The people of the city said to Elisha, “Look, our lord, this town is well situated, as you can see, but the water is bad and the land is unproductive.” “Bring me a new bowl,” he said, “and put salt in it.” So they brought it to him. Then he went out to the spring and threw the salt into it, saying, “This is what the Lord says: ‘I have healed this water. Never again will it cause death or make the land unproductive.’ ” And the water has remained pure to this day, according to the word Elisha had spoken. – 2 Kings 2:19-22
Here in the beginning of 2 Kings Elisha has taken the baton from Elijah as God’s representative to the Israelites. Elisha gets right to work in this passage treating bad water to make it good. The scene is a “town” with a great location but bad water and unproductive land. This sounds like a place with salty water to me. Salt in water makes it both undrinkable and useless for irrigating crops that require water that is salt free.
Elisha asks for a new bowl into which he places salt to treat the water and then gives God the credit for “healing the water”. In Genesis 30:37-43 Jacob used branches of wood in watering troughs for selective breeding, then in Exodus Moses was instructed by God to use a piece of wood to make bitter water sweet. I cannot remember water being described as being “healed”. Perhaps God is trying to make it clear that the healing of the water, and the Israelites, comes from God and God alone.
Interestingly Elisha adds salt the spring to “heal” the water. This does not make much sense if the original problem was water that was too salty to drink or raise crops. Now if there was another problem with the water, for example bacterial contamination or perhaps metals in the water that were making it toxic to plants and crops adding certain chemicals could actually make it drinkable. Perhaps this was simply a relational miracle between God, Elisha, and the people.
This passage holds personal interest for me as I have invested the last several years of my life researching and learning about water treatment for my work in Haiti. It is interesting that the second thing that Elisha did as the new prophet of God was to treat bad water. In doing so he made an otherwise “well situated” town a livable place by giving it good water. I guess in a way that is what he is trying to do for the Israelites. He is trying to make the Promised Land livable by making sure the Israelites have the living water, God, rather than the poisonous substitute idols that have contaminated the countryside and the Israelite’s souls.
Prayer: God You are the great healer. Heal our souls from the contamination caused by the idols in our lives.