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THE MIRACLES OF ELISHA
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
2 Kings 4:1. Two sons to be bondmen—The law entitled a creditor to the slavery or service of debtors till the year of Jubilee.
2 Kings 4:2. Pot of oil—Gesenius suggests unctio—“oil for anointing,” as the rendering of אָסוךְ—instead of “pot”; no oil left for food, only enough for the anointing.
2 Kings 4:3. Borrow not a few—She had none, should borrow many. Elisha had faith!
HOMILETICS OF 2 Kings 4:1-12.4.7
THE MIRACULOUS SUPPLY OF OIL SYMBOLIC OF THE INEXHAUSTIBILITY OF DIVINE GRACE
In this and the four following chapters we have a detailed account of the miracles of Elisha. We catch glimpses of the quiet, unobtrusive life spent in the schools of the prophets; and we cannot but observe the striking difference in the spirit and character of Elisha’s ministry as contrasted with that of his predecessor. Elijah represented the whirlwind, the earthquake, the fire; Elisha, the still small voice—less terrible and imposing, but more extensively influential for good. As Stanley beautifully puts it: “The whole appearance of Elisha revealed the difference. The rough mantle of his master appears no more after its first display. He uses a walking staff like other grave citizens (2 Kings 4:29). He was not secluded in mountain fastnesses, but dwelt in his own house in the royal city (chap. 2 Kings 5:9; 2 Kings 5:24; 2 Kings 6:32; 2 Kings 13:17), or lingered amidst the sons of the prophets, within the precincts of ancient colleges, embowered amidst the shades of the beautiful woods which overhang the crystal spring that is still associated with his name; or was sought out by admiring disciples in some tower on Carmel, or by the pass of Dothan; or was received in some quiet balcony, overlooking the plain of Esdraclon, where bed and table and seat had been prepared for him by pious hands. His life was not spent, like his predecessor’s, in unavailing struggles, but in widespread successes. He was sought out, not as the enemy, but as the friend and counsellor, of kings. His deeds were not of wild terror, but of gracious, soothing, homely beneficence, bound up with the ordinary tenor of human life.” The miracle related in this paragraph indicates the sympathy of the prophet with the troubles and needs of human life. In treating the miracle as symbolic of the inexhaustibility of Divine Grace, the following thoughts are suggested.
I. That humanity is reduced by sin to a state of moral bankruptcy and ruin. Like the widow in the narrative, we are hopelessly in debt, and have nothing wherewith to discharge our liabilities. The law of Moses provided (Leviticus 25:39-3.25.41) that in case of inability to pay his debts, a man and his children might be sold and remain in bondage until the next year of jubilee. The laws we have outraged have handed us over to a bondage of the worst kind—the bondage of sin. “Know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey.” The more sin is yielded to, the greater moral ruin it works, and the more tyrannical the slavery it entails.
II. That every provision has been made by Divine grace to restore humanity to a state of moral solvency. Great as is the havoc wrought by sin, the remedy is greater. “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:0). All the perfections of the Divine nature are engaged in the restoration of fallen humanity. The redemption by Christ Jesus is universally applicable. Restoration is possible to the most abandoned—the heaviest debt may be cancelled. Heaven itself is too narrow for the full display of the Divine goodness—its streams flow down to bless and replenish the neediest on earth.
III. That individual effort is demanded in order to participate in the ample supplies of Divine grace. The widow in her extremity seeks for help, and readily obeys the directions given. The vessels are collected and the oil is poured out (2 Kings 4:1-12.4.5). So Divine grace, to be enjoyed, is to be sought, and the Divine commands humbly and believingly obeyed. “Ye have not, because ye ask not.” It is not for man to question the Divine directions, but to obey; not to slight or ignore the Divine provisions, but eagerly and gratefully to accept them. The rarest treasures of earth are discovered by the diligent and persevering seeker. The blessings of heaven are worthy of the most laborious effort. Conscious need sharpens the vision and stimulates exertion.
IV. That the supply of Divine grace is limited only by the capacity of the receiver. Every available vessel was filled with the oil. When there were no more vessels to be obtained, the supply ceased (2 Kings 4:6). The grace of God is practically inexhaustible; it is limited, not in itself, but by the capacity of the individual receiver. Copious as may be the rain-fall, a very limited quantity will suffice for the needs of a single flower. To a certain extent it may be true that the grace of God enlarges the vessel which it enriches with its blessings. The enjoyment of spiritual good increases the desire for more.
V. That the reception of Divine grace furnishes the loftiest motives to an upright and useful life. “Go, sell the oil and pay thy debt, and live thou and thy children of the rest” (2 Kings 4:7). One of the first and simplest principles of true religion is honesty—it teaches a man to pay his debts. He is to do justly Some time ago the clothes of a gentleman were found on the seashore where he was accustomed to bathe, but no trace of his body was discovered. After due delay the amount for which his life was insured was paid. He swam out to a passing ship, assuming to be a political offender of whom the police were in search, and was taken on board. Under a new name, in the United States, he prospered; and, what was more, he became a subject of renewing grace. In a short time after he remitted to the insurance office a sum of money—principal and interest—of which it had been robbed under such false pretences. It brings religion into disgrace to neglect to pay just debts when fully able to do so. “For the grace of God was manifested, bringing salvation to all men, disciplining us, in order that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, justly, and godly in the present world” (Titus 2:11-56.2.12).—Alford. Religion supplies the most powerful motives to live the highest life, and teaches us how to act in all our relationships and duties.
1. The grace of God is universally needed.
2. Is boundless in generosity.
3. Has wrought marvellous changes in the condition and prospects of humanity.
THE WIDOW’S POT OF OIL
VERY abrupt and striking were the transitions in the life of Elisha. Yesterday he wrought a stupendous miracle which supplied the wants of a whole army, and was the means, more than the sword of Jehoram and Jehoshaphat, of subduing the rebellious kingdom of Moab; to-day he works a miracle for the relief of a poor and friendless widow, to save her sons from slavery and herself from starvation. In this respect Elisha is a type of the faithful Christian minister, who has to pass through scenes as chequered and transitions in their own way as sudden and remarkable, who, abstracted from common interests and habits, and lifted by his unworldly character and mission above all human precedences, is debtor alike to the rich and the poor.
I. To this widow Elisha stood as the representative of the compassionate Saviour, before whom all the world’s glory pales, and whose presence alone can, without disturbance to the order of society, equalise all human ranks and level all their conventional distinctions in the dust. She was in circumstances that made her feel with peculiar painfulness the gradations of ranks and the vicissitudes of life. If we are to believe the voice of tradition as expressed by Josephus, she was one who had seen better days, being the widow of Obadiah, the lord high-chamberlain of Ahab. While her husband lived she breathed the atmosphere of a court, and was nourished in the lap of luxury. But when he died, she seems to have been reduced to the utmost poverty. On account of these trying circumstances, her case was one that peculiarly warranted the interposition of heaven. But she had another claim still, beside that of her wretchedness, upon the sympathy and help of Elisha. Her husband feared the Lord while he lived. He was the son of a prophet, and cherished the deepest regard for the person and the work of those who filled that sacred office. If he was indeed Obadiah, the steward of Ahab—and there seems no reason to doubt the Jewish tradition—then the sacred story informs us that during the fierce persecution of the prophets of Israel by Jezebel he took an hundred of these prophets, and, at the peril of his life, hid them by fifty in a cave, and fed them with bread and water during the whole continuance of the famine. He may have spent upon the prophets of the Lord what he meant for his own wife and children. Like Joseph in Pharaoh’s court, like Daniel in Babylon, the upright and pious chamberlain in the palace of Ahab did not take advantage of his opportunities of enriching himself, as the officers of Eastern monarchs have so often done. On the contrary, he spent his fortune in benefiting the needy, and died poor. On this ground his widow might well appeal to Elisha for assistance.
II. Elisha willingly acknowledges the claim. He is filled with pity for the poor broken-hearted widow. Who knows what terrible privations she underwent without complaining while she had the company of her sons to cheer her? But when they were about to be taken from her, she could no more hide her suffering. She must get help, else she will die. Elisha’s first question to her evinced a wonderful knowledge of the human heart, and of the best mode of dealing with poverty and suffering. Instead of volunteering to give her aid at once, as most persons would have done, carried away by an overpowering impulse of compassion at the recital of the tale of sorrow, like a wise and judicious friend he enquires how far she herself has the power to avert the threatened calamity—“What hast thou in the house?” His assistance must be based upon her own assistance. He will help her to help herself. And this is the only true way to benefit the poor. By reckless and indiscriminate almsgiving, by wholesale gifts of money, we run the risk of pauperising the objects of our charity. Our assistance, therefore, should be of such a nature as to call forth the resources which they themselves possess, and to make the most of them. No help from without can benefit, unless there be a willingness of self-help within. Of course such a mode as this of administering charity is more troublesome, and requires a greater expenditure of time and self-denial, than the plan of throwing a dole to a beggar to get rid of his importunity. But putting him in the way of helping himself will be truer charity than any gift of money.
III. The widow of Obadiah had nothing in the house save a pot of oil. Out of this last pot of oil—the sign of her utmost poverty—Elisha furnished the source of her comfort and happiness. Like Elijah, who made the handful of meal and the cruse of oil already existing an unwasting provision for each new day’s want; like a greater than Elijah, whose miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes took its point of departure into the supernatural from the common barley loaves and fishes before Him; so Elisha, in the case of Obadiah’s widow, made the produce of nature and of man’s labour the basis of his wonderful act. In the fables of all nations we are told that a magician, by a mere wave of his wand, or by pronouncing a certain charm, produces at once wealth and luxuries that had no existence before. Aladdin rubs a ring, and immediately a genius appears, and at his command provides a rich feast for him out of nothing. He rubs an old lamp, and at once a gorgeous palace rises up before him in substantial reality created out of the formless ether around. By putting on Fortunatus’s wishing cap, the lucky possessors of it can get anything they want, and create things unknown before. But there is nothing like this in the miracles of the Bible. The prophets and godly men of old were no such magicians as these. Their most wonderful works are in beautiful accordance with the wise laws of labour and economy which pervade the ordinary arrangements of life. Even the miracles of Christ, which approached nearest to creations out of nothing, rested upon a fulcrum of existing materials, by means of which their supernatural leverage was exerted. In miracles, man must be a fellow-worker with God in subduing the earth, and in removing the limitations and disabilities of the curse. In these actions men prepared themselves by the miracle wrought within them—the triumph over natural unbelief and the objections of reason—to believe in and to benefit by the miracle about to be wrought without. They heated the iron, as it were, which the hammer of Omnipotence was about to strike and to mould for His purposes.
IV. The widow of Obadiah might well be astonished at the command of Elisha. But, in spite of all the objections of reason and common sense, she hastened to obey the prophet. Her faith triumphed over all difficulties. It is a significant circumstance that he should have commanded her to shut the door upon herself and her sons. Reverence, stillness, and solitude are needed for the miracle, and therefore the door must be shut, and the unsympathetic world must be excluded. It is not in the crowd that God works His wonders in nature and grace; it is in the lonely place, to the solitary individual. Who is it that sees the grander revelations of nature, but he who turns his back upon the human multitude, and seeks communion with her alone in the sanctuary of her hills and desert places? But, besides being necessary to prepare the widow of Obadiah for receiving the benefits of the miracle, the solitude and secrecy which Elisha enjoined were significant of the mysterious character of the miracle itself. It was veiled in the same obscurity as all creative acts—as all beginnings. The seed germinates—or, in other words, multiplies itself—in darkness; animal life begins in the mysterious secrecy of the womb; formless matter crystallizes in the sunless caves of the earth into more than the glory of living flowers. Who catches the exact moment when the evening star first twinkles in the transparent blue? Who has noticed the unfolding of the full-blown rose from the bud? God’s arm wrought unseen for Israel in the bosom of the dark cloud which rested over the Red Sea all the night; and in the morning the dry path was revealed between the crystal walls of water. The veil of darkness concealed the falling of the manna from heaven; and the dawn only disclosed it as it whitened the tawny sand of the desert around the tents of Israel. Verily God hideth himself—shuts, as it were, the door upon all His origins and commencements, and leaves us baffled outside. Science and religion and all life bring us back to unfathomable mystery—a closed door, whose magic “sesame” no human being can utter.
V. How great must have been the astonishment of the widow when, pouring into the first vessel a quantity of oil from her pot, the vessel filled immediately after the first few drops; and the same thing happened as she passed from vessel to vessel, each filling to the brim as soon as she poured a little from her own store into it; until at the end, pouring the last remaining drops into the last vessel, her own stock of oil and the supply from heaven failed together. The process by which the oil was multiplied we labour in vain to conceive. We cannot explain the phenomenon by the observation of any known laws; and yet, in truth, the miracle is not more strange, save in the rapidity with which it is effected, than that which is every day going forward in nature in those regions where the olive tree grows. You sow the seed of an olive tree; that seed contains a very small quantity of oil. It grows and becomes a tree and produces an immense quantity of fruit; so that from the little drop of oil in the small vessel of the seed, you have thousands of vessels in the shape of the berries, each filled with oil. The miracle teaches us that the natural process is not the result of an impersonal law or of a dead course of things, but the working of our Father in heaven; while the natural process in its turn shows to us that God in the miracle is working in the line of the ordinary events and dispensations of His providence.
VI. Awestruck and filled with amazement, the widow went and told the Man of God what had happened. She asked for counsel in the strange and unexpected emergency. She needed assurance of the reality and permanence of this marvellous good fortune. The oil might vanish as mysteriously as it came. How calmly the prophet receives her! He knew what would happen. And does not this show a wonderful amount of faith and confidence in God on the part of Elisha? He told the widow to sell the miraculous oil and pay her debt with the price of it, and use what she could not sell as food for herself and her children. The miracle goes no further than is absolutely necessary. It blends with common life. It does not permanently enrich the poor; it provides only for the temporary necessity. How strikingly does this incident show that we must be fellow-workers with God throughout, from first to last, in our own deliverance and blessing? Thus, in a most interesting manner, was the bread cast upon the waters found after many days. The widow proved in her experience the truth of the Saviour’s words: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy;” or, as the phrase should be translated literally, “Blessed are the olive givers, for olives shall be given to them.” Obadiah had poured the oil of his bounty into the afflicted heart of God’s servants; and God’s servant in return gave his widow the oil of joy for mourning, and the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
VII. We might make many practical uses of the widow’s pot of oil, for it is full of significance, but we prefer turning the incident into a parable, and using it as an encouragement to prayer. We are all in the condition of the poor widow; we are destitute of everything, and are ready to perish. But God is far more tender and considerate to us than Elisha was to the widow. If we have but the feeling of want, but the desire for God’s help, that very want or desire will be to us what the pot of oil was to the widow—the source of an abundant supply of all we need. If we come to God with the longing of our hearts for His salvation, He will come with the fulness of His Godhead, and supply all our needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus. If we provide vessels, God will furnish the oil with which to fill them. For our own little oil He will give us overflowing measure; for our feeble desire, He will do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think. Let us, borrow, then, many vessels; let them be empty, nothing of self in them, and let us lay them before Christ, and He will fill them to the brim with the oil of His grace. Gethsemane, the place where He suffered the last agony, means a press for olive oil. From that oil-press of sorrow He will provide a sufficient supply of the oil of gladness for us.—Condensed from the Sunday Magazine for 1873).
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2 Kings 4:1-12.4.7. The widow’s cruse. I. The widow’s difficulty.
(1). The nature of it. A debt. One that she could not pay. Might not be much, but she was poor.
(2). Had come upon her suddenly. Otherwise her husband would not have left her thus. Some provision would have been made.
(3). Aggravations of the difficulty. Her sons, instead of being her stay and support in her widowhood, must now work for another. Instead of being prophets, they must be bondsmen. It does not necessarily follow that her creditor was hard-hearted. He may have been; he seems only to have wanted his own. He may have been poor. On the other hand, he may have rejoiced at breaking up such a home. II. The widow’s helper. God.
(1). Agreeable to His nature, knows what we have need of. A just God. Would equally defend the right of the creditor, as well as the case of the widow.
(2). In harmony with His Word. Widows and orphans are His special care.
(3). In aiding her He employs the prophet. It may be that her husband’s connection with the prophets had brought her into this strait. If so, there was a fitness in the selection of her instrument of deliverance. Man the helper of man. Man blessed that he may become a blessing.
(4). He aided in answer to prayer. She sought and found. She came first to Elisha. Trial of faith and reward of it. III. The widow’s deliverance.
(1). Speedily effected. Not long years of hard service of her sons and herself. This prompt help shows the prophet’s sympathy and sense of justice too.
(2). Strange method. Vessels borrowed. Great many. All her neighbours’.
(3). The command. Close doors. No prying eyes of people who might misunderstand the whole case. “Pour out.” She does so, and her cruse fills all the vessels. Sells the oil and pays the debt.
(4). The effect. Her character for honesty vindicated. Her sons saved to her and to their high vocation. She is saved from the need of hard and unaccustomed toil. The Divine friend of the helpless and poor is, by this history, commended to all widows. The story is one of many encouraging events that may lead widows, and such as are friendless, to trust in God. Many sad hearts, empty of comfort, have been filled with the oil of joy out of her cruse.
1. The best people are sometimes exposed to trial.
2. God is a present help in the time of need.
3. We should sympathize with the sad as Elisha with the widow.
4. Our little may go far, with God’s blessing.—The Class and Desk.
2 Kings 4:1. The griping tyranny of debt. I. May fasten upon those who do their best to avoid it. II. Is the more keenly felt in proportion to the desire to do everything in the fear of the Lord. III. Brings suffering and slavery upon the family.
—How thick did the miseries of this poor afflicted woman light upon her! Her husband is lost, her estate clogged with debts, her children ready to be taken for slaves. Her husband was a religious and worthy man; he paid his debts to nature, he could not to his creditors. They are cruel, and rake in the scarce closed wound of her sorrow, passing an arrest worse than death upon her sons. Virtue and goodness can pay no debts. The holiest man may be deep in arrearages and break the bank, not through lavishness and riot of expense, but through either iniquity of times, or evil casualties. Ahab and Jezebel were lately on the throne; who can marvel that a prophet was in debt! It was well that any good man might have his breath free, though his estate were not. Wilfully to overlash our ability cannot stand with wisdom and good government; but no providence can guard us from crosses. Holiness is no more defence against debt than against death. Grace can keep us from unthriftiness, not from want.—Bp. Hall.
2 Kings 4:3-12.4.5. In temporal affairs experience must precede and faith follow; in spiritual affairs faith must precede, and then experience follows, for we do not find out the truth unless belief in God’s Word has preceded (John 7:17). Whatever a man does in the obedience of faith, whether it appears foolish or vain in the eyes of the world, is nevertheless blessed by God, and redounds to his soul’s health.—Cramer.
2 Kings 4:5. It was time to shut the door, saith a reverend man, when many greater vessels must be supplied from one little one. But why must the door be shut?
1. That she might be the more free to pray (Matthew 6:6).
2. That she might manifest her own faith, and not be hindered by the unbelief of others (Mark 6:5-41.6.6).
3. That it might not be thought that the oil was by anybody secretly conveyed into the house to them.
—The secrecy of the Divine workings. I. Strengthens the convictions of their supernatural character. II. Demands a more implicit faith. III. Does not prevent their beneficent results being apparent to all.
2 Kings 4:6. Out of one small jar was poured out so much oil as by a miraculous multiplication filled all these empty casks. Scarce had that pot any bottom, at least the bottom that it had was to be measured by the brims of all those vessels: this was so deep as they were high; could they have held more this pot had not been empty. Even so the bounty of our God gives grace and glory according to the capacity of the receiver. When he ceases to infuse, it is for want of room in the heart to take it in. Could we hold more, O God, thou wouldst give more: if there be any defect, it is in our vessels, not in thy beneficence!—Bp. Hall.
—This is a good emblem of the grace of God. While there is an empty, longing heart, there is a continual overflowing fountain of salvation. If we find in any place, or at any time, that the oil ceases to flow, it is because there are no empty vessels there, no souls hungering and thirsting for righteousness.—Clarke.
2 Kings 4:7. If means are given thee to satisfy thy creditor, let it be thy first duty to pay him before thou carest for thyself! He who can pay his debts but will not, takes what does not belong to him, and sins against the eighth commandment. When the Lord gives there is always something left over and above. He never merely takes away distress, He gives a blessing besides. He desires, however, that the obligation to our neighbour should first be satisfied before we begin to enjoy His blessing.—Lange.
—Some of the ancient interpreters find in this widow an image of the Gentile church. The husband being dead signifies that she was no longer joined to her ancient idolatries. Her coming to Elisha and obeying his word is explained as a type of the eagerness with which the Gentiles sought salvation at the hands of Christ and His apostles; and the abundant supply of oil represents the bountiful provisions of the Gospel to deliver all nations from the bondage of sin.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
2 Kings 4:8. Shunem, in the plain of Esdraelon, at the base of Little Hermon, now Sulam.
2 Kings 4:10. Chamber on the wall—Probably, as in 2 Samuel 18:33, a chamber in the oleah, or porch, usually appropriated to strangers; secluded and suitable for quiet retirement.
2 Kings 4:13. I dwell among mine own people—i.e., I do not need court notice, for my life is serenely simple, and I am satisfied with the esteem of my neighbours.
2 Kings 4:16. Thou shalt embrace a son—Thus experiencing the same proof of Divine favour as was given to Sarah in her old age (Genesis 18:10-1.18.15).
HOMILETICS OF 2 Kings 4:8-12.4.17
GENUINE KINDNESS IS NEVER UNREWARDED
I. It is in the power of all classes to show kindness (2 Kings 4:8). Elisha was hospitably entertained by a “great woman”—great in moral goodness as well as in wealth. It is in the power of the rich to do much good with their riches. All honour to those who of their abundance take pleasure in ministering to the wants of the needy. It is in their power greatly to augment the happiness of the world. But alas! how many there are who, with ample means to do good to others, have not the disposition. The lack of the disposition is more sad, and, unfortunately, more common, than the lack of the ability. It is not, however, the exclusive privilege of the rich to show kindness to others. The poor may, and do, help the poor. There are many who, like the poor widow of Zarephath, are ready to share their last crust and their last cruse of oil. There are arts of kindness more precious than money. These it is in the power of all classes to show—rich or poor, great or insignificant. A generous spirit is governed more by the actual necessity of the case than by the expense. Great acts of kindness are not accomplished without cost (1 Chronicles 21:24).
II. It is a special privilege to show kindness to a true servant of God (2 Kings 4:9-12.4.10). There was something about the mien and spirit of Elisha which impressed the women of Shunem that he was “an holy man of God.” He was so different from the prophets of Baal, or from many who pretended to a character of sanctity to which they had no claim. In a time of such widespread degeneracy, a good man was too rare not to be easily distinguished. In showing kindness to Elisha, she paid deference to the God whom he worshipped and whose truth he taught. The love of kindness should spring from the love of goodness. “Those that are truly pious and devout think their houses and their hands cannot be too open to the messengers of God, and are most glad to exchange their earthly commodities for the others spiritual. Superfluity should not fall within the care of a prophet, necessity must. He that could provide oil for the widow, could have provided all needful helps for himself. What room had there been for the charity and beneficence of others, if the prophet should have always maintained himself out of power?” A judicious use of kindness to the truly good is more fruitful of blessing than the most lavish generosity towards the undeserving. Indiscriminate charity does more to pauperise than to really help.
III. A grateful heart knows how to appreciate genuine kindness (2 Kings 4:11; 2 Kings 4:13). The prophet was not unmindful of the thoughtfulness and liberality with which he was treated, and was anxious to bestow some substantial proof of his appreciation and gratitude. Kindness begets kindness. It is the curse of a selfish and covetous spirit to receive all and give nothing in return. The heart that cannot respond to repeated acts of kindness is past all feeling—it is petrified into stony hopelessness. Gratitude will manifest itself; it is restless to show its appreciation of kindness. “An ingenuous disposition cannot receive favours without thoughts of return. A wise debtor is desirous to retribute in such kind as may be most acceptable to his obligers. Without this discretion, we may offer such requitals as may seem goodly to us—to our friends, worthless.”
IV. The reward of genuine kindness often comes in a form least expected (2 Kings 4:14-12.4.17). The kind hostess of the prophet did not look for any recompense. She had no difficulty in which Elisha’s influence with the king or the captain of the host would be of any service to her. She was not conscious of needing anything. The recompense came in a way wholly unexpected—all human probabilites seemed against her being thus honoured—she received the promise of a son. To an Israelitish wife childlessness was a reproach and disgrace (Genesis 30:23; Luke 1:25). In some way unexpected, but in a way that will bring much satisfaction and joy, kindness will meet with its reward. There is a special blessing connected with what we do for the servants of God (Matthew 10:40-40.10.42).
1. The love of moral goodness begets a true generosity.
2. A generous spirit never lacks opportunity for its exercise.
3. Kindness shown to the servants of God is never lost.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2 Kings 4:8. There are always, among those whose lot it is to have wealth, some who do not attach their hearts to it, and do not trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God; who have not become satiated and indifferent in their hearts, but hunger and thirst alter righteousness, and have an earnest desire for the bread of life. The servants of the Word ought not to withdraw themselves from these, but advance to meet them in every way. God always gives to His children pious hearts, so that they open their houses and shelter strangers. Though the Gadarenes beg him to depart (Luke 8:37), though there are Samaritans who will not receive Christ (Luke 9:52), yet there is always a good soul which is glad to take the Lord Jesus and receive Him to itself. He who, like the Shunammite, honours and loves the Lord, and is anxious to lead a life in God, honours and loves also the servants of the Lord, and seeks their society. He does not seek them, however, as pleasant companions, or merely in order to claim their help in bodily need, but he seeks them as shepherds, as soul-physicians, as guardians of God’s mysteries, and as messengers in Christ’s stead.—Lange.
2 Kings 4:9-12.4.11. A true servant of God. I. Distinguished by purity of life and character. “A holy man is like a crystal glass with a clear lamp in the midst of it.” II. Exerts a beneficial influence on all with whom he comes in contact. III. Inspires generous purposes in the hearts of all lovers of goodness. IV. Sincerely appreciates acts of kindness done for his own or his Master’s sake.
2 Kings 4:12-12.4.17. The conversation of Elisha with the Shunammite.
1. The question of Elisha. A question inspired by gratitude, although the woman had far more reason to thank him than he her. A noble heart does not like to receive a favour and make no return, but recognizes its obligation to return it. It is also a test-question, to see if the Shunammite had received him in the name of a prophet, and not for the sake of a reward, or for any temporal gain. The question as to thy wishes is a question as to the disposition of thy heart.
2. The answer of the Shunammite. She seeks no recompense for the good she has done; she wishes to have nothing to do with the court of the king, and of the great ones of this world; she has no desire for high things—a sign of great humility and modesty. Although she lacked that which was essential to the honour and happiness of an Israelitish wife—a son—yet she was contented, and no word of complaint passed her lips—a sign of great contentment. The Lord, according to His grace and truth, remembers even the wishes that we cherish in silence and do not express before men, and He often gives to those who yield to His holy will without murmurs or complaints just that which they no longer dared to hope for. It makes a great difference whether we doubt of the Divine promises from unbelief, or from humility, or want of confidence in ourselves, because we consider the promises too great and glorious, and ourselves unworthy of them.—Lange.
2 Kings 4:13. It is good hearing that an Elisha is in such grace at the court that he can promise himself access to the king in a friend’s suit. It was not ever thus. The time was when his master heard, “Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?” Now the late miracle which Elisha wrought in gratifying the three kings with water and victory hath endeared him to the king of Israel. Bad as Jehoram was, yet he honoured the man of God. Not to his own advancement doth Elisha desire to improve the king’s favour, but to the behoof, to the relief of others. There cannot be a better office, nor more beseeming a prophet, than to speak in the cause of the dumb, to befriend the oppressed, to win greatness unto the protection of innocence.—Bp. Hall.
—“I dwell among mine own people.” A spirit of contentment. I. Finds its happiness in its immediate surroundings. II. Is not allured by offers of greater worldly distinction. III. Is not involved in troubles requiring the interference of the great and powerful. IV. Does not show kindness to others with the design of securing any advantage, or receiving anything in return.
—The good matron needs no shelter of the great. “I dwell among mine own people.” As if she said: The courtesy is not small in itself, but not useful to me. I live here quietly, in a contented obscurity, out of the reach either of the glories or cares of a court; free from wrongs, and free from envies. Not so high as to provoke an evil eye, not so low as to be trodden on. I have neither fears nor ambitions. My neighbours are my friends, my friends are my protectors; and, if I should be so unhappy as to be the subject of main injuries, would not stick to be mine advocates. This favour is for those that either affect greatness, or groan under oppression. I do neither, for “I live among my own people.” O Shunammite! thou shalt not escape envy. Who can hear of thy happy condition, and not say, why am I not thus? If the world afford any perfect contentment, it is in a middle estate, equally distant from penury, from excess. It is in a calm freedom, a secure tranquillity, a sweet fruition of ourselves, of ours.
2 Kings 4:16. How liberal is God by His prophet in giving beyond her requests. Not seldom doth His bounty overreach our thoughts, and meet us with those benefits which we thought too good for us to ask. We are never sure of what we desire. We are not more hard to believe than loath to distrust beneficial events. She well knew the prophet’s holinesscould not stand with wilful falsehood. Perhaps she might think it spoken by way of trial, not of serious affirmation—Bp. Hall.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
2 Kings 4:22. That I may run to the man of God—Not waiting to inform her husband of the reason of her mission, lest he should dissuade her, not doubting the miraculous help she would gain from the man of God.
2 Kings 4:23. She said, It shall be well—Simply שָׁלוֹם, peace. With the one single word she likewise answers G hazi (2 Kings 4:26), the Eastern Salam! “it is well!” for she desired silence till she could tell all the truth to the servant of Jehovah.
2 Kings 4:27. Let her alone, for her soul is vexed within her—Gehazi thought her eager attitude an undue freedom, not sufficiently respectful towards his master. But fervid grief stays not at punctilios, “her soul is bitter.”
2 Kings 4:31. There was neither voice nor hearing—אֵין קוֹל נְאֵין קָשֶׁב—i.e., the dead gave no sign of life, no response to the mere staff. The act was allowed to fail, in order to show that only through humble and dependent prayer could God’s power be entreated.
2 Kings 4:34. Lay upon the child—Following the method of his great predecessor, Elijah (1 Kings 17:21). Yet the effects differed, the resuscitation was by gradual and progressive stages.
HOMILETICS OF 2 Kings 4:18-12.4.37
A GREAT TRIAL AND ITS JOYOUS ISSUE
SORROW and joy, tears and laughter, lie close together in the ever-changing experience of human life. The source of greatest joy is often turned into a channel through which flows the bitterest anguish. The son of the Shunamite, whose advent brought gladness into the home, was also the means of bringing over it the darkest shadow of trouble. But as the star shines brightest in the night, so in the gloomiest moments of our distress are we most conscious of the radiance of the Divine presence, and are more impressed with the wisdom and glory of His works.
I. Here we have the trial of a first bereavement (2 Kings 4:18-12.4.21).
1. It was the bereavement of an only son. It was not only the loss of a child, but of the only child, and that child the son and heir—a child sent as a special and unlooked-for gift of heaven, as of one “born out of due time.” The first and fondest affections of the parental heart had centred in this child, and his loss was the heaviest affliction his parent had ever known. Words cannot depict the keen and bitter pang of a first bereavement—the heart lies pierced and bleeding, writhing in voiceless and helpless agony. Happy is the sufferer who can find relief in tears!
2. The bereavement was sudden. One moment the lad is blithe and merry in his gambols in the harvest field—the pride of his father, who already sees in the abundance of his fields the means of blessing the future of his son; the next moment he is smitten by the fierce rays of the sun that had ripened his father’s wealth, and he is carried to his mother’s lap to die. The eyes that had watched with a mother’s rapture the nimble form of her darling boy as he bounded towards the fields in the golden light of that harvest morning, with his parting kiss fresh upon her lips, are now bent in tearless grief over his corpse. A few brief hours have brought the change from light to darkness, from life to death. Ah! how sudden are the great changes of life—how swift is the messenger of sorrow! We live a life-time in a moment, and the heart receives a scar that time will never efface.
II. Here we have a trial of faith in the Almighty power of God (2 Kings 4:22-12.4.30).
1. Sorrow should not destroy, but intensify, our faith. As soon as the first shock of alarm had subsided, the faith of the Shunamite woman in the God of Elisha asserted its power. She believed her boy might be restored. So strong was this belief that, for the time being, she hid the fact of his death from her husband. She heroically bore the grief herself, strong in the confidence of Divine interference. The soul that has no faith in God is paralyzed and helpless in sorrow. The distress that drives the believer to God, drives the unbeliever to despair. “Faith is the best lever at a dead lift.”
2. Faith prompts to the use of all legitimate means to attain our most ardent desires. With all speed she sought an interview with the prophet, poured her grief into his ears, and passionately entreated his help; nor would she cease her supplications until she prevailed upon him to accompany her to the home where the dead child lay The chamber of the prophet was, for the first time, the chamber of death. Faith without works is dead. It is presumption to expect God to do what we can do for ourselves. Only when we have exhausted all human means may we patiently and believingly wait for the Divine interference. We cannot save ourselves; but we are directed to ask, seek, knock.
III. Here we have the trial of a painful suspense (2 Kings 4:32-12.4.35). Elisha entered the chamber, shut the door, and was alone with the dead child and with God. Who can describe the agony of suspense that tortured that mother’s heart during the few hours of the prophet’s absence—how hope and fear alternated? Will the door never open again? Will the prayers of the holy man prevail? Will she clasp again her living son? And yet most of us are acquainted with such moments in life. How much has sometimes depended upon a single hour—upon a letter—upon a telegram! Such moments have been experienced at the rescue of a wrecked crew. Will the vessel hold together—will the line bear the strain—till the last man is saved?
IV. Here we have the sorrow of death exchanged for the joy of a miraculous resurrection (2 Kings 4:36-12.4.37). The faith and prayer of the prophet triumph. The child is restored to life, and given back to his mother. Who can describe her rapture? “This my son was dead, and is alive again.” A symbol of the rapid and marvellous changes in life. After a storm, a calm. Trial, conflict, despair, give place to joyous deliverance. “Sorrow may endure for a night; but joy cometh in the morning.”
1. There is no home into which death does not sooner or later enter.
2. The only refuge and relief in sorrow is in God.
3. The greatest trials lead to the realization of the greatest blessings.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2 Kings 4:18-12.4.37. The Shunammite’s son. I. A proud mother’s delight.
(1). Her son. The pleasure she took in watching his childhood and growth, &c. He was her treasure.
(2). He was her only son. This would increase her anxiety and also her delight in him Judges 11:34; Luke 9:38).
(3). The child of promise (2 Kings 4:16-12.4.17). Hebrew wives anxious to have children—especially to have a son. This desire is natural, not confined to Hebrews. Her husband was well off, and here was a son to inherit the father’s property and name.
(4). Harvest time. Her child sent out to play in the harvest field. She watches him depart, and thinks of the happy day he would have, and the meeting at night. II. A tender mother’s trial,
(1). The child in the field. Youthful sports. Playing at harvesting. The father’s pleasure. The sunstroke. “My head! my head!” The father’s sorrow. “Carry him to his mother.” A mother the best nurse.
(2). She sees her child returning, not running by the father’s side, but carried. Her anxiety. Her fears.
(3). Nurses her child. The time drags on. The mother does not tire. The child dies. She has faith left. Faith a good companion in trouble. This child of promise could not be lost—should not die if she could help it. Carries the child into the prophet’s chamber. III. A good wife’s example.
(1). Considers not her own feelings only, but her husband’s also. How great his grief on his return, and finding death in his house!
(2). Resolves on immediate action. Will visit the man of God. Cannot do this without assistance. The distance is very great. Calculates the time can accomplish it before the day is over.
(3). Hastens to the field—begs for one of the young men, &c. Does not tell her husband. Would not grieve him. A hint for those who unnecessarily burden other people with their troubles. IV. A happy mother’s reward.
(1). She returns with the prophet. Who would bring a doctor to a dead child? Her faith.
(2). The child’s wonderful restoration to life.
(3). The first reward. Clasping the living child to her heart.
(4). Second reward. The father’s return and greeting. Pleased to find that the child is well. Astonishment at learning the history of the day. Men at their occupations little think of the trials at home. Should commend their dear ones to God.
(5). Her after rewards. The preservation and growth of this child.
1. To repay a mother’s love and anxious care.
2. Try to bear your trial nobly without making other people bear it.
3. Jesus will aise all children up at the Last Day.—Class and Desk.
2 Kings 4:18-12.4.19. His father grew young again with the pleasure of this sight, and more joyed in this spring of his hopes than in all the crops of his harvest. But what stability is there in earthly delights? The hot beams of the sun beat upon that head which much care had made tender and delicate. The child complains to his father of his pain. Oh, that grace would teach us, what nature teaches infants, in all our troubles to bemoan ourselves to our Heavenly Father!
2 Kings 4:18. A day in a mother’s life. There are times when everything goes on smoothly, and one day is like another. Again there are times when changes come, and whole years of joy or sorrow may be concentrated into a single day. So it was with the household at Shunem. It was a hallowed day when Elisha first entered the house (2 Kings 4:8). It was a joyous day when a man-child was born (2 Kings 4:17). But most memorable of all was that day when the only son was lost and found; was dead, and received back to life again (2 Kings 4:18-12.4.37).
1. Morning joys. It is the harvest time. “Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening” (Psalms 104:22-19.104.23). First, we see mother and child at home. She is called “a great woman” (2 Kings 4:8). This implies not greatness in wealth, but in character (Proverbs 12:26; Proverbs 31:10-20.31.31). Doubtless she would show her “greatness” not only in her management of household affairs, but in her care of her child. How tenderly she would watch over him; with what gentle wisdom she would train him in the ways in which he should go! Day by day he grew before her in strength and comeliness. He was her joy and pride. His birth had taken away her reproach; his training had developed all the deepest feelings of her nature; his fellowship was her delight, and his future the dearest hope of her life. He should live and prosper. He would yet do worthily in Shunem, and be famous in Jezreel. Oh, happy mothers,
“Who carry music in their heart;
Plying the daily task with busier feet
Because their secret souls a holy strain repeat.”
The next scene is in the harvest field. Here, too, all is joy. The father is glad at sight of his boy. His coming is not the result of command, but of his own choice. There is such love between him and his father as makes their meeting and intercourse a joy to both. They are happy together. See them watching the reapers, or walking hand in hand amidst the yellow corn. The father’s heart swells with gladness. His boy is more to him than all his fields. He is his only son, his heir, his treasure, the hope of his old age. He sees in him his mother’s love and image, and the stay of her heart when he himself is gone. How fervently he prays: “The God of Jacob bless the lad.”
2. Darkness at noon. How soon may the brightest sky be clouded. How quickly may the happiest home be darkened by sorrow and the shadow of death! “We know not what a day may bring forth.” The sun is high and hot in the heavens. Suddenly a cry of agony is heard—“My head, my head!” It is the cry of a child. How strange the association—childhood and pain! Surely here is a proof of the ravages of sin (Romans 5:14). We may hear many sermons, and give no heed; but hard and callous is the heart that can behold the sufferings of a child and yet not feel humbled and awed before God. It is a cry raised in the midst of innocent labour. The work going on is good, and not evil. It is in accordance with God’s ordinance. It is wholesome and pure. Old and young may join in it freely. Such, at least, it was in the olden time, when the simplicity of and purity of pastoral life was still known in the land (Ruth 2:4). And yet here death comes. There is no place safe. There is no people or work with immunity from trouble. The cry brought woe to the father’s heart. His son’s voice was sweet to his ear. Many a time had he heard it and been glad. But now the words “my head” are like a sword. Well did he know the import of that, terrible cry. He is helpless. But he knows where comfort is to be found. “To his mother.” It was the instinct of his heart. It was what the boy himself would have said, could he have spoken. Where is there a comforter like a mother? It may be the child is hurt. Others may make light of it: not so his mother. It may be he is weary of learning. Others may be hard and impatient: not so his mother. It may be he has committed a fault. Others may be severe and unsympathizing: not so his mother. It may be he has been stricken by sickness. Others may not understand or take heed: not so his mother. Work is laid aside. Comforts are got. Books, pictures are bought. Everything must give way to the little in valid. “His mother.” Sure refuge for the weary; true resting-place for the sick and stricken child. Picture the sad home-coming. “Carry him.” The lad obeys. What a change! He came out full of life and frolic; he is borne back helpless as a clod. “His mother.” Perhaps on household business intent. Perhaps preparing for the return of father and child, and busy in heart shaping joyous things. Alas! how dreadful the awakening (2 Kings 4:20). Mark her gentleness. “On her knees”—where often she had dandled him with delight. Her patience and hope. Till noon. What suspense! What hoping against hope! Her terrible distress. “Died.” Seemed like as if the sun had gone down at noon. All was dark. In that moment what thoughts crowded upon her soul! What a trial to her faith! God seemed to have forsaken her. Thus with many—
“Too common! Never morning wore
To evening, but some heart did break.”
III. Light at evening time. All is not lost, since God liveth. This woman, like her countryman of Gospel times, was great in faith. Therefore, instead of giving way to despair, she strengthens her heart in God. Perhaps she said to herself, like David, “Why art thou cast down, my soul? Still hope in God.” Mark the preparation. What promptitude and decision! The long ride to Carmel. At other times might have admired the “glory of Carmel,” but now she is preoccupied—her heart is fixed. She is silent. The passionate appeal to the prophet (2 Kings 4:27-12.4.30). Nothing will satisfy her but Elisha. He is to her the man of God. He stands as the prophet of the Lord to her, in sorrow as in joy. She will not leave off till he yields. Such importunity pleads not in vain. The return and restoration (2 Kings 4:32-12.4.37). Hope has sprung up again in her breast. Nothing is too hard for the Lord. How strange and solemn the scenes in the chamber of death! How wonderful the revival! God is great. Oh, what joy when the mother clasps again to her breast her beloved boy! Nothing Diviner could she feel short of heaven. Think of the happy close of the day in that Hebrew home! Dearer than ever was the son that had been dead, and received back to life again. Stronger than ever was the faith of father and mother in the God of Jacob, who had proved their Refuge and Help in the time of trouble. With what quiet and assured peace would they kneel in prayer. With what joyful hearts would they sing praises to the God of Israel (Psalms 30:11-19.30.12). What lessons to young and old are here (Ecclesiastes 12:1; Proverbs 22:6; Ephesians 6:4). Trials will come. In the darkest hour God can help. Here the child cries to his father, the father sends to the mother, the mother appeals to the prophet, and the prophet casts himself on God. So let us cast ourselves on Christ, our God and Saviour (Isaiah 66:13; John 11:25).—The Study and Pulpit.
2 Kings 4:19. What an undivine inference was that of the Bishop of Hereford, in his sermon at Oxford upon this text, in the reign of Edward II., pursued at that time by his queen and son, that an aching and sick head of a kingdom was of necessity to be taken off, and no otherwise cured!—Trapp.
2 Kings 4:20. The death of a child. I. Lightly regarded by some. II. Is the first real sorrow to many. III. A proof of the prevalence and power of sin. IV. Gives a deeper interest to the bereaved in the better land.
—The death of loved children comes often suddenly, like the lightning from a clear sky, and destroys our joy and our hopes. Therefore, we should possess these gifts as not possessing them. The Lord will not abandon, in days of adversity, him who trusts in Him in days of prosperity. He who in the latter has learned sobriety, and maintained his faith, will not be without wisdom and consolation in the former, but will be composed in all adversity.—Lange.
2 Kings 4:22-12.4.23. A prudent wife. I. Will control her own feelings for the sake of her husband. II. Will consult her husband on every needful occasion. III. Enjoys the respect and confidence of her husband in all things.
—A pious woman does nothing without her husband’s knowledge, and does not willingly call his attention to anything by which he may be saddened.—Starke.
2 Kings 4:26-12.4.27. This scene is natural and very graphic. If you ask after a person whom you know to be sick, the reply at first will invariably be Well, thank God, even when the very next sentence is to inform you that he is dying. Then the falling down, clasping the feet, &c., are actions witnessed every day. I have had this done to me often before I could prevent it. So also the officious zeal of the wicked Gehazi, who would thrust the broken-hearted mother away, probably thinking her touch pollution, agrees perfectly with what we know of the man, and of the customs of the East.—Thomson.
2 Kings 4:26. “It is well.” The verdict of hope. I. May be uttered when the heart is full of sorrow. II. Indicates an unwavering faith in God. III. May be true in a higher sense when present circumstances do not warrant the verdict.
—The highest Christian optimism. I. Teaches that all is well in its relation to the wisdom and love of God. II. In its present moral bearing on ourselves. III. In its relation to the compensation and glory of the future.
2 Kings 4:27. Do not make known at once to every one you meet that which distresses you, but keep it to yourself until you find one who understands you, and whose heart you have tested. Beware lest thou treat harshly sad souls who are overcome by grief, and who seek help and consolation, and lest thou thrust them away or judge them hastily. Do not cause still more grief to a bruised heart.
2 Kings 4:31. The powerlessness of some religious acts explained. I. Not because they are not done as commanded and with all due propriety and solemnity. II. But because there is a lack of earnest, acting, living faith. III. Because there are defects and inconsistencies of religious character.
—Why was Gehazi’s mission with the staff a failure? First of all, we maintain that it is far from certain or evident that Elisha expected his staff and his servant would be effectual in raising the dead. On the contrary, it is very possible that he meant Gehazi’s mission should be a failure, in order to show that the miracle could not be wrought by any supposed magic of the staff, by any mere human agency whatever. But on the other supposition, certainly admissible, and even probable, that the prophet expected his staff to resuscitate the child, the failure is thus well explained by Kitto: “Elisha did not at first mean to go himself to Shunem, and for that reason sent his staff to supply the lack of his own presence. But after he had sent away the servant, his observation of the uneasiness of the mother, whom he had expected to have gone home satisfied, and her avowed determination not to leave him, induced him to alter his purpose, and, with the kindness natural to him, to forego his own engagements at Carmel, and to accompany her to her forlorn home. It was probably in consequence of this change of plan that no response was made to the first claim of faith by means of the staff. That appeal, in fact, was superseded the moment he resolved to go in person, the Lord thus reserving for the personal intercession of His prophet the honour of this marvellous deed.” But Gehazi’s supposed unfitness to work the miracle, and the woman’s lack of faith in him, are facts not to be overlooked. They may be a sufficient reason for the failure of Gehazi’s mission. For in the realm of the miraculous, Divine Power works not blindly nor arbitrarily, but according to sacred laws. To affirm that there must be a sympathetic union or spontaneous affiliation between the human agencies employed and those deeply concerned in a given miracle, is only to say what is abundantly suggested in the Scriptures. Nor is this to degrade a class of miracles to the low plane of animal magnetism, or explain them away on naturalistic principles; yet it need not be denied that the psychological basis of animal magnetism was a medium through which many miracles were performed, and without which some miracles could not have been wrought. When the disciples, after their failure to heal a lunatic child, asked Jesus why they could not work the miracle, He replied, “Because of your unbelief” (Matthew 17:20, comp. Matthew 13:58; Mark 6:56; Mark 9:23).—Whedon.
—The staff of the prophet is of no use if the spirit and power of the prophet are wanting. Do not mistake the sign for the thing signified. It is God alone who can help, and His help is not dependent on external instruments and signs.
2 Kings 4:32-12.4.35. The power of prayer.
1. The best preparation for a great spiritual conflict.
2. Inspires an invincible faith.
3. Suggests the use of the best means for obtaining an answer.
4. Achieves great victories.
2 Kings 4:32-12.4.33.—Merit and importunity have drawn Elisha from Carmel to Shunem. He finds his lodging taken up by that pale corpse. He shuts the door and falls to prayer. This staff of his, whatever became of the other, was long enough, he knew, to reach up to heaven, to knock at these gates, yea, to wrench them open. Bishop Hall.
2 Kings 4:34. He knew what Elijah had done in a similar case (1 Kings 17:21), and followed his example; but doubtless both Elijah and Elisha used these natural means in accordance with some special revelation that was given them. This placing of his mouth, eyes, and hands, upon those of the child, bore the same relation to this miracle which the spittle and the washing in Siloam did to the miracle by which Jesus gave sight to the man blind from his birth (John 9:1-43.9.7). Divine power could have raised this child to life in answer to Elisha’s prayer without any other action on the part of the prophet, but Divine wisdom decreed otherwise. Christ opened one blind man’s eyes by a single command; but in the other case He adopted peculiar measures to work substantially the same miracle. We cannot tell why, but we accept the facts, and argue from them the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God (Romans 11:33). We do not presume to deny that our God might have adopted a different plan of redemption from the one we have, but we may well question the possibility of a wiser one, and though we cannot fathom all its mystery, we accept with joy the fact of “God manifest in the flesh;” and in the blessed incarnation of our Lord, to use the analogy of this miracle of Elisha, we see with wonder how the God-man stretches himself upon our cold, lifeless humanity that was dead in trespasses and sins, and even contracts himself to the narrow span of our infancy, childhood, manhood. His blessed mouth and eyes and hands come into contact with our own. He breathes upon us the Holy Ghost, and we are quickened and warmed into a new and eternal life. We are thus raised from spiritual death, and our ears hear, and our eyes see, and our hands handle the word of life.—Whedon.
2 Kings 4:35. Thus the work is done by degrees and with difficulty, mystically showing how hard it is to raise one dead in sins and trespasses, and to bring the work to any good effect. To comfort a wounded conscience is as great work, saith Luther, as to raise one from the dead.—Trapp.
2 Kings 4:36-12.4.37.—The mother is called in to receive a new life in her twice-given son. She comes in full of joy, full of wonder, bows herself to the ground, and falls down before those feet she had so boldly laid hold of in Carmel. Oh, strong faith of the Shunammite, that could not be discouraged with the seizure and continuance of death, raising up her heart still in an expectation of that life which to the eyes of nature had been impossible, irrevocable! Oh, infinite goodness of the Almighty, that would not suffer such faith to be frustrated, that would rather reverse the laws of nature, in returning a guest from heaven, and raising a corpse from death, than the confidence of a believing heart should be disappointed!—Bishop Hall.
As might be expected, there have not been wanting rationalistic interpreters who have explained this miracle as a case of suspended animation, or fit of apoplexy, and Elisha’s efforts as the manipulations of animal magnetism, by which sensation was restored. Of course such expositors ignore or deny the plain statement that the child was dead, and so do not explain, but contradict and torture the word of Scripture.—Whedon.
CRITICAL AND EXPLANATORY NOTES.—
2 Kings 4:38. Sons of the prophets were sitting before him—This means, not that they lived in common with Elisha, but sat as scholars before him for teaching. Seethe pottage—A kind of thick broth of rice or meal, vegetables, and meat.
2 Kings 4:40. There is death in the pot—Probably the “wild gourds” (2 Kings 4:39) were the fruit of the colocynth, exceedingly bitter, and causing severe cholic. Freely eaten, they might cause death. 2 Kings 4:42-12.4.44. Barley loaves, supernaturally multiplied—A foreshadowing of Christ’s greater miracle of feeding the thousands. This man from Baal-shalisha brought the first fruits (Deuteronomy 18:4, &c.) to Elisha as being “the man of God,” rather than to the false priests of Baal who overran the land, but were judged by this man to be less worthy to act as Jehovah’s representatives and receive his religious offering than the prophet.—W. H. J.
HOMILETICS OF 2 Kings 4:38-12.4.41
THE POISON OF SIN AND ITS CURE
THIS miracle of the healing of the poisonous pottage is a counterpart of that of the healing of the waters of Jericho (2 Kings 2:19-12.2.22). There the power of Elisha’s God works on the water; here on the food of the prophets. The chief value of both miracles lies in the rich typical lessons they suggest concerning the coming in of Divine grace and power into the domain of man’s most common life and wants, to leaven and heal with gracious influences all the disturbances and bitternesses of earthly experience. The incident related in this paragraph is illustrative of the poison of sin and its cure. Observe—
I. That humanity is infected with the poison of sin. It penetrates all classes, and mingles with the ever-changing circumstances of human life. It is so subtle in its workings, and so deceptive in its appearance, as to escape detection till its effects are felt, as was the case with the wild gourds innocently gathered by a son of the prophets (2 Kings 4:39). It weakens everything it taints. It is a foe to all stability. It is said that when Nicephorus Phocas had built a strong wall about his palace for his own security, in the night time he heard a voice crying to him, “O Emperor! though thou build thy wall as high as the clouds, yet if sin be within, it will overthrow all.” It is the custom of hunters in Africa, when they have killed a poisonous snake, to cut off its head, and carefully bury it in the ground, well knowing that if a naked foot trod on one of these fangs it would be fatally wounded; the venom is as deadly after the snake is dead. But sin is a venomous snake which no human hunter can slay; it insinuates itself everywhere, and everywhere spreads its deadly virus.
II. That the poison of sin is fatal in its effects. “There is death in the pot” (2 Kings 4:40). Sin when it is finished bringeth forth death (James 1:15). The almond tree blossoms before the foliage appears. The splendour of its ruby flowers lures the winged insects of the air, but as they sip its poisoned chalices they fall dead in myriads at its root. So sin is like that tree, attracting human souls to drink in pleasure from its luscious flowers until they fall, deluded, in toxicated, dead. “By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).
III. That the poison of sin is neutralized by the gracious provisions of the Gospel (2 Kings 4:41). There was no virtue in the meal itself to dissipate the poison of the pottage; it was but the means by which the miraculous power wrought the cure. So in the restoration to moral health of sin-poisoned humanity, while means are used, and must be used, the healing, saving power is Divine. The gospel, divinely devised, divinely developed, and divinely applied, is the unfailing panacea for the world’s evil.
1. Sin is the great source of all human misery.
2. The remedy for human misery is Divinely provided.
3. God is not indifferent to the common daily wants of human life.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2 Kings 4:38. The pursuit of truth. I. Is carried on by earnest souls in the midst of national distress. “There was a dearth in the land.” II. Brings men into the presence of the great and good. “The sons of the prophets were sitting before him.” III. Contented with a modest supply of physical needs. “Set on the great pot, and seethe pottage for the sons of the prophets.”
—The prophets were poor, and glad of pottage. The saints are kept at hard commons, but have their keeping of free cost. The wicked have larger cakes, but pay sweetly.—Trapp.
—The sons of the prophets had to struggle with want and distress, but no want could hinder them from entering the community, or could induce them to separate. Life in common, in faith, in prayer, in the praise of God, was dearer to them than pleasant days, and enjoying the pleasure of sin. Where unity of spirit and true love call people together to a common meal, there is no need of great preparations and expensive wishes; they are readily satisfied with the simplest food.—Lange.
2 Kings 4:39. Ignorance of simple things. I. Inexcusable, because within the reach of all. II. Yet, alas! too prevalent. III. May be the occasion of fatal consequences.
2 Kings 4:40. The deadly power of sin. I. Mingles itself with the sweetest experiences of life. II. Causes many to turn with loathing even from their necessary food. III. Beyond all human power to conquer.
—It is often with spiritual good as it is with bodily good: it looks as if it were healthful and nourishing—i.e., the words are beautiful and attractive—and yet there is soul-poison in it, which is destructive, if we are not on our guard.
2 Kings 4:41. What was there in the meal to counter ct the bad properties of the gourds? Nothing, necessarily.
The meal, like the salt cast into the foul waters of Jericho (2 Kings 2:21), and the tree at Marah (Exodus 15:25), was merely the suggestive symbol of the Divine powers of nourishment and healing which subsisted in Elisha’s God. It bore a similar relation to this miracle that Elisha’s stretching himself upon the body of the dead child did to the Divine power that raised the child to life. It was the earthly medium through which the spirit worked. All the bad properties of the pottage were miraculously taken away. So, say some of the older divines, the healthsome meal of sound Christian doctrine, entering into the mind and heart of the church, shall counteract and take away the poison of ill-born heresy.
—Eminent goodness. I. Is not lifted above the commonest wants of life. II. Sympathizes with the needy and the suffering. III. Is the medium of timely relief.
HOMILETICS OF 2 Kings 4:42-12.4.44
THE SUPERABUNDANT GOODNESS OF GOD
I. Provides for the daily wants of man. “Give unto the people that they may eat” (2 Kings 4:42). How enormous are the thought and toil involved in supplying the daily wants of a simple city—e.g., London! How unremitting the care, how affluent the goodness, of that God who supplies the multifarious and incessant demands of the world! Vast as is the consumption, the supply never fails. “The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest Thy hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing” (Psalms 145:15-19.145.16).
II. Difficult for the unbelieving to appreciate. “What, shall I set this before an hundred men?” (2 Kings 4:43). The selfish and unbelieving mind is blinded to the infinite resources of the Divine goodness: the limitation of the means is inadequate to the greatness of the need. But the eye only sees what it brings with it the power to see. The eye of faith sees what is invisible to the ordinary vision. True faith is undaunted, even when it sees only the last crust, and the last pot of oil. Necessity is a great test, and a great strengthener of faith.
III. Multiplies the little to supply the needs of the many. “And they did eat and left thereof, according to the word of the Lord” (2 Kings 4:44). What seemed humanly insufficient, was so Divinely blessed as to be more than enough. A contented mind needs but little to ensure its happiness, while the abundance of the rich may fail to give satisfaction and peace. “Too much wealth is very frequently the occasion of poverty. He whom the wantonness of abundance has once softened, easily sinks into neglect of his affairs, and he that thinks he can afford to be negligent, is not far from being poor. He will soon be involved in perplexities which his inexperience will render insurmountable; he will fly for help to those whose interest it is that he should be more distressed, and will be at last torn to pieces by the vultures that always hover over fortunes in decay.” It is the blessing of heaven that makes the little more, and teaches man when be has enough.
1. The goodness of God is most evident in times of need.
2. Should be unhesitatingly trusted.
3. Should be gratefully adored.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
2 Kings 4:42-12.4.44. The grandeur and minuteness of Divine Providence. I. So blesses the earth that it provides for the wants of all. II. The scarcity of one locality is counterbalanced by the abundance of another. III. Does not overlook the commonest needs of man. IV. Makes a little go a great way.
—Jehovah ordered it so that a strange man, uncalled and unexpected, should bring to the prophet in a time of famine the first fruits which belong to Jehovah according to law (Numbers 15:19-4.15.20; Deuteronomy 26:2); and He blessed this gift so that it sufficed to satisfy the entire community of the prophets. The Lord himself, at the feeding of the five thousand, makes reference, not to this narrative, but to the feeding of the people with manna in the wilderness, and He gives to His miracle an express object and significance (John 6:32) such as we cannot at all think of in this case. Besides that, the historical connection, the occasion, the persons, all are utterly different, and the asserted similarity is reduced simply to this, that through the Divine influence a little suffices for many—an altogether ordinary truth which pierces through many other incidents in the history of redemption which are entirely different from this one.—Lange.
—From the miracle of the healing of the bitter pottage it is appropriate to pass immediately to one by which a few barley loaves and ears of corn are made to supply the wants of many. As the one suggests the power of Divine truth to counteract the evils of heresy, the other may represent that not only must heresy in the church be offset with truth, but, to keep out heresy, the church must be abundantly fed with the true bread from heaven, which giveth life unto the world.—Whedon.
2 Kings 4:43. A covetous spirit. I. Would withhold from others even the necessaries of life. II. Has no faith in an abundance it cannot see; or in the axiom—“There is that scattereth and yet increaseth.” III. Is often rebuked by acts of Divine generosity.
2 Kings 4:44. Here is a specimen of the work of Christ in apostolic churches, receiving the alms of the faithful at God’s altar, and seeking for true riches by bestowing those offerings, blessed by God with increase, to the benefit of His people.—Wordsworth.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Kings 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany