The passage breaks down or centers around 2 key events: (a) The Shunammite woman receives a son (4:8-17) and (b) she received her son back from death (4:18-37).
A MINISTRY OF HOSPITALITY AND FAITH (2 Kings 4 8-13). One day Elisha went on to Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to eat some food. So whenever he passed that way, he would turn in there to eat food. 9 And she said to her husband, “Behold now, I know that this is a holy man of God who is continually passing our way. 10 Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there.” 11 One day he came there, and he turned into the chamber and rested there. 12 And he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” When he had called her, she stood before him. 13 And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘See, you have taken all this trouble for us; what is to be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’” She answered, “I dwell among my own people.”
This story primarily centers around this great woman of faith. There are four other actors in this drama–Elisha, his servant Gehazi, the woman’s husband, and of course her son. But the central figure is this woman and her ministry of faith by which she showed hospitality to Elisha as a man of God.
Elisha is seen here as a prophet moving about the country carrying on his ministry to the people while also stopping at the various schools of the prophets. Elisha was involved with his work, but he had special needs of his own and we see here how God graciously works through the lives of other believers to meet those needs.
The faith of this woman and that of her husband was developed because they had not neglected gathering together at the proper times for fellowship with believers and for instruction in the Scriptures:
2 Kings 4:22-23 (ESV) Then she called to her husband and said, “Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again.” 23 And he said, “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor Sabbath.” She said, “All is well.”
These verses suggest they gathered together with others to hear the prophets on certain holy days to get biblical teaching.
This is why the woman’s husband was surprised when she wanted to go to the prophet other than on one of these special days. Their normal routine was to gather together with others for that purpose on those special days. This was the key to this lady’s faith in these terrible days of apostasy.
“Where there was a prominent woman . . .” Literally, “a great woman.” The word “great” is sometimes used of wealth, influence or character (1 Sam. 25:2; 2 Sam. 19:32), so it may mean “great in importance, influence and character (1 Kings 10:23). From our passage it is easy to see that she was a prominent lady in the community, was somewhat wealthy, and undoubtedly exercised a considerable influence by her spiritual perception and godly character. She was a great lady for a number of reasons–she was full of faith and good works and undoubtedly had a great deal of love and respect for the teaching of the Word.
Her godliness and respect for the Word is seen in her hospitality. As we see in these verses, she willingly opened her home to those in need. She extended her hand to the needy; she shared in the good things God had given her.
In Ancient times there were no Holiday Inns or Motel 6’s. Those who traveled were dependent upon the gracious hospitality of the people in the land, especially the prophets in their itinerant ministries as they traveled about from place to place.
In the New Testament this is one of the signs of maturity, a qualification for elders, and a general responsibility for all believers, especially to fellow believers or members of the body of Christ.
And it is especially mentioned as one of the requirements for widows to be placed on the list for support (cf. Matt. 10:40-42; 25:35-40; 1 Tim. 3:2 and 5:10).
Our cultural situation today in our country is quite different, but there is still the need and the application of this principal in numerous ways. Believers need to open their homes for Bible studies, for baby-sitting during the studies, for times of Christian fellowship, for visiting missionaries and speakers, for youth gatherings, and for lifestyle evangelism or out-reach to neighbors.
This lady was also great because she was interested in and wanted to promote the work of God, especially the preaching of the Word. She did what she did for Elisha because she perceived he was a man of God, that is, a prophet teaching the Word and doing the work of God (vs. 9).
By her concern and her actions she was promoting the preaching of the Word.
This godly lady took God seriously and got involved with God’s work according to her abilities and the opportunities God gave her. She made no excuses, nor sought any. She was available and as a result she became a vibrant testimony for the Lord and a source of comfort and encouragement to Elisha who for the most part was ministering in a hostile and idolatrous environment. This family was like an oasis in the desert.
In verse 10 we see a third way the Shunammite demonstrated her prominence; she was great because of her discernment and the degree of her concern.
First, as a discerning believer she demonstrated her concern for God’s work. She did this with respect for her husband’s authority and leadership. She politely involved him in this matter and appears to have left the final decision up to him. This beautifully illustrates the influence, aid, and support a godly wife can have on her husband.
Our wives often show a special capacity for the benevolent concerns of others that men are so often blind to. The point is that husbands and wives are a team. Scripture describes her as the husband’s helpmeet, a helper especially suited to him. They are to compliment, help, and fulfill each other’s needs and potentials. However, husbands must recognize this, and capitalize on it, rather than react in proud arrogance or stubbornness. Men, draw on your wife’s insight and perception. Further, wives must be wise and submissive, showing respect for their husband’s position of leadership as did this Shunammite woman.
Second, she also discerned the degree of Elisha’s need and their responsibility to the prophet because of the ability God had given them. She was not simply satisfied with a place for Elisha to turn in. She knew he needed a private place, a place to pray, meditate, study, relax and be alone with the Lord. This woman knew they had the capacity to do all of this. What a thoughtful and caring lady.
The principle is she was concerned for the details of his needs. In general, women tend to generally be more detail-oriented whereas men tend to think in more general terms.
It reminds me of a man who wants to surprise his wife with a two-week Caribbean cruise, so he plans the date, buys their tickets, and plans how he will surprise her. Thinking he’s taken care of everything, he takes his wife out for a special dinner and presents her with the tickets. Immediately her mind goes into gear: Who’ll keep the kids? What about the dog? Who in the world can I get to teach my Sunday school class on such short notice? Help! I don’t have anything to wear! I’ll need a perm! How in the world can we afford a trip like this? The poor man is totally surprised because it takes her a while before she can respond with any semblance of the excitement he expected!
This was manifested in her actions and in God’s reward for her faithfulness.
(1) As one who shared in the things Elisha taught, she wanted to share with him in all good things which she had (vs. 6). So she saw to it that all his needs were met according to her ability.
(2) She was sowing, properly using the blessings God had given. She was laying up treasure in heaven.
(3) She did this while she had the opportunity; she didn’t procrastinate. She used her blessings for the blessing of others. How we need to seize the opportunities and redeem the time.
She was a great lady because of her contentment. When Elisha, being appreciative for her warm hospitality, wished to reward her by offering to use his influence with the king or his military commanders, she politely refused.
She had no desire for worldly advancement; she was not wanting to climb the social ladder of success. She was content with what God had provided her and with her place of service and ministry in the community. She was content with her home, her position, her friends, and her ministry. What a rare attitude! She knew and believed she was where God wanted her and with that she was content. This lady had it together!
GOD’S REWARD OF HER SERVICE (2 Kings 4:14-17)
14 And he said, “What then is to be done for her?” Gehazi answered, “Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.” 15 He said, “Call her.” And when he had called her, she stood in the doorway. 16 And he said, “At this season, about this time next year, you shall embrace a son.” And she said, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant.” 17 But the woman conceived, and she bore a son about that time the following spring, as Elisha had said to her.
First, note that Elisha was very appreciative and thankful for what this woman had done for him and his servant. There is a mental attitude of thankfulness and appreciation that characterizes the godly.
One of the products of a Spirit-controlled, Word-filled life is thankfulness, not only to God, but to others for what they mean to us, to our ministry, and to others (cf. Eph 5:18-20 and Col. 1:9 with vs. 12 and Phil. 4:10-19).
Second, Elisha was not just thankful, he wanted to express his thanks in concrete terms so he sought something he could do for her to show his appreciation. People cannot read our minds, we need to say and do things to express our appreciation. That is encouraging to them and honors the Lord.
So, in verse 14, Elisha turned to his servant and said, “what then is to be done for her?”
First, this illustrates a bit of on-the-job-training. He was involving his servant in his ministry and at the same time even seeking his help. This is bound to have been encouraging to Gehazi.
Gehazi had noticed that she was without a child, which for Jews was a great burden. So he called this to Elisha’s attention. This showed discernment on the servant’s part. He was learning to watch for needs and he knew that God could meet such a need because God had provided Abraham and Sarah a child even when they were old.
When Elisha promises she will embrace a son next year, she begs him not to raise her hopes unless he could truly deliver what he promised. Undoubtedly she said what she did because it had been a real matter of grief to her for many years.
But Elisha was speaking for the Lord, the One who is able to bring the nonexistent into existence and to make dead things alive (cf. Rom 4:17f).
The Shunammite’s Son Resurrected – 2 Kings 4:18-37; Hebrews 11:35 (ESV) Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.
The NIV Bible Commentary has a good summary of the events described in verses 17-37: “So it came to pass, at the appointed time the child was born and in time grew into a young lad. One day as he helped his father in the field, the lad was taken suddenly critically ill and died. After placing the lad’s body on the bed in the chamber of the prophet who had first announced his life, the Shunammite lady immediately set out for Mount Carmel where Elisha was ministering. Her faith convinced her that somehow Elisha could be instrumental in again doing the seemingly impossible. He had previously announced life for her who had no hope of producing life; perhaps he could once more give life to her son. Bypassing Gehazi whom Elisha had sent to meet her, she made directly for Elisha; and grasping tightly his feet, she poured out the details of the tragedy.”
2 Kings 4:29-30 (ESV) He said to Gehazi, “Tie up your garment and take my staff in your hand and go. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not reply. And lay my staff on the face of the child.” 30 Then the mother of the child said, “As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So he arose and followed her.
Elisha quickly sent Gehazi ahead with instructions to lay the prophet’s staff on the dead lad. Although the author of Kings assigns no reason for Elisha’s instructions and actions, Elisha surely did not send Gehazi on a hopeless mission. Because he was young, Gehazi could cover the distance to Shunem quickly; and it was imperative that a representative of God arrive there as soon as possible. Very likely Gehazi’s task was preparatory and symbolic of the impending arrival of Elisha himself.
But the woman, who apparently had never trusted Gehazi, would entrust neither herself nor the final disposition of her son to him but rather stayed with Elisha until he could reach Shunem. Her faith and concern for her son’s cure were totally centered in God’s approved prophet.
2 Kings 4:31-37 (ESV) Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the face of the child, but there was no sound or sign of life. Therefore he returned to meet him and told him, “The child has not awakened.” 32 When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. 33 So he went in and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to the LORD. 34 Then he went up and lay on the child, putting his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands. And as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. 35 Then he got up again and walked once back and forth in the house, and went up and stretched himself upon him. The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. 36 Then he summoned Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite.” So he called her. And when she came to him, he said, “Pick up your son.” 37 She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground. Then she picked up her son and went out.
As Elisha and the mother approached the city, Gehazi reported that, though he had carried out Elisha’s bidding, nothing at all had happened. Perhaps Gehazi had expected something extraordinary. But the merely routine fulfilling of one’s duties will never effect successful spiritual results.
Elisha went straight to the dead lad and, putting all others out and shutting the door, besought the Lord for the lad’s life.
Elisha stretched his body on the lad’s so that his mouth, eyes, and hands correspondingly met those of the lad; and the boy’s body grew warm again. After rising and walking about in continued prayer, he repeated the symbolic action. This time the lad sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.
Having sent Gehazi for the mother, Elisha delivered the recovered lad to her. The woman gratefully thanked the prophet, joyfully took up her son, and went out.
As in the case of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, both Elisha and the Shunammite woman had seen their faith successfully tested; and they were rewarded with the desires of their hearts and corresponding increase in their faith.
As with all the events and miracles in the life and ministry of Elisha, 2 Kings 4:8-37 illustrates and teaches a number of very practical truths:
(1) It strongly illustrates the loving and providential care of God for all His saints: young and old, rich or poor, weak or powerful.
(2) It demonstrates God’s involvement in the lives of men in all walks of life if they will respond to His loving grace.
(3) It also demonstrates the necessity of faith for everyone regardless of their social standing or financial position in life.
(4) Demonstrates that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God” (Rom. 10:17).