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2 Kings 4:21  (King James Version)

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<< 2 Kings 4:20   2 Kings 4:22 >>

2 Kings 4:8-37

Integral to understanding this event in Elisha's life are the various characters involved, as well as the scene of the action. The story takes place in the territory of Issachar in northern Israel. Shunem overlooks the fertile Plain of Esdraelon (Jezreel) toward Mount Carmel more than 15 miles distant where the prophet has a home. It is just a few miles from the towns of Jezreel to the south, En-Dor to the east, and Megiddo to the west.

This episode occurs during the reign of Jehoram (or Joram), second son of Ahab and Jezebel, roughly 850 BC. From all indications, Jehoram gave lip service to God, allowing Elisha freedom to preach and travel, while granting similar freedom to pagan religions. As the writer of II Kings explains, "And he did evil in the sight of the LORD, but not like his father and mother. . . . Nevertheless he persisted in the sins of Jeroboam" (3:2-3).

The story unfolds among four principal characters: Elisha, God's prophet; Gehazi, his assistant; the Shunammite woman, a wealthy and pious woman; and her young son, miraculously born. The interaction of these four people, each with his or her modern-day counterparts, constructs an intriguing parable with pointed lessons for Christians today.

The prophet Elisha is God's servant, Elijah's successor, upon whom God's Spirit rests and by whom God does great miracles. He is a man of God, presented very positively in the biblical record; it is difficult to find a negative description of him or his actions. He represents all of God's true ministers.

Gehazi, on the other hand, stands for the hirelings (John 10:12-13; Zechariah 11:16-17), who set themselves up as ministers of God yet care only for themselves and their well being. This man's greed rises to the surface in the next chapter, when he takes Naaman's money and gifts after Elisha refuses to take them as payment for the Syrian commander's healing (II Kings 5:20-27). For this, God struck Gehazi and his descendants with Naaman's leprosy.

The Shunammite woman is described as "notable" (II Kings 4:8), a Hebrew word that can connote wealth, piety, renown, or elements of each. In the text, however, her piety predominates, as she sets aside a room for Elisha and cares for him whenever he comes to Shunem (verses 9-10). Evidently, she keeps the Sabbaths fastidiously, and her husband shrugs off her visiting Elisha on a normal day (verses 22-24). She is a type of the church as a whole (see Galatians 4:21-31; Revelation 12:1-2; 19:7-8).

Her offspring, a boy, is born as the result of an Abraham-and-Sarah-like miracle (II Kings 4:14-17). Other than that he seems to get along well with his father and mother'something read between the lines'the Bible tells us very little else about this child. To use a literary term, he is Everyman, and as the child of the type of the church, he represents the individual Christian.

Interestingly, the boy's father is an incidental character; he is involved but only in the background. Normally, we might think he represents God the Father, but this conclusion makes no sense in this case. The boy's father plays his bit part because he existed in the historical reality. Parables do not demand that each detail have an exact antitype, for as we all know, all analogies break down if taken too far.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Elisha and the Shunammite Woman, Part I: Reviving God's Children

2 Kings 4:21-24

Although she is aware that her child is dead, the Shunammite woman does a strange thing. Rather than weeping or grieving in any way, she quietly takes the boy's body up to Elisha's room, lays him on the bed, shuts the door behind her and goes out to her husband. She shouts to him from a distance, "Send me one of the servants and a donkey. I want to go see the man of God" (verses 21-22). Oddly, the father does not inquire about his only child's health. He simply asks her why she wants to do such a thing, since it is just an ordinary day. She replies, also rather curiously, "Peace" (verse 23).

Whatever her frame of mind, she obviously does not accept her child's death—in fact, she does not even tell anyone that he has died! She puts him in a room that would probably not be disturbed, for superstitious fear of the prophet, and closes the door. In effect, she hides his condition from everyone else, even from her husband—even from herself, to some extent!

She formulates a plan to confront Elisha about this matter, for he was the one who had miraculously given her child to her in the first place (see verse 28). God's servant had made her son possible and had given her a few good years of his life, but now he was to be taken away? It did not make sense, and who better to make some sense of it than Elisha the prophet? Maybe she even thought, "If he can miraculously help me give life to my son, maybe he can miraculously return his life to him." However, the biblical account does not indicate that she ever asked this of Elisha.

Her curious reply to her husband is more of an evasion than an answer. Hebrews often responded to an inquiry about their health with shalom, meaning "all is well," thus the rendering in most versions. However, the Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on this verse suggests another understanding: "For this word . . . is apparently also used, as Clericus has correctly observed, when the object is to avoid giving a definite answer to any one, and yet at the same time to satisfy him" (vol. 3, p. 311). We can infer from her terse shalom that she either does not want to explain her actions or cannot reasonably explain them. In her suppressed grief, disbelief, and confusion, she avoids even attempting to clarify matters.

Her only thought is, "I've got to get to Elisha. He'll know what to do." She mounts the donkey and commands the servant, "Drive, and go forward; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you" (verse 24). She wants answers and fast, thinking that God's minister will be able to give them to her. She drives the poor servant—most likely running beside the donkey and goading it with a stick—to keep up a brisk pace over the entire 15-plus-mile journey to Mount Carmel.

Single-minded as she is, her determined course is the proper reaction. In times of trouble, especially during spiritual drowsiness or famine, God says through Amos, "Seek Me and live; but do not seek [counterfeits]. Seek the LORD and live" (Amos 5:4-6; 8:11-12). In a similar vein, Isaiah writes:

Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:6-7)

God says in Malachi 2:7, "For the lips of a priest [a minister of God] should keep knowledge, and people should seek the law from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts." Jeremiah 18:18 shows that the prophets functioned similarly, and II Timothy 2:24-26 gives New Testament verification that the ministry of the church should as well.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Elisha and the Shunammite Woman, Part I: Reviving God's Children

2 Kings 4:21-25

Once the Shunammite woman perceives that her son has died, she lays him on Elisha's bed in his room at her house and hastens toward Mount Carmel where the prophet lives. Time being of the essence, she travels the 15-plus miles as fast as her donkey can carry her. After several hours of uncomfortable riding, she nears Elisha's house.

Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Elisha and the Shunammite Woman, Part II: Serving God's Children

<< 2 Kings 4:20   2 Kings 4:22 >>

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