By J.R. Miller
2 Kings 4:1-7
Elisha was greatly different from Elijah. We see him first plowing in the field. He was the son of a prosperous farmer. He must have been greatly surprised when he saw the old prophet coming to him in the field and without a word, casting his mantle over his shoulders. Thus Elijah adopted him as a son and invested him with the prophetic office. The act was performed in silence--yet Elisha understood its significance.
Probably taking his mantle again, Elijah strode on, leaving the young man bewildered and amazed. In a moment, however, he recovered his self-possession, followed Elijah, and declared his acceptance of the call, desiring permission to say farewell to his father and mother. He was ready to leave all for the Lord's sake. From that time he was with the old prophet as a son, tenderly caring for him. Elijah's career was short; Elisha's was long and honored. Elisha was a man full of good works--a sort of New Testament man born before his time. He was a kindly man. If he was not as great as Elijah--his life was no less useful. Elijah is remembered by his striking and highly sensational acts--Elisha wrote his name in countless hearts in letters of love. "Elijah began his career by predicting a famine in the land; Elisha began his by healing a spring, that there might not be from thence any more death or barren land."
The story of the widow and her oil is a fair illustration of the long ministry of Elisha. The widow of a prophet was in trouble. Tradition says it was the wife of Obadiah who was thus in distress, and that the debt was for money which her husband had borrowed to provide for the hundred prophets whom he hid and supported in a cave during the famine, shielding them from the persecution. If this tradition is true, the appeal came to Elisha with special force.
Elisha had a compassionate heart. People turned to him instinctively in their trouble, knowing that they would find sympathy and help in him. There is no better indication of character, than the way the tried and sorrowing in a community feel toward a man. When he is habitually good and kind--it soon becomes known. His name is known everywhere as a strong tower into which they may run and be safe. The widow was sure that Elisha would receive her and listen patiently to her story. He was a prophet--her husband had been a prophet, too. That was a bond which would count. Elislia had known her husband and had known him to be a godly man, and that would strengthen her appeal. Her husband had feared God. That would count, too, with the prophet. In those days there were not many who were disposed to help the poor--but this woman was sure that Elisha would hear her story and not turn her away.
We cannot better serve God--than by being kind to His other children, by being compassionate toward human sorrow and need. Our lives will be judged at last, Jesus tells us, by the way we have treated the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the stranger, the unfortunate. If we do not love God's people--we do not love God.
The widow was not disappointed in her confidence. Elisha did not refuse to hear her, did not turn a deaf ear to her. He showed an interest in her case and listened sympathetically to her story. At once he set about providing for her needs. She was in debt. The man of God did not tell her to repudiate the obligation. Debts should be paid. There are too many who are careless in this matter. It is a bad thing to go into debt, if one can possibly avoid it--but when we owe another we should spare ourselves no effort to pay what we owe. Elisha wrought a miracle to enable this widow to pay the old debt of her dead husband. We are not likely to have our debts paid in this way. "Owe no man anything, except to love one another," is a New Testament exhortation.
It is interesting to note how the prophet helped the woman to meet her obligation. He did not pay the money himself. He did not ask some rich man to pay it. He did not get up a fair or a bazaar to raise the money. He helped the woman to pay it herself out of her own resources. Thus he helped her to preserve her self-respect. We should think of this, in assisting others in their troubles. If we can put them in the way of helping themselves with or without our co-operation, we have helped them in the truest and best way. It is thus that God does in blessing us. He uses what we have, and helps us through our own resources. Elisha learned what the woman had, and used this.
What she had in her house was so little, that there certainly did not seem to be much hope of paying a large debt with it. She had nothing "but a pot of oil." Yet with this, Elisha enabled her to pay all that she owed and to have a competence for herself and her family for time to come. We are reminded at once of the miracle of the loaves and fishes which our Master wrought long afterwards, using the little His disciples had with which to work.
The method of the prophet's helping, is also worthy of study. He sent the woman and her sons out among the neighbors to borrow vessels--empty vessels. They were bidden to borrow not a few--all they could get. It seemed a strange transaction, this coming of the boys with empty vessels in their hands, until the whole place was cluttered with them. It must have started much talk among the neighbors. But the purpose soon became manifest.
Elisha told the woman that when the vessels had been procured, she and her sons should go into the house and shut the door. This thing that was to take place was not to be done in the sight of the neighbors, to be talked about, to become the sensation of the village; it must be done quietly, behind closed doors, with only God for witness. That is the way Christ Himself did His work. He did not seek publicity. His voice was not heard on the streets. He bids His disciples not to do their righteousness before men, to be seen of them, and exhorts us not to let our left hand know what our right hand does. We are to shut the door--when God and we have a work to do.
When everything was ready, the woman was to begin to pour oil from the little pot into the empty vessels, setting them aside as they were filled. Miraculously, there was no exhausting of the oil. The pot with the oil became a fountain which flowed without intermission, until all the vessels were filled! Then the oil stopped--not a drop of it was wasted. No more was given, than there was room to receive.
It is easy for us to take the lesson from this beautiful incident. The number of vessels sought and found, measured the woman's faith. She did not dream that more vessels might have been filled--if she had provided them. Probably she borrowed all the vessels she could. At least the oil did not cease until every vessel had been filled.
It is always so with God's blessings--they come to us as long as there is room to receive. God will give us as much grace, as we can take into our hearts and lives and work out in helpful ministries. The forgiveness which He bestows upon us, is as full and deep and large as the room we make for it in our own hearts. If we are unmerciful and unforgiving, we cannot get much of God's forgiveness. If we are full of mercy ourselves, then God gives us lavishly of His mercy. "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy." Whatever the vessels may be that we bring to God for the receiving of His gifts--He will always fill every one of them to the brim. If we get but little--it is because we have but little room for receiving. If only we would enlarge our capacity, if we had more faith, more desire, greater yearning--we should get more of God into our lives.
Another point, is the use of the oil which has been thus provided. Elisha was not present when this miracle was wrought. He did not work it himself--but left it for the woman and God. But when every vessel was filled, she hastened to him and told him what had been done. He then bade her go and sell the oil and pay the debt with the proceeds. After the debt was paid there still was money left, and this she and her sons were to use for their own support. Mark well, that the first use to be made of the results of this miracle was to be in paying what she owed. This should always be our way. If God gives us money in any way while we are in debt--we should not use it on ourselves, until we have paid what we owe. Then we may spend what remains, in caring for ourselves.