One bible story I never tire of is the story of the Shunammite woman.
While we are told she was a great woman we are not given her identity, her name remains unknown - perhaps so that we can put our own name into the personal message of her life.
The story begins with the Shunammite woman’s interest in Elisha who she recognizes as a holy man of God , and takes it upon herself to minister to his needs. Feeding him at her table when he passes by is not enough and having first received permission from her husband , she renovates a room in her home for his exclusive use whenever he has need of it.
Feeling grateful for the woman’s kindness and generosity toward him, Elisha wants to reward her in some way. He sends his servant Gahazi to ask her if she has any request to be put before the king or the captain of the army. She is obviously a selfless woman of integrity and a woman of few words. She simply replies that she is content.
But Elisha pursues the question with Gahazi, “What then can we do for her?”
Gahazi , perhaps more observant than Elisha in practical matters, offers a suggestion as to where her need may lie. “She has no children and her husband is old.”
Elisha immediately recognizes in his spirit what God wants to do for this woman and when the woman comes in response to his call, Elisha simply informs her that in a year’s time she will be holding a son in her arms.
Obviously taken aback and wanting to avoid disappointment she gently rebukes Elisha not to deceive her with her a lie.
But in a year’s time she does indeed have a son, just as Elisha had said.
One day when the child was old enough to be out in the fields visiting his father , he complains about a pain in his head. His father commands one of his workers to carry the lad to his mother, who cradles him in her arms until he dies.
Most women would have begun wailing and carrying on and alerted the whole community to the tragedy that had befallen her. But the Shunammite woman was not like other women. In her mind there was no question of what her plan of action needed to be. She carries the lad upstairs to Elisha’s room , lays him on the bed and goes out closing the door behind her.
Then she goes out to the field to speak with her husband. We would expect her to tell him that their son had died but no, instead she requests that she be allowed to take one of the servants and a donkey that she may go visit the man of God.
Her husband is puzzled as to her purpose seeing it is not a holy day , but when she simply assures him all will be well, he grants her permission. It seems he does not even ask after his son.
Instructing the servant to hurry as fast as he can go, the Shunammite woman goes to meet Elisha. Finding him, she greets him with a rebuke… “Did I ask you for a son? Did
I not tell you not to deceive to me?”
Elisha is troubled and sends Gahazi ahead to try to revive the child but he comes back saying that he could not awaken him. Elisha goes himself to the boy and praying to God feels the life coming back into the child. The mother is called , she expresses her gratitude to Elisha and embraces her son to her bosom.
And there the story recorded in II Kings 4:8-37 ends.
As far as we know she never tells anyone what happened that day.
I imagine her husband coming home tired and hungry that evening , sitting down to eat the meal prepared for him and asking his wife if she found the man of God.
She quietly answers, “Oh yes.!”
Then I’m sure at some point he would have asked how his son was and her reply again simply …”Oh, he’s fine!”
I used to wonder what was the purpose of her son dying and Elisha raising him up again a few hours later. What was accomplished, other than inflicting pain in a mother’s heart? People could not even give God glory for the miracle because as far as we are told no one even knew.
Then one day I continued reading II Kings after the Shunammite’s story ended and read through chapters 5 and 6 and 7 and came to chapter 8. To my surprise here the story of the Shunammite woman continued.
We are told of Elisha going to see the Shunammite woman one day and telling her that God was going to send a famine in the land for seven years and she should take her household and go live in the land of the Philistines. . ( it is an interesting side note that when Elisha raised the boy from the dead he sneezed seven times – the duration of the famine)
The woman , whose husband seems to have died by this time, took Elisha’s advice.
At the end of the seven years , the famine being over, she returned to her home and found that her house and land were occupied .
The law of the land gave full legal rights to the property to the new occupants, and because she was a woman alone the Shunammite widow had no authority to reclaim it.
Her resourcefulness did not fail her and she determined to bring her complain before the king. It was a desperate plan offering virtually no hope of success. Her chances of even gaining an audience with the king let alone a resolution in her favor were nill, lessened even further by the fact that she was a woman .
( Do you remember years before Elisha asked her if she needed to be spoken for before the King?)
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to her, Gahazi happens to be in audience with the King. It seems the king had heard about Elisha and wanted to hear first hand all about the great things Elisha had done. It just so happened that Gahazi was telling the story of Elisha raising the Shunammite’s son from the dead when , I'm sure to everyone's surprise! - the woman and her son walk in. Gahazi exclaims to the king,” O King, here she is and her son who was brought back to life.” The king demands of the woman if what Gahazi has told him is indeed true. He is so intrigued with her story and hearing of her present plight, does what is unheard of. He assigns an officer to her case to make sure that not only is her home and land returned to her but also any income derived from the land while she was away .
I find it interesting and not without significance that the ending of this story is tucked away a few chapters removed from the rest. So much happens in our life that seems left unexplained. Many things happen for which we never feel we have closure.
How often have we in the midst of a trial or tragedy asked the question of God , “Why?” I’m sure the Shunammite woman wondered why for many years. It seemed cruel that God would kill her son simply to raise him up again a few hours later. There seemed to be no logical purpose. But the end of the story was not yet known....
God, knowing the future and being infinitely wise , was providing for the woman’s needs years in advance. Except for the death of her son and the miracle of him being restored to life, she would have come back to her former home and property , found it no longer hers and forced to live out the rest of her years in poverty, unable to provide for herself and her son.
I challenge you !! When your days seem fraught with uncertainty and pain and pointless in purpose, leaving you asking ‘Why?’ ..-- Remember the Shunammite woman !
and wait for the end of the story, before you judge .
And never forget that you have an open invitation to meet with the King of Kings!!
And remember ……
What God works into today holds the provision for tomorrow’s need.