In this chapter the prophet Elisha is again introduced. He multiplieth the widow's oil. A son is given her. The child dieth. Elisha raiseth the child again. At Gilgal he healeth the poison in the pot. He feedeth an hundred men with twenty loaves of barley and ears of corn. These are among the contents.
2 Kings 4:1
The conduct of this widow may serve to teach us where we are to apply in our insolvency and distresses, even to the Lord God of the prophets. You and I, Reader, may truly say to Jesus, thou knowest; Lord, we are insolvent, and the creditor is come to take us into bondage. But thou knowest also, that thy fear is in us, and that we are thy servants. That is, if indeed Jesus hath called us by his grace. The conduct of this poor woman may serve also, in a yet more peculiar manner, to teach where the widows of God's servants, and especially his prophets, I mean his poor ministers, are to apply, when from the narrowness of their income they are left by their husbands insolvent and in poverty. What a blessed and gracious direction to this effect is that sweet precept and promise. Jeremiah 49:11.
So may all the faithful servants: of the Lord say, by way of leading the minds of the needy to Jesus; - What shall I do for thee? But Jesus can do all.
Do I not see in this representation how all the vessels of our poor nature may be unceasingly filled from the inexhaustible fullness of Jesus, the fullness of him that filleth all in all. Borrow as we may of our neighbours, the largest vessels for containing his gifts and graces; the oil of gladness and of mercy, will infinitely overrun them all. I mean whatever views we derive from the instruction of others concerning the Lord Jesus, all vessels fail before his infinite fulness fails. Nay, Jesus takes occasion from our very wants to make vacancies for the pouring out of his fullness. I cannot but hope that the Reader will learn from hence that in all barrenness, leanness; and the like, the cause is in ourselves. It is unbelief which raiseth up a cloud of difficulties, as if the infinite fulness of Jesus was not enough to answer the wants of his people.
See what a blessed issue to the poor widow's poverty. There was enough not only to pay the creditor, but to live both herself and household on what remained. And Reader! Is there not enough in Jesus and his precious salvation, to answer all the demands of that law, the breaches of which hath made you and me insolvent, and also to justify our souls before God?
It appears from Elisha's history that he frequently travelled from mount Carmel to Samaria, and therefore was necessarily obliged to ass through Shunem, which was a small city belonging to the tribe of Issachar. See 2 Kings 2:25. But (as the after events in this woman's life make it appear) the Lord was overruling the prophet's path in this instance to a work of mercy. The Reader will not fail, I hope, to have his mind directed to the steps of Jesus, concerning whom the Evangelist expressly tells us that he must needs go through Samaria; that is, I apprehend, Jesus was constrained in his coming into this world to seek and save that which was lost, to visit Samaria, because he knew that there was a woman among the number which his Father had given him for redemption, who was then living in a state of unawakened sin and unregeneracy. Oh! precious Jesus! And is there not an holy constraint, even now, in thine hallowed bosom, that in thy gathering all thy people unto thee, thou shouldest send thy blessed Spirit to awaken sinners from darkness to light, and from the power of sin and Satan to God?
There is a vast deal of generosity in this woman's mind: and yet nothing costly. How often, when entertaining strangers, have men found that they have been entertaining angels, or messengers of God, unawares. Yes! Jesus was a stranger when he came into this world; and had not where to lay his head. And oh, Reader! how little did you and I know of him when he turned in and invited himself to our house, and to our heart? for if he had not, we never should have invited him. Hebrews 13:1; Matthew 25:35.
There is a nobleness of soul in the woman, in thus declining court favor. The prophet's interest was more with God than with the king. It is as if she had said, Speak for me not to man, but to God. Reader! would you be spoken for? Yes! to the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords to the captain indeed of the Lord's host; even Jesus, the God of our salvation!
In order to have a clear conception of the great earnestness manifested among all the Israelites for children, it should be remembered that this was with an eye to the coming Messiah. That promised seed every Israelite was extremely anxious should spring from his family. Hence Gehazi concluded that a son would be so highly esteemed a blessing. And hence the Shunammite's expressions of joy were so lively.
What an unexpected event was this? Who would have thought that a child unasked, and given at the instance of the prophet's prayer, should be thus soon recalled. Reader! do not fail to gather from it in the first opening of the subject, that the Lord exerciseth the graces of his people. They must be tried; they must be afflicted; on purpose that they may be led to trust on the Lord. Zephaniah 3:12.
What can be the object of this Shunammite in this journey? Are not all her hopes now gone? The child is dead. Had he still life in him there might be hopes. But now he is dead; wherefore go to the prophet? Doth she really believe that the prophet can raise him from the dead? Yes, Reader; depend upon it she thought so. I do not, for myself, hesitate to conclude that she really did believe that Elisha would give her son to her again. For observe, she said to her husband as she went: It shall be well. And I confess that I am the more inclined to this conclusion, because the apostle Paul, under the Holy Ghost, tells us in his animated account of those illustrious heroes of faith in the Old Testament scripture, that the faith of the woman was such as to receive their dead raised to life again. See Hebrews 11:35. Hence therefore this woman, with a faith in God's covenant-love and mercy, and which is equal to almost anything we meet with in scripture, was so firmly persuaded that the gracious God who gave this child to her, on her part unasked, could as easily restore him to her again, that she hastens to the prophet to seek an interest in his prayers for the accomplishment of it. So that she leaves her dead child to fly to the living God. She makes no preparation for his burial; as if confident he should not be buried; but tells her husband all shall be well; and like a true descendant and daughter of the patriarch, goes in faith and confidence to God, accounting that God was able to raise him up even from the dead. Hebrews 11:19. Stop, Reader, I pray you, before you go further in the relation of this wonderful history, and ask your own heart whether, amidst the lesser trials for the exercise of your faith, you can imitate such an illustrious example! have not you the same gracious covenant God to fly to as she had? Hath the Lord anytime raised your expectations in his pardoning love and mercy; and hath any thwarting providences afterwards intervened so as to cloud your hopes; how do you feel upon those occasions? It is true you have not the prophet Elisha to intercede for you. But I hope you do not overlook and forget that you have one infinitely higher, even the Lord God of all prophets, Jesus, Jehovah's High Priest forever, an everlasting advocate with the Father, and the propitiation of our sins. Oh! precious Jesus! how faded appear the most splendid actions of all thy ministering servants, when thy glory is beheld in view.
The relation of this scriptural story, in the mere letter of the subject, is uncommonly interesting. The prophet's salutation and enquiry of her welfare, and that of her family, and her short but expressive answer, are very striking. It behoves the ministers of God both in spiritual and temporal mercies, to take part in the concerns of their people. And observe the pious frame of mind in the woman. Though her soul within her was convulsed with sorrow, as afterwards when she came nearer Elisha, he saw her agony, for her very looks expressed it; yet such was her faith and patience, that she said, All is well. That is, all is well, because what hath taken place is from God's appointment. She hoped an happy issue both from what she knew God was able to do, and from what she hoped that God would do. Sweet and blessed frame of mind! And depend upon it, Reader, the same can our Lord Jesus Christ work by his Holy Spirit in every heart of his people, when, as in the instance of this woman, he works a faith suited to every trying situation.
This is a most interesting part of the narrative. It is here rising to a great degree of earnestness. Her whole soul was in action, and the body participated, as is evident in catching hold of the prophet. Not in anger, as Gehazi thought; but in love, as Elisha well interpreted by her looks. And her words vehemently spoke it in the most fervent pleading. What she said strongly expressed her faith that even now, unpromising as matters appeared, that gracious God who gave a son so contrary to all her expectations, could as easily give him to her again. Did I desire a son? Was this blessing first in my thoughts? Was it not in God's? And did God raise my expectations, and then so suddenly blast them? Surely this can never be in the plan of him whose counsel shall stand, and who will do all his pleasure. Isaiah 46:13. Reader! oh that you and I had grace to exercise such lively faith in Jesus? May we not, with infinitely greater reason, as to the foundation of our faith, may we not say; Did we desire a Saviour? Did we first ask this unspeakable gift of our God? Did we even know that we needed a Saviour? Nay, did we not stand out long, very long, after the blessed, precious gift was given, against all his gracious calls; and in actions, if not in words, say, We will not have man to reign over us? Now then, when he by his Holy Spirit hath conquered our stubborn nature, and made us willing in the day of his power; shall we fear or doubt his love? Did God our Father raise such glorious hopes of salvation; and will he now disappoint them? Oh! precious Jesus! I would gather a lesson from the Shunammite's faith; and as she caught thy servant the prophet by the feet, so Lord would I lay hold of thee while I lie at thy feet, and never, no never, let thee go until that thou bless me.
It is gracious when Jesus sends his servants, the ministers of his gospel, to his people, and commissions them to good. But, oh! how infinitely surpassing the whole choir of angels in their ministering service, is the coming of Jesus himself. Yes! dearest Lord; like the Shunammite I would say, never shall my soul give over her importunity, till thou comest in thine own dear Person.
How important an instruction ministers of the gospel may gather from hence! Though they preach in their master's name, and act wholly by his authority; yet there will be no voice or cry for salvation in the sinner's soul; no, nor even the grace of spiritual apprehension in the most earnestly delivered truth, until the Holy Ghost speak in the word, and by the word, to the sinner's conscience. See 1 Corinthians 3:7; 1 Thessalonians 1:5.
While I desire the Reader to remark with me the graciousness of God, in thus teaching the early church by such miracles the blessed doctrines of the resurrection; and more particularly, as all of them referred to the Person of the Lord Jesus; I beg the Reader at the same time very particularly to keep in view the striking difference between the miracles of Jesus, and those of his servants, which acted in his name, and by his authority. Elisha prayed unto the Lord: Jesus commanded the dead to rise. The servant acted in the Lord's name Jesus in his own. What prophet, what servant of Jehovah, ever said as Jesus did; I am the resurrection and the life. And who but God himself could, in confirmation of this blessed truth, have commanded the dead, like Lazarus, to have come forth? Oh! glorious Lord Jesus; John 11:25; Joh_11:43-44.
And will not the resurrection of the bodies of believers at the last day, be accomplished in a similar way? Shall not the soul take up the body? and then from being a glorified body, no longer partaking of its former corruption, but which the grave, in its office of a destroyer, hath forever done away, it wilt become the joyful, happy, holy partner with the soul in the union of both with Jesus, and altogether will partake in all the joys of salvation through an unceasing eternity. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.
This setting before the prophet, implies receiving instruction: probably expounding the scripture. Ezekiel 8:1.
The poison in the food, spiritually explained, leads us to consider how cautious men should be, and especially the sons of the prophets, in consenting to anything but what the apostle calls wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. The pure faith of the gospel is the food of our souls, and there is death in the pot indeed, when anything be mixed with this, contrary to Jesus, as the sole cause of salvation. The wild gourds are like our wild works, all poisonous. But thou, O man of God, flee these things, and let Jesus be the first and the last, and the all in all of redemption! 1 Timothy 6:3; 1Ti_6:11.
I cannot help remarking again, if peradventure I have mentioned it before, that among the precious things of the sacred scriptures of the Old Testament, those are not the least, which represent the Holy Ghost as shadowing forth, upon many occasions, the outlines of Jesus. When we see the prophets, and priests and servants of the Lord sketching, in type and shadow, some of our Lord's characters, though it be ever so faintly; doth it not serve to teach you, Reader, (I bless the Lord it doth me) the graciousness of the Holy Ghost? Did not the blessed Spirit seem to intimate by this plan, that he always delighted to glorify the Lord Jesus: and as such, as if to keep up in the minds of his people, the coming of the Son of God, caused his servants to perform occasionally such acts of beneficence and mercy, as the Lord Jesus himself should hereafter more fully display, when the time came for his tabernacling among us? Hence feeding; with a few loaves, an hundred men, was a beautiful representation of him, who not only would cause the loaves and fishes to multiply under his Almighty hand, for the supply of the bodies of the hungry; but would himself be the everlasting sustenance of his people, as the living bread of their souls, forever. Lord! I would say; Ever more give us this bread! John 6:5-14; Joh_6:32-58.
How lovely is it to behold in this great woman of Shunem, (as she is called) the blessed fruits of real piety. Reader! if we love Jesus, we cannot but love his people. This commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also. She did not say to the prophet; be ye warmed and filled, notwithstanding, the things are not given which are needful to the body. But, like another Lydia, her language was; If ye have Judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And shall I not constrain thee, thou blessed Jesus, as oft as thou passeth by, to turn in unto me, that we may eat bread together? And be thou not as a way-faring man, that tarrieth but for a night; but I would constrain thee to continue to the breaking of the day: and do thou, dearest, honored Lord, do thou make thyself known to me in breaking of bread and of prayer. And though I have nothing to provide thee; nothing, like this Shunammite, to give thee, (as the bed, and the table, and the stool, and the candlestick;) yet, when thou comest, thou wilt bring all things with thee; and thou thyself wilt be all things to me; light to my darkness, a rest for my wearied soul to repose upon, and wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, that all my glorying may be in thee, O Lord!
My soul! do thou learn from this great woman, another sweet lesson. While men of the world, from the world are seeking their portion, and would rejoice at the offer of being spoken of to the king of an earthly court; oh! for grace, like her, to see the happiness of dwelling among that people, whose distinguishing character it is, that they shall dwell alone, and not be reckoned among the nations. Yes! blessed Jesus! I would be spoken for to thee indeed, and count it my chief joy to be of thy people.
And lastly, before I take my leave of this precious chapter, let me look up to thee, thou blessed Author and Finisher of faith, that thou wouldest give me a portion of the same precious spirit, which this Shunammite possessed in so large a degree. Is it possible, dearest Jesus, that I can thus read of a woman, who lived in ages so remote from thy coming, acting faith upon covenant promises, to such an extent as really to receive her dead child, by virtue of it, raised to life again; and yet who live so many ages after thou hast wrought out and completed thy salvation, possessing all thine exceeding great and precious promises, doubt and fear, and too often call in question, the certainty of them? Oh! for grace to believe the record God the Father hath given of his dear Son. Lord! I would pray, above all things, give me faith, that I may be a patient follower of them who now through faith and patience inherit the promises. Lord! make me faithful unto death, that I may obtain that crown of glory which fadeth not away.
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on 2 Kings 4". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany