2 Kings 4

CHAPTER IV

A widow of one of the prophets, oppressed by a merciless

creditor, applies to Elisha, who multiplies her oil; by a part

of which she pays her debt, abut subsists on the rest, 1-7.

His entertainment at the house of a respectable woman in

Shunem, 8-10.

He foretells to his hostess the birth of a son, 11-17.

After some years the child dies, and the mother goes to Elisha

at Carmel; he comes to Shunem, and raises the child to life,

18-37.

He comes to Gilgal, and prevents the sons of the prophets from

being poisoned by wild gourds, 38-41.

He multiplies a scanty provision, so as to make it sufficient

to feed one hundred men, 42-44.

NOTES ON CHAP. IV

Verse 1. Now there cried a certain woman] This woman, according

to the Chaldee, Jarchi, and the rabbins, was the wife of Obadiah.

Sons of the prophets] talmidey nebiyaiya,

"disciples of the prophets:" so the Targum here, and in all other

places where the words occur, and properly too.

The creditor is come] This, says Jarchi, was Jehoram son

of Ahab, who lent money on usury to Obadiah, because he had in the

days of Ahab fed the Lord's prophets. The Targum says he borrowed

money to feed these prophets, because he would not support them

out of the property of Ahab.

To take unto him my two sons to be bondmen.] Children, according

to the laws of the Hebrews, were considered the property of their

parents, who had a right to dispose of them for the payment of

their debts. And in cases of poverty, the law permitted them,

expressly, to sell both themselves and their children; Ex 21:7,

and Le 25:39. It was by an extension of this law, and by virtue

of another, which authorized them to sell the thief who could not

make restitution, Ex 22:3, that creditors were permitted to take

the children of their debtors in payment. Although the law has not

determined any thing precisely on this point, we see by this

passage, and by several others, that this custom was common among

the Hebrews. Isaiah refers to it very evidently, where he says,

Which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you? Behold, for

your iniquities have ye sold yourselves; Isa 50:1. And our Lord

alludes to it, Mt 18:25, where he mentions the case of an

insolvent debtor, Forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord

commanded HIM to be SOLD, and his WIFE and CHILDREN, and all that

he had; which shows that the custom continued among the Jews to

the very end of their republic. The Romans, Athenians, and

Asiatics in general had the same authority over their children

as the Hebrews had: they sold them in time of poverty; and their

creditors seized them as they would a sheep or an ox, or any

household goods. Romulus gave the Romans an absolute power over

their children which extended through the whole course of their

lives, let them be in whatever situation they might. They could

cast them into prison, beat, employ them as slaves in

agriculture, sell them for slaves, or even take away their

lives!-Dionys. Halicarn. lib. ii., pp. 96, 97.

Numa Pompilius first moderated this law, by enacting, that if a

son married with the consent of his father, he should no longer

have power to sell him for debt.

The emperors Diocletian and Maximilian forbade freemen to be

sold on account of debt: Ob aes alienum servire liberos

creditoribus, jura non patiuntur.-Vid. Lib. ob. aes C. de obligat.

The ancient Athenians had the same right over their children as

the Romans; but Solon reformed this barbarous custom.-Vid.

Plutarch in Solone.

The people of Asia had the same custom, which Lucullus

endeavoured to check, by moderating the laws respecting usury.

The Georgians may alienate their children; and their creditors

have a right to sell the wives and children of their debtors, and

thus exact the uttermost farthing of their debt.-Tavernier, lib.

iii., c. 9. And we have reason to believe that this custom long

prevailed among the inhabitants of the British isles. See Calmet

here.

In short, it appears to have been the custom of all the

inhabitants of the earth. We have some remains of it yet in this

country, in the senseless and pernicious custom of throwing a man

into prison for debt, though his own industry and labour be

absolutely necessary to discharge it, and these cannot be

exercised within the loathsome and contagious walls of a prison.

Verse 2. Save a pot of oil.] Oil was used as aliment, for

anointing the body after bathing, and to anoint the dead. Some

think that this pot of oil was what this widow had kept for her

burial: see Mt 26:12.

Verse 6. And the oil stayed.] While there was a vessel to fill,

there was oil sufficient; and it only ceased to flow when there

was no vessel to receive it. This is a good emblem of the grace of

God. While there is an empty, longing heart, there is a continual

overflowing fountain of salvation. If we find in any place or at

any time that the oil ceases to flow, it is because there are no

empty vessels there, no souls hungering and thirsting for

righteousness. We find fault with the dispensations of God's

mercy, and ask, Why were the former days better than these? Were

we as much in earnest for our salvation as our forefathers were

for theirs, we should have equal supplies, and as much reason to

sing aloud of Divine mercy.

Verse 7. Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt] He does not inveigh

against the cruelty of this creditor, because the law and custom

of the country gave him the authority on which he acted; and

rather than permit a poor honest widow to have her children sold,

or that even a Philistine should suffer loss who had given credit

to a genuine Israelite, he would work a miracle to pay a debt

which, in the course of providence, it was out of her power to

discharge.

Verse 8. Elisha passed to Shunem] This city was in the tribe of

Issachar, to the south of the brook Kishon, and at the foot of

Mount Tabor.

Where was a great woman] In Pirkey Rab. Eliezer, this woman is

said to have been the sister of Abishag, the Shunammite, well

known in the history of David.

Instead of great woman, the Chaldee has, a woman fearing sin;

the Arabic, a woman eminent for piety before God. This made her

truly great.

Verse 9. This is a holy man of God] That is, a prophet, as the

Chaldee interprets it.

Which passeth by us continually.] It probably lay in his way to

some school of the prophets that he usually attended.

Verse 10. Let us make a little chamber]

See Clarke on Jud 3:20.

As the woman was convinced that Elisha was a prophet,

she knew that he must have need of more privacy than the general

state of her house could afford; and therefore she proposes what

she knew would be a great acquisition to him, as he could live in

this little chamber in as much privacy as if he were in his own

house. The bed, the table, the stool, and the candlestick,

were really every thing he could need, by way of accommodation, in

such circumstances.

Verse 12. Gehazi his servant] This is the first time we hear of

this very indifferent character.

Verse 13. Wouldest thou be spoken for to the king] Elisha must

have had considerable influence with the king, from the part he

took in the late war with the Moabites. Jehoram had reason to

believe that the prophet, under God, was the sole cause of his

success, and therefore he could have no doubt that the king would

grant him any reasonable request.

Or to the captain of the host?] As if he had said, Wilt thou

that I should procure thee and thy husband a place at court, or

get any of thy friends a post in the army?

I dwell among mine own people.] I am perfectly satisfied and

contented with my lot in life; I live on the best terms with my

neighbours, and am here encompassed with my kindred, and feel no

disposition to change my connections or place of abode.

How few are there like this woman on the earth! Who would not

wish to be recommended to the king's notice, or get a post for a

relative in the army, &c.? Who would not like to change the

country for the town, and the rough manners of the inhabitants of

the villages for the polished conversation and amusements of the

court? Who is so contented with what he has as not to desire more?

Who trembles at the prospect of riches; or believes there are any

snares in an elevated state, or in the company and conversation of

the great and honourable? How few are there that will not

sacrifice every thing-peace, domestic comfort, their friends,

their conscience, and their God-for money, honours, grandeur, and

parade?

Verse 14. What then is to be done for her?] It seems that the

woman retired as soon as she had delivered the answer mentioned in

the preceding verse.

Verse 16. Thou shalt embrace a son.] This promise, and the

circumstances of the parties, are not very dissimilar to that

relative to the birth of Isaac, and those of Abraham and Sarah.

Do not lie] That is, Let thy words become true; or, as the

rabbins understand it, Do not mock me by giving me a son that

shall soon be removed by death; but let me have one that shall

survive me.

Verse 18. When the child was grown] We know not of what age he

was, very likely four or six, if not more years; for he could go

out to the reapers in the harvest field, converse, &c.

Verse 19. My head, any head.] Probably affected by the coup de

soleil, or sun stroke, which might, in so young a subject, soon

occasion death, especially in that hot country.

Verse 21. Laid him on the bed of the man of God] She had no

doubt heard that Elijah had raised the widow's son of Zarephath to

life; and she believed that he who had obtained this gift from God

for her, could obtain his restoration to life.

Verse 23. Wherefore wilt thou go] She was a very prudent woman;

she would not harass the feelings of her husband by informing him

of the death of his son till she had tried the power of the

prophet. Though the religion of the true God was not the religion

of the state, yet there were no doubt multitudes of the people who

continued to worship the true God alone, and were in the habit of

going, as is here intimated, on new moons and Sabbaths, to consult

the prophet.

Verse 24. Drive, and go forward] It is customary in the East for

a servant to walk along side or drive the ass his master rides.

Sometimes he walks behind, and goads on the beast; and when it is

to turn, he directs its head with the long pole of the goad. It is

probably to this custom that the wise man alludes when he says, "I

have seen servants on horses, and princes walking as servants on

the earth," on the ground.

Verse 26. It is well.] How strong was her faith in God and

submission to his authority! Though the heaviest family affliction

that could befall her and her husband had now taken place; yet,

believing that it was a dispensation of Providence which was in

itself neither unwise nor unkind, she said, It is well with me,

with my husband, and with my child. We may farther remark that, in

her days, the doctrine of reprobate infants had not disgraced the

pure religion of the God of endless compassion. She had no doubts

concerning the welfare of her child, even with respect to another

world; and who but a pagan or a stoic can entertain a contrary

doctrine?

Verse 27. The Lord hath hid it from me, and hath not told me.]

In reference to this point he had not now the discernment of

spirits. This, and the gift of prophecy, were influences which God

gave and suspended as his infinite wisdom saw good.

Verse 28. Did I desire a son of my lord?] I expressed no such

wish to thee; I was contented and happy; and when thou didst

promise me a son, did I not say, Do not deceive me? Do not mock me

with a child which shall grow up to be attractive and engaging,

but of whom I shall soon be deprived by death.

Verse 29. Salute him not] Make all the haste thou possibly

canst, and lay my staff on the face of the child; he probably

thought that it might be a case of mere suspended animation or a

swoon, and that laying the staff on the face of the child might

act as a stimulus to excite the animal motions.

Verse 30. I will not leave thee.] The prophet it seems had no

design to accompany her; he intended to wait for Gehazi's return;

but as the woman was well assured the child was dead, she was

determined not to return till she brought the prophet with her.

Verse 32. Behold, the child was dead] The prophet then saw that

the body and spirit of the child were separated.

Verse 33. Prayed unto the Lord.] He had no power of his own by

which he could restore the child.

Verse 34. Lay upon the child] Endeavoured to convey a portion of

his own natural warmth to the body of the child; and probably

endeavoured, by blowing into the child's mouth, to inflate the

lungs, and restore respiration. He uses every natural means in his

power to restore life, while praying to the Author of it to exert

a miraculous influence. Natural means are in our power; those that

are supernatural belong to God. We should always do our own work,

and beg of God to do his.

Verse 35. The child sneezed seven times] That is, it sneezed

abundantly. When the nervous influence began to act on the

muscular system, before the circulation could be in every part

restored, particular muscles, if not the whole body, would be

thrown into strong contractions and shiverings, and sternutation

or sneezing would be a natural consequence; particularly as

obstructions must have taken place in the head and its vessels,

because of the disorder of which the child died. Most people, as

well as philosophers and physicians, have remarked how beneficial

sneezings are to the removal of obstructions in the head.

Sternutamenta, says Pliny, Hist. Nat., lib. xxviii., cap. 6,

gravedinem capitis emendant; "Sneezing relieves disorders of the

head."

Verse 37. She went in and fell at his feet] Few can enter into

the feelings of this noble woman. What suspense must she have felt

during the time that the prophet was employed in the slow process

referred to above! for slow in its own nature it must have been,

and exceedingly exhausting to the prophet himself.

Verse 38. Came again to Gilgal] He had been there before with

his master, a short time prior to his translation.

Set on the great pot and seethe pottage for the sons of the

prophets.] It was in a time of dearth, and all might now stand in

need of refreshment; and it appears that the prophet was led to

put forth the power he had from God to make a plentiful provision

for those who were present. The father of the celebrated Dr.

Young, author of the Night Thoughts, preaching a charity sermon

for the benefit of the sons of the clergy, took the above words

for his text; nor could they be said to be inappropriate.

Verse 39. Wild gourds] This is generally thought to be the

coloquintida, the fruit of a plant of the same name, about the

size of a large orange. It is brought hither from the Levant, and

is often known by the name of the bitter apple; both the seeds and

pulp are intensely bitter, and violently purgative. It ranks among

vegetable poisons, as all intense bitters do; but, judiciously

employed, it is of considerable use in medicine.

Verse 40. There is death in the pot.] As if they had said, "We

have here a deadly mixture; if we eat of it, we shall all die."

Verse 41. Bring meal.] Though this might, in some measure,

correct the strong acrid and purgative quality; yet it was only a

miracle which could make a lapful of this fruit shred into pottage

salutary.

Verse 42. Bread of the first-fruits] This was an offering to the

prophet, as the first-fruits themselves were an offering to God.

Corn in the husk] Probably parched corn or corn to be parched, a

very frequent food in the East; full ears, before they are ripe,

parched on the fire.

Verse 43. Thus saith the Lord, They shall eat, and shall leave

thereof.] It was God, not the prophet, who fed one hundred men

with these twenty loaves, &c. This is something like our Lord's

feeding the multitude miraculously. Indeed, there are many things

in this chapter similar to facts in our Lord's history: and this

prophet might be more aptly considered a type of our Lord, than

most of the other persons in the Scriptures who have been thus

honoured.

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