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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

2 Kings 4

There is much ‘death’ in this chapter: a student prophet (2Kgs 4:1); the husband of the Shunammite, in his ‘dead body’ (2Kgs 4:14); the son of the Shunammite (2Kgs 4:20); death in the pot (2Kgs 4:40). There is also a lot of life in this chapter, because death is always followed by life. Life, not death, has the last word.

Verse 1

A Widow Comes to Elisha


The history of the widow’s oil and the history of the three kings in the previous chapter are both about debtors. Mesha had to pay tribute and the woman also had to pay a debt. The difference is that the king of Moab could pay, but did not want to, while the woman wanted to, but couldn’t, because she was poor.

The previous history was about three people, three kings, namely the king of Israel, Jehoram, the king of Judah, Jehoshaphat, and the king of Edom. This history is also about three people, namely the widow and her two sons. There is despair in both histories. The kings were about to die due to lack of water and therefore appealed to the man of God. Then Elisha appears and helps. The woman also called on Elisha and he comes and helps. Both histories end with a son. In the first one a son is killed, in the second there is life for two sons.

In the first history the man of God ordered to dig trenches, empty trenches. This required a lot of hard work. In the second the woman had to collect empty vessels. This also required hard work. In both histories what was empty is filled, but with a different content. The trenches are filled with water, the vessels are filled with oil.

Water is a picture of the Word of God. This is how it was applied in the previous chapter. However, water is also a symbol of the Spirit of God, just like oil. Water and oil as a picture of the Holy Spirit we see in the “streams of living water” (Jn 7:39) and in the “anointing from the Holy One” (1Jn 2:20). Water and oil represent different aspects of the work of the Spirit. How the Spirit works, we see for example in the Gospel of Luke, where we meet people filled with the Spirit: John, Elizabeth, Zacharias, Simeon (cf. Eph 5:18b).

A widow came with her need to Elisha, asking him for help. She reminded Elisha that he knew her husband, and testified that her husband had been faithful and obedient to the Word of God, as Elisha also knew. His wife and children followed his example. The man had feared God.

A widow was a needy person (cf. Jam 1:27a), someone who is dependent on the LORD. The woman told him her situation. Elisha did not contest the creditor’s right. In the person of the woman it is about a believer who is in miserable circumstances. She is a picture of a believer under the law. The law leads the spiritual life to slavery.

This is about the righteousness of the flesh, the claims of the law, the slavery of the flesh. The sons were threatened to be made slaves. In Acts 15 we read about an attempt to subject the believers to the law and how the apostles reacted to it (Acts 15:1-31; see also the letter to the Galatians). The law is opposed to the freedom of the Spirit.

Verses 2-4

Counsel of Elisha


The woman was poor, but she still had a jar of oil. She thought it was worthless, but if she brought this to the man of God, she could satisfy the creditor’s claim. Through the Spirit, the oil speaking of Him, the believer can meet the requirement of the law (Rom 8:4). The woman can live by “what remains”. She didn’t know all this yet, but we see it in the course of this history.

There is still a nice lesson to be learned from the jar of oil that the woman possessed. It was not much, but she brought it to the man of God, so that the little bit of oil became a large stream of oil. It is the same for us. If we go to the Lord with what we have, He will use it for our blessing. We see such a thing with the staff of Moses (Exo 4:2), with the widow in Zarephath (1Kgs 17:12-14) and with the boy with the five loaves and two fish (Mk 6:38). So each of us has a jar of oil. The jar is a picture of our body and the oil represents the Holy Spirit. We have enough through the Spirit Who dwells within us to fulfill all the claims of the law (Rom 8:4). Through the Spirit, God can do great things.

Elisha asked the woman for her cooperation. What the man of God said in his request, appealed to her faith. She was to experience that the LORD gives blessing when faith is present. The woman was urged to think of others. At first she was only occupied with herself. Now Elisha said, as it were: ‘Look at the need around you and you forget yourself. The Lord Jesus said to His disciples: “Lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest” (Jn 4:35b). We have that here. The woman started to get an interest for her surroundings. In the execution of her assignment she involved her sons as well.

To do what the man of God says, she had to go inside and close the door behind her. Whoever is discouraged can pray in the inner room. In prayer, the ‘neighbors’, unbelieving family members and colleagues, for example, can be brought inside into the presence of the Lord. That will be a blessing for all for whom we pray. Seeking the Lord in faith is not to be displayed in public, but takes place in the inner room (cf. Mt 6:6). The result is seen in public.

Verses 5-7

The Miracle of the Oil


The vessels had all been different in size, shape and use. They were all equal in one thing: they were all empty. You can’t get anything out of an empty vessel, you can only put something in it. This is the way in which the sinner can come to God. Every sinner is different, but if he is empty of himself, God can fill him with His Spirit.

As long as vessels are added, the oil continued to flow. Similarly, every request of Abraham concerning Sodom was answered by the LORD (Gen 18:23-32). On the other hand, it is also a serious word. The grace of God continues to flow until the last vessel is filled, until the last sinner has converted to be added to the church. After that the flowing stops and it is no longer possible to convert.

The flowing stops when there are no more vessels. We must have the courage to ask a lot. It shall be done to you according to your faith (Mt 9:29). Much faith, much blessing. The woman always had enough oil to fill all the vessels. When there are no vessels left, it will be the end of the slavery of the flesh. It is not about a big or small gift, but about using the little oil we have. It is the Spirit Who is given to each of us, through whom we can pray – not for our own sake, but – for others. Forgetting ourselves and thinking about others is a basic principle of being a Christian (Phil 2:4-5; 25-26). People are interested in things, God is interested in people. Faith will join God in this.

The woman is also a picture of the faithful remnant in the end time. The Spirit will be poured out on the remnant and also on all who will enter the kingdom of peace. All flesh (all vessels) will be filled with God’s Spirit (Joel 2:28a).

The oil is sold to spread blessing elsewhere. The proceeds were used to pay the debt. The surplus was sufficient for the rest of her life to show the fruit of the Spirit. When the man of God said that she and her sons “can live on the rest”, he meant life in the full sense of the word. He wanted them to rejoice in life as a gift from God.

For us, it means a life lived in the power of the Spirit, with our eyes on the Lord Jesus in glory. This allows us to enjoy the victories that result from His work on the cross and His glorification in heaven.

Verses 8-11

A Room for Elisha


If we let the Holy Spirit work, if we “live on the rest” (2Kgs 4:7), it means that we learn to know the power of the resurrection. We see that in this history. “Live on the rest” means living on the riches of the Spirit. We see that in the Shunammite. The poor widow of 2Kgs 4:1 has become a prominent or rich woman, a woman of stature. However, she lacked something, and that was a son. There was love, there were maternal feelings, but there was no one to whom she could express those feelings. Now the lesson is taught that the spiritual riches can be enjoyed on the basis of death and resurrection.

The woman’s heart was in the right place; she was hospitable, and Elisha liked to make use of her hospitality. Elijah was a lonely man, but also a man who enjoyed company. It was a blessing for Elisha to have a house where he was welcome in the deadly climate of godless Israel. Thus the Lord Jesus had a house on earth in Bethany where He was welcome and in Mary a woman who understood Him.

Several people play a role in this history, all different, and from all these people we can learn:
1. The mother has a care for people, for Elisha and her son. In the church are people who care for others.
2. Elisha is the teacher, the man with the Word of God.
3. Gehazi is the servant.
4. We can see the boy as a picture of young people in the church.
5. The father, a man who does not take responsibility, represents the carnal believer, the man of outward faith.

The woman had spiritual discernment. She had discovered that Elisha was a man of God and that he was holy. That also says something about the walk, the behavior of Elisha. He lived a life devoted to God. That is why she granted him a separate room. She no longer wanted him as a visitor, but as a continuous guest. Thus it is a desire of Christ that we should not have Him as a Visitor of our heart and life, but as a constantly present Guest.

She talked to her husband about her plan, with which she acknowledged him as her head. The woman had a separate room with a sober interior built on the roof for Elisha. She didn’t overload him with all sorts of benefits. Therefore, so to speak, Elisha would not be tempted to go to this house because of the abundance he gets there all the time.

The small upper chamber is a picture of faith exercised by the church, which is represented by a house. In the inventory we can also see a spiritual meaning:
1. A “bed” speaks of rest. Christ gives rest. Sound doctrine gives rest.
2. A “table” speaks of fellowship.
3. A “chair” is to sit and study, to receive education and also to pass on teaching.
4. The “candlestick” speaks of education by the Holy Spirit and the spreading of light.

Verses 12-17

Elisha Promises the Woman a Son


Elisha wanted to express his gratitude for what the woman had done for him. To this end, he had the means and influence of higher authorities. When he suggested to her to use these resources and influence for her benefit, she rejected that offer, with the motive: “I live among my own people”. Even with all her beautiful qualities, she also exhibited contentment. She was content to live among her own people, who were God’s people. She displayed the rare combination of godliness and contentment (1Tim 6:6).

Elisha asked his servant what she lacked. Gehazi appeared to know her hidden wish. He also knew that this wish could no longer be fulfilled humanly. He informed Elisha of this. The reaction of Elisha was beautiful. He acknowledged the appropriateness of what Gehazi had noted. He used the information of his servant who later proved to be a bad servant. Bad people sometimes have a good insight into situations in which even a man of God apparently has no insight. He commanded Gehazi to call the woman. Gehazi obeyed and the woman came.

Elisha knew God’s thoughts. He promised her that in a year’s time she would embrace a son (cf. Gen 18:14). The woman could not believe it, but the word of the man of God came true. The boy was born by the word of God from the mouth of the man of God. It was an act of God. Isaac, Samson, Samuel, and John were all born through God’s intervention.

Verses 18-20

The Death of the Son


When the boy had grown up, he went out to his father and to the reapers. His stay on the field caused him a headache. It was not a common headache, but an unbearable pain. He told his father of his pain. His father, however, did not have any interest in the boy. All the father did was to order a servant to bring his son to his wife.

In the church there are those who have no interest in youth. They quickly assess something and give commands to others. He was an old man (2Kgs 4:14) and a man of traditions (2Kgs 4:23). There was no life in him. His wife didn’t seem to trust him either. We can deduce this from the rest of history.

The mother was not only “prominent” with regard to material possessions; she was not only materially a rich woman, she was also rich in spiritual insight. She had discernment and saw things to which her husband was blind. She took her son “on her lap”. Do we take our children on our lap, do we pray for them? While she had her son on her lap, he died. This caused deep exercise in the woman. The mercies and gifts of God are not without a deep trial for faith.

Verses 21-28

The Woman Brings Her Need to Elisha


The death of her child did not make the woman desperate. She took him to the bed of the man of God, which thereby became a deathbed. This was the most beautiful place in the house. She closed the door. It is like with our children being baptized. In their baptism they are identified with the death of the Lord Jesus (Rom 6:3).

The death of her child did not make her passive, but active. She did not reconcile herself with the fact that her child had died, but she wanted to go to the man of God who had promised her this child. Before she went, she told her husband that she was going to the man of God. Her husband did not rightly consider her. He only asked a question and also asserted that there was no reason to go to the man of God. He felt no need and thought only in terms of religion.

The man represents people who can only think of God in connection with special days and fulfilling religious obligations. He is someone with an orthodox lifeless belief. The woman could not share her grief with her husband. At his request, she informed him that it was “well”. She knew that she would find no understanding with him for her grief and for the path of faith she was taking.

Then she went on her way to the man of God. She did not do this at an easy pace, but in a hurry. The child had died. For her husband this urgency was not necessary. Her need was great, but also her confidence in the help of the man of God. That’s why she hurried. When Elisha recognized her from afar, he sent his servant Gehazi to her, to ask her if she, her husband and her child were well. The woman answered Gehazi’s questions politely, but was not satisfied with the servant. She also said to him that it was “well”, because she knew that even he couldn’t understand her if she told him her need. She also knew he wouldn’t be able to help her. Her faith was only satisfied with the man of God.

The woman overcame two obstacles for faith. The first obstacle consisted of the religious obligations of the natural man we see in her husband. The second obstacle was the behavior of Gehazi. In Gehazi we see someone who presented himself as the protector of what he saw as appropriate behavior towards the man of God, missing the faith of the man of God. Both obstacles are expressions of orthodoxy without life.

When the woman met Elisha, she threw herself at his feet and seized them. Then Gehazi did what the disciples did when they rebuked those who brought children to the Lord Jesus (Mt 19:13-14). When we misunderstand a situation, it is easier to expel people, than to gauge hearts full of grief. Just as the Lord Jesus stood up for the children, Elisha stood up for the woman.

But he was not like the Lord Jesus Who knew everything. Elisha also had to learn a lesson. A man of God is always in the school of God. Someone who brings the Word of God does not always have all the answers. After his acknowledgment that he did not know what the woman was concerned about, the woman spoke. She did not say outright that her son had died, but expressed her shocked confidence.

Verses 29-31

Elisha Sends Gehazi


Elisha sent Gehazi with his staff to bring the boy back to life again. He also instructed him not to let himself be held up by a greeting along the way. An oriental salutation was an extensive affair and would cause long delays. Apparently, Elisha had to learn even more. He also had to learn that his staff only had meaning when it was in his hand, the hand of the man of God.

The woman was also not content with a staff in the hand of the servant. She was in faith with the LORD who lives and with His prophet who was connected with the living LORD and therefore lives himself. She asked for life. With this she persuaded Elisha to go with her and follow her on her way to her child.

Gehazi did everything that was required of him, but there was no result. The outcome for Gehazi was the same as it was with the disciples who could not heal a lunatic boy (Mk 9:18b). The reason for this is that in his heart there was a desire for earthly riches, as the end of the next chapter shows. That excluded personal strength of faith. With him everything was outwardly as it should be, but inwardly there was a denial of the power of faith (2Tim 3:5a).

Verses 32-37

Elisha Raises the Boy


These verses speak of the simplicity of the man of God’s actions and his dependence on the LORD. He does not seek publicity, but looks to the LORD. The man of God identified himself with the dead boy. He made himself one with his words (“mouth”), with his insights (“eyes”) and with his actions (“hands”). That warmed the boy and life returns in him.

Elisha also walked in the house “once back and forth”. Once the action had been taken, he checked to see if there was a possible cause somewhere in the house for the boy’s death. We too must regularly walk “back and forth” in our homes to see if things have come into our families that are spiritually damaging to our children and can even make them averse to faith. Let us pray that the Lord opens our eyes to these things and that we radically remove them out of the house.

For the third time the woman was called. This time her son is restored to her by resurrection (Heb 11:35a). Worship of the LORD was her first reaction, then she took up her boy, back from the dead and resurrected. She now owned her son in resurrection life.

Verses 38-41

Death Removed From the Pot


In this history we learn to appreciate what valuable food is by first experiencing what is worthless, yes, life-threatening food. There was a famine in the land, but Elisha told his servant to put a large pot on the fire. In this time of scarcity, the man of God wanted to prepare a feast meal to feed the student prophets with good food.

One of the student prophets went to the field to get ingredients for the stew. He came back with his lap full of wild gourds. He sliced the gourds (to see how they look inside) and put them in the stew pot. It may have been watched by others, for it says that “they did not know [what they were]”. Together they were responsible for an ill-considered addition to what the man of God had already done in the pot.

What is happening here, is an illustration of the danger Paul warned about in his letter to the Colossians. The Colossians did not want to replace the Lord Jesus with something else, but they wanted to add something to simple belief in Him. They wanted to add human philosophy to all the treasures of wisdom that are their part in Christ. Doing this means death in the pot.

The result is that where life should be, death is present. The personal contribution is not innocent, but turns out to be deadly. The spiritual downfall is the result of wanting more than God gives us. Paul was the man of God who put the large pot before the Colossians, but the healthy food in it was spoiled, by what the Colossians added to it.

The man of God knew how to remove death from the pot: by adding something to it that overcomes death. The gourds could not be removed, but something could be added that eliminated the danger. Meal had to be added. This represents in picture, the introduction of the Lord Jesus into the lives of believers. That takes death away and restores life.

Verses 42-44

Multiplication of the Loaves


A man came to Elisha with “bread of the first fruits”. According to what the law says about ‘first fruits’, the man should have brought these loaves to the priests in Jerusalem (Deu 18:4-5). By bringing them to Elisha, the man acknowledged Elisha as the true representative of God in the land. He did not want to bring these first fruits to priests, who had defiled themselves by mixing the worship of the LORD with the worship of the Baal.

This man was possibly one of the faithful among the general apostasy, one of the 7,000 who did not bend their knees before Baal (1Kgs 19:18). Thus we still encounter people from Baal-shalishah today, people who do not go with apostate Christianity, but instead serve the Lord faithfully and bring their gifts to Him.

The loaves were barley loaves. That reminds us of the Lord Jesus as the bread of life. The feeding of about 5,000 men by the Lord Jesus, was done with “five barley loaves and two fish” (Jn 6:9). Isn’t it telling that in John 6 further on, in connection with the food, He speaks extensively about Himself as the “bread of life”? Because these were “first fruits”, we can link them to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. These breads speak of the Lord Jesus in the resurrection. He is the first-fruit of the heavenly land. In the picture, this man set his mind on “the things above” (Col 3:1). With that, he came to the man of God. Thus we may go to the Lord Jesus with all we have seen and enjoyed of Him.

The loaves are given to Elisha. However, he did not use them for himself, but to feed others with them. He shared the loaves with those who were with him to listen to him. They were invigorated and strengthened by them as well. Elisha knew the value of them. The twenty loaves of bread seem to be too little to feed a hundred men, but in a miraculous way it became more than enough. This did not happen because Elisha added salt or flour to the loaves or by stretching himself over them – we saw this in earlier miracles – but by speaking the word of the LORD. As a result, the loaves were sufficient food for all those who were with him. By the man of God it was plenty and even some was left over. All were satiated and had so much that they could distribute the remainder to others.

If we start distributing what we first brought to the Lord Jesus, we will never come short. This is what we also see in the multiplication of the loaves by the Lord Jesus (Mt 14:20-21; Mt 15:37-38).

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op 2 Kings 4". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/2-kings-4.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.