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True to His Word

Date: May. 10, 2015

Author: Bob Henkins

2 Kings 4:38-44

Key Verse: 2 Kings 4:44

“Then he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord.”

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there. What a beautiful passage we have for us today. (its kind of funny how these schedule out) Have you ever wondered, “Why does God include stories like this in the Bible?” I did as I was preparing this message. I’ve come to realize that one of the reasons that God does it is so that we can get to know him better. Unlike people, God is not with us physically; we can’t just walk up to him and start a conversation, or call him on the phone to see how he’s doing. However like people, we can tell what someone is like by what they’ve done. A person can tell you all kinds of things about themselves, but their actions could betray their words because they reveal who we really are. A single action doesn’t do much. But when you begin to connect them all together, our actions tell a story about who we are, what our character is like, our habits, our values, our integrity. Likewise we can learn who God is and what he is like by what he does. So a seemingly random story in the Bible alone may not mean that much, but as we connect them together, we come to know God more. And the more we know about someone, the more we can trust them.

Sadly we live in a time where words are cheap, commitment doesn’t mean very much and people are not very trustworthy. I remember back in 1988 during the presidential election, George Bush famously said, “Read my lips, no new taxes.” [And I'm the one who will not raise taxes. My opponent now says he'll raise them as a last resort, or a third resort. But when a politician talks like that, you know that's one resort he'll be checking into. My opponent won't rule out raising taxes. But I will. And the Congress will push me to raise taxes and I'll say no. And they'll push, and I'll say no, and they'll push again, and I'll say, to them, ‘Read my lips: no new taxes.’] This quickly became the most prominent sound bite from his speech at the Republican National Convention. Many believe that this one quote helped him win the election because it was so memorable. And most people didn’t want any new taxes. However later in the 1992 election it hurt him just as much as it helped him. Why? Because during his presidency, he introduced many new taxes and raised old ones as well. His opponents kept replaying his quote over and over and over. “Read my lips, no new taxes.” They were pointing out that he wasn’t a man of his word, he wasn’t trust worthy. He’s going to raise your taxes again. Ultimately he lost the election and was ridiculed as a lying, untrustworthy one term president. However through this passage we’ll gain a little more insight into God’s character through his actions and we’ll find that unlike people, he is trustworthy and he keeps his word and by this we can trust him a little more.

Today’s passage starts off in the middle of the chapter at verse 38, let’s take a look at the verse. “ Elisha returned to Gilgal and there was a famine in that region. While the company of the prophets was meeting with him, he said to his servant, “Put on the large pot and cook some stew for these prophets.” From this verse we find out that there is a famine in the land. There hasn’t been rain, their crops aren’t growing and they’re hungry. Maybe that’s why we have two passages about food? We, in America, in our generation have never known what famine is like. Maybe the worst we’ve ever had was a late frost, or a temporary drought in one part of the country and the result is that some prices go up for a season, or maybe we have to go without a non-essential, like peaches or something. For example right now California is entering the fourth year of a record-breaking drought which has caused their Governor to declare a State of Emergency and issue state wide water conservation rules. It is now illegal for Californians to water their lawns at certain times. We don’t know just how fragile our lives really are. What if the California drought spreads? It’s already one of the largest food producing states but what if it grows? How long would the food supplies last. There would be a rush to get to the grocery stores and once the shelves were empty, how long would people last? What stock piles do you have at home? How long would the food you have at home right now last? A week? Ten days? We live in an age of ease, with a hand to mouth existence. And we don’t know just how fragile that is. Elisha and the company of prophets were in a real famine, they were struggling to survive.

As I thought about this, I found it interesting to note that God’s people weren’t exempt from the famine. They had to go through it just like everyone else. There isn’t a special privilege for God’s people that exempt them from hardship. Some might ask, “Why believe in God then?” Although God’s people have to go through the same hardship, at the same time we find that God doesn’t abandon his people in them. Jesus said, “I am always with you to the very end of the age.” (Mt 28:20) God is with his people and he help them go through difficulties. Also I find the results of hardships interesting. Usually what happens from hardships is that they either draw those who love God closer to him or it widens the gap between those who don’t love him. As a result, hardships are kind of like filtering mechanisms. When hardships hit, God’s people humble themselves and draw closer to him, while the others harden their hearts and push away from him. [Maybe this is how God separates the sheep from the goats, or the wheat from the chaff. ]

We come across Elisha meeting with a company of prophets. I’m not sure what they’re doing. Maybe he’s teaching them or just having fellowship. Whatever they are doing, it’s good to have fellowship together. As we saw from last week’s passage, Elisha had access to the king and the commander of the army. He could have gone to stay with them. Surely if anyone was going to have food, it would have been those two people. Take N. Korea for example. Not long ago, there was a famine in N. Korea and the common people were starving, but you can bet those in charge like Kim Jong Un and his army generals had plenty to eat. (you can tell just by looking at him) Or maybe Elisha could have gone to a different region to get away from the famine but he didn’t, he went there to be with them. Elisha didn’t try to better his situation, he shared the hardship together with them. The fact that Elisha shared in the life and the hardship of those he taught, he had compassion on them, so that he could understand them reminds me of Jesus who gave up all the privileges of heaven to be born as a man and make his dwelling among us. That’s a beautiful picture that stands in contrast to man’s kingdom with rulers like Kim Jong Un. I believe the reason he could do this was because he trusted God and had faith that God would provide for him and the men.

Every situation is different and unique. In one case, God told Elijah to leave a place where a famine was but in this case Elisha decides to stay. There is no blanket statement that tells us what to do, we have to take every situation by itself and seek God to find out his will and direction for us in that particular situation. This famine could have been God’s way of telling them to move on or maybe he was to stay and endure through it. Either way Elisha needed have to have personal conviction and trust in God’s leading one way or the other.

In this verse we see Elisha telling his servant to put a pot on. I’m not sure if it’s Gehazi or not but if it was, last week we see how Gehazi co-worked with Elisha in a powerful miracle where a boy was raised to life. Gehazi must have felt so important running to save the boy’s life but now Elisha tells him to boil some water. As I said, I’m not sure if it’s him but we can still learn something from it. From this event, we see the highs and lows of ministry. And we learn that not all parts of serving God’s ministry are spiritual or set out in front for an audience to see and yet they are still very important, even critical. It’s here I’d like to thank everyone that participates in serving God’s ministry behind the scene. People serve in so many different ways, from transporting the equipment, setting up, breaking down, as treasurer, serving food, preparing music, running sound & video, supporting the Bible club, working on the Bible house, etc to many to mention.

 Verse 39 tells us, “One of them went out into the fields to gather herbs and found a wild vine and picked as many of its gourds as his garment could hold. When he returned, he cut them up into the pot of stew, though no one knew what they were.” This servant picking wild vines reminded me that last week we started our garden and I think I found an easy way to tell which plants are the good ones and which ones are bad. Do you know how you can tell? The good ones pull out easily but the bad ones are hard to get out. One of the guys went out looking for something to eat and he came across wild gourds. He picked so many that his shirt was full. This should have been a red flag to him. Why were there so many of these gourds here during a famine? It was unusual. It should have set off a trigger in his head. When I came to work this week, strangely there were tons of parking spaces. The streets were wide open. This was extremely unusual. I noticed it but didn’t investigate it. I just happily picked the closest spot and went in to work. Later someone came up to me and told me that Evanston changed their parking signs and they made it two hour parking. Crap! Now I had to go out and move my car and try to find all day parking. I wasn’t as observant as I could have been. Neither was this servant. Another thing verse 39 reveals to us is their lack of discernment. No one knew what these gourds were, and yet they used them anyway. From this we learn that sometimes ignorance can be deadly. If you’re diving and you don’t know the speed limit, you haven’t seen a sign and you happen to be going over the speed limit and a cop pulls you over, and you tell him, “I’m sorry officer, I don’t know what the speed limit is,” how do you think he’s going to respond? “Oh, that’s ok. Just be more careful next time.” You wish. He’ll probably say something like, “Ignorance is no excuse, it’s your responsibility to know what it is at all times.” In some cases the phrase “I don’t’ know” can get you killed. I read a story about a person that was trying to clean up a mess and they knew ammonia works well and bleach works well, so they thought they would work better if they mixed them together. What they didn’t know was that they just made chlorine gas which is very deadly and was used in WWI as a weapon.

So what happened, verse 40 tells us. “ The stew was poured out for the men, but as they began to eat it, they cried out, “Man of God, there is death in the pot!” And they could not eat it.” The stew tasted so bad that they couldn’t eat it. Recently I heard that a bitter taste is a natural defense against eating something poisonous, just like pain is a natural defense for injury. This is God’s wisdom to help us survive. I don’t know if it was going to kill them or not, but I think it could have. Last week Mike shared an article with me after we studied this passage. The title is “Poison in the Stew? 1 Dead, 20 Sick After Eating Church Potluck.” The article goes on to say, “One person has died and at least 20 others were sick with symptoms of food borne Botulism following a weekend church potluck in Ohio, hospital officials said on Tuesday. The Fairfield Medical Center said in a statement that the patients, five of whom were in a critical condition, had all attended a picnic at Cross Pointe Free Will Baptist Church in Lancaster on Sunday. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had sent anti-toxin to treat the sick, the hospital said, while local health officials investigated the cause of the outbreak.” (Mike’s article - http://www.sermonaudio.com/new_details.asp?ID=42244 )

So how did Elisha respond to this emergency take a look at verse 41. “ Elisha said, “Get some flour.” He put it into the pot and said, “Serve it to the people to eat.” And there was nothing harmful in the pot.” Elisha seems to be the kind of guy who used what’s around him to do God’s work. For example back in chapter 2 Elisha used salt to heal the bad water and in the first part of chapter 4 he used the widow’s oil to provide for her. And here he uses flour to make this terrible batch of stew wholesome. These were everyday things, nothing special about them. They weren’t magic. God was the one doing the work behind the scene, the salt, oil and flour were merely God’s instruments to carry out his good purpose. But the wonderful thing about this is, that whenever they came across these things in the future, they would remind them of God’s amazing grace and miraculous power. This reminded me of Mk 16:17 “And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”” ) Here we find how God protects them even in their ignorance. This is really God’s grace.

God can take our circumstances that are so bitter and unpleasant and completely turn them around. In the midst of famine, they are eating good food. Maybe the people in the region knew that these gourds were poisonous and that’s why they left them alone. Then these men come along and say hey, look what I found a bunch of gourds. I wonder why no one has picked them. Let’s cook’em up, they’ll be good eats. I heard someone say, “Well, that’s what you get when you leave the cooking up to a bunch of men.” However God redeemed what was unusable and bitter. Our God is in the redeeming business through the grace and power of Jesus. This reminds me of our Bible house. It was once broken down and full of black mold. But God has been slowly restoring it. Ultimately God sent his one and only Son to redeem lost sinners, and restores them and makes them a blessing.

Verse 42 tells us, “A man came from Baal Shalishah, bringing the man of God twenty loaves of barley bread baked from the first ripe grain, along with some heads of new grain. “Give it to the people to eat,” Elisha said.” It’s interesting that during a famine, someone brought Elisha some food. God’s people should stick together. We should care for one another in practical ways. If someone is in need, we shouldn’t just say, “I’ll pray for God’s provision for you brother,” and then go home to have dinner. I’m not saying that we should become a welfare state, but that we love one another. It’s not shameful to be in need, we all will need it from time to time.

Also notice that the man brought the bread from the first fruits of their harvest. They weren’t giving their left overs, but from the first of their harvest. This reveals their attitude toward God. Their offering meant something. This reminds me of King David’s view of offering, he said, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” (2 Sa 24:24) They gave first and took for themselves afterward. They were generous. Also notice that they helped them to be self-sustaining. Not only did they give loaves of bread, but also some heads of grain. From this they could make more flour and bake additional loaves and even plant the grain for future crops. This anonymous man was very thoughtful with his offering.

Notice Elisha’s servant’s response in verse 43. ““How can I set this before a hundred men?” his servant asked. But Elisha answered, “Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the Lord says: ‘They will eat and have some left over.” He couldn’t believe how these 20 loaves of bread could feed 100 men. At first I thought these loaves were like a loaf of bread today. 20 ounces, that’s like 4 slices of bread, 2 sandwiches for each man. That’s not bad. However the loaves were not like that. They were more like biscuits from Popeye’s chicken. Imagine 5 guys having to share a Popeye’s biscuit. Add in a little honey and mmmm I can eat 2 or 3 of those myself. Not you understand the servant’s (Gehazi ??) response, “How can I serve this small amount of food to 100 men?” Elisha reassured him by telling him that it wasn’t his idea, but God’s. God says, “They’re going to eat, get full, and even have some for later.” It’s nice to see that God not only cares about our spiritual needs, but also our physical needs.

Take a look at what happens in verse 44. “ Then he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord.” The phrase that sticks out to me here is “according to the word of the Lord.” I know that we’ve heard this over and over but it never gets old, God is true to his word. Amazingly God’s word came true. Our God is one who keeps his promises, he keeps his word. Who in this world can keep their word? Even if we want to, sometimes we can’t keep it. Sometimes circumstances keep us from keeping our word. As I mentioned earlier, unfortunately we live in a time where words are cheap, people are untrustworthy and commitment doesn’t mean very much. In fact, we have to set up legally binding contracts because so many people don’t keep their word. In the past, all two people would have to do is “Shake on it,” and that meant their agreement was binding. I remember a guy used to say, “My back and my word, I don’t break them for anybody.” People took pride in keeping their word. Because at the end of the day, that’s all you have control over. And people didn’t want to get a bad reputation for not keeping their word, for being untrustworthy unlike George Bush. So people’s decisions were very important because they didn’t want to break their promise. But that’s not really true today. Talk is cheap and people don’t really care so deeply about keeping their promise.

The miracle Elisha performed was great, but Jesus did something even greater when he fed 5,000 people with less. The miracles themselves were not the point, sure they helped people in times of need, but that wasn’t the main point. The miracles of Jesus showed us he who he was, they revealed that was the son of God, and that God has compassion for us, cares for us, and will care for us even in times of hardship. The hardship may not be our fault, it may be due to the sin of the nation as it was in Israel’s case, or it may be our fault, because we are sinners too. Still God has compassion. Here God showed compassion by feeding his prophets in a time of famine, and he was with them as Elisha the man of God was with them. He proved that he was with him by the miracles Elisha was doing, and that proved Elisha to be the man of God. Jesus’ miracles proved that he was the Son of God, whom God promised, predicted and foreshadowed. God keeps his promise by sending us his Son to save the world, and God keeps his promise by giving us his Holy Spirit who convicts us of the bitterness of our sins, but applies the sweetness of the gospel to our hearts, and feeds us with our daily bread, both physical and spiritual.

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Key Verse: 2:3

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