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Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

2 Kings 4

 

 

Verses 1-8

2 Kings 4:1-8

Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets.

The widow’s pot of oil

If we are to believe the voice of tradition as expressed by Josephus, the subject of this touching story was one who had seen far better days, being the widow of Obadiah, the Lord High Chamberlain of Ahab. While her husband lived she breathed the atmosphere of a court, and was nourished in the lap of luxury. But when he died she seems to have been reduced to the utmost poverty. That world which had smiled upon her in the days of her prosperity, now, with characteristic fickleness, turned its back upon her. Her friends forsook her, and refused to help her. She was plunged into debt, contracted in order to obtain the barest necessaries of life. Having nothing of any value in the house, the hard-hearted creditor, in lieu of payment, threatened to take and sell her two only sons as slaves; which, by virtue of one Jewish law and the extension of another, he had the power to do. It is true that the period during which slaves could be held in Israel was mercifully limited by the year of jubilee, and that year, which would break every fetter, might be near at hand; but nevertheless, in her position, the enforcement of the law even for the Shortest period could not but be felt as a grievous calamity. On account of these trying circumstances, her case was one that peculiarly warranted the interposition of Heaven. But she had another claim still, beside that of her wretchedness, upon the sympathy and help of Elisha. Her husband feared the Lord while he lived. He was the son of a prophet, and cherished the deepest regard for the person and the work of those who filled that sacred office. Elisha’s first question to her evinced a wonderful knowledge of the human heart, and of the best mode of dealing with poverty and suffering. Instead of volunteering to give her aid at once, as most persons would have done, carried away by an overpowering impulse of compassion at the recital of the tale of sorrow; like a wise and judicious friend, he inquires how far she herself has the power to avert the threatened calamity--“What hast thou in the house?” His assistance must be based upon her own assistance. He will help her to help herself. And this is the only true way to benefit the poor. By reckless and indiscriminate almsgiving, we run the risk of pauperising the objects of our charity. Our assistance should therefore be of such a nature as to call forth the resources which they themselves possess, and to make the most of them. However small these resources may be, they should be used as a fulcrum, by means of which our help may raise them to a better condition. The first question which we too should ask the widow or the destitute is--“What hast thou in the house?” No help from without can benefit, unless there be a willingness of self-help within. The widow of Obadiah had nothing in the house save a pot of oil. Was this oil grown by Obadiah during his lifetime--the last of the produce of his olive-yard? In all likelihood it was all that remained of the once extensive property of Ahab’s steward. Out of this last pot of Oil--the sign of her uttermost poverty--Elisha furnished the source of her comfort and happiness. In the fables of all nations we are told that a magician, by a mere wave of his wand, or by pronouncing a certain charm, produces at once wealth and luxuries that had no existence before. Aladdin rubs a ring, and immediately a genius appears, and at his command provides a rich feast for him out of nothing. He rubs an old lamp, and at once a gorgeous palace rises up before him in substantial reality, created out of the formless ether around. By putting on Fortunetus’s wishing-cap the lucky possessors of it can get anything they want, and create things unknown before. But there is nothing like this in the miracles of the Bible. The Gospel miracle which most nearly resembles the multiplication of the widow’s oil by Elisha, is the miracle of the loaves and fishes. In both cases the properties of the articles remained the same, and their substance only was extended. In both cases the point of departure and the completed result of the miracle were articles in familiar use among the people. Elisha simply multiplied the common olive oil of the widow into the common olive oil of the country, neither better nor worse. Jesus simply multiplied the common barley loaves and fishes of the fisher-lad into the common barley loaves and fishes which formed the ordinary fare of the disciples. In both cases the miracle was based upon the ultimate result of man’s labour. The oil in the widow’s pot was the juice expressed, out of berries gathered, from trees planted, grafted, and tended by man’s toil and skill. The bread in the fisherman’s possession was baked by man’s hands, out of barley sown, reaped, gathered, threshed, and ground in the mill by man’s skill and labour; the fishes were equally the produce of human industry and special knowledge. These examples show to us that even in miracles man must be a fellowworker with God in subduing the earth, and in removing the limitations and disabilities of the curse. In these actions men prepared themselves by the miracle wrought within them--the triumph over natural unbelief and the objections of reason--to believe in and to benefit by the miracle about to be wrought without. The widow of Obadiah might well be astonished at the command of Elisha. If she had stopped to reason about the procedure required of her, she might well hesitate to undertake it. Taking a common-sense view of the matter, of what use would it be to borrow as many vessels as possible from her neighbours? What answer could she give them if they asked her what she meant to do with these vessels? Would they not laugh at her if she told the prophet’s message, and ridicule the utter folly of the whole story? And yet, in spite of all these apparent absurdities and impossibilities--in spite of all the objections of reason and common sense, the widow hastened to obey the prophet’s command. She stumbled not because of unbelief. Her faith triumphed over all difficulties. It is a significant circumstance that the prophet should have commanded the widow to shut the door upon herself and her sons, when she poured out the oil into the vessels. There is a reason for, and a meaning in, every detail of the Bible miracles; and doubtless the design of this apparently trivial injunction was to secure to the widow the privacy and calmness of mind necessary for the performance of the miracle, and for its producing the full and proper impression upon her own soul. If she had left the door open, the neighbours doubtless, moved by curiosity to see what she would do with the vessels she had borrowed, would flock around her, and sadly discompose her mind by their laughter, their sneers, and their unsuitable remarks. Reverence, stillness, and solitude are needed for the miracle. But, besides being necessary in order to prepare the widow of Obadiah for receiving the benefits of the miracle, the solitude and secrecy which Elisha enjoined were significant of the mysterious character of the miracle itself. It was withdrawn from sight. It was silent and unimaginable. The process by which the oil wag multiplied we labour in vain to conceive. We cannot explain the phenomenon by the observation of any known laws; and yet in truth the miracle is not more strange, save in the rapidity with which it is effected, than that which is every day going forward in nature in those regions where the olive tree grows. You sow the seed of an olive tree; that seed contains a very small quantity of oil. It grows and becomes a tree and produces an immense quantity of fruit; so that from the little drop of oil in the small vessel of the seed, you have thousands of vessels in the shape of the berries, each filled with oil. He who makes the olive seed in the course of a few years, or the olive tree every season, to prepare and extract oil from the scanty soil on the arid rocks, and the dry burning air in which the tree delights to grow, concentrated, in the miracle in the widow’s chamber, the slower processes of nature spread over months and years, into the act of a single moment. Of course the natural process does not explain the miracle, but it is a help to our faith. The one sheds light upon the other. The miracle teaches us that the natural process is not the result of an impersonal law or of a dead course of things, but the working of our Father in heaven; while the natural process in its turn shows to us that God in the miracle is working in the line of the ordinary events and dispensations of His providence. The miracle blends with common life. How strikingly does this wonderful incident show to us that we must be fellow-workers with God throughout, from first to last, in our own deliverance and blessing. How wonderfully it illustrates the whole Divine economy of grace, under which we are enjoined to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, seeing that it is God that worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure! We are all in the condition of the poor widow; we are destitute of everything, and are ready to perish. But God is far more tender and considerate to us than Elisha was to the widow. If we have but the feeling of want, but the desire for God’s help, that very want or desire will be to us what the pot of oil was to the widow--the source of an abundant supply of all that we need. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)

A prophet’s widow and a prophet s kindness

I. A prophet’s widow in distress. To-day some of the most enlightened, thoughtful, and really useful ministers are amongst the poorest.

1. That poverty is not necessarily a disgrace. It is sometimes the result of inflexible honesty and moral nobility.

2. That the best lives here are subject to trials.

3. That avarice feeds cruelty.

II. A prophet at work to relieve a brother’s widow. In her distress instinct tells her where to go, and she goes to Elisha, a man not only who knew her husband, but of kindred experiences and sympathies. See how Elisha helps this widow.

1. Promptly. He did not want arguments or testimonials. He helped her.

2. Effectively. (Homilist.)

The humble not forgotten

One thing which is prominent in the Word of God is vividly illustrated in this incident. God remembers His poor people. The Bible is the poor man’s book. The wealth, honour, pride, power, and glory of this world are of small account in the sight of Heaven. The widow with her two mites, the jailer at Philippi, Lydia the purple-seller, Elisha the ploughman, Amos the herdsman, Peter and John the fishermen, were individuals of no social importance. The secular historian would have deemed them unworthy of notice. But they were chosen to play wonderful parts on the field of moral action. In the age when this poor Shunammite widow was living in obscurity, stupendous struggles were going on among the carnal empires, of which Herodotus, Xenophon, and Thucydides give most elaborate records. But of these the Bible takes no notice. In the New Testament Philippi comes before us in connection with a humble man and an insignificant woman; while the terrific battle which there turned the world’s history is ignored; nor are King Philip, the great founder, and Alexander the Great--brought up at Philippi--so much as alluded to. If we would be great in the sight of the Lord, we must be found in line with His purposes. It might have been imagined that Elijah and Elisha would concern themselves only with the important affairs of great people. But, as a matter of fact, while they had much to do with kings and nobles and generals and statesmen, yet they had still more to do with peasants, labourers, poor students, and lone widows. They belonged to the people. The Gospel is not for any one section of humanity; but its blessings come flint to the needy, the sad, the afflicted, and the guilty. (Christian Commonwealth.)

Elisha multiplies the widow’s oil

I. The person for whom this miracle was wrought. “A certain woman.”

1. She was the subject of accumulated sorrow.

2. She was a woman of devout spirit. It is difficult to over-estimate the value of having a pious partner, a godly child, or a faithful companion; but how important it is that we ourselves axe holy, We may gather from this incident the following thoughts concerning this woman.

II. The manner in which this miracle was performed. God was this widow’s Helper. This is in harmony with His nature. He is loving, tender, faithful, and full of compassion. “A Father of the fatherless” (Psalms 68:5).

1. God took advantage of her extremity. Often “man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.” God interposed just when this woman’s sorrow was the heaviest, and when her outlook was the darkest. How often He deals with His children in like manner now.

2. Her faith was tested by the means employed. This woman’s deliverance was effected in a short time and in a strange way.

III. The attributes of the Divine character which this miracle exhibits. This miracle exhibits--

1. The Divine law of righteousness. “Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt.” The Divine law is, “Owe no man anything but love.” We are to be just in our material, social, and commercial relationships.

2. The rich resources of Divine wisdom. The promises which God has made concerning the deliverance of His children in seasons of trial are abundant, simple, precious: “Call upon Me” (Psalms 50:15). “When thou” (Isaiah 43:2). In behalf of His children, God has brought water from a rock, made a path through the sea, etc.

3. The greatness of Divine mercy. “Live thou and thy children of the rest.” Enough to satisfy the creditor, and some to spare. How great is God’s mercy. It is higher than the heavens. Conclusion. Let us be faithful, submissive, and heroic when duty leads us into trial Many a cloudy morning has turned into a fine day. We all have trials; but what are our heaviest trials compared to those this woman endured? We may have the same Friend and Helper. If we trust in Him, our sorrow shall be turned into joy. (John Wileman.)

Christ anticipated

The way in which Elisha addresses himself to the circumstances of the case is very significant of the method of Jesus Christ. Elisha asked the woman, “What shall I do for thee?” Jesus often asked the same question of those who came to Him for healing or relief--“What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?” Thus the petitioner is made a party to the case in no merely nominal sense, but in the sense of acquiring distinct responsibility of suggestion or advice. No doubt the prophet knew what the widow wanted, yet a good purpose was to be gained in causing her to state her case in her own words. This is how God Himself proceeds in the matter of our own prayers. Our heavenly Father knoweth what things we have need of before we ask Him; yet it has pleased Him to make it part of our education to allow us to state our own necessities and argue our own pleas, leaving Him to be sole judge when the case is laid before Him. Elisha asked another question which Jesus Christ also put on some occasions. Elisha said, “Tell me, what hast thou in the house?” Jesus Christ asked the disciples what bread they had before He proceeded to satisfy the hunger of the multitude. It is God’s plan to start with what we have. So we have certain preliminary duties to attend to; as, for example, finding out the whole of our resources, placing these at the disposal of the Master, beginning with a little as if it were a great amount, and gradually proceeding until we ourselves are surprised by the largeness and completeness of the miracle. Now Elisha proceeds to his work:--“Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbours, even empty vessels.” This would have committed him to some degree of miraculous interposition, but this was not all he said; he added to his instructions, “Borrow not a few” (verse 3). In Psalms 81:10, we read, “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.” It is God’s joy, if we may so put it, to give large answers to the requests of men. Said Christ, “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in My name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” Not a partial joy, and not the beginning of a joy, but a complete, overflowing, redundant joy. It was the vessels that were exhausted, not the hand of God that was emptied. A notable lesson this, that it is never God who fails but always man who comes to the end of his capacity. (J. Parker, D. D.)

The widow’s pot of oil and the empty vessels

There are three or four significant utterances here which I wish to speak of.

1. The woman’s great need. Every sinner is in debt. We have broken the law of God and our debt is greater than we can ever pay. There is no one to pay the debt for us among our fellow-men. We must have a redeemer, and Jesus Christ is the only name given under heaven or among men who has the spiritual wealth and the infinite love to redeem us, and He comes and asks us, as Elisha asked this poor widow, “What shall I do for thee?” What are you going to say to Jesus who is asking you that question? Will you say to Him, “Oh, I think you can do nothing for me now. I will go on awhile in my sins; I will think about it awhile longer; I will wear the handcuffs of evil habit and drag the ball-and-chain of sinful appetites a while longer; perhaps some time I will let you do something for me?” Can you imagine the poor widow answering Elisha like that? Can you dream of her saying to Elisha, “Oh, I think I will not have you do anything now; I will let the boys be slaves awhile; I will go on in my misery and my poverty. Perhaps after they have slaved it for a time, and I have starved awhile, I will let you do something for me?” Would you not say that that was infinite folly? And it is the part of wisdom for you to say, when Jesus asks what He can do for you, “Lord Jesus, redeem me from my sins. Save my soul. Do whatever you can do to lift me out of my sinful condition into goodness and peace.”

2. Elisha says to this widow, “Tell me, what hast thou in the house?” That is in harmony with the way God always brings blessings to His children. So God deals with us. He will not waste anything that we already have. He will take into account whatever there is of good in us. While we have absolutely nothing in us which, taken by itself, can save us, yet every fraction of good teaching that we have received from our parents, every point of good discipline that has come to us in the stress of life, everything that is good in us, if it be so small as only to be compared to a widow’s pot of oil, or a little lad’s lunch of five loaves and two fishes, God will not throw away, or fail to take into account, but He will make all these a blessing to our souls if we give our hearts to Him.

3. Another very important message is to be found in the empty vessels. Many fail of salvation because they have no empty vessels. Their vessels are all full of their own self-righteousness, something that is utterly useless to redeem from the bondage of sin, but that shuts out the grace of God from the heart. When the publican and the Pharisee went up into the temple to pray, the Pharisee had no empty vessels with him. We must all come with the same humility of heart, with the same vessels emptied of all self, and throw ourselves on the mercy of God. There is no caste or aristocracy or social rank in sin; every sinner in the world, rich or poor, high or low, must come with supreme self-surrender at the foot of the Cross if he would find salvation. When the Duke of Kent, the father of Queen Victoria, was told by his physician that he could not live long, he was anxious about his soul. His physician, who was an old friend, endeavoured to soothe his mind by referring to his high respectability and his distinguished situation, but the Duke stopped him short by saying, “No; remember if I am to be saved, it is not as a prince, but as a sinner.” (L. A. Banks, D. D.)


Verses 1-44

Verse 3

2 Kings 4:3

Empty vessels: borrow not a few.

The filling of empty vessels

The best of men may die in poverty. Here is the widow of a prophet left in destitution. We must not hastily censure those who leave their families unprovided for. Circumstances may render it impossible to do more than supply the pressing wants of the hour. This sorrowing widow went to God in her trouble, but through the mediation of the prophet. So we should go to Christ. It is well to tell friends, but never fail to tell Rim who is the best friend. God was pleased to ordain by His servant a way of escape for the poor woman. It is the rule of God’s providence that His children should cry to Him in the day of trouble, and that He should be gracious to them and deliver them. Yet the Lord allowed His handmaid to be very sorely pressed. The Lord does not promise to rescue us in our time, or to save us from waiting; wherefore I say to you whose turn seems to come last, be strong to wait. Waiting in faith is a high form of worship, which in some respects excels the adoration of the shining ones above. But the way in which this woman was delivered was one which proved and exercised her faith.

I. In reference to the grace that is in Christ Jesus. All the miracle required was empty vessels. Full vessels were of no use. Righteous self is a greater hindrance than sinful self. All our Saviour wants of us is our need of being saved, and our acceptance of His salvation. The oil flowed as long as any empty vessel could be brought. How many empty souls are there here? Christ will continue to save sinners just as long as there are needy sinners to save.

II. In reference to answers to prayer. My conviction is that we do not pray enough; that is, do not ask enough of God. “Borrow empty vessels”--note the next word, “borrow not a few.” It was needful to urge her to large things. You and I have more to do with the measurement of our mercies than we think. Some have never brought their sins and prevalent temptations to God. Why carry your sin, your need, your care? These cares are all different sets of empty vessels for the grace of God to fill. We ought to treat others as if they were empty vessels for us to use, so as to glorify God in their salvation. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

God wants our emptiness

Do you see that beautiful tree in the orchard loaded with fruit? It is a pear tree. From top to bottom it is covered with fruit. Some boughs are ready to break with the luscious burden. As I listen to the creaking boughs, I can hear the tree speak. It says. “Baskets, baskets, baskets, bring baskets.” Now, then, who has a basket? “I have got one,” says yonder friend, “but it is of no use, for there is nothing in it.” Bring it here, man; that is the very kind of basket the tree wants. A person over there says, “Oh, I have a basket, a splendid basket. It is just the thing. It is full from top to bottom.” You may keep your basket to yourself. It is of no use to my loaded tree . . . What is wanted by the Lord Jesus is an empty soul to receive out of the fulness God has treasured up in Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 6

2 Kings 4:6

And it came to pass when the vessels were full.

God’s way of giving

This incident is rich in suggestiveness. It may be employed to illustrate the rapid changes of human fortune; the crushing weight of cumulative trials; or the practical sympathy of a true prophet who is never so faithful in his calling as when he visits the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and exerts his influence in their behalf. There are, however, considerations suggested by the particular method adopted in this case which throw light upon God’s way of giving, and indicate, not obscurely, the terms upon which we, who have no miraculous interpositions to expect, may become recipients of His continual bounty.

I. In the communication of his grace the most high makes the confession of our helplessness the condition of his help. The sense of need must be awakened before He will bestow the required aid. “Tell me what hast thou in the house?” was a question intended to fathom the depth of the woman’s poverty. Until this insufficiency of all human resource has been felt and acknowledged, the Divine assistance will not be sought and cannot be given. The Saviour in His miracles of mercy made it apparent that He did not interpose until all human help had failed. When He was about to feed the multitudes He asked the disciples, “How many loaves have ye?” and measured the limits of ordinary means before drawing on the infinite capabilities of Omnipotence. The trembling sufferer who sought to touch His robe had tried all other measures before resorting to Him. The disappointed fishermen were obliged to admit that they had taken nothing ere they could be gladdened by a great success. So is it still. The choice gifts of God are withholden from the self-complacent and lavished on the needy--“He hath filled the hungry with good things, but the rich He hath sent empty away.”

II. He enriches us by the multiplication and increase of previous gifts. It would be equally easy for Him to work without means, but He chooses rather to work by them. “What hast thou in the house?” is something more than a gauge of poverty; it is a wholesome reminder that in the poorest lot there is some remnant of former possessions, some basis for present hope. The multitudes whom our Lord miraculously fed might have been relieved by the creation of an altogether new and strange provision; but He used such common food as was available, and then multiplied the stock till every need was met. The persuasion of our helplessness does not warrant our neglect of such opportunities and the use of such talent as we have. Too often we covet fresh interpositions of Divine power when we have at our command previous gifts whose energy is unexhausted, and former experiences which may fitly stimulate activity and encourage hope. Moses held in his own hand the simple instrument whereby with God’s blessing he would compel attention to his words (Exodus 4:2); and if not in our hands, we may have in our house that which, like the widow’s oil, shall be multiplied by the bounty of Him.

III. He measures his bestowments by our capacity to receive. While there is an empty vessel to hold it, His grace continues to flow. He entrusts talents “to every man according to his several ability.” A preoccupied heart has no room for the Saviour. He is “gladly received” when He is eagerly waited for (Luke 8:40). In the dispensation of spiritual gifts the same rule obtains--“He giveth more grace,” and again more, according to the ardour of our wishes and the measure of our preparedness to receive His favours. Still as of old--“He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness” (Psalms 107:9), drawing out our desires, and at the same time enlarging our capacity.

IV. He delights to exceed the requirements of present need. Not content to give enough to satisfy the clamorous creditor, He supplied a store for the maintenance of the widow and her sons for some time to come. The fragments left after each feast in the wilderness far exceeded the original provision. This generosity is a conspicuous feature in all the communications of grace. David was overwhelmed at the bounty of which he was the recipient, yet what he held in possession was small compared with future blessings secured to him by promise (2 Samuel 7:19). Jacob, in like manner, after giving up all hope that he should ever see Joseph again, was constrained to acknowledge that God had far exceeded his most sanguine expectation. “I had not thought to see thy face; and lo, God hath showed me also thy seed” (Genesis 48:11). (Robert Lewis.)

When the oil flows

Now, if I may venture to be fanciful for once, let me tell you of three vessels that we have to bring if we would have the oil of the Divine Spirit poured into us.

I. The vessel of desire. God can give us a great many things that we do not wish, but He cannot give us His best gift, and that is Himself, unless we desire it. He never forces His company on anybody, and if we do not wish for Him He cannot give us Himself, His Spirit, or the gifts of His Spirit. For instance, He cannot make a man wise if he does not wish to be instructed. He cannot make a man holy if he has no aspiration after holiness. Measure the reality and intensity of desire, and you measure capacity. As the atmosphere rushes into every vacuum, or as the sea runs up into, and fills, every sinuosity of the coast, so wherever a heart opens, and the unbroken coast-line is indented, as it were, by desire, in rushes the tide of the Divine gifts. You have God in the measure in which you desire Him.

II. Another vessel that we have to bring is the vessel of out expectancy. Desire is one thing; confident anticipation that the desire will be fulfilled is quite another. And the two do not certainly go together anywhere except in this one region, and there they do go, linked arm-in-arm. For whatsoever, in the highest of all regions, we wish we have the right without presumption to believe that we shall receive. Expectation, like desire, opens the heart. There are some expectations, even in lower regions, that fulfil themselves. Doctors will tell you that a very large part of the curative power of their medicine depends upon the patient’s anticipation of recovery. If a man expects to die when he takes to Iris bed, the chances are that he will die; and if a man expects to get better, death will have a fight before it conquers him. All these illustrations fall far beneath the Christian aspect of the thought that what we expect from God we get. That is only another way of putting, “According to thy faith be it unto thee.” It is exactly what Jesus Christ said when He promised: “Whatsoever things ye ask when ye stand praying, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.”

III. Lastly, one more vessel that we have to bring is obedience. “If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine.” Desire, Anticipation, and Obedience. These three must never be separated if we are to receive the gift of Himself, which God delights and waits to give. All spiritual possessions and powers grow by use, even as exercised muscles are strengthened, and unused ones tend to be atrophied. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

The oil and the vessels

So long as there were vessels to be filled the miraculous flow of the oil continued, and it only ceased when there were no more jars to contain it.

I. This is true in reference to our providential circumstances. So long as we have needs we shall have supplies, and we shall find our necessities exhausted far sooner than the Divine bounty.

II. The same principle holds good with regard to the bestowal of saving grace. In a congregation the Gospel is as the pot of oil, and those who receive from it are needy souls, desirous of the grace of God. Of these we have always too few in our assemblies.

III. The like is true with regard to other spiritual blessings. All fulness dwells in our Lord Jesus, and, as He needs not grace for Himself, it is stored up in Him, that He may give it out to believers. The saints with one voice confess “Of His fulness have all we received.”

IV. The same truth will be proved in reference to the purposes of grace in the world. The fulness of Divine grace will be equal to every demand upon it till the end of time. Men will never be saved apart from the atonement of our Lord Jesus, but never will that ransom price be found insufficient to redeem the souls that trust in the Redeemer. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

The Spirit of God supplying the need of the Church

The multiplication of the oil ran parallel with the demand of each successive vessel. As the sons brought them they became full. Whatever their size or shape, they were carried back, and set down, filled to the brim. When all were quite full, she bitterly lamented that there was not a vessel more. It is so that the Spirit of God has been supplying the need of the Church from that moment in the upper room, when the risen Lord began to pour Him forth. Vessel after vessel has been brought; men like Ambrose, Chrysostom, Augustine, Luther, John Knox have been filled, and still the stream of oil and grace of spiritual plenitude and anointing is being poured forth. (E. B. Meyer.)


Verses 8-17

2 Kings 4:8-17

And it fell on a day that Elisha passed to Shunem.

Hospitality

In these verses there are two very interesting subjects, and of a practical character.

I. Hospitality rightfully employed. The object of the hospitality was Elisha the prophet, and the author of it is called here a “great woman.” Observe,

1. The hospitality was very hearty. “She constrained him to eat bread.”

2. The hospitality was shown to a poor but a godly man. Genuine hospitality looks out for the poor and deserving, and constrains them to enter and be fed.

3. The hospitality involved considerable trouble and expense.

II. Hospitality nobly rewarded. Elisha, instead of being insensible to the great generosity of his hostess, glowed with gratitude that prompted a strong desire to make some return. His offer,

1. Implies his consciousness of great power with man. Elisha’s offer,

2. Implies his consciousness of his power with God. (Homilist.)

A great woman.

A great woman

The monotony of a woman’s life is, perhaps, its greatest trial. Such a round of daily trivialities occupy her attention that, even though heart and conscience may be right, the body and nerves not unfrequently suffer. The “strain” and “over-pressure” from which her husband often suffers are not supposed in any way to affect her: his life is in the rush, but hers in the calm; he is mixing with men, and taking part in all the movements of the day, while she is in the nursery and the home-place, with her easy duties and sheltered position. Yet while we have the story of the lady of Shunem before us, we cannot but see how possible it is for the life of a woman to be great even in the midst of very contracted interests. This woman lived at home with her husband, and Was occupied with household cares; but she never lost her own individuality, never allowed her little duties to make her little also; she stands before us as a great woman, indeed--greater in character than any circumstances or position could possibly have made her.

1. As we read the narrative several points reveal her true greatness, and stand out as examples to us all; and the first is her kindness. She cared for others. In our modern speech this expression means a great deal. “Do you care for him?” is a question full of significance; for when a woman loves she does care very much indeed. And this woman had a kind heart, whose sympathies centred at home, but reached out to all who needed her care; and this heart, which royally ruled her whole being, had servants in eyes that were quick to see and hands that were swift to bless.

2. The lady of Shunem exhibited, also, that quality of greatness which is submission. Much nonsense is talked about the equality of the sexes; but no one can read this history without suspecting that, in this case--a rare one, no doubt--the woman was more than the equal of the man. Had she been conscious of the fact it would have gone far to change it; but she was not.

3. The loyalty of the Shunammite was another proof of her greatness. That she had everything she wanted, and nothing to wish for, we cannot imagine. Serenely contented as she might have been, she would have been less, or more, than a woman if greater possessions and a higher position would not in themselves have been acceptable. But she counted nothing a rise in life that took her away from her own people.

4. The marvellous self-control of the Shunammite was another element in her greatness. How quiet she was during all the tests that came to her!

5. The self-control of the Shunammite was no more marked than the great force of character which in this case, as in every other, accompanied it. The strong individuality of this truly great woman shone out in all the circumstances of her life. She ‘had that subtle power, with which only a few people are trusted, but which, in man or woman, is invariably felt by others. Her mastery of self gave her in great part the mastery over her fellows; but her natural abilities were great, and no littlenesses spoiled them. She seems always to have had her own way; but that was because her way was the best.

6. It was godliness, most of all, that made the woman of Shunem great. It is true that we are not told that she feared God; but we can see that written between the lines of everything that is said respecting her. It was because Elisha was “a holy man of God” that the hospitality of her home was offered to him. It was the sustaining power of religion that made her strong to declare, “It is well.” (Marianne Farningham.)

A great woman

The hotel of our time had no counterpart in any entertainment of olden time. The vast majority of travellers must be entertained at private abode. She was great in her hospitalities. Uncivilised and barbarous nations have this virtue. Jupiter had the surname of the Hospitable, and he was said especially to avenge the wrongs of strangers. Homer extolled it in his verse. The Arabs are punctilious on this subject) and amongst some of their tribes it is not until the ninth day of tarrying that the occupant has a right to ask his guest, “Who, and whence art thou?” If this virtue is so honored among barbarians, how ought it to be honoured among those of us who believe in the Bible, which commands us to use hospitality one toward another without grudging? Most beautiful is this grace of hospitality when shown in the house of God. A good man travelling in the far West, in the wilderness, was overtaken by night and storm, and he put in at a cabin. He saw firearms along the beams of the cabin, and he felt alarmed. He did not know but that he had fallen into a den of thieves. He sat there greatly perturbed. After awhile the man of the house came home with a gun on his shoulder, and set it down in a corner. The stranger was still more alarmed. After awhile the man of the house whispered with his wife, and the stranger thought his destruction was being planned. Then the man of the house came forward and said to the stranger: “Stranger, we are a rough and rude people out here, and we work hard for a living. We make our living by hunting, and when we come to the nightfall we are tired and we are apt to go to bed early, and before retiring we are always in the habit of reading a chapter from the Word of God and making a prayer. If you don’t like such things, if you will just step outside the door until we get through, I’ll be greatly obliged to you.” Of course the stranger tarried in the room, and the old hunter took hold of the horns of the altar and brought down the blessing of God upon his household and upon the stranger within their gates. Rude but glorious Christian hospitality!

II. This woman was great in her kindness toward God’s messenger. Elisha may have been a stranger in that household, but as she found out he had come on a Divine mission, he was cordially welcomed.

III. This woman was great in her behaviour under trouble. Her only son had died on her lap. A very bright light went out in that household. The sacred writer puts it very tersely when he says, “He sat on her knee until noon, and then he died.” Yet the writer goes on to say that she exclaimed, “It is well!” Great in prosperity, this woman was great in trouble. Where are the feet that have not been blistered on the hot sands of this great Sahara? Where are the shoulders that have not bent under the burden of grief? Where is the ship sailing over glassy sea that has not after awhile been caught in a cyclone? Where is the garden of earthly comfort, but trouble hath hitched up its fiery and panting team and gone through it with burning ploughshare of disaster? Under the pelting of ages of suffering the great heart of the world has burst with woe.

IV. This woman was great in her application to domestic duties. Every picture is a home picture, whether she is entertaining an Elisha, or whether she is giving careful attention to her sick boy, or whether she is appealing for the restoration of her property. Every picture in her case is a home picture. Those are not disciples of this Shunammite woman who, going out to attend to outside charities, neglect the duty of home--the duty of wife, of mother, of daughter. No faithfulness in public benefaction can ever atone for domestic negligence. There has been many a mother who, by indefatigable toll, has reared a large family of children, equipping them for the duties of life with good manners and large intelligence and Christian principle, starting them out, who has done more for the world than many a woman whose name has sounded through all the lands and through the centuries. I remember, when Kossuth was in this country, there were some ladies who got honourable reputations by presenting him very gracefully with bouquets of flowers on public occasions; but what was all that compared with the work of the plain Hungarian mother who gave to truth, and civilisation, and the cause of universal liberty, a Kossuth? Yes; this woman of my text was great in her domesticity. When this prophet wanted to reward her for her hospitality by asking some preferment from the king, what did she say? She declined it. She said, “I dwell among my own people”--as much as to say, “I am satisfied with my lot; all I want is my family and my friends around me--I dwell among my own people.” Oh, what a rebuke to the strife for precedence in all ages!

V. This woman was great in her piety. She had faith in God, and she was not ashamed to talk about it before idolators. Ah! woman will never appreciate what she owes to Christianity until she knows and sees the degradation of her sex under Paganism and Mohammedanism. Her very birth considered a misfortune. Sold like cattle on the shambles. Slave of all work, and, at last, her body fuel for the funeral pyre of her husband. Above the shriek of the fire worshippers in India, and above the rumbling of the Juggernauts, I hear the million-voiced groan of wronged, insulted, broken-hearted, down-trodden woman. Her tears have fallen in the Nile and Tigris, the La Plata, and on the steppes of Tartary. She has been dishonoured in Turkish garden and Persian palace and Spanish Alhambra. Her little ones have been sacrificed in the Indus and the Ganges. There is not a groan, or a dungeon, or an island, or a mountain, or a river, or a lake, or a sea, but could tell a story of the outrages heaped upon her. But thanks to God this glorious Christianity comes forth, and all the chains of this vassalage are snapped, and she rises from ignominy to exalted sphere and becomes the affectionate daughter, the gentle wife, the honoured mother, the useful Christian. Oh, if Christianity has done so much for woman, surely woman will become its most ardent advocate and its sublimest exemplification! (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)


Verse 10

2 Kings 4:10

Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall.

The little chamber on the wall

I. How did this little chamber come to be? It originated in the quick and clear perception of this woman of Shunem. “I perceive,” she said to her husband, “that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually.” I don’t know that any very unusual faculty of perception was necessary for this. A much inferior person might have made the same observation as she made, but few would have made it in the same sense, and with the same fulness of meaning. What is said in one of the psalms, of the gods of the heathen, is true of too many human creatures. “They have eyes, but they see not.” They see the mere forms of things but not the inhering, underlying substance. They see the outward movements of things, but not the inward significance. And suppose different people looking out of the window; will they all see alike? We know they will not. Why, there are some people who could see the same persons pass for year after year and never make an inference. “They have their own reasons, no doubt, for passing and repassing--what is that to me?” There are other people who could not see them pass many days without having certain conjectures about them, and beginning to take an interest in them; we mean not the barren interest of a mere curiosity, which is common enough, but the deeper concern of the heart. “That little boy is in a situation, for he passes the window daily at the same time. This woman who is going by is paler day by day, and wears sorrow on her face. Perhaps she has some great home care. Or she is brighter and happier, things are better with her.” The “perceiving,” the observing eye, is the gate of knowledge, the quickener of sympathy, the informer to benevolence. It brings before the benevolent heart the material on which it can act. It is at least the hewer of wood and the drawer of water to nobler faculties than itself.

II. Immediate action is taken. This action gives expression to the good impulse which attended so very closely on the quick perception. “Let us make a little chamber.” There is a pleasure in seeing, simply as seeing. It is good to know men and things somewhat correctly; but the higher pleasure is later born, and is always associated with doing and with duty. And these two pleasures God hath joined together, although men are always rending them asunder. And so men, looking at the same things, take different courses. From the same point apparently they diverge--one along the pathway of duty and activity and helpfulness; and another by a shorter circuit, back again idly to the post of observation. “Whatsoever thine hand findeth to do, do it.” Make your little chamber, whatever it be, for helpfulness to others, as long as help can be given in that way.

III. Do not think of these duties of helpfulness as involving great exertion, or very considerable expenditure of time or money. It is not so. It is even in some cases very much the reverse, as in this case of the good Shunammite. Her gift, after all, is very simple, and to herself and her husband very inexpensive. And yet I think I see something on the walls--one, two, three inscriptions at any rate are there--only a single word in each. Now we don’t need this famous room for rest or for writing, but we do need it very much for some higher purpose. Let us stay in it for a very little time until we can read together these inscriptions.

1. Considerateness is the first. There was evidently a thoughtful and respectful considerateness in the way this gift was offered to Elisha. Another word surely we can see in this little room, if we look--the word,

2. Simplicity. Nothing, in its way, could be simpler than this room and its furniture. “A bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick.” Of course this chamber was only for a passing traveller and not for a permanent resident. But how easy it is to make a grand display for a passing traveller! Monarchs have been known before now to impoverish some noble families by accepting from them a munificence of hospitality beyond their means. And should we be wrong in supposing that the simplicity of this one chamber is, after all, but the expression of a simplicity that reigned through the whole house of this good woman in Shunem? “How many things,” said Socrates, “there are which I do not need!” “How many things” there are, which, although we do need them a little, we can yet do very well without! Here is a bed, and that meets the need of almost one-third of our whole time here on earth. Here is a table, and that meets the need--for intellectual persons, for commercial men, and for some workmen--of another third of our time. If I am neither sleeping, working, nor eating, and yet am detained in-doors, I cannot stand all day; well, here is a stool to sit on and think, or think of nothing. Year in and out, there are twelve hours of dark to pass through,--well, here is a candlestick, or lamp, with oil in it--light it, and let it burn. And so we are at the end of the inventory! Beautiful simplicity! There is just one word more I want you to decipher, and that is the word,

3. Contentment. The whole history of this chamber shows that an unusual contentment reigned in this home. If the inmates had been dissatisfied or ambitious, here is a fine opportunity to advance themselves. The very ladder of elevation comes within their reach. A word from the prophet would set them almost anywhere. (A. Raleigh, D. D.)


Verse 13

2 Kings 4:13

I dwell among mine own people.

Influence

We contend that there is not a man, who does not dwell among a host of persons who are under his influence, who listen to his voice, and echo his thoughts. None are so mean and powerless as not to shape and bend in some way the mind of an acquaintance. None stand perfectly alone. The distant planets which are jostled in their orbits by the power of another sphere, are but the type of the moral universe, in which one star not only differeth from another star in glory, but kindles a thousand sympathies, and lights a thousand reflective fires.

I. It is the eminent prerogative of the mother to be the educator of the family; a truth which is alike in the expression “our mother tongue” and “our mother country.” The arrangements of modern society and commerce separate the father from his family during a great part of the clay; he dwells among other people, and exercises over them another sort of influence. It is the mother who is the keeper at home, and with boundless, indefatigable tenderness moulds the first lispings, and extracts the first thoughts of her young children. They imitate her manners and pronunciation; and she is the interpreter of their self-invented or half-formed words with the world.

II. It may remind mothers of their responsibilities to state, that when a boy escapes from the nursery and enters upon his school career, he becomes in turn an educator, and dwells among his own people. Not to speak of that technical arrangement in some schools, which sets boys to teach boys, there is a constant play of mutual influence, wherever youths congregate. An eminent teacher, whose mantle seems to have fallen upon many of his successors, used to exclaim:--“If my sixth form desert me, all our success is at an end!” Boys at school are rarely unemphatic and harmless; they do then, as they will do hereafter, the work of God or of Satan.

III. The Hebrew Rabbins used to maintain that they learned much at school, but more from their contemporaries in active life. The most valuable part of our knowledge is self-acquired or obtained by the collision and play of our minds among those of our equals. Our educating power, then, expands with our years, and we teach more truly and successfully, if we are Christians indeed, the older we grow. (T. Jackson, M. A.)

The sphere in which we move

You cannot grow grapes on the north-east wall of a poor cottage, nor English pine-apples in the bare exercise-yard of a workhouse. And you cannot grow noble in the society of those who never feel a noble sentiment or give birth to a fine thought; whose talk is of sport, or intrigue, or cattle, or money; whose one ambition is fine company, and whose god is gold. The soul of the large nature must have its suitable sphere, or like the lark that lives only with sparrows it becomes dumb.

On a contented mind

1. The temper of this worthy Shunammite stands in opposition to that restless and discontented spirit which so often sets men at variance with their condition in the world, makes them look with contempt on that state of life and sphere of action which Providence has allotted them; and encouraging every real or supposed discouragement to prey upon their minds, makes them pine for some change of fortune. It is proper, however, to observe, that this moderation of spirit is not inconsistent with our having a sense of what is uneasy or distressing in our lot, and endeavouring, by fair means, to render our condition more agreeable. Entire apathy, or passive indifference to all the circumstances of our external state, is required by no precept of religion. What a virtuous degree of contentment requires and supposes, is that, with a mind free from rejoining anxiety, we make the best of our condition, whatever it is; enjoying such good things as God is pleased to bestow upon us, with a thankful and cheerful heart; without envy at those who appear more prosperous than us; without any attempt to alter our condition by unfair means; and without any murmuring against the Providence of Heaven.

2. But if this acquiescence in our condition is to be considered as belonging to that contentment which religion requires, what becomes, it will be said, of that laudable ambition, which has prompted many boldly to aspire with honour and success far beyond their original state of life?--I readily admit, that on some among the sons of men, such high talents are bestowed, as mark them out by the hand of God for superior elevation; by rising to which, many, both in ancient and modern times, have had the opportunity of distinguishing themselves as benefactors to their country and to mankind. But these are only a few scattered stars, that shine in a wide hemisphere; such rare examples afford no model for general conduct.

I. Discontent carries in its nature much guilt and sin. A contented temper, we are apt to say, is a great happiness to those who have it; and a discontented one, we call an unlucky turn of mind; as if we were speaking of a good or bad constitution of body, of something that depended not at all on ourselves, but was merely the gift of Nature. Ought this to be the sentiment, either of a reasonable man, or a Christian; of one who knows himself to be endowed with powers for governing his own spirit, or who believes in God and in a world to come? Besides impiety, discontent carries along with it, as its inseparable concomitants, several other sinful passions. It implies pride; or an unreasonable estimation of our own merit, in comparison with others. It implies covetousness, or an inordinate desire for the advantages of external fortune, as the only real goods. It implies, and always engenders, envy, or ill-nature and hatred towards all whom we see rising above us in the world.

II. As this disposition infers much sin, so it argues great folly, and involves men in many miseries. If there be any first principle of wisdom, it is undoubtedly this: the distresses that are removable, endeavour to remove: those which cannot be removed, bear with as little disquiet as you can: in every situation of life there are comforts; find them out, and enjoy them. But this maxim, in all its parts, is disregarded by the man of discontent. He is employed in aggravating his own evils; while he neglects all his own comforts. Let it be further considered, in order to show the folly of a discontented temper, that the more it is indulged, it disqualifies you the more from being free from the grounds of your discontent. First, you have reason to apprehend, that it will turn the displeasure of God against you, and make Him your enemy. Next, by your spleen and discontent, you are certain of bringing yourself into variance with the world as well as with God. Such a temper is likely to create enemies; it can procure you no friends. Such being the mischiefs, such the guilt and the folly of indulging a discontented spirit, I shall now suggest some considerations which may assist us in checking it, and in reconciling our minds to the state in which it has pleased Providence to place us. Let us, for this purpose, attend to three great objects: to God, to ourselves, and to the world around us.

1. Let us speak of God, of His perfections, and government of the world; from which, to every person of reflection who believes in God at all, there cannot but arise some cure to the discontents and griefs of the heart. For, had it been left to ourselves what to devise or wish, in order to secure peace to us in every state, what could we have invented so effectual as the assurance of being under the government of an Almighty Ruler, whose conduct to His creatures can have no other object but their good and welfare. Above all, and independent of all, He can have no temptation to injustice or partiality. Neither jealousy nor envy can dwell with the Supreme Being. He is a rival to none, He is an enemy to none, except to such as, by rebellion against His laws, seek enmity with Him. He is equally above envying the greatest, or despising the meanest of His subjects.

2. In order to correct discontent, let us attend to ourselves and our own state. Let us consider two things there: how little we deserve, and how much we enjoy.

3. Consider the state of the world around you. (H. Blair, D. D.)


Verses 18-37

2 Kings 4:18-37

And when the child was grown.

The empty home

The Bible is the most perfectly natural and human book in the world. It deals not with philosophies and theories, but with real human life. The story of the Shunammite and her child is one of the most touching episodes in Scripture, and also one of the most beautiful and finished narratives in the whole range of literature.

1. We are introduced to “a great woman,” a lady of great wealth and influence. She dwelt in Shunem, in the plain of Jezreel, the richest and most fertile tract of land in Palestine. She was a woman of keen spiritual perception; and as Elisha passed to and fro on his Master’s business, she recognised him to be a man of true piety. “I perceive,” she said, “that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually.” There is an Eastern proverb, “A myrtle in the desert will be a myrtle still.” So Elisha was consistent in whatever circumstances he might find himself.

2. She was also a woman of large-hearted generosity.

3. But this great woman was hiding in her heart a great disappointment: she had no child to cherish as her very own.

4. But this great woman was to pass through a great sorrow.

5. But this great woman overcame by means of great trust in God. (F. S. Webster, M. A.)

Concerning accidents

The remark was recently made by an earnest and thoughtful believer: “There is no catastrophe that can possibly come to a living Christian.” The tidings had just reached him of a serious accident--as we are accustomed to say--that had befallen a dear relative, known not less for piety than for marked amiability of disposition. This was the sad occasion that suggested the above remark. The words were spoken tenderly, evincing no lack of heartfelt sympathy, showing no indisposition to administer comfort in the most substantial manner. While we stood silently contemplating the situation, this Christian friend added: “There is no catastrophe but the loss of faith.” Very true. To abandon one’s reliance upon the Heavenly Father’s care is incalculable loss. The whole universe, without faith inspiring the soul, would, indeed, become a dreary chaos, a world distorted, meaningless. Laying aside all discussion of extraordinary events which befall those who are in rebellion against God--how far these events are under the supervision of that Almighty power which is so despised, consider that no catastrophe can possibly come to the living Christian. He is not exposed to accident in any true sense. The severest revulsions may come; the sudden visitation of physical illness may change every earthly plan; even the throne upon which reason sits may be demolished; but not one nor all of these combined can touch that sacred relationship over which infinite love and power exercise perpetual guardianship. A living Christian has a living union with the Divine nature, enjoys a residence in the realm of faith, is upheld every moment by an arm that wearies not beneath the burden of universe. The child of our King--a victim of chance? Never! Sooner the covenants of God will be broken than this could be. Let every loyal heart rejoice in the absolute perpetuity of relationship with his Father, and in the consequent pledge on His part of unremitting care.

A day in a mother’s life

There are times when everything goes on smoothly, and one day is like another. Again, there are times when changes come, and whole years of joy or sorrow may be concentrated into a single day. So it was with the household at Shunem. It was a hallowed day when Elisha first entered the house (2 Kings 4:8). It was a joyous day when a man-child was born (2 Kings 4:17). But most memorable of all was that day when the only son was lost and found; was dead, and received back to life again (verse 18-37).

I. Morning joys. It is the harvest time. “Man goeth forth unto his work, and to his labour until the evening” (Psalms 104:22-23).

1. We see mother and child at home. She is called “a great woman” (2 Kings 4:8). This implies not greatness in wealth, but in character (Proverbs 12:26; Proverbs 31:10-31). Doubtless she would show her “greatness,” not only in her management of household affairs, but in her care of her child.

2. The next scene is in the harvest field. Here, too, all is joy. The father is glad at sight of his boy. His coming is not the result of command, but of his own choice. There is such love between him and his father as makes their meeting and intercourse a joy to both. They are happy together.

II. Darkness, at noon. How soon may the brightest sky be clouded. How quickly may the happiest home be darkened by sorrow and the shadow of death. “We know not what a day may bring forth.”

1. It is a cry raised in the midst of innocent labour. The work going on is good and not evil. It is in accordance with God’s ordinance. It is wholesome and pure. Old and young may join in it freely. Such, at least, it was in the olden time, when the simplicity and purity of pastoral life were still known in the land (Ruth 2:4). And yet here death comes. There is no place safe. There is no people or work with immunity from trouble.

2. The cry brought woe to the father’s heart. His son’s voice was sweet to his ear.

3. Picture the sad home-coming. “Carry him.” The lad obeys. What a change. He came out full of life and frolic; he is borne back helpless as a clod. Alas, how dreadful the awakening! (2 Kings 4:20). Mark her gentleness. “On her knees”--where often she had dandled him with delight.

III. Light at evening time. All is not lost, since God liveth. This woman, like her countrywoman of Gospel times, was great in faith. Therefore, instead of giving way to despair, she strengthens her heart in God.

1. Mark the preparation. What promptitude and decision!

2. The long ride to Carmel.

3. The passionate appeal to the prophet (verses 27-30). Nothing will satisfy her but Elisha.

4. The return and restoration (verses 32-37).

Hope has sprung up again in her breast. Nothing is too hard for the Lord. Trials will come. In the darkest hour God can help. Here the child cries to his father, the father sends to the mother, the mother appeals to the prophet, and the prophet casts himself on God. So let us cast ourselves on Christ, our God and Saviour (Isaiah 66:13; John 11:25). (William Forsyth, A. M.)


Verse 20

2 Kings 4:20

He sat on her knees till noon, and then died.

Death in early life

I. Let us inquire what proportion of mankind die before they arrive to years of maturity.

II. What purposes God may design to answer by the early death of children. Though there is no reason to doubt whether God has some wise and good purpose to promote by cutting short the lives of so many of mankind; yet it is not to be supposed that we can discover all the reasons which influence the kind Parent of the universe in bereaving fathers and mothers of their young and lovely children. But some of His purposes in such dispensations of Providence are plain and obvious.

1. He may intend, by taking away so many at an early age, to make this appear as a dying world. Though He has told us in His Word that it is appointed unto all men once to die, and that dust they are and unto dust they must return, yet these declarations generally fail of making mankind realise their frail and mortal state. The eye affects the heart, and the bare sight of death makes a deeper impression on the minds of the living, than any human or even Divine declarations concerning it. The frequency of death seems necessary to keep up a lively sense of it in the minds of dying creatures. A very dying time we know is always very alarming to the living. And by so many deaths of the young, God makes it appear to all, that they live in a dying world and are dying creatures. The frequent instances of mortality, not only from year to year, but from month to month, and from week to week, make it appear that death is continually carrying mankind to their long home, and causing mourners to go about the streets. If it be necessary, then, that the world should appear as a dying world, what wiser course could God take to produce this solemn and instructive appearance, than to cut off such a large proportion of mankind in their earliest days?

2. God may design, by the great mortality of children, to teach mankind His sovereign right to take away any temporal favours He has bestowed upon them. They are very apt to consider their children as their own property, and their own most precious property. They value them more than all their other earthly enjoyments, and claim a higher right to them. They possess many things which they do not consider as their own. They dwell in houses, and cultivate lands which are not their own. They borrow many comforts and conveniences from one another; but their children they hold by a stronger claim, and practically deny human or Divine right to take them away. But they ought to consider, that God has given them these desirable objects and precious blessings, and therefore that He has an original and sovereign right to do what He will with His own. This is a matter of so much importance, that God may, with propriety, take the most effectual method to display His sovereignty. And we can hardly conceive of any more effectual way to make mankind see, and feel, and acknowledge His sovereignty, than His stripping them of those blessings which they are most apt to claim, most apt to prize, and most reluctant to part with. By going into their families, and tearing from them the objects which lie nearest to their hearts, He gives them the most sensible and affecting evidence, that He has a right to dispose of them and of all they have. The loss of children was the heaviest of Job’s afflictions, and most effectually bowed his heart in cordial submission to Divine sovereignty. “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

3. God may design, by the death of some little children, to take them away from the evil to come, and give them cause to adore His sovereign goodness in early and safely conducting them to His heavenly kingdom. We are told that God sometimes takes away the godly from the evil to come; and why may He not do the same by some who die in infancy and childhood?

4. God may design, by the death of little children, to moderate the affections of their parents towards them. They are extremely prone to love their children too much. Jacob was too fond of Joseph and Benjamin. David was too fond of Absalom. Aaron and Eli were too fond of their sons. And parents in general are too fond of their children. And sometimes they are partial in their affections, and dote upon some son or daughter, who has the more promising appearance or talents. Now, God knows the feelings of parents better than they do themselves, and there is reason to think that He often takes away some of their darlings, to teach them to moderate their affections towards them that survive.

5. God may intend, by the death of children, to prevent parents from being too much engaged to provide for them in this life. Their great fondness for them often creates a worldly spirit, and an anxiety to lay up for them rich and large possessions. They are ready to think that they cannot do too much for them. They give themselves no rest, but employ their time and exhaust their strength and expose their own lives, for the sake of putting their children into the most easy and flourishing situations.

6. God may bereave parents of some of their children, on purpose to teach them to do their duty to the rest. So long as parents have high expectations of their children’s living, they are apt to neglect to prepare them for dying; but when God takes away one or more of their children, by an early death, then they can hardly fail to realise that they are all mortal, and may be called out of time into eternity before they are prepared for the solemn and interesting event; which makes them feel, that it is of more importance to prepare their children for dying than for living.

7. God may bereave pious parents of their young and tender offspring, in order to try and purify their hearts. This seems to have been the primary purpose of God, in taking away for a time the child of the Shunammites. Every circumstance was directly suited to try the hearts of those professed friends of God. They were not fond of the world. They were amiable and exemplary persons, and much engaged in religion, and warmly attached to its friends. But it is probable that they idolised their only child. Accordingly, God meant to take away their idol, try their sincerity, and recall their supreme affections to Himself.

8. Another reason why God sometimes bereaves parents of their little children, is because He intends to make their bereavement the means of their own conversion. Such sensible and severe strokes of Providence have led thoughtless, careless, and prayerless parents to attend to the things of their everlasting peace.

III. Improvement.

1. If so great a proportion of mankind die in childhood and youth, as has been stated, then all adult persons have great reason of gratitude for the preservation of life.

2. If God so often takes away infants and little children by death, then those parents have peculiar reason for gratitude to God, who have never suffered a single breach in their young and rising families.

3. If God so often and so early takes away children from their parents, then it is of very serious importance that parents should be truly religions.

4. If God may answer many wise and benevolent purposes by the death of little children, then those who are lamenting the sudden and surprising death of their lovely and only child, ought to be cordially submissive to the bereaving and afflictive hand of God.

5. This subject calls upon all to inquire whether the bereavements and afflictions they have experienced have been instructive and beneficial to them. (N. Emmons, D. D.)

Influence of a child’s death upon his mother

Princess Alice had just returned from her Italian trip, into which she had thrown herself with true enjoyment, and was still resting after the fatigue of the long journey. The two little princes had been playing by her sofa; Prince Ernest ran into the next room followed by the Princess, and in her brief absence Prince Fritz fell out of the window upon the stone pavement below. One moment in the most vivid radiant life and health, the next he lay senseless and crushed. He died a few hours later in his mother’s arms. In her agony she sounded, as it were for the first time, the depths of scepticism. She searched in vain through the various systems of philosophy, but found no foothold. She did not speak of the transformation that was going on within; but slowly, silently, and surely faith returned to her, never again ¢o falter. “The whole edifice of philosophical conclusions which I had built up for myself, I find to have no foundation whatever--nothing of it is left--it has crumbled away like dust. What should we be, what would become of us if we had no faith--if we did not believe that there is a God who rules the world and each single one of us?” (Miss Gladstone in “Contemporary Review.”)

The Shunammite’s son

I. The dead child. Beautiful: innocent, and pure.

1. His death was sudden. Although sufficiently grown to have passed the usual dangers of the infant age, he is not old enough to go out to the field to the reapers.

2. In the death of this child there is one of the hardest providences to understand.

II. The believing mother. In reality she is the central figure in this story.

1. She manifested her faith by her determination. She tells no one of her plans, but prepares to go to find the prophet, and bring him to the chamber where the child has been placed.

2. She showed her faith again in not making known her errand until she met the prophet himself. She must pour her complaint into the ears of God’s representative.

3. Her faith came out still stronger in her refusing to leave the prophet unless he would return with her. Gehazi had been sent with the prophet’s staff, but this, to her mind, was not sufficient. Her intuition seemed to tell her that it would not restore the child, and Elisha must return with her.

III. The restored son.

1. He stretched himself upon the child. He “put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands; and he stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm.”

2. This effort was a manifestation of the earnestness of the prophet. Elijah did the same. In both cases there was such an earnest longing for the accomplishment of the purpose that they would willingly give their own lives to restore the dead. (G. S. Butters.)


Verse 26

2 Kings 4:26

Is it well with thee?

Ministerial inquiry into the welfare of a people

I. When may it be said to be really well with any persons? Many would think it to be well with us when we have food and raiment, when our flocks and herds increase. But, if this is to be well, and we are no better than “this world’s goods” can make us, we are well only for time, and as it respects our frail and perishable bodies. In this sense, it was well with Dives. For it to be really well with us, we must come to things which concern the soul, and which have a reference to that eternal state whither we are going. Mark, then, what follows: It is well with us if our souls have been awakened--if we have found forgiveness--if the Lord Jesus Christ be precious to us--and if we be now walking in newness and righteousness of life.

II. Whether it be thus well with you? You may, as we have seen, be well as it respects this world and your abiding in it. But, is it well with your souls? Would it be well with you, do you think, if God were now to require your souls of you? Inquire, I pray you. Felt you ever your need of mercy? Has a sensibility of your guiltiness ever constrained you to cry for mercy? Have you, like her who had lost one of her ten pieces of silver, sought for it “til you have found it”? Is your heart “sprinkled from an evil conscience”? What do you love most? Christ or the world?--Christ or sinful pleasure?--Christ or the increase of your temporal wealth and honour?--Christ or yourself? What is your chief joy? The Christian “rejoices in Christ Jesus.” Is He the object of your rejoicing? In what way are you living? The way in which we live will most clearly evidence whether we have been awakened, forgiven, and “I accepted in the Beloved,” or not; and, consequently, whether it be well with us or not. (W. Mudge, B. A.)

It is well

Death is not a calamity to the Christian. “It is well.”

I. In view of the unsatisfactory nature of life. Paul would say, “To live is Christ,” and yet he testified, “To depart and be with Christ is far better.”

II. In view of the home prepared for the saved.

III. “it is well” with the child of God even in this life.

IV. Appeal to the living. Is it well with your soul? (Homiletic Review.)

A searching inquiry

In the late South African War, Major Child, when setting out one morning on reconnaissance duty, had a presentiment he might not return alive, and so said to a brother officer that if he fell that day he wanted written on his memorial stone just these words: “Is it well with the child? It is well.” It fell out as he anticipated, but death had no terrors for him, and now he lies on the veldt with this question and answer above his grave. Suppose this question put to us: “Is it well with thee?” Can we answer, “It is well”? (J. D. Jones, M. A.)

She answered, It is well.--

Submission under trial

I. The trial which the woman endured. “Man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upwards.” “The ills to which flesh is heir” are diffused with wonderful impartiality. The palace is as much accustomed to the visits of sorrow as is the cottage. The robe of honour cannot ward off the touch of pain any more than the garment of beggary. The glittering diadem often encircles an aching brow, and the silken robe often covers a bleeding heart.

1. In her trial there was the disappointment of a strong desire. She seems to have had only one strong desire ungratified. No child had ever called her mother; she had no son to perpetuate her husband’s name in Israel. The desire to be a mother was peculiarly strong in the heart of a Hebrew wife, from the national relationship to the promise, that of the seed of a woman would come the Destroyer of the serpent and the Deliverer of Jacob. This desire in the heart of the Shunammite had almost died away, when the prophet assures her she shall yet “embrace a son.” As the desire had been strong, so would the joy be great when the desire was realised. Who can blame her if her heart swelled with a joyful pride and a proud joy, as she clasped her baby to her breast, and pictured for him a future of happiness and honour?

2. An additional element in this woman’s trial was the blasting of a bright hope. What sweet and sacred hopes cluster round every cradle! We all know the power of hope, and to how large a degree hope constitutes the beauty and blessedness of human life.

3. As another element of this woman’s trial--her tenderest affections have been torn. Her child has been taken from her. The grief of “one that mourneth for a first-born” has passed into a proverb. She had lost her first-born--nay, she had lost her only child.

II. Her conduct under the trial. Notice, first:

1. She is filled with the most pungent sorrow. When trial is sent, it is designed we should feel it. There may be sorrow, there must be sorrow, under the afflictions and bereavements of life; only it should not be despondent sorrow, nor rebellious sorrow, nor murmuring sorrow, but sorrow submissive and sanctifying, like that of this woman.

2. She acquiesces in the will of God. She says, “It is well.” This is one of the highest achievements of Christian faith.

3. In her trial this woman cleaves to God. She does not sit down and brood over her bereavement, and nurse her grief, and indulge in “the luxury of sorrow.” She goes at once to consult the oracle of God.

III. The grounds which may produce and sustain such a course of conduct as this woman pursued. There are three grounds which may contribute to this desirable result. A consideration--

1. Of what we are who endure the trial;

2. of what He is who sends the trial; and

3. of the purpose the trial is designed to serve. (G. D. Macgregor.)

Reasons for trials

I. Affliction comes to call our sin to our remembrance, and to humble us for it beneath the cross of Jesus.

II. Another end for which God sends His heavy hand upon His children is to loose them from the world--to make them cease from the idolatry of the creature.

III. Again, another object of the trials which God sends His children is to make himself more dear to them. Dear indeed He is to all who have learned to view Him as a God of love--as the God who hath “so loved the world as to send His only-begotten Son” to die for it--dear is He to all of us whose souls. He has sprinkled with the blood of Christ, “in whom” He has “revealed His Son, and whom He has made heirs, through Christ, of life eternal.”

IV. A further end God has in view in laying crosses on His people is that He may conform them to their Saviour, by admitting them into the fellowship of His sufferings.” “If we suffer,” says the apostle, “we shall also reign with Him.” Justly then might we feel uneasy to be the prosperous followers of a suffering Lord--light-hearted servants of a sorrowing and weeping Master.

V. But, when God makes His children acquainted with affliction, He has a purpose in His view, beyond any of the objects we have yet enumerated. He intends by it His own glory. Eminently is that glory promoted and set forth by the patience of His people in the hour of trial, and by their cheerful acquiescence in His will. The world is then compelled to see that there is truth, that there is power, in His Gospel. “It is well,” very well, with every child of God, however great be “the fight of affliction” he is called on to sustain. For look at the issue of these things! These afflictions are not everlasting. God “will not always chide, neither keepeth He His anger for ever.” As soon as the ends of His chastening providence are answered, the dispensation will be changed. “It is well,” then, with believers even in their most afflicted moments. The Shunammite spoke truth when she uttered that saying in the midst of her affliction. Christian brethren, are any of us her fellow-sufferers? (A. Roberts, M. A.)

The uses of affliction

An artist asked a friend to come to his studio to see a painting just completed. He came at the time appointed, but was shown into a dark room, and there left alone. He waited for fifteen minutes, when his friend came in, greeted him cordially, and then took him to the studio. Before he left, the artist said laughingly: “I suppose you thought it queer to he left in that dark room so long?” “Yes, I did.” “Well,” said the artist, “I knew that if you came into my studio with the glare of the street in your eyes you could not appreciate the fine colouring of the picture. So I left you in the dark room till the glare had worn out of your eyes.” So God puts His children into the dark room of affliction, so that they may be able to see the beauty of heavenly things otherwise hidden from their eyes. (Christian Commonwealth.)


Verse 29

2 Kings 4:29

Gird up thy loins, and take my staff in thine hand.

The power and weakness of faith contrasted in Elisha

There are no less than five instances wherein the prophet exemplifies the man of faith and the man of love witnessing to the faith of God by his grateful deeds.

I. The power of Elisha’s faith, and the success which attended it.

II. This weakness and this failure is to be seen at the very dawn of the trial now coming upon the prophet. “The Lord hath hid it from me, and hath not told me” (2 Kings 4:27), is the querulous expostulation of the now mortified prophet, even before the nature of the vexation had been ascertained. He is evidently greatly put out, not so much by the outward event itself, but at the circumstance of his friend being afflicted without his knowledge. How difficult it is to be honoured and lifted up, and yet to remain contented and humble! How many a follower of a great man upon earth is spoiled instead of improved by even just and moderate rewards of honour and confidence, and his previously gratified Lord has to take him down again! So it was with Elisha. He has a lesson to learn of dependent humility--and the Lord is going to teach it him. He follows up the hasty expression of his petulance and mortification by as hasty a proceeding, which, viewed in the most favourable light, is redolent of presumption and self-confidence: “Then he said to Gehazi, “Gird up thy loins and take my staff in thine hand;” etc. Here is no prayer no earnest seeking, no humble inquiry of the Lord, What must I do? but, in the spirit of one aiming to work “lying wonders” rather than healing benefits, he puts his own staff into the hands of his servant, anticipating that a miracle might be wrought and a child restored to life by the simple touch of the holy staff, without his own presence or effort. Let us now examine ourselves on this event in Elisha’s history.

1. On the power of faith and its success, as exemplified by the prophet.

What is the working of faith in us? Have we faith?

2. Mark the weakness of faith and its consequent failure in Elisha. This weakness, we have seen, consisted in a self-confidence approaching presumption. (G. L. Glyn.)


Verse 31

2 Kings 4:31

And Gehazi passed on before them, and laid the staff upon the face of the child.

Personal power

Here is a remarkable thing in Bible history--nothing less than that a miracle should miscarry. Here is an attempt to work a miracle, which ends in failure. This is strange and most painful. Who knows what may fail next? Are there any purposed miracles suddenly broken in failure? Does the staff ever come back without having done its work? We are bound to ask these sharp and serious questions. Do not let us hasten perfunctorily oyez the melancholy fact of our failure; let us face it and wisely consider it, and find out whether the blame be in Elisha, or Gehazi, or the staff, or whether God Himself may be working out some mystery of wisdom in occasionally rebuking us in the use of means and instrument. Elisha was not a man likely to make vain experiments. We had, therefore, better know, with all frankness and simplicity, exactly what the case is, for in faithfulness may be the beginning of success. Gehazi came back and said, in effect, “Here is the staff, but it has done no good. There is neither sight, nor hearing, nor sound of returning voice; the child is not awaked.”

1. Who was this Gehazi? An undeveloped hypocrite. There were three or four different men in that Gehazi figure. There are three or four different men in you and in me. Which man is it to whom I speak; who is it that announces the hymn, that offers the prayer, that reads the Scriptures, that proclaims the Word? “Things are not what they seem.” Gehazi was at this moment an undeveloped knave, and what can he do with Elisha’s staff, or with God’s sunlight? The bad man spoils whatever he touches. In the fall of man, everything with which man has to do must also fall. Virtue perished out of Elisha’s staff; it became in the grip of Gehazi but a common stick. There is law in that deterioration; there is a whole philosophy in that mysterious depletion of virtue, and we ought to understand somewhat of its operation. Sin impoverishes everything. The universe is but a gigantic shell gleaming with painted fire to the bad man. To him there are no flowers in the garden; there may be some diversity of colour, but flowers as tabernacles in which God reveals Himself, creations of the supreme power, there are none, there can be none. A man cannot go down in his highest religious nature without going down all round. Whatever his pretence of interest may be in things beautiful and musical, and pure and noble, it is only a skilful hypocrisy. When the fool says in his heart, “There is no God,” he also says in his heart, “There is no beauty, there is no virtue, there is no purity, there is no soul.” God is the inclusive term, and denial in relation to that term is negation in reference to everything that belongs to it--all music and beauty, all virtue and tenderness, all chivalry and self-sacrifice. You cannot be theologically wrong, and yet morally and socially right. We know what it is to have done the evil deed, and then to have seen all the sunshine run away from the universe like a thing affrighted. Thus we may be coming nearer to the reason why the staff failed. The staff is good, the hand that wielded it was bad; there was no true sympathy or connection between the hand and the staff. The staff was only in the hand, it was not in the heart. There was a merely physical grasp, there was no moral hold of the symbol of prophetic presence and power. Gehazi had already stolen from Naaman, and already there had gone out from the court of heaven the decree which blanched him into a leper as white as snow. Now, let us come home. We have an inspired Book as our staff, our symbol, but are we inspired readers? An inspired Book should have an inspired perusal: like should come to like. By inspiration, by the human side, I mean a meek, reverent, contrite and willing heart, a disposition unprejudiced, a holy, sacred burning desire to know God’s will and to do it all. How stands the case now? You read the Bible and get nothing out of it. No, because you read it without corresponding inspiration on your part. No bad man can preach well. He may preach eloquently, learnedly, effectively. He may go very near to being a good preacher in the right sense of that term, but the bad man cannot preach well in God’s sense and definition of the term. What can the bad man preach? Can he preach salvation by the blood of Christ, he who knows not what it is to shed one drop of blood for any human creature? Can he speak nobly who never felt nobly? (J. Parker, D. D.)

The personal element

Personality is the one thing of real value. The other day I stood looking at ten or fifteen pounds of clay. It was valued at one thousand dollars. But this clay bore upon it the impress of personality. It had been touched by man’s intelligence and innermost spirit. It had been designed, and moulded into beauteous form; painted by artistic skill; glazed and baked and perfected by man’s inventive genius, and when it came from his hand, bearing the impress of his art, the beauty of thought, the very life of his personality, it had risen in value from zero to a thousand dollars--from worthless clay to a vase of surpassing value and loveliness. Whenever we purchase an article of any kind, in any store, we buy manhood, and not materials; personality, and not things. What we buy would be worthless without the impress of the human soul. Material things take their value from man. They rise in value as he rises in intelligence and moral power. The only thing of real value in the world is the human soul. (Homiletic Review.)

The child is not awaked.

Are you awake?

Many of you are, or have been, quite as “dead,” in the truest sense of that word, as was the boy who lay still and white in the prophet’s chamber at Shunem, and need to be “awaked” quite as much as he did. No doubt even in the youngest of you there are evil germs which may unfold themselves by and by, until you too die, or fall asleep, to God and goodness. No doubt even you often do wrong, and know that it is wrong while you do it. But, for all that, I do not call you “dead” if God is near and present to you, if you think of Him as your Father, if you are sorry when you do wrong, if you are quickly and easily moved to love, admire, and imitate whatsoever is right and brave and noble. But there are some of you who have lived long enough, and have long enough been “knocked about” in the little world of school, to have grown somewhat dull and “dead.” God is not so real, or He is not so much, to you as He was. You are not so ashamed of doing wrong as you were; it may be even that there are some things which you know your masters or parents would think wrong that you take a foolish pride in hiding from them. Perhaps you are getting greedy, selfish, hard to please; or, like Gehazi, covetous of the good things which others have, but you have not. Yes: I have often seen a most gruesome sight. I have seen a dead boy inside a living boy, and a dead girl inside a living girl! That is to say, I have seen girls and boys who had lost their sensibility to spiritual things, their love of goodness, truth, kindness, and gentleness, and were nevertheless quite content with themselves so long as they could get nice food to eat, nice clothes to wear, and plenty of pocketmoney and amusement. Is it too much to say that such boys and girls are dead? And, then, some of you, if you are not dead, are at least “fast asleep.” Your spiritual faculties and affections rust unused, or they are seldom used. You are dreaming, and pursuing dreams. For what we often call “the real world,” the world outside us, is not truly the real one; but the world within it and behind it, and beyond it. Thousands of men pass into this outward world, and pass out of it every day; and they can only take with them what they have stored up within themselves. So that it is this inner world which is the real world to us, the world in which alone true and enduring treasures are to be found. And if any of you think the outside world--in which you only stay for a few years at most--to be the real one, and are living only or mainly for that, while the inward and spiritual world, in which you are to abide for ever, is unreal and unattractive to you;--what can we say of you except that you are fast asleep, and do not see things as they are, and mistake dreams for realities, and realities for dreams? You have eyes, but they are not open. There are faculties in you capable of apprehending the true realities, but as yet they are not in exercise. Like the Shunammite’s son, who was both asleep and dead, you need to be awaked; you need to be quickened unto life. I should like to creep into your very hearts, and whisper, “Are you awake?” and to go on asking it till you were roused from your dreams, and saw things as they really are; for it is my duty to you, as it is that of your other teachers, to rouse and wake you, if we anyhow can. But, at the very outset, you may turn upon me, and say--“How are we to know whether we are what you call awake? What is it to be awake, and alive, toward God? What do you want us to be and to do?” And I reply: Well, for one thing, I do not want to see you trying to become sanctimonious little saints. I should hate to see you behaving and to hear you talking as some of the “good children” behave and talk of whom you read in certain tracts and books. What I want is that you should set yourselves to become good, useful, and happy men and women, by placing the best and highest aims before you, by acting on right motives, because you know that God loves you, and is bent on making you good. How are you to know whether you are alive and awake, or asleep and dead? In a hundred different ways--such ways as these. If you are at school, and set yourself to learn your lessons well and to get on fast--you may have very different motives for doing your duty in school. You may care only to beat your class-fellows, to stand above them, to get on in your little world and be looked up to; and if that be your aim or motive, it is a selfish one, and you are asleep and dead to the true motives and aims by which you ought to be inspired. But if you are eager to learn because you wish to do your duty, and to fit yourselves for larger duties by and by, because you want to become wiser, better, more useful, or because you want to please your parents and show that you are not unmindful of how much they have done for you, or because you want to please God and to prove that you thankfully remember how much He has done for you and given you, then you are alive and awake: for, now, your motives reach up out of and beyond this present world, which will soon pass away, and you are trying to prepare yourselves for any life, or any world, to which it may please God to call you. And, lastly, some of you are growing up into men and women, and have to go out into the world to earn your daily bread. Are you diligent, thoughtful, eager to advance? Why, so far, well. But you may be diligent, observant, quick to seize every advantage and opportunity, mainly because you hate work and hope to get free from it the more quickly; or because you want to lay by money, to get rich, to make a fortune; or because you are bent on distinction, reputation, applause. And, in that case, you are dead and asleep; you are not alive and awake to the best things, the most satisfying, the most enduring. For this life, for which alone you are living, will soon be over, and the riches which have wings soon use them and fly away. If you should die to-night, our Father would not have sorrowfully to say of you, “The child is not awake,” and feel that He must put you into hard and painful conditions which will rouse and sting you to a sense of all that you have lost and thrown away. And if you should live to be never so old, still all your life will be a useful and happy preparation for the better life to come. (S. Cox, D. D.)

On being awake

A member of Whitefield’s Sunday Afternoon Men’s Meeting stopped Mr. Horne a little while ago and said, “I have a crow to pluck with you.” “Oh, only one?” said Mr. Home. “What is that? You have taken away my Sunday afternoon’s nap!” “How is that?” asked the well-known preacher. “Well, I used to sleep all Sunday afternoon, and now I come to Whitefield’s.” “And how do you like it?” “Oh, I find it far more interesting to be awake!” The story is worth repeating, because there are tens of thousands of people who seriously assume that it is more interesting to be asleep. God has made us for wakefulness, and in all the departments of our life the wakeful man receives the surprises of the Almighty. How much the wakeful man can see in the country lane! There are uncounted numbers of village people who are still asleep, and whose senses have never begun to discern the transient glories of their own surroundings. I have just been staying with a man who makes it part of his ministry of life to open the senses of young villagers whose lives are cast in these entrancing spots. He tells me that they are entering into the unknown world with all the fascination exercised by a fairy tale. Birds and flowers have become the fairies in their once commonplace world, and now that they am awake they find it surpassingly interesting. (Hartley Aspen.)


Verses 33-36

2 Kings 4:33-36

He went therefore, and shut the door upon them twain.

The staff and the sacrifice

The story of the Shunammite and her son is one of the most charming idyls in the Bible. It abounds in the most beautiful touches of nature; and though the mould in which it is cast is peculiarly Eastern, its simple pathos appeals to the universal human heart. But passing from the simple, obvious instruction which the narrative bears upon the surface of it, I wish to use the significant incidents connected with the child’s restoration as an acted parable. Looking at the incidents of the miracle of Shunem in this light, they seem to me to afford admirable illustrations of the two prevailing methods of doing good, both on a large scale, as affecting the highest interests of the whole human race; and on a small scale, as affecting the spiritual and temporal interests of individuals. The one method of doing good, which may be called the impersonal, is illustrated by Gehazi putting the staff of the prophet upon the face of the dead child; the other, or personal method, is illustrated by the prophet stretching himself upon the dead body, and by his own exertions and sacrifices restoring the life that had fled.

I. The impersonal method. His action was impersonal; it was wrought by another, by a mere servant; it did not proceed from a true knowledge of the case, and it did not contain the requisite amount of faith. For these reasons it did not succeed. Death would not release his prey at the bidding of such a feeble and inadequate instrumentality. Elisha himself did not manifest any surprise when Gehazi returned from his fruitless errand, and told him, saying, “The child is not awaked.” Having adopted the measure as a human precaution, and not at the instigation of God’s Spirit, he could not count upon success; and therefore there was no revulsion of feeling, no shock to his faith. He knew by the result that he had committed an error in judgment. It will be lawful, in the first place, to apply this incident to the mode of salvation that existed in the time of Elisha--the method of imparting life to the dead body of humanity by the dispensations previous to the gospel. These modes were all impersonal. God Himself did not come into closest contact with men, did not identify Himself with their interests, did not assume their nature or tabernacle with them. As Elisha sent his servant to restore the dead child, so He sent His prophets and priests and godly men, and spoke to mankind at sundry times and in divers manners. He sent His servants with His commission, and gave them His staff, the red of His power. He entered into covenant with Israel, and gave them laws and institutions for their guidance and blessing. But the result of all His impersonal dealings with the human race before the appearance of the Saviour, was like the result of Gehazi’s laying the prophet’s staff upon the face of the dead child. Some good indeed was done. The decay of religion was prevented; the process of spiritual decomposition was arrested; the possibilities of restoration were conserved; and the body of humanity was kept at least from sinking into a deeper spiritual death, and yielding to the dissolving forces which were assailing it in the world. But no spiritual life was enkindled; the sleep of death was not broken; mankind, dead in trespasses and sins, heard no voice, and felt no touch potent enough to break the spell that bound it down in spiritual torpor and coldness. Scripture itself tells us of the insufficiency of all the means and appliances that were used under the old dispensations to quicken mankind into newness of life. It tells us that “the law made nothing perfect”; that it could not effect the restoration which it proclaimed “in that it was weak through the flesh”; that it had only “a shadow of good things to come.” The law may induce a man actually to refuse the offers and allurements of evil, but it cannot grapple with the sin of the heart, and order aright the government of that invisible kingdom within where Satan wages his most successful war. Its terrors and its blessings have no effect in that inner world where we have to do, not with the realities, but with the ideal forms of sin--where there are none of the restraints and mitigations that hinder the full power of evil in the world without; where ambition is uniformly successful, and pleasure leaves no stains or stings behind; arid vice, instead of being clothed in rags and fed on the beggar’s dole, is clothed in purple and fares sumptuously every day. “If,” says the apostle, “there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” But such is the inherent corruption of human nature, that no law, however holy or however sanctioned, could reach and cure the disease. The laying of it as a standard of righteousness before a soul dead in trespasses and sins, is as useless as was the laying of the prophet’s staff on the dead child’s face. It only shows the deadness of the soul all the more. And if this be the case with the great impersonal method for the salvation of the whole race and of the whole of human nature from all the evil effects of sin, we find that it is very strikingly the case with every individual attempt to overcome the individual evils of sin in particular persons. Much of the exercise of benevolence in these days is impersonal. Many try to do good by means of others. They send their servant, as the prophet sent Gehazi, to heal some clamant evil by the aid of their staff; by the help of something that is useful to them, but not indispensable; something that belongs to them, but is not a part of themselves; something that they can spare without inconvenience. The staff that they use represents their money, their help, whatever shape it assumes; and their Gehazi is the missionary or minister, the society or collector, whom they use in distributing their help. Thus they themselves never come into contact with the evil they seek to redress. We need not wonder that so many of our efforts to remove the evil of the world should be so unsuccessful. Its dead, cold form remains pulseless and motionless under the pitying heavens. There is no answering thrill of life, no voice to break the awful stillness.

II. But there is a more excellent way--the personal method of doing good, as illustrated by Elisha stretching himself upon the dead body of the child. And how significant is all this of the Divine method of restoring the dead body of humanity through the life and death of Christ. Does not the stretching of the prophet upon the dead child--each member of his own body being applied to the corresponding member of the lifeless corpse, and by this sympathetic contact imparting his own vitality to it, and ultimately raising it to life--figure forth in the most beautiful and suggestive manner the incarnation of Cod, by which He brought His infinitude within the limitations of human nature and human existence, touching it at every sympathetic point, and so raised it from a death in sin to newness of life in Himself? What does each joyful Christmas morning proclaim? Is it not the wonderful fact that the Eternal God incarnated Himself in the body of a little child; was born in Bethlehem, lay as a helpless babe on a mother’s breast, grew in wisdom as in stature, and lived in humble dependence upon and submission to earthly parents in a human home in Nazareth? Does it not tell us that God in Christ was united to us by blood-relationship; knew all “the things of a man”; filled all the moulds of our conduct, and passed along all the lines of our experience? Does it not powerfully proclaim to us the one only method of salvation, to which all other methods, by their weakness and failure, pointed, and for which all other methods prepared the way--the personal method of God assuming the very nature that had sinned and suffered, and in that nature bringing back life and holiness and happiness and all that man had lost? And consider the awful cost of this personal method of salvation. The connection between them was only an outward one. But Jesus became bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh. In the first creation God stood aloof at an immeasurable altitude above the creation when He summoned it into existence. But in the new creation He identified Himself with the work of His hands. He came into contact with sin and impurity that others might be cleansed and healed. The same remarks that are applicable to the great salvation of Jesus Christ, are applicable to every individual effort we make in the track and in the power of that salvation to redress the evil of the world. Among the many great lessons which the incarnation of the Son of God is designed to teach us, this lesson is assuredly not the least important--that if it was necessary for Christ to take human nature upon Himself in order to redeem it, so it is necessary for us to become incarnate as it were in the nature we wish to benefit. The servant, in this respect, cannot he greater than his Lord. We must, like Elisha, take the evil that we would remove to our own room; we must lay it upon our own bed; we must bear it upon our own heart; we must identify ourselves with it as far as we possibly can. (H. Macmillan, D. D.)

Salvation by personal contact

The steamer Ganges, bound for Colombo, Ceylon, had a unique experience in the Red Sea. The captain observed a vessel which was flying signals of distress, when about two hundred and thirty miles from Perim, the nearest harbour. The skipper of the Ganges undertook the task of towing the helpless steamer Fernfield into port. Before he reached the port, however, the connecting hawser snapped. Determined to get her into the port of repair, the captain ran his vessel alongside of the Fernfield--a most difficult operation on the high sea--and lashed her to his steamer, and so escorted her into Perim, the novel sight of the two vessels coming in abreast excited no little attention there. The salvage was very great, as the disabled vessel had a rich cargo of tea, cocoa, cocoanut-oil, and cinnamon. In winning souls personal contact is always the surest method. A long-range hawser is always likely to break. If we lash ourselves with cords of friendship and sympathy to the man or woman we want to save, we can always bring them into port. There is no salvage ever awarded in the admiralty courts of earth equal to the treasures which God grants to the saviour of an immortal soul. (L. A. Banks, D. D.)

The Church and her quickening ministry

The living Church has not yet stretched herself, Elisha like, upon the dead body whose quickening she prays for. She must grope her way into the alleys and byways of the city, and up the broken staircase, and into the bare room, and beside the loathsome sufferers. She must go down into the pit with the miner; into the tent with the soldier; into the forecastle with the sailor; into the shop with the merchant; into the factory with the operator; into the field with the peasant, and into the workshop with the mechanic. Like the atmosphere, she must press with equal force on all the surfaces of society; like the sea, flow into every nook of the shoreline of humanity; and like the sun, shine on things foul and low as well as fair and high, if she is ever to accomplish that for which she has been commissioned by her glorified Head.

And prayed unto the Lord.--

The relation of prayer to secondary causes

Shunem, a small village in the town of Issachar, lying between Samaria and Carmel, at the base of Mount Tabor, was the scene of this miracle. The resurrection of this woman’s son may be looked upon in two aspects, as illustrating the reward of kindness, and the power of prayer. But the point which the incident before us presses on our attention is, The relation of prayer to secondary causes or to means.

I. That prayer does not supersede the necessity of means. We do not say that God never answers prayer without the employment of means. He has done so, as in the case of Elijah, when he prayed for rain. A diseased man may pray earnestly for health, yet he has no right to expect an answer to his prayer if he neglects the Divine conditions on which health is given. A poor man may pray earnestly for an amelioration of his secular distress, and for an increase of his comforts, yet his prayers will be fruitless if he neglect the ordinary means by which temporary advantages are obtained; the ignorant man may pray earnestly for knowledge, yet his prayers will go for nothing unless he attends to the settled terms on which intelligence is conferred. The sin-convicted man may pray earnestly to be saved from his sins and their attendant perils, but he will find hell even in praying unless he employs the right means to deliver himself from “the law of sin and death.” The Church may pray earnestly for the extension of truth, for the conversion of the world, yet, all will be waste breath unless it employs the divinely established means for the purpose. The God of order carries on His government both in the material and moral department of His universe by certain laws, conditions, or means; and these, as a rule, He will not interfere with, even in answers to the prayer of His own loyal and loving children. This fact serves at least two purposes.

1. It serves to reveal the wisdom of the Divine benevolence. We can conceive of benevolence communicating mercies in abundance, but doing so in such a way as would neutralise their value to the recipient, and prove an inconvenience to others. The kindness of earthly parents often proves, through the want of wisdom in this direction, an incalculable evil to the children in years to come. Thus it is not with Divine benevolence; that is ever exercised with Infinite discretion. The fact serves--

2. To explain the inefficaciousness of modern prayer. Prayer is not a positive, but a moral institution;--its foundation is not on written rules, but deep down in the constitution of the imperishable soul. We remark from this marvellous incident--

II. That prayer may sometimes suggest the most effective means. It is by no means improbable that the method Elisha now adopted in bringing his own living body in contact with the dead child had a natural adaptation to the end intended. There is nothing absurd in the idea of his imparting life and health by contact. Perhaps the life of the child was not so far gone, as not to be resuscitated by the vital magnetism of the prophet’s frame. Be this, however, as it may, the placing of his body in contact with that of the child, it is not unnatural to suppose was suggested to his mind by his prayer. It was after his prayer that he did it. If prayer is answered in this way, it follows--

1. That the sceptical assertion that answers to prayer imply an alteration in the Divine plan is without foundation. We grant that the universe is governed by secondary conditions, but we deny that prayer necessarily implies an interference with these conditions;--it rather implies a right attention to them. Its design, and tendency, are to induce and enable the soul to act rightly in relation to God’s ordinances, both in the material and mental departments of nature. If prayer is answered in this way, it follows--

2. That we should always engage in prayer with a determination to carry into practical effect whatever impression we receive in our devotions. For in this way the real answer to our prayer may come. To allow the practical impression to pass away is to neutralise our prayer. We remark from this marvellous incident--

III. That prayer always gives efficacy to the means. The means which the prophet employed succeeded. The child was raised to life and presented to his mother. Whether there was a natural adaptation in the means he employed or not, the result must be ascribed to the interposition of Divine power. It was obtained by the prophet’s prayer. (Homilist.)


Verse 34

2 Kings 4:34

And the child sneezed seven times.

The seven sneezes

The child was dead. Although he had been the special gift of Divine promise and was therefore doubly prized by his parents, yet the little lad was not secure from the common hazards of life. The first clear evidence that the child was restored to life was his sneezing. Doubtless, it greatly rejoiced the prophet’s heart. We too, who are seeking the good of others will greatly exult if we are favoured to see gracious tokens in those for whose good we labour. At all gospel meetings earnest people should be on the look-out for persons convinced of sin, aroused in conscience, or in any other manner made to feel the power of the life-giving Spirit. It will be well if these persons watch with instructed eyes, so that they do not look for what they will never see, nor overlook that which should give them full content. Of natural life we may discern the tokens more readily than those of spiritual life; we need practice and experience in reference to this more mysterious matter, or we may cause great pain to ourselves and to those whom we would befriend. Possibly we may gather instruction from the signs of life which contented the prophet:--the child sneezed seven times.

1. This evidence of life was very simple. Nothing is freer from art than a sneeze. It is so far from being artificial that it is involuntary. As a rule we sneeze, not because we will, but because we must. No instruction, education, talent, or acquirement is necessary to a sneeze, nor even to a series of seven sneezes; it is the act of a child, or of an illiterate peasant, quite as much as of a philosopher or a divine. We ought not to expect too much in enquirers; we ought not to be satisfied without signs of life; but he faintest sign of life ought to encourage us and lead us to encourage them.

2. This evidence of life was in itself unpleasant. To the child it was no pleasure to sneeze. We should most of us prefer to be excused from sneezing seven times. Many of the surest marks of the new life are by no means pleasurable. The regenerate are not at once happy; on the other hand, they are often in great bitterness for their sins, and in Bore anguish because they have pierced their Saviour. The Divine life is not born into the world without pangs. When a man has been nearly drowned, and animation is restored by rubbing, the first movements of the blood within the veins causes tingling and other sensations which are exquisitely painful. Sin causes numbness of soul, and this is attended by an absence of sensation; this is changed when life comes with its look of faith, for the first result is that men look on Him whom they have pierced, and mourn for Him.

3. A sneeze, again, is not very musical to those who hear it, and so the first signs of grace are not in themselves pleasing to those who are watching for souls.

4. “The child sneezed seven times,” the evidences of life were very monotonous. Again and again there came a sneeze and nothing else. No song, no note of music, not even one soft word, but sneeze, sneeze, sneeze, seven times. Yet the noises wearied not the prophet, who was too glad to hear the sounds of life to be very particular about their musical character. The child lived, and that was enough for him. Much of the talk of enquirers is very wearisome; they tell the same melancholy tale over and over again. Let us not be disappointed because at the first we get so little which is interesting from young converts. We are not examining them for the ministry, we are only looking for evidences of spiritual life; to apply to them the tests which would be proper enough for a doctor of divinity would be both cruel and ridiculous.

5. Yet the sound which entered the prophet’s ear was a sure token of life, and we must not be content with any doubtful or merely hopeful signs. We want evidences of life, and these we must have. The child might have been washed and dressed in his best clothes, but this would not have fulfilled the prophet’s desire; the lad might have been decked with a chaplet of flowers, and his young cheeks might have been rouged into the imitation of a ruddy blush, but the holy man would have remained unsatisfied: he must have a sign of life. However simple, it must assuredly be a life-token, or it would be in vain. Nothing could trove been more conclusive than a sneeze. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
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Verses 38-44

2 Kings 4:38-44

And Elisha came again to Gilgal, and there was a dearth in the land.

Ministries to man, good and bad

Elisha had returned to Gilgal, the seat of a school of the prophets; he had come thither once more on his early circuit, and during the famine which prevailed in the land. As the students sat before their master, he discerned in their emaciated forms the terrible effects upon them of the famine.

I. Here is the ministry of severe trial. “There was a dearth in the land.” A destitution of those provisions essential to the appeasement of hunger and the sustentation of life is undoubtedly one of the greatest trials. Such destitution is of two kinds, the avoidable and the unavoidable. The former is common.. The latter kind of destitution, viz., the inevitable, is that recorded in these verses; it arose out of the sterile condition into which nature was thrown.

II. Here is the ministry of gross ignorance. “The sons of the prophets,” says Matthew Henry, “it would seem were better skilled in divinity than philosophy, and read their Bibles more than their herbals.” What they put into the pot tended to produce death rather than to strengthen life. Every day men are afflicted through the gross ignorance of themselves and others. The cook, the doctor, the brewer, the distiller, how much death do they bring into the “pot” of human life! Through ignorance, too, men are everywhere putting “death in the pot” in a spiritual sense. Man’s ignorance of God and His claims on the soul, its nature, laws, and necessary conditions of true spiritual progress, is the minister of death.

III. Here is the ministry of human kindness. “And there came a man from Baal-shalisha, and brought the man of God bread of the first fruits, twenty loaves of barley, and full ears of corn in the husk thereof.” Whoever this man was he was an heaven-inspired philanthropist. Mercy, the highest attribute of heaven, was in him, and he left his home and came forth to minister to the needs of his suffering race.

IV. Here is the ministry of supernatural power. Supernatural power through Elisha comes to the relief of these sufferers. The supernatural was manifested in two ways.

1. In counteracting the death tendency of what was in the pot. A supernatural power is required to counteract the pernicious in life. If the Almighty allowed evil to take its course free and full, death would run riot and reduce the whole race to extinction. The supernatural was manifested.

2. In increasing the supplies of life. Elisha commanded his servant to distribute amongst his starving pupils the provisions which the man that came from Baal-shalisha had brought. As the pot of oil increased in the pouring, so the provisions increased in the eating. It has been said of old of God that He will abundantly bless the “provisions of His people, and satisfy the poor with bread.” It is true that the tendency of moral goodness, truth, and justice, skill, prudence, and diligence, has a tendency to increase everywhere the provisions of human life, and it is doing so every day. (Homilist.)

The famine in Gilgal

There was a dearth at Gilgal. Palestine is about the most plentiful region in the world, although it now labours under the curse of the Turkish law and the malediction of God. There was death, there was famine at Gilgal. In the time of plenty, do you know that right on your heels there is coming a dearth, a famine Never a child of God ever passed from the earth without a dearth, without famine. You pencil the Sahara off--so many degrees longitude and so many latitude; and you say, “north and south” of that burning desert you have plenty, but in those regions you have drought. So, certainly, in every human life there is a Sahara to be traversed, during which your soul Will cry for bread. Caravans laden with provisions have plunged into the Sahara, and the camels have dropped and fallen, and the whole party has been lost in the desert. I never saw a life without a Sahara. Man, the caravans have come into your life. You have plenty of money, you have abounding health. The messenger that would come to you and say, “Sahara ahead!” you would greet with an incredulous “Get away,” but death is before you. Men have tried to deck the death-bed with rose-leaves, but they have never managed it; and you have to tramp through the dark desert of the Sahara of death. Have you got a Joseph to give you bread? What is to be your hope on the death-bed, when the hands are fallen nervelessly over the coverlet? When Dr. Raleigh lay dying of a disease that prevented him from taking food, he said, “Never mind; Jesus is bringing to me the Bread of Life,” and he passed away. (J. Robertson.)

Hard times

It is not likely the sons of the prophets fared sumptuously at any time. The provision for the maintenance of religion under the law had been diverted to the support of those who professed and taught the principles of idolatry; and little wonder it was that, when a season of famine occurred, they were reduced to great straits.

1. There is one lesson to be learned from this in common with many other passages of Scripture: God’s people are not exempted from the ordinary afflictive visitations of Providence. The sons of the prophets must feel the effects of the dearth as well as the grossest idolater in all the land: there is no promise of any such exemption held out to them. If we attend to the words of our blessed Lord we shall find that He never seeks to allure His followers by promising them days of ease, or seasons of the enjoyment of any temporal comfort. Rather are they warned that they are to expect nothing in this life but a narrow way and a strait gate, much opposition, plenty of obloquy; and well for them if they meet not even with harder fare,--well for them if they escape persecution whilst they live, and are suffered to end their days by aught but a death of violence like the Master they serve. But they are promised what will sustain them under all these inflictions, and make them more than conquerors, even the heirs of a glorious immortality.

2. And there are not a few records of very remarkable instances in which providential supplies have been brought to the people of God in distress. Take another instance somewhat similar, recorded by Samuel Clarke, and quoted by Flavel in the fourth volume of his works, at the 396th page. I do not profess to give the exact words of either author, but the substance of the incident is briefly this: Mr. John Fox, in the latter part of the reign of Henry VIII, went to London, where he quickly spent the slender means with which his friends had supplied him or he had acquired by his own exertions, and began to be in great want. He was a faithful servant of God, but he was ready to perish for hunger, as many of the faithful have been. In this condition he sat one day in St. Paul’s Church, every one seeming to shun such a spectacle of horror. But when he little expected but that his time had come, a person unknown to him thrust an untold supply of money into his hands, and bade him be of good cheer, for that he would ere long be placed in a position in which he might honourably earn his bread. Not long afterwards he was sent for by a person of rank and title, and entrusted with the charge of a nobleman’s children.

3. But a common calamity ought always to foster a common sentiment of benevolence. This was the case with Elisha. His means were very slender, but he would treat the sons of the prophets with the best he had to give; and his example is well worthy imitation. We need not at present advert to those ghastly records which tell us that human nature loses all its better instincts in circumstances of extreme distress, and which mention instances of mothers forgetting their little ones so far as to snatch from them the morsel so much required--thus suffering the maternal affection, one of the strongest, deepest, and purest of our nature, to be lost in a selfishness not only shocking but unavailing. There is not much to be learned from such extreme cases. It cannot be denied, it seems, that our better instincts may be suppressed, but as they will be sure to vindicate themselves as long as they remain, it ought to be our utmost endeavour to foster and preserve them by keeping them in constant exercise. (J. Murray.)


Verse 40-41

2 Kings 4:40-41

There is death in the pot.

Poisons

Nature grows poison as well as food. The sons of the prophets little knew the hurtful quality of the food that was being poured into the pot. In all things nature has its poisonous side as well as its sustaining and comforting aspect. The bane and antidote are both before us in nature. Death lies very near to life in the great open fields. Even our most natural passions lie but a single step from their destructive application. Can it be possible that a son of the prophets went out to gather food for a natural appetite, and came back with poison? This is what is being done every day. We may turn honest commerce into a means of felony. We may go into the market-place to buy food, and yet by some action we may perpetrate in connection with the purchase we may take all virtue out of the food and make it contribute to our worst qualifies. Blessed are they who eat honest bread: everywhere the great law of trespass is written in nature. By putting poisons upon the earth so plentifully, what does the Lord say in effect but, Take care, be wise, examine your standing-ground, and do nothing foolishly? Thus nature is turned into a great training-school, within whose walls men are trained to sagacity and discrimination, so that they may know the right hand from the left, and the good from the bad, and thus may turn natural processes and customary daily duties into means of culture. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Poison in the cauldron

There are now in the world a great many cauldrons of death. The coloquintida of mighty temptations fills them. Some taste and quit, and are saved; others taste and eat on, and die. Is not that minister of Christ doing the right thing when he points out these cauldrons of iniquity and cries the alarm, saying, “Beware! There is death in the pot”? Iniquity is a coarse, jagged thing, that needs to be roughly handled. I want to go back of all public iniquity and find out its hiding-place. I want to know what are the sources of its power.

I. Unhappy and undisciplined homes are the source of much iniquity. A good home is deathless in its influences. Parents may be gone. The old homestead may be sold and have passed out of the possession of the family. Yet that place will never lose its charm over your soul. That first earthly home will thrill through your everlasting career. Rascally and vagabond people for the most part come forth from unhappy homes. Parents harsh and cruel on the one hand, or on the other lenient to perfect looseness, are raising up a generation of vipers. A home in which scolding and fault-finding predominate is blood relation to the gallows and penitentiary. Petulance is a reptile that may crawl up into the family nest and crush it. There are parents who disgust their children even with religion. They scold their little ones for not loving God. They go about even their religious duties in an exasperating way. Their house is full of the war-whoop of contention, and from such scenes husbands and children dash out into places of dissipation to find their lost peace, or the peace they never had. I verily believe that three-fourths of the wickedness of the great city runs out rank and putrid from undisciplined homes. Sometimes I know there is an exception.

II. The second cauldron of iniquity to which I point you is an indolent life. You will get out of this world just so much as, under God, you earn by your own hand and brain. Horatius was told he might have so much land as he could plough around in one day with a yoke of oxen, and I have noticed that men get nothing in this world, that is worth possessing, of a financial, moral, or spiritual nature, save they get it by their own hard work. It is lust so much as, from the morning to the evening of your life, you can plough around by your own continuous and hard-sweating industries. “Go to the ant, thou sluggard, consider her ways, and be wise.”

III. Another cauldron of iniquity is the dram-shop. Surely there is death in the pot. Anacharsis said that the vine had three grapes: pleasure, drunkenness, misery. Then I remember what Gladstone, the Prime Minister of England, said to a committee of men engaged in that traffic when they came to him to deplore that they were not treated with more consideration: “Gentlemen, don’t be uneasy about the revenue. Give me thirty million sober people, and I will pay all the revenue, and have a large surplus.” But the ruin to property is a very small part of the evil. It takes everything that is sacred in the family, everything that is holy in religion, everything that is infinite in the soul, and tramples it into the mire. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)

The deadly pottage

The acts of Elisha are like rays of divine glory shining through his poverty and humiliation. “Elisha came again to Gilgal: and there was a dearth in the land.” This is a picture of our world. Dearth is on every side. Of every stream that runs through it it may indeed be said, “Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again.” But in the midst of this dearth Elisha has a table spread for all his children. So the Lord Jesus has a table for His children in this land of dearth. And mark, this table is especially prepared not for Elisha but “for the sons of the prophets.” The Lord takes care of His children. In the desert they shall never want. But in this land of dearth there is always danger near. The poison is always liable to find its way into the feast of the Lord. And so it was here. “And one went out into the field to gather herbs.” But here lies the danger: we are poor, weak, blind creatures, and the “wild vine” mingles with the “true” everywhere around us. Worst of all, we “know it not.” And the danger is worse from the fact of it being “a vine.” If it were a thorn, a thistle, or some growth bearing the danger on its very front, we should avoid it. There would be no temptation to stoop down and gather it. But it is not from the thorn or the thistle that the danger arises. And is it not so still? Our danger lies not in the open blasphemer, the avowed atheist; not in the open vice, or profligacy, or crime; not in the sin that lifts itself up with unblushing front in our way. These are the thorn and the thistle that carry their own character on the surface. No; our danger lies in that which is so like the vine and yet not it. It lies in that which looks so good, so Christian, so generous, so liberal, so praiseworthy--Rationalism under a great display of the love of Christ, yet denying the innate depravity of the heart. It lies in the theatre, the ball, the concert, under the specious gilding of “charity.” It lies in the world’s follies and amusements, while yet maintaining family prayer, regular attendance at church and its ordinances. In these and a thousand other ways we see the “wild vine.” We think it is “the true vine,” and so, like the man here, we gather plenty of it. We carry the poison home with us. We shred it into the pottage. We carry the spirit of the “wild vine” into our hearts, our thoughts, our spirit, our whole life. And what was it we needed? To see the true character of this “vine” that it was “wild”; to see the true nature of these gourds that they were deadly. Yes, we wanted more spiritual sight, more prayer, more communion with God, more distrustfulness of self, more watchfulness, more of the Spirit of God. For lack of these we were unable to distinguish between the “true vine” and the “wild,” between Christ and mere religion, between Christ and popular Christianity, between Christ and mere benevolence and charity, between Christ and the world. “There is death in the pot!”--everywhere God’s truth blended with “wild gourds.” In ten thousand different forms it is presented to us--in the Church and in the world, in doctrines, in preaching, in services, in private life and public life, at home and abroad. “So they poured out for the men to eat.” How many in this day do the same thing! They literally pour out this mixture of truth and error, light and darkness,--Christ and the world, self and Jesus, for men to drink! In the day in which we are living, this blending of opposites and “pouring them out for men to drink” is most conspicuous. And it will become more and more so. Strict and clearly drawn lines are not palatable to man’s fallen nature. The death in the pot was only discovered in the eating. And then it is said, “they could not eat thereof.” It is so still. It is in the eating that the proof lies. It is when the soul tries to enjoy Christ and the world it finds out the death--that is, if there be any conscience left, if it has ever known,, the joy of God’s presence. Then it “feels how impossible is this blending. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” It is then that the soul of the true child of God feels the force of this “cannot.” We say it again: if the man has ever tasted the joy of God’s presence, of abiding communion with Him, and if there is any conscience left in harmony with this, then it will be felt most keenly that “there is death in the pot”; then it will be felt that he cannot live nor grow in grace on this mingling of “wild gourds” with the pottage of the Lord. A spiritually sensitive soul will feel that, to enjoy the feast of the Lord, it must draw sharp lines between truth and error, light and darkness, Christ and the world. “There is death in the pot” will be felt, and there will be found no real food but in the “true vine,” Christ alone. We notice here that the Divine mode of healing is not by taking out the evil, but by putting in something to counteract it. When Elisha found the spring of Jericho bad he did not strive to draw out the evil, but put in the salt to counteract it. When Moses found the waters of Marah bitter he put in the tree to sweeten them. Throughout the Bible this is God’s way. Man’s is exactly the opposite. He begins by cutting off what he conceives to be the fruitless branches. He begins by reformation, forgetting that it is not reformation man needs, but revolution. Thus man cuts off the branches and leaves the tree unchanged. God lays the “axe at the root of the tree.” The Holy Spirit is given to the sinner. It is a new and Divine power working from within. It is the meal cast into the pot, the tree cast into the bitter waters. Thus God’s “new creation” begins. Hence the spiritual conflict--a redeemed soul in an unredeemed body--the new nature inside the old. Hence the struggle, the agony, the cry, “O wretched man that I am!” This goes on to the end, for the old nature is never made new. It is the old Adam to the last. When the Lord comes again we shall then have the redeemed body. This body will match the redeemed soul, and the conflict will end. Not till then. There will then be a redeemed soul in a redeemed body, and its result everlasting joy and blessedness. What is this “meal”? It is, spiritually, Christ. It is the Holy Spirit bringing Christ into the soul, into the house, into the duty, into all things. Christ is the one great antidote to all error. Christ is the life of all things. “He that eateth Me, he shall live by Me.” The soul will find food in everything where He is, but it will starve without. (F. Whitfield, M. A.)

The poisonous pottage healed

Notice here--

I. A supernatural interposition to counteract a natural mistake. When the Son of God was invited to the marriage feast in Cana, He found there had been a mistake on the part of the provider as to the quantity of wine required, and He rectified the mistake by making more. Here the mistake was not in the quantity; there was enough--there was too much there was death in the pot. But the mistake was in the quality of the food, and was such a mistake as could be rectified by supernatural intervention only.

II. A supernatural intervention watch did not take place until the very moment when it was needed. “And as they were eating,” etc. (2 Kings 4:40). Man’s extremity is often reached before God interposes. The wine was quite exhausted at Cana before the Saviour made more. Abraham’s knife was lifted to slay his son, when the angel of Jehovah called to him (Genesis 22:11). Israel came to the very border of the Red Sea before the waters were divided. So here the hungry men tasted the pottage before the miracle was wrought.

III. A supernatural intervention in which human effort was required to be put forth. When Jesus was about to raise Lazarus, He said, “Take ye away the stone.” So in the miracle at Cana, “Fill the water-pots with water.” Elisha could have rendered the pottage harmless by the power of God without the meal, and the Saviour could have filled empty water-pots with wine quite as easily as those filled with water. But human effort must do what it can. Lessons:

1. Mistakes made through man’s ignorance can be made right by Divine power and wisdom.

2. Sincerity of purpose and good intentions are no guarantees of the harmlessness of actions.

3. We ought to seek to know for what work we are qualified. The man who volunteered to gather herbs for the pottage might have been well fitted for other work; but his undertaking that for which ignorance of the nature of herbs disqualified him had well-nigh been the death of all the sons of the prophets. (Outlines of Sermons.)

Inexorableness of law

God’s laws will not be suspended to accommodate our disobediences, or indolences, or ignorances, or mistakes. If you sweeten your coffee with arsenic, it will kill you as surely that you did it by mistake as if you did it of wilful purpose. Nature’s commandment is, “Thou shalt not make mistakes, thou shalt not be ignorant, thou shalt not be deceived, thou shalt not transgress any natural law.”


Verses 42-44

2 Kings 4:42-44

And there came a man from Baal-shalisha.

The farmer’s gift

I. A lesson on providence. This dearth came in consequence of sin. The proud and wicked people would never yield, except they were obliged by God’s strong hand. And when He punishes, He makes men know how powerful He is. Some men nowadays would not be touched in any other way. When God takes to preaching, His voice is heard outside the churches and chapels. You cannot have retributive providences, and only the wicked suffer; the godly have their share of want. Elisha was in need. But the godly have some one to look up to. The God of to-day is the God of the Old Testament:--the manna God,--the barrel of meal God,--the God who has said, “Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee.”

II. There is here a beautiful example of benevolence. We don’t know the farmer’s name who relieved the prophet. He was one of a noble band of nameless ones. We know where he came from,--the village has got into the Bible, through the man’s goodness. It is possible to make our birthplace famous by living for Jesus. We sometimes say, he gives twice who gives quickly. The farmer gave as soon as he could. Don’t wait till you have churned, and give God the buttermilk. For many wait to be rich before they will be generous, only to find that their heart is too sour to give anything. First fruits 1 Give God the best part of your life, that which has the sunshine. If you will care for God with your May and June, He will care for you in November.

1. He came himself. He did not send it. If you want a thing well done, do it yourself. Especially is this true of acts of benevolence. Be your own almoner. “Pure religion, and undefiled, before God the Father, is to visit the fatherless and widow.”

2. This farmer increased God’s capital. The rule is, that God works by means. He does not usually act without the assistance of His creatures. Many of His plans are unfinished because the men are on strike! Let it be said, with all reverence, this miracle could not have been performed if the man had not come from Baal-shalisha with the corn and cakes. The prophet might have been fed, but not in this way.

III. The good farmer accomplished a great deal more than he intended. He meant feeding the prophet, and he fed a hundred others! And is not this the ease nowadays? When Robert Raikes began his Sunday School he only thought of the poor ignorant children of Gloucester; he little thought that he would be imitated, and that there would be thousands of Sunday Schools. When Charles Wesley asked Bohler if he must tell of his joy in Christ, the answer was, “If you had a thousand tongues, tell it with them all.” He little thought that the idea would be set to rhyme, but Wesley wrote--

O for a thousand tongues to sing

My great Redeemer’s praise!

and that has been sung by millions of happy Christians in all parts of the world. The fact is, God can make a much better use of our talents than any one else can. You cannot get so much interest for your money anywhere else. Lord Byron was a much greater poet than Isaac Watts, but they will be singing Watts’ hymns when Byron’s name is forgotten. Elisha would not have had the chance of feeding his students if the farmer had not brought the corn. And the good man was equal to his opportunities. In spite of the sneer of his wretched servitor, who was then in training for leprosy, he would have the cakes divided. “Give unto the people that they may eat.” How like God! He does not sell, but gives, and so it is with the bread of life. It is given to whoever will come. Are you hungry? Does your soul need satisfying? His mercy can do it. (T. Champness.)

Love to our neighbour

It is love to our neighbour which has purged the slum, and built the orphanage, and gathered the children into schools. It has had compassion on the poor; it has given bread to the hungry and covered the naked with a garment; it has given the Bible to the nations; it has launched the lifeboat to the perishing; it has taken the prodigal by the right hand, and opened the door of repentance to the harlot and the thief. It was love to our neighbour, burning like a fire of God in the hearts of a Carey, a Livingstone, a Romilly, a Howard, a Clarkson, which sent missionaries to the heathen; modified the ferocity of penal laws; purified the prisons; set free the slaves. It was love to our neighbour which, enriching even an age of torpor and of mammon worship, sent Wesley to fan a flame amid the dying embers of religion; and Gordon to toil among his ragged boys; and Coleridge Patteson to die at Nukapu by the poisoned arrows of savages; and Father Damien to waste away at loathly Molokai, a leper among the lepers. It is a dim reflection of the love of Him who lived and died to redeem a guilty world. It differentiates the worldly life with its low aims from the noble and the Christian life, which is ready to do good to men that despitefully use it and persecute it. Every true life is nearest the life of Christ in love to its neighbour; and this love is the essence and epitome of all pure religion; it is the end of the commandment and the fulfilling of the law. (F. W. Farrar, D. D.)

Give unto the people that they may eat.--

Punctual love

We wonder at the smooth working of the machinery for feeding a great city; and how, day by day, the provisions come at the right time, and are parted out among hundreds of thousands of homes. But we seldom think of the punctual love, the perfect knowledge, the profound wisdom which cares for us all, and is always in time with its gifts. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Beneficence

The great ocean is in a constant state of evaporation. It gives back what it receives, and sends up its waters in mists to gather into clouds; and so there is rain for the earth, and greenness and beauty everywhere. But there are many men who do not believe in evaporation. They get all they can, and keep all they get, and so are not fertilisers, but only stagnant, miasmatic pools.

The people’s needs provided

Oh, we are so glad when one seeks and finds the Bread of Life; when there is an Elisha to bring meal, sound and healthy, and life-giving, and when the meal is put into the pot, we are so glad when the hungry eat and go satisfied; there is joy in seeing the hungry feed. Away on the Marylebone Road, in London, there is a place where the hungry get free food, and those who supply it get their return for the money they give for the food in seeing the hungry eat. There was a wealthy young fellow who devoted a large sum to feeding the hungry, and he was always there. When he was asked why he was always among the poor, he replied, “It does me good to see them eat.” Ay, and gospel preachers, when the Lord sometimes does not as much as give us a bite for ourselves, when we see the crowd hungry for Jesus, when we see one step forth into the hall where the feast is spread, we rejoice as much as the soul that is saved, (J. Robertson.)
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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Kings 4:4". The Biblical Illustrator. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/2-kings-4.html. 1905-1909. New York.

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