2 Kings 4: Elisha at Shunem
All the time as we are reading the story of Elisha we have in mind that it is a sort of prophecy of the Lord's life. By and by, He would live in this same country. He would walk over these same paths of Galilee and visit some of these same towns. He would heal the sick and raise the dead and bless the little children and bring a blessing to every home where people were willing to receive Him. We learn today about two homes to which Elisha came and brought a blessing.
The first was the home of a poor widow. The father, who had been one of the prophets, had died. They were in debt, and the one to whom they owed the money was about to take the woman's sons as bond-servants till the debt should be paid by their service. In those days, people who owed money were treated very harshly. We see this also in one of the Lord's parables: “Forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made.” (Matt. 18:25) The poor woman cried to Elisha for help. He asked, “What hast thou in the house?” There was nothing but a pot of oil. He told her what she must do; and with the Lord's blessing, the oil was the means of paying the debt, and gave her more besides, on which she and her children could live. Listen and we will read this story. (2 Kings 4: 1-7)
The other home to which Elisha brought a blessing as in Shunem. This little town lay at the foot of the mountain Little Hermon, with gardens and orchards about it, looking out toward the west over the great plain of Esdraelon. Elisha passed Shunem in his journeys through the land, and there was a home there where he was made welcome, the home of a woman who was important in the town and who lived there in comfort with her husband. She loved to have the prophet stop as he went by, and they built for him a little room on the wall, on the roof of the house, cool and quiet, and put for him there a bed, a table, a seat, and a stand for a lamp. The flat housetops are much used in Eastern countries, and the upper rooms are the most comfortable. So Elisha stopped in this home in Shunem as often as he passed that way and there came a blessing; a son was born who brought happiness to the house.
This was not all the blessing which came by Elisha to this home in Shunem. After a time, the boy, the woman's son, was taken sick and died. He was with his father and the men in the field. We think of the broad open meadows near the village, and it was perhaps the hot sunshine of the early summer days which hurt the boy's head. A Psalm speaks of the danger from the sun in that hot climate: “The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the noon by night.” (Ps. 121:6) They took the lad from the field to his mother and she held him on her lap till noon; but he died, and she laid him on the bed in the prophet’s chamber while she made haste to find and bring the man of God. She rode upon an ass, a servant running at her side to drive the ass, across the green plain to Mount Carmel, which she could see in the distance from her home. She found Elisha there. He went with her to her home, and as he prayed and stretched himself upon the child, life came again. This was a picture of the day when the Lord would come to these same towns and would raise some who had died. Listen again and we will read this story. (2 Kings 4:8-37)
There are two little stories about Elisha at the end of the chapter which we will read when there is time.
The “sons of the prophets.” (Verse 1) So the prophets were called who lived together in companies in several places, as in Gilgal, Bethel, and Jericho. Read the beautiful story of the pot of oil.
Study next and then read together the long story of the Shunammite. Find Shunem on the map and notice its relation to the roads by which Elisha may have traveled, to the harvest fields, to Mount Carmel, to the Jordan. In what other story have we learned of a room upon the housetop? (1 Sam. 9:25) Note the resemblance of two incidents in this chapter to incidents in the story of Elijah.
Baal-shalisha, from which the man came with a present to Elisha, was probably near to the hills of Ephraim. (1 Sam. 9:4) The present was a sort of offering. This was in the early summer when the barley is harvested and the wheat is beginning to ripen. The loaves of barley bread were no doubt the common thin round loaves; and the wheat was in the ears, which are so good roasted by the fire and even eaten uncooked, as the disciples ate them, rubbing them in their hands.
In reading this story of Elisha, please keep in mind, as I have asked the little children to do, that the prophet is a type of the Lord. The story of the prophet is a foreshadowing of the Lord's own life and miracles and of the blessings which He brought to the homes of the people. Remember the Lord's reference to the ministry of Elijah and Elisha as a picture of His own. (Luke 4:24-27) You will think especially of miracles of the Lord when you read about raising the child to life and about feeding a hundred men with twenty loaves of barley and ears of corn.
1. What story do you associate with Shunem?
2. Tell me about the death of the woman's son, and how he was restored to life. Of what other stories does this remind you?
3. How was the poisoned pottage made good?
4. What is told about first fruits? Of what other stories does this remind you?
The widow’s pot of oil. What in spiritual life does oil represent, which takes away friction between things that rub, and softens and heals and burns with warm light? Remember how love among brethren is said in the Psalm to be like oil upon Aaron's head. We may have little true knowledge. In our ignorance we are as a widow whose husband, the prophet, is dead. But have we yet a little oil, a little love? The story tells us what to do. The woman's sons who helped her in drawing out the oil represent such power of understanding as we have, doing its best to make our love useful. We are to borrow empty vessels of all our neighbors. We are to look everywhere in our relations with everybody for opportunities to be kind and helpful. We must not neglect opportunities because they are empty, because they do not seem to have any return to us for what we give, but we must welcome them and fill each opportunity full. The good love is from the Lord, and as we draw it out at His command, He blesses it and gives us more. The power of evil which threatened to enslave us is lessened, and life becomes happy and satisfying. The oil flowed as long as there was a vessel to be filled. It paid the debt and the widow and her children lived upon the rest. (A. 9995, 10261)
The second story tells about building a chamber for the prophet that he might come in and stay. The house is a type of our own mind, and the different chambers of the house are the different states of mind in which we are in our labor, our rest, and our recreation. The housetop represents interior, heavenly states in which we rise above natural cares and pleasures and come nearer to the Lord. We build a chamber on the wall when above and within our care for natural things we reserve a quiet place for the Lord and His teachings. And we must furnish the chamber. We must not expect the Lord to dwell with us in an empty, vacant mind; it must be furnished with true thoughts and kind affections which the Lord can enjoy and use. No matter how plain and poor our natural house and circumstances may be, we can build upon the wall this upper chamber for the Lord, and can make it beautiful if we will. The Lord tells us that He stands knocking at the door. If we make the chamber ready, He will come in and make His home with us. (A. 5694, 7353)
Consider the blessing which came to the home where the prophet was received. A blessing will come to every mind which makes a place for the Lord and His Word. (See John 15:7.) The Shunammite did not care to be spoken for to the king, nor to leave her home. The Lord’s presence with us may not bring a change of natural circumstances or position. What the Lord does give is a new life from above, the heavenly life of which He spoke to Nicodemus. (John 3:3) The beginning of this new life in us is represented by the birth of the child in the home in Shunem. (A. 3860, 3868)
But the child was taken sick in the field, and at noon he died. What can it mean? It tells of the languishing of our heavenly life through the excitement of selfish and evil loves. (E. 401) The woman's earnest efforts to find and bring Elisha suggest our duty earnestly and persistently to turn to the Lord, not only on Sunday or at other usual times, but whenever and wherever we feel that we have failed and need His help. The saddling of the ass and the riding are representative of our earnest use of our power of thought and understanding to find the Lord and to bring Him again into our lives. Then how wonderfully the prophet's stretching himself upon the child, “his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands,” represents the Lord's coming near to us with sympathy in every weakness and need to give us new life. Through His forgiveness and His saving power, our languishing life revives, and it should be enjoyed with new gratitude and humility. (E. 899)
We often think of instruction which we give or receive as mental food. The boiling of pottage by the prophets represents the preparing of instruction by teachers in the church. The casting in of wild and poisonous fruit represents the mingling with instruction of some things which are false and are not helpful to spiritual life. How often this happens through ignorance or otherwise, in the preparation of spiritual food. Still, errors may not be dangerous if there is present a desire to find what is good, and to lead others to good. Goodness and the truth which comes with goodness are the meal which heals the poisoned pottage. (A. 3316, 8408, 10105; E. 618)
The miracle of the pottage tells how false thoughts are overcome and made harmless. The miracle of the barley loaves and ears of wheat tells of the great increase by the Lord's blessing of the beginnings of what is really true and good. Grains represent the knowledge of one’s duty and the pleasure in doing one's duty, which make life satisfying. Barley is a coarser grain than wheat and is earlier ripened: it represents the knowledge and satisfaction of duty done in the motive of love to one another. The nobler wheat represents the knowledge and satisfaction of duty done from love to the Lord. We have not gone far in the cultivation of these heavenly motives. What we can offer of them is only our first fruits. If we are told that they are to become the main satisfaction of life for ourselves and for the world, it seems hard to believe. Yet with the Lord's blessing, this will be so: He taught it in the miracle done by Elisha, and in His own miracles of feeding the multitudes. (E. 430, 617)