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Jamieson, Fausset & Brown :: Commentary on 2 Kings 4

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The Second Book of the Kings

Commentary by ROBERT JAMIESON

CHAPTER 4

2Ki 4:1-7. ELISHA AUGMENTS THE WIDOW'S OIL.

      1. there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets--They were allowed to marry as well as the priests and Levites. Her husband, not enjoying the lucrative profits of business, had nothing but a professional income, which, in that irreligious age, would be precarious and very scanty, so that he was not in a condition to provide for his family.
      the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen--By the enactment of the law, a creditor was entitled to claim the person and children of the insolvent debtor, and compel them to serve him as bondmen till the year of jubilee should set them free.

      2-4. a pot--or cruet of oil. This comprising her whole stock of domestic utensils, he directs her to borrow empty vessels not a few; then, secluding herself with her children, [the widow] was to pour oil from her cruse into the borrowed vessels, and, selling the oil, discharge the debt, and then maintain herself and family with the remainder.

      6. the oil stayed--that is, ceased to multiply; the benevolent object for which the miracle had been wrought having been accomplished.

      2Ki 4:8-17. PROMISES A SON TO THE SHUNAMMITE.

      8. Elisha passed to Shunem--now Sulam, in the plain of Esdraelon, at the southwestern base of Little Hermon. The prophet, in his journey, was often entertained here by one of its pious and opulent inhabitants.

      10. Let us make a little chamber--not build, but prepare it. She meant a room in the oleah, the porch, or gateway ( 2Sa 18:33 1Ki 17:19 ), attached to the front of the house, leading into the court and inner apartments. The front of the house, excepting the door, is a dead wall, and hence this room is called a chamber in the wall. It is usually appropriated to the use of strangers, or lodgers for a night, and, from its seclusion, convenient for study or retirement.

      13-16. what is to be done for thee?--Wishing to testify his gratitude for the hospitable attentions of this family, he announced to her the birth of a son "about this time next year." The interest and importance of such an intelligence can only be estimated by considering that Oriental women, and Jewish in particular, connect ideas of disgrace with barrenness, and cherish a more ardent desire for children than women in any other part of the world ( Gen 18:10-15 ).

      2Ki 4:18-37. RAISES HER DEAD SON.

      19. My head, my head!--The cries of the boy, the part affected, and the season of the year, make it probable that he had been overtaken by a stroke of the sun. Pain, stupor, and inflammatory fever are the symptoms of the disease, which is often fatal.

      22. she called unto her husband--Her heroic concealment of the death from her husband is not the least interesting feature of the story.

      24. Drive, and go forward--It is usual for women to ride on asses, accompanied by a servant, who walks behind and drives the beast with his stick, goading the animal at the speed required by his mistress. The Shunammite had to ride a journey of five or six hours to the top of Carmel.

      26-28. And she answered, It is well--Her answer was purposely brief and vague to Gehazi, for she reserved a full disclosure of her loss for the ear of the prophet himself. She had met Gehazi at the foot of the hill, and she stopped not in her ascent till she had disburdened her heavy-laden spirit at Elisha's feet. The violent paroxysm of grief into which she fell on approaching him, appeared to Gehazi an act of disrespect to his master; he was preparing to remove her when the prophet's observant eye perceived that she was overwhelmed with some unknown cause of distress. How great is a mother's love! how wondrous are the works of Providence! The Shunammite had not sought a son from the prophet--her child was, in every respect, the free gift of God. Was she then allowed to rejoice in the possession for a little, only to be pierced with sorrow by seeing the corpse of the cherished boy? Perish, doubt and unbelief! This event happened that "the works of God should be made manifest" in this prophet, "and for the glory of God."

      29-31. take my staff. . . and lay. . . upon the face of the child--The staff was probably an official rod of a certain form and size. Necromancers used to send their staff with orders to the messengers to let it come in contact with nothing by the way that might dissipate or destroy the virtue imparted to it. Some have thought that Elisha himself entertained similar ideas, and was under an impression that the actual application of his staff would serve as well as the touch of his hand. But this is an imputation dishonorable to the character of the prophet. He wished to teach the Shunammite, who obviously placed too great dependence upon him, a memorable lesson to look to God. By sending his servant forward to lay his staff on the child, he raised [the Shunammite's] expectations, but, at the same time, taught her that his own help was unavailing--"there was neither voice, nor hearing." The command, to salute no man by the way, showed the urgency of the mission, not simply as requiring the avoidance of the tedious and unnecessary greetings so common in the East ( Luk 10:1 ), but the exercise of faith and prayer. The act of Gehazi was allowed to fail, in order to free the Shunammite, and the people of Israel at large, of the superstitious notion of supposing a miraculous virtue resided in any person, or in any rod, and to prove that it was only through earnest prayer and faith in the power of God and for His glory that this and every miracle was to be performed.

      34. lay upon the child, &c.--(see 1Ki 17:21 Act 20:10 ). Although this contact with a dead body would communicate ceremonial uncleanness, yet, in performing the great moral duties of piety and benevolence, positive laws were sometimes dispensed with, particularly by the prophets.

      35. the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes--These were the first acts of restored respiration, and they are described as successive steps. Miracles were for the most part performed instantaneously; but sometimes, also, they were advanced progressively towards completion ( 1Ki 18:44, 45 Mar 8:24, 25 ).

      2Ki 4:38-41. PURIFIES DEADLY POTTAGE.

      38. there was a dearth in the land--(see on JF & B for 2Ki 8:1).
      the sons of the prophets were sitting before him--When receiving instruction, the scholars sat under their masters. This refers to their being domiciled under the same roof (compare 2Ki 6:1 ).
      Set on the great pot--As it is most likely that the Jewish would resemble the Egyptian "great pot," it is seen by the monumental paintings to have been a large goblet, with two long legs, which stood over the fire on the floor. The seethed pottage consisted of meat cut into small pieces, mixed with rice or meal and vegetables.

      39. went out into the field to gather herbs--Wild herbs are very extensively used by the people in the East, even by those who possess their own vegetable gardens. The fields are daily searched for mallow, asparagus, and other wild plants.
      wild vine--literally, "the vine of the field," supposed to be the colocynth, a cucumber, which, in its leaves, tendrils, and fruit, bears a strong resemblance to the wild vine. The "gourds," or fruit, are of the color and size of an orange bitter to the taste, causing colic, and exciting the nerves, eaten freely they would occasion such a derangement of the stomach and bowels as to be followed by death. The meal which Elisha poured into the pot was a symbolic sign that the noxious quality of the herbs was removed.
      lap full--The hyke, or large cloak, is thrown loosely over the left shoulder and fastened under the right arm, so as to form a lap or apron.

      2Ki 4:42-44. SATISFIES A HUNDRED MEN WITH TWENTY LOAVES.

      43. They shall eat, and shall leave thereof--This was not a miracle of Elisha, but only a prediction of one by the word of the Lord. Thus it differed widely from those of Christ ( Mat 15:37 Mar 8:8 Luk 9:17 Jhn 6:12 ).

Commentary on 1 Kings 1 ← Prior Book
Commentary on 1 Chronicles 1 Next Book →
Commentary on 2 Kings 3 ← Prior Chapter
Commentary on 2 Kings 5 Next Chapter →
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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