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TEXT: II Kings 4:38-44
SUBJECT: Elisha #9: Blessed are the Hungry
For the last couple of months we have been studying the life of Elisha, and seeing how, in him, the Lord was at work saving the world. Thus far, I've told one story each week, and tried to open its meaning-both to the people who lived way back then, and to us.
Today, however, we'll take up two stories-partly because they're short, but mostly, because they teach the same thing. The thing is easy to believe when things are going well for you, but when they're not, it's the hardest lesson you'll ever learn. We'll get to that presently, but for now, the stories.
There once was a prophet in Israel whose name was Elisha. One day he and his servant came to Gilgal to meet with young men who were training for the ministry. Because there was a famine at that time, food was not easy to come by, but they hustled up enough for a pot of watery soup.
If this doesn't sound very filling to you, it didn't to them either. So one of them found a gourd, sliced it up, and added it to the soup. It made the soup a lot heartier, but that's not all it did.
It also made the soup poisonous! With one bite, the young men cried out, O man of God, there is death in this pot! And so there was. All of them were poisoned, and might soon be dead.
But the man of God did not panic. Prompted by the Holy Spirit, he called for a cup of flour, which was stirred into the soup.
Serve it to the people that they may eat, commanded the prophet. It was served to the people, they ate it all, and.There was nothing harmful in the pot. At the Word of God, the deadly soup was made wholesome.
That's the first story. The second one goes like this:
There once was a prophet in Israel whose name was Elisha. One day, a man came to him with a gift of food: twenty loaves of barley bread along with some other flour. Now, these 'loaves' were not what we call 'loaves', but more like biscuits or dinner rolls. Twenty of them make a big meal for two or three men, but there's a problem: Elisha has a hundred men to feed!
He orders the men to be seated and fed. But his servant thinks the old man has lost his mind: What? Shall I set this before one hundred men?
'That's right', says the prophet-'And be sure to save the leftovers'.
The order is obeyed, the table is set, a hundred men eat their fill, and the leftovers are picked up and put away.
According to the Word of the Lord.
FIVE MINUTES AND FIVE LIFETIMES
If the stories can be told in five minutes, it would take five lifetimes to get to the bottom of them. They're not mysterious, so much, as they are rich in meaning. Every detail is worth pondering-not to find a hidden meaning, but a meaning revealed.
The story takes place in Gilgal on the banks of the Jordan River. To us, Gilgal is another weird Bible name. But it was much more than this to the People of God.
The word, Gilgal, means 'roll away', and it was given that name for a good reason. The Israelites who left Egypt bore the mark of the Covenant in their bodies-they were circumcised. But, over forty years of wilderness wandering, that generation died-without circumcising their sons. At Gilgal, knives were sharpened, foreskins were cut off, and the guilt of God's People rolled away.
It was also there that the Stones of Remembrance were set up. Israel came into Canaan the same way they got out of Egypt-by crossing a body of water their God parted for them. This time, it was the Jordan River. As the people marched across, one man from each tribe was to pick up a big rock from the river bed. When the twelve men got to the other side, the piled up the rocks, to remind the People how they got their inheritance-and Who gave it to them.
Many years later, the Twelve Tribes became a kingdom, and it was at Gilgal that its first king took office.
A few years later, Israel's greatest king, David, was harried from the throne by his own son Absalom. After a bloody civil war, the son was killed, and the king returned, stepping ashore at Gilgal.
Gilgal, therefore, was not just another dot on the Bible atlas. It was Holy Ground, a place full of sacred memories, and hope.
But Gilgal had fallen on hard times. Like the rest of Israel, it was suffering from a long and deadly famine.
A famine (like all bad things) is the result of sin. If there was no sin, there would be no famine, disease, misery, or death. But why a famine is plaguing the Sudan today and why it hit the American south seventy years ago, only God knows. And, if the friends of Job teach us anything, they teach us not to speculate on such things! Not to darken counsel without knowledge!
But if we don't know why famines ravage other parts of the world today, we know very well why it struck Israel back in the days of Elisha. The nation, at that time, was under the Old Covenant. And, under it, blessings were tied to obedience and punishments to rebellion. If Israel forsook the Lord, certain things must follow Chief among them was famine.
And after this, if you do not obey Me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. I will break the pride of your power; I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. And your strength shall be spent in vain; for your land shall not yield its produce, nor shall the trees of the land yield their fruit (Leviticus 26:18-20).
And it shall come to pass, if you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God.Cursed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Cursed shall be the fruit of your body and the produce of your land, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks (Deuteronomy 28:15, 17-18).
Israel was starving to death because they had rebelled against the Lord. I chose the word, 'rebelled' carefully, for their sin was neither slight nor passing. They were serving the Golden Calves, and had been for decades.
But not everyone. Some people still fear the Lord. They are the sons of the prophets. This doesn't mean they were the prophets' children, of course, but young men preparing to preach the Word of God.
Like everyone else in Gilgal, they were doing without. God did not exempt them from the daily problems of life. The sons of the prophets were as hungry as their unbelieving neighbors.
The Lord could have spared them the hunger and pain. Had He wanted to, He could have watered their farms while scorching everyone else's. Back in Egypt, He did just that. When the flies swarmed all over the Egyptians, God said,
I will set apart the land of Goshen, in which my people dwell, that no swarms of flies shall be there, that [Pharaoh] may know that I am the Lord in the midst of the land. And I will make a difference between My people and your people.
When He sent disease to the Egyptians' cattle, again He said,
The Lord will make a difference between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt. So nothing shall die of all that belongs to the children of Israel.
Later a plague of hail and lightning fell on Egypt, but not all of it,
The hail struck throughout the whole land of Egypt, all that was in the field, both man and beast; and the hail struck every herb of the field and broke every tree of the field, only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel were, there was no hail.
There is no question God has the power and the wisdom to spare His people from the calamities of life. But, most of the time, He doesn't spare us.
We don't have to go way back to the Old Testament for that. On February 13, 1945, British and American bombers set the German city of Dresden on fire, killing more than 35,000 civilians in one night. Many of whom were devout, Bible-believing Lutherans, Pietists, and others. Men crying, 'Lord, have mercy' were incinerated alongside men shouting, 'Heil Hitler'!
If the Lord could save us from famine, flood, war, hunger, and so on, why doesn't He?
The ultimate answer is: We don't know. But we don't have to know, because we know God joined us in all of our suffering-and more. This means He is not indifferent to our pain. We have a God who wept at the grave of His friend, a God who hungered and thirsted, a God who had no money, a God who was lonely, who was hated by His enemies and betrayed by His friends. We have a God who died on the cross, a God-forsaken God!
Knowing Him in our problems is better than knowing the answer to our problems!
The young prophets suffered in the famine of Gilgal, but not alone: the Lord was with them.
They knew He would be because He had said so. Way back in the days of Moses, the Lord came to the man in a burning bush. But that's not what caught the man's eye-a burning bush. It was a burning bush that was not consumed. This was a symbol of Israel down in Egypt, suffering at the hands of their masters, but not destroyed. And more than that, it stood for God suffering alongside of them. He didn't hear their groaning in Heaven, but in Egypt, where He had joined them under the whip of their slave drivers! Immanu-El: God with us!
Especially in our pain.
The Lord was not only with them, but He provided for them. The prophets were hungry and God gave them something to eat. The food was plain, not gourmet, and the food was enough for that day, not for the next ten years.
This is what God promises: not riches, but enough, and not enough to secure our futures, but enough for today. We're taught to pray this way,
Give us this day our daily bread-
Not caviar. And not even bread for tomorrow, but for today. This rationing is not what we like, but it's what we need. Because man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. We live by faith because we live on His promises!
The Lord cares for His People and gives us what we need when we need it. Go to the Wilderness, and see Him providing for His People, as ungrateful as they were. Six days a week, manna falls from heaven to feed them. When they come to Marah, a tree is cut down, and the bitter waters are made sweet. At Massah and Meribah, the people quarrelled and literally sued the Lord for water, and He opened a Rock and the waters gushed out. Not even their shoes wore out, so great was the Lord's goodness to them!
Then go to another wilderness many years later. Another Israel hikes into the wastelands alone and goes without food for forty days and forty nights. He was hungrier than you've ever been in your life, and weaker, and more alone. Then He's met by His craftiest and deadliest enemy, well-rested, well-fed and up for a long day of temptation. But the Tempter is foiled, three times, he is beaten by a Man lonely, tired, and nearly starved. Why? Because God provided for Him in the wilderness. He didn't get what we would have wanted-a big meal with plenty to drink! He got what He needed: grace for the day.
Back to the story. When the soup is brought in, it's no good-I don't mean it doesn't taste good, but it'll kill you! Did Elisha's servant mean to poison his master and his friends? Of course he didn't, but this doesn't mean he was entirely innocent. If he didn't know what the gourd was, he shouldn't have added it to the soup. But he did, and they'd all have to pay for his folly.
Until the Word of God overrules it. At the command of the prophet, flour is mixed into the pot, and the soup becomes wholesome. Flour is no antidote to poison! But the Word of God is. Poisoned by sin and guilt, the Word counters the poison and saves us from its deadly effect.
It's not the flour, it's not the prophet, it is the Word! There is healing power in the Word of God. The Psalm says, He sent His word and healed them and delivered them from their destructions!
For the Israelites back then, 'the Word' meant the Promise. But that's not quite what it means to us. From where we are in history, 'the Word' chiefly stands for the Promise Kept! The Word that saves us is not a Promise or a Law or a Proverb, it is The Word made flesh! It is Jesus Christ, who came to us as surely as the Word came to the prophets. And with the same effect, only better.
Christ does not make our soup good, He makes our soul good! He does it by satisfying the justice of God, canceling our guilt, and giving us the Holy Spirit.
By His Word, God gives us all we need. That's the meaning of the first story. The duty flows from that: Be satisfied with the Word of God, for in having it, you have everything, for,
The Word is with God,
And the Word is God.
THE OTHER STORY
The second story makes the same point. With the blessing of the Word, twenty biscuits feed a hundred men, with plenty to spare. By His Word, God gives us all we need.
The words of our Lord turned a boy's lunch into a meal for 5000 hungry men. The words of our Lord turned a fisherman into an Evangelist, and the world upside down.
We should love the Word of God, trust the Word, be proud of the Word, and use the Word. If the Word does not work, nothing will. But the Word will work. Even now, it remains, The power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.
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