Lesson 41: Elisha & the Widow's Oil
A certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, saying, "Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the LORD. And the creditor is coming to take my two sons to be his slaves."
So Elisha said to her, "What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?" And she said, "Your maidservant has nothing in the house but a jar of oil."
Then he said, "Go, borrow vessels from everywhere, from all your neighbors — empty vessels; do not gather just a few. And when you have come in, you shall shut the door behind you and your sons; then pour it into all those vessels, and set aside the full ones."
So she went from him and shut the door behind her and her sons, who brought the vessels to her; and she poured it out. Now it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said to her son, "Bring me another vessel."
And he said to her, "There is not another vessel." So the oil ceased. Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, "Go, sell the oil and pay your debt; and you and your sons live on the rest." (2 Kings 4:1-7, NKJV)
A faithful prophet had died, leaving his wife a widow and his children fatherless. Apparently, the prophet had become indebted to a creditor, who was now seeking repayment after the man's death.
Since the prophet had lived by faith and the small income he had received on a regular basis through his own work, there wasn't enough money left in the household to pay off the creditor. Neither the house nor the land could be taken unless willingly sold by the woman, which then would revert back to her in the year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25:23-28). However, the creditor could compel her two sons to serve him for at least six years, and possibly till the year of Jubilee, unless they were redeemed by a relative at the cost of the remaining debt. There was also the possibility that either one or both of them could decide to become his permanent servant. (Leviticus 25:39-55, Deuteronomy 15:12-18). With these options available, the creditor decided to take the widow's two sons as payment for the debt owed, which would leave the widow completely alone in her empty house.
The poor widow was left in a very difficult situation: she was unable to pay the debt with what little funds that were left, she loved her sons and didn't want to see them leave as slaves and it would be very difficult for her to provide for herself by her own efforts. So she sought the aide of the prophet Elisha.
Elisha, being an itinerant prophet, certainly was incapable of financially covering the woman's debt, so he inquired as to the woman's resources, knowing that the Lord was capable of multiplying them. The poor widow informed Elisha that the only valuable possession she still retained was a little bit of oil they had for cooking and lighting their home.
Elisha told the woman to prepare for a miracle. He told her to collect all the empty jars, vases, bowls, and other containers she could possibly borrow from her neighbors, and then fill them from the single jar of oil she had in her home. She filled the jars in her own home with the doors closed so that others could neither interfere, nor participate in the provision of the Lord. This was the Lord's miraculous provision for the widow and her two sons only, and no one else.
So what do Elisha and the widow teach us about faith? First, true faith is relentless, even in impossible situations. Second, the Lord honors true faith, privately as well as publicly. Third, true faith exercised secretly is likewise rewarded secretly. Fourth, true faith openly proclaims the private, secret, and miraculous provision of the Lord publicly, as a sign of true appreciation and worship. Fifth, true faith prepares in advance to receive the Lord's provision.
In the next lesson, we will continue examining the faith of Elisha.
May the Lord richly bless you and keep you always,
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