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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha, saying, Thy servant my husband is dead; and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the LORD: and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen.
The creditor is come ... - The Law of Moses, like the Athenian and the Roman law, recognized servitude for debt, and allowed that pledging of the debtor's person, which, in a rude state of society, is regarded as the safest and the most natural security (see the marginal reference). In the present case it would seem that, so long as the debtor lived, the creditor had not enforced his right over his sons, but now on his death he claimed their services, to which he was by law entitled.
2And Elisha said unto her, What shall I do for thee? tell me, what hast thou in the house? And she said, Thine handmaid hath not any thing in the house, save a pot of oil.
A pot of oil - Or, "an anointing of oil" - so much oil, i. e., as would serve me for one anointing of my person. The word used occurs only in this passage.
3Then he said, Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbours, even empty vessels; borrow not a few.
4And when thou art come in, thou shalt shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons, and shalt pour out into all those vessels, and thou shalt set aside that which is full.
5So she went from him, and shut the door upon her and upon her sons, who brought the vessels to her; and she poured out.
6And it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said unto her son, Bring me yet a vessel. And he said unto her, There is not a vessel more. And the oil stayed.
7Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt, and live thou and thy children of the rest.
8And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman; and she constrained him to eat bread. And so it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread.
And it fell on a day - The original of the expression here used, which occurs three times in the present narrative 2 Kings 4:11, 2 Kings 4:18, is also found in Job 1:6, Job 1:13; Job 2:1. The character of the expression perhaps supports the view that the author of Kings has collected from various sources his account of the miracles of Elisha, and has kept in each case the words of the original writer.
A great woman - That is, "a rich woman." Compare 1 Samuel 25:2; 2 Samuel 19:32.
9And she said unto her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually.
10Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick: and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither.
A little chamber on the wall - The room probably projected like a balcony beyond the lower apartments - an arrangement common in the East.
A stool - Rather, "a chair." The "chair" and "table," unusual in the sleeping-rooms of the East, indicate that the prophet was expected to use his apartment for study and retirement, not only as a sleeping-chamber.
11And it fell on a day, that he came thither, and he turned into the chamber, and lay there.
12And he said to Gehazi his servant, Call this Shunammite. And when he had called her, she stood before him.
13And he said unto him, Say now unto her, Behold, thou hast been careful for us with all this care; what is to be done for thee? wouldest thou be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host? And she answered, I dwell among mine own people.
Thou hast been careful for us - For the prophet and his servant, who must have been lodged as well as his master.
I dwell among mine own people - The woman declines Elisha's offer. She has no wrong to complain of, no quarrel with any neighbor, in respect of which she might need the help of one in power. She "dwells among her own people" - her friends, and dependents, with whom she lives peaceably.
14And he said, What then is to be done for her? And Gehazi answered, Verily she hath no child, and her husband is old.
15And he said, Call her. And when he had called her, she stood in the door.
16And he said, About this season, according to the time of life, thou shalt embrace a son. And she said, Nay, my lord, thou man of God, do not lie unto thine handmaid.
Do not lie - Compare a similar incredulity in Genesis 17:17; Genesis 18:12; Luke 1:20. The expression, "do not lie," which is harsh to us, accords with the plain, straightforward simplicity of ancient speech. It would not mean more than "deceive" (compare the marginal reference).
17And the woman conceived, and bare a son at that season that Elisha had said unto her, according to the time of life.
18And when the child was grown, it fell on a day, that he went out to his father to the reapers.
19And he said unto his father, My head, my head. And he said to a lad, Carry him to his mother.
The child's malady was a sunstroke. The inhabitants of Palestine suffered from this (Psalm 121:6; Isaiah 49:10; Judith 8:3).
20And when he had taken him, and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died.
21And she went up, and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door upon him, and went out.
22And she called unto her husband, and said, Send me, I pray thee, one of the young men, and one of the asses, that I may run to the man of God, and come again.
Send me, I pray thee, one of the young men and one of the asses - All the "young men" and all the "asses" were in the harvest field, the young men cutting and binding the sheaves, and placing them upon carts or wains, the donkeys drawing these vehicles fully laden, to the threshing-floor. Compare Amos 2:13.
23And he said, Wherefore wilt thou go to him to day? it is neither new moon, nor sabbath. And she said, It shall be well.
Her husband did not connect the illness with his wife's demand, but thought she wished to attend one of the prophet's devotional services. It is evident that such services were now held with something like regularity on Carmel for the benefit of the faithfull in those parts.
New moon - By the Law the first day of each month was to be kept holy. Offerings were appointed for such occasions Numbers 28:11-15, and they were among the days on which the silver trumpets were to be blown Numbers 10:10; Psalm 81:3. Hence, "new moons" are frequently joined with "sabbaths" (see Isaiah 1:13; Ezekiel 45:17; Hosea 2:11; 1 Chronicles 23:31).
It shall be well - Rather, as in the margin, "Peace." i. e., "Be quiet - trouble me not with inquiries - only let me do as I wish."
24Then she saddled an ass, and said to her servant, Drive, and go forward; slack not thy riding for me, except I bid thee.
Slack not thy riding - Translate, "delay me not in my riding, except I bid thee." The servant went on foot with the donkey to urge it forward, as is the ordinary custom in the East.
25So she went and came unto the man of God to mount Carmel. And it came to pass, when the man of God saw her afar off, that he said to Gehazi his servant, Behold, yonder is that Shunammite:
The distance was about sixteen or seventeen miles.
26Run now, I pray thee, to meet her, and say unto her, Is it well with thee? is it well with thy husband? is it well with the child? And she answered, It is well.
27And when she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught him by the feet: but Gehazi came near to thrust her away. And the man of God said, Let her alone; for her soul is vexed within her: and the LORD hath hid it from me, and hath not told me.
She caught him by the feet - To lay hold of the knees or feet has always been thought in the East to add force to supplication, and is practiced even at the present day. Compare Matthew 18:29; John 11:32.
28Then she said, Did I desire a son of my lord? did I not say, Do not deceive me?
Great grief shrinks from putting itself into words. The Shunammite cannot bring herself to say, "My son is dead;" but by reproaching the prophet with having "deceived" her, she sufficiently indicates her loss.
29Then he said to Gehazi, Gird up thy loins, and take my staff in thine hand, and go thy way: if thou meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute thee, answer him not again: and lay my staff upon the face of the child.
Salute him not - Compare the marginal reference. Salutation is the forerunner of conversation and one bent on speed would avoid every temptation to loiter.
Lay my staff upon the face of the child - Perhaps to assuage the grief of the mother, by letting her feel that something was being done for her child.
30And the mother of the child said, As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And he arose, and followed her.
31And Gehazi passed on before them, and laid the staff upon the face of the child; but there was neither voice, nor hearing. Wherefore he went again to meet him, and told him, saying, The child is not awaked.
There was neither voice nor hearing - Compare 1 Kings 18:29.
The child is not awakened - See 2 Kings 4:20. The euphemism by which death is spoken of as a sleep was already familiar to the Jews (see 1 Kings 1:21 note).
32And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed.
33He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the LORD.
Prayed - Prayer was the only remedy in such a case as this (compare the marginal reference and James 5:16), though it did not exclude the use of other means 2 Kings 4:34.
34And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and he stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm.
Be stretched himself - Or, "prostrated himself." The word is a different one from that used of Elijah, and expresses closer contact with the body. Warmth may have been actually communicated from the living body to the dead one; and Elisha's persistence Hebrews 11:35, may have been a condition of the child's return to life.
35Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro; and went up, and stretched himself upon him: and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes.
36And he called Gehazi, and said, Call this Shunammite. So he called her. And when she was come in unto him, he said, Take up thy son.
Take up thy son - Compare Elijah's action (marginal reference "t") and our Blessed Lord's Luke 7:15.
37Then she went in, and fell at his feet, and bowed herself to the ground, and took up her son, and went out.
38And Elisha came again to Gilgal: and there was a dearth in the land; and the sons of the prophets were sitting before him: and he said unto his servant, Set on the great pot, and seethe pottage for the sons of the prophets.
There was a dearth in the land - Rather, "The famine was in the land." The seven years' dearth of which Elisha had prophesied (marginal reference) had begun.
The sons of the prophets - See 1 Kings 20:35 note. They were sitting before him as scholars before their master, hearing his instructions.
39And one went out into the field to gather herbs, and found a wild vine, and gathered thereof wild gourds his lap full, and came and shred them into the pot of pottage: for they knew them not.
A wild vine - Not a real wild vine, the fruit of which, if not very palatable, is harmless; but some climbing plant with tendrils. The plant was probably either the Ecbalium elaterium, or "squirting cucumber," the fruit of which, egg-shaped, and of a very bitter taste, bursts at the slightest touch, when it is ripe, and squirts out sap and seed grains; or the Colocynthis, which belongs to the family of cucumbers, has a vine-shaped leaf, and bears a fruit as large as an orange, very bitter, from which is prepared the drug sold as colocynth. This latter plant grows abundantly in Palestine.
His lap full - literally, "his shawl full." The prophet brought the fruit home in his "shawl" or "outer garment."
40So they poured out for the men to eat. And it came to pass, as they were eating of the pottage, that they cried out, and said, O thou man of God, there is death in the pot. And they could not eat thereof.
41But he said, Then bring meal. And he cast it into the pot; and he said, Pour out for the people, that they may eat. And there was no harm in the pot.
Then bring meal - The natural properties of meal would but slightly diminish either the bitterness or the unwholesomeness of a drink containing colocynth. It is evident, therefore, that the conversion of the food from a pernicious and unsavory mess into palatable and wholesome nourishment was by miracle.
42And there came a man from Baalshalisha, and brought the man of God bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley, and full ears of corn in the husk thereof. And he said, Give unto the people, that they may eat.
Baal-shalisha - Fifteen Roman miles north of Lydda, in the Sharon plain to the west of the highlands of Ephraim. It was, apparently, the chief city of the "land of Shalisha" (marginal reference).
Bread of the first fruits - It appears by this that the Levitical priests having withdrawn from the land of Israel (see 2 Chronicles 11:13-14), pious Israelites transferred to the prophets, whom God raised up, the offerings required by the Law to be given to the priests Numbers 18:13; Deuteronomy 18:4.
In the husk thereof - "In his bag." The word does not occur elsewhere in Scripture.
43And his servitor said, What, should I set this before an hundred men? He said again, Give the people, that they may eat: for thus saith the LORD, They shall eat, and shall leave thereof.
This miracle was a faint foreshadowing of our Lord's far more marvelous feeding of thousands with even scantier materials. The resemblance is not only in the broad fact, but in various minute particulars, such as the distribution through the hands of others; the material, bread; the surprised question of the servant; and the evidence of superfluity in the fragments that were left (see the marginal references). As Elijah was a type of the Baptist, so Elisha was in many respects a type of our Blessed Lord. In his peaceful, non-ascetic life, in his mild and gentle character, in his constant circuits, in his many miracles of mercy, in the healing virtue which abode in his bodily frame 2 Kings 13:21, he resembled, more than any other prophet, the Messiah, of whom all prophets were more or less shadows and figures.
44So he set it before them, and they did eat, and left thereof, according to the word of the LORD.