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2 Kings 4:8-37 – Elisha and the Shunammite Woman

Summary

The birth, death, and resurrection of the son of a wealthy Shunammite woman testify to her decisive action in a crisis and the power of God as mediated through Elisha.

Analysis

In return for all that a wealthy woman from Shunem has done for him, Elisha offers to assist her with the king. When she refuses, Gehazi, Elisha's servant, suggests that the childless woman might appreciate the promise of a son. Despite her protests, for fear of false hopes, the woman conceived and bore a son, as Elisha had promised. Miracle one.

Several years later, the son of the prophet's promise mysteriously dies. His mother's decisive action and determined response bring them both to the prophet at Mt. Carmel, who immediately responds to her distress, matching her decisive and determined action with prayer that results in the resuscitation of the lifeless boy. Miracle two.

The story, clearly reminiscent of Elijah's resuscitation of the widow's son in 1 Kings 17:17-24, is told with considerable literary skill. An important difference lies in the lack of a statement testifying to the prophet's power or God's activity (compare 1 Kings 17:22). This probably means that the intention of the story is not to legitimate Elisha's call as in the Elijah tale. The story has influenced the story of Jesus' raising of the widow's son in Luke 7:11-17.

2 Kings 4:8-37

Elisha Raises the Shunammite’s Son

8 One day Elisha was passing through Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to have a meal. So whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for a meal. 9She said to her husband, ‘Look, I am sure that this man who regularly passes our way is a holy man of God. 10Let us make a small roof chamber with walls, and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that he can stay there whenever he comes to us.’

11 One day when he came there, he went up to the chamber and lay down there. 12He said to his servant Gehazi, ‘Call the Shunammite woman.’ When he had called her, she stood before him. 13He said to him, ‘Say to her, Since you have taken all this trouble for us, what may be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’ She answered, ‘I live among my own people.’ 14He said, ‘What then may be done for her?’ Gehazi answered, ‘Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.’ 15He said, ‘Call her.’ When he had called her, she stood at the door. 16He said, ‘At this season, in due time, you shall embrace a son.’ She replied, ‘No, my lord, O man of God; do not deceive your servant.’

17 The woman conceived and bore a son at that season, in due time, as Elisha had declared to her.

18 When the child was older, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. 19He complained to his father, ‘Oh, my head, my head!’ The father said to his servant, ‘Carry him to his mother.’ 20He carried him and brought him to his mother; the child sat on her lap until noon, and he died. 21She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, closed the door on him, and left. 22Then she called to her husband, and said, ‘Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, so that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again.’ 23He said, ‘Why go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath.’ She said, ‘It will be all right.’ 24Then she saddled the donkey and said to her servant, ‘Urge the animal on; do not hold back for me unless I tell you.’ 25So she set out, and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.

When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant, ‘Look, there is the Shunammite woman; 26run at once to meet her, and say to her, Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is the child all right?’ She answered, ‘It is all right.’ 27When she came to the man of God at the mountain, she caught hold of his feet. Gehazi approached to push her away. But the man of God said, ‘Let her alone, for she is in bitter distress; the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me.’ 28Then she said, ‘Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, Do not mislead me?’ 29He said to Gehazi, ‘Gird up your loins, and take my staff in your hand, and go. If you meet anyone, give no greeting, and if anyone greets you, do not answer; and lay my staff on the face of the child.’ 30Then the mother of the child said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave without you.’ So he rose up and followed her. 31Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the face of the child, but there was no sound or sign of life. He came back to meet him and told him, ‘The child has not awakened.’

32 When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. 33So he went in and closed the door on the two of them, and prayed to the Lord. 34Then he got up on the bed* and lay upon the child, putting his mouth upon his mouth, his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands; and while he lay bent over him, the flesh of the child became warm. 35He got down, walked once to and fro in the room, then got up again and bent over him; the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. 36Elisha* summoned Gehazi and said, ‘Call the Shunammite woman.’ So he called her. When she came to him, he said, ‘Take your son.’ 37She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground; then she took her son and left.

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10 February 2011

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