8 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.” 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.
18 When the child had grown, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. 19 And he said to his father, “Oh, my head, my head!” The father said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20 And when he had lifted him and brought him to his mother, the child sat on her lap till noon, and then he died. 21 And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God and shut the door behind him and went out. 22 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.” 24 Then she saddled the donkey, and she said to her servant, “Urge the animal on; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.” 25 So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel. – 2 Kings 4:8-25 ESV
When Elijah had been the prophet of God to Israel, his ministry seemed to focus on the royal household. Virtually all of the interactions he had were with King Ahab or his wife, Jezebel. And while Elisha had begun his own prophetic ministry with a confrontation between himself and King Jehoram, he seems to have been a prophet to the people. In the last story, Elisha came to the aid of a recently widowed woman who was facing the prospect of having her two sons sold into slavery because of an unpaid debt. In a sense, this woman represented the nation of Israel. She had been left destitute by her husband, a former prophet of God. While alive, this man of God had incurred a sizeable debt, and had he made no plans for its repayment in the case of his death. In a real sense, the people of Israel found themselves spiritually destitute and owing a large debt to God Almighty. Their kings had taken advantage of God’s love and mercy, using His resources to fund their own profligate lifestyles. They had lived for the moment, never considering what would happen when God called their debt due. Jeroboam, Ahab, Ahaziah, and now, Jehoram, all led the people into idolatry and left them with a debt they could not pay.
But Elisha had intervened on the widow’s behalf, providing her with a miracle that eliminated her debt, spared her sons, and met her needs for a long time to come. Through the actions of His faithful prophet, the God of Israel revealed His love and concern for His covenant people. Now, the story shifts to yet another encounter between Elisha and a woman in need. But this time, the woman isn’t even aware that she has a need.
For some unspecified reason, Elisha and his servant, Gehazi, made regular trips to the northern region of Israel that took them to the city of Shunem. In this city, Elisha made the acquaintance of a local woman who offered the prophet and his servant access to her home so they could rest. Realizing that Elisha was a prophet of Yahweh she showed him hospitality and even had her husband construct a room on the roof of their home where the two men could stay when they were in town.
Unlike the widow in the previous story, this woman was apparently wealthy and well-cared for. She had a husband and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. But she was also generous and willing to share what she had with others. The gracious hospitality she extended to the prophet of God reveals that, despite the apostasy all around her, she had maintained her dedication to Yahweh.
Desiring to thank the woman for her courtesy and care, Elisha sent his servant to ask what they could do for her. He wanted to repay her for her kindness. But it’s interesting to note that he offered to speak a good word on her behalf to the king or the commander of the army. Why would the prophet of Yahweh offer to act as an intermediary between this woman and these two apostate leaders of Israel? Perhaps it was a test, designed to see if the woman was a true follower of Yahweh. Would his offer of access to the king pique her interest and reveal a self-aggrandizing side to her personality? Or, instead, would she ask the prophet of God to appeal to Yahweh on her behalf?
But the woman simply responded, “I dwell among my own people” (2 Kings 4:13 ESV). This rather cryptic-sounding statement was her way of saying, “I’m just fine. I’m well-taken care of and in need of nothing.”
Yet, Elisha somehow senses that her answer was not quite honest. She was hiding something. And it was Gehazi who made the keen observation that she and her husband were childless. She had a husband and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle, but she had no sons to carry on the family name. And Gehazi had recognized that her husband was advanced in years.
While the woman in the previous story had been without a husband, she had been blessed with two sons. But the Shunnamite woman had a husband but no children. For the moment, the woman had no perceived need, but the day was coming when her husband would die with no male heirs to whom he could leave his land and estate. In that culture, the inheritance could not be passed on to the wife. So, without a son, she would be left with nothing. She didn’t realize it, but her predicament was far more precarious than she imagined.
So, Elisha called the woman in and informed her, “Next year at this time you will be holding a son in your arms!” (2 Kings 4:16 NLT). Her reaction to this news reveals that she had long ago given up hope of ever having a son.
“No, my lord!” she cried. “O man of God, don’t deceive me and get my hopes up like that.” – 2 Kings 4:16 NLT
When Elisha had asked the woman what he could do for her, she had hidden the desire of her heart. She gave the impression that she had no need and was perfectly fine. But she had lied. Her heart longed for a son but she had become convinced that her dream would never become a reality. So, she lived with a constant fear of the future. What would happen to her when her husband died? How would she survive?
But, once again, Elisha, operating on behalf of Yahweh, spoke a word of blessing over the woman, predicting that she would give birth to a son. And his words proved true. God did a miracle and gave the woman the desire of her heart. She conceived and gave birth to a son. But the story doesn’t stop there.
In the space of just a few verses, the author reveals that the storybook ending was about to take a dark turn. This precious gift from God was going to be suddenly and unexpectedly taken away. One day, while visiting his father in the fields, the young boy complained of a headache. He was rushed home and, later that same day, he passed away in the arms of his mother. Every detail of this story makes the reader want to ask, “Why?” None of this makes sense. Why would God give this woman a son and then allow him to be taken away? What good did it do for her to give birth to a son if he would never live long enough to become the heir? The woman was no better off than before. If anything, her sorrow was only intensified by the loss of her long-awaited son.
But the actions of the woman reveal something about her faith. Upon her son’s death, she took the body and laid it on the prophet’s bed. Then she ordered her husband to saddle a donkey so she could fetch the prophet. At this point, it seems that the boy’s father was unaware that his son had died. For whatever reason, the woman chose to keep him in the dark, assuring him, “All is well” (2 Kings 4:23 ESV). Her son was dead but she still had hope. She knew that the very same man who had predicted the birth of her son would know what to do. This time, rather than hide her need, she sought the one who could do something about it. And she found Elisha at Mount Carmel, the site of Elijah’s victory over the prophets of Baal.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson