Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

2 Kings 4:38-41 (NIV)

.. One of them .. found a wild vine and picked ... its gourds ... he cut them up into the pot of stew... they cried out, “Man of God, there is death in the pot!” And they could not eat it. Elisha said, “Get some flour.” He put it into the pot ... And (then) there was nothing harmful in the pot.

  • What exactly was this wild gourd?
  • Would the soup really have caused death? Was this a strange figure of speech that means something else?
  • Is there a modern-day explanation on why adding flour absolves it's apparent poisons? For example, a particular chemical/food reaction?
  • Did putting flour in actually do anything? Or was it a "placebo effect" ?
  • Or were the men merely being whiny, superstitious, picky eaters?
share|improve this question
1  
Welcome to BH.SE! Interesting question(s) on a very strange passage. –  Jon Ericson Dec 7 '11 at 0:50
    
It sounds familiar to me. The original offering was offered to "the sons of the prophets" and they rejected it as evil. It was then offered to "the people" and they were sustained (see Luke 14: 16-24). It would seem to me that the "miracles" of Elisha directly parallel those of Jesus in this chapter. –  user573 May 9 '12 at 1:26
add comment

4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Read in isolation, 2 Kings 4:38-41 can be understood as a story about a foul tasting soup that Elisha improved by adding a new flavor.

However, the context in II Kings is miracles performed by Elisha to save people from death by famine. From within that context it seems that the "death in the pot," was an actual danger that required Elisha's intervention. Nevertheless, it's noteworthy that the miracle was effected through the physical means of adding a new substance to the pot and not by merely reciting some "magic words."

This story, like the previous story about the "resurrection" that Elisha performs for the Shunamit woman's son, raises questions about the relationship between the natural and the miraculous:

  • Did Elisha merely perform CPR on the kid to "bring him back to life" or was the resurrection performed supernatural?
  • Did the food substance added to pot serve as a natural chemical antidote or miraculous panacea to the danger at hand?
  • Is a "naturalistic" miracle less miraculous than miracles effected by incantation alone?
share|improve this answer
2  
Do you think the early tellers and readers of these stories have the same "questions about the relationship between the natural and the miraculous"? I sort of assumed that the stories were meant to be about miracles. –  Jon Ericson Dec 9 '11 at 18:25
1  
@JonEricson, definitely. Also, the Elisha narratives are some of the most bizarre and enigmatic in all of Tanakh. I think the wild style in those narratives reflects the fact that Elisha himself was an enigma and the people in his own time never really understood him. –  Amichai Dec 9 '11 at 18:38
add comment

A wild gourd is just that. A gourd which grows in the wild. It would be difficult to say which species of gourd it might be though.

"There was no more death in the pot" has also been translated "there was no more bitterness in the pot" or "there was no more harm in the pot".

Starch, by my understanding, does have the ability to mitigate certain bitterness and acidity in foods, so it is quite possible that this actually "fixed the problem."

My interpretation:

The men whined about the food not tasting good. Elisha then added meal (often this was flour or ground corn) to the stew and then it did not taste as bad.


(Someone will probably delete this, but I'm reminded of the tongue twister: Betty Botter bought a bit of bitter butter, but, she said, "The butter's bitter. If I put it in my batter, then my batter will be bitter." So she bought a bit of better butter and she put it in her batter and her batter was not bitter.)

share|improve this answer
    
@Amichai But the word in verse 41 is not "death" but evil (רָ ע). It seems then that those who would translate that as death are the ones adding their own interpretation. –  cwallenpoole Dec 9 '11 at 6:35
    
you are correct. I have deleted my earlier comment. Instead I meant to say: the literal translation of the Hebrew word רע is "evil." Those who translate: "there was no more bitterness in the pot" are departing from the literal meaning of the verse and offering interpretation. –  Amichai Dec 9 '11 at 7:14
    
Welcome to BH.SE! Do you have any reference to support the idea that starch removes bitter taste? (It sounds likely, but it would help to have a bit more data.) –  Jon Ericson Dec 9 '11 at 18:23
1  
@JonEricson It is my understanding that meal (which is a starch), as an emulsifier, has a tendency to absorb both acids an bases -- things which make things sour and bitter. This is why, for example, you are advised to eat bread after eating spicy food -- it neutralizes the offending acids. –  cwallenpoole Dec 9 '11 at 19:56
add comment

The word in Hebrew, verse 40, is maveth. It means death, as in pestilence. It is used in the Bible where death and destruction is conveyed as a meaning. It's not talking about bitterness. The message is, the prophet intervenes for these men due to Yahweh's mercy. Ref.: Gesenius's Lexicon of Hebrew and English and my knowledge of Hebrew.

share|improve this answer
    
Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics--StackExchange! That's useful information and a good place to start on a complete answer. From what you said, it sounds like the passage is talking about poisoned food of some sort. Why did Elisha use flour as a medium for performing the miracle? –  Jon Ericson Mar 26 '12 at 17:54
add comment

The story follows the Covenant pattern: a delegation of authority, a firstfruits, a testing, a result, an accountability and a future.

The point here is Israel as firstfruits. When Israel seized kingly authority without priestly deference to God first (as Cain, who made his offering before Abel), the Land would cease to be blessed. Time and again, when Israel shed innocent blood, God sent a famine. The blood cried from the ground and the Land itself would be out to kill them. (We also see this in the famine in Bethlehem at the beginning of Ruth, following the shocking bloodshed at the end of Judges.)

What saves the day is priestly flour, a true firstfruits, the facebread. We can also tie this to Samson, who served grinding in the mill and was then able to judge as a sacrificial king.

It is interesting that the "liturgical ingredient" Elisha used to heal the bitter spring in Jericho was salt. It speaks of barrenness. The children of idolatrous Israel were cut off (like Sodom) and the children of Gentile believers (in Jericho!) were saved.

share|improve this answer
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.