Elisha was a prophet in the Northern Kingdom between 848-797 B.C.; his name means “God is Spirit.” Elisha was a disciple of Elijah. Because Elisha saw Elijah taken up into heaven, he received a double portion of Elijah’s spirit to support his ministry (2 Kings 2:10). Elisha long ministry was during the reigns of Kings Joram (Jehoram), Jehu, Jehoahaz, and Jehoash (Joash) over the Northern tribes.
At the time of this story, Elisha was in Gilgal, north of Jericho in the tribal lands of Manasseh. Gilgal was in the midst of a famine. While a company of prophets were meeting with Elisha, he directed his servant to cook a large pot of stew for the men. A servant went out into the field to gather herbs. Finding a wild vine, the man filled a fold of his cloak with gourds from the vine. Although no one recognized the gourd, they were cutup and put in the stew.
After the stew cooked, it was poured out for the prophets. As the prophets ate the stew, they became very sick and cried out, “O, man of God, there is death in the pot” (2 Kings 4:40). Immediately, Elisha directed them to get flour. He put the flour into the pot. The flour was probably stirred into the stew. Then, Elisha directed that the stew be given to the company to eat. Believing Elisha mitigated the poisonous substance in the stew, the prophets ate it. None became sick.
Many botanists and Bible scholars proposed that the wild vine and gourds were Citrullus colocynthis, a cucumber-like plant with purgative qualities. Likely the flour was from barley, the flour of the poor in Israel. Possibly the barley flour coated the gourd and/or the stomach and intestinal tract; thus reducing or eliminating the gourd’s severe purgative effect. Alternatively, the prophets’ faith in Elisha and his flour remedy could have opened a door for God’s power to detoxify the stew. The chronicle of Elisha’s life showed that time-after-time God assisted Elisha as he walked in God’s path (2 Kings Chapters 4-6).
The Bitter Gourd
Citrullus colocynthis is called the bitter gourd. In the past the gourd may have been eaten, however, it is not now considered an edible plant. Its origins are North Africa or the Eastern Mediterranean area. It grows in sandy soil and gravel in Israel. As an herbaceous vine, the bitter gourd trails over the ground or climbs shrubs and fences using tendrils. Its leaves resemble those of a watermelon or the familiar garden gourd in the United States. After the vine has withered, gourds can be seen lying in the soil or sand. Over time, the rind breaks down. Seeds enter the soil or are eaten by animals. Bitter gourd is propagated by seeds or by root segments; seeds germinate after spring rains. The bitter taste and possibly purgative effect associated with bitter gourd is in the pulp. When seeds are washed and consumed separate from pulp, they are generally described as tasteless.
In the Elisha episode, the bitter gourd is associated with death. The prophets thought they were dying because they ate the gourd-filled stew. Originally, God’s plan was that men and women did not die, but lived forever. Because Adam and Eve desired to be independent of God’s laws, the human race became subject to death. Through the Old Testament millennia only Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:11-12) did not die physically; yet God does not take pleasure in death, even the death of the wicked. God wants the wicked to repent and live (Ezekiel 18:23, 32; 33:11).
Some individuals fear death. Job personified death as the “king of terrors” (Job 18:14); however, Job declared that death is naked before God (Job 26:5). Ever gracious, God made a simple way for men and women to not die, but live forever. Christ said that anyone who hears his word and believes God … will cross over from death to life (John 5:24). By his own death, Christ destroyed death and bought immortality to the human race (2 Timothy 1:10). Christ’s death overcame the devil that holds the power of death (Hebrews 2:14).
A way of looking at physical death is that it is a gift, not a punishment, from God. God allows our bodies – often with pains and diseases — to die so we can be raised to a new life. Younger individuals may die so they do not have to face the agonies that result from living in a fallen world. Possibly you and I will physically die before Christ comes to take the saved from the earth. As Christians we do not have to believe that death is the “king of terrors.”
When Christ comes, Christians who have died will rise; this is called the first resurrection. Our bodies – decomposed, blown up, or cremated – will be raised. Perishable, mortal bodies will become imperishable and immortal (1 Corinthians 15:52-55). Our physical death will be swallowed up in Christ’s death and resurrection. Then, we will live with Christ eternally. John wrote that blessed and holy are those who take part in the first resurrection (Revelations 20:6). They will not participate in or be hurt by the second death (Revelations 2:11 and Study Note). The second death is the lake of fire reserved for those who did not believe in Christ. According to Revelations, the following individuals/groups are destined for the lake of fire: the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderous, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters, and all liars (Revelations 21:8). Along with Death and Hades, these individuals/groups will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelations 20:14).
Reflection. Elisha’s belief and actions saved the prophets from dying from the poisonous gourd. Christ’s actions saved us from eternal death. After reading about the lake of fire, I know it’s not someplace I want to go. What about you – do you want to take part in the first resurrection or the second death?
I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at http://www.CarolynRothMinistry.com/
Copyright May 7, 2012; carolyn a. roth