2 Kings 4:8-37

In this study, we are looking at a woman who can teach us all a lesson or two. She is not named in the Bible, but had a vital part to play in meeting the needs of the visiting man of God: Elisha. As she offers herself and all her possessions to God, He gives her creative ideas to bless His daughter and, as a result of her giving and unselfish dedication, she has all her desires met and sees miracles of resurrection, provision during famine and full restoration of her property afterwards.

This amazingly blessed woman was married to a much older man, whom she loved dearly and whom she consulted when decisions had to be made. She worked for God in her own home and was wealthy, but did not allow this to make her lazy. She used her wealth to bless others. She didn’t just give of her possessions, but gave of her time and energy by providing a meal for Elisha each time he was in the area. After watching Elisha’s behaviour over a period of time and realising that he really was a man of God - because his words matched his actions - she wanted to make some form of commitment to him. God gave her an idea in her creative thinking: how to make a more homely facility for Elisha. Her husband graciously agreed. She built a "penthouse suite" he could call his own, with his own private entrance, fully fitted with his own chosen pine furniture!

Elisha was very grateful and looked for some way to repay her, but she declared that she was happy with her lot and there was nothing she needed. (2 Kings 4:13) She certainly did not serve Elisha in order to receive anything in return; it was a natural outworking of her love for God and gratefulness for all the prosperity that He had given her. Her wealth was not something to pamper herself with, but to bless all those with whom she came into contact. Elisha still wanted to do something for her and his servant, Gehazi, pointed out that the woman’s husband was old and there was no son to continue the family name. Accordingly, Elisha prayed for the blessing of a son and promised the woman that, within another year, she would have a baby boy in her arms.

“No my lord, O man of God, please do not lie to your maidservant.” (2 Kings 4:16)

Her immediate reaction was one of disbelief, not daring to hope for fear of disappointment. The birth of a son was obviously something she had resigned herself to not fulfilling a long time ago. Instead, she had channelled the love, kindness and caring of motherhood into having a positive influence in her neighbourhood. (2 Kings 4:8) When asked if there was any blessing she wanted, it didn’t occur to her to ask for a son. She had buried that desire deep in her heart. Despite her reaction, God wanted to bless her for her love and service to Elisha and to grant the desire of her heart: the very desire that she had buried so deeply and not even acknowledged to herself.

The gift of hospitality

From this example, we see that all our gifts, talents, wealth and possessions should be available to God for His use, wherever He wants. Any disappointments in life can be overcome if we just recognise that they work for our good. God’s passionate desire is to bless all His children, whether we believe it or not. Let's not be afraid ourselves to take every opportunity that comes along to bless any and all of God's people who visit us. This may include local people that we know well (such as our local church leaders and fellow believers); they may be friends from further afield, or visiting speakers such as mission workers on furlough. We can ask the Holy Spirit to give us creative ideas in making time and space for such people, providing meals, overnight accommodation or simply a place (such as a garden) to come for quiet reflection and prayer occasionally.

Hospitality is a vital part of walking with God. (Hebrews 13:2) Here are some ways in which we can express this gift ourselves:

  • We can use our home as we are able (not denying the needs of our own family). (1 Peter 4:9)
  • We need not set too high a standard; simply sharing what we have with others is fine. (Romans 12:13)
  • Let's be especially aware of those we don't know so well or those who are rejected by others. (Matthew 25:35; Hebrews 13:2)
  • We can make a point of offering hospitality to those who cannot pay us back. (3 John 7-8)
  • We should not be reticent about making Jesus part of our conversation, food and friendship. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)
  • We should avoid making this a competition or becoming proud of our generosity. (Romans 12:16)
  • Let's not waste any opportunities! (Psalm 89:47)

Disaster strikes!

"She said 'It will be all right'... 'Everything is all right', she said." (2 Kings 4:23-26)

The precious son, a gift from God, was born just as the man of God had predicted. One morning, when he was still quite young, he went out to the fields to see his father, who was helping with the harvest. Whilst there, he appeared to suffer from sunstroke; he suddenly developed a terrible headache and was carried home to his mother, who nursed him until midday when he died. How many times, as the life of her son was fading before her very eyes, must she have gone back over the arrival of the man of God, the fantastic promise of a son and its fulfilment - just as he had said? She knows that Elisha's God (who gave her this precious gift) is the only hope in this situation. She must call the man of God and hold fast to her belief in the goodness of his God. She may have heard about the time when Elisha's predecessor (Elijah) had raised a child from the dead at Zarephath. (1 Kings 17:17-24). She would certainly have been aware that the blessing of God that had been on Elijah was now with Elisha. So, she places the child on Elisha’s bed, where he normally prays and meditates when he is staying there.

Faith in action

The woman then wastes no time in collecting a donkey from her husband to head off on the twenty-five mile journey to Mount Carmel, where Elisha is normally to be found. When she sees her husband, she simply asks him for the use of a donkey with a servant, saying that she has to see Elisha, the man of God, as soon as possible. She says nothing about their son having died and he doesn't think to ask after him. When she arrives at her destination, Elisha recognises her from a distance and dispatches his servant, Gehazi, to greet her. However, as much as she respects Gehazi, she ignores him and goes directly to Elisha, where she seizes hold of his feet. This showed both her own humility, but also her confidence in Elisha alone as the one who "has God's ear" and is clearly in close contact with his God. The woman's pain and grief are evident as she reminds Elisha of her original plea: she hadn't asked for a son, perhaps fearing from the beginning that losing a child would be far worse than not being able to have one in the first place.

Elisha gives his staff - the symbol of his power as a prophet - to Gehazi and tells him to run to the woman's home and to lay the staff on the child's face. The woman, however, is not confident that this will be sufficient. It is possible that Elisha himself was also aware that simply laying the staff on the boy would not be enough to restore his life, but sent Gehazi as a test to see how he would act. He sets off and fulfils his task to the letter, presumably in the belief that using the staff alone (as a kind of magic symbol) would be enough. It wasn't. By contrast, the woman is determined to stay with Elisha. "As the LORD lives" is a phrase that expresses her faith in the living God alone, above and beyond any symbol such as a staff. It had been Elisha's prayer that led to her having a child and she intended to stay with him until he came in person to restore the boy.

Elisha went back with the woman and did just what his predecessor, Elijah, had done before him for the widow at Zarephath. (1 Kings 17:19-23) It is Elisha's prayer, not the use of his staff, that brings the dead boy in contact with the very power of God, symbolised by the prophet's own physical contact with him. The detail about the boy sneezing seven times would have confirmed to anyone in the Near East at that time that this was a genuine act of God. So, the mother received her son from God a second time and her faith was fully rewarded. Instead of a funeral wake, she had a celebration party, giving glory to God.

What else can we learn from her example?

  • Prepare in the good times to have faith in God. (Mark 11:22; Romans 10:17)
  • Use all of life’s situations to grow in the knowledge of God. (Ephesians 4:15)
  • Grow closer to God, day by day, through reading and speaking His word. (Colossians 4:6)
  • Always expect the best result and do not accept anything less. (Jude 1:21)

God is no one's debtor

2 Kings 8:1-6

Some years later the Shunammite woman is warned by Elisha about a famine that is coming on the land for seven years. She takes his advice and moves her whole household away to the land of the Philistines, until the famine is over. When she eventually returns to her homeland, she has lost her house and fields. She goes to the king to appeal for their return, but God is already one step ahead of her. On the very day that she presents herself at court, there is the king talking to Gehazi and asking him to recount some of the amazing things that Elisha has done in the land. Just as Gehazi is telling him about the woman whose son was raised to life, who should walk in but the woman herself! The king is able to hear the story at first-hand of how the child was miraculously born and then brought back to life after he had earlier died in his mother's arms. As a result, the king appoints an official to oversee the complete restoration of all her property and the income that has derived from it over the past seven years.

God is no one’s debtor. When we give everything to God, look at all we receive in return: a permanent place in heaven, all our sins washed away and all the power that we need to walk with Him on a daily basis through the presence of His Holy Spirit who lives in us. What joy!

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