2 Kings 4:1
Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets to Elisha, saying, Your servant my husband is dead; and you know that your servant did fear the LORD: and the creditor is come to take to him my two sons to be slaves.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
IV.

IV.—VIII. THE WONDROUS WORKS OF ELISHA THE PROPHET.

(1-7) He multiplies the widow’s oil. (Comp. 1Kings 17:12 seq.)

(1) Of the wives of the sons of the prophets.—This shows that “the sons of the prophets” were not young unmarried men leading a kind of monastic life under the control of their prophetic chief. Those who were heads of families must have had their own separate homes. (See Note on 1Kings 20:35.)

Thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord.—She makes this the ground of her claim on the prophet’s assistance. In 1Kings 18:3; 1Kings 18:12 it is said of Obadiah, Ahab’s steward, that he “feared the Lord,” and on account of this slight resemblance, the Targum, Josephus, and Ephrem Syrus identify the dead man of this verse with Obadiah, who is supposed to have spent all his property in maintaining the prophets (1Kings 18:4) (!) Possibly the widow meant to say that her husband’s debts were not due to profligate living (Thenius).

The creditor is come to take unto him my two sons.—According to the law (Leviticus 25:39). They would have to continue in servitude until the year of jubilee. The ancient Roman law was more severe, for it contained no provision for the future release of the unhappy debtor. (Comp. also Matthew 18:26, and Notes.)

2 Kings 4:1. A certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets — Who, though they were wholly devoted to sacred employments, yet were not excluded from marriage, any more than the priests and Levites. My husband — did fear the Lord — His poverty, therefore, was not procured by his idleness or prodigality, but by his piety, because he would not comply with the king’s way of worship, and therefore lost all worldly advantages. The creditor is come to take — my two sons to be bond-men — Either to use them as his slaves, or sell them to others, according to the law among the Hebrews in such a case.4:1-7 Elisha's miracles were acts of real charity: Christ's were so; not only great wonders, but great favours to those for whom they were wrought. God magnifies his goodness with his power. Elisha readily received a poor widow's complaint. Those that leave their families under a load of debt, know not what trouble they cause. It is the duty of all who profess to follow the Lord, while they trust to God for daily bread, not to tempt him by carelessness or extravagance, nor to contract debts; for nothing tends more to bring reproach upon the gospel, or distresses their families more when they are gone. Elisha put the widow in a way to pay her debt, and to maintain herself and her family. This was done by miracle, but so as to show what is the best method to assist those who are in distress, which is, to help them to improve by their own industry what little they have. The oil, sent by miracle, continued flowing as long as she had empty vessels to receive it. We are never straitened in God, or in the riches of his grace; all our straitness is in ourselves. It is our faith that fails, not his promise. He gives more than we ask: were there more vessels, there is enough in God to fill them; enough for all, enough for each; and the Redeemer's all-sufficiency will only be stayed from the supplying the wants of sinners and saving their souls, when no more apply to him for salvation. The widow must pay her debt with the money she received for her oil. Though her creditors were too hard with her, yet they must be paid, even before she made any provision for her children. It is one of the main laws of the Christian religion, that we pay every just debt, and give every one his own, though we leave ever so little for ourselves; and this, not of constraint, but for conscience' sake. Those who bear an honest mind, cannot with pleasure eat their daily bread, unless it be their own bread. She and her children must live upon the rest; that is, upon the money received for the oil, with which they must put themselves into a way to get an honest livelihood. We cannot now expect miracles, yet we may expect mercies, if we wait on God, and seek to him. Let widows in particular depend upon him. He that has all hearts in his hand, can, without a miracle, send as effectual a supply.The creditor is come ... - The Law of Moses, like the Athenian and the Roman law, recognized servitude for debt, and allowed that pledging of the debtor's person, which, in a rude state of society, is regarded as the safest and the most natural security (see the marginal reference). In the present case it would seem that, so long as the debtor lived, the creditor had not enforced his right over his sons, but now on his death he claimed their services, to which he was by law entitled. CHAPTER 4

2Ki 4:1-7. Elisha Augments the Widow's Oil.

1. there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets—They were allowed to marry as well as the priests and Levites. Her husband, not enjoying the lucrative profits of business, had nothing but a professional income, which, in that irreligious age, would be precarious and very scanty, so that he was not in a condition to provide for his family.

the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen—By the enactment of the law, a creditor was entitled to claim the person and children of the insolvent debtor, and compel them to serve him as bondmen till the year of jubilee should set them free.Elisha multiplieth the widow’s oil, 2 Kings 4:1-7. He is lodged by a Shunammite woman, who is barren: he promiseth her a son; which is born, 2 Kings 4:8-17; dieth, and is raised by Elisha, 2 Kings 4:18-37. At Gilgal he healeth the deadly pottage, 2 Kings 4:38-41; and feedeth one hundred men with twenty loaves and ears of corn, 2 Kings 4:42-44.

The sons of the prophets, though they were wholly devoted to sacred employment, were not excluded from marriage, no more than the priests and Levites. Thy servant did fear the Lord; his poverty therefore was not procured by his idleness, or prodigality, or rather, wickedness; but by his piety, because he would not comply with the king’s way of worship, and therefore lost all worldly advantages. To be bond-men; either to use them as his slaves, or to sell them to others, according to the law; of which see Exodus 21:2 Leviticus 25:39 Isaiah 1:1 Matthew 18:25.

Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha,.... This, according to the Targum, was the wife of Obadiah, who had hid the prophets by fifty in a cave in the times of Ahab; and so Josephus (q), and it is the commonly received notion of the Jewish writers; though it does not appear that he was a prophet, or the son of a prophet, but the governor or steward of Ahab's house; she was more likely to be the wife of a meaner person; and from hence it is clear that the prophets and their disciples married:

saying, thy servant my husband is dead; which is the lot of prophets, as well as others, Zechariah 1:5.

and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord; her husband was well known to the prophet, and known to be a good man, one of the 7000 who bowed not the knee to Baal, for the truth of which she appeals to Elisha; and this character she gives of her husband, lest it should be thought that his poverty, and leaving her in debt, were owing to any ill practices of his:

and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen; which it seems were allowed of when men became poor and insolvent, and died so, to which the allusion is in Isaiah 1:1; see Gill on Matthew 18:25. Josephus (r) suggests, that the insolvency of this man was owing to his borrowing money to feed the prophets hid in the cave; and it is a common notion of the Jews that this creditor was Jehoram the son of Ahab; and in later times it was a law with the Athenians (s), that if a father had not paid what he was fined in court, the son was obliged to pay it, and in the mean while to lie in bonds, as was the case of Cimon (t), and others.

(q) Antiqu. l. 9. c. 4. sect. 2.((r) Ibid. (s) Alex. ab Alex. Genial. Dier. l. 6. c. 10. (t) Cornel. Nep. in Vita Cimon. l. 5. c. 1.

{a} 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 {b} fear the LORD: and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be {c} bondmen.

(a) 2Ki 2:3.

(b) And therefore did not fall into debt by carelessness or excess but by the hand of the Lord.

(c) Because I am poor and not able to pay.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Ch. 2 Kings 4:1-7. The miracles of Elisha. The increase of the widow’s oil (Not in Chronicles)

1. a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets] It appears from this that the members of the colleges of prophets did not withdraw themselves from common domestic life altogether. It may be that from time to time, during seasons of devotion, they joined the companies at Bethel, Gilgal or elsewhere, and then returned to their home duties. The man here spoken of had engaged in some transaction for which money had been borrowed, and had died before it could be paid off.

unto Elisha] This appeal shews us that Elisha was regarded as the head of the whole prophetic band. Josephus (Ant. IX. 4, 2) says this woman was the widow of Obadiah, Ahab’s steward, and that the borrowed money mentioned in the text had been expended on the support of the hundred prophets whom he hid and supported. There is nothing to connect the two narratives together except that Obadiah said of himself, ‘I thy servant fear the Lord from my youth’, and the widow, in this story, gives an almost identical character to her husband.

and the creditor is come] It was allowed by the Mosaic law (Leviticus 25:39-41) that a debtor and his children (and so, if he were dead, as here, his children only) might be taken as bondservants by a creditor, and the debt cancelled by their labour. (Cf. Matthew 18:25.) It was however provided that they should go free in the year of jubilee.

sons] R.V. children. That they were sons we see from the course of the narrative, but the Hebrew word is not the same here as in verse 4. So R.V. has marked the difference.Verse 1. - Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha, saying. We learn from this that the "sons of the prophets" were not merely, all of them, college students, but included fathers of families, who cannot have lived a cloistered life, but must have had separate homes for themselves and their families. Such persons may still have taught in the prophetical schools, as do the married tutors and professors of modern universities. Thy servant my husband is dead. Elisha had, it seems, known her husband, who had been his "servant," not literally and in deed, but in will and heart, i.e. always ready to serve him. She recalls this fact to his memory, to predispose him in her favor. And thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord. Here was a second ground for Elisha's interference - the woman's husband had been a God-fearing man, one who not only acknowledged Jehovah, but worshipped him in spirit and in truth. There is a Jewish tradition, or legend, that the woman's husband was the Obadiah of 1 Kings 18:3-16, but no dependence can be placed on it. Obadiah, the "governor of Ahab's house," can scarcely have been one of the "sons of the prophets." And the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to he bondmen. In primitive communities, men borrowed upon their personal credit, and the primary security for debt was regarded as being their own persons, the value of their labor, and that of those dependent on them. In Greece and Rome, originally, as in the Hebrew community, borrowers ordinarily raised money by pledging their persons, and, if they could not pay when the debt became due, went into servitude with their children. The Mosaic Law presupposes this state of things, and permits its continuance, but in two respects interferes to modify it:

(1) by requiring that the service exacted shall not be severe (Leviticus 25:43, 46), but such as was commonly rendered by hired servants (Leviticus 25:39, 40); and

(2) by limiting the period of service to the date of the next jubilee year (Leviticus 25:40, 41). In the instance brought here under our notice, it would seem that the creditor had not proceeded to claim his rights until the debtor died, when he on-forced them against the man's children (comp. Nehemiah 5:1-8). The water came in the morning at the time of the morning sacrifice (see 1 Kings 18:36), to indicate that the Lord was once more restoring His favour to the people on account of the sacrifice presented to Him in His temple.

The help of God, which preserved the Israelitish army from destruction, also prepared destruction for the Moabites. 2 Kings 3:21-23. On hearing the report of the march of the allied kings, Moab had raised all the men that were capable of bearing arms, and stationed them on the frontier. In the morning, when the sun had risen above the water, the Moabites saw the water opposite to them like blood, and said: "That is blood: the (allied) kings have destroyed themselves and smitten one another; and now to the spoil, Moab!" Coming with this expectation to the Israelitish camp, they were received by the allies, who were ready for battle, and put to flight. The divine help consisted, therefore, not in a miracle which surpassed the laws of nature, but simply in the fact that the Lord God, as He had predicted through His prophet, caused the forces of nature ordained by Him to work in the predetermined manner. As the sudden supply of an abundance of water was caused in a natural way by a heavy fall of rain, so the illusion, which was so fatal to the Moabites, is also to be explained in the natural manner indicated in the text. From the reddish earth of the freshly dug trenches the water collected in them had acquired a reddish colour, which was considerably intensified by the rays of the rising sun, so that when seen from a distance it resembled blood. The Moabites, however, were the less likely to entertain the thought of an optical delusion, from the fact that with their accurate acquaintance with the country they knew very well that there was no water in the wady at that time, and they had neither seen nor heard anything of the rain which had fallen at a great distance off in the Edomitish mountains. The thought was therefore a natural one, that the water was blood, and that the cause of the blood could only have been that their enemies had massacred one another, more especially as the jealousy between Israel and Judah was not unknown to them, and they could have no doubt that Edom had only come with them as a forced ally after the unsuccessful attempt at rebellion which it had made a short time before; and, lastly, they cannot quite have forgotten their own last expedition against Judah in alliance with the Edomites and Ammonites, which had completely failed, because the men composing their own army had destroyed one another. But if they came into collision with the allied army of the Israelites under such a delusion as this, the battle could only end in defeat and in a general flight so far as they were concerned.

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