Elijah&Elisha: The Woman from Shunem

Happy Mothers Day!  Today we are going to continue our story on Elisha and Elijah – and the last two weeks we looked at Elijah – and we will return to him next week.  But for Mother’s Day we are going to jump ahead to a story that involves Elijah’s successor – a guy conveniently named Elisha.  Here’s how you tell them apart.  Elisha was the bald one.  Isn’t that helpful?

Okay – we’re going to jump in and read this rather long story- okay.  Let’s get after it…

8 One day Elisha went to the town of Shunem. A wealthy woman lived there, and she urged him to come to her home for a meal. After that, whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for something to eat.

9 She said to her husband, “I am sure this man who stops in from time to time is a holy man of God. 10 Let’s build a small room for him on the roof and furnish it with a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp. Then he will have a place to stay whenever he comes by.”

11 One day Elisha returned to Shunem, and he went up to this upper room to rest. 12 He said to his servant Gehazi, “Tell the woman from Shunem I want to speak to her.” When she appeared, 13 Elisha said to Gehazi, “Tell her, ‘We appreciate the kind concern you have shown us. What can we do for you? Can we put in a good word for you to the king or to the commander of the army?’”

“No,” she replied, “my family takes good care of me.”

14 Later Elisha asked Gehazi, “What can we do for her?”

Gehazi replied, “She doesn’t have a son, and her husband is an old man.”

15 “Call her back again,” Elisha told him. When the woman returned, Elisha said to her as she stood in the doorway, 16 “Next year at this time you will be holding a son in your arms!”

“No, my lord!” she cried. “O man of God, don’t deceive me and get my hopes up like that.”

17 But sure enough, the woman soon became pregnant. And at that time the following year she had a son, just as Elisha had said.

And they lived happily ever after.  Isn’t that nice.  But wait, there’s more.

18 One day when her child was older, he went out to help his father, who was working with the harvesters. 19 Suddenly he cried out, “My head hurts! My head hurts!”

His father said to one of the servants, “Carry him home to his mother.”

20 So the servant took him home, and his mother held him on her lap. But around noontime he died.

Happy Mothers Day everyone.  Heck of a story.  But wait – there’s more!

21 She carried him up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, then shut the door and left him there. 22 She sent a message to her husband: “Send one of the servants and a donkey so that I can hurry to the man of God and come right back.”

23 “Why go today?” he asked. “It is neither a new moon festival nor a Sabbath.”

But she said, “It will be all right.”

24 So she saddled the donkey and said to the servant, “Hurry! Don’t slow down unless I tell you to.”

25 As she approached the man of God at Mount Carmel, Elisha saw her in the distance. He said to Gehazi, “Look, the woman from Shunem is coming. 26 Run out to meet her and ask her, ‘Is everything all right with you, your husband, and your child?’”

“Yes,” the woman told Gehazi, “everything is fine.”

27 But when she came to the man of God at the mountain, she fell to the ground before him and caught hold of his feet. Gehazi began to push her away, but the man of God said, “Leave her alone. She is deeply troubled, but the Lord has not told me what it is.”

28 Then she said, “Did I ask you for a son, my lord? And didn’t I say, ‘Don’t deceive me and get my hopes up’?”

29 Then Elisha said to Gehazi, “Get ready to travel; take my staff and go! Don’t talk to anyone along the way. Go quickly and lay the staff on the child’s face.”

30 But the boy’s mother said, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I won’t go home unless you go with me.” So Elisha returned with her.

31 Gehazi hurried on ahead and laid the staff on the child’s face, but nothing happened. There was no sign of life. He returned to meet Elisha and told him, “The child is still dead.”

32 When Elisha arrived, the child was indeed dead, lying there on the prophet’s bed. 33 He went in alone and shut the door behind him and prayed to the Lord. 34 Then he lay down on the child’s body, placing his mouth on the child’s mouth, his eyes on the child’s eyes, and his hands on the child’s hands. And as he stretched out on him, the child’s body began to grow warm again! 35 Elisha got up, walked back and forth across the room once, and then stretched himself out again on the child. This time the boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes!

36 Then Elisha summoned Gehazi. “Call the child’s mother!” he said. And when she came in, Elisha said, “Here, take your son!” 37 She fell at his feet and bowed before him, overwhelmed with gratitude. Then she took her son in her arms and carried him downstairs.

So what’s the deal with this story?  What is this story about?

First.  It’s about pain.  Turmoil.  Chaos.  Suffering.  This story is about pain.

What gives Phil?!  Mothers Day is supposed to be about flowers and brunch and videos that get us teared up?  Why this story?  Why pain?

Well, listen on Mother’s Day – it feels inauthentic that we don’t acknowledge that Mothers Day can be a day that has an undercurrent of pain.   Mother’s Day for many, is painful.

Many of us, including my wife Jody and I, have Mothers who have passed away and we miss them terribly and so Mother’s Day is a time to reflect with gratitude but also with a measure of sadness.

Others have mothers who were not good mothers.  Maybe even not good human beings.  And so Mothers Day brings feelings of – “Why didn’t God give me a good mother?”

Mothers day has the potential of great pain.  And this woman from Shunem – she has experienced the two aspects of motherhood that can be most painful.  First she struggled with infertility.  And had come to the point where she accepted it – until Elisha comes and can you hear the pain in her voice – don’t get my hopes up again only to see them crushed.

And then to lose a child?  There is no greater pain to endure on earth than having a child die.

Mothers Day is filled with the potential for pain, but that’s only because Motherhood itself is filled with the potential for both Great Joy and great pain.

Mothers Day is one of those days when many people will spend some time in prayer asking God – Why did you allow this pain in my life?

And as hard as it is for us to hear – we usually don’t know why on this side of eternity.  What we do know is that God acknowledges our pain.  He never asks us to not grieve, he never tells us to get over it.

He acknowledges our pain and declares himself to be Close to the broken hearted.

Furthermore he understands pain first hand. He himself inserted himself into humanity – endured pain – he actually does know what we’re feeling – Personally – not just academically.  He shares our suffering.  And he promises to walk with us in our suffering.  He is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort who walks with us in our troubles.  (2 Cor 1:4)

So I just want to encourage you today – I know that Mother’s Day is not all about pain, but for many it’s at least- it’s party about hurt.   Can we give ourselves permission to be human today?  And if you need some time to be sad on Mothers Day for whatever reason – to allow yourself to be.

It’s okay and if anyone asks – you can say – I’m just a little sad right now – but it’s not your fault – you didn’t do anything wrong.  I’m just having some feelings – it’s okay.

Our God never tells us to hide our pain.  – In fact – Half the Psalms we read – they start with pain.  They are birthed from pain.

Acknowledge the pain as part of our story.  It’s certainly part of this woman’s story.

This story we read today – it’s about pain. But there’s more to this story than pain.

This story is also about faith.

Who is the faith filled person in this story?  I mean, this story is going to end with a miracle!  Who is the channel for the miracle?  Who is the faith filled person who will bring it about?

It’s not the husband.  I mean the wife – she doesn’t even tell her husband that their son has passed away.  Why not?  We are left to presume – but we can already see the husband’s initial response to her request to go see the Prophet – why?

“Is it Christmas already?  We got to go to church?”  No?  Then why bother him?  Leave him alone.  Is it too much to imagine the husband saying – what’s done is done.  No use bothering the prophet.

The channel of faith is certainly not Elisha’s servant Gehazi.  Gehazi – did you notice – not only is he not compassionate – but he’s annoyed with the woman.  I mean – he runs out to meet her and she says – I don’t want to speak with you – I came to see the man o God.  And Gehazi is like, “I am the man of God’s personal assistant” and she pays him no attention.

And so he is so put off by her that it says – even though she is in obvious emotional distress – the guy tries to push her out the door?

Even Elisha isn’t the channel.  He kind of fumbles around – he doesn’t know exactly what to do, does he?  Gehazi – take my staff and run!  As if time was of some essence?

Who is the conduit of faith in this story?  It’s the Mom – she understands more than Elisha does what needs to be done.  I’m not leaving until you personally come back to the house with me.

Can I share an interesting verse – and I want to encourage you moms of faith out there – check out this verse in Hebrews 11:35

It was by faith women received their loved ones back again from death.  Hebrews 11:35

Now what does this mean?  Why is it so specific?  It’s not parents – or people- women by faith received their loved ones back again from the dead?

Well – it’s very interesting to note that in the bible there are about 7 instances where the dead are brought back to life.  In almost every one of them women are involved in the story.

Elijah and The widow from Zeraphath.  This story.  Lazarus – Mary and Martha were the central figures.  Even Jesus himself – when he was raised from the dead – it’s the women who are the first to see it and believe it.

What’s going on?

Well, here’s the reality.  Then and now – God often – not always – but often – calls women to be flag bearers of faith.   Jesus once said that faith can move mountains, and time and again in scripture we see that the ones who are displaying that kind of life changing faith?  Are women.

Does this mean that men are somehow deficient in faith?  Of course not – plenty of examples of men of faith too – but Hebrews 11 gives a special nod to women.

Now maybe there’s a woman in here and you are thinking – not it!  I’m the flag bearer for worry in our family!  Is there something wrong with me?

Or maybe you had a child get sick or injured or die and now you are wondering, was it because I lacked faith?  And again – the answer is of course not.

Hebrews 11 is not prescriptive – its descriptive – but it puts a finger on the pulse of something that I think is special and not often noted in the bible.  And that is the influence that a woman of faith has in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Listen – why is it that Mothers Day is one of our largest attended services of the year?  Because Mom says to the family – all I want for Mothers Day is for the family to be together at church.

Mom’s don’t say, “All I want for Mothers Day is for the family to sit together at Chuck E Cheese.  No mom ever has said that!  That’s Father’s Day.

Listen – if you are here today because your mom asked you to come to church with her – then first – then good job.   That’s a good thing.

But why did your mom ask you to come today?  Because she loves your soul, man.  Your mom – she loves the lord and she wants you to know the joy and strength and peace from loving Him too.  Maybe you do, maybe you don’t.  But if your mom asked you to come to church – then she is displaying a beautiful, motherly, Hebrews 11:35 kind of faith.

By faith, moms have moved mountains for their kids…

Maybe you are a mom and you have kids who have wandered away from the faith and you are praying.  May I encourage you to keep praying for your kids?

Maybe you have a child who is enduring a fight with an addiction, or making irrational decisions, or is heading down a path that scares you?  Keep praying.  Don’t give up.

Tap into the kind of faith this woman displays – when she says – I know the one I need to speak with about this – everybody get out of my way.

Somewhere someone is thinking – can’t I just have brunch and some flowers.  Being an intercessor – sounds like so much work.  Ahhh… but you’re a mom!  Motherhood is hard work!

This story – it’s about pain.  It’s about faith.  But ultimately it’s about hope.

Where is this woman putting her hope?  Not in Elisha.  Her hope is in a God who can make all things right again.

Notice what Elisha does – he does what Elijah had once done. – He stretched himself out on the boy.  Mouth to mouth – eye to eye, hand to hand.

What’s going on?  This prayer that Elisha is praying, what is he doing?  He is praying Lord, my mouth for his.  My eyes for his.  Let me swap places with this boy.  Take me and let him live.

And it’s a prayer that every parent has prayed for their son or daughter who is sick or in pain.  Lord, let me take their place.  My life for theirs.

It’s the prayer that Jesus made – for you and for me.  For all who would place our faith in Him.  Jesus prayed – let me take their place.  And the Father said yes.

See Elisha didn’t have to die to bring the boy back to life, but Jesus did and did so willingly, to give all of us, who once were dead in our sins, the chance to have new life.  The chance to be reborn.  Born again.

Elisha stretched himself out for the boy – and Jesus stretched himself out for us.  And this is what that means for you and for me.  He stretched himself out so that the Shunemmite words can be ours as well.

What words?  What did she tell her husband?  It will be okay.  What did she tell the servant?  Everything will be fine.

See faith in Jesus provides us the reassurances that we utter those words.  Even in the midst of pain.

In fact we can utter those words with as much certainty as we know when we are in pain – with every degree of certaintly we can declare – one day – everything will be alright.

Since Jesus stretched himself out over us – his life for ours, we can be certain that one day we will be able to look backwards at our life and be able to say – Everything turned out as it should have.  Everything is fine.

See the story of this woman is the story of the bible. Pain, faith, Hope.  Pain faith – promise.  Pain.  Faith.  Life.

This story is about pain – but wait – there’s more.  It’s about displaying great faith – but wait there’s more.  It’s about hope.