Sermon preached on 2 Kings 8:1-15 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 06/21/2020 in Petaluma, CA.
Today’s passage draws our attention to the great things Elisha had done among Israel. Those great things inspired others to do great things as well. But not everyone responded the way they should have to the great works of the Lord through Elisha. And as today’s passage draws our attention to the great things that Elisha has done, it ultimately draws our attention to the great things Christ Jesus has done. How will we respond to those great things? How will we receive Christ?
We begin in this passage with a reminder of one who had received Elisha well. Verse 1 reminds us of the Shunammite woman from back in chapter 4. This was the wealthy woman who with her husband showed great hospitality to Elisha when he passed through their town. She even convinced her husband that they should remodel their home a little to make a room for Elisha and his servant Gehazi to stay in whenever they came through. As verse 1 reminds us, this was same woman that Elisha whose son died and Elisha miraculously restored him to life. That was indeed a great thing that Elisha did!
Well, we see in verse 1 that Elisha’s care and concern for that family didn’t stop with raising the boy from the dead. We see Elisha warning the woman about a coming seven-year famine. Presumably, that was the same famine we saw going on in last chapter too. Elisha specifically commands the woman to depart with her whole household and leave her home and become a sojourner for a time, until the famine is over. Basically, Elisha gives her advanced warning about the coming famine so she can preempt the troubles by proactively relocating to some place where the famine will not be. So, she obeys Elisha and she and her family move to the land of the Philistines and become sojourners there.
We might begin to recognize some parallels with the book of Ruth. That was the story of another Israelite family who long before on their own prerogative left Israel during a famine to go to Moab until the famine was lifted. But things did not go well with that family during their time of sojourning – all the men of the family died, and only Naomi returns to Israel with nothing to show for it but bitterness and the widowed wife of one of her dead sons – one Moabitess named Ruth. Yet, God graciously brought redemption to that family through a kinsman redeemer named Boaz and even used the Moabitess Ruth to bring forth a son who would be a restorer of life to their afflicted family.
In contrast, this Shunammite woman is explicitly commanded to leave Israel and sojourn elsewhere. They didn’t presumptuously leave their hometown. Rather it was an act of godly obedience that they heeded the prophet’s command. And surely in the immediate moment, it served to sustain her family which otherwise would have suffered much under the seven-year famine. And yet look at her situation when she returns home after these seven years. She returns home to find out that, somehow or another, her family land in Shunem had been confiscated. Some have suggested the king took it as abandoned land, which seems likely and even thematic for the house of Ahab, but the text doesn’t explicitly state that, to be fair. But remember, the plots of land in Israel had been given by God to be divided up among each tribe and family. God spoke of such land as an inheritance of the Promised Land that he was giving each family. It was their portion and heritage in the land of promise. But this woman comes back home and finds her land has been taken from her. She comes home with the son who would presumably would work that land and carry on the family line and legacy into the next generation, but now it’s gone.
Realize, she comes back home and finds things like this after having obeyed Elisha. Let’s be real for a moment. She obeys God and find her land is now gone. We can’t help but recognize that her predicament is a side effect of obeying God’s command through the prophet Elisha. Forget the fact that God saved and preserved them through that – that’s the kind of thing God’s people tend to forget when troubles come. The bottom line is that at that moment, her reality was that having obeyed the Lord she now has lost her family inheritance. That is why we see here her in this passage. She goes and tries to appeal to the king to restore it.
To help further paint a picture of her plight we might remember how back in chapter 4 she told Elisha that she had everything she needed because she dwelt among her own people. She said that back then in response to Elisha’s offer to bring a good word to her to the king. She said she didn’t need a good word to the king because she had everything she needed while she lived right there with her own people. But, now how things had changed. Now she had not been living with her own people, and now doesn’t have a place among her people to come back to. She in fact does now need a word to the king spoken on her behalf! And regardless of the benefit of her sojourning away in Philistia for a time, it doesn’t change the fact that now she returns and is without a home.
Please recognize that there is no record her of her complaining or blaming God or anything like that. But I’ve painted things a little the way that I have because I think that would be a common response for most of us. While we don’t see her complaining, we can humbly admit that if we were in her shoes we might be tempted to complain. The application I’m making here is that sometimes we as Christian will suffer in our obedience to God. Sometimes we may have troubles come upon us specifically because we’ve been trying to obey God. But Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And likewise, this passage reminds us that God has not forgotten us in such circumstances. God provided here for this Shunammite woman and her son in the midst of the trouble she endured in her obedience to God. God didn’t forget her and he won’t forget us. Let us walk by faith in such circumstances.
Moving on to our second point, I’d like to think about how God provided for her here. I’m labeling this second point as “prophets reward.” You might recall that back in chapter 4 we saw this very idea that the prophet Elisha wanted to reward the woman for the great kindness she had been showing Elisha. That is why he offered to her that he could say a good word to the king for her. But of course, she turned down that reward. She didn’t need that reward at the time.
So, instead Elisha and Gehazi discussed the matter and came up with an alternative reward for the woman. They knew that she did not have a son and that her husband was old. That meant that it was unlikely the husband could father a child. And it also increased the need for a son to be able to take care of her and their land once the husband died. So, Elisha by the power of God prophesied that her and her husband would have a child by the next year. She was so excited by such a promise that it seemed unbelievable to her! But God indeed sent her a son as promised. This was her “prophet’s reward” for how she blessed Elisha the prophet.
Of course, that’s when chapter 4 goes on to say how later the boy was struck with some illness in his head and died. Elisha then proceeded to miraculously restore the child’s life. That fact is highlighted repeatedly in today’s passage. It’s mentioned once in verse 1 and three more times in verse 5. That’s highlighted to showcase the great things Elisha had done in the past. It also sets up how God redeems the woman’s land.
For it is at the same moment when Gehazi had been telling the king about that miraculous resurrection that the Shunammite women and her son arrive and ask the king for help. Some might call that coincidence – and in some sense it is. But we can also call it providence – and surely it is! God brought the woman and her son at just the right moment so that Gehazi for such a time as this could speak the good word to the king on her behalf. We should recognize God’s grace and mercy to the woman and her son. Their family inheritance in the land would not be lost. It is effectively redeemed – restored – here to them!
And I love how she gets to be involved simultaneously in this as a testimony to God’s powerful working through Elisha. She is the second witness who confirms Gehazi’s eyewitness report to this miracle through Elisha. The king’s prodigious response shows that their joint witness did bear fruit. At the mouth of two witnesses, the king appears to believe the report. In turn he restores not only the land to woman. He even goes beyond that to restore all that the land had produced during their seven years away from the land!
Realize then what this means. As we talk here of a prophet’s reward, realize that she had already received her prophet’s reward. She had received that when she was granted a son – not to mention when the son was resurrected from the dead. She had already turned down the offered reward of a good word to the king on her behalf. She took the reward of a son instead. But here, in this passage, she also receives the reward of a good word to the king. That’s exactly what Gehazi gives in verse 5 in his testimony of Elisha’s miracles. Gehazi puts in a good word for her and it serves to reward again this Shunammite woman!
And so, I love it! This woman of faith who received well the prophet receives not only a prophet’s reward, but a double reward! She receives both the son and the good word to the king! I love how this highlights the great and generous God that we have. On the one hand, anything good we do is but us doing our duty toward an all holy God who reigns supreme. As God we owe him full obedience whether he rewards us or not for it. And yet he does reward us. He rewards us even though in our fallen state as sinners we even need his Spirit to sow good deeds in our hearts. Yet as he sows such good deeds and we live them out – it is his delight to reward us. And not only to reward us but to do so abundantly beyond anything we might think we deserve!
This is the message that Jesus reaffirmed when he was here on earth. Matthew 10:40-42, Jesus promises his disciples, “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.” What a wonderful application that Jesus even rewards such grace-wrought works! That we can have a peace that even when troubles come in our service to the Lord, that he delights to reward us. That even when we suffer for receiving Christ or for receiving those who serve in his name, we are abundantly rewarded beyond what we deserve, beyond what we could even ask for or imagine. In Jesus we have a prophet’s reward of an eternal inheritance of glory that can’t be lost. And in Jesus we have the additional reward of our own lives back from the dead in a resurrection unto eternal life. So that we will live forever in that glorious inheritance awaiting us.
It our last point for today I want to point to a subtle hope that is here for Gehazi’s redemption. What do I mean? Well, I have to be careful here to not say more than what the passage says. But when we last saw Gehazi back in chapter 5, we witnessed his blatant defiance of Elisha that resulted in him being struck with the leprosy of Naaman. Elisha’s judgment upon Gehazi prophetically declared that the leprosy of Naaman would never depart him and his descendants. Presumably, this event in today’s passage takes place after that. I say, presumably, because some have wondered if this section is dischronologized. Some have wondered if we would see Gehazi before the king if he had leprosy. But, then again, apparently the kind of leprosy that Naaman had didn’t keep him from being able to come before his Syrian king. In fact, there is nothing otherwise in the grammar of this section in the Scripture that would hint at dischronologization. So, my comments here in this third point are based on the conviction that apart from reason to believe otherwise, it would make sense to understand this passage as occurring chronologically after Gehazi had received his leprosy and gone out from Elisha.
So then, what do we have? This one who previously acted contrary to the revealed will of God now is acting in service to the will of God. He is here testifying before the king of Israel of the mighty works of the LORD through Elisha. In the absence of Elisha, he continues Elisha’s ministry. This is not only in giving godly testimony to the king of Israel, but also in bringing that good word for this Shunammite woman that Elisha has desired to bring all along.
Think about how this hints at a redemption of sorts for Gehazi. Again, I don’t mean to overstate it because the passage doesn’t overstate it. But just think of what Gehazi could have been. We could imagine him becoming Elisha’s successor. Gehazi had been the servant of Elisha. Like how Elisha had been the servant of Elijah. Elisha served Elijah with a view of one day succeeding Elijah when he went away. That’s exactly what Elisha did. Elisha carried on the work of Elijah in his absence. Elisha brought the prophetic word of the LORD in power and might to both the king and the people. Had Gehazi not sinned like he did with the Naaman incident, we might have expected Gehazi to one day follow in Elisha’s footsteps and carry on his ministry in his absence. And yet, isn’t there a sense in which Gehazi here does follow in Elisha’s footsteps. Yes, not in the miraculous power working of the Spirt like Elijah and Elisha. But he nonetheless witnesses the power of God before a king and is used by God to be a sort of restorer of life to the Shunammite woman and her son. He works in non-miraculous ways to carry on the ministry in the absence of Elisha. Surely this shows at least some sort of redemption for Gehazi. God was pleased to use Gehazi to bear witness to the king and to help this beloved woman and her son.
What a wonderful truth to not miss. I mean we can all look at this story and not be surprised that God would find a way to redeem the future for this woman who had such a glorious record of faithful service to God. But to see that there was also a sort of a redemption for wayward Gehazi – that is shocking in a wonderful way. For surely we are all too much like Gehazi. We are people who have known the Lord, followed the Lord, served the Lord, but have marred track records in our service. We have at times acted contrary to his will. We have at times disobeyed him. But the gospel that restores is a gospel is yet ours in Jesus Christ. For all who would yet repent of their sins and trust in the great things of Jesus. Surely Gehazi’s role here emphasizes that. Gehazi who before, in his former days of faithful service, could not miraculously restore the woman’s son to life, yet here in his days of disgrace he is able to bring restoration to the woman and her boy in a non-miraculous way. And surely the grace of God was behind it all! Grace that allowed Gehazi to yet serve in this way and be a testimony to the great things of Elisha in his absence.
And so, in conclusion then for today, we might recognize that Elisha’s absence in this passage actually serves to make today’s passage in many ways about Elisha. We might have thought it was a passage about the Shunammite woman, or about Gehazi, or maybe even about the king. But I think it is especially about Elisha. Right at the center of the passage we find the king wanting to be told about all the “great things that Elisha has done.” The woman and Gehazi both stand in this story as eyewitnesses to the great things that Elisha had done. Even the king’s prodigious acts to restore the woman’s land is in light of the great things Elisha had done. Great things that are described in terms of restoration of life and redemption.
I want us to recognize then what’s going on here in the bigger picture. It goes back to what God had told Elijah on Mt. Sinai about how he was going to judge the wicked house of Omri and wicked Israel. God told Elijah he was going to raise us Hazael as king of Syria, and Jehu to be king of Israel, and Elisha to be God’s prophet. God’s words might have led you to think it would even happen in that order. But it didn’t. And in fact, what God told Elijah is that these three, Hazael, Jehu, and Elisha would wield the sword in judgment. Yet, now, Elisha’s ministry is nearing its end. Still Hazael and Jehu have not been anointed for judgment. Yet, that is at hand. And so interestingly, it is when Elisha’s absence is noticed here that such is at hand. When the past great things of Elisha are starting to be told like a sacred history lesson – that’s when we turn to the final acts of Elisha. There is no more record of Elisha speaking to King Jehoram. But immediately Elisha will be instrumental in Hazael becoming king of Syria and Jehu becoming king of Israel. Hazael becomes king in the next passage and Jehu in the next chapter! Both Hazael and Jehu will wield the physical sword in mighty and terrible judgment upon Israel and upon the house of Omri. We are at a major turning point here with Elisha. His absence in our passage points us to his final tasks which especially involve in ushering in the long-awaited judgment of God.
What’s my point? Do you see how God’s three-pronged approach of judgment with Hazael then Jehu and then Elisha was mercifully and astonishingly front-loaded with grace, redemption, and patience, from above? God announced this three-pronged judgment years and years before to Elijah. But then Elisha carried on all this prophetic ministry where he miraculous saved Israel so many times and sowed seeds of spiritual revival among Israel. This gave opportunity upon opportunity for people to repent ahead of the coming judgment. But now the terrible judgment was upon them. The judgment of Hazael and Jehu was at hand. It was finally here.
And today, the world has been warned that a terrible judgment of God is coming upon this entire earth. But do you see how God again has led with grace and redemption and much patience? For he sent Jesus the first time into this world on an errand of mercy and salvation. To turn back a wayward and lost elect unto himself. Now in his absence we are witnesses to the great and merciful things he has done. But the time is near at hand when the terrible judgment will yet fall. May the world see the writing on the wall. May each of us be reminded today that we need to take refuge in Jesus and the cross. May we each confess that Jesus has done great things for us! May we all put our hope in him as our redeemer and restorer of life! Amen.
Copyright © 2020 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
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