Monday, April 11, 2016

Prophets And Kings, Day 64. The Shunammite's Son, Part 1

Prophets And Kings
Day 64
The Shunammite's Son
Part 1

Elisha is befriended by a woman from Shunem who makes a little room for him on her rooftop. In return for her kindness, she receives a miracle. This miracle will later lead to the need of an even bigger miracle. 

2 KINGS 4:8-23
One day Elisha went to Shunem. And a well-to-do woman was there, who urged him to stay for a meal. So whenever he came by, he stopped there to eat." (2 Kings 4:8) Shunem was a small village located in the territory of the tribe of Issachar, north of Jezreel. This means it's part of the northern kingdom of Israel, not part of Judah, and is under King Joram's jurisdiction. When Elisha passed through, because of her great respect for this prophet of God, the wealthy woman invited him home to eat. It became his practice to eat a meal at her house anytime he was passing through.

"She said to her husband, 'I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God. Let's make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us.'" (2 Kings 4:9-10) She has a servant's heart. She loves the word of the Lord and His servant Elisha and wants to refresh him on his journeys. The Apostle Paul, when writing to his convert Timothy, listed some attributes of women of proven godly character and they included attributes of a servant's heart, "faithful to her husband, and is well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the Lord's people, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds". (1 Timothy 5:9b-10) The Shunammite woman displays many of these qualities. 

But there is one thing on the list above the Shunammite woman cannot do: bring up children. She and her husband have not been able to have children. We don't know how old she is but we will find out that her husband is elderly and it's possible she was near or even beyond the "change of life". 

"One day when Elisha came, he went up to his room and lay there. He said to his servant Gehazi, 'Call the Shunammite.' So he called her, and she stood before him. Elisha said to him, 'Tell her, 'You have gone to all this trouble for us. Now what can be done for you? Can we speak on your behalf to the king or the commander of the army?' She replied, 'I have a home among my own people.'" (2 Kings 4:11-13) I think what's happening here is that the woman doesn't come into the bedroom where Elisha is lying on the bed, but she speaks with his servant at the doorway. Gehazi is not acting as an interpreter. When the Bible says, "She stood before him," I think it's Gehazi she's standing before. Elisha is calling instructions to him from within the room. It wouldn't be proper for a woman to come into his bedroom and the use of the servant as a mediator makes more sense than for her to stand at the foot of the bed. Elisha is probably utterly exhausted from his journey and remains inside the room while his servant addresses the woman in or outside of the doorway.

Elisha offers to get her help from the king of Israel if she has any needs. After helping the king of Israel in his battle against Moab, the king owes Elisha a favor. But this woman has no troubles that require the assistance of a king. She requires no assistance from the army commander either. She has no relative who wants a promotion in the army or who wants out of the army. In addition, she's happy with her house and her community and has no interest in moving to a better neighborhood.

Desiring to do something nice for the woman who has been so good to him, Elisha is at a loss as to find any need in her life that hasn't already been met. The Lord has already blessed her materially. The Lord has blessed her spiritually as well, because her heart is right with Him. Her life doesn't revolve around her position in life or her money. She isn't focused on gaining more wealth or having a bigger house or more servants. She has learned, like the Apostle Paul, "to be content whatever the circumstances". (Philippians 4:11b) 

Elisha, puzzled as to what he can do to bless this woman, consults his servant for his opinion. "'What can be done for her?' Elisha asked. Gehazi said, 'She has no son, and her husband is old.'" (2 Kings 4:14) In those times, if a woman had no son to take care of her, she could be in dire straits when her husband died. The eldest son was responsible for taking care of his widowed mother for the rest of her life. But the Shunammite woman didn't have to fear ending up on the street when her husband died because she was wealthy. And it seems she was wealthy in her own right because the Bible calls her a well-to-do woman; it doesn't say that her husband was well-to-do or that the two of them together were well-to-do. She probably came from an upper class family who left her an inheritance. So it has not occurred to Elisha that she needs a son to care for her because she has money enough to see her through. But Gehazi has seen through to her heart. She may not need a son to care for her financially but she wants to be a mother for the sake of being a mother. Her greatest heart's desire is to have a child.

After this conversation, Elisha instructs the servant to call her, apparently having sent her back down into the house earlier. "Then Elisha said, 'Call her.' So he called her, and she stood in the doorway. 'About this time next year,' Elisha said, 'you will hold a son in your arms.'" (2 Kings 4:15-16a) Gehazi will not prove to be a godly man later on but today he saw a need in a woman's life that the Lord could fulfill. The Shunammite had never told Elisha of her disappointment over not having a child. She had never requested he pray to the Lord for her. Her entire focus, when it came to Elisha, was to serve the prophet of God, not to ask things of him. It could be she had so long ago given up hope of a child that it simply didn't occur to her to ask his help. 

She's shocked at the promise of a child. She has hidden this hope away in her heart because it doesn't look like it will ever happen. "'No, my lord!' she objected. 'Please, man of God, don't mislead your servant!'" (2 Kings 4:16b) She can't stand having her hopes dashed yet again. She has come to terms with her infertility as best she can. Year after year and month after month she tried to conceive a child, only to be disappointed every time. She has concluded it will never happen and has pushed it out of her mind, burying it deep in her heart, trying not to even think about it anymore. Now the prophet says a thing that dredges up that buried hope and she doesn't believe she can bear it if she's disappointed one last time.

"But the woman became pregnant, and the next year about that same time she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her." (2 Kings 4:17) The Lord rewards her servant's heart. I can't promise you that the Lord will always heal infertility, no matter how faithful you've been in His service. But I know infertile couples who have been able to adopt, couples who have been able to mentor other people's children, and couples who have been called by the Lord to minister to young people in ways perhaps they wouldn't have been able to while raising children of their own. If the Lord says no to His own children, He does it for a purpose. He gives blessing in exchange. I don't believe our God ever leaves us standing there empty-handed.

"The child grew, and one day he went out to his father, who was with the reapers. He said to his father, 'My head! My head!'" (2 Kings 4:18-19a) The Bible doesn't say old old the child is. He's old enough to walk to the fields on his own and talk to his father, but small enough to be carried back to his mother. "His father told a servant, 'Carry him to his mother.'" (2 Kings 4:19b)

"After the servant had lifted him up and carried him to his mother, the boy sat on her lap until noon, and then he died. She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, then shut the door and went out." (2 Kings 4:20-21) Some Bible scholars think the boy suffered a heat stroke from being out in the fields in the hot sun. It could have been some other ailment though because he became sick in the morning, sitting on his mother's lap until noon, and I don't know whether he could have had a heat stroke so early in the day. Being young and small, he would have been affected by the heat more quickly than the grown men and he would have been more prone to dehydration, but we just don't know for sure what happened to him. What's more interesting than his possible medical diagnosis is how his mother reacts. She doesn't start screaming in shock and grief but takes him and lays him on the prophet's bed, shutting the door behind him and telling no one. She knows that Elisha's former master Elijah once raised a widow's young son back to life, laying him on his own bed and calling to the Lord. This gives her the faith to believe that Elisha can do the same miracle, so she lays the boy on his bed in advance.

"She called her husband and said, 'Please send me one of the servants and a donkey so I can go to the man of God quickly and return.' 'Why go to him today?' he asked. 'It's not the New Moon or the Sabbath.'" (2 Kings 4:22-23a) She must have been in the habit of visiting Elisha whenever he presided over New Moon festivals or the Sabbath services. It's unusual for her to go to see him on an ordinary day and so her husband naturally asks why she wants to go today. This is not an ordinary day, though he doesn't know it yet. He didn't realize the severity of his son's illness that morning. He doesn't know his son is dead.

The Shunammite woman answers simply, "'That's all right,' she said." (2 Kings 4:23b) A better translation would be, "It is well." Her husband is probably mildly alarmed that she's going to the prophet on a day she wouldn't normally go, especially since their son was ill earlier. Instead of telling him what's happened she just says, "It is well." Her husband is satisfied with that answer and goes on working. He trusts her. She's a good woman. He knows she's not in the habit of lying to him. If his wife says it is well, then it is well. She's not lying to him in her answer because she fully expects everything to turn out well. Elisha once called on the Lord to give her the son she so earnestly desired with her whole heart. The Lord had given her a son to be a comfort to her later in her old age, long after her husband would be gone to heaven. It makes no sense to her that He would take this son on home now. It was a miracle for her to have this child and she expects a further miracle: that he will be restored to life. When this woman says it is well, she means it.

If we are in Christ, no matter our circumstances, no matter if it seems like the whole world is falling down around us, we can say the same thing the Shunammite woman said. "It is well." It is well with our souls and that is the greatest miracle of all, that our Lord would give Himself for us so we can be right with a holy God. There is no greater miracle than redemption. There is no greater miracle than taking our sinful and dead hearts and raising them to life in Christ, making new creatures of us, giving us eternal life in our Savior. We all face troubles and disappointments. We live in a fallen world and it's growing more and more evil by the day but still, in Christ, we can say with the same simple confidence the Shunammite woman said, "It is well."

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