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The impact on the exiles in Babylon of this short story of God’s watchcare over the Shunammite woman cannot be underestimated. Have they lost their standing in the Promised Land? What will be their future status in the program of God? Will God continue to care for them and meet their needs despite their present hardship in captivity? The exile-return contrast tracks throughout the Old Testament.

In addition the watchcare shown to this woman who had previously ministered hospitality to Elisha teaches that God does not forget such acts of kindness but will provide abundantly for those who help sustain His prophets (or ministers). Elisha had acted dramatically to restore life to her dead son. And now he continues to remember her and acts to spare her the hardship of the seven year famine while still protecting her ongoing rights to legal ownership of her property in the Promised Land.

The king of Israel plays an important role in this providential care. He shows great curiosity about the deeds of Elisha and is now attracted to God’s agenda rather than so adversarial. But he seems to fall short of embracing an honest repentance and full commitment to the covenant-keeping God.

As believers we should marvel at the working of God’s providence in our lives to provide ongoing watchcare in every situation we face. We live as pilgrims (similar to exiles) in this world and long for our rightful possession in that future city which has foundations whose builder and maker is God.

August Konkel: This story about the appeal of the woman of Shunem to the justice of the king is a natural sequel to the story of the desperate woman calling out to the king for justice in the famine at Samaria (6:26).

Wiersbe: Famines remind us that God alone can make nature fruitful, and death reminds us that God alone gives life and has the power and authority to take it away. . .

Our English word “providence” comes from two Latin words, pro and video, which together mean “to see ahead, to see before.” God not only knows what lies ahead; but He plans what is to happen in the future and executes His plan perfectly. Perhaps a better word is “pre-arrangement.” In no way does God’s providence interfere with our power of choice or our responsibility for the choices we make and their consequences.

Dale Ralph Davis: Why is this text placed here? The king (presumably Jehoram) hears this testimony of ‘all the great deeds’ Elisha had done (for us this would = chapters 2–7, for Jehoram the parts of that record of which he had no personal knowledge). He knew not only mercies that had been extended to him (chapters 3 and 6:8–7:20) but mighty acts of deliverance, even from death. All this makes the king terribly accountable. How will he respond to this massive testimony of the grace of God? Elisha had once scored him for false allegiance (3:13–14). Has he changed? Will he change? According to the summary in 3:1–3 (especially 3b), Jehoram made no single-minded commitment to Yahweh.

But he was very impressed with the testimony of Yahweh’s power through Elisha. Impressed enough to give the Shunammite justice (v. 6b). Clearly he’s interested in the stories, is apparently fascinated with the testimony, but remains unchanged (3:1–3). So we have a king who was curious but not committed, attracted to Elisha’s works but not submissive to Elisha’s Lord; it was fascination not faith. . .

That is the Jehoram syndrome. One can recognize something of the power and pull of the gospel without embracing that gospel. There is, it seems, a vast gulf between being charmed by the truth and being converted to the truth. The men of Nineveh will likely stand up at the judgment and condemn Jehoram and his heirs for they repented when they had only a simple word of judgment but no catalog of grace (cf. Luke 11:32).

Caleb Nelson: But think with me about the original audience of this book in its final form. They were exiles in Babylon, driven out of the Promised Land and away from the presence of God. What message did this account have for them? It told them that God provides for exiles, that He cares about those who have been driven from their ancestral land by divine judgment. To them, it was an invitation to trust the God who had brought one of His people through a mini-exile.

Paul Rendall: We as Christians, ought to be those who are particularly thankful for the Lord’s watchcare over our lives, all through our lives, from beginning to end. I am speaking of the Lord’s providentially so ordering things in our lives that it becomes apparent to us that the Lord is working all things together for our good, and for His glory in the particular places that He leads us, and in the way that He brings to other people’s attention, the great things that He has done for us, so that we become witnesses to His loving care for us. We see this watchcare recounted for us in the history of the Shunammite’s life, culminating in her interview with the king and the restoration of her lands. Tonight we want to look,

– 1st of all, at the Lord’s watchcare over this notable woman of Shunem, during the time of a famine in Israel.

– 2nd – We want to think together about the Lord’s watchcare when the king asked Gehazi about the great things which Elisha had done for the Shunammite.

– 3rd – We want to consider the Lord’s watchcare over the Shunammite lady’s lands while she was away from them.

May the Lord, through this study, convince us of His great care over our lives.


A. (:1-2) Mercy Triumphs over Judgment

1. (:1) Elisha Mercifully Remembers the Shunammite Woman

“Now Elisha spoke to the woman whose son he had restored to life, saying, ‘Arise and go with your household, and sojourn wherever you can sojourn; for the LORD has called for a famine, and it shall even come on the land for seven years.’”

Her husband was probably already dead since he is not mentioned here.

MacArthur: The fact that the famine was localized in Israel demonstrated that this was a curse, a punishment for apostasy (cf. Dt 28:38-40), because of Israel’s disobedience of the Mosaic Covenant.

Dale Ralph Davis: So here was God’s kindness in his famine warning system. Think what it must have meant to her. Admittedly, these two verses are not the main focus of the story, but what an encouragement Elisha’s tip must have been to her, assuring her that the Keeper of Israel had by no means forgotten her. A small kindness carries a massive encouragement.

2. (:2) Escape from the Hardship of God’s Judgment

“So the woman arose and did according to the word of the man of God, and she went with her household and sojourned in the land of the Philistines seven years.”

William Barnes: Long famines are recorded both in biblical texts (Gen 41:30–31; Ruth 1:1–6) and extrabiblical texts; the present famine (which was “called” by the Lord) need not be related to the “famine” described in the city of Samaria in the preceding story. Perhaps it was, however, the same famine mentioned in 4:38. Possibly we are also to notice that this famine was twice the length of the infamous famine or drought in Elijah’s time (Luke 4:25; cf. 1 Kgs 17:1; 18:1–2). This is another literary signal of Elisha as a “twofold” prophet in comparison with Elijah.

Caleb Nelson: This is the ultimate reason that you can’t “allegorize” this text, and why I don’t think I am allegorizing it. If the Promised Land is read as a code for Heaven pure and simple, then Elisha was telling this woman to leave Heaven for heathendom for the sake of material prosperity. What kind of spiritual advice is that? No. The reality is that the Promised Land is a type of Heaven — that is, a historical reality showing us something of what the greater reality of Heaven is like. But Israel is not itself Heaven, and Philistia is not Hell. . .

I’m saying that the pattern of exile and restoration seen here echoes and points to the macrocosmic pattern of exile and restoration that will be ultimately consummated in restoration to Heaven. This microcosmic story is a promise of ultimate life in the land, and an invitation to experience that life. But the way to access that meaning is not by “allegory” as we understand that term, but rather by close attention to this story’s place in the larger story of the Bible.

B. (:3) Major Problem of Land Confiscation Requires Seeking Restoration from the King

“And it came about at the end of seven years, that the woman returned from the land of the Philistines; and she went out to appeal to the king for her house and for her field.”

Constable: Evidently the woman had sold her property before she left Israel and now wished to buy back her family inheritance. This was a right that the Mosaic Law protected (Lev. 25:23-28; Num. 36:7; cf. 1 Kings 21:3). Another view is that the woman had left her property and “the crown” had taken it over. In such a situation the state held the land until the legal owner reclaimed it (Exod. 21:2; 23:10-11; Deut. 15:1-2). Her position was similar to that of Naomi in the Book of Ruth. She had fled a famine, lost her male supporter, and was at the mercy of the political system.

The Pulpit Commentary: During her prolonged absence, some grasping neighbor had seized on the unoccupied house and the uncultivated estate adjoining it, and now refused to restore them to the rightful owner. Widows were especially liable to such treatment on the part of greedy oppressors, since they were, comparatively speaking, weak and defenseless (see … Isaiah 10:2; Matthew 23. 14). Under such circumstances the injured party would naturally, in an Oriental country, make appeal to the king (comp. … 2 Samuel 14:4; … 1 Kings 3:16; … 2 Kings 6:26, etc.).

August Konkel: The text indicates that the problem is one of confiscation; in her absence the properties have been taken over, possibly by another family member or neighbor. Earlier the woman lived securely among her people without need (4:13), but her situation has drastically changed. The property is legally hers, possibly through inheritance, but she has no access to it.


A. (:4) Curiosity Regarding Elisha’s Miracles on the Part of the King

“Now the king was talking with Gehazi, the servant of the man of God, saying, ‘Please relate to me all the great things that Elisha has done.’”

David Guzik: Perhaps his motive was nothing more than curiosity, yet it was still a significant testimony to the king of Israel. He knew that God was with the actions of Elisha, giving evidence that He was also with the word of Elisha.

Dale Ralph Davis: ‘Tell’ (sāphar) is the key word here; it appears three times in verses 4–6. What does the king want to be told? He wants to hear about Elisha’s deeds that weren’t so public. Some of Elisha’s work was well known to the king (see ch. 3; 6:8–23; 6:24–7:20), but he’d doubtless heard rumors about astounding things Elisha had done among the remnant or his inner circle and he wanted to hear about those deeds. Those would include all the matters in chapter 4 plus 6:1–7—and perhaps others not recorded in the 2 Kings text.

Caleb Nelson: Jehoram heard everything we’ve just heard, from 2 Kings 2 onward. Not only did he hear it; he lived it! Yet his heart was hardened against it. When it came right down to it, not even the miracles of Elisha could change his heart. Surely this warns us not to long for miracles. Miracles don’t save. Only the Holy Spirit saves. God’s saving might was available to Jehoram, but the king missed it.

B. (:5-6a) Coincidence by Divine Providence in the Appearance and Appeal of the Shunammite Woman

1. (:5a) Timely Appearance of the Shunammite Woman

“And it came about, as he was relating to the king how he had restored to life the one who was dead, that behold, the woman whose son he had restored to life, appealed to the king for her house and for her field.”

Paul House: In a happy “coincidence” the king sits chatting with Gehazi about what Elisha did for the woman’s son at the very moment she arrives with her request. When she verifies the incident, the king orders an official to settle her case and restores whatever income may have been gleaned from it during the difficult years of her absence. Elisha does not even have to appear in order to help her. His very reputation and Gehazi’s witness are enough to restore her financial security, and this restoration validates his advice about leaving the country in the first place.

2. (:5b) Testifying Account of Gehazi

“And Gehazi said, ‘My lord, O king, this is the woman and this is her son, whom Elisha restored to life.’”

3. (:6a) Tenacious Appeal

“When the king asked the woman, she related it to him.”

Wiersbe: Years before, when her son had died, little did the mother realize that one day that bitter experience would play an important part in the preservation of her property.

C. (:6b) Corrective Action Directed by the King

1. Appointing a Trustworthy Officer

“So the king appointed for her a certain officer, saying,”

2. Restoring Her Rightful Property

“Restore all that was hers and all the produce of the field”

Donald Wiseman: God often uses the authorities to make provision for widows and the fatherless as a charge on the state (Deut. 10:18; 24:19-20; Jer. 7:6-7).

August Konkel: This king acts much more nobly than his predecessor Ahab, who had no hesitation in confiscating the property of Naboth. The reputation of Elisha and his legacy influence the king to act immediately; the woman of Shunem receives back her properties with all the attendant revenues due to her.

3. Paying Her Proceeds from the Past Seven Years

“from the day that she left the land even until now.”

Peter Pett: Due to the famine it would not be a very large amount, although the fields may have been extensive.