“Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies” (Proverbs 31:10).
— David Rice
What is more precious than a mother’s love? A mother carries her child as part of herself for nine months. She thinks of it constantly and then delivers it through stress and pain. She cherishes the new life in a way that is deeply connected to herself and her experience. The child instinctively attaches to its mother, its fond caretaker, and depends on her for food and for every need. The child grows in mutual love as the recipient of every kind attention.
In 2 Kings 4:8‑37 we have a narrative about such a mother’s love for a precious, and at first unexpected, young boy. It is the story of the Shunammite woman, a woman of faith with an aging husband and no children. She is described as a “great woman” (verse 8), evidently a woman of means and influence. Her faith was evident by her desire to care for the prophet Elisha when he would pass through the area.
“It fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman; and she constrained him to eat bread. And so it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread” (2 Kings 4:8). She appreciated Elisha as a man of God. “She said unto her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God … Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick: and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither” (2 Kings 4:9, 10).
This kindness was born of faith by a giving woman. Her kindness continued for some time, for “as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither” (verse 8). One day Elisha asked his servant Gehazi to call for his kind-hearted provider, to see if some recompense might be tendered. For “Behold, thou hast been careful for us with all this care” (verse 13).
The charitable woman had no request. She was simply pleased to serve. What a lovely spirit. Elisha proposed that he speak to the king or the host’s captain on her behalf for special favors. But she humbly replied, “I dwell among mine own people” (verse 13).
As Elisha pondered the matter further, his servant Gehazi made an observation. “Verily she hath no child, and her husband is old” (verse 14). Consequently Elisha, moved by the Spirit of God, tendered her this blessing: “About this season, according to the time of life, thou shalt embrace a son” (verse 16). Notice, not a child of either gender, but a son. This was a gift from God, and a prophetic one. The woman was hesitant, but she bore a son “at that season that Elisha had said unto her” (verse 17).
Pleasant years passed. Judging by the woman’s care for the prophet, she would have been a caring mother. The child grew, but when still a youth, he went to help his father with their reapers in the field. On which occasion he fell ill, exclaiming, “my head, my head,” and was carried back to his mother for care. They “brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died” (verse 20). We can imagine the concern, anxiety, and tenderness of her care, which continued until no longer useful — he was gone.
What More Could Be Done?
Pain upon the boy, and anguish upon his mother, was intense. But the crescendo had come. The boy was at peace, and her motherly care was no longer needed. However, this woman was a person of faith, in God and in His prophet. She likely had faith in a resurrection to come at a distant future time. But could faith obtain something closer at hand?
This was a child of promise, so she “laid him on the bed of the man of God,” as though to connect her hopes to the prophet, and thus to God. What hopes must she have had, a yearning for life again in her precious child. She called on her husband to provide a young escort and a donkey on which to seek the prophet and ordered that no delay in speed be occasioned for her comfort. “So she went and came unto the man of God to mount Carmel,” where Elisha would be (2 Kings 4:25).
Elisha recognized her approaching and called his servant Gehazi to inquire of her, but she veiled her concern until she could grasp the prophet directly. She fell at his feet, clinging and imploring. She had not asked for her son; she had not begged for a child — “Did I desire a son of my lord?” (verse 28). But having received the wonderful gift, how could it be wrenched from her so soon?
Elisha directed his servant Gehazi to take Elisha’s staff, go with the woman, and lay it on the child for his recovery. This was done — but no result. However, when Elisha, who had followed, tended to the child personally, and stretched himself upon it, the still body warmed, life was restored, the child sneezed seven times, and he awakened again (2 Kings 4:29-35).
The woman, in gratitude, went first to Elisha, fell at his feet, bowed herself to the ground, and then took up her son with incredible joy and thankfulness. Many other grieving mothers will wait much longer. The affection of this woman for her child, and the depth of her loss, have been the lot of countless women. Each of these will be so thankful in the resurrection for the precious life of their children restored — but in their case, with the prospect of unending life.
Meaning in the Narrative
This remarkable narrative was well worth preserving in holy writ. It expresses the depth of a mother’s love. Without such caring affection, how void life would be of closeness and love. Phileo love reflects the warmth of family affection, as expressed by the Shunammite woman tenderly caring for the boy on her knees until his last breath. Agape love is the unselfish interest in another, displayed by the woman’s continued efforts, even after her son’s passing, by seeking God’s deliverance. The Shunammite’s expression of phileo and agape are good examples for both women and men.
This narrative also has prophetic lessons about the restoration of Israel as God’s people, bringing them back to life by faith. Elijah’s work as a prophet, and the seven miracles of his ministry, represent God’s work in the seven stages of the Gospel Age. Elisha’s work as a prophet, and the 14 miracles of his ministry, represent God’s work in the Millennial Age, the second age of redemption.
These numbers, 7 and 14, also connect with the Gospel Age and Millennial Age, in the week‑long feast of unleavened bread, and the week‑long feast of tabernacles. In the first feast, each day seven lambs were offered — in the second feast, each day, 14 lambs were offered (Numbers 28:17‑24, 29:12 and following).
This suggests that Elisha’s raising of the Shunammite’s son pertains to the kingdom. In this case, it represents the re‑enlivening of Israel. The young boy had died at harvest time, representing the harvest of the Jewish Age. During that time Israel failed to appreciate Messiah, and lost their spiritual opportunities during the diaspora. The young boy died in his mother’s lap at noon. That was also the time of day that darkness enveloped the land, while Jesus was dying on the cross (Matthew 27:45). That darkness was a portent from above that Israel’s spiritual opportunities were fading.
The woman who cared for her son perhaps represents, as Hagar did, the caring and nurturing influence of the Law Covenant upon Israel. When the Shunammite mounted up to seek Elisha, her husband said, “Wherefore wilt thou go to him today? It is neither new moon, nor sabbath” (2 Kings 4:23). The child, representing the nation of Israel, would not revive during the Gospel Age, the diaspora of their wandering from the land of promise. Their blessing of life through faith would next come in God’s Kingdom, represented by the sabbath day, and by the day of the new moon. “The gate of the inner court that looketh toward the east shall be shut the six working days [the world’s access to God closed for 6,000 years]; but on the sabbath, it shall be opened, and in the day of the new moon it shall be opened” (Ezekiel 46:1).
The first endeavor to enliven the boy was by taking Elisha’s staff, laid on the boy by Elisha’s servant Gehazi. This was at the direction of the prophet. However, unexpectedly, it did not work. Perhaps this represents that the teachings and ministry of the prophets of God of past ages, as represented in the staff of Elisha, though they have had a good effect on Israel, are not adequate to restore living faith sufficient for Israel to “live” again in God’s sight. Even today, Israel regathered to the land is represented in Ezekiel 37:8 as having “no breath in them.”
For the restoration of a living faith, it will require the Ancient Worthies to be returned to Israel as their leaders and teachers, directing them to the Messiah. Ezekiel 37:9 says that this comes as a consequence of the four winds breathing upon the reconstituted body (national Israel). “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live” (Ezekiel 37:9).
Thus, in Israel’s final difficulty, as Micah 5:5 expresses it, Christ will intervene against the invading host by raising seven kings (shepherd is an idiom for king) and eight princes (the Ancient Worthies, to be princes in all the earth). These will deliver Israel from its dire threat and restore a living faith to Israel. Thereafter, “The remnant of Jacob shall be in the midst of many people as a dew from Jehovah, as the showers upon the grass” — a sweet, refreshing influence, tendering the blessings of the Kingdom to all who turn toward them (Micah 5:6).