By Sam E. Stone
To fully appreciate today’s text, we need to review what led up to it. God kept his Word to Abraham when he brought him into the promised land and gave him the “promised son” late in his life. His descendants continued to receive the Lord’s blessings as the nation grew in Canaan. Although the Hebrew people spent some 400 years in Egypt at one point, they returned again to the land God had promised as their inheritance.
Eventually David was named to be their king. His son Solomon succeeded him and the nation grew, expanding in influence and size. The people did not always do what God wanted, however. The kingdom was divided for many years. The northern kingdom was known as Israel, and the southern kingdom was called Judah. The events in today’s lesson took place during this period.
Elijah and Elisha were prophets sent to save the northern kingdom. Henry Halley summarized their work like this: “Their ministry together lasted about 75 years in the middle period of the northern kingdom, about 875-800 B.C. through the reigns of six kings—Ahab, Ahaziah, Joram, Jehu, Jehoahaz, Joash.”
During his travels Elisha came at one point to a village called Shunem. There a gracious, well-to-do woman invited him to stay with her and her husband whenever he was in the area. They even furnished a room just for him. Elisha wanted to express appreciation to this woman. She was childless, and her husband was old. Elisha promised her that she would hold a son in her arms within a year’s time (2 Kings 4:16). His promise was fulfilled. All seemed to be going fine. Then one day the child suddenly became ill and died. The woman immediately got one of the servants and a donkey and set out to find Elisha. When she did, he returned with them and brought her son back to life (vv. 27-37).
2 Kings 8:1-2
At a later time, Elisha again looked out for the needs of this family. He warned, “The Lord has decreed a famine in the land that will last for seven years” and told them they should leave. J. Robert Vannoy adds, “The famine should have been perceived by the people of the northern kingdom as a covenant curse sent on them because of their sin (compare 4:38).” Elisha’s warning to the family might not have been solely because of the impending food shortage, but also to protect them from future massacres that would wipe out both family and friends of King Ahab (see 10:11). The woman trusted the prophet completely and did as she was told. She and her family moved to the land of the Philistines.
2 Kings 8:3-6
After seven years, she returned. We are not told why the woman then had to beg for her house and land. Her property had been taken over by someone, however, and she tried to remedy the situation. She took her case all the way to the top—to the king, just like the woman who appealed directly to King Solomon in last week’s lesson (1 Kings 3:16-27). Quite possibly she was a widow by this time since her husband was described as “old” when Elisha first met her (2 Kings 4:14). A. H. Konkel explains, “Legally the property was still hers, possibly through inheritance, but she had no access to it.”
One day Elisha’s longtime assistant Gehazi was talking to the king. He knew the woman and her story from firsthand experience. The king had just directed Gehazi, “Tell me about all the great things Elisha had done.” By God’s providence, at the very moment the woman walked in, Gehazi was telling how her son had been restored to life! “This is the woman!” Gehazi told the king.
The king questioned her, first about her son being brought back to life, then about her current problem. He ordered, “Give back everything that belonged to her.” Her life illustrates God’s care and provision for those in need. No one can study Scripture without being impressed with God’s concern for widows and other people in need. All who would obey his will today must share that concern. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27).
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.