Summary: Elisha miraculously fed 100 of his disciples. Jesus fed 5,000.
The Feeding of the One Hundred
When you looked at the title for this Sunday’s sermon, you may have thought to yourself: “Didn’t Jesus feed five thousand people?” Did we not learn of that from the Gospel of Mark last week? And is not this week’s Gospel text from the 6th chapter of John also on the feeding of the one thousand? Indeed, Jesus fed 5,000 men plus many women and children. So where do we get the Feeding of the 100 from? Then you might have observed that the selected text for this morning is from 2 Kings 4:42-44 in the Old Testament. And this is an account of the Prophet Elisha feeding 100 men. So let us look into this text and see what we can learn from it.
The context seems to indicate that the 100 men belonged to the School of the Prophets. This was a sort of seminary for young ministers who first followed the prophet Elijah and then Elisha after Elijah was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot. In other words, they were disciples of Elisha who came to learn about the ways of the LORD through him. The text says that a man from a small village named Baal-Shalita came to offer the firstfruits of his barley harvest in fulfillment of the LORD’s law on firstfruits. This consisted of twenty-five loaves of barley bread plus some fresh grain. Barley was the earlier of the two grain harvests, and the Feast of Firstfruits was observed to thank God for the harvest. This feast happened on the Sunday after Passover, the Christian Easter. The other harvest was of wheat of which the Feast of Pentecost originally commemorated.
When we see twenty-five loaves of bread, we must not think of the large loaves we find at the supermarket. Rather they were small loaves the size of a pancake or Pita bread. They would not provide much nourishment for a hungry company of men. Barley was a tough course bread, and the fact that these loaves would have been unleavened as the Feast of Unleavened Bread had just been observed. There would have not been enough time for the yeast to regenerate. So not only was this a small amount of bread for such a large company, it would not have been very appetizing either.
Elisha then asked that the bread be given to these hungry disciples to eat. But the servant responded negatively, indicating this was not enough bread for everyone to eat. But Elisha repeated his command. “Give them to the people to eat.” This time he adds the words from the LORD which promised that there would not just be enough to satisfy the hunger of everyone. There would be leftovers as well. This came to pass according to the Word of the LORD.
We can see that there are a lot of similarities between this text and the four Gospel accounts of the Feeding of the Five Thousand other than the scope of the miracle was smaller. Only 100 men were fed. We see a similarity between the man who had brought the loaves and grain to the little boy who brought the loaves and fishes. We see the complaint from the server and the disciples of Jesus that there was not enough to satisfy everyone. Elisha like Jesus tells the servers to serve the food anyway. There was enough for all with abundant leftovers.
By now we are wondering what these similarities mean. To see further in this matter, we must look at a verse from Luke 24:44-45: “And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures.” When Jesus talks about the Scripture here, He is referring to the Old Testament as the New Testament had not yet been written. Jesus directs us to look for Him in the Scriptures. We also read in John 5: 39 “Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” This gives us the necessary framework to understand the relationship. Jesus deliberately patterned His ministry to illustrate the witness to Him in the Old Testament. One of these patterns can be seen in the life of Elisha. If one looks at the 4th Chapter of 2 Kings, we see the raising of the dead son of the Shumanite woman. She had been a faithful servant of the LORD and had prepared a room for the prophet in which to lodge and eat whenever he came to town. It is interesting that Luke 8 begins with a list of the women who had supported the ministry of Jesus and His disciples. This woman had an elderly husband, and they were not able to have children. As a reward, the Prophet Elisha said that she would have a son by this time next year. In it, we see a parallel to Abraham and Sarah. The theme of the miracle child also reminds us of the virgin birth of Jesus as well. This son has a heatstroke and dies in his mother’s arms. She goes personally to the prophet and asks Elisha why her child died.