Gleanings From Elisha
His Life and Miracles
SIXTEENTH MIRACLE—THE SHUNAMMITE RETURNS
First, the Reality of the Miracle
The First Six Verses of 2 Kings 8 chronicle an incident which is rather difficult to classify in connection with the ministry of Elisha. By this we mean it is perhaps an open question whether we are to regard it as properly belonging to the miracles which were wrought through his instrumentality. Undoubtedly the majority of Christian writers would look upon this episode as an example of the gracious and wondrous operations of divine providence, rather than a supernatural happening. With them we shall have no quarrel, for it is mainly a matter of terms—some define a "miracle" in one way and some in another. No question of either doctrinal or practical importance is involved: it is simply a matter of personal opinion whether this series of events is to be viewed as among the ordinary ways of the divine government as God orders the lives of each of His creatures, and in a more particular manner undertakes and provides for each of His dear children, or whether we are to contemplate what is here narrated as something over and above the workings of providence.
The signal deliverances which the Lord’s people experience under the workings of His special providence are just as truly manifestations of the wisdom and power of God as are what many theologians would technically term His "miracles," and are so to be regarded by us. While strongly deprecating the modern tendency to deny and decry the supernatural, we shall not now enter into a discussion as to whether or not "the day of miracles is past;" but this we do emphatically insist upon, that the day of divine intervention is most certainly not past. God is as ready to hear the cry of the righteous now as He was in the time of Moses and the prophets, and to so graciously and definitely answer the prayer of faith as cannot be explained by so called "natural laws," as this writer, and no doubt many of our readers, can bear witness. Whether you term His interpositions "miracles" or not, this is sure; the Lord still shows Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is perfect (upright, sincere) toward Him.
Second, the Connection of the Miracle
This is intimated by the opening word of our narrative. That "then," which occurs so frequently in the Scriptures, should never be hurried over carelessly. There is nothing meaningless nor superfluous in God’s Word, and every syllable in it should be given its due force and weight. "Then" is a sign of time, emphasizing the season or occasion when some particular event happened. To ascertain its significance we should always pause and ask, When? and in order to find the answer, refer back to the immediate context—often obliging us to ignore a chapter division. By so doing we are better enabled to perceive the connection between two things or incidents, and often the moral relation the one sustains to the other, not only of cause and effect, but of antecedent and consequent.
In passing, we may point out that "Then" is one of the key words of Matthew’s gospel, with which should be linked "when" and "from that time" (see Matthew 4:1, 17; 15:1, 21; 25:1; 26:14). The deeper significance of many an incident is discovered by observing this simple rule: Ask the "then"—when?
In our present instance the miracle we are about to contemplate is immediately linked to the one preceding it by this introductory "Then." There is therefore a close connection between them; the one is the sequel to the other. When considering 2 Kings 7, we saw how wondrously Jehovah wrought in coming to the relief of the famished Samaritans, furnishing them with an abundant supply of food at no trouble or cost to themselves, causing their enemies to supply their needs by leaving their own huge stores behind them. But, as we pointed out, there was no recognition of the hand that had so kindly ministered to them, no acknowledgment of His goodness, no praising Him for such mercies. He had no place in their thoughts, for they had grievously departed from Him and given themselves up to idolatry. Consequently, here as everywhere, we find inseparably linked together "unthankful, unholy" (2 Tim. 3:2). Where there is no true piety, there is no genuine gratitude; and where there is no thankfulness, it is a sure sign of the absence of holiness. This is a criterion by which we may test our hearts: are we truly appreciative of the divine favors, or do we accept them as a matter of course?
It may seem a small matter to men whether they are thankful or unthankful for the bounties of their Maker and Provider, but He takes note of their response, and sooner or later regulates His governmental dealings with them accordingly. He will not be slighted with impunity. Whether He acts in judgment or in mercy, God requires us to acknowledge His hand, either by bowing in penitence beneath His rod, or offering to Him the praise of our hearts. When Moses demanded of Pharaoh that he should let the Hebrews go a three days’ journey into the wilderness to hold a feast unto the Lord, he haughtily answered, "Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go" (Ex. 5:2). But before God’s plagues were finished, the magicians owned, "This is the finger of God" (Ex. 8:19), and the king himself confessed, "I have sinned against the LORD your God" (Ex. 10:16). We are expressly bidden "O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good" (Ps. 136:1); and if men break that commandment, God will visit His displeasure upon them. One of the reasons why He gave up the heathen to uncleanness was because they were "unthankful" (Rom. 1:21, 24).
Third, the Nature of the Miracle
God employs various methods and means in chastening an ungrateful people. Chief among His scourges are His "four sore judgments," namely, "the sword, and the famine, and the noisesome beast, and the pestilence to cut off from it man and beast" (Ezek. 14:21). In the present instance it was the second of these judgments. "Then spake Elisha unto the woman, whose son he had restored to life, saying, Arise, and go thou and thine household, and sojourn wheresoever thou canst sojourn: for the LORD hath called for a famine; and it shall also come upon the land seven years" (2 Kings 8:1). This we regard as a miracle, and as connected with Elisha. First, because this pronouncement was a prophecy, a supernatural revelation which he had received from God and then communicated to the woman. Second, because his announcement here is expressly said to be "the saying of the man of God" (2 Kings 8:2), indicating he was acting in his official character. Third, because both in 2 Kings 8:1 and 5, this incident was definitely linked with an earlier miracle—the restoring of her dead son to life.
But our present miracle is by no means confined to the famine which the Lord here sent upon Samaria, nor to the prophet’s knowledge and announcement of the same. We should also contemplate the gracious provision which the Lord made in exempting the woman from the horrors of it. A famine is usually the outcome of a prolonged drought with the resultant failure of the crops and the drying up of all vegetation, though in some cases it follows incessant rains which prevent the farmers from harvesting their grain. Now, had the Lord so pleased, He could have supplied this woman’s land with rain, though it was withheld from her adjoining neighbors (see Amos 4:7), or He could have prevented her fields from being flooded, so that her crops might be garnered; or in some mysterious way He could have maintained her meal and oil that it failed not (1 Kings 17:16). Yet, though the Lord did none of those extraordinary things, nevertheless He undertook for her just as effectually by His providences.
Fourth, the Duration of the Miracle
This particular famine lasted no less than seven years, which was double the length of time of the one God sent on Samaria in the days of Elijah (Jam. 5:17). When men refuse to humble themselves beneath the mighty hand of God, He lays His rod more heavily upon them, as the successive plagues which He sent upon Egypt increased in their severity, and as the judgments mentioned in the Revelation are more and more distressing in nature. Of old God called upon Israel, "Consider your ways" and complained that His house was neglected, while they were occupied only with rebuilding and attending to their own. But they heeded Him not, and accordingly He told them, "Therefore the heaven over you is stayed from dew, and the earth is stayed from her fruit. And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the new wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground bringeth forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labor of the hands" (Hag. 1:10-11). Thus it was now upon the rebellious and idolatrous Samaritans.
Fifth, the Beneficiary of the Miracle
This was "the woman whose son Elisha restored to life." She was before us in 2 Kings 4. There we saw that she was one who had a heart for the servant of God, not only inviting him into her house for a meal whenever he passed by her place, but building and furnishing for him a chamber (2 Kings 4:8-10). Then we beheld her remarkable faith; for instead of wringing her hands in despair upon the sudden death of her child, she promptly rode to Mount Carmel where Elisha then was, with the evident expectation that God would undertake for her in that extremity through His servant. Nor was her hope disappointed; a miracle was wrought and her dead son quickened. But now that the seven years’ famine was imminent, Elisha did not keep to himself the knowledge he had received from the Lord, but put it to a good use, thinking of the family which had shown him kindness in his earlier days, warning the woman of the sore judgment that was about to fall upon the land of Samaria.
The prophet’s action contains important instruction for us, especially for those who are the ministers of God. First, we are shown that we are not to selfishly keep to ourselves the spiritual light God gives us, but pass it on to those ready to receive it. Second, the servant of God is not to lose interest in those to whom God made him a blessing in the past, but seek opportunities to further help them in spiritual things, particularly endeavoring to express his gratitude to those who befriended him in earlier days. Often this can be most effectively accomplished by prayer for them or by sending them a special word of greeting (see Romans 16:6; 2 Timothy 1:16). Elisha did not consider he had already discharged his indebtedness to this woman by restoring her son to life, but as a fresh emergency had arisen, he gave timely counsel. Third, here too we see God honoring those who honored Him. In the past she had ministered to the temporal needs of His servant, and He had not forgotten this. Having received a prophet in the name of a prophet, she now received the prophet’s reward—light on her path.
"Then spake Elisha unto the woman, whose son he had restored to life, saying, Arise, and go thou and thine household, and sojourn wheresoever thou canst sojourn" (2 Kings 8:1). As there is no mention of her husband throughout the whole of this narrative it is likely he had died in the interval between 2 Kings 4 and 8 and that she was now a widow. If so, it illustrates the special care the Lord has for widows and orphans. But let us observe the exercise of His sovereignty on this occasion, for He does not always act uniformly. In an earlier famine He had miraculously sustained the widow of Zarephath by maintaining her meal and oil. He could have done the same in this instance, but was pleased to use other means, yet ones just as real and effective in supplying her every need. We must never prescribe to the Lord, nor limit Him in our thoughts to any particular form or avenue of deliverance, but trustfully leave ourselves in His hands and meekly submit to His imperial but all-wise ordering of our lot.
"Arise, and go thou and thine household, and sojourn wheresoever thou canst sojourn." How frequently are we reminded that here have we no continuing city, which should cause us to hold all earthly things with a very light hand. This incident also reminds us that the righteous are occasioned many inconveniences because of the conduct of the wicked; nevertheless the Lord evidences His particular care of His own when His judgments fall upon a nation. Observe to what a severe test this woman’s faith was now submitted. It was no small matter to leave her home and property and journey with her household into another land, the inhabitants of which had for so long time been hostile to the Israelites. It called for implicit confidence in the veracity of God’s servant. Ah, my reader, nothing but a genuine faith in God and His Word is sufficient for the human heart in such an emergency; but the mind of one who trusts Him will be kept in perfect peace.
"And the woman arose, and did after the saying of the man of God" (2 Kings 8:2). Note well how that is phrased: she regarded Elisha’s instruction as something more than the kindly advice of a personal friend, viewing him as the messenger of God to her. In other words, she looked above the prophet to his Master, and accepted the counsel as from Him. Thus she acted in faith, which was in entire accord with what was previously recorded of her. There is no hint that she murmured at her lot or complained at the severity of her trial. No, when faith is in exercise, the spirit of murmuring is quelled. Contrariwise, when we grumble at our lot, it is sure proof that unbelief is dominant within us. Nor did she yield to a fatalistic inertia and say, If God has called for a famine, I must bow to it; and if I perish, I perish. Instead she acted as a rational creature, discharged her responsibility, forsook the place of danger, and took refuge in a temporary haven of shelter.
"And she went with her household, and sojourned in the land of the Philistines seven years" (2 Kings 8:2). Not in the adjoining territory of Judah, be it noted, for probably even at that date the Jews had "no dealings with the Samaritans" (John 4:9). It is sad, yet true, that a Christian will often receive kinder treatment at the hands of strangers than from those who profess to be the people of God. This Israelite woman had not been warranted when she took refuge among the Philistines without divine permission, for God had said unto Israel, "ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine" (Lev. 20:26); and therefore did He declare, "the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations" (Num. 23:9). But note well that it is not said that she and her household "settled down" in the land of the Philistines but only that she "sojourned" therein, which means that she did not make herself one with them, but lived as a stranger in their midst (cf. Genesis 23:4; Leviticus 25:23).
"And sojourned in the land of the Philistines seven years." That is surely remarkable, and very blessed. The Philistines had long been the enemies of Israel, and had recently made war against it. Yet here was this Israelite woman, and her household, was permitted to live peacefully in their midst with her temporal needs supplied by them! In that we must see the secret power of God working on her behalf and giving her favor in their eyes. The Lord never confounds those who truly trust Him, and as this woman had honored His word through His prophet, so now He honored her faith. Her ways pleased the Lord, and therefore He made her enemies to be at peace with her.
"And it came to pass at the seven years’ end, that the woman returned out of the land of the Philistines" (2 Kings 8:3). This too is equally blessed. She had not found the society of the Philistines so congenial that she wished to spend the remainder of her days with them. But observe how it is worded: not "when the famine was over" she returned to Samaria, but "at the seven year’s end" mentioned by the prophet—the word of God through His servant was what directed her! "And she went forth to cry unto the king for her house and for her land" (2 Kings 8:3). It is not clear whether her property had reverted to the crown upon her emigration, or whether someone had unlawfully seized it and now refused to relinquish it; but whichever it was, she did not shirk her duty, but actively discharged her responsibility. She was neither a believer in passive resistance nor in looking to God to undertake for her while she shelved her duty—which would have been highly presumptuous. Scott has pointed out how this verse illustrates "the benefit of magistracy," and rightly added in connection therewith, "Believers may, on important occasions, avail themselves of their privileges as members of the community: provided they are not actuated by covetousness or resentment, do not manifest a contentious spirit and make no appeal in a doubtful or suspicious cause; and rulers should award justice without respect of persons, and compel the injurious to restitution." Had not this woman now appealed to the king for the restoration of her own property, she would have condoned a wrong and refused to uphold the principles of righteousness.
Sixth, the Sequel of the Miracle
This is equally striking, for the anointed eye will clearly perceive the power of the Lord working on behalf of His handmaid. "And the king talked with Gehazi the servant of the man of God, saying, Tell me, I pray thee, all the great things that Elisha hath done. And it came to pass, as he was telling the king how he had restored a dead body to life, that, behold the woman, whose son he had restored to life, cried to the king for her house and for her land. And Gehazi said, My lord, O king, this is the woman, and this is her son, whom Elisha restored to life. And when the king asked the woman, she told him. So the king appointed unto her a certain officer, saying, Restore all that was hers, and all the fruits of the field since the day that she left the land, even until now" (2 Kings 8:4-6). Who can fail to see the superintending hand of God in the king’s desire to hear of Elisha’s miracles, the presence of one well qualified to inform him, the timing of such an occurrence, the interest in this woman which would be awakened in the King, and his willingness to grant her full restitution!
Seventh, the Lesson of the Miracle
In the course of our remarks, we have called attention to many details of this incident which we may profitably take to heart, but there is one outstanding thing in it which especially claims our notice, namely, the wonder-working providences of God in behalf of the woman—through Elisha, the Philistines, Gehazi, and the king of Israel. And thus it is that He still acts on behalf of His own, making gracious provision for them in an evil day. Whatever be the means or the instruments He makes use of in providing a refuge for us in a time of trouble, it is as truly "the Lord’s doing" and should be just as "marvelous in our eyes," especially when God constrains the wicked to deal kindly with us, as if He openly worked for us what are technically called "miracles." At the close of Psalm 107, after recounting the various deliverances the Lord wrought for those who cried unto Him, this comment is made: "Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the LORD." The greater pains we take to observe God’s hand undertaking for us by His providences, the better shall we understand His "lovingkindness" and the more confidence we shall have in Him.