THE armies of Israel, Judah and Edom had pursued the Moabite army to the Moabite capital city of Kir-haraseth. The king of that country, Mesha, was desperate. He had a fire built atop that wall for sacrificing his oldest son to the imaginary pagan god Molech, trusting that in return Molech would spare him and what remained of his army. (II Kings 3:21-26.) Even veteran soldiers shuddered at the manner in which the king of Moab took the life of the heir to his throne and reduced him to ashes before the gaze of thousands. Just how much futile faith Mesha had in Molech can't be known. But here was something else the Moabite king was counting on. He hoped that his awful act would fill his enemies with such sickening dread that they would become too disgusted to continue the siege. That was what happened. Many Israelites and Edomites wished to destroy Kir-haraseth and Mesha because of the barbarous act, but Jehoshaphat and Jehoram decided to call off the siege and leave the Moabite king to his misery. The allies returned to their respective countries, and Elisha — God's prophet — presumably returned to Samaria with Jehoram's army. (II Kings 3:27.)
Wiping Out Old Debts
In that time Israelites who looked to God for the right way of life learned mainly from God's prophets and the students they trained in colleges set up for that purpose. Elisha came to have many students to whom he was a leader and teacher. Some of his college students became so learned and advanced in character that they came to be known as "sons of the prophets." One day the widow of one of these men came to Elisha to tell him that her husband had gone into debt before he died, and that his creditor was about to take her two sons from her to become his servants as payment of the debt. (II Kings 4:1.) "If you have any property your creditor can use, let him have that," Elisha said. "My only precious material possession is a pot of fine olive oil," the woman explained. "It wouldn't even begin to pay my debt." "Oil is valuable," Elisha observed. "If you had a large supply of it, you would be well off. You should borrow from your friends and neighbors every empty pot and jar and crock they can spare. When no one is present but your sons, take your oil and pour into each container until it is full." The woman followed Elisha's advice, wondering what good could come of using up her oil by pouring so little oil into so many vessels. Finally, when one of her sons had brought her the last empty container, she discovered an amazing thing. All the containers were FULL of oil! Eagerly she ran to where Elisha was staying to tell him what had happened. When the prophet smiled at her, she knew that he had been aware of what had taken place before she had told him. "What shall I do with all that oil?" she excitedly asked Elisha. "Everyone needs good olive oil for cooking," Elisha reminded her. "Merchants and those from whom you borrowed the containers will be anxious to buy the oil at a fair price. Then you will be able to pay your debt with money. There should be enough left over for you and your sons to live on for a long time." (II Kings 4:2-7.) This was the fifth major miracle of Elisha recorded in the Bible. The sixth one began when Elisha had come to the town of Shunem, about twenty-five miles north of Samaria. A wealthy woman who was anxious to please God learned that Elisha was there, and invited him to her home to dine. Because the prophet brought them much helpful instruction during the visit, the woman and her husband invited Elisha to stop at their home any time he came to Shunem. He was pleased to take advantage of their hospitality every time he passed that way. (II Kings 4:8.) After a time the woman suggested to her husband that they add a room to their home, so that the prophet, as well as the man who often accompanied him, could have a place to rest as well as eat. "Elisha is very close to God," the woman reminded her husband. "The more we associate with him, the closer to God we'll become."
A Son for the Barren
The extra room was built and used to comfortable advantage by Elisha and his servant, Gehazi. During one stop at the home, Elisha decided that this woman who had been so helpful toward him should receive some kind of reward. "Ask the lady of the house to come to our quarters," Elisha instructed Gehazi. "Tell her that because she has been so kind to us, I would be pleased to ask any favor for her or for her husband from the king or from any other in high authority in Samaria." When Gehazi spoke to the woman, she told him that she was satisfied with what she had and with her position in life, and didn't want or need any favors from those of high rank. Elisha was impressed by what his servant conveyed to him. It proved that the woman hadn't sought the prophet's company for any purpose besides wanting to know how to be more obedient to God. (II Kings 4:9-13.) "There must be something that can be done for her," Elisha remarked to Gehazi. "It's probably too late for her to have what she wants most," Gehazi observed. "She has never had any children, and her husband is quite old." "Call her," Elisha said, after a short period of thought. When the woman appeared before his door, the prophet told her that he had a special bit of good news for her. "Less than a year from now, you will be nursing a son," Elisha announced. The woman stared at the prophet, wondering why he should say such a thing. "Why do you, a man of God, trouble me by making such a ridiculous statement?" she asked in an unhappy tone. (II Kings 4:14-16.) "My statement wasn't ridiculous," Elisha assured her. "Soon you will discover that you are going to become a mother." The woman turned and walked away, disappointed that this otherwise sensible man would cause her to feel unhappy by referring to her as a mother-to-be, even though he was aware that both she and her husband were well along in years. Elisha knew that she doubted him, and that his continued presence would only bother her. Accordingly, he left very soon with Gehazi. Not long afterward, the woman began to realize that she was carrying a child. She knew then that Elisha had intended to make her happy by what he had said, instead of embarrassing her. (II Kings 4:17.) The boy to whom she later gave birth was a great joy to her and her husband. She realized that this was a miracle God had performed, as Elisha had promised. She was very thankful. When the lad was only a few years old, he walked out in a field where his father was overseeing some reapers. The day was fair and exceptionally warm. After a while the boy suddenly felt weak and faint. "My head hurts," he complained to his father.
A Trial of Faith
The father knew that his son was suffering from severe sunstroke. He had the boy carried back to his mother at their home. The lad fell into a coma, and died a few hours later in his mother's arms. The woman became frantic. The only thing she could think to do was place her dead son in Elisha's bed. She hoped that somehow this act would bring him closer to God, whom she felt might restore his life. Leaving her son there, she sent word to her husband to send from the field one of the young men and one of the burros, so that she could travel to see Elisha. Not knowing that his son had died, the husband wondered why his wife would suddenly wish to visit Elisha, inasmuch as it wasn't a Sabbath or any of the other special days when the prophet lectured to assembled followers of God. (II Kings 4:18-23.) Absorbed in his work, and believing that his son would recover very soon, he sent the young worker and the burro to his wife, who had it quickly saddled to carry her as swiftly as possible to Mt. Carmel, about twenty miles to the northwest, where she knew Elisha was staying at an ancient retreat he often occupied. At the southern tip of the long mountain, where Elisha was resting with Gehazi, the prophet looked out to the southeast to see a woman swiftly approaching on a burro, with a young man running ahead leading it. As they came closer, the prophet recognized the rider. "The woman of Shunem is coming," he told Gehazi. "She wouldn't come here unless she is in need of help. Run out to meet her and ask if she and her husband and son are well." "My husband and I are all right," the woman nervously answered Gehazi when he met her. A little later, when she reached the prophet, who came out to greet her, she prostrated herself before Elisha and sobbingly placed her hands on his feet. Gehazi stepped up to push her away. "Don't touch her," Elisha told his servant. "Can't you see that she's in a state of great anguish? Something has happened to her that God has not chosen to tell me before now." (II Kings 4:24-27.) "I never told you that I wanted a son," the woman tearfully said to Elisha. "I was almost happy until you mentioned that I would have a child. Then I wanted one more than ever before. At first I thought you were trying to give me a false hope, and I didn't understand that." "Are you telling me that your son is dead, and that you wish he had never been born?" the prophet asked. "He died hours ago of a sunstroke," the woman sobbed. "If he had to die so young, I wish he hadn't come into this world." "Go to Shunem at once," Elisha instructed Gehazi, "Don't pause on the way even long enough to speak to anyone. Get to this woman's home as fast as you can run. When you arrive, place my staff on the boy's face." (II Kings 4:28-29.) "But I want you to go back with me, Elisha," the woman pleaded. "I won't leave here until you do."
Restored to Life
Elisha had little choice except to start out after Gehazi with the woman and her servant. When Gehazi arrived at the woman's home, he found a grieving father sitting beside his dead son. He touched the lifeless face with Elisha's staff, but nothing happened. "I did as you told me, but the boy is still dead," Gehazi reported to the prophet later when he ran out to meet him. When Elisha arrived at the home with the woman, he went into his room alone, shut the door and asked God to restore life to the boy. Then he stretched himself out on the corpse to impart warmth to it. At the same time he breathed forcibly into the youngster's mouth to try to revive lung action. After a time he got up and walked vigorously about after which he resumed warming the boy's body and breathing into his lungs. He carried out every natural means possible to help the boy, at the same time praying that God would perform a miracle to give him back the spark of life. Suddenly the lad started gasping. His breathing had returned. He opened his eyes to stare confusedly about, having come back to life after hours in a state of death. This was a greater miracle than some realize, inasmuch as brain cells die if they are deprived very long of a supply of oxygen. A person so affected often ends up mentally ill, but the boy revived to be in good mental health. While the prophet watched over the lad, he called Gehazi and told him to ask the mother to come in. When the woman saw her son alive, she was so overcome with joy that she fell down weeping before Elisha. "Take your son," the prophet said. "He will be all right." The woman tenderly picked up her boy and slowly walked out, unable to find words to express her gratitude. (II Kings 4:30-37.) This was the seventh major miracle God performed through the obedient Elisha, whose desires and special abilities were in harmony with his Creator's will. The next miracle occurred when Elisha was in Gilgal teaching some of his college students. Food was scarce in that area then because of a drought, and people were hard put to find enough fresh produce for day-to-day needs. "I know that many of you are wondering what and where you will eat after this session is over," Elisha told his listeners. "There is no cause to be concerned. I have instructed my servant to prepare lunch for all of you."
Poisoned Stew Made Edible
There were grateful smiles in the audience, but at the same time something was happening that would later bring no smiles to the listeners. Because of a lack of garden plants, Gehazi and some other men were out in the fields searching for edible herbs and wild vegetables for a stew Elisha wanted prepared. A large pot of water was already boiling close to where the prophet's class was assembled. Ingredients of the stew included several wild gourds plucked from a vine one of Gehazi's helpers had discovered and thought to be a squash vine. No one connected with the preparation of the plants realized that the squash-like gourds were poisonous. Later, when the contents of the pot were served, there were immediate expressions of discomfort. A few spat it out immediately. Elisha, who intended to be served last, inquired what was wrong. "It's horribly bitter!" one man exclaimed. "Anything that bitter must surely be poisonous!"(II Kings 4:38-40.) "Very likely," Elisha remarked after tasting it. "It's too bad that this whole big pot of stew should be spoiled at a time when we're in such need of food. Surely God won't allow us to go hungry. Bring me a small amount of any kind of ground grain." Someone brought some meal, which Elisha poured into the pot and mixed thoroughly with the stew. "There should no longer be any unpleasant taste," the prophet said. "Discard what has been served, and serve more in clean dishes." The first man to be given more of the stew hesitated at first, then bravely took a spoonful. Abruptly his face lighted with pleasure. "This is delicious!" he muttered between spoonfuls. "How can it taste so good only minutes after tasting so bad?" "God can make things right if we are obedient and trust in Him," the prophet observed as he watched the crowd contentedly eating. (II Kings 4:41.) At another place, when the local famine was still being severely felt, Elisha addressed a gathering of more than a hundred men who were anxious to hear what he had to say. As he continued to speak, the prophet became increasingly aware that his audience was very hungry, and that he could better put across his message if his listeners could soon be fed. Unhappily, he had no food for so many people. Meanwhile, outside the meeting place, a man came with an offering of twenty small barley loaves and some ears of corn. When Elisha heard about it? he was very thankful for the sudden supply of food. "Give it to the crowd at the end of the meeting," he instructed. (II Kings 4:42.) "Give a few ears of corn and twenty tiny loaves to more than a hundred hungry men?" Elisha's servant asked. "With that little, you would only whet their appetites for more!"