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Saturday, June 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
2 Kings 4

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary

Verse 1



(1-7) He multiplies the widow’s oil. (Comp. 1 Kings 17:12 seq.)

(1) Of the wives of the sons of the prophets.—This shows that “the sons of the prophets” were not young unmarried men leading a kind of monastic life under the control of their prophetic chief. Those who were heads of families must have had their own separate homes. (See Note on 1 Kings 20:35.)

Thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord.—She makes this the ground of her claim on the prophet’s assistance. In 1 Kings 18:3; 1 Kings 18:12 it is said of Obadiah, Ahab’s steward, that he “feared the Lord,” and on account of this slight resemblance, the Targum, Josephus, and Ephrem Syrus identify the dead man of this verse with Obadiah, who is supposed to have spent all his property in maintaining the prophets (1 Kings 18:4) (!) Possibly the widow meant to say that her husband’s debts were not due to profligate living (Thenius).

The creditor is come to take unto him my two sons.—According to the law (Leviticus 25:39). They would have to continue in servitude until the year of jubilee. The ancient Roman law was more severe, for it contained no provision for the future release of the unhappy debtor. (Comp. also Matthew 18:26, and Notes.)

Verse 2

(2) What hast thou?—The form of the pronoun here, and in 2 Kings 4:3; 2 Kings 4:7; 2 Kings 4:16; 2 Kings 4:23 infra, is peculiar, and points, as the present writer believes, to the northern origin of the narrative, rather than to later composition.

A pot of oil.—Usually explained, vas unguentarium, an “oil-flask.” Keil says that ’âsûk rather denotes “anointing,” unctio, and ’âsûk shèmen, “an anointing in (or with) oil,” i.e., oil enough for an anointing. But it seems better to take the word as a verb: “save (whereby) I may anoint myself with oil” (Micah 6:15). Vulgate, “parum olei, quo ungar.” The Jews, like the Greeks and Romans, anointed themselves after the bath (2 Samuel 12:20).

Verse 3

(3) Abroad.—Literally, from the outside (of the house); out of doors.

Borrow not a few.—See margin. Do not scant, or stint, namely, to borrow.

Verse 4

(4) And when . . . thou shalt shut.—And go in and shut the door. The object was to avoid disturbance from without; perhaps, also, because publicity was undesirable in the case of such a miracle. (Comp. our Lord’s injunction of secrecy on those whom He healed, and His exclusion of the people, in Luke 8:51; Luke 8:54.)

Thou shalt set aside.—By the help of thy sons (2 Kings 4:5-6).

Verse 5

(5) From him.Mç’ittô, the correct form. (Comp. 2 Kings 3:11.)

Who brought . . . poured out.—There should be a semicolon at “sons.” The rest is literally, They were bringing to her, and she was pouring continually (mĕyaççèqeth, only here). She did not leave her pouring. The story is evidently abridged in this verse.

Verse 6

(6) Her son.—Probably the eldest. The LXX. has plural here and in the verb that follows.

Stayed.—Heb., stoodi.e., halted, stopped. (Comp. Luke 8:44, ἡ ῥύσις ἔστη.) Bähr makes the word mean continuedi.e., to flow (!).

Verse 7

(7) Then she came.And she went in.

He said.LXX., “Elisha said.”

Thy debt.—Right. Margin incorrect.

And live thou and thy children.—Heb., and thou—thy sons—thou mayest live. Clearly “and” has fallen out before the second word. Many MSS. and all the versions have it.

Thou.—’Attî, an archaism, perhaps retained in the dialect of northern Israel (1 Kings 14:2).

Of the rest.On what is left over—i.e., of the price of the oil.

(8–37) The Shunammitess and her son.

Verse 8

(8) And it fell on a day.—Rather, And it came to pass at that time. Literally, during that day, referring to the period of the miracle just related. Perhaps, too, the contrast of the poor and rich woman is intentional.

Passed.Crossed over—scil., the plain of Jezreel, which he would have to do, whether he went from Samaria, or from Carmel to Shunem, which lay on the slope of Little Hermon, about midway between the two.

A great womani.e., of high rank, or rich (1 Samuel 25:2; 2 Samuel 19:33). Rabbinic tradition identifies her with Abishag the Shunammite of 1 Kings 1:3 (!). In that case she must have been at this time more than 200 years old.

So it was.It came to pass.

Passed by.—Crossed over, as above.

He turned in.He would turn aside (frequentative). For the phrase, see Genesis 19:2.

Verse 9

(9) An holy man of God.—The term “holy” is not a merely ornamental or conventional epithet of the “man of God” (i.e., prophet) as such, but denotes the special moral elevation of Elisha.

Continually.At stated intervals, regularly.

Verse 10

(10) A little chamber . . . on the wall.—Rather, a little upper chamber (‘alîyâh) with wallsi.e., a chamber on the roof of the house, walled on each side as a protection against the weather. (Comp. 1 Kings 17:19.) Here the prophet would be secure from all interruption or intrusion on his privacy, and so would be likely to honour the house longer with his presence.

A bed.—The four things mentioned are the only essentials in Oriental furnishing.

A stool.A chair of state. The same word means throne.


Verse 11

(11) And it fell on a day.—See Note on 2 Kings 4:8.

Chamber.—Upper chamber.

Layi.e., lay down to rest.

Verse 12

(12) Gehazi his servant.—First mentioned here. His name means “valley of vision,” and is perhaps derived from his native place, which may have got its name from being a haunt of prophets.

His servant.His young man (Genesis 22:3).

She stood before himi.e., before Gehazi. The sentence, “And when he had called her, she stood before him,” is an anticipation of the result, and might be placed within a parenthesis.

Verse 13

(13) And he said unto himi.e., Elisha, as he lay on the bed (2 Kings 4:11), had charged Gehazi to say this when he called their hostess. It is hardly likely that Elisha communicated with her through his servant in order to save his own dignity. He may have thought she would express her wishes more freely to Gehazi than to himself.

Thou hast been careful . . . with all this care.—Literally, trembled all this trembling. Comp. Luke 10:41 (τυρβάζῃ).

Wouldest thou be spoken for to the king?—Literally, is it to speak for thee to the king? that is, dost thou stand in need of an advocate at court? Is there any boon thou desirest from the king? This shows what influence Elisha enjoyed at the time: but it does not prove that Jehu, whom he anointed, was already on the throne, for Jehoram respected and probably feared the prophet.

The captain of the host.—The commander-in- chief, who was the most powerful person next the king.

I dwell among mine own people.—Literally, In the midst of my people I am dwellingscil., far from the court and courtly interests. I have nothing to seek from such exalted personages; I am a mere commoner living quietly in the country.

Verse 14

(14) And he saidi.e., when Gehazi had reported the woman’s reply.

She hath no child.—Which was at once a misfortune and a reproach. (Comp. Genesis 30:23; 1 Samuel 1:6-7; Luke 1:25; Deuteronomy 7:13-14; Psalms 128:3-4.)

Verse 15

(15) Call her.—The Shunammite is now summoned into the presence of the prophet himself.

She stood.—Or, took her stand. Modesty, or reverence for Elisha, prevented her from going farther.

Verse 16

(16) About this season.At this set time.

According to the time of life.—Rather, at the reviving time—i.e., next spring; or, when the time revivesi.e., in the following year: a phrase occurring in Genesis 18:10; Genesis 18:15. Böttcher renders, “when the year has revolved,” assuming the ground meaning of the term “life” to be something joined in a circle.

Thou shalt embrace.Thou art about to embrace.

Do not liei.e., raise no delusive hopes. (Comp. Isaiah 58:11.) We can imagine the emotion with which this would be said. (Comp. the incredulity of Sarah, Genesis 18:12-13.)

Verse 17

(17) And the woman conceived.—Comp. with this verse Genesis 21:2.


According to the time of life.—See Note on 2 Kings 4:16.

Verse 18

(18) It fell on a day.—See Note on 2 Kings 4:8.

Verse 19

(19) My head, my head.—The boy had a sunstroke. It was the hot season of harvest, and his head was probably uncovered.

A lad.Rather, the young man. The servant waiting on him.

Verse 20

(20) Taken.Carried.

Brought him.Brought him ini.e., in-doors.

Till noon.—We gather from this that the boy was hurt in the forenoon.

Verse 21

(21) Laid him on the bed of the man of God.—She wished to keep the death secret, and the corpse inviolate, during her intended absence.

Verse 22

(22) One of the young men.—To lead and drive the ass.


That I may run.—Notice the striking naturalness of the language, in which she promises to be back soon.

Verse 23

(23) Wiltt thou go.Art thou going. Archaic forms of the pronoun and participle are here used.

It is neither new moon, nor sabbath.—Comp. Amos 8:5. This remark is interesting, because it implies that the faithful in the northern kingdom were wont to visit prophets on these holy days for the sake of religious instruction and edification. Thenius suggests a doubt whether the later practice of resorting to the Scribes on these days has not here been transferred by an anachronism to the days of Elisha. (Comp. Numbers 18:11 seq.; Leviticus 23:3, for the legal mode of observing new moons and Sabbath days.)

It shall be well.—Omit it shall be. The expression may be equivalent to our common “all right;” admitting the truth of what is said, yet persisting in one’s purpose. She did not want to be delayed, nor to have her faith shaken by argument.

Verse 24

(24) Then she saddled an ass.And she saddled the assi.e., which the young man brought, and probably saddled at her bidding.

Slack not thy riding for me.—Literally, restrain me not from ridingi.e., do not stop, or slacken speed. A halt for rest might naturally be taken, as the distance was considerable.

Verse 25

(25) To mount Carmel.—Elisha, then, must have dwelt there at least occasionally. (Comp. 2 Kings 4:9.) Carmel probably served as a fixed centre of prophetic teaching for the north, as Gilgal, Beth-el, and Jericho for the south. (Comp. also Elisha’s sacrifice there, 1 Kings 18:31 seq.)

Afar off.—The same word (minnèged) as to view (chap 2 Kings 2:7; 2 Kings 2:15).

Shunammite.—Syriac, Shulamite.

Verse 26

(26) Run now, I pray thee, to meet her.—This perhaps indicates the respect in which Elisha held the Shunammitess. But it may denote surprise and apprehension at an unusual visit. Hence the inquiries about each member of the family.

It is well.—She said this merely to avoid further explanation. She would open her grief to the prophet’s own ear, and to none other.

Verse 27

(27) To the hill.—Probably to the summit.

She caught him by the feet.She laid hold of (clasped) his feet. Assuming the posture of an humble and urgent suppliant, and no doubt pouring out a flood of passionate entreaties for help.

But (and) Gehazi came near to thrust her away.—He thought her vehemence a trespass upon the dignity of his master. (Comp. Matthew 19:13; John 4:27.)

The Lord hath hid it from me.—Supernatural knowledge of every event was not a characteristic of the gift of prophecy. (Comp. 2 Samuel 7:3 seq. for a somewhat similar case of ignorance on the part of a prophet.)

Verse 28

(28) Then.And; so in 2 Kings 4:29; 2 Kings 4:35.

Did I desire (ask) a son of my lord?—Only the conclusion of her appeal is given. She says, Better to have had no son, than to have had one and lost him. The opposite of our poet’s

“‘Tis better to have loved and lost,

Than never to have loved at all.”

But this last is the fruit of reflection; her words are the spontaneous outflow of a mother’s poignant sorrow. Or, perhaps, we should understand that grief does not allow her to specify the cause directly; she leaves the prophet to infer that from her questions.

Verse 29

(29) If thou meet any man, salute him not.—An injunction of utmost haste. (Comp. the similar words of our Saviour, Luke 10:4.) A short greeting might end in a long halt. “Orientals lose much time in tedious salutations” (Keil).

Lay my staff upon the face of the child.—It seems to be implied that if the mother had had faith this would have sufficed for raising the child. (Comp. 2 Kings 2:8; Acts 19:12.) Keil supposes that the prophet foresaw the failure of this expedient, and intended by it to teach the Shunammitess and his followers generally that the power of working miracles was not magically inherent in himself or in his staff, as they might imagine, but only in Jehovah, who granted the temporary use of that power to faith and prayer. In other words, Elisha was seeking to lift the minds of his disciples to higher and more spiritual conceptions of the prophetic office. But this seems doubtful.

Verse 30

(30) I will not leave thee.—She wished the prophet himself to go to her child. The writer appropriately substitutes “the mother of the child” for “the Shunammite” or “the woman” in connection with this impassioned utterance, which induced the prophet to yield to her wishes.

Verse 31

(31) There was neither voice, nor hearing.1 Kings 18:29; see margin, and Isaiah 21:7.

Wherefore he went again.And he came back to meet him (Elisha).

The child is not awaked.The lad woke not.

The Rabbis explain Gehazi’s failure by assuming that he had disobeyed his master’s injunction by loitering on the way. This is contradicted by the narrative itself. He had acted with all despatch. Others blame him on other grounds, which, in the absolute silence of the text, cannot be substantiated. The prophet says no word of censure when he receives the announcement of the failure. Bähr thinks that Elisha himself was at fault in supposing he could transfer the spirit and power of a prophet to his servant; and acted in over-haste without a Divine incentive. (Comp. 2 Samuel 7:3 seq.)

The true explanation is suggested in the Note on 2 Kings 4:29. (Bähr is wrong in taking the staff to be other than a walking staff. A different word would be used for rod or sceptre.)

Verse 33

(33) He went in therefore.—Comp. the narrative of Elijah’s raising the widow’s son (1 Kings 17:17-24), which is imitated in the present account.

Them twain.—Himself and the body.

Verse 34

(34) He went up.—Upon the bed (2 Kings 1:6).

And lay upon the child.—Comp. 1 Kings 17:21. What is hinted at there is described here (Thenius).

Stretched himself upon the child.Bowed himself. So LXX., Syriac, and Vulg. (Comp. 1 Kings 18:42.) This expression summarises the preceding details.

The flesh of the child waxed warm.—The life of the Divine Spirit which was in Elisha was miraculously imparted by contact to the lifeless body. (Comp. Genesis 2:7.)

Verse 35

(35) He returned.—From off the bed.

Walked in the house to and fro.—Or, in the chamber. Elisha’s walking to and fro is an index of intense excitement. He was earnestly expecting the fulfilment of his prayer. Cornelius à Lapide thinks the prophet walked “ut ambulando excitaret majorem calorem quem puero communicaret” (!)

The child sneezed.—The verb occurs here only. It denotes a faint rather than a loud sneeze. (Heb., ‘atîshâh; Job 41:10.) It is omitted by the LXX., which has, “and he bowed himself over the boy until seven times.” The repeated sneezing was a sign of restored respiration. (Comp. Luke 7:15.)

Keil supposes that whereas Elijah raised the widow’s son at once, his successor only restored the Shunammite’s son by degrees; and that this betokens an inferiority on the part of Elisha. But the narrative in 1 Kings 17:17 seq. is plainly abridged.

Verse 36

(36) Take up thy son.—So our Lord “delivered to his mother” the young man whom He raised from death by His word (Luke 7:15).

Verse 37

(37) Then she went in.—And she came.

Bowed herself to the ground.—In deep veneration for the prophet of Jehovah.

Verse 38

(38) And Elisha came again.—Now Elisha had returned, commencing a new narrative. The word “return” refers to the prophet’s annual visit. (Comp. 2 Kings 4:25, and 2 Kings 2:1, Notes.) The story is not put in chronological sequence with the foregoing.

And there was a dearth.—And the famine was.

The sons of the prophets were sitting before him.—As disciples before a master; probably in a common hall, which served for lecture, work, and dining-room. (Comp. 2 Kings 6:1; Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 14:1; Acts 22:3.)

His servant.—Perhaps not Gehazi, but one of the sons of the prophets. So in 2 Kings 4:43.

Seethe pottage.—Genesis 25:29.

Verses 38-44

(38-44) Elisha among the sons of the prophets at Gilgal during the famine.

Verse 39

(39) Herbs.—A rare word. (See Isaiah 26:19.) The Targum renders “greens.” The LXX. retains the Hebrew word; the Syriac and Arabic render “mallows.” Thenius thinks that αριωθ, the reading of the LXX., points to another word derived from a different root, and meaning “to pluck,” so that the word would denote legumina.

A wild vine.—Vulg., “quasi vitem silvestrem,” i.e., a running plant, like a vine.

Wild gourds.—In 1 Kings 6:18 a related word is used to describe one of the decorations of the Temple (“knops”).

Wild gourds, or cucumbers (cucumeres agrestes, or asinini), are oval in shape, and taste bitter. Their Hebrew name (paqqû‘ôth) is expressive of the fact that when ripe they are apt to burst upon being touched. If eaten they act as a violent purgative. They were mistaken on the present occasion for edible gourds, a favourite food of the people (Numbers 11:5). The Vulg. renders “colocynth,” or coloquintida, a plant of the same family, bearing large orange-like fruits, which are very bitter, and cause colic (cucumis colocynthi, L.). Keil supposes this to be the “wild vine” intended.

They knew them not.—And so did not stop the young man from his shredding.

Verse 40

(40) There is death in the pot.—The bitter taste, and perhaps incipient effect of the pottage, made them think of poison.

Verse 41

(41) Then bring meal.—Keil says, “the meal was only the material basis for the spiritual activity which went out from Elisha, and made the poisonous food wholesome.” Thenius, however, supposes that “the meal softened the bitterness, and obviated the drastic effect.” But Reuss appears to be right in saying, “by mistake a poisonous (not merely a bitter) plant had been put into the pot, and the prophet neutralises the poison by means of an antidote whose natural properties could never have had that effect.” The “meal” here, therefore, corresponds to the “salt” in 2 Kings 2:21.

And he said, Pour out.—The LXX. adds, “to Gehazi, his servant;” probably a gloss.

Verse 42

(42) Baal-shalisha.—Probably the same as Bethshalisha, mentioned by Jerome and Eusebius, fifteen Roman miles north of Lydda-Diospolis, and not far west of Gilgal and Bethel. (Comp. “the land of Shalisha,” 1 Samuel 9:4. Its name, Shalisha—as if Three-land—seems to allude to the three wadies, which there meet in the Wâdy Qurâwâ.)

Bread of the firstfruits.—Comp. Numbers 18:13; Deuteronomy 18:4, according to which all firstfruits of grain were to be given to the priests and Levites. Such presents to prophets appear to have been usual in ordinary times. On the present occasion, which was “a time of dearth” (2 Kings 4:42 is connected by the construction with the preceding narrative), one pious person brought his opportune gift to Elisha.

And full ears of corn in the husk thereof.—Heb., and karmel in his wallet. The word karmel occurs besides in Leviticus 2:14; Leviticus 23:14. The Targum and Syriac render “bruised grain;” the Jewish expositors “tender and fresh ears of corn.” In some parts of England unripe corn is made into a dish called “frumenty.” The word çiqlôn only occurs in this place. The Vulg. renders it by pera (“wallet”). The LXX. (Alex.) repeats the Hebrew in Greek letters. The Vatican omits the word. It reads: “twenty barley loaves and cakes of pressed fruit” (παλάθας). The Syriac gives “garment.”

And he saidi.e., Elisha said.

Give unto the people.—Comp. Matthew 14:16.

Verse 43

(43) Servitor.Minister, or attendant.

What, should I set this before an hundred men?—Or, How am I to set? &c. (Comp. Matthew 14:33.)

He said again.—And he said.

They shall eat, and shall leave thereof.—Heb., eating and leaving! an exclamatory mode of speech, natural in hurried and vehement utterance.

Verse 44

(44) And they did eat, and left thereof.—Comp. our Lord’s miracles, already referred to. Bähr denies any miraculous increase of the food. He makes the miracle consist in the fact that the one hundred men were satisfied with the little they received, and even had some to spare. Similarly, Thenius thinks that the provisions were not inconsiderable for a hundred men (?), and that the emphasis of the narrative lies rather on Elisha’s absolute confidence in God than on His wonder-working powers; but this is certainly opposed to the sacred writer’s intention. Keil rightly calls attention to the fact that Elisha does not perform, but only predicts, this miracle.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 2 Kings 4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/2-kings-4.html. 1905.
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