Never Letting Go – A Shunammite’s Tale
A Story from 2 Kings 4:8-37 —
The sun cradled the earth in its noon day heat. A woman sat with her son, his head on her lap. If you asked her, she would say through tearful words, “I felt his life leave his body.” There were no ambulances to call, no police to cry out for, there was no one that could help her son as he died in her lap.
It seemed like only a few seconds had gone by since the field hand brought her young son into the house, his body limp but still alive. They explained to her that he was out working with his father in the field and then, out of nowhere, he started to complain about a pain in his head. They themselves thought he was just fatigued or worn out, but now, his headache seemed much worse.
The seconds ago, were really hours ago. Now she held him, her little boy, soon to be a man. In her heart she knew this would happen. Life always treated her this way, giving and then taking. It wasn’t fair!
She could feel the anger welling up inside her and out of habit she clenched her fists, but felt her son’s cold skin and immediately released her grasp. No mother wants to hold her dead child. It is true that each parent has pain, but a mother has carried the child. Their hearts beat as one. Their blood was at one time the same. The blood that flowed through him also flowed through her and now, nothing flowed. Not even her own blood.
The Bible only calls her the Shunamite woman. She doesn’t have a name, only a description of her national heritage. She wasn’t an Israelite, so to the Jews, she was just another person. Possibly a potential enemy. But to God, she was open for two miracles to happen in her life.
You see, years earlier, this woman showed hospitality to Elisha the prophet. He was a circuit-prophet, travelling consistent routes to deliver God’s Word or judge His people. She and her husband were wealthy people and Elisha would walk near their property as he travelled through.
After inviting Elisha in for a meal and some rest, she developed a hospitable reputation with the prophet. One day, she decided to have a small studio apartment made for him on their property. The efficiency was all that he needed: a chair, a bed, a table and a candle. The basics!
Elisha felt so grateful to her that he wanted to do something good for her and, talking it over with his servant, Gehazi, he learned that this woman who seemed to have it all was missing something. She did not have a son and her prospects of having a child were slim.
Elisha was excited to give her something that he knew he could give her and spoke God’s Word to her: “About this time next year you will give birth to a son!” What audacity! What kind of person could say such a thing? It almost seemed hurtful or mockery.
She responded, “Don’t lie to me. I trust that you are a man of God, but my heart is too fragile to hope in nothing.” The Bible doesn’t record a response from Elisha, only that about that same time a year later, she had a beautiful, healthy baby boy.
Now, the memory of that day banged against the inside of her skull. It was like it was trying to break its way out with all its might but couldn’t. She rose with her son’s body still held tightly and began to walk out of the house. I told him, don’t lie to me, don’t make me hope…it’s too painful!
Outside, more than a few steps away was the little efficiency studio she had made for Elisha. This was his promise and this life was his responsibility. She walked into the studio and laid him on Elisha’s bed. For a moment, she wanted to see her son spring to life. Maybe there was still some power left on the bed, it could bring my son back to me.
Her son lay motionless. There was nothing in the room to help her. Of course there wasn’t. There was only one person who could help her and that was the man who made the promise. Elisha. She had to find him. She had to hold him accountable and with all her heart beg for him to bring her son back from the dead.
With a renewed purpose, she went out to meet her husband.
“I need one of your servants and a donkey to go visit Elisha,” she said. Her husband was perplexed.
“Why today? There isn’t any special holiday. What’s up?”
She looked at him with an emotionless face and lied. “Nothing, everything is well.”
He looked at her. She was still as beautiful today as when he first saw her scooping up water from Jacob’s well. He thought, “She is a good wife. She must be – to have married an old man like me.” He nodded in approval and she turned to grab a servant to saddle the donkey.
She climbed on top of the donkey and said to the servant walking beside her, “We have to hurry. Push the animal as hard as you can.” In the back of her mind, she could see her son’s lifeless body lain across the prophet’s bed.
“We have to hurry!”
As she rode in haste, her mind raced with thoughts.
God, why did you give me a promise, make the promise a reality, and then take it away?
It would have been better not to have had, then to have had and lost.
Could it be true that it is far better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all? It didn’t feel that way for her and never does when you are going through the pain.
The woman arrived at Mount Carmel and Elisha saw her coming from a distance.
“Gehazi, go meet her, see if everything is alright.” Gehazi ran and she told him that everything was good. He returned to Elisha and told him that all was well and they signaled her to come closer. She saw Gehazi for what he was, someone who was only going to get in the way of what she needed. Repeated words were not enough for her to convey her true emotions.
As she got closer, she fell at Elisha’s feet and began to weep. Gehazi dove in to pull her away, but Elisha told him to stop. “She is in bitter distress and the LORD has hidden it from me and has not told me.” For a moment, Elisha felt human again. For so many years he lived in the divine presence, knowing what God had to say about the people in this land, but for some reason, God chose not to mention this.
It is so amazing to see a relationship with God like Elisha’s. He was so connected to God that it shocked him that God wouldn’t tell him about this woman and her situation.
She looked up at him from his feet and finally let the anger out: “Didn’t I tell you not to lie to me? Didn’t I tell you that I couldn’t take it if I hoped in a son and then, I wouldn’t have him?” Elisha was perplexed. He had a heart and love for the woman and her family. Especially her son. He was excited to see the boy grow and be reminded that God has always been faithful to do what he said. As a prophet in such terrible times, it weighed heavily on him that he mostly spoke the worst kind of things to people. But this child, it was a pleasure to hear God say, “She will have a son next year. Go, tell her.”
Elisha was a man of action and he turned to Gehazi and said, “Go, take my staff and go without stopping for anyone or anything. Take my staff and lay it on the face of the boy. Go!” Gehazi did what he said and left. Elisha looked at the woman and wondered why she was still here. She should have left after Gehazi and watched as God did a second miracle for her.
“As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you,” she said.
What a tremendous woman, this Shunammite woman was. She already tried seizing the power of God through an object, the bed, and it didn’t work. She knew that there was only one person that could do what only God could do and that was Elisha.
Elisha nodded in agreement, and she mounted her donkey and made her way back. Elisha followed behind her.
Gehazi was ahead of them both and arrived at the studio apartment. It was a sore point for him because it only had one bed. He had to sleep on the floor and share whatever food or other amenity that Elisha would share with him. The boy was on the bed. Gehazi could see that he was dead and had been dead for quite some time.
He walked over to the boy and touched his face with the wooden staff. Nothing happened. He touched it again. Nothing happened. This was a strange occurrence. In all the time that he had been Elisha’s servant, everything Elisha said would happen, happened.
Gehazi turned around and raced back to Mount Carmel.
On the way there, he ran into the Shunammite woman and Elisha following behind her. Elisha felt strange inside. He didn’t know what was going to happen next and it made him wonder, “What’s going on LORD?”
“I did like you said and nothing happened. The boy didn’t come back to life,” Gehazi stumbled through words he could not believe he was saying.
Elisha didn’t stop. He pressed forward until he reached the house. He could see through the open door the boy laying on his bed. Without any words, he rushed into the house and closed the door behind him. Gehazi and the boy’s mother waited outside.
The mother felt the wind of the door as it slammed shut on her. “Why can’t I be in there?” She turned to look at Gehazi for any clue as to what was going on. His empty eyes were clueless as usual. She looked back at the door and began to pace back and forth.
She leaned closely to the door. There was no sound.
Time within crisis doesn’t follow the normal rules. A second is like a minute and a minute like a second. In her mind, getting here took forever, but it was short in comparison to standing at this door.
She pressed her ear closer to the door, hoping to hear between the cracks in the wood. She could hear the slight creaking of the bed. Then some walking, almost pacing back and forth.
I don’t understand why it’s taking so long, she screamed in her mind.
Why? Why did it matter if it took one second or one year? It didn’t.
Why am I so angry over the time I don’t have instead of being happy for the time that I did have?
Now, she was all alone. Gehazi stood nearby but he wasn’t connected to his life. Her husband was running his business, like he always was. He wasn’t connected to his life either. Only she was connected to his life and now that life was gone.
A sneeze. She could hear a sneeze from the other side of the door.
Ah-choo! Then, another one. Then another. Her heart leapt within her and she knew that something happened. By the fourth sneeze she knew it was her son’s sneeze. It was the same sneeze she heard while he was in the crib, laughing and playing. Then a sneeze and it shocked him that he was thrusting so much air at one time through tiny nostrils.
The fifth sneeze, his first steps, tumbling and walking, his head leaning forward. Always on the verge of falling, but somehow, always regaining his balance at the last minute.
The sixth sneeze, the day before he died. He said he wasn’t feeling so well, but after a quick check, she didn’t see anything wrong. Just a sneeze. How could she have been so wrong? Something was wrong but she couldn’t see it. A mother should be able to see it.
The seventh sneeze, today, his re-birth.
A loud voice cried through the door, “Gehazi!”
Gehazi tripped over his own feet and rushed inside. The Shunammite stood frozen at the door. Gehazi was fast and opened and shut the door so quick that she couldn’t see inside. Or it could be that her eyes were saturated with tears and all she could see were moist shadows.
“Go get her!” Elisha said with impertinence in his voice.
Gehazi turned and opened the door. She could see straight inside the small studio and saw her son’s chest moving up and down. She wept and fell at the feet of Elisha. If she could push herself into the dirt and live below the dirt he stood on, she would have.
Down at his feet, her tears fell but her heart was lifted. The tears couldn’t stop.
Elisha said to her, “Pick up your son.” The words paralyzed her arms. It was real, he was alive. She shot up to her feet and clutched her son in her arms. She could feel the warmth of his skin, the breath of his lungs and the beating of his heart. He gasped as she squeezed him tighter and tighter.
Something strange had happened to him, that’s all he could remember. He remembered feeling some pain in his head and then laying down on his mother’s lap and then, as he said it to her, “That strange guy was lying on top of me, his hands on my hands, his eyes on my eyes and his mouth on my mouth. Then, he got up and I started sneezing.” He laughed a little at his words and crinkled his nose.
“Then I saw you and you were crying and smiling and squeezing me so tight,” he looked deeply into his mother’s eyes like only a child can do. It was as if he missed the miracle. To him, there was only a second between the pain and rest, and sleep.
God works in some strange ways, like the miraculous raising of the dead followed by seven sneezes. Yet, God shows us in this story that He is able to keep His promises. If He said it would happen, it will happen.
This story is a story of faith, disbelief, confidence, uneasiness, and God’s miraculous power. And it is also about real people, living a real life, with a real God who really loves them.
Has God made you a promise?
If you believe He has, then continue to believe it. Without faith, it is impossible to please God. Our biggest hurdle in believing is not in wondering “can God” do miracles but in wondering “will God” do miracles. We don’t doubt His ability, only His willingness.
The Shunammite did not have a formula for her success. She only had deep, utter desperation. She did not have a prayer list or a “do-this to get-that” attitude. She only had the Word given to her by God through this very special man, Elisha.
God wants us to be utterly desperate for His Word. He wants us to spend time with the Living Word, His Son, Jesus, and the written Word, the Bible. That combination will give us greater insight into God’s willingness to do great things for us and those we love. A relationship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit will keep you on track and focused on what God has promised you and what He’s willing to do for you.