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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:The LORD Generously Feeds His Hungry People
Text:2 Kings 4:38-44 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's faithfulness

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 81:1,2,9,14                                                                          

Ps 81:7,8,11                                                                                                   

Reading – Matthew 14:13-21

Ps 34:3,4

Sermon – 2 Kings 4:38-44

Hy 63:1,5

Hy 65:1,2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, the economy isn’t always robust and strong. There are times when property values fall, and not many new homes get built. Such things have a direct impact on those in our congregation who earn their living in construction-related industries: electricians, carpenters, and more. There are times when jobs are much harder to get and the pay is lower.

It’s not the same for everyone, of course. But tough economic times should make everyone pause and consider the source of what we have, to reflect on how much we have to depend on God—and also ask God—to provide us with all we need.

The two stories in our text teach these truths in a memorable way. The stories are connected, for both of them are about food. And in the background of both stories is a famine in Israel. There’d been a famine before, during the ministry of Elijah. That was a three-and-a-half year display of God’s covenant wrath, as He judged the people for rejecting him. In mercy God had brought that famine to an end, but God’s people can be so slow to learn. Now there’s another famine, for Israel was apparently still determined to worship idols.

A period of famine means that food is in short supply. There hasn’t been rain, so the crops aren’t growing. And if the crops aren’t growing, the storehouses of grain and barley and olive oil (and whatever else) are gradually going to be depleted until there’s nothing left.

There are times for us too, when there’s less and less work the cash reserves are slowly dwindling, and you wonder what hardships next year will bring. But the good news is that God is ever-faithful. He always sees the anxieties and suffering of his people, and He promises to care for us, even when times are tough. For God is not too mighty and glorious to be concerned about our daily bread.

In our text that message comes across loud and clear. God knows we need to eat, so He provides for us to eat. And in that there’s an encouraging lesson for all of us. I preach God’s Word to you from 2 Kings 4:38-44,

The LORD generously feeds his hungry people through Elisha:

  1. the salvaged stew
  2. the abundant bread
  3. the living lessons


1) the salvaged stew: In our text Elisha continues to travel around the land. Today he’s back in Gilgal, which is more to the south, not far from Jericho. And we learn that “there was a famine in the land” (v 38). This is probably the same famine mentioned in 2 Kings 8:1, where it says there was a seven-year famine in Israel.

We just said that famine was one way by which God judged the people’s unfaithfulness, one way He disciplined them in love. We can be sure that this famine—twice as long as the one in Elijah’s time—was deserved. God is putting the pressure onto his people, increasing the pain so that they learn to count the cost of rejecting him, repent from sin and return to him.

But one thing about these famines is how they didn’t just affect the ungodly in the land, but everyone. Even the faithful few had to deal with the fallout of Israel’s sin. Which really is the nature of sin, still today: it’s so very hard to contain it, but sin spreads and contaminates widely. God has said that He’ll never punish one person for the sins of another, yet the fact is that one person’s sin can bring misery to a whole lot of people. Even for an innocent party, a bystander, a member of the family, some sins have consequences that are severe and widespread. It’s what we see in verse 38: there’s a famine in the land, and this punishment also has an effect on Elisha and the sons of the prophets. For they are sitting together, and they’re hungry.

Now, just a quick note on these sons of the prophets, for both stories in our text involve them. The sons of the prophets were groups of the faithful in Israel who wanted to learn from the prophets of the Lord and hold onto the God’s truth.

We read that they’re “sitting before [Elisha]” (v 38), which probably means that they’re receiving instruction. Just picture a kindergarten classroom, with the teacher at the front on her stool, and all the children sitting on the floor. Without desks and chairs, this was a good way for the sons of the prophets to listen to Elisha—on the ground in front of him.

The prophet’s school is in session, but like every teacher knows, it’s hard to keep the students focused if they missed breakfast and their stomachs are rumbling. And if you get hungry enough, it’s hard to think of anything besides getting some food into your belly.

It might be that Elisha realizes this, for as he gives instruction, he tells his servant, “Put on the large pot, and boil stew for the sons of the prophets” (v 38). Maybe Elisha had some food of his own or knew where to get some—at any rate, to feed a crowd is going to take some doing.

He tells his servant to make some stew, or a thick soup. As we’ve all experienced at church potlucks, soup is a good sort of communal dish. If you make a big pot, everyone can dip in and enjoy. This was probably the kind of the meal that the sons of the prophets had enjoyed together many times before. As they worshiped and studied, they enjoyed fellowship at a meal.

While the stew is being prepared, we learn that one of the men “went out into the field to gather herbs” (v 39). Maybe the stew looked a bit thin, and he was searching for something to make it go further or to spice it up. But pickings are slim—if you scrounge around in a time of famine, you’re not likely to get much.

But then the man finds “a wild vine, and [he] gathered from it a lapful of wild gourds, and came and sliced them into the pot of stew” (v 39). We don’t know for sure what this was, but apparently there’s small melons that grow in the wild in Israel: things like wild cucumbers, or yellow-coloured melons called the “apple of Sodom.” Which is not a promising name… They say that some of these wild melons will act as a strong laxative, and when they’re eaten in large quantities, they can even be fatal.

Adding the gourds to the pot, the man did “not know what they were” (v 39), and neither did anyone else. The men were hungry, and maybe that made them careless—they were bound and determined to have a good meal!

It’s such a human story, isn’t it? Getting carried away, not thinking things through is realistic. It’s a story about what God is doing, and not what people do, but there’s still a truth here about how even with the best intentions, we can make bad mistakes. We want to help someone out, we’d like to serve the church, but we’re limited in our knowledge and ability. So we’re careless in our words. We make mistakes in our decisions, and sometimes it feels like we do more harm than good.

But that’s not a reason not to try. It is good to serve in the church—but we do so humbly, depending on God to make the most of our weaknesses. Actually, it’s really good to know that our mistakes aren’t able to ruin God’s work. For God is always greater, and God is always wiser. He can bring something good even out of our disasters.

Back to the story, as dinner is served: “Now it happened, as they were eating the stew, that they cried out and said, “Man of God, there is death in the pot!” (v 40). Suddenly, everyone realizes that this stew is very bad. Maybe they gagged, or choked, or they felt their insides begin to churn—at any rate, it’s clear that the meal is unpalatable, if not lethal.

Some have wondered if it’s an exaggeration: “Death in the pot”? And did they expect Elisha to do something about it? Was this really the concern of a holy man of God? The important point is at the end of verse 40: “And they could not eat it.” If your Dad barbeques burgers for Sunday dinner, and burns them so badly they’re inedible, it’s a waste, but not a crisis—there’s surely more food in the freezer or pantry. But for Elisha and the sons of the prophets, a spoiled stew is terrible. Remember, there’s a famine going on—if all this food is ruined, it’s a big loss. Now what are they going to eat?

In the same way, sometimes another person’s needs can appear frivolous to us. Maybe we wonder if it’s really so bad for this or that family. But when we know all the facts—like in this story—those needs can take on a new urgency. This was a crisis!

And the good news is that we’re allowed to pray for the small gifts, and to receive our daily needs, since God has promised to care for these things too. Think of how the Lord Jesus teaches us to pray each day for our daily bread—it’s hard to think of something more ordinary and routine than our morning cereal or our salad at lunch time or sausages on the grill. But we still need to ask for our daily bread, because it’s absolutely required if we’re going to serve God well. And it comes from God.

So the men involve the prophet, and he uses his God-given power to salvage the stew. It’s an act of mercy and necessity. He says, “Bring some flour” (v 41). Elisha did something similar at Jericho in 2 Kings 2, when he asked for a bowl of salt to heal the poisoned waters. This didn’t mean it was magical salt or supernatural flour, but it would drive home the miracle. Making it visible would hold it in people’s memories—kind of like the sacraments of baptism and Holy Supper: a visible sign, an outward act, pointing to the great works of God.

Elisha takes the flour, puts it in the pot, and says, “Serve it to the people, that they may eat” (v 41). Notice how the prophet is supremely confident. He has no doubt that God is able to salvage this stew and feed his hungry people. And God is able: after dropping in the flour, “there was nothing harmful in the pot” (v 41). For this is what God does: He faithfully feeds his people.


2) the abundant bread: Story #2 in this connected pair begins with a remarkable act of gratitude. Verse 42 reports that “a man came from Baal Shalisha and brought the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley bread, and newly ripened grain in his knapsack.”

This was something God had commanded his people to do. The law in Leviticus and Deuteronomy said that the Israelites had to bring God the “firstfruits,” or the very first share of the crops. An Israelite might even go from the fields of harvest with his basket of produce and straight to the tabernacle, wanting to present this to the LORD at once. He wants to do this first, because before he starts filling his barns he’ll show his gratitude to the LORD. Everything we receive has come from God, so it’s our longing to give back to him.

This is what the man in verse 42 is doing. God has blessed him, and he is thankful. Notice that he brings the firstfruits to Elisha, and not to the priest, though that was required by the law. The man probably didn’t want to bring this gift to the local priests because many of them had gone along with Israel’s idolatry. For now, Elisha was God’s representative instead.

We see in this nameless man a determination to be faithful. He was living in the midst of a godless nation, but this man, and others with him, continue to serve the Lord. It’s a reminder of how God is always busy among his people, preserving his own, even in perilous times.

We said that the man’s act was remarkable gratitude—remarkable, for this was a most sacrificial gift. In a time of famine, giving away twenty loaves of barley bread and a sack of grain would’ve taken great faith and true gratitude. Think of it: this man didn’t know what the future held, he didn’t know if he would have a successful harvest again next year, he didn’t know how long the hard times were going to last. But it doesn’t matter. He is thankful to God today, so he will give to God today.

This teaches us about the spirit of thanksgiving which should fill us. When we’ve been blessed by God our Father, it delights him when we’re cheerful givers. A cheerful giver is exactly that: someone who gives happily, who gives eagerly. Yet when we give to the Lord, it’s always easy to think about reasons to hold back. “I could’ve spend this on something else. Times are tough—maybe it’s better to save this, than give it away. Right now I can only give a little, and a little is hardly worth it.”

Brothers and sisters, I understand that everyone has choices to make about giving, and these choices require wisdom. Because our jobs are different, and our immediate needs vary, the size of one person’s gift can be very different from another person’s. Yet there’s nothing that removes or reduces our core Christian calling to be thankful, and to show God our thankfulness.

Giving requires wisdom, I said, and perhaps more than that, it requires trust. Trust that God will keep providing as He said. Trust that God will hold onto his people and bless our obedience, even when it’s hard.

The man gives his food to Elisha, and the prophet does just like the faithful priests were supposed to do: he shares the food with the people around him. He says, “Give it to the people, that they may eat” (v 42). At this, Elisha’s servant voices his scepticism: “What? Shall I set this before one hundred men?” (v 43). For one man, twenty loaves are a lot—for a hundred men, twenty loaves are very little, the smallest of entrées. This bread can only go so far. If the previous story was about harmful food, this one is about insufficient food.

And once again, Elisha sees that there’s an opportunity for him to act. So he gives a command, the same command as before with the stew, “Give it to the people, that they may eat” (v 43). This time there’s no outward act or symbolism, as with Elisha’s previous miracles. There’s just a simple order: Eat!

It’s a simple command, but it has a powerful backing, “For thus says the LORD: ‘They shall eat and have some left over’” (v 43). This is one of the few times that we hear Elisha passing on a message directly from God’s mouth, while other prophets said it all the time, “Thus says the LORD.” This time the divine message is plain, and it comes true: “They ate and had some left over, according to the word of the LORD” (v 44). It’s worth underlining that last phrase: “according to the word of the LORD.” God’s Word is truth. God’s Word is more important and more trustworthy and more satisfying than anything you can acquire or hold or store up. If He gives a promise, He’ll keep that promise.

The story of the abundant bread reminds us of miracles that Jesus performed, feeding the 5000 and the 4000. On those occasions, He had people around him (like Elisha did), receiving instruction but not having any food to eat. Then too, Jesus didn’t have much to begin with: five loaves and two small fish—even less than Elisha, with a far greater crowd to feed. Then too, Jesus’ disciples were sceptical about how this was going to work, “We have only a bit of food—how are we supposed to share this around?”

But Christ is always sufficient, even when we’re most deficient. He just starts distributing the loaves and fish, and the entire crowd gets to eat—and there was even plenty left over. If the people thought of 2 Kings 4 that day, they would’ve seen beyond any doubt that someone greater than Elisha is here! Here’s a Teacher who cares for his students. He’s a Lord that provides for his servants. He’s a Saviour who saves his own.


3) the living lessons: Life is fragile. It was hard to forget that in Israel, for the whole economy was closely tied to agriculture. If the rains came on time and the crops were successful, then life was good—but if there was drought or crop failure, disaster loomed. For many people in Israel, hard times were never far away.

Life is still fragile, but it’s so much easier for us to forget that. Our lives are safe and ordered and well-wrapped up with insurance and back-up plans and social assistance. In terms of food too, we’re used to having pantries full, freezers full, and plenty more where at the grocery store where it came from. But our text teaches us to look behind all the food on our shelves, to look past the rich and varied menu that we enjoy each week. Look to God who richly provides all things!

It can sound like such a simple lesson, the kind of thing a parent would tell their three-year-old: “God gave you this sandwich and this banana.” But are we really so good at remembering that lesson? Do we express a true gratitude to our Father for his simple gifts?

It’s part of Jesus’ daily prayer for a good reason, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Every day we ought to pray that petition, and every day we should notice how God answered that petition. Today was another day where we had our food. Maybe it wasn’t our favourite meal, or maybe we wish we could’ve had more, but it still came from God our Father as a gift of his love. So give thanks to him! Thank him in word, thank him in deed.

Looking to the LORD to provide us with our daily bread is so important because it’s also a lesson in trust. The man who brought God his firstfruits in a time of famine showed his deep dependence on God—whatever was going to happen in the future, he was sure that the LORD would care for him. And we need the same kind of trust in the Lord.

Consider God’s words in Deuteronomy 8. In this passage, Moses is reminding the Israelites about how God sustained them during their long journey through the wilderness: He gave them water, He gave them manna, He didn’t let their clothes or shoes wear out.

All this provision had a powerful lesson: “that you might know that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD” (Deut 8:3). It wasn’t firstly about the miraculous gift of manna, but about the God who sent it! Manna every morning was a confirmation that God was caring for them—daily proof that God is trustworthy and faithful.

In 2 Kings 4, God salvaged the stew and multiplied the bread, but we know that God doesn’t always do this for his children. There is rarely a miracle like this anymore, and there is sometimes a pressing need that isn’t met in the way we expected. Sometimes his children lose everything. Sometimes his children run hopelessly stuck. God doesn’t guarantee to protect us from all trouble, but he does say that He knows what we need even before we ask him. He’s a Father who loves us, so whatever He decides will be good. He’s a Father who loves us, so let us learn contentment with whatever He sees fit to provide. 

That’s the spirit in which God wants us to live: trusting him, holding onto every word that comes from his mouth because we know that He will not lie. Don’t worry about tomorrow, don’t worry about next year, but hold onto God’s promise for today—his promise in Christ Jesus that He is with you and will never forsake you.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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