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Bible Commentaries
2 Kings 4

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-7

Second Kings - Chapter 4

A Widow Aided - Verses 1-7

It will be interesting to note how much Elisha’s ministry was involved with the poor of the land, while the majority of that of Elijah was in the court of the king, or related thereto. In this incident he is called to the aid of a widow whose young husband had been one of the sons of the prophets. His untimely death had left her in dire economic straits, for he was in debt. His creditor was now demanding payment, and she had none. In view of this fact he was allowed to take her two sons as bondmen until the debt was paid, leaving the widow still more destitute. It is also likely that the law of Moses was so abused in the northern kingdom that the boys may have faced perpetual servitude. To thus abuse the poor was directly forbidden in the law (De 15:7-11).

The widow called upon Elisha for aid in her desperation, commending the godly character of her late husband to him, which character Elisha had observed in him. Elisha inquired how he might help her. What did she have which he might use to alleviate her distress? All that she had of any value, it seems, was a pot of oil. This was doubtless olive oil, a commodity which brought a ready sale in those times, for it had a versatile usefulness. It was used for cooking, anointing the body following the bath, for the hair, for fuel in the lamps, as a substitute for butter, etc. Enough of it could provide the seller with a tidy sum.

So Elisha instructed the woman to go to all her neighbors and borrow their unused and empty pots and pans. Then the widow and her two sons were to shut themselves up in the house and fill the borrowed vessels out of the pot of oil they possessed. This required an exercise of faith on the part of the widow, for she knew there was not oil enough to fill perhaps even one of the vessels, and the prophet has instructed her to fill a great many from it. But she met the test of faith and poured oil out of the pot until she had all the many borrowed vessels filled. Inquiring then of Elisha she was told to go and sell it, pay off the creditor, and live from that which was left.

An analogy may be drawn from this event, for God’s children owe a debt of the gospel to the world. Like the widow they may be shut up with the quiet will of the Lord, pouring out witness of His salvation by the Holy Spirit. "Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things" (1 John 2:20).

Verses 8-17

The Shunammite Woman - Verses 8-17

Elisha appears to have made his usual abode at Samaria, and in nearby towns. As he moved about the country he passed frequently through the town of Shunem, which was a very few miles north of Jezreel, in the upper reaches of the valley of Jezreel. There lived here a great woman, whose name is not found anywhere in the Scriptures. She is introduced as "a great woman," but again the reason for her greatness is not expressed. Certainly she was great in her love for the Lord and His servants. This she displayed by inviting the passing prophet to her table (3 John 1:5-6).

This great woman was not content with what she was doing for this man of God, and persuaded her husband to construct for Elisha his own private room and study on the wall of their house. This means that the room would be build upon the roof of the house, possibly a corner, and would be accessible by an outside stairway, so that the prophet would have privacy in it. Inside she would equip it with a bed, table, stool, and a candlestick, all the necessities he would require in his sojourn. Someone has drawn analogies to these things: 1) the bed for rest in the word; 2) the table for feasting on His word; 3) a stool for instruction from the word; 4) a candlestick for illumination of the word (2 Timothy 2:15).

When Elisha and his servant, Gehazi, passed by again he was invited to occupy his new room, and he did so. He was pleased with it and wished to reward the Shunemmite woman for her hospifality and thoughtfulness. So he had Gehazi call her and inquire what she desired. Perhaps she wanted a recommendation to the king, or to the captain of the host. But she had not done this hospitable deed for any thought of remuneration. She was pleased to live where she was and was content with herfriends and neighbors. She did not require any reward.

But Elisha inquired of Gehazi what they might do to show their appreciation of her care of the prophet. Gehazi suggested that she was disappointed that she had no children, and her husband had now grown old and no longer virile. So Elisha had the servant call her again, and when she stood before him informed her that she would be the mother of a son. After the regular term of pregnancy her fond wish would be realized. It would be clearly miraculous under the circumstances, and the woman could not believe the prophet’s promise. Nevertheless she conceived and brought forth the son just as Elisha had promised. Like too may who believe the power of God, she was yet unready to accept it (Genesis 18:13-14).

Verses 18-30

Appeal to Elisha - Verses 18-30

The reference to "when the child was grown" does not mean he had become an adult, but seems to mean he had passed his infancy and had become a sizable boy. He was old enough to attend his father in the field. It was there he developed pain in his head and upon complaining to his father was sent to the house to his mother. The father evidently did not feel it a serious thing. Some have suggested a sunstroke, but it is not known what his malady was. His mother found it serious enough that she nursed him on her knee until noon, by which time he had died.

It seems odd that the Shunammite woman did not apprise the fa­ther of the child’s death. Instead she simply requested that he send her a servant and a donkey that she might go to Carmel to Elisha. The fa­ther, not knowing her intention, thought it unlikely she would be going, since it was no new moon or Sabbath, as might be kept as special worship days. When he suggested this she said that all would be well.

The body of the boy was laid on Elisha’s bed in his little room and the door shut. Then the woman set out for Carmel to see the prophet, urging the servant who accompanied her not to slow down on her account, unless she requested it. From Shunem the road would have proceeded down the valley of the Kishon River, and passed over the river to reach Mount Carmel near its mouth. Here was the site of Elijah’s victory over the Baal prophets (1 Kings chapter 18). It was a distance of more than twenty miles. From the account it would seem that the woman arrived at Carmel in a matter of a few hours at most, but this is not likely. It seems more likely it may have been the next day before she arrived. The father would not discovered the death of his son because the body was up in Elisha’s’s private room.

Elisha saw the woman coming and recognized her. He sent Gehazi to meet her to inquire of the welfare of herself and her family. To each inquiry, "Is it well with you? with your husband? with your child?" she responded that all was well. This indicates a faith in God on her part and assurance that, by coming to Elisha, the man of God, all would turn out aright. It is a lesson in faith for all the Lord’s people (John 6:28-29).

When the woman came into the presence of Elisha she fell at his feet and grasped him around the ankles. Gehazi came to disengage her, but the prophet forbade it. He could see that she was highly disturbed, though the Lord had not revealed to him what it was. The woman answered his unasked question by reminding him that she had not asked for a child, and that it had been born to her contrary to what she could normally expect. By this Elisha surmised that the boy had died. Thus he instructed Gehazi to gird himself for travel, to take the prophet’s staff, and hasten to Shunem. There he should lay the staff on the boy’s face. But the Shunammite woman refused to leave unless Elisha came with her. Gehazi proceeded under instruction to stop and converse with no one along the way, but to hasten to the room where the little boy lay in death. Elisha and the woman came along after him.

Verses 31-37

Life Restored - Verses 31-37

Gehazi, following Elisha’s instructions came to the Shunammite’s house and laid the prophet’s staff on the face of the dead child. There was no stir, sound, or movement of any kind. So he returned to meet the oncoming woman and prophet, reporting that the child did not awake. Since the Lord usually acted promptly upon Elisha’s requests he might have give up at this and concluded that no miracle was possible. The fact that he persisted in restoring the child’s life teaches Christians the lesson of the need to persevere in seeking the lord’s blessings 2 Kings 18:1-8).

Elisha went into the chamber, himself and the dead child alone, and closed the door. In seeking the restoration of the child’s life he followed the procedure Elijah had used to restore the life of the son of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17-24). He stretched his body on the lifeless body of the child and breathed into his mouth. Before he began his attempt he prayed, and after this he continued to meditate on the Lord’s will. He never forgot that it was by the power of the Lord alone that he could accomplish anything (John 8:28; John 9:33). Repeating the physical procedures once more the child’s body became warm, and he sneezed and opened his eyes. Gehazi was sent to call the mother, to whom the living child was delivered.

The skeptic who supposes the child was only in a coma and that Elisha restored him by simple mouth-to-mouth resuscitation ignores a number of facts which definitely indicate that the boy was actually dead. 1) Verse 20 says he died at noon; 2) the approximately fifty-mile round trip of the woman to get Elisha indicates that up to twenty-four hours may have elapsed; 3) Gehazi found no sign of life; 4) Elisha observed that the boy was dead (verse 32); 5) his body was cold (verse 34; 6) his mother believed he was dead.

Verses 38-44

Food for the Hungry - Verses 38-44

The incidents now to be studied occurred in Elisha’s ministry with the school of the prophets at Gilgal. This was not Gilgal near Jericho, where Israel first camped when Joshua led them into the land, but a town of that name in the tribe of Ephraim. It is interesting that these schools seem to have thrived in spite of the wicked kings and Jezebel of the times. The occasion of Elisha’s visit was probably in teaching and training of the young men, and to encourage them.

It was a time of drouth in the land, and there was a scarcity of food for the sons of the prophets. While the prophets were seated before Elisha hearing him the prophet instructed his servant to prepare a pot of stew for them. One of those preparing it went into the field to gather wild herbs to season it. Possibly their supply of food was rather meager and they needed wild foods to augment it. Anyway the one gathering did not know his plants very well. He gathered a lap full of wild gourds and shredded them into the pot of stew.

When class was over and the men began to eat the food they discovered that it was poisonous. It is not clear whether they recognized it by seeing the ingredients, or perhaps were beginning to be sick from it. Anyway they began to cry to Elisha, "O man of God, there is death in the pot." It was possibly the last of their food, and the gourds had rendered it unfit to eat, besides which if some had eaten of it they might die. Elisha remained calm, there was a remedy. If there is death in the pot, then bring meal, he told them. So someone found some meal, which Elisha put in the pottage and rendered it palatable.

An analogy can be drawn from this miracle of the pot. Many false teachers gather and shred poison into the pot of theology, and many are sickened and killed spiritually thereby. However, those who recognize death in the pot may take the good meal of the gospel and apply it, making the word wholesome by it.

During this same period of time God put into the heart of an unnamed man from Baal-Shalisha to bring a food offering of the first fruits of his barley to the sons of the prophets. This place was some distance to the northwest of Gilgal, but he made the journey at an expedient time for the hungry young men. It consisted of twenty loaves and some unthreshed grain (possibly for parching). Yet there were a hundred of the prophets, and this was not enough to feed them under ordinary circumstances.

When Elisha commanded the servant to serve it to the hundred students, he thought Elisha must be joking. But he was told again to serve it to them, for the Lord had said they would eat and there would be food left over. So he was prevailed on to serve it, and it turned out as Elisha said, there was leftover food. This reminds one of Christ’s miraculous increase of the loaves and fish, whereby He fed thousands of people (Matthew 14:15-21; Matthew 15:32-39)

The lessons from chapter four: 1) God’s people are not destitute; of that they have, they may serve Him satisfactorily; 2) Christian hospitality is becoming in all the saved; 3) God will abundantly reward those who serve Him by serving His servants; 4) whatever occurs all is well with the one in God’s will; 5) sometimes the Lord lets the faith of His children be tried before granting their petition; 6) the poison of heresy can be countered by application of the pure word of God; 7) the Lord’s increase will be sufficient to satisfy His followers.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 2 Kings 4". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/2-kings-4.html. 1985.
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