by Jack Palmer, N. Ireland
These books provide an important and instructive account of the phase in the history of the nation of Israel that runs from the end of the period of the Judges to the time of the Babylonian captivity. Much of what is recorded in the books of the Kings is repeated in 1 and 2Chronicles but with certain differences; the principal one being that the former offers an authoritative and analytical standpoint whereas the latter gives a spiritual and priestly reflection. What is so remarkable is that this period witnessed some of the lowest but also some of the greatest moments in the experience of the nation. This shows, beyond dispute, that while God is a God of recovery He will always act in a manner consistent with His character; He will respond in judgment when His people set aside His precepts and depart from His ways.
The opening chapters of 1Samuel communicate rather depressing reading. The days of prosperity under the guidance and influence of Joshua have long since receded into the annals of history and the ensuing 450 years under the dominance of all of the Judges are drawing to a close. Although there were intermittent times of recovery during the time of the Judges, the overall pattern was one of a downward spiral marked by disobedience, departure, darkness and defiance. These conditions spilled over, as they invariably do, to the social and spiritual life of the nation. Conditions in the temple were a far cry from what they ought to be, the light was fading, human innovations had been introduced, the sight of the priest was failing, his sons were moving in unrestricted rebellion, and power in relation to surrounding and opposing nations was on the wane. Overall it was a very dark day with little to encourage.
The emergence of Samuel onto this stage of Israel’s history held the key to brighter and better times that would lead to the anointing of David and the glory days of the reign of Solomon. Once Solomon died, decline again characterised the nation and this would lead to the siege of Jerusalem, the destruction of the temple and the removal to Babylon. During this period we read of a number of women used in a variety of ways, in the purpose and under the hand of God, as instruments of recovery and spiritual service for His glory. These show very clearly that women can be of great influence within their appointed spheres and provide encouraging role models for all, but especially for sisters to follow.
An account of this godly woman is found in the early chapters of 1Samuel. We have much to learn from her conduct and example. Let us consider her in a number of settings:
A few miles north of Jerusalem lay a town called Ramathaim-Zophim. It was known as Ramah which became the Arimathea of the New Testament, the home of Joseph who besought Pilate for the body of the Lord Jesus. Ramathaim means two Ramahs, most likely an upper and lower city. The name Ramathaim-Zophim distinguishes it from Ramah of Benjamin which was located further south. It was here that "Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephrathite" lived with his "two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah" 1Sam.1.1,2.
Clearly Hannah was his first love, "but the LORD shut up her womb" 1Sam.1.5. He had another wife, Peninnah and she "had children, but Hannah had no children" 1Sam.1.2. It would appear that Elkanah resorted to Peninnah for children because of Hannah’s barrenness but it is significant there is no mention of the Lord in the context of his relationship with her. It is always good when our motives and activities carry the approval of the Lord.
We learn from 1Chronicles chapter 6 that Elkanah was from the tribe of Levi and a son of the rebellious Korah. That the children of Korah were preserved is a tribute to the mercy and overruling hand of the Lord and it is also worth noting that Elkanah was exercising his priestly privilege and responsibility by his yearly trips to Shiloh "to worship and to sacrifice unto the LORD" 1Sam1.3. The fact that he was engaged in worship would suggest that Elkanah was marked by a devotion that went beyond engaging in merely ritualistic activity. This would suggest a home where God was accorded His rightful place. It is encouraging to find such a home in a relatively unknown location in a difficult day when faithfulness was in sharp decline. There can be little doubt that Hannah played her part in giving a godly character to the home and could be described along with others as "discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands that the word of God be not blasphemed" Titus 2.5.
The fact that Elkanah had two wives created difficulties. In many ways it was a divided home. The observation by C. Knapp1 is very appropriate: "The custom among the Israelites of sometimes taking a second wife was not always based on motives of the lower nature; in many cases it was the desire for children, denied to the first wife. This was the probable reason for Elkanah’s double marriage. But "from the beginning it was not so" Matt.19.5-8. The institution of marriage originally contemplated but a single companion for man; the plural marriages appear never to have worked well in practice, as witness the humiliating discord in Abraham’s family over the inferior Hagar; in Jacob’s, the bitter, jealous behaviour between the two sisters, Rachael and Leah. Here too, it breeds strife and vexation of spirit shameful to behold. What otherwise might have presented an ideal Hebrew home is marred by the bitter provokings of the elated Peninnah and the consequent sorrow of her barren rival."
1Knapp, C. "Life and Times of Samuel the Prophet". Believers Bookshelf, Pennsylvania, 1975.
The two women in the home of Elkanah present a sharp contrast. Peninnah’s name means "red pearl" or a "string of pearls". Hannah means "grace". It would appear that while Peninnah was more concerned with outward appearance and adornment, Hannah was characterised by the inward adorning of "a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price" 1Pet.3.4. Hannah displayed evidence of spirituality; Peninnah was marked by carnality and this gave rise to bitter rivalry between them and Peninnah "provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the LORD had shut up her womb" 1Sam.1.7. The conflict between that which was spiritual and carnal was bitter and discouraging. It provoked Elkanah to ask her "Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? 1Sam.1.8. In Hannah we see a clear representation of the ongoing struggle that every child of God has with the flesh.
The conflict was very real. There was "bitterness of soul" and she "wept sore" 1Sam.1.10. Kind though he was, Elkanah did not have the answer. Hannah turned to the Lord in prayer. The intensity of her request was such that "she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard" 1Sam.1.13. To add to the magnitude of her burden she was misunderstood and misrepresented by Eli who "thought she had been drunken" 1Sam.1.13. Often those of genuine spiritual character and concern are not adequately recognised or appreciated and Hannah found it necessary to defend herself before the undiscerning priest. His response, "Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition" 1Sam.1.17, brought consolation and having committed her longings into the hand of the Lord, she "went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad" 1Sam.1.17.
Hannah’s spirituality is revealed in the nature of her request; she besought the Lord for a man-child. Her assessment of conditions and her perception identified in her mind the need for a son who would be used of God to lead His and her people to recovery. She was marked by spiritual perception, vision and foresight. Women of such calibre are invaluable.
In making her request Hannah revealed that she was not engaged in promoting self-interest. She vowed that if the Lord would give her a man-child she would "give him unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head" 1Sam.1.11. It was her commitment that her son would be a Nazarite, not for a limited period, as permitted under the law of the Nazarite as set out in Numbers chapter 6, but for the entire duration of his life. It was also a significant step of faith that allowed her to place the son, whom the Lord so graciously granted, in the temple, when the day was dark and the priesthood was marked by failure. What an example of dependence; she was assured that the One Who had given her the boy would take care of him even in difficult circumstances. Her goal was to give Samuel unreservedly to the Lord so that he would be instrumental in recovery, not for her glory, but for the glory of the God of Israel.
Having fulfilled her duties as a devoted mother and in keeping with the vow, the day came when she presented the child for whom she prayed, to the Lord. There was no hint of her wishing to withhold the child, but with wholehearted obedience she "lent him to the LORD as long as he liveth" 1Sam.1.28.
Now that her reproach has been removed and the child Samuel brought "unto the house of the LORD in Shiloh" 1Sam.1.24, attention is drawn to the fact that Hannah prayed or more accurately, sang. She bursts forth in notes of joy and appreciation, and ascribes all the glory to the Lord. Her song, recorded in the opening verses of 1Samuel chapter 2 proclaims the salvation, sanctity, superiority and stability of the Lord. In particular she ascribes praise to the Lord Who "is a God of knowledge, and by Him actions are weighed" 1Sam.2.3. She also highlights the fact that the issues of life and death are in His hand, that He has the capacity to make poor and make rich and that "He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill, to set them among princes, and to make them inherit the throne of glory" 1Sam.2.8. Again drawing on her own experience she reveals her conviction that "The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces … and He shall give strength unto His king and exalt the horn of His anointed" 1Sam.2.10. Through all that she had experienced she was brought into a deep and personal knowledge of God. The school of life is a great teacher but Hannah showed that she was a very willing pupil. In all of this she is a beautiful example to follow.
A very useful comparison can be drawn between the song of Hannah and the declaration of Mary, "the mother of Jesus" Jn.2.2. Hannah’s experience was to "rejoice in Thy salvation" 2Sam.2.1 while Mary "rejoiced in God my Saviour" Lk.2.47. Other comparisons would be appropriate and profitable; these all confirm her true spiritual stature.
Before the record of this godly woman concludes, Scripture records that "his mother made him a little coat, and brought it to him from year to year, when she came up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice" 1Sam.2.19. She exercised her motherly care for her growing boy, moved in her rightful place in relation to her husband and was diligent to ensure that the Lord received His rightful portion. It must also have been very rewarding to receive the blessing from Eli, the priest who had previously misunderstood her. The words "them that honour Me I will honour" 1Sam.2.30 are a most fitting commentary on the life of Hannah.
THE WIDOW OF ZAREPHATH
In dealing with Hannah we observed that, through her exercises and prayers God raised up the mighty prophet Samuel to lead Israel in the vital path to recovery. The recovery was seen at its highest point in the glory days of the reign of Solomon when the temple was built and dedicated to God. By the time Elijah had been raised up, ever so suddenly, the tide of departure had come in with vengeance. The nation was divided, satanic darkness in the shape of Baal-worship had become widespread and famine conditions prevailed largely through the lack of rain as a response to the prayers of Elijah. Like all true servants of the Lord, Elijah was tested by his own ministry. Having been sustained in lonely and hidden circumstances at the brook Cherith and through the daily administrations of the ravens, Elijah encountered a further test. It was his prayers that led to the drought that caused the brook to dry up. While the brook dried up and the faith of Elijah was put to a further test, God again demonstrated that He was in full control and unchanging in His faithfulness. At this point "the word of the LORD, came unto him, saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee" 1Kgs.17.8,9. Let us consider the widow and her:
God will teach Elijah that He can use a variety of instruments. If ravens appeared to be an unnatural, unusual and unlikely choice, the selection of a widow from Zidon must have provoked thoughts of surprise and bewilderment in the mind of the prophet. After all Zidon was located in Gentile territory and was a centre of idolatry. It was the homeland of Jezebel. It must also have been very humbling for a man like Elijah to be brought into dependence upon a woman who, humanly speaking, had no one to care for her. Such an one was, however, God’s choice and this was confirmed by the Lord Jesus Himself when He highlighted the fact that "many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, when great famine was throughout all the land; but unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow" Lk.4.25,26. How precious it is to appreciate that "My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways, saith the LORD" Isa.55.8. When we think of the choice of the widow our minds would immediately turn to other most unlikely instruments of Divine choice such as the little maid, 2Kgs.5.2, and the lad with the loaves and the fishes we read about repeatedly in the Gospels. Such a choice should strengthen our confidence in God and promote personal exercise about maximising the use of opportunities that come our way to make ourselves useful for Him. It should dismiss from our minds any idea of being too insignificant for God to use.
Having made His choice, the Lord communicated to Elijah that He "commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee" 1Kgs.17.8. How this was made known to her is not disclosed but the God that controlled the ravens was well able to make His mind known to a woman. There is no hint of astonishment or opposition; her submission to the Divine command is most commendable. There is not the slightest questioning or challenge. In this regard she demonstrated a much more submissive spirit than that of Moses who questioned the Lord’s choice of him as the one who "should go unto Pharaoh, and … bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt" Ex.3.11. Often we are marked with similar reluctance; may we henceforth be characterised by the widow’s responsiveness to the ways of God. The word "commanded" 1Kgs.17.9 (Strong 6680) conveys the significant idea of appointment and elevates the responsibility of the widow to a very high level. She could have pleaded hardship and a lack of means. At the same time it is important to observe that while the instruction was to the woman to sustain the man of God, it was God Himself Who did the sustaining in a most remarkable way. This clearly shows that what God promises He is able to accomplish. It is encouraging to note that "with God nothing shall be impossible" Lk.1.37.
The obedience of Elijah was commendable. There is no mention of any delay: "So he arose and went to Zarephath" 1Kgs.17.10. On coming to the gate of the city he met the widow woman. Scripture is silent about his expectations and it would be foolish to speculate. The woman chosen of God as the instrument to sustain him, had been and was enduring extremely demanding circumstances. She had lost her husband. She and her son were facing death through starvation. One final meal was all they could look forward to and then a slow painful passing from this world. The situation could not be more testing and yet this was the woman chosen by God to sustain His servant. We often rejoice in God’s ability to save unlikely sinners but we should never forget His capacity to use unlikely instruments. The widow demonstrated that the God Who controls every circumstance is able to rise above them and use them for His purpose and glory. It all goes wrong when we get our eye on the circumstances and lose sight of the God of the circumstances. The example of Peter testifies to this precious truth, and "when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me" Matt.14.30. On the other hand Paul did not allow circumstances to deflect him and declared "none of these things moved me, neither count I my life dear unto myself" Acts 20.24.
Having identified the widow, Elijah "called to her, and said, "Fetch me, I pray thee, a little water in a vessel, that I may drink" 1Kgs.17.10. The initial request was not too demanding and her immediate response indicated a ready willingness on her part. It was, however, a different matter when Elijah called to her as she was going to fetch the water, "Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand" 1Kgs.17.11. His request brought her true situation to light, that she and her son had only enough for one meal before death would be inevitable. While the response of Elijah was one of consolation, it carried a command and a very real challenge: "Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son" 1Kgs.17.13.
The widow was called upon to take of the handful of meal and the little oil that she had and make a cake first for Elijah. This was a huge test. In effect she was called to put God and His servant before the wellbeing of herself and her son. The natural instincts of a mother would be to protect and provide for her son but the challenge that confronted her was on a par with that faced by Abraham who "when he was tried, offered up Isaac" Heb.11.17. In responding to the challenge she received the vital promise that "The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth" 1Kgs.17.14. Such a promise came through Elijah but its true source was "the LORD God of Israel" 1Kgs.17.14.
Again and again the commands of our Bible are accompanied with precious promises, for example, when Abram was called upon to leave his country, his kindred and his father’s house, the God that called him promised "I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing" Gen.12.2. When God calls His people to "come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the LORD, and touch not the unclean thing", He promises "I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be My sons and daughters, saith the LORD Almighty" 2Cor.6.17,18. How indebted we are to Him for His "exceeding great and precious promises" 2Pet.1.4. Often we lose so much because of our reluctance to rest and act on the promises of our God but this widow offers us a clear example of what is Divinely possible when we respond, on the basis of faith, to the challenges of God.
Having acted on the word of Elijah and having given the Lord and His servant priority over her own family needs, she acted in implicit obedience and discovered that "the barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD" 1Kgs.17.16. The Lord graciously met their need, including that of the prophet. It is important to note that neither the barrel nor the cruse were ever filled, but at the same time, the supply was maintained at a level in keeping with their daily needs and in a manner that kept them in daily dependence upon God. Otherwise a sense of complacency might have crept in. Just as fresh supplies of manna came from heaven, so God proved His faithfulness and His capacity to meet their recurring needs. Unfortunately, we are slow to learn from such examples and in spite of God’s care and provision in the past we are still inclined to be fearful and apprehensive about the future. May we be enabled to live each day at a time in dependence upon our God, knowing that "His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: Great is Thy faithfulness" Lam.3.22,23. In this context David could testify that "I have been young, and now am old: Yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor His seed begging bread" Ps.37.25.
Having considered the meal and the oil as necessary to sustain physical life it would be remiss if we failed to recognise the spiritual applications. Food for the soul is vital to spiritual wellbeing and the meal and the oil would draw attention to the inexhaustible supplies that every believer has in our Lord Jesus. The meal, in a very particular way presents Him in the glory of His lowliness, the perfections of His person, and the One Who endured the millstones of Divine judgment. The wholesomeness of the meal would not be fully enjoyed without the oil, and how grateful we are for the gracious ministry of the Holy Spirit, for according to the teaching of the Lord Himself, "He shall glorify Me, for He shall receive of Mine, and shall shew it unto you" Jn.16.14. Our spiritual condition will depend on the extent to which we feed on the meal and the oil.
It is difficult to be precise about the length of time they were sustained in this remarkable way but it is clear that it was for quite a period, perhaps a year or more. We do know that it was "until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth" 1Kgs.17.14. These three were entirely dependent on God and were without any strength of their own. In many ways they are like the church at Philadelphia with its little strength, maintaining testimony until the Lord Himself shall come. May we be enabled to hold on and be faithful to Him "Until the day break, and the shadows flee away" S of S. 2.17.
Once they had seen that God was able to sustain them and that He was unfailing in His faithfulness there was just a danger that they would settle into their new way of living. To avoid the slightest danger of them ever being complacent and to promote increasing dependence on God, a further crisis arose uninvited and unexpected. We read that "it came to pass, after these things, that the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick; and his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him" 1Kgs.17.17. The spectre of death, that had previously faced the widow and her son, again became a reality as far as the son was concerned. This was the sternest test so far. The bereft mother links the death of her son with Elijah, the one she had come to recognise as a man of God and goes so far as to accuse him of bringing her sin to remembrance and of slaying her son. Like so many in similar circumstances she found more questions than answers. It has always been a matter of wonder that some of the godliest are called upon to undergo the deepest of trials; but while the ways of God are often unexplainable or difficult to understand they are not without purposes that ultimately lead to Him being glorified.
Just as the widow was plunged into perplexity so also was Elijah. Called "man of God" for the first time in 1Kgs.17.18, he takes charge of the situation and "he took him out of her bosom, and carried him up into the loft, where he abode, and laid him upon his own bed" 1Kgs.17.19. The woman’s problem became Elijah’s. He entered fully into the difficulty and how she felt about it. Our Great High Priest can "be touched with the feelings of our infirmities" Heb.4.15.
Faced with the crisis created by the death of the boy, Elijah "cried unto the LORD" 1Kgs.17.20. His cry reveals the intensity of his burden and a sense of his total dependence upon his God. By stretching "himself upon the child three times", and praying "O Lord my God, I pray Thee, let this child’s soul come into him again" 1Kgs.17.21, Elijah demonstrated his sympathetic identification with the widow and that he was a man in touch with God. The fact that he carried the dead boy up to the loft was also a very clear statement that the power needed in this situation could only come down from on high.
The Lord once again demonstrated that He "heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came into him again and he revived" 1Kgs.17.22. At this point Elijah brought the child down and "delivered him unto his mother" 1Kgs.17.23. What a moment! It was then that she did know that Elijah was "a man of God and that the word of the LORD in thy mouth is truth" 1Kgs.17.24. Without the trials of the dependable barrel and the dead boy she would never have known Elijah or his God in the way that she did. The lessons in the school of God can be bitter but the outcome brings a deeper awareness of Himself and "the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" 1Pet.1.7.
The story of the widow of Zarephath not only proves the power of God in life but it proves His power over death. Abraham, as the founder of the nation of Israel had similar experiences when he proved that God could give him back his son Isaac from the point of death. This incident elevates this woman from a Gentile background, onto the same plain as Abraham and gives us an appreciation of just how great she was in her spiritual standing. Her brief emergence on the pages of our Bible offers a precious incentive to prove God in every circumstance of life; her story also supplies an unshakeable confirmation of the power of resurrection and "the glory that should follow" 1Pet.1.11.
We have noted that Hannah was a woman of spiritual concern about conditions that led to the raising up of Samuel. We have also considered the widow of Zarephath, a woman of Divine choice and conviction that was used in a remarkable way to sustain Elijah. Our attention now turns to another woman who was used to minister to the particular needs of Elisha. This again confirms that God not only raises up His servants for particular purposes but also supplies His own means of taking care of them. As we will see this woman was outstanding in her care and attentiveness to the prophet Elisha, described in total 29 times as a "man of God", and 10 times as such in 2Kings chapter 4.
The Shunammite was different from the widow of Zarephath in that her husband was alive but their marriage, up to the time of Elisha coming into their lives, was childless, although she experienced later a similar crisis in relation to the death and restoration to life of her son. A further difference lay in the fact that the Shunammite was well off whereas the widow was extremely poor and with very limited material goods.
When the Word of God describes her as "a great woman" 2 Kgs.4.8, we ought to take note and ponder the true nature of her greatness. This has been a matter of much speculation with some suggesting that her greatness lay in her physical stature, her standing in the locality where she lived and her substance in terms of material possessions. There may be some merit in some or all of these conclusions but it is more likely that the record of Scripture is highlighting for us a woman who was of great spiritual standing and had reached great spiritual heights in the estimation of God. Just as we are exhorted to "consider how great this man was" Heb.7.4, let us consider how great this woman was. With this in mind let us ponder her:
It was her lot to live in the ancient territory of Issachar. She was, in fact, a distant daughter of Abraham. Her experiences match those of Abraham in a very remarkable way. Just as he was wealthy and childless, so was she. Just as Abraham was given a son in supernatural circumstances, so was she. Just as God took the son from Abraham (albeit in "figure" Heb.11.9) she too lost her son to death. Just as Abraham was directed to Mount Moriah, she was brought to Mount Carmel. Just as Abraham received his son back from the dead (in figure), her son was restored to her. In all of these aspects she stands shoulder to shoulder with Abraham, who was on three occasions called the friend of God.
Another pleasing feature about this woman is that in the mystery of trial there is no record of her ever accusing God or questioning His ways of working with her. In this particular aspect she displayed Job-like characteristics. The sentiment of Job was "Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him" Job.13.15. Of Job the Lord could say "Hast thou considered My servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth" Job1.8. To use similar language about her would not be an exaggeration.
On the occasion when she was asked, "what is to be done for thee? Wouldest thou be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host" 2Kgs.4.13, she replied that she was not interested in worldly advancement but that she was content to live as she was, among her own people. To be able to resist the allurement of earthly favour puts her on a par with Solomon, who when presented with the same question asked for wisdom and with Elisha, who in similar circumstances asked Elijah that "a double portion of thy spirit be upon me" 2Kgs.2.9. This woman could readily be placed in the same company as Abraham, Job, Solomon and Elisha; a very clear indication of her true spiritual greatness.
As part of Elisha’s journeying to and from Mount Carmel he passed through a village called Shunem. It was a place of relative insignificance but it was to become highly significant to Elisha. In the village was the home of the "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" 2Kgs.4.8,9.
Having observed the movements of Elisha she was sufficiently perceptive to recognise that he was "a holy man of God, which passeth by us continually" 2Kgs.4.9. Her discernment was most commendable. She shared with her husband her appreciation of his character as a man of God, of his conduct as one who was holy and of his consistency as one who passed by continually. Having recognised him, she also made known her desire that they should make him "a little chamber … on the wall" 2Kgs.4.10. The exercise was hers but she did not act without giving her husband his rightful place and when she mentioned the matter to him he readily agreed. These are delightful features taken forward in keeping with godly order and this couple have so much to teach us in regard to the important matter of caring for the servants of the Lord. Their insight and interest should promote an exercise on the part of believers, enabled by God so to do, to offer accommodation and hospitality to servants of the Lord. We are exhorted "Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares" Heb.13.2.
In discussing the matter with her husband she revealed a concise but complete insight into what Elisha, as a travelling man of God would need. Her spiritual discernment revealed that she also had an accurate appreciation of how a man such as Elisha lived. She first mentioned "a little chamber" 2Kgs.4.10, nothing elaborate or over the top but what was needed and offered complete privacy. Into this separate apartment they "set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick" 2Kgs.4.10. These items indicated that she recognised the need for:
The bed would provide opportunity for rest from labour and toil. The Lord Jesus exhorted His disciples to "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while" Mk.6.31. This is not offering any excuse for being lazy but it shows the need for a proper balance between work and rest.
The table is suggestive of our needs for spiritual refreshment and nourishment. We ought to remember that God can "furnish a table in the wilderness" Ps.78.19. When Mephibosheth was lifted from Lo-debar "he did eat continually at the king’s table" 2Sam.9.13, and in a similar way when Lazarus was raised from the dead he "was one of them that sat at the table with Him" Jn.12.2. The need for spiritual food is vital for development and maturity. Peter exhorted the believers of his day that they would "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word that ye may grow thereby" 1Pet.2.2.
A stool provides opportunity for quiet reflection and meditation. It would not be easy to doze off or sleep on a stool; rather it facilitates sitting in an erect position that would encourage ability to think clearly and ponder carefully. We do well to develop the habit of meditating upon what we read. In the days of Ruth the ears that were gleaned in the field by Boaz were beaten out. May we be more than gleaners only; may we develop the habit and the ability to meditate on what we have gleaned and be able to say in truth "I will meditate in Thy precepts, and have respect unto Thy ways" Ps.119.15.
The candlestick would shed its light around the little chamber, particularly in the hours of night. How precious to be in touch with God and enjoy fresh communications from His Word as we live in a world where spiritual darkness is so widespread. ‘Ere the Lord Himself left the world that rejected Him He taught His disciples that "when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth" Jn.16.13
Having received the generous care and hospitality of the woman of Shunem, Elisha invites Gehazi, his servant, to call her and "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?" 2Kgs.4.13. This provides encouraging confirmation that the Lord is no man’s debtor and that He will recompense in His own way all that we do for Him.
Deeds of merit, as we thought them,
He will show us were but sin,
Little acts we had forgotten,
He will tell us were for Him.
This godly woman proved that she was not interested in political favour or worldly advancement. To refuse the opportunity of being brought to the attention of the king or the captain of the host was no light or insignificant matter. She was, however, only concerned with meeting the needs of God’s representative and expressed a desire "to dwell among mine own people" 2Kgs.4.13. Not many can resist such overtures; she was a beautiful example of the fact that "godliness with contentment is great gain" 1Tim.1.6.
The observant Gehazi drew to Elisha’s attention that the woman had no children and that, naturally speaking, there did not appear to be any prospect of such. When informed that she would "embrace a son" 2Kgs.4.16, she found it difficult to believe the word of the man of God but in spite of her incredulity "the woman conceived and bare a son at the season that Elisha had said unto her" 2Kgs.4.17. What a moment when her son was born! Her joy would have been unbounded. This birth was contrary to nature; it was all of God and incidences such as these only serve to create desires for true-born children, and provide encouragement that our God is able.
What joy and gratitude must have marked her as she watched her son grow up and like any other boy he would have loved to go with his father to the fields. While they were together at harvest time, her son seemingly suffered sunstroke and after he was carried from the fields, he died at noon sitting on his mother’s knees. Circumstances changed dramatically and suddenly. This is a sharp reminder of how quickly big changes can come. In the space of a few hours, from morning to noon, her world was turned upside down. She must have wondered what she had done. While God’s dealings with His people remain a mystery, the experience of this woman proves that godliness does not grant immunity from trial.
As she looked upon her dead son her instant reaction was to link his death with Elisha and "she went up, and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door upon him, and went out" 2Kgs.4.21. In so doing she was turning to the man of God in the moment of crisis. After all he was instrumental in the gift of her son and it was to him she must turn. By leaving the dead boy on the bed of Elisha she displayed confidence in him. At no time is there any suggestion of a breakdown in faith; she trusted when she did not understand. By shutting the door she did not make her difficulty public or seek attention of others. All of this was of no avail; her goal was to get to the man of God as quickly as she could. What a precious example of how to conduct ourselves in testing situations.
Before starting out on the sixteen-mile trip to Carmel she impressed upon her husband the urgency of the journey and assured him "It shall be well" 2Kgs.4.23. When asked by Gehazi "is it well with the child … she answered, It is well" 2Kgs.4.26. She did not say that it will be well but as her son lay in death she confidently declared it is well. In her deep distress she, in spite of resistance from Gehazi, made her way to the feet of Elisha. He was marked by sympathy and his ear was receptive as she spoke to him about her son: a beautiful picture of our Great High Priest.
Having been instructed, Gehazi came to the chamber where the boy lay and laid his staff upon the face of the child but "there was neither voice, nor hearing" 2Kgs.4.31. When Elisha arrived and saw that the boy was dead he "shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the LORD" 2Kgs.4.33.
Cast upon God in the moment of crisis, Elisha spread himself upon the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes and hands to hands. This demonstrated Elisha’s capacity to fully appreciate the needs of the boy. In the mouth contact Elisha showed his total sympathy, in the eyes to eyes contact he showed his personal identity and in the hand to hand contact we observe his vital ability. When Elisha stretched upon the boy the second time "the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes" 2Kgs.4.35. The evidences of life were undeniable and the power of God was clearly displayed. It is only Divine power that can make dead people live and when a work of God is accomplished there will be irrefutable signs following.
Throughout this deep trial her confidence never wavered. It is a mark of her true spiritual greatness and her appreciation of the God of Elisha.
We are not told what passed through her mind as she waited while Elisha was alone with her son. The moment came when her son, restored to life, was handed back to his mother. We should note, from 2Kgs.4.37, her:
- approach –"Then she went in"
- adoration – "fell at his feet"
- appreciation – "and bowed herself to the ground"
- appropriation – "and took up her son and went out".
If her son had not died, the woman of Shunem would never have proved God nor got to know Elisha in the way that she did. Time spent in the school of God may be far from pleasant but the outcome is always to reveal Himself and to deepen our dependence upon Him. Peter exhorted those that were suffering because of their links with the Saviour to "greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptation: That the trial of your faith being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" 1Pet.1.6,7.
WOMEN IN THE LIFE OF DAVID
So far we have considered three remarkable, godly women. Hannah is closely linked to Samuel, the widow of Zarephath to Elijah and the woman of Shunem to Elisha. Another outstanding character in the books of Samuel is David. Our study would not be complete without a brief reference to three women in the life of David.
This woman was the younger of Saul’s daughters and was given by him to David to be his wife, 1Sam.18.27. In doing so Saul had broken his commitment to give his eldest daughter to David to be his wife and, even then, the giving of Michal was conditional upon David slaying two hundred Philistines. In imposing such a condition Saul was hoping that David would be killed in the battle.
In spite of Saul’s hatred and rejection of David he had captured the affections of those who had observed his victory over Goliath, the Philistine giant at Elah; including Jonathan who "loved him as his own soul" 1Sam.18.1. Twice we read that "Michal, Saul’s daughter loved David" 1Sam.20.20,28. Her affections were won to the man who went into the battle, who emerged victoriously and carried in his hands the head of the enemy typifying our Lord Jesus, the One Who has entered into death and has emerged in glorious triumph. Her love for David in the time of his rejection presents a timely example for us to follow.
Her loyalty to David was clearly shown when she informed him of Saul’s evil intentions to take him and just like the spies before him, and Paul after him, David was let down through a window to safety. To take sides with David against her father was commendable but the fact that she resorted to lying and misrepresentation showed another side to her character. The ease with which she found an image to place in the bed of David would indicate that there were those things in the home that suggested sinful, idolatrous practices. Keeping the home clear from such things is vital and a godly woman, operating in her appointed sphere will see to it that the home is preserved from such intrusions.
Saul arranged that "Michal his daughter, David’s wife" was given "to Phalti the son of Laish, which was of Gallim" 1Sam.25.44. The endeavour of a man of the flesh will ever be to bring separation between a devoted heart and our heavenly David, our Lord Jesus Christ. While she may have loved David in one sense, in another she never shared his spiritual conviction or appreciated his joy when the ark of the covenant was restored to its rightful place. It is sad that the last record of Michal shows that while "looking out at a window she saw king David dancing and playing: and she despised him in her heart" 1Chr.15.29. Such was the seriousness of her attitude to David that she "had no child until the day of her death" 2Sam.6.23.
The brief account of Michal emphasises that the Divine assessment gives credit where it is due and highlights the importance of true devotion. It also confirms that "all things are naked, and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do" Heb.4.13.
Abigail was married to Nabal "but the man was churlish and evil in his doings" 1Sam.25.3. He had prospered under the goodness and protection of David but when the king sent his messengers to Nabal anticipating gifts of appreciation they were flatly rebuffed and subjected to verbal abuse, directed towards the one who had sent them. David’s reaction was one of understandable anger and declared his intention to destroy Nabal and his many possessions. When Abigail heard of this she "made haste, and took two hundred loaves, and two bottles of wine, and five sheep ready dressed, and five measures of parched corn, and an hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs, and laid them on asses. And she said unto her servants, Go on before me; behold, I come after you. But she told not her husband Nabal" 1Sam.25.18,19.
She had a clear appreciation that her husband’s conduct would lead to David being angry and that this in turn would lead to him seeking revenge. While the loss of her husband would have been tragic, this would also have led to David committing a deed he would have subsequently regretted.
Her aim therefore was to get to David with all haste, to make her presentations and plead for leniency. She is to be commended for her perception, prompt action, her posture and pleading before David. This was accompanied by an acknowledgement that Nabal had acted foolishly in keeping with his name and character and a clear admission of wrong-doing on her part by virtue of her association with her husband. Having pleaded her case "David said to Abigail, Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, which sent thee this day to meet me: And blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand" 1Sam. 25.32,33. It must have been with joy that she left the presence of David and returned again to Nabal.
On returning home she found her husband had arranged a feast "like the feast of a king and was very drunken" 1Sam.25.36. Again showing commendable wisdom Abigail waited until the next morning before telling him of her visit to David and his acceptance of her. On hearing "these things … his heart died within him, and he became as a stone" 1Sam.25.37. Within ten days "the LORD smote Nabal, that he died" 1Sam.25.38.
When David heard of Nabal’s death he was filled with gratitude that he had been preserved from moving to take the life of Nabal and that "the LORD hath returned the wickedness of Nabal upon his own head" 1Sam.25.39. David soon took the woman who had acted so wisely and discreetly to be his wife. While polygamy was tolerated, it never had Divine approval and such things never give any ground for departing from God’s moral standards. What is very clear is that Abigail became a loyal and devoted wife to David at a time of his rejection and was faithful to him as the anointed king. She counted it an honour to serve him. There are many admirable features about Abigail that serve as a shining example for sisters today.
This chapter would not be complete without a brief reference to Bath-sheba. David’s fall in relation to her has been well documented, and rightly so, but the purpose presently is not to highlight his failures; it is rather to consider the role of Bath-sheba in this tragic affair.
Bath-sheba was in her rightful place when she was spied upon by one who would have been better engaged in battle rather than relaxing at home. She cannot in any way be blamed and was powerless to resist the demands of the king. Through no fault of her own, she experienced a double bereavement through the death of her husband and the death of her son. This left her heartbroken and inevitably wondering what she had done to face such testing circumstances.
It does fill us with wonder and amazement that Bath-sheba who became the wife of David in such unprincipled circumstances should ever be the mother of Solomon, the king renowned for his wisdom, his peaceful and prosperous reign and the building of the house of God; truly days of unprecedented glory in the nation of Israel. In all of this Bath-sheba was the innocent victim but she is a shining example of how God works out His purposes in spite of human failure. On the other hand none of these things should ever be used to justify sinful practices.
The two books of Samuel and Kings are enriched by their presentation of so many godly women. Each made an important contribution to public testimony and to the work of God in difficult and trying times. As we have pondered Hannah, the widow of Zarephath, the woman of Shunem, Michal, Abigail and Bath-sheba we cannot but be impressed by the manner in which their strength of character and commitment shone through, regardless of many hardships and they are clear examples of how it is possible to be faithful to God and to leave a mark in this world for God.