2 Kings 4:1-44


The ministry of Elisha is characterized by a plethora of miracles.  Beginning with the dividing of the Jordan River following the ascension of his master, we are treated to one miraculous sign after another.  Not since the days of Moses and Joshua have there been so many signs and wonders.


Why is this the case?  Why after so many years is there a sudden manifestation of the power of God?  Is it because Elisha was so special?  Or was it because God was choosing to do something special?


On the one hand, Elisha DID ask for a special anointing from God.  He requested a “double mouthful” of the Spirit which had characterized the ministry of Elijah.  And he received it.  Elisha is described as performing many more miracles that Elijah.  At the same time, God was about to do something very special.  And the abundance of miracles drew attention to that which God was about to do.  Miracles do that.  That is why they are called miraculous SIGNS.  The whole purpose of a sign is to point to something.  It calls attention to something.  There are three specific eras in Biblical history which saw a great outpouring of miracles.


(1)        The era of Moses and Joshua.


(2)        The era of Elijah and Elisha.


(3)        The era of Jesus and His Apostles.


What made each of these eras so special?  Each era was special because it was a time when God was revealing His Word to men.  Each was a time of revelation.


Three Eras of Revelation

First Era

Second Era

Third Era

Moses & Joshua

Elijah & Elisha

Jesus & His Apostles

The Law

The Prophets

The New Testament Gospels & Epistles


There had been prophets prior to Elijah and Elisha.  But now the prophets of Judah and Israel are going to begin to write the words of their prophecies into writings which will become a part of the canon of Scripture.  We have none of the writings of the prophecies of Nathan or Samuel or Shemaiah.  But we do have the writings of those prophets who were contemporary with and who followed Elijah and Elisha.


Chapter 4 lists four major miracles of Elisha.  They can be grouped into two major categories.






Widow of a Prophet

Shunammite Woman

Sons of the Prophets

Man from Baal-Shalishah

She was faced with unpaid debts

Her son died

Their Stew was Poisonous

Brought food to Elisha

Her oil was miraculously increased to pay the debt

Her son was raised from the dead

The Stew was rendered palatable

The food was multiplied to feed all




We have already seen miracles involving God’s judgment.  We have seen the rain stop for three years and we have seen fire come down from heaven.  We have seen the Jordan divided and we have seen a mob of mocking children attacked by two mother bears.  We have seen water come in a dry land to allow an invasion of Moab.  These all demonstrated the power of God in some way that related to God’s judgment.  But the miracles which we now see in this chapter are different.  Each of these miracles will involve a gift of God’s GRACE and His MERCY.





1.         The Widow’s Plight.


            Now a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the Lord; and the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.” (2 Kings 4:1).


This woman had been married to one of “the sons of the prophets.”  The prophets lived in troubled times.  It had not been all that long ago that Ahab and Jezebel had driven the prophets into hiding.  That had passed, but now more trouble came into the life of this woman.  Her husband died.


Women had little in the way of rights in the ancient world.  There was no social security and a woman without a husband was completely dependent upon the good will of her extended family.  This woman apparently had no family available.  Her husband had died and her children were not old enough to be able to support her.  To make matters worse, she was in debt to a creditor.  Because she was unable to pay her debts, her two children would be forfeit.  Her life had been reduced to her two children and a jar of oil.  And she was about to lose her children.


2.         Elisha’s Solution.


2                       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.”

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

4                       “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.”

5                       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                       When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.”  And he said to her, “There is not one vessel more.”  And the oil stopped.

7                       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.” (2 Kings 4:2-7).


I love the fact that Elisha was available to this woman’s needs.  He who spoke before the kings of nations was not above ministering to the needs of an unknown woman.


There are no unknown people in God’s economy.  He shows no partiality to the rich or the famous.  His celebrities are those who are often unknown by the world.  We are warned in the Scriptures against the sin of partiality (James 2:1-9).


Elisha tells the women to go out and to collect and borrow all of the vessels she can lay her hands on.  She was to fill her house with jars and bowls and washtubs and barrels - anything that would serve as a receptacle for liquid.  Then she was to take her jar of oil and begin pouring it into each of these containers.

Can you imagine it?  Their house is full of containers.  They are all over the floor and on the table and even on the bed.  The woman takes the jar of oil and goes to the first container and tips the jar and out comes oil.  That is no surprise.  There is supposed to be oil in the jar.  She fills the container with oil.  But looking in the jar, she sees that there is more oil.  So she goes to the second container and fills it with oil.  And when she looks into the jar and there is still oil in the jar.  She continues to the third and fourth and fifth containers as she moves around the house, but there is no end to the oil in the jar.  This is similar to the miracle which Elijah had performed with the Phoenician widow from Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8-16).


1 Kings 17:8-16

2 Kings 4:1-7

Phoenician widow from a pagan land

Israelite widow of one of the sons of the prophets

Had only a small portion of oil and flour

Had only a jar of oil

Was preparing to eat a last meal and then die of starvation

Was preparing to have to sell her sons into slavery

Poverty in the midst of famine

Poverty in the face of debt


Instead of running out of oil, the woman ran out of containers.  She was then able to take this oil and sell it for enough money to pay off her debt and support her family.





The next narrative is given to us by way of contrast and comparison.  It also tells us the story of a woman and how the Lord used Elisha to supply her needs, but those needs were very different from the first woman.


2 Kings 4:1-7

2 Kings 4:8-37

Widow of a Prophet

Wife of an older man

A woman of poverty

A woman of prominence

Her husband had died and now she was in debt

She was given a son, but he later died

She was given the means to repay her debt and support her family

Her son who had died was raised from the dead


We are meant to see these two stories in parallel to one another.  They both show to us the provision of the Lord to His people.


1.         Hospitality at Shunem.


8                       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.

9                       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.” (2 Kings 4:9-10).


Shunem was a small village lying on the road between Mount Carmel in the northwestern part of Israel and the city of Jezreel in the southeast.  It was a road on which Elisha often found himself and the convenient midway point was the village of Shunem.


In this town there lived a woman.  She is described as a “prominent woman” — literally, a “great woman.”  We are not told in what way she was great.  It is likely that she was a woman of some wealth.  She was enough substance that she and her husband were able to add a guest room and to keep it solely for the use of the occasional visit of the prophet.


There is nothing wrong with having money.  Wealth can be a great blessing from God.  Those who have wealth are called to use it for the Lord.  That is what this woman did.  She sought to meet the needs of the visiting prophet.


2.         A Son for the Shunammite.


11                     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                     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.”

15                     He said, “Call her.”  When he had called her, she stood in the doorway.

16                     Then he said, “At this season next year you will embrace a son.”  And she said, “No, my Lord, O man of God, do not lie to your maidservant.”

17                     The woman conceived and bore a son at that season the next year, as Elisha had said to her. (2 Kings 4:11-17).


During one visit, Elisha sent for his hostess and asked if there were something that might be done on her behalf.  He suggests that he might be able to put in a good word for her in the palace of the king, but she declines.  She is content to live among her own people.


It is Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, who points out that this woman has no sons and her husband is old.  It is conceivable that her husband might die and then she would have no one to take care of her.  In that day, a woman without a son was impoverished, no matter how much money she might have.  And so, Elisha promises that she will have a son on the following year.


Her reaction is interesting.  It shows that she was sensitive to this subject.  Too many times she had gotten up her hopes, only to be disappointed.  She has resigned herself to being childless and has lost all hope of seeing thing change.


We live in an age where children are often seen as an unwanted commodity.  But this is not a Biblical outlook.  The Psalms describe children as both a gift and a reward.


Behold, children are a gift of the Lord;

The fruit of the womb is a reward. (Psalm 127:3).


This woman was rewarded for her kindness shown to the prophet of God.  Her reward was a son.  As her husband was already advanced in years, this son would be there to take care of her in her old age.


3.         The Death of the Son.


18                     When the child was grown, the day came that he went out to his father to the reapers.

19                     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 Kings 4:18-20).


We are not told how old the child was, but he was evidently now old enough to go out and to work in the fields during the time of the harvest.  It was on such a day that he complained of a severe headache of such a magnitude that he had to be carried home.  He was brought to his mother, but died on that same day.


The picture here is of great disappointment.  The mother who had not dared to hope for a son now sees the death of her son.  Certainly there can be few greater disappointments than to experience the death of a son.


4.         The Mother’s Plea for Help.


21                     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                     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. When the man of God saw her at a distance, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Behold, there 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’?” (2 Kings 4:21-28).


Instead of having the body of her son prepared for burial, the mother has it laid on the bed which had been set aside for Elisha’s visits.  She makes hast to travel to Mount Carmel which Elisha has made the base of his operations.


·        She asks and receives permission from her husband for this trip.  There is an attitude of submission in which she conducts herself, even though her husband is not on the same spiritual plane as she.


·        His attitude shows in his question:   “Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor Sabbath” (4:23).  He reminds me of the man who says, “Why are you going to church today?  It isn’t Easter or Christmas.”


·        She makes all haste in coming to see Elisha.  She orders her servant not to slow down the pace as they make their way to Carmel.


·        She comes and throws herself to the feet of Elisha.  When his servant goes to intervene, Elisha halts him, for he recognizes that her soul is troubled within her.


·        She brings all of her hurt to the Lord.  In the midst of her hurt, she says, “I didn’t come to you asking that the Lord would give a child to me.  But now that God has given him, why has He now taken him away?  Better to have been childless in the first place than to now suffer this loss.”


Have you ever tried to console someone who has lost a loved one?  Don’t you EVER say, “Be happy for the time that you did have.”  Take a lesson from Elisha.  When people are hurting, you hurt with them.  Don’t try to deny the legitimacy of their pain.


This mother is hurting.  She speaks out of her paid as she says, “I did not want a son in the first place because I did not want to be hurt like this.”  Tennyson’s poem that read, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” was not written in the immediate experience of deep personal loss.


We can come to the Lord in the midst of deep personal loss and we will not receive glib answers.  Instead we will find ourselves in the presence of the One who Himself experienced the deepest of personal losses.  The Father experienced to death of His only begotten Son upon the cross and, because of that, we can come boldly before the throne of grace to find help in time of need.


4.         Instructions for Gehazi.


29                     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                     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 no sound or response. So he returned to meet him and told him, “The lad has not awakened.” (2 Kings 4:29-31).


Elisha initially sends his servant Gehazi with his staff to see check on the condition of the boy.  It is affirmed that the child is indeed dead.  We are not told the purpose of laying the staff on the boy’s face.  Perhaps is was expected that God would use this act alone to accomplish the resurrection.  However the woman was not willing to accept anything less than the presence of the prophet himself.


She says in the strongest terms, “As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.”  The striking thing about these words is that they are an echo of the words that Elisha earlier said to Elijah on three different occasions (2 Kings 2:2, 4, 6).


5.         Resurrection!


32                     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                     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. (2 Kings 4:32-37).


Elisha arrives and enters into the bed chamber in which the corpse of the boy lay.  He prays to the Lord and then he stretches out his own body upon that of the boy — mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands.  Why is he doing this?  It is to identify himself with the boy.


Jesus did that.  He stretched Himself out on a cross to identify Himself with our sins.  And when we trust in Him as our Lord and Savior, we do the same thing.  We are identified with Jesus Christ.  We receive a new identity that is rooted in who and what He is.  Because He is righteous, we have been declared to be righteous — justified through faith.  Because He is the Son of God, we have also been given the title of sons of God.  Because He has eternal life, we have also been given eternal life.  Because He rose from the dead, we have also arisen to a new life in Him.

Elisha’s actions brought him into close bodily contact with a dead body.  From a religious perspective, he was rendering himself ceremonially unclean.  He not only touched a dead body, he got death all over him.  He was mouth to mouth and eye to eye and hand to hand with death.  Jesus did the same thing for us.  He absorbed all of my guilt and all of my death, taking it upon Himself.





38                     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.”

39                     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.

40                     So they poured it out for the men to eat. And as they were eating of the stew, they cried out and said, “O man of God, there is death in the pot.”  And they were unable to eat.

41                     But he said, “Now bring meal.”  He threw it into the pot and said, “Pour it out for the people that they may eat.”  Then there was no harm in the pot. (2 Kings 4:38-41).


We saw in 2 Kings 2 that there was a school of the prophets located in Gilgal, the place where Joshua and the Israelites had first encamped upon crossing the Jordan.  This school could be likened unto a cross between a seminary and a monastery.  It was made up of those who had a lineage of prophecy.  By contrast, Elisha had been, not the son of a prophet, but the son of a farmer.  He had been the one chosen by God to be the successor to Elijah and these sons of the prophets had come to recognize that Elisha was God’s appointed prophet.


This was a time of famine.  It had been a poor season and food was scarce.  The fact that there was a famine in the land bespoke the spiritual condition of the people in the land.  God had promised that if they would obey Him and follow Him, they would enjoy the prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey.  But He had made a corresponding promise that if they departed from His Word, they would suffer the effects of a famine in their land.


            “But it shall come about, if you will not obey the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.” (Deuteronomy 28:15).


The Lord goes on to specify the curses which shall come upon His people for disobedience.  They culminate in this graphic depiction of ruin:


            “The Lord will make the rain of your land powder and dust; from heaven it shall come down on you until you are destroyed.” (Deuteronomy 28:24).


Here is the point.  The people of the land had sinned and were suffering through a famine.  The faithful remnant of the school of the prophets was suffering the same famine.


There is a principle here.  When a nation suffers under a curse, the effects of that curse often overflow to affect others, even those who are not under that curse.  This was seen in the land of Egypt at the time of the Exodus.  Moses brought a series of plagues upon the land of Egypt and, for a time, both the Egyptians AND the Israelites suffered the effects of the plagues.  The first three plagues were upon both Israelites and Egyptians.


There is also a corollary to this.  It is that when God blesses His people, those blessings sometimes overflow to benefit those who are not God’s people.  Thus Potiphar and the Pharaoh of Egypt were benefited by the presence of Joseph, even though they were pagan unbelievers.


In this case, the school of the prophets was feeling the effects of the famine.  The cafeteria food was definitely feeling the effects of the hard times.  One of the students went out into the fields and gathered some wild gourds which served as ingredients for a stew.  But when they tasted the result, it was pure poison.


When they cried out to Elisha, he commanded meal to be brought.  He threw it into the pot and ordered it to be served to the students.  When this was done, it was found that the effects of the poison had been neutralized.


What is the point of the miracle?  I would suggest that the poison in the pot was analogous to the poison of the false religious systems in Israel.  It did not matter whether it was the poison of Baal worship or the poison of Jeroboam’s idol worship.  One was as bad as the other.  The only cure for such poison was the Bread of Life.


Jesus said that He IS the Bread of Life.  It is no mistake that He was born in Bethlehem, the “House of Bread.”  He is that which feeds and sustains spiritual life.  He is the antidote who is able to nullify the poison of the world system.  Only He can feed those in the midst of a spiritual famine.





42                     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.”

43                     His attendant said, “What, will 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.’”

44                     So he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord. (2 Kings 4:42-44).


This miracle also deals with food.  Instead of poison, it was good bread which was brought to Elisha, the man of God.  We are not told the name of the man who brought this bread.  We are told only that he came from a place known as Baal-shalishah.  This is regarded as significant.


Baal was the name of the Canaanite deity.  But it is also the Hebrew word for “lord” or “master.”  It is used today in modern Hebrew for “husband.”  It was even used upon occasion to refer to God.


            “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32  not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a HUSBAND to them,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 31:31-32).


Shalishah is Hebrew for “a third.”  This Hebrew word can also be used to describe that which is multiplied.  Hence, the idea would be “Lord of multiplication.”  The reason this is regarded as significant was because the Lord was going to use the gift brought by this man and multiply it.


The miracle that took place here is echoed in the miracles of the coming prophet from Galilee who was greater than Elisha.  You remember the accounts of Jesus feeding the 5000 and later feeding the 4000, each time with a mere handful of bread and fish.  In these cases, He is showing Himself to be the One who is greater than Elisha or any other of the prophets as He feeds crowds of both Jews and Gentiles.  Yet the greatest miracle is how the Son of God gave His own body to nourish and to save all who believe in Him.


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