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This series of miracles focuses on the ministry of Elisha – looking back to similar incidents in the ministry of Elijah – and looking forward to Messianic events. God demonstrates His gracious and abundant provision in a number of different contexts towards those who trust Him.

August Konkel: In this chapter Elisha shows that his name, “my God saves,” is a truth to live by. . . Elisha is the focus of these stories, to the exclusion of all other detail. None of the other characters or events is given so much as a name, let alone some context in other events of their life and times. Elisha is the ordained benefactor who brings mercy in times of need. . .

In these stories the miraculous comes to those powerless to address their own need, but are submissive to the divine will in looking to the man of God as their spiritual leader and provider in time of need. The prominence of Elisha in these stories emphasizes his vocation, not only to call for faithfulness to God but also to demonstrate God’s faithfulness to those who trust him.

Donald Wiseman: Continuing the Elijah group of episodes these stories now recount similar miraculous happenings associated with Elisha. While they show that he was a worthy successor who could act in a similarly effective way as his master, the main purpose is to show his, and thus God’s, support for those who fear the Lord. The incidents, apart from those connected with the sons of the prophets, may not be arranged in chronological order.

Dale Ralph Davis: Now we enter a segment of Elisha’s ministry in which he shows that Yahweh’s power is triumphant over debt (4:1–7), death (4:8–37), drought (4:38–44; two episodes), disease (5:1–27), and difficulty (6:1–7). It is, in its own way, quite a sustained argument. One might compare the section to the battery of Jesus’ miracles in Mark’s Gospel (4:35–5:43). Some of these Elisha stories are extended narratives (e.g., ch. 5), while others are very brief clips that are stingy with extras. Our current text, 4:1–7, is one of the latter. . .

Apparently the writer is following a topical arrangement here, piling up story after story in order to make a point. What point? Is it not to show the supremacy of Yahweh and his power over debt (vv. 1–7), death (vv. 8–37), danger (vv. 38–41), and deficiency (vv. 42–44)? Isn’t he showing us our omnipotent God?

Brian Bell:

– We witnessed a husband die, yet God met the needs of the family.

– We witnessed a son die, yet God raised him & restored the family.

– We witnessed a group of prophets almost die because of poisoned stew, yet God removed the danger.

– We witnessed a group of believers almost die, yet God multiplied the bread & sustained them.



A. (:1) Multiple Major Problems — Desperate Circumstances

1. Anguished Appeal to God’s Representative

“Now a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets

cried out to Elisha,”

Not just facing one insurmountable problem

2. Relational Impact of the Death of this Prophet

a. Servant of Elisha

“Your servant”

b. Husband of this Widow

“my husband is dead,”

3. Faithful Testimony of His Devotion to the Lord

“and you know that your servant feared the LORD;”

4. Compounding Heartache of Losing Her Two Children to the Creditor

“and the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.”

Dale Ralph Davis: it was a revelation to the remnant in Israel that Yahweh, Israel’s God and our God, is the help of the helpless and of the nameless. That is the anchor point; Here was a woman in double desperation. She had lost her husband by death and, as if that grief weren’t enough, she is going to lose her sons by insolvency. Now that she is a widow her sons are her means of support, her lifeline; but they can be nothing of the kind when they are hauled off into debt slavery. We cannot say that the creditor was necessarily harsh—we do not know. Possibly he was simply operating within his rights. The lads would have to work off the debt, which must have been substantial.

This widow, however, is dealing with more than death and destitution. There is an aggravation in her desperation. Note her words: ‘And you know that your servant was fearing Yahweh, but the creditor is coming …’ Her husband had been faithful to Yahweh and to his true worship in a time when such fidelity could cost something. It may have been during the regime of Ahab, when Jezebel liquidated Yahweh loyalists with such gusto (cf. 1 Kings 16:29–34; 18:4, 13). If not, there was always the religious ‘status quo’ in the northern kingdom—the perverted state-sponsored worship at Bethel (1 Kings 12:25–33). But this disciple of Elisha and servant of Yahweh had bucked the religious trends of the day; he swam against the stream of his culture and government. And yet his loved ones face disaster. Do you feel the rub she expresses? . . .

Insofar as this woman appeals to Elisha, Yahweh’s servant, she appeals to Yahweh; as she casts her burden on Elisha she casts it on Yahweh. And so we see a familiar combination: she is in trouble and she believes. . . She has access to God in her troubles. You may have no particular status, but have you thought of what you have, if, through Jesus, you have the privilege of access and can bring your troubles to God? What a mercy Psalm 142:2 describes!

B. (:2-4) Multiplying Limited Resources

1. (:2) Start with What You Have

“And Elisha said to her, ‘What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?’ And she said, ‘Your maidservant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.’”

2. (:3) Think Big in Terms of Expecting God to Abundantly Provide

“Then he said, ‘Go, borrow vessels at large for yourself from all your neighbors, even empty vessels; do not get a few.’”

3. (:4) Trust God to Abundantly Provide

“And you shall go in and shut the door behind you and your sons,

and pour out into all these vessels; and you shall set aside what is full.”

John Schultz: Bible scholars believe that the amount of oil the widow had in her possession was a flask used for anointing people. Donald J. Wiseman, in 1 and 2 Kings, observes: “The ‘pot’ (`asuk) of oil’ AV, NIV a little) is a unique word here, possibly for a small anointing flask. Relief often begins with the little we have at hand. Elisha elicits faith and action by questions, encouragement (‘not a few’) and word. . .

The point of the story is obviously to show God’s love for under-privileged people. As David writes in one of his psalms: “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” In this case, God defended this poor widow from the greed of her creditors, who had hoped to find an easy target. These people were, evidently, members of the same group Jesus would later condemn when He said to the Pharisees: “They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely.”

C. (:5-6) Miraculous Provision — According to the Measure of Faith

“So she went from him and shut the door behind her and her sons; they were bringing the vessels to her and she poured. 6 And it came about when the vessels were full, that she said to her son, ‘Bring me another vessel.’ And he said to her, ‘There is not one vessel more.’ And the oil stopped.”

Donald Wiseman: She kept pouring; the piel participle stressing the ongoing action of faith (cf. John 2:7).

Guzik: The miracle was given according to the measure of her previous faith in borrowing vessels. She borrowed enough so the excess oil was sold and provided money to pay the debt to the creditor and to provide for the future. Had she borrowed more, more would have been provided; had she gathered less, less would have been provided.

August Konkel: The story of God’s provision is told without embellishment. Elisha asks two questions about the widow’s need and resources, to which she responds. He then tells her what to do, and she dutifully obeys. The provision of oil takes place behind closed doors, with only the woman and her sons present. The oil is a divine gift that is not dependent on the presence of the man of God and cannot be viewed as some kind of trick. The unusual form of the verb “pour” seems to indicate that the oil is made to pour continuously until all the jars are filled (v. 5). No details are given following Elisha’s final instruction (v. 7), but it may be assumed that the woman obeys without question. Her debts are paid, and her family remains together.

D. (:7) Material Security for the Future of Her Family

“Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, ‘Go, sell the oil and pay your debt, and you and your sons can live on the rest.’”

Wiersbe: Grace pays the debt. . . It didn’t cost Elisha anything for God to provide the needed money to pay the debt, but it cost Jesus Christ His life to be able to forgive us our sins.

Constable: God’s Care of the Faithful in Need —

It was common in the ancient Near East for creditors to enslave the children of debtors who could not pay. The Mosaic Law also permitted this practice (Exod. 21:2-4, Lev. 25:39). However, servitude in Israel was to end on the Year of Jubilee. God provided miraculously for the dire needs of this widow who had put God first, in contrast to the majority who did not do so in Israel (cf. Matt. 6:33).

Donald Wiseman: One lesson implied by the historian here is that God does not fail as the God of the widow and fatherless (Deut. 10:18; Jas 1:27) as do some earthly rulers.

Dale Ralph Davis: The widow gets all her cues from ‘the man of God.’ He gives her three commands: sell, pay, live. Sell the oil, pay the debts, live on the leftovers. Yahweh grants an abundance far beyond the immediate need: ‘and you and your sons can live on the rest.’ Yahweh had his eye on both the immediate emergency (debt) and the ongoing need (sustenance). We shouldn’t be surprised. It is Yahweh’s way to do more than we ask, to meet not only present need but continuing need.

Alan Carr: When You Reach the End of Your Rope


• There Was Despair In Her Family

• There Was Death In Her Family

• There Was Debt In Her Family

• There Was Devotion In Her Family


• v. 2a How God Erases Our Faith

• v. 2b-5 How God Expands Our Faith

o v. 2b He Expands Our Faith Personally

o v. 3 He Expands Our Faith Publically

o v. 4-5 He Expands Our Faith Privately


• v. 5 The Lesson Of God’s Provision

• v. 6 The Limit Of God’s Provision

• v. 7 The Largeness Of God’s Provision



A. (:8-17) God Provides Life

1. (:8) History of Hospitality

“Now there came a day when Elisha passed over to Shunem, where there was a prominent woman, and she persuaded him to eat food. And so it was, as often as he passed by, he turned in there to eat food.”

MacArthur: “prominent” — The woman was “great” in wealth and in social prominence.

Albert Barnes: And it fell on a day – The original of the expression here used, which occurs three times in the present narrative 2 Kings 4:11, 2 Kings 4:18, is also found in Job 1:6, Job 1:13; Job 2:1. The character of the expression perhaps supports the view that the author of Kings has collected from various sources his account of the miracles of Elisha, and has kept in each case the words of the original writer.

2. (:9-10) Hosting God’s Holy Man

“And she said to her husband, ‘Behold now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God passing by us continually. 10 Please, let us make a little walled upper chamber and let us set a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand; and it shall be, when he comes to us, that he can turn in there.’”

3. (:11-14) Happy with Her Home Situation – But Childless

“One day he came there and turned in to the upper chamber and rested. 12 Then he said to Gehazi his servant, ‘Call this Shunammite.’ And when he had called her, she stood before him. 13 And he said to him, ‘Say now to her, Behold, you have been careful for us with all this care; what can I do for you? Would you be spoken for to the king or to the captain of the army?’ And she answered, ‘I live among my own people.’ 14 So he said, ‘What then is to be done for her?’ And Gehazi answered, ‘Truly she has no son and her husband is old.’”

Expressing her contentment

4. (:15-16) Hoping in God’s Promise of a Son

“And he said, ‘Call her.’ When he had called her, she stood in the doorway. 16 Then he said, ‘At this season next year you shall embrace a son.’ And she said, ‘No, my lord, O man of God, do not lie to your maidservant.’”

Wiersbe: Only God’s grace can impart life, whether to a barren womb or to a dead boy, and only God’s grace can impart spiritual life to the dead sinner (John 5:24; 17:1-3; Eph. 2:1-10). It was God who gave the boy life, but He used Elisha as the means to do it.

Albert Barnes: “do not lie” — Compare a similar incredulity in Genesis 17:17; Genesis 18:12; Luke 1:20.

5. (:17) Having a Son According to God’s Promise

“And the woman conceived and bore a son at that season the next year, as Elisha had said to her.”

Dale Ralph Davis: What to do for the woman who has everything? Gehazi has an idea. He informs Elisha of two facts: the woman has no son and her husband is old. So Elisha announces God’s gift: ‘At this season, about this time next year, you shall embrace a son’ (v. 16, esv). The woman thinks this incredible (v. 16b), but the Bible doesn’t; it continues on in its laconic, ‘of-course’ style: ‘So the woman became pregnant and gave birth to a son’ just when and as Elisha had predicted (v. 17). . .

2 Kings 4 is unique among all these instances of the ‘barren woman’ pattern. In all other cases either the birth of the child is essential for continuing a covenant people or the child becomes a significant leader in a time of crisis for Israel. Had Isaac and Jacob not been born, the slender line of the covenant people would have gone extinct. Without Joseph, Jacob’s family would have perished in famine. Samson was at least a wild boar in the Philistines’ vineyard that kept them from ever relaxing. Samuel proved to be the glue that held Israel together during the turbulent transition to monarchy. And John the Baptist (of Elizabeth) prepared a people for the long-expected Jesus. None of this applies in 2 Kings 4. Obviously, the birth of this child is not essential to national continuity; there are plenty of Israelite kids floating around. Nor does he become an outstanding leader or prominent figure in Israel’s life. He probably farmed the home place and died again. We don’t even have his name. What’s the point? That sometimes Yahweh gives such a gift not because he will fulfill some grand redemptive-historical function but simply because he wants to make a woman happy with a child. Sometimes it’s far simpler than we imagine.

B. (:18-37) God Restores Life

1. (:18-20) Unexpected Death of the Son

“When the child was grown, the day came that he went out to his father to the reapers. 19 And he said to his father, ‘My head, my head.’ And he said to his servant, ‘Carry him to his mother.’ 20 When he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her lap until noon, and then died.”

2. (:21-25a) Relentless Pursuit of the Man of God

“And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door behind him, and went out. 22 Then she called to her husband and said, ‘Please send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of God and return.’ 23 And he said, ‘Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath.’ And she said, ‘It will be well.’ 24 Then she saddled a donkey and said to her servant, ‘Drive and go forward; do not slow down the pace for me unless I tell you.’ 25 So she went and came to the man of God to Mount Carmel.”

3. (:25b-28) Emotional Appeal

“And it came about when the man of God saw her at a distance, that he said to Gehazi his servant, ‘Behold, yonder is the Shunammite. 26 Please run now to meet her and say to her, Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?’ And she answered, ‘It is well.’ 27 When she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught hold of his feet. And Gehazi came near to push her away; but the man of God said, ‘Let her alone, for her soul is troubled within her; and the LORD has hidden it from me and has not told me.’ 28 Then she said, ‘Did I ask for a son from my lord? Did I not say, Do not deceive me?’”

Wiersbe: Gehazi’s attitude toward the woman’s coming reveals a dark streak in his character that shows up even more in the next chapter (v. 27; see Matt. 15:23; 19:13-15). Perhaps the woman and her servant intruded on their afternoon siesta. But Elisha discerned that something was wrong that the Lord hadn’t revealed to him.

4. (:29-31) Failed Attempt by Gehazi to Revive the Son Using Elisha’s Staff

“Then he said to Gehazi, ‘Gird up your loins and take my staff in your hand, and go your way; if you meet any man, do not salute him, and if anyone salutes you, do not answer him; and lay my staff on the lad’s face.’ 30 And the mother of the lad said, ‘As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.’ And he arose and followed her. 31 Then Gehazi passed on before them and laid the staff on the lad’s face, but there was neither sound nor response. So he returned to meet him and told him, ‘The lad has not awakened.’”

MacArthur: Elisha sent Gehazi ahead because he was younger and, therefore, faster. He may have expected the Lord to restore the child’s life when his staff was placed upon him, viewing that staff as representative of his own presence and a symbol of divine power (cf. 2:8).

Constable: The distance between Shunem and Mount Carmel was around thirty two kilometres (over twenty miles). Thus by this time the child had been dead for at least two days, even granted that the ass had been pressed hard. It would certainly have needed rest periods in the burning heat, or it would have come to a halt. And there had been preparation time at the beginning, and the time needed to explain things to Elisha. So when Elisha came into the house the child was clearly dead, and was still laid out on his bed.

Dale Ralph Davis: The text shows the man of God (the term occurs eight times in vv. 8–37) limited in knowledge (because Yahweh withheld it, v. 27; contrast 2:16–18) and limited in power (vv. 29–31, the staff episode), and so he can only come in earnest prayer (v. 33). True, one might say that means are used in verse 34, but the stress is not on Elisha’s ingenuity but on his utter dependence. One might even say that Elisha’s action in verse 34 is an expression or extension of his prayer of verse 33. The power then is wholly Yahweh’s, for which Elisha can only pray. The text suggests the limitations of all God’s servants.

5. (:32-37) Divine Power of Resurrection Activated by the Prayers of Elisha

“When Elisha came into the house, behold the lad was dead and laid on his bed. 33 So he entered and shut the door behind them both, and prayed to the LORD. 34 And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth and his eyes on his eyes and his hands on his hands, and he stretched himself on him; and the flesh of the child became warm. 35 Then he returned and walked in the house once back and forth, and went up and stretched himself on him; and the lad sneezed seven times and the lad opened his eyes. 36 And he called Gehazi and said, ‘Call this Shunammite.’ So he called her. And when she came in to him, he said, ‘Take up your son.’ 37 Then she went in and fell at his feet and bowed herself to the ground, and she took up her son and went out.”

Constable: God’s Blessing of those who Honor Him —

Only God’s power made active by petition could restore the boy’s life (v. 33). Elisha’s physical contact with him connected the power of God through the prophet and the miracle unmistakably (v. 34; cf. 1 Kings 17:21-23). Seven sneezes, not more or less, would have signified an act of God to ancient Near Easterners (cf. Gen. 1; 2 Kings 5:14).

August Konkel: The death of the child comes as a complete surprise to Elisha (v. 27), so the woman appropriately challenges the efficacy of the promise concerning the gift of the child (v. 28). She refuses to leave the prophet (v. 30), insisting that he personally be present at the side of the child (v. 32). Once at Shunem, the resuscitation is a process in which the woman participates; she waits outside the room as Elisha first prays for the child (v. 33), then warms the body of the child by stretching (ghr) his own body over it (v. 34), and after pacing the house returns to repeat the motion until the child sneezes and opens his eyes (v. 35). The Shunammite is then invited into the room, where she receives the child alive into her arms and reverences the man of God for his care and provision in her time of grief.

John Schultz: But the dead boy is brought back to life by the divine power of resurrection. This story is an Old Testament prefiguring of God’s power in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, through whose death and resurrection we live, even when we die. Jesus said to Martha, Lazarus’ sister: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” And to His disciples and us He says: “Because I live, you also will live.”

Dale Ralph Davis: Now this is a ‘clue’ episode. That is, this restoration is a specimen, a sign, a pledge, a preview of the victory God can and will grant his people at the last. Sometimes the question comes up: Why doesn’t God do this now? For the same reason that most dead folks stayed dead in Jesus’ time—it’s not time yet for all to be raised. Did Jesus restore people to life? Certainly (Matt. 11:4–5; Mark 5:35–43; Luke 7:11–17; John 11:38–44), but apparently not all that many. He didn’t empty the cemeteries during his earthly ministry. It wasn’t time yet. His people will be raised on Resurrection Day at his second coming (cf. 1 Thess. 4:13–18). But until then the Lord gives his people ‘previews’ to assure them that death will not have the last word with them. I take 2 Kings 4 as one of those. After all, how were believing Israelites to understand this story? Were they not to infer that the God of Israel can deliver his people even from death? . . .

So why this story? So you’ll know about the Shunammite and Elisha? Hear of an instance of Iron Age home remodeling? No, the story is here to reveal your God—the God who delights to amaze his ‘ordinary’ people with his good gifts; who sometimes baffles us with the mysterious sorrow he brings; who places limitations upon his servants so that we will never esteem them too highly; and who gives us a sneak preview in 800 bc that not even death will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Brian Bell: In the NT, the village of Shunem was no longer inhabited. The population of the town had gathered around a new Village less than 2 miles away, called Nain.

1. Surely the people of Nain remembered how the prophet Elisha had come to “their” village 8 centuries before and raised a young boy from the dead.

2. So when Jesus brought back to life the son of a widow in Nain the awestruck people explained, a great prophet has appeared among us. Lk.7:11-17



A. (:38) Good Intentions of Elisha to Provide Food for His School of Prophets in Time of Famine

“When Elisha returned to Gilgal, there was a famine in the land.

As the sons of the prophets were sitting before him, he said to his servant,

‘Put on the large pot and boil stew for the sons of the prophets.’”

Ray Dillard: It is striking how many of the stories about Elijah and Elisha have to do with food. It is difficult for modern Western readers to understand what life in an agrarian society of basically subsistence levels meant for the average individual in ancient Israel. Starvation and hard times were never far away … In modern Western countries, food is a far smaller part of a household budget than it has ever been; the time invested in gathering it is ordinarily limited to how long one spends in a supermarket or convenience store and perhaps a small family garden. Life was very different in ancient Israel. In subsistence or marginal economies, providing daily bread may represent the largest expenditure one makes and may also consume almost every waking moment.

B. (:39) Gourds of Poison Unknowingly Cast into the Stew

“Then one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine and gathered from it his lap full of wild gourds, and came and sliced them into the pot of stew, for they did not know what they were.”

C. (:40) Great Distress over the Death in the Pot

“So they poured it out for the men to eat. And it came about as they were eating of the stew, that they cried out and said,

‘O man of God, there is death in the pot.’ And they were unable to eat.”

D. (:41) God-Directed Miracle to Salvage the Stew

“But he said, ‘Now bring meal.’ And he threw it into the pot,

and he said, ‘Pour it out for the people that they may eat.’

Then there was no harm in the pot.”

Dale Ralph Davis: However, not only does a visible sign accompany this miracle, but the miracle itself constitutes a prophetic sign, a preview of what is yet to come. The miracle certainly involves the removal of harm, and yet that may also be considered as a precursor of the final reversal of the curse (à la Isaiah 11:6–9 and 65:17–25), a small sign of what is coming.

John Schultz: The Pulpit Commentary observes: “Either the bitter flavor alarmed them, or they began to feel ill effects from what they had swallowed, which, if it was colocynth, might very soon have produced stomachache or nausea. Rushing, therefore, at once to the worst possible supposition, they concluded that they were poisoned, and exclaimed, ‘O man of God, there is death in the pot!’ ‘If eaten in any large quantity,’ says [one Bible scholar], ‘colocynths might really produce death.’”“ If Elisha’s remedy in adding some flour to the stew was not a miracle, it would not have been worth mentioning in Scripture. We may assume that normally, flour would not counteract poison. In a similar way Moses made bitter water into drinkable by throwing a piece of wood into it.



A. (:42) Dedicating Limited Resources to Feed the Hungry People

“Now a man came from Baal-shalishah, and brought the man of God bread of the first fruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack.

And he said, ‘Give them to the people that they may eat.’”

Dale Ralph Davis: This text is so encouraging because we find here this citizen of Baal-shalishah who is still serving Yahweh in the midst of an apostate nation. 1 Kings 19:18 is true. Yahweh was right. There will be a remnant of faithful believers in this corrupt and hardened nation. God does preserve a people in the thick and thin of evil society. Who knows where you’ll find them? Maybe in Baal-shalishah.

John Whitcomb: Little things become great things when they are dedicated to God.

B. (:43) Denying Any Limitations on God’s Ability to Provide by His Word

“And his attendant said, ‘What, shall I set this before a hundred men?’

But he said, ‘Give them to the people that they may eat, for thus says the LORD, They shall eat and have some left over.’”

C. (:44) Distributing the Food to Satisfy Everybody with Some Left Over

“So he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over,

according to the word of the LORD.”

Dale Ralph Davis: The emphasis falls upon the bare word of Yahweh in this episode. There is no visible sign this time around, no throwing in salt or flour, no stretching oneself on top of a corpse. To his servant’s objection Elisha simply orders, ‘Give to the people and let them eat,’ and then explains, ‘for here is what Yahweh says, “Eating and leaving” ’ (v. 43b). That is, they’ll eat and have so much there will be leftovers. And that’s what happened, ‘in line with the word of Yahweh’ (v. 44). Yahweh will feed a hundred men with a few measly barley loaves if that’s what he says he will do.