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2 Kings 4:1-44
TYPICAL MIRACLES WROUGHT BY ELISHA. General introduction. The miracles of this chapter are all of them miracles of mercy. The first and last consist in the multiplying of food, and thus belong to the same class as our Lord's feeding the four and the five thousands, and Elijah's increasing the meal and oil of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:10-16). It serves no useful purpose to ask how miracles of this class were wrought. The inspired writers have not told us; and our own thoughts upon the subject can at the best be mere unfounded conjectures. The rationalistic attempts which have been made to solve the mystery exhibit a weakness and feebleness that are absolutely puerile. The second miracle is the resuscitation of a dead person, and he-longs, consequently, to the very narrow class of such recoveries—of which in the Old Testament there are three only (see 1 Kings 17:17,1 Kings 17:23; here; and 2 Kings 13:21). The third miracle consists in rendering fit for man's use that which was previously unfit, not by human skill or science, but by miracle; and is analogous to the act of Moses whereby the waters of Marah ceased to be hitter (Exodus 15:25), and to that other act of Elisha himself, whereby the waters of Jericho were healed (2 Kings 2:19-22). It is evidently the object of the writer or compiler of 2 Kings to collect in this place the principal, or at any rate the most noted, of the miraculous acts of the great prophet who succeeded Elijah, and so to preserve them from oblivion. This object, which he began to set before himself in 2 Kings 2:13, continues to be pursued, and forms a link uniting the various narratives together, up to 2 Kings 8:6.
2 Kings 4:1-7
1. The multiplication of the widow's oil.
2 Kings 4:1
Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha, saying. We learn from this that the "sons of the prophets" were not merely, all of them, college students, but included fathers of families, who cannot have lived a cloistered life, but must have had separate homes for themselves and their families. Such persons may still have taught in the prophetical schools, as do the married tutors and professors of modern universities. Thy servant my husband is dead. Elisha had, it seems, known her husband, who had been his "servant," not literally and in deed, but in will and heart, i.e. always ready to serve him. She recalls this fact to his memory, to predispose him in her favor. And thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord. Here was a second ground for Elisha's interference—the woman's husband had been a God-fearing man, one who not only acknowledged Jehovah, but worshipped him in spirit and in truth. There is a Jewish tradition, or legend, that the woman's husband was the Obadiah of 1 Kings 18:3-16, but no dependence can be placed on it. Obadiah, the "governor of Ahab's house," can scarcely have been one of the "sons of the prophets." And the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to he bondmen. In primitive communities, men borrowed upon their personal credit, and the primary security for debt was regarded as being their own persons, the value of their labor, and that of those dependent on them. In Greece and Rome, originally, as in the Hebrew community, borrowers ordinarily raised money by pledging their persons, and, if they could not pay when the debt became due, went into servitude with their children. The Mosaic Law presupposes this state of things, and permits its continuance, but in two respects interferes to modify it:
(1) by requiring that the service exacted shall not be severe (Leviticus 25:43, Leviticus 25:46), but such as was commonly rendered by hired servants (Leviticus 25:39, Leviticus 25:40); and
(2) by limiting the period of service to the date of the next jubilee year (Leviticus 25:40, Leviticus 25:41). In the instance brought here under our notice, it would seem that the creditor had not proceeded to claim his rights until the debtor died, when he on-forced them against the man's children (comp. Nehemiah 5:1-8).
2 Kings 4:2
And Elisha said unto her, What shall I do for thee? Elisha acknowledges at once the call upon him to do something for the woman. This is, no doubt, in part, because she is a widow. Widows were, in the Law, especially commended to the attention and care of the faithful. As Bahr says, "It is a well-known feature of the Mosaic Law, one which is distinctly prominent, that it often and urgently commands to succor the widows and the fatherless, and to care for them (Exodus 22:22-24; Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 24:17, Deuteronomy 24:19; Deuteronomy 26:12; Deuteronomy 27:19). They are mentioned as representatives of the forsaken, the oppressed, and the necessitous as a class (Isaiah 10:2; Jeremiah 6:6; Jeremiah 22:3; Zechariah 7:10; Matthew 3:5; Baruch 6:37). It is especially emphasized and praised in Jehovah, that he is the Father and Judge (i.e. Protector of the rights) of the widows and the fatherless (Deuteronomy 10:18; Psalms 68:5; Psalms 146:9; Isaiah 9:17, etc.). Neglect and contempt of them are counted among the heaviest offences (Psalms 94:6; Job 22:9; Ezekiel 22:7); just as, on the other hand, compassion and care for them is a sign of the true fear of God, and of true piety. (Job 29:12; Job 31:16; Tobit 1:7; James 1:27). Elisha could also gather from the tone of the woman's address that she, like her late husband, was God-fearing. Tell me, what hast thou in the house? Hast thou anything, that is, which thou canst soil, and so pay the debt? And she said, Thins handmaid hath not anything in the house, save a pot of oil; literally, save an anointing of oil; i.e. so much oil as will suffice for one anointing of my person.
2 Kings 4:3
Then he said, Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbors, even empty vessels; borrow not a few. God stints not in his gifts (Isaiah 55:1). When he offers them, men should take advantage of the offer largely, in the same spirit in which it is made (see below, 2 Kings 13:19).
2 Kings 4:4
And when thou art come in, thou shalt shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons. The miracle was to be performed secretly. Attention was not to be called to it—perhaps because otherwise the prophet would have been overwhelmed with applications from others; perhaps because the act was not a mere mechanical one, but required that, during its performance, the hearts of the woman and of her sons should be lifted up in prayer and adoration and thankfulness to God for the mercy which he was bestowing. Interruption from without would have interfered with the frame of mind which was befitting the occasion. Compare our Lord's secret performance of many miracles. And shalt pour out into all those vessels—i.e. those which thou shalt have borrowed—and thou shalt set aside that which is full; i.e. as each vessel is filled, it shall be removed and set aside, and one of the empty vessels substituted—that the pouring might be continuous.
2 Kings 4:5
So she went from him, and shut the door upon her and upon her sons—i.e. obeyed exactly the prophet's orders—who brought the vessels to her; and she poured out; literally, they bringing the vessels to her, and she pouring out. The modus operandi had been left to the woman and her sons, and was thus arranged and ordered, so that there was no confusion nor hurry.
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. It did not occur to her that all the vessels had been already filled; so she asked her son for another, that she might fill it. And he said unto her, There is not a vessel more; i.e. all the vessels that we have in the house are full; there remains no empty one. And the oil stayed. God will not have waste. If the oil had continued to flow, it would have fallen on the floor of the house, and have been of no service to any one. Therefore, when all the vessels were full, there was a sudden stoppage.
2 Kings 4:7
Then she came and told the man of God; i.e. Elisha. She did not feel entitled to make use of the oil which she had got by his instrumentality without first telling him and receiving his directions respecting it. The prophet gave them with all plainness and brevity. And he said, Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt, and live thou and thy children of the rest. The oil in the vessels was more than sufficient for the discharge of the debt. The prophet directs the woman to sell the whole, and, after satisfying the claim of her creditor with part of the money, to support herself and her children on the remainder.
2 Kings 4:8-37
2. The promise of a child to the Shunammite woman, and the restoration of the child to life.
2 Kings 4:8
And it fall on a day, that. The expression seems to be archaic. It occurs only hero and in. the opening chapters of the Book of Job (i. 6, 13; Job 2:1). The most literal rendering would be, and the day came when. Elisha passed to Shunem. Shunem was a village of Galilee, situated in the territory assigned to Issachar (Joshua 19:18). It is reasonably identified with the modern Solam, at the south-eastern foot of the Gebel Duhy, or "Little Hermon," a "flourishing village encompassed by gardens" (Porter), and "in the midst of the finest corn-fields in the world" (Grove), on the edge of the Plain of Esdraelon. Elisha, in his progression to different parts of the northern kingdom, happened to come on one occasion to Shunem. Where was a great woman. Houbigant strangely translates, "a tan woman," maintaining that a woman would not be called "great" in the sense of "wealthy" during her husband's lifetime; but no other commentator has accepted his view. The meaning seems to be that she was a woman of substance, one well-to-do, perhaps one that had brought her husband the bulk of his wealth. And she constrained him to eat broad; i.e. she invited him in as he passed her house, and would take no denial. Compare Lot's pressing hospitality, as related in Genesis 19:1-3. And so it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread. Elisha, it appears, had frequent occasion to pass through Shunem on his way from Carmel to visit the cities of Galilee, or versa. It became his habit, on these journeys, to eat his meals at the house of the rich Shunammite. Hence arose a kindly feeling on both sides and a close intimacy.
2 Kings 4:9
And she said unto her husband, Beheld now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God. Not all the soi-disant men of God were truly religious and God-fearing. In Elisha's time, as in all others, there were among the teachers of religion some who were "wolves in sheep's clothing:' The Shunammite woman, after a certain length of acquaintance, came to the conclusion that Elisha deserved the title which he commonly bore, was truly a "man of God," a real devoted servant of Jehovah. She therefore wished to do more for him than she had hitherto done. Which passeth by us continually; i.e. who passes through our village, and has his meals with us so frequently.
2 Kings 4:10
Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall. Thenius understands "a walled chamber," which he supposes to have been "built upon the flat roof of the house;" but it is more probable that a small addition to the existing upper chamber of the house is meant—a tiny room resting partly upon the wall of the house, partly projecting beyond it, balcony fashion. Such sleeping-chambers are common in Oriental dwellings. And let us set for him there a bed, aria a table, and a stool, and a candlestick; raffler, a bed, and a table, and a chair, and a lamp—the necessary furniture of an apartment which was to be used, not only; as a sleeping-chamber, but also for retirement, for study, and perhaps for literary composition. And it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither. In the intervals between his active ministrations, a prophet would naturally desire quiet retirement, security from interruption. He would need to reflect, to meditate, to pray, perhaps to write. The Shunammite's proposal shows, not only kindness, but thoughtfulness and appreciation.
2 Kings 4:11
And it fell on a day, that he came thither, and he turned into the chamber, and lay there; i.e. slept there, passed the night there.
2 Kings 4:12
And he said to Gehazi his servant. Gehazi is here mentioned for the first time. He seems to have been Elisha's "servant" in a lower sense than Elisha had been Elijah's. Still, his position was such that on one occasion (2 Kings 8:4, 2 Kings 8:5) a king of Israel did not disdain to hold a conversation with him. Call this Shunammite. And when he had called her, she stood before him; i.e. before Gehazi. Elisha communicates with the woman through his servant, or at any rate in his presence, probably to prevent any suspicion of impropriety arising in the mind of any one. The prophet of the Lord must not be evil spoken of.
2 Kings 4:13
And he said unto him, Say now unto her, Behold, thou hast been careful—literally, anxious—for us with all this care—or, anxiety; i.e. thou hast taken all this trouble in lodging both me and my servant, and in attending on us—what is to be done for thee? or, What is there that thou wouldest have done for thee? Is there anything that we can do for thee in return? Wouldest thou be spoken for to the king? Elisha assumes that he has credit at court, and offers to use it in the Shunammite's favor, if she has any request to prefer. We see something of his influence in 2 Kings 6:9-12, 2 Kings 6:21-23; 2 Kings 8:4-6. Or to the captain of the host? i.e. the person whose authority and influence was next to that of the king. And she answered, I dwell among mine own people; i.e. "The court is nothing to me. I want nothing from it. I have no wrong to complain of, no quarrel with any of my neighbors, so as to need the help of one m power. I dwell peaceably among them. They are 'my own people'—friends or dependents." The reply is that of one perfectly content with her position. Perhaps she aims at impressing on Elisha that she has had no selfish motive in what she has done for him, but has merely wished to honor God in his prophet.
2 Kings 4:14
And he said—he, Elisha, said to Gehazi—What then is to be done for her? If the woman will suggest nothing herself, can Gehazi suggest anything? Has he heard her express any wish? Does he know of any boon that would be welcome to her? Evidently the woman's disinterestedness has increased the prophet's desire to do something for her. And Gehazi answered, Verily she hath no child, and her husband is old. It does not appear that the woman had made any complaint or exhibited any special anxiety on the subject of offspring. But Gehazi knows, that to be barren is regarded by all Hebrew women as a re-preach, that it exposes them to scorn and contumely (1 Samuel 1:6, 1 Samuel 1:7), and that offspring is universally, or all but universally, desired. He therefore assumes that the Shunammite must wish for it. And Elisha accepts his suggestion without a moment's hesitation.
2 Kings 4:15
And he said, Call her. And when he had called her, she stood in the door; rather, the doorway. The same word in Hebrew stands both for "doorway" and for "door." It would seem that the woman came at once on being called, but, out of modesty and respect, would not advance beyond the entrance of the apartment.
2 Kings 4:16
And he—i.e. Elisha—said, About this season, according to the time of life—rather, when the time comes round; literally, revives; i.e. about this time next year—thou shalt embrace a son; i.e. "a son shall be born to thee, whom thou wilt embrace, as mothers are wont to do." And she said, Nay, my lord, thou man of God, do not lie unto thine handmaid. Like Sarah, the woman was incredulous; she could not believe the good tidings, and thought the prophet was only raising hopes to disappoint them. Her words, "Do not lie unto thy servant," are less harsh in the original, being merely equivalent to the "Do not deceive me" of 2 Kings 4:28.
2 Kings 4:17
And the woman conceived, and bare a son at that season that Elisha had said unto her, according to the time of life; rather, as the Revised Version gives the passage, the woman conceived, and bare a son at that season, when the time came round, as Elisha had said unto her. The event was exactly as predicted; the child was born at the same season of the ensuing year.
2 Kings 4:18
And when the child was grown—not grown up, for he was still a "child" (2Ki 4:30, 2 Kings 4:31, 2 Kings 4:35, etc.), but grown to be a boy, perhaps four or five years old—it fell on a day, that he went out to his father to the reapers. The corn-fields about Shunem attract the admiration of travelers. The husband of the Shunammite, the owner of several, was in one of them, superintending the cutting of his corn by the reapers; and the boy joined him there, as he had probably often done before. Country children delight in watching the various operations of the farmstead.
2 Kings 4:19
And he said unto his father, My head, my head. Sunstroke was common in Palestine (Psalms 121:6; Isaiah 49:10; Judith 8:2, 3), and would be most frequent and most fatal at the time of harvest. The cry of the child is at once most touching and most natural. And he said to a lad; literally, to the lad-probably the lad who had attended the" young master" to the field. Carry him to his mother; i.e. take him indoors, and let his mother see to him. No wiser directions could have been given.
2 Kings 4:20
And when he had taken him, and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon. It was in the morning, therefore, that the child received his sunstroke—an unusual, but not an unknown, occurrence. In the East the sun often becomes intensely hot by ten o'clock. And then died. There is no ambiguity here, no room for doubt; the child not only became insensible, but died. The historian could not possibly have expressed himself more plainly.
2 Kings 4:21
And she went up, and laid him on the bed of the man of God. One cannot be certain what thoughts were working in the poor bereaved mother's heart; but probably she entertained some vague notion that the prophet might be able to resuscitate her child, and thought that, until his presence could be obtained, the next best thing was to place the child where the prophet's presence had lately been. Elijah had placed on his own bed the child whom he restored to life (1 Kings 17:19); and the fact may have been known to the Shunammite. She certainly did not expect mere contact with the bed to resuscitate her child. And shut the door upon him. Either that the body should not be disturbed, or rather that the death should not be known. It is clear that, from whatever motive, the woman wished to conceal the death of the child until she had seen what Elisha could do for her. She neither told her husband nor the servant who accompanied her. And went out; i.e. quitted the prophet's apartment, closing the door as she quitted it.
2 Kings 4:22
And she culled unto her husband, and said, Send me, I pray thee, one of the young men, and one of the asses. She "called to her husband" from the house, without calling him into the house, expressing her desire to visit Elisha, without stating the object of her visit, and asked for the necessary riding-animal and escort. The nearest part of Carmel was at least fourteen or fifteen miles from Shunem, so that she could not walk, That I may run—i.e; hasten—to the man of God. "Man of God" was evidently the designation by which Elisha was known in the house (2Ki 4:16, 2 Kings 4:21, 2 Kings 4:25). And some again; i.e. return home before nightfall.
2 Kings 4:23
And he said, Wherefore wilt thou go to him today? it is neither new moon nor sabbath. The husband demurred; he saw no occasion for the journey. It was not either "new moon" or "sabbath"—times when evidently the prophets conducted services, which were attended by pious persons from the neighborhood: what could she want of Elisha? He had evidently no idea that the child was dead. Probably he had not realized to himself that he was in any danger. And she said, It shall be well. She uttered the single word shalom, literally, "peace," but used, like the German gut, or the English "all right," to content an inquirer without giving him a definite answer. And the husband accepted her assurance, and did not press for an explanation. The ass and the servant were placed at her disposal without more words.
2 Kings 4:24
Then she saddled an ass; rather, then she saddled (i.e. "caused to be saddled") the ass—the particular animal which her husband had placed at her disposal. And said to her servant, Drive, and go forward; i.e. "set the ass in motion, and then proceed steadily forward." In the East, each donkey has its driver, who sots it in motion, and regulates its pace. The rider leaves all to him. Slack not thy riding for me—rather, slacken me not the riding (Revised Version), or, slacken not my riding; i.e. "do not lessen the pace of my riding"—except I bid thee.
2 Kings 4:25
So she went and came unto the man of God to Mount Carmel. Carmel was to Elisha what Gilead had been to Elijah in his early days—a place for solitary retirement and meditation, where, free from disturbance, he might hold communion with nature and with God. It was not usual for his disciples to intrude upon him there, except at stated times, when gatherings were held at his residence for edification and for worship. And it came to pass, when the man of God saw her afar off—literally, over against him; i.e. coming towards him (ἐρχομένην, LXX.)—that he said to Gehazi his servant, Behold, yonder is that Shunammite. The prophet knew her at a distance, probably by her attire and carriage. We may gather, from her husband's words in 2 Kings 4:23, that she was one of those who had been accustomed to attend the gatherings on new moons and sabbaths.
2 Kings 4:26
Run now, I pray thee, to meet her, and say unto her, Is it well with thee? is it well with thy husband? is it well with the child? Elisha feels that there must be something the matter, to account for the Shunammite's coming to him so unexpectedly. His anxiety is aroused, and, in his impatience to know what has happened, instead of waiting for the woman's arrival, he bids his servant run, and ask what is the matter. Some misfortune, he supposes, must have happened either to her, or to her husband, or to the child. And she answered, It is well. She gave, as before to her husband (2 Kings 4:23), the ambiguous answer, "Peace," intending thereby merely to put off Gehazi, and not explain herself to any one but his master.
2 Kings 4:27
And when she earns to the man of God to the hill—rather, the mountain; i.e. Carmel, where Elisha's residence was—she caught him by the feet. It has always been usual in the East to embrace the feet or the knees, in order to add force to supplication. But Gehazi came near to thrust her away. He regarded the act as one unduly familiar or unduly importunate, and interfered to protect and release his master. And the man of God said, Let her alone; for her soul is vexed within her. Elisha would not have the woman disturbed. He saw that she was in deep distress, and, if there was anything unseemly in her action according to the etiquette of the time, excused it to her profound grief and distraction. The ordinary mind is a slave to conventionalities; the superior mind knows when to be above them. And the Lord hath hid it from me, and hath not told me. God had not informed Elisha, by inward miraculous illumination, of the illness of the child, or its death, or the wild hopes stirring in the afflicted mother's mind, which induced her to make her long and troublesome journey. We need not feel surprised at this. There is always a limit to the miraculous; and facts that may be learnt by a little inquiry are but rarely communicated supernaturally.
2 Kings 4:28
Then she said, Did I desire a son of my lord? did I not say, Do not deceive me? The woman does not directly reveal her grief. Great sorrow is reticent, cannot endure to put itself into words. But she sufficiently indicates the nature of her trouble by the form of her reproach. "Did I ask for a son? Did I make complaint of my childlessness? Had I been importunate, and obtained my son of thee by much asking, I would not have complained. But I did not ask. I did not even snatch greedily at the offer. I demurred. I said, 'Do not deceive me.' But now thou hast done worse than deceive me. Thou hast kept the word of promise to the ear, and broken it to the hope. It is greater misery to have a child and lose him, than never to have had one at all." All this, and more, seems to be involved in the woman's words. And the prophet fully understood their meaning.
2 Kings 4:29
Than he said to Gehazi, Gird up thy loins, and take my staff in thine hand, and go thy way: if thou meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute thee, answer him not again. The object of all these injunctions is haste. Lose not a moment. Go as quickly as thou canst to the house where the child lies. Spend no time in greetings on the way. Slack not. Tarry not. And lay my staff upon the face of the child. What effect the prophet expected from this act, we are not told. Gehazi appears to have expected that it would at once cause a resuscitation (2 Kings 4:31); but there is no evidence that the prophet participated in the expectation. He may have done so, for prophets are not infallible beyond the sphere of the revelations made to them; but he may only have intended to comfort and cheer the mother, and to raise in her an expectation of the resuscitation which he trusted it would be allowed him to effect.
2 Kings 4:30
And the mother of the child said, As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. Apparently, the woman supposed that Elisha intended to do nothing more, but trust the child's recovery to such virtue as might inhere in his staff. But her own resolution was long ago taken—she would be content with nothing less than bringing the prophet face to face with her dead child. She "will not leave" him till he consents to accompany her to her home. And he arose, and followed her; as, no doubt, he had intended from the first.
2 Kings 4:31
And Gehazi passed on before them, and laid the staff on the face of the child; but there was neither voice, nor hearing. Gehazi did as he had Been told, executed his mission faithfully; but there was no apparent result. The child was not reused by the staff being placed across his face. All remained still and silent as before. Although on some occasions it has pleased God to allow miracles to be wrought by the instrumentality of lifeless objects, as when Elisha's hones resuscitated a dead man (2 Kings 13:21), and when virtue went out from the hem of our Lord's garment (Mark 5:25-34), and still more remarkably, when "handkerchiefs or aprons from the body of Paul were brought unto the sick, and the diseases departed from them, and the evil spirits were case out of them" (Acts 19:12); yet the instances are, comparatively speaking, rare, and form exceptions to what may be called the usual Divine economy of miracles. Miracles are, as a general rule, attached in Scripture to intense unwavering faith—faith, sometimes, in those that are the objects of them, almost always in those that are the workers of them. The present case was not to be an exception to the general rule, the circumstances not calling for an exception. The power of faith was to be shown forth once more in Elisha, as not long previously in Elijah (1 Kings 17:19-23); and Israel was to be taught, by a second marvelous example, how much the effectual fervent prayer of a faithful and righteous man avails with the Most High. The lesson would have been lest had the staff been allowed to effect the resuscitation. Wherefore he—i.e. Gehazi—went again to meet him—i.e. Elisha—and told him, saying, The child is not waked. It is clear from this, that Gehazi had expected an awakening; but there is nothing to show what the prophet himself had expected. We are certainly not entitled to conclude, with Peter Martyr,' that "Elisha did wrong in attempting to 'delegate his power of working miracles to another;" or even, with Starke, that "Elisha gave the command to Gehazi from over haste, without having any Divine incentive to it."
2 Kings 4:32
And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed. The child remained where his mother had laid him.
2 Kings 4:33
He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain—that he might not be interrupted during his efforts to restore the child's life—and prayed unto the Lord. Probably his heart had been lifted up in inarticulate prayer from the time that he realized the calamity which had befallen the Shunammite; but now he went down on his knees, and lifted up his voice in outspoken words of prayer.
2 Kings 4:34
And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands; following the example set him by his master and predecessor, Elijah (1 Kings 17:21). The idea may in both cases have been to fit the Body for reinhabitation by the soul (see 2 Kings 4:22), through the restoration of warmth to it. And he stretched himself upon the child; i.e. brought his flesh as close as he could to the flesh of the child, covering the body and pressing on it, to force his own bodily warmth to pass into it. The word used, יִגְהַר, is different from that in 1 Kings 17:21, which is יִתְמֹדֵד, and implies a closer contact. And the flesh of the child waxed warm. Elisha's efforts had an effect; the child's Body was actually warmed by them.
2 Kings 4:35
Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro; literally, once and once fro; took, i.e; a single turn up and down the large room adjoining his bed-chamber—scarcely with any remedial object, but as men do when they are in distress and doubt. And went up, and stretched himself upon him—i.e. repeated his former act, laying himself upon the child, and warming it—and the child sneezed seven times—showing the recovery of suspended respiration—and the child opened his eyes; i.e. came to himself.
2 Kings 4:36
And he called Gehazi, and said, Call this Shunammite; i.e. tell her to come here. No time was to be lost in restoring the child to his mother, now that he was alive again. And when she was come in unto him, he said, Take up thy son; i.e. lift him up, take him in thine arms, feel him to be all thine own once more.
2 Kings 4:37
Then she went in, and fell at his feet, and bowed herself to the ground; in acknowledgment of the boon conferred on her. In the East such prostrations are common, and denote at once gratitude and humility. And took up her son, and went out. (On some later circumstances in the life of the woman, see 2 Kings 8:1-6.)
2 Kings 4:38-41
3. The healing of the unwholesome pottage.
2 Kings 4:38
And Elisha came again to Gilgal; i.e. revisited Gilgal, where he had been previously with his master (2 Kings 2:1), either casually, or perhaps on one of his regular circuits (Keil) to visit the schools of the prophets. And there was a dearth in the land—probably the dearth again mentioned in 2 Kings 8:1—and the sons of the prophets were sitting before him. Some translate "the sons of the prophets dwelt with him" (Vulgate, Luther, Bishop Hersley); but our version is probably correct. The LXX. give ἀκάθηντο; and Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 16:1; Ezekiel 33:31; with Zechariah 3:8, show that ישׁבים לפני may have the meaning of "sitting in the presence of a person." And he said unto his servant, Set on the great pot—i.e. the one great pot that there would be in the house—and seethe pottage for the sons of the prophets. Even in a famine there would be some vegetables produced on which life might be sustained.
2 Kings 4:39
And one went out into the field to gather herbs. One of the sons of the prophets, probably, went out into the neighboring country, and looked about for any wild fruits or vegetables that he could see anywhere. And found a wild vine. Not a wild grape vine (Vitis labrusea), the fruit of which would have been harmless, but some cucurbitaceous plant, with tendrils, and a growth like that of the vine. And gathered thereof wild gourds. The exact kind of gourd is uncertain. Recent critics have mostly come to the conclusion that the vegetable intended is the Cucumis agrestis or Ecbalium elaterium, the "squirting cucumber" of English naturalists. This is a kind of gourd, the fruit of which is egg-shaped, has a bitter taste, and bursts when ripe at a slight touch, squirting out sap and seeds. The main ground for this conclusion is etymologieal, פַקֻּעֹת being derived from פקע, "to crack" or "split." Another theory, and one which has the ancient versions in its favor, identifies the "gourd" in question with the fruit of the colocynth, which is a gourd-like plant that creeps along the ground, and has a round yellow fruit of the size of a large orange. This fruit is exceedingly bitter, produces colic, and affects the nerves. His lap full; as many as he could carry in the sinus, or large fold, of his beged, or shawl. And came and shred them into the pot of pottage: for they knew them not; i.e. the sons of the prophets, who stood by and saw them shred into the pot, did not recognize them, or did not know that they were unwholesome.
2 Kings 4:40
So they poured out for the men to eat. And it came to pass, as they were eating of the pottage, that they cried out and said, O thou man of God, there is death in the pot. Either the bitter flavor alarmed them, or they began to feel ill effects from what they had swallowed, which, if it was colocynth, might very soon have produced stomachache or nausea. Rushing, therefore, at once to the worst possible supposition, they concluded that they were poisoned, and exclaimed, "O man of God, there is death in the pot!" "If eaten in any large quantity," says Keil, "colocynths might really produce death." And they could not eat thereof; i.e. they could not continue to eat the pottage—all stopped eating.
2 Kings 4:41
But he said, Then bring meal. Elisha seems not to have hesitated for a moment. Prompt measures must be taken, if poisoning is even suspected. He has meal brought—not that meal has any virtue in itself against colocynth, or against any other deleterious drug. But he acts, now as always, under Divine direction, and is instructed to use meal on this occasion, as he used salt in healing the waters of Jericho. The meal, as Keil observes, "might somewhat modify the bitterness and injurious qualities of the vegetable," whatever it was, but "could not possibly take them entirely away. The meal, the most wholesome food of man, was only the earthly substratum for the working of the Divine effluence which proceeded from Elisha, and made the noxious food perfectly wholesome." And he cast it into the pot; and he said, Pour out now for the people—i.e; the assembled company of sons of the prophets—that they may eat. And there was no harm in the pot. Such as had faith in Elisha, and continued to eat of the pottage, found no ill result. What they ate did them no harm.
2 Kings 4:42-44
4. The feeding of a hundred men on twenty loaves.
2 Kings 4:42
And there came a man from Baal-shalisha. "Baal-shalisha" is reasonably identified with the "Beth-shalisha" of Eusebius and Jerome, which they place twelve Roman miles north of Diospolis, or Lydda (now Ludd). By "north" we must probably understand "northeast," since the "land of Shalisha" lay between the territories of Ephraim and Benjamin (1 Samuel 9:4). The position thus indicated would not be very far from the Gilgal (Jiljileh) of 2 Kings 2:1-25. and 2 Kings 4:38. And brought the man of God bread of the firstfruits. It is clear that the more pious among the Israelites not only looked to the prophets for religious instruction (2 Kings 4:23), but regarded them as having inherited the position of the Levitical priests whom Jeroboam's innovations had driven from the country. The firstfruits of corn, wine, and oil were assigned by the Law (Numbers 18:13; Deuteronomy 18:4, Deuteronomy 18:5) to the priests. Twenty loaves of barley. The "loaves" of the Israelites were cakes or rolls, rather than "loaves" in the modem sense of the word. Each partaker of a meal usually had one for himself. Naturally, twenty "loaves" would be barely sufficient for twenty men. And full ears of corn; i.e. a few ripe ears of the same corn as that whereof the bread was made. Ears of corn were offered as firstfruits at the Passover (Leviticus 23:10), and were regarded as the most natural and becoming tokens of gratitude for God's harvest mercies. In the husk thereof; rather, in his bag, or in his sack (see the Revised Version). And he said, Give unto the people—i.e; to the sons of the prophets who dwelt at Gilgal—that they may eat.
2 Kings 4:43
And his servitor said, What, should I set this before an hundred men? The servant felt that the quantity was quite insufficient, and thought it absurd to invite a hundred men to sit down to a meal, which would not satisfy a fifth of the number; but Elisha repeated his command. He said again, Give the people, that they may eat. This time, however, he added an explanation of the proceeding: for thus saith the Lord, They shall eat, and shall leave thereof. God had supernaturally intimated to him that the quantity of food would prove ample for the hundred men; they would show that they had had enough by leaving some of it. And the result was as predicted.
2 Kings 4:44
So he set it before them, and they did eat, and left thereof, according to the word of the Lord. We are not expressly told how the miracle was wrought, whether by an augmentation of the quantity of the food supernaturally produced, or by a lessening of the appetites of the men, as Bahr supposes. But the analogy of our Lord's miracles of feeding the multitudes, whereof this is a manifest type, makes it probable that in this case also there was a miraculous increase of the food. The object of the writer in communicating the account is certainly not merely to show how the Lord cared for his servants, but to relate another miracle wrought by Elisha, of a different kind from those previously related. He is occupied with Elisha's miracles through this entire chanter and through the three next.
2 Kings 4:1-7
The seed of the righteous never forsaken by God.
The whole ground of appeal on which the poor widow relies, and which proves so entirely adequate, is the fidelity to God of her deceased husband. "Thy servant my husband is dead; and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord" (2 Kings 4:1). She assumes that Elisha is on this account almost, bound to interfere on behalf of the man's two sons, who are in danger of being carried into slavery. And Elisha allows the validity of her claim, and straightway comes to their relief. The example may well recall the emphatic words of the psalmist, which the minister and director cannot too strongly impress on anxious and doubting mothers, "I have been young, and now am old; and yet saw I never the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging their bread" (Psalms 37:25). A blessing rests upon the seed of the righteous—
I. BY DIVINE PROMISE. "I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments" (Exodus 20:5, Exodus 20:6); "The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children's children" (Psalms 103:17); "The children of thy servants shall continue, and their seed shall be established before thee (Psalms 102:28).
II. BY THE SYMPATHY INVOLVED IN GOD'S FATHERHOOD. After God all fatherhood (πᾶσα πατρία) in heaven and earth is named (Ephesians 3:15). As a Father, he sympathizes with all fathers, knows their hearts, understands their longings, is tender towards their tenderness. Them that love him he will love, and will reward them where they would most wish to be rewarded, in their children. The seed of the righteous may often, does often, wander into devious ways, depart from righteousness, provoke God, draw down upon himself God's chastisements; but in the end how seldom does he wholly fall away, completely forget the lessons of his youth, the example of godly parents, the precepts so carefully instilled into his mind in early life, day by day and year by year! how seldom does he become a blasphemer, or an unbeliever, or an utterly hardened reprobate! How often, on the other hand, does he recover from grievous falls, retrains to God, repeat, amend, and "do the first works"! God's tender care not only saves the children of the righteous from begging their bread, or falling into utter destitution, but watches over their spiritual welfare, and in a thousand ways checks their wanderings, weans them from their evil courses, and at last brings them to himself.
2 Kings 4:8-37
Godliness has, to a large extent, the promise of this life, as well as of the life to come.
The "good Shunammite" and her husband are examples of the union, which is more common than men are apt to allow, between piety and prosperity. They have nothing heroic about them, nothing out of the common. They are substantial middle-class people, dwelling in a quiet country-side, farming on a moderate scale, with a comfortable house of their own, dwelling contentedly amid their laborers and their country neighbors. But they are not rendered selfish or worldly minded by their prosperity. They feel and admit the claims of religion upon them. In Elisha they recognize a "man of God;" first, it would seem, officially. As the official representative to them of the Most High, they regard him as entitled to kindness and hospitality. They press upon him their good offices, insist on his taking his meals with them, "constrain him to eat bread" (2 Kings 4:8). When by degrees they have become acquainted with his character, they recognize in him something more—they "perceive that he is a holy man of God" (2 Kings 4:9). Like is perceived by like. It takes some holiness to perceive and recognize holiness. And the perception raises a desire for greater intimacy. Like desires like. It will be a blessed thing if they can persuade the prophet, not merely to take an occasional meal in their house, but to be an occasional inmate—to rest there, to sleep there. So the woman proposes to her husband to build the prophet a sleeping-chamber; and he readily consents, apparently without a murmur (2 Kings 4:10). He is neither jealous, nor stingy, nor ill-natured. The woman has her way, and her kindly nature is gratified by the frequent presence of the godly man, whose ministrations she attends on sabbaths and holy days (2 Kings 4:23). And now her piety, which has been wholly disinterested, receives an earthly reward. The disgrace of barrenness is, at the prophet's intercession, removed from her, and she obtains the blessing of offspring. Nay, more. Though death removes her offspring, he is restored to her, rendered doubly precious by having seemed to be forever lost. The well-deserved prosperity of herself and husband culminates in this happy restoration, which puts the finishing touch to the earthly bliss that had lacked only this crowning joy. And so it is in life generally. Not only the proud and ungodly, but the godly also, are "rewarded after their deserving" (Psalms 94:2). Many virtues, e.g. honesty, sobriety, industry, prudence, have a natural tendency to draw to their possessor a considerable share of this world's goods, as the opposite vices, dishonesty, drunkenness, idleness, imprudence, have a natural tendency to disperse such goods when possessed and prevent their accumulation. Goodness, on the whole, secures the respect and esteem of other men; and the respect and. esteem of our fellows tends in various ways to our worldly advantage. Men place more trust in the godly than in the ungodly, and situations of trust are, for the most part, situations of profit. Nor must we omit the consideration of the Divine blessing, which always rests upon the godly, in fact, and is sometimes openly manifested. "The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil" (Psalms 34:15, Psalms 34:16); "No good thing will God withhold from them that walk uprightly" (Psalms 84:11).
And the entire result is that, upon the whole, even in this life, right conduct, goodness, piety, have the advantage over their opposites, and that happiness and misery are distributed, even here, very much "according to men's deserving"—not, of course, without exceptions, even numerous exceptions—but still predominantly, so that the law holds good as a general one, that "godliness hath the promise of this life." Our blessed Lord went so far as to say, "There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's, but he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life".
2 Kings 4:27-31
Limits to inspiration.
Many men seem to suppose that the prophetical inspiration, the Divine afflatus, whatever it was, which God vouchsafed in times past to his prophets, apostles, and evangelists, was absolutely unlimited—a sort of omniscience, at any rate omniscience on all those subjects on which they spoke or wrote. But Scripture lends no sanction to this supposition. "Let her alone," says Elisha to Gehazi; "for her soul is vexed within her: and the Lord hath hid it from me, and hath not told me" (2 Kings 4:27). Ignorance of the future would also seem to underlie the instructions given to Gehazi in 2 Kings 4:29. And there are, in point of fact, limitations to every prophet's knowledge even with respect to the things concerning which he writes or speaks. "Now, behold," says St. Paul, "I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there" (Acts 20:22). And again, "Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful" (1 Corinthians 7:25). The apostles spoke much of the coming of Christ to judgment, but "of that day and of that hour knoweth no man" (Matthew 24:36). Prophetic knowledge was always partial, limited. To Isaiah the return from Babylon, the establishment of Christ's kingdom upon earth, and the final triumph of Christianity, were blended together into a single vision of glory from which the chronological idea was absent. Ezekiel probably did not know whether the temple which he described (40.- 44.) was to be spiritual or material. Zechariah knew that a day would come when there would be "a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness;" but the nature of the fountain was, apparently, not revealed to him. The prophets always "saw through a glass darkly," "knew in part" and prophesied in part; had not even a full knowledge of the meaning of their own words. We must therefore not look in the inspired writings for an exactness and accuracy and completeness to which they make no pretence; we must not claim infallibility for the obiter dicta of apostles or evangelists; we must not be surprised at occasional slips of memory, as the quotation of "Jeremy" for "Zachary" (Matthew 27:9), or at little discrepancies, as the various readings of the title on the cross, or at other similar imperfections. The Divine element in Scripture does not exclude the presence also of a human element; and the human element cannot but show traces of human weakness, human ignorance, human frailty. The trifling errors that a microscopic criticism points out in the sacred volume no more interfere with its illuminating power, than do the spots seen by astronomers on its surface interfere with the light of the sun, or slight flaws with the magnificence and splendor of a unique diamond. The Bible is God's Word, the most precious treasure that man possesses, even although it be true that "we have this treasure in earthen vessels" (2 Corinthians 4:7).
HOMILIES BY C.H. IRWIN
2 Kings 4:1-7
The widow's oil increased.
This simple and touching story is one of those many narratives which make the Bible a book for every one, and a book for everyday life. The individual is never lost in the nation or the race. It is so in actual fact. Our own personal needs and struggles and anxieties are of more importance and interest to us than the struggles of a nation or the general well-being of the human race. It is the same in the Bible. The Bible is partly a history of nations, and particularly of the Jewish nation. But it is much more a history of individuals. It is this that makes it such a book of universal comfort and instruction. We can all find something in it that suits ourselves. As we read of the men and women whose lives are recorded in it, we learn more from their faith and their failings, from their temptations and their victories, than we could from any abstract discourses about the benefit of virtue and the evil of vice. We learn that they were men and women of like passions with ourselves. We learn that the temptations they conquered we can conquer by the help of the same Spirit; that the trials they endured we can endure; and that the faith and holiness to which they attained are within our reach also. And then how homely and how practical the Bible is! Its heroes and heroines do net live in a Utopia. It shows them to us under very much the same conditions as we live under still. It shows them to us in their homes and at their business, in their loves and in their married life, at the plough and in the fishing-boat, at the marriage-feast and at the funeral. Perhaps we think it hard to be religious in our business, in society, or amid the petty cares and worries of our daily life. The Bible shows us men and women living under the same conditions, and yet living so much in the fear of God and the presence of eternity that they triumphed over their distractions, and, whilst in the world, were not of it. Such a glimpse of everyday life we obtain in the narrative before us. We learned some valuable lessons from the palace of King Ahaziah; we may learn quite as important ones from the humble home of a prophet's widow.
I. INNOCENT SUFFERING. There is a good deal of suffering in the world. Many suffer innocently. But not all those who think they suffer innocently are really innocent. Here, however, there appears to be a case of really innocent suffering. It is a poor widow who comes to tell Elisha her tale of want and woe. Her husband had been one of "the sons of the prophets"—a word that was used in a general sense to signify those who were pupils of the prophets, trained by the prophets. He had unfortunately got into debt. How he was led into it we are not told. He was a God-fearing man. It was not, therefore, through dissipation or sin. But it may have been through his own imprudence or improvidence. Or it may have been through some unexpected loss, or through failure on the part of others to meet their liabilities to him. At any rate, he died in debt, and his poor widow is the sufferer.
1. This incident, and there are many like it happening every day, shows us the folly and danger of getting into debt. One of the worst features of it is that so often the innocent—the wife or children who perhaps know nothing at all of the debt—have to suffer for the folly or the dishonesty of others. We need to have a more awakened conscience on this subject of using money which really is not our own. As a matter of worldly policy and prudence, it is a great mistake. As a matter of morality, it is very doubtful indeed. How many of the tremendous crashes, which have taken place in the commercial world are the result of men living beyond their means! They made too large demands upon the future. They incurred liabilities which they had no means of meeting. And in many cases debt proves to be a temptation to dishonesty. I have yet to learn the difference between the dishonesty of the man who gets a month's imprisonment for a petty theft, and the dishonesty of many who are legally protected in their crime by the strange device of the bankruptcy court. Not that every bankrupt is dishonest. But many who are thus protected are. We want a clearer and a cleaner public conscience on this question of debt.
2. There is a word here also for creditors. The creditor in this story was a regular Shylock. He wanted his pound of flesh. He would be satisfied with nothing less. Mark the utter heartlessness and cruelty of the man. He knew the poor widow was unable to pay. There were no goods and chattels that he could seize, or none worth seizing, so he actually came to make her two sons his slaves. Even the slightest touch of humanity might have led him to content himself with one of the sons. He might have left the other to be the solace and support of his widowed mother. But no. There is no mercy, no pity, in his hard and selfish heart. He must have the two sons to satisfy his claim. Now, the Scripture, while it countenances lending to these who are in want, and while it commands the payment of debts, recommends the exercise of mercy and humanity in exacting this payment. For instance, in Exodus it is said, "Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless" (Exodus 22:22-24). And in Deuteronomy 24:17 we have a similar command. We learn here in all the relationships of life to mingle mercy with justice. Too often in the keen competition of life, and in the race for wealth, the finer feelings become blunted, if you are a Christian, it is your duty to imitate the spirit and precepts of Jesus. Whether you are a Christian or not, you are responsible to God for the way you act towards your fellow-men. Always consider the circumstances of the case. Where it is possible, be specially careful of the widow and the fatherless and the orphan. God has a special care for them, and he will avenge their cause on the persecutor and the oppressor.
II. ACTIVE FAITH. The poor widow had nothing in her house save a pot of oil. She was not as well off as the widow of Zarephath, to whom Elijah came; she had not even a handful of meal in the barrel. The olive oil was used as butter with the flour or meal. Dr. Kitto says it is indeed a remarkable fact that poor people in Israel, who are reduced to the last extremity, have generally a little oil left. Yet in this extremity, with this jar of oil as her sole possession, what does the prophet tell her to do? To go and borrow empty vessels of all her neighbors, and to borrow just as many as she could get. Was it not a strange command? Empty vessels! Why not borrow vessels with something in them. No; for that would have been to get deeper into debt. Empty vessels. The fact of bringing empty vessels into her house implied that she had something to fill them with. This just shows the greatness of the woman's faith. She trusted God's prophet. She knew that he would not deceive her or bid her do anything for which there was not a good reason- She trusted God's power. She knew that God was able, in his own way and in his own time, to supply all her need. We need to learn a similar faith, tire need it for our temporal affairs. We need to trust God that he can and will and does supply the daily wants of his people. What though the purse is empty? God can send the means to fill it.
"It may not be my time;
It may not be thy time;
But yet in his own time the Lord will provide."
We need to learn similar faith—a faith that shows itself not in idleness but in action—in regard to spiritual things. We may see but empty vessels before us. God is able to fill them. He does it very often by making us laborers together with him, as he did in this case of the widow and her sons. A respected Sunday-school teacher tells that when he first went to teach in a mission Sunday school in one of our large cities, he said to the superintendent, "Where is my class?" He could see no class for him to teach. The superintendent's answer was, "You'll have to out and gather class." He did so, and soon had a large and attentive class of lads gathered in by his own exertions from the streets. Don't you know of any empty vessels that would be better if they were filled with the love of Christ and the grace of God? Are there no empty vessels in your own homes? Are there no empty vessels round about you where you live—hearts that are without God and without hope, lives that are utterly destitute of any aims or usefulness? If you know of such, will you not try to bring them under the influence of the gospel? This woman showed a strong faith, for she had doubtless to face the ridicule and difficulties and questionings of her neighbors. They probably laughed at a woman borrowing vessels when she had nothing to fill them with. We must learn not to mind what people will say of us when we are doing God's work. There are some people who object to everything. There are some people who are always raising difficulties. Those who raise the difficulties and make the objections are generally those who do the least and give the least. Never mind them. Make sure that your work is God's work. Consider it prayerfully and carefully before you undertake it. And then, having made sure that it is God's work, so far as you can get light upon your path, turn not aside to the right hand or to the left. Trust in God to carry you and your work safely through, and to crown your labors with success. "The fear of man bringeth a snare; but he that putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe."
III. ABUNDANT BLESSING. The woman was well rewarded for her unquestioning faith. So long as she continued pouring from her little jar of oil, so long the oil continued to flow until all the vessels were full. She could have filled more vessels if she had had them. But when there were no more vessels to be filled, the oil ceased to flow. At any rate she had enough to sell for the payment of her debt, and to provide herself and her sons with a temporary support. We learn here that our blessings may be limited by our capacity to receive. There is no limit to God's love. There is no limit to his power to bless. He gives in overflowing measure, far beyond our expectations, far beyond our deservings. But then we may stint the blessing for ourselves by not being in a fit state to receive it. We see constantly in Scripture and in the history of the Christian Church that there are certain conditions under which larger spiritual blessings may be expected, and certain conditions which may hinder these blessings.
1. We may hinder our blessings by want of faith and expectation. Had Abraham persevered in prayer, he might have won the salvation of Sodom even on account of righteous Lot alone. On a later occasion Elisha was displeased with King Joash for his want of faith in shooting the arrows. The king only smote thrice upon the ground, and Elisha said, "Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times; then hadst thou smitten Syria till thou hadst consumed it: whereas now thou shalt smite Syria but thrice." How often we hinder our blessings because we do not persevere in prayer!
2. We may hinder our blessings by not making a right use of those we have got. "To him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he seemeth to have." There is no waste in God's kingdom. He will not give further blessings to those who are neglecting or misusing the privileges they have got. Let us see to it that we are in a fit state to receive God's blessing. "If we regard iniquity in our hearts, the Lord will not hear us." Let us empty ourselves of worldliness and selfishness and sin, if we are to expect God to fill us with his Spirit. A word to Christians. Search your heart, examine your own life, and see if there is anything that hinders the Divine blessing. Give up that besetting sin; give up that godless society; put away that pride, or hatred, or love of the world, or evil temper, out of your heart, and then you may expect God to bless you and make you a blessing. Then you will be a vessel meet for the Master's use. A word to the unrepenting. Why go away once more without Christ? Why go away empty from the house of God? All fullness dwells in Christ—fullness of pardon, fullness of grace and strength. Thirsty, unsatisfied soul, draw near to the feet of Jesus. Repent, and ask of him, and he will give you the living water.—C.H.I.
2 Kings 4:8-17
I. GOOD MEN CARRY THEIR GOODNESS WHEREVER THEY GO. The Shunammite's words are a testimony to the character of Elisha. "I perceive that this is a holy man of God, which passeth by us continually." Elisha's conduct and conversation showed him to be a holy man of God. It was evident that God was with him, and that he lived near to God. He did not leave his religion behind him at home. Wherever he was, he took his religion with him. A lesson for modern Christians. There is not much reality in our religion if we do not confess it amongst strangers just as much as where we are known. The inward character is shown by the outward acts. "Coelum, non animum, mutant, qui trans mare currunt." It is evident that Elisha was a man of studious habits. The furniture which the Shunammite placed in his room shows this. The stool or chair and the table were intended to afford him facilities for study. He who will teach others must store his own mind with knowledge. Paul exhorted Timothy to give attention to reading. The minister and the Sunday-school teacher need constant study to equip themselves for their important work.
II. GOOD MEN CARRY A BLESSING EVERYWHERE. Their goodness benefits others as well as themselves. "The holy seed shall be the substance thereof." Some there are who bring evil wherever they go. One bad man, one wicked woman, may corrupt a whole community. Some are the perpetual occasions of strife, discord, unpleasantness, unhappiness. What an unenviable character! Oh to be like him who "went about every day doing good!"
III. KINDNESS TO GOOD MEN IS NEVER LOST. This Shunammite treated Elisha kindly because he was a servant of God, and the God whom he served rewarded her for her kindness to his servant. "Give, and it shall be given unto you" She lost nothing, but gained much, by her generosity and hospitality, by the trouble she took to provide a resting-place for the prophet. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward."—C.H.I.
2 Kings 4:18-37
Death and restoration.
This is a touching story. It is a story for children. It is a story for parents. It is a story for every one. The circumstances of this little boy's death were peculiarly sad. He had been an unexpected gift of God to his parents. His mother had not sought for him; but God sent her a son as a reward for her kindness to his servant, and in answer to the prophet's prayer. Perhaps when this sudden stroke came upon her, and she watched the little fellow pine away and die in her arms, the poor mother felt a little disposed to murmur at the strange providence. She no doubt wondered why God had tried her thus, to send her a child entirely unexpected and unasked by her, and then—when he had reached that most interesting age, when he was able to run merrily to and fro, when his childish prattle filled the house with gladness, and when his parents' affections had begun to twine themselves about him—then to take him from her! She may not, perhaps, have had hard thoughts of God, but, with all the faith and patience which she afterwards showed, she certainly was a little disposed to blame Elisha. For we find her saying to him, when she went to tell him of her trouble, "Did I desire a son of my lord? did I not say, Do not deceive me?" But God's hand was in it all, as she soon learned. Perhaps she was beginning to make an idol of this child, and God took this way of reminding her that the child was his, that on earth there is none abiding, and that he himself should have the supreme homage of the human heart. Ah yes, she knew something of God's love before, but she never would have known half so much of it but for this trial. The sunshine is beautiful; but sometimes in a time of continued drought we learn that the world would not get on with perpetual sunshine. We are positively glad to see the clouds and the rain. If we could only learn the same lesson for our spiritual life! The sunshine is sweet, but the clouds have their uses too.
"No shattered box of ointment
We ever need regret,
For out of disappointment
Flow sweetest odors yet.
"The discord that involveth
Some startling change of key.
The Master's hand resolveth
In richest harmony."
We have here—
I. A BELIEVING MOTHER. We see her strong faith in God in that answer which she gave to Gehazi. At Elisha's command he asked her, "Is it well with thee? is it well with thy husband? is it well with the child?" And she answered, "It is well." Not a woman of many words, this. But a woman of great thoughts, of practical faith, of heroic patience.
1. It was well with the child. She had no doubt of that. She knew less about the hereafter than we do. She did not know what we know about him who is the Resurrection and the Life, who was himself dead and is alive again. She did not know what we know about heaven—about the angels' song and the pearly gates and the golden streets. But this she felt assured of, that there was a hereafter; that, though the body died, the soul still lived; that her child was with God, and that, therefore, it was well with him.
2. It was well with her husband. It was well with herself. Yes, although sorrow had entered their home, still she could feel and say that it was well all round. She could have anticipated Paul in his unfaltering assertion, for "we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose." Calmly and confidently, even though perhaps her tears were falling while she spoke, she uttered the single Hebrew word which means "It is well." Thank God for believing mothers. A mother's faith in God has rescued many a son from the very grasp of hell itself. How many an eminent servant of God has owed his conversion to the prayers of a believing mother! St. Augustine and John Newton are well-known instances. A word here to bereaved parents. You too may have watched a dear child droop and die. Perhaps you murmured rebelliously under your affliction. Learn to look away behind the veil, into that happy land of which perhaps your darling sang-and as you look there surely you cannot but say, "It is well—it is well with the child." A word here to all parents. Can you say, as you think of your children one by one, "It is well with the child"? If they should die in infancy, it certainly is well with them. But your children of maturer years, who are growing up into manhood and womanhood—how is it with them? Are there not some in your household that you know are still unsaved? O parents, can you rest until you win them for Christ? It is right to give them a good education. But the most important concern of all is the salvation of their immortal souls.
II. A DEAD CHILD BROUGHT TO LIFE. All dead children will be brought back to life. The body only dies; the soul lives forever. This little one, however, was brought back to the life of earth. Perhaps God thought that this poor mother had been sufficiently tried. Perhaps he wanted to give even then some proofs of the possibility of a resurrection. It was an exceptional act then. It is not to be expected by bereaved parents now. They can only say with David, "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me." Is it not better so? Could we wish them back again? Look upon them in that bright land where Jesus is, and where the angels are, where their little feet are never weary, where their little faces are always bright and happy, where their little bodies shall nevermore be racked by pain or enfeebled by sickness, where their minds shall never know another thought of sin, and tell me if you would bring them back to this world of wickedness, of temptation, of sickness, and of sorrow? Surely not. Surely they were taken away from the evil that is to come. To depart and be with Christ is far better.
1. Notice the means of this child's revival.
(1) First of all, there was prayer. "And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed. He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the Lord." So it must be in all efforts for the revival of dead souls. Parents must have recourse to prayer if they would see their children converted. We want more praying families; we want more praying Churches. Nothing but the Spirit of God can make the dry bones to live. If our work is to last, it must be done in prayer.
(2) Then, again, observe that Elisha used the means to bring about an answer to his prayers. He asked for a certain blessing, and he showed that he expected an answer. He stretched himself upon the child, that his body might communicate heat to that of the child, and his breath upon the child's mouth encouraged the returning vitality. It is God's method of converting the world, of quickening dead souls. It is the Spirit of God that alone can quicken a dead soul. But he uses human instrumentality. He uses living Christians. The apostles were men on fire with the Holy Ghost and with zeal for souls, and therefore their labors were blessed. The reason there are so few conversions, the reason the Church has so little influence upon the world compared to what it might have, is that too often the Church itself is worldly, seeking for temporal position and worldly gain, and that Christians show too little of the spirit of their Master. They have a name to live, but are dead. But it is wonderful what one or two living Christians can effect in a congregation, in a community, even throughout the world.
2. Notice also the signs of this child's revival. "The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes." It was enough. Elisha did not wait for the child to speak. He did not wait for him to walk. He recognized the unmistakable signs of life, and at once he restored the child to his sorrowing mother. Christians ought to watch for signs of spiritual life as the result of their labors and their prayers. They should not be discouraged if there seems—but little fruit, do not discourage the slightest indication of a desire on the part of any one to turn from sin and come to Christ. Encourage those who may be seekers after God, groping feebly after the truth, struggling, perhaps, with their difficulties and doubts. What souls have you been the means of bringing from death into life?—C.H.I.
2 Kings 4:38-41
Death in the pot: a sermon to young men.
These young men were very nearly being poisoned. There was a famine in the land. Elisha came to Gilgal, where there was a school or college of young men in training for the sacred office of teaching others. Perhaps they were not skilled in the art of making the most of the vegetables which grew round about them, and were badly off for food. Elisha ordered his servant to put on the great pot, and make some pottage, or thick broth, for the hungry students. One of the young men went out to gather herbs for the purpose. There is a species of wild gourd or melon, called Cucumis prophetarum, which is common in the hill country, and which, when green, is sliced and boiled as a vegetable. But in the plains near Gilgal there is a plant extremely similar in appearance, but very different in its qualities. It was probably this—the colocynthus, or squirting cucumber—that is called the "wild gourd" in this chapter, and that the young men gathered and sliced down into the large pot of broth (see Thomson, 'The Land and the Book'). When the pottage had been poured out, the young men began to eat of it, but, alarmed by its bitter taste, and probably suspecting then that poisonous herbs had been put into it, they cried out to Elisha, "O thou man of God, there is death in the pot! ' From this incident we may show that, while there is many an enjoyment, many a course of conduct, as pleasant to the eye and apparently as safe as those poisonous herbs appeared to be, yet there is need for caution. "There is death in the pot." "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death."
I. THIS MAY BE SAID OF FRAUDULENT PRACTICES. "There is death in the pot." They nearly always begin in ways that seem perfectly safe and harmless. A man takes a little from his employer's desk, intending to return it again. But in nine cases out of ten he never returns it. He has touched what is not his own. The brand of the thief is on his brow and the curse of the thief is on his life. A young man who had been well brought up went from home to enter a bank in a large city. It was noticed, when he returned home, that he was beginning to dress very extravagantly. Each time he returned, some fresh extravagance was noted. He had already begun to spend money faster than he made it, for his salary was but small He was a smart young man, and would soon have got on well in his business, for he was a general favorite. But in a foolish hour he began to abstract some of the bank money. Little by little it went on, until his defalcations were very considerable. At last he was discovered, dismissed in disgrace from the bank, and it was only the intervention of an influential friend of his family that prevented his arrest. He broke his mother's heart, and brought down his father's grey hairs with sorrow to the grave. Fraudulent practices may be very often traced to the habit of gambling or betting. This was testified once more quite recently in London by Mr. Vaughan, the Bow Street magistrate, on a charge which came before him. There was a cashier in the receipt of a salary of £150 a year, with prospects of advance. For eight or nine years he had filled his post creditably; but having got behind in his home expenses, he took a few shillings, and invested them in batting. As he was lucky, from taking shillings he proceeded to pounds; and having once started, he found that it was impossible for him to stop. He had always the hope of winning some day by a stroke of luck, and of thus being able to pay back again the sums which he had embezzled. But the "luck" never came, and he had at last to confess to his employers that he had defrauded them to the extent of £250. "I wish," said Mr. Vaughan, "that the clerks in mercantile houses would come to this court, and see what I see, and hear what I hear. This is only one of a multitude of cases in which prisoners have confessed that their robberies are entirely due to betting, 'I regard it as a curse to the country.' Beware of dishonesty in any form. "There is death in the pot." It means death to a man's reputation, death to his worldly prospects, death to his peace of mind, for he must live in constant terror of discovery; and if he should escape discovery and judgment upon earth, how can he endure the thought of that day when the secrets of every life shall be disclosed, and when he shall stand condemned at the judgment-seat of God?
II. THIS MAY BE SAID ALSO OF PRACTICES OF IMPURITY. "There is death in the pot." Temptations to it abound on every side. A corrupt press sows broadcast its demoralizing stories, with its suggestive pictures. The theatre, with its brilliant lights and strains of sweetest music—so often dedicated to the service of the devil—lures men into the way of the tempter, and into the den of the destroyer. It appears an innocent, harmless amusement. But "there is death in the pot." For one who comes unscathed and safe out of the theatre, there are scores who come out of it morally and spiritually the worse for its influence. Let men say what they like about the influence of the drama as a teacher of morals—and there is nothing to be said against the drama in itself—is there a single case of a man made better by going to the theatre? Where is he? Let him be produced. And even if one or two could be produced, what would they be as a testimony in favor of the theatre, compared to the testimony against it of the thousands it has ruined? "It might do good, but never did. Beware impurity in any form: Beware of impure books, impure songs, the impure jest, impure companions. "There is death in the pot." There is no sin that brings a more speedy or more terrible retribution in this life, than impurity of thought or deed. In a diseased body and a diseased mind it leaves its deadly marks. The impure man is a walking sepulcher. He is digging his own grave. Above all, he is destroying all hope of entering that pure and holy heaven where God is, and into which there shall in no wise enter anything that defileth.
III. THIS MAY BE SAID ALSO OF HABITS OF INTEMPERANCE. "There is death in the pot." We need not take an extreme position on the subject of alcohol any more than on any other subject. But it is right that, as intelligent beings, with a reason and a conscience, as Christian men and women with God's Word to guide us, we should look facts in the face. Medical opinion is often resorted to by those who make too free in their use of alcohol. Let us hear the latest and best medical opinion on the subject. At the last meeting of the British Medical Association, one of the most interesting papers was the report of a special committee which had been appointed by the association to inquire into the connection of disease with habits of intemperance. Here are some of the conclusions which the committee, after most careful investigation, arrived at:
(1) That habitual indulgence in alcohol beyond the most moderate amounts has a distinct tendency to shorten life, the shortening being on the average fairly proportional to the degree of indulgence;
(2) that the strictly temperate who have passed the age of twenty-five live on the average at least ten years longer than the intemperate." Is not this an important proof of our statement? "Habitual indulgence in alcohol beyond the most moderate amounts has a distinct tendency to shorten life." The man who drinks alcohol to any considerable extent is slowly killing himself. "There is death in the pot." If we turn from the assembly of doctors to the experience of everyday life, we get similar proofs. What terrible madness and infatuation drink causes! What fearful havoc it has made! What hopes it has blighted! What homes it has wrecked! What lives it has mined," There is death in the cup of intoxicating drink, as many a man has proved when it has been too late. But absence of wrong-doing will never make you fight. As Elisha cast the meal into the pot, wholesome and nourishing food in place of the deadly poison, so be it yours to fill your mind with the teaching of God's Word, and your life with holy and useful deeds. The great Teacher is Jesus Christ. Ask him to enter into your life, to purify your heart and your desires. Ask him for time and for eternity to save your soul.—C.H.I.
2 Kings 4:42-44
The loaves multiplied.
I. THE PROPHET PROVIDED FOE. It was a time of famine. "But they that fear the Lord shall, not want any good thing." Elisha received a thank offering from the people—bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley, and full ears of corn. The objection to a paid ministry has no warrant in the Word of God. Old Testament and New alike encourage provision for the wants of God's ministers. Jesus said, "The laborer is worthy of his hire." Paul said, "They that preach the gospel should live of the gospel." It is impracticable and inconvenient that men should be preachers of the gospel, with all the preparation which that work requires, and pastors of the flock, with all the attention which this requires, and at the same time be burdened with the toil and anxiety of providing for their own temporal support and that of their families, if they have them.
II. THE PEOPLE FED. We see here:
1. Elisha's unselfishness. He had freely received; now he freely gives. In that time of famine he might have thought it prudent to store up for himself the supply of food he had received. But no. He trusts God for the future. His first thought is of others who were hungry round about him. "Give unto the people, that they may eat." There is need for more of this unselfishness, considerateness, thoughtfulness. How many of those who have abundance forget to think of those who are in want?
2. The Divine power exercised. God owns his servants, not only by supplying their wants, but by giving power to their word. Oh that every minister of Christ would realize this! What a new power it would give to his work! what a new stimulus to his earnestness! When we think of the greatness and responsibility of our work, we may well ask, "Who is sufficient for these things?" But when, on the other hand, we think of the Divine power which works along with the faithful minister, we may well say, "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." He can help us to break among our people the bread of life, and bless it abundantly in the breaking.—C.H.I.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
2 Kings 4:1-7
A prophet's widow and it prophet's kindness.
"Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha," etc. There are two subjects of thought in these verses.
I. A PROPHET'S WIDOW IN DISTRESS. "Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha, saying, Thy servant my husband is dead; and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord: and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen." This poor woman had not only lost her husband, and was left with a bleeding heart-left lonely and desolate in a cold world, but was left in great poverty. Her husband was not only a good man, one "who did fear the Lord," but a "prophet," a religious teacher, one engaged in disseminating Divine ideas amongst men. It seems that he not only died poor, but died in debt. Even now a large number of ministers are unable to make provision for their wives and children in case of their death. Some of the most enlightened, thoughtful, and really useful ministers are amongst the poorest. Observe:
1. That poverty is not necessarily a disgrace. It is sometimes the result of inflexible honesty and moral nobility.
2. That the best lives here are subject to trials. It is reasonable to infer that this widow was a good woman—one who, like her departed husband, "did fear the Lord;" and yet see her distress! The afflictions of the good are not penal, but disciplinary.
3. That avarice feeds cruelty. "The creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondsmen." The debt she owed, which, we may imagine, could not have been very large, her heartless creditor insisted on being discharged at once, and demanded her two sons to become slaves to him in order to work out the debt. The avaricious world is heartless; even in London hundreds are dying on every side of starvation.
4. That provision should be made for the widows of ministers. The incomes of very many ministers in England today are not sufficient to enable them to make provision for their wives and children in case of their death. Churches which have committees for sending out missionaries, for distributing Bibles (which are cheap enough now), and for distributing tracts, which are often calumnies on Christianity, ought certainly to see that provision is made for the future of their ministers' families.
II. A PROPHET AT WORK TO BELIEVE A BROTHERS WIDOW. In her distress instinct tells her where to go, and she goes to Elisha, not only a man who knew her husband, but one of kindred experiences and sympathies. To him she "cried." Her appeal was really an unintentional compliment to Elisha. The greatest compliment a man can offer is an opportunity for contributing to a truly deserving object. When a man's compeers rank him amongst those whose meanness has become patent, Charity ignores him. In her benign mission she marches by him in stately silence, as one whom society has placed in the branded category of sordid souls. See how Elisha helps this widow.
1. Promptly. "And Elisha said unto her, What shall I do for thee? tell me, what hast thou in the house?" He did not want arguments or testimonials, etc; but with a beaming generosity he virtually said, "Tell me your condition, and I will do my utmost to serve you." He set to work at once. Having told him she had nothing in her house but one "pot of oil," he says to her, "Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbors, even empty vessels; borrow not a few." She obeys his behest, goes amongst her neighbors, and Borrows all the vessels, and then, according to his directions, she closes the door upon herself, and upon her sons, and begins to pour out into each vessel a part of the little pot of oil which she had, and as she poured every vessel she had collected became full to the brim. The more she poured the more came, until she lacked vessels to hold it. A symbol this of all benevolent virtues—the more they are used the more they grow. So, indeed, with all the faculties of the soul under the influence of true generosity; right giving is the way to the most precious getting. All this, of course, indicates on Elisha's part supernatural assistance.
2. Effectively. "Then she came and told the man of God [Elisha]. And he said, Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt, and live thou and thy children of the rest." Oil was one of the commodities Judaea traded in (Ezekiel 27:17). She would, therefore, have little difficulty in disposing of this oil, which no doubt was of the best description. The proceeds were to go first to the satisfaction of her heartless creditor, and then to the permanent relief of herself and family.
CONCLUSION. Matthew Henry's remarks are good: "Let those who are poor and in distress be encouraged to trust God for supply in the way of duty. 'Verily thou shalt be fed,' but not feasted. It is true we cannot now expect miracles, yet we may expect mercies if we wait on God and seek him. Let widows particularly, and prophets' widows in a special manner, depend upon him to preserve them and their fatherless children alive; for to them he will be a Husband and a Father. Let those whom God hath blessed with plenty use it for the glory of God, and under the direction of his Word; let them do justly with it, as this widow did, and serve God cheerfully in the use of it; and, as Elisha, be ready to do good to those that need them—be eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame."—D.T.
2 Kings 4:8-17
"And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem," etc. In these verses there are two very interesting subjects of a practical character.
I. HOSPITALITY RIGHTFULLY EMPLOYED. The object of the hospitality was Elisha the prophet, and the author of it is called here "a great woman." 1 The account given is very clear and sententious. "And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman; and she constrained him to eat bread. And so it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread." Observe:
1. The hospitality was very hearty. "She constrained him to eat bread." She did not give Elisha a mere formal invitation, nor was she urged to it by pleadings on his behalf, either by himself or others. It was spontaneous and hearty, worthy of "a great woman." It was so hearty that Elisha felt authorized, "as oft as he passed by," to enter and "eat bread." On his prophetic mission he would be constantly journeying, and often passing the house, and as often as he did so he felt there was a hearty welcome for him inside, and entered.
2. The hospitality was shown to a poor but godly man. The woman "said unto her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God, which passeth by us continually," Conventional hospitality welcomes to its table the respectable only, and the more respectable in a worldly sense the more welcome. But genuine hospitality, as in the case before us, looks out for the poor and deserving, and constrains them to enter and be fed. "When thou makest a feast, call not thy brethren, nor thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbors; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind."
3. The hospitality involved considerable trouble and expense. This "great woman" said to her husband, "Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick." She did not say to her husband, "Entertaining him will put us to no inconvenience or expense, therefore let us invite him. No, she calculated upon some inconvenience and cost; a little chamber would have to be built, quiet and suitable for a man of spiritual thoughtfulness and devotion. And then some furniture, too, would have to be procured- " a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick." The hospitality that involves no outlay is common, but is a counterfeit, nay, a misnomer. The accommodation this woman offered to Elisha, it must be borne in mind, included that of his servant Gehazi—he shared the provisions and the apartments of his master.
II. HOSPITALITY NOBLY REWARDED. Elisha, instead of being insensible to the great generosity of his hostess, glowed with gratitude that prompted a strong desire to make some return, and "said to Gehazi his servant, Call this Shunammite And he said unto him, Say now unto her, Behold, thou hast been careful for us with all this care; what is to be done for thee?" His offer:
1. Implies his consciousness of great power with man. "Wouldest thou be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host?' Though poor himself, he had influence with the rich; and though too independent in soul to ask of them a favor for himself, he could do it for others. Her answer to his generous offer is expressive of the calm self-respect, unmercenariness, and dignity of a "great woman." She answered, "I dwell among mine own people." As if she had said, "We are provided for; we neither aim at nor need preferment"
2. Implies his See Homilist, vol. 38, p. 289. Consciousness of his power with God. He finds out, through his servant Gehazi, that the one great thing on earth that they desired most, and would most appreciate, was a family; a child would brighten their hearth and gladden their hearts. This, through his wonderful power with Heaven, Elisha obtains for them. Thus the Almighty himself acknowledged the hospitality which this woman had shown to his faithful prophet. "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares."
CONCLUSION. Dinings out and social banquets are common enough amongst us, but hospitality of the true sort is, it may be feared, somewhat rare—the hospitality described by Washington Irving, which "breaks through the chill of ceremonies, and throws every heart into a glow." There is an emanation from the heart in genuine hospitality that cannot be described.—D.T.
2 Kings 4:18-31
"And when the child was grown," etc. This paragraph suggests three general observations.
I. That great trials OFTEN SPRING FROM GREAT MERCIES. With what rapture we may suppose did this woman welcome her only child into the world, and with what care and affection did she minister to his health and enjoyments? It was her greatest earthly prize. She would sooner have parted with all her property, and even, perhaps, with her husband, for he was an old man, than lose this dear boy of hers. Yet she does; death snatches him from her embrace. "And when the child was grown, it fell on a day, that he went out to his father to the reapers. And he said unto his father, My head, my head. And he said to a lad, Carry him to his mother. And when he had taken him, and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died." Though the boy was dead, the woman did not seem to lose hope; her maternal love would not allow her to realize the terrible fact at once. She first lays him on the bed in the chamber which she had built for the prophet; then she calls to her husband, and entreats him to send a servant with one of the asses, that she might fly with swiftness to Elisha. When her husband suggested some difficulty about her going just at that time, she replied, "It shall be well." "Then she saddled an ass, and said to her servant, Drive, and go forward; slack not thy riding for me, except I bid thee. So she went and came unto the man of God to Mount Carmel." This was a journey of about five or six hours. Distance is nothing when the traveler's heart overflows with emotion. How frequently it happens that from our greatest blessings our greatest trials spring!
1. Friendship is a great blessing. One true friend, whose soul lives in ours and ours in him or her, is of priceless worth. Yet the disruption of that friendship may strike a wound into the heart that no time can heal.
2. A sanguine temperament is a great blessing. It drinks in largely of the beauties of nature; it paints the future with the brightest hopes, and stimulates the energies to the greatest enterprises. All the best productions of the human species have sprung from such temperaments. But what trials it brings, in frustrated plans, blighted purposes, and extinguished hopes! But life abounds with illustrations of the fact—the greater the blessings we enjoy, the greater agony felt in their loss.
II. That great trials SHOULD BE PATIENTLY ENDURED. In this great trial this woman seems wonderfully resigned. In reply to a difficulty which her husband suggested in setting out for the journey, she said, "It shall be well." And when Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, on her approach to the prophet, asked her, "Is it well with thee? Is it well with thy husband? Is it well with the child?" she answered, "It is well." "Though I left my dear boy a corpse at home, and my heart bleeds, I feel it is all ' well; ' it is the dispensation of a Father all-wise and all-loving. I bow to his will" A state of mind so magnanimous as this under great trial is the duty of all, and the sublime privilege of the holy and the good. Thus Job felt, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the Name of the Lord." Thus our great Example felt when overwhelmed with immeasurable distress he said, "Not my will, but thine be done."
"Thy way, not mine, O Lord,
However dark it be;
Lead me by thine own hand,
Choose out the path for me.
"Smooth let it be or rough,
It will be still the best;
Winding or straight it matters not,
It leads me to thy rest"
III. That great trials MAY HAVE A BLESSED END. The end of this woman's great trial was the restoration of her dead child to life. This was brought about:
1. In connection with her own efforts. If she had remained at home and not sped her way to the prophet at Carmel, her boy in all probability would, it would seem, nave remained a corpse, and would have had to be buried forever out of her sight. When she reached him, see how earnestly she pleads: "And when she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught him by the feet," etc.
2. By the power of God through Elisha. In the following verses we have a representation of the way in which this was brought about. God helps man by man. All our trials might have a blessed end. "Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory." Yes; whilst "we look not at the things that are seen," the result, under God, depends upon ourselves.—D.T.
2 Kings 4:32-37
The relation of prayer to secondary causes.
"And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead," etc. The death of the Shunammite's son, as we have seen in the preceding verses, was in many senses to her a very severe trial—a trial from which we have inferred that great trials often spring from great mercies; that great trials should be patiently endured; and that great trials might have a blessed end. By prayer Elisha now raised the woman's dead boy to life. See what Elisha did here.
I. HE PRAYED TO THE LORD. "Let this child's soul come into him again."
II. HE PUT HIMSELF INTO DIRECT CONTACT WITH THE CHILD. Mouth to the child's mouth, eyes to the child's eyes, hands to the child's hands, as if he transfused all the vital magnetism of his own nature into the person of the dead child.
III. HE PERSEVERED WITH THE EFFORT. Until the child's flesh waxed warm, and the child sneezed with the breath of new life.—D.T.
2 Kings 4:38-44
Ministries to man, good and bad.
"And Elisha came again to Gilgal: and there was a dearth in the land," etc. Elisha had returned to Gilgal, the seat of a school of the prophets; he had come thither once more on his yearly circuit, and during the famine, which prevailed in the land. As the students sat before their master, he discerned in their emaciated forms the terrible effects upon them of the famine. In the narrative we discover the action of several ministries, or events with which men are visited more or less in passing through this sublunary state.
I. Here is the ministry of SEVERE TRIAL. "There was a dearth in the land." To be destitute of those provisions which are essential to the appeasement of hunger and the sustentation of life is undoubtedly one of the greatest trials. Such destitution is of two kinds—the avoidable and the unavoidable. The former is common. Tens of thousands of people in this country, which so abounds with wealth, are, alas! subject to the trial of this destitution every day. But men bring this destitution on themselves. To the heartless cupidity of one class of men, and the indolence, extravagance, and intemperance of another, the poverty which is rampant in England today must be ascribed. The latter kind of destitution, viz. the inevitable, is that recorded in these verses; it arose out of the sterile condition into which the land was thrown. This was the destitution which now prevailed in Israel; it afflicted all, the good and the bad. In truth, Nature knows of no moral distinctions; she treats kings and paupers, the righteous and the wicked, alike.
II. Here is the ministry of GROSS IGNORANCE. In order to allay the ravenous hunger of his pupils, Elisha said to his servant, "Set on the great pot, and seethe pottage for the sons of the prophets. And one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine, and gathered thereof wild gourds, his lap full, and came and shred them into the pot of pottage: for they knew them not. So they poured out for the men to eat. And it came to pass, as they were eating of the pottage, that they cried out, and said, O thou man of God, there is death in the pot. And they could not eat thereof." Whatever were the herbs which the servants gathered it matters not; they were nauseous and pernicious. "The sons of the prophets," says Matthew Henry, "it would seem, were better skilled in divinity than philosophy, and read their Bibles more than their herbals." What they put into the pot tended to produce death rather than to strengthen life. Every day men are afflicted through the gross ignorance of themselves and others. Through ignorance men are everywhere putting "death in the pot," in a material sense. The cook, the doctor, the brewer, the distiller, how much death do they bring into the "pot" of human life! Through ignorance, too, men "pot" of life! Man's ignorance of God and his claims on the soul, its nature, its laws, and the necessary conditions of true spiritual progress, is the minister of death.
III. Here is the ministry of HUMAN KINDNESS. "And there came a man from Baal-shalisha, and brought the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of bread, and full ears of corn in the husk thereof." Whoever this man was (for no description is given of him save the place of his residence), he was a Heaven-inspired philanthropist. Mercy, the highest attribute of heaven, was in him, and he left his home and came forth to minister to the needs of his suffering race. Thank God for that kindness which has survived the Fall, and still lives in human hearts. The most precious ministry on earth is this: it feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, heals the diseased, wipes away the tears of human sorrow; it is, indeed, Christ in human flesh. For he was then in the world, though the world knew it not.
IV. Here is the ministry of SUPERNATURAL POWER. Supernatural power through Elisha comes to the relief of these sufferers. The supernatural was manifested in two ways.
1. In counteracting the death-tendency of what was in the pot. "But he said, Then bring meal. And he east it into the pot; and he said, Pour out for the people, that they may eat. And there was no harm in the pot." A supernatural power is required to counteract the pernicious in life. If the Almighty allowed evil to take its course freely and fully, death would run riot and reduce the whole race to extinction. The supernatural was manifested also:
2. In increasing the supplies of life. Elisha commanded his servant to distribute amongst his starving pupils the provisions which the man that came from Baal-shalisha had brought. To this the servant replied, "What, should I set this before a hundred men? He said again, Give the people, that they may eat: for thus saith the Lord, They shall eat, and shall leave thereof. So he set it before them, and they did eat, and left thereof, according to the word of the Lord." As the pot of oil increased in the pouring, so the provisions increased in the eating. It has been said of old of God, that he will abundantly bless the "provisions of his people, and satisfy the poor with bread." It is true that moral goodness, truth, and justice, skill, prudence, and diligence, have a tendency to increase everywhere the provisions of human life, and they are doing so every day. But in this case there seems to be the exertion of a power transcending the human. However this may be, that which we call the supernatural is nothing more than the natural. As Nature herself is immeasurably beyond our comprehension, transcends our conceptions, for us to speak of the supernatural implies the arrogation of an intelligence which we do not possess.—D.T.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
2 Kings 4:1-7
The miracles of Elisha: the pot of oil.
The next few chapters relate a number of the miracles of Elisha—all of them works of mercy.
I. THE WIDOW'S TROUBLE. The story told in these verses is one of sore distress. It is a story:
1. Of bereavement. A poor woman, widow of one of "the sons of the prophets," cried to Elisha, "Thy servant my husband is dead." We learn from this that the prophetic communities were not monastic. Marriage was permitted, and members of the fraternity had houses and families of their own. But this poor woman's husband had recently died. She had to face the difficulties and fight the battles of life alone. We are in presence of one of the minor tragedies of life—little thought of, because not uncommon.
2. Of debt. Her husband had been pious—"Thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord"—but his affairs had been left in confusion at his death, or, having no means of subsistence, the family had sunk into dependence on a creditor since his decease. A man may be good, and yet imprudent. On the other hand, misfortunes may overtake the best-intentioned, and reduce them from affluence to poverty. It is, however, a sad thing when the head of a household dies, and leaves to his struggling family an inheritance of debt. This is a contingency to be by every legitimate means guarded against. The Rev. C. H. Spurgeon, commenting on the text, "Take no thought for the morrow," etc. (Matthew 6:34), began by announcing, "I insured my own life last week, and have thus been able to carry out the injunction of the text, and not to be over-anxious for the morrow, for much undue care and anxiety that I had is now laid aside, secure in the knowledge that my forethought has provided for my loved ones."
3. Of bondage. The creditor to whom the debt was due showed himself merciless, and, as the law permitted, was about to take as slaves the two sons of the woman (Leviticus 25:39). It mattered little to the hard-hearted creditor that his debtor had "feared the Lord," that the two sons were the only remaining comforts of the widow, and that, with "patience," they might have "paid him all' (Matthew 18:29). He must have his own. It was forbidden to a creditor, to whom a fellow-Israelite was sold, to "compel him to serve as a bondservant," and to "rule over him with rigor" (Leviticus 25:39, Leviticus 25:43). But an unscrupulous man would pay little heed to these injunctions. Altogether, the picture is a sad one. Happily, the poor woman knew where to come with her tale of grief. She remembered the "Father of the fatherless" and the "Judge of the widow" (Psalms 68:5), and, when every earthly avenue of help was closed, poured her sorrows into the ear of God's prophet.
II. THE DIRECTIONS OF ELISHA. As the representative of One who had specially declared himself the Friend of "the fatherless and widow" (Deuteronomy 10:18), Elisha could not turn a deaf ear to the widow's plaint. A sympathetic interest in the bereaved and distressed is at all times a duty of God's ministers.
1. He inquired as to her possessions. "Tell me, what hast thou in the house?" God's help takes its starting-point from what we already have. The widow had but "one pot of oil"—oil for anointing; but this was made the basis of what was to be done. So Elijah founded his miracle on the widow of Zarephath's "handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse" (1 Kings 17:12), and Christ his on the lad's "five barley loaves, and two small fishes" (John 6:9). The lesson is that what means of help we have are to be made use of to the utmost before supernatural aid is invoked.
2. He bade her prepare for a liberal experience of God's goodness. "Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbors, even empty vessels; borrow not a few." She was to expect large things of the Lord. Her task in collecting the vessels was, like the digging of the trenches in the last chapter, emphatically a work of faith (2 Kings 3:16, 2 Kings 3:17). God does not stint us in answer to our prayers. His word rather is, "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it (Psalms 81:10). If our faith will but trust him, he will astonish us with his liberality.
3. He enjoined secrecy. "When thou art come in, thou shalt shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons, and shalt pour out," etc. This was too sacred a work to be made a vulgar wonder. To receive the full benefit of the blessing, the inmates of the house were to be alone, in privacy, their thoughts and spirits undisturbed. Jesus enjoins the cultivation of secrecy in religion (Matthew 6:1-18). He often forbade the blazoning abroad of his miracles (Matthew 8:4, etc.). The parading of religious experiences takes the bloom off them.
III. THE MULTIPYING OF THE OIL.
1. The oil multiplied. The widow and her sons did as directed, and, as they poured the oil into the borrowed vessels, it still increased till the vessels were full. The element of miracle here is very notable, but we are not entitled to expect such miracles at the present day. But the pledge of Divine help in distress implied in such a miracle remains to us, and God will honor every draft on his promises made by faith, basing itself on such deeds as this. A singular incident in proof is recorded by Krummacher in his remarks on this miracle ('Elisha;' Verse 5.). It might almost be said that there is a multiplying power in the Divine blessing, apart from miracle (Psalms 37:16).
2. The oil stayed. When the vessels were full, the widow said to her son, "Bring me yet a vessel." There was not, however, a vessel more. Then the oil stayed. Had there been more vessels, it would have flowed on. The sole limit of the supply was the limit of their capacity to receive. We are not straitened in God; we are straitened only in ourselves.
3. The oil sold. The news being brought to Elisha, he ordered the grateful woman—poor no more—to sell the oil, and pay her debt, and live, she and her children, of the rest. The debt was not repudiated; it was paid. God would put the stamp of his approval on honesty. The whole incident teaches us the lesson of trusting God in every time of need. When have the righteous been forsaken, or their seed seen begging bread (Psalms 37:25)? If we can trust in God for temporal supplies, much more may we for our spiritual supplies (Philippians 4:19).—J.O.
2 Kings 4:8-17
The lady of Shunem: 1. A son given.
The scene of this exquisite story is the town of Shunem, on the slope of Little Hermon, one of the eminences looking down on the rich and extensive plain of Jezreel.
I. RECEIVING A PROPHET IN THE NAME OF A PROPHET. In this town dwelt a wealthy lady, wife of a man who had large possessions in land—the Boaz of that district. The first part of the story is a beautiful instance of the consecrated use of wealth.
1. Elisha observed. Shunem lay in Elisha's route in passing to and fro, probably on Iris visits to the schools of the prophets. The lady of Shunem did not at first know him, but his appearance, as he passed and repassed, attracted her attention. She saw, from the gravity, benevolence, and distinction of his aspect, that he was "a holy man of God." She felt an interest in him, first as a wayfarer, then as a man of piety. It is well when even our outward deportment is such that others are compelled to take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).
2. Elisha welcomed. The immediate impulse of the pious lady was to show hospitality to the traveler.
(1) This illustrates her own piety. It was because she feared God that she was moved to show this kindness to his servant. Piety often lingers in rural districts when wickedness is rampant in the cities. One marked manifestation of piety is reverence for, and hospitable treatment of, God's saints (Matthew 10:40-42; Matthew 25:34-46). Elisha was received "in the name of a prophet" (Matthew 10:41).
(2) It illustrates also her natural benevolence of heart. Had this lady not been naturally of a benevolent disposition, accustomed to act hospitably and generously, she would not so readily have thought of constraining Elisha "to eat bread." St. Paul notes it as the mark of a godly woman, "if she have lodged strangers" (1 Timothy 5:10).
3. Elisa a customary guest. When once Elisha had found his way to this good lady's house, it would be alike a pleasure to him and a satisfaction to his hostess "to turn in thither" every time he passed through Shunem. The more the Shunammite saw of the prophet, the more she reverenced and desired to serve him. With the inventiveness of a mind that "deviseth liberal things" (Isaiah 32:8), it soon occurred to her to make permanent arrangements for his comfortable reception. Her husband, to whom she proposed her plans, entered heartily into them. Unlike the churlish Nabal (1 Samuel 25:1-44.), he was willing to give of his wealth for a prophet's entertainment. A chamber, accordingly, was fitted up on the wall for Elisha's private use, and there he abode, and could feel at home, whenever he passed that way. How beautiful the large and unstinted generosity, the wise forethought, the warm consideration for another's comfort, displayed in this incident! This wise and unselfish use of wealth is the true secret of obtaining enjoyment out of it.
II. A PROPHET'S REWARD. We are called to notice:
1. The prophet's gratitude. It was not with hope of reward that the Shunammite had done her acts of kindness, but Elisha was none the less anxious to show his sense of her generosity by doing her some service in return. He bade Gehazi his servant call her, and say to her, "Thou hast been careful for us with all this care; what is to be done for thee?" A grateful spirit well becomes a servant of God (2 Timothy 1:16-18). There is none whose gratitude we should so much desire to have as that of "righteous men." They may not, like Elisha, have interest with kings and courts, but they have interest with Heaven. God rewards for their sake. Their prayers and intercessions are worth more than silver and gold.
2. The Shunammite's humility.
(1) Elisha's first proposal was, "Wouldst thou be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host?" His influence at court, since the victory over the Moabites, was probably very great. It is not clear what exactly he supposed the king could do for her that the Shunammite was likely to desire; for it could not be thought, least of all by Elisha, that life in Samaria, and a position in Jehoram's court, even though attended by wealth and honor, was an advantageous exchange for her present rural felicity. A case did arise, however, later on, in which it was of benefit to her to "be spoken for to the king" (2 Kings 8:1-6). To many minds such a proposal as Elisha's would have had supreme attractions. To be "presented at court" is, in many circles of fashion, the acme of ambition—to gain titles, honors, royal recognitions, the summum bonum of existence.
(2) It was different with this Shunammite. Her wise and beautiful and unambitious answer was," I dwell among mine own people." She had no desire to exchange her simple country life at Shunem, surrounded by those who knew and loved her, for any grander station king or captain could give her. In this she judged rightly. The elements of happiness are probably found in their greatest perfection in such a quiet country existence, with the means of doing good to others, as this lady enjoyed. They are emphatically not to be found in the sphere of court-favor and court-patronage—too often the sphere of sycophancy, intrigue, faction, backstairs influence, miserable jealousies and spites, which reduce life to the emptiest, vainest show.
3. The prophet's reward. What, then, was to be done for the Shunammite?
(1) Gehazi, with the shrewdness of a man of the world, struck on the right idea. "Verily she hath no child, and her husband is old." Perhaps he had ere this heard the lady lament her want of offspring. It was the one cross of her otherwise contented and happy life. Her husband, like Elkanah, might console her with the words," Am not I better to thee than ten sons?" but her warm, motherly heart, overflowing as it was with kindness to others, yearned for a child of her own on whom to lavish its riches. Without this boon, however she might feel the duty of resignation, existence remained incomplete. It is rare but that some cross, if it be but one, is mingled with our blessings, if only to teach us that existence here is not the be-all and end-all.
(2) Elisha saw at once the propriety of Gehazi's suggestion, and confident in the Divine readiness to give effect to his word, he called the Shunammite, and announced to her the joyful fact that, with the revolving months, she should embrace a son. The intimation astounded her, as well it might. It so entirely transcended her hopes and expectations, that she could hardly believe in its realization. "Nay thou man of God," she said, "do not lie unto thine handmaid;" as if she was afraid he was trifling with her, trying some experiment upon her feelings, or otherwise deluding her. Her words were not really those of unbelief, but of faith asking for greater assurance. When her mind had time to take in the full extent of Elisha's promise, inexpressible joy would chase the last trace of doubt from her soul.
(3) The event happened as predicted, and a son was born. We learn that those who show kindness to God's people shall not go without their reward (Matthew 10:41, Matthew 10:42). The reward may not come in the form they anticipate, but it will come in the way that is best for them, and will generally be above all that they ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). God's power, "which calleth those things which be not as though they were" (Romans 4:17), will do marvels for us, if only we have faith to receive his promise.—J.O.
2 Kings 4:18-37
The lady of Shunem: 2. The son taken and restored.
A lapse of several years occurs in the story, during which time the child had grown, till he was able to go out to his father to the harvest-field.
I. THE UNEXPECTED STROKE.
1. A boyhood of promise. Everything combined to invest this Shunammite's son with interest, and to make him the idol of his parents' heart. He was an only son, the son of his father's old age, a child of promise—almost of miracle. He would be the joy and delight of his home, a constant wonder, an unceasing study. He was his father's, not less than his mother's, favorite, as seen by the way in which the child runs out to him in the field. Great hopes would be built on him, and it might be thought that these could hardly fail to be realized. From the manner in which he had been given, God might seem pledged to preserve him from the ordinary dangers of childhood. He lived—so it might be fancied—a charmed life, and could not fall a victim to disease and trouble as other children did. Alas! the contrary was soon to be shown.
2. The child smitten. The manner of the playful child's seizure is simply and naturally told. The boy is sporting among the reapers, when suddenly he exclaims, "My head, my head!" The father is by his side, and orders him to be carried home to his mother. He thinks, apparently, only of some passing illness. The heat has proved too much for him. The mother's instinct more surely divines the fatal character of the stroke. She does not even lay him on his bed, but, taking him on her knees, holds him there in an agony of terror and affection, boding the worst. How great a mother's love! The father is sought in the hour of play; the mother's knee is the place in sickness. At noon the child dies.
3. The child dead.
(1) It is not an unexampled thing for children to be taken away as suddenly and pathetically as this Shunammite's son was. Many a parent's bleeding heart can tell of similar wounds. The suffering and death of little children is one of the "dark things" of Providence. Often it is the brightest and most promising that is taken, and the removal is sometimes as sharp, startling, and unlooked-for as in the case here described. Yesterday, nay, at morn, the mother had her child by her, happy, winsome, full of mirth and frolic; at noon he is snatched from her embrace forever.
(2) The special mystery in the case of this Shunammite's son is that he was a child of promise. Had not God given her this son—given him without her seeking—and how could he now, without manifest injustice, snatch him away from her again in this ruthless manner? Was there not, in this way of dealing, a breaking of promise with her, something arbitrary, capricious, unfair? So to her wild, whirling thoughts, it may have seemed. God's ways are, in truth, often very mysterious. Yet in the present instance may not the very fondness of these doting parents for their child help to explain something of the darkness of God's dealing with them? God never binds himself to an unconditional continuance of our blessings. There was danger, just because this child was held so dear, of the parents' centering all in it—forgetting, in their feeling of the security of their possession, that the gift still hung on the will of the Giver. To recall them to a sense of their dependence, or, if this is rejected, then, as in Abraham's ease, to perfect the faith of this Shunammite through trial, the gift is for the time withdrawn.
(3) The child is dead, and with almost unnatural composure, the stricken mother rises from her seat, bears the child's body aloft to the prophet's chamber, lays it on the bed, and goes out, locking the door behind her. She tells neither servants, husband, nor any one else, of what has happened. Her husband was still in the field, and she must have put off any inquiries he made with evasive answers. A great mystery hung over this unlooked-for bereavement, and as only the prophet can solve that mystery, to the prophet she will go.
II. THE JOURNEY TO CARMEL.
1. On the way.
(1) The lady sends to her husband for an ass, and a young man to accompany her, that she may "run" to the prophet, and come again. She gives no explanation, for in her heart she no doubt cherished hope that her mission would not be in vain. She clung to the promise of God (cf. Hebrews 11:17-19). In the hour of trouble, nothing lightens the gloom like a promise to hold by.
(2) The husband's surprised question, "Wherefore wilt thou go to him to-day? it is neither new moon, nor sabbath," shows that it was Elisha's custom to hold religious assemblies on the sabbath days, to which the godly in Israel resorted. This is an interesting side light on the practice of the time. Weekly assemblies were not provided for in the Law, but where love to God is in the heart, it needs no law to bring believers together (Malachi 3:16).
(3) The journey was made in haste. "Slacken not the riding." Such errands brooked no delay. When one is earnest in pressing for a blessing, no obstacles will be allowed to stand in the way. Neither in service of God, in seeking blessing from God, nor in pursuit of holiness, should we be tempted to "slacken" our endeavors (Philippians 3:13, Philippians 3:14).
2. Meeting Gehazi. From afar, from his dwelling on Carmel, Elisha saw the hard riding of the lady whom he recognized as the Shunammite. With an instant presentiment that something was wrong—though nothing had been revealed to him (2 Kings 4:27)—he bade Gehazi hasten, and inquire concerning herself, her husband, and her child, if it were "peace." To him, however, she was in no wise minded to open up her heart. She but curtly replied, as she had before done to her husband (2 Kings 4:23), "It is peace." With all her deep affliction, she had not surrendered faith. She felt that God was trying her, but though "faith and form" were sundered in the night of fear, she had courage to believe that it would yet be "well." Her comfort was not in the well-being of her child with God, but in the hope that he would be restored to her. With the new light the gospel has given, Christians can say of their dear lost children, "It is well," though they have no hope of beholding them again on earth.
3. At Elisha's feet.
(1) Arrived in the prophet's presence, the bereaved mother cast herself in mute grief and supplication at his feet. With singular inappreciation of the delicacy of the situation, Gehazi approached to thrust her away. But Elisha perceived how deeply her soul was "vexed" within her, though as yet he could not divine the cause. There is a silence which is often more eloquent than speech. God does not need our words to tell him what we want; he can read even the "groanings that cannot be uttered" (Romans 8:26). This mourner took her trouble to the right place.
(2) By-and-by she found words, which in form were words of expostulation, "Did I desire a son of my lord? did I not say, Do not deceive me?" In reality she was recalling to the prophet that it was his own word which had promised her this child. She was telling him in effect that the child was dead, and supplicating his help to prevent his original promise being completely cancelled. God is pleased that we should plead his promises with him. He bids us "put him in remembrance" (Isaiah 43:26); like Job, "fill our mouth with arguments" (Job 23:4). He will honor his own word, for "his gifts and calling are without repentance" (Romans 11:29).
III. THE CHILD RESTORED.
1. Gehazi's failure. Anxious to lose no time in doing what he was confident it was the will of God should be done, Elisha directed his servant, who could go much more quickly than himself, to speed forward, and lay his staff upon the face of the child. He was neither to allow time to be wasted, nor his thoughts to be distracted, by saluting any one on the way. ("The King's business required haste;" 1 Samuel 21:8; cf. Luke 10:4.) Gehazi did as he was commanded, but "there was neither voice nor hearing." The staff did not work the wonder—was never intended to do so; it was only a symbol of the prophetic authority under sanction of which the deed was to be wrought. There have been many speculations as to the cause of Gehazi's failure, some supposing that Elisha had stepped beyond his province in presuming to delegate this power to another; others, that the failure was a designed rebuke to Gehazi; others, that this was a new trial of the Shunammite's faith. But surely the simplest explanation is also the most probable. Gehazi was sent in good faith, but the deed was not one to be wrought by marc, but by the concurrence of faith and prayer. Elisha's prayers accompanied his messenger, but the defects in Gehazi's own spiritual nature proved too serious for the work he had to do. God would not act through such an instrument. Even when Elisha came upon the scene, it was not without difficulty that he accomplished the miracle. His foresight in this was limited, even as in the matter of the child's death the fact was "hid" from him.
2. Elisha's success. The Shunammite had refused to leave Elisha, and now, as they journeyed onward, Gehazi met them, announcing, "The child is not awaked." Elisha himself now took in hand the task in which Gehazi had failed.
(1) He went into the room where the child was, shut the door "upon them twain," and prayed. The prophet and the dead are alone together, but God is there too. Elisha attacked the problem from its spiritual side. His first object was to get his own soul into a spiritual frame, and to secure God's approval of his efforts. He believed, like his master Elijah, in the virtue of "effectual fervent prayer" (James 5:16). Such preparations are necessary if we would accomplish the greater miracle of raising the spiritually dead. Prayer attains its highest power when "secret" (Matthew 6:6).
(2) Divinely directed in answer to his prayer, Elisha now stretched himself upon the body of the child, placing his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, his hands on his hands, etc. (cf. 1 Kings 18:21), and a first stage in restoration was accomplished—"the flesh of the child waxed warm." We can give no explanation whatever of the rationale of this procedure, which yet in some way unknown may have made Elisha a co-agent in the work of restoration. If life was not absolutely extinct—a supposition countenanced by the fact that decomposition does not seem, even at the distance of many hours, to have set in (Bahr)—some reason might be seen for it.
(3) Elisha now arose, walked for a time to and fro, perhaps to increase animal heat, more probably in an energetic bracing of mind and spirit to overcome remaining obstacles to the power of faith, then renewed his former position of contact with the child. Life gradually reasserted its power; the child sneezed once, again, seven times; then opened his eyes, and was restored to his parent.
The lessons from this concluding part of the story are:
(1) Prayer conjoined with appropriate action does not fail of its reward.
(2) The duty of perseverance.
(3) Some spiritual tasks are more difficult than others (Mark 9:29).
(4) In the case of the Shunammite, the victory of faith.
(5) The ease with which Christ wrought his miracles as compared with these laborious exertions of Elisha—a proof of the superior greatness of his power.—J.O.
2 Kings 4:38-41
The deadly pottage.
Two other remarkable, though more briefly related, works of Elisha are narrated in the closing verses of this chapter. Both have to do with "the sons of the prophets" at Gilgal; both relate to a time of famine; and one is an Old Testament anticipation of a signal miracle of Christ. The first is the healing of the deadly pottage.
I. THE PROPHETIC COLLEGE. We are transported to Gilgal, and gain a glimpse into the interior of the prophetic school.
1. Religious instruction. Elisha is there, and "the sons of the prophets" are "sitting before him," receiving his instructions. There is dearth of temporal provision, but none of spiritual. The usual exercises of instruction and devotion go on, as if plenty reigned.
2. Religious fellowship. The famine has not sufficed to break up the little community, but has drawn the members of it—as trial should always do—closer together. They have a common table. They "dwell together in unity" (Psalms 133:1). Elisha, like a good captain, shares the hardships of his army. God's people are sometimes brought into difficulty enough, but the effect should only be to strengthen the bonds of brotherly love.
3. Religious order. There are orderly arrangements. Elisha is not only preceptor, but director of the temporal affairs of the community. All obey him, as all appeal to him when trouble arises. The invisible Head of the community is Jehovah. On him they rely with confidence, when every other source of help fails.
II. DEATH IN THE POT. The great pot is set on to seethe pottage in, and one goes out to gather herbs to eke out the scanty supply.
1. The poisonous gourd. Attracted by some wild creepers, the messenger gathers there from a lapful of gourds, which he mistakes for gourds of a similar appearance that are edible. The plants he had gathered were in reality poisonous. He brought them home, and they were shred into the pottage. We may learn two lessons.
(1) The danger of being deceived by appearances. Things often are not what they seem. The most plausible errors are those which bear a superficial resemblance to great truths. We need to have our "senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Hebrews 5:14). To the true vine there correspond many wild vines; to the gourds that nourish and satisfy, many fair but poisonous imitations.
(2) The best intentions may lead to sad mistakes. The important point to be noticed here is that our intentions, however good, cannot prevent things from acting according to their real nature. The person who gathered the gourds thought them innocuous, but they produced their poisonous effects all the same. "Sincerity' does not exonerate us from the consequences of our actions; at least it cannot prevent these consequences following. Poisonous principles are as harmful in their influence when promulgated in ignorance, as when diffused with the fullest knowledge of their deadly character. "They knew it not" does not suffice to alter the nature of facts.
2. The timely discovery. The pottage was no sooner tasted than the peculiar flavor and felt effects discovered to those eating it that there was something, amiss. The cry was raised, "O thou man of God, there is death in the pot!"
(1) One poisonous ingredient had destroyed the value of much wholesome food. It did not require that all the elements in the pottage should be unwholesome; it was enough that this one was. Through it the whole mixture was rendered deadly. It is not uncommon to defend a system by pointing to the numerous truths, which it contains. But one vital error blended with these truths may give the whole a fatal quality. The gospel itself may be adulterated with specious lies, which destroy its power for good.
(2) It is well when there is timely discovery of evil. It is better when, as here, those who have made the discovery resolve to partake no more of the poisoned dish. "They could not eat thereof." But many, in moral things, who know, who at least have been warned, that there is "death in the pot," go on eating of it. There is death in the intoxicating pot, yet many will not refrain.
III. THE POTTAGE HEALED. Elisha had within himself a monition what to do. He said, "Bring meal." The meal was brought, and cast into the pottage, and the evil was at once cured. There seems no reason for using the meal except that it was customary to accompany these prophetic miracles with an outward symbolical act; and the meal, as a symbol of what was wholesome and nutritious in food, was as appropriate a medium as any to be used. We get this idea—that the unwholesome is to be displaced by the wholesome. If the bane is to be destroyed, we must use as antidote that which is of opposite character. As a work of God's power, the miracle was a pledge to the prophets of God's ability and readiness to help them in every time of need. The simplest means can be made effectual if God blesses it.—J.O.
2 Kings 4:42-44
The twenty barley loaves.
This miracle foreshadows Christ's acts of multiplying the loaves (Matthew 14:15-21; Matthew 15:32-39, etc.).
I. THE GIFT OF LOAVES. In a time of great need in the little society, there came a man from Baal-shalisha, bringing with him twenty barley loaves and a quantity of fresh corn. This welcome gift was:
1. Prompted by a religious motive. It was "bread of the firstfruits." The religious dues were ordinarily paid to priests and Levites, but in the state of religion in Israel, this good man thought that he kept the spirit of the Law best by bringing his loaves and corn to Elisha and his pupils. The act is proof
(1) of his genuine piety;
(2) of his religious good sense;
(3) of his habitual conscientiousness in discharge of duty.
He did not conceive that "dearth in the land" freed him from the obligation of the firstfruits. Would that every Christian had as high and conscientious a standard in religious giving! We may suppose that the man was further moved in part by a benevolent desire to be of service to Elisha and the prophets. In that case he would be no loser by his kindness.
2. Providentially timed to meet a pressing necessity. Prom the point of view of Elisha and his friends, the visit of the man of Baal-shalisha was a signal interposition of Providence for their relief. Their supplies were exhausted, and they had been praying and hoping for a door of help to be opened to them. Just then this anonymous donor from Baal-shalisha comes in with his bread. It was as direct a case of Divine provision as when the ravens brought bread and flesh to Elijah at the brook Cherith (1 Kings 17:6). God's ways of providing for his people are endless in their variety Many instances are on record of help sent m just as wonderful a way to those in need as this passage exhibits.
II. THE MIRACULOUS INCREASE. Precious as these twenty barley loaves were, they formed, after all, but scant provision for a hundred hungry men. The prophet had, however, warrant from God to convert them into the sufficiency required.
1. "Thus saith the Lord." "Give unto the people" said Elisha, "that they may eat," When Gehazi objected that there was not enough for all the company, the prophet repeated his command, adding, "For thus saith the Lord, They shall eat, and shall leave thereof." A "thus saith the Lord" suffices to overcome all objections. What can it not accomplish? It made the worlds at first; it gave the Israelites manna in the wilderness; it brought water from the rock; it had but a little before multiplied the widow's oil. If we have this warrant for anything we are told to do, we need not hesitate to attempt it.
2. The people fed. Accordingly, when the bread was served out, it was found to be sufficient for all. It is curiously supposed by some that the miracle was not in the multiplication of the bread, but in causing the portions received to satisfy hunger. The analogy of the other miracles by multiplication, not in the Gospels alone, but in these very histories (1 Kings 17:12-16; 2 Kings 4:1-7), is against this. We see in the provision made
(1) a blending of providence and miracle. An appreciable quantity of the bread provided was furnished by the man of Baal-shalisha; God made this sufficient by a direct act of power. Another illustration of the variety of the Divine methods. The one thing certain is that those who trust him will be provided for (Psalms 34:9, Psalms 34:10). We do well to see in it also
(2) an image of the true, God-given, spiritual bread, which God brings to us in our spiritual need, and by which he satisfies our spiritual hunger (John 6:26-58).—J.O.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Kings 4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent