The Prophet Series: Elisha, part 13
The Prophet Series: Elisha part 13.
2KI 4:42-44 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.
Rare indeed it was to see the works of Christ from so far off. The spiritual man would know to depend upon God for all of his daily needs. He would know not to panic during a famine. He would know that God would provide, even from the most unlikely places. Elisha and his companions are blessed this day to see God multiply a scant amount of food so that it would feed far more people than it naturally could have, and that with some left over.
We once again see something happen around Elisha that is a ray of glory from the person of Christ, who was to come some 800 years later. Elisha's ministry is most typical of Jesus among all of the prophets. It may be said that Elisha concludes the series of the "prophets of deed." After him followed the "prophets of word" until, at last, both word and deed merged in Him who was "the word become flesh and dwelt among us."
The Lord's feeding of the 5,000 and the 4,000 are foreshadowed this day in Gilgal. In this part of the narrative, we see that God provides (Yavah Jareh) and that graciousness is a foundational part of what it means to be a man of God.
Are God and nature separate?
God provides for His own both spiritually and naturally. The natural world is fallen, corrupt, and under a curse, but that doesn't mean that God isn't in control of it. Nature would be dead without God. Some err in identifying God with everything. To them God is the tree, the grass, the sky, and the sea. This universalism makes God physical and material, which He is not. The great error in this is that it leads to idolatry. God is not the tree. He is the Creator of the tree.
An error on the other end of the spectrum is that God is limited to the practice of religion or the church building. The consequences of this is a morbid asceticism in which nothing in nature or the world is enjoyed. Such a person refuses to be gladdened by the beauty of nature, music, or art. He rejects any joy in human relationships, not even in the home. Looking away from all of God's gifts he lives in a half-desponding, austere gloom, and as a Christian, this is more pitiful. Worldly blessings are to be appreciated and enjoyed. We will add that these gifts are to be used in the service of God, whatever it may be.
In this event, an unnamed man brings a gift of sustenance to the poor group of prophets. As Elisha's worldly assistant will point out, it is not near enough for all of them, but Elisha still instructs him to put in out for them all. God will multiply it as He will in the incarnate Jesus many years later. There is a very important principle in this. No matter how much we have, the Lord can multiply it. But that multiplication may not be for you alone, but to be sufficient for all.
In the world there are many who are running business, forming ideas, creating products, building organizations so that the people in the world will be hopelessly infected with an insatiable desire for what they offer. If the person is infected, then he will actually believe that he cannot live without the item. The smart phone is a perfect example of this. Everyone in the world who is over 30 years old has grown up without a cell phone, never mind a smart phone. We were hopeless connected to specific places with wires, like the home or the phone booth. But now we have an entire generation who cannot live without a smart phone. To remove it would be like removing their heart or liver.
God gives us what we need, and in certain instances, it may just be enough to survive. And God can do the miraculous and multiply that little storehouse, but we must be careful to not take the sudden increase for our own. It was never ours to begin with. The increase, as in the case before us, and in the fields of Galilee many years later, was for all and all were made full.
Also, what might seem a small amount to our eyes may in fact be a great amount. In our world of materialism, our minds have been sought out for programming so that we will think we need more than we do. We almost always have more than enough and some left over. The man Jesus alone wouldn't seem to be sufficient to conquer all enemies. As He rode humbly into Jerusalem on the colt would anyone, by physical sight alone, think Him to be the defeater of Satan, sin, and death? Would any of us have thought that 12 apostles was sufficient to start the worldwide church?
We do not know the name of the contributor, but neither do we know the name of the widow who in the gospels have her two copper coins. It is not their names that matter, but their deeds, and so these alone are recorded for us. So also, we see in the names of God His attributes which all manifest themselves in deeds. The Provider provides and the Shepherd leads. Character is far more important than names. Hence our new names in heaven will mean something about divine attributes.
First fruits - the best.
There had been a famine in the land for seven long years, 2Ki 8. Since food had become so scarce the man must have taken much time and effort to amass the small amount that he did. And yet we read of him bringing the first fruits, which were the best in quality.
If we look into the reasoning of a common man, as opposed to this extraordinary man, something that we can all easily do, we might imagine some common reasoning.
1. After seven years of famine such a sacrifice can wait until the famine subsides. After all, I could offer even more in years to come and make up for it. In my heart I want to offer it, but the practical matter is that I don't know how long this famine is going to last and I may be giving away something that I may need later.
2. Ok, how about this: I'll give them some but not the first fruits. The first fruits are for God anyway, and so why give them to the prophets? I'll bring twice the first fruits to God next year and I'll save them for my hunger this year and maybe I'll give the prophets some of the lesser quality stuff.
3. You know what, it is true that I'm supposed to, by the Law, to bring the first fruits to God at the Temple. Well, the northern kingdom only worships Baal, so why offer it at Samaria? And, the Temple in Jerusalem has become corrupt with idol worship, so why go there? Both places will only defile the offering.
It would have been easy to argue that one was released from obedience to a command of which the literal fulfillment had become impossible. However, love and wisdom see beyond the letter of the law and knows how to discover the spirit of the law. The man could have reasoned that on principle he was right in not offering on this particular year, but rather than using "reason" he moved on faith and then using his own reason based on faith, he decided that if he couldn't take the first fruits, small in quantity that they were, to the Temple then he would take it to the prophets. We are so good at self-justification if it serves our own comfort or wallets. When it comes time to graciously give, we must find a way.
It is necessary to be "just" before generous.
The above title is a world view. It means that giving should be calculated and fair. Giving should be according to the need. In other words, there must be a reason for giving. Well, God doesn't hold this view and thank God that He doesn't or all of us would be doomed. God gives without strings and for no good reason, not in us at least. People will give because it is Christmas, a birthday, an event, a good time for a gesture, etc. They give because… God gave because He is love and only for that reason. There was nothing about us that prompted His giving. We could call it spontaneous giving due to who He is. He is love and because of this His love was manifested in the death of Jesus.
Man often makes sure that he is fully satisfied before he gives and so removes all essence of sacrifice from it. But this is not to say that we should go out of our way to show God how sacrificial we can be, which only amounts to asceticism. We are to give as He gives - spontaneously because we walk in His love as He does. When we give spontaneously we will find that often it is sacrificial. We didn't calculate it or premeditate it to be sacrificial; it just was because there is so much need in the world.
Generosity is not just. God gave because He is love and because of that love He satisfied His own justice concerning fallen man so that man would be reconciled and God propitiated. Those who reject God's offer of reconciliation will fall under His justice in judgment, but that does not remove the fact that Jesus died for every one of their sins because He loved them.
If you are a Christian, examine yourself and see if you are a "just" giver, and if you are, change your heart into conformity with who you are in Christ and become a gracious giver. "God loves a cheerful giver." In fact, the hearts that are gracious in the church are far more important that the amount of gifts the church receives. God is transforming us into the image of Christ so that our hearts will enjoy what it is to be like Him, and so graciousness is more important that the gift.
No matter how long a believer has been learning the word of God, no matter if he is a babe in Christ unlearned, or mature in Christ full of wisdom, the Christian can never be without grace. He may be full of knowledge, but if he doesn't have grace in his heart he is incomplete in his thinking and way.
Graciousness impacts not only ourselves but others. It has a direct impact on those around us. It also has a direct impact on our witness to the world. If we have professed to renounce this world and yet we still live for it, for its money and things, how can this not negatively affect our witness? It becomes just words that we ourselves don't follow. Christ became poor so that we would become rich. This is the person of whom we are witnessing. The gospel is a promise from God, and we who are God's children have hundreds of promises to believe, many of which concern the materialism of this world. If we witness of one promise, the gospel, let us not live as if there are no other promises.
In answering such questions, let us be honest with ourselves. The worst deception is self-deception. It's not a matter of giving a certain amount, like a tenth, but in having a truly gracious and sacrificial heart as our Lord. "Let the motive be love for the Lord, the act of giving one of worship, and let a definite and high aim be taken by each of us, as in view of the comparative value of things temporal and things spiritual." [Edersheim]
Fresh ears of grain.
The man not only brought barley loaves but he also brought full ears of corn, which at the time were regarded as a delicacy. This is a mark of affection by the man, for the loaves would have been sufficient. Let us beware of giving without affection. God saved us in love and He didn't stop with salvation. He made us sons and daughters. He made us the very bride of Christ and filled us with all that Christ is so that we in our fullness would practically burst with love, joy, and perfect peace. This is the cheerful giver as opposed to the begrudging one.
It is good to remember that the cause of God does not depend upon us. His gracious cause has gone on for centuries without us. We are called to be His instruments of mercy and grace and we may choose to deprive ourselves of that honor. Maybe we consider the cost to be too high, and yet we fail to understand that the way of self has the high price tag while the way of grace is full of God's riches.
Time to eat! Get out of my way!
I have often been saddened by witnessing a hungry man rush to the front of the line when the dinner bell is rung, or rather the "amen" is said at the end of the prayer, and there he stands in front of women and others that he should give deference to in honor. I have also been saddened to think of how that was me some year ago. I am happy to know that God has painstakingly taught me differently.
After years of famine the prophets are surely hungry. We would hope that they were more overjoyed with the heart of the giving man than with the gift itself. We would hope that they were made more full by the fact that there were still people in Israel who thought as this man thought and so there was hope for a faithful people. With such joy filling their hearts they would have given deference to one another and served one another, just as the Lord instructed the disciples to do when He fed the multitudes.
How could a hungry people have such thinking when food is so necessary for survival and our inner instinct is survival of the fittest? They would have already learned to commit their daily wants to the Lord. By doing so we never freak out when we go to the storehouse and find it empty. We know that God will provide and so we maintain patience. Satan tempted the Lord to turn stones into bread after He had turned quite hungry. "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." Such a faith is absolute freedom.
Help comes sometimes through the most unlikely channels. It is often our experience that means were provided in ways that we had not thought of. In this way, God writes His signature on the needs that He provides. Often we are confident that our support is coming from a certain place when we notice that the prop broke and the support failed. God is not restricted to any instrumentality. "Give us this day our daily bread." We don't tell the Lord how to do it.
To Elisha, not for Elisha.
The gift is brought to Elisha. It was not given to him for his own consumption. This is true of all of God's gifts. They are all meant to be shared in the service of others.
ROM 14:7-8 For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.
There is nothing evil in itself. All of God's material gifts are good. It is the perversion of God's gifts that make them evil. Christians have often gone the way of asceticism, denying the enjoyment of God's gifts and so discarding them. It is lawful to enjoy God's gifts. It is unlawful to use them selfishly or in any way perverted from the way God intended them to be used, which way eventually removes their intrinsic joy.
We can certainly love the wife or husband that the Lord has given us. We love our children, friends, and neighbors. We love our vacations and recreational pleasures within the boundaries of the plan of God and without sin. It is not sin to love something and at the same time love God, for it is not the same type of love. The persons and the objects are loved as gifts and God is loved in relationship. To love the object as I love God is to make an idol out of it. I do not have a relationship with an object, and though I do have a relationship with another person, it is does not come close to the eternal relationship I have with my Lord. A relationship with a spouse, for instance, is a picture of our relationship with the Lord, but it is not the same. God belongs to us, the gifts don't.
Gehazi's common sense
Gehazi views the gift as a curse. In his mind it would have been better if the man had never brought it. His eyes were on the amount and not the gracious heart of the man. Gehazi is the type of man who cannot see the mystery and wonder in the things of God. He counts the men and the bread and that is the end of it. Faith gives us imagination, mystery, and wonder. Life sorely needs this, for if it lacks it, the mundane aspects of life will make it grey and boring. He is like Martha when the Lord gave the command to remove the stone from Lazarus' tomb. "He'll stink."
Gehazi lays stress on the impossibility. He calls for common sense, and common sense always argues against faith. "Could there be anything more unreasonable than to attempt passing through the Red Sea, or to encompass Jericho with the Ark and blasts of trumpets, or literally to spread a letter before Jehovah, or to build a wall which would break down if even a fox went upon it - or, to take even a higher view, to expect that the Son of God Incarnate would be laid in a manger, or that the Gospel, preached by a few illiterate Jewish fishers, would subdue the civilization of Greece and the institutions of Rome, and in its onward progress conquer, renew, and civilize the world itself?" [Edersheim]
There are plenty of Gehazi's around to remind us of how insufficient things are. We hear them and then tell them in confidence that the power of God is sufficient. Manna comes from heaven and water from a Rock. Our sufficiency is of God.
It needs not power, might, imagination, eloquence, nor genius. After having used all the means at our disposal in preparing for the work, we may calmly, if believingly, go forward in His Name, even if conscious of insufficiency. We know that not only will our needs be met, but like this day in Gilgal and the day to come in Galilee, there will be plenty left over, for at the end of the day, all the baskets are still full.
Gehazi's protest is silenced by the prophet by simply stating the argument that overrules all others, "thus says the Lord." Gehazi obeys and he witnesses yet another miracle. Gehazi will still not get it. Like so many, he has the privilege of seeing the grace and power of God, but he loves himself too much to accept it.
I pray your life is filled with mystery and wonder,