From Rags to Riches Part 1 of 2
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
Title: From Rags to Riches
Text: “Then 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.” (2 Kings 4:7)
Bible Reading: 2 Kings 4:1-7
I want to begin today with a joke about preachers. One Sunday a woman thanked the pastor for his sermon. The pastor tried to be humble and replied, “Don’t thank me, thank the Lord.” She said, “Well, I thought about that but it wasn’t that good.” Friends, that’s the way I feel most of the time; like the sermon wasn’t very good and I didn’t present it very well. Sometimes I feel like giving up. How about you? Have you ever felt like throwing in the towel and quitting? Have you ever come to your wits end? Are you there now? Are you ready to give up?
When the curtain lifts on 2 Kings Chapter 4, we see a scene of misery, poverty, and despair. But, as the story progresses, the widow, who is one of the main characters, finds her way from rags to riches. Today, we’re going to study a remarkable oil pot that never ran dry. Through a miracle of God, that jar of oil continued producing for a needy widow and her family. It is a symbol of our pockets and our offerings. God keeps giving and giving to us, filling our pockets and meeting our needs. For two thousand years, He has advanced His work by giving to His people all they need, and then persuading them to return a portion to Him for His church. His blessings to us and through us are a never-ending supply of grace. I will take you through the story verse-by-verse, and the first thing you will notice is that-
The Widow’s Trouble Was Brought to Elisha (v.1).
Verse 1 says: “Now the wife of one of the sons of the prophets cried to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead; and you know that your servant feared the Lord, but the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.” By turning to God’s prophet, Elisha, this woman was turning to God in her trouble, since Elisha was God’s representative. That’s the meaning of Hebrews 1:1; “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets.”
During this period in the northern kingdom of Israel, there was no functioning priesthood. Therefore, God raised up prophets, such as Elisha, who traveled and taught at a group of schools which trained young men in the ancient law and existed as a force for righteousness in the nation. Students were called “sons of the prophets,” and in this instance, one of them died, leaving his wife and two sons without any means of support. At this time in Israel, a child could be sold into slavery. However, this woman, who had lost her husband and her livelihood and now faced the prospect of losing her sons, exercised faith by coming to the man of God for advice. She brought her problems to Elisha, and passionately she “cried out” for help, indicating how truly desperate she was. She also spoke of her problems without beating around the bush, honestly relating the facts. She expressed her problems completely, telling her whole story to Elisha. Do you bring your problems to the Lord this way? Let’s take a look at her problems:
First, There Was Death in the Family (v.1).
Her human provider, her human protector, her human partner was gone and she felt it! Her problem becomes even worse when you realize that there was no work for women in the Hebrew culture. And a woman couldn’t own property; in fact, she would have had very few rights. When the widow’s husband died, he left an unpaid debt which the creditor had now come to collect. If a borrower did not have personal property as security, his own person and that of his dependents would serve as security. Therefore, the creditor could legally take the widows sons as payment. If her family or friends would not help her, and that appears to be the case, she would probably die. So this widow and her children were in deep trouble.
The Hebrew language contains at least 30 words that describe various kinds of trouble. What kind of trouble are you in? Have you brought that trouble and laid it at the Savior’s feet? This woman had seen all her belongings sold to meet the demands of her creditor, and now she faced the dreadful possibility of having to part with her two sons. All that was left in her home was a pot of oil! There are many people today who have financial problems? Are they worried about their job or their business? In the case of the widow, we have seen that there was Death and Debt in the Family, and there was also-
Doubt in the Family (v.1).
The language of verse 1, hints that this woman was puzzled; perhaps even questioning God’s wisdom in allowing such affliction to fall upon her home. She may have prayed, “Why me Lord? I don’t deserve to suffer like this.” Are your circumstances causing you to question His Wisdom and doubt His Love?
The Second Thing We Notice is that Elisha Knew What to Do About Her Trouble (vv.2 –4).
Here was a preacher with a genuine concern for this widow. And by including her story and similar stories in the Bible we know God loves widows and wants to provide for them. In Psalms 68:5 the Lord tells us, “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.”
A woman does not choose to become a widow. The loss of a dearly loved husband is a devastating experience that leaves a woman brokenhearted and emotionally drained. Her planned future suddenly seems dim and fading, and fears can become life-consuming. But today, we find so often that major support systems and financial resources are often no longer available to widows. They must become the one and only provider for their children and homes, no matter what their abilities, training, or resources might be. My sister lost her husband a year ago, and she is still hurting and trying to cope with life without him. At no other time in her life had she faced so many major decisions with fewer emotional resources.The widow in our story must have felt the same way, for we are told-
2 And Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?” And she said, “Your maidservant has nothing in the house, except a jar of oil.”
3 Then he said, “Go outside, borrow vessels of all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few.
4 Then go in, and shut the door upon yourself and your sons, and pour into all these vessels; and when one is full, set it aside.”
Notice that this woman was so poor her last possession was a pot of oil. Through Elisha, God asked a seemingly hopeless widow what she would like Him to do for her. Although the Lord knows all things and therefore He knew her need, the Lord wanted this woman to think about her situation, and listen to Elisha for the solution. Elisha told her to “Go outside, and borrow vessels from all your neighbors.” It may have been embarrassing for her to borrow, but the increase of her oil would be in proportion to her faith and obedience.
This widow gave a simple reply to Elisha which indicated the deep level of trust and faith that was present in her heart. She did not scold Elisha for asking foolish questions or infringing on her personal rights. Rather, she had a deep and abiding faith in God, and by her willing response, indicated to Elisha whom she knew was sent by her heavenly Father, that she expected Him to intervene on her behalf.
Widows today need that same total dependence on God. It says in Deuteronomy, “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow”(Deut. 10:18). Elisha gave this widow his full attention. At this stage, however, the situation does not look promising, for all she has is a little flask containing a little oil! This proved to be the key to the situation! God, through Elisha, was trying to teach her principles which we should also learn. He told her to “go into her house and shut the door.” This miracle was to be private. Not even the prophet was present, so the miracle could not be credited to sleight of hand, but only to the power of God. Elisha told her what to do, but now….
She Had to Do as She Was Told (vv.5 –6).
The Bible says-