One of my favorite Bible characters is Elisha, and one of my favorite stories concerning him occurs in 2 Kings 4:40. According to the story, there was a famine in the land. Food was hard to be find. We could consider why there would be such a thing as a famine among God’s people. Elisha was the master of a group of prophets. As he traveled with them, the time came for them to eat and he told them to put a pot on the fire. This is a testimony to their faith because they trusted that even though there was a famine, God was able to provide something for them. In the meantime, they went looking for food. One of the men found a wild vine and shredded the gourds from the vine into the pot. The food seethed into a stew and when all was cooked, the prophets prepared to eat. Indeed, they actually began to eat. But then one by one they realized something was wrong and shouted, “Master, there is death in the pot.” They could not eat it. But Elijah found some meal and threw it into the pot. All harm was removed and they could eat. What a great story! It contains so many thematic and story elements of other great Bible stories: famine, discernment and the ability to taste and see, vines, the meal offering that purifies, the healing of bitter water.
All those are for ministers to deal with. What I’ll talk about – what concerns me at this moment, and what I see now– is the famine, the regret, and the discernment elements.
I want you to imagine how terrible this famine was. And I want you to imagine that it is a hunger for spiritual things. This isn’t so very hard to imagine because the land had been sinning all along and was halting between two gods: Yahweh and Baal. This was one of the reasons why famine had been called upon the land.
Imagine now, the faith of the prophets as they put the empty pot on the fire. All they had was a handful of meal but they had their master with them. They knew God answered his prayer. Their master had ordered them to put the pot on in anticipating of God helping them to find food. OF course God would answer. Imagine now, the faith of these poor prophets as they searched the barren fields believing that God would lead them to the right food. Imagine now their joy when they found the wild vine, so full of gourds...oh so many! Can you imagine the praises they sent up to God for those vines? God, as far as they were concerned, had provided. Imagine, too, the smell of the gourds stewing in the pot. How lovely it must have been! At last their hunger would be satiated. They sat down to eat and began enjoying it. For some time, I would think...and then, the cry comes, “Master there is death in the pot!” And they could not eat.
Now, I’m not sure how deadly this vine was. Certainly its effects weren’t immediately felt. They had time to see that they were being poisoned. Although they felt no pain, they knew that death had begun working in them? Can you imagine if this vine killed quickly, much of the prophets would have died. Or been killed off by Satan who always comes to kill steal and destroy. But even if death was not working in them, they still had the problem of hunger, and the great disappointment to their faith.
Imagine, for a moment the particular prophet who had found the vines. Perhaps he was happy that God had used him to feed the people. How proud he was and how his faith leaped when he walked towards the pot. He had listened to his spirit, he had found the food. Spiritual food, in my illustration. He had shared it with his fellow prophets. And look, death! It didn’t matter that others didn’t discern the danger within the gourd. He really should have been able to tell the difference between a vine that brings death and the True Living Vine that is Christ. He had wanted to be of some help in edifying his spiritual brothers and here he has brought death instead. Again, this illustration is spiritual so I will say he brought a wrong teaching.
When famine and a hunger for the word appear in the land, those who eat at the communal pot have to be very careful. They must be careful how they hear. They must learn to discern. The blind must learn not to follow the blind or he will end up in the pit.
Discernment pops up everywhere in the Bible. Proverbs 27:7 states, “The full soul loathes a honeycomb, but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet.” We are told elsewhere “to taste and see that the Lord is good.” We are told in fact that God is good.
Notice in the story that the vine didn’t merely pollute the stew. The prophets were so hungry that they probably would not have minded bitter soup. There was death in the pot. The water had to be healed. And the only healing that could repair it was to go to the savior – or a symbol of the healing savior– the meal which Elisha threw into the pot.
I don’t want to go too deeply into the symbolism of the meal offering, but I’ll mention a few things. The first time meal was mentioned in the Bible it was offered by Abraham to God when God promised Sarah her womb would be healed. In Numbers it is used as an offering for sin. The meal offering was a type of Christ and it was put into the pot to cancel the damage done by the false death-bringing vine.
In the world we’re living in, there are many false vines that bring death. They look healthy. Indeed, they look as if they bring life. Often we don’t see their death-bringing quality until we have been around the communal pot long enough to discern it. Have you ever listened to a sermon and walked away feeling that “there was death in the pot?” I remember several sermons that bothered me very much. In one sermon, the minister said that God gives people terrible diseases in order to test them. In another, a priest said, “To me, God is not daddy.” Well, to me, God WAS daddy. God was my shepherd, and I could discern that there was bad fruit and death in that sermon.
As Christians, especially Christians living in a time when so much of Christianity is affected by the media and by other religions, we have to know the difference between the deadly vine and the true vine. We must know God. This means we must clearly accept that God’s personality is like Jesus’s in every way. If Jesus would not a certain thing to us, then God would not do it. If a minister, or some television personality tells us something that is opposite to what Jesus says, we must say, “Let God be true and every man a liar.” Unfortunately, many Christians are not good at discerning because they don’t know their Bibles.
I remember hearing a woman saying, “Hypertension runs in my family.” Well, perhaps it does. But Jesus has told us that we are in His family now. Hypertension does not “run” in God’s family. He has paid to heal us of generational sickness. The holy spirit teaches us how to eat and take care of ourselves. And we are ordered not to worry about anything. We must learn to see when there is death in the pot. We must say to ourselves, “I refuse to accept this.”
I cannot tell you clearly enough how important it is that we take heed what we hear. I had a dream once. In it I sat in my house and saw snakes, serpents, and all manner of evil creeping things try to come through my windows. The windows are the eyes and ears of the soul. I went about closing the doors and pulling down the shades. I was in fact, committing myself to the Bible and the Bible alone. If our eye is single and we see only God’s word, then we will not be doubleminded. Our lives and bodies will be full of light. If our eye is not single and we accept both God’s word and the world’s messages, how our lives will be surrounded by darkness. Jesus tells us that those who have little, the little they have will be taken away. Brothers and sisters, we must read our Bible and take it as our sure and only foundation.
Moral: The Bible is God’s word about how life really works. Read it.
Prayer: Lord, help me to hold fast to what I have so that now one takes my crown.
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