Shunammite Couple Example
On Respect, Honor, and Trust
Mutual respect and trust among Shunammite couple placed them in position to receive God’s blessing. The woman met Elisha, recognized his needs, and persuaded her husband to do what they could to alleviate the needs. The woman respected and honored her husband as family leader and the man respected and honored his wife as spiritual gateway for the family. They provided food and shelter to Elisha, thus, establishing a long-term relationship with him that brought them abundant blessing. Through the events, the woman showed she respected and honored her husband as family leader. Also, the man showed he respected and honored his wife as spiritual gateway for the family.
We begin a study series on Husband Wife Interactions, whereby we seek understanding of God’s purpose for husband-wife relationships. The study will be based on couples described in the bible. We will examine events from their life to understand how their responses may have contributed to subsequent events. Can we surmise the later events represent a blessing triggered by their responses in earlier events? Or maybe an adversity that could be construed as an unpleasant prelude to subsequent blessing or apparent punishment for earlier misbehavior. Whatever the case, we expect to gain insight into husband-wife interactions: to understand aspects of a couple’s behavior more likely to bring them closer to fulfilling God’s purpose for them, their children, and the broader human community.
Interactions between husband and wife affect how they relate to other people, both outside and within their home, especially, their children. What children learn at home influences how they relate to themselves, other people, and their environment. God created husband and wife at the core of the family unit and gave them the responsibility to direct their children to “keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just” so the children may become vehicles for conveyance of God’s promises [Genesis 18:19]. Interactions between husband and wife are important to their fulfilling the family training responsibility of bringing up children to “keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just.”
Our first study in the series focuses on interactions between the Shunammite woman and her husband. As we discuss in a previous bible study under Shunammite Woman Overcomes Adversity, the Shunammite couple developed a lasting close relationship with man of God Elisha and were blessed through their life because of the encounter: the woman gave birth to a son at a time they reasonably would not have expected a child because of the husband’s advanced age, the son was restored to life after sudden and premature death, the family escaped severe famine that ravaged their land for several years, and regained property they lost during sojourn abroad to escape the famine. Our previous study of the Shunammite womand focused on interactions between her and Elisha but also pointed to interactions between her and her husband as the events developed.
The current study focuses on the husband-wife interactions to understand their responses to the events. We find that their interactions were based on mutual recognition and respect for each other’s leadership of specific aspects of family life. The wife recognized and respected her husband’s leadership in over-all family affairs, whereas the husband recognized his wife as the family’s spiritual gateway and not only yielded to but relied on her spiritual leadership. We discuss their interactions through specific events in their life to show they trusted, relied on, and supported each other’s judgment in providing leadership according to the divided responsibilities.
Encounter with Elisha
The woman met a stranger and invited him to have a meal at her home. She did not know that the stranger was Prophet Elisha. We can surmise, based on Elisha’s type of work, that the woman met him at a market or other public forum, where he probably gave a talk or interacted with people extensively. The woman assessed he needed a place to sit down, have a meal, and rest for a while. She persuaded him to go home with her for that purpose. Also, we can surmise that the first meeting at her home was a pleasant experience for Elisha, because, subsequently, he went to their house to have a meal whenever he visited the area: “So it was, as often as he passed by, he would turn in there to eat some food.” [2 Kings 4:8].
Because Elisha was so pleased with having a meal at the couple’s home, we can surmise that the woman’s husband welcomed him wholeheartedly. All he knew about the stranger was whatever his wife told him. His wife returned home with a male stranger that she had persuaded to have a meal and some rest at their home. Her husband accepted the stranger based only on her information. The husband’s acceptance of the stranger suggests he had a habit of trusting his wife’s judgment and that the wife had a habit of protecting her husband’s trust of her judgment. Such reciprocal trust would set the stage for the couple to welcome the stranger with a pleasant experience in their home.
CALL TO COMPASSION Through the benefit of hindsight, we can see what really happened here is God called the woman to provide for Elisha’s needs and earn blessing. The woman’s husband followed her leadership and assisted her in responding positively to the call. The woman was well-to-do, “notable” as [2 King 4:8] describes her, and likely had a habit of helping people as she could. Her husband not only shared in the habit but trusted her judgment regarding who, when, and how to direct her compassion. Therefore, when she brought a stranger to their home on this occasion, he received the stranger in accordance with his habit of assisting his wife’s acts of compassion.
Long-Term Shelter for Elisha:
Upper Room on the Wall
After sharing meal at their home several times with the stranger, the woman realized that he was a holy man of God. She also recognized there was more they could do to assist him. She believed they could provide him a form of long-term shelter, a place he could turn in for extended rest and maybe spend the night if he so desired. They did not have such a place, but she believed they could provide one through a modification of their house. She recognized her husband’s leadership in such matters and tabled a proposal with her husband [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.’”
HUMILITY She asked with humility. She expected her husband will consider the proposal in good faith and likely approve but did not take his approval for granted. Her presentation conveyed a promise of obedience—that she would accept an approval or disapproval, but expected and will appreciate an approval (See previous discussion of Promise of Obedience under Value of Humility): The phrase “Please, let us …” helped convey her promise of obedience.
VISION AND BLUEPRINT She might have succeeded in doing the project all by herself without seeking her husband’s approval. She had reason to believe that God had placed it in her heart to provide long-term shelter for the prophet and had given her the blueprint (down to the details of required furnishing). Also, she had access to the resources (recall she was well-to-do) and could believe based on previous experience that her husband would approve. However, she recognized and respected her husband’s leadership in such matters and tabled the proposal before him with a promise of obedience. She submitted to her husband’s authority notwithstanding that God gave her the vision and blueprint.
Caring for Sick Child
On one occasion, their son complained of headache while in the field with his father. The father sent him home to his mother immediately. Sending the child home to his mother indicates a recognition that the family would be better off with the man focusing on farm work and management while his wife focused on caring for the sick child. He was satisfied that his wife was available to care for the child and could be relied upon to assess the need and respond appropriately. This implicit division of responsibilities worked well for them as the wife quickly stepped into her role of spiritual gateway when the child died suddenly. Her faith drove her to persuade Elisha to come and pray the child back to life.
Elisha was far away at Mount Carmel when the child died in his mothers arms in Shunem. The woman placed the dead child in the “sanctuary” they setup at their home for Elisha. Thereafter, she requested transportation from her husband to travel to Elisha at Mount Carmel: “Then she called to her husband, and said, ‘Please send me one of the young men and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of God and come back’” [2 Kings 4:22]. She did not explain the purpose of her trip. Instead, when her husband showed concern about her going to the man of God at an unusual time, she assured him that all is well [2 Kings 4:23]: “So he said, ‘Why are you going to him today? It is neither the New Moon nor the Sabbath.’ And she said, ‘It is well.’” The man was satisfied and provided her transportation as she requested.
RESPECT AND TRUST Through the request for transportation, the woman informed her husband of her intention to travel to Mount Carmel to meet the man of God. Also, she showed respect for her husband’s authority to manage family resources such as means of transportation. In his response, the husband showed he trusted his wife, such that a simple “It is well” served as sufficient explanation for what appeared to him initially as an unusual request. As we discuss in a previous study under Shunammite Woman Overcomes Adversity, mutual respect and trust worked well for the couple in the situation as Elisha returned with the woman and prayed the child back to life.
Summary of What We Learned
Mutual respect and trust among the Shunammite couple placed them in position to receive blessing through compassion for man of God Elisha. The woman met Elisha, recognized his needs, and persuaded her husband to do what they could to alleviate the needs. The man supported his wife wholeheartedly: they provided food and shelter to Elisha and, thus, established a long-term relationship with him. Because of their association with Elisha, the couple bore a son against reasonable expectation and the son was restored to life after sudden death. Furthermore, they foresaw and escaped severe famine that ravaged their land and regained property they lost during sojourn abroad to escape the famine. Through the events, the woman showed she respected and honored her husband as family leader. Also, the man showed he respected and honored his wife as spiritual gateway for the family.