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the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
2 Kings 4

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary

Verse 1

2 Kings 4:1. The creditor is come to take unto him my two sons The Jewish law looked upon children as the proper goods of their parents, who had power to sell them for seven years, as their creditors had to compel them to do it, in order to pay their debts. From the Jews this custom was adopted by the Athenians, and from them by the Romans: the Romans, indeed, had the most absolute controul over their children. By the decree of Romulus they could imprison, beat, kill, or sell them for slaves: Numa Pompilius first moderated this severity; and the emperor Dioclesian made a law that no free person should be sold on account of debt. The ancient Athenians had the like jurisdiction over their children; but Solon reformed this cruel custom.

REFLECTIONS.—Elisha, wherever he goes, is found dispensing blessings around him.

1. A poor widow makes application to him in her distress: her husband, a prophet whom Elisha knew, a man who feared God, had died in debt, not contracted by his own extravagances, but by unforeseen losses; or he was ruined under the persecution of Jezebel. His cruel creditors now were urgent upon her, and her sons are ready to be seized for bondmen, through her inability to answer their demands, Note; (1.) Unforeseen providences may ruin an honest man, and leave him under debts that he cannot pay; but he who contracts them without a probability of repaying, or by extravagance outlives his income, is as dishonest as he who robs or steals. (2.) When a good man is under providential afflictions, he may humbly expect as providential relief.

2. Elisha, though silver and gold he had not, yet puts her in a method to pay her debts, and maintain her family. He inquires what she has left; and when he finds that she has neither money nor goods of value, but one pot of oil only, that shall be a fountain of relief. He bids her borrow of her neighbours empty vessels, and, to avoid interruption from her creditors, or not to boast of the miracle, shut her door, and, with her son's assistance, fill every vessel; for the oil should not fail. Without hesitation she complies with the prophet's injunctions, and the inexhausted stream continued flowing till there were no more vessels remaining. Note; (1.) An honest heart will part with the last utensil, rather than not repay a just debt. (2.) When we are desiring, in faith on the word of promise, to be found in the way of duty, God will take care that we shall not want. (3.) Divine grace, like this fountain of oil, ceases not to flow; till the faithful soul is filled with all the fulness of God.

3. The widow having with joy acquainted the prophet with the success, he directs her to sell this precious store, first satisfy her creditors, and then live on the residue. Note. (1.) Before we pretend to enjoy what Providence bestows, let every just debt be paid; for, with what comfort can we eat the bread of injustice? (2.) Let the poor, the widow, and the fatherless, cast their care on God; for he has promised to care for them. (3.) A little, with God's blessing, will bring greater contentment, than the affluence of extravagance, and the wages of injustice?

Verse 10

2 Kings 4:10. Let us make a little chamber—on the wall, &c.— See the note on Judges 3:20. The little chamber here spoken of, to which Elisha retired at his leisure, without breaking in upon the private affairs of the family, or being in his turn interrupted by them in his devotions, seems to have been of the like nature and contrivance with the oleahs, or back-houses, mentioned in that note.

Verse 13

2 Kings 4:13. I dwell among mine own people The phrase shews us the moderation of this woman, who was removed from all intercourse with courts, and from all ambition to be concerned with them.

REFLECTIONS.—Elisha, in his travels from Carmel to Samaria, often passed through Shunem; and we are told,

1. How kindly he was entertained by a good woman there. As God had blessed her with affluence, her hospitable doors were open to God's prophets; and though Elisha modestly declined going thither, and took up with humbler accommodations, she sought him out; begged as a favour that he would ever take her house in his way; and, to engage him to be more than a passing guest, so profitable had she found his short visits, she solicits her husband to build him a little chamber on the wall, probably of their garden, near their house, the expence of which would be trivial, a prophet's chamber needing no elegance, said to appropriate this wholly for him; which being retired from noise, would engage him to spend more time with them; and to this her husband gladly consented. Note; (1.) Modest worth deserves entreaty. (2.) That house is highly honoured which entertains a man of God. (3.) A good wife will do nothing of importance without consulting her husband, and a good husband will never give her cause to regret her dutiful obedience, by his delight to gratify her in every reasonable desire.

2. Elisha, in gratitude for so hospitable an entertainment, is willing to make this good woman a grateful return. He sends Gehazi, with professions of his sense of her kindness, to call her to him, that he might inquire what service would be agreeable to her, as he had interest in the court and camp, and would obtain for her husband preferment in either. She readily obeys the prophet's call, but professes her contentment in their present situation, and wants nothing more of worldly advantage than they enjoyed. Elisha, at a loss what to do for her, inquires of his servant, who might be more conversant with the family, and know more of their affairs; who suggests, that a son would be the most acceptable blessing, she being childless, and her husband old. Elisha, having called her back to his chamber-door, where she respectfully waited the prophet's pleasure, assures her of what she can scarcely believe; (and fears he only jested,) that she shall have a son; but the event verifies the prediction. Note; (1.) A grateful heart will not only acknowledge the kindness shewn, but seize the first occasion to return it. (2.) They who have sufficiency and content at home, may well prefer their lot; courts and palaces are seldom so blest. (3.) They who imitate this Shunammite's piety, if here they receive not their reward, may shortly expect a portion better than that of sons or of daughters.

Verse 23

2 Kings 4:23. It is neither new moon nor sabbath No stated public day, upon which the prophets used to preach and instruct the people, and on which, consequently, they were always to be found by such as wanted their advice or assistance.

Verse 24

2 Kings 4:24. Drive, and go forward The appearance of travellers in the Holy Land, differs a good deal from that of those who journey among us. To see a person mounted, and attended by a servant on foot, would seem odd to us; and it would be much more so to see that servant driving the beast before him, or goading it along;—yet these are eastern modes. So Dr. Pococke, in his account of Egypt, tells us, that the man (by which possibly he means the husband) always leads the lady's ass there; and if she has a servant he goes on one side; but the ass-driver follows the man, goads on the beast, and when he is to turn directs his head with a pole. The Shunammite, when she went to the prophet, did not desire so much attendance, but only requested her husband to send her an ass and its driver, to whom she gave the order here mentioned. From the eastern manner of the women's riding on asses, it appears that the word נהג nehag here is rightly translated, drive, rather than lead; and this account of Dr. Pococke's will also explain why she did not desire two asses, one for herself, and the other for the servant who attended her. Solomon might refer to the same, when in Ecc 10:7 he says," I have seen servants upon horses, and princes walking as servants upon the earth." The reader will judge for himself. See Observations, p. 215.

Verse 34

2 Kings 4:34. Lay upon the child, &c.— See what we have said on 1 Kings 17:21.

REFLECTIONS.—How precarious is every sublunary blessing! how little dependance to be placed upon the comforts of a perishing world! We see,

1. This darling boy, seized in the harvest-field with his father, complains, My head, my head; and is sent home to the fond mother's bosom, and there death closes his eyes. Note; We had need stand prepared for sudden strokes; death often seizes at short warning.

2. With silent submission she took the dear corpse, and, going to the prophet's chamber, laid it on his bed, that the death might not be known, and where it would lie unmolested, till her return: then she hastes to her husband, and begs leave to go to the man of God. He wonders at her journey, as it was not one of the stated seasons when she used to join in worship with him. She said, Well, let me go, or be easy till I return; and, having his consent, she hastes to Carmel. At a distance observing her, the prophet sends to inquire the reason of her coming at this unusual season, and whether all at home were well? She answers well; her faith speaks the language of resignation. Then drawing near, she falls at his feet, whilst bitter anguish stops for a while her utterance. Gehazi is assiduous to raise her up, but the prophet restrains him: he saw some heavy grief oppressed her, though the Lord had not revealed to him the cause. At last, her interrupted words began to flow, and in her questions he perceived the cause of her distress. Note; (1.) In every affliction, the consideration from whose hand it comes, should silence all complaint. (2.) All is well, when, however distressing the providence, we are enabled to submit to, and improve under the visitation. (3.) If he who gives, takes away, we are to be thankful for the length of the loan, and not to murmur that God resumes his gift. (4.) The joys of earth ebb and flow; and when we think the cup of happiness at our lips, disappointment robs us of the draught; but we have a more abiding portion, which, once secured, will never deceive us.

3. Elisha was as ready to help as she to ask, and instantly dispatches Gehazi with his staff to lay on the child's face, while he should pray that God would restore him to life; but the Shunammite, earnest that himself would go, will not quit him; and he consents at her importunity, and follows his servant. Gehazi meets them on the road, having to no effect executed his commands; and Elisha himself enters the chamber, shuts the door, and, with earnest cries to God, begs that the spirit of the child may return; then after waiting a while, with significant gestures, in faith of the returning vital breath and heat, the flesh began to wax warm, the channels of life to be again opened, and, after sneezing seven times, the child looked up, and with delight he restored him to the tender mother, overwhelmed with gratitude and joy. Note; (1.) The word of God in the mouth of his servants, like the prophet's staff, is ineffectual to quicken the dead in sins, unless accompanied with the life-giving spirit. (2.) In the restoration of the spiritually dead, though the vital principle is infused at once, yet the exercise of the vital functions is gradually recovered. (3.) They who are sent to awake the dead, have need to be men of prayer and patience. (4.) If a dead son restored to life be such a joy to a mother's heart, how much greater comfort ought it to minister, to see the bands of spiritual death loosed from our children?

Verse 39

2 Kings 4:39. Found a wild vine, and gathered thereof wild gourds, &c.— See Hiller. Hieroph. part 2: p. 220. This is generally supposed to have been the coloquintida plant, which is so very bitter that some have called it "the gall of the whole earth:" it purges excessively, and is a sort of poison, if not qualified and taken in a moderate quantity. See Scheuchzer, who has given a print of the plant. The writer of the Observations remarks, that the common pottage of the Arabs is made by cutting their meat into little pieces, and boiling them with rice, flour, and parsley, all of which is afterwards poured into a proper vessel; and this in their language is called chorba. See Judges 6:19. Parsley is used in this chorba, and a great many other herbs in their cookery. These are not always gathered out of gardens, even by those who live in a more settled way than the Arabs; for Dr. Russell, after giving a long account of the garden-stuff at Aleppo, tells us, that, besides those from culture, the fields afford bugloss, mallow, and asparagus, which they use as pot-herbs, besides some others which they use in sallads. This is the more extraordinary as they have such numbers of gardens about Aleppo, and will take off all wonder from the present relation of one's going into the field to gather herbs to put into the pottage of the sons of the prophets, at a time when indeed Ahab, and doubtless others, had gardens of herbs (see 1 Kings 21:2.); but it is not to be supposed that every thing was so brought under culture, as in later times. The Mishnah, a book referring to a much later period, speaks of gathering herbs in the field to sell in the market: Titulo Shebiith. See Observations, p. 180.

Verse 42

2 Kings 4:42. And full ears of corn in the husk thereof And also new corn in his scrip or bag. Houbigant.

REFLECTIONS.—Elisha's happy employment was in the prophetic schools, to instruct and encourage by his advice and experience those who might succeed him in the rising generation. Thus we find him employed at Gilgal; and by his miracles relieving their bodies while he fed their souls.

1. He commands his servant to provide a repast for his disciples, after his instructions. They had learned temperance in his school. The unskilful servant, employed to gather herbs in the fields, found a wild vine, and shred a quantity of the gourds into the pottage. The taste quickly discovered the noxious quality of the provision, and, suspecting poison, they cried out to Elisha. He calls for a handful of meal, and casts it into the pot; the miraculous effect of which healed this bitter broth, as the salt the waters of Jericho. Note; (1.) They who preach mortification to others, must shew themselves examples of the self-denial they recommend. (2.) The delicacies of the luxurious, and the bowl of the intemperate, are more dangerous than the prophet's mess; the one only threatened temporal death, the other brings eternal destruction.

2. Elisha, who had before prevented the poisonous food from hurting, now makes a few loaves suffice for a full repast. As Israel was cut off from the temple, the few faithful made the prophets God's receivers, and employed their tithes for the support of these schools of piety. A good man of Baal-shalisha sent his first-fruits, of some ears of barley, and twenty loaves, to Elisha; poor fare indeed, but acceptable to the sons of the prophets. These he commands to be set before the people. His servant objects to the possibility of feeding a hundred men with such scanty provision; but Elisha bids him obey, and God will make it, as the event proved, enough and to spare. Note; (1.) A good man will not eat his morsel alone, but break his bread to the hungry. (2.) When God gives his blessing, a little will go far.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 2 Kings 4". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/2-kings-4.html. 1801-1803.
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