The Pleasant City: Chapter 5

2 Kings 2:19‑22  •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 7
What different lives people live! Where we are born determines many things about the life we will live. For instance, if we had been born in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, what a different life we should lead! We should become accustomed to a very short summer and to a long, cold winter. We should dwell for many months of the year in almost endless night and in intense cold; much of our food would come from the sea. It would not include the variety of fresh vegetables that many of us enjoy. Why would this be? Simply because Reykjavik happens to be situated on a cold, treeless island.
But let us visit in thought a place which I would call the pleasant city, pleasant on account of its situation. Every man of that city could say, and could say truly, “The situation of this city is pleasant.”
How then was it situated? It stood on a broad plain, crossed by an abundant river. Around the city grew groves of beautiful palm trees, which were so numerous and so famous that, even as early as the days of Moses, it had been named “The City of Palm Trees.”
As we enter the city we notice that it is well supplied with water. Not only does the rapid river flow only five miles away, but a stream of water runs close to the town itself, on its way to join the river.
We notice something else. It is not only the city of abundant water, but it is the city of sweet scents. The air is laden with perfume, for under the palm trees and in the gardens grow sweet-scented shrubs, and the air, especially in the evening when the dew is falling, is filled with their fragrance.
There is one very strange thing about this pleasantly situated city. It is as old as the days of Moses, and yet, when we walk down its streets in imagination in the time of Elisha, we see that it is an entirely new place; there is not a single old house to be seen. The town has evidently been just built, and it is quite fresh and modern in style.
The pleasant city, so pleasantly situated, is no other than Jericho, the walls of which had fallen down when the Israelites marched around them. For 500 years Jericho had lain desolate, for had not Joshua uttered a terrible denunciation on the man who should dare to rebuild it? But only a few years before Elisha visited it, a man of Bethel named Hiel had ventured to rebuild it. He had vainly hoped that God had forgotten His word, but he had found to his terrible cost and sorrow that God never forgets (Josh. 6:2626And Joshua adjured them at that time, saying, Cursed be the man before the Lord, that riseth up and buildeth this city Jericho: he shall lay the foundation thereof in his firstborn, and in his youngest son shall he set up the gates of it. (Joshua 6:26); 1 Kings 16:3434In his days did Hiel the Beth-elite build Jericho: he laid the foundation thereof in Abiram his firstborn, and set up the gates thereof in his youngest son Segub, according to the word of the Lord, which he spake by Joshua the son of Nun. (1 Kings 16:34)).
Jericho was a grand, flourishing town in Elisha’s day. There stood the great college for training young men to be teachers; there lived also a daily increasing population, who chose Jericho as their place of residence because the situation of it was pleasant.
Yet the city had a drawback, a very serious one. Let us stand by the gate of the city very early in the morning. The daylight has not yet broken on the plain, though there is light on the blue hills of Moab. At the gate we see an enormous crowd of donkeys and mules. On their backs are slung numbers of goatskin bottles, and by them are standing a large party of donkey-drivers and mule-drivers.
Where are they going at this early hour of the morning? They are going where they go every morning of their lives, down to the Jordan River, that rushing, muddy river which tears across the plain just five miles from the city.
Why do they make this daily pilgrimage to the river? In order that they may fill those numerous skins with water so that, by this means, they may supply the whole city of Jericho with water. They start early, because it will be too hot to go when the sun is high in the cloudless heavens, and their journey is of the utmost importance, for, until they have traveled five miles there and five miles back again, the people of the pleasant city cannot have fresh water for the new day.
We must live in the East in order to know the value of water. In the West we turn on the tap and draw as much as we please; there every drop is precious. We can picture to ourselves the care which the people of Jericho would take of that precious water, when the donkeys returned with it from the Jordan.
The water, which has required so much labor to bring it to the city, must on no account be wasted. The children of Jericho are not allowed to spill a drop of it; it is carefully measured out, and as little as possible is used. Still, even with the greatest care, the supply sometimes falls short, and no more water can be obtained until the next day, when the donkeys and mules once more return from the river.
But those who have been to Jericho tell us that close to the city, at the very gates, is an abundant spring; there it comes, bubbling, rushing out of the rock; there it flows in all its coolness, an inexhaustible fountain. This stream is named “Ein Sultan,” and it flows on unceasingly year-round. Was this spring not there in Elisha’s time? Undoubtedly it was, and it was as full of water 3000 years ago, when the prophet stood on its bank, as it is today.
Why, then, did the people of Jericho pass by an abundant stream of clear spring water, running close to their very doors, and toil, day after day, no less than ten miles over the hot plain, in order to bring into the city a supply of the muddy water of the Jordan?
Let us stop one of the mule-drivers and ask him why he does not fill his leathern bottles at the spring, thereby saving himself the labor of his long, tiring journey.
He will tell us that the water of the stream is utterly useless; it is bad and unwholesome; the goats and the cattle that stray to its side are made ill by it, if they attempt to drink it; even the plants that spring up on its banks lose their fertility and die. The people of Jericho dare not touch a drop of it.
But a visitor is staying in Jericho. Elisha, the new prophet, is there — Elisha, who has already been wondrously owned of God and who undoubtedly possesses the miraculous power granted to his predecessor, the great Elijah.
They will tell Elisha their trouble. They will not ask for help; they will merely state their difficulty. Surely he will be touched at once by their tale, and will, if possible, bring them relief. So some of the chief men in the town come to him and tell him what has been for so long a trouble and a discomfort to them. They say to Elisha, “Behold, I pray thee, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord seeth: but the water is naught, and the ground barren.”
Elisha listens to their complaint, and then he sends for a new earthenware bottle. This he orders to be filled with salt from the Dead Sea, which is nearby. Then, taking the bottle of salt in his hand, he leaves the house. Amazed and wondering, the citizens of Jericho follow him. He passes through the city gate and proceeds to the source of the poisonous stream. When he reaches the place where it comes bubbling up out of the ground, he stops. He pours the salt from the bottle into his hand, and then strews it upon the spring. As he does so, he solemnly pronounces the words of healing: “Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land.”
The stream by which Elisha the prophet and the wondering company of Jericho citizens stood that day is still running. All around it is a barren wilderness, but as you cross the dreary plain, you suddenly come upon this spring, bursting out of the rock, forming a large pool, and then flowing out in three streams of the purest spring water. The banks of these streams are lovely to look upon, for they are thick with oleander, bamboo and lemon trees. The whole place is a beautiful picture of the most luxuriant tropical vegetation, a lovely oasis in the midst of a desert. Such is the spring today, “Elisha’s Spring,” as it is still called.
And in that spring we have a picture, a double picture. We can see in it, if we will look, a very good representation of a great many people’s lives.
The lives of some are like that stream before Elisha visited it: going on through this world of sin and sorrow and misery, and yet doing no good to anyone, carrying misery and spiritual barrenness wherever they go. They are living for self, and they have no care for those around them; they bring unpleasantness and not comfort into the hearts of others. Their example is evil and not good; their influence is on the side of this present evil world, with all its sinful and God-forgetting ways.
But the lives of others are strangely and wonderfully different. They resemble Elisha’s stream, not as it was in the days of its barrenness, but as it was after the prophet visited it. They are like Elisha’s stream at the present day. They carry joy and comfort and refreshment wherever they go. They are a blessing to everyone. They cheer all within their reach. They bring ease to the weary, encourage the weak-hearted, and visit the lonely. Wherever they go, they are a quiet power for good, a source of goodness and joy, a lovely stream causing an oasis in the desert life around them.
Let us ask ourselves, Which life is mine? Am I like the stream as it was in its barren days, a useless one in God’s world, bringing no joy or gladness to those around me, the aid of spiritual life and fruitfulness to no one, or am I like the lovely, beautiful stream — a helper of many, a blessing in the world? Thank God that just as the Jericho stream by the power of God was changed in its nature, so can our lives be changed.
Elisha gives us the recipe for changing a useless, harmful life into a useful and blessed one. It is the same recipe which the Master gives us in Mark 9:5050Salt is good: but if the salt have lost his saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace one with another. (Mark 9:50), where He bids us, “Have salt in yourselves.” The salt, put upon the waters of Elisha’s spring, entirely changed its character, and the purifying grace of God can change my life from being an empty, frivolous, useless, mischievous life to being one which will be a blessing to all around me, because of its utter unselfishness.
But one thing we must carefully notice, and that is the place in which Elisha put the salt upon the water. He did not cast it on the waters of the stream half a mile or a mile from the spring. He was careful to go to the source and to cast it on the water at the very spot from which it came bubbling out of the rock. So the Lord would have me learn that if my life is to be different, my heart must be different. If I am to live a changed life, it must be because the source, my innermost heart, has first been changed by the grace of God.
Is not this a lesson that we often forget? Do we not too often overlook the fact that reformation is useless without conversion, that the life cannot be right unless the heart is right, and that therefore a changed heart must always be the source of a changed life? We often sing,
Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee.
But, before we can offer that prayer, we must first, as Jesus says, “be born again” to receive a new life and heart.
A young girl, just on the verge of womanhood, was asked by a friend, “What are you going to do with your life?” She didn’t answer, but the words gripped her. As she walked home, as she sat at her work and as she lay on her bed, she repeated the question to herself: What am I going to do with my life? I am doing nothing with it at present. I have no definite aim or object in it. Day by day passes away, and I pass the time as well as I can. I have no particular object in view, no special purpose to which my life is devoted. Yet God has given me this life for a certain reason, to be used for Him. I have no right, then, to waste it or to fritter it away.
What am I going to do with my life? She decided in her heart, I will give it to God to be used as He shall please.
What are you and I doing with our lives? Is my life like Jericho when Elisha visited it — very pleasant? Can I say, “The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage”? Yet, alas! In spite of all God’s love and wonderful kindness to me, “The water is naught, and the ground barren.” I am doing nothing for Him.
Is that the cry of my heart? Then I will do as the people of Jericho did. They went and told Elisha. He must have known it before, for he had been some days in their city, and he must surely have seen the water brought up from the Jordan. But the water would never have been healed had they not gone to Elisha and told him about it.
And if I would have my life different, I must go and tell Jesus. Elisha, as we have seen, was the type of the tender, loving Saviour. I will go to Him today. I will lay it before Him. “Lord, the lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places, but I am doing nothing for Thee; my life is not what it ought to be.” And even today I shall hear Him pronounce the blessed words of healing: “Thus saith the Lord, I have healed these waters; there shall not be from thence any more death or barren land.”