Purify Us, Oh God!
When the prophets ate the stew, they knew it was poisonous and refused to keep eating. What are we to do when we encounter situations that are poisonous–the kind where our antennae are raised and we’re not quite sure what to do?
2 Kings 4:38-41 (ESV)
Elisha Purifies the Deadly Stew
38 And Elisha came again to Gilgal when there was a famine in the land. And as the sons of the prophets were sitting before him, he said to his servant, “Set on the large pot, and boil stew for the sons of the prophets.” 39 One of them went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine and gathered from it his lap full of wild gourds, and came and cut them up into the pot of stew, not knowing what they were. 40 And they poured out some for the men to eat. But while they were eating of the stew, they cried out, “O man of God, there is death in the pot!” And they could not eat it. 41 He said, “Then bring flour.” And he threw it into the pot and said, “Pour some out for the men, that they may eat.” And there was no harm in the pot.
Digging into God’s Word
When I was in the middle of fourth grade, I moved from a parochial school in a midsize town to a public school in a big city. I loved my new teacher. She liked to decorate the classroom such that we were immersed in whatever unit we were studying. For example, our unit on the ocean brought green crepe seaweed hanging from the ceiling and colorful poster-size sea creatures on all four ocean-blue walls.
But there was another immersion of sorts. I remember standing against a cement wall at recess, hearing words I hadn’t heard before, knowing they were wrong, and not being very sure of what to do about it. For a 9-year-old, it was too overwhelming to influence. Would I find my place?
Eventually I found my little group of girlfriends, but even then, every once in a while, I’d encounter those same antennae-raising sensations: games at slumber parties that weren’t quite right, conversations that seemed off. My little conscience was being trained and put to the test.
Do you ever get that same sense as an adult: the kind where you know what you’re hearing or seeing isn’t right–your antennae are raised–but you are not exactly sure how to influence the situation or whether to extricate yourself?
One of my nieces and I enjoy watching a particular medical drama together. In truth, the snuggle time is just as important to her as the show. My antennae have increasingly raised as the themes have become too mature for her (and for me, too?). We’re both sad about it, but we need to find a new show.
Elisha had left the Shunammite woman and her son to go teach the company of the prophets at Gilgal. There was a famine in the land. This wasn’t any ordinary famine. It is possible it was the same one mentioned in 2 Kings 8:1. (Go take a look, because Elisha again showed care for the woman from Shumen.)
This famine was due to a covenant curse. A what? Yes, it was the result of the people not living in step with God. Look at Deuteronomy 28. I’ve copied select verses here:
12 The Lord will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. 13 And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail, and you shall only go up and not down, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, being careful to do them, 14 and if you do not turn aside from any of the words that I command you today, to the right hand or to the left, to go after other gods to serve them.
15 “But if you will not obey the voice of the Lord your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.
23 And the heavens over your head shall be bronze, and the earth under you shall be iron. 24 The Lord will make the rain of your land powder. From heaven dust shall come down on you until you are destroyed.
In the midst of a corrupt society that had turned from God and was following human-created gods, Elisha was teaching a group of prophets, who were hungry for God’s Word.
He asked his servant to make a stew to feed them, and one of the student prophets added wild gourds to the stew. They began to eat the stew and immediately knew it was poisonous. Did their stomachs cramp? Did they gag or vomit? We don’t know. But they knew. Their antennae stood straight, and they refused to eat more.
Elisha knew of God’s power to purify the stew and keep his student prophets from going hungry. He threw flour into the stew, and it instantly became safe. Confident of God’s purifying work, Elisha asked that the stew be served for the prophets to eat.
In our society, which is focused on sex, politics, and celebrity, are we filling ourselves with God’s Word such that it purifies the deadly stew we live in?
Through our seasoning of the stew, are people pointed to Jesus Christ as the only one who can purify us and give us life with Him?
It wasn’t the flour that purified the stew. It was God. It isn’t us purifying the world around us. It is the work of Jesus that has purified us–once poisonous stews ourselves, now cleansed with the blood of the Lamb and able to share His grace with a troubled world.
You won’t ever regret this time. As you are able, spend time with God, reflecting on these questions or journaling your thoughts.
1. What in this account or devotion resonated with you? Are you in any situations that seem like “poisonous stew”? Is there any part of your life you would like to ask God to purify? Spend some time talking with God about it, whether through journaling or praying.
2. Read Proverbs 3:5-8 (ESV). What parts of it do you want to apply to living in the stew of your surroundings?
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
and he will make straight your paths.
7 Be not wise in your own eyes;
fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
8 It will be healing to your flesh
and refreshment to your bones.
3. In His mercy, God doesn’t leave us with poisonous stew! His grace is quick at hand and readily extended to anyone who calls on Him. Thank God for His tender mercies extended to you.
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (Psalm 103:8 ESV)
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