Death in the Pot: Thoughts on 2 Kings 4:38-41

Elisha returned to Gilgal and there was a famine in that region. While the company of the prophets was meeting with him, he said to his servant, “Put on the large pot and cook some stew for these men.” One of them went out into the fields to gather herbs and found a wild vine. He gathered some of its gourds and filled the fold of his cloak. When he returned, he cut them up into the pot of stew, though no one knew what they were. The stew was poured out for the men, but as they began to eat it, they cried out, “O 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 said, “Serve it to the people to eat.” And there was nothing harmful in the pot.

Famine has wracked the region of Gilgal. People are hungry, desperate. The company of prophets comes together, I suppose to discuss what Yahweh is doing in the land and what should be done about the famine. They are gathered to hear from the Lord.

Elisha instructs his servant to prepare stew for the prophets. Then the text says that “one of them” went out to the field to gather herbs. It’s not clear if “one of them” is a servant or a prophet. It doesn’t matter. What matters is what happens next. The man spies a wild vine full of fruit—a beautiful and unusual sight during this famine. He fills his cloak with gourds from the vine, returns, chops them up, and puts them into the stew “though no one knew what they were.”

When the men begin to eat, they cry out “O man of God, there is death in the pot!” Elisha puts flour into the stew, healing the killer properties of the vine, and the prophets eat and are filled.

At first we might feel bad for the servant who prepared the stew. He did his best, but he made a mistake.

No. In a desperate time, a man made a desperate choice, and the prophets of God almost died. Instead of seeking the Lord’s provision, the man went out, saw a vine flourishing in an otherwise barren landscape, and assumed that vine was the answer. It was right there. It was the easy choice.

But he lacked discernment. No one knew what the fruits were. And instead of pausing to ask the Lord, they tossed it in and hoped for the best. A decision made out of desperation in the man’s own strength.

Man’s ways are never better than God’s ways. Desperate times do not call for desperate measures. They call for prayerful measures. Panic and rushing into action without thought never helps.

You may be in a place of desperation—a metaphorical famine of sorts—where you’re tempted to reach for whatever looks good and right in the moment.

Don’t do it. Stop and pray. Seek the wisdom of God. Ask him for his provision. Maybe that fruitful vine is his provision, but let’s not make the mistake of assuming what looks right in the moment is what God wants for us.

Abraham did what he thought was wise when he slept with Hagar. That was the custom of the day. A man needed an heir. But it wasn’t God’s ways, and that desperate decision cost more than Abraham could have imagined.

So stop. Take a deep breath. And ask the Lord to reveal himself to you in whatever famine you’re facing. He promises to be found when we call on his name. He is not a God whose ways are hidden. He’s given us his Word, his Spirit, and his people to help us walk through life with wisdom and discernment.

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