The Prophet Series: Elisha, part 10
The Prophet Series: Elisha part 10
"The prophets not only spoke of events in the distant future, but they also spoke of local events in the immediate future. They had to speak in this manner in order to qualify for the prophetic office under God according to the Mosaic code. Codes for the priest, the king, and the prophet are given in the Book of Deuteronomy. Note the code for the prophet:
DEU 18:20-22 'But the prophet who shall speak a word presumptuously in My name which I have not commanded him to speak, or which he shall speak in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.' "And you may say in your heart, 'How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?' "When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him."
If the local event did not transpire exactly as the prophet predicted, he was labeled a false prophet and was so treated." [J. Vernon McGee, The Prophets, Isaiah Chapters 1-35]
The story of Elisha moves from the battlefield to dealing with local events of everyday people, people who are struggling in a corrupt nation. The prophet moves from the widow and her son to a great woman living with her husband in the Jezreel Valley, whom Elisha passes frequently on his journeys to and from Mt. Carmel. About midway across the valley lay the quiet village of Shunem. The Jezreel Valley was so fertile that the people in villages like Shunem could have easily supplied their simple needs from their own lands without extensive enterprise with the outside world. The habits of an agricultural people in a small village were the most simple. There was no need of a governor or a tax collector. Families became prominent due to their individual prosperity and personal influence, and it was to them that the people went for important decisions in the very few instances that needed them. One such family comes into focus in our narrative as the footsteps of the prophet Elisha are brought to them by the decree and providence of God.
It doesn't seem that Elisha has a permanent home. We find him most frequently near Mt. Carmel where he takes rest from his work to spend time alone in prayer with God. Traveling to and fro from Carmel, down the Jezreel Valley, he passes the house of the great woman.
2KI 4:8 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.
Those who are employed in God's work, which every Christian is called to and not just pastors and evangelists, are busily employed, and they need seasons and places of rest and retirement. Even our Lord went off to be alone with His Father from time to time. God will make us aware of these times. They may be for only a short while or for a week or two, and they are to stave off exhaustion. We are to work unto exhaustion and not be lazy or self-serving, but we are not to let exhaustion overwhelm us. When we are about the Father's business and we see fatigue growing to a point of exasperation, it might be a good time to ask God if a short break from service is in order.
We first see the greatness of this woman in her hospitality, which is commanded in the law of God. She offers him rest and food and she does so before she comes to know that he is the prophet of Israel.
LEV 19:33-34 "When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God."
She "persuaded" him to eat, which may indicate that Elisha was busy to get to his next thing, whether prayer on Carmel or God's work somewhere else, and he refused her. We must not be so busy with God's work that we cannot afford to be interrupted, for how do we know that the interruption is not part of God's work? Many years after this there was another woman who persuaded a very busy man of God to remain with her after he had protested. Her name was Lydia and the man was the apostle Paul and the result was the church at Phillipi (ACT 16:14-15).
It is important to note that she does not know the prominence of Elisha and yet she is hospitable and gracious. Also, Elisha must certainly know that she and her husband are prominent in this little village, but he does not eagerly accept her invitation as a struggling preacher might desire the help of the influential and rich. This teaches us something about hospitality. It is always given and never taken. It is not offered in the interest of getting something else. It is not done to move up the societal ladder, impress the neighbor, soften up the boss or the in-laws. The worldly must never mix with the spiritual. We are in the world but we are not of the world and so we do not practice hospitality by the world's standard.
Hospitality is only done out of pure love, and pure love always gives for the benefit of another. The one who accepts hospitality is also showing love. At first glance it seems that he is only receiving, but by graciously receiving he is also giving something far more valuable and lasting than the meal. He is giving his host the opportunity to exercise their gracious desire. He understands that it is more blessed to give than it is to receive and he doesn't rob his host of the greater gift of giving.
ROM 12:9-13 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.
After accepting the first invitation, Elisha stopped in every time he passed and dined with the woman and her husband. They come to know one another, and the woman can't help but notice that there is something very different about Elisha, and she rightly concludes that he is a holy man of God. This is another aspect of her greatness: she doesn't think to get any divine favor from the "holy man." She only determines to honor him more than she had by providing for him a personal chamber on the roof as a place for him to rest and find repose. It was common in that day and culture to put such a room on the roof of the house. There would be an outside stair to it so that Elisha could come and go as he pleased without any more contact with the family than he himself chose. She honored him and served God by honoring His servant.
2KI 4:9-10 And she said to her husband, "Behold now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God passing by us continually. Please, let us make a little walled upper chamber and let us set a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand; and it shall be, when he comes to us, that he can turn in there."
This great woman also asks her husband's permission to build the room. She honors her husband and so she honors God who has required it of her.
Elisha has a servant by the name of Gehazi who will figure prominently in the future, and Elisha sends him to the woman to ask her what he could do for her since she has been so considerate. Elisha would have understood that she was not being gracious in order to obtain something. He offers to speak to the king or the king's second, the captain of the army, on her behalf, which would have consisted of either great material blessing, or a more prominent standing in the country than they already had. Her reply is quite refreshing.
2KI 4:11-13 One day he came there and turned in to the upper chamber and rested. Then he said to Gehazi his servant, "Call this Shunammite." And when he had called her, she stood before him. And he said to him, "Say now to her, 'Behold, you have been careful for us with all this care; what can I do for you? Would you be spoken for to the king or to the captain of the army?'" And she answered, "I live among my own people."
"I live among my own people" means that she is a noble and independent woman who is in no need of the favors of sovereigns. She is the good and hard working farmer who works alongside her neighbors, assisting them as they assist her. She has all that she needs and neither she or her people need kings or benefactors. Her response is refreshing in a day when it seems that most of our nation are looking to the government for favors. It is not the condition of our environment that matters. We could be in the midst of the most independent situation and be completely dependent and we could be in the midst of the most dependent situation and be completely independent.
Gehazi is a very savvy and practical man. Elisha seems to only look at God's will around him, while Gehazi notices all the details. If Gehazi were a spiritual man they would be a perfect match and Gehazi a perfect administrator for Elisha. So Elisha asks his servant what the woman might desire and Gehazi has already discerned this. She is barren, and though she and her husband were prominent, had acres of fields, large herds, full granaries, plenty in barn and winepress; she yearned for a child of her own.
2KI 4:14-17 So he said, "What then is to be done for her?" And Gehazi answered, "Truly she has no son and her husband is old." And he said, "Call her." When he had called her, she stood in the doorway. Then he said, "At this season next year you shall embrace a son." And she said, "No, my lord, O man of God, do not lie to your maidservant." And the woman conceived and bore a son at that season the next year, as Elisha had said to her.
It was too great to believe. She begged him not to play with her heart, but in a year's time, when Elisha would visit and eat and rest, the home was no longer childless. The years passed and the boy began to work the fields with his father. What a great blessing it is to have a child in one's old age! (older age anyway) But then suddenly the child cries out to his father as his head begins to ache terribly. The father took his poor child to the house and gave him to his mother who held him in her lap and did anything she could to console him until after a few long hours had passed, he died right there on her lap. In incredible grief she took the boy up to the prophet's room and laid him on the bed and shut the door. Amazingly, still honoring her husband, she asks for permission to take a servant and a donkey and ride to Carmel in order to see the man of God.
2KI 4:18-25 When the child was grown, the day came that he went out to his father to the reapers. And 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 and brought him to his mother, he sat on her lap until noon, and then died. And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door behind him, and went out. Then she called to her husband and said, "Please send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of God and return." And he said, "Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath." And she said, "It will be well." Then she saddled a donkey and said to her servant, "Drive and go forward; do not slow down the pace for me unless I tell you." So she went and came to the man of God to Mount Carmel. And it came about when the man of God saw her at a distance, that he said to Gehazi his servant, "Behold, yonder is the Shunammite.
Before she breaks down in grief, she must see the prophet and inquire about the great magnitude of this trial. She concentrates all of her energy on this, and it is a lesson to all of us. In the midst of trial we must seek our Lord and find in Him the purpose of the quest and the power to endure it. We will not know if He will end the trial, return to us what we have lost, or bid us to go on with the thing lost forever. He will remind us that no matter what we have lost we will never lose Him, and He will give us our much needed rest.
One might think that she came all this way to give Elisha a piece of her mind, to chew him out and call him every terrible Hebrew name in the book, but she is a great woman. She honors him.
2KI 4:26-28 Please run now to meet her and say to her, 'Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?'" And she answered, "It is well." 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'?"
There was no point in revealing to grief to Gehazi. To do so might have caused her to sink under its weight. She locked it up inside her bosom until she could address the prophet face to face and then all would come out.
Christ alone has borne our griefs. To Him alone must we take them. It is not that we don't receive encouragement and comfort from other believers, we are in fact commanded to do so, but the true source of our comfort is the same source of the truth of the matter concerned. To Him we go and He will again bear our grief.
To Him be the glory, forever and ever,