Summary: Borrowing empty vessels made room for the promised fullness and provided a legacy for her boys.
We don’t know his name. He was a poor, young Bible school student, inspired by Elijah, instructed by Elisha, and called of the Lord. He studied, practiced preaching and served wherever he could.
Times were tough. Jezebel’s false prophets were well paid. The true prophets of the Lord lived a different kind of life. Too soon, his life was over! His family was left in a predicament.
Tersely, Scripture tells her story, “Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha, saying, Thy servant my husband is dead; and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the LORD: and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen. And Elisha said unto her, What shall I do for thee? tell me, what hast thou in the house? And she said, Thine handmaid hath not any thing in the house, save a pot of oil” (II Kings 4:1-2).
How and when did this poor man receive his prophet’s call? Was he still single? Did his bride know he was called before they married? Did they clasp hands and covenant together to follow the call of the Lord at any cost? At any rate, they married and two children came along. Two sons! That was a kind of wealth. They were happy! Poor, but happy!
Scripture gives none of his family background. Later Jewish rabbis made up stories that this was the widow of Obadiah who had hidden and fed 100 prophets of the Lord in a cave, but there is no proof of this and very little likelihood.
So he remains a nameless prophet and she a nameless widow. We only know of his death, their desperation and their deliverance. Please let me use my imagination to fill in the gaps and flesh out the story.
This poor, young prophet — we don’t even know whether he had graduated or was still in school — but this impoverished husband and father of two boys had devoted himself to the ministry. He feared the Lord, yet he was in debt. In fact, he died in debt and left his family in a bind.
How did he come to be in debt? Was there persecution? Was there sickness? Were the children sick? It seems the wife was healthy and probably the boys.
Was it a case of poor management? Many people are poor because they don’t know how to manage. They buy more than they should. They don’t plan ahead so they are always paying top dollar for minimum quality. Some of them always buy on credit so that they are continually paying finance charges, high rates of interest! Well, Elisha never rebuked the widow for poor management. The Bible says the prophet had feared the Lord, so I think we can assume he had done his best to be financially responsible, even if he did make some financial mistakes.
No one scolded the family for not having a savings account. Life insurance had not been invented. Jezebel’s government did not subsidize prophets like him.
The husband died. Maybe it was disease that cut him off. Maybe it was an accident. Maybe Jezebel’s hit men got him.
There was a sad funeral, a sad burial. Perhaps there were other prophets and Bible school students at the funeral. How did the widow manage to pay for a grave? Or did someone kindly allow her to use theirs?
The family grieved the loss of husband and father. How would they ever make ends meet? They had debts to pay, but how…?
One day, not long after the funeral, there came a horrid knock at the door. The creditor had heard of the prophet’s death, and he realized he had better move soon or he would lose the entire account. All the way to answer the door the widow wept and prayed. No, Lord, It Can’t Be! It was the Knock she had dreaded in her nightmares!
The creditor insisted. He must have payment. The debts had to be settled. The widow sobbed helplessly.
“If you can’t pay, then I’ll be forced to take your sons. They’ll make decent slaves for someone!”
Hebrew law provided for an insolvent debtor to become a servant, until the next Jubilee year (every 50 years) and if the person was also an Israelite, the service was not to be severe labor, but the country was now under Ahab and Jezebel! What would happen to the boys? Who would take care of the widow?
For some reason, the creditor stalked away without taking the boys. He could always come back later to pick them up.
What kind of beast was this man? The price of a slave was only 30 pieces of silver. Two boys, sixty (60) silver coins about the size of a quarter! What good would that do a wealthy man? Two sons worth everything to a poor widow, pocket change to a rich man!