Monday, 12 May 2014

(133) May 13: 2 Kings 4-5 & John 4:1-30

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read consider what these miracles tell us about Elisha.

To ponder:
The seven miracles (4v1-6v7) mark Elisha out as superior to the other prophets (4v9, 5v8). A number also show the LORD is ready to bless those who acknowledge or serve him. Although the widow’s boys were to be treated as hired hands and released at the Jubilee (Lev 25v35-41), their enslavement would leave her not just lonely, but without anyone to tend her land. Elisha’s question “how can I help?” (see also 4v13) reflects God’s readiness to help his people in need. The miracle itself portrays Elisha as like Elijah (1 Kgs 17v13-16), and teaches how abundantly and precisely God can provide for us - even materially.
            Elisha also patterns Elijah with respect to the Shunammite’s son (1 Kgs 17). Whereas the previous miracle implicitly commended those who revere God (4v1), this commends those who use their wealth for hospitality, and especially in providing for those who speak God’s word (Heb 13v2, Lk 8v3). Thankful, Elisha seeks to do her good, and his servant Gehazi notes she has no son and an old husband, meaning no son was likely! And so with allusion to God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah (Gen 18v9-15), Elisha promises the woman a son, which she recognises as a significant miracle (4v16). However, the boy dies. The woman lays him on Elisha’s bed, and hurries to get him. Her husband questions why she was going immediately, presumably because he expected her just to be wanting to let Elisha know. But, we see she is acting with astounding faith. Distressed but not despairing, she twice says everything is “all right,” before grasping Elisha’s feet in supplication. It may be God kept the situation from Elisha so that he would send Gehazi first, and that his failure would demonstrate how Elisha was needed (consider Christ in Mk 9v17-29). Whatever, after some effort in prayer and action, the boy is restored to life.
            In what follows Elisha is God’s means of providing food by turning a poisoned stew edible for a group of prophets during a famine, and (prefiguring Christ) feeding a hundred with surplus from just twenty loaves and some corn – “according to the word of the LORD.” Whether wealth, life, or food then, God can provide. But the surprise in what follows, is that he is prepare to act even for those outside of Israel.
            God’s governance of all that happens is seen by the offhand note that he had used Naaman in giving Aram victories. One captive was an Israelite, who expresses faith in telling Naaman’s wife that he should visit Elisha to be cured of his leprosy. On receiving a letter from Naaman’s king, the king of Israel however showed himself lacking such faith, looking to himself rather than to God (5v7). It’s a reminder our first act in a crisis should be prayer.
            Naaman proudly considered Elisha’s instructions and lack of personal attention beneath him. His servants’ pleading affirms the importance of obeying God’s word (5v13). And the requirement of washing in the Jordan may be intended to demonstrate God’s special presence in the land, stressing it is his power at work not Elisha’s. So Naaman responds that “there is no God in all the world except in Israel” and requests earth from the land. He then commits to sacrificing only to the LORD - although asking forgiveness for when he is required to accompany his master to his god’s temple. This is an astonishing confession in a day when it was assumed each nation had its own god. And so the foreigner is washed clean not just of his leprosy.
             Elisha refuses to profit from this act of God (5v26). Gehazi, however, degrades it by displaying greed rather than joy, lying to Naaman and Elisha, and so being punished with Namaan’s leprosy on him and his descendents. (Elisha’s comment that his “spirit” was with Gehazi when speaking to Naaman, suggests a vision in which he was in some sense supernaturally there.)

Praying it home:
Praise God for his readiness to abundantly provide. Pray that he would make you more prayerful, instinctively turning to him when in need, rather than to yourself.

Thinking further:
To read the NIV Study Bible introduction to 2 Kings, click here.

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