And when it happens like that we can wonder is it worth it?
At our most cynical we might wonder does God lift us up in order to drop us harder? Does he bless us only to increase the pain?
These doubts come to the Christian just as surely as hardship and trouble come, and we need to be ready.
Four things we learn in this passage:
God delights to delight his people v8-15
Today we look at one of the great women of faith in the Old Testament. This lady and her husband live in the village of Shunem, away up in the north of Israel. It was on the road from the capital Samaria to Mt Carmel. Elisha travelled that road often as he visited the various groups of prophets who were dotted around the countryside. And as he travelled the road, this godly woman would invite him in to join with them for a meal. And in the east a meal is not just a meal, but a time of fellowship and conversation. And as time went on, and he kept passing by he was continually invited in. What an encouragement it must have been to find a godly home in a godless nation. Here was an oasis for the man of God and it must have been immensely encouraging.
Here we see the importance of the ministry of hospitality - she doesn't wait to be introduced to Elisha, she introduces herself. And she provides warm friendly hospitality to one of God's people.
Here's an application already. Is your home open to God's ministers or to God's people? Do you make it your habit to entertain fellow Christians? Or is your home, your home?
And the Lord Jesus tells us that when we open up our homes to God's people there will be blessing for us.
Matthew 10:41 Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, & anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward. 42 And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward."
This woman and her husband enjoyed the blessing of God because they entertained Elisha. And the woman consults her husband about making an extension to their home to provide accommodation for Elisha. And they build on a small room, and furnish it for him.
And can you imagine what that home meant to Elisha now? Here he could rest and be ministered to by others. And as he throws himself down on the bed, and relishes God's provision for him, through this great woman of faith, he wonders to himself, "What can I do for this woman to repay her?"
But she isn't in any financial need. Can he put in a good word for her with the king or the army, because after the events of ch3 he has credit with the king and the army. But no, the woman answers, "I have a home among my own people" - meaning, "I have everything I need here.
She has faith, and she has contentment with her lot in life.
But Elisha wants to display his gratitude. And the sharp-eyed Gehazi makes a suggestion. Her husband is old, and they are still childless. In the Middle East barrenness was seen as a sign of God's rebuke. And here is this woman of God, and no doubt she had for years felt this pain in her heart; yet she has learned to live with it.
But Elisha speaks with prophetic authority, and promises to her the thing she most wants, but has never spoken about. She can hardly believe it - Are they mocking her? No, a year later she received her reward, the promised child lay in her arms.
When we read these words we can't help but be reminded of the other times in scripture when God promises a son. Isaac was promised to Sarah in similar circumstances - she too laughed at the thought. Jacob to Rebecca, Joseph to Rachel, Samson, Samuel to Hannah, John the Baptist to Elizabeth, and all these prepared the way for THE miracle child - Jesus promised to Mary.
Yet there is a difference between the Shunemite and each of these. In each God had to bring these children into the world for the preservation or protection of his people, or to further of the plan of salvation. But the Shunemite's son, what role does he play? We don't even know his mother's name, never mind his. And we read nothing much about him. So why did God give him?
Just because. Our God is a God who delights to give gifts to his people. He is a God who gives gifts, not because we are important, or because we will make a useful contribution, but simply because he is that kind of God who loves to give his people gifts for their enjoyment.
There is a sour-faced Christianity that I see in these parts. Christians with dour faces; a joyless miserable Christianity. For them the Shorter Catechism answer is "Mans chief end is to glorify God and look miserable forever." And I wonder if they know the God who delights to give such gifts to his people. Do you?
God's wild and improbable promises are real v16-17
The second thing we learn is that God's wild and improbable promises are real. His word contains promises that seem too good to be true. And we can be tempted to doubt them.
- Jesus promises that although we sinned, he will pay the penalty.
- Jesus promises that our past can be blotted out, and that we can make a new start in the sight of God.
- Jesus promises the power of God can transform us, breaking the power of sinful habits
- Jesus promises that at this moment in time he counts the believer as being as perfectly holy as he is.
- Jesus promises that we can resist temptation and make the devil flee.
- Jesus promises that he will build his church.
- Jesus promises that those who sow seed will not waste their time.
- Jesus promises words to those who will speak in his name
- Jesus promises that after death we shall be like him
- Jesus promises that the weakest believer is capable of great exploits.
- Jesus promises that he will be a God to us and to our children after us.
- Jesus promises that if we give to his work, we will not be able to contain all the blessing he sends
- Jesus promises that men, women and children of every nation tribe and language will sing his praises
- Jesus promises that his word will never return void, but that there will be a harvest of 30, 60 or even 100 times what was sown!
- Jesus promises that we will not be tested beyond what we can bear, but that we will be able to stand up under it.
- Jesus promises that his grace is sufficient for us.
But this shows us that no matter how wild and impossible God's promises may seem that they come true. I love the way the bible records it here in such a matter-of-fact way, "a year late, about the same time, she gave birth to a son."
When God promises us, he means us to give all his words their utmost weight. He will never deceive us by exaggerating.