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THE WIDOW’S OIL INCREASED
2 Kings 4:6. And it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said unto her son, Bring me yet a vessel. And he said unto her, There is not a vessel more. And the oil stayed.
FROM every event recorded in the Old Testament, there is much useful instruction to be derived. For instance, it is impossible to read with attention the account of the miracle before us, and not to see, that, in our deepest extremity, God is able and willing to relieve those who trust in him. But there are often minute incidents, which a superficial reader is apt to overlook, but which, to a considerate mind, suggest very important reflections. Of this kind is the incident mentioned in my text: the increase of oil continued as long as there was a vessel left to contain it; but when there remained no more a vessel to receive the oil, the supply ceased. So remarkable a circumstance as this cannot have occurred without a special design on the part of God that we should make a suitable improvement of it: and, that we may draw from it the instruction which it is well calculated to convey, I shall mark,
The bounty of God towards this insolvent widow—
Certainly her distress was great—
[She was the widow of a pious minister. Her late husband was one of the sons of the prophets: and so decided had been his piety, that she could appeal to the prophet himself, “Thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord.” He had died in debt; not through any extravagance of his: for a man that will run into debt for the purpose of indulging his pride and vanity, has no pretensions to real piety. Piety would teach him to “owe no man any thing,” and to deny himself any gratification rather than obtain it at the expense of common honesty. But in the days of Ahab and Jezebel, when a hundred prophets were hid by fifties in a cave, and fed with bread and water, at the expense of a single individual, to prevent their falling into the hands of their blood-thirsty persecutor, we wonder not that a pious minister should be involved in debt. And, indeed, at any time a man may be so oppressed with misfortunes or with sickness, as to preclude a possibility of avoiding debt, especially if he have, like this man, a wife and family to maintain.
But, to add to her affliction, she was warned by her creditors, that they would take her two sons, and sell them for bond-men. This the law enabled them to do [Note: Leviticus 25:39-40; Matthew 18:25.]: and this would exceedingly augment her trouble, since to her widowhood and poverty would be added the loss of her sons, who were her only hope and support.
Under this heavy calamity she applied to the Prophet Elisha; who, though not able to relieve her himself, might possibly obtain relief for her from God.]
The relief afforded her, through the instrumentality of Elisha, was fully adequate to her necessities—
[The prophet interrogated her as to the means which were yet left her of discharging her debts: and being informed that nothing remained to her but a pot of oil, he directed her to borrow as many vessels as she could of her neighbours, and, with her doors closed in order to avoid the distraction which might be occasioned by impertinent curiosity, to pour out the oil into the vessels, under a full assurance that it should be so multiplied as to prove a supply for all her wants. The event fully answered her expectations: and in one hour she had enough to pay all her creditors, and to support herself and family for the future. Thus, in the hour of her necessity, did she experience the truth of that proverb, “In the mount the Lord shall be seen.”]
But the point to which we wish more particularly to draw your attention is, the stopping of the supply, when there were no more vessels to be filled. And this, whilst it shews how large God’s bounty is, shews also,
Whence it is that we also are not more enriched by it—
Our state accords in a measure with that of the insolvent widow, inasmuch as we are loaded with a debt which we can never discharge, and are threatened with everlasting bonds as the just consequence of our insolvency. But from God do I declare,
That relief shall be afforded you—
[God is both able and willing to relieve all who call upon him. He is able; as the Apostle has said: “God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all-sufficiency in all things, may abound unto every good work [Note: 2 Corinthians 9:8.].” And to God he ascribes all glory, in that precise view: “Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the Church by Christ Jesus, throughout all ages, world without end, Amen [Note: Ephesians 3:20.].” And He is as willing as he is able. It is for this very end that he has treasured up in Christ all fulness for us, that out of it we may receive to the utmost extent of our necessities [Note: Colossians 1:19; John 1:16.]. In Christ is “the residue of the Spirit [Note: Malachi 2:15.];” whom he has “received without measure [Note: John 3:34.],” on purpose that he may impart of it unto us, even to the most rebellious amongst us [Note: Psalms 68:18.].]
That if we receive not to the fullest possible extent of our necessities, it is “not in God that we are straitened, but in ourselves [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:12.]”—
[Most free are the invitations given us to come and receive God’s blessings “without money and without price [Note: Isaiah 55:1.].” And so largely is our Saviour willing to bestow them, that “they should be in us a well of water springing up unto everlasting life [Note: John 4:14.].” Yea, to all, without exception, does he make an offer, that, if they come unto him for the waters of life, “out of their belly shall flow rivers of living water.” “And this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive [Note: John 7:37-39.].” He is represented by the Prophet Zechariah as an inexhaustible fountain, even as that golden bowl which by golden pipes supplies with golden oil every lamp in God’s sanctuary [Note: Zechariah 4:1-6; Zechariah 4:11-14.]. He bids us “open our mouth wide, that he may fill it [Note: Psalms 81:10.].” He assures us that we may “ask what we will, and it shall be done unto us [Note: John 15:7.]:” and that “according to our faith it shall be done unto us [Note: Matthew 9:29.].” Why, then, have we for the most part so scanty a supply of God’s Holy Spirit? The reason may be seen in the conduct of king Joash. Elisha had told him that he should destroy the Syrians who had oppressed him: and he bade the king to strike the ground with the arrows which he had in his hand. The king, being deficient both in faith and zeal, struck the ground only three times, and thereby greatly incensed the prophet against him; and was told, that the mercy promised should be reduced to the scale which he himself, by his want of zeal, had dictated: for he should smite the Syrians only thrice; whereas, if he had struck the ground five or six times, he should have utterly consumed them [Note: 2 Kings 13:15-19.]. Thus, if we were more urgent in our prayers, and more enlarged in our expectations, who can tell what supplies of the Holy Spirit we might obtain? Verily I speak not too strongly, if I say, that God would “pour him out so abundantly upon us [Note: Titus 3:6.],” that we should “be filled with all the fulness of God [Note: Ephesians 3:19.].”]
This, then, I would desire of you, my Brethren:
Beg of God to make you sensible of your wants—
[You are not a whit less indigent than that insolvent widow. But the testimony of faith is weak in comparison of that of sense. You see how bent she was on obtaining relief: let me entreat you to follow her steps in this respect; and to ask of God himself, who has promised to “supply all your wants according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus [Note: Philippians 4:19.].”]
Assign no limits to the supplies which he will afford you—
[See what God did on the day of Pentecost: three thousand were converted in one hour! And why should not his grace abound in like manner towards us? He has said, that “a nation shall be born in a day [Note: Isaiah 66:8.]:” and that “when he shall breathe upon the dry bones, the dead shall arise a whole army [Note: Ezekiel 37:9-10.].” Enlarge, then, your expectations, to the utmost extent of God’s power and grace. And, if a doubt arise whether your insignificance or unworthiness shall not divert his attention from you, or arrest his arm, know, and be assured, that no father upon earth would so readily supply the wants of his first-born child, as God would fulfil your desires in the gift of his Holy Spirit to your souls [Note: Luke 11:13.]. “Ask, and ye shall receive; and your joy shall be full [Note: John 16:24.].”]
CONTENTMENT ILLUSTRATED IN THE SHUNAMITE
2 Kings 4:13. What is to be done for thee? Wouldest thou be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host? And she answered, I dwell among mine own people.
“TO be content with such things as we have” is a very rare acquirement. Every one imagines that some change of circumstances, and especially some addition to his fortune, will increase his happiness. But the answer of the Shunamite to the Prophet Elisha may well dissipate this delusion. She, in concurrence with her husband, had provided accommodation for the prophet, that, when he was proceeding on his journeys in the discharge of his ministerial office, and should have occasion to visit Shunem, he might have a place of repose under her roof. The prophet, sensible of her great kindness, and thankful for all the care she had taken of him, proposed to do any thing she might wish for the promotion of her interests. He offered to speak for her to the captain of the host, or even to the king himself, if he might thereby obtain for her and her husband any thing that might conduce to their comfort. But she declined his kind offer, saying, “I dwell among mine own people,” and possess in my intercourse with them all that my heart can desire.
Now this was a wise and good reply. It commends itself to us as the dictate of a sound judgment,
On the principles of worldly wisdom—
Advancement in the world was offered her, but she preferred,
A state of independence to a state of obligation—
[No man should be ashamed of a state of dependence, or of being indebted to the kind offices of others, if God has put him into a situation that requires it. God has ordained that there shall be a great diversity in the conditions of men, on purpose that every species of virtue may be called forth into act and exercise; in the poor, contentment, and in the rich, a liberal and tender sympathy. But to be needlessly dependent upon others is most disgraceful. No man should subsist on alms when he is able to support himself. It was a blessing which God promised to his obedient people, when he said, “Ye shall lend to many nations, but shall not borrow; since by the one they would be the head, whereas by the other they would be in the degraded situation of the tail [Note: Deuteronomy 28:12-13.].” It was a virtuous pride therefore in this woman to decline a state of dependence, when God had given her a sufficiency for independence.]
A state of competency to a state of affluence—
[She had food and raiment; What could she have more? An abundance of the things of this life is usually productive of care, and always exposes us to temptation; whilst yet the possessor of it has “no other benefit from it than, that of beholding it with his eyes [Note: Ecclesiastes 5:11. See also Psalms 37:16; Proverbs 15:16; Ecclesiastes 4:6; Matthew 6:25-30.].” Why then should any man affect worldly advancement? “A man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things that he possesseth [Note: Luke 12:15.].” True wisdom therefore dictates to every man the advice, which Jeremiah gave to Baruch, “Seekest thou great things unto thyself? Seek them not [Note: Jeremiah 45:5.].”]
A state of domestic quiet to all the happiness that arises from external and adventitious circumstances—
[It is a great mistake to imagine that happiness can be found in amusements of any kind. They involve no small measure of trouble in the pursuit of them, and they almost always issue in disappointment. At all events they are but “as the crackling of thorns under a pot,” which blaze for a moment, and then expire in smoke and darkness [Note: Ecclesiastes 7:6.]. But in filling up our station in life with diligence, and administering to the welfare of all around us, there is real happiness. However much we diversify the objects of our pursuit abroad, we never attain any solid satisfaction: “The eye is never satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing [Note: Ecclesiastes 1:8.].” But, when we move in our domestic circle, like the sun in its course, diffusing light and comfort all around us, we possess that state of peaceful tranquillity, which, for a continuance, is the most enviable frame on earth.]
If in a mere worldly view, and on the principles of common sense, this woman’s choice was commendable, much more was it so,
On the principles of Christian piety—
Let two things only be considered;
How little can any worldly things add to the happiness of a believing soul!
[Pleasure, riches, and honour are the great objects of men’s idolatrous regard. But what pleasure can the world afford in comparison of “that peace which passeth all understanding,” and that “joy which is unspeakable and glorified,” both of which are the believer’s portion from day to day? And what are gold and silver when compared with “the unsearchable riches of Christ,” which are ministered even to the poorest and meanest of God’s saints? What, too, are the most elevated titles upon earth, when put in competition with that of being “sons of God, and joint-heirs with Christ?” If we could imagine two angels sent from heaven, one to rule an empire, and the other to sweep the streets, they would be equally happy in discharging the offices assigned them, because they would have no happiness but in God. And so it is with us, in proportion as we are renewed by divine grace: we shall, “in whatsoever state we are placed, be therewith content,” and, whilst “having nothing, consider ourselves as possessing all things.”]
How entirely our future abundance depends on our present moderation!
[We are told by our Lord that “The cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and render it unfruitful:” and we see in Demas this sad effect: “Demas hath forsaken us, having loved this present evil world.” The things of this life are as “thick clay to the feet” of one who is running a race, or as “a long garment” that impedes his every step. Hence we are told to cast off both the one and the other, that we may “so run as to obtain the prize.” Now no one would doubt the wisdom of complying with this advice when striving for an earthly crown; nor can any one doubt it in reference to the spiritual “race that is set before us.” Hence, when the question was put to David, “Who will shew us any good?” he replied, “Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us [Note: Psalms 4:6.].”]
Seeing now that this Shunamite’s choice was so wise, let us inquire,
Whence it is that this disposition is so rare—
[She improved for the Lord the property she possessed. She spent it not on carnal gratifications, but devoted what she could to pious uses. Now by acting on that principle we suppress all worldly-mindedness, and attain a superiority to all covetous desires. But how few do act on that principle! How few regard their property as given them of the Lord for the carrying on of his service, and for the promotion of his glory! Hence it is that worldly advancement is so coveted; and that few, with such prospects as were now opened to this pious woman, would have the wisdom or the fortitude to follow her example.]
How we may attain it—
[Nothing will so soon or so effectually deliver us from worldly desires, as the acquisition and experience of heavenly joys. Our Lord told the Samaritan woman that “whosoever should drink of Jacob’s well, would thirst again; but that whosoever should drink of the water that he would give, should never thirst.” And so we find it invariably. “By the cross of Christ, the world will become crucified unto us, and we unto the world.” Let us then “set our affections on things above, and not on things on the earth:” so shall we both advance our happiness here, and secure a more exalted happiness in the realms above.]
ALL THE DISPENSATIONS OF PROVIDENCE ARE GOOD
2 Kings 4:26. And she answered, It is well.
TO serve the Lord with our talents is the best possible improvement of them. Even as it respects this life, we never exert ourselves truly for God without receiving from him, in some way or other, an abundant recompence. Behold the pious Shunamite: being provided richly with the good things of this life, she gladly imparted of them to the Prophet Elisha; and, with her husband’s approbation, provided for him a comfortable accommodation in her house. The prophet, full of gratitude, desired to requite her kindness, and for that end would have exerted his influence with the king in any way that she should desire: but her contented disposition rendered all such services unnecessary. There was, however, one service which he might render. She had no child, which to a Jewish woman was a great calamity: and he might intercede with God to bestow upon her this blessing. Accordingly he did so, and prevailed: and thus her generous hospitality was richly rewarded. But she had a still better reward in her soul: for under an exceedingly deep affliction, she was enabled to make the declaration in our text, “It is well.”
In considering this declaration, we shall notice,
The circumstances under which it was made—
This son had no sooner arrived at an age to render himself amusing to his parents, than he was removed by sudden death. In great affliction the mother set off instantly to the prophet; who, seeing her at a distance, sent immediately to inquire after the welfare of herself, her husband, and her child: and to each inquiry she replied, “It is well.”
[Her affliction would have been great, if she had had other children left: but to lose her only son, her son miraculously given, and to hare him so suddenly snatched away, was a calamity which might have utterly overwhelmed her. That she felt deeply was manifest, from the manner in which she prostrated herself at the prophet’s feet, and from the plea she urged with him to intercede in her behalf: “Did I desire a son of my lord? Did I not say, Do not deceive me?” that is, If I had indulged an inordinate desire after this blessing, I might well have expected this severe chastisement: but when it was given me unsolicited, as a reward for my attentions to thee, surely it was not given merely to mock me, and to augment my sorrows. But, notwithstanding the anguish of her mind, she was enabled to leave the matter in God’s hands, and to say, “It is well.” Thus did she tread in the steps of Aaron [Note: Leviticus 10:3.], of Eli [Note: 1 Samuel 3:18.], of David [Note: Psalms 39:9.], and of Job [Note: Job 1:21.]; and afforded an example of patience to the Church in all ages.]
[She had not indeed any promise to rest upon; but she had a persuasion that God was gracious, and would hear the prayers of his servant in her behalf. Hence it was that she put the child upon the prophet’s bed, and hastened with such speed to him, and pleaded her cause with him in such an affecting manner. In this view the history before us is referred to in the Epistle to the Hebrews; “By faith women received their dead raised to life again [Note: Hebrews 11:35.]:” and in this noble exercise of faith, she approved herself a true daughter of Abraham, who offered up his son Isaac, from a persuasion “that God was able to raise him up again, even from the dead [Note: Hebrews 11:17-19.].” This divine principle calmed her spirits and composed her mind: and, wherever the same principle exists, it will produce a similar composure, in proportion as its operation is encouraged and felt.]
Her declaration was scarcely more the language of faith than it was of prophecy; as appears from,
The events whereby it was verified—
The prophet instantly complied with her request, and sent his servant Gehazi to lay his staff upon the face of the child, with a view to his recovery. But in this he appears to have acted without any direction from God, and without that humble reference to God which the occasion demanded: and therefore God rebuked him by not accompanying the attempt with his blessing. The prophet, finding that his desire had failed, sought the Lord with all humility and earnestness; and, by means similar to those which had before been successfully used by Elijah, he obtained of God the restoration of the child to life [Note: Compare ver. 34, 35 with 1 Kings 17:21. The gestures were used, not as means to an end, but as emblematic of the blessing desired.]. Who now must not acknowledge the truth of the mother’s declaration? Verily, “it was well,” and the dispensation, though afflictive, was good,
As exercising and confirming her graces—
[How would it have been known that she possessed the graces of faith and resignation, if somewhat had not occurred to call them forth? and how could they have been strengthened, if not exercised? The pruning of the vine is therefore good, because it tends to augment its fruitfulness [Note: John 15:2.]; and the putting of the choicest vessel into a furnace is good, as tending to fit it for the master’s use [Note: 2 Timothy 2:21.]. Thus is “tribulation good, as working patience, experience, and hope [Note: Romans 5:3-5; Hebrews 12:11.].” Hence we are authorized rather to congratulate the saints upon their trials, than condole with them [Note: James 1:2-3; James 5:11; Romans 8:28.]: and the universal testimony of God’s people, after they have come out of their troubles, accords with that of the Psalmist, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted [Note: Psalms 119:67; Psalms 119:71.].”]
As displaying and magnifying God’s perfections—
[This trial of hers occasioned an application to God in her behalf: and how marvellous did the condescension of God appear in listening to the voice of his servant, and in granting his petitions! How glorious too was the display of his power! And was not a momentary suffering good, when it was an occasion of bringing so much glory to Jehovah? Is there a saint in the universe that would not gladly endure even more than that, for the attainment of so blessed an end? St Paul desired nothing so much as that God might be glorified in him; and, provided his Lord and “Saviour might only be magnified in his body,” he was indifferent whether it were “by life or by death [Note: Philippians 1:20.].” And, wherever the love of God is shed abroad in the heart, not even life itself will be dear to us, except as it may be improved, or sacrificed for him.]
Be not hasty to judge the dispensations of Providence—
[God’s ways are in the great deep; his footsteps are not known: and often those very dispensations, of which we are ready to say with Jacob, “All these things are against me,” are in reality the greatest blessings that God can bestow. Behold the case of Job; how glorious was the issue of his trials [Note: Job 42:11-16.]! And, if we could see the end from the beginning as God does, we should pronounce a similar verdict on every trial that we are called to endure. The forty years’ sojourning in the wilderness was a dark dispensation; yet we are told, “God led his people in the right way:” so he leads us also in the right way; and when we get to heaven we shall bless him as fervently for all the troubles we sustained, as for any comfort we ever enjoyed.]
Be not backward to improve them—
[Every trial has a voice to us, and is calculated to teach us some important lesson [Note: Job 33:14-17; Job 33:29-30.]. Hence the prophet says, “Hear the rod, and him that hath appointed it [Note: Micah 6:9.].” Consider then what it is intended to speak to you: take occasion from it to examine your ways, to see wherein you may have erred, or wherein you may amend your ways. Thus will every event be made a blessing to your souls; and Samson’s riddle be verified in you; “Out of the eater you will bring forth meat, and out of the strong you will bring forth sweet.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 2 Kings 4". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany