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Order Of Worship (Liturgy)
“The Bread of Life in Gilgal”
2 Kings 4:38-44
It used to be that people would talk about the Great Depression, speaking about the stock market crash of 1929. But more recently, perhaps especially for the millennials among us, there is more talk about the Great Recession.
Most of us were surprised when the bottom fell out of the economy in December of 2007. We all know that downturns are inevitable in any economy. Anyone who owned a house knew that the value of the house was way higher than what it should be. But perhaps most of us were quite surprised – and concerned – at how long and deep that recession has been. Most people were surprised at how quickly you can go from prosperity to poverty, and many of us witnessed friends or relatives who lost their homes and other assets during that Great Recession.
As Elisha returned to Gilgal from Shunem we find a similar dramatic change, a change from prosperity to poverty. Verse 38 begins by telling us, Elisha returned to Gilgal and there was a famine in that region. 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 men.”
We see right from the beginning that although the famine was severe the Lord sustained his people through that famine. The company of prophets was still meeting with Elisha. He was still teaching them about the Lord, much as a seminary professor might tutor his seminary students. And as the Lord provided for them, through both a pot of stew and also twenty small loaves of bread, we see that the Lord can use whatever means He wills to accomplish His purposes.
Can you imagine how disappointed it was to the company of prophets, and to Elisha, when this pot of stew was not edible? Verse 39 and 40 tell how one of the men had gone out to gather herbs, and as he was gathering the herbs he found a wild vine. He gathered it along with some gourds and when he returned he cut them up and put them into a pot of stew. All the men, I’m sure, were looking forward to that pot of stew. When you are hungry almost anything looks appetizing. We don’t read of any meat in the stew, which many of us would find disappointing, but for these hungry men this looked like a feast that had been prepared for them.
But as they began to eat it they realized that it was not edible. Whatever was in the wild vine, or perhaps in the other herbs and gourds, must have had a bitter taste. They cried out to Elisha, “O man of God, there is death in the pot!” What disappointment these hungry men must have felt!
I can relate to them, as I’m sure you can, as you think back on meals that you anticipated so much and yet were not edible. When I was in seminary my wife, Karen, and I were broke, as are most seminarians, so she often made a pot of spaghetti. My family never ate much spaghetti growing up, but probably the reason why we didn’t, is that we never had spaghetti sauce the way my wife prepares hers. She adds beef neck bones, sausage, and I’m not sure what all else, but I soon found out that I love spaghetti when it has that tasty sauce on it!
On one occasion she had made spaghetti and that sauce that I enjoyed so much. I was looking forward to eating it, when she found out that the sausage that had been put into the sauce was bad. The spaghetti sauce was ruined. We had to dump out the full pot of sauce. We were broke, and so disappointed. But there was no other alternative. We had no special ingredient to cure the sauce that was inedible.
But that wasn’t the case for these men who were in the company of the prophets learning from Elisha. In verse 41, 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.
God Uses Whatever and Whomever He Wills
It is one more biblical example assuring us that nothing is too hard for our God. It is one more example that the Lord can use any means he wishes to accomplish his purposes. There was nothing special in the flour. It was ordinary baking flour. But God used it to make the stew edible. He used an ordinary means in an extraordinary way to provide for his people – Elisha and the company of prophets – through a severe time of famine in Gilgal.
But not only does the Lord use whatever means he wishes to accomplish his purposes, he also uses whomever he chooses to accomplish his purposes. In the second episode, these one hundred prophets are hungry, and we read in verse 42 that a man came from Baal Shalishah with twenty loaves of barley bread baked from the first ripe grain, along with some heads of new grain.
We are never given the man’s name. He may have been a “nobody” among the people of his day. But he was certainly known by God and blessed by God, and he himself was a godly man. We see that in how he brought the bread to Elisha, which verse 42 tells us came from the first ripe grain. In other words, this man was fulfilling what God tells us to do when he tells us to bring the first fruits of all that we have into his kingdom. We commonly call that the tithe. We read about tithing throughout the Old Testament, and in the New Testament we are never told that the practice of tithing is over.
Jesus condemned the Pharisees for their legalism as they tithed their mint, dill and cumin. He told them that they had neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. And then he said, in Matthew 23:23, “You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” He was teaching that they should tithe, not legalistically, but as honoring the Lord as the giver of all that we have.
As this unknown man from Baal Shalishah brings the twenty loaves of bread baked from the first ripe grain he sets an example for us. He is an example of what Solomon would write about a century or more later. In Proverbs 3:9-10 Solomon wrote: Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.
We aren’t told what provisions the man had back in Baal Shalishah, but we know that he did not reason as many people would. Many would conclude, “Since there is a famine in the land, I better hold back my tithe, because otherwise I might run out of grain. If I don’t withhold my tithe in times of famine, I may go broke.”
Instead of that type of reasoning this man generously gave from the firstfruits of his labor; he gave bread for the service of the Lord’s kingdom. And as he did so we see that it is, indeed, more blessed to give than to receive.
More Blessed to Give than to Receive
Although this man is not named, and although we are not told whether he returned to Baal Shalishah or stayed in Gilgal, we know that he was blessed, because that is God’s promise to all who give willingly of what has been entrusted to them by the Lord.
The man from Baal Shalishah realized the biblical truth that Jesus spoke, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” The apostle Paul quoted those words in Acts 20:35 and described the concept of them in 2 Corinthians 9 where he described how God loves a cheerful giver, and how God supplies even more to those who give so that they can continue to be generous.
The man from Baal Shalishah realized those truths and lived according to them, but they were truths that Elisha’s servant had trouble grasping. When Elisha told his servant to give the twenty loaves to the people to eat, the servant seemed reluctant. He asked “How can I set this before a hundred men?”
Several commentators believe that the servant was reluctant to give the loaves to the men because he wanted to keep them between Elisha and himself. Although we are not told the servant’s name in this passage, many commentators expect that it was Gehazi, whom we will see later on in chapter 5, had a streak of greed.
They surmise that he was thinking, “Here we are trying to survive in a severe famine. This man comes from some distant area and gives us twenty loaves of bread. Elisha and I should keep these for ourselves. After all, Elisha is the leader, he needs to stay well-nourished. These men can go out and find more gourds and make some more stew, we don’t need to share this bread with them.”
I find their comments interesting, and they may be correct. But we do not know for sure what the servant was thinking, nor do we even know with certainty that it was Gehazi. But we do know that in times of famine – and for that matter in times of prosperity – there are many people who when they receive a blessing from the Lord, through the hand of another, such as Elisha received this blessing from the man from Baal Shalishah, want to keep the blessing for themselves.
That was not the case for Elisha. As soon as he received the twenty loaves, he said “Give it to the people to eat.” Elisha knew the principal that the apostle Paul would write about, long before the Holy Spirit inspired Paul write in 2 Corinthians 9:7-8, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed...
God’s Provision Doubted
But we also see in the response of the servant to Elisha’s command to give the twenty loaves of bread to the one hundred men, that God’s provision is often doubted. He asked, “How can I set this before a hundred men?”
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.
The loaves were admittedly small. In that era of time a loaf of bread was invariably smaller than what we think of a loaf of bread today. Yet in this doubtful question of the servant, we are reminded, that God’s provision – whether it is a small amount of oil for a widow or a great amount of manna for people in the desert – is yet often doubted.
It was no different for the disciples. Mark chapter 6 describes how Jesus fed 5000 men with five loaves of bread and two fish. We don’t know how many women and children were present, but the people who were fed numbered way more than 5000. After the people ate and were satisfied, the disciples picked up twelve baskets full of broken pieces of bread and fish.
Turn a few pages over in your Bibles and in Mark chapter 8 Jesus is feeding 4000 men as well as women and children. When he told his disciples that he was concerned for the people, for they had been with him three days and had nothing left to eat, his disciples answered him in Mark 8:4, “Where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?”
He asked them the same question he had asked before, “How many loaves do you have?” Jesus asked.
“Seven,” they replied. They also had a few fish. Yet they seemed surprised that Jesus could feed a great multitude with just those seven loaves of bread and a few fish. In each case they expressed doubt that God could provide what the people needed.
But what about you and what about me? Isn’t it true that we often also doubt God’s provision for us? Yet this passage in the Old Testament, along with numerous other passages in both Testaments, reminds us so very clearly that our God will use whatever means he chooses, and will employ even the nobodies of the world, to provide for his people, for he is always faithful.
While famine and hunger are a great concern today, just as they were in biblical times, the passage before us reminds us, by way of application, that the worst famine is a spiritual famine.
Famine brings heart-rending sorrow. We grieve for those who have no food to eat while we enjoy so much. But there is an even worse famine than the famine of physical food. The Lord spoke about that to Amos. In Amos 8:11-12, we read, “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “When I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, But rather for hearing the words of the LORD. People will stagger from sea to sea And from the north even to the east; They will go to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, But they will not find it.”
The Lord was warning Israel, through Amos, that captivity would come upon them, and they would be in a hostile foreign land without access to the Temple, without access to the priests and to the Old Testament scrolls which were taught. He was warning them about a famine that is a far more dangerous than a famine brought on by a lack of food.
God’s warning was not only given to Amos, but through his word that warning goes to all people. When an individual, or a whole nation, rejects the Lord and his Word, God can bring a spiritual famine which is far more devastating than any physical famine, for the spiritual famine gives no opportunity for eternal life.
Back in the days of Elisha there was famine in the land, and we will read of even worse famine later on in our study of God’s power and grace in Elisha’s life. But even as we read about the famine, we also read how there were one hundred prophets learning about the Lord in the school of prophets that Elisha conducted.
It is better, Psalm 37:16 tells us, to have a little with the righteous than to have the abundance of the wicked. And we see that truth played out here in 2 Kings 4. Times were tight, food was scarce, but the company of prophets were learning from Elisha about God’s faithfulness in providing for his people even through times of famine. And beyond that, they learned of God’s faithfulness in providing salvation for his people through the promise of Christ coming to redeem his people from their sins.
God’s Faithful Provision
It should not surprise us that God provided for this company of prophets and for Elisha through a severe famine because Scripture tells us God will always provide daily bread for His people. He may not provide the steak and mushrooms, there might not be any sausage or other meat in the spaghetti sauce, but God will always provide for his people. In our responsive reading from Psalm 37:25 we read, I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.
Proverbs 10:3 adds, The LORD will not allow the righteous to hunger, But He will reject the craving of the wicked.
And most of you familiar with those words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 6:31-33, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
God will take care of his people. Even though we remember the lean times of the Great Recession, we still also know that God provided for us, and will always provide for his people, for his glory and for our good.
Feeding on the Bread of Life
And then another application from this passage, describing how God provided food for his people amid famine, is that it points us to Jesus. Jesus Christ is the Living Bread who cleanses and sustains all who look to Him in saving faith. All of the Old Testament looks forward to Christ. Every cleansing is a foreshadow of the cleansing that Christ brings. Even the cleansing of the stew, foreshadows the cleansing, the purification, that God brings to rancid sinners.
And the bread brought by this man from Baal Shalishah is pointing ahead to him who is the bread of life, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In John 6:35-40, Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst… All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up on the last day.”
Jesus went on to explain to the Pharisees that unless they partook of the Bread of Life, in his words, to feed upon him, they could have no life in them. He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” (John 6:53-55)
The disciples acknowledged that this was a hard saying, and John describes how many people quit following Jesus because it was beyond their comprehension how he could be the Bread of Life whom people must feed upon.
So Jesus asked his disciples, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67-69)
Is that also your response and my response this evening? Do we believe that Jesus is the Holy One of God, who alone gives eternal life, and is the one upon whom we must feed spiritually? Do we see that the Old Testament Scriptures, even these two short unique passages on the cleansing of the stew and the feeding of one hundred prophets with twenty small loaves, are looking ahead to the cleansing and the spiritual nourishment that we have through faith in Jesus Christ?
May your answer, and mine, echo the answer of Simon Peter, this evening and always: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Amen.
- bulletin outline -
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.
“How can I set this before a hundred men?” his servant asked. (2 Kings 4:42,43a)
“The Bread of Life in Gilgal”
2 Kings 4:38-44
I. As the Lord sustained Elisha and the prophets through a severe famine we see that:
1) The Lord can use whatever means He wills to accomplish His purposes (41, 42)
2) It is more blessed to give than to receive (42b)
3) God’s provision is often doubted (43)
1) The worst famine is a spiritual famine (Amos 8:11-12)
2) God will always provide daily bread for His people (Psalm 37:25; Matthew 6:11, 25-34)
3) Jesus is the Living Bread who cleanses and sustains all who look to Him in saving (John 6:32-40)
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service. Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 02/2, Rev. Ted Gray
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