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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: P. C. Headley :: Women of the Bible

P. C. Headley :: The Shunamite

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XIV. THE SHUNAMITE.

The reflective reader of Scripture feels perhaps more deeply than the most logical array of argument, the inherent evidence of its inspiration. There is a singular and unequalled impartiality in its developments of character. Amid the atrocious adventures of kings, and the conspiracies of subjects-idolatry, war and pestilence-are exhibitions of unblemished authority, pure devotion, and glimpses of domestic fidelity and joy, which stamp the narrative with the seal of a faithful record. True to all experience is the picture drawn by the Holy Ghost, of earth and the immortal dwellers upon its surface. While that affirms a perfect creation and disastrous ruin, every observant eye beholds on all sides, strewn the fragments

"Of a temple once complete."

It was during the reign of Ahab, that the Shunamite, whose name with the "poor widow's" is unknown, left by her philanthropic deeds an imperishable memorial of her virtue.

Shunem was a city in the valley of Esdrelon, whose extensive plains were the scene of the most fearful conflicts in Jewish warfare, till its soil was moistened with blood; and the billows of waving grain, as on the field of Waterloo in modern time, told where the ridges of the dead had mouldered. Before this wealthy town, Saul encamped with his army on the eve of his last great battle. (1Sa 28:4.)

It was, therefore, often the asylum of wounded and dying warriors of bordering nations; and its inhabitants had every opportunity for the exercise of mercy and kindness to the suffering. Among those who sought occasion for doing good, in the expansive spirit of pure benevolence, was a woman of fortune and influence. She met Elisha one day on his way to Mount Carmel, and gave him a pressing invitation to share the hospitality of her dwelling. (2Ki 4:8.)

He accepted, and during the interview, there was awakened a religious sympathy and friendship, which continued ever after. In his travels through Shunem, he made her house his home.

Observing that the man of God was meditative and spiritual, with the consent of her husband, she furnished a little chamber expressly for his accommodation. By an Oriental seat, she placed a lamp that would burn all night; still a custom in the east when a guest is received with flattering attention. (2Ki 4:9-11.) An English traveller not many years ago was thus entertained at the house of a Jew in Asia Minor.

That cheerful seclusion became dear to Elisha; and his raptures while prophetic visions made its walls a diorama of the future, will be known only,

"When pictured on the eternal wall,
The past shall reappear."

It was after a day of weariness of frame and of heart, he reached at eventide his favorite attic. The Shunamite heard his foot-steps, and supplied his table, anticipating with wakeful interest all his wants. The next morning, contemplating her unwearied kindness, he was touched by the recollection of so disinterested love towards a homeless seer, and told his faithful servant to call her. He inquired what he could do for her in return. (2Ki 4:12-14.)

The miracles he had wrought, made him a favorite at the royal court, and he offered to use his influence with the king and the captain of his host, in her behalf. He doubtless referred to an honorable position in the palace, or military aid and glory if desired, for her husband.

The reply displays her beautiful contentment with retirement-"I dwell among my people;" (2Ki 4:13) the cordialities of social life and the amenities of home, were all within the bright circle, ambition had drawn on "the sands of time." Thwarted in his purpose, Elisha consulted Gehazi, who suggested that no offspring beguiled the hours of the lonely Shunamite. (2Ki 4:14.) He knew how the hope of forming at least a link in the lineage of the Messiah, to a Jewish wife, made a childless marriage doubly desolate. The prophet again sent for her, and moved by the unerring spirit, promised her a son. In the rush of emotion the announcement excited, and feeling the improbability of the event, she entreated Elisha not to mock her tears, for that hope had withered long ago. (2Ki 4:16.)

He calmed her agitation, and renewed the promise. The child was born and grew up an idol by her side. Upon a summer day, he rambled into the harvest fields, where his father was at work with the reapers. His pastime among the sheaves, and his blithesome laugh, made the old man forgetful of his toil. Often pausing over the gathered grain, be watched the lad, while a smile passed like a gleam of light over his tranquil features.

But the sun blazed in a cloudless sky, and beat on that tender brow, till it drooped as a stricken flower. His brain was on fire with pain, and passing his forehead with his little hands, he looked into his father's face and cried piteously, "My head, my head." (2Ki 4:18-19.) He was carried to his mother, but nothing could revive his sinking form or retain the suffering spirit. At noontide he laid his head, like a wounded bird nestling under the maternal wing, upon her bleeding bosom, and died. (2Ki 4:20.) She gazed awhile on the expressionless eye, and the face yet beautiful, over which the death‐pallor was stealing, and then her thoughts flew to the man of God.

She went to Elisha's chamber, laid the corpse on his bed, closing the door gently, as if she might disturb that strange slumber, requested her husband to send immediately a young man and an ass. But he had given up for burial his dead boy, and thought her frantic grief had shaped this wild purpose of finding the prophet. With surprising self‐command, she replied, "It shall be well," and vaulting into the saddle, bade her attendant to drive the animal to the top of his speed. (2Ki 4:21-24.)

Elisha was on the summit of Carmel-the highest promontory on the coast of Palestine. It is mantled with foliage from its crown of whispering pines and lofty oaks, to the olive and laurel girdling its slopes with fruit and evergreen. Adown its sides, a multitude of crystal streams dance beneath interlocking boughs, to the sweeping Kishon, marching to the blue Mediterranean. It has a thousand caves, which have ever been the abode of prophet, recluse and monk. From its top, the view of the bay of Acre, with its fruitful shores-the blue peaks of Lebanon, and the White Cape, is enchanting.

The seer was looking off on this landscape spreading away on every side, in which the grand and picturesque view mingled in endless variety, and waiting for revelations from the fearful dome above to a bewildered world, when he beheld in the haze of a distant vale the hastening Shunamite. He told Gehazi to go down and meet her, and inquire if it were well with her family. With tearful resignation, she answered, "It is well," and pressed upward to the eminence where Elisha sat. The servant deeming her an irreverent intruder on the hallowed solitude, held her back, till at Elisha's command, she was suffered to clasp his robe in anguish. (2Ki 4:25-26.)

God, for some reason, had not informed the prophet of that domestic calamity.-With what delicacy and force she made known her affliction-said nothing of the child's sickness and death, but reminded him that when she desired the blessing it was with a request that he would not deceive her-as if it were more cruel than neglect, to press the cup of joy to her lips, and dash it aside-to relight the star of hope upon her solitary way, then, blot it out forever. (2Ki 4:27-29.)

Elisha understood the sad import of the appeal, and bade Gehazi go and lay his staff upon the face of the sleeper. (2Ki 4:29.) But a mother was not so put off. She clung to Elisha, saying, "As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee!" The servant, proud of the honor, ran and laid the staff on the dead-but there was no stirring amid the chords of the pulseless frame-no voice answered to his call. (2Ki 4:21.)

The prophet entered the chamber alone, "and shut the door upon the twain"-the living and the dead. He knelt in prayer, then rose and stretched himself on the body. Warmth returned faintly, and in his mental agitation, he strode with hurried step through the silent apartments of that house of mourning. Once more he embraced the corpse, and the luminous eye opened sweetly upon him, as when he turned in hither for reposing from the dust of travel, and met upon the threshold the laughing boy. The Shunamite was called, and when she saw again the wonted smile, and heard again the music of a harp that seemed unstrung forever, utterance was not equal to her full heart, and she sank at Elisha's feet. Then taking up her son with a clasping energy of fondness, none could know, unless like her they emerged from the shadows of the tomb, snatching from death's skeleton hand a loved one, she hastened to her husband; and Elisha went on his prophetic mission. (2Ki 4:34-37.)

Years after, famine drove the Shunamite to a foreign land. (2Ki 8:1-2.) When she came back, her possessions were gone, strangers had effaced her title, and she was penniless. (2Ki 8:3.) Just at this point of despair, Gehazi was conversing with the king respecting Elisha's miracles, and particularly the restoration of the dead in Shunem. When the houseless widow was proved by that servant to be the same for whom the marvellous deed was done, the monarch sent officers to restore her fortune; rendering at last through the prophet's popularity, the aid he apprehended she might need, when his gratitude was struggling to find expression. (2Ki 8:4-6.)

Here we have the history of another noble mother, to whom the honor of God in daily life, and in the gift of offspring, was the central thought-the sublime principle of action, and sustaining power beneath the beatings of the storm that darkened her future.

And so God takes care of his trusting ones, who hold on to his extended hand when the surges rise, and the heavens are wild with the meeting clouds. It is then he often whispers peace, and the gloom is broken by gushing radiance from the rifted folds of the tempest-and the melody of a purer sphere fills the sky arching lovingly life's slumbering sea.

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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