Feasting with Elisha
July 19, 2022

After Elijah’s battered and depressed howling in the wilderness it must have seemed like the new prophet came eating and drinking. Which is a pattern we see again in the New Testament—John is explicitly identified with Elijah (Luke 1.17, Matthew 11.14), howling the truth in the wilderness that the people must repent of their sin (Mark 1.4). Again, he is followed by a new prophet who comes eating and drinking (Luke 7.34) much to the consternation of many.

The gospels, especially Luke, are rife with references to Elisha’s life. Reading backwards they shed much light on the older text.

In 1 & 2 Kings Elisha eats at five feasts, which roughly parallel five of Israel’s great feasts, each of which shed light on the feast we celebrate with Jesus in bread and wine. In this article I will explore each of the five to see what it can teach us about the Lord’s Supper. Incidentally, there are also two clear baptism stories (2 Kings 5.1-14; 6.1-7) for a full five loaves and two fish.

The Oxen: 1 Kings 19.19-21

Elisha’s life starts with a feast: Elijah calls him to follow him and Elisha begs a moment to return and bless his family. He slaughters his oxen and cooks the meat for a feast he shares with all the people he meets. It’s a funerary meal—a prophet’s prophetic meal to end his old life.

Elisha sells his wealth—his oxen—doing what was requested of the young ruler (Mark 10.17-27) and sheds his riches to follow the prophet, but not as we might think wise in some sort of programme to help the poor, instead by setting a feast before the people he had known all his life. It’s reminiscent of the costly worship of the Lord represented by Mary pouring a jar of pure nard on Jesus’ feet (John 12.3).

There is a hint here of the day of Atonement or Covering. Elisha gives the food to the people (see Leviticus 23.29-30) a word not used in the rest of the descriptions of feasts in Leviticus 23. He sacrifices cattle (baqar), used in Leviticus 16 as part of the day of Atonement ritual. Elisha’s call involves being covered with Elijah’s cloak (1 Kings 19.19), which again hints at the day of Covering.

Elisha’s story continues with food as a theme—he, like Oliver Twist, lifts his begging bowl before Elijah’s furious face and asks, “could I have some more?” When Elisha asks for a double portion of Elijah’s Spirit, the Hebrew is a request for ‘two mouths of your Spirit.’ Of course, unlike for poor Oliver, Elijah is not opposed, and Yahweh is delighted to bless.

The Gourds: 2 Kings 4.38-41

In the spring (2 Kings 4.16-17), Elisha comes to the prophetic community during a famine. In their attempt to scour about for things to make a stew from one of them gathers a large number of wild gourds he found on a vine.

He didn’t know what they were, and we’re safe to assume they’re savvy enough to be slightly concerned about eating foraged food they can’t identify, but they have nothing else to eat.

Sadly, these gourds are not good to eat and there is, as the company dramatically declare, “death in the pot!” Instead of bringing much needed sustenance, this stew looks set to wipe them out.

Elisha brings life from death by adding flour to the pot—by prophetically turning it into a bread of life. The stew becomes a Passover meal, with the unleavened bread front and centre in the flour. The flour also acts symbolically as blood sprinkled around the meal, so that death passes over the remnant community, and what should have killed instead brings life in the form of good food to eat in the midst of famine.

The Barley: 2 Kings 4.42-44

Immediately after this ‘Passover,’ Elisha celebrated the feast of Firstfruits when a man from Baal-shalishah brings bread of firstfruits to Elisha. The connection to the feast is clearest in this part of the narrative, to start with we’re told it’s the firstfruits, and we know it’s Spring. We’re told it’s barley, and Firstfruits is a celebration of the barley harvest. There is also significant repetition of language from Leviticus 23’s description of the feast of Firstfruits, even if most of these are common words, together they direct us to the feast.

The man from Baal-shalishah is also behaving like it’s Firstfruits. He’s got twenty barley loaves and some ears of grain to celebrate with, ready to be eaten after they are offered first to the Lord. Intriguingly he is bringing them to Elisha for the wave offering in lieu of a priest.

Elisha commands this to be given to the prophets to eat—food is for eating, after all. Of course, Elisha’s servant expresses their deep concern that this is nowhere near enough food for the hundred men of the sons of the prophets who are gathered, presumably with their families.

Elisha tells them to get on with it since there will be leftovers, and everyone ate and had some left. Which is of course reminiscent of Jesus’ greater miracles of feeding 4000 and 5000 men and their families with less.

The Syrians 2 Kings 6.20-23

Some years later, as Syrian attacks on Israel increase in magnitude and ferocity, the Prophet consistently allows Israel’s troops to outmanoeuvre their opponents to the point where the Syrian king expects his court is riddled with spies. When he discovers the truth, he plots an assassination attempt by surrounding the city Elisha is in with a ‘great army’ (2 Kings 6.8-14).

Elisha’s servant is greatly troubled, Elisha isn’t because he can see that the true army of Israel—the angelic forces of Yahweh of Hosts—is much greater than that which assails him and positioned to strike. He prays that the Lord would strike the Syrian army blind, which he does, and he tells the Syrians he will lead them to where they can find the man they’re looking for.

Like the Pied Piper he leads them on a merry journey to Samaria where they are surrounded by Israel’s armies, Elisha then opens their eyes but refuses to let King Jehoram kill them and instead insists that they are fed a ‘great feast’ of bread and water before sending them home. Which sounds like the way we are instructed to treat our enemies in Romans 12.19-21.

There is a connection here to the feast of Weeks, to Pentecost. Looking backwards to the feast of Weeks, we have repeated references to bread, which in Leviticus 23 connects us to either Firstfruits or Weeks, as the bread of the Passover is specifically unleavened, based on the sequence of Elisha’s life and having already encountered Firstfruits, we can judge this to be the next meal in sequence.

The description of the feast also has appended to it instructions to leave the edge of a field of wheat to be gleaned (Leviticus 23.22) by the poor or the sojourner. There is a connection here to the welcome of the captured Syrian army as sojourners, fed enough to sustain them, entirely unearned. Looking forwards to the New Testament Pentecost, we see a Gentile ingathering and the presence of the fiery chariots of God, revealed to men.

The Lepers: 2 Kings 7.16-20

For our final feast we find Elisha some years later stuck inside Samaria under siege by those same Syrians. He continues to not be flavour of the month with the King—perhaps in part because his act of mercy meant that these warriors were available to attack again. Things in Israel are so dire that some mothers have taken to eating their own sons in a diabolical parallel of the Lord’s Supper, when we eat the Son.

The King storms in to kill Elisha with a bevy of guards armed to the hilt. Faced with this threatening force, with a wry smile on his face as they have stopped trusting God one day too early, Elisha prophesies food, and judgement, to those in the middle of attempting to murder him (2 Kings 6.24-33).

That evening some starving lepers caper their way towards the Syrian camp because it honestly can’t be worse than sitting outside of Samaria with nothing to eat. The noise of their travelling spooks the Syrians such that they think they’re being attacked and flee. As Yahweh loves to, he defeats armies by trickery without Israel raising a hand.

The upshot being that the company of four lepers find themselves surrounded by a feast of food. After a short while enjoying the bounty they’ve ‘won,’ their consciences are pricked that they should spread the good news and so they spread the news. While it takes everyone a while to believe them, eventually food is sold in the gate for the prices Elisha prophesied, and those who scoffed at his words in the middle of their murder attempt are trampled by the crowds.

The captain who scoffed said even if God made windows in heaven this would not happen (2 Kings 7.2), though provided by more earthly means, the Leper’s find is a type of manna gathered from the ground. We can see here an echo of the feast of Booths, set as a memorial to Israel’s time in the wilderness, eating manna from heaven’s windows.

Booths is a harvest feast (Exodus 23.16, 34.22) and here the lepers have harvested what the Syrians first sowed. It’s celebrated outside, and it outside of the city that the lepers find their spoil and begin their feast before their consciences are pricked to share the bounty with others, which then happens at the gate. It’s also the only one of the feasts explicitly connected with rejoicing (Leviticus 23.40, Deuteronomy 16.14), and here is the rescue of Yahweh—with judgement—in providing food for Samaria, to be rejoiced in. Booths is also the feast celebrated most abundantly (Numbers 29, compare each set of sacrifices), and this is the most abundant meal in Elisha’s life with the whole city joining in.

The Sequence of Feasts

I’ve found connections to five of Israel’s seven feasts in the meals that Elisha eats. Which raises two questions, if I’m correct about the inferences I’ve drawn.

Firstly, the day of Atonement is presented out of order with the other feasts. Secondly, two of the feasts—the Sabbath and Trumpets—are missing from this sequence. This is worth pondering, because it may mean the connections I’ve highlighted aren’t meaningful.

I have four suggestions for ways we can read the sequence profitably.

Firstly, looking at what is missing. We miss Trumpets and we miss the Sabbath. Perhaps, since we start with the Day of Atonement, we should look for Trumpets before Elisha is introduced. There are no linguistic links to Trumpets in Elijah’s life that stand out, but perhaps he is typological trumpet himself: alone, shouting the truth in the wilderness, the forerunner for the one who comes eating and drinking in the way of the kingdom of God. When Elijah and Elisha are compared to John the Baptist and Jesus we could read Elijah as the one who made a way for the one who followed him, the trumpet that heralds a husband.

As for the Sabbath, while it comes at the beginning of the sequence in Leviticus 23 it comes at the end of the sequence in Genesis 1-2. It is reasonable to wonder if we are supposed to question where the Sabbath is the unfolding story. We have a man who was heralded, and a growing prophetic community, but Israel has not yet entered her rest. Perhaps we are meant to question where the sabbath rest is, and whether this firstborn son is the one to bring it. If so, the sequence helps us to see that the eschatological harvest has yet to arrive, and encourages us to long for Sabbath rest to come.

Secondly, looking at what’s included, we have all the four feasts associated with food and harvest—especially if we remember that the Passover happens immediately before the festival of Firstfruits, at the barley harvest. We also have the three feasts associated with pilgrimage in Exodus 23, especially if we remember that the pilgrimage for the Passover would involve staying for Firstfruits, it includes the same four.

We should consider Elisha as a harvest-prophet, reaping where Elijah had sown. In his ministry we encounter the Sons of the Prophets, sprung from the ground it seems (first appearing in 1 Kings 20), who he regularly interacts with. Elijah’s ministry has sown what he never got to see grow, Elisha in turn reaps it. We see the same pattern I indicated in my first point, the lone man followed by the man and his ‘bride.’ It’s also a movement from Kings, who Elijah regularly and violently interacted with, to Prophets. While Elisha does speak with the King, he is much more interested in the prophetic community he serves.

Thirdly, there is a sequence of growth if we contemplate who Elisha eats with. We start with his family and the community he grew up with (1 Kings 19.19-21), and then move to the prophetic community in the Sons of the Prophets for his next two meals (2 Kings 4.38-44). The growth of the community between those two meals is not apparent, but they are numbered in the second meal, and have moved from famine to abundant bread, so perhaps we can infer the growth of the Sons of the Prophets as well. For his fourth meal Elisha eats with foreigners and enemies (2 Kings 6.20-23), and for the final meal he ‘eats’ with unclean lepers (2 Kings 7.16-20).

We see, therefore, a sequence of family → small prophetic community → larger prophetic community → foreigners → the unclean. It’s a sequence of those who are allowed to eat with God expanding, even if we have no reason for thinking all of those individuals in the last two meals began to worship Yahweh. The progression of the feast indicates a growth in the expansiveness of who gets to eat with God and his people, foreshadowing the prophet who came eating and drinking (Luke 7.34) and ate with tax collectors and sinners (e.g. Matthew 9.11).

Fourthly, we can read the feasts as types of salvation, paying attention to their ordering. We begin with the day of Covering, we are covered by Jesus’ cloak on the cross, to be included. Death then passes over us as we are given divine bread to eat. Our blessings are then multiplied in the community of God’s followers as a firstfruits for later blessing. Outsiders are welcomed to come and eat with us and we aid them from our fields. We celebrate a great harvest in the Church that welcomes the unclean and blesses the city.

In this reading, Trumpets and the Sabbath are left our because they are in the future to be celebrated as the return of Christ and creation’s rest in the new heavens and the new earth.

The Lord’s Supper

Jesus, like Elisha, is the prophet who came eating and drinking (Luke 7.34). Luke is at pains to draw out the comparison between Christ and Elisha, and he has Christ eat ten meals, twice Elisha’s count. Which is, perhaps, the literal double mouthful Elisha requested.

We can read each of Elisha’s meals as insight on what we celebrate in the Lord’s Supper as the church gathers together.

The Oxen

As we feast each week with the people of God, we too receive the double mouthful of the firstborn, invited to feast with God, and we too eat and drink the Spirit. Elisha leaves farming behind and beats his plough into a sword—if a verbal one. The Lord’s Supper does the opposite, taking our swords and beating them into ploughshares (Isaiah 2.4). Much like for Elisha those swords are our tongues as we learn to speak in love and truth to each other as we sit at Jesus’ table together (1 Cor 11.17-34).

The Supper too is a funerary meal, as we week-by-week recommit ourselves to the death of our old lives in baptism and feast to the life to come, and it is the memorial of our day of covering, corresponding to the oxen slain that point as a sign to the cross of Christ.

The Gourds

The Lord’s Supper is a celebration of a Passover meal that Jesus began with his disciples and will complete with the final cup of the meal in the new creation with us all (Luke 22.18). Beyond that, it’s also food that if we eat unworthily can bring us death (1 Corinthians 11.27-30), but when partaken with the flour of faith brings only life. Feasting brings new life.

The Barley

The Lord’s Supper is a feast of firstfruits—a taste spiritually of the coming kingdom, but not just a taste: a miraculous meal that feeds more than it should. In the economy of the Kingdom, even the firstfruits of the harvest will leave leftovers, however many are gathered. We are not left with just a taste to await the coming kingdom, but we receive provision ‘pressed down, shaken together, and running over’ (Luke 6.38) in the meal that Jesus has laid for us. Feasting gifts us abundance.

The Syrians

The Lord’s Supper is a feast like Elisha had with the Syrians, though elevated by wine replacing water in the new covenant—wisdom’s drink given to the church. It’s a feast for those who were once blind and can now see, and where we who were enemies but a moment ago are now eaten with as though we are friends, because we are. The Supper is the kindness of God to us, that offers the same spiritual sight that Gehazi gained to see the chariots and horsemen of Israel. In other words, it’s a window into reality from the world in which we spend most of our time. Feasting gives us sight.

It is the gleanings of the heavenly feast that we will enjoy at the end of history (Revelation 21), and all peoples are invited to come and sojourn with the church at our table.

The Lepers

The Supper is manna: food provided for us that we did not grow, a gift from the windows of heaven. In the Lord’s Supper Jesus gives food, and judgement, to those who did murder him by our actions. He is ever the gracious host, who spreads a table for us in the presence of our enemies (Psalm 23.5).

It is like Booths a feast of a sojourning people, living in a wilderness and awaiting a heavenly city. At the same time—like the feast of Booths—it is an abundant meal, that brings much rejoicing. It is the churches great harvest celebration, as we look at one another as the sheafs already harvested by Jesus, the harvestman.

The Lord’s Supper is the feasts of Israel, offered for us week-by-week. We should come to it as to a feast, because that’s what it is.

T. M. Suffield is a Pastor, Writer, and University Manager from Birmingham, England. He tweets at @timsuffield. You can read more of his writing at

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