This week's treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson for (February 1, 2009) is written by Pat. L. Hartson.
The story of the Shunammite woman takes place in a time of terrific change in Israel. The northern kingdom of Israel is still reeling from it's division from the southern kingdom of Judah. The first king and spiritual leader of Judah, Jeroboam, led Israel into a period of idol worship from which it never returned. The world power was shifting with the rising of Egyptian, and later Assyrian, control of Palestine. Finally, there was a shift in the true prophets of God. Elisha succeeded Elijah as God's spokesman for Israel.
An Authentic Believer
In the midst of these changes and the growing trend toward perversity and polytheism, we see a holy man and a godly woman who demonstrates genuine authenticity. Today there are a number of voices calling the church in North America to be missional. They call upon the members of the Body of Christ to be incarnational, intentional, and transparent as we journey toward God. The text before us gives us a solid example of how two people lived a godly life in their secular, post Yahweh culture.
Elisha, the prophet, was often seen traveling between Samaria and Carmel (2 Kings 2:25). He was trying to equip a small group of his peers, known as the school of prophets, to continue to faithfully serve God. His ministry included a number of miracles that validated his message as a true prophet of God.
Evidently, he traveled through this small town of Shuman so often that people recognized him. It was there that the Shunammite woman invited Elisha to eat with her household, and she would not accept no for an answer.
A Woman's Character
Matthew Henry says this Shunammite woman was a great woman; that she kept a good house; that she was very hospitable; her husband had a good estate; and that his heart trusted in her and in her discreet management.1 She may have been the living picture of the characteristics of the woman described in Proverbs 31!
Elisha had oftentimes refreshed himself at her table. Perhaps she saw the stress of his itinerant ministry, or perhaps she noticed the exhaustion in his voice, or she may have just wanted to be kind. Whatever the reason, with her husband's consent, she built Elisha a small room where he could stay. She equipped this small prophet's chamber with a bed, table, chair, and lampstand. That was everything Elisha needed for rest, reflection, reading, and writing.
A friend of mine is planting a new church in Cleveland, Ohio. One of the most pressing needs for a church is to develop small groups. Many times these groups meet in people's homes. Perhaps one of the reasons the Shunammite woman invited Elisha into her house was because she realized, like our contemporary counterparts, that entertaining a man of God would be good for their family.
Paul picks up on that principle when he instructs the elders of the church to give to hospitality (1 Timothy 3:2). The writers of Hebrews tells us, "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13:2)2 Opening your home to a godly influence is never harmful.
An Open Door for God's Blessing
By opening her home, the Shunammite woman also opened the door to God's blessing her beyond her imagination. One day Elisha asked the woman if there was any way her could repay her for her kindness. He offered to speak well of her to the ruling authorities.
She replied, "I live among my own people" (2 Kings 4:13). This meant that she did not have a case, or a cause, or an ax to grind with anyone. She was living in peace with her neighbors.
Gehazi, Elisha's servant, pointed out that she did not have a child. Like Abraham and Sarah of old, the Shunammite woman and her husband had reached maturity without children. As with Abraham and Sarah, God was about to demonstrate that even in changing, difficult times, He is still God. God promised them a son. Like Abraham and Sarah, the Shunammite woman and her husband could hardly comprehend it.
By the time a year had passed, the woman and her husband had become new parents. It is just like God to take the little things we have to offer and build them into a huge blessing. The woman built a little room, and God built a home. In church planting, God takes the small offerings we give and multiplies them to enable us to plant churches that grow exponentially. Regardless of circumstances, God is always near to the people seeking to live out his lordship in their lives.