“And there came a man from Baalshalisha, and brought the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley, and full ears of corn in the husk thereof. And he [Elisha] said, ‘Give unto the people, that they may eat.’ And his servitor said, ‘What, should I set this before an hundred men?’ He said again, ‘Give the people, that they may eat: for thus saith the LORD, They shall eat, and shall leave thereof.’ So he set it before them, and they did eat, and left thereof, according to the word of the LORD.” ~ 2 Kings 4:42-44
There was a famine in the land of Israel (“…there was a dearth in the land…” 2 Kings 4:38) and Elisha and the prophets with him didn’t have much to eat. One day a man from Baàl-Shalisha gave to them twenty loaves of bread made from the firstfruits of his crop, along with some corn (v. 42). The loaves were not the jumbo-sized ones in modern supermarkets; they were probably closer in size to a bagel. So, from a human perspective, the amount of food received appeared insufficient to feed everyone (v. 43). However, Elisha instructed his servant to serve the food to the hundred men that were there because God had told him the food would be more than enough. And, foreshadowing Jesus’ feeding of the multitudes (Matthew 14:13-21, Matthew 15:32-39), God miraculously made what appeared to be insufficient into an abundance.
This passage teaches us at least two lessons for Believers coping with hard times: (1) be determined to honor God (2) adopt God’s perspective on God’s provision. We will explore the first of these points below.
In the time of Elisha, Gilgal, like the rest of Israel (the northern Kingdom), was soaked in idolatry. From Jeroboam onward, all their kings had led the people into idol worship, with only a remnant remaining faithful to God. The man from Baàl-Shalisha was one of the faithful few.
As servant of God, the man from Baàl-Shalisha remembered that the firstfruits of his increase belonged to God.
“The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring into the house of the LORD thy God.” ~ Exodus 23:19
“Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase” ~ Proverbs 3:9
However, to honor God, the man from Baàl-Shalisha had to overcome food/financial insecurity, cultural depravity, religious apostasy, and arduous geography.
Overcoming Fear (the Famine of Faith)
Baàl-Shalisha was known for its fertility, but in a time of famine food would have been scarce there too. Farming crops do not mature all at once, and so firstfruits were the earliest gathered fruits from the harvest. To set aside a portion of one’s harvest during a time of famine was a real challenge: a true act of faith. There was no guarantee of a harvest the following year. From a human standpoint, it would be entirely reasonable to store up as much as possible for an uncertain future. However, it is clear that the man from Baàl-Shalisha considered honoring God more important than hoarding goods.
Consider this, if we can’t see into the future shouldn’t we put our trust into One who can? As we too face financial insecurity in our lives will we accept the challenge to Honor God with our increase? Or, will we hoard away the blessings that God has bestowed on us? Like the man from Baàl-Shalisha, let us find our security in faith in God instead of goods; let us not allow lack of goods to become lack of faith. Let us not allow a famine of food/funds become a famine of faith. God is able to sustain us through any trial that comes our way, if we trust in Him.
“Cast thy burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” ~ Psalm 55:22
“I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.” ~ Psalm 37:25
Overcoming Society and Culture (the Famine of Righteousness)
Baàl-Shalisha was earlier known as simply Shalisha (1 Samuel 9:4), the Baàl prefix was added later in honor of the Phonecian god Baàl, which was one of the primary idols worshipped in the region at that time. The addition of the Baàl prefix meant that a town, which previously was for Jehovah, was now for Baàl: a people, which once served the true God, had turned to idol worship. In other words, the man from Baàl-Shalisha lived among a people that had no use for God. There was a famine of righteousness. But, rather than be overcome by the culture/society he lived in, the man from Baàl-Shalisha honored the Lord his God. The corrupt cultural context in which he lived would not be used as an excuse not to do what he knew was right.
Believers don’t always have the choice of living among like-minded people. Believers often find themselves in the midst of a culture that is moving or has moved away from God. Yet it is this culture that we must live, work, play and, above all, demonstrate the reality of salvation through Jesus Christ. Indeed, God has called Believers to be salt for a world in decay (Matthew 5:13) and light for a world in darkness (Matthew 5:14). The challenge for us is to maintain our savour and to keep the light from dimming, despite the hostility of the world around us and the loneliness of the journey of faith.
“That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” ~ Philippians 2:15
The man from Baàl-Shalisha, overcame the depravity of his culture so that he could honor his God, the only true God, Jehovah. We can do the same:
“Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” ~ 1 John 4:4
We don’t have to follow what the world does, we don’t have to dress the way the world does, we don’t have to watch the same programs, we don’t have to listen to the same music, we don’t have to go to the same places, we don’t have to adopt the worlds values, we don’t have to believe what the world tells us, we don’t have to be squeezed into the worlds mold!
“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” ~ Romans 12:2
Not only can we be different from those who reject God, we MUST be different from those who reject God. If we are determined to honor the Lord of Hosts, we must walk a different path, just like the man from Baàl-Shalisha.
Overcoming Fake Religion (the Famine of True Priests)
According to Mosaic Law, firstfruits were to be given to the priests (Deuteronomy 26:2-11) who were supposed to be distributed among the people in Levitical cities, so that they were easy to reach (Numbers 35:1-8, Joshua 13:14). However, when Jeroboam became king of the ten northern tribes of Israel, he abolished this system and appointed priests to facilitate idolatry (2 Chronicles 11:14). Hence, when the man from Baàl-Shalisha wanted to honor God with the firstfruits of his increase, there was no priest to which he could take his offering. There was a famine of true priests.
In other words, the religious establishment of his day was not longer a conduit/channel to God, it no longer facilitated true worship. Similarly, many churches today are not the places of worship they should be; many churches have been sidetracked from bringing the Word of God to a people perishing for lack of direction. Too many churches watch the books more than they preach The Book.
But, the man from Baàl-Shalisha teaches us that even when the religious establishment fails, Believers can still honor God. No Believer is captive to a failing church. It is far too easy to complain of the failures of the modern church, instead of focusing on each individual relationship with God. Regardless of how good or bad churches might be, each believer has DIRECT access to God though the indwelling Holy Spirit and each Believer is called on to honor God. Indeed, God tells us the WE, true Believers in Christ, are His Royal Priesthood
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” ~ 1 Peter 2:9-10
Priests and pastors may be ‘missing-in-action’ but each Believer can still stand up for what is right. When we meet the Lord, what matters is what each of us did with our lives to honor God.
“So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” ~ Romans 14:12
“Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.” ~ 1 Corinthians 3:13-14
(On personal note, this writer has known far too many Christians who moved away from a comfortable home church, found themselves in a new city with different churches, found it difficult to adapt and then fell away from the faith. Perhaps all those churches were bad, but God never leaves us alone. He will make a way for us to remain in Him if we will obey His Word and honor Him.)
To be clear, this is NOT a call to boycott churches because they don’t suit us. On the contrary, this is a call to honor God in whatever church situation you are in. God has commanded us to maintain fellowship with the body of believers (Hebrews 10:26). We must honor Him with our obedience to His WORD.
Overcoming Location (the Famine of Comfort)
Gilgal was a thirty-mile journey, over a mountain, from Baàl-Shalisha. In Israel, no one in the populated areas would be more than about ten miles away from a Levitical city. That is, no one would have to travel more than ten miles to give their offerings. The man from Baàl-Shalisha traveled three times that distance to get to Elisha and his men. How far are we willing to go to honor God? The man from Baàl-Shalisha had no nearby opportunity to give his offering to God. Actually, it appears that he baked the firstfruits into bread exactly because he knew he had a long journey to make (bread would be easier to carry than barley).
Far too often we honor God only when it is easy: when nearby opportunities abound. How far are we willing to drive to attend a Bible-Believing, Bible-Teaching Church? How far are we willing to go to visit someone who is sick, or in prison? How far will we go to reach a lost soul?
But there is more to opportunity and sacrifice than just distance. In effect, the man from Baàl-Shalisha was willing to go far out of his comfort zone to honor the God he believed in and served. So the real challenge presented to us, is how uncomfortable are we willing to be to honor God. Are we willing to be in the uncomfortable position of telling a co-worker or neighbor about God? No, not just inviting them to church so the pastor can do it for us; but rather sharing with our neighbor/colleague our belief and testimony of who God is.
Are we willing to stand up for right when the group we are in does something wrong? Will we get up when we realize the movie everyone in watching dishonors God? That can be very uncomfortable indeed.
How about reaching out to that obnoxious, socially repugnant colleague/school-mate/neighbor; the one no one really likes and everyone tries to avoid. That is a long rough path to travel.
But no one has traveled as far a Jesus did: He left the perfection of Heaven, gave up His divine glory, and journeyed to earth so that, by His death, He could become a firstfruits (the Perfect offering) that removes our dishonor!!!
“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.” ~ 1 Corinthians 15:20
The Faithful are the Firstfruits
Yes, Christ is the firstfruits of mankind, when we could not provide a suitable offering to remove our sins, God went on the greatest journey to provide the offering on our behalf. But even as Christ is the firstfruits for us, we who have received His salvation, who have had been planted in the field of the Master gardener, who have been engrafted into the Vine, we are the firstfruits of all God’s creatures.
“Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” ~ James 1:18
And, as the firstfruits of all God’s creatures, our whole lives, every facet of our being, is intended to be an offering to Him. Every breath we take, every beat of our hearts is meant to be for His honor because we have been separated unto Him.
Finally, it is important to remember that firstfruits are meant to be eaten. Firstfruits were usually eaten by the Priests/Levites and in this passage they were eaten by Elisha and his men. Likewise, as the firstfruits of all God’s creatures, our purpose is to be “eaten” by men. It is our testimony that provides spiritual food for the communities we live in. So that they can get a “taste” of what God is like; so that they can “taste and see that the Lord is Good” (Psalm 34:8).
If we determine to honor God with our lives, regardless of the obstacles and setbacks we face, then, just like the firsfruits delivered by the man from Baàl-Shalisha, the testimony of our lives will be more than enough: “…They shall eat, and shall leave thereof”.