Often in scripture we come across a story which bows our heart in worship as to the ways of God. Such a story is the basis of these notes. 2 Kings chapter 4 records three miracles of which the greatest is the middle one regarding this woman. We must not forget the postscript in chapter 8.
A simple outline is as follows:
Three times in the scriptures, and only in this chapter, is the statement, ‘it fell on a day’. These words focus attention on the three main characters of the story:
The Shunammite is brought before us in comparison with the widow in the previous verses. Of the former, we know she was poor, but the Lord can meet the need of all. This lady is nameless and childless but a great woman - the only woman in scripture with this accolade. Of Nabal, it is stated in 1 Samuel chapter 25 verse 2 that he was very great but this was in relation to his prosperity. In 2 Kings chapter 5, Naaman is recorded as a great man for his prowess in battle and because he was well thought of by the king. Greatness can be classed in many ways.
Nothing is recorded as to why this unnamed woman was great. We can ponder the nature of her greatness - in chapter 8 verse 6, she owned land - but we can observe a truly spiritual woman of distinct merit. In comparison, in chapter 5, we have an unnamed little maid who spoke about a cure for Naaman’s leprosy, demonstrating that unnamed individuals can be used in God’s service. In the eyes of the world we may not be known, but the Lord knows us and we can be used by Him.
The woman had a spiritual perception of Elisha and refers to him as a ‘holy man of God’. She noted his walk, and she would benefit from his word and his work. She knew later she could turn to him alone in difficult times.
Elisha is described as a man of God twenty-nine times in 2 Kings, and in this chapter eleven times. Something marked Elisha as a man of God. Her perception led her to give hospitality to the prophet. Over the years, many have benefited from those who have given to God’s servants of their substance. What a challenge for us today! Let’s remember that the world is looking on and we may be the only true believers they encounter.
The woman never acted on her own initiative. She told her husband about the man of God and expressed the desire to make a ‘little chamber’ for him, to which her husband agreed. Gehazi noted, in verse 14, that her husband was old. We can observe that her husband was not as spiritual as her, v. 23, for he asks why she would go to the man of God when it was neither new moon nor sabbath. In chapter 8, there is no mention of her husband and so we can presume he had died.
‘Let us make a little chamber‘. In the next chapter it was a little maid who spoke of where Naaman could receive a cure for his leprosy. The Lord can use ‘little things’!
It contained the basic essentials: a bed as a place of relaxation, a table as a place of nourishment, a stool as a place for meditation and a candlestick as a place of divine illumination. In reality, nothing was spared to accommodate the man of God. Peter’s exhortation to us today is, ‘Use hospitality one to another without grudging’, 1 Pet. 4. 9. Paul takes up the same thought, ‘Given to hospitality’, Rom. 12. 13.
She was content to ‘dwell among’ her ‘own people’. Despite the offer to speak to the king on her behalf, she shows another characteristic - her humility. She was not interested in worldly advancement and yet in chapter 8 verse 6 the king restored to her what she had lost in the days of famine.
Whilst on one of his visits, Elisha asks Gehazi his servant what could be done by way of thanks to her for the kindness shown to them. Elisha approached her through his servant. When the enquiry of Elisha was made, we presume the lady was not present. Gehazi pinpoints that she is childless, so Elisha says to him, ‘Call this Shunammite’, v. 12. The stigma or reproach of being barren was real to her. She is in the same predicament as others mentioned in scripture, but we see the overruling hand of God in their lives.
As she stood at the door, the revelation was given to her that she would embrace a son. Note her first reaction as she may have thought that all hope was gone naturally. She thought he was deluding her by telling a lie. Remember, Sarah laughed, Gen. 18. 12, when she heard she was to have a son in her old age. ‘But with God all things are possible’, Matt. 19. 26.
‘Thou shalt embrace a son’. In verse 17, she conceived, bringing much joy to the house. We are reminded of the greater promise in Isaiah chapter 7 verse 14, ‘A virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel’; God’s word will be fulfilled.
Think of this family. Childless, but a child promised. A child given, but then the child dead. We are reminded of the Lord’s words to the Syrophenician woman, ‘Great is thy faith’.1 Here, faith is tested by death. Circumstances changed suddenly. The child was taken at harvest time, normally a time of hope. Sometimes we do not understand God’s ways, yet God’s ways are always ordered by love and wisdom. The godly are not immune from the trials of life!
In such a crisis, to whom could she turn? There is only one thought uppermost in her mind - ‘the man of God’. She never accused or questioned God or sought the attention of others.
She had nursed the child, but now she laid his lifeless body on the bed of the man of God and shut the door. No thought of burial for her son. There was nothing more she could do for the boy. The prophet’s chamber was the place for the body, anticipating resurrection. In all her plans she informed her husband. He was a little perplexed, but her faith shines through, ‘It shall be well’, v. 23. The king’s business demands haste, ‘run to the man of God’, ‘slack not’, vv. 22, 24.
She must have known where he lived. The question is asked three times, ‘Is it well?’ It is asked of herself, her husband, and then the child. She answered, ‘It is well’. The Lord had not revealed it to him. We may recall the lovely hymn written by H. G. Spafford after he lost his four daughters at sea, ‘It is well with my soul’.
Gehazi was instructed by Elisha to go to the woman’s house, but he was out of touch at times like this. He had the privilege to be the servant of Elisha, but he now lacked power and expressed cold, harsh words and had no patience, v. 27. He was using another man’s tools. Much speculation has been made as to why Elisha sent him away. Suffice to say Gehazi’s work was to no avail.The woman knew where the power would come from in restoration and so would not leave the man of God.
The man of God had promised the child to the woman and her husband. Therefore, the woman knew that in death there was the power of resurrection. Gehazi had to express his failure. He was not a man of God, v. 31.
Here we have the privacy of prayer, Matt. 6. 6, and the power of prayer. Elisha shut the door and prayed unto the Lord, realizing that the Lord alone could give life. The words of the prayer are not recorded but we know that prayer is heard. He made the need known to God.
Having shut the door, away from any distractions, he was alone with God. He identified himself with the child. Applying his mouth, eyes and hands, he stretched himself upon the child ‘and the flesh of the child waxed warm’. Then the child sneezed seven times. We know that some miracles took place immediately but on this occasion Elisha had to wait and watch and was anxious as he walked ‘to and fro’.
What a joy to read that he spoke to Gehazi who, in turn, called the woman. The boy was restored, ‘Women received their dead raised to life again’, Heb. 11. 35.
The woman was able to take up her son. Both Gehazi and the woman saw that the child was restored. We recall the widow of Nain’s son. The Lord having raised the young man, ‘delivered him to his mother’, Luke 7. 15. No words of the woman are recorded but her thankfulness was truly seen in her prostration before Elisha, v. 37.
But that is not the end of the story.
Elisha never forgot the kindness of the woman. In this chapter, the Lord had called for a famine, v. 1, and its duration was for seven years. She had provided for Elisha, the man of God, in the past. Now he was to look after her in different circumstances -famine conditions.
The king talked with Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, and requested to know the great things that Elisha had done. He told him about what had taken place with the Shunammite’s son, and she must have been near at hand. He could then get a first-hand account from the woman herself. This led the king to restore to her what she had lost as a result of the famine. We are reminded that, ‘The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will’, Prov. 21. 1. The man in touch with God had restored her only son. Now the king on the throne could give instructions for the restoration of her house and her land, v. 6.