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2 Kings 4:1 . My two sons to be bondmen. The law of Moses, as well as the laws of all gentile nations, allowed of this for six years. Exodus 21:7. Josephus, after others says, that she was the widow of Obadiah; but we have no intimation that he was a prophet.
2 Kings 4:2 . Thine handmaid hath not any thing in the house save a pot of oil. No silver plate, no redundant furniture, nor any empty jars for oil. Truly, great poverty, and illustrious piety dwelt in that house.
2 Kings 4:8 . Elisha passed to Shunem, situate on a southern branch of the river Kison, twenty miles east of mount Carmel, and about forty south of Sarepta, where Elijah had raised from the dead the widow’s son.
2 Kings 4:10 . A little chamber. He loved retirement, though full of travail and of labours. A minister must be one third of his time in the closet, else he will never be an able minister.
2 Kings 4:38 . Came to Gilgal, a hundred miles from mount Carmel; for he was, like Paul, in labours more abundant. He often visited the sacred schools. Elementary knowledge is essential to all ministers who have to feed the flock, and face an infidel age.
2 Kings 4:39 . Found a wild vine, and gathered wild gourds. Do men gather gourds of vines? The paucity and variations in ancient names embarrass the most enlightened criticisms and translations. Jerome reads, colocyntidas agri, not unlike the wild vine, a bitter plant, of an aperient quality. Others read, fungos agrestes, a species of noxious mushrooms. The removal of the deleterious qualities was miraculous.
While the house of Ahab was on the throne, and while Jezebel was yet alive, the true prophets had frequently to hide in holes, and to beg their bread. Hence the good man now deceased, having a wife, two sons, and probably daughters in proportion, had died in debt. This would have been a blemish in his character, had it not been for the times; for no man must take up goods without a probability of paying for them; and while a poor man has work and health, why should he contract a debt? Far better to habituate himself to make his earnings harmonize with his wants; then, though he suffer many privations, he sustains his independence.
This widow in her troubles went for counsel and comfort to her minister, and to her husband’s friend. She cried to Elisha, as judge and prophet of the Lord. A fine model for distressed families to follow; and her distress was not of the common kind. Families in Israel, as in most parts of Asia and Africa, laid in their stock of provisions, in the several seasons, for the whole year: but this widow had no bread, no money, no land, none unmortgaged; and her husband’s creditor was come to require servitude of her two sons till the debt was paid.
God, whose method is to relieve the needy by the labour of their hands, chose in this instance to exert his miraculous power for her comfort and deliverance. He helped her from the little which she had, a pot of oil; and Elisha to exercise her faith, directed her to borrow as many empty vessels as she could; (for God is liberal in his gifts) and to fill them in silence and secresy; to sell as much as would pay the debt, and live through the year on the rest. What a most signal instance of the divine goodness to a distressed widow, and to the orphans of a prophet. How tender and compassionate is the Lord to the poor. But how poor soever a family may be, what a glory that the life and character of their fathers were irreproachable. Thou knowest, said the widow to Elisha, that thy servant did fear the Lord, and was one of those seven thousand who would not bow the knee to Baal, and consequently one who saved his country from total destruction: for except the Lord had left us a remnant, we should have been as Sodom, or like unto Gomorrah. But what a reproach to the opulent of that age, and indeed of every age, to suffer a faithful minister of heaven to languish with a small family for want of bread. If God did all this for a minister’s widow, what will he not do for the soul? What pleas may not the children of the righteous urge, for the grace which the new covenant has made over to them by a multitude of promises. Lord, empty my heart of concupiscence and inordinate attachment to all worldly good, and fill it with the richer oil of thy heavenly grace. May the whole church ever learn of this woman to pray for her children, that they may never go into bondage; but that the Redeemer’s grace which pays their debt, may sanctify their souls.
The next family favoured with the extraordinary blessing of God in evil times was the Shunemite’s. While Elisha, like Samuel, was directing his fervent ministry to the whole land, where they would hear the truth, he came to Shunem; and this woman heard and loved the truth, revered the holy prophet who published it, and persuaded her husband to receive him into their house; for they were rich. Seeing the man of God take a bed in some humble house, she spake to her husband to build him a chamber on the wall, for she saw that he loved retirement. Observe how the love of this family to the man of God was requited. Elisha finding himself entertained, and nothing that was wanting thought too good for him, and in an apostate age, when it exposed the family to contempt and danger, he thought of making some return to this hospitable house. Gehazi, his servant, happily suggested that she had no son; and for this blessing it was more than the family could now hope, or the woman dare to ask. Elisha prayed, and God granted him his request. So at parting he addressed her in the words of JEHOVAH, the angel, to Sarah, on a like occasion. Let ministers learn hence to pray for families who kindly entertain them because of their work. And those families who show kindness to ministers, with a single eye to their own salvation, are often blessed like Obededom with a double portion, a little of earth and a little of heaven.
When God has remarkably favoured us with any particular family blessing, we must be careful not to love it too well; for he is jealous of our hearts. It is not improbable but this family loved their son too much; and that God who gave him was resolved to correct the inordinate attachment. Be that as it may, the child suddenly sickened in the morning, and died at noon. What a stroke to the mother, what a sanctifying stroke, teaching her not to rest in the creature, but alone in the Creator.
In going to the prophet, she acknowledged it was well with the child; and urged her complaints, considering the severity of the stroke, with great modesty. And surely it is well with our infants, when they steal away early from the troubles of life, and find a perfect repose in the bosom of God. Surely it is well when they are taken from the evil to come; when they are resumed for the sanctification of our affections, or when they are removed that they may not live to break our hearts by stubbornness and vice. In every case of this nature, leaving the issues with Him who cannot err, let us always say, it is well.
Elisha returned with this afflicted woman, and extended himself on her deceased son, as Elijah had done on the son of the woman of Zarephath, to which I refer for farther reflection, only adding that ministers should readily help afflicted families. The next great works of this man of God, were to counteract the poisonous qualities of the herbs put in the soup by mistake; and to feed a vast number of people with a small quantity of bread. In all those miracles it is obvious, that Elijah and Elisha bore a striking resemblance to Christ; and that the age of those two prophets was the brightest dawn of evangelical glory, the church of God had ever known. So there are now and then some times of refreshing, in which the militant church bears a near resemblance to the church above.
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Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Kings 4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30