Bible Studies
Written by Jim Jordal   
Wednesday, 11 April 2007


By Jim Jordal

Now a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, "Your servant my husband is dead…and the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves." And 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 except a jar of oil." Then he said, "Go, borrow vessels from all your neighbors; do not get a few. And you shall go into your house and shut the door and pour from your jar of oil into all the vessels, and you shall set aside what is full." So she went from him and shut the door to her house and began filling the vessels they brought to her. And it came about when the vessels were full, that she said to her son, "Bring me another vessel." And he said to her, "There is not one vessel more." And the oil stopped. 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 can live on the rest."

Paraphrase of 2 Kings 4:1-7

Imagine this woman’s precarious situation: Her husband is dead and a creditor clamors at her door expecting to seize her sons as slaves in payment for her debt. She has nothing except a jar of oil, no savings and evidently no helpful relatives, and no governmental safety net to catch her fall. She is without visible resources or means of support, expecting to be swallowed up by her powerful, merciless creditor. That’s about as bad as it could get for this woman.

But God comes to her aid in the form of the prophet Elisha. Learning of the situation, he asks her simply, "What shall I do for you? What do you have in the house?" No reproaches for bad management, no blame for allowing the situation to deteriorate so far, and no panaceas or platitudes such as "Have faith—the Lord will provide." Just action, beginning not with what she should or could have, but with what little she did have.

Elisha certainly knew that one jar of oil would not satisfy her clamoring creditor. But he also knew that God desired to build the widow’s faith through His action in multiplying the oil. But God didn’t give the widow unlimited amounts of oil, but just enough for her needs. God helps us in ways that build faith in graduated amounts. Dumping upon us massive amounts of whatever we pray for would likely lead to our overconfidence, and might minimize our dependence upon Him. So gives us, not what we want, but what we need.

Think back to the biblical account of how Gideon and his 300 men conquered the hordes of Midian (Judges 7). Gideon began with 32,000 men, but God intervened. Knowing that Israel would become boastful if her superior numbers prevailed, He said, "The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands…" Then, using various qualifying tests, the Lord whittled the numbers down to a mere 300, by whom He saved Israel. God didn’t need large numbers of warriors to deliver His people from Midian; neither did He need copious supplies of oil to deliver the widow from her creditor.

Consider also the account of Saul’s son, Jonathan, who once single-handedly slew 20 Philistines. He prepared for the assault with this comment to his armor bearer: "Come, and let us cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; perhaps the Lord will work for us, for the Lord is not restrained to save by many or by few" (I Sam. 14:6).

In these cases, if God had delivered with the original number of warriors or with great human effort it would not have been so readily apparent that God alone had done this. That’s often God’s style!

The principle here is that God is not limited to acting according to human perceptions. He can deliver with many or few, and often acts miraculously in what we would view as hopeless situations. We look at numbers of warriors and other available human resources: God looks for faithful hearts and confidence in His word.

Faith is what pleases God, so He expects us to step out in faith regardless of apparent circumstances. This does not mean foolhardy presumption, as practiced by the many political leaders claiming that God told them to do something, or that God is on their side no matter what they have done. What it does mean is that we clearly discern what God’s word says concerning some troubling situation, then seek His will in prayer, and only then do we step out in faith claiming His promises. There’s a big difference between this and what often passes for the Lord’s leading.

One of the many things I like about the Old Testament is that it contains numerous examples of how God interacts directly with His people. Think of Noah and his command from God that he should build an ark on perfectly dry land that had never been known to flood. Think of the ridicule heaped upon him by friend and foe alike. But he steadfastly obeyed his commission, refusing to be sidetracked by criticism, the passage of time, or anything else. He stepped forward in faith, thereby saving himself and his family from disaster, and earning a place in the pantheon of heroes of the faith. May God help us to do as did the poor widow, who trusted God’s messenger and who believed what God promised