Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Shunamite Woman

"What is to Be Done for Thee" By Elspeth Young

2 Kings 4: 8-37; 8:1-6

Background: 9th Century BC

Elijah passes the mantle of prophet on to Elisha, who then works mighty miracles among the children of Israel such as dividing the water of Jordan and healing the waters of Jericho (2 Kings 2). Also at this time Israel and Judah combine forces to battle the Moabites. Elisha promises them that they will have water and prophecies of their victory (2 Kings 3). Just previous to the story of the Shunamite woman is the story of Elisha multiplying the widow's oil so she would have enough money to pay her debtors (2 Kings 4:1-5).

Facts about Her:
  • She lives in Shunem, which is very close to where the city of Nazareth would be built in New Testament times;
  • She is called a "great woman";
  • When Elisha passes through Shunem she constrains him to eat bread with her and her house;
  • Elisha eats bread with her and from that time on every time he passes through Shunem he stops to eat bread at her house;
  • She tells her husband that she perceives Elisha to be a holy man of God;
  • She builds a chamber in her house especially for Elisha to use when he travels. The "chamber" she prepares is known as the upper room (or in Hebrew "aliyah") and was the very best room in the house. It was reserved for important guests and the master of the house;
  • On the first day that Elisha stays in the new chamber he asks Gehazi, his servant, to call her in so that he can thank her for the room. As a gift he offers to speak to the King or the Captain of the host on her behalf;
  • She refuses his offer and replies that she dwells "among her own people";
  • After she leaves Elisha asks Gehazi what he could do for her. Gehazi tells Elisha that she has no child and that her husband is old;
  • Elisha calls her back and tells her that "About this season, according to the time of life, thou shalt embrace a son";
  • She tells him "Nay, my Lord, thou man of God, do not lie unto think handmaid";
  • She conceives and bares a son around the time that Elisha told her she would;
  • One day when the child is older he goes with his father to reap but keeps complaining about his head hurting. He is carried back to his mother where he "sat on her knees till noon, and then died";
  • When her son is dead she lays him on Elisha's bed in her house and shuts the door. She then tells her husband that she is going to see Elisha. He is confused because it isn't the sabbath or the new moon, but she tells him "It shall be well";
  • She travels to Carmel to see Elisha. When Elisha sees her coming he sends Gehazi out to meet her and ask how her family is. She tells him that "It is well";
  • When she meets Elisha she falls at his feet and says "Did I desire a son of my lord? did I not say, Do not deceive me?"
  • Elisha sends Gehazi with his staff which he is to lay upon the face of the child. The Shunamite woman follows him. Gehazi lays the staff upon the face of the child but he doesn't awake.
  • Elisha goes to the house and locks himself in the room with the child until he returns him to life;
  • He calls to the Shunamite woman to "take up thy son". She falls at Elisha's feet and takes her living son with her out of the room.
  • Several years later Elisha comes to her to warn her of a famine that will be upon the land for seven years and that she and her household should leave;
  • She and her household obey Elisha and sojourn in the land of the Philistines for seven years;
  • At the end of seven years she returns and goes before the king to ask for her land and her house back;
  • It just so happened that while she is appealing the king for her land, Gehazi is telling the King about all the miracles that Elisha has done. Gehazi sees the Shunamite woman and tells the king that Elisha had restored her son to life.
  • The King asks her if it was true and she told him it is. The King then restores to her all that was hers plus "all the fruits of the field since the day she left the land, even until now."
Speculations About Her:
  • The reference to her being a "great woman" probably means that she was wealthy and had great influence in the community in which she lived;
  • From the story it is obvious that she had command of a great household that depended upon her and her husband for physical protection and spiritual direction;
  • When asked what she wants she doesn't tell Elisha that she wants a child, nor does she believe that she will be able to have one when he tells her that she will. Perhaps this is because she had been so long without a child that she had given up all hope. She may have long ago given up pleading to the Lord for a child, and had learned to accept His will and her place in life.
  • When she tells her husband that she is going to see Elisha he is confused because it isn't the sabbath or the new moon. This indicates that she probably attended spiritual meetings regularly.
  • She tells Elisha that she "dwells among her own people" and it is unclear as to what this means. It could mean that she dwells with her family, which would be very unusual because women usually went to live with their husbands families. Or it could mean that she has some to see her husband's family as "her own people."
  • In the second story, the one about the famine, we are probably safe to guess that her husband had died seeing as he isn't mentioned and that he was mentioned as being old in the first story. What is remarkable is that from the tone of the story it sounds like she inherited all the property and that she was in sole command of her great household. Which is unusual because the property should have been passed on to her husband's brothers. Perhaps there were no brothers?

My Thoughts:

I think what I am impressed most with in this story is this woman's amazing faith. Not only does she have the spiritual sensitivity to recognize Elisha as a prophet of God, but she welcomes him into her home and gives him a permanent, honorable place. When she is offered more prestige and wealth by being introduced to the king, she turns it down because she is content with what she has. She doesn't even ask Elisha for a child, which she probably wanted desperately, but is content with her place in life and what God has given her. I can only marvel to think how long it must have taken her, and how many prayers she must have offered, to have finally gotten to that point in her life. I truly admire that.

Then when she finally is blessed with a child, the child dies. I think that any other woman's faith would have been rocked to the core. First a prophet blesses you with a child and then it is taken away-- what justice is there in that! But she doesn't let her son's death diminish her faith, in fact everything she does from that moment on is an act of amazing faith. She puts her son on the bed in which she has housed the prophet for so many months and locks the door on him. Then she tells her husband to saddle up her ass so that she can go see the prophet. Did she even tell her husband that the boy was dead? I don't know-- you think that if she had then her husband wouldn't have been so confused about why she was going to see Elisha. And as she is leaving she tells her husband " It shall be well." What an amazing thing for her to be able to say! This from a woman who just had her little boy die in her arms, and yet she has the faith to say that everything will be okay. She also says it again to Gehazi when he comes to greet her and asks how her family is. She doesn't even tell him that her son has died but says "It is well." She knew that no matter what happened, whether her son lived again or not, that everything would be alright. When she kneels before Elisha she doesn't ask him to heal her son, she just asks for understanding and for help to understand what has happened to her.

I can't help but think that, "It shall be well", must have been the theme phrase of this woman's life. Who knows how many times during her years and years of praying for a child that "It shall be well" was her only answer. I think that this woman had learned one of the hardest of life lessons-- to accept the will of God. She knew that there are things in life that we can not control and that we can not always understand God's ways. Yet she knew, as demonstrated by her ability to say "It is well" in the face of extreme trials, that God loved her, that He was aware of her, and that no matter what happened that He would take care of her. And God did take care of her, not only did He heal her son but He later saves the lives of all her family by sending them to safety during the famine. True, she had to leave everything behind but she gained it all back plus much more than she ever had before. This is the great lesson to be learned from the Shunamite, that when we accept God's will and have faith in his prophets and teachings, he blesses us and protects us.

What We Can Learn From Her:
  • While we may not have the opportunity to physically house a prophet of God under our roof, each of us should make room for him in our hearts and our lives and it should be the very best room we have;
  • She was a woman of industry and action. She had the idea (perhaps prompting) to make a room for Elisha and so she did it and because of her actions she and all her family were blessed;
  • In all the decisions she makes she first consults with her husband. Yes, she is very independent, but before she takes any action she communicates respectfully with her husband first;
  • When we learn to accept the will of God with faith, he can work mighty miracles for us;
  • Miracles can and do happen-- according to our faith and the will of God;
  • When we makes sacrifices, sometimes all we have, God compensates us and returns to us what we had plus much more.
Questions to Think About:


  1. This thought has come to me while reading some of the other women you've written about, which thought is that the prophets of God really do care about the individuals. Too often I think of prophets as doing huge miracles that make whole societies and groups of people change. In reality, I believe that most of the change occurs one person at a time. This is definitely how we see Jesus working among men, and so it's fitting that His prophets would pay attention to each individual as well.
    Thanks for recounting this story about Elisha taking the time during his journeys to visit a single family, and then to spend a great deal of time working with the one soul that others have given up on for being dead. Because he spent his time caring for the one, that one came back to life.
    One final say is that Christ has taken time for each one of us--being dead both spiritually and physically--so that we could live again just like Him.

  2. Having lost a son this hit home with me. Thanks for putting this together. You did a beautiful job. I always want to re-read the scriptures you've talked about.

  3. Wow! God is good to us. The Lord has given me a msg for Mother's Day through your insight and writings. This is Pastor Pettus. Our website is To God be all glory and honor in Jesus name.