The Shunammite Woman (2 Kings 4 & 8)

At my age, I’d already grown used to not having a child. Never would I have guessed that an invitation I extended one day to a man of God to have dinner with my husband and me would change that.

My husband and I had moved on. We had been sad of course, but focused on other things. God had blessed us in so many other ways and since no children had filled our home, we’d used it to host strangers instead.

But about this man of God, we invited him that first time and he became a regular in our home before I finally suggested to my husband, “Why don’t we make a small room on the roof and put in a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp? That way, he can stay with us whenever he comes!”

My husband agreed.

**

I’ll never forget that day he told me I’d be a mother. Like any normal visit, he came, went up to his room and rested. I thought he had turned in for the night until his servant Gehazi came downstairs to get me. Apparently, they wanted to repay my hospitality. Being close with people in power, Elisha asked if I had any request or complaint he could take before the king.

“I have all that I need here living among my people,” I said and returned downstairs. Before I even had a chance to get comfortable, Gehazi came and got me a second time. I remember stopping dead in my tracks in the middle of the doorway when Elisha said, “About this time next year you will hold a son in your arms.”

A son—my son? In these arms? Did this man know how long I’d wanted this or how, given my husband’s age, I’d given up hope? Did he know it’d been at least ten years or so since the last time I heard such cruel but well-intentioned words, since people stopped trying to soothe my disappointment with false hope. It took a lot for me to get here, to learn to bear this disgrace. Of all the cruelties that could be done to me, chief among them was dangling before me the hope of a child. “No, my lord. Please—I know you mean well, but don’t mislead your servant.”

Three long barren months followed. The strange thing was that even though I’d been barren my whole life, those three months felt even longer than all those previous years combined. Even after I got pregnant, we only allowed ourselves to be cautiously optimistic because we still remembered the names and would-be ages of the children we’d lost—children who would have been grown, children who would have been so, so loved. Would this child be on that list?

Roughly nine months later, on the best day of my life, these arms finally held a sweet crying son tight.

**

But that wouldn’t be the last time these arms held my sweet crying son tight. Far from the best day of my life, that day was the worst.

One morning, my son and his father were working out in one of our fields when my son ran to his dad complaining something was wrong with his head. My husband had a servant rush the child to me inside and when he put him in my lap, Oh my heavens, he was hot to the touch! The little guy couldn’t sit still. His heart was beating faster than I knew possible. I kept kissing his head, fanning him and repeating “Mama’s here, stay with me. Mama’s here, stay with me.”

By noon he left. For a moment after his heart stopped I thought mine stopped too—I wished mine had too. I had waited so long for a son.

**

I could not get to Mount Carmel fast enough.

I placed my boy’s body on the bed on the roof and ran to find my husband. “Please send me one of the servants and a donkey so I can go to the man of God quickly and return.” When he asked what the occasion was for my trip, rather than tell him what happened, I said everything would be ok and I’d be back soon.

I said to the servant as we set out, “Whatever you do, don’t slow down for me.”

As we drew close to the mountain, Gehazi reached me before I reached Elisha and asked if everyone was well. I answered much the same as I had with my husband and then rushed off to my target.

When I finally saw Elisha, I crumbled to the floor at his feet and clung to his ankles with these very same arms that just hours before had held my limp and lifeless promised son close. Minutes passed of those sobs that catch in your throat and make your head feel like a beaten drum before I could even speak. When I could, all I could get out was, “Did I ask you for a son? Didn’t I tell you, don’t raise my hopes?”

**

Elisha ordered Gehazi to go quickly to my home, to stop for no one and nothing, and to carry no weight that would slow him down. He even tucked in his cloak. Elisha gave him  his staff to put on my son’s face when he got there.

Now, he may have been a great servant, but when it came to bringing my son back to life, Gehazi wouldn’t do. I protested, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live I will not leave you.” Elisha, the man on whom a double portion of the spirit of Elijah—who himself once revived a widow’s son— rested, was the miracle worker I needed.

We figured since Gehazi was the youngest he was probably the quickest too. So, since I refused to leave Elisha’s side we settled on sending Gehazi first and following behind. We were halfway there when he met us on the road to tell us the news: he had tried the staff but my son had not awakened.

When we got home, he was where I left him. I had half hoped to find him just waiting for me to tell him a bedtime story. Elisha went in and closed the door behind him. As I watched it shut I kept telling myself when it opened again I’d have my little boy back.

At first only silence came from the room. Then, the sound of pacing as if I weren’t doing enough pacing for the both of us. I couldn’t stand the waiting so I went to my room. Finally after another agonizing stretch of silence I heard a fragile sneeze followed by several others, each louder than the previous. 

I bolted up the stairs just as Gehazi was coming down to get me and we ran back up together. The door opened as we got to the top of the stairs and Elisha pointed inside and said, “Woman, take your son.”

**

Some years passed, and my beautiful miracle boy grew to be tall and strong. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t look in his face and think of Elisha and thank God for him. It turns out he didn’t forget me either.

He surprised us one day with a visit and urged us to leave because the Lord had shown him there’d be a famine so severe that anywhere would be better than there. Shunam was my home and the home of my people, but we gathered what we could and left at once, my whole family and I, to seek refuge in the land of the Philistines. Even living as foreigners among our enemies would be better than a slow death by starvation in our homes. We sojourned there for seven years.

As soon as we got news the famine ended, we were anxious to return. We were almost certain that in the time since we’d abandoned our home that someone else had taken it as their own. Though it was a long shot, I though we might appeal to the king to reclaim our land.

**

To our surprise, we were granted a chance to speak with him and as I was being taken in to see the king, I overheard a familiar voice inside telling the king how Elisha laid on his friend’s little boy several times to attempt to revive him after he’d died of a heat stroke. I froze on the spot—that was my story!

I started forward again and who might it be but Gehazi? He turned to look at me with equal shock and, before I could speak, said to the king, “My lord, O king, here is the woman and here is her son whom Elisha raised from the dead!” My son and the king both looked at me in disbelief. The king asked if this was true.

As I began to recount the miraculous birth, death and revival story of my son, a story he’d heard a thousand times at his own request, I remembered the first words Elisha spoke to me when he asked how he could repay my kindness to him: “Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king?”

I could not have foreseen the famine that would force me from my country and make words with the king necessary. I had no way of anticipating I might actually need such assistance and yet here we were—the boy, Gehazi, the king and me.

That day, I not only got back my home and my land, but all that my fields had produced since the day that I left until then. The Lord, the God who in my old age gave me a son and brought him back to life from the dead, who protected my family from a devasting famine and kept watch over us in the land of our enemies bringing us safely home—the one true God—had remembered my kindness to his servant and his own steadfast love toward me.

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