Of the Old Testament prophets that came after Moses, two stand out because their message was accompanied by signs and wonders: Elijah and Elisha. The name Elijah means Jehovah is God. And that is what Elijah was sent to declare to the nation of Israel, the northern kingdom, in the time of King Ahab. At that time, the people, in spite of having the long tradition of their fathers, the stories of Abraham, Moses, Joshua… in spite of knowing what was right because they had been given the Law, they had chosen to abandon all that and followed their kings wholesale into sin.
To this nation, God sent Elijah to remind them: there is only One God: the I AM. Elijah came with power to break the hold the devil had on the nation. Before Elijah, the prophets who knew God had been persecuted and killed. After Elijah they were again free to abide in the land and tell, whoever would listen, about the true God. Into this time comes Elisha, whose name means God is our salvation. (Similar to Jeshua (Jesus) which means Jehovah is our salvation). Elisha’s job is to remind the people that they can trust God… because He loves them.
We are not alone
Sometimes it is a long road back from living without God. When we live without God, we live without the hope of knowing that someone greater than us is watching over us. And so we find ourselves facing the world alone.
2 Kings 4:1-7 Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets 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. 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 oil.
Then he said, Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbours, even empty vessels; borrow not a few. 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, and thou shalt set aside that which is full.
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. And it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said unto her son, Bring me yet a vessel. And he said unto her, There is not a vessel more. And the oil stayed. Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt, and live thou and thy children of the rest.
We live in a fallen world. Sickness and death are par for the course. This woman lost her husband; and in that ancient society that was a catastrophe, for she obviously had no one else to watch over her to protect her. Women, as a rule, did not make the living… men did. This woman was facing the world alone. Had this been before the time of Elisha and Elijah, she would have had no one to turn to. But now that she knows there is among them one who hears and speaks the Word of the LORD, she comes to him and pours out her distress.
When you read a story like this, do you ever put yourself in the place of the people in the story? It’s a good thing to do: to picture the scene and ask ourselves what would we do? What could I do? So, I want to stop and ask: When the woman came to Elisha, what was she expecting Elisha to do?
He’s not rich, he has no property. He wanders from place to place preaching. There’s no telling if the present King will listen to him, even if he had any pull with the man. What was she expecting Elisha to do?
Well, the story doesn’t tell us but my guess is: she had no idea. But the important point is that she was desperate, and in that desperation she was moved to ASK. And that is the first lesson of today.
Desperation is a good thing when it moves us to ask.
You see, we don’t have to have the plan but we need to know, like she did, deep in her heart, that there is someone we can ask for help.
Jeshua said, in Matthew 7:8-11 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
So then after she asks, what does Elisha do, in verse 2? He asks her a question, what do you have? And notice her immediate answer: Nothing, I have nothing. And I wonder how much are we like her?
I wonder, when times get hard and we lose, it seems, everything, if that’s where we land: ‘I have nothing left…’ And so, the second lesson of today is this:
If ever I say those words, I should stop and listen… and if I do, I will hear a still small voice in my ear saying, “Really?”
You have life! You have breath. You even have enough breath to whine that you have nothing left!
And I don’t want to make light of it because life IS hard… but in the middle of despair sometimes we blind ourselves. And that is our choice. That was her choice. Tragedy hit and she could either drop in the middle of her house in a heap of despair or she could run out with her last bit of strength to look for Elisha, even if she didn’t know what he would do.
Don’t let despair get you to the place where you think you have nothing left. Because even when everything else is taken away from me, I still have breath to call on MY FATHER.
I think that little voice said: Really? And she remembered the oil left in a jar. And so, Elisha takes that little thing she had left, that which was so little that she called it nothing, and turns it around into plenty. I think there are several other sermons in that story about borrowing the empty jars from the neighbors – to them they were empty but to God they were vessels waiting to be filled; about closing the door to the world and hiding in the secret place, where it is just you and God, and letting Him meet you there… but I’ll let you come up with those sermons yourself. Today this is the beginning of the lesson:
When the world beats us down to the point we think we have nothing, God asks, what do you have left? And He is more than able to take anything we have left, anything – no matter how puny it is – and turn it into a brand-new life.
Blessed are the poor and destitute for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. That’s what Jesus said. Because when I no longer rely on the world to sustain me, then God comes through.