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A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man ha-elohim: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.” But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says Yahweh, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of Yahweh.
This is the optional Track two Old Testament reading for the ninth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 12], Year B, according to the lectionary for the Episcopal Church. If chosen, it will be paired with verses sung from Psalm 145, where some lyrics sing: “The eyes of all wait upon you and you give them their food in due season.” Those would precede the Epistle reading from Ephesians, where Paul wrote: “I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth.” All will accompany the Gospel reading from John, where Jesus fed the multitude and walked on the sea.
I wrote a commentary about this reading and published it in 2018. Everything I wrote then is still applicable for understanding this reading. I welcome all to read that article here. As always, I welcome comments, questions and suggestions. I will only add a little now, as this reading is short and sweet, fairly easy to understand when seen as a possible Old Testament reading to accompany the Gospel reading from John, when five thousand men were fed from five loaves and two fish.
In the reading from Second Kings, it is important to realize that a famine had spread across the Northern Kingdom. Most likely, the famine was caused by drought. According to rabbinical scholars, all famines were considered to be the result of the sinful ways of the people, meaning the people were led by sinful kings and priests. This must then be seen as not only a time when rainfall was not allowing for plentiful plant growth, but also a time when spiritual drought meant the people were not led properly. As a result of bad shepherding, the flock was not led to green pastures, where they could be fed the manna that poured down from heaven.
In the designation that says, “A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man ha-elohim,” it must be seen that two men as the focal points. I have adjusted the NRSV translation that says “man of God” to the truth written, as “man ha-elohim” is a statement of a soul married to Yahweh, so a “man Saint” identifies Elisha as that “man.” The assumed ‘place’ named “Baal-shalishah” is only found in the Bible in this verse. That rarity then says this is not a place, but “a man from the lord of three,” as “baal” means “lord, master,” and “shalosh” pertains to the number “three.” Therefore, the “man” who “came” was sent by Yahweh [the “lord”] as a Trinity, meaning he had become possessed by the Spirit and divinely led to do what he did. In this way, Elisha had prayed to Yahweh for a sign from God that would become spiritual food for his prophets that were hidden in two caves.
Because the man brought a sack that contained the first fruits, he was a priest of the temple in Bethel. During a famine, the growers of fruits and grains were still obligated to take omers [dry measure, like a bushel] of their crops to the temple, prior to the Passover. After fifty days [what the Greeks call Pentecost], on Shavuot, the high priest would bless the first fruits and a feast would be held that day. Because this man was possessed by Yahweh, he was able to access this bounty of ripe grains and fruits and take enough barley grain for twenty loaves of bread, after which he was led to where Elisha had gathered with his prophets.
Because the food had been deemed ready for consumption amid times of famine, the arrival of a Yahweh-sent bearer of grain should be seen as the answer to Elisha’s prayer having arrived. He immediately told the divinely possessed man to “Give it to the people and let them eat.” This is where the specific number of “a hundred” must be seen as the prophet hid in two caves. The two caves should then be seen as reflecting how the Northern Kingdom not only had a temple in Bethel, but also one at Dan, designed that way to keep the Israelites from thinking they needed to go to Jerusalem for the three yearly festivals. Thus, the “hundred people” were the prophets of Yahweh who served both temples of Israel, as they were the ones in need of manna from Yahweh to maintain their faith.
In what Elisha said to the divinely possessed man who Yahweh used to bring His food, twice he said “Yahweh.” I have changed the NRSV translations of “the Lord” to reflect Elisha was in direct communication with Yahweh, not some generic “lord.” When the word “baal” is realized to translate as “lord,” with many people accepting “baal” worship, due to the false kings and foreign queens, who brought in their pagan priests to corrupt the Israelites, it is vital to see Elisha referred specifically to “Yahweh.”
When it was Yahweh who told Elisha, “They shall eat and have some left,” and “they had some left,” this speaks of how spiritual food is unlike physical food. Whereas physical food would not have fed a hundred people, the divine messenger brought spiritual food that was more than a hundred people could consume at once. When we read “they had some left,” their souls had been nourished, with more nourishment left over to nourish not only them, but others who were in need, due to spiritual famine. The “some left” was those prophets being given the ability to go out and lead others to marry their souls to Yahweh and feed off spiritual food because they had fed off that.
As an optional reading during the ninth Sunday after Pentecost, when one’s own personal ministry to Yahweh should already be well underway, this short reading speaks of one being fed spiritual food. For spiritual food to have an effect, one’s soul must be married to Yahweh. To be a minister of Yahweh, one needs to be a “man from baal- shalishah,” such that one has been led by Yahweh to take spiritual food to the people starving from spiritual famine and feed them. Just as that divinely possessed man knew nothing about how many could be fed on just a little spiritual food, this becomes a reflection on how little a true priest of Yahweh needs to know, in order to feed the flocks and keep their souls healthy and nourished. All a true priest needs to do is show up with a sack of Scripture [the lectionary lessons that can feed a multitude if presented divinely] and let Yahweh do the rest. That requires the faith of the Trinity; and, unfortunately, the spiritual famine now covering the lands of Christianity means there are few Saints carrying the spiritual message to the people.