What was the plight of the widow in 2 Kings 4?
Her husband, one of the sons of the prophets, had died. She was left with two children and her husband’s debt. Her husband’s creditor wanted payment of what was owed him. The widow could not meet the obligation so the creditor was going to take her two children to be his slaves.
Note: Josephus comments that she was the widow of Obadiah, the man who served on the court of Ahab and hid a hundred prophets of the Lord from Jezebel. See 1 Kings 18:1-16.
Did the creditor have the right to take her children?
Yes. The creditor was exercising his right to have the children labor to pay off the debt owed by their father. Provision for this was made in the law of Moses in Leviticus 25:39-40.
What unusual instructions did Elisha give to the woman in order to make provision for her needs?
[A] After learning that the only thing the woman had left in the house was a jar of oil, he instructed the woman to borrow as many empty vessels as possible from her neighbors (2 Kings 4:3).
[B] Elisha instructed the woman to shut herself up in a room and pour oil from her jar into each of the vessels (2 Kings 4:4).
[C] The woman faithfully did as Elisha instructed and every vessel she borrowed was miraculously filled. When there were no more vessels to fill the oil stopped (2 Kings 4:5-6).
[D] Elisha then instructed the woman to sell the oil and pay her debt and use the remaining monies to support her family (2 Kings 4:7).
What does the Bible tell us about the Shunammite woman?
[A] She was “a prominent woman” (2 Kings 4:8). In contrast to the poor widow with the two children, the Shunammite woman was wealthy but had no children.
[B] She and her husband opened their home to Elisha. They fed him whenever he passed through the area (2 Kings 4:8). They also built and furnished a chamber (guest room) for Elisha to use when traveling through the area (2 Kings 4:9-10).
Where was Shunem?
Shunem was located 16 miles east of Mount Carmel or 5 miles northeast of Jezreel.
How did Elisha repay the kindness and hospitality of the Shunammite woman?
Elisha asked his servant Gehazi to ask the woman what he could do to repay her kindness. The woman responded that she lived among her own people (2 Kings 4:13) and therefore enjoyed security and had her needs met. Gehazi, however, mentioned to Elisha that the woman had no son and that her husband was old (2 Kings 4:14). Elisha summoned the woman and told her that she would conceive and bear a son by the next year (2 Kings 4:15-17). Although the idea seemed incredible to her, Elisha’s word was fulfilled.
What happened to the Shunammite woman’s son when he was older?
When the boy was older he was helping his father in the field. While working with his father the boy complained that his head was hurting, some suggest a case of sunstroke. The father instructed his servant to take the boy home where he later died in his mother’s arms (2 Kings 4:18-20).
What did the Shunammite woman do when her son died?
After the death of her son, the Shunammite woman put the boy’s body on the bed in the room prepared for the man of God. She then secured a donkey and one of her husband’s servants and went to Mount Carmel in search of Elisha (2 Kings 4:21-24). When her husband asked her why she was going in search of the prophet she responded, “It will be well” (2 Kings 4:23). This was an indication of her faith that the man of God would bring healing to her son. She did not reveal to her husband that the boy had died. Sorrow did not destroy the faith of this mother, it only intensified it.
As the Shunammite woman approached Mount Carmel, Elisha sent Gehazi to meet her and ask her if all was well. The mother responded saying, “It is well” (2 Kings 4:21). The woman did not give vent to her grief until she saw Elisha himself. She caught hold of his feet and revealed to him what had happened (2 Kings 4:27-28).
Two practical lessons emerge from this scene. First, do not make known to everyone you see or who asks you whatever grief might fill your heart. Go directly to one you know will understand you and share the burden with them. The Shunammite woman knew that Elisha would understand her grief and confusion (2 Kings 4:28). Second, do not be quick to push away, as Gehazi (2 Kings 4:27), those looking for help and consolation. Do not add grief to grief.
How was her son brought back to life?
Initially, Elisha sent Gehazi ahead with his staff and instructions to place the staff on the boy’s face. Gehazi went ahead of Elisha and the Shunammite woman and did as he was instructed, but without success. Gehazi returned to meet Elisha and the woman with the news that the boy was still dead (2 Kings 4:29-31).
Upon arriving at the home of the Shunammite, Elisha went to his chamber where the dead boy was lying. He shut the door, prayed to the Lord, and then stretched himself on the child. Upon stretching himself on the child a second time, the boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes (2 Kings 4:32-35). The boy was then restored to his thankful and grateful mother (2 Kings 4:36-37). Sometimes the greatest trials lead to the greatest blessings.
What two miracles did Elisha perform at “meal-time” at the seminary?
[A] 2 Kings 4:38-41. During a famine in the land (perhaps the one predicted by Elisha in 2 Kings 8:1) Elisha sent one of the sons of the prophets out to collect items for a pot of stew. The servant returned with herbs and gourds which were put into the stew. As the sons of the prophets were eating the stew they cried out to Elisha saying, “O man of God, there is death in the pot.” Perhaps they detected a bitter taste with which they were unfamiliar. Elisha threw some meal into the pot and the stew was made edible.
[B] 2 Kings 4:42-44. Elisha multiplied some food brought to the sons of the prophets by a man from Baal-shalishah. This food represented the first-fruits of the man’s crops and was done in obedience to the law (Numbers 18:13 and Deuteronomy 18:1-5). The food was used to feed a hundred of the sons of the prophets (perhaps at Gilgal).
Both the poor and the rich are subject to the trials of life.
No one is exempt from life’s trials. Both the widow and the Shunammite woman experienced the grief of loss and the pressures of life. To their credit, both women turned to Elisha, the man of God, for guidance and help in dealing with their respective trials.
We must exercise faith in the midst of life’s trials.
Both the widow and the Shunammite woman exercised great faith in the midst of their trials. These women expected God to act on their behalf. Someone has said that expectant faith honors God and God honors expectant faith.
Little becomes much in God’s economy.
Both the widow and the man from Baal-shalishah made what they had available to God. The widow’s oil was multiplied to meet her needs and the farmer’s first-fruits were multiplied to feed a hundred men. God can use what we offer in faith and obedience.
Kindness begets kindness.
The Shunammite woman treated the servants of God with kindness. Elisha was not unmindful of that kindness and sought to repay it, even though the woman did not look for any recompense. Our appreciation for the kindness of others should express itself in gratitude.
We should support the work of God with whatever resources we have.
Both the Shunammite woman and the man from Baal-shalishah used their resources to support God’s servants and God’s work. It is both good and wise to invest our resources in God’s kingdom. The gifts of these individuals were timely and met many needs.
Great trials can lead to great blessings.
The widow, the Shunammite woman, and the sons of the prophets experienced the miraculous power and provision of God in the midst of their great trials. Great trials offer God an opportunity to do great things.