As I’ve prayed and thought about today’s post, God brought me back to an old milestone. Many years ago, God was beginning to reveal Himself to me, as a young man. Somewhere along the way, I’d bought into the idea that God didn’t do any real works anymore. Sure, He spoke to me, at times, which was weird enough. But no way He’d ever use me to speak into someone’s life in a wild or prophetic way. ….well, that is…until He did!
I had recently changed states, and God has brought another young man and I into a sweet friendship. To this day, neither of us can tell you exactly what connected us, but God drew us together like David and Jonathan. I still love this man, and his family is as precious to me as my own! But on this day, he was grieved! His heart was so heavy, you could see it in his stance, in his movements; every fiber of his being seemed to weep, yet without tears.
The day before, he and I had discussed something that had beset him, a frustration in which he felt God had taken something away from him, out of his life. But he (we’ll call him Chuck) didn’t give me any of these details that I’m now filling in. Instead, Chuck merely said, “I feel like the Shunemite woman!”
“What?!?” Being the Biblical Scholar that I was at the time (read a thick coating of sarcasm right there, y’all), I had no clue what Chuck was talking about. So, he pointed me to 2 Kings 4; while I read it with all due desire to help my friend, I had no clue what Chuck was going though.
Back to the day of Chuck’s grief; I was doing a job on the other side of the warehouse from him, but I could see his pain. I was praying for God to help him, to give him wisdom and comfort, and I heard God, plain as day, tell me, “Go tell him that what he’s lost, he will gain back.” And I heard it so clearly, that I got up and did so. Chuck’s response was, “Figured it out, did ya?” To whit, I responded, “Dude, I don’t even know what I’m talking about!”
But today, I’ve learned to value the Shunemite woman’s story. It is a worthy reminder that sometimes, God chooses to take from our lives so He can make Himself more known. We, of course, do not like this because it freaking hurts! But God is so perfectly good that He only makes us to endure the pain that is truly necessary. And our relationship with Him is the most important relationship we will ever have; consequently, it is worth whatever pains to know Him!
I encourage you to read 2 Kings 4:1-17. (For brevity, I will not quote it here, but I implore you to read it, as the Word of God speaks so mightily that I cannot do it more justice than it does itself.) In this passage, we meet a woman who clearly respects the Almighty. Elisha, a prophet of old, a prophet of God, stops at this family’s house every time he passes this way. In fact, he stops so often, the woman tells her husband to make a room for him on their roof (note: this story puts emphasis on the woman, not her husband; this is in contrast to some of the claims that Christianity is some tyrannically patriarchal belief system, when, in fact, woman are held in higher regard than in such patriarchies).
Over time, Elisha is so moved by her provision, by her desire to bless the Lord, that he wants to give her something. Nonetheless, this woman declares she has no need. Yet, Elisha perceives she desires to have a son, as she has no children to speak of. At the core of this woman’s heart is such a desire, but she is also carefully guarded, imploring Elisha, “O man of God, don’t deceive me and get my hopes up like that.” (2 Kings 4:16b). This statement is so potent that, some years later, when the child dies, she brings this statement back to Elisha, that she was not interested in having a child only to lose him.
Make no mistake, God is good! He is never cruel! In our humanity, we may, sometimes, think Him cruel because the pain cuts deep, but as a Master Surgeon, He cuts only as deep and only as much as must be done to heal our soul! And sometimes, truly, we can lose focus because we hold something too close. In this case, I believe the Shunemite woman wasn’t holding her child too close. The Bible doesn’t tell us, so I will not surmise, but one can assert that God had purpose in allowing her child to die.
It is easy to read the Bible and miss the gaps. By that I mean that we can sometimes read this history and miss the reality that everything isn’t happening as quickly as we read it. I hate cliffhangers, but in real life, they often happen. We know that this woman’s child was alive for some 7-10 years, as he’s going out to help his father. So, we have a decade, roughly, between when she is told she’ll have this child and the child falling ill and dying. But think about that woman’s journey to find Elisha! While the distance to Mt Carmel from Shunem is only about ~33 miles, and a donkey’s top speed is around 43 mph. So, let’s just roughly say that it took her an hour to reach Elisha. Elisha sent his servant on ahead, and then comes himself. So, all things considered, we’re talking about some 2-3 hours before Elisha is present at the Shunemite woman’s house. If you’ve ever dealt with an emergency or a death, you know those 2-3 hours seem to crawl by.
An interesting side note is that God withholds this situation from Elisha. He is unaware of what has happened when the woman comes to him. I won’t theorize as to the reasons, but I think there was something God was doing in Elisha’s life, too. I don’t know what, as I haven’t studied Elisha’s life recently enough, but we know God could’ve told him. So, the fact that He holds back is noteworthy.
Now, what I find very interesting is that Elisha tries to raise the boy, and it is on the third time, as Elisha has laid out similar to a crucified man, that we finally see this boy rise. Elisha first puts a staff on the boy (via his servant, Gehazi). Staffs were often used by the Lord to work miracles, but the staff alone is insufficient to raise the boy. So, Elisha prays, and he lays on top of the boy (don’t get too crazy with this; I think the significance is the fact that we’re told he is stretched out over this kid’s body). The imagery here hints at the cross, “…his mouth on the child’s mouth, his eyes on the child’s eyes, and his hands on the child’s hands. And as he stretched out on him…” (2 Kings 4:34). If you think this through, you get the imagery of someone with their arms stretched out, like a man on a cross.
Additionally, we know that Jesus visited this area, during his ministry, when the city was then known as Nain. Interestingly, Jesus encounters a funeral and raises a widow’s only son. But I don’t intend to get into that parallel (or contrast) here. More so, I was pointing to the fact that Elisha’s behavior is similar to Jesus’ own death. He was beaten and mocked (a staff), then whipped 40 times (first time Elisha laid out), then hung on the cross. Additionally, he was in the tomb Friday, and Saturday, and raised on that Sunday. Threes and threes and more threes!
God is not one to take away without purpose! In Chuck’s case, God restored the relationship he’d taken away, and it blossomed into a beautiful marriage that has lasted through many tests, trials, and challenges. I am still encouraged and blessed by my friendship with Chuck and his amazing wife and family! They’re good people! And the fact that we both know Jesus makes it such a rich and rewarding friendship; had God not taken that relationship for a moment (and I’m inferring a bit because I never really knew WHAT God took, but I infer because of circumstantial coincidences), I don’t know if Chuck and I would’ve become the friends that we have, and I would’ve missed out on so much growth and so many opportunities to stretch myself out.
I apologize, some, for the length of this post. But I hope that if you’re living with a loss, that you will allow yourself to trust God in the midst of it. If you have accepted Jesus’ sacrifice in your place, and if you have chosen to follow Him with every aspect of your life and every ability of your being, then you can be assured of Romans 8:28, that He will work it out for your best. It hurts, and He knows that. It’s ok to tell Him that. It’s ok to shout, to cry, to scream. But like Psalm 42 (and so many chapters of Psalm), remind your soul to hope in Him, for you will (and do) have reason(s) to praise Him once again!
Godspeed – 1 Corinthians 15:10