Devotion 4 in the series All In: A Study of Elisha: 2 Kings 2:15-25

Obedience or Rebellion: Which Will It Be?

Obedience or Rebellion_open hand holding coarse salt, some salt spilling out onto sand below

Today’s passage is a hard one to stomach. Stick with me on it. God’s intent is always fruitful, and the takeaways will be worth your perseverance.

Elijah had just been taken up to heaven in a whirlwind. Elisha had struck the Jordan River with Elijah’s cloak, and God had proven He was with Elisha by parting the waters. Elisha walked across and met up with a group of prophets.

2 Kings 2:15-25 (ESV)

Elisha Succeeds Elijah

15 Now when the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho saw him opposite them, they said, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” And they came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. 16 And they said to him, “Behold now, there are with your servants fifty strong men. Please let them go and seek your master. It may be that the Spirit of the LORD has caught him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley.” And he said, “You shall not send.” 17 But when they urged him till he was ashamed, he said, “Send.” They sent therefore fifty men. And for three days they sought him [Elijah] but did not find him. 18 And they came back to him [Elisha] while he was staying at Jericho, and he said to them, “Did I not say to you, ‘Do not go’?”

19 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.” 20 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.

23 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.

Digging into God’s Word

I must admit to you that after the account of Elijah being taken to heaven, I really wanted to skip to chapter 3. We could then ignore the account of the bears killing the boys. It stuck in my head, though, and I decided if it is in God’s Word, there’s a reason God put it there, and we should cover it.

Wouldn’t you know it, the day I came to that decision, God inserted into my day all sorts of godly words about the importance of obedience. Early in the morning, I watched a message by a famous minister, and his theme was obedience. I drove four hours to attend the send-off for my cousin into the mission field and “happened” to hear a sermon on the obedience of helping orphans and widows. I listened with great interest, shaking my head a bit at God’s timing, to my cousin’s testimony of how her trek was truly one of obedience. Walking in the center of God’s will had brought her pure joy. On the way home, I turned on the radio to keep myself awake, and there it was again: scripture after scripture on the blessing and peace that obedience brings. So, deep breaths, here we go.

Let’s look more closely at the two accounts in this passage:

In the first, Elisha purified the water of Jericho. Long after the battle of Jericho, the city had been rebuilt under the horrendously evil King Ahab. See 1 Kings 16:29-34, and you’ll learn about the defiant rebuilding of Jericho and get a sense of the consequences of losing complete touch with God’s Word. This had been predicted several hundred years earlier in Joshua 6:26:

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.”

One has to wonder if part of that curse included tainted water. The Bible doesn’t say that, so please take that with a grain of salt (oh my, I just caught the pun).

What we do know is that through Elisha, God removed the sickness from the water and made it pure. Jericho then survived as a city, is mentioned several times in the New Testament, and, in fact, remains a city with around 18,000 residents today.

Notice the total cleansing of the water:

“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. (2 Kings 2:21-22)

Are you feeling weighed down by the wrongs in your life? Catch the implication: Just as God completely healed the water of the city of Jericho, so He completely healed us of the eternal consequence of our sins through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Let that soothe your weary heart.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

So it is a bit jarring to read the second account, in which some young boys are killed for ridiculing Elisha. Let’s examine that account:

“Small boys” is not viewed by many as an accurate translation. Other translations are “young lads,” “young men,” and “youths.” When the same Hebrew expression is used elsewhere in the Bible in instances in which the age is specified, it refers to men from the ages of 12 to 30. Interestingly, many scholars believe Elisha fell in this same age group.

OK, that helps a little, but, still, 42 people were killed!

Yes, it is true. The group must have been quite large, as it is clear 42 was not their total number. Notice that their ridicule was planned and not light or harmless: They came out of the city to meet Elisha. They made fun of him using an expression of their day (“you baldhead”) and taunting him to go up to heaven just as Elijah had. There is speculation that these were Baal worshipers from a nearby town known for its cult of Baal followers. We don’t know that for sure, but we do know that it was common knowledge that Elisha was Elijah’s successor. It was common knowledge that Elijah had been a spokesperson for God. In truth, these young men were ridiculing God.

God took the intent and depth of their ridicule seriously.

It is time to examine our own hearts. Are there ways in which we do not follow the Lord fully? Do we feel nudges from the Holy Spirit and not follow through on them? Do we chuckle when we hear a joke that derides Jesus or his earthly ministers?

Charles Stanley said,

Obedience is doing what God says, how He says to do it, and when He says to do it. Anything short of that is disobedience. (in “Obedience in the Life of the Believer,” recorded 8/21/16)

Not one of us has lived a perfect life, and not one of us will live a perfect life going forward, but there is a point at which repeated disobedience leads to death–literal, physical death, as in this passage, or death of a part of who God created you to be.

If you find this speaking to you today, might I remind you of how willingly God granted healing when the people of Jericho asked Elisha to purify the water? Remember the first account! At any point up to permanent out-and-out rejection of Jesus as Savior, God opens His hand and offers healing. Take His hand! Take it.

Digging Deeper

You will never regret making time for God. As you are able, spend time with God, reflecting on these questions or journaling your thoughts.

  1. Confession is good for the soul. Ask God to show you where you are not being fully obedient, and ask Him to help you take steps in the right direction. Go to this link for a devotion on confession.
  2. Truth be told, if I had this devotion to write over again, I would focus it on rebellion. Long-term disobedience can lead to outright rebellion against God, and both accounts we looked at today have underpinnings of rebellion. Take time to examine your heart and ask God if there is any hint of rebellion in any area of your life. Oh, please go on to point 3!
  3. God’s healing is complete and for every one of us. Claim the promise of 1 John 1:9 for yourself: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Thank God for His free gift of complete cleansing!
  4. Meditate on Psalm 1. Consider praying through the psalm, asking God to help you be like the person described.

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