“Go inside and shut the door behind you”, Elisha told the widow, who was in a flat-out panic. A debt collector was breathing down her neck, threatening to take her two sons as slaves since she had nothing else to give him. If anyone needed a miracle, it was her.
What should I do for you?
“Your servant my husband is dead,” she explained to the prophet Elisha in 2 Kings chapter 4. “You know that your servant feared Adonai. Now the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.”
“What should I do for you?” Elisha asked her. “Tell me, what do you have in the house?”
This reminds me of a few other places in the Bible where God asks, “What do you want me to do for you?” Blind Bartimaeus, for example, had this apparently unnecessary question put to him by Yeshua even though his problem seems entirely self-evident. Solomon was asked the same thing by God one night, and Elisha later asks the Shunammite woman, “What can be done for you?” It actually crops up quite a lot in Scripture; sometimes it seems to be a rather redundant question, and other times the answer could go a host of different ways. This incident with our poor widow would fall into the blindingly obvious category. Yet still, Elisha asks it.
Next, Elisha wants to know what she’s got in the house. Practically nothing. Her need is clear: she needs a miracle of provision. Yet instead of conjuring up money from thin air (which God is perfectly capable of doing) Elisha asks her to partner with God in very practical ways.
Whether it was Moses with his staff or the little boy with his picnic lunch of five loaves and two fish, somehow God likes to start with the little that we’ve got in our hands; practically, materially, emotionally, and spiritually.
He wants us to join in with the miracle-making, to work with him, and to contribute to the process. It would require great faith to sacrifice the only thing she had left in her house – a single jar of oil – along with some physical action (not to mention a degree of humility) to go and ask around for all those jars.
Shut the door
“Go borrow for yourself vessels from all your neighbors—empty jars—not just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and behind your sons, and pour into all those vessels, setting aside what is full.”
Elisha’s instructions contain one sentence that seems a little strange. “Go inside and shut the door behind you and behind your sons.” Why?
One the one hand, borrowing all her neighbours’ jars would inevitably make this miracle pretty public, yet on the other hand, Elisha specifies that she must shut the door behind her and her sons. The same happens just a little way down the chapter in Elisha’s next miracle – raising the dead boy of the Shunammite woman.
“When Elisha entered the house, there was the child, dead and laying on his bed. So he entered and shut the door behind the two of them and prayed to Adonai.”
This story draws my mind to two incidents with Yeshua: The first is the time when he raised the little girl from the dead in Mark 5, shutting out everyone except his closest companions and the girl’s two parents. The second is in Matthew 6:6, when he warns:
“But you, when you pray, go into your inner room; and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, shall reward you.”
I think the idea of shutting yourself in with God, alone, and shutting the rest of the world out, is about getting ready to do serious business with God. It’s a private matter between you and him.
Ultimately the answers and results of the miracle of the jar of oil would become known far and wide (very far and very wide!) but the moment of the miracle itself, the transaction of faith and power, was to be a family-only affair.
“So she left him and shut the door behind her and behind her sons.”
This passage in 2 Kings 4, about the widow’s two sons and the Shunammite’s dead son, is read in synagogues alongside the Torah portion in which Abraham is told first to send Ishmael off into the desert, and then to sacrifice Isaac. He also almost lost two sons. The stories of two sons in peril and miraculous rescue are associated together. Of course, for us who love the Messiah, Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son is strongly paralleled with God’s sacrifice of Yeshua. And isn’t it interesting that it was behind the closed door of the sealed tomb that God resurrected his own Son? Then he came out on the third day and the miracle was made as public as can be.
When that door shuts and we are alone with our thoughts, our needs, and our God, what state do we find ourselves in? Are we ready to really open our hearts up to him in faith?
Sometimes it’s easier to have faith in a crowd of people who believe, but when we have to shut that door behind us and commune with God alone, then the extent of our faith becomes more evident and important. But when God has wrought a miracle for us, it is good and right to tell the world about it!
Our God of abundance
The widow and her sons had to collect jars – not a few – and bring them back, fill them up, and sell them. How might they have felt as they poured – and poured – and poured! It only stopped with the last jar. Doesn’t it seem clear that the oil would have kept going for as long as they’d had jars to fill? The only limit to this miracle of provision was the number of pots they had collected. Can you imagine how the conversations might have gone when they went around returning the jars to their neighbours?!
Elisha tells her, “Go sell the oil and pay your debt, then you and your sons can live on the rest.”
The Hebrew word for “the rest” can also be used for more. The overflow. The extra. God had provided abundantly, and there was enough for her need with more left over. Like the loaves and the fishes – twelve baskets of leftover food. When God said, “Not a few”, he meant it. Don’t be miserly, was the instruction – don’t be minimalistic about this. Get lots of jars. God is not a miser, but he is a God of abundance, of extra. They might not have been wealthy after the miracle, but they were rescued from a serious disaster. They could live freely and breathe easily once again.
God loves to help us – he is an ever-present help in times of trouble. Do you need a miracle? How would you respond if God were to ask you right now, “What would you like me to do for you?” Reflect upon the truths about our faithful, generous, miracle-making God evident in this story, and tell him what it is that you need help with today.