Our song “Though Jericho Pleasantly Stood” is an artful and thought-provoking study on the miracle of “getting right with God.” This hymn is not nearly as well known as “Amazing Grace” but they resemble each other in depth of truth and heart. These are two of some 280 hymns penned by John Newton, an Englishman whose life God touched powerfully. In 1754 Newton gave up the slave trade (he was captain of a slave trade ship) and, in association with William Wilberforce, eventually became an ardent abolitionist. This is a “teaching” hymn — it recalls the Bible record of Elisha healing the waters of Jericho. Then it compares that healing to the healing all people need — and all receive — when they receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. It is a deep, rich song, yielding treasure to those who dig. Please give it a sing-along listen, then let’s chat.
Elisha and Jericho
“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.” (2 Kings 2:19-22)
For Jericho, the “situation of the city” was “pleasant” — but the land could not grow anything. Why? Scholars believe it was because many years before, Joshua had put a curse on Jericho and it was still affecting the land. (See the last verses of Joshua 6 and 1 Kings 16 for background.) Like Sodom and Gomorrah, Jericho had rejected God’s ways and blessings and instead embraced sin and idolatry. As a result Jericho had needed healing from the days of Joshua all the way up to the times of Elisha, when restoration was accomplished by God working through Elisha.
The goodness of God
Though Jericho had brought the evil on themselves, God was still willing to heal the waters and the land — thus blessing the people there and restoring fruitful life.
God empowered Elisha to heal Jericho’s waters and land — which illustrates a great truth about God’s character. Ezekiel and Peter spell this great truth out for us.
God told Ezekiel to tell Israel, “… As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die … ?”
Peter says, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”
God is willing to heal, repair and deliver people if they will change their direction and reach out to Him. That is His nature and character.
God has not changed.
Ephesians says, “be imitators of God as dear children”. Did God and Elisha know about the evil history of Jericho? Of course they did. Though the people of Jericho had invited harm to the land through sin and idolatry, God was willing to heal and restore.
Our song points out that we humans often think more highly than we ought to think about our own importance, brains and abilities — all which eventually come to nothing. But God knows us better than we know ourselves. He is able to see where each of us COULD be and pardon you and me — and others we might regard as enemies. God wants to bring all of us from death to life. Jesus Christ paid the price for EVERY person, and his invitation to life extends to all.
We imitate God when our hope, our prayers and our decrees for every person and every country is that every one would get saved and come to a knowledge of God and our wonderful Savior, Jesus Christ. We don’t ignore or embrace evil. We are instructed not to be ignorant of Satan’s devices. Satan would have us to be quick to condemn people and lands we don’t like instead of praying, speaking and working to see them go from darkness to light — as we ourselves did.
Elisha healed the waters by pouring in salt from a new vessel. Matthew tells us we are the salt of the earth, and 2 Corinthians tells us we are a new creation in Christ. The record of Elisha is literally true and also may be understood as an illustration of good we can do as able ministers who are members of the body of Christ.
God wants all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. Though Jericho pleasantly stood, it was unfruitful and barren — it needed healing. Let’s partner with the Lord and pray and believe that we — like Elisha — can be ones to bring healing and blessing — not cursing and condemnation — to people and lands that need it in our day and time. Let’s imitate God and Elisha.
We know from the story of “Amazing Grace” that John Newton greatly cherished God’s redemption and forgiveness. He had experienced how grand people could appear on the outside yet be so hopelessly desolate on the inside. How artfully and lovingly he teaches through this beautiful song about the miracle wrought by Elisha, healing and restoring a land that could not sustain its people — a land that was cursed by death in its water — even though Jericho pleasantly stood.
God bless you lots,
Though Jericho Pleasantly Stood
Text: John Newton (1779)
Tune: German folk song
1 Though Jericho pleasantly stood,
And looked like a promising soil;
The harvest produced little food,
To answer the husbandman’s toil:
The water some property had,
Which poisonous was to the ground;
The springs were corrupted and bad,
The streams spread a barrenness round.
2 But soon by the cruise and the salt,
Prepared by Elisha’s command,
The water was cured of its fault,
And so it enriched the land:
This healing is like the Lord’s grace
On fruitless dead sinners bestowed;
For man is in Jericho’s case,
‘Til cured by the mercy of God.
3 How noble a creature man seems!
What knowledge, invention, and skill!
How large and extensive his schemes!
How much can he do if he will!
Man’s zeal to be learned and wise,
Will yield to no limits or bars;
He measures the earth and the skies,
And steers his great ships by the stars.
4 Yet still man is barren of good;
In vain are his talents and art;
For sin has infected his blood,
And poisoned the streams of his heart:
The cockatrice eggs he can hatch,
Or, spider-like, cobwebs can weave;
What heartache and sadness to watch
And see man’s work hurt and deceive.
5 But grace, like the salt in the cruise,
When cast in the spring of the soul,
A wonderful change will produce,
Diffusing new life through the whole:
The wilderness blooms like a rose,
The heart which was vile and abhorred,
Now fruitful and beautiful grows,
The garden and joy of the Lord.
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Please add your insights on the ideas in this song and the notes. Thanks. – Dale R.
First posted March 30, 2022. Re-posted July 20, 2023 with updated lesson notes.