by Jonathan S Spurlock
(Holts Summit, MO)
Text: 2 Kings 4:18-37
Suppose your child—son or daughter, doesn’t matter which—were to die unexpectedly. Suppose your child had been the result of a promise, and now, that child is gone: forever, seemingly. Now suppose you were able to find a prophet, especially the one who assured you that your child was going to be born. What might happen next?
Something like this actually happened in the days of Elisha, the prophet. Elisha had been anointed to be God’s prophet by Elijah, shortly before Elijah was taken to Heaven. Elisha had already been able to perform several miracles, including the miracle of the Shunammite man and woman to have a child (2 Kings 4:15-17). Now, sadly, the child had died and the Shunammite woman is, understandably, upset. Verses 22 and following give some of the narrative leading to this occasion, when the prophet’s servant was told, “go thy way”.
I. The command from Elisha
2 Kings 4:29 Then 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.
Elisha sensed the urgency of that moment and promptly gave Gehazi some clear instructions. These consisted of two parts, namely take Elisha’s staff and get moving!; the second, don’t “salute” anyone on the way. I remember reading a book on Bible customs and manners, some years back, and had to laugh as I read a “transcript” of one of these “salutes”.
The narrative read something like this (abbreviated, of course):
A The Lord bless you!
B. And you as well.
A. How is your health?
B. Thanks be to God.
A. That is a fine horse you have there.
B. He would like to carry you.
And the list went on. One preacher said that these “salutes” were rather elaborate ceremonies and to ignore a greeting, or fail to render a greeting, was a serious social offense in those days.
Elisha said, “Don’t do it. Don’t do any of that. Get to where the boy’s body is, and lay my staff on his face.” Then Gehazi did so.
I’ve often wondered why Elisha wanted Gehazi to lay the staff (a wooden rod) on the child’s face. Miracles had happened with rods: Moses and Aaron had a rod apiece to demonstrate to Pharaoh that God was superior to any of the gods of Egypt (see Exodus 7, for example). Aaron’s own rod had budded with almond blossoms (Numbers 17) and Moses had seen his rod turn into a snake, and then back to a rod (Exodus 4). But never in the Bible had it been recorded that anyone had been raised from the dead by means of a rod applied to any part of the body!
2. The report from Gehazi
Gehazi had gone on his mission, as directed by Elisha. We’re not told how far of a journey he had to make but Scripture gives us a clue. The woman, the Shunammite, rode on a donkey but had one of her servants come along with her. So, it was probably too far to walk (especially for a woman, alone) but not too far where she might have needed lodging, food and water for her and the donkey, etc. Gehazi, apparently, made the journey on foot as we don’t read of him finding or riding on any animals.
Now we read one of the saddest portions of Scripture. The mother is holding on to Elisha’s feet, grieved as any mother would be for the death of her only child, and Elisha is seeking to minister to her. Gehazi has a very important mission, and he doesn’t seem to waste any time in getting to the place where the dead child was. Ironically, according to David Guzik’s commentary, it’s in the same room, and the child is lying on the very same bed, which the Shunammite woman had prepared for Elisha! (Compare 2 Kings 4:10 with verse 21.)
Gehazi came back with a very unhappy report. Verse 31 reads, “And 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.”’
What can anyone say in a situation like this?
What can anyone do in a case like this?
The mother is suffering from despair at losing her child.
She has seen this first attempt to raise the child, her only child, from the dead, the hopes of restoration.
All of that was gone.
Think of David and the grief he must have felt when the child born to him and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12), how he hoped and prayed for the child’s life to be spared. Other people had watched their children die, or had received knowledge of those deaths, but I doubt that was much comfort to this mother. She was hoping Elisha would or could do something—after all, he was the one who gave her God’s promise some time before this event that she would bear a child—but nothing happened right away.
3. The restoration of the child’s life
We read now in verses 32 and 33 that Elisha himself sought for the child to be made alive again. These verses read, “(32) And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed. (33) He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the LORD.”
There is a similar incidence, which had taken place some time (years?) before, when Elijah was staying in Zarephath. We read in 1 Kings 17 where Elijah was staying there, during the three and a half year famine in Israel. A widow woman gave him shelter while he stayed there but one day, the woman’s son died. Anguished, she called out (lashed out?) at Elijah. He took the boy’s body up to the loft, as it’s called in 1 Kings 17:19, then cried out to the Lord. He then laid his own body on the boy’s body. doing this three times, before God answered.
Elisha did something different here. He went in and shut the door and prayed, just as we read in verse 33. Now, he placed his body on the child’s body in several places—and the child’s body “waxed (became) warm”, according to verse 34. Then he went and did something I consider strange, namely, he “he returned, and walked in the house to and fro”, according to verse 35. We’re not exactly sure why he did this, and Scripture doesn’t give the reason. Later, he went back to his room, laid his body on the child’s body again, and watched the child come back to life! We’re not told why the child sneezed seven times but we are told he opened his eyes!
He was alive again! And this child was one of the very, very few who have returned from the dead to live again. The woman received her son, thanks be to God Himself!
I’ve always been puzzled as to why there isn’t more of a celebration or rejoicing when the boy came back to life. The whole incident, from the mission of Gehazi to the resurrection of the Shunammite’s child, is mentioned very “matter-of-factly” with not even a mention of anyone giving thanks to God. Verse 37 says the woman took up her son and “went out”, I believe back to her home. We don’t read that Elisha or anyone else said, “go thy way”, or anything else to the woman for that matter.
Another thing that is a puzzle is the ministry of Gehazi. Elisha told him to take Elisha’s staff, or rod, and place it on the child’s face. When that didn’t work (could it have worked?), Gehazi returned to where Elisha was staying. He didn’t even get a word of encouragement from Elisha. Again, Scripture is silent so we should respect this when we find it in the Word.
Even so, there is a message for us. Sometimes we’re told, in so many words, to “go thy way” into a mission that, at first, doesn’t seem to work. The expected healing doesn’t happen. The desired effects from a visit or conversation don’t occur. A hoped-for reconciliation never takes place. Are we to blame? If we do this in our own strength, such as it is, we’ll never accomplish anything with lasting results. Remember, there is no mention of Gehazi praying or even asking Elisha to pray for him. But if we do things according to God’s way, and with His power and blessings, we may never fully comprehend all He might do through us.
Prayer: Lord, may we always be willing to be obedient to You, and do what is right in pleasing in Your eyes, when You tell us to “go thy way”. Teach us never to look for what we did, the results, but to look for what You want to do, and be the blessings You want us to be.
Scripture quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible.
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