This is one of a series of Elisha miracles in chapters 4-5. They include:
• The multiplication of the widow’s oil so that she could sell it and pay her debt (4:1-7).
• The birth of a son to the Shunammite woman (4:8-17) and the later raising of that son from the dead (4:18-37).
• The purification of a pot of contaminated stew (4:38-41).
• This miracle, the feeding of a hundred men with only twenty loaves of barley and a few ears of grain (4:42-44).
• The healing of Naaman the leper (5:1-19).
• The miracle of the floating axe head (6:1-7).
These miracles provide real solutions to real problems of ordinary people. They also serve to authenticate Elisha as a worthy successor to Elijah:
• The multiplication of the widow’s oil is clearly intended to evoke memories of the help that Elijah gave to the widow of Zarephath, whose “jar of meal shall not empty” and whose jug of oil did not fail, “according to the saying of Elijah” (1 Kings 17:8-16).
• The raising of the Shunammite woman’s son is clearly intended to evoke memories of Elijah raising the widow’s son from the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24).
These miracles also help to set the stage for Jesus’ ministry:
• Jesus will raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead (Mark 5:35-43).
• Jesus will feed the five thousand (Mark 6:31-44) and the four thousand (Mark 8:1-9) with only a pittance of food.
• Jesus will mention both the widow of Zarephath and Naaman in his sermon at the Nazareth synagogue to illustrate God’s provision for Gentiles (Luke 4:26-27).
2 KINGS 4:42-44. WHAT, SHOULD I SET THIS BEFORE A HUNDRED MEN?
42A man from Baal Shalishah came, and brought the man of God bread of the first fruits, twenty loaves of barley, and fresh ears of grain in his sack. He said, “Give to the people, that they may eat.”
43His servant said, “What, should I set this before a hundred men?”
But he said, “Give the people, that they may eat; for thus says Yahweh, ‘They will eat, and will have some left over.'”
44So he set it before them, and they ate, and left some of it, according to the word of Yahweh.
“A man from Baal Shalishah came” (v. 42a). The location of Baal Shalishah is not known with certainty, but might be Kh. Marjame, which is located 16 miles (26 km) northeast of Jerusalem (Rasmussen, 228) or Kfar Tilt, located 12 miles (20 km) west of Shechem (Hobbs).
“and brought the man of God bread of the first fruits, twenty loaves of barley, and fresh ears of grain in his sack” (v. 42b). We learned in 4:38 that there is a famine in the land. This gift of food, then, represents a sacrificial offering on the part of the giver and a life-giving gift to Elisha.
First fruits are the produce from the first crop of the season. The first fruits are especially desirable, because they represent a replenishment of the larder long after the previous harvest—a movement from shortage to abundance. And nothing tastes better than fresh food after having to rely on stored food for many months.
The people of Israel were to offer the first fruits to God as a way of acknowledging their dependence on God (Exodus 23:19; 34:26). Ordinarily, these offerings were to be made to the priests (Leviticus 23:10; Numbers 18:13), but in this case the man is bringing his first fruits to Elisha as a prophet of God.
There were twenty barley loaves (whether large or small we do not know), and fresh ears of grain (amount unknown).
“Give to the people, that they may eat” (v. 42c). Instead of using the offering as food for himself as he would be privileged to do (Numbers 18:13), Elisha tells his servant to give the food to the people. These people are probably the “sons of the prophets” mentioned in verses 1 and 38.
“His servant said, ‘What, should I set this before a hundred men?'” (v. 43a). Presumably, this servant is Gehazi (4:12, 25; 5:20).
“A hundred men” doesn’t represent a head count, but is a way of referring to a large crowd. The supply of bread and grain appears to be inadequate to feed such a large group. The real problem, however, is not the lack of food but the lack of faith (Hens-Piazza, 254).
In the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus will tell his disciples, “You give them something to eat”(Mark 6:37a). His disciples will respond, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give them something to eat?” (Mark 6:37b).
“Give the people, that they may eat; for thus says Yahweh, ‘They will eat, and will have some left over'” (v. 43b). Elisha’s assurance depends not on a careful survey of the food available but on the power of Yahweh to provide for his people.
“So he set it before them, and they ate, and left some of it, according to the word of Yahweh” (v. 44). This “is…the final proof that the God of Elijah is now the God of Elisha” (Provan, 188).
In the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus will divide five loaves and two fish among five thousand people. They will all eat and be filled. Afterwards the disciples will take up “twelve baskets full of broken pieces and also of the fish” (Mark 6:42-43).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
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Seow, Choon-Leong, The New Interpreters Bible: 1-2 Kings, Vol. III (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999)
Smith, Norman H. (Exegesis) and Sockman, Ralph W. (Exposition), The Interpreter’s Bible: Kings, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Job (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1954)
Spence, H.D.M. and Exell, Joseph S., The Pulpit Commentary: I & II Kings, Vol. 5 (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, no date given)
Wiseman, Donald J., Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, 1 & 2 Kings (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1993)
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