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 (Manna 10)
A New Bowl of Salt
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A New Bowl of Salt

A passage in the Bible tells how Elisha treated bad water with a bowl of salt:

             “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.’ He said, ‘Bring me a new bowl, and put salt in it.’ So they brought it to him. Then he went out to the spring of water and threw salt in it, and said, ‘Thus says the Lord, I have made this water wholesome; henceforth neither death nor miscarriage shall come from it.’ So the water has been wholesome to this day, according to the word which Elisha spoke.” (2 Kgs 2:19-22)

The land of Canaan was, in the beginning, a land of hills and valleys, nurtured by rains from heaven. It was a land flowing with milk and honey, a land of abundance and prosperity. God wanted his people to dwell in Canaan, to love Him and follow His commandments. If they would do so, their days would be prolonged and they would receive material and spiritual blessings from the Lord (Deut 11:9-17; 30:15-20). The chosen people were not alone in the Promised Land, however. There dwelt also seven Gentile tribes who worshipped pagan gods and practised evil. They often lured the Israelites into iniquity, and were a severe test of the Jewish nation’s faith.

The nature and location of the city of Jericho is also significant. Jericho was a great center of commerce, due to its geographical proximity to the Transjordan, or “outside” world. As such, it was a magnificent, prosperous city, with caravans coming to and fro carrying traders and goods from far-off lands. Metaphorically, Jericho’s bad water and its treatment hold much spiritual meaning.

After the people of Israel conquered Jericho through the mighty power of God, they took an oath declaring that they would not relay the foundations of the city. The Lord further placed a curse on anyone who dared to do so (Josh 6:1-21, 26). The city was seen as a place to be abhorred. This portrayal of the city is continued in the New Testament as well. In the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a man was nearly beaten to death on his way from the HolyCity down to Jericho. From a spiritual standpoint, Jerusalem may be taken to represent the church, and the journey down to Jericho as a decline in faith. Furthermore, the robbers can be seen as the evil one. Jericho is thus a symbol for wickedness and the corrupt world (Jas  4:4-5; 1 Jn 2:15).

Although Jericho seemed a pleasant land, its appearance may be likened to the prosperous cities of Sodom, Babylon, and other worldly cities that mislead people into seeking temporary pleasures and gains. Jericho was, in the eyes of God, full of sin and evil (Gen 13:10-13; Mt 4:8-9; Rev 18:1-3, 7, 12, 13, 16). The comment that the situation of the land seemed pleasant can also be linked to the spirituality of the people there, “a form of godliness in outward appearance only and without any real substance” (2 Tim 3:5), similar to the “white-washed tombs” to which Jesus likened the Pharisees. This is a very dangerous situation.

In the Promised Land, the children of God were able to reap in abundance and enjoy plentiful wine and oil (Deut 11: 14; 28:11). Christians today likewise enjoy the grace of God, and receive the living water of the Holy Spirit (Is 32:15; Jn 4:13-14; 3:34; 7:37-39; Eph 5:18). They receive abundant showers of blessing and the downpour of the Holy Spirit. In contrast to this, those who do not know the true God and who rebuild the foundations of Jericho, conforming to the world and indulging the flesh, will suffer “bad water” and famine, both physically and spiritually. Their life is full of sorrow, and they ultimately reap corruption and death (Rom 8:5-8; Gal 6:7-8; Jer 17:5-6; Heb 6:3-8; 10:38).

Just as Elisha and other prophets and disciples lived in the city of Jericho, so Christians live in the midst of this crooked world. It is not possible to physically live apart from the world, but it is possible to avoid conforming to it. A Christian must be resolved to transform the world through the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 10:4-5). Elisha’s method of treating the bad water is significant to a believer’s spiritual refinement and preaching. Three things in particular merit consideration - the salt, the new bowl, and the pouring of the salt into the spring.

Salt is often taken for granted and seen as a mundane port of life, but it possesses many good characteristics. It is used as a disinfectant, flavouring, seasoning, and other properties. In this disbelieving, perverse, and crooked generation (Mk 8:38), Jesus wants his disciples to be the salt of the earth (Mt 5:13). In order to do this, they must become gentle and humble like Him (Mt 11:29) and bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Cal 5:22-23). As the salt of the earth a Christian must season those around him with love and peace, and must love his brothers and sisters (Mk 9:50; Jn 15:12-17; Php 2:1-5; 1 Pet 3:8-9; Rom 12:10-16). The true believer must act with gentleness and with wisdom (Col 4:5-6). Like the four living creatures in Revelations who hod eyes facing in all directions, he must be able to know and discern between right and wrong, good and evil, truth and falsehood. With wisdom it is possible to understand God’s will (Eph 5:18) and rely on Him to lead the way to victory in Christ (2 Cor 2:14). As the salt of the world, the believer is able to facilitate peace between God and man and between man and man. This he does through the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18) and the gospel of peace (Eph 6:15). With God’s help, the spiritual salt extends the righteousness of God’s kingdom, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17), and transforms the toil and sorrow of mankind into joy and contentment (2 Cor 6:9-10; Php 4:13; Ex 15:22-25; Mk 4:35-41; Ac 16:22-34).

Elisha’s request for a new bowl to be filled with salt may be compared to Jesus’ teaching that new wine be contained in new wineskins. The truth that Jesus brought into the world strengthened the spirit and principles of the Mosaic Low (Rom 3:31). But the human traditions of the old Jewish law are incompatible with the spiritual principles of God’s kingdom. New wine must be contained in new wineskins. In the some way, outward actions must be matched by the inward faith, for the old, sinful self cannot inherit the new life in Christ (1 Car 15:50; 1 Pet 3:10-13).

The new bowl represents a Christ-like transformation (2 Cor 5:17; Cal 6:15). For it is God’s will to grant “a new heart” to His chosen ones so that they may keep His commandments and walk in His ways (Ezk 36:26; Jer 32:39). This spiritual transformation comes through the washing of regeneration, or baptism, and then through the washing of the Holy Spirit and through living each day according to the Word of God. Then, when a person is purified, he will be a worthy vessel of the Lord (2 Tim 2:21).

After Elisha received the salt in the bowl, he poured it into the spring, and henceforth the water became sweet and the land fruitful. This is a metaphor for the believers’ task today -  to transform spiritual land, or men’s souls. The first step to take is to become upright and holy himself, to be able to manage his own household (1 Cor 9:26-27; 1 Tim 3:3, 4, 13) and build up a good foundation in the Lord (Eph 6:14-18; 3:16-19) through faith, godliness, wisdom, and love. These are attributes that can be developed gradually through prayer and mediation on the Word. Through the power of God, a Christian will be able to live out his faith through his good deeds in his community, and in this way transform it.

Besides environmental transformation, a most important (ask for a believer is to transform his heart and the hearts of those around him, for this is the key to God’s blessing. The heart is often full of wickedness in this sinful age, and so the first step is to transform his own heart. In the same way as Elisha treated the spring, the believer must go forth and treat the source of wickedness in others -. the heart. Then, he will be able to lead unbelievers to God, who searches, tries, and refines the hearts of men (Jer 17:10; 1 Sam 16:7; Job 23:10). God’s Word can indeed cleanse a person’s heart (Ps 19:714; Eph 5:26; Rom 15:4), and the Holy Spirit can renew him and lead him to holiness (Tit 3:5; 2 Thess 2:13).

Just as the land of Jericho became fruitful, so can the souls of those who accept Christ. God’s children will enjoy His grace upon earth, and receive eternal inheritance in heaven.

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