There is Death in the Pot!

A Sermon by Rev. James P. Cooper

Then they served it to the men to eat.  Now it happened, as they were eating the stew, that they cried out and said, “O man of God, there is death in the pot!”  And they could not eat it. (2KI 4:40)

Historical Setting Elijah was the first of the great prophets during the time of the kings of Israel and Judah, and he is best known for the his work in leading the people away from the idolatrous worship of Baal that king Ahab and his wife Jezebel encouraged in Israel.

At the end of his life, Elijah was commanded by the Lord to give over his mantle, the sign of his authority, to Elisha who then became the most important prophet in the kingdom of Israel. Elisha is known for his many miracles, and particularly for his help in bringing an end to the evil dynasty established in Israel by Omri.

The story we are focusing on today is one of a series of miracles done by Elisha. Each of them, in its own way, is in the Word to show us the real power that the Word can have in our lives, for Elisha, as a prophet, represents in each of the miracles the Word of the Lord.


As in all stories from the Word there are several levels of meaning in this story it has application on the level of the history of the church; it has application to the process of the regeneration of each individual; and it has application to the Lord s glorification.

Gilgal:  The story begins when Elisha comes to Gilgal. From the point of view of Geography and History, Gilgal is important because it is the site of the first camp of the children of Israel when they first crossed the Jordan River into the land of Canaan to begin the battle of Jericho.

Therefore, Gilgal represents the doctrine of natural truth which serves for an introduction into the Church. (AE 70014)

Famine in the land:  We are told in the letter that at that time there is a famine in the land. A famine represents a lack of the knowledges of truth and good (AC 8408)

Doesn’t that accurately represent our states when we first come into the church? We are hungry for good and truth because we see in ourselves that we do not have all the answers we need, and that general knowledge, or even science cannot answer them. And so we turn to the Lord through the Word.


Sons of the prophets:  The sons of the prophets were religious groups that were associated with the Jewish Church, but that specialized in ecstatic forms of prophecy, often inspired by music.

Because they are “minor” prophets, they represent the doctrines that are formed in our minds as we study the Word (AC 8408), and particularly those who study the Word so as to be able to explain it to others (AC 3316).


Large pot: The sons of the prophets, in order to feed themselves and others who are hungry for the doctrines of the church so that they can live more satisfying and useful lives, begin to make a stew.

The pot that they use to make the stew represents the doctrine in general, for it contains all the various knowledges and goods that go to make up a church s or an individual s doctrine. (See AC 8408)


Stew/pottage/pulse:  The stew itself has a very important representation, for it is the stew that gives life to those who are “famished,” who hunger for spiritual truths with which to guide their lives.

If we imagine a large pot bubbling on a fire, filled with all kinds of edible things, we see why stew has the representation it does, that of doctrinal things not yet conjoined with good, thus an unordered mass of them (See AC 33163)

Our minds cannot consist only of unordered truths. There must be some structure to them.

This is mirrored in the way the brain itself changes through learning. The infant s cerebrum is undifferentiated at birth. That is why the child is essentially helpless except for certain instinctual functions provided by the cerebellum. But as the child randomly moves, and in turn senses the effects of that movement, it begins to order these relationships. Neural pathways are formed and as the structure of the brain becomes ordered, voluntary actions become possible.

This continues throughout life. The same process takes place every time we try to acquire a new physical skill. At first it requires a great deal of effort and concentration, but as you practice it eventually becomes second nature (like learning to type, or driving a car). This is the physical evidence of the ordering that must take place to learn physical activities


The same kind of ordering must take place to acquire truths, or to regenerate.




The first state of the man who is being regenerated, or in whom truth is being conjoined with good, is that first of all in his natural man, or in its storehouse called the memory, there are amassed the doctrinal things of truth without any certain order. & These doctrinal things are not reduced to order by themselves, but by the good which flows into them, and the good reduces them into order in exact proportion to the amount and the quality of its action upon them. (AC 33162)



Just as we become hungry as we stir a delicious stew, as we enjoy the sensation of all those diverse foods becoming ordered into dinner, so the desire to bring order into the chaos of our minds is felt as a hunger, or affection, for truth.

Boil stew for the sons of the prophets:  Cooking changes the nature of food, flavors are combined, textures are changed, and generally it makes food more appealing.

In the same way raw truths are less delightful to us than those which we can see have some application and meaning to our particular life and situation. Thinking about the truths from the Word, turning them over in our mind, thinking about them in the context of our particular set of circumstances is represented by the boiling pot.


“boiling” = to prepare for the use of life by means of the truths of doctrine (AC 10105).

In common speech we sometimes say that we are “in a stew” about something when we are thinking a lot about it.

However, it is important to note two essentials here that it be truth from the Word that is being considered, and that it be considered in relation to its application to life.

Wild (bitter) gourds from the field:  But things don’t always work out in that ideal way.

Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we are attracted to ideas that delight evil loves within us. Sometimes we even search out passages from the Word that seem to confirm what we know (or at least strongly suspect) to be evil.

This was the point made in the second lesson about the book which John was to eat. It was sweet in the mouth, but bitter in the belly.

Other times we hear ideas from sources which are untested, at first they have the sound of truth, so we try them out. These untested ideas from suspect sources, when added to the mass of truths that are already in our mind, can poison the whole lot by leading us to believe that we may do what is evil.


When the exterior things of the Word, & are falsified and adulterated, then the interior truths of the Word are falsified and adulterated; for this reason, when a man applies the Word in the sense of the letter to the evils of earthly loves, it becomes undelightful to angels, who are in the internal or spiritual sense of the Word, and this undelightfulness is like that of bitterness. (AE 6182)

There is death in the pot! Adulterated truth means the truth of good applied to evil and mixed with its falsity, and this is done when the truths of the sense of the letter of the Word are applied to filthy loves, and are thus mixed with evils. This undelightfulness is what is here signified by the bitterness of the belly. (AE 618)

and they could not eat it

Such a concoction of evil and good cannot nourish the spirit, but rather kills it.


Elisha put flour into the pot:  “Meal” = the truth which is from good, or the spiritual which is from the celestial (AC 3316). “Meal” = truth from the Word, whereby that which has been falsified, and which is “death in the pot,” becomes good (AC 8408).

And there was nothing harmful in the pot any more.


In regard to level of meaning that has to do with the church, this story represents how, when falsities are introduced into the church, that the only way that they can be removed, the only way that the spiritual sickness in the doctrine can be healed, is by the addition of truth from the Word (See AC 8408)

The same thing is true in respect to the series that has to do with the regenerative series our inclination, when faced with a personal crisis of this sort, is to seek out help. We talk to friends, colleagues at work, we may even pick up a copy of a magazine.

All these things may help in some way. Often the help we receive from these sources is what other people have learned from the Word and confirmed by the experiences of their own lives, and then put into simple words.

But one thing is sure that nothing that is contrary to what the teaching of the Word will heal the stew, will order the mass of memory-knowledges in our minds and lead us back to order.


that chaotic mass [of memory-knowledges] was amended by means of spiritual truth from the Lord s Word. (AC 3316)

Every day, particularly since we live in the information age, we have to deal with a tremendous amount of information. Every day in the newspaper, in magazines, in the news, there are articles about drug use, about abortion, about homosexuality, about frauds and thefts, about all manner of evil. Some of the articles we read, some of the people we speak to, are in favor of these things, or at least are willing to permit them for the sake of some concept of personal liberty or freedom of choice.

Such things disturb us in the abstract, and can be most difficult if we face them as active states in our own lives or the lives of those close to us.

We feel real pain when evils become active in our lives. In our minds and spirits we cry out that “There is death in the pot!” (text)

The answer to our spiritual problems, the healing that we seek lies in the Lord s words.

We must first acquire the “raw” truth from the Word.

Then “cook” it with good (warmth).

Then it becomes something that will nourish the spirit.

The miracle of the Word is that its power is in every story, in every verse.

This is something we already know at least in the abstract. The problem we face is in finding the strength to compel ourselves to turn to the Lord in the Word, and also in know where in the Word to turn.

The amazing thing is that if we approach the Word in the right spirit, with the desire to know the Lord s will, it doesn t really matter where we look. There is something in every story that will inspire, refresh, and uplift. If nothing else, the act of turning to the Lord in the Word itself is enough to allow our minds to focus on truths that may already be in our minds from prior study. The real point is that if we seek healing and leading from the Lord, He will respond.

I will lift up my eyes unto the mountains. From whence comes my help? My help is from the Lord who made the heavens and the earth. AMEN.

1st Lesson: 2KI 438-41

And Elisha returned to Gilgal, and there was a famine in the land. Now the sons of the prophets were sitting before him; and he said to his servant, “Put on the large pot, and boil stew for the sons of the prophets.” So one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine, and gathered from it a lap full of wild gourds, and came and sliced them into the pot of stew, though they did not know what they were. Then they served it to the men to eat. Now it happened, as they were eating the stew, that they cried out and said, “O man of God, there is death in the pot!” And they could not eat it. So he said, “Then bring some flour.” And he put it into the pot, and said, “Serve it to the people, that they may eat.” And there was nothing harmful in the pot. AMEN

2nd Lesson: REV 101-10

And I saw still another mighty angel coming down from heaven, clothed with a cloud. And a rainbow was on his head, his face was like the sun, and his feet like pillars of fire. And he had a little book open in his hand. And he set his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, And cried with a loud voice, as when a lion roars. And when he cried out, seven thunders uttered their voices. Now when the seven thunders uttered their voices, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Seal up the things which the seven thunders uttered, and do not write them.” And the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land lifted up his hand to heaven And swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things that are in it, the earth and the things that are in it, and the sea and the things that are in it, that there should be delay no longer, But in the days of the sounding of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants the prophets. Then the voice which I heard from heaven spoke to me again and said, “Go, take the little book which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and on the earth.” And I went to the angel and said to him, “Give me the little book.” And he said to me, “Take and eat it; and it will make your stomach bitter, but it will be as sweet as honey in your mouth.” And I took the little book out of the angel s hand and ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. But when I had eaten it, my stomach became bitter. AMEN.

3rd Lesson: AC 3316

[2] The first state of the man who is being regenerated, or in whom truth is being conjoined with good, is that first of all in his natural man, or in its storehouse called the memory, there are amassed the doctrinal things of truth without any certain order.

The doctrinal things at that time therein may be compared to some undigested and uncompounded mass, and to a kind of chaos. But this is to the end that they may he reduced to order, for what ever is to be reduced to order is at first in this state of confusion; and this is what is signified by the pottage which Jacob boiled, that is, amassed.

These doctrinal things are not reduced to order by themselves, but by the good which flows into them, and the good reduces them into order in exact proportion to the amount and the quality of its action upon them.

When good first longs for and desires these doctrinal things, to the end that it may conjoin them with itself, it manifests itself under the appearance of the affection of truth. AMEN.

Opening Prayer

Jesus Christ, we thank You for the many ways that You have shown Yourself to us. We are especially grateful for Your Word which instructs, uplifts, and inspires us with Your Divine Life. O Lord, help us to turn to the truths of Your Word in times of trial, help us to remember that You are the one true source of Living Water, the truth which will quench our thirst eternally. AMEN.

Closing Prayer

Heavenly Father, we ask You to guide us through the confusion of conflicting ideas and beliefs. Help us to sort out the confusion in our minds, help us to order our thoughts so that we can clearly see the course that will lead us to spiritual life. AMEN.

Copyright © 1982 – 2005 General Church of the New Jerusalem
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified October 21, 2008


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