2 Kings 4:1. Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophet unto Elisha, saying, Thy servant my husband is dead; and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the LORD: and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen.
It is sad for anyone to be in debt, and yet there may be circumstances under which even a man who fears the Lord may die in debt, and leave no provision for his wife and children except a large portion of sorrow. In the case of this poor widow, it was not long before she cried to Elisha, “The creditor is come.” He generally does come pretty quickly, and he had come to her to take away her two sons whom she needed to support her, to make them bondmen,-slaves, to serve him for a certain number of years till their father’s debt was worked out, and this hurt the poor woman’s heart, so she came to see what the Lord’s servant could do for her. She could not bear to see her sons taken away to serve as bondmen to a stranger, through no fault of their own; and, possibly, through no fault on their father’s part.
2 Kings 4:2. And Elisha said unto her, What shall I do for thee?
Elisha was probably about as poor as she was, so what could he do for her?
2 Kings 4:2. Tell me, what hast thou in the house?
“Whatever there is in the house must go towards this debt, so ‘tell me what hast thou in the house?’”
2 Kings 4:2. And she said, Thine handmaid hath not any thing in the house, save a pot of oil.
Her husband had been a God-fearing man, a true servant of Jehovah, yet he had died in such dire poverty that his widow had to say to Elisha “Thine handmaid hath not any thing in the house, save a pot of oil.” Those were indeed bad times for the sons of the prophets; for, in those days, men cared more for false prophets and for the priests of Baal than for the servants of the Most High God.
2 Kings 4:3. Then he said, Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbours, even empty vessels; borrow not a few.
“Get as many empty oil jars as ever you can, it does not matter how great nor how many they are, but they must be empty.”
2 Kings 4:4-6. And when thou art come in, thou shalt shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons, and shalt pour out into all those vessels, and thou shalt set aside that which is full. So she went from him, and shut the door upon her and upon her sons, who brought the vessels to her; and she poured out. And it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said unto her son, Bring me yet a vessel. And he said unto her, There is not a vessel more. And the oil stayed.
There was no reason why “the oil stayed” except that there was “not a vessel more” to receive the flowing stream.
2 Kings 4:7. Then she came and told the man of God.
She must have understood that the oil was to be used for the payment of her debt; but she was a woman of delicate sensitiveness, with a tender conscience, as honest people usually are, so she wanted full permission from Elisha before she would dispose of the oil. She regarded it, in some sense, as his oil: as it was through using the means that he had directed that her little store of oil had been so miraculously multiplied; so “she came and told the man of God.”
2 Kings 4:7. And he said, Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt, and live thou and thy children of the rest.
What a merciful deliverance that was for the poor widow and her sons! And there have been many other deliverances, in the experiences of God’s people, which, if they have not been quite so miraculous as this one, have nevertheless been very remarkable, although God has appeared to work them the common way in which he is constantly working. Yet they have been uncommon mercies all the while. Now let us read Paul’s letter to the Christians at Philippi who had been the means of supplying his necessities, though not in the miraculous manner in which the prophet Elisha had supplied the needs of that poor widow.
This exposition consisted of readings from 2 Kings 4:1-7; and Philippians 4.
2 Kings 4:1. Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha, saying, Thy servant my husband is dead; and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the LORD and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen.
According to the very cruel custom of those times, if a man were in debt, and had no means of payment, his children were sold for slaves. Here was a poor widow, whose husband had been one of the sons of the prophets, but he had died in debt. He was evidently one who was known to Elisha as a faithful, God-fearing man, and perhaps that partly accounted for his poverty. The false priests were fed at Jezebel’s table; but because this man worshipped Jehovah, the one living and true God, he had probably been persecuted and hunted down until he had lost what little he formerly had, and, therefore, when he died, he could leave his wife no other legacy than that of debt; and, in consequence, the creditor came to seize her two sons to be bondmen.
2 Kings 4:2. And Elisha said unto her, What shall I do for thee? tell me, what hast thou in the house? And she said, Thine handmaid hath not any thing in the house, save a pot of oil.
They used oil extensively in the preparation of their food as well as for lighting their dwellings. This woman was so poor that she had no meal in the house, but she had a little oil. When our Lord was about to feed the five thousand, he asked his disciples, “How many loaves have ye?” So here the prophet asked the poor woman, “What hast thou in the house?” and she told him she had only “a pot of oil.”
2 Kings 4:3. Then he said, Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbours, even empty vessels; borrow not a few.
Evidently the poor woman’s credit was good though her debts were heavy; her neighbours knew she would have paid her creditor if she could, so they were willing to grant her request though they probably wondered why she wanted so many empty vessels.
2 Kings 4:4-7. And when thou art come in, thou shalt shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons, and shalt pour out into all those vessels, and thou shalt set aside that which is full. So she went from him, and shut the door upon her and her sons, who brought the vessels to her; and she poured out. And it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said unto her son, Bring me yet a vessel. And he said unto her, There is not a vessel more. And the oil stayed. Then she came and told the man of God.
As it was through obeying his directions she had miraculously obtained this large supply of oil, she would not make use of it without further counsel from the man of God, who had already given her such good advice.
2 Kings 4:7. And he said, Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt, —
“That is thy first duty; ‘pay thy debt,’” —
2 Kings 4:7-8. And live thou and thy children of the rest. And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman; and she constrained him to eat bread. And so it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread.
The prophet had helped a poor woman; now a rich woman helps him. God sometimes pays his servants in kind very speedily for anything they have done for those who belong to him; at other times, he puts it to the credit of their account.
2 Kings 4:9-13. And she said unto her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually. Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick: and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither. And it fell on a day, that he came thither, and he turned into the chamber, and lay there. And he said to Gehazi his servant, Call this Shunammite. And when he had called her, she stood before him. And he said unto him, Say now unto her, Behold, thou hast been careful for us with all this care; what is to be done for thee? wouldest thou be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host?
God’s servants must not be ungrateful for any kindness that is shown to them. If they receive hospitality, they must be ready to give a return of such things as they have. Elisha was willing to do anything in his power for this hospitable Shunammite, so he said to her, “Wouldst thou be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host?”
2 Kings 4:13. And she answered, I dwell among mine own people.
She had no desire for earthly greatness, and she was very wise, for, usually, happiness is to be found in that middle state which Agur desired when he said, “Give me neither poverty nor riches.” This Shunammite had no wish to be removed to the trying and perilous atmosphere of the court or the army, so she answered, “I dwell among mine own people.”
2 Kings 4:14-19. And he said, What then is to be done for her? And Gehazi answered, Verily she hath no child, and her husband is old. And he said, Call her. And when he had called her, she stood in the door. And he said, About this season, according to the time of life, thou shalt embrace a son. And she said, Nay, my lord, thou man of God, do not lie unto thine handmaid. And the woman conceived, and bare a son at that season that Elisha had said unto her according to the time of life. And when the child was grown, it fell on a day, that he went out to his father to the reapers. And he said unto his father, My head, my head.
The sun had been too hot for the child; sunstroke had seized him.
2 Kings 4:19-20. And he said to a lad, Carry him to his mother. And when he had taken him, and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died.
How transient are all our earthly treasures! The child was well, and ill and dead in the course of a few hours. Hold with a loose hand all things earthly. Make not your gourds into gods, for they will soon wither and die. Very often, we destroy our own comforts by thinking too much of them. As soon as we make anything that we have into an idol, it will be broken in pieces, or taken from us, or in some way turned into a curse to us. See how this good woman acted when she had suffered this great sorrow.
2 Kings 4:21-22. And she went up, and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door upon him, and went out. And she called unto her husband, and said, Send me, I pray thee, one of the young men, and one of the asses, that I may run to the man of God, and come again.
She did not tell him her errand; she wished to keep the trouble to herself for a while.
2 Kings 4:23. And he said, Wherefore wilt thou go to him to day? it is neither new moon, nor sabbath.
“It is not the ordinary time for going to the prophet.”
2 Kings 4:23. And she said, (Salem, that is, Peace; or as we read it,) It shall be well.
She must have been a woman of great faith. She checked her natural emotions, and believed in God that all would be for the best. “It shall be well.”
2 Kings 4:24-26. Then she saddled an ass, and said to her servant, Drive, and go forward; slack not thy riding for me, except I bid thee. So she went and came unto the man of God to mount Carmel. And it came to pass, when the man of God saw her afar off, that he said to Gehazi his servant, Behold, yonder is that Shunammite: Run now, I pray thee, to meet her, and say unto her, Is it well with thee? is it well with thy husband? is it well with the child? And she answered, It is well.
It is heroic faith when we can feel that, if the child shall die, it is well; if this husband shall die, it is well: and if we ourselves shall die, all is well, for he who has the arranging of all that concerns us cannot arrange otherwise than well. Alas that, often, our rebellious spirit says, with poor old Jacob, “All these things are against me,” but true faith sits humbly down at the feet of the great Disposer of all events, and says, “He hath done all things well.”
2 Kings 4:27. And when she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught him by the feet:
As if she feared lest he should go away before she had poured into his ears the story of her grief.
2 Kings 4:27. But Gehazi came near to thrust her away. And the man of God said, Let her alone; for her soul is vexed within her: and the LORD hath hid it from me, and hath not told me.
Those ancient prophets of God had only limited knowledge. The Spirit of God taught them some things, but not all things so Elisha was made to feel that he was but man, even though the Spirit of God often spake through him.
2 Kings 4:28. Then she said, Did I desire a son of my lord? did I not say, Do not deceive me?
Then he learned what her trouble was, and understood that the child was dead. Before she had said as much as that, he read the news in the tones of her voice.
2 Kings 4:29-30. Then he said to Gehazi, Gird up thy loins, and take my staff in thine hand, and go thy way; if thou meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute thee, answer him not again: and lay my staff upon the face of the child. And the mother of the child said, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee.
She did not believe in Gehazi, nor yet in the staff, and herein she was a wise woman God would not bless the prophet’s staff to the child’s restoration, lest relic worship should spring up amongst the Israelites, or lest they should begin to attach some value to outward signs.
2 Kings 4:30-34. And he arose, and followed her. And Gehazi passed on before them and laid the staff upon the face of the child; but there was neither voice, nor hearing. Wherefore he went again to meet him, and told him, saying, The child is not awaked. And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed. He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the LORD. And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and he stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm.
See the power of prayer; the very gates of death are made to open when Elisha, a man of like passions with ourselves, bows before the Lord in prayer. Learn a lesson also from Elisha’s attitude toward the dead child; for, often, God is pleased to give spiritual life through the power of human sympathy. When we put ourselves into the condition of the sinner, hope for him, pray for him, agonize for him in broken-hearted sympathy on his account, putting ourselves as far as we can into his place, God often makes us the instruments by which his Spirit quickens the dead in sin.
2 Kings 4:35-37. Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro; and went up, and stretched himself upon him: and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. And he called Gehazi, and said, Call this Shunammite. So he called her. And when she was come in unto him, he said, Take up thy son. Then she went in, and fell at his feet, and bowed herself to the ground, and took up her son, and went out.
Her heart was too full for speech just then, so she took up her son, and went out.