Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
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.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.
And Elisha said unto her, What shall I do for thee? tell me, what hast thou in the house? And she said, Thine handmaid hath not any thing in the house, save a pot of oil.2. save a pot of oil] The word rendered ‘pot’ is from a root meaning ‘to anoint’ and the LXX. has here ‘save the oil with which I shall anoint myself’. The word may be noticed because it indicates the poverty of the widow. It was not the finest oil, such as would be used for cooking food, that she had, but the more common kind which every Oriental makes use of after a bath.
Then he said, Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbours, even empty vessels; borrow not a few.3. borrow thee vessels] Another sign of indigence. But the command to borrow many gave promise of the coming help.
And when thou art come in, thou shalt shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons, and shalt pour out into all those vessels, and thou shalt set aside that which is full.4. And when thou art come in, thou shalt shut the door] R.V. more literally, And thou shalt go in and shut, &c. There was to be no display made in connexion with the miracle. For this cause as well as to avoid interruption, the door was shut. The language of the prophet puts the faith of the widow to the test, for it was hard to conceive that one vessel, much less a great number, could be filled from her anointing pot. But as the wife of a prophet, who had been a servant of the Lord, she had learnt whence help could be sought, when every other source had failed.
So she went from him, and shut the door upon her and upon her sons, who brought the vessels to her; and she poured out.5. who [R.V. they] brought the vessels to her] The R.V. marks that the Hebrew here begins a new clause with a personal pronoun. The widow’s unquestioning obedience, in which her sons also imitated her, has its reward.
And it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said unto her son, Bring me yet a vessel. And he said unto her, There is not a vessel more. And the oil stayed.6. she said unto her son] Here the LXX., apparently only because ‘sons’ had been mentioned before, has here also ‘sons’ and later on in the verse ‘and they said’. The Hebrew is far more natural. Both sons had helped, but it would be to one that her request ‘Bring me another’ would be addressed.
And the oil stayed] i.e. ceased to flow any longer. The English verb is a little antiquated in this sense, being now more commonly used for ‘to cause to stand’. But cf. Joshua 10:13 ‘The sun stood still and the moon stayed’, i.e. ceased to move.
Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt, and live thou and thy children of the rest.7. she came and told the man of God] Feeling that the disposal of the oil should be made according to the direction of him who had told her what to do. It would seem to her that the unexpected supply could not be regarded as her own property.
pay thy debt] Like several of Elisha’s miracles, e.g. the curing the noxious water at Jericho (2 Kings 2:19-22), this multiplying of the widow’s oil was wrought for the help of those connected with the colleges of prophets. And as we read the frequent mention of these bodies, in the histories both of Elijah and Elisha, we cannot but wonder at the righteous zeal which shewed itself in this way in the northern kingdom. Most of the places we read of as seats of prophetic schools were in the ten tribes, and nearly all the work of the two great leaders was done among the northern people. It would seem therefore that in spite of the prevalence of the calf-worship there must have been a special manifestation of true religious feeling, just at the worst time of Israel’s history.
live thou and thy children [R.V. sons] of the rest] Not, that is, on the remaining oil, though the LXX. gives ἐν τῷ ἐπιλοίπῳ ἐλαίῳ. The oil was all to be sold, and the money that was over, when the debt was paid, would be a means of support till the sons, now no longer forced to labour as slaves, might find a way to earn a living.
And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman; and she constrained him to eat bread. And so it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread.8–17. Elisha promises a son to the hospitable Shunammite (Not in Chronicles)
8. And it fell on a day] From its use elsewhere the Hebrew noun, as here, with the article signifies ‘on that day’, ‘at that time’, and indicates a closer connexion with the preceding narrative than would be gathered from the A.V. But see below, verses 11 and 18.
Elisha passed to Shunem] In Joshua 19:18, Shunem is among the places allotted to the tribe of Issachar. It is also mentioned as the place where the Philistines encamped before the battle of Gilboa (1 Samuel 28:4). It has been identified with Solam, a village situate on the little Hermon about 3 miles north of Jezreel. When Elisha was travelling either from Samaria or Jezreel to Carmel, Shunem lay on his road. The place is mentioned as being the home of Abishag (1 Kings 1:3) and from that is derived the Jewish tradition which makes the Shunammite woman of the present narrative to have been the sister of Abishag.
a great woman] The adjective is used to signify wealthy in 1 Samuel 25:2, of Nabal, and 2 Samuel 19:32 of Barzillai, who is described as ‘a very great man’. As the Shunammite woman had a husband still alive, it would be more natural to speak of him as ‘great’ in the sense of ‘rich’, and perhaps here the meaning is rather ‘influential’. She was clearly a person of independent character, and one who could act when the occasion demanded it.
she constrained him to eat bread] The journeys of Elisha to and fro had somehow become known to her and she offered him hospitality. This was the usual way in the East, where houses for public entertainment were uncommon.
as oft as he passed by] Apparently the allusion is to such rounds as the chief of the prophetic colleges would make to the different centres at which they were gathered. That Elisha’s visits were frequent is clear from the next verse.
And she said unto her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually.9. she said unto her husband] The woman was not content with providing food, but out of reverence for the character of the visitor, desired to provide a lodging also.
I perceive that this is a holy man of God] Probably before the first invitation the woman had learnt something of Elisha’s work and the reason of his frequent journeys. Now when he became their guest she had full opportunity of enquiring from Gehazi, and observing for herself the way in which he laboured to keep alive the true worship of God in the land. The existence of a family like this of the Shunammite is evidence that amid much corruption God was not yet forgotten in the ten tribes. The name ‘man of God’ was applied to Elijah (1 Kings 17:24) by the widow of Zarephath after she had beheld what great things God did through his ministry. She added also ‘the word of the Lord in thy mouth is truth’, which probably represents much of the feeling of the Shunammite when she spake of Elisha as ‘holy’.
Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick: and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither.10. Let us make] The R.V. brings ‘I pray thee’ to follow these words according to the Hebrew order.
a little chamber … on the wall] The Hebrew might mean either a chamber with a wall, a walled room, in contradistinction to one built of wood, or a building above the usual roof of the house and so supported by the walls. The latter seems to be the sense required here, for it is said (verse 21) that the mother went up when she wished to lay the dead child upon the prophet’s bed. As the roofs of Eastern houses can be reached by a staircase from outside, a chamber on the housetop (cf. Proverbs 21:9; Proverbs 25:24) would furnish the sort of privacy which Elisha would desire. He could also thus come in and go out without being mixed up with the movements of the household.
a bed] The articles here named form the proper furniture of an Eastern room, where a superabundance of such articles is nowhere found.
a stool] The word is that which is often rendered ‘throne’, and it probably in this case means the couch or divan which runs along the wall of an Eastern dwelling-room.
he shall turn in] The verb, which is the same as in verse 8, is that which Lot employs (Genesis 19:2) in his invitation to the two angels. Preparation was made so that the prophet and his servant might be at rest, and come and go when they pleased. As a halting place in a long journey it would be very acceptable.
And it fell on a day, that he came thither, and he turned into the chamber, and lay there.
And he said to Gehazi his servant, Call this Shunammite. And when he had called her, she stood before him.12. to Gehazi his servant] Gehazi is mentioned in this narrative, in ch. 2 Kings 5:20 and the following verses, and again in ch. 2 Kings 8:4. He probably stood in the same position to Elisha which the latter had held towards Elijah, though the men were utterly different in character. Gehazi appears from 2 Kings 8:4 to have been a person of consequence enough to be known to, and conversed with, by the king. See note there.
she stood before him] i.e. before Elisha. It is clear that Elisha’s character inspired great reverence, and though the Shunammite was his hostess she did not come unbidden into his presence.
And he said unto him, Say now unto her, Behold, thou hast been careful for us with all this care; what is to be done for thee? wouldest thou be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host? And she answered, I dwell among mine own people.13. And he said unto him] i.e. Elisha to Gehazi. The prophet does not himself address the woman. Most likely, in all things which he required, Gehazi was his messenger to the house, and so the woman would more readily reply to him than to his master. It is clear from what follows that Gehazi was acquainted with the family concerns. There may have been also in Elisha’s mind somewhat of the feeling which the disciples of Christ had (John 4:27) when ‘they marvelled that their Master was speaking with a woman’.
thou hast been careful for us with all this care] Both the noun and verb in the original are used of ‘fear’ and ‘trembling’. (Cf. Martha’s care and trouble, Luke 10:41.) Hence R.V. in margin gives ‘hast shewed us all this reverence’. The use of such words bears out what has just been said of the distance kept between Elisha and the family at Shunem, though they were his entertainers. The verb is used for that fear which came over the guests of Adonijah (1 Kings 1:49) when they found that David had caused Solomon to be proclaimed king. The LXX. recognises the strong meaning of the verb and gives ἐξέστησας ἡμῖν πᾶσαν τὴν ἔκστασιν ταύτην.
wouldest thou be spoken for, &c.] The prophet offers to use his influence, if it can be of any service to his hostess, with the powers of the land. And we cannot but be struck all through his history with the close intimacy which existed between Elisha and the royal family. This was more likely to occur in the reign of Jehoram, than under his brother’s rule or his father’s. But even of him it is recorded (2 Kings 3:2) that he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, and in the expedition against Moab, Elisha declares (2 Kings 3:14) that but for the sake of Jehoshaphat he would not waste even a look on Jehoram. There must have been still a great deal of zeal for Jehovah in the northern kingdom to support the prophet, or after such a declaration he would have had little influence with the king, whereas it is the first thing that comes to his mind as a means of rewarding the attention of the Shunammite. On this Bp Hall remarks: ‘It is a good hearing that an Elisha is in such grace at the court, that he can promise himself access to the king, in a friend’s suit. It was not ever thus. The time was when his master heard, “Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?” Now the late miracle which Elisha wrought, in gratifying the three kings with water and victory, hath endeared him to the king of Israel; and now, Who but Elisha?’
or to the captain of the host] If we may take Joab, in David’s time, as an example, this officer possessed immense influence. The same opinion would be formed from the history of Abner, who was captain of Saul’s host, and so powerful as to be able to bring the tribes who had favoured Ishbosheth over to the side of David (2 Samuel 3:8-12).
And she answered, I dwell among mine own people] If the king or the captain of the host were to be appealed to, it must be for some case of hardship and oppression. The Shunammite shews she has no necessity of this kind, for all those among whom she lives are friends and relatives. There is no foe to ask protection against, and the kindred are enough to secure her against enemies.
And he said, What then is to be done for her? And Gehazi answered, Verily she hath no child, and her husband is old.14. And he said] Clearly, to Gehazi. This the LXX. adds.
Verily she hath no child] R.V. son. The R.V. is correct, though it seems from the whole narrative that the woman was childless. Of the great grief felt from want of children we learn in the history of Hannah (1 Samuel 1:10-11). Gehazi had probably learnt that this was a sorrow in the family at Shunem.
And he said, Call her. And when he had called her, she stood in the door.15. And he said. Call her] It would seem from these words that the woman had gone away at once after saying she had no wants which needed a petition to the king or the captain of the host.
she stood in the door] Her reverence for Elisha kept her at the threshold.
And he said, About this season, according to the time of life, thou shalt embrace a son. And she said, Nay, my lord, thou man of God, do not lie unto thine handmaid.16. according to the time of life] R.V. when the time cometh round. The literal sense of the verb is explained on the margin of R.V. = liveth, or reviveth. The phrase is the same which is used Genesis 18:14 to the childless Sarah before the birth of Isaac.
thou man of God] She appeals to him in the character which she felt to be most sacred; the character which had at first (see verse 9) made her desirous to entertain him.
do not lie unto thine handmaid] The verb in all its directness is common in Hebrew in very solemn expressions. Thus Numbers 23:19, ‘God is not a man that he should lie’, and of God’s word (Habakkuk 2:3), ‘It shall speak and not lie’. The blessing promised was so great, and appeared so unlikely of fulfilment, that the woman implores Elisha not to raise false expectations in such a matter.
And the woman conceived, and bare a son at that season that Elisha had said unto her, according to the time of life.17. Here by rendering as in the previous verse the R.V. involves a change of order in the English but conforms thereby more nearly to the Hebrew order. ‘And the woman conceived, and bare a son at that season, when the time came round, as Elisha had said unto her’.
And when the child was grown, it fell on a day, that he went out to his father to the reapers.18–37. The child of the Shunammite dies, and is restored to life by Elisha (Not in Chronicles)
18. And when the child was grown] During the years which had elapsed since the birth of the child the journeys of the prophet between Samaria and Carmel had no doubt still continued, and the feeling of reverence felt by the Shunammite at first, had grown, as we see from the subsequent narrative, into complete trust, a trust which sends her to Carmel when her sorrow comes, and makes her cling to Elisha as her chief hope for relief. ‘As the Lord liveth and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee’.
to his father to the reapers] The whole picture is of a well-to-do home, where all was abundant. The husband is of the condition of Boaz (Ruth 2:1), and servants of various kinds are ready for every duty.
And he said unto his father, My head, my head. And he said to a lad, Carry him to his mother.19. My head, my head] The description points to an attack of sunstroke, where the first symptom is pain in the head. But the father thinks lightly of it, for such attacks are more frequent with older persons than with children. He merely tells a servant to carry the child home. Sunstroke is alluded to in Psalm 121:6, and it was from it that Manasses the husband of Judith died, in the barley harvest (Jdt 8:2-3).
to a lad] R.V. to his servant. The Hebrew has a definite noun ‘to the servant’, i.e. who was at hand to carry out any order the master might give. Hence the change in R.V.
And when he had taken him, and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died.20. he sat on her knees till noon] The attack was in the early part of the day, when the oblique rays of the sun appear to be most dangerous. The mother’s affection shews itself in her unbroken attention.
And she went up, and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door upon him, and went out.21. she went up, and laid him on the bed of the man of God] Her thoughts at once go to Elisha and she puts the dead boy into the prophet’s chamber, perhaps with the thought that she will bring Elisha back with her, and then he will find the child at once. Or it may be that she felt there would be less fear of intruders there. This latter reason is supported by her further action of shutting the door. What hopes she may have had we can only conjecture, but she acts as though she believed that help was not impossible. ‘The good Shunammite hath lost her son, her faith she hath not lost’ (Bp Hall).
And she called unto her husband, and said, Send me, I pray thee, one of the young men, and one of the asses, that I may run to the man of God, and come again.22. And she called unto her husband] He appears to have been at no great distance; though the verb is used at times of a message sent by a servant. Thus Numbers 24:10 Balak says to Balaam, ‘I called thee to curse mine enemies’. Cf. also Jdg 12:1; 1 Kings 1:10; 1 Kings 1:19; 1 Kings 1:26.
one of the young men] R.V. servants. The same word which in verse 19 was rendered ‘lad’. There were servants who could be spared though the harvest was in hand.
one of the asses] The ass was the usual beast for riding on a journey. In such a country as Palestine the surefootedness of the animal is invaluable.
that I may run to the man of God] The request causes her husband little astonishment. We may therefore conclude that for religious purposes such visits had not been uncommon in the Shunammite’s life.
And he said, Wherefore wilt thou go to him to day? it is neither new moon, nor sabbath. And she said, It shall be well.23. it is neither new moon, nor sabbath] These were the principal occasions of assembling for worship, and it is clear from this history that even in Israel, while the house of Ahab was still on the throne, religious services were regularly held by the prophets in the name of Jehovah. The prophets performed all the duties of the priesthood where it was impossible to have the services of priests or Levites. Thus Elijah sacrificed on Mt Carmel before the slaughter of the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:33). And for purposes of teaching and prayer they appear to have observed the days specially appointed in the Law. On the observance of the new moon cf. 1 Samuel 20:5; 1 Samuel 20:18; 1 Samuel 20:24. For its institution see Numbers 10:10; Numbers 28:11. In the latter passage is a description of the sacrifice to be offered; and we know from the Psalms (Psalm 81:3) that it was celebrated with the sound of the trumpet. On the observance when it came to be without any spiritual reality, see Isaiah 1:14.
It shall be well] The Heb. word is literally ‘Peace’. But it is used in salutations and enquiries after the welfare of another, as below in verse 26. Here however the woman appears to use it as a means of putting aside further questioning. So it would be equivalent to ‘Let be’. ‘Say no more’. ‘Let me have my way’.
Then she saddled an ass, and said to her servant, Drive, and go forward; slack not thy riding for me, except I bid thee.24. slack not thy riding for me] R.V. slacken me not the riding. The R.V. thus avoids the pronominal adjective, which has no equivalent in the Hebrew. The servant seems to have been one to run by the side of the rider as a driver, and as a protection, to be ready also in case of mishap. Such runners were not uncommon in the East, being especially used by dignified persons. So Adonijah (1 Kings 1:5) and Absalom before him (2 Samuel 15:1) provided themselves with attendants of this sort, when they were aspiring to be kings. The rendering of A.V. would suggest that the servant was riding, but the Hebrew does not warrant this, and for women to travel thus riding behind a manservant on the same beast is not like Eastern custom.
So she went and came unto the man of God to mount Carmel. And it came to pass, when the man of God saw her afar off, that he said to Gehazi his servant, Behold, yonder is that Shunammite:25. to mount Carmel] The distance would occupy five or six hours riding. (Bunsen, Bibelwerk.) The LXX. inserts at the beginning of this verse a further direction to the servant. ‘Come, set forth and go to the man of God to Mount Carmel’. This is a result of reading the Hebrew words twice over.
Probably from previous visits both the Shunammite and her servant were familiar with the road; for the whole narrative gives the impression that on Carmel there was a centre of prophetic teaching and religious worship, and that the family from Shunem were among the frequenters thereof. Elisha discerns her coming in the distance and is able to say to Gehazi who she is some time before she arrives.
that [R.V. the] Shunammite] The pronoun of the original is, except in this instance, connected with masculine nouns. It is better to consider it here as rendered by ‘yonder’, which the A.V. puts in italics. It is demonstrative in force, and the noun has its own article.
Run now, I pray thee, to meet her, and say unto her, Is it well with thee? is it well with thy husband? is it well with the child? And she answered, It is well.26. run now, I pray thee] The R.V. puts ‘now’ last of these words, ‘I pray thee’ is closely joined with ‘run’ in the Hebrew. There is a touch of deep feeling in the action of Elisha. He knows that there must be some special reason for a visit at this unusual time, and he would learn, even before the mother is near enough for him to hear her, whether there is trouble at home which has brought her to Carmel.
And she answered, It is well] The word means, as was noted on verse 23, Peace, and we can only think that she gives this answer to Gehazi’s question, that she may avoid more words. She has no thought of deception, but her heart is too full for speech, at all events till she come into the prophet’s presence.
And when she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught him by the feet: but Gehazi came near to thrust her away. And the man of God said, Let her alone; for her soul is vexed within her: and the LORD hath hid it from me, and hath not told me.27. to the hill] Elisha had been standing on a height which enabled him to command a view of the road for some distance.
she caught him by the feet] She fell down, and clung to his feet in the attitude of humblest supplication. Cf. Matthew 18:29, where the servant adopts this suppliant posture when appealing to his fellow for mercy.
Gehazi came near to thrust her away] The word in other places indicates a considerable degree of force. The servant thought that the dignity of his master was not sufficiently regarded by the Shunammite, and would have taken her away.
The Lord hath hid it from me] We need not conclude from these words that the prophet expected to be warned supernaturally concerning those who were likely to come to seek his help. We know from other instances that the prophets were in many cases no more enlightened than others. In 2 Samuel 7:3, Nathan bids David do all that is in his heart for the Lord is with him. But presently he is sent to inform the king that God will not give him leave to build the temple, as he wished. The family at Shunem had been made by the prophet a subject of intercession with the Lord. It is therefore not unnatural that Elisha should consider that their misfortunes might be specially announced. We must suppose that, after her grief had spent somewhat of its force, she opens it to Elisha, and follows her narration with the words of the next verse.
Then she said, Did I desire a son of my lord? did I not say, Do not deceive me?28. Did I desire a son] The words are almost reproachful and make it clear to the prophet that the child is dead. Better had it been for her not to have had the child given to her, than now to have the great sorrow of losing him.
Do not deceive me] She does not use the stronger term which occurs in the earlier part of the narrative (verse 16).
Then he said to Gehazi, Gird up thy loins, and take my staff in thine hand, and go thy way: if thou meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute thee, answer him not again: and lay my staff upon the face of the child.29. Gird up thy loins] With the loose flowing garments of Orientals it is needful when haste is desired, to gather them up and bind them together so that they do not impede the traveller. This is done by a band round the waist.
take my staff in thine hand] It is not easy to see the purpose of this order. The staff was to be laid on the face of the child, but it produced no effect. It may be that Elisha thought God would allow the restoration of the child on the imposition of the staff. Some have supposed that the action was meant to teach those who knew of it, that the miracle was not to be ascribed to any external agency, but only to God’s intervention in answer to prayer. Others have thought that the lack of faith in the mother, who would not go back without Elisha, caused the first measures adopted to be ineffective. Perhaps the prophet only sent on Gehazi that the mother might feel that something was being done, and be soothed in her distress.
if thou meet any man, salute him not] An injunction necessary in the East where the salutations are full of form, and consume much time. Cf. our Lord’s language to the seventy (Luke 10:4).
And the mother of the child said, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And he arose, and followed her.30. I will not leave thee] Whether the staff sent by Gehazi may have an effect, she cannot know. Her only security is in Elisha’s presence, and with him she will return to her desolated home. It seems as though the prophet had not at first intended to go with her, but she will take no refusal, so he prepares for the journey. ‘She, not regarding the staff or the man, holds fast to Elisha. No hopes of his message can loose her fingers. She imagined that the servant, the staff, might be severed from Elisha: she knew that wherever the prophet was, there was power’ (Bp Hall).
And Gehazi passed on before them, and laid the staff upon the face of the child; but there was neither voice, nor hearing. Wherefore he went again to meet him, and told him, saying, The child is not awaked.31. there was neither voice, nor hearing] In the margin both A.V. and R.V. give ‘attention’ as the literal meaning of the last word. It is the same which in the account of Elijah’s contest with the Baal-priests (1 Kings 18:29) is translated ‘any that regarded’. Here it means that no sign of returning life was seen. The word is used as an adverb ‘diligently’ after the cognate verb ‘to hearken’ in Isaiah 21:7.
Wherefore he went again] R.V. returned. The same word is so rendered below in verse 35.
The child is not awaked] This does not mean that Gehazi thought the child was not dead. He knew this as well as the mother. But ‘sleep’, even in the Old Testament, is used for its more dreadful sister ‘death’. Cf. Job 14:12; Psalm 13:3; Jeremiah 51:57. The common phrase on the death of a king is ‘he slept with his fathers’. See 1 Kings 1:21.
And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed.32. upon his bed] i.e. Elisha’s bed, in the chamber which was set apart for the prophet and in which the mother had left her child.
He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the LORD.33. shut the door upon them twain] There is to be no witness, no parade made of the child’s restoration. The act is in character like that enjoined above in verse 4.
and prayed unto the Lord] The whole narrative must be compared with the action of Elijah at Zarephath (1 Kings 17:17-23). There the words of the prophet’s prayer are given. It is to be noted that the prayer precedes every other action. Without that all else will be of no avail.
And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and he stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm.34. And he went up] The verb is used in 2 Kings 1:4, of getting upon a bed. For some old beds it is very appropriate, for formerly they were much higher from the ground than is now the fashion.
and lay upon the child] (Cf. 1 Kings 17:21.) Probably Elisha knew of the acts of Elijah at Zarephath, and followed that example. The answer to his prayer seems to have been less immediate than in Elijah’s case. Throughout the history there is a degree less of fervency in Elisha’s actions and hence the less quickly availing prayer.
Comparing the two prophets, Bp Hall says: ‘How true an heir is Elisha of his master, not in his graces only but in his actions. Both of them divided the waters of Jordan, the one as his last act, the other as his first. Elijah’s curse was the death of the captains and their troops; Elisha’s curse was the death of the children: Elijah rebuked Ahab to his face; Elisha, Jehoram: Elijah supplied the drought of Israel by rain from heaven; Elisha supplied the drought of the three kings by waters gushing out of the earth: Elijah increased the oil of the Sareptan; Elisha increased the oil of the prophet’s widow: Elijah raised from death the Sareptan’s son; Elisha, the Shunammite’s: both of them had one mantle, one spirit; both of them climbed up one Carmel, one heaven’.
stretched himself upon the child] R.V. upon him. So the Hebrew, and there can be no misunderstanding such as to require the noun to be repeated.
the flesh of the child waxed warm] The returning life is slowly given, but the first signs of restoration must have strengthened the zeal, and given fervour to the prayers which no doubt filled every moment of the time of waiting and watching.
Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro; and went up, and stretched himself upon him: and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes.35. Then he returned] i.e. left the bed.
and walked in the house to and fro] The R.V. inserts ‘once’ before ‘to and fro’, which is according to the Hebrew. The exertion which he had used, and the emotion and anxiety he felt, would be overpowering. Hence the need for a change of posture. Elisha did not leave the chamber but walked from end to end of the room in which the child lay.
the child opened his eyes] The second effort, supported as it was, we may be sure, by repeated prayer, obtains a gracious answer. The dead child is brought to life.
And he called Gehazi, and said, Call this Shunammite. So he called her. And when she was come in unto him, he said, Take up thy son.36. Take up thy son] Cf. Christ’s words, Luke 7:15.
Then she went in, and fell at his feet, and bowed herself to the ground, and took up her son, and went out.37. fell at his feet] In token of her deep gratitude. This she shews before she will give way to the natural feeling of joy over her restored child. She bowed herself to the ground before Elisha, reverencing in him the God, who had so mightily answered his prayers.
And Elisha came again to Gilgal: and there was a dearth in the land; and the sons of the prophets were sitting before him: and he said unto his servant, Set on the great pot, and seethe pottage for the sons of the prophets.38–41. Elisha at Gilgal heals the noxious Pottage (Not in Chronicles)
38. Elisha came again to Gilgal] There are no notes of time in this narrative, or in the others, though we can see, here and there, that the events are not put together chronologically. (See below, on 2 Kings 8:1.) Elisha had been at Gilgal with Elijah, but there is no need to suppose that ‘came again’ alludes to that visit. Gilgal (on which see note on 2 Kings 2:1 above) was a centre of prophetic activity and it is probable that it was visited frequently both by Elijah and Elisha.
and there was a dearth in the land] The first noun has the article, and the clause might well be rendered ‘the famine was in the land’. The allusion will then be to the famine foretold in 2 Kings 8:1. That some of the incidents related before that chapter occurred after the famine, see note on 2 Kings 8:4.
the sons of the prophets were sitting before him] They would naturally gather round the great prophet, made famous by a large share of Elijah’s spirit, and catch at all he had to say. We can see from this story one aspect of the life in the colleges of the prophets. The members sat at the feet of some elder member, and learnt from him their duty and how to carry it out. (Cf. 2 Kings 6:1, and note.) By Elisha’s teaching, which would be drawn from his own experience, they would gather faith and courage, seeing that God was working in their midst, and had not forsaken Israel in spite of their sins. Hence grew the hope of a thorough reformation in the breasts of these who must be regarded as the reformers of their time.
unto his servant] Probably some one of the sons of the prophets, appointed to wait on Elisha while he tarried at Gilgal.
And one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine, and gathered thereof wild gourds his lap full, and came and shred them into the pot of pottage: for they knew them not.39. And one went out] As the needful services were performed by the members of the college among themselves, it was no doubt one of them who went into the field to gather such herbs as he could find.
a wild vine] i.e. some wild plant with vine-like tendrils, named here ‘vine’ for want of knowledge of its true name. The colocynth has tendrils after the fashion of the wild bryony in our hedgerows.
wild gourds] The Hebrew word is explained as meaning ‘wild cucumber’, an egg-shaped fruit with very bitter taste. But the prickly fruit of this plant could hardly be thought fit for pottage. Others think that the ‘colocynth’ is meant, and this was the opinion of the LXX., which renders by τολυπὴ ἀγρία, ‘wild pumpkin’. This fruit might be mistaken for a melon.
for they knew them not] Nobody among the brotherhood had sufficient skill of plants to stop their comrade, and tell him the noxious nature of the herb he had brought home.
So they poured out for the men to eat. And it came to pass, as they were eating of the pottage, that they cried out, and said, O thou man of God, there is death in the pot. And they could not eat thereof.40. they cried out] The bitter taste shewed them that something was wrong, and their thoughts at once suggested that what they had eaten was poisonous. The fruit of the colocynth would produce sickness very soon, but there is no reason to suppose that there was enough in the pottage to kill.
O thou man of God] The R.V. omits ‘thou’, and thus improves both rhythm and language.
they could not eat thereof] They had only just tasted the noxious dish and so no ill effects had followed.
But he said, Then bring meal. And he cast it into the pot; and he said, Pour out for the people, that they may eat. And there was no harm in the pot.41. bring meal] He employs something which is wholesome and nourishing as a sign of the change that was to be wrought in the pottage. But we are not to attribute healing virtue to the meal that was used, any more than we should think that the salt (2 Kings 2:21) was the means of healing the waters at Jericho.
And there came a man from Baalshalisha, and brought the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley, and full ears of corn in the husk thereof. And he said, Give unto the people, that they may eat.
And his servitor said, What, should I set this before an hundred men? He said again, Give the people, that they may eat: for thus saith the LORD, They shall eat, and shall leave thereof.43. And his servitor [R.V. servant] said] The word is not the usual one for ‘servant’ which has occurred above in this chapter; but it is rendered elsewhere by ‘minister’ or ‘servant’ (see Exodus 24:13; Exodus 33:11), and nowhere but here ‘servitor’. As the word is used, in the passages referred to, of Joshua, the minister of Moses, it seems likely that Gehazi, the special attendant on Elisha, is here meant.
before an hundred men] Probably the number of the prophetic college at Gilgal. We have seen above (2 Kings 2:7) that these communities had many members, not all perhaps resident regularly, but likely to gather in full force when Elisha was visiting their society.
He said again] R.V. But he said. There is nothing in the text to warrant the ‘again’.
So he set it before them, and they did eat, and left thereof, according to the word of the LORD.42–44. Elisha feeds one hundred men with twenty loaves (Not in Chronicles)
44. from Baal-shalisha] R.V. Baal-shalishah. The name is found only here, and the LXX. writes it Βαιθαρισὰ or Βαθσαρισά, as though in this instance Baal had been interchangeable with the more common Hebrew prefix, in geographical names, Beth. The place cannot have been remote from Gilgal. The ‘land of Shalishah’ was close to mount Ephraim, as we see in the account of Saul’s search for the asses (1 Samuel 9:4). Probably Baal-shalishah was one village or town of this district.
bread of the firstfruits] On the custom of bringing an offering to the prophets, cf. 1 Samuel 9:7. In that case the present was spoken of in connexion with some enquiry to be made from him. And it may have been so here, though as the offering was from the first fruits, it may have been brought as a religious duty (cf. Leviticus 23:14) and presented to Elisha, as the representative of God, in this time when there was no place to which such offerings could be brought. If this be so, it is another token, among many, that the law of Jehovah was not forgotten by some among the people in the northern kingdom.
full [R.V. fresh] ears of corn] This is the rendering of one word in the Hebrew, which from its use elsewhere seems to mean the first gathered and best of the corn. The interpreters explain it, some of the grain itself, some of the flour made from it. But the leading idea is its newness, hence the change to ‘fresh’ instead of ‘full’. The passages for comparison are Leviticus 2:14; Leviticus 23:14, in each of which the change has been made to ‘fresh’ in R.V.
in the husk thereof] R.V. in his sack. The word is only found here. It is agreed however that it signifies some sort of bag. The A.V. took it of the covering of the grain, but the Vulgate gives pera, i.e., a scrip or wallet. The Complutensian text of the LXX. supports this rendering, the Alexandrine version attempts a transliteration of the unusual word.
44. they did eat, and left thereof] Compare with this the miracles of our Lord (Matthew 14:15-21; Matthew 15:32-38; John 6:5-14). In this account of Elisha there is however not much dwelling on the increase of the bread by a miracle, and we are left to accept the result as either brought about in that way, or by the appetites of the men being satisfied with a small quantity.
The LXX. omits ‘so he set it before them’ at the commencement of this verse.