Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 66. Two More Miracles

Prophets And Kings
Day 66
Two More Miracles

Today the prophet Elisha performs two more miracles.

2 KINGS 4:38-44
After raising the Shunammite woman's son back to life, "Elisha turned to Gilgal and there was famine in that region." (2 Kings 4:38a) Elisha had previously been at Gilgal with Elijah, before Elijah was taken to heaven. There was a company of prophets there and it seemed like Elijah was in the habit of making a circuit through the nation to visit all the prophets. Elisha may be performing the same type of ministry.

"While the company of the prophets was meeting with him, he said to his servant, 'Put on the large pot and cook some stew for these prophets." (2 Kings 4:38b) Gehazi is put to work cooking dinner while Elijah encourages the prophets and strengthens them in the faith.

Due to the famine, there's little food to be had. "One of them went out into the fields to gather herbs and found a wild vine and picked as many of its gourds as his garment could hold. When he returned, he cut them up into the pot of stew, though no one knew what they were." (2 Kings 4:39) Gehazi is performing the duties of head chef, getting the stew stock going, adding in the seasonings, and he sends someone else to gather whatever can be found to add to the pot. I feel kind of sorry for this other servant. He was probably pleased and proud to find a patch of gourds. Gathering up all he could carry, he brought them back to the settlement, and I bet the prophets were happy to see the gourds too. Nobody knew what they were but they decided to eat them anyway because they were so hungry.

It turns out there was a good reason nobody had already harvested the gourd patch. "The stew was poured out for the men, but as they began to eat it, they cried out, 'Man of God, there is death in the pot!' And they could not eat it." (2 Kings 4:40) In my background study I found several commentators who suggested this gourd is a type of wild cucumber known as colocynth or coloquintida. It had a very bitter taste and as soon as the men sampled the stew they knew something was wrong. It did have some value in very small doses. When dried to a powder it could be used to induce vomiting. We have similar drugs today that can be used, for example, if a child has gotten into someone's medicine and needs to vomit pills back up. When I was in kindergarten in 1975 my teacher made her own concoction of salt water to induce vomiting in a child who brought a bottle of aspirins from home and took all of them. I never knew why the little girl did this. It wasn't a suicide attempt; she informed the teacher right away after taking the pills. But the glass of salt water made all the big white chalky pills come right up. There are times when we need something to make us vomit but in today's passage there are so many gourds in the stew that it's deadly. 

This puts them in an awful predicament. There's a famine on, There's hardly any food to be found and they've been reduced to scavenging through the fields and woods for roots and herbs just to keep from starving. Now the good ingredients in the stew are ruined by the gourds. There's nothing to eat. Elisha said, 'Get some flour.' He put it into the pot and said, 'Serve it to the people to eat.' And there was nothing harmful in the pot." (2 Kings 4:41) Elisha is in the habit of using whatever is at hand for the glory of God. Earlier in our study, when visiting a town with bad water, he used salt to make the water pure. There was nothing in the salt itself that purified the springs. But salt in the Bible is symbolic of purification, the purification that comes only from the Lord and our relationship with Him. Some scholars believe the flour neutralized the bitter taste of the gourds but that it was incapable of neutralizing the poisonous effects; others think it's possible the flour actually did have the power to keep the poison from acting. But the explanation I prefer is one I found in only one commentary: that the flour represents the Bread Of Life, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the effect He has on the poison of our sins. As the old song says, "What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus." Christ alone acts on our hearts in such a way as to purify us of our uncleanness and to neutralize the power of sin over our lives.

We are about to look at another miracle of Elisha and it's similar to a miracle the Lord Jesus performed. "A man came from Baal Shalishah, bringing the man of God twenty loaves of barley bread baked from the first ripe grain, along with some heads of new grain. 'Give it to the people to eat,' Elisha said." (2 Kings 4:42) This unnamed man brings a firstfruits offering. He is from a region that is actually named for a pagan god but he still worships the God of Israel. Had the temple been in the northern kingdom of Israel he could have brought his offering to the Lord there. But since it is not, and since the nation (by and large) has fallen into idolatry, he knows of no better place to bring it than to the man of God, even though he has to travel thirteen miles to get to a man holy enough to handle his offering for the Lord. What better way to serve the Lord than to serve His hungry people? As Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for Me." (Matthew 25:40)

Elisha knows the people are hungry. The poisoned stew incident is still fresh in his mind and he instructs this good healthy bread to be distributed to those gathered around him, about one hundred in number. "'How can I set it before a hundred men?' his servant asked." (2 Kings 4:43a) When five thousand people gathered to hear Jesus preach, He instructed the disciples to give all the people something to eat. They were at a loss as to how to provide food for so many. Andrew said, "Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?" (John 6:9) Andrew's question is similar to the servant's question in today's passage. Both men are concentrating on the lack of food. They have a "glass half empty" attitude. They see the large company of people and they see the small amount of food and conclude it can't be done. They are focused on the problem instead of on the Problem Solver.

"But Elisha answered, 'Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the Lord says: 'They will eat and have some left over.' Then he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord." (2 Kings 4:43b-44) In the gospel according to John we are told that after feeding the five thousand, "He said to His disciples, 'Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.' So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten." (John 6:12-13) Providing exactly enough for every person was a miracle in itself, but God demonstrated His great power by going above and beyond their need. But as always, God is not wasteful, and the men gathered the leftovers. 

Our God promises to supply the needs of those in Christ. (Philippians 4:19) And I have to say He supplies a lot of our wants too. I have more than I need and I bet most or all of my readers do too. He provides for us in the wilderness of this wicked world just as He provided for the children of Israel in the Sinai desert. He often makes our cup run over, materially speaking, by giving us more food and clothing and little luxuries than He has to. That's because He's a loving Father. Loving earthly fathers enjoy giving good gifts to their children and our heavenly Father does too. But our God gives us something even more important than our basic needs and our human wants. He gives us Himself: the presence of the Holy Spirit, the proof of our salvation and the comfort of our souls. The Lord Jesus promised that, if we ask the Father, He will pour out the Holy Spirit on us until our cups run over. We can experience at least a little of Elisha's double portion of faith. The Lord Jesus pointed out that if human fathers, even fathers not in the faith, know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more will a faithful and perfect God give good gifts to His children? "How much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!" (Luke 11:14b) 

We've been talking this week about great faith, faith to ask for big things. There are times we feel low in the faith but we can say the same thing to the Lord that the disciples said, "Increase our faith!" (Luke 17:5b) The faith to ask a big God for big things is something we can't generate within ourselves out of our human weakness. Faith is increased by the Holy Spirit. And Jesus promised us if we ask the Father to give us more of the Holy Spirit, He will do so. He is able to give us all of the Spirit we can handle. 

I'll close with this little story and then will share a worship song link about our good Father. In the fall of 2008 I was going through a bad time in life. So many things had happened that it felt like the world was falling down around me. I was stressed out to the point of having panic attacks. I was stressed so much that my immune system was weak and I experienced hay fever allergies like never before. I was so congested I literally felt like I was smothering, which added to the effects of my panic attacks, because it's hard to breathe during a panic attack anyway. I was off work that Monday for Columbus Day and despite a steroid shot and several medications my breathing was labored and uncomfortable. I fell into a severe panic attack that lasted about eight hours, something I never knew was possible. There was something about the fear I was experiencing that felt more like a spiritual attack than a physical illness, so I sent out a message on our church ladies' group prayer line about what was going on. That night at the church, a group of women prayed in a circle around me, with some of them lifting up my name out loud to the Father, some of them praying silently. One of them must have prayed a double portion of faith on me, or something similar, because for a whole week I felt overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit twenty-four hours a day. I've never experienced anything like it before or since. I've never felt such joy. The joy was so intense I would have grabbed strangers off the street if I could somehow have imparted some of that joy to them. I wanted everybody in the world to feel what I felt. I wanted them to feel the love of Christ. There are no words to describe it. It reminded me of what the Apostle Peter said in the KJV version, "Ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory." (1 Peter 1:8b) My joy in the Holy Spirit was unspeakable, indescribable, full of glory. By the end of the week my frail mortal body was feeling the physical effects of such an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. I thought, "It's no wonder we will need immortal bodies to be in the presence of the Lord!" If we could experience the fullness of all that He is in these mortal bodies, it would kill us. I remember thinking if my spiritual cup kept running over that way it would probably kill me but I didn't care. What a great way to go! 

If we are in Christ, we have been given the Holy Spirit, and the Lord is able to pour the Spirit out on us without measure until it overflows. And when it overflows, it has the power to bless those around us, just as the bread Elisha multiplied by the Spirit of God was able to bless those around him, just as the loaves and fishes the Lord multiplied was able to bless those around Him. If we need an increase of faith, we can go to our loving Father and ask Him to give us more of Himself, more of His Spirit, and He won't turn us away. He's a good Father.

Below is a link to a lovely worship son.

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