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Bible Commentaries
2 Kings 4

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary


A.M. 3109. B.C. 895.

Elisha multiplies the widow’s oil, 2 Kings 4:1-7 . Obtains a son for the Shunammite, 2 Kings 4:8-17 . Raises him again to life, 2 Kings 4:18-37 . Heals the deadly pottage, 2 Kings 4:38-41 . Feeds a hundred men with twenty small loaves, 2 Kings 4:42-44 .

Verse 1

2 Kings 4:1. A certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets Who, though they were wholly devoted to sacred employments, yet were not excluded from marriage, any more than the priests and Levites. My husband did fear the Lord His poverty, therefore, was not procured by his idleness or prodigality, but by his piety, because he would not comply with the king’s way of worship, and therefore lost all worldly advantages. The creditor is come to take my two sons to be bond-men Either to use them as his slaves, or sell them to others, according to the law among the Hebrews in such a case.

Verse 2

2 Kings 4:2. Elisha said, What shall I do for thee? How shall I relieve thee, who am myself poor? Tell me, what hast thou in the house? Toward the discharge of thy husband’s debts.

Verses 4-6

2 Kings 4:4-6. Thou shalt shut the door upon thee, and upon thy sons That none might come in to disturb or interrupt her in what site was doing; that she and her sons might not seem proudly to boast of this miraculous supply; and that they might have opportunity for prayer and praise on this, extraordinary occasion. And shalt pour out Of the pot of oil which she had. Thou shalt set aside that which is full Which one of her sons was employed to do, and the other to bring her the empty vessels. Bring me yet a vessel Doubtless they were all amazed to find their pot, like a fountain of living water, always flowing, and yet always full. They saw not the bubbling spring that supplied it, but believed it to be in Him, in whom all our springs are. The oil stayed When there was no vessel to receive it; to teach us that we should not waste any of God’s good creatures, and that God would not work miracles unnecessarily. This most signal miracle is like that which Elijah had wrought for the widow of Zarephath. How it was effected it is to no purpose to inquire, seeing it was the product of almighty power, of the operation of which, in its full extent, we cannot possibly have any conception. One important lesson we may learn from it; which is, that we are never straitened in God, in his power, or bounty, or the riches of his grace: all our straitness is in ourselves: it is our faith that fails, not his promise: he gives above what we ask: were there more vessels, there is enough in God to fill them; enough for all, enough for each.

Verse 7

2 Kings 4:7. He said, Go, sell the oil She must not keep it for her own use. Those whom Providence has made poor, must be content with poor accommodations for themselves: they must know how to want, and must not think, when they get a little of that which is better than ordinary, to feed their own luxury therewith. And pay thy debt Though her creditors were too rigorous with her, yet they must not therefore be deprived of what was due to them: her first care, now she has wherewithal to do it, must be to discharge that, even before she makes any provision for her children. We must first do justice, and then expect God’s blessing upon our endeavours to provide for ourselves and families.

Verse 8

2 Kings 4:8. Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman Great for estate, or birth and quality. And she constrained him to eat bread Pressed him with great importunity, and at length, with great difficulty, prevailed with him to dine with her. As oft as he passed by he turned in thither She made him so welcome, that he did not scruple, when he had occasion to go that way, to step in there and refresh himself; which she probably invited him to do.

Verses 9-10

2 Kings 4:9-10. She said to her husband In frequent conversation with him. This is a holy man of God A prophet, and that of eminent holiness; by our kindness to whom we shall procure a blessing to ourselves. Which passeth by us continually For Shunem was in his way as he went from Carmel, which was not far from hence, to Beth-el and Jericho, and other places of the sons of the prophets. Let us make him a little chamber on the wall A private room, remote from the house, where he may retire, and be free from the noise of family business; and enjoy that privacy, which, I perceive, he desires for his prayers and meditations. Let us set for him there a bed and a table, &c. He will not be troublesome or chargeable to us: he cares not for rich furniture or costly entertainment, but is content with bare necessaries. And he shall turn in thither Take up his lodging there, if he think good.

Verse 12

2 Kings 4:12. She stood before him The narrative seems to be a little perplexed, but may be thus conceived: it is in this verse recorded in the general, that the prophet sent Gehazi to call her, and that she came to him upon that call; then follows a particular description of the whole business, with all the circumstances; first, of the message with which Gehazi was sent when he went to call her, and of her answer to that message, (2 Kings 4:13,) and Gehazi’s conjecture thereupon, (2 Kings 4:14,) and then of her coming to the prophet at his call; which is there repeated to make way for the following passages.

Verse 13

2 Kings 4:13. What is to be done for thee? Wherein can I serve thee? For he was very desirous, as all good men are, to be grateful. “They that receive courtesies,” says Henry, “should study to return them. It ill becomes men of God to be ungrateful, or to sponge upon those that are generous.” Wouldst thou be spoken for to the king, &c.? For an office for thy husband, civil or military? Hast thou any complaint to make; any petition to present; any suit at law depending, that needs the countenance of the higher powers? It seems by this the prophet had got such an interest at court, since the late victory over the Moabites, that though he minded not to prefer himself by it, yet he was capable of preferring his friends. I dwell among my own people I live among my kindred and friends; nor have I any cause to seek relief from the higher powers.

Verses 14-15

2 Kings 4:14-15. And he said, What then is to be done for her? The above answer being returned to his master by Gehazi, Elisha asked him what he thought might be most welcome to her, as if he had said, Hast thou observed any thing which she wants or desires? For the prophet kept himself much in his chamber, while Gehazi went more freely about the house, as occasion led him. Gehazi answered, Verily, she hath no child

She has a great estate, but no son to leave it to, and is past hopes of having any, her husband being old: if Elisha can obtain this favour from God for her, it will be the removal of that which, at present, was her only grievance. Those kindnesses are the most welcome which are most suited to our necessities. When he had called her, she stood at the door Either out of modesty, or reverence, or an unwillingness to disturb him.

Verses 16-17

2 Kings 4:16-17. About this season, according to the time of life About this time next year; see on Genesis 18:10; thou shall embrace a son She had received this prophet in the name of a prophet, and now she receives, not a courtier’s reward, in being spoken for to the king, but a prophet’s reward, a signal mercy, given in answer to a prophet’s prayer. Nay, my lord, do not lie unto thy handmaid Do not delude me with vain hopes. She could not believe it for joy. The woman bare a son at that season that Elisha had said unto her The event, within the time limited, confirmed the truth of the promise. God built up her house in reward of her kindness in building the prophet a chamber.

Verses 18-21

2 Kings 4:18-21. He went out to his father to the reapers Either for pleasure, or with some message to him. He said to his father, My head, my head! A more than common heat of the sun probably made him thus ill. The hand of Providence, however, was in the affliction, that occasion might be given to the prophet of working a wonderful miracle for the manifestation of the glory of God, like that which Elijah had wrought for the widow of Zarephath. He sat on her knees till noon, and then died His pain was so violent, that it killed him in a few hours. She laid him on the bed of the man of God The pious mother possesses her soul in patience under this surprising affliction: not one peevish, indecent word drops from her lips. She has a strong belief that the child will be raised to life again; like a genuine daughter of Abraham, she accounts that God is able to raise him from the dead, for she had at first received him by as great a miracle. She had doubtless heard of the raising the widow’s son at Zarephath, and that the spirit of Elijah rested on Elisha; and such confidence had she of God’s goodness, that she was very ready to believe, He that so soon took away what he had given, would restore what he had now taken away. By this faith women received their dead raised to life; Hebrews 11:35. In this faith she makes no preparation for the burial of the dead child, but for his resurrection. O woman, great is thy faith! he that inspired it would not frustrate it.

Verses 22-23

2 Kings 4:22-23. She called to her husband, and said By a messenger whom she sent into the field to him. She seems not to have acquainted him with the child’s death; probably she feared, if he knew on what errand she wished to go to the prophet, lest he should not have faith enough to let her go. Wherefore wilt thou go to-day? it is neither new moon nor sabbath It appears by this that the prophets acted as public instructers of the people; and that their houses were a kind of schools, or synagogues, unto which they resorted, upon the days here mentioned, to be taught their duty out of the law of God, and to have their doubts resolved. And she said, It shall be well My going will not be troublesome to him, nor prejudicial to thee or me.

Verses 25-26

2 Kings 4:25-26 . She came to the man of God to mount Carmel This was a place which both he and Elijah much frequented; and it is probable there was a school of the prophets here, it being a mountain full of trees, and therefore a place proper for retirement and sacred exercises. Run now, I pray thee, to meet her This he ordered, to show his respect for her. She answered, It is well So it was in some respects, because it was the will of a wise and good God, and therefore best for her. When God calls away our dearest relations by death, it becomes us to say, it is well both with us and them. It is well, for all is well that God doth: all is well with them that are gone, if they are gone to heaven: and all is well with us that stay behind, if by the affliction we are furthered in our way thither.

Verse 27

2 Kings 4:27. She caught him by the feet After the manner of a most humble and earnest supplicant; intimating, what she did not dare to express in words, that she desired him to go along with her. Gehazi came near to thrust her away Either thinking she was rude, and made too free with the prophet; or knowing his master did not expect such abasement, especially from her who had been so kind and friendly to them, and that he would not be pleased to see her lie at his feet, Gehazi would have raised her up. The man of God said, Let her alone Disturb her not, for this gesture is a sign of some extraordinary grief. And the Lord hath hid it from me God hath not shown me the cause of it. By this he signifies, that what he knew or did, was not by any virtue inherent in himself, but from God, who revealed to him only what he pleased, and when he pleased.

Verse 28

2 Kings 4:28. She said, Did I desire a son of my lord? This child was not given to me upon my immoderate desire, for which I might have justly been thus chastised; but was freely promised to me by thee in God’s name, and from his special grace and favour. Did not I say, Do not deceive me? With vain hopes of a comfort that I should never have. And I had been much happier if I had never had it, than to lose it so quickly.

Verse 29

2 Kings 4:29. He said to Gehazi, Gird up thy loins Tie up thy long garments about thy loins for expedition. If thou meet any man, &c. Make no delays or stops by the way, either through words or actions, but go with all possible speed. See Luke 10:4. He requires this haste that the miracle might be done secretly and speedily, before the child’s death was divulged, which might cause many inconveniences. And lay my staff upon the face of the child For God can work a miracle by the most unlikely and contemptible means, as he did by a rod, Exodus 14:16; and a mantle, 2 Kings 2:8.

Verse 30

2 Kings 4:30. And the mother of the child said, I will not leave thee Until thou goest with me; for she had no great confidence in Gehazi, nor was her faith so strong as to think that the prophet could work so great a miracle at that distance, and by his staff. And he arose, and followed her Being overcome by her importunity, and his tenderness toward so great a friend.

Verse 31

2 Kings 4:31. There was neither voice nor hearing No sign of life appeared, which Gehazi, probably through unbelief, expected would be the case. It is likely the power was withheld, which might have accompanied the laying on of the staff; because the prophet having changed his mind, and yielded to her request that he would go with her, did alter his course of proceeding, and not join his prayers with Gehazi’s action. Or, perhaps, God did not see fit that the child should come to life again by the touch of the staff, lest it might be thought that he had only lain in a swoon, which at length went off of itself. The child is not awaked That is, not revived; death being oft and fitly compared to a sleep, because of the resurrection, which will in due time follow it, and here followed speedily, which makes the expression peculiarly proper in this place.

Verses 33-34

2 Kings 4:33-34. He shut the door upon them twain Upon himself and the dead child, that he might pray to God without interruption, and might more freely use those means which he thought fit. And put his mouth, &c.

One part upon another successively; for the disproportion of the bodies would not permit it to be done together. The flesh of the child grew warm Not by any external heat, which could not be transmitted to the child’s body by such slight touches of the prophet’s body; but from a principle of life, which was already infused into the child, and by degrees enlivened all the parts of his body.

Verse 35

2 Kings 4:35. Then he returned and walked in the house Exercising his mind in prayer to God. And went up, &c. Repeating his former actions, to teach us not to be discouraged in our prayers, if we be not speedily answered. And the child sneezed seven times Whereby his head was cleared, in which his pain had chiefly lain; and the child opened his eyes So the work begun in the former verse is here perfected. Although miracles were for the most part done in an instant, yet sometimes they were done by degrees. See here the power of God, who kills and makes alive again! see the power of prayer; as it has the key of the clouds, so it has the key of death! see the power of faith; that fixed law of nature, namely, that death is a way whence there is no returning, shall rather be dispensed with, than this believing Shunammite shall be disappointed!

Verses 36-37

2 Kings 4:36-37. When she was come in unto him Hebrew, come to him, namely, to the door of his chamber, where probably he met her with the joyful message. Then she went in Into his chamber: and after she had thrown herself at his feet, full of humility and gratitude, and reverencing him as an angel of God, she went to the bed, took up her son, and went out Publishing, no doubt, this wonderful work of God to all her family; who made it known abroad.

Verse 38

2 Kings 4:38. There was a dearth in the land The same that we read of chap. 2 Kings 3:1. It continued seven years, just as long again as that in the time of Elijah. For if a wicked nation will not be reformed by a lesser judgment, they must expect to be visited with a greater. The sons of the prophets were sitting before him To hear his wisdom, and be instructed in the law, that they might teach others. He said unto his servant, Seethe the pottage, &c. By this it appears that they lived together in society, and, after their lectures, were wont to eat together with their master; who now ordered his servant to prepare some food for them, which was very plain and common, such as the gardens and the fields would produce.

Verses 39-41

2 Kings 4:39-41. And found a wild vine This is generally supposed to have been the coloquintida plant, which has a leaf something like that of the vine, but is so very bitter, that some have called it “the gall of the whole earth:” it purges vehemently, and is a sort of poison if not qualified and taken in a moderate quantity. For they knew them not Neither he that gathered them, nor they that shred them, knew what they were, but took them to be the leaves of a wild vine. They cried out, O thou man of God, there is death in the pot That is, some deadly thing. This they concluded from its being so bitter and distasteful. He said, Bring meal and cast it into the pot Together with the pottage, which they had taken out of it. And there was no harm in the pot Which alteration was not from any virtue in the meal, but from the power of God.

Verse 42

2 Kings 4:42. A man brought bread of the first fruits, &c. This was a seasonable present, it being a time of dearth, when bread was very scarce. The first-fruits were due to the priests, but these, and probably the rest of the priests’ dues, were usually brought by the pious Israelites, according to their ability and opportunity, to the Lord’s prophets, because they were not permitted to carry them to Jerusalem. Twenty loaves of barley Of what weight is not said, but it is likely they were but small, being intended only for the prophet’s own eating. And full ears of corn in the husk thereof Which, being parched, they were wont to eat, Ruth 2:15. But Dr. Hammond thinks these words should be rendered, They brought ears of corn in a satchel, or scrip. Give unto the people that they may eat That is, to the sons of the prophets, with whom he then was, when this present was brought to him.

Verse 43

2 Kings 4:43. What! should I set this before a hundred men? Just as the apostles said to the Lord Jesus, when he intended to feed a far greater number with less food. He said again, Give unto the people, &c. Do as I order you, and make no objections. For thus saith the Lord, They shall eat, and shall leave thereof As the multitude left of the loaves and fishes which Christ caused to be set before them. The similitude between several of the miracles of Elijah and Elisha, and those of the Lord Jesus, is very striking, and may be considered as a proof that they all acted by the power of one and the same Spirit. The miracles of the Son of God, however, were both far more in number, and far greater, than those which were performed by these his servants.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Kings 4". Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/2-kings-4.html. 1857.
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