Sorrow in the Valley: Chapter 11

2 Kings 4:18‑37  •  13 min. read  •  grade level: 5
What a difference a child makes in the home. “Always something needs fixing, little mouths need feeding, clothes getting too small and needing replacing. And everything takes money,” says the hard-worked father. “Dirty footmarks on the clean steps, black fingermarks on the walls, washing, cleaning, mending and cooking from morning till night,” says the tired mother.
“Schooling to be paid for, increased doctor bills, dentist bills, food bills,” groans the anxious father, as he compares his bankbook with that of his childless neighbor. A never-ending round of busy days with no peace or quiet or repose, from early morning till late at night, sometimes sighs the weary mother, as she thinks of her family cares.
Never mind, you would not be without them! You know that. What would the house be without their merry voices? What would your life be if the little bits of sunshine left it?
The lady of Shunem thought she had enjoyed a happy life before, but she found it very different after the child came. There was more work, certainly, more noise undoubtedly, less order and neatness in the great house, but the mother’s love made up for it all. And as the child grew, he became more and more dear, an increasing joy to the heart.
Can you picture the welcome Elisha would receive when he visited Shunem? What a cheer that child must have been to the childless prophet! The little feet would run to meet the holy man of God; the little hand would be slipped into his as they climbed the hill towards the great house, and the child would sit on his knee and listen with wondering eyes fixed upon him, as the great prophet spoke of the love of Jehovah God.
Suddenly one day a great change came to the house at Shunem. Oh! These days of earth, how uncertain they are! “Boast not thyself,” says the wise man, “of tomorrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” We know not how soon it may be true of us, as it was true of the Shunammite. Perhaps it may come to us as suddenly, as unexpectedly, as it came to her. Who knows what is coming? We do not know, and we do not wish to know. Only One knows, but He does know, He is all wise, all love and all tenderness, and we can trust Him.
The morning began as an ordinary day. It was harvesttime at Shunem. The flowers on the hillside were faded and dead. There was not a cyclamen or a scarlet anemone or a purple crocus to be seen; the hot Eastern sun had laid them all low. Not a breath of air was stirring, and not a cloud was in the sky.
The Shunammite’s son, the little boy of promise, went out to his father to see the reapers gathering in the corn. With that small hand locked in his, the father went about from one field to another, giving directions to his men and superintending their work in the harvest field. The child watched his every movement and listened to his every word. But suddenly, the grasp of the little hand slackened, the hand went up to the head, and a pitiful cry came from the child’s lips.
“And he said unto his father, My head, my head!” His father said to the servant who had care of the boy, “Carry him to his mother.” So he carried him home to his mother, while the father, thinking it was only a headache due to the intense heat, continued his work in the field.
But the hot sun had struck another flower, the fairest flower of all; it had struck and laid it low. He sat on her knees till noon, and then, in the very hottest part of that hot day, the child died.
Yes, the child of promise is taken away, and the mother has to watch that life ebbing away which had been so dear to her. What does she do? Does she rush out into the fields and call her husband? No; see her climb the stairs with that little lifeless form in her arms.
Where is she going? To the chamber on the wall -the prophet’s chamber. There, on the prophet’s bed, she lays the body of her child, and having done this, she leaves it and shuts the door. How awfully still the house seems as she goes downstairs again! She hears no merry laugh, no sound of little feet, no happy childish voice - all is hushed and silent.
The lady of Shunem goes out down the hill into the valley below where her husband is still busy in the harvest field. How will she break to him the sad news? She does not say a single word about it. Instead she says, “Send me, I pray thee, one of the young men, and one of the asses, that I may run to the man of God, and come again.” She wants one of the young men and one of the donkeys that she may ride to Carmel to see the prophet.
She has great faith in the prophet’s power to help. Surely, surely that gift he had been so pleased to give her would not thus be taken from her. She will go and tell him of her heavy trouble.
Perhaps she heard him tell how God had used his master Elijah to revive a widow’s boy who had died. He had told how Elijah, weary and hungry, had been welcomed into a poor widow’s house in the land of Tire and had stayed with her during the time of famine. Then he had told how, sometime afterward, her only boy had died, but in answer to Elijah’s prayer, the soul of the child had come into him again, and he had revived. And where had Elijah laid the widow’s son? On his own bed in the loft where he slept. So, she would lay her little one on the prophet’s bed in the little chamber on the wall.
Elijah was gone, it was true, but what the God of Elijah, the great and good God, had done through one servant He could do through another.
The husband is surprised at her request. It is harvesttime, the busiest time in all the year, and she wants a donkey and a servant to go on a journey - and this at twelve o’clock, the very hottest time of all the hot Eastern day.
So he asks her, “Wherefore wilt thou go to him today? it is neither new moon, nor Sabbath.”
On the Sabbath and on the first of every month the prophet had a service. Silver trumpets were blown and the people came together to hear the Word of God. And though Carmel, where these services were held, was twelve miles away, the Shunammite was evidently in the habit of attending them. She did not think twelve miles too far to go to get food for her soul.
Do we have the same thirst and make the same effort to hear the Word of God? Some let weeks go by and never take the trouble to provide their souls with a single meal; they never seize any opportunity of hearing the Word of God. And for what trivial reasons do we sometimes stay away? A rainy day or a windy day, a little heat or a little snow, or a slight headache is too often made use of as an excuse for staying at home. Surely the lady of Shunem, beneath the intense heat of an Eastern sky, traveling no less than twenty-four miles on a donkey in order to attend a single service, puts many of us to shame. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.”
But today no service is going on, so her husband cannot understand why, in the heat and at harvesttime, she must needs travel to Carmel. But she answers him, “It shall be well.” In other words, “Peace, it is all right.” The Shunammite was one of those wives in whom the heart of her husband could safely trust, so he asks no more questions, but lets her go.
She rides on the donkey, and a servant runs by her side in Eastern fashion. Oh, how anxious she is to get there! If no help comes before evening, her child must be buried out of her sight. There is no time to be lost, and it is a long, hot ride to Carmel. She urges her servant to make haste. “Drive, and go forward; slack not thy riding for me, except I bid thee.” That is, “Do not hold the donkey in; urge him on.” Surely the road is longer than ever today, each mile appears to be lengthened into two, and it seems as if Carmel will never come into sight.
At last Carmel comes in sight. Elisha has a house on the side of the mountain, and looking out of his window, he can see all across the fertile Plain of Esdraelon, which stretches from the Mediterranean to the Jordan. As he gazes out over the plain, he notices two figures coming through the cornfields and crossing an ancient river, the river Kishon, which flows through the plain. Who are they? One is riding and the other is running by the side of the donkey.
Elisha recognizes her, and he says to Gehazi his servant, “Behold, yonder is that Shunammite.” Does it seem to our ears a strange way in which to speak of her? It is not strange in the East, for there everyone is called by his nationality or his occupation or by some peculiarity in his appearance. You hear such names constantly: Max Ungar or Max of Hungary, Mustapha the Turk, Abraham the lame, and the Armenian.
Elisha seems surprised to see her at such a time, and at once he sends Gehazi to meet her and to inquire: “Run now, I pray thee, to meet her, and say unto her, Is it well with thee? is it well with thy husband? is it well with the child?”
He goes to meet her and inquires. She answers, “It is well.” Yes, to the eye of sense all things were against her; all was ill, not well. Her son, her only child, was dead; her husband and she were again childless. Yet still faith enables her to say, “It is well.”
“The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” It is well - He is too wise to err, too good to be unkind. It was not what she would have chosen, but as God had chosen it, it must be well.
But this was not all; her faith went further than this. God had promised her that son. God had given him to her. Surely He meant the child to be for her joy and not for her deepest distress by his death. Nothing is too hard for the Lord. She felt this; she grasped it thoroughly, and so she said, “It is well,” and hastened on to the prophet.
Then, seeing Elisha, she ran forward and fell at his feet. The poor mother’s whole soul was, in her agony, yearning and craving for help.
In later days women came around the Lord Jesus and brought their children to be blessed by Him. But the apostles tried to drive them away, saying roughly to them, “Trouble not the Master.” So now Gehazi comes near to thrust the poor Shunammite away. But Elisha, like the tender, gentle Savior of whom he was a type, has compassion for the mother’s love.
“Let her alone,” he says, “for her soul is vexed within her: and the Lord hath hid it from me, and hath not told me.”
Then she appeals to him: “Did I desire a son of my lord?” I never asked for this child; he was freely given me of the Lord, yet now - . She had no need to say more; Elisha understood.
Gehazi is sent off at once. He is bidden to lose no time on the way. But the mother clings to the prophet. Women often see into character more quickly than men, and perhaps, with her woman’s discernment, she saw through Gehazi, the hypocrite, sooner than his good master did.
So they two go on together, while in front Gehazi hurries into the chamber on the wall and lays his staff on the dead child. But it is quite useless; the boy is as cold and still and motionless as before.
So Gehazi comes back to meet them and says, “The child is not awaked.” The mother expected little or nothing from Gehazi, so she is not disappointed, but she clings the closer to Elisha for comfort and support.
At length they reach the house, and Elisha goes up to the chamber on the wall. He enters it, shuts the door and prays unto the Lord. It was not the first time he had done that in that very room. Often had he entered into his room, shut his door and prayed to his God in secret.
But Elisha could do nothing by his own power. He must cry, and cry earnestly, for help. Elisha cannot call the dead to life, as the Lord Christ did. He, the Son of God, spake as one having authority, as one who had life in Himself. He had no need of staff or rod; there was no lying on the dead body, no restless walking to and fro; no prayer was needed, for He Himself was the Life-giver.
Elisha’s cry to the Lord was not in vain. “The child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes.”
Then Gehazi is sent for the mother. Oh, how anxiously is she watching below. With what terrible earnestness she must have gazed into the prophet’s face as he walked back and forth in the house, afraid by word or look or motion to disturb him! But her faith is rewarded, and the day of sorrow ends in a night of joy.
Is it well with you? It is well. Yes, if you are His, it is well even though you may be passing through deep waters, for the Lord is there. The Lord of life, the Lord of power, the Lord of all comfort is with you. You love Him, and you trust Him, and you know that all things work together for good to them that love God. Therefore, it is well - it must be well.
Is it well with the child? There are some to whom this question comes as it cannot come to others. It is easy to say it is well with the child when that child is in the earthly home sheltered by the parents’ care. It needs no faith then to say, “It is well.”
But has the Lord taken your child away from the home nest? Can you see him no more? Is he gone to the land that is very far off ? Then it does need faith, a strong faith, to say, “It is well with the child.” Yet if we could only see - if we could only for one brief moment gaze through the gate of paradise and catch but a passing glimpse of the glory within, it would surely not be difficult to answer through our tears, “It is well with the child.”
And the day is coming - it may be nearer than we think - when we shall not look from without upon the fair vistas of the Father’s garden, but when we ourselves shall pass within, into the joy and the sunshine, of which the brightness of earth is but a dim, uncertain picture. Then indeed we shall sing together, “It is well.” Meanwhile, let us trust and not be afraid.
He doeth all things well;
We say it now with tears,
But we shall sing it with those we love
Through bright, eternal years.