"A King Acts on a Widow's Behalf"
Lesson Text: 2 Kings 8:1-6
Background Scripture: 2 Kings 4:1-37; 8:1-6
Devotional Reading: Luke 15:11-24
2 Kings 8: 1-6 (KJV)
1 Then spake Elisha unto the woman, whose son he had restored to life, saying, Arise, and go thou and thine household, and sojourn wheresoever thou canst sojourn: for the Lord hath called for a famine; and it shall also come upon the land seven years.
2 And the woman arose, and did after the saying of the man of God: and she went with her household, and sojourned in the land of the Philistines seven years.
3 And it came to pass at the seven years' end, that the woman returned out of the land of the Philistines: and she went forth to cry unto the king for her house and for her land.
4 And the king talked with Gehazi the servant of the man of God, saying, Tell me, I pray thee, all the great things that Elisha hath done.
5 And it came to pass, as he was telling the king how he had restored a dead body to life, that, behold, the woman, whose son he had restored to life, cried to the king for her house and for her land. And Gehazi said, My lord, O king, this is the woman, and this is her son, whom Elisha restored to life.
6 And when the king asked the woman, she told him. So the king appointed unto her a certain officer, saying, Restore all that was hers, and all the fruits of the field since the day that she left the land, even until now.
To understand how God miraculously provided for the displaced Shunammite woman following a 7 year famine.
To show that it is important to recognize and follow God's leadership in times of plenty and times of uncertainty.
Torealize that God’s plan for us may not match our expectations.
HOW TO SAY IT
Jehoram Jeh-ho-rum, (Joram Jo-ram)
Gehazi Geh-hay-zye (G as in get).
A Place for the Displaced
The term displaced came into prominence during World War II. It described people who were uprooted from their homes as a result of the war. Displaced has since come to be used for people who are forced to vacate their homes because of disasters and economic downturns. One often heard it used in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Of course, people have been displaced from the very beginning of humanity’s existence. Adam and Eve were displaced from the Garden of Eden as a consequence of their sin against God, not because of circumstances beyond their control. By contrast, Abraham was displaced from his homeland in obedience to God’s command to go to a destination unknown at the time of the call.
Today’s text tells of a woman (Shunammite) who was displaced as a result of a famine. It also records how God provided for this woman—through His Prophet Elisha and through a king of Israel—so she could survive and recover from an upcoming (Lord decreed) devastating famine.
TIME:Between 852 and 848 B.C.
PLACE:Israel and Philistia
Today’s lesson describes an incident that occurred during the ministry of the prophet Elisha, although in this case he is not the main character. The ministry of Elisha is difficult to date with precision. Apparently it began sometime around 850 B.C. and extended through most, if not all, of the second half of that century.
Elisha’s call to become a prophet came while he was plowing in a field. The prophet Elijah approached him and “cast his mantle upon him” (threw his cloak around him) 1 Kings 19:19. This act amounted to an anointing of Elisha to succeed Elijah (vs. 15,16). After bidding farewell to his family and his life as a farmer, Elisha served as an apprentice to Elijah (see also 2 Kings 3:11). These two served as the Lord’s prophets during a pivotal time in the history of the northern kingdom of Israel (in contrast with the southern kingdom of Judah, during the divided monarchy). Elisha continued Elijah’s prophetic ministry after Elijah was taken to Heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11).
At one point in his travels, Elisha had passed through Shunem, a village in Galilee located at the eastern end of the Valley of Jezreel. A prominent Shunammite woman in the village invited him to share a meal with her and her husband. Elisha began stopping there whenever he passed that way (2 Kings 4:8). The woman, who had recognized Elisha to be a “holy man of God,” suggested to her husband that they provide a room for Elisha so he could stay with them whenever he passed by (vs. 9, 10).
On one occasion when Elisha was staying in Shunem, he asked the woman if there was anything he could do for her to repay her kindness to him. Upon hearing from his assistant, Gehazi, that the couple was childless (2 Kings 4:14), Elisha told the woman that she would give birth to a son. At first the woman was quite taken aback by such an announcement (4:16), but Elisha’s word came true at the promised time (4:11-17).
One day tragedy struck, and the child died (2 Kings 4:19-21). The woman quickly mounted a donkey and rode to see Elisha to tell him what had happened. The prophet came to the house and brought the child back to life (vs. 32-37).
We do not know how much time elapsed between that miracle and the incident described in today’s text. We suspect that the woman’s husband has died in the interim because (1) he is not mentioned in today’s text and (2) he was described as “old” back in 2 Kings 4:14. One may assume that Elisha continued to keep in touch with the family and stopped whenever he was in the vicinity.
The Directive to Leave Israel (2 Kings 4:1,2)
1. What was Elisha's instruction to the Shunammite woman? (v. 2)
In the face of an impending seven-year famine, Elisha instructs the woman to travel with her household (which includes her family and perhaps any servants) to another location. The lesson background discusses the likelihood that her husband is dead by this time. The earlier account of Elisha’s raising this woman’s son from the dead is recorded in 2 Kings 4:18-37 (see the Lesson Background).
The prophet does not specify a particular destination to which they should travel. What matters is that the woman will leave her homeland, for the Lord has decreed a seven-year famine in that area.
What Do You Think?
What was a situation in which a “big event” that affected many people tested your trust in God? How did you grow spiritually as a result?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Natural disaster | Economic hardship | Military conflict
2. Why do you think the Shunammite woman followed the Prophet Elisha's advice, apparently without question? (v. 2)
Over the course of the Shunammite woman’s previous acquaintance with Elisha, she had learned to trust his judgment and value his wise counsel. She knows that Elisha is indeed a “man of God.” His word can be trusted. Thus she takes her household and lives in the land of the Philistines seven years. She believed him so completely that she abandoned her property and went to live in a foreign nation (Read 2 Kings 4:9-37, 8:2).
What Do You Think?
Whose advice do you trust so much that you do not question it, even if it leads to hardship initially? What caused you to develop that level of trust?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
In spiritual matters | In family matters | In financial matters
3. Why does the woman seem not to be afraid to live among the feared Philistines?
The Shunammite woman apparently has little to fear in traveling to their territory with her household, because of the dominance of Israel in this region over more recent years in their history.
The Philistines are a thorn in Israel’s side on various occasions, most notably during the time of Samson (1075-1055 B.C.; see Judges 13-16) and the reign of Saul (1050-1010 B.C.; 1 Samuel 13 19-23; 14:47 23:27; 31:1-7). David will bring the Philistines into submission (2 Samuel 5:17-25; 8:1), and it does not appear that they ever become a formidable threat to Israel again. By the time of Elisha, the Philistines seem to be exerting little influence.
The Shunammite Woman’s Return (2 Kings 8:3-5)
4. Why was it necessary for the woman to cry directly to the king to restore her house and land when she returned home? (v. 3)
After sojourning in Philistia (Philistine) for seven years, the Shunammite woman returns to her homeland when the famine is over. But to her great dismay she discovers that someone else apparently has taken over her homestead. Thus there is the need to go “forth to cry unto the king for her house and for her land.”
We do not know whether the woman consults any other authority before taking her plight to the king himself (most likely King Jehoram). However, as noted in the Lesson Background, when Elisha had offered to do some favor for the woman previously, he had suggested that he could intervene on her behalf to the king (2 Kings 4:13). Her reply at the time had been, “I dwell among mine own people.” She seemed to be content with nothing more than that. Now, after being away from her people for several years, she returns to dwell among them once again, but is unable to do so.
Other questions that are not addressed directly in Scripture may be raised about the woman’s situation. For example, does she not have access to a “kinsman” as did Naomi in the person of Boaz (Ruth 2:1, 20)? As mentioned earlier, the woman’s husband likely is dead by this time. If so, did his family take possession of her land when she left? Do they now refuse to grant her access to a kinsman, thus forcing her to go to a “higher court” (the king)? Has the king himself seized the property? The text highlights only the woman’s desperate circumstances. She has returned home, yet “home” is in the hands of someone else.
5. What divine providence is taking place as the woman makes her way to the king? (v. 4)
As the woman makes her way to the king, he is having a conversation with Gehazi the servant of the man of God (Elisha). Specifically, the king wanted Gehazi to give an account of all the wonderful deeds God’s prophet had performed (v. 4). Clearly, the monarch held Elisha in great esteem. The elder statesman enjoyed a sterling reputation as the Lord’s holy spokesperson.
What Do You Think?
How can we create an eagerness in others to hear about what God or godly people are doing?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Through obvious results | Through being alert for receptiveness (proper timing) | Through intercessory prayer
6. What significant role did Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, play in the King's decision to restore the Shunammite woman's land to her? (v. 5)
According to verse 5, Gehazi was recounting the incident in which Elisha brought the dead back to life. Just then, the Shunammite woman arrived with her teenage son to ask the king for her house and field. Gehazi was filled with excitement at the sight of the Shunammite. Elisha’s servant stated that the adolescent was the person whom the prophet had brought back to life. After all, this is a miracle that Gehazi himself has witnessed (2 Kings 4:27-37).
Answer from the King (2 Kings 8:6)
7. What was the king's miraculous response to the plea of the displaced Shunammite woman? (v. 6)
As we read that the king asked the woman, we do not know if he is asking her about Elisha’s miracle or about why she has come to see him. This verse reads as if the latter situation is the case, since the words so the king appointed indicate his response to what the woman tells him. Perhaps the king is interested initially in hearing the woman’s personal testimony about what Elisha has done for her and her son. But then he desires to know the reason for her coming to see him, so she proceeds to explain her dilemma.
The king, to his credit, appoints a certain officer to handle the woman’s problem and restore her house and land. If, as suggested earlier, the king himself is the one who seized the woman’s property after she left it behind, then perhaps hearing the account of the miracles that Elisha has done for the woman moves him to return what he has taken.
However, the king does not stop there. He also commands that all the fruits of the field since the day that she left the land, even until now be restored. This refers to whatever profits have been received from the land during the seven years of her absence. Thus the Shunammite woman, who may wonder if she will even be allowed to see the king, discovers that she will receive more than she dreams possible.
This joyous turn of events reminds us that we need to set aside our preconceived notion of God’s plan for our lives and be open to the unexpected. We also need to set aside any limited notions we have of the type of circumstances and people God must work through and allow His limitless creativity to set us free.
POINTS TO PONDER
1. OnlyGod can anticipate the future. Therefore, it serves us well to seek His word, as well as godly counsel (2 Kings 8:1).
2.Sometimes God tests our faith (v. 2).
3.God’s timely providence is never coincidental (vs. 3-5).
4.God sees our good deeds, and in His time and way, blesses us for our acts of kindness to others (2 Kings 4:8-10; 8:6; Galatians 6:9).
God’s Care—Through Us?
We have noted in this study how God providentially cared for the Shunammite woman. It was no accident that she arrived to see the king at the very moment Gehazi was describing how Elisha had miraculously helped her. Many can testify how God used a confluence of events to bless them in a way that caught them completely by surprise.
In thinking about meeting the needs around us today, the importance of placing one’s ultimate faith in God’s care must not be overlooked. David once made this observation: “I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread” (Psalm 37:25). Many in our churches have gone through or are now going through difficult economic circumstances. Certainly we should never preach “have faith in God” as a way to avoid our responsibility to help others (James 2:14-17). But the Bible often highlights our heavenly Father’s care for His children of faith and His promise not to abandon them. Difficult circumstances should not be made light of, but they can be prime opportunities for one’s faith to prevail under pressure and, in turn, to provide a testimony to others of the Lord’s faithfulness.
In truth, we live in a society where many people feel displaced—alone, unwanted, and unloved. In a word, they are forgotten, sadly in some instances by the church. Often a response to these situations does not require a significant amount (or any amount) of money—just some time. In nursing homes, for example, are many residents who seldom if ever hear from a family member or friend. For these individuals, one day runs into another with little variety. What a blessing it is to such a person when a caring Christian develops a friendship and visits on a regular basis! Such a ministry can include special days such as the person’s birthday. Taking the person out for an occasional meal (if he or she is able) or inviting the person to one’s home (again, if able) can provide a pleasant break from the daily routine. And older folks usually enjoy being around children; time spent with them can be delightful as well.
This is just one example of forgotten people who may be in your neighborhood. Can you think of others? Make a list. Start a ministry to them in your church, or involve your family in such a ministry. Such service to forgotten people will not be forgotten—by them or by you.
Father, how grateful we are for Your loving care and for the way You use people and circumstances to provide for us in times of need. As we have freely received from You, may we be generous and gracious to others. In Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Make every effort to see that the “displaced” do not become the “misplaced.”