Grace for a Debtor
One of the sons of the prophets, a godly man, had died. His widow was poor and in debt, and the creditor intended to take her two sons to serve him as slaves. In accordance with the Mosaic Law, creditors were allowed to enslave debtors and their children to work off the debts they could not pay (Ex 21.2-4; Lev 25.39-40; Deut 15.12-18). The widow asked Elisha to tell her what to do, and he asked her what she had in her house. She had only "a pot of oil" (2 Kgs 4.2). Elisha told her to borrow empty vessels, "not a few" (v 3), and to fill these vessels from her pot of oil. The door was to be closed when she was doing this, and it seems that Elisha was not present when the oil was poured, so only the widow and her sons witnessed the power of God in action (vv 4-5). She exercised faith in God and borrowed empty vessels from her neighbours, filled them all, and could have filled more had there been any more available. When there were no more vessels available the flow of oil ceased. The only limit to the supply of oil from God was the number of vessels the widow had faith to borrow (v 6). She sold the oil and, with the proceeds, paid off her debt. Through this miracle the omnipotent God graciously provided funds for the widow, not only to meet the demands of the creditor, but also her other needs. She and her sons were saved in their desperate situation by the grace and power of God (v 7).
God's power, mercy and grace are without limit. He is "able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Eph 3.20), but sometimes the extent of the blessings He bestows upon us may be limited by the faith we exercise and the extent of our obedience. He does all for our eternal blessing and His glory, and says to us "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it" (Ps 81.10). We read, "by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God" (Eph 2.8). We could do nothing to contribute to our salvation; our situation was desperate, but the Lord Jesus Christ loved us and gave Himself for us (Gal 2.20). He made possible our salvation and meets our every need as we go through life. We have the written Word of God to feed, strengthen and guide us day by day. Our gracious God is unchanging (Mal 3.6). He meets all our needs, spiritual, mental and physical, and we can rest in the truth that "every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (Jas 1.17).
Elisha went to Shunem, and there he was looked after by a rich woman. She was a godly woman, who perceived that Elisha was a "holy man of God" (2 Kgs 4.9). She suggested to her husband that they should prepare a small room on the roof so that Elisha could stay with them whenever he passed that way (vv 9-10). Elisha was grateful for the way the woman treated him and, on one of his visits, instructed his servant, Gehazi, to ask the woman to come to his room so that he might find out if there was something he could do for her. She was, however, content and wanted nothing. Gehazi pointed out to Elisha that she was childless and that her husband was an old man. Elisha told the woman that about the same time in the following year she would "embrace a son". She could not believe that she would have a son but, nonetheless, she conceived and the son was born (vv 11-17).
Time went by and one day the boy went out to his father who was with the reapers. It seems that when he was there he suffered sunstroke. He was taken home to his mother, where he died. She laid him on Elisha's bed and, hoping that Elisha would perform a miracle to restore the boy to life, went to Mount Carmel to find him. When she came to Elisha she held him by his feet, this being an indication of the reverent respect she felt for him. She did not directly tell Elisha of her trouble, but indicated that she did not want to be deceived in the sense of being given a son and then losing him through death. Elisha told Gehazi to go quickly and lay Elisha's staff on the face of the child. Gehazi did what Elisha had told him to do but the boy did not come back to life. As Elisha and the woman made their way to the house, they were met by Gehazi who told them that the child was dead. Elisha went to where the child was lying and prayed to God. He lay upon the child twice, and the child "opened his eyes". The thankful mother came in, fell at Elisha's feet, bowed to the ground and then took the living child away (vv 24-37).
This unidentified woman possessed faith in God, and her faith resulted in doing good works (Eph 2.10). We read that "faith without works is dead" (Jas 2.26). She provided hospitality, using her resources for the benefit of others (Prov 31.20), and she wanted to help promote what God was doing through His servant Elisha. She was godly, and sufficiently sensitive to recognise Elisha as being God's servant. Today, as guided by God, we should use our God-given gifts and resources for the edification of the saints, the proclamation of the gospel and meeting the physical and mental needs of others (1 Pet 4.8-11).
The woman's husband was her God-ordained head (1 Cor 11.3), and she consulted with him so that he might make the decision regarding the provision of accommodation for Elisha. God gave Adam a help, Eve, and there are many ways in which a woman can be more sensitive than a man, for example in regard to the needs of others. The woman and her husband provided a quiet place for Elisha to pray, meditate and spend time alone with God. They were obeying the injunction "let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith" (Gal 6.10). The woman and her husband responded to Elisha's need as soon as it became apparent to them, and they provided accommodation for him to use whenever he was in that area.
Both poor and rich people can be covetous. This woman was not covetous, but was content with what God had given her, as we should also be (Heb 13.5). She was a godly woman, and "godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Tim 6.6). Those of us who are believers have so much for which to thank God, and our prayers should be full of praise and thanksgiving (Phil 4.6; Heb 13.15).
The woman's faith was in Elisha's God, and she is one of those women who, through the power of God, "received their dead raised to life again" (Heb 11.35). As a result of the traumatic experiences through which she passed, the woman's faith would have been strengthened. So it is with believers as we pass through one experience after another, and it is good to look back, praise and thank "the God of all grace" (1 Pet 5.10), and say "Hitherto hath the Lord helped us" (1 Sam 7.12). (To be continued …)