The Shunammite

2 Kings 4:8‑37  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Here we have another exhibition of the power of Elisha’s walk through the earth. This is very glorious: savoring, as we shall see, very strikingly of the energy and authority of God that was with him. And yet, though walking thus in such power toward others, he has himself, all the while, nothing. Poor indeed, while making many rich: seeming to possess all things, yet really having nothing. Receiving bounty and care in the ordinary need of life from those in whose behalf he, at the same time, is opening resources which were altogether beyond man.
And, besides, he walks alone in the world, and yet all wait on him.
All this gives us a strong expression of the ways of One who could call Himself Master and Lord, receiving the homage of faith, even while He had not where to lay His head. In all this our prophet is marking out for us, as in a reflection, the path of Jesus in one of its most striking, remarkable characters.
The woman whom this passage introduces to us was evidently one of the godly seed in the land. She lived in the distant tribe of Issachar, and does not appear to have personally known this mighty prophet of God. But she quickly apprehends something of the Lord about him. She had been already taught of God: her religion was that which discerned God’s mind and way in an evil day, when apostasy was clouding everything. New moons and sabbaths, as her husband wrongly judged, did not constitute her service, nor mark out the path of her spirit with God. But Elisha, who was at that day the channel of divine grace and power apart from the temple and its ordinances, was her object and hope, as he was God’s object and instrument.
She accordingly prepares him a place of sojourning in her own house. And her intelligence of him is further and strikingly marked by the preparation she makes for him. It was but a little chamber, with its bed, its table, its stool, and its candlestick. All was in the simplicity of a man of God who stood apart from the world, a stranger in the midst of its corruptions.
She knew him because she was like him. One spirit was in them both. She understood his pilgrim thoughts and habits, just because she was exercised in them herself. And this is the only way really and divinely to know either the children of God, or God Himself. It is by the union and mind of the same spirit.
She dwelt among her own people and cared not to be spoken for either to the king or to the captain of the host—even as Elisha, who, though he had the ear of the king and of the captain of the host (as well he might after feeding their armies in the day of battle), yet would be a stranger and pilgrim in the land, and lodge in a little chamber with a bed, a table, a stool, and a candlestick.
These are the sympathies in the spirit between the children of God. She could receive a prophet in the name of a prophet, according to the tastes of a prophet. And the great prophet of that day, God’s witness in the land, the vessel of fullest divine treasure that was then, in the name of the Lord, shedding its blessing wherever it was borne in the might of the Spirit, is of one mind with this unknown and distant daughter of Abraham in the borders of Issachar. Precious are the traces of one Spirit thus quickening and forming every elect member of the same household.
And we shall find not only Abraham’s daughter, but something of Abraham’s house and Abraham’s faith in this honored and interesting place. This woman had no child, and her husband was now old. But as the Lord Himself had once said to Abraham, “According to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son,” so now the Lord’s prophet says to this Shunammite, “According to the time of life, thou shalt embrace a son.” And so it was—as with Sarah, so with this woman; the quickening power of God entered her house, and, as it was promised her, she embraced a son.
More, however, than even this is to be witnessed in this house; she is to learn, through the hand of Elisha, resurrection as well as quickening power; just as, in the house of Abraham, it was learned from the Lord Himself. Isaac, who was at the first quickened in the womb of Sarah through the power of God, was afterward received as from the dead. And so here. The sentence of death is laid on this child of promise; but the same power of God, through Elisha, raises him from the dead.
This is Abraham’s house again, and a distant woman of Issachar is thus noticed, thus honored, and graced, by the Lord God of her people. This makes this house of the Shunammite a sample of that glorious mystery in which we are all concerned, a witness of every soul where the power of God is known: for it is there a quickening and resurrection power, which calls up those who were dead in trespasses and sins to live in the life of the Son of God.
Faith possesses itself of this—faith, which apprehends death in ourselves, but life in Jesus: the simpler, the happier, the more unquestioning, and the more according to God’s mind. It was so in this Shunammite. Her faith, as we saw, was ready at the first to apprehend the prophet; it was ready to know that all was well, or should be well, even when death had entered the house. And it was ready, in spite of all tempters, to cleave to God’s prophet, God’s object and instrument, and to him only. This was precious simplicity of confidence. And throughout the trial of her faith, to which she is now put, as was her father Abraham in his day, I observe the same calmness and certainty. When the patriarch was ordered to take his son and offer him up for a burnt offering, he went forth to the trial with the unhesitating obedience of faith. The ass and the young men were at once put in readiness; and the knife, and the fire, and the wood, were all prepared. Faith counted on resurrection. Abraham reckoned on God’s being able to raise Isaac from the dead, as of old He had quickened him in the womb of Sarah; and Abraham was undisturbed. When the deliverance did come, and the voice from heaven announced the substitute for Isaac, Abraham is not amazed. He does not wonder, or suspect, or ask again whether indeed this be so, but he looses his son in the same faith and certainty that he had bound him. Oh, what depth and character there is in that calmness! Faith had anticipated resurrection. And altogether in the same spirit is the path of faith trodden here by this dear and honored daughter of Abraham. Death was in her house again, but she knew of a quickener of the dead; and, therefore, the ass and the young men are again got ready. “It is well” is the language of her faith in sure and certain hope of resurrection of the dead, and at the end, life is no amazement to her. She received her dead brought to life again (Heb. 11). She can loose her son by faith, as well as bind him. She falls at the prophet’s feet and bows her head. She owns in thankfulness and humiliation the precious gift, but she bears it away without amazement: it was no wonder to her. She does not curiously examine the child, whether indeed it were alive again. Faith had counted on such an hour, and already had received her child as in resurrection, and her soul had only to know that her loved one was warm and living in her bosom again.
Indeed, all this is the pattern of a sinner’s faith. Should it be thought a thing incredible with us that God should raise the dead? “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” Faith is to say, “With God all things are possible.” And we are to go forth from a state of death in trespasses and sins into life and liberty—from the spirit of bondage and of fear, and from under the guilt of an unpurged conscience, without amazement or suspicion because the Lord has done it. “Once was I blind, but now I see,” may be the calm, happy, and thankful certainty of the sinner who has met the Son of God in the healing virtue of His blood.
But there is still more in the faith of this dear soul. I find her faith tried in the two ways that the faith of Elisha had before been tried. The sons of the prophets on the one hand, the word of Elijah on the other, had put the faith of Elisha to sore trial, as we saw in chapter 2; but it prevailed, and onward he followed his master until the chariot of Israel separated them—and so here.
The thoughts of her husband first, and then the way of Elisha, both rise as tempters of the steadfastness of her soul. “Wherefore wilt thou go to him today?” says her husband to her; “it is neither new moon nor Sabbath.” Elisha commissions Gehazi for her relief, and would have him go forward and lay his staff on the face of the child. But the woman’s faith silences both. And she presses through the hindrance in the same decision and fervency that Elisha himself before had done, saying, “As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee” (2 Kings 2:2; 4:302And Elijah said unto Elisha, Tarry here, I pray thee; for the Lord hath sent me to Beth-el. And Elisha said unto him, As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. So they went down to Beth-el. (2 Kings 2:2)
30And the mother of the child said, As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And he arose, and followed her. (2 Kings 4:30)
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The great enemy and deceiver, that old serpent, often proposes some delegated virtue—some servant and his staff. But faith ever withstands. Through his subtlety and darkening of divine counsels, confidence in ordinances was prevailing in Galatia; but Paul clung to the cross, and cast the bondwoman out of the house. For the trial of the soul, even the Lord Himself, like His prophet here, can make some such offer. “If thou wilt enter life,” says Jesus to the young ruler, “keep the commandments.” But faith would have answered, “Lord, Thou hast the words of eternal life.” The young ruler, however, may try the proposed remedy, and take the servant and the staff with him, and go his way; but Paul, and faith, and this dear woman of Issachar, must cling to Jesus only.
There is a greatness in the work of the Spirit in her soul that is indeed blessed. Elisha already had been known to her in the quickening of her dead body. She had learned him, or God’s power through him, in that; and to that she now clings, in the face of every temptation. She holds fast the beginning of her confidence. Elisha, the Lord’s witness at that time, was her object at the first, and so shall he be to the last. And so with the sinner and Jesus. The sinner who believes has learned the Son of God in His quickening power. He has understood the mystery of death and resurrection. He has been at Calvary and at the empty sepulcher. There he has seen things, and known the meaning of them for the full clearing of the conscience toward God. And no ordinance, as people speak, can take the place of them in the believer’s soul. One may talk of new moons and sabbaths; another of the prophet’s staff in the hand of a vicar or delegate; but the faith of a divinely-taught sinner apprehends nothing but the precious, unchanging, imperishable virtue of Him who was dead, and is alive again; from whom, as this dear woman did from Elisha, he has learned where alone this quickening, redeeming, and saving power of God is to be received and enjoyed.
Sweet and fruitful indeed is this spot where the feet of the prophet oft-times tarried, and where our thoughts, wearied with ourselves and the world, may as often turn to get refreshed in God!