Elisha provides oil for a widow

Chapter 4

Elisha provides oil for a widow

v1 A man’s widow went to speak to Elisha. The man had been a member of a group of *prophets. The widow cried out, ‘My husband, who was your servant, has died. As you know, he gave honour to the *Lord. Now a man to whom he owed money has come. That man wants to take my two boys as his slaves.’

v2 Elisha replied, ‘How can I help you? What have you got at home?’

‘I have nothing except a small jar of *olive oil,’ she answered.

v3 Elisha said, ‘Go. Ask all your neighbours for empty jars. Get as many jars as you can. v4 Then go inside. And shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars. Put each one aside as soon as it is full.’

v5 So the woman went into her house with her sons. And she shut the door. The sons brought all the jars to her and she continued to pour. v6 When all the jars were full, the woman asked one son to bring her another jar. But he replied, ‘There are no more jars.’ Then the *olive oil did not continue to flow.

v7 The woman went and she told Elisha. He told her to go and he told her to sell the oil. Then she could pay her debts. There would be enough money for her and her sons to live on.

There is an old story that the widow had been the wife of Obadiah. (Look at 1 Kings 18:4.) He had hidden 100 *prophets so that King Ahab would not find them. So perhaps Obadiah received money from other people to feed the *prophets. And he would have to pay it back to them. That is the story. But we cannot say whether it is true. Jesus himself said that there were many poor widows in *Israel in those days (Luke 4:25). And we can see that very many people were poor. Wars were frequent in *Israel. And the rulers were evil men who did not hesitate to steal property from poor people. On several occasions, there was not enough food for all the people. So people had to obtain loans in order to afford food.

If people could not pay back those loans, they or their children might have to become slaves. And that is why this widow became so desperate. Many people are desperate but they still do not ask God for help. But this woman had *faith in God. Her husband had been loyal to God. And she too trusted God to help her. So she went to Elisha. He was the *prophet whom God had appointed in *Israel at that time. So she trusted that God would give Elisha the power to help her.

Elisha’s reply was God’s message to the woman. God would help her. She only had one small jar of oil. But God would use what she had.

Elisha told the woman to collect small jars from her neighbours. He told her to fill those jars with *olive oil from her small jar. Then she could sell the oil and she could pay her debt. She would also have enough money to live on.

This *miracle is like something that Jesus did in the *New Testament. He fed 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fishes (Mark 6:30-44). God has enough resources to help us. So he can supply whatever we need.

The widow believed what Elisha had told her. She obeyed his commands. God supplied what the widow needed. He used the small amount that she had. And he increased it so that it was sufficient to deal with the situation.

Elisha and the woman at Shunem

v8 One day Elisha went to Shunem, where a rich woman lived. She invited him to have a meal. So whenever he came to Shunem, he stopped to eat there. v9 The woman spoke to her husband. ‘I am sure that this man is a holy man of God. He comes here very often. v10 Let us build a small room on the roof. We will put there for him a bed, a table, a chair and a lamp. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us.’

v11 One day, Elisha came to Shunem. And he went up to his room to rest. v12 Elisha told his servant Gehazi to go and call the woman. So the servant did that, and she came. v13 Elisha said this to Gehazi. ‘Ask the woman what I can do for her. She has done a great deal for us. She has provided a lot of things that we need. She might like me to speak to the king or the leader of the army. I could speak to them on her behalf.’

The woman gave this answer. ‘I have all that I need among my own people.’

v14 Elisha asked Gehazi, ‘What can I do for the woman?’

Gehazi replied, ‘She has no son. Her husband is an old man.’

v15 Then Elisha said, ‘Tell the woman to come here.’ So she came and she stood in the doorway. v16 ‘About this time next year,’ Elisha said, ‘you will hold a son in your arms.’

‘Oh no, sir,’ she said. ‘Do not lie to me. You are a man of God.’ v17 But soon she had a baby in her womb. (A womb is the part of a woman’s body where she carries a baby before its birth.) The next year, about the same time, she gave birth to a son. Elisha had promised that to her.

Shunem was a village that was a few miles north from Jezreel. It was between Samaria and Carmel.

Elisha often travelled on the road that went through Shunem. A wealthy woman invited him into her home for a meal. He visited the woman and her husband very often. So they decided to build an extra room. They built it on the roof of their house. Elisha wanted to show his thanks for the woman’s help. He asked if he could speak to the king or the officer of the army. Perhaps they would give a gift to her husband. But the woman refused that idea. (Later, in chapter 8, she did need the king’s help.)

Elisha asked his servant how he should reward the woman. This servant was called Gehazi. Elisha was the servant of the *prophet Elijah before he (Elisha) became a *prophet. So Gehazi could have become a *prophet too. In the end, Gehazi will disappoint us (see 5:20-27). But here, Gehazi answered Elisha well. Gehazi realised that the woman did not need any human help. She needed the help that only God could give. She needed a son. That was because her husband was old. It seems that they were unable to have a child. Also, the woman’s husband might die soon. Then she would need a son to provide for her. God gave Elisha a promise for the woman. And in less than a year, the woman had a child.

We cannot always do something to help people. But we can pray for them. In that way, God can supply the things that they need.

v18 The child grew up. One day he went out to his father. His father was in the field with the workers at harvest time. v19 Suddenly the child called out to his father. ‘My head hurts, my head hurts.’

The father told a servant to carry the boy to his mother. v20 The servant carried him to his mother. The boy sat on his mother’s knees until noon. And then he died. v21 The boy’s mother went up to Elisha’s room. And she laid him on the bed there. Then she shut the door and she went out.

v22 The woman called her husband. ‘Please send a servant and a *donkey. I need to go to the *prophet Elisha quickly. I will come back as soon as possible.’

v23 ‘Why do you have to go today?’ her husband asked. ‘It is not a *Sabbath or New Moon *festival.’

‘Everything is all right,’ the woman replied.

v24 She put a saddle on the *donkey. The woman ordered the servant to make the *donkey go as fast as possible. He must not make it go more slowly unless she told him to do it. v25 So the woman set out and she went to the mountain called Carmel.

Elisha was there. He saw her some distance away. He said to Gehazi, ‘The woman from Shunem is coming. v26 Run to meet her. Find out whether everything is well with her, her husband and her son.’

The woman told Gehazi that everything was all right.

v27 When she came to Elisha at the mountain, she bent her body down to give him honour. And she held on to his feet. Gehazi went to push the woman away, but Elisha stopped him. ‘Leave her alone. She is very unhappy. The *Lord has not told me why that is.’

v28 The woman said, ‘I did not ask you for a son. I did not want to have false hope. I told you so.’

v29 Elisha said to Gehazi, ‘Prepare to run! Take my stick and go quickly. Do not greet anybody that you meet. Do not answer anybody that greets you. Put my stick on the boy’s face.’

v30 But then the woman said to Elisha, ‘I promise this to you as surely as the *Lord lives. And I promise it as surely as you live. I will not leave without you.’ So both the woman and Elisha started to go back.

v31 Gehazi went ahead of them. He laid the stick on the boy’s face. But the boy did not make a sound. He remained still. So Gehazi went back to meet Elisha. ‘The boy did not wake up,’ Gehazi said.

v32 When Elisha reached the house, the boy was lying dead upon the bed. v33 Elisha went in. He closed the door. Only he and Gehazi were in the room. And then Elisha prayed to the *Lord. v34 Then Elisha got onto the bed and he lay on the boy. Elisha put his mouth, eyes and hands on the boy’s mouth, eyes and hands. As he spread himself upon the boy’s body, it grew warm. v35 Elisha got up and he walked round the room. Then he went back and he spread himself out on the boy once more. The boy *sneezed 7 times and he opened his eyes.

v36 Elisha called Gehazi and he told Gehazi to fetch the boy’s mother. When she came, Elisha spoke to her. ‘Here is your son.’ v37 The woman went down quickly at his feet. She bent her body down to the ground to give him honour. Then she took her son and she went out.

Suddenly, the child became ill. And soon afterwards, he died. The woman’s actions in this passage were very unusual. But they show her *faith. God had promised that she would have a son. Like Abraham, she trusted that God would bring about that promise. She had *faith even when the situation seemed impossible. (Compare Hebrews 11:17-19 and Hebrews 11:35.)

So the boy was dead. The mother did not bury him but she went to fetch Elisha. Earlier, Elijah had helped the son of a widow in Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17-23). Perhaps this woman from Shunem had heard about that. The God of Elisha was the same as the God of Elijah. And it seems that the woman realised that.

Her husband asked her why she was going. It seems that his *faith was never as strong as hers. His religion was for special occasions, for example *Sabbath days and *festivals. But she wanted to serve God at every opportunity (verses 9-10). She told her husband that everything was all right. Of course her child was dead. But she insisted that everything was all right. She said this because she was trusting God. God had made a promise to her by his *prophet (verse 16). And she knew that God is able to perform his promises.

The journey from Shunem to Carmel was 25 miles long. The woman’s servant made the *donkey move quickly. Elisha sent his servant to discover what the problem was. The woman replied with a statement of her *faith. She did not want to talk about her problem. She was trusting God.

Elisha did not know what the problem was. God did not tell everything to his *prophets. The *prophets were only human. They did not know everything. It was then that the woman spoke. The woman said to Elisha that she had not asked for a son. And she had also told him not to tell lies to her. The woman did not explain her problem, but Elisha understood. She was reminding Elisha about the promise that God gave to her. That is, the promise that she would have a son. Elisha saw that it was necessary to act immediately.

Elisha told Gehazi to run. He must put Elisha’s stick on the child. (The stick was something that showed Elisha’s authority.) Perhaps Elisha hoped that the action would bring the boy back to life. But that did not happen immediately. Then Gehazi showed a serious lack of *faith. He did not continue to pray. (Compare Luke 18:1-8.) Perhaps he had already decided that the situation was hopeless. He left the body and he returned to Elisha. Gehazi told Elisha that the boy was dead. Gehazi had done what Elisha told him. But Gehazi had acted without *faith. Good actions without *faith achieve nothing (James 2:18).

When Elisha reached the room, he spread himself upon the boy. Elijah did similar things in 1 Kings 17:21. These actions may seem strange to us, but they show a desperate state of prayer. At first, the boy became warm. That showed that he was starting to become alive. Then the boy *sneezed. This showed that he was alive. God had answered his mother’s prayers. We shall read more about this family in 2 Kings 8:1-6.

Food for the group of *prophets

v38 Elisha returned to Gilgal. There was a serious lack of food in that area. He met with a group of *prophets there. While he was meeting with them, he spoke to his servant. ‘Put a large pot on the fire and make some stew for these men.’ (Stew is meat, vegetables and liquid, which someone has cooked all together).

v39 One man went into the fields to get some plants to put into the meal. He found a wild plant that had gourds (large fruits with hard skins). He picked as many gourds as he could carry. When he returned, he cut them up. And he put them into the pot of stew. Nobody knew what they were. v40 The servant poured out the stew for the men to eat. As soon as they began to eat, they cried out. ‘Oh, man of God, it is poison.’ So they could not eat the stew.

v41 Elisha said, ‘Get some flour.’ He put the flour into the pot and he said this. ‘Now serve the stew to them to eat.’ And there was nothing wrong with it.

Elisha was probably teaching the men from the group of *prophets when this event happened. They did not have enough food. It seems that this problem was affecting the entire region round Gilgal. So the men had to eat whatever they could find, including wild plants. One man picked a poisonous wild plant by mistake. Then the men began to eat the stew (meat, vegetables and liquid, which someone has cooked all together). It tasted awful. So the men realised that it was poisonous. Elisha added flour to the stew. And it did not hurt them any longer. But the flour did not do the *miracle. It was the *Lord who did it. He had provided for his people in their difficult situation.

v42 A man came from a place called Baal Shalishah. He brought gifts to the man of God. He brought 20 loaves of bread that he had made from barley (a kind of grain that people use for food). He had made the loaves from the first barley that he had harvested that year. And the man also brought some fresh heads of grain.

‘Give it to the people to eat,’ Elisha told his servant.

v43 ‘It is not enough food for 100 men,’ the servant replied.

But Elisha said, ‘Give it to them to eat. The *Lord says this. “They will eat and some food will remain.” ’

v44 So he gave the food to them. They ate and some food remained. The *Lord had said that this would happen.

Barley is the first harvest of grain in *Israel’s agricultural year. And this was the first barley from that harvest. There was an ancient tradition to give the first of everything to God. By that means, a person shows that God has the first place (is most important) in his life.

It seems that this was a special harvest. It probably came after the period when there was not enough food (verse 38). This man wanted to thank God for his harvest. So he baked his first barley into loaves. And he travelled to Gilgal in order to give it to Elisha, the man of God.

Elisha did not keep the food for himself. He wanted to use that food in order to show God’s kindness to other people.

So Elisha ordered his servant to give the food to the group of *prophets. These loaves were small. 20 loaves were not enough to feed 100 hungry people. But they all ate and some food still remained. This story is like the time when Jesus fed 5000 people. Then too, everyone had enough. And some food still remained (Mark 6:30-34).

In his words and actions, Elisha was very like Jesus. And Elijah was like John, who prepared for Jesus’ arrival (Luke 1:17).