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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Preached At:St. Albert Canadian Reformed Church
 St. Albert, Alberta
Title:Streams of the Lord's Mercy
Text:2 Kings 2:19-22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Grace

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 84:1,3
Ps 34:5,7
Reading -- Joshua 6:20-27; 2 Kings 1:1-18
Ps 135:3,5,6
Sermon -- 2 Kings 2:19-22
Ps 107:1,14,17
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 our Lord, humans will always gather where water is to be found. Even if you look at the cities, towns and villages established in Canada over the centuries, more often than not, very near the site of these places you'll find water.

The reason for this is clear: Water is important for civilization. It is good for the transportation of goods and people, for natural defense against enemy attacks, and for the irrigation of crops. Water is important for civilization, but more basically, water is vital for life itself. Our bodies need to take in clean water in order to function; indeed, we can last only a few days without water. If there is no water, there is no life.

And so, humans will always gather where water is to be found. This is also true for the city of Jericho. As you might know, Jericho lies only a few kilometres to the west of the river Jordan. This often-muddy river wasn't the greatest for providing drinking water, but that didn't matter, for Jericho had within her walls a perennial 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 for their homes.

Jericho had many reasons to appreciate her spring, for the city itself was located in a dry region, surrounded by a waterless and barren wilderness. And just to the south-east of the city lay the Salt Sea. The residents of Jericho didn't have to go far to see the deadly results of bad water. The Salt Sea was empty of any fish or plants, and its super-salty water was very unhealthy for humans to drink. The contrast was striking: in a rocky and dry wilderness, with a salty and lifeless sea nearby, the city Jericho thrived, all because of the spring, from which clean water bubbled every day. Clean water: The stuff of life! Because of it, Jericho was an oasis of life in a region of death.

For many centuries, Jericho enjoyed the blessing of its good water. Jericho was one of the oldest cities in Palestine, simply because this spring was a natural place to settle. Imagine then, the shock and dismay when the spring of Jericho became polluted. The water still bubbled up from the ground, but now the water was bad. It was not good for humans to drink, and it was not good for irrigating the crops. The situation was grim: without this spring of fresh water, Jericho would soon shrivel up and die.

But the people of Jericho ask Elisha, the prophet of God, to help them in their trouble. Life is not from water, but life is from the God, who grants living water to those who look to him. I preach to you the Word of God from 2 Kings 2,

The LORD shows mercy to the suffering people of Jericho. This mercy is:

  1. undeserved
  2. effective
  3. lasting

1. it is undeserved mercy: The events in our text take place when the people of God are suffering a time of drought and famine. But it is not a regular drought of dryness and dust that settles over the land. This is a spiritual drought, self-inflicted; Israel had turned her back on the God of her life. The people of God, following the poor example of her kings, had fallen into covenant disobedience and were reaping its deadly results.

Throughout the land, the law of God was rejected, and pagan gods were worshipped. We read in chapter 1 that the king of Israel, Ahaziah, even dared to turn to Baal-zebub to find out whether he would recover from his injuries. This is how far things had gone! Ahaziah didn't ask the LORD or Elijah, because he knew full well: these injuries are deserved, and these injuries will end in certain death.

Israel could have known better than to follow the dead-end road of disobedience. They could have remembered what it was like during the days of Ahab. King Ahab too had led the people of Israel far from God, even to the shrines for Baal, so for three-and-a-half years the land had been punished with devastating drought. God finally sent rain, but not before that showdown on Mount Carmel between God and Baal. There God had shown with fire and with water, beyond any doubt, that He alone is God.

Despite this indisputable evidence, King Ahab, ever unrepentant, continued to his dying day in defiance of God. And Ahaziah his son simply continued in the sins of his father, doing evil in the eyes of the LORD (1 Kgs 22:52), setting a miserably low standard for the people he ruled.

Of course, there were still faithful believers in the land, and God still gave direction to his people through prophets. First Elijah, then Elisha, was given the task of instructing the people in the ways of the LORD. But it seemed to be a losing cause, for the land remained in a deep spiritual drought. In Elijah and Elisha there was an occasional gulp of freshness from the Word, but the parched people weren't looking for pure water. They were content to drink in the bitter water of idolatry, and stay in the dry land of disobedience.

But as they had in the days in Elijah, again the people suffer the deadly consequences of their ungodly lifestyle. God had warned them of this already 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 had spoken of all the blessings to be sent upon the people whose God is the LORD, and also of all the curses to be sent upon the people whose God is ignored. In Deut 28 the LORD had warned of drought, of famine, of oppression, of fear, of disease, even of captivity to foreign lands -- He warned of heavy curses for those who break God's Word.

It is a long and disturbing list of curses listed in Deut 28 and applied in 1 and 2 Kings, and it remains true today: There is no blessing in disobeying God, but only curse. We can tell ourselves that God doesn't see our sin, and sometimes it appears we might even be right, for God doesn't seem to do anything when we break his commandments. Sometimes it seems we get to enjoy our sins scot-free -- but God is not asleep. In the Scriptures, God says time and again: Disobedience is never rewarded, and disobedience always bears its ugly fruit. This goes for the sins that everyone finds out about, and this also goes for the sins that we all think remain hidden in our hearts and private lives.

When God holds out these covenant curses, it is not just a threat: Obey me or else! Rather, God is telling us how much better is the way of serving him. He lays it out: The stubbornly disobedient life cannot be blessed, but the obedient and repentant life receives mercy upon mercy.

Knowing even a little of the law of God, the disobedient people of Israel could be sure that the heat of God's wrath was being kindled. 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, and this disaster trickles 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 land is unproductive" (v 19). What had for many centuries been a good location has suddenly become a doomed city. To his people God was showing again that He, the only God, holds all things in his hands, even the springs gurgling up from the depths. Any blessing He can take away, especially when curse is deserved.

And God had more reason for punishing the people of Jericho. Long ago, this was the first city taken in the conquest of the Promised Land. At that time, God ordered that Jericho be utterly destroyed. Jericho was "dedicated" as something like the first-fruits of the land. Everything in Jericho was dedicated to destruction, except for the silver, gold, bronze and iron, which were all dedicated to God. Jericho given fully to God as the first-fruits, for Jericho signified that all of Canaan belonged to God.

This is why Joshua pronounced that serious oath after Jericho fell, "Cursed before the LORD is the man who undertakes to rebuild this city" (Josh 6:26). Jericho was to be a lasting sign of God?s judgment on the Canaanites, a reminder that the whole land was God's. In his oath, Joshua put a heavy penalty on those who would dare take Jericho away from God: the life of the firstborn son would be demanded, and then the life of the youngest child (v 26).

Because of this oath, made in the name of the LORD, Jericho remained for many years as God wanted it: A pile of rubble, a silent testimony to God's great anger with the pagan nations and a silent testimony to God's powerful fulfillment of promise.

But then Jericho is rebuilt. The old spring apparently still flowed, and still attracted people to live near its life-giving waters. In 1 Kings 16, we read that Hiel of Bethel, who laid Jericho's foundations and set up its gates, even while paying the heavy price. And we should not be surprised that this misguided rebuilding effort took place in the days of Ahab. In a time of rampant disobedience of the Word of God, what is one more rejection of God's will, what is one more scorning of the memory of God's grace in the past?

For rebuilding Jericho the high price was paid. But even after Hiel gave up his two sons, God was not pleased with this city, re-constructed in defiance of heaven. In a disobedient land, here was a city that should never have been built. Yes, God had double reason to be angry with those who dwelled behind Jericho's walls, and God punished them by corrupting the very spring around which they so stubbornly gathered in the first place.

Inevitably, the citizens of Jericho began to suffer. Their crops were failing, their animals were getting sick, their children were complaining, some were even dying. The people of Jericho suffered deeply, as anyone who has ever had to worry about finding clean water might imagine. They suffered, yet (and this is a hard truth) they were getting what they deserved. Sin has disastrous effects, on creation and on mankind. The people of Jericho belonged to a rebellious nation, and lived in a rebellious city -- now rebellion was bearing its rotten fruit.

In their distress, the people of Jericho cry out, and call on Elisha. They know he is a servant of God, and they know if anyone can help, it is God, working through his prophet. And God is merciful! He does not ignore the cries of his people, and He does not stay angry forever. Rather, even when He allows his children to feel the heavy consequence of their sin, He does so with the purpose that they might turn to him; "His anger lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime" (Ps 30:5). God first makes sinners see their anguished need for mercy, and then to sinners God shows mercy. He points the way out of the barren land of rebellion, and He gives the strength to deal with sin's terrible results.

In our misery, we too, can turn to one place: To God through his only Son. Turning to God let us all confess our guilt: we too have defiantly scorned his words, we too have forgotten his past deeds of power and grace -- and to God let us acknowledge that we are surely doomed, if left on our own. Let us turn to God, who has compassion on his people, who relents in his wrath, and who sends mercy that transforms.

2. it is effective mercy: The people of Jericho probably 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 also had been a part of powerful and memorable miracles; he even called fire down from heaven! Now the "great" Elijah was gone, and the "junior" Elisha remained in his place. But being a prophet is never about personal reputation or position, for it is God who equips for service. As he begins his ministry, Elisha chooses to stay in Jericho. While he is there, it probably does not take long for the citizens to approach this "successor" of Elijah about their troubling water situation. They turn to the prophet in expectation: "Look, this town is well-situated, but the water is bad and the land is unproductive" (v 19).

At this, any of us would have said, "So?! What can I do about it?" This was a fundamental problem, one with wide-reaching consequences. Confronted with the intensity of human misery -- whether the misery brought on by earthquakes and floods, or the misery brought on by our own sin and brokenness -- any human should admit his complete inability. What can be done? What can be said? Confronted with the brokenness of life, often times no human deeds and no human words are possible. "The water is bad and the land is unproductive!" The dust of death was already blowing through the streets and homes of Jericho. What could Elisha say?

But with our God all things are possible. God, through his prophet Elisha, answers promptly, and God answers effectively. Elisha's response 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, bowl in hand, went to the spring of Jericho. Standing at the spring, perhaps even while watching the bad waters bubbling up from below -- yet without further ado, Elisha tosses the salt into the spring (v 21).

Why salt? We know salt was valuable, especially in ancient times. Salt was a good preservative and a tasty additive to food. Salt was even considered a symbol of faithfulness, a mark of permanent relationship.

Would the people of Jericho have thought of these things as Elisha threw the salt into the spring? Perhaps, or perhaps not. Maybe the salt only made them think of the nearby Salt Sea, that lifeless body of salty water, with its salt flats and salt dunes and barren landscape. Maybe as the salt was thrown they thought, "Let's pray to God our spring doesn't end up like the Salt Sea, and our city like Sodom and Gomorrah."

Whatever the reason salt was chosen, we must focus not on the significance of the salt, nor on the bowl, nor on the prophet, but on the God who had mercy on the people of Jericho. For what could a little salt do, thrown one time into a spring of constantly-flowing water? Not a thing. As Elisha proclaims it, "This is what the LORD says: 'I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive'" (v 21).

It is God who heals the bad water, and God who takes away its deadly effects. Jericho had been under God's curse long enough! This ancient pagan city, this city utterly destroyed by God, this city rebuilt in disobedience, this city inhabited in defiance, this city of sin in a time of apostasy -- this city deserved to be cursed, but the time for punishment had passed. God turned his hand, and Jericho received instead blessing, for (by God's grace) her citizens turned to God. By his grace, they turned to him who alone can save from bitter waters of sin.

No, it was not just a renewed spring of fresh water that the citizens of Jericho received, like towns destroyed today in earthquakes might receive new wells from a relief agency. The people of Jericho receive clean water, and also God's effective and far-reaching mercy. They receive a mercy that powerfully cleanses the source of human misery and purifies the spring of every spiritual pain. In a time of spiritual famine, God gives the living waters of his love, that the people of Jericho might again turn to him, drink, and be satisfied.

And water is such a fitting image for God's mercy! In chapter 35, Isaiah describes the miracle of God?s mercy among the redeemed in this way, "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 can make the hot dry desert a place of refreshing pools, God can change deadly bitter springs into sources of life, God can turn stubborn sinners into saints, with the cool refreshment of his mercy!

Beloved, the sparkling, clear water of God's mercy is poured out also for us! In a way that the people of Jericho never knew, in a way that salt could never accomplish, God has now opened a new and unending source of mercy, in the blood of Jesus Christ. He is living water for our thirsty souls!

This water of God's mercy will never run out for as long as we drink (though our spiritual thirst be so great), this water does not need anything added to it (though we might always try), this water will never become bitter by sitting untouched (though we often proudly ignore the wells of God's mercy).

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, dying of thirst: Drink, and you will be forever satisfied! 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 have been wary of the water bubbling from their cherished spring. Even after the deadly E Coli outbreak in Ontario a while ago was all cleared up, many people didn't trust the water that came from their kitchen taps. It's human nature to be suspicious of solutions, both costly ones and (especially) solutions easily gained. This is the very reaction of many unbelievers today to God's mercy: It's too easy; there has to be a catch; it cannot last.

But if God begins a work of mercy, He will never abandon it. The waters of Jericho were healed, and they stayed healed. "And the water has remained wholesome to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken" (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 frail servant of God. Elisha had delivered the word, but God had spoken it, "I have healed the water." God had healed it, and God had guaranteed it, "Never again will [this water] cause death or make the land unproductive."

Never again. Only God can say this, and also mean it. The writer of 2 Kings looks back on what God had promised, and sees indeed, that God's answer to Jericho's pain was no Band-Aid solution: "The water has remained wholesome to this day." Easy come, easy go? Not with God's mercy for sinners. It lasts to this day, and to the end of time.

Indeed, if we want a testimony to God's grace for his children, we can look at Jericho. As a pile of rubble without a wall left standing, Jericho reminded everyone of God's powerful fulfillment of promise. And as a rebuilt city with a spring forever-healed, Jericho reminded everyone of God's pure and sparkling mercy for sinners.

And God's lasting mercy has not changed. Rather, it flows even more freely and more abundantly in Jesus Christ. In him we have even a greater testimony to God's grace for his children! In him we know that God always fulfills his promises! In him we know that God always pours out pure and sparkling mercy for sinners!

Beloved, in our spiritual thirst, even as we seem to be wasting away in sin and suffering its deadly effects, let us gather where water is to be found. Let us gather at the call 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." Let us gather around Christ, drink, 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 2005, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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