The Great Woman of Shunem

June 26, 2005 / No. 3260

Dear radio friends,

     Today, as we continue our series on the love for strangers, and the love for the brethren, and love for our children, I would like for us to consider a very beautiful example that is found in the Old Testament.  Please open your Bibles to II Kings 4 and read the verses 8-37.

     I had promised that we would have a message that will emphasize this calling to show love to the brethren in that we would show love to the servants of God who bring to us God’s Word.  Everywhere Scripture reminds us of that.  Christ tells us, for example, that if we give a cup of water to one of those who come in the name of God, that such a one will receive a great reward in the kingdom of heaven.  We are told by the apostle Paul to communicate good things to those who bring to us the Word of God.

     Here we have a godly woman in Shunem who showed love and hospitality to the prophet Elisha.  And we are told in this passage of Scripture that she was a great woman.

     Let me speak to you a few moments today on the Great Woman of Shunem.

     The Word of God does not, I believe, call her great simply due to her earthly riches.  Clearly the Shunammite woman stands in contrast to the widow of whom we read in the first part of II Kings 4, the woman who was in abject poverty and who was given that miracle by the prophet Elisha when she had no more to eat or to drink.  It was at that point that the prophet Elisha asked her to go and borrow vessels and to fill them, and she received an abundance.

     Here we are talking about a different kind of woman, not a widow, but a great woman of Shunem.  Clearly she had enough food, not only to feed her family, but apparently also to give to others who passed by traveling, like Elisha.  In fact, we read in verses 8-10 that they not only fed him but they constructed an extra room for the prophet.  For she turns to her husband in that passage and says to him, in verses 9 and 10, “Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually.  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.”

     You see, whenever Elisha would take his journey between Mount Carmel and Samaria, he would need a place to find some rest and refreshment.  And here was the great woman of Shunem, who used her gifts and that of her husband, and in fact pleaded with her husband that the prophet be given not only a place to eat, not only a room in which to sleep, but a place to sit, a place to read, a place to write — because she wanted to show hospitality to the prophet.

     Children who are listening, radio friends, let us look at this woman and begin to appreciate how much godly mothers of Israel really do for God’s people, and especially for God’s servants, when they are willing to show them hospitality.  Her greatness clearly was not simply in the fact that she had great riches as such.  There may be many rich women who look out of the window and see children and see many passing by.  It is not just riches that stir people to give.  But when someone has true greatness, as this woman of Shunem, he or she is willing, by the grace of God, to use those riches to the service of God and to the service of His kingdom.  Then such a one is truly great in the sight of God and a blessing also to men, and, in this case, to God’s own prophet.

     I believe that this is what this particular narrative in II Kings 4 is all about.   Here is this great woman who lived in Shunem.  Her riches had not blinded her to the needs of others, like the prophet Elisha.  No, Elisha did not knock at her door to ask for food.  This Shunammite constrained him to come in.  Why?  Why Elisha?  Maybe she did it for others, too.  We are not told.  But why Elisha?  Well, the narrative explains, as I read a moment ago in verse 9:  “I perceive,” she says to her husband, “that this is an holy man of God.”  You see, she loved God.  Therefore she loved the prophet too.  She saw Elisha passing by continually.  So she asked, “What would you have me do?”  Scripture teaches many things about hospitality.  But one is clear.  Serve those who serve God.  Jesus promises great reward to those who give even a cup of water to one of His disciples.

     Here, then, is the greatness of the woman of Shunem, who persuaded her husband to provide a place of rest for the prophet.  She knew what it meant to show hospitality to God’s servants.

     By the way, those who preach and teach God’s Word ought not take such hospitality for granted, nor demand it as if it is their right.  They ought to show appreciation, gratitude, for such love of Christ bestowed upon them.  So did this prophet Elisha.  He is clearly touched by the kindness, and he calls for her in verse 12 of this passage.  We read, “And he said to Gehazi his servant, Call this Shunammite.  And when he had called her, she stood before him.”  And in verse 13, “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.”  That is, “I have everything.  I don’t need anything.  I am content.”

     But Elisha persists.  And Gehazi, the servant, answers and says to him, “She has no child and her husband is old.”  He puts the thought, you see, to Elisha, that perhaps that is her need.  So Elisha says, “Call her.”  And when he called her, she stood in the doorway.  And Elisha tells her, “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.”

     You see, she was shocked.  She had not been showing this hospitality for any gain.  She was not expecting any reward.  But here, out of grace, as she had cared for this prophet, she is given the reward, she is informed that she is going to be with child.  “How can this be?” she asks.  Remember Sarah, how she laughed when one of the strangers who were entertained by Abraham promised that a child would come in due time?  So also this Shunammite.  She nearly fainted in shock.  But, yes, it will come to pass.  In verse 17 we read, “And the woman conceived, and bare a son at that season that Elisha had said unto her, according to the time of life.”

     It is a miracle, is it not?  A wonderful miracle is recorded for us in II Kings 4.  God rewards in His grace such hospitality.  God, in His mercy, actually had already ordained and planned that Elisha should come into the house of this woman, and that for her giving of hospitality she would be rewarded with a covenant child.

     Let the godly mothers of Israel who are hearing this story be encouraged greatly.  Have you washed many saints’ feet?  Do you cry out, “But, O God, what about my family?”  Wait on the Lord.  Do you look after the children in the church and cry out, “Lord, how about me?  I do not have a child.”  I say to you, submit to God and trust in Him.  Do you say, “Oh, well, I am only going to care for children when I have my own children and my own grandchildren”?  I say to you, “Care for God’s people.  Show hospitality to the saints.  Show hospitality to God’s servants.  Wait on the Lord.  Trust in the Lord.”

     Or do you say, “You know what, I have so many children.  I have grandchildren.  I have no time to show any care and concern to my fellow saints, much less to have the pastor over for a meal.  The pastor has ten children.  I can’t do that!”  I say to you, “Mother of Israel, godly woman, learn from the great woman of Shunem.  Trust God who will provide all your needs.”

     But then the story turns.  The child dies.  The child who was promised to this Shunammite woman is born all right.  But then he dies!  There is a very sad but touching description in verses 18-20 of this passage.  “When the child was grown, it fell on a day, that he went out to his father to the reapers.  And he said unto his father, My head, my head.  And he said to a lad, Carry him to his mother.  And when he had taken him, and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died.”  Was it heat?  Had he taken a fall?  We are not told the details.  But the young lad was held in his mother’s arms till noon and then died.

     She had not even asked for this child, although she must have cried to God and desired it in her heart.  But now the child, who so graciously had been promised by the prophet Elisha, has suddenly been snatched from her after she had cared for that child ten, twelve years perhaps.  What grief, what sorrow must have been brought to the heart of this great woman of Shunem.

     But, I submit to you, this is where her greatness really did shine forth.  Her faith carried her through.  Did she now make arrangements for mourning and for burial?  No.  Now, what does she do?  In verse 21, she goes up and lays this child, of all places, on the bed of the man of God and shut the door upon him and went out.  And she calls unto her husband and says, “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.”  She asked her husband to let her go now to see Elisha.  It seems as if this man was kind of legalistic, and he says in verse 23, “Wherefore wilt thou go to him today?  it is neither new moon, nor Sabbath.”  As if one should only go to see the man of God on those holy days!  And she said, “It shall be well.”  Then she saddled an ass and said to her servant, “Drive, and go forward; slack not thy riding for me, except I bid thee.”  And she went until she came to Mount Carmel, so that she might see the man of God, Elisha.

     “It will be well.”  What did she mean by that?  “It will be all right.  I’ll just come back later, don’t worry about me.  There is no time to waste.  I’ve got to go.”  I submit to you already then she knew in her heart that it will be well.  She believed.  “God will use Elisha to raise my son.  It is God who gave me this child.  It is God who will  restore this child.”

     Elisha saw the woman, and he said to Gehazi, “Go to meet her and ask, ‘Is it well with thee?  Is it well with your husband?  Is it well with the child.’”  Gehazi did so, and the woman answered, “Yes, it is well.”

     And when she came to the man of God by the hill she caught him by the feet.  But Gehazi came near to thrust her away.  It was not normal, you know, for the woman to come and see the great prophet.  Gehazi tries to thrust her away, because who is this woman to come without an appointment to see the great prophet Elisha?  But the man of God said, “No, let her alone.”  Gehazi thought she should not disturb the busy prophet.  Elisha is busy praying.  He is in the business of God.  He is in the holy sanctuary.  He is a prophet. Who are you to come and disturb him?  But the prophet said, “Let her alone, for her soul is vexed within her.  And the Lord hath hid it from me and not told me.”

     Then she said, “Did I desire a son of my lord?  Did I not say, do not deceive me?”

     Then he said to Gehazi, “Gird up thy loins.”  He knew what had happened.  He knew, and he understood.  He gave his staff to Gehazi, and told him to hurry to the house and lay that staff on the face of the child.  “If you meet any man, salute him not.  Don’t take any time.  Just hurry to this child.”  The mother of the child, however, stayed with the prophet.  “As the Lord liveth and my soul liveth, I will not leave thee.”  And Elisha arose and followed her.

     Gehazi passed on before them, we read in verse 31, and laid the staff upon the face of the child.  But there was neither voice nor hearing.  Wherefore he went again to meet Elisha and told him saying, “The child is not awake.”  The child had died.  The child was clearly gone.

     You see, when the woman pleaded with the prophet of God, she was  not condemning him or blaming him.  If she were, she would, perhaps, at least have buried her son first. Then she would have come and simply told him about his death.  But she really is come because she is expressing hope.  She is overwhelmed with grief, all right, as any mother would be.  But she brings that grief to the right place.  She brings that grief to the man of God.  This is the Old Testament, this is a time for miracles, a time when God’s prophets could perform such miracles.  She is coming with a vexed soul, but she is coming to the man of God for help.  In other words, she is coming to God, through the instrumentality of this man who had even prophesied such a thing as a childbirth.  She knew that if God was able to do that through Elisha, then God can also use the prophet to raise her own son.

     The prophet says, “All right, Gehazi, go.”  The woman says, “No, no.  You come.  I will not leave until you come with me.”

     Then we read in verses 32-37 what took place in this very interesting account.  Are you following?  “And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed.  He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the LORD.  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.  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.  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.  Then she went in, and fell at his feet, and bowed herself to the ground, and took up her son, and went out.”

     You must agree with me, beloved, that this is an astounding story.  Perhaps some of us have not even heard of it from the Old Testament.  What was that?  Mouth-to-mouth resuscitation?  Some kind of a magical formula?  Oh, no.  Think about it.  Here is a prophet.  He is the one whom God had used to prophesy the birth of this child.  Now the child is dead.  God had hid it from him, but now had revealed it through this woman whom he knew God had sent that he might now come to perform this miracle.  Fervently, earnestly, with his whole being, he lies upon that child — hand to hand, heart to heart, mouth to mouth — crying out in the name of God, “My breath for his breath, my eyes for his eyes, my hands for his hands.”  I believe it.  This compassionate prophet now pleaded with God that if God had used him to bring forth this child through the great woman of Shunem that this great woman of Shunem be not left without a reward, filled only with sorrow and grieving.  He prays.  He walks to and fro.  Then he comes back and stretches himself again upon the child.  Then the child begins to become warm and awakes.  Not only awakes, but we read that the child sneezes seven times.  Why seven times?  Just to show that he is active now?  Wow!  Seven times he sneezes!  Perhaps so.  But I believe the number seven in Scripture is always the number of the covenant:  four, the number of man; three, the number of the triune God.  I do not believe it is too much in the Old Testament Scriptures to interpret that to be the sign of God, the covenant God, giving this child life again — and doing so through His prophet whom He had sent.

     He is really alive and well.  The great woman of Shunem, who had shown such love and compassion and kindness to the prophet, who had received this child as a gift of God, and who now, by the way of faith, had really manifested her greatness by going back to the prophet — she receives her child.

     So, we want to conclude today by pointing out that we have, in this passage of Scripture, a godly example.  Let us wipe away our tears, and let us rejoice to see that this woman of great faith and sacrificial love is indeed one whom all of us ought to emulate.  Her love for God was greater than all her earthly riches.  How quickly she showed her compassion, this great woman of Shunem, when she brought Elisha to her home.

     Easy, is it not, that we cry to God in our needs.  But this great woman showed her love for God in sacrificing herself and her household for the sake of the great prophet.  When, by faith, she served God, then she also experienced in rich measure the blessing of God.  The Lord gives, yes, and the Lord takes away.  But then the Lord (remember Job?) restores again.  This surely is what the great woman of Shunem illustrates.  Walk by faith, beloved, and not by sight.  Let us be encouraged to serve Jehovah with such love, with such steadfast faith.  So, when God takes up His jewels, and opens the book of remembrance, as we read in the book of Malachi, He will say, “Here is a great woman and there is a great man who, in the love of God and gratitude towards God, showed love to My people, even to My servants.”  May the great woman of Shunem serve as a godly example to all of us.  May many of God’s saints, angels, prophets, rich and poor, near and far, who pass by our own churches or our own households experience the greatness of the woman of Shunem through our godly hospitality for the saints.  Amen.

     Let us pray.

      Oh God, we thank Thee that Thou dost give to us such wonderful examples in the Scriptures.  Let us search the Scriptures to see if these things be so.  Then let us, O Lord, also show that godly hospitality to the saints and, yes, even to Thy servants, for whom we are thankful.  And we pray that Thou wilt teach us to love the brethren, to love one another out of the love of God through Jesus Christ, Amen.