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Thursday, May 30th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
2 Kings 4

Parker's The People's BibleParker's The People's Bible

Verses 1-44

The Bane and the Antidote

2Ki 4:38-44

There was rest in the days of the early ministry, as we may see the from thirty-eighth verse. A very beautiful picture is given in that verse, and yet a very ghastly one; the ghastliness being seen in the dearth or famine that was in the land, the seven years' dearth of which Elisha had prophesied; and the beauty of it is seen in the simplicity with which service was rendered to the prophet and the sons of the prophets: "Set on the great pot, and seethe pottage for the sons of the prophets." The picture is that of the prophet seated among his young disciples, and caring not only for their intellectual culture but for their bodily welfare. In this sense how beautifully Elisha succeeds to the fatherly office which Elijah had so strongly and nobly sustained: one of the prophets went out into the field to gather herbs. Let him that is greatest amongst you be your servant. There is nothing wrong whatever in any minister whose circumstances dictate such a course going out to do his own work, to attend to his own necessities, and to be his own servant. The young prophet who went out found a climbing plant with tendrils, which was included by the Hebrews under the name of "a wild vine;" and he returned with his shawl full of gourds, and came and shred them into the pot of pottage. Nature grows poison as well as food. The sons of the prophets little knew the hurtful quality of the fruit that was being poured into the pot. In all things nature has its poisonous side as well as its sustaining and comforting aspect. The bane and antidote are both before us in nature. Death lies very near to life in the great open fields. Even our most natural passions lie but a single step from their destructive application. Can it be possible that a son of the prophets went out to gather food for a natural appetite, and came back with poison? This is what is being done every day. We may turn honest commerce into a means of felony. We may go into the market-place to buy food, and yet by some action we may perpetrate in connection with the purchase we may take all virtue out of the food and make it contribute to our worst qualities. Blessed are they who eat honest bread: everywhere the great law of trespass is written in nature. By putting poisons upon the earth so plentifully, what does the Lord say in effect but, Take care, be wise, examine your standing-ground, and do nothing foolishly? Thus nature is turned into a great training-school, within whose walls men are trained to sagacity and discrimination, so that they may know the right hand from the left, and the good from the bad, and thus may turn natural processes and customary daily duties into means of culture. What was the course adopted by the sons of the prophets when they found that they were taking poison in eating of the pottage? They instantly appealed to Elisha, saying, "O thou man of God, there is death in the pot." They did not attempt to work a miracle themselves. They recognised the prerogatives of seniority, and they indicated their own inferior or secondary position. It is not said that the man went out at Elisha's suggestion to gather herbs; probably, therefore, this incident may have been allowed simply for a correction of audacity or obtrusiveness. The man might be seeking to make up by natural processes what Elisha intended to carry out by a course of miraculous interposition. It is God's delight to rebuke and baffle human interference, and to beat off the hands that would support his ark, or help him in the completion of his miracles. Sometimes the point at which human exertion ends is so fine as to be almost invisible, but we should remember that there is such a point, and be continually expecting to reach it, and be constantly praying that we may be saved from trespass or intrusion. The law of self-help is an admirable law within its own bounds, but when it is contributed towards the making-up of a process which God intends to be miraculous, it is then transformed into impiety.

"And there came a man from Baal-shalisha, and brought the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley, and full ears of corn in the husk thereof. And he said, Give unto the people, that they may eat. And his servitor said, What, should I set this before an hundred men? He said again, Give the people, that they may eat: for thus saith the Lord, They shall eat, and shall leave thereof. So he set it before them, and they did eat, and left thereof, according to the word of the Lord" ( 2Ki 4:42-44 ).

Good fortune now seems to have befallen Elisha. Pious Israelites were now transferring to the prophets what had once been given to the Levitical priests: hence they brought to Elisha "bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley, and full ears of corn in the husk thereof." Surely this was a new thing to Elisha, and a great change from the mode of life which he had been latterly leading. He began life under very comfortable circumstances, probably being one of the richest men who had up to that time been called into the service of the Lord. He had, however, had his time of trial and suffering, but now the sun seemed to be shining upon him, and plenty seemed to be at his disposal. What did he do with his good fortune? It is remarkable that he did not selfishly appropriate it, but at once said, "Give unto the people, that they may eat." Here again is a foreshadowing of the spirit and method of the Son of God. Whatever he had he held for the benefit of others. He was prepared to give away the five loaves and the few fishes to those who were in need. The servant said, "What, should I set this before an hundred men?" That is to say, how small it is for them; it is more than enough for thee, but how far would it go in satisfying the hunger of an hundred men? Elijah has been considered to be a type of John the Baptist, and in many respects Elisha has been seen to discover traits of character not unworthy of being regarded as typical of Jesus Christ; he was genial in life; he was constantly going about in the cities and villages; his career was remarkable for the private or domestic miracles which he worked, and a singular healing virtue seemed to reside in his bodily frame: surely in all these respects he resembles more than any other prophet resembled him of whom Moses and the prophets did write! Whilst we dwell upon the types of the Coming One we are delighted with them, for they possess a subtle charm, and throw over the mind a fascination which cannot but contribute to the establishment of pious feeling and sacred anticipation; but when we look upon him whom they typified, then how poor do all symbols and emblems become. Then, how we exclaim in the language of the Queen of Sheba, "The half had not been told me!" Surely there are no adequate types of light. Sometimes men, looking upon a beautiful landscape on a grey day, have said that they could imagine what it would be when the sun was shining. But no man can imagine light. Wherever it comes, it comes with a gracious surprise, revealing beauties undreamed of, and showing aspects of the scene which may startle even those who are most familiar with the outline of the land. The colour is never the same for many moments consecutively, and when the colour changes the whole scene seems to undergo transformation. It is even so with the coming of the Son of man. Looking upon all his forerunners we say, we can now surely imagine what Christ will be when he comes. But, lo! when his sun arises with healing in his wings, we forget all the stars that shone before him, and they retire from the sky which they adorned, unable to continue longer, when the true light shineth which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.


God of our fathers be the God of their succeeding race. Let thy light and thy truth shine forth and establish themselves in the love and confidence of all mankind. Hide not thy face from us. In the hiding of thy face is darkness, and the keeping back of thy hand is death. Draw near unto us! To our hearts daily do thou speak comfortably. Rebuke us not in thine anger, chide us not in thy displeasure, for the look of thy judgment will destroy us, and the breath of thine anger will carry us away. Our only hope is in thy love. Thy love we know best in Christ Jesus, the priest, the victim, the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world. In his love would we meet thee, it is thine own love, eternal, unchangeable, infinite. We would hide ourselves in it as in a sanctuary that cannot be violated. May we stand in the infinite enclosure, safe from every assault and every temptation. Thou knowest us every one. Thou art the father which seeth in secret. Thou knowest our innermost thought There is not a word on our tongue that thou hast not weighed. There is not a thought in our heart that thine eyes have not penetrated. What shall we say unto thee, then, but God be merciful unto us sinners. We know the mystery of doubt We know what it is to go away from God, and to endeavour to create for ourselves gardens in the bleak wilderness. We are ashamed of our inventions, we renounce our hypocrisies. We come with the frankness of contrition, owning all our sin, and asking thee whilst looking upon the Saviour's cross to pardon it with infinite forgiveness. Keep us every one during the few days we may have yet to live. Put within us the spirit of wisdom and of patience, and create in us that sacred expectation which expresses itself in filial prayer. Go with us the remainder of the journey. If there be long hills which we have yet to climb, the Lord help us to ascend every one of them in his own strength and grace. If the darkness should soon settle upon us, may we have a light in our hearts which no night can quench. Enable every man who has made a good vow, to keep it. Give answers of peace to those who have sought them in the name of Christ; and give to every one of us such a conception of life as shall make us solemn yet cheerful; sober because of the nearness of death, yet joyous because of our approaching immortality. "Jesus, refuge of my soul, let me to thy bosom flee." "Rock of ages cleft for me, let me find my rest in thee." Blind us to every other attraction, and fix our eyes on thine own fascination, thou Christ of God, fairest among ten thousand and lovely altogether. Amen.

Bibliographical Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Kings 4". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jpb/2-kings-4.html. 1885-95.
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