Wednesday, September 14, 2022

2022.09.14 Hopewell @Home ▫ 2 Kings 2:19–25

Read 2 Kings 2:19–25

Questions from the Scripture text: Who spoke to whom in Jericho (2 Kings 2:19)? What do they say about the city? But what is the problem? For what does Elisha ask (2 Kings 2:20)? Where does he go (2 Kings 2:21)? What does he do? In Whose behalf does he speak? What has He done? What is the condition of the water at time of writing (2 Kings 2:22)? According to what? Then where does he go (2 Kings 2:23)? Who come from where? What do they do? What do they say? What three things does Elisha do in 2 Kings 2:24? In Whose Name does he do the third thing? What come out of the woods? What do they do? To how many? Then where does he go (2 Kings 2:25)? And then where? 

How should we interact God’s Word, especially as represented in God’s servants? 2 Kings 2:19–25 looks forward to the first serial reading in morning public worship on the coming Lord’s Day. In these seven verses of Holy Scripture, the Holy Spirit teaches us that since our interaction with God’s Word is a life-and-death issue, it is profoundly important that we respect those servants whom God sends with that Word. 

A tale of two cities—two attitudes toward God’s Word and God’s man. 

Be like Jericho. That might pass as a trite sermon title, but it is very good advice from our brief passage. This is a tale of two cities—one that is suffering miscarriages, and one that is full of children. But when the passage concludes, Jericho is now fertile, and Bethel is bereft. The hinge upon which the fortunes of the two cities turn is their attitude toward God’s Word, as displayed in their attitude toward God’s man whom He has sent them. 

Jericho is an odd case. They are like the son who said that he wouldn’t go at first, but later he comes around. The school of prophets at Jericho had recognized that Elisha bore the spirit of Elijah (2 Kings 2:15), but they didn’t trust his wisdom (2 Kings 2:16-17). But then we go from Elisha being embarrassed to say “no” in 2 Kings 2:17 to the men of Jericho embarrassed as Elisha says “I told you so” in 2 Kings 2:18. But what a blessed “I told you so” if God uses it to give Elisha honor in their eyes.

God’s Word is powerful to heal the humble and receptive.

We find out, in 2 Kings 2:19, why the men of the city were so desperate for Elijah. “The water is bad, and the earth miscarries.” An unusual phrase to use with crops, the latter probably has to do more with human babies and perhaps livestock babies. “Location, location, location” can only go so far, if the water and earth at the location are killing you. 

Elisha performs a prophetic action with a bowl and salt, but the text makes clear that it is not the action that is the main idea but the Word of Yahweh: “thus says Yahweh” (2 Kings 2:21) and “according to the word of Elisha which he spoke” (2 Kings 2:22). 

God’s Word is what is invincible, but His Word is invisible. So, the Lord often attaches something visible to His Word to direct us to it. If we get hung up on the bowl and the salt, we will miss that the main thing is Yahweh’s Word in the servant’s mouth. The servant himself is not the Word, but in a similar way to the bowl and salt, he represents God’s Word to them—not as illustration so much as mechanism, an ambassador for God. The word “please” in 2 Kings 2:19 is just two characters long in the Hebrew, but it was a harbinger of good things, as it indicated the city’s humble, appreciative posture toward God’s Word in the mouth of God’s servant.

God’s Word is powerful in wrath against the despising and resistant.

Things are not so in Bethel, to which God’s servant never actually fully arrives. Probably, if Elisha had made it all the way into town, the school of prophets there (cf. 2 Kings 2:3), and the other adult town-folk would have treated him respectfully. However, youths tend to have more mobility and time on their hands. The original says not just “lads” but “young lads”—probably in the 10–12-year-old range. And the way that Elijah and Elisha have been thought of in the homes of the town now comes out—literally—in the youths of the town.

More comfortable than Jericho in their current circumstances, if Bethelites cannot have Elijah then they are not particularly interested in the ministry of Elisha. At least, that’s what their children seem to have picked up. For, they come out of the city in 2 Kings 2:23 and start mocking him. As children are wont to do, they pick on his appearance (“you baldhead”), and let him know that if he was taken to heaven too, they would be fine with that (“Go up! Go up!”).

We don’t know exactly why Bethel was so opposed to Elisha (and probably to Elijah before him), but we can guess that being the host city of one of Jeroboam’s two golden calves, they were not too keen on any preaching about the purification of worship from man-made ideas. After all, the religious tourism industry was very good for the local economy. A golden bull in Yahweh’s Name could easily be adapted to use for Baalism (which included bull worship), and vice-versa as times required.

But there are enough other sins that God’s preached Word would have made them uncomfortable in, so that we aren’t quite sure which led to the despising of Elisha. What we are sure of is that the Word of Yahweh in His mouth in 2 Kings 2:24 was as powerful against their hard hearts as it had been powerful for the humbler hearts in Jericho. 

Our attitudes toward God’s Word deeply (and can devastatingly) affect the impressionable around us.

The prophet denounces (more literal than NKJV “curse”) the children in Yahweh’s Name, and Yahweh Himself shows that the townspeople’s view of His worship and His Word has been counted as “hating Me” in the sense of Exodus 20:5. The sins in the fathers’ mouths have been visited into the hearts and mouths of their children, and now God visits them with an outbreaking of the judgment that deserves. 

Jericho had gone from an epidemic of miscarriages to sustained fertility. But the baby-boom of Bethel receives a crushing blow. Forty-two suppers went uneaten that evening. Forty-two little graves were dug. Forty-two little beds went unslept in. Forty-two of the saddest funerals took place the next day. 

O how important it is that when the Word and its appropriate applications rub us the wrong way, we be soft-hearted and ready to make changes! O how important it is to have one of God’s faithful servants as our preacher—and if we do, that we labor to maintain affection and respect for the person and the preaching as literal God-sends. If we do so only superficially, our children may pick up more on what’s in our hearts than we think is actually showing. And if we fail to rebuke those older youths who often become sophomoric critics as they enter adulthood, their critical attitude may do mortal damage to the younger youths upon whom they rub off!

Sometimes, to a faithful preachers’ grief, someone develops a personal conflict, relational distance, or some other reason for not loving his person. This is a grief not only for the Christian affection that is lost, but especially because it does so much harm to the hearer, who unwittingly dulls and then hardens his heart against the Word preached. More horrifically, children often pick up (from a parent or an older sibling) on the attitude toward the preacher, develop it more intensely, and follow through more fully, and end up destroyed in this world and the next.

Of course, when we have a faithful servant today, we have an advantage to help our hearts: it is Jesus, our ascended Mediator, Who uses him to speak to us. Affection to God is now bound up not just in the Word sent by servants, but the Word made flesh: Jesus, Who dwelt among us. Jesus, Who died for us. Jesus, Who rose again. Jesus, Who ascended. Jesus, Who is enthroned. And Jesus, Whose blood speaks for us in heaven, and Who speaks His Word to us from heaven. What a help it is, when we are tempted to think or speak of a faithful preacher in a Bethelite way, to be able to shape our honoring of the man on earth by our affections for the God-Man Who sits in heaven as our Redeemer!

What are the various ways that you have the Word of God? In which of these ways does the Scripture tell us that Jesus addresses us from heaven (cf. Hebrews 12:22–25)? Whom does He use for this in your life? What is your attitude toward this and toward His servant? Upon whom might your attitude be rubbing off?

Sample prayer:  Lord, thank You for giving us Your Word in the Scriptures that You cased to be written for us, and especially in Your Son, our Lord Jesus. Thank You for appointing and using faithful preachers as servants. Forgive us for when we don’t honor Your servants by affection for their person and receptivity toward their preaching. Forgive us when we sin more greatly by being dull and hard toward the Scriptures themsleves. Forgive us when we sin most greatly by failing to appreciate that Your Son is our great Prophet in His church. Before we and our children are destroyed, grant that we would love to hear His Word preached, and keep His and Your servants faithful to the Scriptures, so that indeed it would be Your Word that is preached, we ask in His Name, even Jesus Christ, AMEN!

Suggested songs: ARP119W “Lord, Let My Cry before You Come” or TPH173 “Almighty God, Your Word Is Cast”

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