Elisha and the miracles of oil and life from the dead.

Who does not have trials and temptations in this life? Is there anyone whose day to day experience is untroubled? It is easy to be “nice” when things are going well, the world is turning as it should, and all of our needs are being met. However, the difficulties of life reveal to us who we are on the inside- that inside which only God sees. Sometimes we are able to fake people out for a very long time, but sooner or later something happens to cause us to ‘snap’. To use a metaphor: it is the stomping of grapes that yields the wine; it is the poverty of our spirit that opens us up to the riches of the Almighty. In the book of Kings, we are introduced to a widow with two sons that are about to be sold into slavery in order to pay the debts incurred by her deceased husband. The widow comes to Elisha and says “you know how my husband feared God”, and her words almost drip with expectation. Somehow the man of God would come to the rescue. But Elisha asks her, “what have you got in the house?”, and she responds with “nothing but a cruse of oil”. I wonder what she must have thought at the time- did she expect to be baled out of her misery? She does not mention her sons, perhaps because she thought that they were already lost to her. Elisha tells her to shut the doors, gather all of the urns, and then begins to pour the oil from the cruse into the rest of the vessels. Amazingly, the oil keeps flowing until the last jar is filled, and then it stops. Elisha tells her to sell the oil, and she has not only enough to pay the debt, but to support herself and her sons. From a place of material poverty she had to first give in order to save that which could not be exchanged- her family. What was the test for her? Was it to know that there was enough? That she was enough? That through the act of pouring out, God was able to multiply back to her? The narrative continues, and we are introduced to another woman who, coming from a place of abundance, delights in offering hospitality. She also dabbles in home renovations. She does not appear to have any obvious needs, and seems reticent to receive anything in the way of acknowledgement or a blessing. However Elisha is told that ‘she has no son and her husband is old’- so you might say that she was in a place of poverty by virtue of her childlessness. Elisha proceeds to tell her that ‘at this season next year you will have a son’. Her response? “Do not deceive your servant”- which to me did not seem to be coming from a place of faith or gratitude. Never-the-less Elisha’s words come to pass, a son is born, and grows to an age where he is able to help in the fields. We are then told that one day, the child collapses in the field, suffering with what might have been diagnosed as an aneurysm. He is returned to his mother’s lap, where he remains until he dies. This is where I find her subsequent actions to be telling- she returns to the man of God and says “did I ask for a son?-did I not say ‘do not deceive me'”. Here is a woman who freely gave of herself and her substance, and yet found it difficult to receive back a blessing of life- as if she didn’t trust it. I found similarities between the Shunnamit and Avraham. Both were hospitable, and both lacked offspring. Both were given the promise of a son- a promise which was brought to pass. And both suffered the death and restoration of that same promise. For Avraham, the death came when God asked him to sacrifice Yitzhak, freely, by his own hand. Why did God ask him to do that? Did he not know Avraham’s heart already? Avraham’s love for God was not being tested, because his love for God was intrinsic to his nature- rather, the test of obedience required ‘yireh Hashem’. At the last minute, as the knife was raised, God intervenes and Yitzhak is restored. Avraham returns with mettle in his soul. When the Shunnamit’s son died, it was not her ability to give, or her obedience, or her awe of God that was tested, but her willingness to receive, to trust, to pursue, and to grab onto the very life that had been promised to her through the words of the prophet. Her challenge was to embrace the life of her son- not to give him up. Her tenacity in refusing to return without Elisha is reminiscent of Ya’acov’s words to the angel “I will not let you go until you bless me”, and demonstrates yet another aspect of faith. What does this say to me? Perhaps that the tests that I encounter in my everyday living are designed uniquely- that they are the mirrors of my soul. The dreams that I have will be tested, and may come to a place where they seem dead- but I know that if those dreams have been planted by God, I can depend on the strength to pass the tests, knowing that they are for good. I cannot expect another person to respond to my tests, and I cannot take on the trials and temptations designed for another. But I can encounter, engage with, and emerge from my crucible having been refined by wisdom, and blessed with a profound sense of gratitude for lessons learned, and relationships forged on the journey.

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