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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
2 Kings 4

 

 

Verses 1-7

God"s care of the faithful in need4:1-7

It was common in the ancient Near East for creditors to enslave the children of debtors who could not pay. The Mosaic Law also permitted this practice ( Exodus 21:2-4, Leviticus 25:39). However, servitude in Israel was to end on the Year of Jubilee. God provided miraculously for the dire needs of this widow who had put God first, in contrast to the majority who did not do so in Israel (cf. Matthew 6:33). God"s miraculous multiplication of oil symbolized the adequacy of God"s Spirit to provide all that the widow needed. This seems clear from the significance of oil elsewhere in Scripture. It is a symbol of the Holy Spirit (cf. Leviticus 8; 1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Samuel 16:13; Luke 11:13; et al.). [Note: See Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, 6:47-50; and John F. Walvoord, The Holy Spirit, pp21-22.]

"The vessels were the measure of the oil. In other words, divine power waited on faith-faith measured the active resources of God on the occasion." [Note: B, p17.]


Verses 8-37

God"s blessing of those who honor Him4:8-37

In contrast to the incident above, this one shows God"s blessing on a wealthy woman. She was not the marriage partner of a prophet but a simple faithful believer in Yahweh (cf. 2 Kings 4:8-10; 2 Kings 4:16; 2 Kings 4:21-22; 2 Kings 4:24-25; 2 Kings 4:27; 2 Kings 4:30; 2 Kings 4:37). She was living among unbelievers in Israel (cf. Rahab, Ruth , et al.). Her husband appears to have been only a formal participant in Yahweh worship rather than thoroughly dedicated to Him ( 2 Kings 4:19; 2 Kings 4:23). His words may imply that he expected Elisha to be available only on holy days, but he showed genuine concern for his son"s health. [Note: Patterson and Austel, p186.]

The story illustrates the great blessing (fertility) that God will bring on those who award Him the place He deserves (cf. Hannah). He went as far as giving this infertile woman ( 2 Kings 4:14) a son and then restoring him to life when he died. Her respect for Yahweh is clear from her respect for His prophet ( 2 Kings 4:9-10; 2 Kings 4:13; 2 Kings 4:30; 2 Kings 4:37).

Shunem stood in the Jezreel Valley. Gehazi ( 2 Kings 4:12) had become Elisha"s servant as Elisha had been Elijah"s. As such he was the potential successor to his ministry. "I live among my own people" ( 2 Kings 4:13) translates an idiom that meant, "I am content." At first the woman found it hard to believe that God would reward her with a child ( 2 Kings 4:16; cf. Sarah).

Evidently the woman concluded that it was better if her husband did not know about their son"s death for some reason that the writer did not state ( 2 Kings 4:22-23). Though she had respect for Gehazi ( 2 Kings 4:26), she had much more confidence in Elisha"s ability to help her.

"Disciples can be an obstacle to the needy reaching the master ( Matthew 19:13-14)." [Note: Wiseman, p204.]

Grasping his feet ( 2 Kings 4:27) showed her desperate dependence on his power, her humility, and her veneration for Elisha (cf. Matthew 28:9). Perhaps Elisha told Gehazi to go and heal the lad to test the woman"s faith ( 2 Kings 4:29). The staff was a symbol of his power. However, she said in the strongest terms that her confidence was in Yahweh and in Elisha ( 2 Kings 4:30). The phrase "As the Lord lives" occurs seven times in1Kings and seven times in2Kings. It is always the testimony of true faith in Yahweh. Elisha probably intended that Gehazi"s failure would teach him this lesson: God works in response to fervent, dependent prayer, not in response to some fetish or some formal act ( 2 Kings 4:31; cf. Matthew 7:14-21).

Only God"s power made active by petition could restore the boy"s life ( 2 Kings 4:33). Elisha"s physical contact with him connected the power of God through the prophet and the miracle unmistakably ( 2 Kings 4:34; cf. 1 Kings 17:21-23). Seven sneezes, not more or less, would have signified an act of God to ancient Near Easterners (cf. Genesis 1; 2 Kings 5:14).

"In our pericope Elisha acts as a sort of intermediary for childbirth, analogous to Baal"s role in the Ugaritic tablets. YHWH, not Baal, not Elisha for that matter, grants the Shunammite a child. The child dies, bringing to mind the story of Elijah in1Kings17. Prayer raises the child to life, illustrating not only that YHWH gives children, but that he can take them to himself or restore them to life." [Note: Battenfield, p28.]

If God could create new life and then revive it, as He did here, He could also give Israel life (at the Exodus) and revive it (in Elisha"s day). This story, as many others in Kings, is another powerful polemic against Baal and for Yahweh.

"This scene also shows that prophets not only are preachers of sin and repentance; they also are agents of God"s healing mercy and kind compassion." [Note: House, p268.]


Verses 38-41

The deadly effects of apostasy4:38-41

God again disciplined Israel by withholding fertility from the land and producing a famine ( 2 Kings 4:38; cf1Kings17). The people were not only hungry for bread but also for what would truly satisfy their spiritual hunger, namely, the Word of God. The wild gourds were similar to Baalism. They looked attractive but proved disgusting and deadly when consumed. Scripture compares meal or bread to the Word of God because it is what satisfies people"s most basic needs (cf. Deuteronomy 8:3).

In Elisha"s day, the people of Israel had turned from God and His Law. This had resulted in a spiritual famine. The people were hungry spiritually and, to satisfy their need, had swallowed Baalism. It looked harmless enough, but it proved fatal. God"s prophets helped counteract the deadly effects of Baalism by making the Word of God available to the people. People need the Word of God ( Matthew 4:4).

"This event shows the power to make the harmful innocuous (cf. Luke 10:19) as well as God"s care and provision for his own." [Note: Wiseman, p205.]


Verses 42-44

God"s ability to multiply resources4:42-44

Archaeologists debate the site of Baal-salishah. In obedience to the Mosaic Law, the man in view brought Elisha his offering of firstfruits to honor God by giving this offering to His servants ( Numbers 18:13; Deuteronomy 18:4). This simple act of obedience resulted in God miraculously multiplying these limited resources that the man committed to Him to produce enough for everyone in need ( 2 Kings 4:43; cf. Matthew 14:16-21; Matthew 15:32-38). The people of Israel thus saw again God"s ability to provide food in contrast to Baal"s inability. The people also learned that God"s blessing is much greater than what people dedicate to Him.

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Kings 4:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/2-kings-4.html. 2012.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, September 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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