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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:God shows mercy to the suffering people of Jericho
Text:2 Kings 2:19-22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Mercy

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 104:1,3                                                                              

Ps 34:5,7                                                                                                        

Reading – Joshua 6:20-27; 2 Kings 2

Ps 107:13,14,17

Sermon – 2 Kings 2:19-22

Ps 84:3,6

Hy 73:2,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, humans will always gather close to water. If you look at the cities, towns and villages established in this land over the years, usually very near the site of these places you’ll find water. It’s because water is useful for the transport of goods and people, and for the irrigation of crops. And water is vital for life itself. Our bodies need to take in good, clean water in order to function—we can survive only a few days without. No water, no life.

And so, humans will always settle in places where water can be found. This is also true for the city of Jericho. It’s just a few kilometres away from the river Jordan. This river was often muddy, so it wasn’t the best water for drinking, but no matter—within Jericho was a perpetual spring of fresh water. This spring flowed in good volume, and flowed constantly, giving the citizens of Jericho the water they needed for their crops and homes.

Jericho had many reasons to appreciate her spring, for the city was located in an arid region. And just to the south-east of the city lay the Salt Sea, or the Dead Sea. The Salt Sea was empty of any fish or plants, and its super-salty water was undrinkable. The contrast was very striking: in a rocky and dry wilderness, with a salty and lifeless sea nearby, the city Jericho thrived, all because of its spring from which clean water bubbled every day.

So imagine the shock and dismay when the spring of Jericho became polluted. The water still bubbled up, but for some reason, the water was now bad: not fit to drink, and no good for crops. The situation was grim: without this spring of fresh water, Jericho is going to shrivel and die. But the people of Jericho ask Elisha to help them in their trouble. And they learn that life is not from water, but life is from God, who grants living waters to those who thirst for him. I preach to you the Word of God from 2 Kings 2:19-22,           

The LORD shows mercy to the suffering people of Jericho:

  1. His mercy is undeserved
  2. His mercy is effective
  3. His mercy is lasting


1) it is undeserved mercy: The events in our text take place when the people of God have recently been suffering from drought and famine. And it wasn’t only a regular drought of dryness and dust that gripped the land. There was also a spiritual drought, for Israel had turned her back on the God of life. The people, following the poor example of her kings, had fallen into disobedience. Throughout the land, God’s law was rejected and idols worshipped.

There were still faithful believers in the land, and God gave them direction through his prophets. But it seemed to be a losing cause, a pointless ministry. Through Elijah and Elisha there was an occasional gulp of freshness from the Word, but the parched people just weren’t looking for pure water.

And so as they had before, the people start to suffer the deadly consequences of their sin. God had warned them of this long ago, in Deuteronomy. In chapter 28 God had said it very plainly: “If you obey me, I will bless; but if you disobey, I will curse.” He spoke of all the blessings that He’d send upon the people if they walked with him, and He also spoke of the curses if they ignored him. In Deuteronomy 28 the LORD warned of drought, of famine, of oppression, fear, disease, even captivity to foreign lands. It is a long and disturbing collection of curses listed in Deuteronomy 28, and applied in 1 and 2 Kings.

It’s still true today, that there will never come a blessing through disobeying God. Sin never has a payoff, but only brings pain. It doesn’t always seem that way, of course. We can tell ourselves that God doesn’t see our sin, and He won’t do anything about it, and sometimes it appears we might even be right. For God doesn’t react when we choose to break his commandments, time and again. Sometimes it seems we get to enjoy our sins and their pleasures, no worries—but God is not asleep.

In the Scriptures, God tells us often: our disobedience is never rewarded, and sin always bears ugly fruit. That’s true for the sins that everyone knows about, and it’s also true for the sins that we think can remain safely hidden in our hearts and private corners—our pride, our lust, our resentment, our lack of prayer—even hidden sins will always ruin, and weaken, and cause spiritual decay.

So when God holds out his covenant curses, this is actually his way of telling us how much better is the way of serving him. It’s healthier, it’s wiser, it’s happier. He lays it out: the disobedient life cannot be blessed—the life apart from God is miserable—but when we repent and obey and trust in God, we receive mercy upon mercy.

Knowing even a little of the law of God, the disobedient people of Israel could be sure that God’s wrath was slowly being heated up. Somehow, and soon, God would show his displeasure with their wickedness.

Sure enough, the citizens of Jericho begin to feel God’s wrath, for the waters of their precious life-giving spring turn bad. This is catastrophic, a disaster that is sure to trickle down to every house and field and barn in the city. As the men of the city say to Elisha, “The water is bad, and the ground barren” (v 19).

What for centuries had been a good location has suddenly become a city that is doomed. For the LORD holds all things in his hands, even the springs of water that gurgle up from the depths, and the precious rain that falls from the sky. God can take away any blessing, especially when a curse is deserved.

And God had another reason for punishing the people of Jericho. Long ago, you remember that this was the first city taken in the conquest of the Promised Land. At that time, God ordered that Jericho be utterly devastated by the Israelites. He said that Jericho was to be “dedicated” to him, in the sense that everyone and everything in the city was to be destroyed. With the exception of the silver, gold, bronze and iron—which were claimed by God—everything in Jericho was destroyed to show God’s total dominion over this city, and thereby over the entire land.

This is why Joshua pronounced that serious oath after Jericho fell, “Cursed be the man before the LORD who rises up and builds this city Jericho” (Josh 6:26). The destroyed Jericho was meant to be a lasting sign of God’s judgment on the Canaanites; it was to be a reminder that the entire land belonged to the LORD God.

Maybe you’ve heard of Hiroshima, the Japanese city where an atomic bomb was dropped near the end of World War 2. When they slowly rebuilt the ruined city afterward, they left standing a few severely damaged buildings. To this day, they were never rebuilt, but left as a terrible monument to what happened, a solemn reminder for coming generations. That’s kind of what Jericho was to be: a memorial to God’s anger with the Canaanites, a testimony to God’s fulfillment of promise.

So Joshua put a heavy penalty on anyone who dared to take Jericho away from God: the life of the firstborn son would be demanded, and then the life of the youngest child. Because of this oath, Jericho remained for centuries as God wanted it: a pile of rubble.

But then Jericho is rebuilt, not many years before the time of Elisha. Apparently, the old spring was still flowing, so of course it was still an attractive place for people to settle, near its life-sustaining waters. In 1 Kings 16, we can read that Hiel of Bethel laid Jericho’s foundations and set up its gates. He undertook this project, even while paying the heavy price: two sons dead. We’re not surprised that this misguided rebuilding effort took place in the days of King Ahab. When everyone is living in deliberate disobedience, what is one more blatant rejection of God’s will and way?

But even after the building contractor has given up his two sons, God was not pleased with this city. In a disobedient land, here was a rebellious city that should never have been built. So God began to punish them by corrupting the waters, the very spring around which they so stubbornly gathered in the first place.

It doesn’t take long, and the citizens begin to suffer. Their crops were failing, their animals were getting sick, their children were complaining, some were even dying. There was something lethal in the water, and the people suffered deeply. They suffered, yet (and it’s a hard truth) they were getting what they deserved. Sin invites a curse. Sin always inflicts brokenness, on creation and on mankind.

But what happens next? Maybe it’s not what you’d expect. Maybe in a crisis like this the people will get angry, or bitter, or turn to one of their false gods for help. But in their distress, the people of Jericho cry out to LORD God! They call on Elisha because they know that he’s a servant of God, and they know if anyone can help, it is God, working through his prophet. Somehow they still knew God’s loving promise in Psalm 50:12, “Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”

And God is so merciful! This was an accursed city, a city doubly deserving of wrath, but God doesn’t ignore the cries of his people. Even when God allows his children to feel the consequence of their sin, He does it so that they might turn to him. How true is Psalm 30:5, “His anger lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime.” God first makes us to see our deep need for mercy, and then when we seek him, God delights to show grace to sinners.

That’s good news, for we know what it’s like to live in Jericho. We’re guilty too. We know the misery of unconfessed sin. We deserve to live permanently under God’s curse. For we too, have ignored his words and lived our own way because it was more convenient. We’d be doomed if God left us on our own. We deserve his righteous wrath, but instead, God shows rich compassion, shows us steadfast love!

For we also know that we can turn to the Father, crying out for help. Turning to God, beloved, make a daily confession of your guilt and weakness. Look to him, knowing that for Jesus’ sake—for the sake of Christ who bore God’s curse for us—God will relent and He will extend a mercy that transforms.


2) it is effective mercy: The people of Jericho didn’t know Elisha as well as they knew Elijah, who for many years had taught a company of prophets in their city. This Elijah had also performed some impressive miracles. Now the great Elijah was gone, and the younger Elisha remains in his place. But being a prophet is never about personal reputation or position, for it is God who empowers for service, and God who gives words to say.    

In our chapter, Elisha is just at the beginning of his ministry. He had just traveled across the nearby Jordan River to see Elijah taken up into heaven. Now he’s come back across, and for the time being he’ll stay in Jericho.

While he is there, it probably does not take long for the citizens to approach him about their dismal water situation. They turn to the prophet in expectation: “Please notice, the situation of this city is pleasant… but the water is bad, and the ground barren” (v 19).

At this, any of us would have said, “So?! What can I do about it?” This was an impossible problem, one with wide-reaching consequences. The dust of death was already blowing through the streets and homes of Jericho—the city was doomed. What can you do about a curse? What’s he supposed to say?

Sometimes we’re confronted with the enormity and intensity of human trouble. There’s especially the misery that has been brought on by our own sin and brokenness—and we have to admit our complete inability to do anything at all. What on earth can be done? What can be said? Confronted with the brokenness of life, sometimes no deeds and few words are possible. We just can’t fix this, as much as we’d like to.

But with our God all things are possible. God, through Elisha, answers promptly, and God answers effectively. Elisha’s response to the people is simple: “Bring me a new bowl and put salt in it” (v 20). And a new bowl filled with salt is brought to the prophet. Then Elisha went to the spring of Jericho. Standing at the spring, perhaps while watching the bad waters bubbling up from below, Elisha tosses the salt into the spring.

Why salt? Salt was valuable, especially in ancient times. And for the LORD, salt was a symbol of the covenant that He had with his people. It showed that His covenant was permanent. Think of how still today, salt is a preservative; for example, you can salt your fish to make it last longer. Salt is also not something that can be destroyed by time or fire: it endures.

So this is what Moses says in Numbers 18:19, “There is a covenant of salt forever before the LORD with you and your descendants with you.” That’s a striking phrase: a covenant of salt, a preserved covenant, one to remain forever.

Would the people of Jericho have thought of these things as Elisha threw the salt into the spring? Did they see it as God sealing his lasting covenant to them? Perhaps, or perhaps not. Maybe it only made them think of the nearby Salt Sea, that lifeless body of water and its barren landscape—the place they were about to become if something didn’t change.

Whatever the reason that Elisha used salt, we shouldn’t focus on its significance, nor on the bowl, nor on the prophet, but focus on the God who had mercy on the people of Jericho. For what could a little salt do, thrown into a spring of constantly flowing water? Not a thing. Only God could bring about this change. As Elisha proclaims it, “Thus says the LORD: ‘I have healed this water; from it there shall be no more death or barrenness’” (v 21). 

God heals the bad water, and God takes away its deadly effects. Jericho had been under God’s curse long enough! This ancient pagan city which had once been utterly destroyed by God, this city rebuilt in disobedience—Jericho deserved nothing but destruction, but the time for punishment had passed. This was the most sin-laden place you could imagine, but God restores it. He does, because they turned to him who alone rescues people from sin and curse.

So it wasn’t just a renewed spring of fresh water that Jericho receives. The people of Jericho receive clean water, and they also get God’s effective mercy. They receive a mercy that washes away human misery, a mercy that purifies the heart. In a time of spiritual famine, God gives the living waters of his love, so that Jericho might again turn to him, drink, and be satisfied.

Water really is a beautiful image for God’s mercy. In chapter 35, this is how Isaiah describes the miracle of God’s mercy among the redeemed, “Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The burning desert will become a pool, and thirsty ground [will become] bubbling springs…” God’s grace is so amazing that He can make the dry desert a place of refreshing pools, He can change bitter springs into sources of life, and He can turn dead sinners into living saints.  

Beloved, this is water poured out for you! The sparkling, clear water of God’s mercy is given to you in Christ. In a way that the people of Jericho never knew, in a way that Elisha’s salt could never accomplish, God opened a new source of mercy in Jesus’ blood. Speaking of the day of Christ’s coming, Isaiah declared, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation”
 (12:3). He is living water for our thirsty souls! Christ refreshes our weary hearts with his grace. He renews our polluted hearts, and He washes away all the filth of our sin.

And the water of God’s mercy will never run out. Even though our spiritual thirst is so great, Christ will always satisfy. As Jesus says in John 4, “Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst” (v 14). In Christ, God promises us parched sinners who are dying of thirst: “Come to me and drink, and you’ll be forever content!” For when God shows mercy, it is mercy that endures.


3) it is lasting mercy: Following the miraculous healing of water, the citizens of Jericho might’ve been wary of the water bubbling from their cherished spring. It’s human nature to be suspicious of solutions that seem too easy. But if God begins a work of mercy, He’ll never abandon it. The waters of Jericho were healed, and they stayed healed. “So the water remains healed to this day, according to the word of Elisha which he spoke” (v 22).

This good result is not to the credit of the people of Jericho, for they surely displeased God again. Nor is this to the credit of Elisha, who was only a weak servant of God. Elisha delivered the message, but God had spoken it: “I have healed the water.” God healed it and guaranteed: “From it there shall be no more death or barrenness.”

Never again. Only God can say this, and also mean it. The writer of 2 Kings looks back on what God had promised and he sees that God’s answer to Jericho’s pain was no artificial or temporary solution: “The water has remained healed to this day.” God’s mercy for sinners endures to this day, and it remains to the end of time. His steadfast love endures forever!    

If we want evidence to God’s grace for his children, we can look at Jericho. As a pile of rubble without a wall left standing, for a long time Jericho reminded everyone of how God keeps his Word. And then as a rebuilt city with a healed spring, Jericho reminded everyone that God has pure and sparkling mercy for sinners. 

And God’s lasting mercy has not changed. It flows freely and abundantly in Jesus Christ. In him we know that God always pours out amazing grace for sinners. Beloved, if you’re thirsty and tired and running on empty, and you’re looking to be refreshed, go to the place where you can find water. If you’re a guilty sinner,  go to the only place where you can escape from the curse. There’s no reason not to go. There’s no reason for you to take little and hesitating sips of grace—going to God maybe once per day, once per week. No, there’s every reason to drink deeply of Christ.

Listen to the words of Revelation 22:17, “The Spirit and the bride say ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” Go to Christ, drink deeply, and never thirst again!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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