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TEXT: II Kings 4:1-7
SUBJECT: Elisha #7: The Widow's God
There once was a woman in Israel whose name we don't know. Her husband was a prophet whose name we don't know. They had two sons, and we don't know their names either. When the boys were still young, the man died, leaving his family with no means of support and deeply in debt.
When they could not pay their debts, the creditor foreclosed on their property. No, I don't mean their house or their furniture or their livestock, but on the only thing they had that was worth anything: the children. The boys would be sold into slavery until the payments were made. If this sounds heartless, it was, and maybe worse than it sounds. If the collector was a good man, the debts could be worked off in a maximum of seven years. But most collectors were not good men, and most of the people sold into slavery never got out of it. This was against the Law of God, of course, but these were hard times for the Law of God.
Facing the loss of her sons, the dear woman cried out to Elisha for help. The prophet had known her husband and respected his piety. Now, could he help his friend's widow, and save the children of a lifetime of bondage?
Elisha does not inquire as to the cause of their debts or what she was willing to do to stay out of debt from now on. The family doesn't need a lecture on financial stewardship; they need a miracle!
And he's going to give it to them.
What has she got of any value? Not much: only a jar of olive oil. Go to your neighbors, she's told, and borrow all the empty vessels they can spare. She obeys the strange command and fills the house with every pot and pan, jar and bottle she can get her hands on.
Now what? Lock the door. She's got no time for busybody neighbors! Take the jar of oil and pour it into another vessel; when it's full, fill another, and another and another. Keep on filling them until there are none left to fill.
An hour later, every jar is full of olive oil, including the one she had in the first place. Now, she's to sell the oil, pay off her debts, and, with her two sons, live on what's left over.
The widow has been saved from her fear, the sons have been redeemed from bondage, and the late husband and father has been spared the indignity of dying in debt and leaving his family in danger--all by the Lord's wisdom and power, but, most of all, by His compassion.
There's a lesson in here for us. The story shows the need for prayer. When things are bad, we pray, but when they're really bad, we panic. Things are really bad for this woman. The bondsman is pounding on the door, and her little boys are about be led off in chains, and never heard from again! She's got no one to turn to. Her husband is dead, her father's not there, no brothers in sight, and, of course, she's got no money for a lawyer. What would you do if you were she?
I don't know what you or I would do, but what she did was cry out to the Lord. Yes, she spoke to Elisha, but not Elisha as a friend of the family, but as the prophet of God. She didn't know what to do, Elisha didn't know what to do, but the Lord did know what to do, and based on His character and promises, she called to Him for relief.
She was right to do that. The Scriptures say the Lord is merciful, especially to the ones who have nowhere else to turn. She may have been thinking of Deuteronomy 32:36,
For the Lord will judge His people and have compassion on His servants, when He sees their power is gone and there is no one remaining.
When human power is spent and no one can be found to help us, then the Lord promises to come to our rescue! 'Judging' in this place doesn't mean putting us on trial-for that's no comfort. It means judging in our favor! The Lord looked at the greedy creditor and the brutal collector and ruled against them and for the widow and her fatherless children.
The Lord's compassion is not limited to a few proof texts here and there, but is woven into the whole history of His people.
Jacob and his family came to Egypt as honored guests of the King. But when that king died, a new man came to the throne who did not know what his people owed the Hebrews. He turned them into slaves and, as time went on, their bondage became heavier and heavier. Midwives were commanded to strangle baby boys; when they wouldn't do it, a general order was given: throw them in the Nile! When the people groaned, the Lord heard them, and after breaking Egypt and the pride of its king, He saved His People from their wicked masters.
The Exodus became a model for the Lord's dealings with His People. Every year they were to re-enact it in the Passover and remember how compassionate their God was--and still is.
They should have lived in daily dependence on the Lord, but of course, they didn't. When things were good for them-or even, not so good-They forgot God their Savior who had done great things for them in Egypt (cf. Psalm 106:21).
Only when things got bad, really bad, desperate, hopeless, they cried to the Lord.and He delivered them. From the Philistines, from the Moabites, from Sisera, from the Midianites, from the giants, from the bill collectors, from all their enemies!
Not because they deserved His favor, but because He is merciful, and because He keeps His promises. Long years before, He promised to be Abraham's God, to be his shield and exceedingly great reward. The promise was renewed to Isaac, then to Jacob, then to the nation, and it was still in effect. This doesn't mean He didn't take note of their sins-He did! But it means that, even in His wrath, He remembered mercy!
That's what the widow cried out for: mercy. And she got it. In answer to God's Promise, Exodus 22:22-23,
You shall not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict them in any way, and they cry out at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry.
When things go wrong in your life, pray, don't panic. And don't pray like an Agnostic, who hopes that somebody might be up there somewhere and might help him someway or other. We don't pray to Somebody Up There, we pray to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! To the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.
We pray to the God who is our God, the God who is for us, the God from whose love nothing can separate us! Not tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword.or cancer or unemployment or bankruptcy or divorce or kids who break your heart.
The Lord gave the widow just what she needed, relief from her creditors and enough money to see the boys grow up and take care of themselves and their mother. Back then, He did it by way of a miracle. But the Lord does not depend on miracles. Yet, with or without one, His promise is sure:
Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you.
He may not give you what you ask for, but something else; you may seek one thing, and find another; you may knock on one door and a different one open. But, given the power, wisdom, and compassion of God, getting what He has for us has got to be better than getting what we want.
If the story looks back to the Covenants made with Abraham and Moses, it also looks forward to a New Covenant. In other words, it points us to Christ and to what He did for us.
By 'us' I mean the nobodies of the world. In the last chapter, Elisha was dealing with bigshots, three kings, in fact, along their advisors, diplomats, generals, and other VIPs. But chapter 4 begins with a nobody-an unnamed widow, in an unnamed town, with her unnamed children. Yet they're every bit as important to Elisha as the kings of Israel, Judah, and Edom. In fact, more important, for while he was reluctant to help the kings, he was eager to save the lady and her kids.
I can't read this without thinking of our Lord and the sort of people He spent His time on. Did He know the bigwigs of Israel? Oh, yes He did. He spent several hours with Annas, Caiaphas, King Herod, and Pontius Pilate. As their prisoner.
But the rest of His life He spent with the nobodies of Israel-and people less than the nobodies, lepers, for example, Samaritans, publicans, harlots, women who had had five husbands and who knows how many lovers.
Why did He waste His life on them? For the same reason doctors waste their lives on sick people: because they need them! Sinners need a Savior, and a Savior comes to them where they are! Had He held forth in the Temple He would have done the lepers no good because lepers were not allowed in the Temple!
Christ is not for people who don't need Him, but for people who do! He's for people with bad marriages and bad kids and bad job histories and bad credit reports. In a word, Christ is for sinners. Until you see yourself as 'one of us', Christ is not for you!
The Law may be just the thing for you-if you don't read it too carefully. Man-made rules fit you fine. How good you can feel about yourself when, by keeping them (more or less), you can Thank God you're not as other men are.
But, if you're like the widow in today's story. If you're hopeless without Christ, He comes to you with compassion and wisdom and power and salvation. He's there for you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Christ is for the nobodies of this world. If you're one of them, He's for you.
If what Elisha did for the widow points us to Christ, what he did for her sons does too, only more. The little boys were in debt; it wasn't their fault, but what difference does that make? They were still in debt and until they paid it off they would be slaves. But, they couldn't pay it off. They needed someone to do it for them. There's a word in the Bible for that someone, the one to pay off the debts of others and free them from slavery. The word is.
Who redeemed the boys in our story? It wasn't Elisha. Had he been a rich man, he might have done it (as Boaz did for Ruth years before). But Elisha was a poor man, too, and he couldn't pay off his friend's debt or save his children from bondage.
So God did it. The olive oil they collected was not grown on ordinary trees or pressed by human hands; it was the Lord who gave it to them-directly and all by Himself.
In the same way, we are not redeemed by what we do for ourselves or what other men do for us. The reason is simple: neither we nor they have got the price to do it. Psalm 49:8 says,
For the redemption of their souls is costly.
Your prayers cannot redeem me and my sermons cannot redeem you. All we can do is pool our poverty-and that won't do!
We need a Redeemer who can pay off our debt to God's justice. To do that, He must live as a perfect saint and die as perfect sinner. Only one Man has done that-Jesus Christ our Lord.
By His death on the cross, He has redeemed us from the penalties of the Law. This means we are not condemned, we're not guilty, we're not in trouble with God! Not now, not tomorrow, not next year, not when we die, never!
His death for us has satisfied the justice of God. This means, we cannot be condemned now or go to hell when we die. Not that it's unlikely, it is impossible! The only way a believer in Christ could be lost is for God to go back on His Word, and more than His Word, but on His sacred oath. But God cannot lie, and therefore, believers in Christ cannot be damned.
But therein lies the rub. Are you a believer? Many who are think they're not. After all, they're sinful, and surely believers aren't sinful, are they?
If you weren't a sinner, you wouldn't need to believe. The reason salvation is by faith alone is because sinners can't have it any other way. We cannot earn it, even in part. So we take it by believing that Jesus Christ is our salvation and what He did for us is all we need and all God requires.
Which is precisely what the Bible teaches. Salvation is of the Lord. For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. That no man should glory in the flesh, but whoever glories, let him glory in the Lord.
Quit trying to earn God's favor! You can have it for nothing you do (or don't do). In fact, you can't have it any other way! For God made Him-Christ-your
Wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.
Why would you want it any other way?
To God be the glory, great things He hath done,
So loved He the world that He gave us His Son,
Who yielded His life an atonement for sin,
And opened the life-gates that we may go in.11
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