The Miracles of Elisha: the Pot of Oil
2 Kings 4:1-7
Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets to Elisha, saying, Your servant my husband is dead…

The next few chapters relate a number of the miracles of Elisha - all of them works of mercy.

I. THE WIDOW'S TROUBLE. The story told in these verses is one of sore distress. It is a story:

1. Of bereavement. A poor woman, widow of one of "the sons of the prophets," cried to Elisha, "Thy servant my husband is dead." We learn from this that the prophetic communities were not monastic. Marriage was permitted, and members of the fraternity had houses and families of their own. But this poor woman's husband had recently died. She had to face the difficulties and fight the battles of life alone. We are in presence of one of the minor tragedies of life - little thought of, because not uncommon.

2. Of debt. Her husband had been pious - "Thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord" - but his affairs had been left in confusion at his death, or, having no means of subsistence, the family had sunk into dependence on a creditor since his decease. A man may be good, and yet imprudent. On the other hand, misfortunes may overtake the best-intentioned, and reduce them from affluence to poverty. It is, however, a sad thing when the head of a household dies, and leaves to his struggling family an inheritance of debt. This is a contingency to be by every legitimate means guarded against. The Rev. C. H. Spurgeon, commenting on the text, "Take no thought for the morrow," etc. (Matthew 6:34), began by announcing, "I insured my own life last week, and have thus been able to carry out the injunction of the text, and not to be over-anxious for the morrow, for much undue care and anxiety that I had is now laid aside, secure in the knowledge that my forethought has provided for my loved ones."

3. Of bondage. The creditor to whom the debt was due showed himself merciless, and, as the law permitted, was about to take as slaves the two sons of the woman (Leviticus 25:39). It mattered little to the hard-hearted creditor that his debtor had "feared the Lord," that the two sons were the only remaining comforts of the widow, and that, with "patience," they might have "paid him all' (Matthew 18:29). He must have his own. It was forbidden to a creditor, to whom a fellow-Israelite was sold, to "compel him to serve as a bondservant," and to "rule over him with rigor" (Leviticus 25:39, 43). But an unscrupulous man would pay little heed to these injunctions. Altogether, the picture is a sad one. Happily, the poor woman knew where to come with her tale of grief. She remembered the "Father of the fatherless" and the "Judge of the widow" (Psalm 68:5), and, when every earthly avenue of help was closed, poured her sorrows into the ear of God's prophet.

II. THE DIRECTIONS OF ELISHA. As the representative of One who had specially declared himself the Friend of "the fatherless and widow" (Deuteronomy 10:18), Elisha could not turn a deaf ear to the widow's plaint. A sympathetic interest in the bereaved and distressed is at all times a duty of God's ministers.

1. He inquired as to her possessions. "Tell me, what hast thou in the house?" God's help takes its starting-point from what we already have. The widow had but "one pot of oil" - oil for anointing; but this was made the basis of what was to be done. So Elijah founded his miracle on the widow of Zarephath's "handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse" (1 Kings 17:12), and Christ his on the lad's "five barley loaves, and two small fishes" (John 6:9). The lesson is that what means of help we have are to be made use of to the utmost before supernatural aid is invoked.

2. He bade her prepare for a liberal experience of God's goodness. "Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbors, even empty vessels; borrow not a few." She was to expect large things of the Lord. Her task in collecting the vessels was, like the digging of the trenches in the last chapter, emphatically a work of faith (2 Kings 3:16, 17). God does not stint us in answer to our prayers. His word rather is, "Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it (Psalm 81:10). If our faith will but trust him, he will astonish us with his liberality.

3. He enjoined secrecy. "When thou art come in, thou shalt shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons, and shalt pour out," etc. This was too sacred a work to be made a vulgar wonder. To receive the full benefit of the blessing, the inmates of the house were to be alone, in privacy, their thoughts and spirits undisturbed. Jesus enjoins the cultivation of secrecy in religion (Matthew 6:1-18). He often forbade the blazoning abroad of his miracles (Matthew 8:4, etc.). The parading of religious experiences takes the bloom off them.


1. The oil multiplied. The widow and her sons did as directed, and, as they poured the oil into the borrowed vessels, it still increased till the vessels were full. The element of miracle here is very notable, but we are not entitled to expect such miracles at the present day. But the pledge of Divine help in distress implied in such a miracle remains to us, and God will honor every draft on his promises made by faith, basing itself on such deeds as this. A singular incident in proof is recorded by Krummacher in his remarks on this miracle ('Elisha;' Ver. 5.). It might almost be said that there is a multiplying power in the Divine blessing, apart from miracle (Psalm 37:16).

2. The oil stayed. When the vessels were full, the widow said to her son, "Bring me yet a vessel." There was not, however, a vessel more. Then the oil stayed. Had there been more vessels, it would have flowed on. The sole limit of the supply was the limit of their capacity to receive. We are not straitened in God; we are straitened only in ourselves.

3. The oil sold. The news being brought to Elisha, he ordered the grateful woman - poor no more - to sell the oil, and pay her debt, and live, she and her children, of the rest. The debt was not repudiated; it was paid. God would put the stamp of his approval on honesty. The whole incident teaches us the lesson of trusting God in every time of need. When have the righteous been forsaken, or their seed seen begging bread (Psalm 37:25)? If we can trust in God for temporal supplies, much more may we for our spiritual supplies (Philippians 4:19). - J.O.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha, saying, Thy servant my husband is dead; and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the LORD: and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen.

WEB: Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets to Elisha, saying, "Your servant my husband is dead. You know that your servant feared Yahweh. Now the creditor has come to take for himself my two children to be slaves."

The Humble not Forgotten
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