In our last lesson, Elijah was taken up to Heaven in one of the most dramatic statements of “you please Me” that God has ever handed out. Getting to skip the entire hassle of death and being whisked straight off to Yahweh’s Presence–wow, what a compliment. It’s fantastic for Elijah, but we can’t help but feel like he left a bit prematurely. After all, he was supposed to anoint a new king of Israel (Jehu [JAY-who]) and a new king of Aram (Hazael [huh-ZAY-el]). But he didn’t. So who’s going to? This is where successors come in handy. Elisha has inherited both of these assignments and he’ll be carrying them out shortly.
Meanwhile, there are a couple of other prophecies that still need to be fulfilled. God has said that Ahab’s entire family line would be stamped out—we’re still waiting on that because right now Ahab’s son Joram [JORE-um] is ruling in Israel. God has also said that wicked Queen Jezebel [JEZ-uh-bell] would be eaten by dogs—we’re really looking forward to that because Jezebel is so awful. Now her husband is dead, but the queen mother is still haunting the palace and no doubt egging Joram on in all the wrong directions. These prophecies come to our minds right off because they’re addressing the people we’re currently dealing with. But if we think some more, we remember that back when wicked Jeroboam [JAIR-ro-BO-um] was on the throne—that jerk who created two golden calves and announced that they were the ones who had saved Israel from bondage in Egypt—Yahweh had become so angry that He’d promised to destroy the entire northern kingdom. And then there was another specific prophecy about the golden calf gods being destroyed by some guy named Josiah [jo-SI-uh]. Boy, we wish those days would hurry up and get here. It’s so exasperating watching the people in the northern kingdom worshiping lifeless lumps of metal. Why does God drag His feet so much anyway? Doesn’t He realize that He starts looking like a doormat when He doesn’t come across with swift retaliation? Well, it turns out that the Divine perspective of time is quite different than ours. When many years pass, we feel like God is taking forever. But to Him, our thousands of years go by in a blip.
THE WIDOW’S OIL
Not everyone in Israel is worshiping lumps of gold. Yahweh still has a small, faithful remnant. Some of that remnant are serving Him as prophets. That’s not exactly a lucrative career. And when a prophet dies, where does that leave his wife and children? Up to their eyeballs in debt. What happens when you can’t pay off your debts? The guy you owe money to comes and takes your children away as slaves. This is the very distressing situation one prophet’s widow finds herself in and she cries out to Elisha for help.
Well, this is a pickle. Is there anything of value in the house? The woman says she has nothing but a jar of oil. That will work. Elisha tells her to go around to the neighbors and borrow as many large jars as she can. Then she is to go inside, shut the door, and start pouring oil from her one good jar into the empty jars. The widow does as she’s told and the oil miraculously keeps flowing until all the jars are filled.
Now this could just be a really cool story about God helping a widow pay off her debts and keep her children out of slavery. But God is so generous that He keeps that oil flowing until the widow not only has enough to pay her debts, but also enough to provide for her and her children.
Let’s consider all that went into this miracle from God’s end. First, He had to know what oil was currently selling for so He could know how much oil the woman needed. Then He had to prepare all her neighbors in advance to make sure they would have plenty of large vessels available to loan to her when she came knocking. Can’t you just picture Him talking a housewife out of filling up one of her big jars a couple of days before He knew the widow would need to borrow it? And then of course He makes sure Elisha is in the neighborhood right when the widow starts to panic. So then, does God care about the details of our earthly lives down here? Is He paying close attention to us? Is He intimately involved in our everyday affairs? Oh yes, He most certainly is. God wants us to understand that we are never alone down here. Our three glorious Creators never look away from us even for a second. The Holy Spirit, Yahweh, and Jesus are always working ahead of us, around us, and in us to prepare us for what They know is coming. And as far as the miracles go—there are some being done just for you every day. It’s not just ancient widows who God loves (see Refuse to Minimize Your Miracles).
THE SHUNAMMITE WOMAN
Back in Lesson 14, we learned how Yahweh arranged for a widow to set up a room for the prophet Elijah in her house. It was like his private hotel, and it was much nicer than having to sleep out in the elements. Now Elijah is gone and Elisha is walking about the countryside with no place that he can call home. To get a hot meal and a warm bed, he needs to rely on the charity of others. But that’s awkward when you’re in a place where no one knows who you are. Let’s remember that the spiritual atmosphere in Israel is very dark. Prophets of Yahweh are not welcome company to most. So Elisha isn’t going to go knocking on doors asking for handouts. He’s just minding his own business traveling through an area when a rich woman intercepts him and insists that he come eat at her house. He is hesitant at first, but she won’t take no for an answer. So he eats there. And it’s good. And the next time he travels through, she calls out to him again. So it becomes a regular habit between them and it’s really quite nice for Elisha. Then the woman talks her husband into building an upstairs room just for the prophet. She even puts furniture in it. Well, this is quite a compliment. How nice of Yahweh to look after His little man like this.
Elisha has a servant named Gehazi [geh-HAH-zee] who travels about with him. One day Elisha is sitting in his new room trying to brainstorm with Gehazi about what nice thing they might be able to do for this rich lady in return for all her kindness. The woman is all set with money and social status. But then Gehazi points out the fact that she has no son and that her husband is well past his prime. It’s a major grief in these times to have no children, so Elisha is very excited when he gets the go ahead from Yahweh to promise this woman that she will have a son in a year’s time. Instead of being joyful, the woman is very upset. She desperately wants a child, and it’s been very difficult trying to accept her barren state. She really doesn’t need a prophet giving her false hopes. But Elisha insists that he’s not toying with her, and sure enough, she has a son.
Many happy years pass and the boy is out with his father in a field one day when he suddenly has a splitting pain in his head. Servants rush him inside to his mother, who holds him in her lap until he dies. This is beyond bitter. She knew it was too good to be true. Quietly carrying her son’s body upstairs, she lays him out in the prophet’s room and then tells her husband she’s running off to find Elisha. No one outside realizes the boy has actually died.
Elisha is at Mt. Carmel when he sees his friend approaching in a hurry. Hm. This might be a sign of trouble. He sends the more energetic Gehazi to go rushing out to intercept her and ask if all is well. The woman is too upset to talk to the servant, so she lies and says everything is fine. It’s only when she finally reaches Elisha that she runs over and falls down sobbing at his feet. An alarmed Gehazi doesn’t like the look of a woman grabbing his master’s feet so he tries to pull her away but Elisha orders him to back off.
“Leave her alone! She is in bitter distress, but Yahweh has hidden it from me and has not told me why.”
Then she said, “Did I ask for a son from my lord? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me’?” (2 Ki. 4:27-28)
An awful feeling comes over Elisha as he realizes the child must have died. What is Yahweh doing? Handing the spry Gehazi his staff, Elisha orders him to sprint back to the widow’s house and lay the staff over the boy’s face. He’s desperately hoping Yahweh will then miraculously bring the boy back to life. It will be glory for Yahweh and help for Elisha’s dear friend. Gehazi takes off running.
Having had her trust completely shattered, the woman is not about to go back with Gehazi. Elisha started this and now she wants him to finish it.
But the child’s mother said, “As surely as Yahweh lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So Elisha got up and followed her. Gehazi reached the house ahead of them and laid the staff on the lad’s face, but there was no sound or response. So he returned and told Elisha, “The boy has not woken up.” (2 Ki. 4:30-31)
This is really not good. What is Yahweh doing? He isn’t really going to crush the heart of this nice woman like this, is He? Good grief, the whole child thing was supposed to be a thank you gift for the woman’s generosity. Some thank you.
Finally reaching the house, Elisha goes up to his room where the dead boy is laid out. Closing the door on both the widow and Gehazi, he does some intense praying. Really, God? Is this it? What an enormous relief when the Yahweh impresses on him that all is not lost.
Elisha went up and lay on the child. He put his mouth on the boy’s mouth, his eyes on the boy’s eyes, and his hands on the boy’s hands, and he stretched his body over his. Then the flesh of the child became warm. (2 Ki. 4:34)
Well, now we’ve gone from dead to comatose. Elisha gets up and paces the room tensely. Really God? Is this it? No, not quite. Yahweh prompts Elisha to lie down on top of the boy a second time.
Then Elisha got on the bed and stretched out on him once more. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes. Elisha called Gehazi and said, “Tell the Shunammite [SHOO-nuh-mite].” So Gehazi called the boy’s mother. And when she came in, Elisha said, “Take your son.” She went in and fell at Elisha’s feet and bowed herself to the ground. Then she picked up her son and went out. (2 Ki. 4:35-37)
Well, that was a rough ride. Everyone is enormously relieved.
Because Elisha is a prophet in the northern kingdom, the author of our Chronicles series doesn’t bother to mention him. But the author of our Samuel-Kings series wants to make sure we understand just how many impressive miracles Yahweh did through this famous prophet. So he tells us about a time when a bunch of prophets are sitting around making a stew. There’s a famine in the land so food is scarce. Hunting around for extra things to put in the pot, the prophets find some gourds so they cut them up and add them. But when everyone starts to eat, something really doesn’t taste right. Yikes—the gourds were poisonous!
They cried, “O man of God, there is death in the pot!” (2 Ki. 4:40)
Prompted by God, Elisha tells them to throw some grains into the pot and the stew instantly becomes harmless. Whew. We almost lost some good men there.
The famine is still raging when a man comes up to Elisha to give him a bag of bread loaves. There are twenty loaves of barley and some fresh ears of grain. It’s a generous donation, but there are a hundred hungry people gathered around. No problem. Yahweh knows how to stretch things. Elisha tells his servant to start passing the food out. The servant reminds Elisha that one bag of bread isn’t going to go far with this crowd. These aren’t the mega loaves you can buy at the grocery store today—they’re more like individual servings. But Elisha is undaunted, and everyone eats and eats, yet when they’re all stuffed to the gills there is still more bread and grain left over. Gee…who does this remind us of?
They said to Jesus, “We have here only five loaves and two fish.” And He said, “Bring them here to Me.” Ordering the people to sit down on the grass, He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up toward heaven, He blessed the food, and breaking the loaves He gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied. Then they picked up what was left over of the broken pieces: twelve full baskets. There were about five thousand men who ate, besides women and children. (Mt. 14:17-21)
Because we’re taught to ignore the first six periods of the Bible, we think Jesus was being original with a lot of His miracles. But when we read the story in order, we realize that Yahweh has been raising the dead to life and feeding multitudes with handfuls of food for thousands of years. Our Gods are awesome, and to fully appreciate Them, we need to watch things unfold from beginning to end.
One of the biggest things Jesus was known for was healing people of various physical ailments. Leprosy is a skin disease which comes up a lot in the Bible and we like to tell the stories where Jesus healed various lepers. But over 800 years before Jesus came to earth, Yahweh was making and curing lepers to further His own Divine agenda. Back in Period 2, He talked at length about leprosy in His Laws to Moses. He taught the priests how to diagnose it, and He gave instructions for how to deal with physical objects that a leper had come in contact with. This disease (along with many other things) made people “unclean” in the eyes of Yahweh’s Laws and clean people had to avoid unclean people or else they’d end up getting unclean as well.
Now it’s more than a little disturbing to see someone’s skin turn all gross and flaky. Leprosy freaked people out, and since there was no known cure for it, lepers became major outcasts in Jewish society. But other nations were more reasonable. They recognized that the disease had stages of progression and in the early stages, a man could still function. In the nation of Aram [uh-RAM] (which was to the north of Israel), the captain of the king’s army was a very respected man—courageous in battle and an all-around good fellow—but he had leprosy. His name was Naaman [NAY-man] and he had a wife.
Now armies raid people and they kidnap people to be their slaves. It isn’t nice, but there it is. Everyone’s doing it. Slavery was a common practice for all nations in this time, including Israel. One time Naaman’s boys grab a young Israelite girl and Naaman gives her to his wife to be her personal servant. Today we tend to focus on what a rotten deal this was for the girl, but in these times, this was considered a nice thing for a man to do for his wife. And despite his plundering, Naaman must have been a nice man at home, because the young Israelite girl shows some genuine concern about his leprosy.
She said to her mistress, “I wish that my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! Then he would cure him of his leprosy.” (2 Ki. 5:3)
Naaman’s wife repeats this conversation to her husband and Naaman repeats it to his king. Everyone likes Naaman, and everyone would love to see him healed. So the king urges Naaman to go see the king of Israel. Then he writes up a letter for Naaman to take with him, and it reads:
“With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”
As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!” (2 Ki. 5:7)
Now the king of Aram doesn’t know how the king of Israel manages the healers in his land. He probably figures Joram can just snap his fingers and the miracle man will do his stuff. He would naturally assume that Joram would be best buddies with a prophet who is so powerful. What he doesn’t understand is that Joram is an idolatrous punk and that he and Elisha can’t stand each other.
This tearing of the clothes business is a very dramatic way of saying “I’m really upset right now!” You can be sad-upset or mad-upset. And when you tear your clothes, you’re not giving everyone a peep show, because you’re wearing an undergarment. Being seen naked in pubic was considered extremely shameful in Israel, and Yahweh’s Laws insisted that people stay dressed. Since tunics were essentially dresses, and all dresses have open bottoms, priests were commanded not to ascend stairs to altars, otherwise people watching from down below might get an accidental glimpse up their legs.
“And do not go up to My altar on steps, or your private parts may be exposed.” (Ex. 20:26)
So Joram isn’t stripping here when he tears his tunic. He’s not even wrecking the tunic, because he’s intentionally tearing it along seam lines which will be quickly repaired by some servants as soon as the show is over. Try ripping the front of your own shirt in half and you’ll see why it’s much more practical and less painful to go for the seams. This tearing of the clothes ritual is all about drama. The Jews were a very expressive people. When they felt strongly about something, they wanted everyone to know it.
Now it makes for some juicy gossip whenever the king tears his tunic, and word quickly spreads throughout the area.
When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent word to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Send the man to me, and then he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” (2 Ki. 5:8)
Naaman immediately hustles on over to Elisha’s place where the prophet tells him to dip seven times in the Jordan River. Well, yuck on that idea. The Jordan River is all murky and muddy looking and warrior Naaman feels the whole thing is beneath him. He goes off in a huff. He was expecting some dramatic cure. If he thought a bath would do it, he would wash in the superior waters of his own country.
Now Naaman is a nice guy, and he’s approachable even when he’s upset. When a servant comes up to him and urges him to obey Elisha’s instructions, Naaman immediately comes around and goes for his dip. Seven dips, that is. And after the seventh round he comes up with skin as fresh as a young boy’s. Wow. Yahweh is awesome.
Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before Elisha and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.” (2 Ki. 5:15)
Naaman wants to pay Elisha for his services. Elisha is not about to profit off of God’s miracles, so he declines. They argue about it and then Naaman gives in. But he does have one request: he wants to take back some dirt from Israel, no doubt to set up his own worship spot to Yahweh back home in Aram. Elisha agrees. And then there’s just one nagging concern left. Naaman has become a sincere follower of Yahweh, but he’s still an army commander in Aram and his master the king worships the god Rimmon [RIH-muhn].
“When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm, I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may Yahweh forgive your servant for this.”
“Go in peace,” Elisha said. (2 Ki. 5:18-19)
This is a very sweet moment. Yahweh knows how messy it is to change faiths. He also knows how hard it’s going to be for this military officer to worship Him in the middle of his idolatrous homeland. Because He sees how sincere Naaman’s heart is, He doesn’t make a federal issue out of him bowing down to dumb Rimmon. Worship is something we do with our souls, not our bodies, and right now Yahweh wants Naaman to stay close to his master (no doubt so he can be a positive spiritual influence). If Naaman goes home and starts preaching that Rimmon is a false god, he’s going to lose his command and probably be killed. So Yahweh doesn’t want him to lose sleep over the Rimmon thing. What matters is that Naaman has embraced the real God in his heart.
Now as Naaman leaves with his dirt and a whole bunch of riches, Elisha’s servant Gehazi just can’t stand to see so much money walking away from him. When Elisha isn’t looking, he runs after Naaman and makes up a lie about Elisha wanting payment after all. A very bad move on Gehazi’s part.
But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, the man of God, said to himself, “My master should not have let this Aramean [AIR-uh-ME-in] get away without accepting any of his gifts. As surely as Yahweh lives, I will chase after him and get something from him.” So Gehazi set off after Naaman.
When Naaman saw Gehazi running after him, he climbed down from his chariot and went to meet him. “Is everything all right?” Naaman asked.
“Yes,” Gehazi said, “but my master has sent me to tell you that two young prophets from the hill country of Ephraim [EH-frum] have just arrived. He would like seventy-five pounds of silver and two sets of clothing to give to them.”
“By all means, take twice as much silver,” Naaman insisted. He gave him two sets of clothing, tied up the money in two bags, and sent two of his servants to carry the gifts for Gehazi. But when they arrived at the citadel, Gehazi took the gifts from the servants and sent the men back. Then he went and hid the gifts inside the house.
When he went in to his master, Elisha asked him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?”
“I haven’t been anywhere,” he replied.
But Elisha asked him, “Don’t you realize that I was there in spirit when Naaman stepped down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to receive money and clothing, olive groves and vineyards, sheep and cattle, and male and female servants? Because you have done this, you and your descendants will suffer from Naaman’s leprosy forever.” When Gehazi left the room, he was covered with leprosy; his skin was white as snow. (2 Kings 5:20-27)
It’s easy to read this account and come away feeling like God was unreasonably harsh towards Gehazi. Naaman was bucks up and volunteered to share his wealth. Elisha was no doubt living on meager basics and could have really used an infusion of fresh supplies. What’s wrong with a little transfer of wealth to a loyal servant of God? It’s easy for us to identify with Gehazi, who saw a chance to make life a lot easier for himself and his master and reached for it. Perhaps he thought Elisha would come to his senses later and reward his servant for his better judgment. Boy was he in for a rude surprise.
Being a channel of God’s miraculous power is no small assignment. When God selects us out for such a privilege, we must be doubly guarded against taking any iota of glory for the things He does through us. Elisha rightly refused to accept payment for something that Yahweh alone deserved the credit for. By sneaking behind his back and taking the goods anyway, Gehazi undid Elisha’s attempt to keep Naaman’s gratitude directed only at God. While the commander was all too happy to express his thanks in a material way, God was angered by Gehazi’s actions. By trying to collect payment he hadn’t earned, the servant not only tried to profit off of God, but he also rejected God’s care of him and his master as insufficient. Doubly insulted, God taught Gehazi a lesson he wouldn’t forget.
Yahweh is extremely jealous and He is highly sensitive about receiving full credit for the things He does. He detests it when His people try to steal His glory for themselves. Elisha understood this, but today we are all too eager to take the bows for the things God does through us. If God inspires us to write some bit of His wisdom down in a book, are we right to go and sell it for a profit? If He gives us the talent and inspiration to write songs which glorify His Name, do we have any grounds for charging those who wish to play “our” songs in public? If He heals a body using our hands, does that authorize us to go boasting about it or signing autographs or charging people to come and hear us speak?
In the Church today, God sees us constantly scheming for new ways to use His power, His talent, His wisdom, and His glory for our own selfish gain. He sees us posting the glossy photographs of our own faces, He sees us selling shows of His power and announcing His next appearance as if we control His personal calendar. We would be wise to remember how God cursed Gehazi in a way that he could not hide from public scrutiny. Are we not asking for similar treatment by the way we are grabbing up God’s glory today?
God wants dependency from us. He is thoroughly insulted when we openly declare our distrust of Him, as the Israelites did by trying to hoard an extra ration of manna in their tents. God turned their symbol of distrust into disgusting maggots. When Gehazi tried to hoard wealth after witnessing God’s miraculous provision of him and his master time and again, Yahweh didn’t curse the wealth, He cursed the one who hoarded it. When we become closely associated with God’s power, the punishment for disobeying Him becomes far more severe. Yet today we don’t even hesitate to rake in the wealth from those who are grateful for “our” ministry efforts. While we preach and teach about the importance of trusting God, we trust only ourselves by carefully stashing away the profits we receive. Instead of obeying the Holy Spirit’s orders, we pay carnal people to educate us on how to properly pet the egos of our followers so that they will continue to make donations to us. We pump out form letters dripping with syrup to tell our givers how marvelous they are to support our wonderful selves, and then we praise ourselves for being so clever when our ministry continues to thrive. The day Gehazi chased after Naaman, he came home with an armload of wealth. But although he tried to hide it from sight, Yahweh saw what he was doing and He turned his greedy joy into permanent misery. Are we not begging for a similar punishment today as we shamelessly use God’s Name, Authority and power as a means of exalting ourselves in this world?
AN AXE HEAD FLOATS
There’s one more miracle that our author wants us to know about before we get back to the kings of Israel and Judah. One day some prophets are cutting down some trees by the Jordan River because they need to build a bigger house for themselves. In mid-swing, one of the axe heads flies off its wooden handle and plops into the murky Jordan River. This isn’t good. The axe head was borrowed, and borrowed property had to be returned or paid for. These prophets are poor. Good thing Elisha agreed to come along with them on their wood chopping adventure.
When his friends run to him for help, Elisha walks over to the Jordan and asks them to point out where the axe head fell in. Then he tosses a stick in the water and the iron axe head miraculously floats to the surface, allowing the men to retrieve it. Wow. What a generous God. A lost axe might sound like a trivial thing to us, but it was a big crisis to the man who borrowed it. God understands and cares about the human perspective. If it matters to us, it matters to Him. What a wonderful Creator.
This concludes the section of 2 Kings that is focused on the miracles of Elisha. Now if we’re foolish, we’ll walk away thinking “Wow, what an amazing prophet.” But if we’re wise, we’ll realize that Elisha isn’t the real star of these stories—Yahweh is, and He has preserved these records to teach us about His wonderful Character. All of the stories we’ve just gone through center around humans who are having personal crises in their everyday lives. These aren’t stories of idolatrous nations or violent armies rising up against each other. These are the kinds of problems that happen in some unknown corner of a country without the rest of the world ever knowing or caring. A woman’s son dies in her arms. A borrowed axe falls into a river. A widow in debt is about to lose her children. A handful of prophets have ruined their dinner. And in all of these unnoticed corners of the world, we find a kind and compassionate God dwelling right beside His creatures, caring about what happens to them, and using His amazing powers to create miraculous solutions. The happy endings aren’t the important part—God’s involvement is. And today He is just as involved with each one of us. Whether we know Him or not, God is with us and He is weaving carefully timed events into the fabric of our lives so that our souls might be awakened to the knowledge of Him. It was Yahweh who sent a young Israelite girl into the home of an army commander who worshiped idol gods in a foreign nation. It was Yahweh who gave that man a disease that would make him seek out the help of a famous prophet. And it was Yahweh who illuminated his soul with truth about who the one true God is. Yahweh loves us—all of us. Gender, age, ethnicity—none of these things create barriers between us and Yahweh’s outstretched arms. He loves us all, He wants us all, and He pursues us all.
Click here for all the lessons in this series.