II Kings 4

 

 

                        MIRACLES WROUGHT BY ELISHA (vs. 1-44)

 

The miracles of this chapter are all of them miracles of mercy. The first and last consist

in the multiplying of food, and thus belong to the same class as our Lord’s feeding the

four and the five thousands, and Elijah’s increasing the meal and oil of the widow of

Zarephath (1 Kings 17:10-16). It serves no useful purpose to ask how miracles of

this class were wrought. The inspired writers have not told us; and our own thoughts

upon the subject can at the best be mere unfounded conjectures. The rationalistic

attempts which have been made to solve the mystery exhibit a weakness and

feebleness that are absolutely puerile.  The second miracle is the resuscitation of a

dead person, and belongs, consequently, to the very narrow class of such recoveries,

of which in the Old Testament there are three only (see I Kings 17:17,23; here; and

ch. 13:21). The third miracle consists in rendering fit for man’s use that which was

previously unfit, not by human skill or science, but by miracle; and is analogous to

the act of Moses whereby the waters of Marah ceased to be bitter (Exodus 15:25),

and to that other act of Elisha himself, whereby the waters of Jericho were healed

(ch. 2:19-22). It is evidently the object of the writer or compiler of II Kings to

collect in this place the principal, or at any rate the most noted, of the miraculous

acts of the great prophet who succeeded Elijah, and so to preserve them from

oblivion. This object, which he began to set before himself in ch. 2:13, continues

to be pursued, and forms a link uniting the various narratives together, up to ch. 8:6.

 

 

                        The Multiplication of the Widows Oil (vs. 1-7)

 

1  Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets

unto Elisha, saying,” - We learn from this that the “sons of the prophets” were

not merely, all of them, college students, but included fathers of families, who cannot

have lived a cloistered life, but must have had separate homes for themselves and

their families. Such persons may still have taught in the prophetical schools, as do the

married tutors and professors of modern universities – “Thy servant my husband

is dead;” - Elisha had, it seems, known her husband, who had been his “servant,”

not literally and in deed, but in will and heart, i.e. always ready to serve him. She

recalls this fact to his memory, to predispose him in her favor – “and thou knowest

that thy servant did fear the Lord:” -  Here was a second ground for Elisha’s

interference — the woman’s husband had been a God-fearing man, one who not

only acknowledged Jehovah, but worshipped Him in spirit and in truth – “and the

creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen.”  In

primitive communities, men borrowed upon their personal credit, and the primary

security for debt was regarded as being their own persons, the value of their labor,

and that of those dependent on them. In Greece and Rome, originally, as in the

Hebrew community, borrowers ordinarily raised money by pledging their persons,

and, if they could not pay when the debt became due, went into servitude with their

children. The Mosaic Law presupposes this state of things, and permits its

continuance, but in two respects interferes to modify it:

 

  • by requiring that the service exacted shall not be severe (Leviticus

            25:43, 46), but such as was commonly rendered by hired servants

            vs. 39-40); and

 

  • by limiting the period of service to the date of the next jubilee year

            (Ibid. vs. 40-41). In the instance brought here under our notice, it

            would seem that the creditor had not proceeded to claim his rights until the

            debtor died, when he enforced them against the man’s children (compare

                        Nehemiah 5:1-8).

 

2  And Elisha said unto her, What shall I do for thee?”  Elisha acknowledges

at once the call upon him to do something for the woman. This is, no doubt, in part,

because she is a widow. Widows were, in the Law, especially commended to the

attention and care of the faithful. The Law urgently commands to succor the

widows and the fatherless, and to care for them (Exodus 22:22-24; Deuteronomy

14:29; 24:17, 19; 26:12; 27:19). They are mentioned as representatives of the

forsaken, the oppressed, and the necessitous as a class (Isaiah 10:2; Jeremiah

22:3; Zechariah 7:10; Malachi 3:5). It is especially emphasized and praised in

Jehovah, that he is the Father and Judge (i.e. Protector of the rights) of the widows

and the fatherless (Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalm 68:5; 146:9; Isaiah 9:17). Neglect

and contempt of them are counted among the heaviest offences (Psalm 94:6;

Job 22:9; Ezekiel 22:7); just as, on the other hand, compassion and care for them is

a sign of the true fear of God, and of true piety. (Job 29:12; 31:16; James 1:27).

Elisha could also gather from the tone of the woman’s address that she, like her

late husband, was God-fearing – “tell me, what hast thou in the house?

Hast thou anything, that is, which thou canst sell, and so pay the debt? “And she

said, Thine handmaid hath not anything in the house, save a pot of oil.”

 Literally, save an anointing of oil; i.e. so much oil as will suffice for one anointing

of my person.

 

3  Then he said, Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbors, even

empty vessels; borrow not a few.”  God stints not in His gifts (Isaiah 55:1).

When He offers them, men should take advantage of the offer largely, in the

 same spirit in which it is made!

 

4  And when thou art come in, thou shalt shut the door upon thee and upon

thy sons,” -  The miracle was to be performed secretly. Attention was not to be

called to it, the hearts of the woman and of her sons should be lifted up in prayer

and adoration and thankfulness to God for the mercy which He was bestowing.

Compare our Lord’s secret performance of many miracles – “and shalt pour out

into all those vessels i.e. those which thou shalt have borrowed — and thou

shalt set aside that which is full.” - i.e. as each vessel is filled, it shall be

removed and set aside, and one of the empty vessels substituted — that the

pouring might be continuous.

 

5   “So she went from him, and shut the door upon her and upon her sons”

i.e. obeyed exactly the prophet’s orders — “who brought the vessels to her;

and she poured out.”

 

6  And it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said unto her

son, Bring me yet a vessel.”  It did not occur to her that all the vessels had been

already filled; so she asked her son for another, that she might fill it. “And he said

unto her, There is not a vessel more.  And the oil stayed.”  God will not have

waste. If the oil had continued to flow, it would have fallen on the floor of the house,

and have been of no service to any one. Therefore, when all the vessels were full,

there was a sudden stoppage.

 

7  Then she came and told the man of God.”  i.e. Elisha - She did not feel

entitled to make use of the oil which she had got by his instrumentality without

first telling him and receiving his directions respecting it. The prophet gave them

with all plainness and brevity. “And he said, Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt,

and live thou and thy children of the rest.”  The oil in the vessels was

more than sufficient for the discharge of the debt. The prophet directs the

woman to sell the whole, and, after satisfying the claim of her creditor with

part of the money, to support herself and her children on the remainder.

 

 

            The Promise of a Child to the Shunammite Woman, and

                 the Restoration of the Child to Life (vs, 8-37)

 

8   “And it fell on a day, that” -  The expression seems to be archaic. It occurs

only here and in. the opening chapters of the Book of Job (1:6, 13; 2:1). The most

literal rendering would be, and the day came when.  Elisha passed to Shunem,”

- Shunem was a village of Galilee, situated in the territory assigned to Issachar

(Joshua 19:18) an is in the midst of some of the finest corn-fields in the world,

on the edge of the Plain of Esdraelon. Elisha, in his progression to different parts

of the northern kingdom, happened to come on one occasion to Shunem

where was a great woman,” - The meaning seems to be that she was

a woman of substance, one well-to-do, perhaps one that had brought her

husband the bulk of his wealth – “and she constrained him to eat bread.”

- i.e. she invited him in as he passed her house, and would take no denial.

Compare Lot’s pressing hospitality, as related in Genesis 19:1-3. “And

so it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread.”

Elisha, it appears, had frequent occasion to pass through Shunem on his

way from Carmel to visit the cities of Galilee, or vice versa. It became his habit,

on these journeys, to eat his meals at the house of the rich Shunammite, hence

arose a kindly feeling on both sides.

 

9  And she said unto her husband, Beheld now, I perceive that this is

an holy man of God,” -  Not all the men of God were truly religious and

God-fearing. In Elisha’s time, as in all others, there were among the teachers

of religion some who were “wolves in sheep’s clothing.”  The Shunammite

woman, after a certain length of acquaintance, came to the conclusion that

Elisha deserved the title which he commonly bore, was truly a “man of God,”

a real devoted servant of Jehovah. She therefore wished to do more for him than

she had hitherto done – “which passeth by us continually.”  i.e. who passes

through our village often.

 

10  Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall;” probably a

small addition to the existing upper chamber of the house is meant — a tiny

room resting partly upon the wall of the house, partly projecting beyond it,

balcony fashion. Such sleeping-chambers are common in Oriental dwellings –

and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a

candlestick:” -  rather, a bed, and a table, and a chair, and a lamp —

the necessary furniture of an apartment which was to be used, not only; as

a sleeping-chamber, but also for retirement, for study, and perhaps for

literary composition - “and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he

shall turn in thither.”  In the intervals between his active ministrations, a

prophet would naturally desire quiet retirement, security from interruption.

He would need to reflect, to meditate, to pray, perhaps to write. The

Shunammite’s proposal shows, not only kindness, but thoughtfulness and

appreciation.  11 And it fell on a day, that he came thither, and he turned

into the chamber, and lay there; i.e. slept there, passed the night there.

12 And he said to Gehazi his servant,” -  Gehazi is here mentioned for the

first time. He seems to have been Elisha’s “servant” in a lower sense than Elisha

had been Elijah’s. Still, his position was such that on one occasion (ch. 8:4,-5) a

king of Israel did not disdain to hold a conversation with him – “Call this

Shunammite. And when he had called her, she stood before him” -i.e.

before Gehazi. Elisha communicates with the woman through his servant, or

at any rate in his presence, probably to prevent any suspicion of impropriety

arising in the mind of any one. The prophet of the Lord must not be evil spoken of.

 

13  And he said unto him, Say now unto her, Behold, thou hast been

careful for us with all this care” — or, anxiety; i.e. thou hast taken all this

trouble in lodging both me and my servant, and in attending on us — “what is

to be done for thee?” - or, What is there that thou wouldest have done for

 thee? Is there anything that we can do for thee in return? “Wouldest thou be

spoken for to the king?”  Elisha assumes that he has credit at court, and offers

to use it in the Shunammite’s favor, if she has any request to prefer. We see

something of his influence in chps. 6:9-12, 21-23; 8:4-6 – “or to the captain of

the host?” -  i.e. the person whose authority and influence was next to that of the

king. “And she answered, I dwell among mine own people.”  i.e. “The

court is nothing to me. I want nothing from it. I have no wrong to complain of, no

quarrel with any of my neighbors, so as to need the help of one in power. I dwell

peaceably among them. They are ‘my own people’ — friends or dependents.” The

reply is that of one perfectly content with her position. Perhaps she aims at impressing

on Elisha that she has had no selfish motive in what she has done for him, but has

merely wished to honor God in His prophet.

 

14  And he said — he, Elisha, said to GehaziWhat then is to be done for her?”

 If the woman will suggest nothing herself, can Gehazi suggest anything? Has he heard

her express any wish? Does he know of any boon that would be welcome to her?

Evidently the woman’s disinterestedness has increased the prophet’s desire to do

something for her but it does not appear that the woman had made any complaint or

exhibited any special anxiety on the subject of offspring. But Gehazi knows, that to

be barren is regarded by all Hebrew women as a reproach, that it exposes them to

scorn and contumely (I Samuel 1:6-7), and that offspring is universally, or all but

universally, desired. He therefore assumes that the Shunammite must wish for it.

And Elisha accepts his suggestion without a moment’s hesitation.

 

15  And he said, Call her. And when he had called her, she stood in the

door.” -  rather, the doorway. The same word in Hebrew stands both for “doorway”

and for “door.” It would seem that the woman came at once on being called, but,

out of modesty and respect, would not advance beyond the entrance of the apartment.

 

16  And he i.e. Elisha — said, About this season, according to the time of

life — rather, when the time comes round; literally, revives; i.e. about this time

next year — “thou shalt embrace a son.” -  i.e. “a son shall be born to thee, whom

thou wilt embrace, as mothers are wont to do.”  And she said, Nay, my lord,

thou man of God, do not lie unto thine handmaid.”  Like Sarah, the woman was

incredulous; she could not believe the good tidings, and thought the prophet was

only raising hopes to disappoint them. Her words, “Do not lie unto thy servant,”

are less harsh in the original, being merely equivalent to the “Do not deceive me”

of v. 28.

 

17  And the woman conceived, and bare a son at that season that Elisha

had said unto her, according to the time of life.” -  rather, as the Revised

Version gives the passage, the woman conceived, and bare a son at that

season, when the time came round, as Elisha had said unto her. The event

was exactly as predicted; the child was born at the same season of the ensuing year.

 

18 And when the child was grown  not grown up, for he was still a “child”

(vs. 30-31, 35), but grown to be a boy, perhaps four or five years old —“it fell on

a day, that he went out to his father to the reapers.”  The corn-fields about

Shunem attract the admiration of travelers.  The husband of the Shunammite, the

owner of several, was in one of them, superintending the cutting of his corn by the

reapers; and the boy joined him there, as he had probably often done before.

Country children delight in watching the various operations of the farmstead.

 

19  And he said unto his father, My head, my head.”  Sunstroke was

common in Palestine (Psalm 121:6; Isaiah 49:10), and would be most frequent

and most fatal at the time of harvest. The cry of the child is at once most touching

and most natural. “And he said to a lad;” -  literally, to the lad-probably the lad

who had attended the” young master” to the field – “Carry him to his mother” –

 i.e. take him indoors, and let his mother see to him. No wiser directions could

have been given.

 

20  And when he had taken him, and brought him to his mother, he sat on

her knees till noon,” -  It was in the morning, therefore, that the child received his

sunstroke — an unusual, but not an unknown, occurrence. In the East the sun often

becomes intensely hot by ten o’clock - “and then died.”  There is no ambiguity

here, no room for doubt; the child not only became insensible, but died. The

historian could not possibly have expressed himself more plainly.

 

21  And she went up, and laid him on the bed of the man of God,” -  One

cannot be certain what thoughts were working in the poor bereaved mother’s

heart; but probably she entertained some vague notion that the prophet might be

able to resuscitate her child, and thought that, until his presence could be

obtained, the next best thing was to place the child where the prophet’s presence

had lately been. Elijah had placed on his own bed the child whom he restored to

life (I Kings 17:19); and the fact may have been known to the Shunammite. She

certainly did not expect mere contact with the bed to resuscitate her child – “and

shut the door upon him,” -  Either that the body should not be disturbed, or rather

that the death should not be known. It is clear that, from whatever motive, the

woman wished to conceal the death of the child until she had seen what Elisha could

do for her. She neither told her husband nor the servant who accompanied her.

and went out.” -  i.e. quitted the prophet’s apartment, closing the door as she

quitted it.

 

22  And she called unto her husband, and said, Send me, I pray thee, one

of the young men, and one of the asses,” -  She “called to her husband” from

the house, without calling him into the house, expressing her desire to visit Elisha,

without stating the object of her visit, and asked for the necessary riding animal and

escort. The nearest part of Carmel was at least fourteen or fifteen miles from

Shunem, so that she could not walk – “that I may run i.e., hasten — to the

man of God.” “Man of God” was evidently the designation by which Elisha was

known in the house (vs. 16, 21, 25). And some again; i.e. return home before

nightfall.

 

23  And he said, Wherefore wilt thou go to him today? it is neither new

moon nor sabbath.”  The husband demurred; he saw no occasion for the journey.

It was not either “new moon” or sabbath times when evidently the prophets

conducted services, which were attended by pious persons from the neighborhood:

what could she want of Elisha? He had evidently no idea that the child was dead.

Probably he had not realized to himself that he was in any danger. “And she said,

It shall be well.”  She uttered the single word shalom, literally, “peace,” but used,

like the German gut, or the English “all right,” to content an inquirer without giving him

a definite answer. And the husband accepted her assurance, and did not press for an

explanation. The ass and the servant were placed at her disposal without more words.

 

24  Then she saddled an ass,” -  rather, then she saddled (i.e. “caused to be

saddled”) the ass — the particular animal which her husband had placed at her

disposal“and said to her servant, Drive, and go forward;” -  i.e. “set the

ass in motion, and then proceed steadily forward.” In the East, each donkey has

its driver, who sets it in motion, and regulates its pace. The rider leaves all to him.

slack not thy riding for me -“do not lessen the pace of my riding” — except

I bid thee.”

 

25  So she went and came unto the man of God to Mount Carmel.” Carmel

was to Elisha what Gilead had been to Elijah in his early days — a place for solitary

retirement and meditation, where, free from disturbance, he might hold communion

with nature and with God. It was not usual for his disciples to intrude upon him there,

except at stated times, when gatherings were held at his residence for edification and

for worship. “And it came to pass, when the man of God saw her afar off

literally, i.e. coming towards him - that he said to Gehazi his servant, Behold,

yonder is that Shunammite.” The prophet knew her at a distance, probably by

her attire and carriage. We may gather, from her husband’s words in v. 23, that

she was one of those who had been accustomed to attend the gatherings on new

moons and sabbaths.

 

26  Run now, I pray thee, to meet her, and say unto her, Is it

well with thee? is it well with thy husband? is it well with the child?”

Elisha feels that there must be something the matter, to account for the

Shunammite’s coming to him so unexpectedly. His anxiety is aroused, and,

in his impatience to know what has happened, instead of waiting for the

woman’s arrival, he bids his servant run, and ask what is the matter. Some

misfortune, he supposes, must have happened either to her, or to her husband,

or to the child. “And she answered, It is well.”  She gave, as before to her

husband (v. 23), the ambiguous answer, “Peace,” intending thereby merely to

put off Gehazi, and not explain herself to any one but his master.

 

27  And when she came to the man of God to the hill — rather,

the mountain; i.e. Carmel, where Elisha’s residence was — she caught

him by the feet:” (compare Matthew 18:29; Mark 5:22; 7:25; Luke 8:41;

John 11:32). It has always been usual in the East to embrace the feet or the knees,

in order to add force to supplication – “but Gehazi came near to thrust her

away.”  He regarded the act as one unduly familiar or unduly importunate, and

interfered to protect and release his master. “And the man of God said, Let

her alone; for her soul is vexed within her:” -  Elisha would not have the

woman disturbed. He saw that she was in deep distress, and, if there was anything

unseemly in her action according to the etiquette of the time, excused it to her

profound grief and distraction. The ordinary mind is a slave to conventionalities;

the superior mind knows when to be above them – “and the Lord hath hid it

from me, and hath not told me.”  God had not informed Elisha, by inward

miraculous illumination, of the illness of the child, or its death, or the wild hopes

stirring in the afflicted mother’s mind, which induced her to make her long

and troublesome journey. We need not feel surprised at this. There is

always a limit to the miraculous; and facts that may be learnt by a little

inquiry are but rarely communicated supernaturally.

 

28  Then she said, Did I desire a son of my lord? did I not say,

Do not deceive me?”  The woman does not directly reveal her grief. Great

sorrow is reticent, cannot endure to put itself into words. But she sufficiently

indicates the nature of her trouble by the form of her reproach. “Did I ask for

a son? Did I make complaint of my childlessness? Had I been importunate, and

obtained my son of thee by much asking, I would not have complained. But I did

not ask. I did not even snatch greedily at the offer. I demurred. I said, ‘Do not

deceive me.’ It is greater misery to have a child and lose him, than never to have

had one at all.” All this, and more, seems to be involved in the woman’s words.

And the prophet fully understood their meaning.

 

29  Then he said to Gehazi, Gird up thy loins, and take my staff in thine

hand, and go thy way: if thou meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute

thee, answer him not again:”  The object of all these injunctions is haste. Lose not

a moment. Go as quickly as thou canst to the house where the child lies. Spend no

time in greetings on the way. Slack not. Tarry not.and lay my staff upon the face

of the child.”  What effect the prophet expected from this act, we are not told.

Gehazi appears to have expected that it would at once cause a resuscitation (v. 31);

but there is no evidence that the prophet participated in the expectation. He

may have done so, for prophets are not infallible beyond the sphere of the

revelations made to them; but he may only have intended to comfort and

cheer the mother, and to raise in her an expectation of the resuscitation

which he trusted it would be allowed him to effect.

 

30  And the mother of the child said, As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul

liveth, I will not leave thee.”  Apparently, the woman supposed that Elisha

intended to do nothing more, but trust the child’s recovery to such virtue as might

inhere in his staff. But her own resolution was long ago taken — she would be

content with nothing less than bringing the prophet face to face with her dead child.

She “will not leave” him till he consents to accompany her to her home. “And

he arose, and followed her.”

 

31  And Gehazi passed on before them, and laid the staff on the face of the

child; but there was neither voice, nor hearing.”  Gehazi did as he had been told,

executed his mission faithfully; but there was no apparent result. The child was not

 roused by the staff being placed across his face. All remained still and silent as before.

Although on some occasions it has pleased God to allow miracles to be wrought by

the instrumentality of lifeless objects, as when Elisha’s bones resuscitated a

dead man (ch.13:21), and when virtue went out from the hem of our Lord’s garment

(Mark 5:25-34), and still more remarkably, when “handkerchiefs or aprons from the

body of Paul were brought unto the sick, and the diseases departed from them, and

the evil spirits were case out of them” (Acts 19:12); yet the instances are,

comparatively speaking, rare, and form exceptions to what may be called the usual

Divine economy of miracles. Miracles are, as a general rule, attached in Scripture

to intense unwavering faith — faith, sometimes, in those that are the objects of them,

almost always in those that are the workers of them. The present case was not to be

an exception to the general rule, the circumstances not calling for an exception. The

power of faith was to be shown forth once more in Elisha, as not long previously in

Elijah (I Kings 17:19-23); and Israel was to be taught, by a second marvelous

example, how much the effectual fervent prayer of a faithful and righteous

 man avails with the Most High  (James 5:16).  The lesson would have been lost

 had the staff been allowed to effect the resuscitation. “Wherefore he — i.e. Gehazi

went again to meet him — i.e. Elisha — and told him, saying, The child is

not waked.”  It is clear from this, that Gehazi had expected an awakening; but there

 is nothing to show what the prophet himself had expected.

 

32  And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and

laid upon his bed.” (comp. v. 21). The child remained where his mother had laid him.

 

33 “He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain,” - that he might

not be interrupted during his efforts to restore the child’s life (comp. v. 4) — “and

prayed unto the Lord.”  Probably his heart had been lifted up in inarticulate prayer

from the time that he realized the calamity which had befallen the Shunammite; but

now he went down on his knees, and lifted up his voice in outspoken words of prayer.

 

34  And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth,

and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands:” -  following the

example set him by his master and predecessor, Elijah (I Kings 17:21). The idea may

in both cases have been to fit the body for reinhabitation by the soul (Ibid. v. 22),

through the restoration of warmth to it - “and he stretched himself upon the child;”

-  i.e. brought his flesh as close as he could to the flesh of the child, covering the

body and pressing on it, to force his own bodily warmth to pass into it. The

word used, rh"g]yi, is different from that in I Kings 17:21, which is ddemot]yi, and

implies a closer contact – “and the flesh of the child waxed warm.”  Elisha’s

efforts had an effect; the child’s body was actually warmed by them.

 

35  Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro:” - literally, once

to and once fro; took, i.e., a single turn up and down the large room adjoining his

bed-chamber — scarcely with any remedial object, but as men do when they are

in distress and doubt – “and went up, and stretched himself upon him i.e.

 repeated his former act, laying himself upon the child, and warming it — and the

child sneezed seven times — showing the recovery of suspended respiration —

and the child opened his eyes.” -  i.e. came to himself.

 

36  And he called Gehazi, and said, Call this Shunammite.” -  i.e.

tell her to come here. No time was to be lost in restoring the child to his

mother, now that he was alive again. “So he called her.  And when she was

come in unto him, he said, Take up thy son.” -  i.e. lift him up, take him in

thine arms, feel him to be all thine own once more.

 

37  Then she went in, and fell at his feet, and bowed herself to

the ground,” -  in acknowledgment of the boon conferred on her. In the East

such prostrations are common, and denote at once gratitude and humility.

and took up her son, and went out.” (On some later circumstances in the

life of the woman, see ch. 8:1-6.)

 

 

                 The Healing of the Unwholesome Pottage (vs. 38-41)

 

38  And Elisha came again to Gilgal:” -  i.e. revisited Gilgal, where he had been

previously with his master (ch. 2:1), either casually, or perhaps on one of his regular

circuits to visit the schools of the prophets – “and there was a dearth in the land”

- probably the dearth again mentioned in ch. 8:1 — “and the sons of the prophets

were sitting before him:  and he said unto his servant, Set on the great pot

 i.e. the one great pot that there would be in the house and seethe pottage for

the sons of the prophets.”  Even in a famine there would be some vegetables

produced on which life might be sustained.

 

39  And one went out into the field to gather herbs,” -  One of the

sons of the prophets, probably, went out into the neighboring country, and

looked about for any wild fruits or vegetables that he could see anywhere -

and found a wild vine and gathered thereof wild gourds” -  The exact kind

of gourd is uncertain. Some identifies the “gourd” in question with the fruit of the

colocynth, which is a gourd-like plant that creeps along the ground, and has a

round yellow fruit of the size of a large orange. This fruit is exceedingly bitter,

produces colic, and affects the nerves – “his lap full,” -  as many as he could carry

in the sinus, or large fold, of his beged, or shawl - “and came and shred them

into the pot of pottage: for they knew them not.” -  i.e. the sons of the prophets,

who stood by and saw them shred into the pot, did not recognize them, or did not

know that they were unwholesome.

 

40   “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.”  Either the bitter flavor alarmed them, or they began to

feel ill effects from what they had swallowed, which, if it was colocynth, might very

 soon have produced stomachache or nausea. Rushing, therefore, at once to the

worst possible supposition, they concluded that they were poisoned, and exclaimed,

“O man of God, there is death in the pot!” “If eaten in any large quantity

colocynths might  produce death -  And they could not eat thereof.” -  i.e. they

could not continue to eat the pottage — all stopped eating.

 

41  But he said, Then bring meal.”  Elisha seems not to have hesitated for a

moment. Prompt measures must be taken, if poisoning is even suspected. He has

meal brought — not that meal has any virtue in itself against colocynth, or against

any other deleterious drug. But he acts, now as always, under Divine direction,

and is instructed to use meal on this occasion, as he used salt in healing the waters

of Jericho. The meal might somewhat modify the bitterness and injurious qualities of

the vegetable,” whatever it was, but  could not possibly take them entirely away.

The meal, the most wholesome food of man, was only the earthly substratum for

the working of the Divine effluence which proceeded from Elisha, and made the

noxious food perfectly wholesome.  And he cast it into the pot; and he said,

Pour out now for the people i.e., the assembled company of sons of the

prophetsthat they may eat. And there was no harm in the pot.”  Such as

had faith in Elisha, and continued to eat of the pottage, found no ill result. What

they ate did them no harm.

 

 

               The Feeding of a Hundred Men on Twenty Loaves.

 

42  And there came a man from Baal-shalisha,” -  Baal-shalisha”is

reasonably identified with the “Beth-shalisha” of Eusebius and Jerome, which they

place twelve Roman miles north of Diospolis, or Lydda (now Ludd). By “north”

we must probably understand “northeast,” since the “land of Shalisha” lay between

the territories of Ephraim and Benjamin (I Samuel 9:4). The position thus indicated

would not be very far from the Gilgal (Jiljileh) of ch. 2. and here, v.38 - “and

brought the man of God bread of the firstfruits,” -  It is clear that the more

pious among the Israelites not only looked to the prophets for religious instruction

(v. 23), but regarded them as having inherited the position of the Levitical priests

whom Jeroboam’s innovations had driven from the country. The firstfruits of corn,

wine, and oil were assigned by the Law (Numbers 18:13; Deuteronomy 18:4-5) to

the priests – “twenty loaves of barley,” -  The “loaves” of the Israelites were

cakes or rolls, rather than “loaves” in the modem sense of the word. Each

partaker of a meal usually had one for himself. Naturally, “twenty loaves” would

be barely sufficient for twenty men -  “and full ears of corn” -  i.e. a few ripe

ears of the same corn as that whereof the bread was made. Ears of corn were

offered as first-fruits at the Passover (Leviticus 23:10), and were regarded as

the most natural and becoming tokens of gratitude for God’s harvest mercies –

in the husk thereof.” - rather, in his bag, or in his sack.  And he said,

Give unto the people i.e., to the sons of the prophets who dwelt at Gilgal

that they may eat.”

 

43  And his servitor said, What, should I set this before an hundred men?”

The servant felt that the quantity was quite insufficient, and thought it absurd to invite

a hundred men to sit down to a meal, which would not satisfy a fifth of the number;

but Elisha repeated his command. “He said again, Give the people, that they

may eat:” -  This time, however, he added an explanation of the proceeding –

for thus saith the Lord, They shall eat, and shall leave thereof.”  God had

supernaturally intimated to him that the quantity of food would prove ample for the

hundred men; they would show that they had had enough by leaving some of it.

And the result was as predicted.

 

44  So he set it before them, and they did eat, and left thereof,

according to the word of the Lord.”  We are not expressly told how the

miracle was wrought, but the analogy of our Lord’s miracles of feeding the

multitudes, (Matthew 15:32-38; Mark 8:1-9; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:1-13)

whereof this is a manifest type, makes it probable that in this case also there

was a miraculous increase of the food. The object of the writer in communicating

the account is certainly not merely to show how the Lord cared for his servants,

but to relate another miracle wrought by Elisha, of a different kind from those

previously related. He is occupied with Elisha’s miracles through this entire

chapter and through the three next.