What is God’s big plan behind blessing us? What do his physical blessings toward us accomplish? Certainly we could say God’s glory is accomplished in his generosity towards us. But what happens when he blesses us that causes his glorification? We are going to consider this question as we study today, “What does God accomplish by showing divine generosity towards people?” We are going to ask this question in light of an account found in 2 Kings 4:8-37 that records God’s blessings in an Israelite woman’s life. But in order to know why this account was preserved, let’s consider why the book of Kings was written. The book of Kings was written to Judah when they were exiles in Babylon to show them the mistakes they made to receive God’s punishment. This will affect how we view the significance of this account.
A Shunammite Woman And Her Son
It was a wicked time in Israel’s history. Israel’s trust was in Baal. The Lord’s prophets were frequently mistreated. But one day as Elisha passed through the northern town of Shunem he met a wealthy woman who invited him to eat in her home. Elisha passed through Shunem regularly and, eventually, eating in her home became a regular practice. But this woman wanted to do more for Elisha. She went to her husband with a request. “Elisha is continually passing our way and I know he is a holy man of God. Let’s build a small room on the roof of our home and furnish it with a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp so he can rest there when he passes through.” And so they built Elisha this room. What great generosity!
Elisha was overwhelmed with gratitude towards this woman. He sent his servant Gehazi to speak to her. “You have gone through all this trouble for us, what can we do for you? Could we speak to the king or the commander of the army on your behalf?” Apparently Elisha’s connections could be used to provide favors. But the woman declined. “I dwell among my own people.”
Elisha wondered aloud, “What then is to be done for her?” Gehazi had an idea. “The woman’s husband is old and she has no son.” Though this woman had great wealth, she was apparently barren. When her husband died in the coming years, she would be alone with no children to care for her and bring her joy. What a sad situation! So Elisha called the Shunammite woman to his room and gave her news that would change her life forever. “About this time next year you will embrace a new son.” She was astounded. “No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to me!” The hope of holding her own baby boy had dissipated long ago. Elisha’s promise changed all that and renewed hope. And Elisha’s word did come true. The Lord blessed her with a baby boy the next spring.
As the years passed, the child grew. One day the child ran to his father who was working in the field with the reapers. He yelled, “Oh, my head, my head!” His father said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” The servant took the boy to his mother and the boy sat in her lap until noon. At noon the boy died. The home previously filled with the joy of youth was suddenly very empty.
The mother acted quickly. She laid the boy on Elisha’s bed and left the house. She called to her husband who was apparently unaware of the boy’s death and asked him to send a donkey and a servant so she could go to Elisha immediately. When the husband asked about her reasoning she replied, “All is well.” She saddled up the donkey and left in haste to go see Elisha at Mount Carmel.
Elisha saw her as she drew near to the mountain and he sent his servant Gehazi to see if all was well with her and the family. When Gehazi came down and inquired about her family she replied, “All is well.” But the instant she reached Elisha she grabbed his feet and cried, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me?'” She needed to explain no further. Elisha knew the boy had died. Elisha immediately sent Gehazi and told him to place his staff on the boy’s face to see if the boy would rise. Though Elisha suggested this solution, the woman was not satisfied. “As the Lord lives I will not leave you.” So Elisha followed her back home.
Gehazi met them with sad news along they way. Laying Elisha’s staff on the boy’s face accomplished nothing. Elisha and the woman continued their journey. When Elisha came to the house he went into the room with the boy and he prayed. Then Elisha stretched out on top of the boy. The boy’s skin became warm. Elisha then walked back in forth in the house once. What an odd scene! But Elisha stretched out on the boy once more. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes. He was alive! When the Shunammite woman saw her boy was alive she fell at Elisha’s feet. Just imagine the tears of joy on her face as she arose and picked up her son once again. The boy that was only born by a miracle lived again through a second gift of God. What a joyous scene!
Let’s ask again the question we asked at the beginning of the lesson: what purpose does God have in blessing this Shunammite woman? What does his divine generosity towards her accomplish? Let’s notice two outcomes of divine generosity.
Divine Generosity: Bringing Joy
The story of the barren woman who miraculously received a child from God is not uncommon in the Old Testament. Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel were all barren but God blessed them with children. Manoah’s wife and Hannah were both barren, but God blessed them with Samson and Samuel. But consider the common thread in each of these examples. God’s blessing in each situation accomplished a national purpose by preserving the nation of Israel. Sarah, Rebekah, and Rachel’s children preserved Abraham’s at risk lineage. Samson and Samuel were born to lead Israel against their enemies. Each of these blessings accomplished national preservation and protection for Israel.
But what was God’s grand purpose in blessing this Shunammite woman with a son and raising him from the dead? God’s glory is not accomplished by pursuing a national purpose in this case. God’s blessing of this Shunammite woman is unique. God simply decides to bless this childless woman with a son and raise him from the dead when he dies. These are significant miracles! Why do this? What does this accomplish? Divine generosity in this instance simple brings joy to this woman’s life. Joy is the first outcome of divine generosity in this account.
This may sound extraordinarily trivial. But calling this purpose trivial only declares that God is above blessing his people simply because he loves them. Notice another example of this in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10. “Jabez was more honorable than his brothers… Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, ‘Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!'” Let’s be clear. Jabez was nobody. He was simply an honorable man like this Shunammite was a generous woman. He asked for more land and for safety so he wouldn’t have pain. Initially we may be drawn to think this is quite selfish. But 1 Chronicles 4:10 ends by saying, “And God granted what he asked.” That is the end of the story.There was no national purpose to be accomplished. God simply decided to generously bless this man as he did with the Shunammite.
This is an opportunity to consider the nature of our God. God is not above generously blessing his people simply because he loves them and desires to bring them joy. Consider how Christ speaks of God’s generosity in Matthew 7:7–11. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” Jesus compares our Father in heaven to fathers on earth. Just as fathers give good gifts to their children, our Father in heaven gives good gifts to his people. This is what he does for the Shunammite woman. She could have lived without a child. But instead God showed her generosity that brought her great joy. But let’s consider, what does her joyful satisfaction with God’s generosity cause?
Divine Generosity: Teaching Trust
We can discover the answer to this question and a second outcome of divine generosity by considering how the narrative continues after she receives this new son. Happiness quickly turned to sadness. In the morning her boy was alive and well, but by noon he was dead. But notice how her joy in God’s generosity caused her to react to her son’s death. What did she do? She immediately sought Elisha the prophet with faith in the Lord’s healing. She did not tell her husband what was wrong. She did not tell Gehazi what was wrong. She repeated to them both, “All is well.” But she went straight to Elisha and told him her complaint. Why did she go to Elisha? We don’t read of other mothers with dead children running to Elisha for healing. She had learned trust from the Lord’s generosity towards her. The Lord’s generosity taught her to go to the Lord for blessings. If the Lord was the one who blessed her with the child, the Lord would be the one she sought when she lost her child. When everything around her crumbled and even death haunted her home, God would be her sustainer. Trust in the Lord is the second outcome of divine generosity in this account.
Why is this significant? Consider the nation of people that surrounded her. The Lord gave significant blessings to Israel in delivering them from Egypt and blessing them with the land of Canaan. Yet where was Israel’s trust? Israel’s trust was in Baal. No matter how much God blessed Israel, they did not learn to trust in his power. Judah and Israel crumbled because they refused to recognize how the Lord was generously blessing them. They crumbled because they refused to learn trust in the Lord.
This story was a smack in the face for the exiles in Babylon. This story exposes the foolishness of their lack of trust in the Lord. Numerous accounts of Israel’s lack of faith surround this account. Ahab throughout 1 Kings, Ahaziah in 2 Kings 1, Jehoram in 2 Kings 5, and many others tell the stories of men who had no trust in the Lord. But this Shunammite woman and Naaman the leper put their faith in the Lord and he responded by raising the dead and curing leprosy. What great compassion and generosity of the Lord! This sends a strong message to the captives in Babylon. This is the God you were unfaithful to, Israel. You and your kings refused to trust in the overwhelmingly generous God who raises the dead and cures lepers. You and your kings refused to trust in the one who gives hope when there is none to be had. How disappointing!
This teaches us that the Lord’s generosity plays a significant role in our lives. How can we pursue God’s purposes for his generosity towards us?
Recognize the Lord’s Generosity
This Shunammite woman would not have run to Elisha with trust in the Lord if she did not first recognize the power of divine generosity in her life. God’s generosity caused this woman to clearly see how God was the bringer of joy and hope for her life. This is so often our mistake. We don’t recognize and worship God for being so generous with us. Instead we fall into the trap Israel fell into. We enter Canaan and our hearts become lifted up and we forget the Lord who gave us the blessings. We must not continue through life with lazy hearts that do not worship the Lord for his generosity. We must stop looking at our actual blessings with so much lust. We must to give God the glory for his generosity and put the focus back on him. Look around and see how he has been generous with you. He has done this to give you joy and to produce worship of him in our hearts and lips. See his generosity. Praise him for his generosity.
Learn Trust from the Lord’s Generosity
Worshipping the Lord for his generosity will put us on the path to learning to trust him because of his generosity. We need to be like this Shunammite who used God’s blessings in her life to teach her trust in God. When Israel entered into Canaan and forgot to give God the glory, they began trusting in their own might and in other gods. I don’t think this is something that has been given enough emphasis in my life in the past. We must not be like Israel who they refused to learn trust in the Lord no matter how much he blessed them. We must not allow ourselves to be condemned to punishment because we didn’t trust in the loving God who blesses barren women with children and raises the dead. Allow the Lord’s generosity to bear fruit in your heart. Let the Lord’s generosity teach you to entrust him with all of life’s battles. Even when illness and death strike we can have faith that God is our sustainer who has the power to raise the dead. Pray for, recognize, and trust God’s divine generosity in your life.