There are many women mentioned both by name and by title throughout the Old Testament. Their stories have been used in countless messages to illustrate truths that can be applied and implemented into our own life. Of all the women, Ruth is my number one favorite in the Old Testament but right beneath her is the Shunammite woman. Her story has intrigued and encouraged me the more I continue to study it. She lived her life by two major statements, you could almost call them her life phrases and they have so much to teach us.
Who is the Shunammite woman?
To understand her it is important to know more about her story. We are never to know her name but the Bible gives us a few insights into who she was as well as her character.
And 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 lived in Shunem, a small village located in the section of land that belonged to the tribe of Issachar. This woman is also described as great which means noble. The dictionary defines noble as “having or showing fine personal qualities or high moral principles and ideals. This is a beautiful definition to be given for anyone and this is an accurate description of this woman as her story unfolds.
Her humble village was a place of no real importance but it seems that it was positioned in such a way that the prophet Elisha journeyed through it to get to where he needed to go and revealed more about this woman. She is also given to hospitality, a woman who reached forth her hands to others, as she looked with intention and attention to the needs of those around her. She noticed Elisha and invited, really insisted, that he and his servant to dine with her and her husband. Her insistent invitation showed that it was no imposition at all to have two more people at her table, in fact it was her pleasure. I believe it was such a delightful experience that every time he came though he made it a habit to stop by for dinner and maybe even timed his trip to coincide with dinner time. This is a wonderful reminder of the importance of creating a home that is such a sweet haven that people want to come frequently and linger within.
The Shunammite woman was not satisfied with just serving them a delicious meal. Since her guests seemed to come by on a regular basis she took it a step further and asked her husband if they could renovate their home.
And she said unto her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually. 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
It can be easy for us to just breeze by these two verses but consider what that meant for them. They had to use their own resources to build an addition to their home, not to mention the extra time it took for them to build it as well as buy some extra furniture. She was willing to do all of that to accommodate her guest and her husband agreed to her request. Her desire was of the purest motive and her attention to detail was exceptional. She gave him a bed which was an obvious need but also a table and stool in case he wanted to write plus a candlestick so he could have light whenever he needed. She was the perfect hostess in every way and completely surprised Elisha on his next visit.
A statement of contentment
Her generous gesture caused the prophet to do something nice for her.
And it fell on a day, that he came thither, and he turned into the chamber, and lay there. And he said to Gehazi his servant, Call this Shunammite. And when he had called her, she stood before him. And he said unto him, Say now unto her, Behold, thou hast been careful for us with all this care; what is to be done for thee? wouldest thou be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host? And she answered, I dwell among mine own people. 2 Kings 4:11-13
Elisha calls for her and in some ways asks how he can grant a wish for her. Can he take a particular matter to the king for her or anyone else of importance. She has a chance to be heard on any need she has but her response leaves you only admiring her more. “I dwell among my own people.”, the word “dwell” means to sit in quiet, to settle, to keep house. She was a woman who understood what it meant to be content. She was perfectly happy to sit in quiet, to sit in the shadows, in her settled life and keep house. She had everything she needed in life and was content. How many of us can say the same? How many of us, instead, find these words coming out of our mouth? “If only I had this or that or could go here or do this.” And marketers are quick to take advantage of our discontentment by targeting us with another new product that we just have to have but they would have had a hard time with this woman. She was content. The dictionary defines content as a state of peaceful happiness or it can also be a state of satisfaction. Both definitions are convicting, especially as Christians.
Christ is all we need but how much of our time is wasted wishing we had something else and what do we lose because of this distraction? Consider that for a moment. If our focus is always on the next thing or thinking about what we don’t have we are not able to give our full attention to what needs to be done today. That is the danger of discontentment; it distracts our focus from what really matters. For this woman she lived in the present and her focus was on the current needs which is why she was able to see Elisha's needs. She was happy where she was and it enabled her to utter a statement of contentment, “I dwell among mine own people”.
Contentment is not given
But there is something else about contentment that is interesting, it is not a trait or character quality that is given, it must be learned. Paul tells us:
Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. Philippians 4:11
Contentment is not a trait that comes naturally or can be received like grace, it has to be learned. The world is good at bombarding us with things it believes we have to have, that our life would be so much better if we only had this one item. And our own natural desires can work against us and cause us to be discontent especially when we see others enjoying something we wish we had and this is not limited to material possession. It can also be good desires such as a spouse or children, or even a better job. But this woman is a beautiful example of what happens when a person chooses, learns, to be content with where they are, where God has led them and with what He has given. The first verse in Psalm 23 illustrates this idea of contentment.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
The phrase, “I shall not want” carries the idea that I decide to not desire more than what the Lord my Shepherd gives. I decide. This is a choice I make to be content with what I have been given by my Good Shepherd, the One who gave His life for me and will not withhold any good thing from me. We could also say that the choice to be content is built on trust. I am trusting in the goodness of my Shepherd and perhaps the greater our trust the easier it will be to choose contentment. This does not mean that we cannot pray for something but it should be done with a will that trusts the heart of our Father.
Contentment doesn’t mean a desire goes away
Even though the Shunammite woman told the prophet that she was content, his servant was perceptive and voiced a desire his master could grant.
And he said, What then is to be done for her? And Gehazi answered, Verily she hath no child, and her husband is old. And he said, Call her. And when he had called her, she stood in the door. And he said, About this season, according to the time of life, thou shalt embrace a son. And she said, Nay, my lord, thou man of God, do not lie unto thine handmaid. 2 Kings 4:14-16
She was married to an older man which seemed to imply that the possibility of her having children was unlikely. This was the lightbulb moment for Elisha and he calls for the woman to tell her she will have a child but notice her response is not one of delight but almost fear. She tells him not to lie to her. It seems that Elisha had managed to prick her one desire, not a discontentment but a desire. There is a difference between the two. She had learned to be content but that did not mean her desire to have a child just magically went away. This is something that we may confuse about the nature of contentment. Sometimes we think that in order to be content we have to quench the desires of our heart and that is not true. The truth is that we cannot let them dominate our life and make us discontent or even complain. We may have a desire, a natural one that is embedded deep without our soul and it has been the cause of many tears as the years slip by and hope slowly diminishes. It is not wrong to cry and we are told that God sees those tears and even collects them in a bottle. He knows our hearts and our hurts and He never says no or wait without purpose. In those moments it is important to remember that choosing to be content means we are happy with what we have and trust in God whether we should have that desire or not.
This woman longed to have a child as any woman in Israel would, but she did not have a pity party because of it. However, the ache was still there and she did not want to be given false hope. And that is one reason why verse 17 is so beautiful.
And the woman conceived, and bare a son at that season that Elisha had said unto her, according to the time of life.
In a most unexpected way this Shunammite woman had received one of her greatest desires. She had a son of her very own. Sometimes God does grant our desires. It just may not be at the time we hoped or wished but when it happens it is a beautiful thing. You may still be waiting or perhaps discouraged as the hope for your desire to happen begins to dwindle. I don’t know the future, I can’t definitively tell you that “yes God will give it to you, just be patient” but what I do want to do is gently ask if you have learned to be content where you are? There is so much we have been given and God has a purpose for your life exactly where you are and with what you have. He wants to use you to do something for Him, and that is one of the highest honors we can receive, to be of service to the King of Kings, to be entrusted with a task from Him. The more content we become the more we will see things to be grateful for, things that we can do, people we can help, and the list goes on. Please, don’t let discontentment rob you of your focus, joy, and gratitude.
A statement of faith
It would be easy to wrap up this story with a “and they lived happily ever after” if verse 17 was the last in the chapter but it is not. There are quite a few more though we don’t know the span of time that has gone by between them and verse 17
And when the child was grown, it fell on a day, that he went out to his father to the reapers. And he said unto his father, My head, my head. And he said to a lad, Carry him to his mother. And when he had taken him, and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died. 2 Kings 4:18-20
Her beloved son has died. The child given by promise to her by the Lord’s prophet took his last breath in her arms yet instead of falling apart or screaming in anger she does something quite remarkable.
And she went up, and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door upon him, and went out. And she called unto her husband, and said, Send me, I pray thee, one of the young men, and one of the asses, that I may run to the man of God, and come again. And he said, Wherefore wilt thou go to him to day? it is neither new moon, nor sabbath. And she said, It shall be well. Then she saddled an ass, and said to her servant, Drive, and go forward; slack not thy riding for me, except I bid thee. 2 Kings 4:21-24
She laid the body of her dead child not in his bed but on the prophet’s. She had a plan and was preparing for a miracle. The Shunammite woman set her plan in motion by calling her husband and asking for the loan of a donkey and a man to walk in front so she could see the man of God. Of course her husband is curious and wants to know why she needs to go see him since there is nothing special about today. Her simple four word response of “it shall be well” shows just how composed she is at the moment. She has just placed the body of her son in a room yet she does not reveal it to her husband. The word “well” means safe, happy, health. She told her husband it shall be well, it shall be happy, healthy. This was an answer of faith and reminds me of another story as a father prepares to ascend a mountain with his only son following behind carrying the wood for what was intended to be his own sacrifice. Abraham told his servants to wait and that both he and his son would return. This unnamed woman from Shunam exhibited the same faith, even though her heart was heavy, she was moving toward the answer.
Moving in faith
So she went and came unto the man of God to mount Carmel. And it came to pass, when the man of God saw her afar off, that he said to Gehazi his servant, Behold, yonder is that Shunammite: Run now, I pray thee, to meet her, and say unto her, Is it well with thee? is it well with thy husband? is it well with the child? And she answered, It is well: And when she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught him by the feet: but Gehazi came near to thrust her away. And the man of God said, Let her alone; for her soul is vexed within her: and the Lord hath hid it from me, and hath not told me. Then she said, Did I desire a son of my lord? did I not say, Do not deceive me? 2 Kings 4:25-28
Even before she arrived, Elisha knew her well enough to recognize that she was coming to see him with a purpose. Her visit causes him to worry about what the reason could be and it also reveals that he truly cares about this family since he sends his servant to investigate. This woman of courage gives the servant the same response. Only when she reaches Elisha do all the emotions come pouring out of her soul. Gehazi attempted to push her away but Elisha was quick to shield her. He recognized her pain, that her soul was vexed, the word means to be in bitterness, to be grieved. You can see his care and compassion for her, this woman who had been nothing but kind to her, who had gone out of her way to make sure he had a welcome place to rest every time he passed through her town, was in absolute agony. You can almost hear that his own heart is breaking for her as he waits to hear what has happened since the Lord had chosen not to reveal the reason beforehand, he was completely in the dark. Finally she says something, a reference to a conversation that had taken place years ago but was instantly understood. She asked him two things. “Did I desire a son of my lord” and “did I not say do not deceive me?” The answers are no and yes. She never asked for a son, she had said she was content to dwell with her own people. Elisha was the one who had promised her a son. She had told him not to deceive her, she didn’t want to be given something so precious under false pretenses yet her worst nightmare had come true. It is interesting to note that she never specifically said that her son had died but Elisha understood that’s what she meant and it moved him to action.
A lesson in tenacity
Then he said to Gehazi, Gird up thy loins, and take my staff in thine hand, and go thy way: if thou meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute thee, answer him not again: and lay my staff upon the face of the child. And the mother of the child said, As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee. And he arose, and followed her. And Gehazi passed on before them, and laid the staff upon the face of the child; but there was neither voice, nor hearing. Wherefore he went again to meet him, and told him, saying, The child is not awaked. And when Elisha was come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed. 2 Kings 4:29-32
Elisha quickly hands his staff to Gehazi along with some specific instructions: get there as fast as you can, don’t even stop to say hello to someone and lay this staff on the child. As the servant takes off, this woman has something to say to Elisha. She informs him that she is not leaving until he comes with her. This is an incredible lesson in tenacity. She refused to leave Elisha, insisting that he come with her. Do we have the same desire when we bring a petition God? Do we come into His presence with a heart that is shattered or heavy ladened looking to Him to fix it, to heal it, and comfort it? Do we linger in His presence refusing to leave without an answer? My mind thinks of Jacob and how he refused to let go of the angel until he blessed him and the story Jesus told of the woman and the unrighteous judge. She came daily until this judge answered her request. What would happen if we exhibited the same commitment as this woman? Remember that faith pleases God, in fact, we cannot please Him without it. And for this woman, she was about to receive according to her faith. Elisha arrives and is told that even though his servant did as he was told, nothing happened. So the man of God goes to the child and shuts the door.
He went in therefore, and shut the door upon them twain, and prayed unto the Lord. And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm. Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro; and went up, and stretched himself upon him: and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. 2 Kings 4:33-35
I will say that this is a very unique miracle and I don’t believe there is another account where someone was so personally invested. Did you notice that Elisha laid on this child face to face so that he was mouth to mouth, eye to eye and even hand to hand. He prayed to the Lord, though we are not told what he prayed it must have been heart felt as we have seen just how much he truly cared. After all it had been his idea to give her a child and the Lord had granted this petition. Maybe he asked God not to take away this precious miracle child because it would make Elisha seem like a liar to the woman’s request of not wanting to be deceived. Another interesting thing to notice is that Elisha leaves the room which must have been disappointing to the mother as he appears without her son and simply paces around the house then disappears upstairs. Again, he laid on the child, you could almost say that he was pouring his very soul into the boy. And then the child sneezed, not once or twice but seven times and then he opened his eyes. This part of the story always makes me smile because it is so interesting that he sneezed, a clear sign that he was no longer dead. Now it was time for a sweet reunion.
A faith rewarded
And he called Gehazi, and said, Call this Shunammite. So he called her. And when she was come in unto him, he said, Take up thy son. Then she went in, and fell at his feet, and bowed herself to the ground, and took up her son, and went out. 2 Kings 4:36-37
Gehazi summons her up to the room where she is greeted by her son, who has been restored to her. This child owed everything to his mom, in fact, two fold because it was his mother’s kind heart that resulted in his birth and her faith that restored his life when it seemed lost. This is a testament to the power of a praying mother. Countless stories have been told where a mother has brought her children to the throne of God, begging for Him to do a work in their life. Continue to pray. Continue to pour out your heart to the One who hears each cry and sees every tear. In those moments when the words can’t make it out, the Holy Spirit is there to utter them for you. The heart of our Heavenly Father loves us with an everlasting love and when we come to Him in faith we can rest assured that He will move on our behalf and answer our request in the way that is best for us. This woman never wavered in her faith and the words she spoke to her husband were rewarded, all was well.
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I am just an ordinary girl who is loved by an extraordinary God and I seek to love others the same way. I love to bake, read, do puzzles, watch Hallmark movies, and go shopping with my mom! This blog was created as a place where I could share some thoughts that the Lord has shown me and to be an encouragement to others who desire to know Him in a deeper way. My prayer is to learn to sit still and trust God with my future.