...thoughts expressed here are not necessarily final.

June 07, 2004

A Lesson to be taught this weekend. Sorry no pictures...

2 Kings 4 Our Sovereign God Provides

"The most devout among us become atheistic when we fail to trust in God with all our heart." -- Oswald Chambers

One of the great experiences of life is coming to recognize that God is able to meet our needs.

The commentators, to me, seem to focus attention on us in their treatments of this passage. I want to focus our attention of the great God it speaks of and make much of Him.

Often we don’t learn that lesson until there is no where else to turn. The book the The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren quotes Ron Dunn without attribution: “You’ll never know God is all you need until God is all you’ve got…Because when God is all you’ve got, then you will come to understand that God is all you need.”
We can come to that same understanding.

We face the same kinds of needs – the needs of our family, finances, future., questions about all kinds of things. The understanding that God cares for the needs of his people, great and small needs, great and small people. We may be surrounded by a hostile culture, a tiny group of people, but the eternal God of heaven is concerned to care for us. We can cast our cares on Him.
That’s a truth that runs through the scriptures and the Lord keeps teaching it to his people.

Let’s consider the context of today’s lesson in 2 Kings 4.

This is one of the most serious times of apostacy in Israel before is was destroyed in 722. According to 1 Kings 19:18 only 7000 (whom God had “kept for himself”) had not bowed the knee to Ba’al. A recent Barna report says that only 4 percent of Americans have a Christian world view. This is one reason we are looking at these passages. The times have great similarities. We live in a culture of oppressive sexuality and lust for power. The church has become worldlier and worldlier being in the world and OF it.

In this context, with Elijah and Elisha, we see one of the three major outbreaks of miracles in history. The first was during the time of the Exodus. The third time was in the work of Jesus and the apostles.

Chapter 4 at first glance seems to be a series of anecdotes, just some things that happened in the life of the prophet. They are important stories and significant enough, but they seem to be strung together and then all of a sudden you begin to see the strand that is linking them all. That strand is this: Whatever the needs of His people, even when Ba’al worship is surrounding us and we are a tiny little minority of people, we have a God who cares for the simplest needs, the most unpretentious of needs and sometimes the most overwhelming of needs of His people.

There are five miracles in four stories with 3 connections:
Three great themes- God cares about our Finances, Family, and Food.

1. Widow: God takes the symbol of her poverty and meets her need based on her obedience.
2. Shunammite woman: God gives, takes away, and restores.
3. Prophets: People are in desperate need in time of famine and in an act of grace there is healing in the pot and supernatural multiplication of resources.

I will have to only allude to the story of the poor widow that God makes provision for in the first part (vv. 1-7) of the chapter. In accordance with the faith she exhibited in a public act of obedience, blessing was returned to her.

We meet a very different woman- a wealthy woman of standing in verses 8-37. Then we meet the school of the prophets- the seminary students, if you will, at the end of the chapter, vv38-44. In each way, Yahweh, Elisha’s God, proves himself able to meet the needs of His people. (Remember Ba’al worship is surrounding them).

In verse 8 we learn of another woman who was very different than the first woman. The first one was a desperate woman pressed to the very edge of life out of abject poverty and grief. This woman is a woman of wealth and status and connections. She has no sense of desperation, but consider: if her husband dies she has lost it all.

There is a deep hurt in her life, but she is not acting out of desperation. She is acting out of a sense of love for God in vv 8-10 as she sees God’s man ( text uses this designation eleven times) as one of God’s people. Remember God had said to Elijah there are 7000 that have not bowed the knee to Baal. She is one of these 7000. That is not very many in a nation the size of Israel. Romans 11 refers to this very remnant and likens them to us.

8 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.

One day Elisha went to Shunem.

On the surface this may not mean a great deal to you. Shunem is in the great valley that runs from Mount Carmel down through the center of Israel toward the Jordan River. There are a number of hills and a cliff area and Nazareth is there on that cliff area and it looks down over the valley. Just beneath Nazareth there is a hill called the hill of Moreh, a little ways further there is another hill, Mt. Tabor. The hill of Moreh has several little towns on it at the edge of the fertile and productive Plain of Jezreel .You’ll recognize the name of Endor where Saul’s witch was. Nain is another town. The Lord Jesus could have looked down from Nazareth onto the Hill of Moreh many times as he was growing up. Shunem was on this hill, and Nain was where the Lord was walking one day and he saw a widow on her way to a funeral to bury her only son. As you remember the Lord spoke and raised her son from the dead. That was just down the way a few miles away from Shunem.

So there is an interesting connection here between Elisha and Jesus.

Shunem was kind of a halfway point from Mt Carmel to Samaria and Elisha was travelling that way and visited the wealthy woman.

9 She said to her husband, "I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God. 10 Let's make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us."

One event became a habit . Hospitality was given in the name of Yahweh to the prophet of Yahweh created a joy in this woman’s heart. She wants to make it a more permanent arrangement so they build a room for him on the roof. Roofs in those days were flat and accessible with parapets around them by law. This was a walled room that would be cooler than the open roof. The furnishings were simple- probably a flat mat to serve as a table, a bedroll, a chair and a clay wicked lamp.
Her hunger for the Lord led to this.

11 One day when Elisha came, he went up to his room and lay down there. 12 He said to his servant Gehazi, "Call the Shunammite." So he called her, and she stood before him. 13 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 your behalf to the king or the commander of the army?' "
She replied, "I have a home among my own people."

A woman of wealth, self reliant, had no obvious needs. She is resourceful and spiritual. Note that she is satisfied with God’s provision. She responded that she had no need, she was willing to trust the people around her that God had provided and that loved her. She had no obvious needs but she had a real need, but it was too deep for her to articulate, perhaps too humiliating for her to even express.

Perhaps, in his question, Elisha was giving the Shunnammite an opportunity to glorify God, which is what she did. I would note that this is a mark of spiritual maturity. Some of the neediest people I have known felt like they were the most blessed because in their need they ceased to focus on it and instead realized God’s grace was sufficient. And in that grace they stood.

We will come to see that she is also realistic- when we look at her response when Elisha says she is going to have a child. She is shrewd, astute, plans ahead, and is determined.

The Shunammite woman was a woman of purpose- she knew what she wanted and determined to go for it. Caring and serving with nothing in it for herself, Elisha wakes up one day and realizes how she has ministered to their needs. I want to note here that time and time again in the scriptures, the prerequisite for having needs met seems to be linked to being an obedient servant. As we test God we will see that when the need of the servant expands, grace superabounds.

14 "What can be done for her?" Elisha asked.
Gehazi said, "Well, she has no son and her husband is old."
15 Then Elisha said, "Call her." So he called her, and she stood in the doorway. 16 "About this time next year," Elisha said, "you will hold a son in your arms."
"No, my lord," she objected. "Don't mislead your servant, O man of God!"

Nothing was more hurtful to a woman in ancient Israel and it is no less hurtful in our modern times though it doesn’t carry the social stigma it once did. One of the last bastions of that stigma in in the evangelical church as we can attest to.

From her response and her realities, I think we can surmise that she had a longing for a child. God had not opened her womb, and her husband was old. The possibility of her giving birth had slipped beyond her. She had closed her heart to that and yet from the power of the response in the text - just to mention it was a raw point in her life.

Some commentators equate her fear with unbelief. I think that it is more complex than that.

We’re going to see more of Gehazi later and we are not going to be very impressed with him. But here he is (on the surface) very sensitive to the woman’s needs. That has led ancient rabbis to infer that Gehazi may have been lusting for her himself, but I find no indication of that here.

As with the first widow of verses 1-7, there’s no request from this woman. I am reminded that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans when we cannot even articulate our need the hurt is so deep.

In fact in verse 16 imagine the setting- here’s this woman and the holy man of God and you were thrilled to be in his presence- he looks at you and you say “I don’t want anything- I just want to serve you- “next year at this time you are going to hold a son in your arms.” Can you imagine the emotions and feelings that must have rushed over her at that time and just like Sarah centuries before, the news was too much for her.

Even the thought was too painful to talk about. “Don’t mislead your servant, Oh man of God” That is not unbelief, that is fearfulness. If I start to take hope in that it will crush something deep within me.

17 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.

I love the way the passage reads “ the woman became pregnant. “ No marvelous notes about it, just a statement of fact. The next year about the same time she gave birth to a son.

Again the miracle is not fire from heaven to alert the nation- just quietly, a woman who was unable to give birth and God gave the word. We don’t know if she told anybody else other than the immediate circle. Who would believe her? It was simply the word of the Lord ministering to the need of His people.

The next part of the story is even more marvelous. The Lord of the womb is also the Lord of life and death. We can tell the story quickly since you have already read it .

18 The child grew, and one day he went out to his father, who was with the reapers. 19 "My head! My head!" he said to his father.
His father told a servant, "Carry him to his mother." 20 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.

That child grows until he is old enough to go out in the fields and work with his father. Israel summers can be brutally hot. One day the child is out with the workers in the heat of the summer and all of a sudden “ my head, my head!” Something like sunstroke hits him. The father tells the servant “Carry him to his mother (she’s obviously the resourceful one in the family). We don’t know if he goes – it seems he stays in the fields. She takes the boy and hugs him to her chest and feels the life ease its way out of him. The object of her hope, the joy of her life, the fulfillment of her dreams and it all is oozing away.

Simply we read: “He died”.

That part is sad enough in its own way but now the remarkable stuff.

21 She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, then shut the door and went out.
22 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."
23 "Why go to him today?" he asked. "It's not the New Moon or the Sabbath."
"It's all right," she said.

She is not willing to accept that. She went up and laid him on the bed of the a man of God., shut the door and went out. She takes him up to that upper room and shuts the door so nobody can find the body. Some commentators think this was also to spite the prophet, but I don’t see that in the text.

Funerals were nearly always exactly the same day. In the heat of that time you did not wait to bury much less place the body on a hot roof. At any rate, she delays the funeral – she doesn’t want there to be one.

I think this is an act of real faith- she turns to the man of God who represents to her God her sovereign provider. He is still Yahweh Yireh of Mount Moriah, the first name of God revealed to man after the fall, to Abraham when he was about to sacrifice Isaac, and God provided.

The woman who, like Sarah, felt God open her womb now believes God can do more than this. Hebrews 11 says women receive their dead back by resurrection. There is a faith in this woman that is real of something she had had no experience of that the God who caused this child to be born can maybe do something about it.
She calls her husband to provide a man and a donkey and doesn’t even tell him the son is dead. It’s not Easter or Christmas (actually he says it’s not the new moon or the sabbath, perhaps when the prophet would be available, or perhaps that was a time she had already established to meet with the prophet) and doesn’t even specifically ask about the child. This is a miracle child, one that was a long time in coming, his only heir. Questions are curiously absent!

He seems to me to be distracted about his business and she pushes him away. It’s all right. Maybe he was rejecting her and the son because he didn’t believe it was a miracle? I don’t wasn’t to speculate further, but I must note the curious construction of the interaction in the Hebrew as well.

24 She saddled the donkey and said to her servant, "Lead on; don't slow down for me unless I tell you." 25 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! 26 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.

Verse 24 she saddled the donkey and went to Mt. Carmel about 15 miles away.

Elisha immediately recognizes there is something wrong and sends Gehazi out to meet her. He is taken totally by surprise. At the state of affairs. In order to get to God’s prophet she tells him everything is all right. If she can just get to God’s prophet! That is the determination of her heart.

27 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."
28 "Did I ask you for a son, my lord?" she said. "Didn't I tell you, 'Don't raise my hopes'?" She takes hold of Elisha’s feet and Gehazi tries to push her away- this was totally inappropriate to do this in public and especially a man who wasn’t her husband.
Elisha tells him to leave her alone. There is no rebuke in Elisha- he reminds me so much of the Lord Jesus here…She pours it out- you can feel the hurt and anger and bitterness, (deep bitterness of sorrow, literally) and yet the hope, because why would she come all that way to Elisha if she thought all she was going to do was make her complaint? It’s more than anger- it is a cry for help!
29 Elisha said to Gehazi, "Tuck your cloak into your belt, take my staff in your hand and run. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not answer. Lay my staff on the boy's face."
30 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.
Elisha told Gehazi to tuck his cloak into his belt- that was the way you prepared to run so the cloak would not interfere- gird up your loins” as the King James says- clear your legs for running- take the staff- the symbol of the prophet of God- do not greet or be greeted- very unusual behavior in the Middle East, by the way. Lay the staff on the boy’s face.

31 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."

Note: The staff is a symbol of prophetic power. The rod that turned to serpent and back again, Aaron's Rod that budded as picture of resurrection, Moses’ snake on a stick (that later became the idol Nehushtan that Hezekiah had to destroy) as pictures of salvation.
Meanwhile the woman stuck to Elisha like glue. Two indications- it is not magic or something touched by the prophet that had power. Not like a prayer cloth. The staff has no power anymore than the mantle did.

32 When Elisha reached the house, there was the boy lying dead on his couch. 33 He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the LORD . 34 Then he got on the bed and lay upon the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out upon him, the boy's body grew warm. 35 Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got on the bed and stretched out upon him once more. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.

This is a curious miracle and I cannot explain some of the details but I do know this is not early mouth to mouth CPR. There had been a thirty plus mile journey- this boy was stone cold dead. This miracle doesn’t happen again- it’s like Elisha is trying techniques he observed- remember the widow of Zarapheth and Elijah’s way of raising her son? But the power doers not lie in the methods of the prophet. After another prayer session, Elisha tries again and God works his wonders to perform. It is an occasion to acknowledge that it is God who is at work to will and to do according to HIS purposes.

The boy sneezes seven times. ( some translate this “convulsed” I imagine the woman was outside the door with her ear to the door. Can anyone sneeze seven times for me?

Don’t you know if a woman recognizes the cries of her child she can recognize their sneezes.

36 Elisha summoned Gehazi and said, "Call the Shunammite." And he did. When she came, he said, "Take your son." 37 She came in, fell at his feet and bowed to the ground. Then she took her son and went out.

Elisha calls her and Gehazi in and notice what she does? What would YOU do if you were this mother? Who would you go for first? She doesn’t do what I would have suspected. She comes in falls at his feet and bows to the ground. She first worships, not Elisha, but Yahweh Yireh. Elisha becomes a symbol of that.

Yahweh is the Lord of life, the Lord of family, he opens the womb and he can raise from the tomb or from the dead. A focus on the greatness of the character of God gives rise to a faith in that God. Faith is only as good as its object, and God is the author AND finisher AND focus of that faith.

Question: can our lack of faith limit God’s provision? What do you think? (remember who provides even the faith)

Can I say like Job, ” The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away- blessed be the name of the Lord?” Or “Even if He slay me yet shall I trust in Him?”

Question- how should we respond to the loss of loved ones today? Is death still an enemy? What do you think? Has Christ finally put this enemy under His feet? How should we counsel someone who has lost a loved one. Is grief still legitimate?

Death is not normal, it is a product of the fall. While there is no final sting of despair about death, Christ has not yet cast it into the lake of fire. There is a subchristian teaching in ultra reformed and super charismatic circles that is almost Hindu – like, that turns all suffering into good in disguise. It ends up attacking those who grieve as lacking faith, being unspiritual. The Bilblical idea is for us to HOPE in God. We are to grieve with those who grieve. If we didn’t need comforting there would be no need to send the other comforter. Christians need to express sorrow over the separation of death. The beauty of Lamentations 3 comes to mind.
Don’t undermine compassion or heal wounds lightly.

C. S. Lewis said” Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

In 2 Kings 8 we learn what happened to the Shunammite’s family. Elisha warns them to flee the land because of the coming famine- when they return seven years later their land is restored because of their relationship with the man of God.

My Lord will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory. Phil. 4:9

Testimony: Earnie and I have experienced the death of a dream – we are a childless couple.

We went through all the tests, the process of screening for adoption, and eventually found God telling us we were striving in an area we needed to take our hands off of. He wanted us to place our desire on the altar where he would consume it as a sweet smelling offering.

We learned the lesson in the withholding of what we thought we needed above all else. We were given God’s best for us and so discovered that he applies his providence with wisdom, that he is still trustworthy and true when we don’t get the desires of our hearts, but the desires of His heart for us…

We have a greater than Elisha, to whom there is no need we cannot bring, who never leaves us and for whom there is no need he cannot meet. His grace is sufficient. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich , yet for our sakes, he became poor so that we through his poverty might become rich.
We come in the confidence that God, our God cares for and responds to the needs of His people. He is still Yahweh Jireh.

Other thoughts I may not get to cover...

There is an interesting difference in Elijah and Elisha. Elijah has as his typical work of power under God Mount Carmel. Calling down fire from heaven and lighting the altar despite all the water that had been poured upon it, consuming the sacrifice, and the people are overwhelmed by the power of God and the nation is impacted by that. Again, lightening and fire were called from heaven in 1 Kings 18 on a series of people who had come to attack him. Power to impress- overwhelming power- that is the life of Elijah.

Elisha is very different. In Elisha’s life we see God’s power not so much to overwhelm the unbelieving, but to encourage the faithful. It’s not the fire of Mt Carmel, it’s the quiet pouring of oil in a closed room, or the opening of a closed womb, the feeding of the hungry.

The meeting of needs and the provision of care. It is not so much the power to impress as it is the power to love, the power to provide, the power to show compassion. Elijah is the bold confronter. Elisha more often in his life is the man who comes alongside to rally God’s people. Just don’t make fun of his bald head or he’ll sick the bears on you.

One of the great experiences of his life is when a young man looks on the enemy and sees nothing but what causes fear., and Elisha says, “Lord, open His eyes!” and all of a sudden he sees the power of God, the angels of God around.

So even though Elisha’s ministry is different than Elijah’s, both have the same message, “Loyalty to Yahweh alone when Baal worship is all around”. Remember Baal is the God of fertility. Baal’s the God of the storm, the God of Life and Death, of vegetation. There are very similar cultural idols we live in the midst of today- rampant sexuality, the quest for power, things have not changed so much. The world, the Flesh, and the Devil are no friends to Grace. But God, when he is trusted by His people shows the hollowness of the worship of Ba’al or any other false god..
In chapter 4 the Lord is caring for His people.

From the personal weblog of Anthony Foster @http://anthonyfoster.com/blog/