Saturday, September 18, 2021

The feeding of the five thousand echoes one of Elisha's miracles

I just listened to this story in 2 Kings (4:38, 42-44).

And Elisha came again to Gilgal: and there was a dearth in the land; . . . 

And there came a man from Baalshalisha, and brought the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley, and full ears of corn in the husk thereof.

And [Elisha] said, "Give unto the people, that they may eat."

And his servitor said, "What, should I set this before an hundred men?" 

He said again, "Give the people, that they may eat: for thus saith the Lord, They shall eat, and shall leave thereof."

So he set it before them, and they did eat, and left thereof, according to the word of the Lord.

Someone gives the prophet a small number of barley loaves to feed a large number of people. The prophet's servant expresses incredulity, but the prophet insists. The people eat, and miraculously it is enough and to spare. Compare this to the feeding of the 5,000, the only miracle apart from the Resurrection to appear in all four Gospels (John 6:5-13, Mark 6:35-44, Luke 9:12-17, Matt. 14:15-21).

Although the four accounts of the miracle are very similar, there are two ways in which the Fourth Gospel's version more closely echoes the story of Elisha.

First, Elisha's bread was provided by a single person, "a man from Baalshalisha"; and this man offered it unsolicited, without being asked by the prophet. In all three Synoptics, the bread and fish are provided by the disciples collectively; and in Matthew and Mark, Jesus directly asks them to do so. In John, though, the food is volunteered by a single person, as in the Elisha story.

One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, saith unto him, "There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?" (John 6:8-9).

Second, only the Fourth Gospel specifies that they are barley loaves. In fact, 2 Kings 4 and John 6 are the only two places in the entire Bible where barley loaves are mentioned.

Elisha fed 100 people with 20 loaves -- five people per loaf -- which, depending on how big the loaves were, hardly seems like a miracle at all. (A modern loaf of bread typically has about 20 slices; Elisha's must have been much smaller.) Jesus fed 5,000 people with just five loaves -- 1,000 people per loaf -- a feat 200 times as miraculous as Elisha's. Also, while those who ate Elisha's bread "left thereof," those who ate Jesus' left enough crumbs to fill 12 baskets -- surely much more than the original volume of the bread.

Luke's account may contain a subtle reference to Jesus' feeding 50 times as many people as Elisha. Before feeding the multitude, "he said to his disciples, 'Make them sit down by fifties in a company'" (Luke 9:14). Elisha fed 100 people, but Jesus fed 100 companies of people.

1 comment:

Bruce Charlton said...

Interesting comparison - and perhaps suggests that the miracle was perhaps deliberately 'set up' by Jesus to reference the earlier miracle, and exceed it. Or else set up by God/ Divine Providence for the same purpose.

The feeding of the five thousand echoes one of Elisha's miracles

I just listened to this story in 2 Kings (4:38, 42-44). And Elisha came again to Gilgal: and there was a dearth in the land; . . .  And ther...