By J.R. Miller
2 Kings 5:1-14
The story of the great woman of Shunem is a delightful one. She was good to the prophet, showing him most kindly hospitality as he went back and forth on his prophetic errands. The little chamber on the roof was a fit resting-place for the man of God. It was a place of prayer, too, and blessing came upon the home through the prophet's intercession. The coming of a little child to the lonely couple, brought great gladness.
But sorrow came too. The child stayed a while, and then suddenly died. There are a few homes in which at some time a little child has not died. Many a mother reads this tender story as if it were a chapter out of her own life. Many children who read it remember the day when a little brother or sister lay dead in their own home. Longfellow says:
There is no flock, however watched and tended,
But one dead lamb is there. There is no fireside,
however defended--but has one vacant chair.
In her first grief, the mother thought of the prophet who had been such a friend to her. In all she did, she showed strong character and good faith. She did not break down in her sorrow. It had come suddenly upon her, and it is always harder to endure grief that is sudden, than that which comes with forewarning and expectation. It was a specially great sorrow, too, for this was her only child. Yet with all these elements of special bitterness, the mother's faith did not fail. She seems to have had a hope that her child would be given back to her again. At least she trusted God in the whole matter, and turned to Him at once for comfort.
Why did she go to the man of God? When we are in trouble, in sorrow--it is well to go to some godly friend--pastor, teacher, or someone who is able to give us sympathy and counsel and to pray for us. We need no priest to come between us and God--but in time of great distress, it is good to have wise and gentle human guidance. Not every one can help us in such a case. There are those who have been divinely prepared for being comforters of others. Happy is it for the man or woman in sorrow--who has a friend who can be such a helper.
Elisha had a gentle heart. When he saw the woman coming far off he knew something was wrong. He did not wait until she came to him and had told him her trouble--but he sent his servant to meet her on the way. Just so, we should train ourselves to sympathize with others who are in trouble. We should cultivate gentleness and thoughtfulness. Some people never seem to think of the trouble others have, and thus they miss countless opportunities of doing good. The true heart, however, instinctively recognizes grief or heart-hunger in others, and at once shows affection and kindness.
Elisha told his servant what to say to the sorrowing woman. "Is it well?" he asked. "It is well," she answered. But she hastened on until she came to Elisha himself. For some reason she could not open her heart to Gehazi. Perhaps he was cold and unsympathetic. His manner may have been harsh and forbidding. But with Elisha, it was different. The woman trusted him, and in his presence there was no reserve. So she told him all her sorrow.
We all know people like Gehazi--people to whom we cannot open our heart when we are in trouble. In an old Church, a rule was adopted forbidding ministers to keep dogs--lest the poor who came to their doors should be hurt, instead of fed or helped. Christian people should never keep the dogs of sullenness, churlishness, and moroseness loose about their doors--lest those with sorrow or with burdened hearts who come to them, needing and craving sympathy, may be hurt or turned away. All who represent Christ should be like Him, in gentleness and sweetness of spirit. Their very face and manner should have such a welcome in them as shall draw sad ones to confide implicitly in them.
The woman seems to have chided the prophet for the blessing which had come to her through his prayers. "Did I ask you for a son?" Her words seem to mean that it would have been better if she had remained as she was, with no voice of love in her home, with her heart unblessed by love, for then she would not have had the sorrow which was now so hard to bear. She felt that it would have been better not to have had the child at all--than to have had him given and so soon taken away in death! Many times good people have felt the same way when they have learned to love--and then have been bereft. In their first grief it seems to them that it would have been better if they had never had the friend--than to learn to love him so--and then lose him. Yet, "Tis better to have loved and lost--than never to have loved at all."
We are blessed in two ways:
The loving blesses us. It opens and enlarges our heart and enriches our life. Even if the one we love does not stay long with us--the loving does us good.
Then, the sorrow blesses us. The taking away of our dear ones, does not rob us of the blessing which the love wrought in us. Even if this child had not been restored, the mother would still have kept the impressions and the influences which the child in its brief, beautiful years had left upon her life.
If the owner lent you "The Angelus," and it hung in your parlor but for a day or two, pouring into your soul its marvelous beauty, you would never forget those wonderful days when you had "The Angelus" in your house. No painting is so exquisitely beautiful as the life of a little child, and though the child stays but a day or two and then is taken away, no true-hearted parent ever forgets the time it was there or loses the impressions made by its brief stay.
"Because the rose must fade,
Shall I not love the rose?"
Gehazi's effort to restore the child was of no avail. He laid the prophet's staff on its face--but no life came. Perhaps the fault was in Gehazi. If he had had faith--the miracle might have been wrought. However, the staff may illustrate the mere forms of religion. They are nothing, unless there is true faith in those who use them. One writes: "Elisha's staff was a first-class instrument, if it was in the hands of Elisha. In Gehazi's hand--it was only a walking stick, worth a few pennies. So it is everywhere. A few pebbles of the brook are invincible weapons of war--if David slings them. The simple statement of Christ's death is the means of the conversion of three thousand people--when Peter makes it. Everywhere, if the means are consecrated to God and used by consecrated men, they will be effectual. But the forms of religion in themselves, have no more value than Elisha's staff."
When Saladin looked at the sword of Richard Coeur de Lion he wondered that a blade so ordinary, should have wrought such mighty deeds. The English king bared his arm and said, "It was not the sword that did these things; it was the arm of Richard." We should be instruments that the Lord can use, and when He has used us--the glory shall all be His. Even the words of Holy Scripture laid by an unbelieving or cold-hearted teacher or minister on dead souls, will have no more effect upon them than the prophet's staff on this dead boy.
When Elisha himself came to the house where the dead child was--he moved promptly and solemnly. Mark two things he did. First, he prayed. He entered the room and shut the door. No one but God could help him, and all others must keep out. The picture is suggestive--the shut door, the agonizing prophet, the waiting, the importunity. Then the other act was important--the prophet stretched himself upon the child. He brought his warm body in contact with the child's dead, cold flesh. God blesses souls through other souls, that are warm with throbbing spiritual life. If we would have influence in helping others into better Christian experience, we must stay near God until our own heart is warm and aglow.
A gentleman in a jeweler's store was looking at some gems. He saw an opal which seemed lusterless and dead--no brightness, no flashing color. The jeweler took the stone in his hand for a few moments and then laid it down, and--behold! all the colors of the rainbow shone in it. It needed the warmth of the human hand to bring out the beauty. Just so, there are lives which need the touch and warmth of human love and sympathy--to quicken them into life.
The woman was most grateful for the restoration of her child to life. There is a story of a Scotch mother whose child was carried away one morning by an eagle, which soared high up among the crags with the little one. Nothing could be done--no one could scale the cliffs. The mother went into her lowly home and shut the door, and fell upon the floor in an agony of prayer. There she lay all the day. Meanwhile a sailor, used to climbing the masts, crept up the crag, found the eagle's nest, brought the baby down and carried it to the mother's home. Clasping the child in her arms--she hurried with it to the minister to give it to God, saying God had given the child back to her from the dead--and she must dedicate it anew to Him before she embraced it. Thus it was, that this Shunammite mother did.