The SHUNNAMITE WOMAN and ELISHA
2 Kings 4:8-37 and 8:1-6
Elisha was the most important of God’s prophets in Israel (the Northern Kingdom)…
- He had taken over when Elijah was taken up in a whirlwind, to be seen no more
- He was used by God to supply water to the king’s army when the men and animals were suffering from severe thirst
- And the poor widow’s supply of oil to save her and her son’s lives
Now the action now moves to Shunem… a town some 20 miles south-west of the Sea of Galilee
SUMMARY OF EVENTS…
Elisha and Gehazi (his servant) passed through the town of Shunem regularly… no doubt as part of Elisha’s itinerant ministry
The woman, who lived in Shunem, was quite affluent, and she offered hospitality to them and made a room available for them
Elisha wanted to repay her kindness…but she refused to accept anything… she had all the material comforts she wanted
But Gehazi told Elisha that the woman was childless and her husband was old
Elisha promised that in a year’s time, she would have a son
The woman was sceptical…but that’s exactly what happened!
The boy grew up… then tragedy struck and the boy was taken seriously ill… nothing could save him… and he died
The mother sought Elisha on Mount Carmel and insisted that he come with her to Shunem
Elisha sent Gahazi on ahead…but he is powerless
Elisha comes with the mother and carries out a strange procedure by lying totally on top of the boy
The boy miraculously recovers and is given back to his mother
BUT THE STORY DOESN’T END THERE
Elisha advises the women to leave Israel because of an impending famine
Seven years later, the family return… possibly the husband has died
The woman goes to the King in the hope of getting back her house and land
At the very moment that Gehazi is telling the King about the woman and the resurrection of her son, she walks in!
The King not only allows her to return home but also recompenses her for the years she has been away
WHAT LESSONS CAN WE LEARN? There are at least 10 of them
1. Kindness pays…
We read in Luke 6:35… But love your enemies; do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
- It’s horrible when we seek to be kind and the person is ungrateful, even unpleasant to us in return
- But as Paul writes in I Thessalonians 1:15…
Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else… Note the emphasis on trying to be kind
- We can only do what is right…and leave the rest to God
There is a story of a missionary who was thought to be Jesus by a native because of the missionary’s loving kindness
2. We should use our money and possessions (great or small) selflessly…
- The woman could have hoarded her wealth…shut herself away from the world
- She needed nothing…life was good… but she showed kindness to someone (Elisha) who could not repay her (or so it seemed)
- The woman was not to know that the result of her kindness would be great blessing, though not without enduring setbacks on the way
Relatives gathered to hear the will of a rich family member, who had died.
“How much did he leave?” they asked eagerly.
“Everything!” was the reply. (You can’t take it with you!)
3. The people of God need to be walking in step with the Spirit if they want to be a blessing to others… mere words and going through religious procedure is not sufficient
- God used Elisha to bless this woman
- God used the prophet because Elisha lived close to Him
- God wants to use you and me to be a blessing and provide wise counsel to others…so we have a responsibility to stay in close contact with Him day by day, as Elisha did
A Christian is either advancing or retreating. To advance, a believer must walk according to God’s plan, stay in fellowship and grow in Christ. To retreat in the spiritual life is to reside in Satan’s cosmic system
In other words, if we fail to keep in step with the Spirit, we are not only losing God’s blessing and guidance but also inhabiting Satan’s realm!
- When lions hunt, they don’t attack the stronger members of the herd but the weaker stragglers… so don’t straggle!
4. God is no one’s debtor…
- The woman might have thought that she was making the sacrifice and no one else…
- She was obedient and expected nothing in return
- But see how God changes circumstances and brings about His purposes…though not in the way we might anticipate
It can sometimes seem that our blood, sweat and tears has been for nothing…but God sees things differently
- Jesus said that our actions for others, if done out of a heart of love and without expectation of reward, will be doing it to and for Him
A young man was idling away his time during a time of heavy snow… His father told him to sweep a neighbour’s drive but never to say to her that he had done it… The reward would be in the deed and not in the praise! Years later, the man said that this one act of selflessness changed his life for ever.
5. Being in the will and purpose of God does not protect us from tragedy and disappointment…
- The woman must have danced for joy when she became pregnant and bore a son
- She must have praised God and thanked Him for His loving kindness and goodness
- But like so many godly people, she discovered that we live in a fallen world… things go wrong… disappointments come… people let us down
- We sometimes let ourselves down…
But we must remember that the only accuser is Satan… God never condemns… He only waits to forgive
6. If circumstances are difficult, we need to know where to turn
- The woman knew that Elisha was God’s man
- She could have asked her friends to help…gone to the local synagogue… set up a prayer chain…
But the extreme situation demanded extreme faith
- Psalm 46 v 1 reminds us that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble”
- But note that it does not say: “God is our refuge and strength and will save us from having trouble”!
It has rightly been claimed that our problems force us to look to God and depend on Him, not on ourselves.
7. We must play our part… the woman went to Elisha and pleaded with him to save her son… She didn’t just stay at home and “pray about it”
- Prayer is good… but as the kletter of James in the BIble makes clear, prayer with action is even better!
- Many of us tend to reverse the order of things… we act then pray to make sure that God isin step with us!
It would have been easier for Jesus to retreat to the carpenter’s shop… no pressure… no accusations… no opposition…
And so with us… some of us retreat to the safety of familiar things… good company… a quiet life… When perhaps God is saying “Be bold, be strong, for I am with you each step of the way”
We often speak about ‘the life of faith’… yet sometimes it’s difficult to see where faith operates in our lives at all!
8. Perseverance is usually needed… the woman would not take “no” for an answer after she went to Elisha for help
- No doubt he was busy…lots to do…religious duties to perform…a schedule to maintain
- But the woman had no intention of leaving until Elisha took action
Jesus spoke about the persistent neighbour, who woke up his friend and asked for help…the friend was reluctant at first but responded when he saw his neighbour’s earnestness
- God does not play hard-to-get…but He looks within the heart and at our motives… How seriously are we taking the situation?
- Situations won’t always work out as we hope… but we must learn to persevere and not let go or lose hope
- Sometimes we have merely to ‘touch the hem of His garment’…and sometimes to climb a sycamore tree… or seek Him in the wilderness… or like Jacob of old, to wrestle throughout the night until we receive the answer
9. When God says “move!” we should move… so the woman and her family left Israel, despite being secure and comfortable financially in Shunem
- She had trusted God through Elisha before and he had not let her down… she knew that if he said it was time to move, it was time to move!
- It must have been heart-wrenching to leave her home, friends and familiar surroundings
- Her neighbours and wider family probably chided her…”How can you be sure Elisha is right?” and “What will happen to your lovely home?” and “How do you know that you will be safe in a foreign land?”
- But the safest place in the world is in the will of God
God gives us a brain, a mind, wisdom, discernment and spiritual friends to guide our actions and make our plans… but sometimes we have to set aside our plans to make room for God’s revelation!
- Do we only have a plan created by human means… or a vision given by God?
10. Even when we are “in a far land”, we are never beyond God’s reach…
- The land of the Philistines to the west of Shunem was hardly the most appealing place in the world for a Jew!
- Jews and Philistines were sworn enemies…
- It must have been difficult to go to a land where you were the subject of suspicion, even hatred
- But as Corrie Ten Boon once commented, there is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still
Life is not always encouraging and straightforward
- Sometimes, despite our best efforts and strong faith, things turn out badly (or so it seems) … not better
- Sometimes, advice from other Christians is unhelpful and even damaging to us
- Sometimes, “the boy dies and stays dead” so to speak
- Sometimes, we don’t receive favourable treatment from those in authority
- Sometimes, we don’t live “happily ever after”!
But God is always present if we seek Him earnestly…
- He has said that He will never leave or forsake us
- He will restore us and set our feet upon the solid rock once again
- That the suffering of this present age cannot be compared to the glory that lies ahead
Jesus said (Mark 10) that no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields— and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.
What a promise! What a prospect!