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Archive for February, 2015

Now Elisha spoke to the woman whose son he had restored to life, saying, “Arise and go with your household, and sojourn wherever you can sojourn; for the Lord has called for a famine, and it will even come on the land for seven years.” So the woman arose and did according to the word of the man of God, and she went with her household and sojourned in the land of the Philistines seven years. At the end of seven years, the woman returned from the land of the Philistines; and she went out to appeal to the king for her house and for her field. (II Kings 8:1-3)

The woman from Shunem is one of the most courageous and faithful of the saints whose stories we read of in the Old Testament. The Shunammite woman was displaying kindness and hospitality to God’s prophet at the time – Elisha. Elisha sought to do something for this woman to thank her. When he found out that the woman was childless Elisha promised her that God would bless her with a son. (II Kings 4:16)

What a miracle! How the woman must have rejoiced. She thought that Elisha’s promise was too good to be true. It is easy to compare the woman’s response to Abraham’s wife Sarah’s response when she was told that she would have a child. Sarah wanted to believe but had weak faith. Remember Sarah laughed when she was promised a son. She was very old and past the age of childbearing. God blessed her anyway and she had Isaac at around age 90. (See Genesis, chapters 18-21.) The Shunammite woman was blessed with a son though her husband was very old. Both women knew without a doubt that the praise and glory went to God for their sons.

The Shunammite woman was overjoyed with this blessing from God, but when the boy was older he died, probably of sunstroke. (II Kings 4:18) The Shunammite ran elijah widow and sonas fast as she could to Elisha and convinced him to come back to her house with her. She had the faith to believe that God would return her child to her. Had the Shunammite woman heard about the son of the widow of Zarephath? Recall that Elisha’s mentor Elijah also raised a boy from the dead. (I Kings 17:17) The miracle of the raising of the widow of Zarephath’s son would have occurred only a few years before this. Would news of that have spread throughout the land of Israel? We do not know, but the Shunammite woman certainly believed that God’s prophet Elisha could raise her son to life. And Elisha did raise the boy from the dead.

Things went along well for the happy family in Shunem. But one day God determined to send a seven-year famine on the land of Israel. Elisha was probably still benefitting from the Shunammite woman’s hospitality and repaid her by warning her of the famine. He told her to take her household and go live somewhere else. Two things are evident from the text – her husband had died and the famine was only in Israel. Notice that the prophet told her to take her household and go somewhere else to live for a while. The Shunammite woman was now head of her household. We learned in the earlier story that her husband was very old. (II Kings 4:14) He must have died by this time.

The Shunammite woman went to live in the land of the Philistines. That was not very far away. God was punishing the Israelites for their unfaithfulness again. The famine lasted for the seven years that were predicted.

Then the Shunammite woman returned home. While she was away her home and land had been confiscated. But this plucky woman immediately went to the king to appeal for the return of her property. It was not only for her and her household but was also the inheritance for her son.

God in His gracious providence continued to take care of this woman. Another miracle happened for her. On the very day that she was to go before the king, guess who should have been there before her? It was none other than Gehazi, Elisha’s servant. In God’s providence Gehazi was telling the king the wonderful stories about Elisha.

Now the king was talking with Gehazi, the servant of the man of God, saying, “Please relate to me all the great things that Elisha has done.” As he was relating to the king how he had restored to life the one who was dead, behold, the woman whose son he had restored to life appealed to the king for her house and for her field. And Gehazi said, “My lord, O king, this is the woman and this is her son, whom Elisha restored to life.” When the king asked the woman, she related it to him. So the king appointed for her a certain officer, saying, “Restore all that was hers and all the produce of the field from the day that she left the land even until now.” (II Kings 8:4-6)

The king not only returned her home and lands, but also gave her all of the income from the land from the last seven years! Now she could provide for everyone as well as preserve her son’s birthrite.

The story of the Shunammite woman is amazing from beginning to end. Her life is an example of faithful living. Whether she experienced blessings or trials she exhibited unshakeable trust in God. She also persevered and pressed her claims when she needed to. This woman did not just sit around and whine or complain. While trusting in God she confronted situations head on with courage and forthrightness. She held her own in front of God’s prophet and a king.

The Shunammite woman did not let tragedies keep her from seeking God’s help with true belief in God’s goodness. When her son died, she was able to tell her husband in no uncertain terms, “It is well.” What could she possibly have meant by that other than that she knew God was going to restore her son’s life? She did not back down in front of God’s prophet Elisha. She boldly confronted the king when it came to appealing for her son’s rights. She just did what she had to trusting God for the results.

elisha-shunammite-woman-300x204The Shunammite woman teaches us to have the right balance in life. We must trust God but we must persevere for what is right at the same time.

We can also imitate the Shunammite woman by showing hospitality. Hospitality is a spiritual gift. Those who have this gift bless others and are blessed by it. The woman from Shunem practiced this gift her whole life. The Shunammite woman is an example to us of courage, faith and hospitality.

 

 

 

 

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There are two stories this week – One short account of a poor widow woman and the other longer story about the Shunammite woman. These women lived in Israel during the reign of Jehoram son of the wicked king Ahab.

The Widow – Now a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the Lord; and the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.” Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” And she said, “Your maidservant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.” (II Kings 4:1,2)

The Shunammite Woman – Now there came a day when Elisha passed over to Shunem, where there was a prominent woman, and she persuaded him to eat food. And so it was, as often as he passed by, he turned in there to eat food. (II Kings 4:8,9)

At this time Elisha was the prophet in Israel. Recall that Elijah the great prophet had gone to heaven in a great whirlwind of fire leaving Elisha his mantle and a double portion of Elijah’s spirit. (II Kings 2:9-14) So we would expect Elisha to do many similar miracles to Elijah’s. The two stories this week remind us of the widow of Zarephath (see last week’s post).

The first story in II Kings 4 is similar but different to the story of the widow of elisha-miracle-with-oil
Zarephath. During this time there was a widow, who knew Elisha since she was the wife of one of the sons of the prophets. She was so poor that creditors were about to take her two sons to be held in slavery in payment of her debts. Like the poor widow of Zarephath she had only a little oil. Elisha told her to borrow as many jars as she could from all of her neighbors and pour out her oil into all of them. Her sons helped her to pour oil into the many borrowed jars until all of the vessels were full. Elisha then said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debt, and you and your sons can live on the rest.” (II Kings 4:7)

Both stories involve a miraculous continuation of oil – a precious commodity. Both have a couple of differences due to their circumstances. The widow of Zarephath’s oil never stopped according to Elijah’s promise. This was so that she could continue to feed herself, her son, and Elijah. She spent much of the next few years relying on God daily for her provision. The widow that Elisha helped had a huge flowing of oil until she had enough to sell to redeem her sons and provide a livelihood for her family. The Lord had provided what she needed. Both stories show us God’s amazing love and care for poor widows.

shunem mapThe widow’s story transitions us to another story that is similar to the widow of Zarephath. Elisha went to Shunem and was urged by a prominent woman to eat at her home whenever he came to their city. This similarity to the hospitable widow of Zarephath is obvious. Both women housed and fed the prophets. We will see that both stories involve the death and resuscitation of a precious son. But there are differences in the stories – the Shunammite woman was wealthy and had plenty of food, unlike the widow of Zarephath who was so poor and hungry that she and her son were starving to death when they met Elijah. The Shunammite woman was an Israelite; the widow at Zarephath was a Gentile.

The Shunammite woman asked her husband if they could build a room for Elisha and his servant Gehazi so that the men would have a place to stay whenever they were passing by Shunem. The room was an upper chamber. It was large enough for both men and very comfortable. It also had privacy since it was reached by a stairway on the outside of the house.

Elisha wanted to repay the woman for her hospitality. Gehazi noticed that the woman had no child. Since her husband was very old, it was not likely she would ever have a child. Gehazi gave the information as an idea to Elisha. Elisha liked the idea and said, “Call her. When he had called her, she stood in the doorway. Then he said, ‘At this season next year you will embrace a son.’ And she said, ‘No, my lord, O man of God, do not lie to your maidservant.’ The woman conceived and bore a son at that season the next year, as Elisha had said to her.” (II Kings 8:15-17)

What a miracle! How the woman must have rejoiced. The Shunammite woman was blessed with a son though her husband was very old. She knew without a doubt that the praise and glory went to God for her son.

When the boy was grown he went out to the fields one day with his father. “He said to his father, ‘My head, my head.’ And he said to his servant, ‘Carry him to his mother.’ When he had taken him an brought him to his mother, he sat on her lap until noon, and then died.” (II Kings 8:18-20)

The Shunammite woman showed what courage and faith she had by what she did next. She took her dead son up to Elisha’s room and laid him on Elisha’s bed. She asked her husband for a servant and a donkey to drive her to see Elisha. Her emotions were strong and mixed, yet she had control of them. She ran to the man of God as fast as she could. Elisha was at Mount Carmel and saw her at a distance. Elisha sent Gehazi to meet her and ask her if everything was well.

The Shunammite woman’s response seems puzzling to us today. She told Gehazi that everything was well. Why did she not tell him that her son was dead?

Some have thought that since she was a wealthy, prominent woman she might have had servants of her own. Maybe she did not want to speak to someone else’s servant. I don’t see that as part of her personality. Maybe she just wanted to get to Elisha as fast as she could and speak to him directly and didn’t want to waste time having to explain everything twice. Maybe. But I really believe that her faith was so strong that even as she assured her husband “it will be well”, she was also informing Gehazi that it would be well if only she could get to Elisha.

When she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came near to push her away; but the man of God said, “Let her alone, for her soul is troubled within her; and the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me.” Then she said, ”Did I ask for a son from my lord? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me’?” (II Kings 4:27,28)

Here again we see a similarity to the widow of Zarephath. Both women wanted to know why they were blessed with sons only to have them taken away. Both would faithfully appeal to the men of God for help.

Elisha sent Gehazi immediately to the woman’s house with his staff. Gehazi laid the staff on the son’s face. But this persistent woman of faith wants Elisha himself. She trusted God’s prophet. She said, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” Elisha then arose and followed her.

We do not know why Elisha just did not go himself in the first place. Of course the Elisha Raises the Shunammite Woman's Son - II Kings 4:35-37staff in Gehazi’s hands was not effective. As soon as he got to the house Elisha went to the room and stretched out over the boy and prayed to God. The child became warm. Elisha got up and walked around a bit and then stretched himself out again on the child. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes. Elisha asked Gehazi to call the Shunammite woman. She went in and fell at Elisha’s feet and gave him honor. Then she took up her son and went out.

What an incredibly brave woman. Though she honestly questioned why her son died, she wasted no time to seek help. Her faith was strong enough to tell her husband immediately, even before she ran off to get Elisha, “It will be well.”

“It will be well.” The Shunammite woman shows us how a woman of faith and courage acts. Trust in God’s promises is the proof of faith. The Shunammite woman was hospitable, faithful, and persistent because she trusted God.

But this is not the end of the story. Next week we will see more of this brave woman’s actions.

 

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Then the Word of the Lord came to him (Elijah) saying, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and stay there; behold, I have commanded a widow here to provide for you.” So he arose and went to Zarephath, and when he came to the gate of the city, behold, a widow was there gathering sticks; and he called to her and said, “Please get me a little water in a jar, that I may drink.” As she was going to get it, he called to her and said, “Please bring me a piece of bread in your hand.” But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have no bread, only a handful of flour in the bowl and a little oil in the jar; and behold, I am gathering a few sticks that I may go in and prepare for me and my son, that we may eat it and die.” Then Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go, do as you have said, but make me a little bread cake from it first and bring it out to me, and afterward you may make one for yourself and for your son. For thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘The bowl of flour shall not be exhausted, nor shall the jar of oil be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain on the face of the earth.’”

So she went and did according to the word of Elijah, and she and he and her household ate for many days. The bowl of flour was not exhausted nor did the jar of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke through Elijah. (I Kings 17:8-16)

Our story takes place during the reign of the wicked Ahab and Jezebel in Israel. It contains anElijah's travels
interesting contrast between the widow of Zarephath and Jezebel. Jezebel was a Jew and a wealthy queen in Jerusalem. Jezebel was a member of the chosen people. The unnamed widow was a foreigner, a Gentile living up near Tyre, and very poor. (Zarephath is the second city down on the right at the top of the map.) Notice how far away Zarephath was from Jerusalem – the center of life for the Israelites. The temple was there and most of the prophets were there. The widow lived far away in the land of Gentiles. Before Elijah turned up in the widow’s life she had probably never even heard of the one true God – Yahweh.

The Holy Spirit doesn’t make mistakes in His Bible. There is a good reason that this story is placed inside of the larger story of Ahab and Jezebel. The contrast between the unfaithful Jews and the grateful Gentiles is intended. All through the Old Testament God showed the Israelites that He intended to rescue people from among all nations. This was confirmed when Jesus came.

At the beginning of His ministry Jesus went into a synagogue in Nazareth and began to speak. At first the Jews were listening politely. But Jesus knew that in their hearts they were rejecting Him. “And He said, ‘Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.’ … And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things” (Luke 4:24-28).

It is well known that the Jews felt that they were God’s specially chosen people and that Gentiles were lesser beings, some Jews even referring to them as “dogs”. It was hard for the Jews to understand what we now take for granted – Jesus died on the cross for all peoples.

The story in I Kings confirms for us what Jesus said and did and shows us that God can work with whomever He chooses. Jesus was not doing something new and the Israelites should not have been so surprised. The Jews did not know their Scriptures!

Consider the difference between Jezebel and the widow. (For more on Jezebel, see my post on August 5, 2010.) Jezebel was a grasping, conniving, evil woman who felt that her position gave her privileges. The widow graciously gave up the last bit of food that she had to a stranger. She was probably not even a believer when Elijah came to her town. But God chose to bless this woman and the Holy Spirit had her story recorded in the Bible for us to show us part of God’s larger plan of salvation for the whole world.

We are not sure how the widow was led by God to provide for Elijah. The Bible says that God told Elijah that He commanded this widow to provide for him. What form did God’s command take? Was it an audible voice? We don’t know, but it does not seem at the beginning of the story that the widow had full trust in Elijah’s God.

ELIJAH-AND-THE-WIDOW-OF-ZAREPHATHSo, Elijah came and asked her to make a sacrifice for him. She was graciously willing to give up her last morsel of food, even taking it out of the mouth of her own child for Elijah. She knew that her food was at an end and believed that she and her son were about to die from starvation.

Elijah said, “Do not fear.” He then gave her hope when he said that her supply of oil and flour would not run out. The widow trusted Elijah and made him a meal. Her trust was rewarded and her supply of oil and flour was providentially renewed daily. Things went along well for many days. Then one day the widow was tested.

Now it came about after these things that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, became sick; and his sickness was so severe that there was no breath left in him. So she said to Elijah, “What do I have to do with you, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my iniquity to remembrance and to put my son to death!” He said to her, “Give me your son.” (I Kings 17:17-19)

The woman seems unclear about what causes trouble in life. It seems that she did not yet trust God or His prophet fully. But she had some idea that trouble came when people sinned. What sin could this kind, generous woman have been referring to? Maybe the goodness of God in giving her sustenance during the famine caused her to think about the difference between a holy God and a sinful person. In any event, her son was taken mortally ill and whatever faith she may have had was not strong enough to stand up to this test. Did God provide for them only to take her son away?

Elijah had faith to believe that God could work a miracle here – even the most spectacular kind of miracle. This boy was the first person recorded in the Old Testament to have been raised to life after dying.

The widow decided to trust Elijah. Elijah stretched himself across the child’s body and prayedelijah widow and son three times. He begged God to restore life to the child and God heard “the voice of Elijah and the life of the child returned to him and he revived. … Elijah said, “See, your son is alive. Then the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” (I Kings 17:22-24).

At this point we see real confirmation that the woman had become a believer.

It is amazing that this humble, poor, Gentile woman who had been willing to listen to Elijah was blessed and rewarded for her faith. The proud queen Jezebel refused to listen to the prophet of God. The merciless Jezebel would eventually go to her death fighting God. In contrast, the widow of Zarephath would be restored to health from starvation and see the restoration of life to her son thanks to the goodness of God.

The story emphasizes how good God is. He is the defender of the fatherless and the widow (even if they are Gentiles). He blessed this woman and helped her to conquer her fears and grow in faith. The Zarephath widow could then walk confidently in faith trusting God. She could not know that the Savior of the world, preaching many centuries later, would refer to her as an example of faith. We can be thankful that her story is recorded for our encouragement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Now when the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to test him with difficult questions. So she came to Jerusalem with a very large retinue, with camels carrying spices and very much gold and precious stones. When she came to Solomon, she spoke with him about all that was in her heart. Solomon answered all her questions; nothing was hidden from the king which he did not explain to her. When the queen of Sheba perceived all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his servants, the attendance of his waiters and their attire, his cupbearers, and his stairway by which he went up to the house of the Lord, there was no more spirit in her. Then she said to the king, “It was a true report which I heard in my own land about your words and your wisdom. Nevertheless I did not believe the reports, until I came and my eyes had seen it. And behold, the half was not told me. You exceed in wisdom and prosperity the report which I heard. How blessed are your men, how blessed are these your servants who stand before you continually and hear your wisdom. Blessed be the Lord your God who delighted in you to set you on the throne of Israel; because the Lord loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king to do justice and righteousness.” She gave the king a hundred and twenty talents of gold, and a very great amount of spices and precious stones. Never again did such abundance of spices come in as that which the queen of Sheba gave King Solomon…. King Solomon gave to the queen of Sheba all her desire which she requested, besides what he gave her according to his royal bounty. Then she turned and went to her own land together with her servants.” (I Kings 10:1-13)

 

When a powerful king arose in a country, other kings would give him gifts to form alliances and Sheba-mapmake trade agreements with each other. David and Solomon, Israel’s most powerful kings, formed many alliances with the nations around them. Our story this week is about the reigning queen of Sheba and how she came face to face with a new and powerful ruler. Sheba was in the Arabian Peninsula, where Yemen is today. In ancient times it was known as a nation possessing fabulous wealth. Frankincense and myrrh were two of the many precious spices that were exported.

When the queen of Sheba heard about the fame of Solomon and his relation to the name of the Lord, she came to test him with hard questions. What had she heard about Jehovah? Was this woman seeking to know more about God? It seems that she mostly came to make the trade agreements. In that she was successful.

Arriving at Jerusalem with a very great caravan — with camels carrying spices, large quantities of gold, and precious stones — she came to Solomon and talked with him about all that she had on her mind… She gave the king 120 talents of gold, large quantities of spices, and precious stones. Never again were so many spices brought in as those the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon. (1 Kings 10:1-2, 10)

Spices don’t seem so special to us, but in the ancient world, some were outrageously expensive because of their rarity and use as perfumes, incense and medicine. Some were grown only in certain countries and they had to be brought great distances. Only a king could afford to purchase them. The queen of Sheba needed to bring something really impressive for the great king and her gift surpassed any gift ever seen before.

The conversation between Solomon and the queen stayed mostly on Solomon’s wisdom, his wealth, and the wealth of the land. But then the queen said something interesting.

queen of sheba“How blessed are your men, how blessed are these your servants who stand before you continually and hear your wisdom. Blessed be the Lord your God who delighted in you to set you on the throne of Israel; because the Lord loved Israel forever, therefore He made you king, to do justice and righteousness.” These words are strangely prophetic. We do not know if the queen of Sheba came to believe in Jehovah as the only true God. Again, it is more likely that she just added Him to the list of gods that she worshipped. She certainly was impressed with the blessings in Israel and seems to have acknowledged them as coming from Jehovah. But we won’t know until we get to Heaven if the queen truly relinquished her other gods for the one true God. Since she did not make a gift to the temple, it is more probable that she went home happy with the trade agreements that she came to make. That was what she really came for.

It should not surprise us that queen of Sheba spoke prophetic-sounding words. Other unbelievers in the Bible spoke truth even though they didn’t know it. One familiar story comes from the Gospel of John where the rulers of Israel are conspiring to capture Jesus and put Him to death. “But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.’ Now this he did not say on his own initiative; but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.” (John 11:51,52) God can move anyone, even unbelievers, to speak as He wishes.

The queen of Sheba spoke truth when she blessed God, Solomon, and the Israelites. She could not help herself. But I am not sure that this means that she was converted.

Solomon then gave the queen many things. This was common for trade agreements. It is interesting to see that Solomon then turned much of the gold and metals he received from the queen of Sheba and other Arabian traders into weapons of war. How sad.

While Solomon made trade agreements with all of the surrounding nations (I Kings 10:15) only this special story about one of the foreign rulers is recorded for us. It is interesting that it is a woman. It is interesting that later we find out that Solomon takes seven hundred wives. It is assumed that these were alliances for treaty purposes.

But the queen of Sheba was not one of Solomon’s wives. She was the reigning monarch of her own country. She secured an alliance with Solomon strictly on trade. Jewish scholars have many legends about her including one where she and Solomon had an affair and a child was born from their union. They are only speculating.

I don’t believe those stories. The story in the Bible about a strong woman who came and secured peace for her country is exciting enough without all the fables.

 

 

 

 

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