Introduction: An anonymous widow cried unto the prophet Elisha because her sons are going to be taken away and made bondmen as payment for a debt. If this occurs, then the widow’s prospects are grim. Equally grim is the state of affairs in the divided nation of Israel. King David died and so did King Solomon, but now wicked men rule the nation and now death is everywhere in the land. However, there is hope for the nation, a hope presented in the story of the widow who God delivers through the miraculous pouring of oil from one vessel into many vessels. And the hope is this – place your faith in YHWH who is the deliverer and Lord of life.
Context: The story of 1 & 2 Kings is a prophetic and political story of Israel’s rebellion against YHWH; a story of the transition from holiness/life to sin/death. When godly men rule the land justice is in the land; but when wicked men rule people cannot appeal to a king for justice, rather they have to appeal to the prophets of God, like the anonymous widow does.
The widow’s sons are going to be taken away as payment for a debt by her creditors, but this is not a just avenue. Although the Law did allow temporary servitude for defaulted charity loans to the impoverished (Leviticus 25), Israel was given instructions to care for widows and orphans (Exodus 22). The creditors have the ability to forgive the debt, to be merciful; but instead, they are wicked, like the priests and scribes that devoured homes of widows (Matthew 23:1-14).
Widow Cried Unto Elisha: So, the widows goes to Elisha, she cries out to the prophet of God for help.
Elisha’s Reply: What shall I do for thee? What do you have in your home? He wants to know if she has anything she could sell to pay off the debt. All she has a single vessel of oil, but even though oil is valuable it is not enough to pay off the debt. So, Elisha tells her to go collect empty vessels from her neighbors and to bring them back to her house, and to then, from the secrecy behind her closed door, to begin to pour oil into the empty vessels.
Widow’s Response: The widow obeys to the letter. She gathers pots and begins to pour, and she pours until all of the pots are full. She then returns to the prophet to notify him that she now has many vessels with oil. It is important to note that she does not presume upon the word of the prophet, she does not go out and sell the oil without his instructing her to do so.
Elisha’s Command: Go and sell the oil. You will pay off your debt and there will also be profits left over for you and your sons to live on. Notice that YHWH has not only delivered this widow, but he has also provided retribution in addition to the sons who have been figuratively returned to her, the sons who were going to be stolen from her by her wicked creditors
Application: We need to “wear our theology” – we need to “wear” the story of the widow who cried unto Elisha – have true faith like she did. In her time of need, in the midst of pain (her husband has died) and hardship (sons will be taken away as payment for a debt), she appeals to the prophet of God (ultimately to God!) for justice and deliverance. The widow had true faith, she obeyed the word of the Lord to the letter (she goes out and appears foolish, collecting empty vessels, and returns to her home and begins to pour).
We must have faith like this widow because the Gospel is true. Our circumstances are equally grim; because of sin our circumstances are grim. However, God has provided deliverance to us through the instrument of faith by the grace and atoning work of Jesus Christ. We must take God at his word, like the widow, and trust and obey. So, put on and exercise real faith, just like the anonymous widow who cried unto Elisha.