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III. FAITHFULNESS REWARDED. Fire from heaven, heretofore a sign of Elijah's mission to execute judgment, was now a seal of the acceptance by God of his life-work. Here all word-pictures would fail.
Draw attention to the mention of Elijah in Malachi and James, and in the accounts of John the Baptist, and the wonderful scene on the Mount of Transfiguration. There is a somewhat remarkable parallel between his career and Moses'. Both fasted forty days; both had visions of God in Horeb; both were sent to rebuke kings; both prepared miraculous tables; both opened heaven; both revenged idolatry; both quenched the thirst of Israel; both divided the waters; both of them are forewarned of their departure; the body of Moses is hid; the body of Elijah is translated. — Bishop Hall.
LESSON XI. — SEPT. 13.
TIME. — B.C. 892 or 893. The visits at the home in Shunem probably began soon after the translation of Elijah, three or four years before.
PERSONS. -(1) The Shunammite woman, wealthy, dignified, and hospitable, “a great woman, dwelling among her own people, and not accustomed to asking favor of any man." (2) Her aged husband, who relies greatly upon her judgment. (3) Her young son. (4) Elisha, Elijah's successor in the prophetic office, from B.C. 896-838, nearly 60 years. (5) Gehazi, the attendant of Elisha, as he had been of Elijah. He was avaricious, not to say cunning, and was punished therefor by leprosy (2 Kings 5). We hear of him first as the prophet's messenger to this woman (ver. 14), and later as a witness before King Jehoram to his master's great works (2 Kings 8).
PLACES. — (1) Shunem, now Solam, a town in Issachar, about three and a half miles north of Jezreel, and 53 miles north of Jerusalem, on the south-west flank of Little Hermon. (2) Mt. Carmel, a favorite resort of Elijah and Elisha. Here public worship was held on stated occasions.
PRONUNCIATIONS. – Gěhā'zi; Shū'nămmite.
INTERVENING HISTORY.- After the ascension of Elijah, Elisha went to Samaria, the capital of Israel, and made it his home. His first recorded act as prophet was to advise the kings of Israel and Judah in a war against Moab. Next, he aids a poor widow and her son by a miraculous increase of oil : then follows to-day's lesson.
INTRODUCTION. Elisha was a man of the city: fond of its streets and crowds. After the translation of his master and his own round of visits to the school of the prophets, which he formally took under his care after signs which indicated his precedence, he retired for a season to the Carmel hills. Then he returned permanently to Samaria, where he had a house of his own. From this centre, for wellnigh sixty years, he seems to have “made circuits" over the whole country, rousing and instructing the people at large. So continually did he pass by Shunem on his missionary journeys, that a rich lady prepared a special chamber for his accommodation. It was almost his second home; for his hostess, living in country profusion, had given up to his use the roof-chamber or aliyeh, so much esteemed in the East, – cool, airy, retired; furnished in keeping with his simple habits; a bed, a table, a seat, and a lamp with its stand, all it contained. — Geikie. In reward for her kindness to his servant, God gave her a son; for it had been the sorrow of her life that she was childless.
18. And when the child was grown, it fell on a day, that he went out to his father to the reapers.
1 Ruth 2:4. Gal. 6: 7.
EXPLANATORY. 1. The Trial of Faith. - Vers. 18–20. 18. When the child was grown. Large enough to go out by himself; perhaps three or four years old. To the reapers. In his father's fields.
19. And he said unto his father, 1 My head, my head. And he said to a lad, 2 Carry him to his mother.
20. And when he had taken him, and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then 3 died.
21. And she went up, and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door upon him, and went out.
22. 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.
23. And he said, Wherefore wilt thou go to him to day? 4 it is neither new moon, nor sabbath. And she said, It shall be well.
24. Then she saddled an ass, and said to her servant, Drive, and go forward ; slack not thy riding for me, except I bid thee. 1 Ps. 121: 6. Isa. 49:10. : Isa. 66: 13. Rom. 5: 12. 1 Cor. 15: 26. * Isa. 1:13. Ezek. 45:17. Hosea 2: 11.
19. He said unto his father, My head, my head. Considering the symptoms and the season of the year, there is little doubt that a sunstroke was followed by inflammation of the brain. “I know by experience," says Thomson, “ that this valley glows like a furnace in harvest time." And he said to a lad. “To the lad,” i.e., the lad who, as a matter of course, was in attendance on him. — Todd. How natural that the father, busy with getting in his crop, and thinking it was only a passing headache, sent the boy to be nursed by his mother, who would be sure to omit nothing that might comfort and cure him. We see her nursing him on her lap, putting cooling appliances to his forehead, soothing, caressing, weeping over him, till at noon he died. – S. S. Times.
20. We do not now look upon her as the rich lady of Shunem, but as the mother bereaved of her only child.
II. The Works of Faith. – Vers. 21-34. 21. And she went up. The little chamber was built upon the flat roof of the house, and being more retired than the other apartments, was the most desirable part of the establishment (see Introduction). – Thom. son. Laid him on the bed of the man of God. She had not forgotten that Elijah had once raised a boy from death (1 Kings 17: 22), and carrying her child to that chamber and laying him upon that bed, she already was entrusting him, in some degree, to the prophet who had promised him to her in Jehovah's name. - Lange. This was the first work of faith.
22. She called unto her husband. She did not waste time in sending to him to come from the fields where he was working among his servants. Evidently, the child's illness had not seemed to him serious. She requested that he would send an ass with a lad to lead and drive it, on which she should ride (as is still customary in the East). This was the second work of faith. Send . . . one of the young men, and one of the asses. They were in the field; the young men cutting and binding the sheaves and loading the carts which the asses drew to the threshing-floor. Run ... and come again. Mt. Carmel was some 17 miles away, a journey of five or six hours, and back. She did not intimate her object, lest she should lose time, or be dissuaded from going, or be tempted to waver in the prophet's wonder-working power. - Keil.
23. Her husband could not see any reason for her going at that particular time. New moon. By the law, the first day of each month was to be kept holy. Offerings were appointed (Num. 28: 11-15), the silver trumpets were to be blown (Num. 10:10; Ps. 81: 3). — Cook. It is neither new moon, nor sabbath. Even had the calf-worship not disorganized the priesthood, regular worship could not be observed in Israel, away from the ark and temple. "This lack was in a measure supplied by the prophets who observed these days as seasons of religious instruction, at which times the people might resort to them “to be taught their duty out of the law of God, and to be resolved in their doubts" (Bishop Patrick). The fact that the new moons and the Sabbaths were still religiously observed, shows that though there were many wide departures from the law of Moses, that law was not unknown in Israel. — Whedon. It shall be well. “Shalom,” i.e., either “it is all well," or “never mind." The expression is used to satisfy any one without giving a definite answer. Her silence was the third work of faith.
24. She saddled an ass. By proxy. When her husband saw that she was intent on going, he wisely interposed no hinderance (see Prov. 31:11). Drive, and go forward. 25. So she went and came unto the man of God to mount Carmel. And it came to pass, when the man of God I saw her afar off, that he said to Gehazi
26. 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 a well.
27. And when she came to the man of God to the hill, 3 she caught him by the feet : but Gehazi came near to thrust her away. 4 And the man of God said, 5 Let her alone ; for her soul is vexed within her : and the LORD hath hid 6 it from me, and hath not told me.
28. Then she said, Did I desire a son of my lord? did I not say, Do not deceive me?
29. Then he said to Gehazi, Gird up thy loins, and take my staff in thine 1 Luke 15:20. 2 Deut. 4:40. Esther 8: 3. Matt. 18:29. John 11:32. Matt. 15:23. Mark 10: 13. John 4:27. Matt. 15:23, 24; 19:14. Mark 10:14. 2 Sam. 7:3• ' Luke 12:35. Acts 12:8. Jer. 1:17. The servant would run behind and drive the beast, goading him with his stick to the required speed. – 7., F. and B. Slack not thy riding. “Do not hinder me from riding.” Making haste was her fourth work of faith.
25. The man of God saw her afar off. Mt. Carmel on that side is exceedingly steep, and almost 1600 feet high; from the summit, near where the altar of Jehovah stood (i Kings 18: 30), Elisha could see a great distance. He exclaimed, “Look, that is the Shunammite!” then noticing the speed at which she rode, suspected some calamity.
26. Run now ... to meet her. This was a mark of great courtesy, showing his great esteem.- Lange. He also personally desired to know of her welfare. I pray thee. Elisha was courteous in addressing his inferiors. It is well. “Shalom," -- a word of such ambiguous meaning that the woman's reply cannot be taxed with falsehood. She would not be detained by unnecessary explanations. She answered, " It is well”; but at the same time she rushes up the “hill" and seizes the prophet by his feet. This scene is natural and very graphic. If you ask after a person whom you know to be sick in the East, the reply at first will invariably be,“ Well, thank God!” even when the very next sentence is to inform you that he is dying. - Thomson. Do not make known at once to every one you meet that which distresses you, but keep it to yourself until you find one who understands you, and whose heart you have tested. — Sirach.
27. To the hill. The prophet may have come partly down to meet his friend. She caught him by the feet. Overcome by the grief which she had repressed until now. In the East, this is a common mode of expressing supplication. To thrust her away. In his officious zeal, angry at the slight towards him, or deeming her touch deflement, or her importunity excessive, or such liberties beneath his master's dignity. Beware lest thou treat harshly sad souls who are overcome by grief, and who seek help and consolation, and lest thou thrust them away or judge them hastily. Do not cause still more grief to a bruised heart. — Berlebergher Bible. Magdalens are thrust away from the feet of Jesus Christ, and the Pharisees are scandalized at them (Luke 7: 38). - Lange. Let her alone. A noble mind does not pass sentence before hearing the case. Her soul is vexed. That is, “ distressed.” Hath hid it from me. Prophets do not seem to have been always in the Spirit.” — Cook.
28. Did I desire a son of my lord? Thou didst promise him to me of thine own accord. Did I wish lightly to put faith in thy word that such a thing is now befallen me? What has befallen her she never mentions, which is psychologically explained at once by her great grief. — Keil. Did I not say, Do not deceive me? Great grief shrinks from putting itself into words. The Shunammite cannot bring herself to say, My son is dead, but by reproaching the prophet with having “deceived” her she sufficiently indicates her loss. Cook. She speaks the emotional language of one that is bewildered with a sudden sorrow, meaning thereby, I did not complain of my childlessness and did not demand a son; now, however, I am more unhappy than before, for it is better never to have a child than to have one and lose it. - Lange. It was nothing to her now that she was a great woman; she was just the broken-hearted mother of a dead child. This half-uttered appeal was her fifth work of faith. 29. Gehazi (see under Persons), Gird up thy loins. In preparation for a journey.
hand, and go thy way: if thou meet any man, 1 salute him not; and if any salute thee, answer him not again : and lay my staff upon the face of the child.
30. And the mother of the child said, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, 2 I will not leave thee. And he arose, and followed her.
31. And Gehazi passed on before them, and laid the staff upon the face of the child ; 3 but there was neither voice, nor hearing. Wherefore he went again to meet him, and told him, saying, The child is not 4 awaked.
32. And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed.
33. He went in therefore, and shut 5 the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the LORD. 1 Mark 12; 38. Luke 10:4. 2 John 4:49. Mark 7:29., 3 1 Kings 18:29. 4 Deut. 31:16. Job 7: 21.
54: 4. Matt. 6:6. James 5:16.
This was done by tightening the girdle, and tucking the mantle under it in such a manner as to leave the legs free. If thou meet any man, salute him not. Not simply because in preparation for the duty laid upon him, Gehazi should fix his thoughts only upon God, and sink his soul in prayer, but salutation is the forerunner of conversation, and one bent on speed should avoid every temptation to loiter. — Cook. Elisha knew that he was vainglorious and fond of praise, and that he would be sure to tell the object of his journey to those who should meet him by the way. --- Theoderet. Salute. The Orientals were famous for elaborate and lengthy greetings. Polite expressions universally exchanged between travellers were not unfrequently accompanied with repeated and elaborate inquiries after personal health and the welfare of friends, and served as the prelude to extended conversation. They were also accompanied with a variety of gestures and forms of politeness. Inferiors, at the approach of their betters, stopped and waited till they had passed : riders dismounted to exchange salutations. A servant would be specially apt to waste time in this way; and possibly Gehazi had peculiar tendencies in that direction. — Todd. “Two Arabs meeting will sometimes repeat not less than ten times the ceremony of grasping hands, kissing, and returning thanks to God.” Lay my staff upon the face of the child. This command is not quite clear. Some writers understand that Elisha, while waiting for the divine leading, wished to be doing something to assuage the mother's grief; others, that he supposed the child to be merely in a stupor; others, that he thought that for once he might delegate to his studentattendant the power of which his staff was the emblem; others, that he sent Gehazi in advance, intending to follow with the woman. The staff of the prophet is like the staff (sceptre) of a king, the badge of the prophetical gift of might and strength. In Samoa, the son, or representative of a political head, when sent on any important message to another district, takes with him his father's staff and fly-flapper, to show that his message is with the sanction and authority of the person to whom these belong.– Turner.
30. As the Lord liveth. See note on last lesson, ver. 2. I will not leave thee. She had little faith in the staff. She wanted the living presence of the prophet, — his sympathy and aid. This persistence was her sixth work of faith. And he arose, and fol. lowed her. The uneasiness of the mother, — whom he now expected to go home satished, - and her avowed determination not to leave him, which was a polite way of pressing him to go in person, induced him to alter his purpose, and to forego his own engagements at Carmel in order to accompany her to her forlorn home. It was probably in consequence of this change of plan that no response was made to the first claim of faith by means of the staff, the Lord reserving for the personal intercession of his prophet the honor of this marvellous deed. — Kitto.
31. There was neither voice, nor hearing. There was no sound and no attention, i.e., the dead one gave no sign of life. — Keil. The child is not awaked. The euphemism by which death is spoken of as a sleep was already familiar to the Tews. - Cook. The especial gift which God has given, out of free grace, to one man, cannot be transferred by him to another. Let every one serve the other with that gift which he has received (1 Pet. 4:10); for we are not masters of the gifts of God, but only stewards. — Lange.
Now begin Elisha's works of faith.
33. He . . . shut the door upon them twain. Upon himself and the child. And prayed. Thus acknowledging his consciousness that his supernatural power did not belong
34. 1 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.
35. 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.
36. And he called Gehazi, and said, Call this Shunammite. So he called her. And when she was come in unto him, he said, 2 Take up thy son.
37. Then she went in, and fell at his feet, and bowed herself to the ground, and took up her son, and went out.
1 Acts 20: 10. ? Heb. 11: 35. to himself personally, but that he was dependent upon God for it. — Todd. He does not weary, but continues and struggles in prayer. The Lord does not allow great deeds to be accomplished without battles and struggles, labor and perseverance. - Bähr.
34. And lay upon the child. Prayer does not exclude the use of other means. Although this contact with a dead body would communicate ceremonial uncleanliness, yet in performing the great moral duties of piety and benevolence the ceremonial laws were sometimes dispensed with by the prophets. – 7., F. and B. His mouth upon his mouth. This placing of his mouth, eyes, and hands upon those of the child bore the same relation to this miracle which the spittle and the washing in Siloam did to the miracle by which Jesus gave sight to the man blind from his birth. — Whedon. It is analogous to the incarnation of our blessed Lord who, touching humanity in every fibre of its being, and breathing upon it the Holy Ghost, awakes to newness of life that which was dead in trespasses and sin so that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised.
III. The Triumph of Faith. ~ Vers. 34-37. 34. The flesh of the child waxed warm. Thus the miracle was wrought, not instantaneously, but by slow degrees. It is clear that he did not work the miracle with the same rapidity or with the same ease (so to speak) with which Elijah wrought his parallel one. Elisha's persistence — the result and evidence of his strong faith (Heb. 11:35) — may have been a condition of the child's return to life.- Cook.
35. Then he returned, and walked in the house. That is, turned from the boy and walked up and down in the room. — Keil. This was probably an involuntary result of the great emotion with which he looked and waited for the fulfilment of his prayer. -- Bähr. The child sneezed seven times ... and opened his eyes. These were the first acts of restored respiration, and they are ascribed as successive steps. – 7., F. and B. “Headache was the beginning of his illness, and this is wont to be relieved by sneezing," as Pliny writes. — Bähr. The spirit of natural life was not warmed into life by the warmth of the prophet, but by an extraordinary power and energy of God; and the touch of the prophet in itself was as little able to bring back warmth and life as the touch of the staff. - Starke. What Elisha did after long effort and prayer, he who is himself the resurrection and the life did with a single word (John 11:43; 5: 25).
36. Take up thy son. Compare Elijah's action (1 Kings 17:23) and our blessed Lord's (Luke 7:15).
37. She fell at his feet. The first impulse, even before taking up her son. Gratitude was her seventh work of faith.
Took up her son, and went out. An uninspired writer might have dwelt on her feelings, have told of the prayers she was offering, and informed us when and how the father received the tidings.
The significance of this story is to be sought, not in any one feature, but as a whole. A great and unhoped for blessing has fallen to the lot of a God-fearing woman; soon a great trial intervenes, and she loses her only son; she holds firmly to the word of promise, and the son is given back to her. Now she experiences aright that the word of the Lord is true, and that he crowns at last with grace and compassion those who hope and hold fast their faith in him. This development of the history presents the course by which, as a general rule, God is wont to lead his children (see Ps. 4: 3; i Sam. 2:6; Ps. 25: 10).- Lange. The friendship of the prophet and the Shunammite, now newly cemented, was unbroken through the lapse of years. Warned by him of an impending famine, she withdrew from the land for seven years. On her return she received back her forfeited lands for his sake and the miracles (chap. 8:1-6).