"It Will Be Well"
2 Kings 4:8-37; 8:1-6
(Delivered Sunday, May 6, 2007 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
For several years now—on Mother's Day—we have looked together in the Scriptures at the story of a great woman of faith. (Don't panic, by the way. You haven't somehow 'missed' Mother's Day. That's next week; but since someone else will be preaching at that time, I'm taking the liberty to preach a 'pre-Mother's Day' message this week.)
I have found that there is an abundance of stories in the Bible of great "mothers" of faith. And today, I'd like to draw your attention to just one of them. Her story is found in the Old Testament book of 2 Kings.
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We don't know this woman's name. But let me share with you some of the things that we do know about her.
First, we know that she was a Jewish woman. She lived in a place called Shunem; which was a city that fell to the lot of the tribe of Issachar (Joshua 19:18), just a few miles southwest of the Sea of Galilee.
Second, we know that she was an important woman in the town of Shunem. The Bible tells us that she was a "notable" or "great" or "prominent" woman (2 Kings 4:8). She was married to an older man (v. 14); but he was apparently a man of means. He owned land that produced crops, and had a large enough home to host travelers (v. 10). This woman lived comfortably and contentedly. When asked if there was anything that could be done to improve her lot in life, she turned the offer down with the simple testimony: "I dwell among my own people" (v. 13)—that is to say, she lived happily and had no sense of need.
Third, we know that she was childless (v. 14). Her husband was old—perhaps even elderly; and she had no son to carry on his name and become the head of the household. She may have expressed a great deal of contentment with her lot in life; but as you examine her story, you can plainly tell that she had harbored a secret longing to have a child. As her husband grew older; it became clear to her that it would not be likely that she ever would have one.
And fourthly—and most importantly—she was a woman who was outstanding in her reverence of the God of Israel. She lived in a time when many of her fellow Israelites did not reverence God, and had fallen into the worship of the idols of the surrounding nations. But she herself stood out as a woman of faith. On a regular basis, she would go to Mount Carmel, where the prophets of God studied together and taught; and she would join them in worship and instruction during the appointed times—at the time of "the New Moon or the Sabbath" (v. 23).
In fact, she had the spiritual sensitivity to recognize that the prophet Elisha was a great man of God. And she was willing to give generously of her wealth in order to ensure that his prophetic ministry in Israel was well supported, and that he himself was well provided for. She had a great faith in the God of Israel; and a great reverence for the man that God had appointed to be His spokesman to her people.
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As I have read her story, the thing that has stood out the most to me is the evidence of her faith in God's providential care for her. Once she began to see His mighty hand of blessing upon her, she kept on trusting Him and looking to Him—even in very difficult times of trial.
God's "providence" is that expression of His divine power and character by which He upholds, governs and directs all aspects of all that He has has made; so that it is all guided by Him to bring about His glory and the good of those He loves. One of my favorite passages on God's providence—perhaps one of yours as well—is Romans 8:28; "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose."
As this woman grew to know Elisha and to give herself to supporting him in his ministry, she grew to trust greatly in the providential care of God toward her. She trusted Him so much, in fact, that it seems that her favorite phrase at times of deep trial was "It is well" (4:23, 26)—or, more accurately, "It will be will" (New American Standard Bible).
This woman models for us a great faith in God's providence. And she stands as an example of the great faithfulness of the God in whom she trusted. Her story teaches us that, because of God’s providence, the woman or man who trusts in God can—in every circumstance—confidently look to the future and say, “No matter what, I know it will be well”.
She's a good person to learn from on Mother's Day . . . or a week before, anyway.
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Her story, it seems to me, comes to us in "three acts". And the first "act" is found in 2 Kings 4:8-17. It's there that she first learns to trust in the providential care of God for her. It's there that we learn that . . .
1. GOD CAN PROVIDE HIS HOPELESS BELIEVER A FUTURE (4:8-17).
The Bible tells us that Elisha was on his way to Shunem. His ministry was based at Mount Carmel, overlooking the coast of the Mediterranean Sea—about ten miles away from Shunem. He apparently made frequent trips along the road that ran from Mount Carmel to Shunem. And so, we read;
Now it happened one day that Elisha went to Shunem, where there was a notable woman, and she persuaded him to eat some food. So it was, as often as he passed by, he would turn in there to eat some food. And she said to her husband, “Look now, I know that this is a holy man of God, who passes by us regularly. Please, let us make a small upper room on the wall; and let us put a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand; so it will be, whenever he comes to us, he can turn in there" (4:8-10).
It's clear that Elisha felt very much welcomed by this woman and her family. And so, she talked things over with her husband; and she persuaded him to let her set up a room in their home in which Elisha could regularly lodge whenever he came passing by. (I understand that, in the past, many Christian families used to keep an extra room their home—a spare room that they kept in order to host traveling preachers or missionaries as they ministered. They used to call it “a prophet's chamber” because of this story.)
This woman was especially eager to do this because she knew that Elisha was truly a holy man of God. Perhaps she had heard of how the mantle of the great prophet Elijah had fallen on him, and of how he had received a "double portion" Elijah's prophetic spirit (2 Kings 2:9). Or perhaps she had heard of the many miracles he had performed—including, most recently, the way in which he had provided for a poor widow woman through the jar of oil that didn't run dry until she had enough to sell and provide for her needs (4:1-7). The Shunammite woman, of course, had no such need; but she clearly reverenced God and wanted to serve His prophet. What a blessing it must have been to have such a man of God feel so welcome in her home!
Now; she had been very good to Elisha. And as a godly man, He wanted to bless her in return. He had great influence. Perhaps he could ask the king for a favor on her behalf. Or perhaps he could ask the commander of the army to protect her in some way.
And it happened one day that he came there, and he turned in to the upper room and lay down there. Then he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite woman.” When he had called her, she stood before him. And he said to him, “Say now to her, ‘Look, you have been concerned for us with all this care. What can I do for you? Do you want me to speak on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’” She answered, “I dwell among my own people" (vv. 11-13).
Elisha was right, of course, to make this offer to her. Those servants of God who are blessed by God's people should always be ready to bless them in return. But apparently, she didn't want anything. Whether out of a humbleness that made her shy to ask anything of God, or out of a sense of satisfaction that caused her to think she needed nothing from God; she expressed that she had no needs and was satisfied simply to give of herself and serve.
Sometimes with someone like that, you have to ask someone else what can be done for her. So, Elisha once again called for his servant;
So he said, “What then is to be done for her?” And Gehazi answered, “Actually, she has no son, and her husband is old" (v. 14).
I believe that when Elisha heard that, the Spirit of God confirmed to him that that was what He wanted to do for her—that God wanted to give her what she really, down in the deepest core of her womanly heart, longed for.
So he said, “Call her.” When he had called her, she stood in the doorway. Then he said, “About this time next year you shall embrace a son" (vv. 15-16a).
We read of several times when God visited an older, childless couple in the Old Testament and promised them a child. We read of God doing this for Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18:10), or to the parents of Sampson (Judges 13:3-5), or to the mother of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:17). It was evidence of God's divine power; but also of His favor. The woman didn't dare to ask for such a thing; but it was clearly the deep longing of her heart that the blessing of a child would be given to her.
And so, she received this wonderful promise from God's prophet—that a year from that time, this childless woman would have and hold a precious son. It was almost too much for her to dare to believe; but it was true. When she received this promise, we read,
And she said, “No, my lord. Man of God, do not lie to your maidservant!” But the woman conceived, and bore a son when the appointed time had come, of which Elisha had told her (vv. 16b-17).
And so, here's one of the first things I believe we can learn about the providence of God from this woman's story. Humanly speaking, a man or woman may have no hope for any kind of future. But the great and mighty God of providence is able to give that man or woman a hope and a future. In Jeremiah 29:11, we read: "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11).
Maybe your situation isn't even like that of this woman. She had no future through no fault of her own. But perhaps you are someone who, in the past, had squandered your future through sin or foolishness. But even then, hopelessness is only hopeless “humanly speaking". Nothing is too hard for God. For those who turn from their sin and trust Him, He can create a future and a hope where no future and no hope existed before.
The only question is, will we to Him and trust Him to do so?
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So; a first thing we learn from this woman's story is that the mighty God of providence can provide His hopeless believer a future. And a second thing we learn is that . . .
2. GOD CAN PROVIDE HIS GRIEVING BELIEVER JOY (4:18-37).
As the years went by, the child grew. And apparently, as long as his elderly father was able to manage the work of his fields, his little son was sometimes able to join him.
And the child grew. Now it happened one day that he went out to his father, to the reapers. And he said to his father, “My head, my head!” So he said to a servant, “Carry him to his mother.” When he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died (vv. 18-20).
Tragedy struck this home. We're not told what happened. It may have been that the boy—perhaps at this point old enough to labor hard in the field—suffered some kind of heat stroke. Or it may be that some unknown condition finally took its toll. In any event, the day began in the morning with him working in the field with his father; and it must have seem that the whole world ended at noon when he died in his mother's arms.
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I'm sure that, during that time that her son suffered in her arms, she prayed and pleaded with God for his life. But what could she say, now that he was dead? How could this have happened? She had not asked for this son from God; but He had graciously given him to her. Why, now, would He take her away so harshly and abruptly? He had performed a great miracle in giving the child to her; could He not have performed a miracle to save His life?
But it's here that I believe her growing faith in the God of providence began to show itself. It hadn't been too long before this time that God had performed a great miracle through Elisha's predecessor Elijah. Elijah had been shown a similar hospitality by a widow woman of Zarephath; and he had been used by God to provide for their need for food during a time of famine. 1 Kings 17:17-24 tells us the story.
Now it happened after these things that the son of the woman who owned the house became sick. And his sickness was so serious that there was no breath left in him. So she said to Elijah, “What have I to do with you, O man of God? Have you come to me to bring my sin to remembrance, and to kill my son?” And he said to her, “Give me your son.” So he took him out of her arms and carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his own bed. Then he cried out to the LORD and said, “O LORD my God, have You also brought tragedy on the widow with whom I lodge, by killing her son?” And he stretched himself out on the child three times, and cried out to the LORD and said, “O LORD my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him.” Then the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came back to him, and he revived. And Elijah took the child and brought him down from the upper room into the house, and gave him to his mother. And Elijah said, “See, your son lives!” Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now by this I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the LORD in your mouth is the truth.”
I believe that the Shunammite woman had heard of this story, and believed that God could do the same for her. And she demonstrated a great faith in God's ability to do this. In a place where the climate was such that, once someone died, they needed to be buried right away, she refrained from having her son buried. Instead, she took an immediate action of a different course;
And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, shut the door upon him, and went out. Then she called to her husband, and said, “Please send me one of the young men and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of God and come back.” So he said, “Why are you going to him today? It is neither the New Moon nor the Sabbath.” And she said, “It is well.” Then she saddled a donkey, and said to her servant, “Drive, and go forward; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you.” And so she departed, and went to the man of God at Mount Carmel (vv. 21-25a).
She went, as quickly as she could—before the body of her son began to suffer decay—and traveled the ten miles or so from Shunem to Mount Carmel in order to fetch Elisha. In doing this, she reminds me of the story of the early Christians of Joppa, when their dear sister Dorcas died. They washed her body and laid it in an upper room; and then went to Lydda—a few miles away—and urged Peter not to delay in coming to them quickly (Acts 9:38). He came; and the Lord revived the woman through him and restored her alive to her friends. Perhaps the same sense of urgency was what drove this woman.
And please notice what she said to her husband. He asked why she was in such hast to go to Mount Carmel. It wasn't the ordinary time of teaching or worship. Even if she was motivated by grief, he didn't understand why she would want to go there then. And she didn't explain her motives to him then. She simply said (as it literally reads in the Hebrew), "Well", or "Completeness", or "Soundness". She was simply making the affirmation, "It will be well"; or as it is in the New International Version, "It's all right".
She wasn't lying when she said this. It wasn't a mere brush-off. It was a short answer; but it was one that her actions demonstrated that she truly believed. In the providence of God, "It will be well." May we all have such faith in God's providence at such times, that we too would say, "No matter what, I know the power of God; and I know that it will all be well."
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I notice that she gave the same affirmation to the servant of Elisha;
So it was, when the man of God saw her afar off, that he said to his servant Gehazi, “Look, the Shunammite woman! 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" (vv. 25b-26).
But she hadn't run in such great haste to talk to the mere servant of Elisha. She would settle for nothing less than the man of God himself. Things would be well; but only if she could appeal to him—and that he would then make his appeal on her behalf to the God of Israel. If I may put it this way, she wanted to go as "direct" as she could. She sets an example for us in this: Don't merely run to the servants of Jesus in a time of need. Run directly to Him!
She came to Elisha; and it was there that she poured her heart out to him in her time of greatest need. She was like the Syro-Phoenician woman that made her appeal to the Lord Jesus for her daughter (Matthew 15:21-28). She, too, would not let go and would not take "no" for an answer.
Now when she came to the man of God at the hill, she caught him by the feet, but Gehazi came near to push her away. But the man of God said, “Let her alone; for her soul is in deep distress, and the LORD has hidden it from me, and has not told me.” So she said, “Did I ask a son of my lord? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me’?” Then he said to Gehazi, “Get yourself ready, and take my staff in your hand, and be on your way. If you meet anyone, do not greet him; and if anyone greets you, do not answer him; but lay my staff on the face of the child.” And the mother of the child said, “As the LORD lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you.” So he arose and followed her (vv. 27-30).
The prophet may send his servant; but the woman would not allow herself to be separated from the man of God. And, as it turns out, she was right.
Now Gehazi went on ahead of them, and laid the staff on the face of the child; but there was neither voice nor hearing. Therefore he went back to meet him, and told him, saying, “The child has not awakened" (v. 31).
And it was here that Elisha behaved just like his mentor Elijah;
When Elisha came into the house, there was the child, lying dead on his bed. He went in therefore, shut the door behind the two of them, and prayed to the LORD. And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands; and he stretched himself out on the child, and the flesh of the child became warm. He returned and walked back and forth in the house, and again went up and stretched himself out on him; then the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. And he called Gehazi and said, “Call this Shunammite woman.” So he called her. And when she came in to him, he said, “Pick up your son.” So she went in, fell at his feet, and bowed to the ground; then she picked up her son and went out.
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As I read this story, I'm left with the question of why it is that God allowed the dead to be brought back to life in this case, but has not chosen to do so in so many others. I don't have an answer for that. I believe that this story teaches us, however, that He can if He so chooses. And the point, it seems to me, is that the providence of God assures those of us who trust Him that He will provide His grieving believers with joy—if not in the immediate, then most certainly before His throne.
As someone in our church family has said very well; "Trusting God completely with our requests means that we relinquish the right to dictate to Him how He will answer." But I believe that trusting Him means that we know He will answer! He may heal our loved ones now; or He may heal them in the resurrection. He may give our loved ones to us during our life on earth for a season; or He may choose instead to take them, preserve them for us, and give them to us in heavenly glory forever. But in either case, the story of this woman of faith teaches us that the great God of providence can—and will—provide His grieving people with joy.
Because God is what He is, we can say, as this woman said in a time of grief, "It will be well."
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Now; there's one more "act" in this woman's story. And to appreciate it, you need to remember what Elisha originally offered her. She was kind to him; and he responded by asking her, "What can I do for you? Do you want me to speak on your behalf to the king or the commander of the army?" (4:13). And as you remember, she didn't think that she needed any such thing.
But unknown to her, that was exactly what she was going to one day need! And in the providence of a loving and good God, that is exactly what she was given. This leads us to learn one more thing from this story; that . . .
3. GOD CAN PROVIDE HIS NEEDY BELIEVER AN INHERITANCE (8:1-6).
The years rolled on; and the boy grew into manhood. And since we don't hear any more of him, we can speculate that the woman's older husband eventually died and left her alone. She had her son, though; and they had a fruitful land and a home.
But then came another challenge. God—as He often did—punished the nation of Israel for its repeated sin of idolatry by bringing a famine upon the land. In the eighth chapter of 2 Kings, we read this story;
Then Elisha spoke to the woman whose son he had restored to life, saying, “Arise and go, you and your household, and stay wherever you can; for the LORD has called for a famine, and furthermore, it will come upon the land for seven years.” So the woman arose and did according to the saying of the man of God, and she went with her household and dwelt in the land of the Philistines seven years (2 Kings 8:1-2).
Now; it may be that her estate had been left in the hands of an unscrupulous manager. Proverbs 25:19 says, "Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth and a foot out of joint." Or, it may be that she had to, in haste, abandon her land and home; and it came to be confiscated by someone else—or even by the king of Israel himself. In any case, when the famine was over, and she returned, her estate was in the hands of another; and she had to make her appeal to the king in order to have it restored.
And it's here—once again—that we see the mighty providential hand of God upon this dear woman that loved and trusted Him. When she arrived to make her case, we find that God had already made arrangements for her. We read;
It came to pass, at the end of seven years, that the woman returned from the land of the Philistines; and she went to make an appeal to the king for her house and for her land. Then the king talked with Gehazi, the servant of the man of God, saying, “Tell me, please, all the great things Elisha has done.” Now it happened, as he was telling the king how he had restored the dead to life, that there was the woman whose son he had restored to life, appealing to the king for her house and for her land. And Gehazi said, “My lord, O king, this is the woman, and this is her son whom Elisha restored to life.” And when the king asked the woman, she told him. So the king appointed a certain officer for her, saying, “Restore all that was hers, and all the proceeds of the field from the day that she left the land until now.”
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What a great God we serve! Here was a woman who served the prophet of God faithfully, and out of a sincere spirit of reverence toward the God of Israel. And the God of providence never forgot her. Jesus once made a promise about faithful servants like her:
"He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward" (Matthew 10:41-42).
And so; God, in His goodness rewarded this woman who had faith in Him. He provided her with a son; and she trusted Him more. And then, He provided the life of her son; and she trusted Him even more. And then, He even provided the inheritance of her son; and—no doubt—she spent all of her remaining days trusting the God of providence even more still.
May you and I learn to trust the God of providence as this godly mother did. And may we always—no matter what—look to our loving Father in childlike trust in His goodness; and say, "It will be well."
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