Based on a sermon by Barnabas Chong—Singapore
A certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, saying, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the LORD. And the creditor is coming to take my two sons to be his slaves.” (2 Kgs 4:1)
This passage records an episode in the ministry of the prophet Elisha. The wife of one of the sons of the prophets was experiencing considerable hardship. Her husband had died, and her family was laden with debts. She sought help from Elisha, who gave her some instructions. She followed them, and her problems were solved. Let us consider this widow’s faith from the perspectives of each of the leading players—the widow, Elisha, and the Lord.
THE WIDOW’S FAITH
Firstly, did this widow have faith? She came to plead for Elisha’s help, so she must have had faith. Seeking help from Elisha, a prophet of God, was the same as seeking help from God. She must have known that God could save her from her troubles. Today, when we ask God for help, do we approach Him with the same faith as this widow?
Secondly, how deep was her faith? Let us consider her situation. Her husband had been a son of the prophets. This being the case, why did he meet such a fate? People often believe that good things happen to good people, while bad things befall those who are evil. If we subscribe to such thinking, we would wonder why this prophet deserved to die. Perhaps he had been a false prophet or one who oppressed people. But the Bible records clearly what the widow said to Elisha: “You know your servant feared the LORD” (2 Kgs 4:1). So why would a God-fearing prophet meet an early demise?
His death had a significant impact on the widow. Since her husband had been faithful, she could have questioned why God would allow this to happen. Her whole household feared God, yet they were so deep in debt that creditors were threatening to take her sons away. We think nothing of seeking God when we face problems with straightforward solutions. The widow here faced seemingly insurmountable challenges. If we were in such a situation, would we confidently seek God?
It would be understandable for a person to give up all hope in such difficulties. Negative thoughts could have overwhelmed her: God hasn’t helped me. My family has been plunged into despair. God could help, but, instead, He has no love! He doesn’t care if I live or die. Why should I worship or seek Him? But this widow was one of faith. In such dire circumstances, she had the faith to seek God’s help through Elisha.
In difficult times, we may struggle with negative thoughts. But the Bible tells us not to fear, for God is with us (Ps 23:4; Josh 1:9). Though the widow seemingly had no one to pull her out of trouble, she still believed in God. She knew and continued to fear God. She did not curse or challenge God. In times of tribulation, we must also continue to believe and trust in God.
“[Cast] all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Pet 5:7)
We do not cast our cares on God just because He is able, but because He cares for us. When we are praying in tears to God, we must remember this verse. God invites us to cast all our cares on Him. While we know this, there could still be some unbelief within our hearts. That is because when we reach out to God, we often expect instant help. We expect God to prevent the problem from occurring in the first place. However, the verse tells us to cast our cares upon Him, meaning that all of us will have cares in this world. God will not prevent us from experiencing trouble, but He will help us with the troubles we do have.
I live with my brother’s family. One day, while he and my sister-in-law were out, I had to babysit their two-year-old and two-month-old. I could manage the older child by playing nursery rhyme videos. However, I had no idea what to do with the baby. I could not figure out why the baby was crying. I was holding the crying baby in one arm, and with the other arm, I was trying to handle the toddler who was climbing all over me. I had no idea what to do. I could only rely on God. I played the hymn Jesus Loves Me, and, thankfully, the baby calmed down and fell asleep. When I shared this with my brother, he told me the baby sleeps to any music. But when I later tested this, it was not the case. It was indeed God who helped me.
This episode triggered another thought in me. In that situation, God helped me instantly. But at other times, I have prayed and fasted for weeks, with seemingly no answer from God. At the time, I had wondered if the content of those prayers were wrong. But after this experience, I realized that perhaps God had already extended His help—only the time had not yet come for me to experience it. God may have already answered our prayers, but we need to wait with faith to see God’s help manifest in our life at the right time.
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.” (Eccl 3:11)
God may not let us know everything from beginning to end. But we trust that God can and will make everything beautiful in its time. The only question is whether now is the time. If we continue to have faith and hold on to God’s word, when the time comes, God will complete the work. If we read this verse with faith, then we can hold on in any situation. Whatever circumstances we are in, we can bring forth our faith and rely on Him. When it appeared as though God had forsaken her family, the widow came to seek God. She maintained the hope that God could and would help her in His time. This is the faith we should have.
So 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 but a jar of oil.” Then he said, “Go, borrow vessels from everywhere, from all your neighbors—empty vessels; do not gather just a few. And when you have come in, you shall shut the door behind you and your sons; then pour it into all those vessels, and set aside the full ones.” So she went from him and shut the door behind her and her sons, who brought the vessels to her; and she poured it out. Now it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not another vessel.” So the oil ceased. (2 Kgs 4:2–6)
Why did Elisha want the widow to pour out the oil herself? Why did Elisha not use a more direct approach to help her? He could have turned stone into gold to pay off her debt. Instead, he gave her precise instructions: gather pots, close the door, and pour out the oil from her jar into the collected pots.
No matter what they thought about Elisha’s directions, the widow and her sons simply obeyed, believing that every vessel would be filled with oil. Going through this process in itself was necessary for them to build up their faith. They needed God’s grace to pull them out of their dire situation—they had the faith to seek God, but did they have the faith required to obey the voice of Elisha? Through this action of oil pouring, they demonstrated their belief and obedience. And as they watched pot after pot being filled to the brim, they experienced the gift of God and the abundance of His saving grace. This whole experience confirmed in the most wonderful way that God is true and faithful, and all glory belongs to Him.
THE GRACE OF GOD
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 live on the rest.” (2 Kgs 4:7)
First and foremost, God addressed the widow’s most urgent need: paying off her debt. It was not just financial relief; it also saved her sons from being used as collateral. Without this, she would have lost not only her husband, but also her sons. She would have become a widow of widows. God rendered help to lift her out of this predicament immediately. What other grace did He bestow upon her?
The last part of this verse says, “you and your sons live on the rest.” Elisha understood this was necessary all along. Beyond the repayment of their debts, they needed help to sustain their livelihood. The grace intended was not just to solve the present problem, but also to provide for their future. We do not know how long the money would last, but we know she was truly helped.
Today, our jobs could be at risk, especially amid the current pandemic. If it is just for a month, perhaps we can stem the tide. But as the days turn to months, no matter how much savings we have, we may meet with financial difficulties. Let us not be overly worried. In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to “give us this day our daily bread.” We can recall how the Lord provided manna for the Israelites in the wilderness. God will give us enough food for each day, at the very least.
God provided the necessities for the widow and her sons. As long as we believe in and rely on God, He will also help us. We must be clear, though, that God will provide us with the things we need, and not necessarily the things we desire. For example, when the Israelites craved meat in the wilderness, God gave it to them, along with punishment for their complaints and attitude. God did not punish them when He provided the necessities, such as manna. This reminds us to trust in God for our essential needs. Let us assess what our genuine necessities are so that we do not become overly worried and complain, or desire more than what we need. Even in straitened times like these, let us continue to strengthen our faith and trust in God.
Because the widow’s family feared and sought God, they experienced His deliverance and saving grace. Likewise, if we fear God, He will help us in our time of need. We see this truth being fulfilled in the lives of full-time workers today. This includes, but is not limited to, preachers and administrative staff working in the church. Throughout this pandemic, it has become apparent that more full-time workers are needed in the ministry. Who could have predicted that a virus would prevent us from coming to church to worship? Now that most of us have experienced some form of lockdown, in which we could not physically gather at our local churches, it brings into focus the current and future need for workers to support pastoral and evangelistic outreach. Of critical importance is being able to share the truth and teachings of God to members in virtual or other settings, beyond the church premises. Who will step up to this work? Who will encourage members and lead them in their faith?
Some are discouraged by a worker’s meager salary, his uncomfortable lifestyle, or even the stress and challenges a worker faces. So they dare not offer themselves for full-time ministry. But instead of focusing on these, let us take courage and be determined to serve the Lord, entrusting all our daily cares to Him. Let us have faith that God will take care of us as we serve Him with our lives.
In this short story of Elisha and the widow, there are many layers of grace from God, amid seemingly insurmountable challenges and an uncertain future. If we reflect upon our own lives, we will see that God has also helped us with many different layers of grace. With each layer, our faith is strengthened and built up in Him. Let us always reflect on how God builds up our faith. Even during challenges, adversity, or a pandemic, let us be determined to seek the Lord, for He will surely provide.