II Kings 4

The Word Made Fresh

1The wife of one of the prophets came to Elisha and cried, “My husband, your servant, has died. You know he was devoted to the LORD. But someone to whom he was indebted has come to take my two sons as his slaves!”

2“What can I do?” Elisha asked. “Tell me what you have in the house.”

“I have nothing at all except a little oil,” she said.

3Elisha said, “Go and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t stop with just a few. 4Then go inside and close the door behind you and your sons. Start filling the jars with oil and set each aside as it is filled.”

5She left him then and closed her door behind her and her sons. They kept bringing jars to her and she kept filling them up. 6When they were full she said, “Bring me another,” but her son said, “That’s the last of them,” and the oil stopped pouring. 7She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go and sell the oil and use the money to pay the debts. Keep whatever is left for you and your family.”

8One day when Elisha was passing through Shunem, a wealthy woman who lived there invited him in for a meal. After that he would stop there whenever he passed through the town. 9She told her husband, “I’m sure this man who has been stopping here is a holy man of God. 10Let’s set up a little room on the roof and furnish it with a bed, table, lamp and chair so that he can rest there whenever he comes to us.”

11One day while he was there, he went up to lay down in the room. 17He told his servant Gehazi, “Call the Shunamite woman.” He did, and when she came 18he said, “Ask her what we can do for her since she has gone to all this trouble for us. Perhaps she would like for us to say a word to the king, or the general of the army.”

She said, “My home is here, among my own people.”

14So he asked Gehazi, “Then what can we do for her?”

Gehazi replied, “Well, she has no children, and her husband is old now.”

15Elisha said, “Call her.” He did, and she came and stood at his door. 16He said to her, “At this time next year you will hold a son in your arms.”

“No, my lord,” she said. “Don’t say such things to me.” 17Nevertheless, she became pregnant and gave birth to a son during the same season that next year, just as Elisha had said.

18A few years later the boy went out to his father during the harvest. 19He complained to his father that his head was hurting. “My head! My head!” he cried.  His father told a servant to carry him to his mother. 20The servant took him to her, and the child sat in her lap until noon, and then he died. 21She laid the boy on the man of God’s bed, closed the door and left.

22She sent a message to her husband, saying, “Send one of the workers to me with one of the donkeys so that I may go quickly to the man of God, and then return.”

23Her husband replied, “Why today? It is not a new moon. It is not a sabbath.”

“That’s okay,” she said, 24and saddled the donkey and told the servant, “Make the animal go quickly. Don’t slow down for me unless I tell you to.”

25So she set out, and soon came to the man of God at Carmel. When he saw her coming, he said to his servant Gehazi, “Look, the Shunamite woman is coming. 26Run meet her and ask her if she and her husband and child are alright.”

She told Gehazi, “Everything is alright.” 27But when she reached Elisha she fell down before him and grabbed his feet. Gehazi started to pull her away, but the man of God said, “No, leave her alone. She is in great distress, but the LORD has hidden it from me.”

28Then she said, “Did I ask you for a son? Didn’t I beg you not to mislead me?”

29He said to Gehazi, “Take my staff! Hold your robe up and run! If you meet anyone on the way don’t slow down to speak to them. Take my staff and lay it on the child’s face.”

30The boy’s mother said, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave without you.” So Elisha rose and followed her.

31Gehazi had gone ahead of them and laid the staff on the boy’s face, but there was no sign of life in him. He returned on the way to meet Elisha and tell him, “The child has not responded.”

32When Elisha arrived he found the child dead on his bed. 33He closed the door behind him and prayed to the LORD. 34Then he lay down on the child, his mouth on the boy’s mouth, his eyes on the boy’s eyes and his hands on the boy’s hands, and the boy’s body began to warm. 35He got up and walked back and forth in the room, then bent over the boy again. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes. 36Elisha summoned Gehazi and told him to call the mother. When she came, he said, “Take your son.” 37She knelt at his feet and bowed to the floor, then arose and took her child and left.

38There was a famine in the land when Elisha returned to Gilgal. During a meeting with the local prophets he said to his servant, “Use the large pot and prepare some stew for them.” 39One of them went out to gather herbs for the stew. He came across a vine and picked a lapful of wild gourds. He returned and cut them up and put them in the pot of stew even though he didn’t know exactly what they were. 40They began to serve some to the men, but as they were eating it they began to cry out, “Man of God, there is poison in the pot!” and they couldn’t eat it. 41He said, “Bring some flour.” He threw the flour in the pot and said, “Serve it to them now and they can eat it,” and there was no longer anything harmful in the pot.

42A man from Baal-Shalishah came with some of the first of the harvest to give the man of God; twenty loaves of barley bread and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people to eat.”

43His servant said, “How can I feed a hundred people with this?”

Elisha said again, “Give it to the people to eat. The LORD says they shall eat it and have some left over.”

44His servant set it before the people and they ate and there was some left, just as the LORD had said.


1-7: Now for some Elisha stories. Elisha is now the spiritual head of the religious communities of Israel, the “company of prophets,” or “sons of the prophets.” One of them dies, and his widow comes to Elisha for help with her creditors. All she has, she says, is a jar of oil. He tells her to collect empty vessels from her neighbors, close the door behind her, and start pouring. Of course, her jar of oil doesn’t run out until all the vessels are filled. He then tells her to sell the oil and pay for her debts. This story reminds us of the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath.

8-10: Elisha is passing through Shunem where he is invited to dinner. From then on, whenever he is in the area he stops in for a meal. The couple who live in the house outfit a small room on the roof for him to use as a retreat.

11-17: So, one day while resting in his little room, he sends his servant, Gehazi, to call the wife, and asks her what he can do for her. He offers to intervene for her with the king or the generals, but she replies that she is in a safe place among her own people and needs no protection from the king or the army. She then leaves. Gehazi suggests that the one thing she and her husband are missing is a child, and her husband is old, which implies that she is still a fairly young woman. Elijah calls her back and announces that she will have a son same season next year. She doesn’t quite believe him, but just as Elisha said, she gives birth to a baby boy.

18-24: Some years pass, and one day out in the field with his father the boy suddenly has a severe headache. His father sends him home, and he dies in his mother’s lap. She takes him up to Elisha’s room and closes the door. Then she tells her husband to saddle a donkey so she can go to the man of God (Elisha). Curiously, she doesn’t tell him that the child has died. He wonders that she is going to the prophet on a day that is not normally set aside for religious rituals. She replies, “It will be all right,” as if trying to convince herself. She and a servant hurry off to find Elisha.

25-31: On Mt. Carmel, Elisha sees her coming and senses that something is terribly wrong and sends Gehazi to meet her. She comes with a single-minded purpose to find Elisha and says the same thing to Gehazi as she said to her husband, “It is all right.” Well, no, it is not quite the same thing: before it was in the future tense, now that she in near Elisha it is in the present tense. She falls before him and grabs hold of his feet. Elisha sees that she is in distress and waits to hear what she has to say. She says, in effect, “I didn’t ask for a son. I begged you not to mislead me.” Elisha immediately intuits what has happened. He tells Gehazi to take his staff and lay it over the boy’s face. The woman refuses to leave without Elisha, and he agrees to return with her. Meanwhile Gehazi has completed his errand, but the boy is still lifeless. He returns to tell them.

32-37: Elisha arrives at the house and enters the room. He stretches himself out over the boy, mouth to mouth. (You have probably realized by now how much this story, too, is very like the one about Elijah and widow of Zarephath – see I Kings 17:8 and following.) The boy’s body is warmed. Elisha paces the floor, and then stretches out over the boy again. This time he is revived in a fit of sneezing. He summons Gehazi, who calls the woman, and he restores her son to her. It is an extraordinary and moving story.

38-41: Another story about Elisha: Back in Gilgal he is teaching in the religious school. He tells his servant to prepare a pot of stew for them all. Someone goes to gather herbs and comes back with some small gourds which he cuts up and puts in the pot. When the stew is served, the taste frightens them, and they think they have been poisoned. Elisha throws some flour in the pot, and the stew becomes edible. This story is similar to the first miracle Elisha had performed (see 2:19-22).

42-44: Another Elisha miracle: A man brings him some bread and grain in a sack. Elisha tells his servant to feed the people (the school of prophets and their families, presumably). The servant protests that there are a hundred of them, and it is not enough to feed them all. Elisha simply repeats the order and assures him that God says there will be enough and to spare. He feeds the people, and there is some left over. It sounds like a familiar story about Jesus, doesn’t it?


There are two categories of leaders in Israel; kings and prophets. Priests have completely faded into the background in Israel. When Jeroboam led his successful secession from Solomon’s son Rehoboam and Judah, he set up altars in Israel and appointed his own priests who were not of the tribe of Levi. The Israelite priests have gradually disappeared from the narrative, replaced by schools of prophets. This was obviously God’s way of maintaining some presence where the people (and the kings) had largely fallen into the Baal cults. There are pagan groups of prophets as well, but with the story of Elisha we see the development of schools of prophets of the LORD.