This verse, included in a paragraph of text that tells us about a multitude of the faithful and their trust in Christ, teaches us that there is a price to be paid for faith. Up to this point we have seen the positive results of faith, promises made and fulfilled, victory, conquest, salvation, and abundant blessings, but here we read about the relationship of faith to torture and death.
The Bible tells us first here that women received their dead back to life again. Who were these faithful women and who died? This is a reference to two godly and faithful women mentioned in the First and Second Book of Kings.
The first is the widow of Zarephath and her only son who had died (1 Kings 17). This woman was out gathering sticks with which to build a fire in order to prepare a last meal for her and her son. She was out of food and out of hope, with nowhere to turn and no one to help her in this desperate hour of need. There was a severe drought in the land, proclaimed by the Lord through His prophet Elijah, and the effects were devastating to the people of Israel. This widow had no idea about what God had planned and at this point was simply ready for one last meal and then death.
The Lord sent Elijah to her. He came into town and asked her for a cup of water and a meal to eat. She replied that she had no bread and only a handful of flour and a little oil left. Elijah’s response was that she should not fear but should make him a small cake from the flour and oil and then she should make some for herself and her son.
Typical preacher, eh? How selfish! This prophet wanted her to fix him a meal when she did not even have enough for herself and her son. But this was indeed a test of faith, and she had faith. She obeyed his voice and heeded his words because when he told her this he said to her, “Thus says the LORD God of Israel: ‘The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the LORD sends rain on the earth.’”
So this was not selfishness at all. It was an opportunity for faith and the glory of God. She trusted God and did what Elijah asked and God made that little bin of flour and little jar of oil not run out until the drought was broken by plentiful rain some 3 years later. Did you hear that? She never ran out of what she needed. God provided daily, renewing that supply of flour and oil. She and her son never went hungry.
Later however there was an even more severe test of her faith. Her son became sick and died. She asked Elijah why he had come to her. When they met years before she was ready to die with her son but through faith she saw God spare them both and provide supernaturally for their most basic needs, but now her son had died anyway. She thought that perhaps this was the result of sin in her life, a judgment from God through Elijah, a steep price to pay for some unmentioned sin of long ago.
Elijah asked her for her son’s body, took him up into the upper room of her house where he was staying, and laid him out on the bed. He then cried out to the Lord asking why He had brought this tragedy on this woman. He then stretched himself out over the boy 3 times and prayed, “O LORD my God, I pray, let this child’s soul come back to him.”
The Bible tells us that the Lord heard Elijah’s prayer and the child came back to life! Elijah took him down and gave him to his mother, proclaiming, “See, your son lives!” This confirmed to her that Elijah was a prophet of God and spoke His Words.
We see here both the reality of the penalty for sin, which this widow understood – the wages of sin is death – and above that we see the deep reality of faith. Elijah asked God to raise this boy from the dead, and He did. This widow received her son back to herself alive from the dead because of the power of God in answering prayer.
We learn here that God not only promises to provide for what we have need of, but He also promises to give us life. He gives us new life in Christ by this same power that He raised this boy from the dead. You see, death cannot stop God. He is the giver and taker of life, and here we see an instance of this great power over sin and death in the life of this young boy and his mother who was a widow.
There was a second woman, a Shunammite, who also had a son who died. This time, from 2 Kings 4 we learn that the prophet Elisha had met a Shunammite woman and her husband and whenever he was traveling in the region he would stop by their home for a meal. In fact, the woman persuaded her husband to build an addition to the house to give him a place to stay when he was passing through. This truly is an example of Christian hospitality.
During one visit the prophet asked the woman what he could do for her to repay her kindness. It truly was a blessing to have a room to stay in when he was in the region. His servant reminded him that the woman did not have any children and so Elisha called for her and told her, “About this time next year you shall embrace a son.”
As we know, a barren woman is not to be trifled with in such matters, for the desire of a barren womb for children is never satisfied (Proverbs 30:16). She replied as if he were joking or taunting her, but I am sure in her heart she was excited to see if what he said as a Man of God would come true. As sure as the Word of God from Elisha, she did conceive and gave birth to a son just as Elisha had promised. The son grew and was a blessing to his mother and father.
One day while out in the field, the boy ran to his father crying out about his head. While we do not know the actual ailment that befell him we do know that it caused pain in his head and within hours killed him. He died in his mother’s arms just after noon that day.
Here we have travelled from the heights of joy and fulfillment in birth and life to the desperation of sickness and sudden death. This promised son, this blessing that had not been expected, this answer to prayers was suddenly gone from their home. The woman took the boy’s body, laid it on Elisha’s bed, and she went with great haste and determination to find the prophet.
As Elisha saw her coming from far off, he sent his servant to enquire whether everyone was well. She replied that all was well but as she neared the prophet she fell on the ground and grabbed him by the feet. The servant tried to push her away but Elisha replied, “Let her alone; for her soul is in deep distress, and the LORD has hidden it from me, and has not told me.” He saw her distress and she said to him that he should not have given her hope or deceived her about having a child, for now she was once again childless.
There can be no greater pain in this life than the loss of a child, and here the loss was compounded by her prior barrenness. The long wished for fulfillment had been given and then taken away again.
Elisha went to where the boy’s body was, stretched out over him and prayed. The child at first grew warm, and then he sneezed seven times and opened his eyes – he was alive. The woman came in then and after bowing before Elisha she picked up her son who had now been given back to her.
As an aside it is funny to me that the tradition when someone sneezes today is to say “God bless you” or just “Bless you.” This tradition originated from the pagan idea that your spirit was blown out of you when you sneezed and if you were not blessed by God or gods with the return of your spirit to its rightful place then you were subject to curses, demon possession, and even death. I laugh at the fact that here the boy sneezed when his spirit came back, not when it supposedly left.
But here a great loss was wiped out and an incredible gift was given. This boy had been given once as a blessing for hospitality and now he had been given anew in response to persistent faith. This mother pursued the man of God and would not let go when it came to pleading for the life of this child. In a show of divine power the prophet was used to plead with God to grant the return of the life of this boy. She indeed received him again from the dead because of her faith.
Often we see God give gifts. Often we wonder why things are “taken away.” Sometimes they are given back, other times not. Job lost everything and then had more at the end than he had lost at the first. Others died for Christ alone and seemingly forsaken by men (Paul and others). But through it all we know this, God gives perfect gifts, and everything we have in this life comes through His hands.
What do you treasure today? What would you miss if you lost it? Do you have the faith to believe that God has given you what He wants you to have and has withheld from you the things He does not want you to have? In this day and hour of greed and covetousness, let us both learn to be content, but also to believe with all our hearts that God can and will bless us when we ask.