Then the men of the city said to Elisha, “Behold now, the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord sees; but the water is bad and the land is unfruitful.”

He said, “Bring me a new jar, and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him.

He went out to the spring of water and threw salt in it and said, “Thus says the LORD, ‘I have purified these waters; there shall not be from there death or unfruitfulness any longer.’ ”

So the waters have been purified to this day, according to the word of Elisha which he spoke. Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up by the way, young lads came out from the city and mocked him and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead; go up, you baldhead!”

When he looked behind him and saw them, he cursed them in the name of the LORD. Then two female bears came out of the woods and tore up forty-two lads of their number. He went from there to Mount Carmel, and from there he returned to Samaria. 2 Kings 2:19-22)

There is always something to complain about. The sun is shining, but the crops are withering. It’s raining, but the picnic is spoiled. Elisha had became the chief prophet in Israel after Elijah had gone to heaven in a chariot. People came to him with their problems and questions, seeking answers from God. One day he visited a city where conditions were good—but they pointed out that their water supply was bad, rendering their land unproductive. Elisha responded by asking them to bring him a new jar filled with salt.

Why salt? Is salt a way to fix a bad spring? Was Elisha a chemist who realized that the spring of water was missing a certain ingredient? No. He told the people that it is God who purified the waters. God fixed the problem. The salt was symbolic, a picture to make it clear that something had happened, that God had intervened. Salt was used for preserving meat and adding flavor to what otherwise might be unpalatable. It was a symbol of purification. All grain offerings were required to have salt in them (Leviticus 2:13). A covenant of salt (Numbers 18:19) was an indissoluble covenant. Thus, the salt also signified that the water of the spring would remain good from that day forward. They needn’t fear that if they planted crops that the water wouldn’t be there for them.

Later, set upon by a mob cursing and mocking him, Elisha asked God to curse them. So God did: forty two youths in the mob were attacked by bears. God protects his people; they have no reason to be afraid. It is only their enemies who should be afraid. Was the city’s bad water or the insulting youths major problems? Probably not. God solves the problems, not because of their size, but simply because they are ours. That’s how much we matter to God.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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