2 Kings 4:8-37 (ESV) and 8:1-6
We aren’t told her name; only that she was a wealthy woman from Shunem. What we do know of her has consistently inspires me though and perhaps the fact that we don’t know her name suggests we can all find something of our story in hers. I first encountered her during the global recession of 2008, when my husband had been offered a job in Dubai. We had 18-month-old twins were grappling with the decision about whether we should take the opportunity or not. As I read the story in 2 Kings 8:1-6, I sensed that God was telling us to leave the UK. In the story, the prophet Elisha warns this woman to leave her home and travel wherever she could because a famine was coming on the land for seven years. When she did return seven years later, all that she’d lost was returned to her. I re-read this story sometime after returning to the UK and was amazed to realise that our family had remained out of the UK for seven years, before the Lord brought us back and established us again.
As I read the start of her story though, I saw something I’d not noticed before. In 2 Kings 4:8-37 in the ESV translation, we see that the Shunammite woman has the gift of hospitality. She urges the prophet Elisha to come and eat at her home, and so develops a friendship. Whenever Elisha travels through the town of Shunem, him and his servant, Gehazi eat with the Shunammite and her husband. After some time, this wise woman speaks to her husband about building a room onto their house for Elisha to stay in whenever he passes through. Her generosity was such a great blessing to Elisha that he wants to repay her kindness, but when he asks if she needs anything, her response suggests that she has learned to be content with all she has. Elisha seeks the counsel of Gehazi, who tells him that she has not borne children and her husband is an old man. Elisha tells the woman that within a year, she will have a son and so she does.
The child grows, but one day he becomes ill and dies and this is where the story really gets really interesting. The Shunammite woman lifts her dead child and places him on Elisha’s bed, before shutting the door behind her. She calls for her husband to send her one of the servants to prepare a donkey that she may ride quickly to Elisha and come back again. Her husband asks why she wants to go now, there no special festival, nor is it the Sabbath? She replies, “All is well.”
All was quite obviously not well however, so what is going on here?
As we read on, we see how the woman rides with haste to see Elisha and when he spots her from a distance, he sends his servant on ahead to find out what’s wrong, “Is all well with you? Is all well with your husband? Is all well with the child?” And she answered, “All is well.”
Again, all was not well. Why does the Shunammite woman insist that all is well when her beloved child has just died?
When she reaches the prophet, she catches hold of his feet in her distress and when his servant tries to pull her away, Elisha tells him to leave her alone. The prophet can tell she’s upset, but the Lord had kept the reason from him and so she unburdens her sorrow before the man of God. Elisha quickly sends Gehazi to take his staff and lay it on the face of the child, but the mother of the boy refuses to leave him, and so he goes with her. Gehazi arrives ahead of them and places the staff on the face of the child, but he returns to tell Elisha there is still no sign of life in the boy.
When Elisha sees the dead child lying on his bed, he shuts the door behind him and the boy and he prays to the Lord.
God uses Elisha to restore life to the child and when he tells the woman to receive her son, she falls at his feet, this time with a heart full of gratitude and then she picks up her son and goes out of the room.
What we can learn
When all was not well the Shunammite, on two occasions said, “all is well.”
There are times in life when our grief is so great and our sorrow so deep, that we must only unburden our soul before our Maker. God has created us for community and I believe passionately in the great healing he brings through people. The Lord our God is the source of our healing though. He is our mighty deliverer and the anchor for our soul and so, we must run to him.
In the midst of her despair, the Shunammite woman announces to her closest family and the man who serves the man of God, that ‘all is well’, for she knows that on this occasion, she must get to the one who has the power to make things truly well again.
In the midst of our despair and out of the deep places of sorrow, may we too fall at the feet of the one who turns our mourning into dancing and lovingly clothes us with gladness.
When Jesus was challenged by John the Baptist’s disciples about why his disciples were not fasting, he spoke to them of new wineskins that are needed for the new wine. A completely new way of thinking was needed in order to contain the new thing God was about to do. While he was still talking about these things, a ruler kneels before Jesus and unburdens his troubled soul. His daughter has died and asks Jesus to lay his hand on her that she may live. As he is going to the man’s house, the woman with the discharge of blood presses in through the crowd saying to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Her faith made her well that day and Jesus went on to raise the dead girl to life.
On both these occasions, the ruler and the sick woman knew they had to get to Jesus in order for them to experience what it means to be truly well.
© 2021 by Ruth O’Reilly-Smith