I had read the story before, but this time it came alive in my mind’s eye. Perhaps I could picture it and feel the emotions so well because I, too, had faced the heartache of infertility and the lonely years of empty arms. There she stood, a woman with no expectations, startled by the prophet’s sudden announcement of a child to come. “Don’t say that! Don’t lie to me!” she cried while hope, light and fragile like a child’s shimmering bubble blew to the surface of her heart.
And why was she chosen to receive such a gift? Simply because she gave.
The book of 1 Kings, chapter 4 records this story. The woman’s name is not given, just a description of her hometown, the wealth she enjoyed with her husband – and one thing more. Her concern and generosity for a servant of God. She saw the prophet Elisha’s need for a place to stop and rest on his many travels, and she prepared a room for his refreshment.
Seeking a way to do something in return, Elisha promised what she herself did not dream to ask: a son. Years later, that son would die and she would bitterly weep at the prophet’s feet. “I didn’t ask you for a son. I said, ‘Don’t raise my hopes.’” In response, Elisha prayed to God and the child was brought to life. What evidence of God’s faithfulness to one who had been faithful!
Warned by Elisha of an impending famine and urged to leave the country, the woman obeyed. Her narrative reappears in 2 Kings 8 when upon her return, she found her land and property seized by others. Her pursuit of justice led her to appeal to the king. Ushered into his presence, she found him in the company of none other than Elisha’s servant who was just then recounting the miracles God had done through Elisha on behalf of this woman. Upon hearing her confirmation that this was true, the king ordered restored all that was rightfully hers – even that which her land had produced in her absence.
It had been seven long years. Seven years of famine. Seven years of exile. Seven years of wondering if she even had a home to which to return. Yet at just the right time, God stepped in on her behalf once again.
As I considered this story, I couldn’t help but think that God truly cares for those who care for His servants. I mentioned in a previous post that as missionaries we are supported by special individuals who are “the unsung heroes of missions.” Perhaps their support comes at great cost, or maybe over time it is simply one more check on the list of monthly expenses. But I believe that in God’s eyes, it is much more.
The story of Elisha and the Shunammite woman is, to me, more than just a story. It is yet another picture of God’s heart – this time, of His heart to those who give.