Compassion, Faith, and Persistent Prayer
The Shunammite woman’s compassion for a stranger led her to man of God Elisha, who prayed for her so she was blessed with a son. Later, when the son died unexpectedly, her unwavering faith and persistent prayer by Elisha restored the son to life. Subsequently, she lost her home and land while living abroad to escape a seven-year famine. However, all her losses and more were restored because she was a living testimony of Elisha’s work. On two occasions she lost something she treasured but her loss was restored in full each time because of unwavering faith and persistent prayer.
We continue our study series on Responding to Adversity with a discussion of interactions between the Shunammite woman and Prophet Elisha, among other (third-party) participants. The interactions began with the woman’s compassion toward a stranger that turned out to be Prophet Elisha and continued with the woman receiving an unexpected but welcome blessing through the birth of a son.
However, the blessing appeared to turn into adversity when the son died after a brief illness. She responded with unwavering faith that she expressed in part by seeking out Elisha at Mount Carmel and insisting that he return to his “sanctuary” at her home in Shunem to ensure her son was restored to life. Elisha obliged, returned to the sanctuary, and prayed persistently until the child came back to life.
Several years later, the woman lost her home and land when she and her household relocated to a foreign land to escape a seven-year famine. However, when the king realized she was a living testimony of Elisha’s work (the woman whose son was restored from death), he ordered full restoration of everything she lost while she was away. Therefore, on two different occasions, the Shunammite woman lost something she treasured but the loss was restored in full because of her unwavering faith, human effort, and persistent prayer.
The Shunammite’s Compassion
The Shunammite woman met a stranger, became aware of the stranger’s need, and did what she could to alleviate the need.
First, she persuaded the stranger to have a meal: “Now it happened one day that Elisha went to Shunem, where there was a notable woman, and she persuaded him to eat some food…” [2 Kings 4:8]. The woman did not know that the “stranger” was Prophet Elisha. Based on subsequent events, we can surmise that Elisha enjoyed the experience and felt well-received at the woman’s home. He returned there for a meal whenever he passed through the area: “…So it was, as often as he passed by, he would turn in there to eat some food” [2 Kings 4:8].
Second, the woman sensed that the “stranger” was a “holy man of God” and persuaded her husband to offer him shelter in their home. The offer of shelter required more sacrifice from them because they had to build a special attachment to their home in order to provide him shelter [2 Kings 4:9–10]: “And she said to her husband, ‘Look now, I know that this is a holy man of God, who passes by us regularly. Please, let us make a small upper room on the wall; and let us put a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand; so it will be, whenever he comes to us, he can turn in there.’”
This interaction could serve as a textbook illustration of Christ’s teaching on compassion. As we discuss in a previous bible study under Call to Compassion—Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Christ used basic needs to explain a person’s responsibilities in a call to compassion, when God calls a person to provide service to benefit another person in need. He often delivers the call by leading the called to encounter the need.
Christ explained the responsibilities in terms of the basic needs of food and drink, shelter, clothing, and others; that a person earns blessing by fulfilling the responsibilities or incurs punishment by declining [Matthew 25:34–35]: “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;” which could be paraphrased as: “I placed a need in your path and you did what you could to alleviate the need.” That is exactly what the Shunammite woman did.
The Shunammite’s Adversity: Sudden Death of Child
Elisha inquired what he could do for the woman and determined through his servant that the woman had no son and did not expect to have any because her husband was old [2 Kings 4:14]: “So he said, ‘What then is to be done for her?’ And Gehazi answered, ‘Actually, she has no son, and her husband is old.’” He prophesied to her that she would give birth to a son in about one year: “Then he said, ‘About this time next year you shall embrace a son…’” [2 Kings 4:16]. The prophecy came true. The woman conceived and gave birth to a son in about a year.
However, her joy turned sour a few years later because the son died suddenly after a brief illness. He had complained of headache while accompanying his father on his grain farm. The man sent him home to his mother, who tried to comfort him. He died a short time later in his mother’s arms: “When he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died” [2 Kings 4:20].
The Shunammite’s Faith
The woman did not accept her son’s death. We can surmise based on her actions that she quickly decided to lay him at God’s feet and refuse to leave until he was restored to life. For her, the upper room they built for Elisha was like an in-home sanctuary. So she took the child into the room and laid him on Elisha’s bed. Then she arranged for transportation and hurried out to bring Elisha.
She did not dwell on crying or mourning. She instead responded to her son’s death by focusing on doing what she believed she needed to do to bring her son back to life. Laying him on Elisha’s bed was not enough. She believed Elisha had to return to the “sanctuary” to convey her petition to God. So she left to get Elisha. When she got to him, she vowed she would not let go until he returned with her to restore her son back to life [2 Kings 4:30]: “And the mother of the child said, ‘As the Lord lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you.’ So he arose and followed her.”
PERSISTENT PRAYER Elisha understood the woman’s faith was dependent on his returning to the “sanctuary” to pray for the boy. He initially sent his servant to lay his staff on the boy but did not wait for the outcome. Laying his staff on the boy did not produce any visible outcome as his servant reported.
Elisha returned to the “sanctuary” and saw the boy lying on his bed. He prayed persistently. His persistent prayer [2 Kings 4:32–35] appears motivated by the faith of the Shunammite. Elisha was a channel for the woman’s faith that his prayer will restore her son’s life. God granted his prayer: “…then the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes” [2 Kings 4:35]. He invited the mother to take her son back. “So she went in, fell at his feet, and bowed to the ground; then she picked up her son and went out” [2 Kings 4:37].
The Shunammite’s son was restored to life because of her unwavering faith, which she showed by seeking God first and doing what she could to bring Elisha back to pray for the child. Her faith motivated Elisha to pray persistently until the boy returned to life.
More Fruit of the Shunammite’s Faith
The Shunammite’s faith continued to bear fruit through more than seven years after her son’s life was restored. On the advice of Elisha, she and her household relocated to a foreign land to escape famine that befell their land for seven years. “Then Elisha spoke to the woman whose son he had restored to life, saying, ‘Arise and go, you and your household, and stay wherever you can; for the Lord has called for a famine, and furthermore, it will come upon the land for seven years’” [2 Kings 8:1]. The woman obeyed. However, when they returned seven years later, she realized their home and land had been taken by other people.
She went to the king to appeal for her property to be restored to her. She arrived to file her appeal at the same time that Elisha’s servant Gehazi was providing information to the king to document the work of Elisha. Gehazi recognized the woman and her son and introduced them to the king as a living testimony of Elisha’s work: “…And Gehazi said, ‘My lord, O king, this is the woman, and this is her son whom Elisha restored to life’” [2 Kings 8:5]. The king verified the information from the woman and appointed an officer specially charged to restore “all that was hers, and all the proceeds of the field from the day that she left the land until now” [2 Kings 8:6].
The Shunammite won restoration of her property and the proceeds for the seven-year period that her household was away, because she and her son were a living testimony that Elisha restored her son from death. The restoration of her property and proceeds, therefore, was a fruit of her faith that motivated Elisha to restore her son from death. Twice she lost something she treasured but the loss was restored in full, and more, because of her faith.
Summary of What We Learned
The Shunammite woman’s compassion for a stranger led her to man of God Elisha, who prayed for her so she was blessed with a son. Later, when the son died unexpectedly, her unwavering faith channeled through persistent prayer by Elisha restored the son to life. Subsequently, she lost her home and land while living abroad to escape a seven-year famine. However, all her losses and more were restored because she was a living testimony of Elisha’s work. On two occasions she lost something she treasured but her loss was restored in full each time because of unwavering faith, human effort, and persistent prayer.