Have you ever been in a desperate situation that you were willing to do whatever it took? That saying, "Desperate times call for desperate measures" is the case for this poor widow in 2 Kings 4:1-7. Her husband who was a prophet (Obadiah) is dead. He has left her in a financial crisis. She's deep in debt and now her sons are going to be taken from her as slaves in payment of what she owes. She's desperate to do whatever she can to keep her sons from being taken.
Let's flashback a moment to her husband's story. Obadiah, her husband, is a prophet. He was an Edomite from Betharam, near Shechem and had converted to Judaism. The Edomites were decendants of Esau. Obadiah was from the family of Eliphaz, the Teminite in the book of Job. We now see why the book of Obadiah was written for the gentiles, as he was a gentile himself. We don't know if his wife was also an Edomite, but it is possible. Obadiah's name means "servant/worshipper of Yahweh." Obadiah is also the term used for someone who served and he served under King Ahab. He was a rich man as well and when Jezebel wanted to kill all of the prophets, he hid them and became known for hiding the hundred prophets. He hid them in two caves so if one cave of prophets was found, the others could escape. Because he protected the men of God, he was anointed as a prophet. He took care of the poor men until he became poor himself. He had borrowed from the king to continue to support the prophets. It is said that his faith was one degree higher than Abraham. Because of this, Ahab's house was likely blessed. By the time he died, King Ahab's son was now king, King Jehoram (the 9th king of Israel) and he wanted to collect on Obadiah's debt. Obadiah died in Samaria where the Kingdom of Israel was located.
Now we can jump back to our story. Elisha, who was serving as a prophet, probably knew Obadiah, or knew of him. This could be why the widow cried out to him (2 Kings 4:1). We don’t know how old she was, but she was young enough to have had young sons. Since her prophet husband serve King Ahab, they likely stayed near Betharam or Beth Haram, located in the valley-plain, east of the Jordan River. This was part of King Ahab’s territory. We don’t know much about her faith because in this verse, she speaks of her husband’s fear of the Lord, not her own. Like any minister’s wife who is in this predicament, there’s probably some frustration behind her fear as to why her husband would put them in this situation. Maybe causing her some doubt of her own, but none the less, she asks Elisha for help. She’s ready to obey whatever he suggests. She had probably observed her husband’s obedience to the Lord and now it was her turn. More often than not, hitting rock bottom leads us straight to God. This is a good reminder that even prophets, men of God, were not exempt from harm and debt.
When Elisha asks what he can do for her, she responds with, “’Your maidservant has nothing in the house but a jar of oil.’” (2 Kings 4:2, NKJV). We often think of cooking oil or lamp oil, but in this case, because Obadiah was a prophet, it could have been anointing oil which was a great commodity. Anointing oil was precious as it was used for ceremonial purposes. Elisha says to her, “Go, borrow vessels from everywhere, from all your neighbors—empty vessels; do not gather just a few. 4 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.” (2 Kings 4:3-4, NKJV)
The sons do as Elisha says, they go door to door and collected every jar available. We don’t know how old her sons were. Obviously, they were not considered adults as they still lived with her. There could have been young teenage men who were a great help to her. Losing them would have been a great loss, not only because they were her children, but in those days, they would have taken care of her later on.
The sons collected the jars in the village and brought them to their mother. Once they had every empty jar, the widow did as she was told, she shut the door behind them. This is such an important part to this passage. God does His best work in the secret places. As the Psalmist describes God’s best work if a life being formed in the womb, a secret place in which no one except God is allowed (Psalm 139:13). If we look at this in a spiritual sense, shutting the door, she closed the door on the enemy’s plans to ruin her and her sons lives.
It is there in the security and familiarity of her home, that she and her sons witness this miracle. As she stands over the first jar, she begins to pour her way out of being poor. Can you imagine the silence in the room as she filling the first jar and it fills to the brim? Quickly, she calls to her son for the second jar and it fills. Surely the excitement filled the room as she poured until every jar was full. Her faith and obedience to listen to instruction and follow it through was the currency that paid for this incredible miracle.
After every jar is filled, she tells Elisha and he tells her to, “’Go, sell the oil and pay your debt; and you and your sons live on the rest.’” (2 Kings 4:7, NKJV) It is likely she sells the oil back to the same people she borrowed the jars from. They now were recipients of her miracle and now their homes were filled with the blessing of this oil.
This is a picture of what it is to go into the all the world by sharing the good news of Jesus. You may not be one to go door to door, but there are people you interact with on a daily basis that need to know Jesus and be filled with His Spirit. Second Corinthians 4:7 says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” The jars are a representation of people. The treasure we carry is the Holy Spirit. When we allow Him to do the work in us, He is poured out of us into others. Even when we think we only have a little to share, because of Him, it can go a long way.
Generations later from this miraculous event, Jesus does a miracle, his first miracle, with the contents in jars of stone at a wedding when the host runs out of wine (John 2:1-11). He tells the servants to collect the six stone water pots that were used for purification and he tells them to fill the pots to the brim with water. Once again, we see that in the secret place inside the pot, as the water was transformed into wine, and not just any wine—the best! This is what the Holy Spirit does with us when we allow His holiness to purify us. Our unholiness, like grapes, is crushed and pressed into something that becomes holy. We begin to transform into someone completely different. This is the miracle of miracles!
As we reflect on the outcome of this story, this is why we should not panic and worry. Instead, as we continue to see throughout the scripture, trusting and obeying is the only way to overcome any circumstance or crisis. By being willing to listen and submit to the voice of the Holy Spirit, as well as wise counsel, we can expect miracles daily.
Something in the final statement that Elisha says, sell the oil, pay your debt and live on the rest, the rest can be interpreted as well as “rest in God.” We don’t have to worry or be afraid when we put our trust in Him, our weary souls can rest. “O my people, trust in him at all times. Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge.” (Psalm 62:8, NLT)
We live in desperate times, that is for sure, but we don’t to take desperate measures. Because of Jesus, we can live confidently because Jesus is our hope. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13, NIV)
Promises to pour into an empty soul!
Deuteronomy 16:17, NKJV: Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you.
Deuteronomy 28:1, NKJV: “Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the LORD your God will set you high above all nations of the earth.”
Psalm 23:5, NIV: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Proverbs 3:5-6, NKJV: Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.
Isaiah 41:13, NIV: For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.
Isaiah 45:3, NIV: I will give you hidden treasures, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.
Luke 12:34, NKJV: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
2 Corinthians 1:4, NLT: He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.
*This information was complied by the R.E.A.L. Women Bible study out of Hills Church in Laguna Hills, CA.