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Gourds and Grain

2 Kings 4:38-44 - When Elisha returned to Gilgal, there was a famine in the land. As the sons of the prophets were sitting before him, he said to his servant, "Put on the large pot and boil stew for the sons of the prophets." Then one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine and gathered from it his lap full of wild gourds, and came and sliced them into the pot of stew, for they did not know what they were.  

So they poured it out for the men to eat. And it came about as they were eating of the stew, that they cried out and said, "O man of God, there is death in the pot!" And they were unable to eat. But he said, "Now bring meal." And he threw it into the pot, and he said, "Pour it out for the people that they may eat." Then there was no harm in the pot.

 Now a man came from Baal-shalishah, and brought the man of God bread of the first fruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And he said, "Give them to the people that they may eat." And his attendant said, "What, shall I set this before a hundred men?" But he said, "Give them to the people that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, 'They shall eat and have some left over.'" So he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord.
Try mentioning "the feeding of the one hundred" to a group of believers and see how many odd stares you get! And when you say it was done through the multiplying of twenty loaves of bread, you're sure to get some raised eyebrows. You'll be accused of everything from not knowing your Bible to not knowing how to count! You'll have the last laugh, however, when you turn your friends to 2 Kings 4.

In the early chapters of 2 Kings we read of the miracles which took place during the days of Elisha. The miracle mentioned above is only one of many recorded in these chapters. As we read about these many and varied miracles associated with the prophet Elisha, we're constantly reminded of the many wonderful miracles of our Lord Jesus. And like the miracles of Jesus, the miracles performed through Elisha were designed to teach us spiritual lessons. Just as no miracle of Christ was done in an arbitrary, capricious manner, so no miracle at the time of Elisha was done without the sovereign control and design of God. All of the miracles of Elisha's day have spiritual lessons for the believer today.

The miracle of the feeding of the 100 is closely associated with the miracle involving the wild gourds that immediately precedes it. For this reason we will study these two miracles together. Before looking at the teaching of these miracles, however, let's briefly sketch the historical background for Elisha's ministry.

Elisha lived in a day when the nation of Israel was walking away from the Lord. Although many individuals in the southern kingdom of Judah continued to worship the Lord at the Temple in Jerusalem, the northern kingdom of Israel, where Elisha's ministry was centered, was almost completely given over to idolatrous practices. Ever since King Jeroboam I had set up the golden calf idols following the split of the united kingdom in 931 BC (1 Kings 12), many of the godly people in the north had migrated south to be part of the kingdom of Judah where God's Temple was located. Elijah's dramatic confrontation with the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel in the north (1 Kings 18), some time before Elisha's ministry, had not turned the nation back to the Lord. False prophets continued to roam freely in the northern kingdom of Israel. Although there were still some believers in the north who had "not bowed the knee to Baal," the number was comparatively small (1 Kings 19:18).

It was in this setting that Elisha and the schools of the prophets found their ministry. The schools of the prophets can best be described as the seminaries of that day. Most likely they were instituted by the prophet Samuel (cf. 1 Samuel 19:20) to bring about reform because of the increasingly corrupt priesthood. According to the Old Testament Law, religious instruction was the responsibility of the priests and the Levites. Because of their failure in this area, God supplanted their ineffective teaching ministry with the services of the prophets. It should be noted that not all God's spokesmen were connected with the schools of the prophets (cf. Amos 7:14, for example), and not all "graduates" of the schools of the prophets were called by God to be His chosen spokesmen. By the time of Elijah and Elisha there were several locations for these schools of the prophets. Three of them are named in 2 Kings: Bethel (2:3), Jericho (2:5), and Gilgal (4:38). The two miracles in our text took place at the Gilgal school of the prophets.

In order to understand the spiritual lessons of these miracles it is important to realize that, very often in Scripture, physical items represent spiritual realities. Physical water, for example, frequently represents the spiritual "water of life" which every "thirsty" soul needs for salvation. (See John 7:37-39.) In the two miracles before us here, notice how meal (flour), bread and grain are used to bring relief to the unfortunate situation at Gilgal. Throughout God's Word, these substances often represent Christ and also the Scriptures which proclaim Him. The fine flour meal or grain offering of the Old Testament pictures the moral perfections of Jesus Christ--the sinless Sacrifice. The Lord Jesus claimed that the physical manna which fed the Israeli people in the wilderness was a picture of Himself as the Bread of Life. (See John 6:22-59.) In our Lord's well-known quotation of Deuteronomy 8:3, the parallel between physical bread and the Word of God is quite clear: "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God." (See Matthew 4:4 and Luke 4:4.)

With the basic spiritual meaning of the meal, the grain and the bread established, let us proceed to develop the spiritual lessons of these miracles. We read in verse 38 that "a famine in the land" was the setting for these two miracles. No food was available for the people! It doesn't take much insight to realize that this is a picture of the spiritual condition of many groups of God's needy people. In fact, in many ways it's descriptive of Christianity today. People have a spiritual hunger, but there's a famine in the land! Although Christians may be involved in all kinds of activity, in many churches a spiritual famine exists. The people are not being fed. Underfed Christians are spiritually weak and listless. They're not excited about living out a Christian lifestyle. They're easily tempted to choose "food sources" that aren't nourishing and may even be harmful to their spiritual health. It's a life-threatening situation!

The famine had not only overtaken the schools of the prophets, but there was an additional problem as well. Wild gourds had been mixed in with the food for the prophets! How could the prophets possibly help the people if they themselves were being poisoned by "death in the pot"? In the picture, the wild gourds represent any false teachings which have been mixed in with the "good food," that is, healthful and strengthening biblical teaching. Many Christian colleges and seminaries no longer offer a Christ-centered curriculum or biblically-focused programs of study. The problem is that "gourds from wild vines" have been mixed into many courses.

In the area of the social sciences, for example, the "wild gourds" of humanistic psychology have been so thoroughly mixed in with biblical principles that Christian counseling today is very often more humanistic than biblical. The emphasis has shifted from a biblically balanced view of the reality of sin, judgment and eternal punishment as well as personal responsibility for our actions, to an unbiblical emphasis on who else or whatelse is to blame for life's problems.

There is also an unbiblical de-emphasis of personal sin and coming judgment. In the area of the physical sciences, for another example, the "wild gourds" of the secular views of origins have been mixed in with the biblical teaching of creation. Theistic evolution and Christian "big bang" scenarios, as taught in many of today's "schools of the prophets," have resulted in "death in the pot" for many "prophets in training." The high view of the authority of Scripture has been compromised. No wonder the Lord's people are suffering from spiritual malnutrition or starvation--and even poisoning!

Before we look at the remedy for the situation, we should note that the wild gourds were not added with the intention of poisoning the stew. Just as naive mistakes can be made in distinguishing between edible and poisonous mushrooms, so, with good intentions, the wild gourds were added to the stew. After all, the gourds looked harmless enough. In the same way, a number of wild gourds have unintentionally been mixed in with the solid food of biblical teaching. Theistic evolution, for example, doesn't look like poison, but its effects in the stew are devastating. The biblical teaching that death resulted from human sin is altered when the wild gourd of theistic evolution is mixed into the biblical stew.

As another example, consider "harmless" new age concepts such as the idea that we humans are much more than physical beings, and the idea that we cannot really be fulfilled without becoming "born again" to an altered state of consciousness. These ideas look harmless enough but are actually wild gourds in terms of new age thinking. We certainly are much more than mere physical beings, but we are not divine, as new age philosophy teaches. And we certainly do need to be born again, but not to a "higher state of cosmic consciousness," as new agers teach. You might think that these new age wild gourds would never get into the Christian stew. However, a brief scan of what's on the shelves of many of our local Christian bookstores might convince you otherwise! Some so-called "Christian" books even promote techniques used in eastern religions as legitimate means to realize the "divine spark in each of us" and the "oneness" we possess with the rest of creation.

The solution to the poisoned stew and famine problems was first to add meal to the poison stew (the first miracle), and then to get nourishment from the wholesome bread and the edifying heads of the sheaves of grain (the second miracle). The solution to the poisonous effects of any stew of bad theology or false teaching is to "add Christ." The more Christ fills our spiritual food, the more the deadly effects of the wild gourds will be neutralized. And how much better off we'll be if we're busy filling the stew with Christ rather than going on a witch hunt for the wild gourd gatherers! And as we increasingly allow Christ (the true Bread) to supply nourishing food for our souls from His Word, the less famine and starvation will stunt our spiritual growth or impoverish our spiritual lives. Just as the prophets ate their fill of the bread of the first fruits and the heads of grain, so all that we need for spiritual growth and vitality is available in Christ and God's Word.

We've already seen that the meal or flour in the first miracle most likely represents Christ as the sinless Son of God. The bread of the first fruits and sheaves of grain of the second miracle most likely represent Christ as the living, resurrected Lord. Under the Old Testament Law, it was during the Feast of First Fruits that the sheaves of the first fruits were to be presented before the Lord. As the Passover feast pictures Christ in His death (1 Corinthians 5:7), so the Feast of First Fruits, which was celebrated on the 3rd day following the Passover, pictures Christ in His resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20). What better spiritual picture could we have of God's solution to the problem of spiritual famine than we have in these two miracles?

As we learn more about the moral perfections, the love and the grace of our sinless Savior, and as we walk with Him as our living Lord, the hunger of our famished souls will be satisfied. The spiritual lessons of these ancient miracles involving gourds and grain give us, as growing Christians, the key to avoiding poisoned stew and enjoying healthful and profitable nourishment, as well as doing something positive to alleviate the spiritual famine which surrounds us.
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