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  • Rev. Joseph A. Bias

Elisha and the Shunammite Woman – Part 1

“One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a rich and influential woman lived, who insisted on his eating a meal. Afterward, whenever he passed by, he stopped there for a meal. And she said to her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God who passes by continually. Let us make a small chamber on the [housetop] and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp. Then whenever he comes to us, he can go [up the outside stairs and rest] here.” 2 Kings 4:8-10 AMP

Shunem was a place that Elisha frequented or at least traveled through often. There was also a woman there who showed him hospitality by sharing a meal with him whenever he was in the area. So she and her husband prepared a room for Elisha and his servant Gehazi so that as they were passing through they could stop and rest in their home as long as they pleased.

Elisha was so grateful for her hospitality and care of them that he wanted to express his gratitude in some tangible way. So he asked her if he could speak a word of favor to the king on her behalf, or perhaps to the commander of the army that she and her husband might have their special protection or favor. But she said, that is not necessary for us. We live a simple life among our own people. We don’t travel much nor do we have any business that might involve trading goods which might be aided by a friend on the inside of the government, so to speak. So Elisha wondered what could be done for her.

But Gehazi the servant of Elisha spoke for her and said she has no son and her husband is old, so there is little they had to hope for their future. So Elisha knew immediately what he would do because God prompted the thought in him. He sent Gehazi to bring her to him. When she arrived, she stood in the doorway which was a shoe of her modesty, humility and respect before the man of God.

Then he said to her:

“…About this time next year you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord. Man of God, do not lie to your maidservant!” 2 kings 4:16

Now by any measure of communication this was an odd thing to say to a prophet of God, one whom she knew and respected as a holy man. She even said so.

“And she said to her husband, “Look now, I know that this is a holy man of God, who passes by us regularly”. 2 Kings 4:9

So why would she ever imagine that he would lie to her? She didn’t. But the declaration of having a son at her and her husband’s age came as such a surprise she spoke in uttered amazement at the thought of such a thing, and wondered, because of the enormity of what he said, if he was just saying this to appear extraordinarily grateful or as mere flattery? The translation is a bit skewed in English but even in Hebrew it is odd. But the force of the response is to say, “Don’t tell me something just to make me feel good for a moment and don’t promise me if you know it’s not going to happen because I’m trusting you as a holy man of God to tell me the truth. I believe every word you tell me is the truth. So, if this is just idol talk, tell me now, and I’ll resign myself to my lot.

But the very next year just as the prophet said she gave birth to a son. So the child grew up and when he was of such an age he went out to work with the reapers in the field. But suddenly he had something akin to a stroke or an aneurism that ruptured and he cried out, to his Father, “My head, my head!” So the father said, “Take him to is mother.” The servant took the young man and gave him to his mother. The young man sat on her knees until noon and then died. So she took his body up to the room and laid him on the bed where Elisha slept when he stayed with them. Then she called for her husband to send a donkey and one of the servants so she could run to the man of God.

“…that I may run to the man of God and come back.”

At this point in the story several important things should be noted. First, this son was obviously still a young child otherwise his mother would not have been able to have him sit on her knee for hours, then take him upstairs and lay him on Elisha’s bed. Second is her response and the response of her husband after the boy dies. It is not clear if the father knew at this point that the child was dead. It would not seem so, because he doesn’t know why she would need to go to the man of God so urgently when it was not a Sabbath or a New Moon. Also he does not seem particularly concerned about him. Having sent his son to his mother, he was probably confident the boy would be all right in his mother’s care.

She is not so calm, however, but at the same time she also not frantic. But every thing was being done with haste and without discussion beyond what ever was necessary to get her on the way to the prophet. Finally, she displays a decisive degree of confidence that when her husband inquires why she is going to the man of God that day, not being a Sabbath or a new moon, she says to him, “It is well.”

You’ll recall the faith of Abram here, when he took Isaac up to the place to sacrifice him to God, but he said to his servants who were left at the base camp, “…Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.” Genesis 22:5

“…and we will come back to you.”

She knew what she needed to do, and she trusted the Word of the prophet. So the fact that her son was dead did not deter her from making the journey to seek Elisha for remedy from the present circumstance.

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