Gleanings From Elisha
His Life and Miracles
SEVENTH MIRACLE—HIS MOTHER’S FAITH
In the last chapter we dwelt, first, upon the occasion of this miracle, namely, the death of the "great woman’s" son. Second, we considered the mystery of it. To all appearances, the child had been quite well and full of life in the morning, yet by noon he was a corpse. In this case such a disaster was doubly inexplicable, for the son had been given to her by the divine bounty because of the kindness she had shown to one of God’s servants; and now, to carnal reason, it looked as though He was dealing most unkindly with her. Furthermore, the wonder-working power of God had been engaged in bestowing a son upon her, and now this miracle was neutralized by his suddenly being snatched away. Third, we expanded upon its expectation. It is inexpressibly blessed to behold how this stricken mother reacted to the seeming catastrophe; throughout the whole narrative it is made evident that she regarded this affliction as a trial of her faith, and grandly did her confidence in God triumph over it.
Fourth, the Means of the Miracle
"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" (2 Kings 4:29). Some think the prophet believed that the child was only in a swoon. Yet we can hardly conceive of the mother leaving the boy under such circumstances; rather she would have sent a message by one of her servants. Nor is it likely that Elisha’s instructions to the servant would be so peremptorily expressed if such had been the case. Matthew Henry says "I know not what to make of this." Another of the Puritans suggests that, "It was done out of pure conceit, and not by Divine instinct, and therefore it failed of the effect." Thomas Scott acknowledged, "It is difficult to determine what the prophet meant by thus sending Gehazi." He had divided Jordan by using Elijah’s mantle, and perhaps he thought that the prophet’s design was to teach Gehazi a much needed lesson. However, this much seems clear from the incident: no servant of God should delegate to another that which it is his own duty to do.
"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" (2 Kings 4:30). It is clear from her words that, whatever was or was not the prophet’s design in ordering his servant to hurry to where the child lay, she regarded his action as another testing of her faith. She evidently had no confidence in Gehazi, or in Elisha’s staff as such. She was not to be put off in this way. Her language was both impressive and emphatic, signifying, "I swear that I will not return home unless you come with me. The situation is desperate; my expectation is in you, Elisha, as the Lord’s ambassador, and I refuse to take any no." Here we behold the boldness and perseverance of her faith. Whether there was any unwillingness on Elisha’s part to set out on this journey, or whether he was only putting her to the test, we cannot be sure; but such earnestness and importunity won the day and now stirred the prophet to action.
"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" (2 Kings 4:31). Young’s concordance gives "denier" as the meaning of the name Gehazi. If the various references made to him are carefully compared it will be seen that his character and conduct were all alike and in keeping with his name.
Why Elisha should have had such a man for his personal attendant we know not; yet in view of there being a Judas in the disciples, we need not be unduly surprised. First, we see him seeking to officiously thrust away the poor mother when she cast herself at his master’s feet (2 Kings 4:27). Here we note the absence of prayer unto the Lord, and the nonsuccess of his efforts. Later, we find him giving expression to selfish unbelief, a complete lack of confidence in the power of Elisha (2 Kings 4:43). Finally, his avarice masters him and he lies to Naaman, and is stricken with leprosy for his deception (2 Kings 5:20-27). Thus in the verse before us, we have a picture of the unavailing efforts of an unregenerate minister, and his failure made manifest to others.
"And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, laid upon his bed" (2 Kings 4:32). In previous paragraphs we have dwelt much upon the remarkable faith of the child’s mother. Yet we must not allow it to so occupy our attention as to obscure the faith of the prophet, for his was equally great. It was no ordinary demand which was now made upon him, and only one who was intimately acquainted with God would have met it as he did. The death of this child was not only quite unexpected by him, but must have seemed bewilderingly strange. Yet though he was in the dark as to the reason of this calamity, he refused to accept it as final. The mother had taken her stand upon the divine bounty and kindness, expecting an outcome in keeping with God’s grace toward her, and no doubt the prophet now reasoned in the same way. Though he had never before been faced with such a desperate situation, he knew that with God all things are possible. The very fact that the dead child had been placed upon his bed was a direct challenge to his faith, and nobly did he meet it.
"He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the LORD" (2 Kings 4:33). We are not quite clear whether "them twain" refers to himself and the child or to the mother, and Gehazi, who had most probably accompanied him; but whichever it was, his action in closing the door denoted his desire for privacy. The prophet practiced what he preached to others. In the miracle recorded at the beginning of chapter four, Elisha had bidden the widow "shut the door upon" herself and her sons (2 Kings 4:4) so as to avoid ostentation, and here Elisha follows the same course. Moreover, he was about to engage the Lord in most urgent and special prayer, and that is certainly something which calls for aloneness with God. The minister of the gospel needs to be much on his guard on this point, precluding everything which savors of advertising his piety like the Pharisees did (see Matthew 6:5-6). Here, then, was the means of this miracle: the unfaltering faith of the mother and now the faith of the prophet, expressed in prayer unto his Master—acknowledging his own helplessness, humbly but trustfully presenting the need to Him, counting upon His almighty power and goodness.
Fifth, the Procedure of the Miracle
"And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes,... and the flesh of the child waxed warm" (2 Kings 4:34). The means used by the prophet and the policy he followed are so closely linked together that they merge into one another without any break, the faith of Elisha finding expression in prayer. Considering the extraordinary situation here, how that act of the prophet’s serves to demonstrate that he was accustomed to count upon God in times of emergency, to look for wondrous blessings from Him in response to his supplications. He was fully persuaded nothing was too hard for Jehovah and therefore no petition too large to present unto him. The more faith looks to the infinite power and all-sufficiency of the One with whom it has to do, the more is He honored. Next, the prophet stretched himself on the body of the little one, which was expressive of his deep affection for him and his intense longing for the lad’s restoration, as though he would communicate his own life and thereby revive him.
Those who are familiar with the life and miracles of Elijah will at once be struck with the likeness between Elisha’s actions here and the conduct of his predecessor on a similar occasion. In fact so close is the resemblance between them, it is evident the one was patterned after that of the other—showing how closely the man of God must keep to the scripture model if he would be successful in the divine service. First, Elijah had taken the lifeless child of the Zarephath widow, carried him upstairs, and laid him on his own bed, thereby preventing any human eyes from observing what transpired. Next, he "cried unto the Lord" and then "he stretched himself upon the child" (1 Kings 17:19-21). In addition to what had been pointed out in the previous paragraph, we believe this stretching of the prophet on the one for whom he prayed signified an act of identification, and it was a proof that he was putting his whole soul into the work of supplication. If we are to prevail in interceding for another, we must make his or her case ours, taking his need or burden upon our own spirit, and then spreading it before God.
"Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro" (2 Kings 4:35). Let it be noted that even the prayer of an Elisha did not meet with an immediate and full answer. Why then should we be so soon disheartened when heaven appears to be tardy in responding to our crying! God is sovereign in this, as in everything else; by this we mean that He does not deal uniformly with us. Sometimes our request is answered immediately, at the first time of asking, but often He calls for perseverance and persistence, requiring us to wait patiently for Him. We have seen how many rebuffs the faith of the mother met with, and now the faith of the prophet is tested too. It is true that he had been granted an encouragement by the waxing warm of the child’s body—as the Lord is pleased to often give us "a token for good" (Ps. 86:17) before the full answer is received; but as yet there was no sign of returning consciousness, and the form of the little one still lay silent and inert before him. And that also has been recorded for our instruction.
"Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro; and went up, and stretched himself upon him" (2 Kings 4:35). This pacing up and down seems to denote a measure of mental perturbation, for the prophets were "subject to like passions as we are" (James 5:17) and compassed with the same infirmities. But even if Elisha was now at his wit’s end, he did not give way to despair and regard the situation as hopeless. No, he continued clinging to Him who is the giver of every good and perfect gift, and again stretched himself upon the child. Let us take this important lesson to heart and put it into practice, for it is at this point so many fail. It is the perseverance of faith which wins the day (see Matthew 7:7).
Scott has pointed out,
It is instructive to compare the manner in which Elijah and Elisha wrought their miracles, especially in raising the dead, with that of Jesus Christ. Every part of their conduct expressed a consciousness of inability and an entire dependence upon Another, and earnest supplication for His intervention; but Jesus wrought by His own power: He spake, and it was done: "Young man, I say unto thee arise; Talitha cumi; Lazarus come forth."
In all things He has the preeminence.
Sixth, the Marvel of the Miracle
The marvel of this was nothing less than the quickening of the child, the restoring of "a dead body to life" (2 Kings 8:5). After the prophet had again stretched himself upon the child, we are told that "the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes" (2 Kings 4:35). See how ready God is to respond to the exercise of real faith in Himself! In this case neither the mother nor the prophet had any definite or even indefinite promise they could plead, for the Lord had not said the child should be preserved in health or recovered if he fell ill. But though they had no promise, they laid hold of the known character of God. Since He had given the child unasked, Elisha did not believe He would now withdraw His gift and leave his benefactress worse off than she was before. Elisha knew that with the Lord there is "no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17), and he clung to that. True, it makes prayer easier when there is some specific promise we can claim, yet it is a higher order of faith that lays hold of God Himself.
There was no promise that God would pardon a penitent murderer, and no sacrifice was appointed for such a sin, yet David appealed not in vain to the multitude of His tender mercies (Ps. 51:1).
"And the child opened his eyes" (2 Kings 4:35). See what a prayer-hearing, prayer-answering God is ours! Hopeless as our case may be so far as all human aid is concerned, it is not too hard for the Lord. But we must "ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed," and therefore is it added, "Let not that man think that he shall receive anything from the Lord" (Jam. 1:6-7). No, rather it is the one who declares with Jacob, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me" (Gen. 32:26) who obtains his request. What must have been Elisha’s delight when he saw the child revive and obtained this further experience of God’s grace in answer to his petition, delivering him from his grief! How great must have been his joy as he called for Gehazi and bade him summon the mother, and when he said to her, "Take up thy son!" Blessed is it to behold her silent gratitude—too full for words—as she "fell at his feet," and in worship to God, "bowed herself to the ground." Then, she "took up her son, and went out" (2 Kings 4:37), to get alone with God and pour out her heart in thanksgiving to Him.
Seventh, the Meaning of the Miracle
Some help is obtained here by noting that this passage opens with the connective conjunction (2 Kings 4:18). That "And" not only intimates the continuity of the narrative and notes a striking contrast between the two principal divisions of it, but it also indicates there is an intimate relation between them. As we have pointed out on previous occasions, the word "and" is used in Scripture sometimes with the purpose of linking two things together, but at other times with the object of placing two objects or incidents in juxtaposition in order to display the contrasts between them. In the present instance it appears to be used for both reasons. As we hope to show, light is thrown on the typical significance of this miracle by carefully noting how it is immediately linked to the one preceding it. When we look at the respective incidents described, we are at once struck with the antitheses presented. In the former we behold Elisha journeying to Shunem; in the latter it is the woman who goes to him herself. First, it was the woman befriending the prophet; here he is seen befriending her. Previously a son is miraculously given to her; in this he is taken away.
The typical meaning of that does not appear on the surface, and therefore it will not be a simple matter for us to make it clear to the reader. Only the regenerate will be able to follow us intelligently, for they alone have experienced spiritually that which is here set forth figuratively. That which is outstanding in this incident is the mysteriousness of it: that a child should be miraculously given to this woman, and then that the hand of death should be laid upon him! That was not only a sore trial to the poor mother, but a most perplexing providence. To carnal reason it seemed as though God was mocking her. But is there not also something equally tragic, equally baffling, in the experience of the Christian? In the previous miracle we were shown a picture of the fruit of redemption, and here death appears to be written on that fruit. Ah, my reader, let it be clearly understood that we are as dependent upon God for the maintenance of that fruit as we were for the actual gift of it.
And what is the "fruit of redemption" as it applies to the individual? From the side which looks Godward: reconciliation, justification, sanctification, preservation. But from the selfward side, what a list might be drawn up. Peace, joy, assurance, fellowship with God and His people, delight in His Word, liberty in prayer, separation from the world, affections set upon things above. Oh the inexpressible sweetness of our "espousals" (Jer. 2:2) and of our "first love" (Rev. 2:4). But, in many cases, how soon is that joy dampened and that love is left! How wretched then is the soul; like Rachel mourning for her children, we refused to be comforted. How sore the perplexity! How Satan seeks to take advantage and persuade such an one that God has ceased to be gracious. How strange that such a blight should have fallen upon the fruit of the spirit! How deeply mysterious the deadness which now rests upon the garden of God’s planting, causing the soul to say with the poet,
Where is the blessedness I knew
When first I saw the Lord;
Where is the soul-refreshing view
Of Jesus and His Word?
What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still,
But now I feel an aching void
The world can never fill.
Yes, it does indeed seem inexplicable that the child of God’s own workmanship should pine away, and in a sense, lie cold and lifeless. Ah, but we must not stop there. We must not sit down in despair and conclude that all is lost. The incident before us does not end at that point; the death of the child was not the final thing! There is "good hope" for us here, important instruction to heed. That "great woman" did not give away to dejection and assume that all hope was gone. Very far from it. And if the Christian who is aware of spiritual decays, of languishing graces, of his dire need of being renewed in the inner man, would experience a gracious reviving, then he should emulate this mother and do as she did. And again we would point out that she did not faint in the day of trouble and indulge in self-pity; she did not bemoan her helplessness and say, What can I do in the presence of death? And if she did not, why should you!
Mark attentively what this stricken woman did. (1) She regarded this inexplicable and painful event as a testing of her faith, and she acted accordingly. (2) She moved promptly. Without delay she carried the child upstairs and laid him on the prophet’s bed, in anticipation of the Lord’s showing Himself strong on her behalf. (3) She vigorously bestirred herself, going to some trouble in order to obtain relief, starting out on an arduous journey. (4) She refused to be deterred when her own husband half-discouraged her. (5) She sought the One who had promised the son in the first instance. The soul must turn to God and cry "quicken thou me according to thy word" (Ps. 119:25). (6) She clung to the original promise and refused to believe that God had ceased to be gracious (2 Kings 4:28). (7) She declined to be put off by the unavailing intervention of an unregenerate minister (2 Kings 4:29-30). (8) She persisted in counting upon the power of Elisha, who was to her the representative of God. And gloriously was her faith rewarded.
Regarding the illustrative value of this miracle in connection with Elisha himself, it teaches us the following points. (1) The servant of God must not be surprised if those in whose conversion he has been instrumental should later experience a spiritual decay, especially when he is absent from them. (2) If he would be used to their restoration, no half measures will avail, nor may he entrust the work to a delegate. (3) Believing, expectant, fervent prayer, must be his first recourse. (4) In seeking to revive a languishing soul, he must descend to the level of the one to whom he ministers (2 Kings 4:34) and not stand as on some pedestal, as though he were a superior being. (5) He must not be discouraged because there is not an immediate and complete response to his efforts, but should persevere. (6) No cold and formal measures will suffice; he must throw himself into this work heart and soul. (7) The order of recovery was: renewed circulation (2 Kings 4:34), sneezing, eyes opened. We can draw a three-fold application here for the steps of spiritual renewal: the affections warmed, the head cleared (understanding restored), vision.