Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Two Women in Pain

By Dan & Brenda Cathcart
The video version of this teaching is available at:
The scripture reading for this teaching is: 2nd Kings 4:1-37

In this portion we read the tale of two women, both in need and suffering emotional and spiritual pain.  The first of these women is a widow whose husband died and left her with two sons and a sizable debt yet to be paid.  The second woman is not widowed but her son dies and leaves her childless.
What is the common thread between these two women and their particular situations?  One woman is a Jew, the other a Gentile. Both are believers in the God of Israel. One is widowed and in great debt, the other is wealthy, but has lost her son.  These two women, from diverse and very different backgrounds have an encounter with the prophet Elisha; the one anointed by God to be His servant.  How does God, through the prophet Elisha, meet their need at just the right time?  What lesson can we learn from these two women and their situations?  How is this a picture of the abundant grace and salvation from the God of Abraham Isaac and Israel?
Before Elijah the prophet was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elisha was chosen to replace him as a prophet of God.  Elisha took on the mantle or cloak of Elijah and was anointed and empowered with the spirit of God.
2 Kings 2:13-15 NKJV 13 He also took up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him and went back and stood by the bank of the Jordan. 14 Then he took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, and said, "Where is the LORD God of Elijah?" And when he also had struck the water, it was divided this way and that; and Elisha crossed over. 15 Now when the sons of the prophets who were from Jericho saw him, they said, "The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha." And they came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.
Endowed with this double portion, Elisha performs miracles.  He heals the drinking water source for the city of Jericho.  When the king of Moab rebels against Israel, Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, seeks council from Elisha.
2 Kings 3:11-12 NKJV 11 But Jehoshaphat said, "Is there no prophet of the LORD here, that we may inquire of the LORD by him?" So one of the servants of the king of Israel answered and said, "Elisha the son of Shaphat is here, who poured water on the hands of Elijah." 12 And Jehoshaphat said, "The word of the LORD is with him." So the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat and the king of Edom went down to him.
Moab was soundly defeated by the armies of Israel and Judah with the assistance of Elisha the prophet.  We, then, come to our Haftarah portion for this week and the seemingly diverse stories of the two women.  The first is a widow.
Jewish tradition says that her dead husband was the prophet Obadiah.  She was obviously a Godly woman.  She did not seek help from her neighbors, for this was the northern kingdom of Israel where Baal worship was rampant.  She sought out Elisha, the now well-known prophet of the God of Abraham. 
Not only was this woman a widow, she was poor and in great debt.  This would be a very difficult position for a woman to be in in the culture of that day.  She had two sons to raise on her own and when the creditors came to collect the debt, she had no way to pay it.  Under the Torah, the creditor could demand that the woman “sell” her sons to him as payment for the debt.
Leviticus 25:39-40 NKJV 39 'And if one of your brethren who dwells by you becomes poor, and sells himself to you, you shall not compel him to serve as a slave. 40 'As a hired servant and a sojourner he shall be with you, and shall serve you until the Year of Jubilee.
Demanding that this woman give up her sons in payment of this debt would seem to us in our society to be at the very least cruel if not outright illegal!  This woman was most likely still in grief for the loss of her husband.  Even the thought of having to give up her young sons to indentured servitude would be unbearable.  She was in desperate need for a solution to her problem and an answer to her pain.
Jewish tradition says that she went to the grave of her husband, the prophet Obadiah seeking an answer to her plight where she received an answer.
“Go to Elisha with the little oil that is left, and he will bless you with it… Let the prophet mention my deeds to the Holy One, blessed be He, and the one to whom I lent will repay you.”[i]
In the text we only see that she cried out to Elisha.
2 Kings 4:1 NKJV 1 A certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, saying, "Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the LORD. And the creditor is coming to take my two sons to be his slaves."
She tells Elisha that all she has of any value is a little oil.
2 Kings 4:2 NKJV 2 So Elisha said to her, "What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?" And she said, "Your maidservant has nothing in the house but a jar of oil."
This wasn’t just any regular household oil such as that used for cooking.  The Hebrew word used in the text to describe the oil is #8081, Shehmen, meaning a grease or liquid oil, often perfumed used for anointing or medicinal purposes.  This was special oil used for a special purpose.  Her now dead husband, having been a prophet of God, would have had such an item. Elisha, understanding what this special oil is, instructed her in what to do with it.
2 Kings 4:3-4 NKJV 3 Then he said, "Go, borrow vessels from everywhere, from all your neighbors-empty vessels; do not gather just a few. 4 "And when you have come in, you shall shut the door behind you and your sons; then pour it into all those vessels, and set aside the full ones."
She was to borrow empty jars, or vessels from her neighbors.  The Hebrew word translated a vessel here is #3627 kelee, having a wide variety of meanings depending on the contexts of usage but would indicate that Elisha was asking Her to gather any suitable container of any size which could conceivably hold the oil.
How was she to fill all these containers, perhaps both small ones and large ones, with the small amount of oil she had in her jar?  Did she have doubts about the instruction that Elisha was giving her?  What did she expect?
The text of 2nd Kings indicates a great intervention of God on her behalf.
2 Kings 4:5-7 NKJV 5 So she went from him and shut the door behind her and her sons, who brought the vessels to her; and she poured it out. 6 Now it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said to her son, "Bring me another vessel." And he said to her, "There is not another vessel." So the oil ceased. 7 Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, "Go, sell the oil and pay your debt; and you and your sons live on the rest."
The oil only stopped flowing when all the vessels she collected were full! She was able to sell the numerous containers of this special anointing oil for a handsome profit, pay off all her debts, and have enough left over to provide for herself and her two sons.  By trusting in God and listening to His messenger Elisha, she was relieved of her physical monetary debts, but was also relieved of her spiritual and emotional burden of facing the loss of her sons on top of the death of her husband.  This is perhaps the first miracle of the oil!
I am reminded of the Jewish tradition of the miracle of the oil at the time of the Maccabees when the menorah in the temple remained lit for eight full days even though there was only enough oil for one day. And, also, of the provisions being multiplied when Yeshua feeds the five thousand with just a few fish and some bread leaving baskets full of leftovers.
The second woman in pain in our Haftarah portion this week is not a poor widow, but a wealthy woman with a husband. However, she was barren just like Sarah in the corresponding Torah Portion for this week.  She was so impressed by Elisha, this man of God, that she asked her husband to construct an addition to their home that Elisha might stay there when he travels by.
2 Kings 4:8-10 NKJV 8 Now it happened one day that Elisha went to Shunem, where there was a notable woman, and she persuaded him to eat some food. So it was, as often as he passed by, he would turn in there to eat some food. 9 And she said to her husband, "Look now, I know that this is a holy man of God, who passes by us regularly. 10 "Please, let us make a small upper room on the wall; and let us put a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand; so it will be, whenever he comes to us, he can turn in there."
This woman did indeed recognize Elisha as a prophet of God. Elisha was so grateful for their hospitality which went well beyond what would be expected.  One day, while resting in the room provided for him, Elisha asked of this woman what he could do for her.
2 Kings 4:11-16 NKJV 11 And it happened one day that he came there, and he turned in to the upper room and lay down there. 12 Then he said to Gehazi his servant, "Call this Shunammite woman." When he had called her, she stood before him. 13 And he said to him, "Say now to her, 'Look, you have been concerned for us with all this care. What can I do for you? Do you want me to speak on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?'" She answered, "I dwell among my own people." 14 So he said, "What then is to be done for her?" And Gehazi answered, "Actually, she has no son, and her husband is old." 15 So he said, "Call her." When he had called her, she stood in the doorway. 16 Then he said, "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!"
Elisha’s servant Gehazi observed that this woman’s husband was old, and she had no child. Elisha assures her that she will bear a son by this time next year. Although the translations are usually different, the Hebrew phrase used in this verse is the same as that used in Genesis where Sarah hears that she will bear a son.
Genesis 18:10 NKJV 10 And He said, "I will certainly return to you according to the time of life, and behold, Sarah your wife shall have a son." (Sarah was listening in the tent door which was behind him.)
Like Sarah, this woman at first does not accept Elisha’s assurance that she will bear a son. But she did conceive and bear a son just as Elisha said.  Later, after the child had grown and was probably in his teenage years, we learn that he died.  She places his body on the bed which was provided for Elisha.
2 Kings 4:18-22 NKJV 18 And the child grew. Now it happened one day that he went out to his father, to the reapers. 19 And he said to his father, "My head, my head!" So he said to a servant, "Carry him to his mother." 20 When he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died. 21 And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, shut the door upon him, and went out. 22 Then she called to her husband, and said, "Please send me one of the young men and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of God and come back."
She apparently does not tell her husband that the boy had died.  She hurriedly leaves for Mount Carmel to see the prophet Elisha. She believes that God can raise her miracle son, and Elisha, the prophet who told her that she would have this son, would be the instrument of God to restore her son to her. Her husband questions her but does not prevent her from seeking out Elisha.
2 Kings 4:23-25 NKJV 23 So he said, "Why are you going to him today? It is neither the New Moon nor the Sabbath." And she said, "It is well." 24 Then she saddled a donkey, and said to her servant, "Drive, and go forward; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you." 25 And so she departed and went to the man of God at Mount Carmel. So it was, when the man of God saw her afar off, that he said to his servant Gehazi, "Look, the Shunammite woman!
A conversation between the woman and Elisha ensues with Gehazi as the intermediary. As Godly as this woman was, and even knowing deep inside that her son would be well, she still had a bitterness and disappointment in her soul. She was suffering the emotional pain of his death even though this son was the child of promise to her.  Sarah must have felt the same thing as Abraham took Isaac with him to be sacrificed at Mt. Moriah.
As this woman approaches Elisha, she steps around Gehazi and falls at the feet of Elisha and pleads with him.
2 Kings 4:27-30 NKJV 27 Now when she came to the man of God at the hill, she caught him by the feet, but Gehazi came near to push her away. But the man of God said, "Let her alone; for her soul is in deep distress, and the LORD has hidden it from me, and has not told me." 28 So she said, "Did I ask a son of my lord? Did I not say, 'Do not deceive me'?" 29 Then he said to Gehazi, "Get yourself ready, and take my staff in your hand, and be on your way. If you meet anyone, do not greet him; and if anyone greets you, do not answer him; but lay my staff on the face of the child." 30 And the mother of the child said, "As the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you." So he arose and followed her.
The woman’s son needed physical healing, and perhaps she needed spiritual healing and assurance of God’s love and grace. She somehow knew that Elisha was God’s instrument for healing.  She understood the power of the spirit of God that was within Elisha.  The boy could not be healed by Elisha’s staff which was carried on ahead by Gehazi. When Elisha arrived at the house and the room where the boy lay, they shut the door.
2 Kings 4:31-37 NKJV 31 Now Gehazi went on ahead of them, and laid the staff on the face of the child; but there was neither voice nor hearing. Therefore he went back to meet him, and told him, saying, "The child has not awakened." 32 When Elisha came into the house, there was the child, lying dead on his bed. 33 He went in therefore, shut the door behind the two of them, and prayed to the LORD. 34 And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands; and he stretched himself out on the child, and the flesh of the child became warm. 35 He returned and walked back and forth in the house, and again went up and stretched himself out on him; then the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. 36 And he called Gehazi and said, "Call this Shunammite woman." So he called her. And when she came in to him, he said, "Pick up your son." 37 So she went in, fell at his feet, and bowed to the ground; then she picked up her son and went out.
Just as with the first woman of this Haftarah portion, with the multiplication of her small amount of oil filling many vessels, the healing of this woman’s son takes place behind a closed door. It seems that here with the healing and raising of this woman’s son we have a picture of the Apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans which speaks of being dead to sin and alive to God through the Holy Spirit.
Romans 6:4-5 NKJV 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,
Just as Paul teaches us that we receive newness of life through the glory of the Father, this woman’s son received newness of life from the Holy Spirit within Elisha.  Elisha is an image of the promised Messiah for both of these women.
Each of these stories dealt with a woman in distress. God demonstrated that He was the God of both Jew and Gentile. Through His prophet Elisha, God blessed both women. These stories are a picture of a sovereign God who cares for all his people. Finally, these stories illustrate how God uses His servants as His instruments to minister and care for His people.
Study Questions:
1. How are the two women of this Haftarah Portion alike? How are they different?  Discuss their spiritual similarities and differences as well. 

2. How is the Prophet Elisha a shadow of the promised Messiah within the scope of this portion?  Compare Elisha’s reputation and actions to those of Yeshua.

3. What are some of the lessons the women would have learned from Elisha’s ministry and his specific actions with each of them?

4. In both of these stories, the miracle was manifested behind closed doors.  In the case of the first woman, she and her sons actually performed the “miracle” filling all the jars with oil as instructed by Elisha.  In the case of the second woman, the resurrection of the boy was performed by Elisha himself.  The mother was not present in the room.  What is the significance of this difference?

5. What would be the reason for Elisha to send his servant Gehazi ahead with his staff and place it on the dead boy’s body?  What is the significance of Elisha laying on the boy as described in this portion?

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[i] Rabbi A. J. Rosenberg, on 2nd Kings

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