2 Kings 4:38-44 (Part 1) – Fantasy Island: What Looks Good May Not Be Good For You

Posted: April 20, 2019 in 12-2 Kings

2 Kings 4:38-44 (Part 1 of 2)

Miracles During a Famine

If you are old enough to remember television in the late 70’s and early 1980’s, there was a show that was a wildly popular ratings success called Fantasy Island. It aired on the ABC television network from September 1977 through May 1984. It starred Ricardo Montalbán as the mysterious Mr. Roarke, who grants the fantasies of visitors to the island for a price. The series was created by Gene Levitt. A revival of the series aired on the same network 14 years later during the 1998–1999 season.

Often the fantasies would turn out to be morality lessons for the guests. For example, one featured a couple who clamored for the “good old days” being taken back to the Salem witch trials, sometimes to the point of (apparently) putting their lives at risk, only to have Roarke step in at the last minute and reveal the deception. It is mentioned a few times that a condition of visiting Fantasy Island is that guests never reveal what goes on there. In each episode, it seems that the fantasies would teach the guests that our fantasies of a better life in some perfect world is really nothing more than exchanging one set of problems for another set.

In Venezuela, we see how the Fantasy Island mindset has played out since the beginning of this century. At the end of the last century, Venezuela was the richest country in South America awash in economic expansion caused by its rich oil reserves. However, with the success came inequalities of wealth that is often a natural result of capitalism. As a prosperous nation over a long period of time, the shortcomings of capitalism and the way it distributes wealth led many Venezuelans to being focusing how to make everyone happy. They began seeking to make Venezuela an utopian state where everyone was equal and there was no poverty and no unequal distribution of wealth. Slowly they drifted toward socialism. Playing on this utopian ideal and to satisfy the masses disenchanted, Chavez was elected President in 1998.

As we now see some 20 years later, the socialist policies desired by the masses and that put Chavez in power have utterly failed. There are three main policies implemented by Chavez since 1999 that produced the current crisis: Widespread nationalization of private industry, currency and price controls, and the fiscally irresponsible expansion of welfare programs. One of Chavez’s first actions was to start nationalizing the agriculture sector, supposedly reducing poverty and inequality by taking from rich landowners to give to poor workers. From 1999 to 2016, his regime robbed more than 6 million hectares of land from its rightful owners.

Nationalization destroyed production in affected industries because no government has the capacity to run thousands of businesses or the profit motive to run them efficiently. Instead, government officials face incentives to please voters by selling products at low prices and hiring more employees than necessary, even when that’s the wrong industry decision. As economic theory predicted, as state control of the agricultural industry increased, Venezuela’s food production fell 75% in two decades while the country’s population increased by 33%. This was a recipe for shortages and economic disaster. After agriculture, the regime nationalized electricity, water, oil, banks, supermarkets, construction, and other crucial sectors. And in all these sectors, the government increased payrolls and gave away products at low cost, resulting in days-long countrywide blackouts, frequent water service interruptions, falling oil production, and bankrupt government enterprises.

Yet taking over the most important sectors of the economy was not enough for the socialist regime. In 2003, Chavez implemented a foreign currency control scheme where the government set an overvalued exchange rate between the Venezuelan currency and the U.S. dollar.

One goal of the scheme was to reduce inflation by overvaluing the currency, subsidizing imported products. But the currency control meant the regime had to ration available U.S. dollars to importers since, at an overvalued (cheap) exchange rate, there was more demand for U.S. dollars than supply. Naturally, a black market for foreign currency emerged and corrupt regime members and lucky individuals assigned cheap U.S. dollars obtained large profits. Even worse, the scheme actually increased inflation since overvaluing the currency reduced government oil revenues in Venezuelan currency, leading the regime to print money to cover the ensuing budget deficit.

The socialist regime also implemented price ceilings on hundreds of basic products such as beef, milk and toilet paper. At artificially low prices, more people were willing to buy these products but the few private factories left—not nationalized—could not profit at the government-capped price, so they reduced or halted their production. Instead of benefiting the poor, price ceilings predictably resulted in shortages that forced them to stand in lines for hours, while supermarket employees and the well-connected obtained the products they needed.

But perhaps the most harmful part of the Venezuelan socialist project is the part that the international media and leftist figures used to praise most frequently: welfare programs. The socialist regime created social “missions” aimed at tackling poverty, illiteracy, healthcare, and more. But despite enjoying higher government oil revenues due to a tenfold rise in oil prices from $10 a barrel in 1999 to more than $100 in 2008, the regime financed a growing deficit by printing more currency. Expansive welfare programs and massive public-works projects provided ever-growing opportunities for still greater corruption. Printing money to pay for endless state programs unsurprisingly led to high rates of inflation.

In this way, socialism run rampant—not cronyism, corruption, falling oil prices, or U.S. sanctions—caused the crisis in Venezuela. Welfare programs that were supposed to help the poor actually increased the cost of living. A foreign currency control that aimed to reduce inflation only increased it and allowed for massive corruption. And nationalizations that should have given “power” to workers only left them unemployed and hungry.

Venezuela is the ultimate “be careful what you wish for” story. It may look pretty. It may look desirous. It may even sound morally right. However, just as in economic terms, socialism sounds great in discussions and on paper, but in reality never works out. The ultimate socialist project the Soviet Union and its conquered and supported lands all ended not because of losing a war but because of economic collapse resulting from a bloated government and little economic activity.  Socialism have proven time and again to be Fantasy Island economics. Promise the people everything, they agree to it, and then they proceed to lose their freedoms in a state controlled economy and then lose the very level of utopia that they desired. Economic collapse always is the ultimate end to socialism.

We see those in our country now that desire to create the utopian state in the United States because somehow the result would be different here. They desire the Fantasy Island utopia that socialistic policies intend to create. It all sounds good in theory but never works out in practice. We never learn from history, it seems, when it comes to public economic policy.

That’s what come to mind when I read today’s passage and it spawned two ideas for two blogs on it. For today, it was that idea of fantasy island. Whether it is economic policy or our relationship with God, we often fall prey to the siren’s call of what seems to be good but that which will crash us on the rocky shore. Don’t get me wrong I am not saying that God endorses capitalism and condemns socialism but rather that idea of that which sounds so good is often that which will destroy us.

Think about it. Satan often speaks to us about how we are missing out by following God. Satan tells us that it is OK to do this or do that or believe this or believe that because God is trying to hold us back from the freedoms that we have a right to desire. The first half of this passage, vv. 38-41, is a lesson in that. Lets read the passage now, with that in mind:

38 Elisha now returned to Gilgal, and there was a famine in the land. One day as the group of prophets was seated before him, he said to his servant, “Put a large pot on the fire, and make some stew for the rest of the group.”

39 One of the young men went out into the field to gather herbs and came back with a pocketful of wild gourds. He shredded them and put them into the pot without realizing they were poisonous. 40 Some of the stew was served to the men. But after they had eaten a bite or two they cried out, “Man of God, there’s poison in this stew!” So they would not eat it.

41 Elisha said, “Bring me some flour.” Then he threw it into the pot and said, “Now it’s all right; go ahead and eat.” And then it did not harm them.

42 One day a man from Baal-shalishah brought the man of God a sack of fresh grain and twenty loaves of barley bread made from the first grain of his harvest. Elisha said, “Give it to the people so they can eat.”

43 “What?” his servant exclaimed. “Feed a hundred people with only this?”

But Elisha repeated, “Give it to the people so they can eat, for this is what the Lord says: Everyone will eat, and there will even be some left over!” 44 And when they gave it to the people, there was plenty for all and some left over, just as the Lord had promised.

In this passage, we see that often that which seems harmless and even good for us can be harmful. This lesson from the physical world, in this passage, reminds us metaphorically that the world is full of poisonous ideas that may look harmless and even resemble the truth, but they are bitter and bring unhappiness to man.

 To be able to recognize this and to protect others from these bitter herbs, men need to be trained in the Word of God that they may in turn equip others in the truth. The pictures here are clear enough. The world is full of poisonous ideas and solutions to life. To the untrained, undiscriminating ear and eye, they sound and look good, but they are full of death and misery. Further, in this picture, we see the believer’s responsibility. In Jesus Christ and His Word we have the antidote–the answer to man’s death and the means of life eternal and life abundantly (John 10:10). Unfortunately, our tendency is to follow our own instincts and that which seems right to us.

Elisha called for meal (flour) and threw it into the pot and by a miracle of God the flour neutralized the poison. This beautifully illustrates a wonderful spiritual truth, an analogy for faith and obedience. Isn’t it interesting that in order to live, they had to eat in faith of that which had been poisonous? There was no neutral position. They either ate of the flour-sweetened stew or they died.

Satan wants us to believe that what God allows us to do is not enough. He wants us to believe that God’s commandments are restrictive. We must have our right to pursue our own desires. He wants us to believe that God is holding us back. That’s how he swindled Adam and Eve. They had everything they needed in the garden (equivalent to this passage where they were sitting around the pot of stew) and then Satan tempts them to go after what God had forbidden them to do. It sounded so good. It even sounded so right. To follow your own desires is the ultimate freedom. It’s fantasy island stuff.

There is freedom, according to Satan’s siren song, to go looking for what you want and what seems beautiful and soul-freeing rather than God protecting us from what is bad for us. Obedience to God’s Word always leads to life and disobedience leads to death. God is our Father who cares for us and wants the best for us. The commandments of God are there to protect us from ourselves and the sinful desires of the flesh. Satan twists it to make following our desires as right and beautiful and our right as the kings of our domain. Just as politicians to win the hearts of the masses by promising them utopia (but not telling us how it will be financed), so does Satan tempt us with what sounds so wonderful and so right because it tickles our desires for that fantasy island that we want.

1 Corinthians 1:20-25 tells us:

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Father, in heaven, please help us to see that You are our Protector. Please help us to see that You love us so much that You don’t want us to come to harm. You love us so much that You gave us Your Word to guide us and direct us toward holiness and that which is good for us and will not harm us. Help us not to listen to Satan’s siren song about chasing after that which in the end will destroy us and cause us to collapse under the weight of sin. Help us to see that Satan will often make things sounds so good, so utopian, so good for us, that are ultimately destructive to us. Help to see the wisdom of Your Word. Help us to see that you ask us to stay around Your campfire and your stew so that we will not be lured away toward the poisons of this world that will cause collapse, corruption, ruin, and death in our lives. Help us to learn to be children in your presence Lord where we trust what you say and will not stray from it because we know that You know what is best for us.

Amen and Amen.

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