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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible
2 Kings 4

 

 

Verses 1-44

THE WIDOW'S OIL

(vv.1-7)

The history of the Kings is again interrupted to make way for the ministry of Elisha. The bad example of the kings had brought about poverty in the land, and God provided grace in the ministry of Elisha the prophet to meet this condition of poverty.

The sons of the prophets were not always dependable men. A widow of one of these men pled with Elisha for help because her deceased husband had not provided for his family and the creditor wanted to take his two sons as slaves (v.1). How striking is the spiritual lesson in this case. A son of a prophet should surely provide for his family the spiritual food they need, yet there are many who are not feeding on the good things of the Word of God, so that they are in danger of becoming merely in bondage to law rather than enjoying the pure grace of God. When the grace of God has been neglected, the tendency always is to revert back to a legal standard which is bondage to law-keeping. This condition has greatly infected Christendom today.

Elisha asked the widow, "what do you have in the house? (v.2). She answered that she had "nothing in the house but a pot of oil." She had no idea of the resources in a pot of oil. For the oil speaks of the Spirit of God. If we see great lack, great weakness in the Church, the house of God, today, do we not remember that the Spirit of God is still in God's house? Is this a small thing?

What then do we need? Only vessels that may be filled with the Spirit. But they must be emptied of all else, so as to be filled with God's Spirit. Elisha tells the widow to borrow empty vessels from her neighbours (v.3), and in private pour out the oil into all the vessels (v.4). No matter how much failure and departure has impoverished the Church of God, the Spirit of God is still abundantly sufficient to bring blessing to every empty vessel who is submitted to the Lord.

The vessels were borrowed, just as we are not our own, for we are the Lord's. All the vessels that were brought were filled, and when no more vessels were available, the oil ceased (v.6).

The woman then came and told Elisha what had taken place (v.7). So we too should seek the Lord's presence to enjoy sharing with Him the blessing that results from simple obedience to His Word. Elisha told her to sell the oil and pay her debt, then she and her sons were to live of what remained. Thus, the Spirit of God provides the resources by which we can pay our debt to all men, - a debt of love that seeks the eternal blessing of others (Romans 13:8). The Spirit also provides the resources for living a life pleasing to God (Galatians 5:16-18).

THE WOMAN OF SHUNEM

(vv.8-37)

We have seen in the multiplying of the widow's oil the grace of God coming into circumstances where there was great failure and need in Israel. Now in this section the woman of Shunem is a beautiful example of the fact that there was still in Israel a remnant characterised by genuine faith. When Elisha came to Shunem this notable woman invited him to a meal in her home (v.8), so that her hospitality encouraged him to stop there whenever he passed that way.

Thus, by frequent contact she perceived that Elisha was a holy man of God. She wisely took time to learn this, but then her hospitality became genuine love for the man of God. Not content with having him eat with them on occasion, she asked her husband that they should build on their house a small upstairs room for Elisha to lodge in when he came. Her genuine subjection to her husband was such that he willingly accepted her suggestion, though he did not evidently have the same energy of faith as she had (v.23).

Though they were in good circumstances, she did not ask for a richly furnished room for Elisha. She knew that the prophet would not want this, but would appreciate the simple furnishings she suggested; a bed, speaking of rest, so necessary for a man of God; a table, signifying communion or fellowship; a stool (or chair) symbolising learning, such as "sitting at the feet of Jesus;" and a lampstand, which pictures testimony (v.10). These were simple necessities, but ample for a servant of the Lord.

Elisha appreciated this kindness and care on the part of the woman, just as the Lord Jesus values the faith of believers who desire His comfort and His presence. When he came to the house to rest, he told Gehazi, his servant, to call this Shunamite woman. Then expressing his appreciation of her kindness, he asked what he could do for her. "Do you want me to speak on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?" (v.13). How many people would take eager advantage of such an opportunity! But not her. She simply replied, "I dwell among my own people." She was content with the blessing the Lord had given her. How good it is too if we are content with the fellowship of the saints of God. Such faith is of true value.

When the Shunamite woman indicated she was not interested in material rewards, Elisha questioned Gehazi, "What then is to be done for her?" Gehazi knew that in Israel it was a reproach for a couple to have no children, and he told Elisha that she had no son and her husband was old (v.14). This situation would require more than the patronage of the king or commander of the army. It would require God's intervention, and Elisha had the simple confidence that God would indeed intervene.

In having the Shunamite woman called again, Elisha told her that about the same time the next year she would embrace a son (v.16). This was far more than the woman could have imagined, and she protested that his words seemed false. No doubt she had deeply desired a son, but had come to the point of being content without him. Is it not often true that when we learn to be content without something for which we have yearned, the Lord then allows us to have what we desired? Thus, the spirit of being content with what God gives will bear unexpected fruit.

A year later Elisha's words came true: the woman gave birth to a son (v.17). We are not told how she felt then, but the following history shows how greatly she treasured her son.

It would be four or five years later perhaps that the boy went into a field to his father, where harvest was in progress. Likely it was a hot day and the boy complained of pain is his head, which may have been from sunstroke. His father knew he needed his mother, and had a servant carry him to her (v.19). She held him in her arms briefly, then he died.

In laying her son's body on the bed of Elisha (v.21) she was virtually commending her sorrow to Elisha, just as we are told to "Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you" (Psalms 55:22). She knew she herself could do nothing for her son now. But she was purposed to get to the man of God as soon as possible. She asked her husband for a donkey and a servant so that she might go to Elisha and return. It may seem strange that she said nothing to her husband about their son's death, but in this case it was the man of God she needed, not her husband. There are some things we may not feel free to share with the closest relative, but must take them only to the Lord Jesus.

Her husband questioned why she should go to the man of God when is was not a special religious day. He was like many formal type Christians who think Christianity is good for only certain days. But every believer should realise he needs Christ for every day of his life. In this case also the woman had a deeply serious need, but she only answered her husband, "It is well" (v.23). Thus she shows the lovely submission of genuine faith. Though her heart was breaking, her, self-restraint is beautiful. She told the servant, "Drive, and go forward; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you" (v.24). This firm, decided purpose of the woman surely speaks to us as to whether we have the same definite purpose of heart in getting to the Lord as soon as possible with our problem.

As she approached Mount Carmel Elisha saw her in the distance, and told Gehazi to run to meet her and ask if it was well with her, her husband and her child (v.26). But it was not the servant she wanted, and she answered him briefly, "It is well." It was her faith that moved her to say this, not any thought of deception.

How different was her attitude when she came to the man of God! She held him by the feet (v.22). This was the clinging dependence of one in deep distress of soul. Gehazi came to push her away, but Elisha said, "Let her alone." This surely reminds us of Mary of Bethany when she anointed the feet of Jesus (John 12:3). Judas objected to her doing this, and the Lord Jesus told him, "Let her alone." Just as Gehazi did not understand the distress of soul that troubled the Shunamite woman, so Judas could not appreciate the adoration of the Lord Jesus that Mary expressed in her anointing Him, Elisha knew there was something deeply troubling the woman.

Then out of the anguish of her heart she asked him, "Did I ask a son of my ford? Did I not say, do not deceive me?" (v.28). Immediately Elisha knew the child had died, and he told Gehazi to take Elisha's staff, with his undivided attention being focused on laying that staff on the boy's face. He was not to linger even to greet anyone on the way or to respond to anyone's greeting. Elisha's staff is symbolical of the law of God. But what could the law do, even in a servant's hands or in the hands of religious Pharisees? The law could tell a living person how to live, but what of a dead person? In the Old Testament the law was given opportunity to give life if it could, but it only proved people to be dead in sins, just as the staff on the boy's face did nothing.

The woman showed beautifully too that she had no faith either in the servant or the staff, but her faith in the man of god remained steadfast. How it must have refreshed Elisha to hear her words, the same words he himself had uttered to Elijah in Chapter 2:2,4,6. She would not leave Elisha.

At the insistence of the woman of Shunem, Elisha willingly went with her, though Gehazi had gone before. In coming back, Gehazi could only report that the child had not awakened, just as the law can only confirm the fact that mankind is dead in sins. Elisha in coming in to the child, shut the door and prayed. The actual bringing to life of the child was not to be witnessed by anyone. Then Elisha lay on the child, with his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hand on his hand (v.34). How clearly this shows us that life can only come from life. In picture, the Lord puts His mouth on our mouth, breathing in the breath of life, that will have pure effect on what we speak. His eyes on our eyes speak of light coming from His eyes to enlighten ours. His hands on our hands pictures the work of His hands giving to our hands the ability to work for Him. Elisha stretching himself on the child speaks of the energy the Lord expends to give life to us.

The flesh of the child became warm. Was he alive? Yes indeed! But Elisha, after walking back and forth in the house, came again to repeat what he had done. Though life was in the child, the full vigour of life was lacking, so that the second action of Elisha was necessary to produce "life more abundantly" (John 10:10). The child sneezed seven times and opened his eyes. The sneezing speaks of the fact that life has power in itself to clear the channels of life, just as sneezing clears the channels of the respiratory system. The seven times speaks of the completeness of the work done. The Lord does not make us barely alive, but brings us to a state of enjoying the full vigour of life.

Elisha then told Gehazi to call the woman, and he simply said to her, "Pick up your son" (v.30). His heart was so full he did not trust himself to say more, and her heart was so full she could say nothing, but she bowed at his feet to the ground, took up her son and went out (v.37). They understood one another perfectly. But now the woman had learned, not only of the grace and power of God in giving life, but that same grace and power in resurrection life. In fact, Shunem means "double rest," and this dear woman had learned this double rest in the birth of her son and in his resurrection.

POISON BANISHED FROM THE POT OF STEW

(vv.38-41)

Elisha, coming to Gilgal, found a famine in the land. The sons of the prophets were gathered before him, evidently to be taught. Food was a necessity, just as spiritual food is for us, so Elisha told his servant to boil stew in a large pot for the sons of the prophets. One of the sons of the prophets, desiring to be helpful, went out to gather herbs and found a wild vine, from which he brought a large number of gourds, slicing them into the pot. But he did not know the gourds were poisonous (v.39), just as too many Christians lack discernment of harmful teachings and accept them without question. There are many glaring false doctrines that Christians would generally immediately refuse, but some other doctrines do not seem so bad, yet are seriously evil, such as the denial of the eternal Sonship of Christ, or the claiming that Christ could have sinned (though He did not sin).

When the men tasted the stew, they cried out to Elisha, "There is death in the pot" (v.40). They could not eat it as it was, just Christians cannot assimilate false doctrine without serious consequences.

But Elisha knew the remedy He told them to bring flour (or meal) (v.41). This reminds us of the meal offering which speaks of the Lord Jesus in the absolute perfection of His Manhood, with every particle of the flour denoting some precious virtue of His character. His Manhood was infinitely more marvellous than that of any other man, for He had no part in the sinful nature that all others had inherited from Adam. Thus, a right regard for the perfection of the glory of the Lord Jesus will effectively banish every evil doctrine.

FOOD MULTIPLIED

(vv.42-44)

Evidently the famine was still causing a food shortage when a man came from Baal Shalisha, bringing twenty barley loaves and newly ripened grain to Elisha. The loaves were no doubt the size of a roll or bun. It seems the man brought these as a present to the man of God. But Elisha did not put these away for himself. He instructed his servant to give them to the people (v.42). The servant objected that this amount of food was nothing for 100 men. But Elisha insisted that he do what he was told, for he said, "They shall eat and have some left over" (v.43). Thus the Lord miraculously multiplied the provision so that all ate and had food left over. How much greater was the multiplication when the Lord Jesus fed 5000 men, besides women and children, with five loaves and two small fish! (John 6:8-13). At that time 12 baskets were left over.

Thus, verses 38-41 show that the quality of the food was ordered by Elisha (typically Christ) and verses 42-44 indicate that Elisha (Christ) provides the quantity of food.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 2 Kings 4:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/2-kings-4.html. 1897-1910.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, December 13th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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