Monday, November 7, 2011

The Shunammite

Reading 2 Kings 4 tonight.

Verses 8-37 are about a rich Shunammite woman who helps Elisha and is rewarded by God with the birth of a son. There are different parts of the story that struck chords within my soul. I am going to outline them briefly (briefly for me).

Verses 8-10 One day Elisha went to Shunem. And a well-to-do woman was there, who urged him to stay for a meal... 9 She said to her husband, “I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God. 10 Let’s make a small room... then he can stay there whenever he comes to us.”

The generosity of this strikes me. Right away we are told that she is a rich woman. So maybe the natural inclination is to think "she's rich, it is easy to give when you have a lot". But I don't think this is true. I think God moves hearts according to His will. The natural human inclination is to protect our own interests and giving does not fit into that survival mentality.

Verse 13 Elisha said to him, “Tell her, ‘You have gone to all this trouble for us. Now what can be done for you? ... She replied, “I have a home among my own people.”

She asks for nothing in return. Almost every time I pray I ask for something. I have to make an effort not to ask God for things sometimes. Even then sometimes I forget and ask for something "Godly". "Help me to do Your will..." etc. How difficult it is to give without recieving. Moms have it fairly rough when it comes to giving/recieving. Kids say thank you but they don't generally mean it. They are being polite and politeness is a social construction of repetition that we use to propel ourselves toward the next thing we need. I give Marley a ham sandwiche and she says "thank you" but what she is really saying is "I will need another one later."
(Disclaimer: I know that sounds very pessimistic but it is really not meant to be. I think politeness is undervalued in fact. This blog isn't about that though).

Verses 14-17 “What can be done for her?” Elisha asked. Gehazi said, “She has no son, and her husband is old.” Then Elisha said, “Call her.” So he called her, and she stood in the doorway. “About this time next year,” Elisha said, “you will hold a son in your arms.” “No, my lord!” she objected. “Please, man of God, don’t mislead your servant!” But the woman became pregnant, and the next year about that same time she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her.

(Verses 18-27)
18 The child grew, and one day he went out to his father.. He said to his father, “My head! My head!”His father told a servant, “Carry him to his mother.” 20 After the servant had lifted him up and carried him to his mother, the boy sat on her lap until noon, and then he died. 21 She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, then shut the door and went out.22 She called her husband and said, “Please send me one of the servants and a donkey so I can go to the man of God quickly and return.”
23 “Why go to him today?” he asked. “It’s not the New Moon or the Sabbath.”
“That’s all right,” she said.
24 She saddled the donkey and said to her servant, “Lead on; don’t slow down for me unless I tell you.” 25 So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.

When he saw her in the distance, the man of God said to his servant Gehazi, “Look! There’s the Shunammite! 26 Run to meet her and ask her, ‘Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is your child all right?’”

“Everything is all right,” she said.

Whoa! What? How is everything alright? Your kid just died? I had to read it twice to make sure I had all my "he said" and "she said" correct. Then I read on and understood a little better.

27 When she reached the man of God at the mountain, she took hold of his feet. Gehazi came over to push her away, but the man of God said, “Leave her alone! She is in bitter distress, but the LORD has hidden it from me and has not told me why.”

Do you ever do things that are completely insane? I do. Sometimes I can blame it on hormones, sometimes sleep deprivation, sometimes I "blame" God's plan. Why am I acting out of character so acutely? Why are some of my actions so completely out-of-line with my usual behavior? Why did Pharoah harden his heart against HUGE OBVIOUS signs of God's power? The obvious and sometimes painful answer is right in the Bible.

Exodus 7:2 (God speaking to Moses) You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. 3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, 4 he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. 5 And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.”

God hardened Pharaoh's heart. Why? God knows. Why did the woman say everything was fine? God knows. God hid from Elisha that something was wrong with the woman and her son. God knows.

Here is the end of the story...

(2 kings 4 Verses 28-37)
28 “Did I ask you for a son, my lord?” she said. “Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t raise my hopes’?”
29 Elisha said to Gehazi, “Tuck your cloak into your belt, take my staff in your hand and run. Don’t greet anyone you meet, and if anyone greets you, do not answer. Lay my staff on the boy’s face.”
30 But the child’s mother said, “As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So he got up and followed her.
31 Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the boy’s face, but there was no sound or response. So Gehazi went back to meet Elisha and told him, “The boy has not awakened.”
32 When Elisha reached the house, there was the boy lying dead on his couch. 33 He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the LORD. 34 Then he got on the bed and lay on the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out on him, the boy’s body grew warm. 35 Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got on the bed and stretched out on him once more. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.
36 Elisha summoned Gehazi and said, “Call the Shunammite.” And he did. When she came, he said, “Take your son.” 37 She came in, fell at his feet and bowed to the ground. Then she took her son and went out.

My only thoughts on this part of the story are that it is weird. Who knows why it played out that way or about all those sneezes. God didn't move my heart with this particular part of the tale but maybe he will explain all that to someone else... Though the mercy of God in the resurrection of the boy is amazing! Sneezes and all.

...The next part of this chapter incidentally is followed by a rather brief amusing story about pumpkins. You should check it out.

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