2 Ki 4:1 The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the LORD. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.”
This chapter is something of a surprise: the previous chapter has recorded Elisha’s service rendered to three kings, and we might have expected to learn next of his elevation to a place of national respect and dignity. But no: either Elisha was not offered a high rank, or having been offered it he declined it. He preferred to be occupied in the company of the prophets rather than to be great in the courts of the kings. God honoured him, by enabling him to work no less than five miracles of power and compassion. Note, Elisha had a particular ministry to the poor and needy, and a number of such miracles are recorded. These miracles were of practical use, and not just for show. They were works of kindness as well as of power. So also with the miracles of Jesus.
The threat of the husband’s creditor coming “to take my two boys as his slaves” is not only deeply distressing, but also lacking in mercy and in contradiction to the express command of the Lord, Lev 25:39-46. For references to slavery used as a threat over debtors, see Job 24:9; Amos 2:6.
Good News for the Poor, 2 Kings 4:1-7
What must it be like when disaster strikes a family? Every member is affected if mum and dad split up, if the main wage-earner is made redundant, if a parent becomes seriously ill, or if, as in this story, if he or she dies.
Imagine what it must have felt like to have been one of those two boys. Your dad has died owing a lot of money. The person to whom the money is owed is very unkind, and says that he will sell you and your brother into slavery. Your mum is beside herself with worry. In desperation, you go to see the man of God, Elisha.
Through Elisha, God tells this woman to use what little she had left in her house – a little olive oil. He tells her to get her two sons to ask for some help from her neighbours. He expects her to trust God to meet her needs.
We may not think we have very much to offer, but God can use us to help the poor in the same kind of way. We can make available whatever we do have. We can share with each other. And we can trust God to take something small and turn it into something wonderful. A 10p piece doesn’t go very far. But if 100 people saved 10p a day for a year, it would add up to 3,600.
And, as Christians, we have something still more precious to share – new life in Jesus.
2 Ki 4:2 Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?” “Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a little oil.”
“A little oil” – Had she anything else in her house, no doubt she would have been expected to use it to pay the debt: miracles are not provided to deter us from taking full responsibility for our health and affairs. God takes the little we have and multiplies it so that our need is fully supplied, Phil 4:19.
2 Ki 4:3 Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few.
‘The way to increase what we have is to use it; to him that so hath shall be given. It is not hoarding the talents, but trading with them, that doubles them.’ (M. Henry)
2 Ki 4:4 Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.”
2 Ki 4:5 She left him and afterward shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring.
‘We are never straitened in God, in his power and bounty, and the riches of his grace; all our straitness is in ourselves. It is our faith that fails, not his promise. He gives above what we ask: were there more vessels, there is enough in God to fill themenough for all, enough for each.’ (M. Henry)
2 Ki 4:6 When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.” But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing.
2 Ki 4:7 She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.”
‘Though her creditors were too rigorous with her, yet they must not therefore lose their debt. Her first care, now that she has wherewithal to do so, must be to discharge that, even before she makes any provision for her children. It is one of the fundamental laws of our religion that we render to all their due, pay every just debt, give every one his own, though we leave ever so little for ourselves; and this, not of constraint but willingly and without grudging; not only for wrath, to avoid being sued, but also for conscience’ sake.’ (M. Henry)
2 Ki 4:8 One day Elisha went to Shunem. And a well-to-do woman was there, who urged him to stay for a meal. So whenever he came by, he stopped there to eat.
2 Ki 4:9 She said to her husband, “I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God.
2 Ki 4:10 Let’s make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us.”
2 Ki 4:11 One day when Elisha came, he went up to his room and lay down there.
2 Ki 4:12 He said to his servant Gehazi, “Call the Shunammite.” So he called her, and she stood before him.
2 Ki 4:13 Elisha said to him, “Tell her, ‘You have gone to all this trouble for us. Now what can be done for you? Can we speak on your behalf to the king or the commander of the army?’” She replied, “I have a home among my own people.”
2 Ki 4:14 “What can be done for her?” Elisha asked. Gehazi said, “Well, she has no son and her husband is old.”
2 Ki 4:15 Then Elisha said, “Call her.” So he called her, and she stood in the doorway.
2 Ki 4:16 “About this time next year,” Elisha said, “you will hold a son in your arms.” “No, my lord,” she objected. “Don’t mislead your servant, O man of God!”
2 Ki 4:17 But the woman became pregnant, and the next year about that same time she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her.
2 Ki 4:18 The child grew, and one day he went out to his father, who was with the reapers.
2 Ki 4:19 “My head! My head!” he said to his father. His father told a servant, “Carry him to his mother.”
2 Ki 4:20 After the servant had lifted him up and carried him to his mother, the boy sat on her lap until noon, and then he died.
2 Ki 4:21 She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, then shut the door and went out.
2 Ki 4:22 She called her husband and said, “Please send me one of the servants and a donkey so I can go to the man of God quickly and return.”
2 Ki 4:23 “Why go to him today?” he asked. “It’s not the New Moon or the Sabbath.” “It’s all right,” she said.
2 Ki 4:24 She saddled the donkey and said to her servant, “Lead on; don’t slow down for me unless I tell you.”
2 Ki 4:25 So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel. When he saw her in the distance, the man of God said to his servant Gehazi, “Look! There’s the Shunammite!
2 Ki 4:26 Run to meet her and ask her, ‘Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is your child all right?’” “Everything is all right,” she said.
2 Ki 4:27 When she reached the man of God at the mountain, she took hold of his feet. Gehazi came over to push her away, but the man of God said, “Leave her alone! She is in bitter distress, but the LORD has hidden it from me and has not told me why.”
2 Ki 4:28 “Did I ask you for a son, my lord?” she said. “Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t raise my hopes’?”
2 Ki 4:29 Elisha said to Gehazi, “Tuck your cloak into your belt, take my staff in your hand and run. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not answer. Lay my staff on the boy’s face.”
2 Ki 4:30 But the child’s mother said, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So he got up and followed her.
2 Ki 4:31 Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the boy’s face, but there was no sound or response. So Gehazi went back to meet Elisha and told him, “The boy has not awakened.”
2 Ki 4:32 When Elisha reached the house, there was the boy lying dead on his couch.
2 Ki 4:33 He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the LORD.
2 Ki 4:34 Then he got on the bed and lay upon the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out upon him, the boy’s body grew warm.
2 Ki 4:35 Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got on the bed and stretched out upon him once more. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.
2 Ki 4:36 Elisha summoned Gehazi and said, “Call the Shunammite.” And he did. When she came, he said, “Take your son.”
2 Ki 4:37 She came in, fell at his feet and bowed to the ground. Then she took her son and went out.
2 Ki 4:38 Elisha returned to Gilgal and there was a famine in that region. While the company of the prophets was meeting with him, he said to his servant, “Put on the large pot and cook some stew for these men.”
2 Ki 4:39 One of them went out into the fields to gather herbs and found a wild vine. He gathered some of its gourds and filled the fold of his cloak. When he returned, he cut them up into the pot of stew, though no one knew what they were.
2 Ki 4:40 The stew was poured out for the men, but as they began to eat it, they cried out, “O man of God, there is death in the pot!” And they could not eat it.
2 Ki 4:41 Elisha said, “Get some flour.” He put it into the pot and said, “Serve it to the people to eat.” And there was nothing harmful in the pot.
2 Ki 4:42 A man came from Baal Shalishah, bringing the man of God twenty loaves of barley bread baked from the first ripe grain, along with some heads of new grain. “Give it to the people to eat,” Elisha said.
2 Ki 4:43 “How can I set this before a hundred men?” his servant asked. But Elisha answered, “Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the LORD says: ‘They will eat and have some left over.’”
2 Ki 4:44 Then he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the LORD.