Summary: It describes how the life of Elisha is applicable to us
2 Kings 4: 1 - 7 - the fifth sermon on the life of Elisha
Below is the outline of the sermon, I preached on 15 January 2012 at West Ewell Evangelical Church, Surrey:
This is a continuation of our occasional series on Elijah
Before we start, we need to state God is interested in all of us since created us: spirit, mind and body – in the past, Church suffered from Greek idea that soul was separate and superior to the body.
This passage is classic example of how a Biblical passage can be read incorrectly.
Clearly, it is narrative – written as historical fact.
It is not figurative: no similes or metaphors
It is not poetic
Therefore, the oil does not symbolise the Holy Spirit or anointing for a particular purpose, e.g. kingship or ministry – but as the food as we eat, used as a shortening in cooking as usually mixed with the grain before cooking but it was sometimes spread over the dough.
What had happened was that a widow of one of the prophets was in debt and her two sons were going to be taken as surety – it was an accepted custom in Israel that if could not pay debts then all or some members of the family would work as servants of the creditor, see Leviticus 25: 39 -41 where redeemed in the Year of Jubilee (for could not serve as a servant for more than six years and then went debt-free).
The poverty could occur in the fragile agrarian economy as droughts and the ensuing poor harvests for more than a year could result in the sale of land, goods and, finally, themselves.
It is a reminder that those who fear the Lord may also experience financial difficulties.
Note: Elisha did not rush to meet her need but recognised God’s timing and that the woman needed to realise that support and comfort came from God, not from human sources.
2. Care for others
God is holistic for He cares about bodies as well as our souls – expressed through organisations like Tearfund, World Vision, Compassion and others.
Almost one in seven worldwide, 854 million people, do not have enough food to sustain them. This makes hunger/malnutrition the number one risk to health globally, greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. About 250,000 die each day of hunger or related causes – 9 million a year, people like you and me, all created and loved by God.
In a major study (NSPCC Inform Child protection research briefing ‘Poverty and child maltreatment,’ April 2008), it was shown that there are approximately 3.8 million children living in poverty in the UK. Children who are brought up in poverty are ‘at increased risk of a wide range of adverse experience and negative outcomes, including poor health (physical and mental), death from illness, or accident, educational disadvantage and disaffection…’
In a recent survey of 1,390 people who sought help from Christians Against Poverty (CAP), 82 % of those with children said debt affected their ability to provide food or clothes for them; 15% were unable to feed them three meals a day. The study also found that relationships in the home were under great stress – 78% of couples said that debt affected their relationship and 24% said that it caused the relationship to break down completely
CAP found that vulnerable adults were affected by debt too – with an example of someone living in sheltered accommodation, who survived on baked beans and spaghetti, had limited understanding of banking and was the victim of a string of unpaid doorstep loans.
In verse 7, Elisha literally said: ‘redeem your pledge’ – God does not want slavery to be any part of our lives, including slavery to debt and He wants us to help alleviate that in the world, whilst recognising Jesus’ words that the poor will always be with us (Matthew 26: 11).
God’s giving is often abundant - e.g. Ephesians 2: 20 – ‘Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.’
3. Cause for concern
It is not social gospel, but the Gospel has social implications. Is there a coincidence that we have looked at Leviticus, James and Deuteronomy recently? I do not think so. All the books of the Bible show God’s heart about we relate to Him and to people that He created and cares about – we need to see through God’s eyes and weep with Him.
The clue is in Elisha’s name – ‘God is salvation’ - that God is principally concerned about our salvation but He is also concerned about our bodies.
At the cross, we are to relate (vertically) to God and (horizontally) to others.