power in tokens. God is the one who gives the power and he does it through his messengers, not just anyone.


Words are instruments of power to bring great change if spoken in the name of the Lord. What does it mean to speak in the name of the Lord? The phrase, “in the name of the Lord,” simply means “by the authority of the Lord.”


When God’s people are living by the life of the Spirit and in accordance with his blessed and good commands in Scripture then they have authority. This is why James reminds us:


The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17             Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. [13]


You can be that righteous person! You are that righteous person if you live by the Spirit and the word. Your words are instruments of power to bring great change!


[V. Conclusion] You have three gold coins.


  • One coin says,

The Lord brings life from death through the words of his prophet.” Therefore, read the words of our Lord and his apostles if and you will see your fruitlessness and death turned into life!

  • Another coin says, “The words of God’s messengers have prophetic authority to bring about negative things as well as positive.” Therefore, speak against the enemies of God and don’t try to be nicer than God.

The third coin says, “Your words are instruments of power to bring great change.” Speak your words wisely. Be sensitive as to what is a word spoken in due season, how good is it! (Proverbs 15:23, KJV)


Keep these coins with you and use them often.


[1] See Ezra 2:42, “sons of the gatekeepers.”

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 119:127). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Pr 3:13–14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jos 6:26). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Ki 16:33–34). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Ki 2:20–22). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[7] Salt represents a covenant (a promise) elsewhere in Scripture. See Lev. 2:13; Numbers 18:19.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Ki 2:23–25). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[9] Job 1:21

[10] I Samuel 2:7

[11] Exodus 4:11

[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jud 8–9). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[13] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jas 5:16–17). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.