Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Dry Ground

continued from the prior post

Elijah lived shortly after Solomon died and the kingdom was split in two. He wore animal skins for clothes and lived alone in the desert, slept under trees, or in caves, that sort of thing. Tell me who was like Elijah in Jesus' day. John the Baptist? Yes, good. Elijah and John both may have been Nazirites like Samuel and Samson.

In Elijah's day the king was named Ahab; he had a pagan wife, and let the people worship Baal, the baby-eating false god that their pagan neighbors worshiped. We think we're too smart for that nowadays, but people still kill their babies. What's that called, killing babies before they are born? Abortion? Yes. So the LORD sent Elijah to speak to the king. What's your job if God speaks through you? A prophet. Yes. Elijah said said to Ahab, "As the LORD the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word."  If there would be no rain until the king and people got right with God, then there'd food? Right, a famine. Naturally everyone from the king on down would want to wring Elijah's neck like a chicken, so God said, "Depart from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself." That is, get out of Israel! By the way, this book I'm reading from is all about Israel's Kings, so its! Yes. 1st Kings,  there's a 2nd Kings too.

Elijah fled Israel and went to a pagan city called Zarephath. People there were starving too. "...and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks; and he called to her and said, "Bring me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink." And as she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, "Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand." And she said, "As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; and now, I am gathering a couple of sticks, that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die."

"And Elijah said to her, "Fear not; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make for yourself and your son." Now I'd've told Elijah to get lost, my child & I would eat first, but "...she went and did as Elijah said; and she, and he, and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD which he spoke by Elijah." Because she was generous, Elijah worked a miracle: they were able to eat for the next 3 years of drought.

Later on, the widow's son got very sick, "and his illness was so severe that there was no breath left in him." What's that mean? He died. Yes. And he said to her, "Give me your son." And he took him from her bosom, and carried him up into the upper chamber, where he lodged, and laid him upon his own bed. (Elijah was staying with them)  And he cried... "O LORD my God, let this child's soul come into him again." And...the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived." These miracles are extra special because they were done for pagans, when Chosen People were still starving. Why'd Elijah work these miracles? 'cause she was good to him? Yes, being charitable outweighed being pagan.

Tell me about the first miracle. Umm...he made a lot of food? Yes. Who else miraculously made a lot of food? Oh, Jesus!  Yes, he made pizza...ha, bread and fish! Oh yeah, you're right. And the next miracle, raising the widow's son from the dead? Jesus did that too!  Who'd he raise...y'all know this [on the board]...L-a-z...Lazarus!  Yes. Because of Jesus' miracles, some people wondered if he was...Elijah? Yes.

After 3 years God sent Elijah back to Samaria, Ahab's capital. What would you call someone who lived in Samaria? Umm...a Samarian? Close, a Samaritan, like in Jesus' parable...the Good Samaritan!  Yes, good. In Samaria, Elijah had a praying contest with 450 pagan priests who worshiped baby-eating Baal. They lost, and Elijah slit their throats in a creek. The people returned to the LORD, and the drought ended.

Now as Elijah grew old, God directed him to choose as his successor a young man named Elisha. Elijah "found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing, with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth."  The 12 oxen represent the 12 tribes, who descended from Israel's....12 sons. Yes. When you see 12 of anything in the Bible it refers to the nation of Israel united, not separated. So, how do you think Elijah showed that Elisha would be in charge? He laid hands on him!  Like Isaac and Jacob, great guess, but no! Another guess?  Put oil on him?  Another great guess, no again! Let's see, I need an Elisha volunteer, get up you're the volunteer. OK Elisha, what are you doing? Umm...farming? Oh, like planting little peas? You're plowing, bossing around a dozen huge oxen, show us that, grab some reins, be in charge, yeah, that's it. Now, "Elijah passed by him and threw his coat upon him." [I take off my coat and put it on Elisha's shoulders] Elijah shows that he's picking Elisha and also protecting him a bit, since Elisha's young and isn't a prophet yet. Elisha is Elijah's protégé, that's a French word for "protected one."

"And he left the oxen, and ran after Elijah, and said, "Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you." I'm impressed. I would have made excuses, but Elisha drops his old life right there, and follows Elijah. Who was it that dropped everything and followed Jesus? Peter? Yes. I bet Peter knew this story about Elisha and thought to himself, "Wow, I'm just like Elisha." And when Elijah left Earth, who'd he put in charge? Elisha. And when Jesus left? He put Peter in charge! Yes!

After Elisha learned the prophet business, it was time for him to take over from old Elijah. On the day that Elijah would leave Earth, they had to cross a famous river we haven't mentioned yet, where Jesus would later  be baptized...the Jordan river? Yes, good! As they traveled to the Jordan, Elijah told Elisha 3 times that he didn't have to make the journey. And 3 times Elisha said, "As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you." Tell me about the 3 times. It's a covenant! Yes, an oral contract- for what? For Elisha to be the next prophet? Yes.

Back when the Israelites were wandering in the desert, they had to cross the Jordan to enter Canaan, the Promised Land. But before that, what water did they cross to leave Egypt? The Red Sea? Yes, good; did they swim? No, Moses split the water so they could walk. Yes, Exodus says "the people of Israel walked on dry ground." And 40 years later when they got to the Jordan, they carried the Ark of the Covenant in front. When the Ark got to the river's edge, guess what happened. The water split? Yes, "And while all Israel were passing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan..." (Joshua 3:17)

When Elijah and Elisha arrived at the Jordan, "Elijah took his mantle, and rolled it up, and struck the water" like so [I do this with my coat] and...the water split! Yes: "the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground". Notice how each event is described in the same way, "crossing on...dry ground!"  Yes. This is how the Bible writers show events are related, by using the same words or similar phrasing. We'll see more of that this year.

Once they were on the far side, "behold, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven." Wow....did Elijah die? No, God took him to heaven. Yes. Quick now, remember Enoch for me. He went up to heaven, too. Yes, so here are at least two people who went straight to heaven without dying. Their body'n'souls...didn't separate! Right!  

But when Elijah whooshed up to heaven, his cloak came off. Elisha "took up the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan [I do so]. "Then he took the cloak of Elijah that had fallen from him, and...hit the water! [I do so] And...the water split and he walked over! On...dry ground!   Yes. "Now when the sons of the prophets who were on the other side at Jericho saw him, they said, "The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha." How did they know that? Elisha had the coat. Yes. Remember Moses' stick: was it magic? No. Right. It was just a physical medium of God's power, like Isaac's hands, or the Ark, or Elijah's...coat. Yes, which still worked on the water even after Elijah was gone, because Elisha had faith. If some pagan had come by and whacked the water all day with the cloak, he'd just get worn out from slinging a wet coat.

Y'all remind me about leprosy. It's a disease that eats up your body. Yes, your nose dies and falls off, your fingers & toes fall off, eventually you die. The Bible's full of lepers that no-one wants to be around. Everyone was scared to death of touching a leper. Well, when Elisha was older, he healed an important pagan leper. The story starts off like this: "Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was...a mighty man, but he was a leper."  Naaman is a general in Syria, a country that still exists next to Israel. He's got money, power, camels, iPods. But he's caught leprosy, his lips and ears are falling off, and his wife won't kiss him anymore. How about that, girls? Ewww! Uh-huh...y'all never disappoint me.

"But Naaman's wife had a slavegirl from Israel, who said the prophet Elisha could cure Naaman's leprosy." With nothing to lose, Naaman took a pile of money with him and traveled to Israel. "So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha." Hey, old man in the shack, get out here! Don't make me wait! But "Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, Go and wash in the Jordan river seven times.....and you will be clean." Naaman has a fit! He says, "I thought that he would surely come out to me, and wave his hand over the place, and cure me." Naaman wants some respect! Elisha should come out of his little hut and take care of business instead of handing out instructions to a general! Seven times!? And Naaman objects to having to bathe in that brown Jordan water: "The rivers of Damascus are better than all the waters of Israel. Could I not wash in them, and be clean?" So he turned and went away in a rage." This trip isn't working out....who does this Elisha think he is? Naaman's puffed up like a frog, he ain't doin' nuthin' stupid! I guess he'd rather be a leper. "But his servants said, "My father, if the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, wouldn't you do it? All the more now, since he said to you, 'Wash and be clean,' you should do as he said." Alright! Alright already! "So Naaman went down and immersed himself into the Jordan seven times."

"So what do you think happened? He wasn't a leper anymore! That's right! "His flesh became again like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean." So Naaman got himself some humility, did as he was told (everyone hates to do as they're told) and his disease was miraculously washed away by the water. So what does this remind you of? Baptism? Yes, it foreshadows Baptism. Baptism is the Greek word for "immerse" in the sense of washing.

Trick question #1: Suppose Naaman decided the water was just a symbol, and instead of getting in the muddy water, he just stood beside the river and went through the motions of washing [I do so], would that have worked? Ha! No! Why not? He had to use the water! Yes. The water was part of the miracle. The water wasn't just a symbol. God worked through the water. It was the medium.

Trick question #2: Naaman's leprosy was washed away; were Naaman's sins washed away? Ummm, no? No, they weren't. Jesus hadn't been born yet, so there were no Sacraments. No spiritual cleansing for Naaman. By the way, what river did Naaman immerse, or baptize, himself in? The Jordan. Yeah. Remember the guy named John who baptized people, what's he called? Ha, John the Baptist! Yes, what river did he baptize in? The same one, the Jordan! Yes...imagine that. Also remember that Naaman was a pagan, but he was still healed because he believed enough to obey Elisha.

Years passed, and Elisha worked other miracles we aren't going to cover in class. "So Elisha died, and they buried him. Now bands of Moabites used to invade the land in the spring of the year." Moabites are just another bunch of pagan troublemakers. "And as a man was being buried, lo, a marauding band was seen and the man was cast into the grave of Elisha"  I imagine the men who were burying him panicked and just threw him into the grave. "and as soon as the man touched the bones of Elisha, he revived, and stood on his feet." (2Kings 13)  Now look at this bone; [I have a chicken thighbone] pretend it's one of Elisha's bones. Is it magic? No. What is it? A thing like Moses' stick. Yes and...the coat? Yes, Elijah's coat. A medium. Trick question: if Elisha's dead, why do his bones still work miracles? 'Cause God makes the miracle, not Elisha? Yes. God worked through Elisha both alive and dead. Have y'all ever heard of relics [on the board]? No? They're bones or bodies or clothes of saints that Catholics honor. Where are the saints? In heaven? Yes, but their bodies are...buried? Yes, they're still on Earth, but we still have reverence for their bodies or clothes the way we would have reverence for Elisha's miracle-working bones or Elijah's cloak.

OK, that's it for Elisha; next week we'll cover Isaiah, who had a lot to say about Christmas.

Class over!