Friday, January 27, 2023
The Kings Of Israel And Judah. Day 111, Elisha Treats Poisoned Stew And Multiplies Bread For One Hundred People
Thursday, January 26, 2023
In return for her kindness to the prophet Elisha, the unnamed woman of Shunem received a miracle. She and her childless husband finally had a son after many years of marriage and after her husband had grown old. But then in our last study session her young son complained of a headache while he was out in the fields with his father. His father, not suspecting his son's discomfort was anything other than an ordinary headache (or simply a young child's desire to be back at home with his mother) had a servant carry the child home for his mother to comfort him. She cuddled him on her lap until suddenly and unexpectedly he passed away around noon.
This woman and her husband are godly people. They've been faithful servants to the Lord and they've shown a great deal of kindness to the Lord's prophet Elisha. But bad things happen in this fallen world. Bad things happen even to good people, don't they? Being a faithful follower of the Lord does not mean we won't experience troubles in this world but being a faithful follower of the Lord does mean this: "In all things God works for the good of those who love Him." (Romans 8:28) The Bible doesn't say that everything that happens to us is good in itself; the death of the child in 2 Kings 4 is not a good thing. But the Bible says that the Lord is able to take everything that happens in the life of a believer and make something good come out of it. The Shunammite woman places the body of her son on the bed the prophet uses when he's in town, shuts the door, and tells no one that the child is dead. Then she sets off to find Elisha because she expects the Lord to make something good come out of the tragedy that's just happened.
"So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel. When he saw her in the distance, the man of God said to his servant Gehazi, 'Look! There's the Shunammite! Run to meet her and ask her, 'Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is your child all right?' 'Everything is all right,' she said." (2 Kings 4:25-26) In our last study session we found her traveling in haste, telling the servant with her not to stop for anything, and I think when Gehazi reaches her she doesn't pause long enough to tell him anything. She is not going to tell anyone but Elisha what has happened. No one but Elisha---through the power of the Lord---can help her.
"When she reached the man of God at the mountain, she took hold of his feet. Gehazi came over to push her away, but the man of God said, 'Leave her alone! She is in bitter distress, but the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me why.'" (2 Kings 4:27) This woman has held herself together until she reached the prophet but now, overcome with emotion, she throws herself onto the ground weeping, grasping his feet. She is saying no words because her grief is too deep for words. I think perhaps Elisha is asking her what's wrong but she isn't answering. Gehazi finds her behavior undignified. He moves toward her with the intention of making her unhand the prophet but Elisha tells him to back off. In his mind he's asking the Lord what the trouble is, since the woman is unable to say, but the Lord doesn't tell him.
At last the woman is able to speak. "'Did I ask you for a son, my lord?' she said. 'Didn't I tell you, 'Don't raise my hopes?'" (2 Kings 4:28) This woman has never asked Elisha for anything, as far as we know. Instead she's always had the attitude of, "What can I do for you?" In serving the Lord's prophet she was serving the Lord and it never occurred to her to ask anything in return. It was Elisha who asked her what he could do for her and in response she said she had everything she needed. This was true, materially speaking, for earlier in our chapter the author informed us that she and her husband were well off financially. But Elisha's servant pointed out to him that she had no son and that her husband was getting old, which meant that she would have no one to continue providing for her someday when she was widowed, so Elisha announced to her that she would have a son. In response she begged him not to say it if it wasn't true. Her hopes had been dashed time and time again over the years and she had come to accept that she would never have a child. She didn't think she could stand it if she allowed herself to hope once more and nothing happened. As she weeps at Elisha's feet she says something like, "I never asked you for a son! I begged you not to even mention a child to me if you could not make my heart's greatest desire come true! Is the child I was granted going to be taken from me now? This is worse than if I'd never been given him at all!" By this Elisha knows something has happened to the boy. The woman cannot make herself say the awful words, "My son is dead," but Elisha knows by what she did say.
Why did the Lord not reveal to Elisha that something has happened to the boy? I think maybe, for the sake of her faith, the woman has to make a request for help. It's true that the Lord knows what we need whether we tell Him or not, but for the sake of growing a deeper relationship with Him we have to come to Him and lay our troubles at His feet. If we never spoke a word to the Lord about what we need or want in this life, and if many of our problems work out, would we credit Him for this or might we begin thinking that things just naturally have a way of working out? It's impossible to develop a close relationship with any of our fellow human beings if we don't talk to them and spend time with them; the same is true with our relationship with the Lord. If we muddle along in life expecting Him to just work things out, never telling Him about the things that concern us, we are not going to develop a deep and satisfying relationship with our Creator. A deep and satisfying relationship with our Creator is what He created us for!
"Elisha said to Gehazi, 'Tuck your cloak into your belt, take my staff in your hand, and run. Don't greet anyone you meet, and if anyone greets you, do not answer. Lay my staff on the boy's face.'" (2 Kings 4:29) I don't believe Elisha is being disrespectful toward the woman by telling Gehazi to go with her instead of going himself. Gehazi is likely younger and swifter than Elisha. We also don't know what business of the Lord's that Elisha is presently engaged in at Mount Carmel; he may have been conducting a religious service with many people or prophets assembled when the woman made her appearance. Whatever his reason for intending to send Gehazi in his place, he is not being insensitive to the woman's feelings or indifferent to her distress.
She will reject the help of anyone but Elisha himself. No one but Elisha will do because he is as close to the Lord as she can get. She can't see the Lord with her own eyes or touch Him with her own hands so she wants His chief prophet of Israel to come with her. This man has more of the anointing of the Lord on him than anyone on earth at this time and being in his presence makes her feel close to the Lord. "But the child's mother said, 'As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.' So he got up and followed her." (2 Kings 4:30) Would Gehazi have been able to raise the child from the dead by doing what Elisha told him to do? Perhaps, perhaps not. Elisha obviously believed this would work. I hesitate to say that Elisha may have been mistaken so I will say that I think something else is going on here. Maybe the Lord intended all along for the miracle to be performed by Elisha in person. This may be because performing such a miracle will cause Elisha's word as a prophet to be taken more seriously by more people. Or perhaps Elisha himself needs encouragement in the faith---encouragement he may not even know he needs. Or it may be that Gehazi doesn't have enough faith to believe that using Elisha's staff will bring the boy back to life. Or maybe the woman doesn't have enough faith to believe that the Lord can heal her son without Elisha present. Whatever the reason for it being necessary for Elisha to accompany her to the house, I believe the Lord used these circumstances to grow the faith of everyone involved.
Gehazi arrives at the house before the woman, her servant, and Elisha get there. "Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the boy's face, but there was no sound or response. So Gehazi went back to meet Elisha and told him, 'The boy has not awakened.' When Elisha reached the house, there was the boy lying dead on his couch. He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the Lord. Then he got on the bed and lay on the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out on him, his body grew warm. Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got on the bed and stretched out on him once more. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes." (2 Kings 4:31-35)
In 1 Kings 17 the prophet Elijah stretched himself out on the widow's dead son three times and he came back to life. Elisha only stretches himself out on the Shunammite's dead son twice, maybe because he received the request he made of the Lord that he would have a double portion of Elijah's spirit. I assume the lying upon of the body is an expression of each prophet's intense desire to impart life into it, to symbolize their prayer for the Lord to breathe the breath of life back into the body.
It has been suggested by unbelievers that by their actions these men unknowingly performed CPR on the bodies---that they performed compressions of the heart by getting on and off the bodies and that they performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation by breathing into the mouths and lungs. This would be within the realm of possibility if each of these men had already been at the house when each child expired. The Bible doesn't tell us how quickly Elijah came onto the scene but in the case of Elisha he was about eighteen miles from Shunem when the boy died. When the boy died, his mother placed him in Elisha's room, went out to her husband in the fields to ask for a servant and a donkey to accompany her to Mount Carmel, then rode the eighteen miles to Mount Carmel, wept for a time before she was able to communicate her problem to Elisha, then rode back to Mount Carmel. This would have taken hours. There's no way her child was simply resuscitated. He'd been dead so long that his body was cold. (The Bible tells us his skin had no warmth until Elisha lay upon his body.) Even in today's times with all of our modern medical equipment we could not resuscitate the child by the time he'd been dead as long as he'd been dead when Elisha arrived. This is a genuine miracle that no one could doubt unless they want to doubt the word of the boy, the boy's mother, the prophet Elisha, and Elisha's servant.
"Elisha summoned Gehazi and said, 'Call the Shunammite.' And he did. When she came, he said, 'Take your son.' She came in, fell at his feet and bowed to the ground. Then she took her son and went out." (2 Kings 4:36-37) This woman struggled for what was likely decades with being childless. She must have wondered many times why this was happening to her. Then she was given the miracle of a son only to have him die of a sudden illness. She must have wondered why this was happening to her. But for the rest of her life and for the rest of her son's life I am sure they gave their testimonies far and wide about what the Lord had done for them. The Bible doesn't tell us what happened after Elisha raised the child from the dead but I feel certain many people heard and believed their testimonies and that they gave their hearts to the Lord based on these testimonies. When the boy was grown he may have become a preacher of God's word or a prophet for all we know. He may have led an untold number of people to the Lord because he died and was raised to life again.
We won't always know why bad things happen to us. There are cases where, as time goes by, we can look back and see why God allowed certain things to happen. There are other cases where we won't know the full story until we get to heaven and the Lord tells us Himself. But I don't believe any hardship in the life of a believer ever goes to waste if we decide in spite of our troubles to trust the Lord and submit ourselves to Him. What if the Shunammite woman had not believed the Lord could turn her circumstances around? What if she'd bitterly cursed the Lord instead? If that had happened then she'd have been burying her son, not raising him to adulthood. She'd have been visiting a grave regularly, not having her grown son take care of her in her old age while she enjoyed not only the company of her son but also her son's children and maybe even her son's grandchildren. Because this woman had faith, the Lord turned her mourning into dancing. We don't find people being raised from the dead in our times because this type of miracle happened to give authority to the word of the Old Testament prophets, the New Testament apostles, and the Lord Jesus Christ. But we do have the assurance of the resurrection of the dead when the eternal kingdom of our Lord comes. And we have the assurance of the help and comfort of the Lord while we live in our mortal bodies on earth. He still does miracles. He still heals many sicknesses after the doctors give up hope. He still puts marriages back together. He still brings prodigal children home. He still saves souls. We won't always know why certain troubles come but we know He has a purpose and plan for them.