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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
2 Kings 4

 

 

Verses 1-44

FOURTH SECTION

Elisha’s Prophetical Acts

2 Kings 4:1 to 2 Kings 8:15

A.—Elisha with the widow who was burdened with debt, with the Shunammite, and with the pupils of the prophets during the famine

2 Kings 4:1-44

1Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets [prophet-disciples] 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 2 And Elisha said unto her, What shall I do for thee? tell me, what hast thou in the house? And she said, Thine handmaid hath not any thing in the house, save a pot of [omit pot of] oil3[for anointing].[FN1] Then he said, Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbors, even empty vessels; borrow not a few 4 And when thou art come in, thou shalt shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons, and shalt pour out into all those vessels, arid thou shalt set aside that which is full 5 So she went from him, and shut the door upon her and upon her sons, who brought the vessels to her, and she poured out.[FN2] 6And it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said unto her Song of Solomon, Bring me yet a vessel. And he said unto her, There is not a vessel more. And the oil stayed 7 Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt, and live thou[FN3] and thy children of the rest.

8And 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 9 And she said unto her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God, which passeth by us continually 10 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; and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither 11 And it fell on a day, that he came thither, and he turned into the chamber and lay there 12 And he said to Gehazi his servant, Call this Shunammite. And when he had called her, 13she stood before him [Gehazi]. 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? wouldest thou be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host? And she answered, I dwell among mine own people 14 And he said, What then is to be done for her? And Gehazi answered, Verily she hath no child [son], and her husband is old 15 And he said, Call her. And when he had called her she stood in the door 16 And he said, About this season, according to the time of life [of the next year], thou shalt embrace a son. And she said, Nay, my lord, thou man of God, do not lie unto [deceive] thine handmaid 17 And the woman conceived, and bare a son at that season that Elisha had said unto her, according to the time of life [in the following year].

18And when the child was grown, it fell on a day, that he went out to his father to the reapers 19 And he said unto his father, My head, my head! And he said to a lad, Carry him to his mother 20 And when he had taken him, and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died 21 And she went up, and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door upon him, and went out 22 And she called unto her husband, and said, Send me, I pray thee, one of the young men, and One of the asses, that I may run to the man of God, and come again 23 And he said, Wherefore wilt thou go to him to-day? it is neither new moon, nor sabbath. And she said, It shall be well 24 Then she saddled an ass, and said to her servant. Drive, and go forward; slack not thy riding for me, except I bid thee 25 So she went and came unto the man of God to Mount Carmel. And it came to pass, when the man of God saw her afar off [coming], that he said to Gehazi his servant, Behold, yonder is that Shunammite: 26Run 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? And she answered, It is well 27 And when she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught him by the feet: but Gehazi came near to thrust her away. And the man of God said, Let her alone; for her soul is vexed within her: and the Lord hath hid it from me, and hath not told me 28 Then she said, Did I desire a son of my Lord? did I not say, Do not deceive me? 29Then 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: and lay my staff upon the face of the child 30 And the mother of the child said, As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And he arose and followed her 31 And Gehazi passed on before them, and laid the staff upon the face of the child; but there was neither voice, nor hearing. Wherefore he went again to meet him, and told him, saying, The child is not awaked 32 And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed 33 He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the Lord 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: and he stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm 35 Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro; and went up, and stretched himself upon him: and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes 36 And he called Gehazi, and said, Call this Shunammite. So he called her. And when she was come in unto him, he said, Take up thy Song of Solomon 37Then she went in, and fell at his feet, and bowed herself to the ground, and took up her son and went out.

38And Elisha came again to Gilgal: and there was a dearth in the land; and the sons of the prophets were sitting before him: and he said unto his servant, Set on the great pot, and seethe pottage for the sons of the prophets 39 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[FN4] knew them not 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. And they could not eat thereof 41 But he said, Then bring meal. And he cast it into the pot; and he said, Pour out for the people, that they may eat. And there was no harm in the pot.

42And there came a man from Baal-shalisha, and brought the man of God bread of the first-fruits, twenty loaves of barley, and full ears of corn in the husk thereof [garden-corn in a sack].[FN5] And he said, Give unto the people, that they may eat 43 And his servitor said, 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.[FN6] 44So he set it before them, and they did eat, and left thereof, according to the word of the Lord.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

2 Kings 4:1. A certain woman of the, &c. It is clear from the passage, 2 Kings 4:1-7, that the sons of the prophets were not exclusively young men, but were also often fathers of families, and so did not lead a cloister life. Perhaps there was an arrangement for a temporary life in common, or a person might join himself more or less closely to one of the principal communities of the prophets. According to Josephus and the rabbis, the woman was the widow of Obadiah ( 1 Kings 18:3 sq.), who, they think, had exhausted his fortune in the provision for persecuted prophets, and so had fallen into debt. This singular legend rests upon no foundation other than the fact that the woman says that her husband “feared the Lord.” which is also stated in respect to Obadiah. By these words she does not mean to say that the fear of the Lord had in any way been the cause of his falling into poverty, but that he had not contracted debts through folly. What the creditor demanded in this case, he was justified in demanding according to the Law, cf. Leviticus 25:39; Matthew 18:26 (Michaelis, Mos. Recht, iii148). From the forms of the suffix יכי,כי 2 Kings 4:2-3; 2 Kings 4:7, and the form אתי for את 2 Kings 4:16; 2 Kings 4:23, which have been designated as Syriacisms, we cannot infer that a later author here interpolated a fragment of his own composition, as was shown by Keil in his edition of1845. The ordinary translation of אָסוּךְ שָׁמֶן by “pot of oil” is not established by the necessary proofs; אָסוּךְ means unctio, not ointment-jar (Gesenius), so that the phrase means, word for word, “oil for anointing;” Böttcher: quantum ad unctionem sufficit. Anointing with oil is an essential part of bathing among Orientals, 2 Samuel 12:20 (cf. Winer, R-W-B., ii. s. 357 sq.). She was entirely destitute of the oil which was essential for the preparation of food—she had only oil for anointing. Vulg. nisi parum olei quo ungar. The locking of the door had no other object than to keep aloof every interruption from without. The action in question was not an ordinary, simply external, operation, but an act which was to be performed by the command of the Man of God, and with the heart directed towards God, that Isaiah, in faith, so that it was to be completed, not in the noise and distraction of every-day life, but in quietness and solitude.

2 Kings 4:6. And the oil stayed, i.e., it did not cease to flow until all the vessels which were on hand were full.

2 Kings 4:7. Of the rest. Josephus: περισσότερον ἐκ τῆς τιμῆς τοῦ ἐλαίου. The woman would not make use of that which had come into her hands by the interference of the prophet, without asking directions from him. She does not regard it as her own unconditioned possession, but she leaves it to the prophet to decide in regard to the use to be made of it. He directs her, before all else, to discharge her debt, and then to make use of whatever may remain for their sustenance; he desires no pay or reward for himself.

2 Kings 4:8. And it fell on a day, &c. The word הַיּוֹם causes the presumption that the narrative in its first division ( 2 Kings 4:8-17), follows the preceding chronologically, and it is not placed after it simply because it treats of a rich woman, in contrast with a poor one. From the 23 d ver. compared with the 9 th, we see that Elisha often betook himself from Samaria ( 2 Kings 2:25), to Carmel. As Gilgal, Bethel, and Jericho, where the schools of the prophets were (chap2), were south of Samaria, we may suppose that Carmel, which lay in the middle of the northern part of the kingdom, was the place where the faithful worshippers of Jehovah, and the attached followers of Elijah and Elisha, who lived in the north, came together from time to time, and were strengthened in their faith, and instructed by the prophet, as is presupposed in 2 Kings 4:23. The city of Shunem [see Robinson, ii325] was situated in the tribe of Issachar, on the slope of the Song of Solomon -called Little Hermon, so that it was not much farther from Samaria than Carmel, not, however, upon the road from Gilgal thitherward (Winer), for Shunem lay to the northeast of Samaria, and Gilgal to the southwest. Elisha had to go across the plain of Jezreel in order to come to Shunem, and then go on from there to Carmel.

2 Kings 4:9. And she said unto her husband, &c. Many a one may have been called or called himself “Man of God,” and “Prophet,” at that time, who was not such in reality By the epithet “holy,” the woman designates Elisha as a real and not a merely Song of Solomon -called Man of God. We have to understand by עֲלִיַּת־קִיר “a chamber built upon the flat roof of the house, with walls which would be a protection against every attack of the weather—not a lean-to or addition on the side of the house” (Thenius). In such a room Elisha would be protected from every interruption, such as it was hardly possible to avoid entirely in the house, and there he might pass his time in quietness (cf. 1 Kings 17:19).

2 Kings 4:12. He said to Gehazi, &c. With regard to the origin and native place of Gehazi, who is here mentioned for the first time, we have no information whatever, neither do we know when or why Elisha chose him for his servant.—She stood before him, i.e., before Gehazi, not before Elisha, as Thenius, among others, thinks, and he then assumes that, although she stood before him, Elisha spoke the words, 2 Kings 4:13, to her through Gehazi, because he “would not communicate directly with her, lest he should compromise his dignity.” However, he does this immediately afterwards ( 2 Kings 4:16). Moreover, there is no instance at all of a prophet speaking to a person who stood before him through a third person. 2 Kings 4:13 is to be taken as a kind of parenthesis, in which the omission of that which Elisha said to Gehazi, when he told him to call the Shunammite, is filled up: וַיֹּאמֶר at the beginning of the verse is pluperfect. Elisha wished to make some return to his hostess, who had received him with Gehazi and entertained him so often, but he did not know what would be acceptable to her, a wealthy woman. In order to learn this, he does not address himself directly to her, but directs his servant to ask the necessary questions, that she may express herself with less embarrassment and less reserve. The question: Wouldst thou be spoken for to the king or to the captain of the host? presupposes that Elisha at that time stood in favor and respect at court, yet we cannot conclude from this with certainty that by “king” in this place is meant Jehu, whom Elisha caused to be anointed (Ewald). The commander of the army is named in connection with the king as the most powerful and most influential Prayer of Manasseh, and not “because he might make demands in the way of oppressive requisitions” (Thenius). In the answer of the woman, the words: Among mine own people, are put first for the sake of the contrast: At the court, among the high and great of the land, I have nothing to ask for or to desire. In: I dwell, there lies, at the same time, a notion of a sure, undisturbed and contented life ( 1 Kings 4:25; Psalm 15:1; Psalm 61:4, 5]; Proverbs 2:21). Perhaps she wished to show, at the same time, that she had not entertained the prophet for the sake of the return, but for his own sake, and for the sake of God. When now Gehazi communicates this answer to his master, the latter feels all the more bound to do something for her, and he says to Gehazi ( 2 Kings 4:14): Hast thou then not observed in the interview, what other thing would be welcome to her? Dost thou not thyself know of anything? Gehazi answers: I could indeed conjecture something which would be her soul’s desire, but neither we nor any other mortals could do that for her: She hath no child [son]. To be barren was regarded as a disgrace ( 1 Samuel 1:11; Luke 1:25). Elisha now summons her to himself ( 2 Kings 4:15); she comes, but does not go into the room. Out of modesty and respect she only goes to the door. To the announcement of the prophet ( 2 Kings 4:16), which reminds one of Genesis 18:10; Genesis 18:14, the woman replies, surprised and humble, with the words: Do not lie unto [deceive] thine handmaid! i.e., do not excite deceitful and vain hopes in me. [If it were not for the “Call her” in the 15 th verse, one would think of the course of the details somewhat thus: She is called—Elisha gives to Gehazi the directions in 2 Kings 4:13, which he carries out in an interview with her, upon which she replies, 2 Kings 4:13 at the end. While she is standing by, perhaps before the door, the conference in 2 Kings 4:14 takes place, when the prophet addresses her himself. The second direction to summon her, however, breaks up the consistency of this theory. The reason suggested above by Bähr, why Elisha commissions Gehazi to speak to her, is a good one; and the hypothesis which is simplest and most satisfactory is to suppose that he carried out this commission, and that he received the reply at the end of 2 Kings 4:13. This he reports to Elisha, and they hold the conference in 2 Kings 4:14. The only reason Elisha has for communicating with her through, Gehazi is now removed, and he summons her to himself and addresses her directly.—W. G. S.]

2 Kings 4:18. And when the child was grown, &c. The illness of which the boy complained, 2 Kings 4:19, was probably a sun-stroke, which befell him as he was in the open field, at the hottest season of the year, among the reapers (cf. Judith 8:2-3; Psalm 121:6). The mother carried the body into the upper chamber and shut the door upon it, hardly with the sole object that “nothing should happen to the corpse in the meantime” (Thenius), for she might have provided against that in other ways; on the contrary, she meant to keep the death of the child secret for a while. For this reason she did not make it known to her husband or to Gehazi ( 2 Kings 4:23; 2 Kings 4:26). Evidently she had the secret hope that the man of God, who had promised her a son in the name of Jehovah, and had not deceived her, could help her to recover him. In that she carries the child to the prophet’s chamber and lays him upon his bed, she already entrusts him in some degree to him, whom she prepares to bring to the spot without delay. This last she would not have done, however, if she had been given over to “the belief, which was so widespread in ancient times, that articles which had been touched or used by thaumaturgi, possessed miraculous efficacy in themselves” (Winer). She will not undertake the journey without the knowledge of her husband; the cause of it, however, she does not state to him, but answers to his questions only: שָׁלוֹם. She also limits her reply to Gehazi to the same short word ( 2 Kings 4:26), although in that case it is commonly interpreted somewhat differently. In the 23 d verse it is said to mean: pax tibi esto, i.e, vale! or, do not be alarmed! or, let me have my will! In 2 Kings 4:26, on the contrary, it is declared to be a simple affirmative reply to the question: Yes, it is well! It is impossible, however, that the same word, in the mouth of the same person, in two instances which follow each other directly, should have two different significations, and, what is more, it would contain an untruth in 2 Kings 4:26, if it were thus understood. Clericus remarks correctly that it stands like the Latin recte! (cf. the German: gut!) when one does not wish to give a definite reply to a question, and yet wishes to pacify the inquirer (Keil). It follows from the remark of the man in 2 Kings 4:23, that religious assemblies were held on the new moons and sabbaths, although the Law only speaks of a sacrifice on those days ( Numbers 28:9; Numbers 28:11), and that, for want of legal priests and levites, they collected around men of God, i.e., prophets, to hear the divine word.

2 Kings 4:25. So she went and came unto, &c. On מִנֶּגֶד see 2 Kings 2:7; 2 Kings 2:15. Elisha showed, by sending his servant to meet her and to salute her, how highly he esteemed this woman. To the salutation of Gehazi she returns only the short, indefinite answer: “Well! in order not to be detained by further explanations” (Keil). She hastens to the prophet himself, and when she comes near to him, overcome by the grief which she had repressed until then, she clasps his feet, certainly not in silence, or without speaking a word, but begging for his assistance. In her conduct in clasping his feet, Gehazi sees, not so much something annoying to his master (Köster), as rather an offence against his dignity ( John 4:27); Hebrews, therefore, seeks to prevent it, but Elisha rebukes him. The words, 2 Kings 4:27 : Let her alone, for … hath not told me, do not mean, “We must first hear what she has to lament over” (Köster); they rather presuppose that she had declared the cause of her grief and of her prayer for help when she first embraced his feet. The words: The Lord hath hid it from me, contain the explanation and excuse for his not having come to Shunem to prevent the death of the child. [It is a better explanation, that the mother, in excess of grief, says nothing at first, and that Elisha commands Gehazi to allow her to collect herself and tell the trouble, which he as yet is ignorant of. The idea that the prophet ordinarily would know of an impending calamity and hasten to prevent it, is objectionable on many accounts. We must rather compare places like 2 Samuel 7:3 sq., which show the fallibility of the prophetic knowledge and judgment. See notes on 2 Kings 4:29.—W. G. S.] The stricken mother then repeats to the prophet his own promise ( 2 Kings 4:16), meaning to say thereby, at the same time: I did not complain of my childlessness and did not demand a son; now, however, I am more unhappy than before, for it is better never to have a child than to have one and lose it.

2 Kings 4:29. Then he said to Gehazi, &c. The grief and the lamentation of the woman moved the compassionate heart of the prophet so much, that he desired to bring her relief as soon as possible. He therefore commanded his servant to make himself ready for a journey ( Luke 12:35; Acts 12:8; Jeremiah 1:17), and said: Take my staff in thine hand, and go thy way: and lay my staff upon the face of the child. The staff of the prophet is not, of course, his travelling staff, but, like the staff (sceptre) of a king, the badge of the prophetical gift which he had received from God, i.e., of might and strength. Moses, the prototype of all prophets, was instituted into his office as leader of the people of Jehovah with these words: “And thou shalt take this rod in thine hand, wherewith thou shalt do signs” ( Exodus 4:17). Moses himself therefore calls it: “The rod of God in mine hand” ( Exodus 17:5; Exodus 17:9), or: “The rod from before the Lord” ( Numbers 20:8-9), cf. notes on 2 Kings 2:8. Elisha, in that he gives his prophet’s staff into the hand of Gehazi, commissions him to execute a prophetical act in his stead; by means of the divine power, of which the staff was the symbol, he is to awaken the child out of the death-sleep. He is to lay it upon the face of the child, because death had fallen upon him through the head ( 2 Kings 4:19), and because life shows itself first of all in the face. The question why Elisha gave such a commission to his servant at all, is answered by the intervening clause in 2 Kings 4:29 : If thou meet any man salute him not, &c. These words are often understood to mean that Gehazi is to guard himself from all distraction, fix his thoughts only upon God and the commission which had been entrusted to him, and sink his soul in prayer. This sense, however, cannot by any means be established; and why should the prophet, if he wished to say this, not have expressed it distinctly, and not in a roundabout way? To refrain from saluting is by no means the same thing as to lose one’s self in prayer. It is well known that salutations are far more ceremonious in the Orient than with us, and that, e.g., inferiors always remain standing until persons of higher rank pass by (cf. Luke 10:4, and Lightfoot on the passage; Winer, R-W-B., i. s. 501), whereby delay was often occasioned. Elisha commands his servant, in the first place, to start without delay, and then not to tarry at all by the way. This command to hasten can scarcely have had any other ground than that he hoped, in spite of the declaration of the woman, that life had not yet entirely left the child, and that utter decease might yet be prevented by swift interference. Because he did not believe that he himself with the Shunammite could accomplish the whole journey (six hours) so quickly as appeared necessary, he despatched his servant, or at least sent him on before, and gave him his prophet’s staff, not in the belief that the staff, as such, had any magical miraculous power, but on the assumption that, in such an urgent case, he might commit the prophetical gift, of which the staff was the insigne and symbol, to his servant, and so make him his representative. In this, however, he was mistaken, however good his intention was. Peter Martyr remarks: Videtur Elisœus non recte fecisse, qui facultatem edendi miracula alteri delegare voluit, quod ipsi non est datum. A similar case, where a prophet falls into error, is found 2 Samuel 7:3 sq. The importunity of the woman, that Elisha himself should come ( 2 Kings 4:30), proceeded from the conviction that the boy was already completely dead, and that now not Gehazi, but only the prophet himself, who had promised her the Song of Solomon, could help. To this deep confidence he responds. Every other acceptation of the passage is entangled in great difficulties. Almost all the expositors proceed from the assumption that Elisha knew very well that Gehazi could not accomplish any miracle, although he had his staff in his hand. They state variously the reason why Hebrews, nevertheless, gave him this commission. According to Köster, Elisha wished to show himself as the only miracle-worker, and magnify his own importance. According to Keil, he did it in order “to show to the Shunammite and her connections, and to Gehazi himself, that the power to perform miracles did not appertain, in any magical way, to himself or to his staff, but rather that miracles, as works of divine omnipotence, could only be executed by faith and prayer.” According to Krummacher, Elisha acted thus in “a pedagogical intention,” in order to prepare shame and confusion for the “vain and pert youth,” who would gladly have thrown about himself “the grandeur and glory of his master.” In every one of these interpretations, however, the prophet appears in a very ambiguous light, for he would have given, according to any one of them, a formal commission, in regard to which he knew beforehand that it could not be executed. The sending of Gehazi, and the entrusting to him of the prophet’s staff, took place, in that case, only for appearances; nay, he would have deceived not only his servant, but also the mother who was so burdened by sorrow, and who already felt herself deceived ( 2 Kings 4:28); and this time he would have done it knowingly and intentionally, an hypothesis which is not consistent, under any circumstances, with a sincere and ingenuous character, and especially is unworthy of a “holy Man of God” ( 2 Kings 4:9). Such a deception would be the less to be forgiven, because the command of the greatest possible haste is added. In fact, this last command is not consistent with any one of the proposed interpretations; it would be, at the very least, utterly superfluous and objectless. As for Keil’s view in particular, we cannot see why the prophet should have intended to give a general instruction in regard to the performance of miracles, just on this special occasion, where haste was of such great importance.

2 Kings 4:31. And Gehazi passed on before them, &c. In order to explain why Gehazi could not awake the boy, the rabbis assert that he was disobedient to the command not to salute any one by the way, bat to make all the haste possible. This is contradicted decidedly by the fact that, before Elisha arrived with the mother of the boy at Shunem, Gehazi had already discharged his commission, although in vain, and was on the way back again when he met the prophet. He must, therefore, have made great haste. Theodoret supposes another reason, viz, that Elisha knew that Gehazi was φιλότιμος καὶ κενόδοξος, so that he would boast of his commission to those whom he met by the way: δὲκενοδοξία τὴν θαυματουργίαν κωλύει. This acceptation has been the general one. Krummacher stated it in the strongest terms. He knows exactly how Gehazi conducted himself in his vanity: “What a ceremonious mien the silly youth puts on, with what pompous gravity he strides into the house of death,” &c. Others think that he could not accomplish the work because the mother of the child had not given him her confidence (Seb. Smith), or because the faith which is necessary to such a work was wanting in him (Grotius). All these attempts, however, which find the cause of Gehazi’s want of success in any blamable conduct of his, are contradicted by the utter silence of the text. Even though Gehazi, at a later time, showed himself fond of money ( 2 Kings 5:20 sq.), yet it does not follow that he was fond of honor. In the other case he was severely punished; here, however, where the life of an only son is at stake, the grave transgression which is attributed to him is not rebuked with a single word of reproof or warning, wherefore we must conclude that he did not deserve any correction, but had executed everything which was entrusted to him, as the text distinctly narrates. That he was not able, in spite of this, to awake the boy, was not his fault, inasmuch as Elisha, although he had given him, it is true, the external symbol of his prophetical might and power (the רוּחַ, spirit of Jehovah), yet had not considered that this might and power was a special gift of God, which he might not freely delegate according to his own will—which he therefore could not communicate or transfer to his servant without further consideration. Starke justly remarks that Elisha “gave this command ( 2 Kings 4:29) from some overhaste, without having a divine incentive to it.”

2 Kings 4:32. And when Elisha was come into the house, &c. The want of success of Gehazi’s commission spurred on the prophet all the more to do what he could in order to restore the boy to life. In the main he proceeds, as his father and master Elijah had once done (see 1 Kings17, Exeg. on 2 Kings 4:20 sq. and Hist. § 6). He calls upon Jehovah and stretches himself upon the body of the boy. This latter gesture is described more in detail here ( 2 Kings 4:34) than in the other passage: on the contrary, the words of the prayer are given there, which are wanting here. Whereas Elijah there stretched himself three times upon the boy ( 2 Kings 4:21), Elisha does so only twice, but walks up and down in the house in the meantime. The conclusion has often been drawn, as it has been last of all by Keil, that the difference in the events consisted in this, that in the case of Elijah, the child, at his prayer, “straightway” came to life again, while in the case of Elisha, on the other hand, “the resuscitation took place by degrees,” from which we may perceive “that Elisha did not possess a double measure of the spirit of Elijah.” This notion does not, however, seem to us to be completely justified by the text. Why should Elisha, upon whom the spirit of Elijah rested ( 2 Kings 2:15), and of whom more miracles are narrated to us than of Elijah, have been able to perform only gradually and by stages what Elijah accomplished at once? That Elisha, after the first attempt at resuscitation, walked up and down in the house ( 2 Kings 4:35), did not take place certainly, quia illa corporis incubatione nimium laboravit (Peter Martyr), or: ut ambulando excitaret majorem calorem, quem puero communicaret (Cornel. a Lapide, Seb. Smith); it was probably an involuntary result of the great emotion with which he looked and waited for the fulfilment of his prayer. After he had stretched himself once more, with prayer, upon the child, the latter gave signs, by repeated sneezing, of a restored respiration, and then opened his eyes. “Headache was the beginning of his illness, and this is wont to be relieved by sneezing, as Pliny writes (Hist. Nat. xviii6), Sternutamenta capitis gravedinem emendant” (Dereser).

2 Kings 4:38. And Elisha came again to Gilgal, &c. Not directly after the act at Shunem, but once, at some other time. The two following narratives are not chronologically connected with the preceding.—In regard to Gilgal, see notes on chap2.—ישְׁבִים לְפָנָssיו does not mean they lived before him (Luther, Vulgata), but they sat before him, as pupils before a teacher (cf. the passage from the Talmud in Schöttgen on Acts 22:3). Similarly 2 Kings 6:1. We have not, therefore, to understand a residence together under Elisha’s superintendence, but a coming together and sitting down before him, in order to hear his word (cf. Ezekiel 8:1; Ezekiel 14:1; Ezekiel 33:31; Zechariah 3:8).—אֹרֹת, 2 Kings 4:39, has the general signification which the Chaldee gives: יְרוֹקָנִין i.e., green herbs, which may be cooked and eaten; What we call “greens.” The particular kind which the seeker found follows with the expression גֶּפֶן שָׂדֶה, according to the Vulgata, quasi vitis sylvestris, wild vines like grapevines, not wild grapevines. The פַּקֻּעֹת שָׂדֶה are wild cucumbers or gourds (cucumeres agrestes, or, asinini), also called bursting-cucumbers. They have the form of an egg, and a bitter taste. When they are ripe they burst in pieces if pressed on the stem, whence their name (פקע fidit, rupit). When eaten they cause colic and violent purging. The young man took these wild gourds for ordinary ones, which were very much prized as food ( Numbers 11:5). The Sept. and Vulg. translate by colocynth. Keil also prefers this, because this fruit does not burst when touched, and so could be easily carried home in the garment and cut up; but the root פקע is too distinctly in favor of the bursting-gourd, which did not burst in this instance simply because the specimens collected were not entirely ripe (cf. Winer, R-W-B., i. s. 441 sq.). However, the cucumis colocynthi L., or the poisonous colocynth, also has a remarkably bitter taste—a vine which creeps upon the earth, and has light green leaves (cf. I. c, s. 427).

2 Kings 4:40. There is death in the pot, i.e., there is something in the pot which causes death. As well on account of the bitter taste (the Persians call wild gourds the gall of the earth) as on account of the effect, which followed swiftly upon the eating, they considered the food poisonous and fatal. Bitterness and death were cognate ideas among the Hebrews ( Ecclesiastes 7:26; Sirach 41:1). In 2 Kings 4:41 the וּ before קְחוּ is not superfluous, but is in the use which denotes the connection of thought (Ewald, Lehrbuch, § 348, a). The meal which Elisha cast into the pot, has just the same significance as the salt which he threw into the unhealthy fountain at Jericho ( 2 Kings 2:20). “The meal, as the natural and healthy means of nourishment, was the symbol of which he made use in order to give to the sons of the prophets the assurance that the injurious property had been taken from the food by him” (Keil, 1845).

42. And there came a man from Baal-shalisha, i.e., some place in the district of Shalisha ( 1 Samuel 9:4), no doubt the same one which Jerome and Eusebius call Beth-shalisha, fifteen miles north of Diospolis (Lydda), quite near to Gilgal ( 2 Kings 2:1), where we have to think of the prophet as being at this time. According to the Law, all first-fruits of grain were to be offered to Jehovah, who relinquished them to his servants, priests and levites ( Numbers 18:13; Deuteronomy 18:4). Since now there were no more legitimate priests and levites in the kingdom of Israel ( 1 Kings 12:31), this Prayer of Manasseh, who was a faithful worshipper of Jehovah, brought his first-fruits to the “Man of God,” the head of the prophets. בַּרְמֶל ( Leviticus 23:14), or, in the fuller form, גֶּרֶשׁ בַּרְמֶל ( Leviticus 2:14), is spica recens tenera, quœ tosta super ignem comedi solent (Münster), fresh wheat or barley grits (Keil). According to Hess, a hundred sons of the prophets visited Elisha in a company, and he had nothing more to set before them than what the man had brought him from Shalisha; but this can hardly be correct.

2 Kings 4:43. Give the people that they may eat. As the servant, upon the first command ( 2 Kings 4:42), expressed some misgivings, Elisha repeated the order with a statement of the reason: For thus saith the Lord, i.e., He has revealed it to me, and He will have it Song of Solomon, therefore, abandon thy misgivings and do as I bid thee. From the words: They shall eat and shall leave thereof, we must not infer a miraculous increase of the food. That the bread was not exhausted under Gehazi’s hands—that each one received as much as he desired, and that, when no one desired any more, then there lay still “abundance of bread upon the table,” to the astonishment of Gehazi (Krummacher); of all that, there is not a syllable in the text. The miraculous part of it consists rather in the fact that, by means of the divine blessing, the hundred men were satisfied with the little which each received at the distribution, and even had some to spare.

HISTORICAL AND ETHICAL

1. That which is narrated of Elisha in the preceding and in the next following chapters, as far as 2 Kings 8:15, is not a consecutive and connected description of his life, but a simple collection of the principal Acts, by which he vindicated his position as Man of God and prophet, in different relations, as well private as public, throughout his long career. According to Keil, all these acts “belong to the reign of Jehoram, King of Israel;” but Jehoram reigned only twelve years ( 2 Kings 3:1), and Elisha did not die until some time during the reign of Joash ( 2 Kings 13:14), so that he lived after Jehoram’s death at least forty-five years, viz, twenty-eight under Jehu ( 2 Kings 10:36), and seventeen under Jehoahaz ( 2 Kings 13:1). Moreover, the name of Jehoram does not occur in any of the narratives from chap 4 to 2 Kings 8:15. The “King of Israel” is mentioned indefinitely, without his name ( 2 Kings 4:13; 2 Kings 5:5-8; 2 Kings 6:9; 2 Kings 6:11-12; 2 Kings 6:21; 2 Kings 6:26 sq.; 2 Kings 7:6; 2 Kings 7:9 sq.; 2 Kings 8:3). Why Elisha should have performed all his miraculous works under Jehoram, and not have performed any others during the succeeding forty-five years, we cannot see; on the contrary, it is quite incredible. If all the prophetical acts are collected on the same principle mentioned above [namely, to collect loosely those acts which served as the credentials of his prophetical calling], the chronological order has, of course, to be given up, and acts have to be inserted here which occurred at a much later time. It is also acknowledged that the separate acts are narrated in a connection, which, as Keil admits, follows “the relation of their subject-matter to the preceding or following, and not the sequence of time at which they took place.” It is a striking face that the acts which affect private persons, especially the sons of the prophets, come first, and then that those which affect the political fortunes of the people follow. Whether all the incidents which presuppose that Elisha stands in high favor with the king, are to be assigned to the time of Jehu, as Ewald thinks, is a question which cannot be definitely answered in the affirmative; certainly what is narrated 2 Kings 3:17-25, did not remain without influence upon Jehoram, and upon Elisha’s relation to him; and it is generally true that the relation of the kings to the prophets was not so hostile after the death of Ahab. Ewald further adopts the opinion that the collection of incidents is arrayed according to the round and significant number twelve; he reaches this number, however, only by adding to the acts recorded in chap 4 and following chapters, the two in 2 Kings 2:19-25, although they are separated by the third chapter, while, on the other hand, he leaves out the first of all, 2 Kings 2:14, and the very important one, 2 Kings 3:16 sq., which stands between those which are counted, because these, he thinks, come from a different source. The theory that these narratives “were recorded in a special work, before they were incorporated into our present Book of Kings,” is more probable. The collection into an unbroken line has, no doubt, contributed much to the assertion which has been made by many parties that, in the life of Elisha, “the sacred documents ( 2 Kings 2-13) present us with a far greater multiplication of miracles, than in the life of his predecessor, Elijah” (Kurz in Herzog’s Real-Encyc. iii. s. 766; cf. Winer, R-W-B. i. s. 321). If we consider, however, that the collected prophetical acts belong not to the brief reign of Jehoram alone, but are spread over the entire time of Elisha’s public career under four kings, that is to say, over a period of fifty-five or fifty-seven years, then the appearance of “multiplication of miracles” falls away; all the more as the time of Elijah’s activity was much shorter. The number of miracles recorded as having been performed by Elijah, when accurately estimated, was not much less, and relatively was even greater. (On the “multiplication of the miraculous” see 1 Kings17 Prelim. Rem. § a.) Finally, we must remember that the acts of Elisha, which are collected in this passage, were accomplished through the רוּהַ or Spirit of Jehovah, and are prophetical; that they are, therefore, not merely pieces of display of a great thaumaturge, but “signs,” which serve to make known and to glorify the one living God, the God of Israel, and on this account have a more or less ideal significance. They are doctrines, presented in and by Acts, i.e., symbolical representations of religious truths. To show this in detail is our task in what follows.

2. The first narrative in this chapter ( 2 Kings 4:1-7) is meant to show how Elisha helps a widow and her children out of debt and distress. The miraculous increase of the oil, in itself, is not the core and object of the prophet’s act (as the common acceptation is), but only the means to an end; relief from distress is the main point, and thereby the act becomes a prophetical one. This first narrative, now, together with the one immediately following ( 2 Kings 4:8-37), is ordinarily designated particularly as having “an extraordinary resemblance” to the one, 1 Kings 17:7-16 (Winer, l. c.; Knobel, Der Prophet. ii. s. 96), and as one whose similarity causes it to appear as a merely slightly modified copy of the other (Kurz, l. c.). On a more careful comparison, however, the resemblance is seen to be limited to the one general point, that here, as there, help is given to a widow and her children by the prophet, in their need and distress; all the rest is utterly different. In the former case it is a foreigner, a woman who lives in heathen territory ( Luke 4:26), to whom the prophet is directed, and who is to nourish him; in the latter, it is the wife of one of the sons of the prophets who seeks the prophet, and calls upon him for aid. There it was a question of subsistence in time of scarcity, here, of the deliverance of two children from the slavery which threatened them. There the two indispensable means of sustenance, meal and oil, never fail, although they are consumed; here, once for all, the oil “sufficient for anointing” is increased and then sold to pay the debt. The fact that Elijah and Elisha both help and relieve a widow and her children has its ground in the character and calling of the two men as “Men of God,” as they are designated both here and there ( 2 Kings 4:7, and 1 Kings 17:18). It is a well-known feature of the Old Testament 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 7:6; Jeremiah 22:3; Zechariah 7:10; Malachi 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; Psalm 68:5; Psalm 146:9; Isaiah 9:17; Sirach 35:17 sq.). Neglect and contempt of them are counted among the heaviest offences ( Psalm 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). Song of Solomon, then, if anything is essential to the idea of a Man of God, this Isaiah, that he shall be a counsellor and helper of the widows and orphans, and shall show himself such by his actions. Elijah and Elisha were, in the fullest sense of the word, Men of God, whom Jehovah had armed with His Spirit for extraordinary and marvellous works. It would be remarkable, therefore, if, among the acts of the two genuine prophets of action (cf. above, Prelim. Rem. after 1 Kings17 § a), there were none by which they showed themselves to be counsellors and helpers of widows and orphans, and none by which they testified that the living God, the God of Israel, before whom they stood ( 1 Kings 17:1; 2 Kings 3:14), was a father and judge of the widows and fatherless. Without this, an essential point in the prophetical calling of each would be wanting. The prophet, in the case of both widows, takes up and uses naturally and significantly the last and most necessary thing which there was in the house, and thereby directs attention all the more distinctly to Him who out of little can make much, and out of small can make great. “The naturalistic interpreters of miracles suppose that an advantageous retail transaction in oil took place here, or that there was an increase of the oil by the intermixture of other substances, for instance, of potash!” (Winer, R-W-B. i. s. 322. Cf. Knobel, Der Prophet. ii. s. 96.) These insipid absurdities do not deserve refutation.

3. The second narrative ( 2 Kings 4:8-37), which, as has been said already, many modern expositors have considered startlingly like to the one in 1 Kings 17:17-24, likewise appears, upon closer examination, to be utterly different from it. The entire situation is different. In the first place, we must observe that the narrative is divided into two parts, the first of which ( 2 Kings 4:8-17) forms a complete whole in itself. It narrates the reception which the prophet met with at the house of the Shunammite woman on his journey to Carmel, what he promised her, and how this promise was fulfilled. The narrative might cease there. The second part narrates what occurred afterwards, after a number of years, namely, that the promised son fell victim to an illness and was restored to life by the prophet. The fact of the resuscitation, therefore, has the fact of the promise for its premise, and rests upon it. The Shunammite appeals ( 2 Kings 4:28) to the promise of the prophet, 2 Kings 4:16, and founds her prayer upon it. He then also does all in his power to preserve the son of promise to his mother, in order that the promise may remain truth and not become deceit. The second fact, therefore, stands in an inseparable connection with the first. In the case of the son of the widow of Zarephath, this is all wanting. He was no son of promise, and there is no question there of anything but a restoration to life. Then, as for the act itself, it takes place there directly through Elijah himself, whereas Elisha here commits it in the first place to his servant. For the entire interlude, 2 Kings 4:29-31, which is narrated so circumstantially, and is so worthy of attention, the parallel is entirely wanting. The similarity, then, which is asserted to exist, is limited to the method of resuscitation referred to in 2 Kings 4:34 (cf. 1 Kings 17:21), and even this is not altogether the same. That Elisha followed a similar method was a consequence, in the first place, of the nature of the case—he breathed life once more into him from whom life had departed (see above, 1 Kings 17 Hist. § 6)—and furthermore, it was almost a matter of course for him that he should imitate the example of his great master in a similar case. It is impossible, therefore, to conclude from this circumstance alone that the entire narrative is simply imitated. Ewald, who adopts the opinion that “the passages about Elijah, 1 Kings 17:19; 2 Kings 2:1-18 were written later than those about Elisha” (in which case the contrary would rather be true, that 1 Kings 17:17 sq. was imitated from this narrative), asserts, on the other hand: “The description, 2 Kings 4:14-17, is clearly borrowed from Genesis 18:9-14;” but in the latter place, also, the connection and the entire situation are utterly different, and that which they have in common amounts only to this, that there, as here, the birth of a son is foretold. This takes place, however, also in Judges 13:3; 1 Samuel 1:17; Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23; Luke 1:13; Luke 1:31. What would become of history, especially of Biblical history, if every incident which resembles another more or less should be considered an imitation of it, and therefore unhistorical? If any story is free from the appearance of being manufactured, and has unmistakable signs of historical truth, then this one is such, with its numerous details and peculiar characteristic features.

4. The religious point of the narrative, and there is scarcely a story in the Old Testament which has a more beautiful one, is utterly lost when we seek it in the resuscitation of the boy by the prophet. We have before us here the total of a continuous, complete, and finished story, which is narrated with unusual care and explicitness down to the details, and not simply the record of a single prophetical Acts, as in the first and third narratives. The course and conclusion of the whole are indeed conditioned upon the miraculous act of the prophet, yet in fact it is rather a history of the Shunammite than an event in the life of Elisha. The object and significance of the story are not, therefore, to be sought in any single feature of the narrative, as if all the rest were merely incidental; it is rather the whole which here comes into account. Three principal points in it come out into especial prominence: A son is given to a pious, God-fearing woman, who had received the prophet at her house, and thereby a blessing and fortune falls to her lot, which she had no longer dared to hope for; soon, however, a great trial intervenes; she is to lose her only Song of Solomon, she holds firmly to the word of promise, however, and sustains the trial; the son is given back to her again by the prophet, and now for the first time she experiences aright that the word of the Lord is true, and that He crowns at last with grace and compassion those who hope and hold fast their faith in Him. This development of the history presents the course by which, as a general rule, God is wont to lead his children. Thus it was with Abraham, the father and prototype of all the faithful in Israel ( Genesis 17, 22; Hebrews 11:17 sq.), thus also with Job ( Job 1:2-22), and thus also with many other pious men of the old covenant down to Him who was the beginning and end of faith ( Hebrews 5:5-9; Hebrews 12:2). This story, therefore, is a practical enunciation of the truth which extends throughout the entire Scriptures, and is a fundamental law of the divine economy of salvation: the Lord “hath set apart him that is godly for himself” ( Psalm 4:3). It is He who killeth and maketh alive, that bringeth down to the grave and bringeth up ( 1 Samuel 2:6). They who please God are preserved through the fire of adversity ( Sirach 2:5). “All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep His covenant and His testimonies” ( Psalm 25:10). The glory of God is the end and aim of the entire story, and the work of the prophet serves, here as ever, only to reach this end.

5. The resuscitation of the boy must remain under all circumstances, however we may conceive of it, extraordinary, marvellous, produced by the Spirit (רוּחַ) of Jehovah. Starke, following Clericus, says: “The spirit of natural life was not warmed into life by the warmth of the prophet, but by an extraordinary power and energy of God; and the touch of the prophet, in itself, was as little able to bring back warmth and life as the touch of the staff.” No one will adopt now-a-days the marvellous explanations which Knobel (Der Prophet. ii. s. 96) proposes: “The prophet gave a powder to the boy and thus removed the headache; or, the child had perhaps eaten of some poisonous plant, and the prophet relieved him of the poison by an emetic.” The opinion also, which is advanced here, on account of 2 Kings 4:34, still more confidently, even, than on 1 Kings 17:20, that the boy was restored to life by the application of animal magnetism, and that Gehazi was not able to accomplish this on account of the antipathy between him and the mother (Ennemoser and Passavant), must be decidedly contradicted. The prophets of the Old Testament were no mesmerizers, but servants of Jehovan, who “stood before Him,” and whose business it was to bear witness of Him in word and deed. All the great and marvellous works which they performed were a result of earnest prayer, and followed upon their most hearty petitions (see above, 1 Kings 17 Hist. § 6). We are not willing, therefore, to adopt, with Von Gerlach, the opinion that “a genuine life-energy was imparted to the boy from the body of Elisha, which was filled with the Spirit of God,” for the Spirit of God wrought through the prophets; but that it filled their bodies is an idea foreign to the Scriptures. The question whether the boy was utterly dead, and every sign of life had departed from him, is a very different one. He is certainly referred to as dead, 2 Kings 4:20; 2 Kings 4:32. We cannot, however, overlook the fact that, if he had been dead, decomposition must have set in long before Elisha’s arrival at Shunem. If he died at noon ( 2 Kings 4:20), and his mother set out at once, she must have spent six hours in the journey. If we suppose besides that Gehazi went all the way from Carmel to Shunem on foot, and that he returned from there again and met the prophet and the mother on the way, so that these two did not arrive until still later, then certainly more than twelve hours had passed since the decease of the child. In the Orient, however, decomposition commences much sooner than among us, especially in the warm harvest-season ( 2 Kings 4:18). With reference to the law, Numbers 19:11, according to which the touching a corpse makes unclean, the Talmudists, as Philippson observes, raised the question: “Did the son of the Shunammite render unclean? and the answer is: מת מטמא ואינו מטמא חי (a corpse makes unclean, but not a living body).” So much at least is clear from this, that they did not consider the boy a real corpse, although they did not deny the miracle. That the act of Elisha cannot in any wise be compared with the restoration to life of the son of the widow of Nain, or of Lazarus, hardly needs to be mentioned.

6. Gehazi’s mission to Shunem, since it was unsuccessful and had no effect whatever upon the development of the story, might have been left unmentioned. That it is narrated, however, in detail, is all the more a proof of the historical truth of the entire story, inasmuch as it cannot serve the glory of the prophet on account of its entire want of success. It Isaiah, in fact, not omitted, because it teaches practically that the gift of the Spirit with which God arms His servants, the prophets, for extraordinary deeds, cannot be transferred by these to others, and that it pertains still less to the external symbol of the prophetical calling, so that not every one in whose hand the symbol may be is thereby put in a position to execute such acts. It was not so much the mother of the boy who was to learn this, for she did not desire that Gehazi should be sent, nor Gehazi, for he did not offer to go, but was called upon by the prophet to do Song of Solomon, as it was Elisha himself. The gift of the רוּחַ or Spirit is not an habitual, permanent one, but one which is given specially for each occasion, and which the prophet cannot dispose of according to his own good-will and pleasure. As it had not been made known to Elisha by Jehovah that the boy was dead or would die, so the command had not been given to him by God that he should give Gehazi a commission for the deed, and intrust his staff to him. Out of anxiety, lest the prophet’s credit might suffer if the cause of the failure of this mission was sought in him, it was very early thought necessary to have recourse to an allegorical interpretation. The dead boy was said to signify the human race, which had fallen under death on account of sin; the staff with which Gehazi thought that he could awake the dead boy, represented the Law of Moses, which could not save from sin and death; Elisha, finally, who afterwards brought the dead to life, was a type of the Son of God, who, by his incarnation, put himself in connection with our flesh ( 2 Kings 4:34), and imparted new life to humanity. This interpretation is found from the time of Origen on, in all centuries, and even in the most modern times it has been adopted by Cassel (Elisa, s. 42 sq.). However imaginative and edifying it may be, it has no foundation in the text.

7. The third and fourth narratives ( 2 Kings 4:38-44) belong together, because both concern the circle of sons of the prophets. Whereas in the first two narratives it is individual faithful servants of Jehovah, who experience, through the prophet, His marvellous, protecting, helping, and saving might, here it is the entire community of sons of the prophets, that is to say, of those who, in the time of apostasy, form the core of the covenant-people, and represent the true Israel. The two narratives are not, therefore, inserted here accidentally and without connection, but they join on very fitly to the two preceding. They have not the object, however, any more than those have, to present Elisha to us as a thaumaturge and to glorify him: on the contrary they are intended to strengthen faith in Him whose instrument and servant the prophet is. They teach and attest practically the truth of the Psalmist’s words ( Psalm 33:18-19), which we might even place over them as a title, “Behold the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear Him; upon them that hope in His mercy; to deliver their soul from death ( 2 Kings 4:38-41), and to keep them alive in famine” ( 2 Kings 4:42-44). At the same time both narratives afford us an insight into the schools of the prophets. In the same place where the sons of the prophets “sat before him,” i.e., received instruction, there they also ate together, i.e., they led a life of close fellowship and communion (cf. Luke 15:2; 1 Corinthians 5:11 sq.). It follows that this life in common was anything but luxurious, on the contrary that it was a life of sacrifice. How straitened the circumstances were in which they lived we may see from the fact that Elisha had to send one of their number into the field to collect wild herbs before the mid-day meal could be prepared, and also that, later, the little which one man brought had to suffice for a hundred men. From this it follows either that the pupils of the prophets were poor by birth, or that they had decided to live a life of sacrifice and self-denial. Nevertheless, their number was large, and the fact that even bitter want could not separate them from one another and break up the community, is a beautiful sign of the purity of their motives and of their faithful zeal.

8. Both prophetical acts of Elisha in the circle of the pupils of the prophets have been referred to quite ordinary incidents. In the first it has been said that Elisha showed himself a “remarkable student of nature for the time in which he lived” (Knobel, l. c, s. 95), just as in 2 Kings 2:20 sq. and 2 Kings 3:16 sq. If he had been such, however, he would certainly have known that no one can make a pot full of bitter and poisonous herbs uninjurious by simply adding a handful of meal. Hence the Exeget. Handbuch des Alt. Test believes that the prophet may have added something else, does not tell, however, what this something else was, nor whence he got it. Theodoret observes that it was not τοῦ ἀλεύρου φύσις, but τοῦ προφητικοῦ πνεύματος δύναμις, which weakened or destroyed the action of the poison. The meal was here only a natural and appropriate sign of healthful nourishment. The truth underlying the second story is thought to be “that the sons of the prophets were protected by Elisha’s wise precaution during that time of famine” (Knobel, s. 97). In that case Elisha must have sent orders to the man of Beth-Shalisha beforehand, and his precaution, since the man only brought twenty barley-loaves, which were not enough for so many, would have been insufficient and not by any means wise. Neither does the narrative contain “the moral, that the believer can-satisfy his earthly needs even with scanty means” (Köster, Die Prophet. s. 88), for the prophet does not mean to give an example of the way in which we ought to behave, but he states what Jehovah will do. It is not he who brings about the satisfaction of their hunger, but Jehovah; he only foretells it and announces it. Jehovah ordered it so that a strange Prayer of Manasseh, uncalled and unexpected, should bring to the prophet in a time of famine the first-fruits, which belong to Jehovah according to the Law ( Numbers 15:19-20; Deuteronomy 26:2 sq.), and He blessed this gift so that it sufficed to satisfy the entire community of the prophets. Hence it follows that this feeding cannot be regarded as a type of the miraculous feedings in the New Testament, and that we cannot say: “Jesus taught on a grand scale what Elijah taught on a small scale” (Dereser); still less can the New Testament incidents be regarded as imitations and mythical developments of this. The Lord Himself, at the feeding of the five thousand, makes reference, not to this narrative, but to the feeding of the people with manna in the wilderness ( Exodus 16:15 sq.), and He gives to His miracle an express object and significance ( John 6:32 sq.), such as we cannot at all think of in this case. Besides that, however, the historical connection, the occasion, the persons, all are utterly different, and the asserted similarity is reduced finally simply to this, that through the divine influence a little suffices for many: an altogether ordinary truth which pierces through many other incidents in the history of redemption, which are entirely different from this one.

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

2 Kings 4:1-7. Krummacher: The Story of the poor Widow, (a) Her distress; (b) she seeks refuge in the prophet, and (c) finds it.—Help in Need, (a) The woman who receives assistance. (Widow of a God-fearing Prayer of Manasseh, burdened by debt, and without resources; mother of two children, who are to be taken from her; her faith and trust; her gratitude. Such are always helped.) (b) The prophet who assists her. (As a genuine prophet of God he does not stop his ears to the cry of the poor, like the creditor, Proverbs 21:13. He knows that he who has compassion on the widows and fatherless thereby serves God, James 1:27. Gold and silver he has not, but he employs the gift which he has received, and does not stop with words. Go and do likewise, 1 Peter 4:10; James 2:14-17.)—Würt. Summ.: Our Lord and God allows it to come to pass that widows and orphans are often distressed and harshly treated in order to try their faith and patience; if they show themselves upright, trust in God, have patience and pray diligently, then God helps them marvellously, blesses a little to them, that they may have all necessary maintenance, and may find it sufficient, and He saves them, at the proper time, from the hands of their oppressors. With this reflection all widows and orphans, when they are poor, abandoned, and oppressed, must console themselves, if their nourishment is scanty, and they are besides unkindly regarded by the world.

2 Kings 4:1. Starke: A good reputation after death. He feared God! See to it that thou, also, after thy departure, mayest with justice have this name, for all, all must depart, but he who doeth the will of God abideth forever ( 1 John 2:17).—He who fears God will not make debts thoughtlessly; but for him who falls into debt innocently God will find means of payment in time.—Summum jus, summa injuria. We may be entirely in the right and act perfectly according to the law, in the eyes of men, while we are in the wrong and are sinning against the highest law before God. See James 2:13.

2 Kings 4:2. Starke: As God readily hears the cry of the poor and suffering ( Psalm 145:18-19), so do also His servants and children.

2 Kings 4:3-5. Cramer: In temporal affairs experience must precede and faith follow; in spiritual affairs faith must precede, and then experience follows, for we do not find out the truth unless belief in God’s Word has preceded ( John 7:17).

2 Kings 4:5. Whatever a man does in the obedience of faith, whether it appears foolish or vain in the eyes of the world, is nevertheless blessed by God, and redounds to his soul’s health.

2 Kings 4:6. Hall: The goodness of God gives grace according to the measure of those who receive it; if He ceases to pour it into our hearts, it is because there is no more room there to receive it. If we could receive more He would give more.

2 Kings 4:7. If means are given thee to satisfy thy creditor, let it be thy first duty to pay him before thou carest for thyself! He who can pay his debts, but will not, takes what does not belong to him and sins against the eighth commandment.—Von Gerlach: When the Lord gives there is always something left over and above; He never merely takes away distress, He gives a blessing besides. He desires, however, that the obligation to our neighbor should first be satisfied before we begin to enjoy His blessing.

2 Kings 4:8-37. God’s Ways with His Children. See Historical, § 3.—Bender: Elisha in Shunem. (a) The kind reception which he there met with; (b) the great deeds by which he there glorified the name of his God.—Krummacher: The Story of the Shunammite. (a) The shelter at Shunem; (b) the grateful guest; (c) the dying boy; (d) Gehazi with Elisha’s staff; (e) the resuscitation of the dead.—The Shunammite, a woman after God’s own heart. Würt. Summ.: She loved God’s word and His servant, the prophet Elisha, and she did him much good out of her fortune; she led a quiet, modest life, so that she had no affairs at the royal court or at law; she held her husband in honor, and did not wish to undertake any journey without his permission; she was able to strike a middle course, and she knew how to conduct herself so that she did not anger God, nor give offence to her neighbors.

Vers8–17. The house at Shunem, a tabernacle of God amongst men, for there dwelt faith and love ( 2 Kings 4:8-11), and therefore, also, peace and blessing ( 2 Kings 4:12-17).

2 Kings 4:8. There are always, among those whose lot it is to have wealth, some who do not attach their hearts to it ( Psalm 62:10), and do not trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God ( 1 Timothy 6:17-18); who have not become satiated and indifferent in their hearts, but hunger and thirst after righteousness, and have an earnest desire for the bread of life. The servants of the Word ought not to withdraw themselves from these, but advance to meet them in every way.—Berleb. Bibel: God always gives to His children pious hearts, so that they open their houses and shelter strangers. Though the Gadarenes beg Him to depart ( Luke 8:37), though there are Samaritans who will not receive Christ ( Luke 9:52 sq.), yet there is always a good soul which is glad to take the Lord Jesus and receive Him to itself.—Bender: He who, like the Shunammite, honors and loves the Lord, and is anxious to lead a life in God, honors and loves also the servants of the Lord, and seeks their society. He does not seek them, however, as pleasant companions, or merely in order to claim their help in bodily need, but he seeks them as shepherds, as soul-physicians, as guardians of God’s mysteries, and as messengers in Christ’s stead.

2 Kings 4:8-11. The Shunammite urges the holy man of God to stay at her house and to be her guest; she prepares him a dwelling in her house. He who is more than a prophet desires to take up his residence with us. He stands before the door and knocks, and if any Prayer of Manasseh, &c, Revelation 3:20. Let us prepare the dwelling for Him, and pray every day: Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest! and: Remain with us, for the evening is drawing on. O! selig Haus wo man Dich aufgenommen, &c. (hymn of Spitta), Matthew 25:35; Matthew 25:40.—Be hospitable! for the sake of the Lord, and with joy, without murmuring ( Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9).

2 Kings 4:9-10. How beautiful it is when one spouse incites the other to holy works of love, and both are in accord therein; when husband and wife understand each other well, and go on uninterruptedly in a bond of pure fidelity (Gerhardt’s hymn: Wie schön ist’s doch, &c.).—Starke: Husbands should not restrain their wives from kind actions toward the children and servants of God.

2 Kings 4:10. J. Lange: God gives, in this earthly life, not only what is absolutely necessary, but also what belongs to easiness of circumstances: a fact which we ought also to recognize with thanksgiving.

2 Kings 4:11. Hall: Solitude is most advantageous for teachers and students ( Matthew 14:23).

2 Kings 4:12-17. What the Lord says, Matthew 10:40-42, is fulfilled already here, under the old covenant; how much more will it be fulfilled under the new covenant.—The Conversation of Elisha with the Shunammite. (a) The question of Elisha. (A question inspired by gratitude, although the woman had far more reason to thank him than he her, for cf. 1 Corinthians 9:11.—Starke: A noble heart does not like to receive a favor and make no return, but recognizes its obligation to return it. It Isaiah, however, also a test-question, to see if the Shunammite had received him in the name of a prophet and not for the sake of a reward, or for any temporal gain. The question as to thy wishes is a question as to the disposition of thy heart.) (b) The answer of the Shunammite. (“I dwell,” &c. She asks no recompense for the good she has done, she wishes to have nothing to do with the court of the king, and the great ones of this world, she has no desire “for high things, but,” &c. Romans 12:16—a sign of great humility and modesty. Although she lacked that which was essential to the honor and happiness of an Israelitish wife, viz, a Song of Solomon, yet she was contented, and no word of complaint passed her lips—a sign of great contentment. He who is godly is also contented, 1 Timothy 6:6, and says: Howsoever he may conduct my affairs, I am contented and silent.)—He who is at peace with God in his heart, lives in, and pursues, peace with men ( Romans 12:18; Hebrews 12:14).

2 Kings 4:14-17. The Lord, according to His grace and truth, remembers even the wishes which we cherish in silence and do not express before men, and He often gives to those who yield to His holy will without murmurs or complaints just that which they no longer dared to hope for.—It makes a great difference whether we doubt of the divine promises from unbelief, or from humility or want of confidence in ourselves because we consider the promises too great and glorious, and ourselves unworthy of them ( Genesis 18:13 sq.; John 11:23 sq.).

2 Kings 4:18-21. Happiness and unhappiness, joy and sorrow, stand, here upon earth, ever side by side. There is no unalloyed happiness. We are not in the world simply in order to have happy days; God sets the day of adversity over-against the day of prosperity ( Ecclesiastes 7:14).— Prayer of Manasseh, in his life, is like the grass ( Psalm 103:15-16). The death of loved children comes often suddenly, like the lightning from a clear sky, and destroys our joy and our hopes. Therefore we should possess these gifts also, as not possessing them, and learn to believe that God’s ways, &c. ( Isaiah 55:8-9). The Lord will not abandon, in days of adversity, him who trusts in Him in days of prosperity. He who in the latter has learned sobriety, and maintained his faith, will not be without wisdom and consolation in the former, but will be composed in all adversity.

2 Kings 4:22. Starke: A pious woman does nothing without her husband’s knowledge, and does not willingly call his attention to anything by which he may be saddened.

2 Kings 4:23. Husbands ought not to put any hindrance in the way of their wives when they wish to go there where they hope to find food for their souls, and counsel and consolation from God. Sundays and feast days are not instituted merely that we may rest from labor, but that we may hear the Word of God, and be edified thereby. This word is not, indeed, bound to any definite time, it is a well of living water, from which we may and ought to take at any time, and satisfy our thirst for knowledge, consolation, and peace. How many there are, however, of those who do not do this even on Sundays and feast-days!

2 Kings 4:25-28. The arrival of the Shunammite at Carmel. (a) She receives a kind welcome (Osiander: Pious people have hearty love for each other, and each shares in the other’s joy and sorrow, Romans 12:15), but she conceals from Gehazi that which troubles her heart. (Do not make known at once to every one you meet that which distresses you, but keep it to yourself until you find one who understands you, and whose heart you have tested, Sirach 21:28.) (b) She is thrust away by Gehazi (Beware lest thou treat harshly sad souls, who are overcome by grief, and who seek help and consolation, and lest thou thrust them away or judge them hastily. Sirach 4:3 : Do not cause still more grief to a bruised heart.—Berleb. Bibel: There are many servants who wish to hinder others from familiarity because it appears to them too bold… Magdalens are thrust away from the feet of Jesus Christ, and the Pharisees are scandalized at them, Luke 7:38. Elisha receives this woman in a friendly manner and listens with sympathy. Sirach 7:38: “Leave not those who mourn without consolation, but sorrow with the sorrowing.” Come, in thy sorrow, to Him who calls the sorrowful and the heavy-laden to himself, and who has said: “Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out,” John 6:37.)

2 Kings 4:29-31. Gehazi’s Mission to Shunem. (a) Elisha’s intention in sending him; (b) the failure of his mission (see above, the Exeget. and Critical and the Historical notes). The especial gift which God has given, out of free grace, to one Prayer of Manasseh, cannot be transferred by him to another. Let every one serve the other with that gift which he has received ( 1 Peter 4:10), for we are not masters of the gifts of God, but only stewards. The staff of the prophet is of no use if the spirit and power of the prophet are wanting. Do not mistake the sign for the thing signified. It is God alone who can help, and His help is not dependent on external instruments and signs.—o! that we might all say, as this woman did to Elisha, to Him who is more than a prophet, with firm faith and confidence, from the bottom of the heart: “I will not leave thee!” (Meinen Jesum lass ich nicht, &c.) Then would He also go with us in all need and trial.

2 Kings 4:32-37. The Resuscitation of the Boy. (a) The preparation therefor ( 2 Kings 4:33; cf. Acts 9:40; Matthew 6:6). Elisha first humbles himself before the Lord, for he knows that it is He alone who can kill and make alive. (b) The means of which he makes use ( 2 Kings 4:34-35). He does not weary, but continues and struggles in prayer. The Lord does not allow great deeds to be accomplished without battles and struggles, labor and perseverance. (c) The successful accomplishment ( 2 Kings 4:35-36). Elisha’s prayer and conflict are crowned with success. He may say: There, take thy son! and the mother falls on her knees, and may cry: “Oh! death, where is thy sting? Oh! grave, where is thy victory?”—What Elisha did after long struggle and prayer, Hebrews, who is himself the resurrection and the life, did with a single word ( Luke 7:14; John 11:43), that we may believe that “The hour is coming,” &c. ( John 5:25; John 11:26).

2 Kings 4:37. Genuine gratitude and thanksgiving, when God has done great things for us, consists in this, that we bow ourselves humbly, and fall down upon our knees and say: “Lord, I am not worthy,” &c. ( Genesis 32:10).

2 Kings 4:38-44. The high Significance of both the Acts which Elisha performed among the Pupils of the Prophets. (a) He makes the poisonous food healthful ( 2 Kings 4:38-41); (b) he feeds many with a little ( 2 Kings 4:42-44); (see Historical).—The sons of the prophets in time of scarcity. They had to struggle with want and distress, but no want could hinder them from entering the community, or could induce them to separate. Life in common, in faith, in prayer, in the praise of God, was dearer to them than pleasant days, and enjoying the pleasures of sin in this world ( Hebrews 11:25). Hence they experienced also the truth of the words: “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee” ( Hebrews 13:5; cf. Psalm 33:18-19).

2 Kings 4:38. Where unity of spirit and true love call people together to a common meal, there is no need of great preparations and expensive dishes; they are readily satisfied with the simplest food ( Proverbs 15:17; Proverbs 17:1).

2 Kings 4:39. Calwer Bibel: The poor are here, as they so often are, in great distress; the most necessary means of subsistence often fail them.

2 Kings 4:40. Death in the pot! Pear of death; means of rescue from it.—It is often with spiritual food as it is with bodily food; it looks as if it were healthful and nourishing, i.e., the words are beautiful and attractive, and yet there is soul-poison in it, which is destructive, if we are not on our guard against receiving it.

2 Kings 4:42-44. Krummacher: The man with the loaves, Elisha’s command, Gehazi’s confusion.

2 Kings 4:42. By accident a strange man comes and brings what is needed. How many times that has occurred! The Lord sent him and opened his heart, for, when God has found us faithful, and perceived no hypocrisy in us, He comes before we know it, and causes great good fortune to befall us.

2 Kings 4:43. “Give the people, that they may eat.” The Lord gives in order that we may give, and it is more blessed to give than to receive ( Hebrews 13:16; Acts 20:35).

2 Kings 4:44. What the Lord said: “They shall eat, and shall leave thereof,” holds true still, to day; all depends upon His blessing. Psalm 127:1.—Kyburz: God can bless a little and increase it, so that we shall find ourselves as well provided for, nay, even have as much to spare, as many who have much and yet are not satisfied, because there is no blessing upon it ( Matthew 4:4).

Footnotes:

FN#1 - 2 Kings 4:2.—I.e., only so much as suffices for an anointing.—Bähr. [The chetib לֵכִי is a late Aramaic form for the keri לָךְ, Ew. § 247, e. The same is true of the other fem. forms, ending in י in this chapter, all of which the keri changes.—W. G. S.]

FN#2 - 2 Kings 4:5.—The keri מוצקת cannot be preferred to the chetib מְיַצֶּקֶת (piel).—Bähr.

FN#3 - 2 Kings 4:7.—All the versions agree with the keri ובניך; if we desired to retain the chetib, it would be necessary to change וְאַתְּ into וְאֶת; “And live with thy sons on the remainder,” in which case, however, the contrast, which is expressed in אַתְּ, would be lost.—Bähr. [תִּחְיִי is sing, to agree with the principal subject. “If the text is here correct, it shows that even the ו may be omitted in such cases.” Ew. § 839, c.—W. G. S.]

FN#4 - 2 Kings 4:39.—Neither he nor the other sons of the prophets.—Bähr.

FN#5 - 2 Kings 4:42.—[כַּרְמֶל], “Corn got from good, garden-like plantations, which is better than field-grain, and which is either eaten roasted, or pounded to groats” (Fürst). צקלון occurs only this once. The authorities agree that it means a “bag.”

FN#6 - 2 Kings 4:43.—[אכול והותר, Ew. § 328, a. The infin. as the simplest, most direct, and most comprehensive form.—W. G. S.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on 2 Kings 4:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/2-kings-4.html. 1857-84.

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Tuesday, December 10th, 2019
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