A Dearth in the Land, Death in the Pot, Then Bring Meal

"A Death in the Land"

"And Elisha came again to Gilgal: and there was a dearth in the land; and the sons of the prophets were sitting before him and he said to his servant, Set on the great pot, and seethe pottage for the sons of the prophets" (2 Kings 4:39).

"A death in the land!" How that would please the devil. For would not the Godless nations that hated Israel say with scornful utterance: "Is that all the Jehovah in whom you have boasted can do for you? You came to this land when it flowed with milk and honey, and behold it now, dry as a sun-baked or rainless desert, and you, the chosen people, beloved of the Lord, hungry and dying. Our gods are better than yours." But Israel only was to blame; they were suffering because they had broken the commandments of the Lord, and because they were suffering the devil was delighted, the tender heart of God was grieved, and His name was blasphemed amongst the Gentiles.

"A dearth in the land!" How often we hear the sad tale told by saints of God who mourn the fact that error has usurped the place of truth; that their souls are not fed as in former days; that when they ask for bread they are given the stones of man's vain imagination, stones that no power can turn into bread, but which are the devil's imitation of it, his invention with which he mocks the craving of the soul. They read of the days when Christ was ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit and the churches were edified; and when with hearts on fire the Christians witnessed for Christ and looked and longed for His coming again. They can remember the time when even their hearts were greatly cheered and made happy by ministry which was according to the Word of God; but which in these days has become unpopular; and has been forced to give way to that which feeds the fleshly mind, and to amusements galore. For it is said: "Must not we provide something bright and attractive for the people; must not they have entertainment and recreation; and is not this the churches' mission?" And the saints of God are suffering, and the tender heart of the Lord is grieved, and His name is blasphemed by those that love Him not, for they say: "Then has your Lord failed you? Is your Christianity played out? Does it no longer satisfy? Then welcome to our board. Let us cater for you. Eat of our fare, for it is better than yours." And the world and the flesh and the devil preside at the feast; and love to Christ grows cold, and spirituality wanes, and Christian life is sickly and ready to die; and the world, while it patronizes and flatters and smiles, can barely conceal its contempt of a seduced and faithless church.

It would be an easy matter to fill volumes with an exposure of this condition of things, but those for whom we write do not need such an exposure; they know it and deeply feel it, and some of them go from their Sunday services to weep and pray before the Lord about it all. The questions they are asking are: What is the cause of this woeful dearth? And: Is there any remedy? Why is the Lord's fair garden laid waste? and: Why do His lilies droop and die? May we hope to see these lilies again lift up their heads and disclose their beauties and shed their fragrance for His joy? These questions we desire to answer.

This condition of things has undoubtedly resulted from the fact that the saints of God have left their first love, and so have grown indifferent to His Word and careless as to His Name. Like Israel of old, they have grown slack concerning His will. They have given ears to those who first questioned and then denied the Word of God, until they know not what God has spoken, or whether He has spoken at all; they have no guide for their feet and no lamp for their path. They are like a ship at sea without compass or chart being driven by false winds to certain wreck. Moreover, they have broken down the barriers that separated them from the world that crucified their Lord, as Israel mixed herself with the nations, and the foul weeds that are native to the world have shed their seeds in the fair garden of the Lord, and now grow rankly, there indifference to the Word of God and association with the world are the result of the loss of first love to the Lord, and are the great devastators, the reasons for the wide-spread dearth.

Elisha came to Gilgal, and there the dearth was, and the sons of the prophets were hungry. Now Gilgal was the last place at which you would have looked for dearth. It was nigh to the city of the palm trees on the banks of the life-giving Jordan. It was there that the Israelites first celebrated the passover feast, and ate the old corn of the land. It was a place of happy memories, and those sons of the prophets would know all about its history, and sadly recall the good days long since past. But the presence of Elisha in the midst of them changed everything.

Elisha the prophet was typical of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was the man whom God sent to His people — whom He sent to them because He pitied them in their poverty. And in the midst of Israel he manifested the grace of the Lord. He looked for no merit in those that He blessed; it was sufficient that they came to him bringing their need as their only introduction. In the power and mercy of the Lord he was equal to every trial. He helped kings and great captains, and he blessed bankrupt widows and loathsome lepers. No manner of circumstance baffled him, and the resources of God that he commanded were sufficient for every need he met. It is because of this that I say he stands as type of the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is good to have the Lord Jesus Christ to turn to, for He is full of grace and truth, and all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid in Him. No problem or difficulty, no circumstance or crisis in which either individual saint or company of Christians can find themselves can be too great for Him. He is equal to every test, and His grace is all-sufficient. "In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." Wonderful, most blessedly wonderful, and for ever adorable Saviour!

There is one way, and only one, in which His grace and power and wisdom may be ours. It is at our disposal, at the disposal of every individual saint, and of every company of God's people the wide earth over, but we must turn to Him for it, and in turning to Him acknowledge His authority. He must be supreme. Surely He has a right to be supreme in His church! Did He not love it and give Himself for it, that He might "present it to Himself a glorious church not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it might be holy and without blame?" Are not the saints of God bought with a price, a price that never can be priced — the precious blood? And, if so, has He not the right to control and command, to be absolute in the affections and ways of His people? Who will dare to challenge His right? To whom shall He be accountable? And yet as Israel once cast Him out of His own vineyard, so now is He cast out by a large proportion of His professing church. He stands outside a closed door, as at the Laodicean church. His Word has not been kept, His name has been denied. This is, above all things, the cause of the great dearth.

The only remedy is to go back to first things. "Thou hast left thy first love … Remember, from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works." There must be a return to the beginning, and in the beginning Christ was everything. His will was paramount He alone was

"honoured, loved, adored."

Let the saints of God who mourn the dearth give the Lord His rightful place in their midst, and if any are in religious associations where this is impossible let them at once and for ever sever themselves from those associations, let them do it for the glory of His name and for the good of their own souls. Let none be satisfied with anything short of the absolute assurance that He has the supreme place in the midst of their gathering, that He — and not men — controls. Then shall they be able to count upon those mighty resources that dwell in Him, and He will sustain them in the freshness and vigour of true Christian life.

We may not expect things to be as great as they were in former days, but there is no reason why they should not be as bright. And yet they will not be small, for no grace that the Lord bestows, or blessing that His presence gives, can be small. "Set on the GREAT pot, and seethe pottage for the sons of the prophets," said Elisha. They must be fed. So the Lord can feed His saints, as He fed Israel in the wilderness when He rained down bread from heaven for them. Look not to men of learning, lean not upon the servants of the Lord. But turn directly and completely to Him. Own His supremacy, and do His will simply and whole-heartedly, and leave every difficulty and all the consequences in perfect trust to Him.

"There is Death In the Pot"

"And one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine, and gathered thereof wild gourds his lap full, and came and shred them into the pot of pottage for they knew them not. 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. And they could not eat thereof" (2 Kings 4:39-40).

When we go back to the beginning, we learn that the first thing in Christianity is the acknowledgment of the Lordship and Headship of Christ, and then, that believers, indwelt by the Holy Spirit and forming Christ's body are necessary to each other; that they are all dependent one upon the other, and that each contributes to the prosperity or harm of the whole. This truth is solemnly taught in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. The help we render to each other is also most blessedly shown in Ephesians 4, the chapter in which the Lord's glorious supremacy over all things is declared. We read there: "But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body UNTO THE EDIFYING OF ITSELF IN LOVE" (vv. 15-16).

The harm we may do to each other is illustrated in our story. They went out, these sons of the prophets, to gather herbs for the meal that Elisha had commanded. And one gathered wild gourds — his lap full — and came and shred them into the pot of pottage. His ignorance and folly almost resulted in the whole company being poisoned; there was death in the pot.

It was from a wild vine that he gathered his gourds, from a plant that had not come under cultivation — fit figure of the evil flesh. Of it we read, "The carnal [fleshly] mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8:7). It is that which has not, and will not come under God's cultivation. And it always brings forth death and corruption, "For to be carnally minded is death" (Rom. 8:6), and, "He that sows to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption" (Gal. 6:8).

Now every believer is either walking in the Spirit or in the flesh; each one is pursuing the things of the Spirit or the things of the flesh, and whether we will or not, what we are, and how we live, and what we pursue, and that of which the heart is full affects all with whom we associate.

Suppose by way of illustration that envious feelings, or a hard and unforgiving spirit, is allowed or cultivated in the heart of any believer towards any of his brethren; or suppose one brother becomes jealous of another because he seems to have more honour than himself, — these are bitter roots from which will spring "hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, and strife" — works of the flesh, and most deadly in their effect wherever they show themselves. How often have we seen happy Christian companies blighted and broken by "bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking;" or as a result of one or more who ought to have served all in love, lording it over the Lord's heritage. Our association with all the saints of God is a divinely-formed association, and we must not, we cannot, ignore it. The spiritual prosperity of one is a help to all, and the works of the flesh in any means harm to all. We can no longer live as though we alone are affected by our living, "for if one member suffer all the members suffer with it."

It was a happy thing for those sons of the prophets that Elisha was at hand, and that they had sufficient wisdom to refer the case to him. It is a most blessed and comforting thing to know that we may cry to the Lord, even when things are at their worst. He is our resource when death instead of life is in the pot. How different would things have been in the church of God, if the saints of God had had enough wisdom to do this, instead of trying themselves to put things right when they have gone wrong. How many a disaster might have been averted if instead of officious meddling there had been a lowly and broken-hearted crying to the Lord. If that which has proved beyond our skill to put straight had been simply carried to Him. If we had said to the Lord, as the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, "O, thou man of God, there is death in the pot."

There has been much failure in this respect, but He fails not, and we may count upon His deep and tender interest in His own, and counting upon this we shall not be disappointed. Moreover, He has the means whereby sorrow may be turned into joy, and spiritual health recovered to those who are sick to death.

"Then Bring Meal"

"But he said, Then bring meal. And he cast it into the pot and be said, Pour out for the people, that thy may eat. And there was no harm in the pot" (2 Kings 4:39-41).

We have pointed out in a former paper that one of the chief facts of Christianity is that the members of Christ's body are necessary to each other, and that every one of it is either a help or a hindrance to every other co-member of that one body, according as we walk in the Spirit or follow the things of the flesh. We need to have this great truth pressed upon us, for the times in which we live are selfish times, and it is so easy for us to think that we have only ourselves to please, and that we can do as we choose without regard to any other person. It is upon this most pernicious principle that the evil flesh which is within us acts, and it is thus that it serves the law of sin, for it is not only indifferent to the welfare of others, but it is also insubject to God. It is enmity against God: "for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be" (Rom. 8:7). As we have already shown, the flesh is like the wild vine from which one of these ignorant sons of the prophets gathered wild gourds his lap full; if we tolerate or cultivate it our laps also will be filled with the sorrow and shame of its deadly fruits. And how terrible these fruits are! Some of them are enumerated in Galatians 5:19-21: —

"Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings and the like." These things may not all appear equally heinous in our sight, but they are all the works of the flesh. Yes, variance, strife, and envyings are as truly the works of the flesh as adultery, heresies, and murder. Corruption and death always follow in their wake, not only for the individual who gathers any one of them, and who, to change the figure to that most solemn one given by the Holy Ghost, must reap what he has sown, for God is not mocked (Gal. 6:7), but for many others also, who are associated with him as a member of Christ's body. It is because this is so that we are exhorted to "Follow peace with all men, and HOLINESS, without which no man shall see the Lord: looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, AND THEREBY MANY BE DEFILED" (Heb. 12:14-15).

"There was death in the pot." These sons of the prophets, had they all been wise, might each have had the honour of contributing to the common good, but, through the ignorance of one and the folly of all, the meal that was intended for their nourishment threatened to do incalculable harm to every one of them. They brought in the poison and spoilt the feast, but they had no antidote for the harm that they had done. They were wise enough, however, to perceive this and to cry to Elisha, the man of God, and in doing this they laid their distress down in the presence of the power of God, which worked through him on their behalf.

Here is clearly indicated for us the way of wisdom in times of difficulty and sorrow. The Lord, of whom Elisha was a type, is our resource in every trouble. If we think of the responsibility of the saints of God to maintain the truth of God and to edify one another, these days are not better than any that have gone before. From the beginning and throughout the centuries carnality and failure have marked the church's course. We can see this, and were the church's history written for us by the finger of God, what sad reading it would be. There have been times when the flesh has broken out outrageously, shocking even the natural conscience, but this, whenever or wherever it happened, was but a symptom of the general condition: fruit of the wild vine allowed to flourish in the very garden of God, and the common shame of all.

We ought to have learned lessons from the past, but history has repeated itself in our day, and our failure is less excusable than any that has gone before.

Yet the Lord has not changed and He cannot fail. He has always been the resource of His saints when they have fallen upon evil days, and He is so today. But the failure must be owned and the need confessed, and this means the humbling of our pride. We have often thought, when we felt that there was death in the pot, that we, by the application of some principle, could turn it into life; that we could straighten and correct that which was crooked and wrong by some ecclesiastical action of our own devising, perhaps; and it was often flesh reproving flesh, because it was not the peculiar kind of flesh that we favoured; and confusion has been made worse confounded and the evil increased ten-fold. We have saved ourselves, probably, from the deep heart-searching that should have been ours, and preserved our pride and boasting, but have failed to reach the root, and have it all out and confessed and judged. May the Lord give us grace to feel this if it is so, and to confess it so that we may be cleansed from all unrighteousness, and may He preserve us from growing indifferent to the condition of things amongst His saints; and may we never fail into that fatalistic state of mind which says, "What is, must be; there is no remedy." May we be honest enough to make no attempt to hide our need from the eyes of the Lord, but, instead, lay it all before Him, and say, as we feel it deeply and with tears, "Oh, Thou Man of God, there is death in the pot."

Elisha's remedy was not far to seek, for He said, "Then bring meal". And he cast it into the pot; and he said, Pour out for the people, that they may eat. And there was no harm in the pot." We have no wish to be fanciful in our application of this story to our present need, but it strikes us as being remarkable that Elisha called for meal and used it as the means of healing the pottage, and not salt as in the case of the waters of Jericho (chap. 2). And our thoughts are carried back to the Levitical offerings, one of which was the meat, or meal offering (Lev. 2). This offering was made of fine flour, and typified the life of the Lord Jesus here upon earth.

Every heavenly grace shone out in perfection in Him in manhood, for He was everything that the heart of God desired that man should be. But there are two traits that seem to be specially made prominent by the Holy Ghost for our help: they are His humility and obedience. They are set before us in that wonderful passage in Philippians 2.

"Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man. He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:5-8).

This is Christ as the meal offering, and He is presented to us in this character that we might admire, adore, and imitate. Think of His humility:

"Heaven's arches rang as the angels sang,
  Proclaiming His royal degree;
But of lowly birth came the Lord to earth,
  And in great humility."

Though He were in His own person the everlasting God, yet He did not disdain the Virgin's Womb and that lowly birth in Bethlehem's stable.

Though He were Lord of all, He accepted without resentment the despising of the people, and continued unweariedly to serve them. When His disciples contended who amongst them should be greatest of all, He, their Lord and Master, bent low to wash their feet. He sought no honour, no name for Himself; His joy was to do His Father's will, and to serve the weakest and the worst. And this path led only to the cross, with its degradation and unparalleled shame. He knew from the beginning that this would be the end, yet He murmured not was obedience that led Him along that road, but His humility was as perfect as His obedience, so that no thought of His own reputation or question as to the rightness of the path entered His thoughts. It was the will of God, and in that He delighted.

At Philippi the wild vine of the flesh was beginning to produce its bitter fruits of pride and division. These had not developed as much as in some of the churches to which Paul wrote; but death was working there and his keen eye detected it, and to arrest the growth of these pernicious things and antidote their deadly effects he brought Christ before them in this way. The meal was cast into the pot.

This is the great remedy. By this is discovered to us the hatefulness of every carnal work. All fleshly pride stands rebuked in the presence of that lowly life so meekly lived, and if this mind that was in Christ Jesus be in us we shall walk in grace toward each other and in obedience to God; we shall with lowliness of mind each esteem others more excellent than himself, and in humility and obedience work out our own salvation. What place could strife and envy have amongst the saints of God if this mind were in us? Yet this is only possible as the meal is cast into the pot — as we feed upon this life-sustaining food.

We wonder at Thy lowly mind,
  And feign would like Thee be;
And all our rest and pleasure find
  In learning, Lord, of Thee."

Evil cannot be ignored where it appears, and the works of the flesh must not go unjudged. But no true judgment can be arrived at save in the presence of the perfection of Christ and His cross. There evil does not appear less evil, but we see it, not only as it spoils our own spiritual good, but how it appears before God; then how great is the relief to turn from it to Christ.

The Holy Spirit is ever ready to fill our thoughts with Christ, and since He is the true food of every saint, we find practical unity and fellowship as we feed upon Him. And not only fellowship with each other, but with God also, for He is the Bread of God.