Death in the Pot!


II Kings 4:38-41

IN THE Old Testament, there are recorded many, many rather strange events. Some of them are even bizarrelike the one in Judges 4 where the wife of a Kenite gave a fleeing Canaan army commander some milk to drink and then killed him by driving a tent peg through his temple!

When we come across those strange stories, we often just gloss over them, if only because we don't quite understand what they mean spiritually. We know they have something to do with the gospel, but exactly how they are to be interpreted eludes us.

I've discovered, however, that sometimes, as we prayerfully compare scripture with scripture, the Holy Spirit does give us an insight or two into these passages. And by His grace, we can uncover important truths that are helpful to our Christian walk. Let me share an example with you. In II Kings 4:38-41, we read:

And Elisha came again to Gilgal: and there was a dearth in the land; and the sons of the prophets were sitting before him: and he said unto his servant, Set on the great pot, and seethe pottage for the sons of the prophets. And one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine, and gathered thereof wild gourds his lap full, and came and shred them into the pot of pot

tage: for they knew them not. So they poured out for the men to eat. And it came to pass, as they were eating of the pottage, that they cried out, and said, O thou man of God, there is death in the pot. And they could not eat thereof. But he said, Then bring meal. And he cast it into the pot; and he said, Pour out for the people, that they may eat. And there was no harm in the pot.
At first glance, all we could extract from this text, it seems, is that God works miracles. Through Elisha, He healed a poisonous soup. But hidden in these verses, in fact, is the reassuring promise that God will protect all His children from harm during the final tribulation period. And conceivably, we are close to, if not right in, that very period now.

Gilgal. Notice first of all that the passage begins with Elisha coming again to Gilgal. Now, "Gilgal" in the Bible is a name of much significance because it's the name God Himself gave to a specific place. We read in Joshua 5:8-10:

And it came to pass, when they had done circumcising all the people, that they abode in their places in the camp, till they were whole. And the Lord said unto Joshua, This day have I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you. Wherefore the name of the place is called Gilgal unto this day. And the children of Israel encamped in Gilgal, and kept the passover on the fourteenth day of the month at even in the plains of Jericho.
You see, Gilgal, which literally means circle or wheel or something that rolls, is spiritually identified with God rolling away the reproach of Egypt from off His people. And of course, the phrase, the reproach of Egypt, is a representation of fallen man's spiritual enslavement to sin and Satan.

Gilgal thus symbolizes the place where God provides salvation for His people, the place where God circumcises the hearts of all His children. In other words, it is a picture of the Kingdom of God on this earth. This is why Joshua, during much of his campaign to conquer the promised land, set up his camp in Gilgal. Joshua, of course, is a type of Jesus.

Famine. But now, we find in II Kings 4:38 that there was a dearth in the land. The Hebrew word for "dearth" is generally translated "famine", and famine in the Bible represents a spiritual state in which the word of God is wanting.

In Amos 8:11, for example, we read, "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord." There, God was warning Israel of the 400-year period during which He did not send any word to them at all.

A dearth in Gilgal thus refers to the period when the true gospel is absent from the earthly representation of God's Kingdom. That was the condition prevailing in Israel when Elisha succeeded Elijah as the prophet of God. It will also characterize the short end-time period that immediately precedes Judgment Day.

Pottage. Next, we see that the sons of the prophets were sitting before Elisha. Given the context of this story, I think it's safe to say that Elisha, like his predecessor Elijah, is a type of Jesus here; and the sons of the prophets represent true believers. These children of God were sitting there seeking spiritual food from Christ, even as Mary sat at the Lord's feet listening to Him talk (Luke 10:39).

Elisha then said to his servant, "Set on the great pot, and seethe pottage for the sons of the prophets." He told his servant to boil some soup, or stew, for the men to eat.

You see, when we humbly come before God expressing our hunger for His word, He will see to it that we are fed. And that is so even when our congregations are beset by a famine of the word.

The Bible promises, "Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy; To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine" (Psa. 33:18,19), and "They shall not be ashamed in the evil time: and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied" (37:19).

Field. Probably with good intentions, one of the servants went out to gather herbs, or vegetables, for the soup. But he went to the wrong place. He went into the field, which, in the Bible, is a picture of the world.

Jesus, explaining the parable of the wheat and the tares, says in Matthew 13:38, "The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one."

And in John 4:35, the Lord says, "Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest." The fields are those parts of the world in which the remnant chosen by grace have been scattered. Hence, He tells us to ask God to send out workers into the harvest field.

Wild gourd. Nevertheless, the sin-cursed world is not the right place to find food for believers. Not surprisingly, therefore, all this servant could gather were wild gourds from a wild vine.

In contrast to the true vine, which is Jesus Himself (John 15:1), a wild vine represents something that is sinful. Remember the apostle Paul says in Romans 11:24 that we Gentile believers "wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree"?

Likewise, in Isaiah 5, where God was lamenting over Israel's failure to bear good fruit in spite of His loving care, He says in verse 4, "What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?"

At any rate, there was no shortage of such wild gourds in the world. The servant was able to gather a lap full (a garment full, that is) of them. Shredding and putting them into the pot of pottage, he effectively introduced worldly ideas into that which the church normally feeds the flock.

Deadly poison. "And they knew them not." When false prophets first begin to infiltrate our congregations and when heresies and false gospels are injected into our teaching, we often don't realize it. Satan is very cunning. He masquerades as an angel of light, and his false preachers as servants of righteousness.

Thankfully, God protects His own from being snared by such false gospels. Describing believers as His sheep, Jesus says in John 10:5, "And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers."

In other words, true believers, having the indwelling Holy Spirit as their Counselor, know that gospels other than that of the Bible will not bring salvation, but lead only to eternal destruction. And so, when the sons of the prophets began to eat of the pottage, they cried out, "There is death in the pot." They realized at once that there was poison in the food.

Meal. To cure that, Elisha asked for meal and then cast the meal into the pot. What does that represent?

Well, the Hebrew word for "meal" is sometimes translated in the Bible as "flour", and in the Books of Exodus, Numbers and Leviticus, there are any number of verses where God commands the children of Israel to offer flour or cakes baked from flour as offerings. Like the lambs and bulls and grains and other sacrifices offered at the temple, meal is a symbol pointing to Christ being the Savior.

Jesus is the Word of God. He is the "true bread from heaven" (John 6:32), "the bread of life" (v. 35). Partaking of the Word of God will keep us from being harmed by any false teaching. Thus, God declares in Mark 16:18, "If they (believers) drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them."

And hence, this story ends with this marvelous statement: "And there was no harm in the pot." The famine notwithstanding, the sons of the prophets were adequately fed.

Today's Application

Now, can you see why this account in II Kings 4:38-41 is more than just an intriguing story in the Old Testament? And why the truth it reveals is highly pertinent to us?

We are living in a day when there is indeed "a dearth in Gilgal". By and large, the corporate church has ceased to proclaim the whole counsel of God. The gospel and key doctrines have been so perverted that most congregations are, for all practical purposes, just playing church with worldly ideas.

For the unsaved, these congregations offer nothing but death in the pot. But true believers will not be fooled. It's not that they are smarter than other churchgoers. Rather, God is faithful. Christ has promised that He shall not lose any of the children that the Father has given Him.

Meanwhile, we must sit humbly before God ever seeking wisdom from His word. Instead of believing everything we hear from the pulpit, we rely strictly on the Bible itself to bring us truth. By the grace of God, we will then be well equipped to go through the final tribulation period and can confidently hope to see Jesus face to face immediately afterwards. o

Jesse Gistand is a Bible teacher at the Alameda Bible Reformed Church, 2203 Central Avenue, Alameda, CA 94501.

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