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Bible Commentaries
2 Kings 4

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


This chapter, and the four that follow, are chiefly given to a detailed record of Elisha’s miracles. They not only afford us a lively picture of Elisha himself, but also open to us an inside view of the schools of the prophets, in which Elisha was a father. These schools had now become a prominent institution in Israel; and the term sons of the prophets, so uniformly used, seems to indicate a more intimate relation between pupils and master than that which existed in the days of Samuel.

The general character of Elisha’s life and miracles was noticeably different from that of Elijah’s. As Stanley beautifully remarks: “The rough mantle of his master appears no more after its first display. He uses a walking-staff, (2 Kings 4:29,) like other grave citizens. He was not secluded in mountain fastnesses, but dwelt in his own house in the royal city, (2 Kings 5:9; 2 Kings 5:24; 2Ki 6:32 ; 2 Kings 13:17.) or lingered amidst the sons of the prophets within the precincts of ancient colleges, embowered amidst the shade of the beautiful woods which overhang the crystal spring near Jericho that is still associated with his name; or was sought out by admiring disciples in some tower on Carmel, or by the pass of Dothan; or was received in some quiet balcony, overlooking the plain of Esdraelon, where bed and table and seat had been prepared for him by pious hands. 2 Kings 4:10. His life was not spent, like his predecessor’s, in unavailing struggles, but in wide spread successes. He was sought out, not as the enemy, but as the friend and counsellor of kings. His deeds were not of wild terror, but of gracious, soothing, homely beneficence, bound up with the ordinary tenor of human life.” In short, we may say that Elisha’s life and miracles were more like the still small voice that followed the whirlwind, the earthquake, and the fire of Elijah’s ministry; less sublime and fearful, but greater in their influence for good.

Verse 1


1. A certain woman According to a Rabbinical conjecture she was the wife of Obadiah, who fed the persecuted prophets in the days of Jezebel. 1 Kings 18:5.

Wives of the sons of the prophets So these prophetical schools were unlike the monasteries in which celibacy was enjoined. Unto Elisha The head of the institution was applied to as a father and lord who had power to help her in her distress.

My two sons to be bondmen The law of Moses provided (Leviticus 25:39-41) that, in case of poverty and inability to pay his debts, a man and his children might be sold, and remain in bondage until the next year of jubilee.

Matthew 18:25, shows that this law was still in force in our Lord’s time. This fact, thus incidentally introduced in the history of Elisha, shows that in his day the law of Moses was the basis of judicial and civil proceedings in the kingdom of Israel.

Verse 4

4. Shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons So as not to draw a crowd of curious spectators round, or make a vain and needless display of the miracle. Some miracles God works in secret for a chosen few.

Verse 6

6. The oil stayed “It only ceased to flow when there was no vessel to receive it. This is a good emblem of the grace of God. While there is an empty, longing heart, there is a continual overflowing fountain of salvation. If we find in any place, or at any time, that the oil ceases to flow, it is because there are no empty vessels there, no souls hungering and thirsting for righteousness.” Clarke. Compare 2 Corinthians 6:11-12.

Verse 7

7. Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt There is a resemblance between this miracle and that of our Lord when he sent Peter to catch a fish in whose mouth he should find money to pay the tribute. Matthew 17:27. In each case the miracle was to pay a debt, and was wrought, not publicly, but comparatively in secret.

Some of the ancient interpreters find in this widow an image of the Gentile Church. The husband being dead, signifies that she was no longer joined to her ancient idolatries. Her coming to Elijah and obeying his word is explained as a type of the eagerness with which the Gentiles sought salvation at the hands of Christ and his apostles; and the abundant supply of oil represents the bountiful provisions of the Gospel to deliver all nations from the bondage of sin.

Verse 8


8. Shunem The modern Solam, on the southwestern slope of the Little Hermon, and in full view of Mount Carmel, and in the midst of the finest cornfields of Palestine. Compare Joshua 19:18.

A great woman That is, a woman of great wealth. Compare the expression in 1 Samuel 25:2. Some have thought that this woman was a relative of the fair Abishag. 1 Kings 1:3.

Constrained him to eat bread Persistently urged him, in accordance with the hearty manner of Oriental hospitality.

Verse 10

10. Little chamber… on the wall An aliyah, the most desirable and best fitted up room of an Eastern house. See note on 1 Kings 17:19. An upper chamber would be more retired than any other part of the house, and therefore especially appropriate for a prophet.

Bed… table… stool… candlestick Every accommodation for his convenience and comfort.

The room was accordingly occupied at convenient times by the prophet and his attendant servant.

Verse 13

13. Wouldest thou be spoken for to the king Hast thou any difficulty or concern in which the interference of the king or the captain of the host would be of service to thee? or wouldst thou like a place of honour procured for thee at the king’s court? The question implies that Elisha had great influence with the king; an influence obtained, doubtless, by means of the miracles which God had wrought through him.

I dwell among mine own people I live quietly and peaceably, and have no broils or difficulties with my neighbours requiring the interference of the king, and I have no desire to change my lot. “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” 1 Timothy 6:6.

Verse 16

16. About this season, according to the time of life That is, about this time next year.

Embrace a son Fold in thy arms a child. To estimate the value of this promise we must remember that childlessness was a reproach and disgrace to an Israelitish wife. Compare Genesis 30:23; Luke 1:25.

Verse 18

18. When the child was grown Large enough to go out by himself.

To the reapers In the neighbouring grain-fields. In June (16th, 1838,) Dr. Robinson passed through the grain-fields about Shunem, and wrote: “The fields in many parts were still covered with a rich crop of wheat, long ready and waiting for the sickle. The harvest in other quarters of the plain seemed to be already ended. Our guide from Jenin took us directly through several fields of grain, where his donkey and our mules cropped their fill in passing.”

Verse 19

19. My head, my head He was probably sun struck, and this is the more likely in view of the season of the year, and of his own youth and tenderness. “I know by experience,” says Thomson, “that this valley glows like a furnace in harvest-time.”

Verse 21

21. Laid him on the bed of the man of God She had probably heard how Elijah had raised the son of the widow of Zarephath to life. 1 Kings 17:19.

Verse 22

22. She called unto her husband He seems to have stayed in the harvest field, not supposing any thing so serious in the case; and she seems to have concealed from him the death of the child.

Verse 23

23. Neither new moon, nor sabbath These words imply that it was customary for the people on these holy days to resort to the prophets for help or instruction, and that the prophetical office had in Israel largely taken the place of the Levitical priesthood. The calf worship at Beth-el and Dan had utterly disorganized the lawful priesthood; and the regular worship of sacrifice and offering, as prescribed in the law, could not be observed in the northern kingdom, away from the ark and temple where Jehovah had recorded his name. Hence the pious were wont to resort to the prophets on the holy days, and perhaps the schools of the prophets answered partially the purpose of the synagogues of a later age. Hence this Shunammite’s husband asks her why she will go to inquire or seek help of the prophet on a day when the prophets were not wont to be inquired of. The fact that the new moons and the sabbaths were still religiously observed, shows that though there were many wide departures from the law of Moses, that law was not unknown in Israel. Comp. Leviticus xxiii, 3; Numbers 28:11.

Verse 25

25. She went, and came… to Mount Carmel Some ten or twelve miles from Shunem, a distance which she doubtless travelled in a few hours.

Verse 27

27. She caught him by the feet “This scene is natural and very graphic. If you ask after a person whom you know to be sick, the reply at first will invariably be, Well, thank God, even when the very next sentence is to inform you that he is dying. Then the falling down, clasping the feet, etc., are actions witnessed every day. I have had this done to me often before I could prevent it. So, also, the officious zeal of the wicked Gehazi, who would thrust the broken-hearted mother away, probably thinking her touch pollution, agrees perfectly with what we know of the man and of the customs of the East.” Thomson.

The Lord hath hid it from me The prophets were not always illumined with the gift of foresight or of vision. They were not always “in the Spirit.”

Verse 28

28. Did I desire a son of my lord She speaks the emotional language of one that is bewildered with a sudden sorrow. So far as appears from what is here written, she did not relate the fact of the child’s death, but left him to infer it from the language of her grief, or learn it by special Divine revelation. But we need not assume that all she said to Elisha is here written.

Verse 29

29. If thou meet… salute him not As though he had said, “You will have no time to linger, and a pausing to give or receive compliments may not only cause much waste of time, but so distract your thoughts as to frustrate the object of your mission.” When a miracle is wrought through many intermediate instruments and agencies it is necessary that those instruments be in perfect unison with each other, and in sympathy and harmony with the mind and will of Him with whom alone is the power to work miracles.

Lay my staff upon the face of the child Did Elisha expect that the child would be raised by this means? The Scripture does not say, and all attempts to answer this question must be at best merely conjectural. Keil thinks that Elisha sent Gehazi, not expecting that he would raise the child, but to show the Shunammite, and perhaps Gehazi also, that the power to work a miracle did not lie magically in himself or his staff, but solely in the power of God, exerted in answer to the prayer of faith. It is possible, however, that the failure was owing to the unfitness of Gehazi to work his part of the miracle, or to the fact that after Elisha had given this command to Gehazi and sent him away, he changed his mind and went himself with the woman. See more on 2 Kings 4:31.

Verse 30

30. I will not leave thee After the heartless attempt of Gehazi to thrust her away from the prophet’s presence, (2 Kings 4:27,) she has no confidence in his ministry, even though he carry the staff of Elisha. Sacred vestments and a holy commission will not command the confidence of earnest souls, unless they be associated with a minister who himself gives evidence of a true and tender heart.

Verse 31

31. Neither voice, nor hearing He uttered no cry, he paid no heed. That is, he gave no signs of life. Here again comes up the question, Why was Gehazi’s mission with the staff a failure? First of all, we maintain that it is far from certain or evident that Elisha expected his staff and his servant would be effectual in raising the dead. On the contrary, it is very possible that he meant Gehazi’s mission should be a failure, in order to show that the miracle could not be wrought by any supposed magic of the staff, or by any mere human agency whatever. But on the other supposition, certainly admissible, and even probable, that the prophet expected his staff to resuscitate the child, the failure is thus well explained by Kitto: “Elisha did not at first mean to go himself to Shunem, and for that reason sent his staff to supply the lack of his own presence. But after he had sent away the servant, his observation of the uneasiness of the mother, whom he had expected to have gone home satisfied, and her avowed determination not to leave him, induced him to alter his purpose, and with the kindness natural to him, to forego his own engagements at Carmel, and to accompany her to her forlorn home. It was probably in consequence of this change of plan that no response was made to the first claim of faith by means of the staff. That appeal was in fact superseded the moment he resolved to go in person, the Lord thus reserving for the personal intercession of his prophet the honour of this marvellous deed.”

But Gehazi’s supposed unfitness to work the miracle, and the woman’s lack of faith in him, are facts not to be overlooked. They may be a sufficient reason for the failure of Gehazi’s mission. For in the realm of the miraculous Divine Power works not blindly nor arbitrarily, but according to sacred laws. To affirm that there must be a sympathetic union or spontaneous affiliation between the human agencies employed and those deeply concerned in a given miracle, is only to say what is abundantly suggested in the Scriptures. Nor is this to degrade a class of miracles to the low plane of animal magnetism, or explain them away on naturalistic principles; yet it need not be denied that the psychological basis of animal magnetism was a medium through which many miracles were performed, and without which some miracles could not have been wrought. When the disciples, after their failure to heal a lunatic child, asked Jesus why they could not work the miracle, he replied, “Because of your unbelief,” Matthew 17:20. Compare Matthew 13:58; Mark 6:56; Mark 9:23.

Verse 32

32. The child was dead This statement, as well as that of 2 Kings 4:20, clearly forbids the supposition that the child had merely fainted, or fallen into a trance. He was really, not merely apparently, dead.

Verse 34

34. Lay upon the child He knew what Elijah had done in a similar case, (1 Kings 17:21,) and followed his example; but doubtless both Elijah and Elisha used these natural measures in accordance with some Divine revelation which was given them.

His mouth upon his mouth This was designed to convey his own animal warmth to the dead child. He would thus use the natural means which God might make instrumental in working that which lay altogether beyond the power of Elisha. This placing of his mouth, eyes, and hands upon those of the child, bore the same relation to this miracle which the spittle and the washing in Siloam did to the miracle by which Jesus gave sight to the man blind from his birth. John 9:1-7. Divine Power could have raised this child to life in answer to Elisha’s prayer without any other action on the part of the prophet, but Divine Wisdom decreed otherwise. Christ opened one blind man’s eyes by a single command; but in other cases he adopted peculiar measures to work substantially the same miracle. We cannot tell why, but we accept the facts, and argue from them the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God. Romans 11:33. We do not presume to deny that our God might have adopted a different plan of redemption from the one we have, but we may well question the possibility of a wiser one; and though we cannot fathom all its mystery, we accept with joy the fact of “God manifest in the flesh;” and in the blessed incarnation of our Lord, to use the analogy of this miracle of Elisha, we see with wonder how the Godman stretches himself upon our cold, lifeless humanity, that was dead in trespasses and sins, and even contracts himself to vile narrow span of our infancy, childhood, manhood; his blessed mouth and eyes and hands come into contact with our own. He breathes upon us the Holy Ghost, and we are quickened and warmed into a new and eternal life. We are thus raised from spiritual death, and our ears hear, and our eyes see, and our hands handle, the Word of life. 1 John 1:1.

The flesh of the child waxed warm Thus the miracle was wrought, not instantaneously, but by slow degrees.

Verse 35

35. Returned, and walked in the house That is, he left the child, and went down stairs, and paced to and fro in a larger room than his own little chamber. His own animal heat might have become much reduced by absorption into the cold body of the child, and his walking to and fro was probably, as Bahr suggests, an involuntary result of the great emotion with which he looked and waited for the fulfilment of his prayer.

Went up Upstairs again into his own room. He went up and repeated his former efforts again.

Sneezed seven times “When the nervous influence began to act on the muscular system, before the circulation could be in every part restored, particular muscles, if not the whole body, would be thrown into strong contractions and shiverings, and sneezing would be a natural consequence; particularly as obstructions must have taken place in the head and its vessels, because of the disorder of which the child died.” Clarke.

As might be expected, there have not been wanting rationalistic interpreters, who have explained this miracle as a case of suspended animation, or fit of apoplexy, and Elisha’s efforts as the manipulations of animal magnetism, by which sensation was restored. Of course, such expositors ignore or deny the plain statement that the child was dead, and so do not explain, but contradict and torture the word of Scripture.

Verse 38

38. Came… Gilgal Where was a school of the prophets. See note on 2 Kings 2:1.

A dearth in the land The seven years’ famine which Elisha had foretold. 2 Kings 8:1. This is mentioned to show the necessity of their sending out into the fields to gather herbs for food.

Sitting before him As disciples were wont to gather round their master to listen to the instructions which fell from his lips.

Set on the great pot That is, put it over the fire. The great pot is mentioned as a well known, commonly used article among them.

Seethe pottage Boil vegetables.

Verses 38-41


This miracle of the healing of the poisonous pottage is a counterpart of that of the healing of the waters of Jericho. 2 Kings 2:19-22. There the power of Elisha’s God works on the water; here, on the food of the prophets. The chief value of both miracles lies in the rich typical lessons they suggest concerning the coming in of Divine grace and power into the domain of man’s most common life and wants, to leaven and heal with gracious influences all the disturbances and bitternesses of earthly experience.

Verse 39

39. Herbs ארת , oroth. “This noun is derived from אור , in the signification to shine, glitter, so far as verbs of shining are also applied metaphorically to blossoming, sprouting, ripening.” Furst. Whether the word means some particular vegetable, or stands for herbs in general, is not settled. Perhaps oroth were a sort of vegetable for which wild gourds might be easily mistaken.

Wild gourds One species of that extensive family of cucumber-like vegetables, abundant in the East, some of which are edible and some bitter and poisonous. Of one of these species Kitto says: “In the desert part of Syria, Egypt, and Arabia, and on the banks of the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, its tendrils run over vast tracts of ground, offering a prodigious number of gourds, which are crushed under foot by camels, horses, and men. In winter we have seen the extent of many miles covered with the connecting tendrils and dry gourds of the preceding season, the latter exhibiting precisely the same appearance as in our shops; and when crushed, with a crackling noise, beneath the feet, discharging, in the form of a light powder, the valuable drug which they contain.”

Shred them Sliced them; cut them up into small shreds or slices.

Verse 40

40. Death in the pot That is, some deadly poison. We need not suppose that there was any thing really poisonous in the pot, but the extreme bitterness of the wild gourds, which had been mistaken for oroth, caused their alarm, and they at once supposed that the pottage was really poisoned.

Verse 41

41. Then bring meal What was there in the meal to counteract the bad properties of the gourds? Nothing, necessarily. The meal, like the salt cast into the foul waters of Jericho, (2 Kings 2:21,) and the tree at Marah, (Exodus 15:25,) was merely the suggestive symbol of the Divine powers of nourishment and healing which subsisted in Elisha’s God. It bore a similar relation to this miracle that Elisha’s stretching himself upon the body of the dead child did to the Divine power that raised the child to life.

It was the earthly medium through which the Spirit worked.

No harm in the pot All the bad properties of the pottage were miraculously taken away. So, say some of the older divines, the healthsome meal of sound Christian doctrine, entering into the mind and heart of the Church, shall counteract and take away the poison of ill-born heresy.

Verse 42

42. There came a man Probably while Elisha still abode at Gilgal, and very soon after the last-mentioned miracle. This man was one of the pious in Israel who did not acknowledge the priests of the calf-worship at Beth-el and Dan.

Baal-shalisha This was either identical with “the land of Shalisha,” mentioned in 1 Samuel 9:4, or else a city of that district. According to Eusebius and Jerome, it lay some fifteen miles north of Lydda, or Diospolis, the modern Ludd, and hence somewhere near, if not at, the site of the present ruins Khurbet Hatta, and therefore about twenty miles west of Gilgal. Near this spot three watercourses unite in the large Wady Kurawa, and hence Thenius conjectures the origin of the name Shalisha, land of three. It was also, perhaps, a seat of the Baal-worship instituted by Jezebel.

Brought the man of God bread of the firstfruits The law ordained that the firstfruits should be given to the priests, (Numbers 18:13; Deuteronomy 18:4;) why, then, are these now brought to Elisha? Doubtless because the legal priesthood had been abolished in the northern kingdom, (see 2 Chronicles 11:14,) and the Lord had raised up the prophetical office to such a religious power and importance as virtually to take its place.

Full ears of corn in the husk thereof Rather, Garden fruits in his sack. That is, says Gesenius, “the produce of gardens, as earlier and more valued than those of the fields; just as with us the finer species of fruits and herbs are cultivated in gardens, and are superior to those growing in the fields. We may perhaps understand grits, or groats, made from the new and earliest grain, in preparing which, as an offering to God, the best and earliest ears were selected from garden wheat or other grain.”

Verses 42-44


From the miracle of the healing of the bitter pottage it is appropriate to pass immediately to one by which a few barley loaves and ears of corn are made to supply the wants of many. As the one suggests the power of Divine truth to counteract the evils of heresy, the other may represent that not only must heresy in the Church be offset with truth, but, to keep out heresy, the Church must be abundantly fed with the true bread from heaven, which giveth life unto the world. This miracle makes us think of that of Christ in feeding the thousands that gathered round him; but in this case Elisha’s agency, unlike Christ’s, is noticeably in the background.

Verse 43

43. His servitor His minister; attendant. Probably Gehazi.

This before a hundred men Do you expect me to feed a hundred with these few loaves, which are barely sufficient for us? Compare Luke 9:13; John 6:9. Here was not only an expression of surprise, but it was prompted by a Judas-like feeling of covetousness on the part of Gehazi, who would keep all for himself.

They shall eat, and shall leave This word of the Lord shows that the miracle was not wrought by the prophet, but by a Divine power far beyond him and above him. But by this miracle God honoured him, and strengthened the faith of the people. Here, says Wordsworth, “is a specimen of the work of Christ in apostolic Churches, receiving the alms of the faithful at God’s altar, and seeking for true riches by bestowing those offerings, blessed by God with increase, to the benefit of his people.”

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 2 Kings 4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/2-kings-4.html. 1874-1909.
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