-Learning From The Two Women Of 2 Kings 4
In 2 Kings 4 we have the stories of two special women. The first was the wife of a prophet; from her we learn much about faith and obedience. The second woman was a Shunammite. Her story teaches us about hospitality, spiritual perception, generosity, contentment, faith, perseverance and gratitude. The Obedience Of The Prophet’s Widow “Now a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, ‘Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the Lord; and the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves’” (2 Ki. 4:1 NASB). The prophet’s widow found herself in dire straits. Her husband who feared the Lord had died leaving nothing but many debts. With her husband dead, she found herself unable to meet the demands of the creditor for payment. The creditor threatened to go the full extent of the law, claiming the right to hold her two sons as bondmen (Lev. 25:39-46; Mt. 18:25).
In her dire need, the woman did the right thing – she appealed to Elisha as the recognized head of the prophets and the one who had performed wondrous works such as: the miracle at Jordan (2:12-14); the miracle of the healed waters (2:19-22); the miracle of judgment upon irreverence (2:23-25); and the miracle of the flooded ditches (3:1-22). She based her claim for help upon the ground of her godliness – she feared the Lord just as her husband did.
Elisha then asked the woman, “What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” (4:2). The woman confessed that she was so poor that her last possession was a very small amount of a coarse oil. But little is much if God is in it, and He multiplied that little for the benefit of the widow and Elisha. The little in the prophet’s hand was enough to test and evidence faith. Elisha knew this case required divine intervention and by faith believed that God would do it.
“Then he said, ‘Go, borrow vessels … from all your neighbors … empty vessels” (4:3). Elisha commanded her to borrow all the vessels her neighbors were willing to lend – the more vessels borrowed, the larger the supply of the miraculous oil. The woman obeyed, asking her two sons to collect the vessels. Then Elisha requested her and her sons to stay in their home as an act of faith. He also asked her to shut the door. The woman obeyed, shutting the doors to avoid publicity. (Mt. 6:6; Lk. 8:51,54). This miracle was to be private. Not even the prophet was present, so the miracle could not be attributed to sleight of hand, but only the power of God.
As the sons placed the vessels before their mother, she kept on filling them from her little pot of oil. There was a steady supply of the oil according to the mighty power of God working a continuous miracle. There is a close parallel between this miracle and the Savior’s supernatural multiplying of the five barley loaves and the two small fishes, as the disciples were distributing and the multitude was eating (Mt. 14:19). The miraculous flow of oil stopped when there were no more vessels to fill. “Open your mouth wide” is God’s command, “and I will fill it” is His promise (Ps. 81:10).
This miracle has a spiritual significance. Oil is a type of the Holy Spirit as seen in the beautiful Old Testament pictures where we read of the oil – a type of the Spirit of God – being placed upon the blood – a type of Christ on the cross (Ex. 29:21; Lev. 14:14). The filling of the empty vessels foreshadows the filling of Christians with the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18). Before we can be filled with the Spirit, we need to do much emptying. Only an empty vessel can be filled. Only as we empty ourselves of self, sin and the world can we be filled with the Spirit of God.
To be filled with the Spirit we must yield ourselves completely to Him (Rom. 8:13; 12:1). Just as the widow was commanded to borrow all the vessels she could, so we must surrender all our members to be occupied by the Spirit. We must yield every department of our outer and inner life (thoughts, words, works, heart, conscience, will) to the Spirit. If we mark any portion of our beings as “private” – reserved solely for us – then we are not filled with Him.
As the result of the supernatural provision, the widow was able to sell the surplus oil, pay her creditor and live without fear. Just as she was able to pay her debts and live by means of God’s miraculous provision, so the Spirit-filled Christian has power to conquer enemies, overcome painful experiences of life, live according to God’s will, and produce the fruit of the Spirit, Christlikeness, in his life. This miracle of the oil represents an important truth concerning the Spirit. The jar that filled the empty vessels illustrates the overflowing rivers of John 7:37-39.
This narrative also tells us that the Lord is the father of widows, and hears their cry. Then there is the lesson for faith. The vessels had to be produced to be filled; if there had been more vessels the oil would have filled them all. The limitation was not in the supply of oil but in the number of empty vessels to receive the oil. There is an abundance of grace, and in faith we can always come with our empty vessels to receive out of His fullness grace upon grace.
The Greatness Of The Shunammite
“Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman” (2 Ki. 4:8 KJV). This woman was great in seven ways.
First, she was great in hospitality: “She persuaded him to eat some food. And so it was, as often as he passed by, he would turn in there to eat food” (4:8). Not only did she treat him well the first time, but also she extended a gracious open-ended invitation which he accepted.
Second, she was great in spiritual perception: “I perceive that this is an holy man of God who passes by us continually” (4:9). It did not take her long to discover that Elisha was not just a prophet in name, but a holy man of God.
Third, she was great in using her material wealth for the Lord. She proposed to her husband that he build a little chamber on the roof containing a bed, a table, a stool, and a candlestick – four essentials in Oriental furnishing (4:10). This pious Shunammite prepared for this pilgrim a little chamber, with simple furnishings, in her own house.
Fourth, she was great in humility and contentment. Grateful for the kindness shown to him by his hostess, Elisha asked if he could reward her in any way. Having influence in the court at that time, the prophet inquired if any benefit was desired from the king. Evidently his performance in the war against Moab had given him access to the king and the military authorities. Knowing her husband was old, the prophet offered his influence to provide her royal protection. But she sought no worldly reward from him and was perfectly satisfied with her station saying, “I dwell among my own people” (4:13). She refused Elisha’s generous offer because she was content to have her own people care for her.
Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, confided to his master that the woman was childless, a misfortune and reproach to a Jewish wife (Gen. 30:22-23; Ps. 128:3-4), because children were a sign of divine blessing. Her husband was old, and there was little chance for her to conceive apart from God working on her behalf. But Elisha told her that there was a reward for her kindness: “At this season next year, you shall embrace a son” (4:16). And to her great joy she became a mother.
When the child was old enough to accompany his father he suffered what appears to have been a sunstroke, judging from the season (harvest time) and his complaint, “My head, my head” (4:19). The father commanded a servant to carry the stricken boy into the house, and he died in his mother’s arms.
Fifth, she was great in faith. The woman told no one, not even her husband, that her son had died. In faith she committed the dead boy to the Lord by placing “him on the bed of the man of God” (4:21). She offered no reason to her husband for requesting transportation and a servant to accompany her to visit Elisha, even though he thought it strange that she would seek the prophet when there were no religious celebrations or holy days to occasion the visit.
The sorrow-stricken mother, rode a donkey some 15 miles to mount Carmel, where she was spotted by Elisha. He told his servant Gehazi to ask her if all was well with her, her husband, and the child. Her answer was filled with faith. The son of promise was dead, yet in the midst of her great sorrow she said, “It is well” (4:26). Like Abraham, who put Isaac, the son of promise, on the altar, the Shunammite counted on resurrection and believed on Him who can raise the dead. She had lost her son for a while, but not her faith.
Faith rose with the adversity and without delay she poured out her woe to the prophet saying, “Did I ask a son of my lord?” (4:28). She had not requested a son, but now losing him was worse than not having a son at all.
Sixth, she was great in perseverance. Elisha gave Gehazi his walking staff and told him to lay it on the boy’s face (4:31). The failure of Gehazi to raise the child was due to one of two things: either it was not in Elisha’s authority to transmit power to Gehazi; or spiritually weak and shallow Gehazi was not a fit agent through whom God could work (5:20-27). Moreover, a dead stick could not restore life. Only a living God through a living saint can raise a dead person. When the mother heard Elisha ordering Gehazi to go and put his staff on the face of the child, she objected, insisting that the prophet do the miracle himself (4:30). Her faith clung to Elisha. Gehazi could not help; the man of God was needed.
Hearing of Gehazi’s failure, Elisha hurried to the house and realizing the full extent of the calamity, shut himself in the room with the dead boy, and prayed that his life be restored. The prophet stretched himself twice on the child, mouth to mouth (not some form of artificial respiration), eyes to eyes, and hands to hands. (Compare this to Elijah at Zarephath in 1 Kings 17:21 and Paul in Acts 20:10.) Stretching himself upon the dead child was evidently a symbolic act that his own health and vitality might be transferred to the boy as he prayed. The Lord responded to Elisha’s faith and prayer, and life from God was miraculously imparted to the lifeless body after Elisha paced the floor, waiting for God to answer his prayer. The boy sneezed seven times, a sign of restored breathing.
The faith of the woman was rewarded and her child was raised from the dead. The Holy Spirit includes her in the New Testament: “Women received their dead raised to life again” (Heb. 11:35).
Seventh, she was great in gratitude. The boy was then presented alive to his mother who in humble gratitude, “went in, fell at Elisha’s feet, and bowed herself to the ground” (4:37).
This pious and faithful woman, in a time of general apostasy, made Jehovah a vital part of her life and home. Receiving a prophet, because of He who had sent him, she received a prophet’s reward in the gift most precious to a Jewish mother, a son which she had not dared to hope for, even when announced to her.
The prophet’s widow and the Shunammite woman are great examples of obedience, hospitality, spiritual perception, generosity, contentment, faith, perseverance and gratitude. May the Lord give all of us grace to emulate them.
By Maurice Bassali
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org
Leave a comment