2 Kings 4:1-7 – Elisha and the Widow’s Oil

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2Kings 4:1

  1. There were many “prophet disciples” in Israel at this time, including Gilgal (2 Kings 4:38), Bethel (2 Kings 2:3), and Jericho (2 Kings 2:5).
    1. The disciples of the prophets were trained in the prophetic profession probably much like a pastor or church leader today. Prophetic disciples learned to be prophets from, for example, Samuel (1 Sam 19:20), Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-18) or Elisha (2 Kings 4:38). There were also many false prophets (1 Kings 22:6).
  2. Because of the climate in the Middle East, it was not uncommon for farmers and agriculturalists to fall into debt. If there was a prolonged drought that led to a poor harvest, it was difficult to repay the debt.
    1. If things got really bad, they had to sell their land and in the worst case, according to the Law of Moses, they had to sell themselves as slaves to pay off their debt (Matthew 18:25).
    1. However, the Mosaic Law is clear that the “owner” was not allowed to use his Hebrew slave for “slave labor” (Leviticus 25:39) and he was allowed to serve as a slave for a maximum of six years (Exodus 21:2-4).
  3. The prophet’s disciple who has died is described as “a servant who feared the Lord”. The prophet Obadiah is described in exactly the same way (1 Kings 18:12), so a not unreasonable guess is that it is Obadiah who has died. This Obadiah had at one time hidden away one hundred prophets in a cave and provided them with food and drink. This must have been very costly for Obadiah, so if he was the one married to this woman, it is not difficult to understand why she is now in debt after he has died.
  4. Since the widow’s husband had been one of the disciples of the prophets and Elisha was the leader of the disciples of the prophets, it is natural that the widow of one of the disciples of the prophets comes to Elisha and asks for help in her time of need. If there is no good government system to help people who are in financial need, the church needs to be involved in helping as much as it can.
    1. Moreover, if Obadiah was the widow’s husband, Elisha has a special responsibility to help the widow because she has become indebted to Obadiah’s tremendous care for the disciples of the prophets.

2Kings 4:2

  1. The basic Hebrew text shows that the bottle of oil the woman had at home was not a large bottle of cooking oil, but a small bottle of oil to be used, for example, when anointing someone in service to God.
  2. When the widow asks for help, Elisa asks what she has at home. Sometimes God doesn’t want to give us something brand new, but rather bless what we already have. In this way, God’s miracles in our lives are built on our active participation.
    1. One question we can all ask ourselves is what do we own that we can put at God’s disposal so that he can bless it?

2Kings 4:3-4

  1. When Elisha asked her to go around knocking on her neighbors’ doors and asking for empty vessels, she had to be an active part in making the miracle happen, and the only limit on the amount of blessing God wanted to give this widow was how much she had the capacity to receive. If she borrowed ten empty vessels, she would receive ten vessels full of oil; if she borrowed a hundred empty vessels, she would receive a hundred vessels full of oil. In this way, the blessing she would receive was directly related to her own belief in what God would give her and the extent to which she was prepared to work to make it happen.
    1. In the same way, God still wants to give you and me as many blessings as we have the capacity to receive. The more we grow in our faith, the more we learn how God wants to bless and the more receptive we become.
      1. For example, God has promised in His Word to work miracles when we go out and preach about Jesus to new people (Mark 16:9-20). If we witness to ten people about Jesus, we will see miracles in the lives of ten people; if we witness to a hundred people about Jesus, we will see miracles in the lives of a hundred people.
    1. In order to receive spiritual gifts and blessings, we ourselves are often the greatest obstacle. God wants to give us gifts in abundance, but we receive too little. If we want to see more miracles and spiritual blessings, it is often not God who is the problem, but our prayers, which are too small and limited.
      1. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says to his disciples, “How little faith you have!” no less than five times (Matt 6:30, 8:26, 14:31, 16:8, 17:20)!
  2. If the widow had believed in Elisha’s words but had not also acted according to her confession, she would not have received God’s blessing.
    1. It is easy to have a high confession and preach great sermons about what God can do, but then not live according to what you preach.
  3. Elisha wanted the widow to “shut the door” and let only the sons be present when God performed the miracle. God did not want this miracle to be a public spectacle but a private blessing for her (Matt 6:6).
    1. In a similar way, Jesus sometimes acted when he performed miracles (Mark 5:35-43).

2Kings 4:5-6

  1. Wouldn’t it have been easier if Elisha had just given her a number of vessels full of oil? Why did the poor widow have to go through all this trouble to receive God’s blessing?
    1. If the widow had received the oil from Elisha immediately, her financial problems would have been solved, but she would not have been able to take active steps in growing in her faith and she would have believed more in Elisha than in God. But by having to act in faith herself according to God’s promise, she gets her own personal experience of God’s miracles. When she received God’s blessing, Elisha was not even there. God is not content to just give us our bread for the day, he also wants to help us grow in our faith.
      1. Similarly, Jesus had the wedding servants scoop up wine from jars for water, and when they served it, it was wine (John 2).
  2. The oil bottle from which the widow poured the oil was a small bottle and the vessels were large. This means that God performed a miracle in the oil bottle so that oil flowed out of the bottle as long as she poured.
  3. It was important to Elisa that the vessels were “empty”. The miracle would be complete and God did not need any help with half-full vessels. The oil had to be new, fresh and new!
    1. In the same way, God can fill us with his Holy Spirit if we come to him as empty vessels and ask to be filled. If we are already filled with other things, then it is harder for us to receive the blessing God wants to give us.
  4. Just as God’s miracle of water in the previous chapter was in proportion to the number of pits the Israelites dug, so the widow received the blessing in accordance with the preparatory work she had done in collecting the vessels. Her faith certainly grew when she saw the miracle, but by then it was too late to run and get more vessels.
    1. In the same way, we need to start “preparing” to receive the blessings God wants to give us. The fact that God wants to give us miracles always means that we also have to be involved in working with God and never means that we can be lazy.
      1. God has given us the mission to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all people and miracles and signs will follow in our footsteps. But if we want to see these spiritual blessings realized, we must also raise money, train willing workers and send out missionaries. If we send out ten missionaries we will see a tenfold blessing, but if we send out a hundred missionaries we will see a hundredfold blessing.

2Kings 4:7

  1. Both the widow’s debt and her future livelihood were now resolved.
    1. The encounter with God frees us from our old debts and gives us blessings for the future already here and now.
  2. This story shows us God’s faithful love for his people at a time when Israel had abandoned the Lord. God has a special heart for orphans, for strangers and for widows (Deuteronomy 10:17-19).
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