Exeter Temple Message notes: Mother’s Day 6th March 2016
Theme: Elisha and a widow
Bible Reading: 2 Kings 4:1-17
This is the story of one mother’s struggle to fulfill her responsibility to her family. However, the life principles she employed and the ways of God she learned are good not just for mothers but for anyone in any situation.
1 The principle of facing reality and avoiding self-pity.
Many people in debt find it very difficult to face up to and resort to hiding bills and put off facing up to what is happening to them. There is a pride about us that doesn’t want somebody else to know how much need we are in. However, given the time, culture and small community this woman lived in it is unlikely that she could keep her situation private, even if she wanted to. Her creditors may even have been her very near neighbours. In desperation she went to Elisha, the prophet, the man who in her eyes represented God and cried out to him for help.
The woman reminded Elisha that her husband was his servant and that he had been a faithful prophet. Implied in her words is anger and confusion about how she ended up in the position of losing first her husband and now her home and her children and an implication that Elisha had an obligation to help her. We should not miss the sense of injustice that she feels. Sometimes we too feel that it isn’t fair that when we have served God faithfully that bad stuff still happens to us. We feel justified in feeling self-pity as if somehow we have earned the right to a trouble free existence. When we do that we miss out on an opportunity to see God supply all our needs and deepen our relationship with him.
Elisha did not admonish the woman for her anger or offer platitudes, but in a practical way led her to take a step of faith that proved to be life changing for her and for her whole community.
2. The principle of there always being possibilities
The widow might have expected that Elisha would pay the debt but instead he asks her for something.
“Tell me what do you have in your house?” (v2)
We would prefer it when we turn to God for help that there is instant resolution but rather than ask the woman about what she needed and didn’t have, he asked her what she already had which was nothing but a little oil. She thinks this is of no significance at all because if it had been, the bailiffs would have taken it. Probably she was saving it for her burial, which she assumed would not be long away, given the depth of her poverty. To her this oil was a symbol of impending doom rather than something that signified hope.
But the pot of oil became the turning point in her situation. It is not trite to say that we should never dismiss anything that God has given us as too small for him to use. This is a biblical principle and the way God works, for example Moses in Exodus 4:2 and a widow in 1 Kings 17:12
If we asked same question that Elisha asked the widow of Jesus, “What do have in your house?” his reply might have been “I do not even have a house all I have is this cross.”
3. The principle of obedience
Elisha instructed the widow to ask all her neighbours for empty jars.
Why? He probably had a supply of empty jars in his household but instead he made her go to all her neighbours.
- Faith involves obedience even when we don’t understand
For the poor widow to go out & appeal to her neighbours was a humbling, embarrassing thing to do in itself. To ask that she might have their empty oil jars rather than for oil seemed ridiculous.
We should admire this woman’s faith. What Elisha asked of her hard. risked ridicule, anger and further rejection It is the kind of trust that acts in obedience to God when it makes no sense at all in human terms. The Bible is full of commands but very often they are not accompanied with detailed explanations of how obeying them will work out. Yet we know that God is good and we can trust him even when we don’t know where it might lead.
The thing that we often have to overcome is our reluctance to face being laughed at by those who do not have our hope and our trust in God. The widow had got to the place where she did not care about saving face but only about losing her sons. Our priorities change when we are desperate enough. Our faith is sometimes small because we really don’t realize the depth of our own spiritual poverty or how desperate the situation regarding the future of our mission is, or if we don’t really believe that an eternal destiny devoid of God’s presence awaits those who do not know the Saviour.
If we did would our priorities about reputation, preferences, comfort change dramatically?
- To show her that God can do more than we can ask.
She was to collect all the empty jars possible and then go inside her house, shut the door and pour oil from her little jar into all the jars. She did as she was told, even though it must have seemed impossible to fill even one jar, when all that she had left was such a tiny amount.
She had to raise her expectations because God can do what we think is impossible. In fact, he did more than she asked. In the end not only could she pay the debt and save her boys from slavery, there was enough for her and her sons to live on.
“God is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine according to his power that is at work within us.” (Ephesians 3:20)
- To alert the community of the God they had forgotten
Why did Elisha involve the widow’s neighbours in this miracle?If the community had been living their lives according to the Covenant they had with God, then they should have stepped in and sorted this out. In
involving the neighbours Elisha was calling the community back to the God, they had forgotten and reminding them what he was like.
The creditors were coming and they were going to take away this woman’s children into slavery but this was forbidden in God’s law. This was not supposed to be allowed to happen in Israel.
“If one of your countrymen becomes poor among you and sells himself to you, do not make him work as a slave.” (Leviticus 25:35) But this case the creditors were coming to take this woman’s children and her community were standing by and letting it happen. More than, not letting the widow’s children be taken into slavery, God’s law demanded that when a person fell into poverty the whole community should support them. But they were not helping. They had forgotten God’s laws, they had forgotten him and they forgotten what kind of God he was.
Elisha, in making the woman go around and ask for their empty pots, is rallying these people into remembering their God and their covenant responsibilities. The impact of the miracle on the community would be immense. It would raise questions for them all.
What kind of God do we have, who cares about the needs of a little person like her?
Will he meet my needs like he met the need of the woman?
Could I have more faith like that of the widow?
If this is the God we are in covenant with, what does he expect of us? What kind of people should we be, if we are in relationship with a God like that?
We need to ask the same kind of questions ourselves.
Alan and Carol