Friday, January 27, 2023

The Kings Of Israel And Judah. Day 111, Elisha Treats Poisoned Stew And Multiplies Bread For One Hundred People

The remaining seven verses of Chapter 4 contain two miracles performed by Elisha. The first miracle involves a pot of stew made from toxic gourds. The second miracle involves multiplying twenty-four small loaves of bread to feed one hundred people.

Elisha was in Shunem when we last saw him, raising the Shunammite's son from the dead. Now he goes to Gilgal to meet with the school of prophets there. "Elisha returned to Gilgal and there was a famine in that region." (2 Kings 4:38a) This may be the seven-year famine mentioned later in Chapter 8.

Elisha and the men are hungry. But food is scarce and the most they can hope to make is a pot of herb stew. They end up with what is probably Colocynth (known as "wild cucumbers" or "wild gourds") in the stew. "While the company of the prophets was meeting with him, he said to his servant, 'Put on the large pot and cook some stew for these prophets.' One of them went out into the fields to gather herbs and found a wild vine and picked as many of its gourds as his garment could hold. When he returned, he cut them up into the pot of stew, though no one knew what they were." (2 Kings 4:38b-39) You've probably heard the saying, "Desperate times call for desperate measures." The men don't know for certain what these gourds are but most gourds are edible even though not all gourds actually taste good enough to eat. The famine must already be quite severe if the men are reduced to trying unfamiliar plants.

If this is the gourd known as Colocynth then it looks like small watermelons. It is very seedy on the inside and the seeds can be rinsed of all pulp, roasted, and then eaten. The flowers and stems can be eaten as well. But eating the pulpy part of the fruit can produce an extreme laxative effect capable of causing death if eaten in large enough quantities. When the men taste the stew they know immediately that it is not safe to eat because the pulpy part of this gourd is bitter. "The stew was poured out for the men, but as they began to eat it, they cried out, 'Man of God, there is death in the pot!' And they could not eat it." (2 Kings 4:40)

Apparently there is nothing else on hand to eat. Not being able to consume the stew means the men will continue to go hungry. Elisha heals the stew. "Elisha said, 'Get some flour.' He put it into the pot and said, 'Serve it to the people to eat.' And there was nothing harmful in the pot." (2 Kings 4:41) The flour itself is not capable of rendering the stew safe to eat; the flour simply provides a visual focus for the miracle Elisha is performing, just like when he threw salt into a spring of bad water in Chapter 1. As he threw the salt into the water, the water was healed but not by the salt---by the power of God. Likewise, the stew is healed not by the flour but by the power of God. 

A day or several days may go by before this next thing happens. In a time of famine this next event must have been especially welcome. "A man came from Baal Shalishah, bringing the man of God twenty loaves of barley bread baked from the first ripe grain, along with some heads of new grain." (2 Kings 4:42a) This is a "firsfruits" offering and it is supposed to be brought to the priests at the Lord's house but this is the northern kingdom. Many in the northern kingdom still worship Baal following the reign of King Ahab. Many others still bring offerings to the sinful calf idols at Dan and Bethel by King Jeroboam. The man who brings the firstfruits offering is clearly faithful to the Lord and does not want to place the offering into the hands of the pagan priests serving at unauthorized altars. He feels that placing the offering into the hands of the Lord's chief prophet is as close as he can get to giving the offering to the Lord. Elisha graciously accepts it on behalf of the Lord and then instructs his servant to do something with it that sounds impossible. "'Give it to the people to eat,' Elisha said. 'How can I set this before a hundred men?' his servant asked." (2 Kings 4:42b-43a) 

Elisha and his servant Gehazi are presumably still at Gilgal at this time and these two men, plus the other prophets and servants, number a hundred. The "loaves" of barley could more accurately be described as "rolls" of barley, similar to the loaves we find Jesus multiplying in the New Testament. These cannot be compared to the king-sized loaves of light bread we can purchase in our stores today. They are closer to the size of one of those square dinner rolls on the Golden Corral buffet or like a six-inch hoagie roll at the local deli. There's no way one hundred men could have one bite each, if that much, from twenty of these. But as we stated earlier this week, "Little is much if God is in it." If we remove God from the equation, then certainly Gehazi cannot divide this small amount of bread among one hundred men and have each man feel like his hunger has been satisfied. But with God in the equation, nothing is impossible! Not only will each man have enough to eat, but there will be leftovers. "But Elisha answered, 'Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the Lord says: 'They will eat and have some left over.' Then he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord." (2 Kings 4:43b-44)

It is not the Lord's intention for us to go through life running on empty. He will give us our daily bread and He will supply all our needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus. (Matthew 6:11, Luke 11:3, Philippians 4:19) He will also supply our spiritual needs. "Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." (Isaiah 40:31) "The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and He helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise Him." (Psalm 28:7) The Lord will give us whatever we need to keep on going. If it's food we need, He will give us food. If it's spiritual strength we need, He will give us a boost in faith. We must look to Him as our power source. If we look to the things of this world to fulfill us, those things will fall short. If we look to our own human willpower, we will grow weary and run out of steam. But if we look to the Lord we will find a continual source of help and comfort. "Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame...The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him, and He delivers them...Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in Him." (Psalm 34:5,7,8)

Thursday, January 26, 2023

The Kings Of Israel And Judah. Day 110, A Son Brought Back To Life, Part Two

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.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

The Kings Of Israel And Judah. Day 109, A Son Brought Back To Life, Part One

In Monday's study we learned that a wealthy woman, with her husband's blessing, fixed up a guest room for Elisha so he and his servant Gehazi would have a nice place to stay on their travels to and from the schools of the prophets. Elisha wanted to do something for her in return for her kindness so he asked the Lord to give her the one thing she didn't have: a son. A few years later this young son dies and his mother goes to Elisha for help.

We were told yesterday that the woman gave birth to her son approximately one year after Elisha told her this was going to happen. We don't know how much time passed between the child's date of birth and the story that takes place in today's text. The child is old enough to accompany his father to the fields to observe the harvest but he is small enough to be carried easily. "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!' His father told a servant, 'Carry him to his mother.'" (2 Kings 4:18-19)

The child complains of a headache and his father doesn't know that it's anything other than an ordinary headache. The harvesttime heat would have more of an effect on a young child than on a grown man and many scholars think the boy is experiencing a heat stroke. But his father does not know it. It could be that the boy is in the habit of making some sort of complaint when he's missing his mother and wants to go home. Or it could be that his father is very busy and distracted and thinks the boy will feel all better as soon as he's cuddled by his mother. I do not believe for a minute that the man would have remained with his workers if he'd had any idea this was an emergency situation. This is his one and only son, the son he longed to have for so many years, the son he had given up on ever having! There's no way he would order a servant to carry the child home while he keeps working if he had any inkling the boy's life was in danger. I think he expects to return home for the evening meal to find the child feeling fit as a fiddle.

I doubt the child's mother realizes the seriousness of the situation either. She simply places the boy on her lap and comforts him as mothers do. I don't think we can possibly blame her for believing nothing bad would happen to her son; after all, his very existence is a miracle. But now she needs another miracle and she knows just where to get it. "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. 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.'" (2 Kings 4:20-22) Elisha is not currently at residence in her guest room. She places the child on Elisha's bed and shuts the door to his room and then sets out to fetch the prophet home with her.

You'll recall from our study of the prophet Elijah that when he raised the son of the widow of Zarephath back to life, he laid the boy on his own bed in the guest room of the home. The woman who has been showing hospitality to the prophet Elisha expects him to perform the same type of miracle for her that his predecessor performed for the other woman. In preparation to receiving this miracle, she goes ahead and places her son on the prophet's bed. She closes the door and leaves him there, where no one will think to look for him. Her household servants likely assume the child has gone someplace with her.

She doesn't tell her servants or her husband that the child is dead. When her husband hears she wants to visit Elisha, he asks her why. "'Why go to him today?' he asked. 'It's not the New Moon or the Sabbath.' 'That's all right,' she said. She saddled the donkey and said to her servant, 'Lead on; don't slow down for me unless I tell you.' So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel." (2 Kings 4:23-25a) Why doesn't she tell her husband that their son is dead? I think it's because she fully believes he will be raised back to life and she does not want to cause her husband needless heartbreak. You may also recall that we were told yesterday that her husband is old. We don't know how elderly he is but he's been working under the hot sun for hours. Being hot and tired and thirsty takes a greater toll on an older man than on a younger man. If we combine these factors with the dreadful shock of hearing that his son is dead, we can surmise that his wife fears his heart may fail him. He might drop dead right where he's standing. Why risk telling him his son is dead if Elisha is going to raise the boy back to life? 

Monday, January 23, 2023

The Kings Of Israel And Judah. Day 108, The Miracle Of A Son

There are several similarities between the life of the prophet Elisha and the life of the prophet Elijah. We saw one example of this yesterday when Elisha multiplied the oil for a poor widow woman, for Elijah had also multiplied oil for a poor widow woman. 

Another thing these two men have in common is that they both stayed in rooftop guest rooms for a time. During a drought in Israel the Lord instructed Elijah to go to Sidon and dwell with a widow woman and her son. In today's study we will find Elisha being made welcome in the rooftop guest room of a childless woman and her husband. In gratitude for her kindness toward him, Elisha will grant this woman her heart's desire: a son. And in tomorrow's study we'll find yet another similarity between the life of Elisha and the life of Elijah. Just as Elijah brought back to the life the son of the woman in whose home he was a guest, Elisha will do the same.

"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) It would have been necessary for Elisha to pass through Shunem when visiting some of the schools of the prophets. The unnamed woman wanted to do something good for him to refresh him on his journeys to and fro, so she invited him to eat at her home. This became a regular thing, with Elisha having a standing invitation to stop by for a meal. 

Elisha and the woman are not dining alone at her house. Nothing improper is going on here, for she is a married woman and her husband is present and approving of her generosity toward the prophet. "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 it 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) 

The author does not provide us with her husband's answer but it's clear that he agreed with his wife's wishes because next we find Elisha using the room on his travels. I want to point out that while it's true that women had few rights in many ancient cultures, this does not mean they were all treated poorly by their husbands. The Shunammite woman and her husband respect each other. She is not afraid to suggest making Elisha a regular guest at their home and her husband is pleased to agree to something she wants. I believe this was a happy marriage and that there were many happy marriages in ancient times. A lot of societies were patriarchal in nature but there were plenty of godly men who loved and respected and protected their wives. In the New Testament we find husbands being commanded to love their wives: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for it." (Ephesians 5:25) The Apostle Paul is speaking of a sacrificial, unselfish love. I think the Shunammite's husband loved her with a sacrificial, unselfish love. 

This is a happy marriage but the couple is lacking something they feel would make their life together complete. Elisha doesn't know what their heart's desire is but he wants to do something for them in return for the wife's hospitality, so he instructs his servant to find out what he can do. "One day when Elisha came, he went up to his room and lay down 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 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) 

Elisha comes to lodge at her house and rest from his travels and as he lies on the bed he begins thinking about how grateful he is to her for her kindness. He instructs his servant to speak with her at the doorway to the room; it wouldn't be appropriate for her to enter his bedchamber while he is in it. The servant passes Elisha's questions on to the woman. Does she have any legal matters that the king (probably King Jehoshaphat of Judah, not King Joram of Israel) can settle for her? Elisha offers to get her an audience with the king. Or would she like her husband appointed to some political or military office? Elisha evidently has a great deal of influence with the commander of the army and can secure a well-salaried position for her husband. But the woman replies that she has all she needs, materially speaking. Then she withdraws to her own portion of the house.

Elisha is still mulling the matter over in his mind. He very much desires to do something good for her. Out of the kindness of her heart she has gone out of her way to make sure he's comfortable as he travels through her town. She did not do anything in the hope that she might gain something from him. She made him welcome because she loves the Lord and appreciates the work of the prophets of the Lord. While Elisha discusses this matter with his servant, the servant points out one thing he has noticed that this prosperous woman does not have. "'What can be done for her?' Elisha asked. 'Gehazi said, 'She has no son, and her husband is old.'" (2 Kings 4:14) We don't know the age of this woman but her husband is getting up in years. He is not too old to oversee the work in his fields, as we will learn tomorrow, but he is past middle age and if he dies without a son he will be leaving his wife with no one to manage the estate and take care of her for the rest of her life. In calling upon the Lord to grant this woman a son, Elisha will be securing the future of the woman who has been so kind to him.

"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.' 'No, my lord!' she objected. 'Please, man of God, do not mislead your servant!'" (2 Kings 4:15-16) She isn't rejecting his offer or accusing him of being a liar. I think she's just been disappointed so many times that she can't bear to get her hopes up again. She may have already tried many "cures" provided by midwives and physicians only to have month after month and year after year go by with no conception. We don't know how long she's been married but it's long enough to have given up on ever having a child. I imagine she and her husband spent many years praying for a son. Their relatives probably prayed in agreement with them. But nothing ever happened and now she thinks nothing ever will. It's not that she believes Elisha would purposely try to deceive her. It's not that she believes anything is impossible for the Lord. It's that she had finally come to a place of painfully accepting that she would never be a mother. If she allows herself to feel a small glimmer of hope again she doesn't think she can stand it if her hopes are dashed. 

But the promise comes true. "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) This is a miracle. Either this woman or her husband is infertile, or perhaps both of them are infertile. But the One who created the human body is able to cause the body to do something He designed it to do: reproduce. If the Shunammite woman had never loved the Lord or cared about one of His prophets, this miracle would not have been done for her, because it is in return for her kindness to Elisha that the most important desire of her heart is granted. We have a worldly saying, which is, "No good deed goes unpunished," because there are so many unscrupulous people who will take advantage of our kindness. But the Lord doesn't use this worldly expression. Instead He says through the Apostle Paul: "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." (Galatians 6:9) 

I think the reason the Lord tells us not to become weary in doing good is because He knows how easy it would be to become weary in doing good. Doing good exposes us to being lied to and taken advantage of because we live in a fallen world where people do dishonest things. But it's important to note that the Lord doesn't say that the world will reward us for well doing. Our reward comes from Him. The woman in the text we've studied today did nice things for Elisha without asking for or expecting anything in return. In fact, she owns more worldly goods than he does and the only thing he was able to offer her in gratitude was to speak to the king or the army commander to obtain favor for her and her husband. It's not within Elisha's power to do much for her on his own but it's within the Lord's power to do anything, even a thing that seems impossible. This woman did not grow weary in well doing even though life had not turned out for her exactly the way she'd hoped and she reaped a harvest---the son she'd always longed for.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

The Kings Of Israel And Judah. Day 107, Elisha Multiplies The Oil For A Poor Widow And Her Two Sons

Earlier in our study of the kings we found the prophet Elijah multiplying the flour and the oil for a poor widow of Sidon and her young son. In today's study we find the prophet Elisha multiplying the oil for a different widow---the widow and the two sons of a prophet of Israel.

"The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, 'Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.'" (2 Kings 4:1) It seems clear that Elisha personally knew her late husband; if he did not know him well, he at least knew enough about him to have been aware that he was faithful to the Lord. We don't know what the deceased prophet did for a living but he died owing money he had borrowed. This type of situation could potentially happen to anyone; for example, the primary (or only) breadwinner in the family could pass away before the home mortgage has been paid off, leaving their spouse and children unable to continue making the payments. In modern times we can use life insurance policies to offset some of this risk but as far as we know there were no such things as life insurance policies in the days of Elisha. 

The widow's late husband must not have owed a mortgage loan since it's not the homestead that's in jeopardy. It could be that the debt is owed for the medical care he received during his last months or years on earth. Or he might have borrowed money to invest in his agricultural pursuits, expecting to be able to pay it back out of the next harvest, but he became ill and ended up passing away before he could plant and harvest those crops. The nature of the debt is not provided to us because it's not necessary for the story. All we need to know is that this woman and her children find themselves in dire circumstances and the young boys are about to be seized by the creditor in order to work off the debt. This was allowed under the Mosaic law. A person's child or children could be taken into service for a period of time limited to six years. A person could also voluntarily agree to serve their creditor for that period of time or even longer if they wanted to remain as that person's servant. (Exodus 21:2-11 goes into detail regarding such transactions, as does Leviticus 25:39-43.)

The late prophet's creditor has a right under the law to take the woman's two sons into his service for six years. The law is not in question here. The question that's being asked by the woman is whether Elisha can and will do something to help her. She appeals to him because he knows the character of her late husband was without reproach. She appeals to him because he knows she will find herself in even worse circumstances than she's already in if her sons are taken from her. Not only will she still be suffering the grief and poverty brought about by her husband's death, in addition she will suffer being separated from her sons. Elisha's heart goes out to her when he hears of her predicament and he swiftly takes action. He asks her what she still has so he can multiply it by the power of the Lord.

"Elisha replied to her, 'How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?' 'Your servant has nothing here at all,' she said, 'except a small jar of olive oil.'" (2 Kings 4:2) She has very little left to her name but as the saying goes, "Little is much if God is in it." She's willing to trust the Lord with what little she has left. She's going to do what the Lord says to do even though by human standards it sounds illogical. "Elisha said, 'Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don't ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each one is filled, put it to one side.'" (2 Kings 4:3-4)

Her jar of oil is "small". This has led many scholars to conclude that it's not a jar of cooking oil but a jar of anointing oil. That means it probably only holds an ounce or two when it's full. But Elisha tells her to go out and borrow as many empty jars as she can---to think big---and then to take those jars home, close the door, and begin pouring into them from her small jar of oil. She is to expect each jar to fill completely up, for he instructs her to set each one aside as it is filled.

The woman doesn't hesitate to do exactly what the Lord says. She doesn't understand the process by which the Lord will turn an ounce or two of oil into many jars full of oil but she knows nothing is impossible for Him. After speaking to Elisha in some public place, she goes home and enlists the help of her sons in asking for and bringing home as many jars as they can get. "She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, 'Bring me another one.' But he replied, 'There is not a jar left.' Then the oil stopped flowing." (2 Kings 4:5-6) They've set up an assembly line in their house and she's been so busy pouring oil into one jar after another that she hasn't noticed they've run out of jars. When one of her sons brings her the last jar and keeps standing there, I think without looking up she says, "Get me the next jar." And he informs her they are all full.

At this news she goes out to find Elisha to ask him what to do next. She didn't even know the final step in the plan but she had the faith to get her to this point. Now she receives the reward of her faith. "She went and told the man of God, and he said, 'Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.'" (2 Kings 4:7) She and her sons are to sell as much as is needed to get them out of debt now and then they are to sell the rest, little by little, to live on. The Bible doesn't say whether this was enough for them to live on forever and I doubt that was the case. For one thing, the widow's home was probably not large enough to accommodate the number of jars necessary to hold that much oil. For another thing, I doubt it was the Lord's intention for the woman's sons to live perpetual lives of leisure without working to contribute to the household and to society. My opinion is that the Lord provided enough oil until the widow's sons were old enough to make a living. Then their duty would be to take care of their mother for the remainder of her life and to marry, have children of their own, and to raise those children to be productive and hardworking members of society. In order to do that they'd need to set a good example for their children to follow, which would include demonstrating a good work ethic.

We may have very little to work with at times but it doesn't matter how little we have if God is in it! If we are willing to trust Him with what we have, He is a rewarder of our faith. He can multiply what little we have into enough---or more than enough---to change our circumstances. 

Saturday, January 21, 2023

The Kings Of Israel And Judah. Day 106, Moab Defeated By Israel, Judah, And Edom

The military forces of Israel, Judah, and Edom were about to be undone by a lack of water. But in yesterday's study we found Elisha calling on the Lord for help, with the Lord supplying an abundance of fresh flowing water in spite of there being no rain. The three kings, their soldiers, and their horses were all refreshed by the water and are now ready to fight against Moab.

"Now all the Moabites had heard that the kings had come to fight against them; so every man, young and old, who could bear arms was called up and stationed on the border." (2 Kings 3:21) You'll recall that Moab was defeated by King David and that this nation had been subject to Israel ever since. But after the death of King Ahab of Israel the Moabites stopped paying the taxes levied against them. I don't know whether they thought Ahab's son Joram would let this slide or whether they thought they had enough troops to fight back against Joram's troops. But they don't have enough troops to successfully repel the combined forces of Israel, Judah, and Edom. They call up every man who is able to hold a sword in his hand. 

The water sent by the Lord not only refreshed the men coming against Moab but it will also serve to trick the eyes of the Moabites. "When they got up early in the morning, the sun was shining on the water. To the Moabites across the way, the water looked red---like blood. 'That's blood!' they said. 'Those kings must have fought and slaughtered each other. Now to the plunder, Moab!'" (2 Kings 3:22-23) The water that flowed down from the direction of Edom must have mixed with red clay dust to produce the appearance of pools of blood from a distance. But why do the Moabites assume that the appearance of blood means the three kings and their soldiers have slaughtered each other? 

I think it's because a situation like that actually occurred during the reign of King Jehoshaphat of Judah. You'll recall that in 2 Chronicles 20 his nation was about to be attacked by the combined forces of the Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites. Jehoshaphat did not have enough men to successfully defend Judah against such a "vast army" as he phrased it, so the Lord informed him through a prophet that Judah would not have to fight the battle at all. The next morning the Lord caused some type of confusion to fall upon the enemy army. The Moabites and Ammonites rose up against the Meunites and slaughtered them, then the Moabites and Ammonites turned on each other. By the time Jehoshaphat and his army reached the overlook where they could see this coalition of armies in the valley below, all the enemy soldiers were dead! The dead soldiers did not represent all of the fighting men of those nations but this was a heavy blow to those nations. Now the Moabites think the same type of thing has happened to the allied forces of Israel, Judah, and Edom: they think these men all turned on each other and slaughtered each other. The Moabites think their gods caused the same type of confusion to fall on Israel, Judah, and Edom as Jehoshaphat's God previously caused to fall on the Moabites, Ammonites, and Meunites.

"But when the Moabites came to the camp of Israel, the Israelites rose up and fought them until they fled. And the Israelites invaded the land and slaughtered the Moabites. They destroyed the towns, and each man threw a stone on every good field until it was covered. They stopped up all the springs and cut down every good tree. Only Kir Hareseth was left with its stones in place, but men armed with slings surrounded it and attacked it." (2 Kings 3:24-25) Elisha had predicted that the men would do these things to the Moabites and here we find his prediction coming true. The steps these men take against the Moabites will render a portion of their land unusable for time. The Moabites will have to spend their energies clearing their fields and planting new crops and trees instead of focusing their energies on rebelling against Israel and making war. The only major area the Israelites and their allies did not render useless was the royal city of Kir Hareseth. It is known to have been a very heavily fortified city. When we close today's study we'll learn another reason why the city was left untouched.  

We need to stop here for a moment and think about the fact that the Moabites rejected the Lord long ago. Many centuries earlier they fell into idolatry and are still maintaining this sinful lifestyle. The Lord is not with them in their battles; He is fighting against them. For an example of why the Lord opposes them so fiercely we need only to read the remainder of Chapter 3 to form a clear and horrifying picture of just how far the Moabites have sunk into depravity. "When the king of Moab saw that the battle had gone against him, he took with him seven hundred swordsmen to break through to the king of Edom, but they failed. Then he took his firstborn son, who was to succeed him as king, and offered him as a sacrifice on the city wall. The fury against Israel was great; they withdrew and returned to their own land." (2 Kings 3:26-27)

The king of Moab is so wicked that he offers his firstborn son to his heathen god Chemosh on top of the city wall in the sight of the army of Israel and its allies. The men of Israel and Judah and Edom are so sickened by the sight that they do not continue pressing their attack against the royal city but instead return to their own land. The king of Moab is making the statement that he will not surrender under any circumstances. No price is too high for him to pay for victory, not even sacrificing the crown prince in the hope that his god will look favorably upon him. To continue to press the attack against the city might only result in mass casualties for Israel, Judah, and Edom because the king of Moab will keep fighting even if it means the death of every man, woman, and child in his kingdom. More sacrifices might have been made atop the walls if a cease fire had not been called at this time; many innocent children might have lost their lives if the king ordered them sacrificed or if their parents willingly sacrificed them as a plea for help from the abominable deities they believed in. 

Friday, January 20, 2023

The Kings Of Israel And Judah. Day 105, A Miracle Of Water

The Moabites have been subject to Israel ever since the time of King David but then they began to rebel against Israel after the death of King Ahab. King Ahab's son Joram, who is now king, has allied himself with King Jehoshaphat of Judah and an unnamed king of Edom to suppress the rebellion. But these three combined armies ran out of water during a seven-day march. There is evidently a drought in the land and Jehoshaphat suggested calling upon a prophet of the Lord to see what the Lord would have them do. An officer of Joram's army spoke up and said they could go to see Elisha, who isn't far away. Jehoshaphat likes this plan.

"Jehoshaphat said, 'The word of the Lord is with him.' So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him. Elisha said to the king of Israel, 'Why do you want to involve me? Go to the prophets of your father and the prophets of your mother.'" (2 Kings 3:12-13a) King Ahab and Queen Jezebel had maintained out of the royal treasury 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah. But as the author informed us earlier this week, Joram rejected the religion of his parents and reverted back to the religion instituted by King Jeroboam who set golden calves in place at Dan and at Bethel. These calves were intended to represent the Lord (though such representations of the Lord were forbidden by the Lord) and the religious sites at Dan and Bethel were sinfully intended by Jeroboam as substitutes for going to the temple. The author of 2 Kings said that Joram is not as wicked as Ahab and Jezebel were. But if Joram is worshiping the Lord at all he is doing it in ways contrary to the Lord's instructions. Elisha taunts him by saying, "Why ask me what to do when you have all of Ahab's and Jezebel's prophets available to you? Your parents trusted in them and not in the prophets of the Lord. Why do you not feel the same?"

I don't believe there's any way Elisha could not have known that King Joram has put away his father's monument to Baal and that he does not engage in the practices of Baal worship or in the worship of Baal's consort, Asherah. A prophet (and especially a major prophet like Elisha) would be wise to keep his finger on the spiritual pulse of the nation, so to speak. So I think he knows Joram has made some reforms, spiritually speaking, and perhaps his words to the king are intended to make him consider abandoning all of the wrong spiritual practices of his predecessors and give his heart fully to the Lord. If that's what Elisha hopes to accomplish with his words, it doesn't happen. Just as in yesterday's passage Joram accused the Lord of intending to kill him and the other men with thirst, he repeats this belief but not in the manner of a person who knows he should repent and ask for mercy. "'No,' the king of Israel answered, 'because it was the Lord who called us three kings together to deliver us into the hands of Moab.'" (2 Kings 3:13b) He clearly believes in the Lord and he clearly fears the Lord (in the way that a person living in the wrong ways fears the Lord) but he does not repent and ask for mercy. He doesn't make any attempt to forge a personal relationship with the Lord but instead asks the prophet to intercede for him.

We've all probably known people who don't want to give their lives to the Lord but who are quick to call upon the Lord's people to pray for them when they are in need of help. They believe the Lord exists and that He can do miracles. They also believe He can cause judgment to fall as recompense for sinful living. But somehow they just can't seem to take any steps toward the Lord to repent, ask Him for forgiveness and salvation, and begin forming a personal relationship with Him. So instead of calling out to Him themselves they call upon all their believing friends to intercede on their behalf. It's sad because they are so close to having their lives turned completely around by the Lord and having the eternal safety of their souls secured! I think this is where we find King Joram in today's text. He's not really that far from being able to be transformed by the living God but he just cannot make himself take that step. He never does, I'm sorry to say. And when Elisha sees he isn't getting through to him he points out that it's only for the sake of King Jehoshaphat---who has given his heart and life to the Lord---that he will do anything on behalf of the three kings.

"Elisha said, 'As surely as the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, if I did not have respect for the presence of Jehoshaphat king of Judah, I would not pay any attention to you. But now bring me a harpist.' While the harpist was playing, the hand of the Lord came on Elisha and he said, 'This is what the Lord says: I will fill this valley with pools of water. For this is what the Lord says: You will see neither wind nor rain, yet this valley will be filled with water, and you, your cattle and your other animals will drink. This is an easy thing in the eyes of the Lord; He will also deliver Moab into your hands. You will overthrow every fortified city and every major town. You will cut down every good tree, stop up all the springs, and ruin every good field with stones.'" (2 Kings 3:14-19) 

The Lord speaks to Elisha through music this time; at other times He speaks to him in other ways. This is the same way the Lord relates to you and to me. He doesn't speak to us by the same method every time and I think it's a good thing that He doesn't or else our spiritual life would grow stagnant and repetitive. If He spoke to us by the same method every time, by habit we would seek Him in the same way every time. But the Lord wants us to seek Him in many different ways: through prayer, through praise music, through the reading of His word, through meditating on all the times He's helped us before, through talking about Him with fellow believers. A relationship with the Lord is never meant to be stagnant. He promised us that a relationship with Him was like being filled with a spring of living (continually flowing and fresh) water: "Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:14)

Perhaps to symbolize the spring of living water that is forever fresh and new within the heart of the believer, the literal springs of water arrive just as promised. "The next morning, about the time for offering the sacrifice, there it was---water flowing from the direction of Edom! And the land was filled with water." (2 Kings 3:20)

When our spiritual lives begin feeling stagnant and it seems like we are just going through the motions day after day, it's time to seek the Lord in a fresh way. Maybe that means praying to Him in a different place, like on a walk we take by ourselves. Or it may mean listening to some new praise songs we've never heard before and meditating upon His goodness while we listen. It may mean joining a new class at church or downloading a Bible study we've never read or listened to before. Our relationship with the Lord is never meant to grow old and unfulfilling, for we can never learn all there is to know about the Lord. I believe that even though we will spend eternity with Him, we will never learn everything about Him. His intelligence is so much greater than ours that even in our eternal, immortal bodies we will never be able to fully comprehend His mind. And that's a good thing! It means we can never grow weary of being in His awesome presence. We may sometimes grow weary of being in the presence of our fellow human beings here on earth (because their minds are so much like ours) but learning about our Lord will forever be an exciting experience.