2 Kings 4 – God Works Miracles Through Elisha
A. Miracles connected with a widow and a barren woman.
1. (1-7) Provision for a widow.
A certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, saying, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the LORD. And the creditor is coming to take my two sons to be his slaves.” So Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” And she said, “Your maidservant has nothing in the house but a jar of oil.” Then he said, “Go, borrow vessels from everywhere, from all your neighbors; empty vessels; do not gather just a few. And when you have come in, you shall shut the door behind you and your sons; then pour it into all those vessels, and set aside the full ones.” So she went from him and shut the door behind her and her sons, who brought the vessels to her; and she poured it out. Now it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not another vessel.” So the oil ceased. Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debt; and you and your sons live on the rest.”
a. The creditor is coming to take my two sons to be his slaves: This woman, the widowed wife of one of the sons of the prophets, had debts and no means to pay them. The legal system in Israel would not allow her to declare bankruptcy; she had to give her sons as indentured servants to her creditor as payment for the debts.
i. “However inhumane this might seem, the creditor was within his rights; for Mosaic Law allowed him to enslave the debtor and his children as far as the Year of Jubilee in order to work off a debt.” (Patterson and Austel)
b. Your maidservant has nothing in the house but a jar of oil: There is some evidence that this jar of oil was not a larger supply held for cooking, but a smaller vessel that held only oil for anointing.
i. “A unique word here, possibly for a small anointing flask.” (Wiseman)
c. Go, borrow vessels from everywhere, from all your neighbors: Elisha made this woman commit herself in faith to God’s provision. To borrow vessels in this manner invited awkward questions, but she did as the word of God through His prophet commanded her.
i. “She did what she was commanded to do: she did it in faith; and the result answered the end. God takes care to deliver his servants in ways that exercise their faith. He would not have them be little in faith, for faith is the wealth of the heavenly life.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “You have God in the measure in which you desire Him. Only remember that the desire that brings God must be more than a feeble, fleeting wish. Wishing is one thing; willing is quite another. Lazily wishing and strenuously desiring are two entirely different postures of mind; the former gets nothing and the latter gets everything, gets God, and with God all that God can bring.” (Maclaren)
d. Pour it into all those vessels, and set aside the full ones: Elisha told the woman to take what she had – one jar of oil (all that she had) – and pour that out in faith into the borrowed vessels. As she did this, the oil miraculously kept pouring from the original vessel until all the borrowed vessels were filled. At the end of it, she had a lot of oil.
i. We notice that Elisha made her do this. Perhaps Elisha was tempted to gather the vessels and pour the oil himself, but he knew that she had to trust God herself.
ii. The original vessel of oil – the one the woman had in her house – was a smaller vessel that held only oil for anointing. This means that the distribution of the oil into the other vessels required constant pouring and allowing the oil to supernaturally fill the small vessel again.
iii. The vessels also had to be empty before they could be filled with oil. It did no good to bring the widow full vessels. “A full Christ is for empty sinners, and for empty sinners only, and as long as there is a really empty soul in a congregation, so long will a blessing go forth with the word, and no longer. It is not our emptiness, but our fullness which can hinder the outgoings of free grace.” (Spurgeon)
e. So the oil ceased: The miracle was given according to the measure of her previous faith in borrowing vessels. She borrowed enough so the excess oil was sold and provided money to pay the debt to the creditor and to provide for the future. Had she borrowed more, more would have been provided; had she gathered less, less would have been provided.
i. “If she borrowed few vessels, she would have but little oil; if she borrowed many vessels they should all be filled, and she should have much oil. She was herself to measure out what she should have; and I believe that you and I, in the matter of spiritual blessings from God, have more to do with the measurement of our mercies than we think. We make our blessings little, because our prayers are little.” (Spurgeon)
ii. The oil did not pour out on the ground or simply flow about. It was intended for a prepared vessel. Each vessel had to be prepared by being gathered, by being assembled, by being emptied, by being put in the right position and by staying in the right position. When there was no more prepared vessel, the oil stopped.
iii. The principle of this miracle was the same as the principle of the ditches dug in the previous chapter. The amount of man’s work with the miracle determined the amount of blessing and provision actually received. God’s powerful provision invites our hard work and never excuses laziness.
iv. “Men must likewise see to it, that their ministers’ widows and children have a comfortable subsistence.” (Trapp)
2. (8-17) A son for a barren woman.
Now it happened one day that Elisha went to Shunem, where there was a notable woman, and she persuaded him to eat some food. So it was, as often as he passed by, he would turn in there to eat some food. And she said to her husband, “Look now, I know that this is a holy man of God, who passes by us regularly. Please, let us make a small upper room on the wall; and let us put a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand; so it will be, whenever he comes to us, he can turn in there.” And it happened one day that he came there, and he turned in to the upper room and lay down there. Then he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite woman.” When he had called her, she stood before him. And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘Look, you have been concerned for us with all this care. What can I do for you? Do you want me to speak on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.” So he said, “What then is to be done for her?” And Gehazi answered, “Actually, she has no son, and her husband is old.” So he said, “Call her.” When he had called her, she stood in the doorway. Then he said, “About this time next year you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord. Man of God, do not lie to your maidservant!” But the woman conceived, and bore a son when the appointed time had come, of which Elisha had told her.
a. A notable woman, and she persuaded him to eat some food: This remarkable relationship between Elisha and the Shunammite woman began when the woman sought to do something for the prophet. Elisha didn’t seek anything from this woman; she eventually persuaded him to eat some food as the guest of her hospitality.
b. Let us make a small upper room on the wall: The Shunammite woman then sought to do more for the prophet. With the approval of her husband, they made a room for Elisha to stay in on his frequent travels through the area.
c. About this time next year you shall embrace a son: To this barren woman this promise seemed too good to be true. The stigma associated with barrenness was harsh in the ancient world, and this promised son would answer the longing of her heart and remove the stigma of barrenness.
d. The woman conceived, and bore a son when the appointed time had come, of which Elisha had told her: The woman who so generously provided material things for the prophet of God was now blessed by the God of the prophet, blessed beyond material things.
3. (18-37) The Shunammite woman’s son is raised from the dead.
And the child grew. Now it happened one day that he went out to his father, to the reapers. And he said to his father, “My head, my head!” So he said to a servant, “Carry him to his mother.” When he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died. And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, shut the door upon him, and went out. Then she called to her husband, and said, “Please send me one of the young men and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of God and come back.” So he said, “Why are you going to him today? It is neither the New Moon nor the Sabbath.” And she said, “It is well.” Then she saddled a donkey, and said to her servant, “Drive, and go forward; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.” And so she departed, and went to the man of God at Mount Carmel. So it was, when the man of God saw her afar off, that he said to his servant Gehazi, “Look, the Shunammite woman! Please run now to meet her, and say to her, ‘Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?’” And she answered, “It is well.” Now when she came to the man of God at the hill, she caught him by the feet, but Gehazi came near to push her away. But the man of God said, “Let her alone; for her soul is in deep distress, and the LORD has hidden it from me, and has not told me.” So she said, “Did I ask a son of my lord? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me’?” Then he said to Gehazi, “Get yourself ready, and take my staff in your hand, and be on your way. If you meet anyone, do not greet him; and if anyone greets you, do not answer him; but lay my staff on the face of the child.” And the mother of the child said, “As the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you.” So he arose and followed her. Now Gehazi went on ahead of them, and laid the staff on the face of the child; but there was neither voice nor hearing. Therefore he went back to meet him, and told him, saying, “The child has not awakened.” When Elisha came into the house, there was the child, lying dead on his bed. He went in therefore, shut the door behind the two of them, and prayed to the LORD. And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands; and he stretched himself out on the child, and the flesh of the child became warm. He returned and walked back and forth in the house, and again went up and stretched himself out on him; then the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. And he called Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite woman.” So he called her. And when she came in to him, he said, “Pick up your son.” So she went in, fell at his feet, and bowed to the ground; then she picked up her son and went out.
a. He sat on her knees till noon, and then died: This was the son granted by miraculous promise, in reward to the faithful service of the Shunammite woman. The boy tragically died on the lap of his mother after a brief but severe affliction.
i. “His head was grievously pained; which possibly came from the heat of the harvest season, to which he was exposed in the field.” (Poole)
ii. “Probably affected by the coup de soleil, or sun stroke, which might, in so young a subject, soon occasion death, especially in that hot country.” (Clarke)
b. She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, shut the door upon him, and went out: This shows the faith of the woman. She prepared for the resurrection of the boy, not his burial.
i. “She had no doubt heard that Elijah had raised the widow’s son of Zarephath to life; and she believed that he who had obtained this gift of God for her, could obtain his restoration to life.” (Clarke)
c. And she answered, “It is well”: The Shunammite woman didn’t want Elisha to learn of her grief through his assistant Gehazi. She wanted the man of God to hear it from her own lips and sense her own grief.
i. “Nothing makes grief dumb so surely as prying and yet indifferent intrusion. A tenderer hand than Gehazi’s is needed to unlock the sad secret of that burdened breast.” (Maclaren)
d. Let her alone; for her soul is in deep distress, and the LORD has hidden it from me, and has not told me: Elisha seemed mystified that this woman (whom he presumably often prayed for) was in a crisis that was hidden from Elisha. In this circumstance Elisha was more surprised that God didn’t speak to him than if God had spoken to him.
i. “How much better would it have been for the Church if its teachers had been more willing to copy his modesty, and said about a great many things, ‘The Lord hath hid it from me’!” (Maclaren)
d. Lay my staff on the face of the child: Instead of going directly himself, Elisha sent his servant Gehazi with his staff. This seems to follow the previous pattern in Elisha’s ministry: He did not do things for people directly but gave them the opportunity to work with God and to trust Him for themselves. God told the alliance of kings to have ditches dug (2 Kings 3:16). God told the widow to gather vessels and pour the oil herself (2 Kings 4:1-7).
i. It may be that the Shunammite woman failed under this test, because she thought that the power to heal was more connected with Elisha himself and she refused to leave his presence (I will not leave you). The child was not healed by the laying on of the staff, though (hypothetically) the child may have been healed with only the staff if the Shunammite would have embraced this promise with full faith.
f. He went in therefore, shut the door behind the two of them, and prayed to the LORD: God did heal the Shunammite woman’s son in response to Elisha’s prayer. He prayed after the pattern shown by his mentor Elijah (1 Kings 17:20-23).
i. Elisha prayed with great faith because he knew God worked this way in the life of his mentor Elijah. He also prayed with great faith because he sensed that God wanted to raise this boy from the dead.
ii. “Although some ceremonial uncleanness might seem to be contracted by the touch of this dead body, yet that was justly to give place to a moral duty, and to an action of so great piety and charity as this was, especially when done by a prophet, and by the instinct of God’s Spirit, who can dispense with his own laws.” (Poole)
iii. There is a significant contrast between the stretched-out supplication of Elijah and Elisha and the authoritative command of Jesus in raising the dead (as in John 11:43). Elijah and Elisha rightly begged God to raise the dead. Jesus commanded the dead to be raised.
iv. “This staff of his – whatever became of the other – was long enough, he knew, to reach up to heaven, to know at those gates, yea, to wrench them open.” (Trapp)
g. The flesh of the child became warm… then the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes: “Although miracles were for the most part done in an instant, yet sometimes they were done by degrees, as here, and 1 Kings 18:44-45; Mark 8:24-25.” (Poole)
i. “Of course, there is a profound and beautiful use to be made of the prophet’s action in laying himself upon the dead child, mouth to mouth, and hand to hand, if we regard it as symbolic of that closeness of approach to our nature, dead in sins, which the Lord of life makes in His incarnation and in His continual drawing near.” (Maclaren)
B. Miracles connected with the provision of food.
1. (38-41) The purification of the stew.
And Elisha returned to Gilgal, and there was a famine in the land. Now the sons of the prophets were sitting before him; and he said to his servant, “Put on the large pot, and boil stew for the sons of the prophets.” So one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine, and gathered from it a lapful of wild gourds, and came and sliced them into the pot of stew, though they did not know what they were. Then they served it to the men to eat. Now it happened, as they were eating the stew, that they cried out and said, “Man of God, there is death in the pot!” And they could not eat it. So he said, “Then bring some flour.” And he put it into the pot, and said, “Serve it to the people, that they may eat.” And there was nothing harmful in the pot.
a. There was a famine in the land: “The famine mentioned in verse 38 may be the seven-year famine alluded to in 2 Kings 8:1-3.” (Dilday)
b. Man of God, there is death in the pot: Elisha felt a special responsibility to help in this situation because he told the men to gather ingredients for the stew, and they gathered the wild vine that poisoned the pot.
i. “The gourds were probably colocynth. Popularly called ‘wild cucumber,’ the vine still grows near the Dead Sea. When the gourds are cut open the pulp dries rapidly and forms a powder, which in that part of the world is still used as a cathartic medicine. It has a very bitter taste. If eaten in enough quantity, it induces colic and can be fatal.” (Dilday)
ii. “You have been trying to find pleasure in the world, and you have found wild vines… you have gathered wild gourds, a lap full, almost a heart full. You have been shredding death into the pot, and now you cannot feel as you used to feel, the poison is stupefying your soul. While we were singing just now, you said, ‘I want to sing as saints do, but there is no praise in me’… If you are a worldling, and not God’s child, you can live on that which would poison a Christian, but if you are a child of God, you will cry out, ‘O thou man of God, there is death in the pot!’” (Spurgeon)
c. And there was nothing harmful in the pot: There was nothing inherently purifying in the flour Elisha put in the pot. The real purification was a miraculous work of God.
i. “There is death in the pot; how is the Church to meet it? I believe it is to imitate Elisha. We need not attempt to get the wild gourds out of the pot; they are cut too small, and are too cunningly mixed up; they have entered too closely into the whole mass of teaching to be removed. Who shall extract the leaven from the leavened loaf? What then? We must look to God for help, and use the means indicated here. ‘Bring meal.’ Good wholesome food was cast into the poisonous stuff, and by God’s gracious working it killed the poison; and the Church must cast the blessed gospel of the grace of God into the poisoned pottage, and false doctrine will not be able to destroy men’s souls as it now does.” (Spurgeon)
2. (42-44) The multiplication of loaves.
Then a man came from Baal Shalisha, and brought the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley bread, and newly ripened grain in his knapsack. And he said, “Give it to the people, that they may eat.” But his servant said, “What? Shall I set this before one hundred men?” He said again, “Give it to the people, that they may eat; for thus says the LORD: ‘They shall eat and have some left over.’” So he set it before them; and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the LORD.
a. Bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley bread: “These had been brought to Elisha as firstfruits (verse 42). Normally these portions were reserved for God (Leviticus 23:20) and the Levitical priests (Numbers 18:13; Deuteronomy 18:4-5). Because the religion in the Northern Kingdom was apostate, the loaves had been brought by their owner to the one whom he considered to be the true repository of godly religion in Israel.” (Patterson and Austel)
b. Give it to the people, that they may eat: In a miracle that anticipated Jesus’ miracle of feeding the 5,000, Elisha commanded that a small amount of bread be served to 100 men.
i. “This is something like our Lord’s feeding the multitude miraculously. Indeed, there are many things in this chapter similar to facts in our Lord’s history; and this prophet might be more aptly considered a type of our Lord, than most of the other persons in the Scripture who have been thus honored.” (Clarke)
c. For thus says the LORD: “They shall eat and have some left over”: God promised not only to provide, but to provide beyond the immediate need. Elisha trusted the promise of God, acted upon it, and saw the promise miraculously fulfilled.
i. “What can these few cakes do towards feeding a hundred men? They forget that God can multiply them. Ye limit the Holy One of Israel. Do you think he needs our numbers? Do you think he is dependent upon human strength? I tell you, our weakness is a better weapon for God than our strength.” (Spurgeon)
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