1 A Widow Comes to Elisha
1 Now a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the LORD; and the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.”
The history of the widow’s oil and the history of the three kings in the previous chapter are both about debtors. Mesha had to pay tribute and the woman also has to pay a debt. The difference is that the king of Moab could pay, but did not want, while the woman wants, but she can’t, because she is poor.
The previous history is about three people, three kings, namely the king of Israel, Jehoram, the king of Judah, Jehoshaphat, and the king of Edom. This history is also about three people, namely the widow and her two sons. There is despair in both histories. The kings threaten to die due to lack of water and therefore appeal to the man of God. Then Elisha appears and helps. The woman calls on him and he comes and helps. Both histories end with a son. In the first one a son is killed, in the second there is life for two sons.
In the first history the man of God orders to dig trenches, empty trenches. This required a lot of hard work. In the second the woman has to collect empty vessels. This also requires hard work. In both histories what is empty is filled, but with a different content. The trenches are filled with water, the vessels are filled with oil.
Water is a picture of the Word of God. This is how it is applied in the previous chapter. However, water is also a symbol of the Spirit of God, just like oil. Water and oil as a picture of the Holy Spirit we see in the “streams of living water” (Jn 7:39) and in the “an anointing from the Holy One” (1Jn 2:20). Water and oil represent different aspects of the work of the Spirit. How the Spirit works we see for example in the Gospel of Luke where we meet people filled with the Spirit: John, Elizabeth, Zacharias, Simeon (cf. Eph 5:18b).
A widow comes with her need to Elisha for a solution of her need. She reminds Elisha to her husband as someone he knew. She testifies of him that he knew him as faithful and obedient to the Word of God. His wife and children followed him in it. The man feared God.
A widow is a needy person (cf. Jam 1:27a), someone who is dependent on the LORD. The woman tells him her situation. Elisha does not contest the creditor’s right. In the person of the woman it is about a believer who is in miserable circumstances. She is a picture of a believer under the law. The law leads the spiritual life to slavery.
This is about the righteousness of the flesh, the claims of the law, the slavery of the flesh. The sons are threatened to be made slaves. In Acts 15 we read about an attempt to subject the believers to the law and how the apostles react to it (Acts 15:1-31; see also the letter to the Galatians). The law is opposed to the freedom of the Spirit.
2 - 4 Counsel of Elisha
2 Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” And she said, “Your maidservant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.” 3 Then he said, “Go, borrow vessels at large for yourself from all your neighbors, [even] empty vessels; do not get a few. 4 And you shall go in and shut the door behind you and your sons, and pour out into all these vessels, and you shall set aside what is full.”
The woman is poor, but she still has a jar of oil. She thinks it’s nothing, but if she brings this to the man of God, she can satisfy the creditor’s claim. Through the Spirit, from Him speaks the oil, the believer can meet the requirement of the law (Rom 8:4). And the woman can live by “what remains”. She doesn’t know all this yet, but we see it in the course of this history.
There is still a nice lesson to be learned from the jar of oil that the woman possesses. It is not much, but she brings it to the man of God so that the little bit of oil becomes a large stream of oil. It is the same for us. If we go to the Lord with what we have, He will use it for our blessing. We see such a thing with the staff of Moses (Exo 4:2), with the widow in Zarephath (1Kgs 17:12-14) and with the boy with the five loaves and two fish (Mk 6:38). So each of us has a jar of oil. The jar is a picture of our body and the oil represents the Holy Spirit. We have enough through the Spirit Who dwells within us to fulfill all the claims of the law (Rom 8:4). Through the Spirit God can do great things.
Elisha asks the woman for her cooperation. What he asks, appeals to her faith in what the man of God says. She will experience that the LORD gives blessing when faith is present. The woman is urged to think of others. At first she is only occupied with herself. Now Elisha says, as it were: ‘Look at the need around you and you forget yourself. The Lord Jesus says to His disciples: “Lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest” (Jn 4:35b). We have that here. The woman starts to get interest for her surroundings. In the execution of her assignment she engages her sons.
To do what the man of God says, she must go inside and close the door behind her. Who is discouraged can pray in the inner room. In prayer, the ‘neighbors’, in whom we can see unbelieving family members and colleagues, for example, can be brought inside. That will be a blessing for all for whom we pray. What the Lord gives in faith are not scenes for the public, but takes place in faith in the inner room (cf. Mt 6:6). The result is seen in public.
5 - 7 The Miracle of the Oil
5 So she went from him and shut the door behind her and her sons; they were bringing [the vessels] to her and she poured. 6 When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not one vessel more.” And the oil stopped. 7 Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debt, and you [and] your sons can live on the rest.”
The vessels have all been different in size, shape and use. They are all equal in one thing: they are all empty. You can’t get anything out of an empty vessel, you can only do something in it. This is the way in which the sinner can come to God. Every sinner is different, but if he is empty of himself, God can fill him with His Spirit.
As long as vessels are added, the oil continues to flow. Similarly, every request of Abraham concerning Sodom is answered by the LORD (Gen 18:23-32). On the other hand, it is also a serious word. The grace of God continues to flow until the last vessel is filled, until the last sinner has converted to be added to the church. After that the flowing stops and it is no longer possible to convert.
The flowing stops when there is no more vessel. We must have the courage to ask a lot. It shall be done to you according to our faith (Mt 9:29). Much faith, much blessing. The woman always has enough oil to fill all the vessels. When there are no vessels left, it is the end of the slavery of the flesh. It is not about a big or small gift, but about using the little oil we have. It is the Spirit Who is given to each of us through whom we can pray – not for our own sake, but – for others. Forgetting ourselves and thinking about others is a basic principle of being a Christian (Phil 2:4-5,25-26). People are interested in things, God is interested in people. Faith will join God in this.
The woman is also a picture of the faithful remnant in the end time. The Spirit will be poured out on the remnant and also on all who will enter the kingdom of peace. All flesh (all vessels) will be filled with God’s Spirit (Joel 2:28a).
The oil is sold to spread blessing elsewhere. The proceeds are used to pay the debt. The surplus is sufficient for the rest of her life to show the fruit of the Spirit. When the man of God says that she and her sons “can live on the rest”, he means life in the full sense of the word. He wants them to rejoice in life as a gift from God.
For us, it means a life lived in the power of the Spirit with an eye on the Lord Jesus in glory. This allows us to enjoy the victories that result from His work on the cross and His glorification in heaven.
8 - 11 A Room for Elisha
8 Now there came a day when Elisha passed over to Shunem, where there was a prominent woman, and she persuaded him to eat food. And so it was, as often as he passed by, he turned in there to eat food. 9 She said to her husband, “Behold now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God passing by us continually. 10 Please, let us make a little walled upper chamber and let us set a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand; and it shall be, when he comes to us, [that] he can turn in there.” 11 One day he came there and turned in to the upper chamber and rested.
If we let the Holy Spirit work, if we “live on the rest” (verse 7), it means that we learn to know the power of the resurrection. We see that in this history. “Live on the rest” means living on the riches of the Spirit. We see that in the Shunammite. The poor widow of verse 1 has become a prominent or rich woman, a woman of stature. However, she lacks something and that is a son. There is love, there are maternal feelings, but there is nobody to whom she can express those feelings. Now the lesson is taught that the spiritual riches can be enjoyed on the basis of death and resurrection.
The woman has the heart in the right place and is hospitable. Elisha likes to make use of her hospitality. Elijah was the man of loneliness. Elisha is a man of company. It is a blessing for Elisha to have a house where he is welcome in the deadly climate of godless Israel. Thus the Lord Jesus has a house on earth in Bethany where He is welcome and in Mary a woman who understands Him.
Several people play a role in this history, all different, and from all these people we can learn:
1. The mother has care for people, for Elisha and her son. In the church are people who care for others.
2. Elisha is the teacher, the man with the Word of God.
3. Gehazi is the servant.
4. We can see the boy as a picture of young people in the church.
5. The father, a man who does not take responsibility, represents the carnal believer, the man of outward faith.
The woman has spiritual discernment. She has discovered that Elisha is a man of God and that he is holy. That also says something about the walk, the behavior of Elisha. He lives a life devoted to God. That is why she grants him a separate room. She no longer wants him as a visitor, but as a continuous guest. Thus it is a desire of Christ that we should not have Him as a Visitor of our heart and life, but as a constantly present Guest.
She talks to her husband about her plan, with which she acknowledges him as her head. The woman lets make a separate room on the roof, with a sober interior. She doesn’t overload him with all sorts of benefits. Therefore, so to speak, Elisha will not be tempted to go to this house because of the abundance he gets there all the time.
The small upper chamber is a type of faith exercises of the church, which is presented by a house. In the inventory we can also see a spiritual meaning:
1. A “bed” speaks of rest. Christ gives rest. The sound doctrine gives rest.
2. A “table” speaks of fellowship.
3. A “chair” is to sit and study, to receive education and also to pass on teaching.
4. The “candlestick” speaks of education by the Holy Spirit and the spreading of light.
12 - 17 Elisha Promises the Woman a Son
12 Then he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” And when he had called her, she stood before him. 13 He said to him, “Say now to her, ‘Behold, you have been careful for us with all this care; what can I do for you? Would you be spoken for to the king or to the captain of the army?’” And she answered, “I live among my own people.” 14 So he said, “What then is to be done for her?” And Gehazi answered, “Truly she has no son and her husband is old.” 15 He said, “Call her.” When he had called her, she stood in the doorway. 16 Then he said, “At this season next year you will embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God, do not lie to your maidservant.” 17 The woman conceived and bore a son at that season the next year, as Elisha had said to her.
Elisha wants to express his gratitude for what the woman does for him. To this end, he has the means and influence at higher authorities. When he suggests to her that to use these resources and influence for her benefit, she rejects that offer, with the motive: “I live among my own people. The woman also has with all her beautiful qualities that she is contented. She is content to live among her own people, who are God’s people. With her is present the rare combination of godliness and contentment (1Tim 6:6).
Elisha asks his servant what she lacks. Gehazi appears to know her hidden wish. He also knows that this wish can no longer be fulfilled humanly. He informs Elisha of this. The reaction of Elisha is beautiful. He acknowledges the appropriateness of what Gehazi has noted. He uses the information of his servant who later proves to be a bad servant. Bad people sometimes have a good insight into situations in which even a man of God apparently has no insight. He commands Gehazi to call the woman. Gehazi obeys and the woman comes.
Elisha knows God’s thoughts. He promises her that in a year’s time she will embrace a son (cf. Gen 18:14). The woman cannot believe it, but the word of the man of God comes true. The boy is born by the word of God from the mouth of the man of God. It is an act of God. Isaac, Samson, Samuel, and John were all born through God’s intervention.
18 - 20 The Death of the Son
18 When the child was grown, the day came that he went out to his father to the reapers. 19 He said to his father, “My head, my head.” And he said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20 When he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her lap until noon, and [then] died.
When the boy has grown up, he goes out, to his father and to the reapers. His stay on the field caused him a headache. It is not a common headache, but an unbearable pain. He goes with his pain to his father. His father, however, does not have interest in the boy. All the father does is order a servant to bring his son to his wife.
In the church there are those who have no interest in youth. They quickly deduce something and give commands to others. He is an old man (verse 14) and a man of traditions (verse 23). There is no life in him. His wife doesn’t seem to trust him either. We can deduce this from the rest of history.
The mother is not only “prominent” with regard to material possessions, she is not only materially a rich woman, she is also rich in spiritual insight. She has discernment and sees things for which her husband is blind. She takes her son “on her lap”. Do we take our children on our lap, do we pray for them? While she has her son on her lap, he dies. This causes deep exercises in the woman. The mercies and gifts of God are not without a deep trial for faith.
21 - 28 The Woman Brings Her Need to Elisha
21 She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut [the door] behind him and went out. 22 Then she called to her husband and said, “Please send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of God and return.” 23 He said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath.” And she said, “[It will be] well.” 24 Then she saddled a donkey and said to her servant, “Drive and go forward; do not slow down the pace for me unless I tell you.” 25 So she went and came to the man of God to Mount Carmel. When the man of God saw her at a distance, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Behold, there is the Shunammite. 26 Please run now to meet her and say to her, ‘Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?’” And she answered, “It is well.” 27 When she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came near to push her away; but the man of God said, “Let her alone, for her soul is troubled within her; and the LORD has hidden it from me and has not told me.” 28 Then she said, “Did I ask for a son from my lord? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me’?”
The death of her child does not make the woman desperate. She takes him to the bed of the man of God, which thereby becomes a deathbed. This is the most beautiful place in the house. She closes the door. It is like with our children being baptized. In their baptism they are identified with the death of the Lord Jesus (Rom 6:3).
The death of her child does not make her passive, but active. She does not reconcile herself to the fact that her child has died, but she wants to go to the man of God who promised her this child. Before she goes, she tells her husband that she is going to the man of God. Her husband is not following her. He only asks a question and also establishes that there is no reason to go to the man of God. He feels no need and thinks only in terms of religion.
The man represents people who can only think of God in connection with special days and fulfilling religious obligations. He is someone with an orthodox belief without life. The woman cannot share her grief with her husband. At his request, she informed him that it is “well”. She knows that she will find no understanding with him for her grief and for the path of faith she takes therein.
Then she goes on her way to the man of God. She does not do this at a quiet pace, but in a hurry. The child has died. For him this urgency is not necessary. Her need is great and also her confidence in the help of the man of God. That’s why she hurries. When Elisha recognizes her from afar, he sends his servant Gehazi to her to ask her if she, her husband and her child are well. The woman answered Gehazi’s questions politely, but was not satisfied with the servant. She also says to him that it is “well”, because she knows that even he can’t understand her if she tells him her need. She also knows he wouldn’t be able to help her. Her faith is only content with the man of God.
The woman overcomes two obstacles for faith. The first obstacle consists of the religious obligations of the natural man we see in her husband. The second obstacle is the behavior of Gehazi. In Gehazi we see someone who presents himself as the protector of what he sees as appropriate behavior towards the man of God, missing the faith of the man of God. Both obstacles are expressions of orthodoxy without life.
When the woman is at Elisha, she throws herself at his feet and seizes them. Then Gehazi does what the disciples did when they rebuked those who brought children to the Lord Jesus (Mt 19:13-14). It is easier to expel people from incomprehension than to gauge hearts full of grief. Just as the Lord Jesus stood up for the children, Elisha stands up for the woman.
But he is not like the Lord Jesus Who knew everything. Elisha also had to learn a lesson. A man of God is always in the school of God. Someone who brings the Word of God does not always have all the answers. After his acknowledgment that he does not know what the woman is concerned about, the woman speaks. She does not say outright that her son has died, but expresses her shocked confidence.
29 - 31 Elisha Sends Gehazi
29 Then he said to Gehazi, “Gird up your loins and take my staff in your hand, and go your way; if you meet any man, do not salute him, and if anyone salutes you, do not answer him; and lay my staff on the lad’s face.” 30 The mother of the lad said, “As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” And he arose and followed her. 31 Then Gehazi passed on before them and laid the staff on the lad’s face, but there was no sound or response. So he returned to meet him and told him, “The lad has not awakened.”
Elisha sends Gehazi with his staff to bring back the boy to life again. He also instructs him not to let himself be held up by a salutation along the way. An oriental salutation is an extensive affair and would cause long delays. Apparently, Elisha has to learn even more. He also has to learn that his staff only has meaning when it is in his hand, the hand of the man of God.
The woman is also not content with a staff in the hand of the servant. She is in faith with the LORD who lives and with His prophet who is connected with the living LORD and thus lives also himself. She seeks life. With this she persuades Elisha to go with her and follow her on her way to her child.
Gehazi does everything that has been said to him, but there is no result. It goes with Gehazi as it has gone with the disciples who could not heal a lunatic boy (Mk 9:18b). The reason for this is that in his heart there is a desire for earthly riches, as the end of the next chapter shows. That excludes personal strength of faith. With him everything is outwardly as it should be, but inwardly there is a denial of the power of faith (2Tim 3:5a).
32 - 37 Elisha Raises the Boy
32 When Elisha came into the house, behold the lad was dead and laid on his bed. 33 So he entered and shut the door behind them both and prayed to the LORD. 34 And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth and his eyes on his eyes and his hands on his hands, and he stretched himself on him; and the flesh of the child became warm. 35 Then he returned and walked in the house once back and forth, and went up and stretched himself on him; and the lad sneezed seven times and the lad opened his eyes. 36 He called Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she came in to him, he said, “Take up your son.” 37 Then she went in and fell at his feet and bowed herself to the ground, and she took up her son and went out.
Here speaks the simplicity of the approach of the man of God and his dependence on the LORD. He does not seek publicity, but the LORD. The man of God identifies himself with the dead boy. He makes himself one with his words (“mouth”), with his insights (“eyes”) and with his actions (“hands”). That makes the boy warm. His life returns in him.
Elisha also walks in the house “once back and forth”. The application has been made, that he did so to see if somewhere in the house there was a possible reason for the death of the boy. We too must regularly walk “back and forth” in our homes to see if things have come into our families that are spiritually damaging to our children and can even make them averse to faith. Let us pray that the Lord opens our eyes to these things and that we radically remove them out of the house.
For the third time the woman is called. Now she gets her son back by resurrection (Heb 11:35a). Her first reaction is worship of the LORD. Then she takes up her boy. She gets him back from the dead in the resurrection. She now owns her son in resurrection life.
38 - 41 Death Removed from the Pot
38 When Elisha returned to Gilgal, [there was] a famine in the land. As the sons of the prophets were sitting before him, he said to his servant, “Put on the large pot and boil stew for the sons of the prophets.” 39 Then one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine and gathered from it his lap full of wild gourds, and came and sliced them into the pot of stew, for they did not know [what they were]. 40 So they poured [it] out for the men to eat. And as they were eating of the stew, they cried out and said, “O man of God, there is death in the pot.” And they were unable to eat. 41 But he said, “Now bring meal.” He threw it into the pot and said, “Pour [it] out for the people that they may eat.” Then there was no harm in the pot.
In this history we learn to appreciate what valuable food is by first experiencing what is worthless, yes, life-threatening food. There is famine in the land, but Elisha tells his servant to put a large pot on the fire. In this time of scarcity, the man of God wants to prepare a feast meal. He wants to feed the student prophets with good food.
One of the student prophets goes to the field to get ingredients for the stew. He comes back with his lap full of wild gourds. He slices the gourds (which means he sees how they look inside) and puts them in the stew pot. It may have been watched by others, for it says that “they did not know [what they were]”. Together they are responsible for an ill-considered addition to what the man of God has already done in the pot.
What is happening here illustrates the danger for which Paul warns in his letter to the Colossians. The Colossians do not want to replace the Lord Jesus with something else, but they want to add something to it. They want to add human philosophy to all the treasures of wisdom that are their part in Christ. Doing something like this means death in the pot.
The result is that where life should be, death is present. The personal contribution is not innocent, but turns out to be deadly. The spiritual downfall is the result of what we want more than God gives us. Paul is the man of God who puts the large pot before the Colossians, but of which healthy food is spoiled by what the Colossians add to it.
The man of God knows how to remove death from the pot: by adding something to it that overcomes death. The gourds cannot be removed, but something can be added that eliminates the danger. Meal must be added. This represents in picture the introducing of the Lord Jesus into the lives of believers. That makes death give way and makes life visible.
42 - 44 Multiplication of the Loaves
42 Now a man came from Baal-shalishah, and brought the man of God bread of the first fruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And he said, “Give [them] to the people that they may eat.” 43 His attendant said, “What, will I set this before a hundred men?” But he said, “Give [them] to the people that they may eat, for thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and have [some] left over.’” 44 So he set [it] before them, and they ate and had [some] left over, according to the word of the LORD.
A man comes to Elisha with “bread of the first fruits”. According to what the law says about ‘first fruits’, the man would have brought these loaves to the priests in Jerusalem (Deu 18:4-5). By bringing them to Elisha, the man acknowledges Elisha as the true representative of God in the land. He does not want to bring these first fruits to priests who have defiled themselves by mixing the worship of the LORD with the worship of the Baal.
This man is possibly one of the faithful among the general apostacy, one of the 7,000 who did not bend their knees before the Baal (1Kgs 19:18). Thus we still encounter people from Baal-shalishah today, people who do not go with the apostate Christianity, but instead serve the Lord faithfully and bring their gifts to Him.
The loaves are barley loaves. That reminds us of the Lord Jesus as the bread of life. The feeding of Lord Jesus of about 5,000 men is done with “five barley loaves and two fish” (Jn 6:9). Isn’t it telling that in John 6 further on, in connection with the food, He speaks extensively about Himself as the “bread of life”? Because these are “first fruits”, we can link them to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. These breads speak of the Lord Jesus in the resurrection. He is the fruit of the heavenly land. In the picture this man sets his mind on “the things above” (Col 3:1). With that he comes to the man of God. Thus we may go to the Lord Jesus with all we have seen and enjoyed of Him.
The loaves are given to Elisha. However, he does not use them for himself, but to feed others with them. He shares the loaves with those who are with him to listen to him. They also are invigorated and strengthened by them. Elisha knows the value of them. The twenty loaves of bread seem to be too little to feed a hundred men, but in a miraculous way it becomes more than enough. This does not happen because Elisha adds salt or flour to it or by stretching himself over it – we saw this in earlier miracles – but by speaking the word of the LORD. As a result, the loaves are sufficient for all those who are with him to eat from it. By the man of God it becomes enough and even have some left over.
If we start distributing what we first brought to the Lord Jesus, we will never get short. All are satiated and have so much that they can distribute to others. This is what we also see in the multiplication of the loaves by the Lord Jesus (Mt 14:20-21; 15:37-38).