In many ways, Elisha’s ministry is a foreshadowing of Jesus’ ministry. They both came on the scene after their Elijah prepared the way, and they both came to declare that the LORD saves.
2 Kings 4:8-17 And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman; and she constrained him to eat bread. And so it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread. And she said unto her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually. Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick: and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither.
And it fell on a day, that he came thither, and he turned into the chamber, and lay there. And he said to Gehazi his servant, Call this Shunammite. And when he had called her, she stood before him. And he said unto him, Say now unto her, Behold, thou hast been careful for us with all this care; what is to be done for thee? wouldest thou be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host? And she answered, I dwell among mine own people.
And he said, What then is to be done for her? And Gehazi answered, Verily she hath no child, and her husband is old. And he said, Call her. And when he had called her, she stood in the door. And he said, About this season, according to the time of life, thou shalt embrace a son. And she said, Nay, my lord, thou man of God, do not lie unto thine handmaid.
And the woman conceived, and bare a son at that season that Elisha had said unto her, according to the time of life.
Let’s stop here for a moment. Here we have a woman in the opposite situation to the prophet’s widow that we met in Part 1. She is a wealthy woman. She has property and she has a husband. She has everything; so much more than the prophet’s wife. And yet, shielded as she is from the hardships of life, she is not wrapped up in herself. She is actually sensitive to a still small voice that tells her: ‘this is a man of God’.
She is in need of nothing so she doesn’t think she needs to ask him for anything but she is moved nevertheless by that voice to act. She decides to bless him by making a room addition for the prophet in her house so he has a place to rest and eat as he goes about serving this living God.
This is then the setting for our next lesson: Just as all of us know that life IS hard, we also know that sometimes good times come. And more often than not, in those good times, who do we think about?
Really. Isn’t that true? More often than not, when we are not beaten down by life, it is easy to get blinders on and just think: How can I keep enjoying this? Not many of us stop to think of others. Maybe because we are thinking: ‘hey, I worked hard for all I have, I deserve to enjoy it…’ or maybe because it never crosses our mind to wonder how the rest of the world is doing.
Yet I guarantee you that that still small voice has been speaking all along and presenting opportunities time and again for us to act for the good of others. We just don’t hear it. She did.
And the response to her generosity is again the question: What do you have? I mean, this time it is asked a different way: what do you need? But it still is the same question. And I think it is interesting how she answers because it says so much about her heart.
I dwell among mine own people.
Appreciating the Mercies of God
Notice she doesn’t say, I am rich, I have land, I have all I need. No, instead what she really appreciates about her life is this one simple thing: I am home.
Now, this is a lot in those days. Because if you read the Old Testament you know kingdoms fought wars against kingdoms all the time. And Shunem had been the scene of battles in the past. (The Philistines camped there to fight against King Saul.)
If you get caught in the middle of a war you can get deported, taken as a slave. In other words, I believe this woman knew that life IS hard, that she could lose all she had, and so she treasured the mercies of God, that she had a home, a home where she had grown up.
And maybe that’s the secret to having what Solomon calls in the proverbs a good eye, namely a generous eye: to know that what I have, I have by the mercy of God, not by my strength. A good eye appreciates the things that really matter: like home, like my family. And that kind of eye is not easily blinded by the deceitfulness of riches, that kind of eye sees the needs of others and acts.
In part 1 we learned these lessons:
- Despair is a good thing when it moves us to ask. You don’t have to have a plan.
- Never let despair make you think you have nothing left because, even if everything has been taken away, you always have enough breath to ask…
- And whatever you do have left, in God’s hands it is more than enough for Him to carry out His plan.
Today we have the fourth lesson:
In the good times, never lose sight of what really matters, the tender mercies of God. Look at what God has given you, specially relationships of love, and then in gratitude pass it on: bless others. And don’t be surprised if God blesses you in return.
And yet, we still have a life to live in this world
It is an amazing thing when God intervenes directly in our lives and does the impossible. It is right to thank Him for such blessings. But we need to remember that all this happens as part of our life here on Earth.
Hard times and blessings both take place in the context of our mission in this place.
Jesus reminded His disciples of this… Even as He promised He would be with them always, He also prayed to the Father – in their presence – that He not take them out of this world… because they had a mission, a calling in this world. And that means even if we have received incredible blessings, hard times will still come our way.
2 Kings 4: 18-23 And when the child was grown, it fell on a day, that he went out to his father to the reapers. And he said unto his father, My head, my head. And he said to a lad, Carry him to his mother. And when he had taken him, and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died.
And she went up, and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door upon him, and went out. And she called unto her husband, and said, Send me, I pray thee, one of the young men, and one of the asses, that I may run to the man of God, and come again. And he said, Wherefore wilt thou go to him to day? it is neither new moon, nor sabbath. And she said, It shall be well.
In Hebrew, the literal translation of what she said is just the word ‘Well’. That’s all she says. I tell you this because I don’t think she dares to say any more, dares to think any more. She doesn’t know what is going to happen, whether she thinks Elisha can bring her child back to life. All she knows is that she has to go to him… A lot like the widow of the prophet. And it takes us back to lesson one: I don’t have to have a plan. I don’t understand why this happened or why God would let it happen, but one thing I know, He will listen when I cry.
2 Kings 4: 24-28 Then she saddled an ass, and said to her servant, Drive, and go forward; slack not thy riding for me, except I bid thee. So she went and came unto the man of God to mount Carmel. And it came to pass, when the man of God saw her afar off, that he said to Gehazi his servant, Behold, yonder is that Shunammite: Run now, I pray thee, to meet her, and say unto her, Is it well with thee? is it well with thy husband? is it well with the child? And she answered, It is well.
And when she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught him by the feet: but Gehazi came near to thrust her away. And the man of God said, Let her alone; for her soul is vexed within her: and the LORD hath hid it from me, and hath not told me. Then she said, Did I desire a son of my lord? did I not say, Do not deceive me?
Again, there may be a lot of sermons here (among them, the reality of despair and the bitterness with which it can overwhelm our soul) but the one for us today is this: when I need Him, I NEED HIM. I don’t need anybody else. I need to go straight to God veer neither right nor left. And when I get there, I am going to fall at His feet and cling to Him, because He is my only hope.
2 Kings 4: 29-30 Then he said to Gehazi, Gird up thy loins, and take my staff in thine hand, and go thy way: if thou meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute thee, answer him not again: and lay my staff upon the face of the child. And the mother of the child said, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And he arose, and followed her.
So, this is lesson 5: When you know that you know you need Him, go, run, cling to Him and don’t let go because in His presence alone is Hope.
The rest of the story, verses 31-37:
And Gehazi passed on before them, and laid the staff upon the face of the child; but there was neither voice, nor hearing. Wherefore he went again to meet him, and told him, saying, The child is not awaked.
And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed. He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the LORD. And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm. Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro; and went up, and stretched himself upon him: and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes.
And he called Gehazi, and said, Call this Shunammite. So he called her.
And when she was come in unto him, he said, Take up thy son. Then she went in, and fell at his feet, and bowed herself to the ground, and took up her son, and went out.
With God, everything is possible. Because He is God. But the really good news is: He loves us.
We never go unnoticed
And so, my message today is again this simple: What do you have, right now? Whatever it is, it’s more than enough in God’s hands. I need to remember this, especially, if all I have left right now is a promise from God.
Human life is hard. But there is something even harder. There is a hurt that goes much deeper than just the pains of this world. Those pains… everybody faces. There is nothing unusual in facing sickness or the death of a loved one or betrayal or disappointment in this world. Everyone faces those.
But what happens when you know that you know that God has made you a promise? What happens when you have actually seen that promise be born, when you have seen its beauty, and allowed yourself to hope and dream of all that it can mean?
And then, the world happens. And the promise gets shattered. How do we face that? That kind of heartbreak…
Did God fail? Oh, may it never be so!
At times like that, we can take hold of all sorts of verses in the Bible and claim them: From Romans: The gifts and the callings of God are without repentance. From Philippians: He who has begun in you a good work will complete it...
But I think the most powerful thing we can ever do is remember the Shunammite…
Even when I don’t have the strength to say anything more than ‘Well’, I can still get up and go to my Father, and fall at His feet, and never let go… Because I know He Loves me.