2 Kings 4:1-7 – Using the little will do more than I can imagine!

Romans 8:32 says,  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” 

Slide1I went to the golden arches the other day and got a coffee.  How much change did I receive from my twonie?  Notta! That twonie is history!

That got me thinking, when was the last time you sat down and considered how much it costs you to live each day?  Or at least how much you spend each day?  It is a good exercise for everyone not just Christians.  But for Christians the exercise will also show you what you value most in life.  For where your treasure is spent there your heart is also!

But what if you were given just $2 per day to live on.  Just $2 bucks do you think you could?

(As I spoke this on Sunday at least two people raised their hands and said that they were living on about $2 a day.   The issue is closer than you think.)

I’ve mentioned a book this summer that got me thinking in a new light about what God’s Kitchen does on Tuesdays and Grace the 3rd Sunday each month.

Slide2Last year as some of you will remember the book that shook up the way I viewed poverty and relief was called Toxic Charity.  That book spoke on how sometimes we exasperate the poverty people are experiencing…perhaps even making it worse for them by giving without accountability, or planning for a way for people to learn to provide or work for themselves.

Simply said, if we make it too easy for someone not to work because their needs are provided through charity alone we’ve done them a great injustice.  That sort of giving can become a narcotic and the recipient an addict, and when it does its toxic charity.

The Bible clearly says, “If a person will not work they shall not eat” (2 Thes. 3:10).

Yet after reading that book and examining some of the solutions it gave I was left with questions unanswered.  What if they want to work but the economy doesn’t have a slot for them? What if there are zero jobs and 1000 applicants for the first one that comes along?  OR what if they are too old or frail, or injured to work even menial labour?  What should you do with such people then?  Should they go away and die?  Do we just ignore their plight and hope it will improve by itself simply because giving to such people may become toxic charity?  To be fair, the book did differentiate between those disabled and unable to work but even able bodied people may find times when there is no work, what then?

This summer’s book kind of spoke to the other side of the equation, welfare reform. What if welfare gives only to those who are working or gainfully employed but are still not making ends meet? Like the tax credits the government gives out?  To be sure it gives the working poor a hand up out of abject poverty. But again what about those who cannot find work, or are no longer employable for legitimate reasons?

This year’s book purports to give the cold hard facts of a welfare system that has left people in crisis without food, shelter or basic necessities of life.  Those who are so poor that they are forced to live on less than $2 a day in America.  Some just south of Penticton less than one hour from where I stand fall into this category.  Such a system of welfare ignores and exasperates those who are without any hope of finding their way out of such a crisis.

These people are not “the ignorant masses” as some ignorant people have labeled them.  I hate that label!  The $2 a day people are not just those who dropped out of school or chose a lifestyle of drugs or other addictions either.  Though some without a doubt have made poor choices and been left in these dire straits as a consequence.   But this book, called, $2 a day: Living on almost nothing in America has shown that many were hard working individuals who have ended up in extreme poverty simply because of changes in the economy where they live.

Slide3Some of these folks had very good paying jobs,  and had the things of life that we would all consider necessities.  They may have once had cars, and houses, bank accounts and toys to play with too!  They didn’t want to be on the streets they wanted to continue to work!  But when crisis struck they exhausted their resources and then as their crisis deepened they continued to look and wait for work of any kind to keep them afloat.

As the crisis deepened they lost their houses and soon enough they found that even help from friends and family waned and so they found themselves out on the streets trying to survive on less than $2 a day.   You gotta read some of their stories!

These are not people who are eager to sit on their hands and collect welfare. Most of these people would love to earn even a meager enough living to afford a place to raise their kids.  But crisis stuck and they have slipped through the safety net and with the changes in the welfare system they spiraled farther down than was ever predicted.   $2 a day and in debt up to their eyeballs!      DEBT! It’s a sure way to end up on the streets!

Slide4Are you gathering debt? What would happen if you died tomorrow with the debt you have accumulated?

I read somewhere about a person who thought that he should spend every penny and borrow as much as possible before he died.  He was even hoping that the check to the undertaker would bounce.   As it turned out he didn’t die nearly soon enough and all that debt caught up to him and now he has no fixed address.   At least the bills can’t catch up or can they?

What happens if you die with debt…who’s going to be responsible for that?   Does it pass on to your spouse or your kids?   This question came to me one afternoon as I prepared for today’s Bible Lesson from 2 Kings 4.

Do the debts of the parents really pass on to their children?  As I studied this passage more I wondered does God care if we leave our families in debt when we die?  Will they end up on the streets having to live on $2 a day?  And what about those straddled with such debt?   Does God hear the prayers of those who are left behind struggling under such a load?  Or do they just have to suffer with the consequences of those who left for them that sorry estate?

Let’s read through today’s passage in Scripture and see how God not only cared but He provided for a widow in ways that seem almost too marvelous to hear and hope for.  2 Kings 4:1-7

  1  The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the LORD. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.”
2  Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?” “Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a little oil.”  3  Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few.  4  Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.” 5  She left him and afterward shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. 6  When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.” But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing. 7  She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.”
(2 Kings 4:1-7 (NIV)

Dire straits and crisis induced poverty is not new to our time.  It has been around as far back as recorded HIStory.  The truth is it began the moment Adam bit the forbidden fruit.  From then on he and his family were found wanting and in their poverty they were ejected from the garden.  Sin had corrupted everything.  Poverty was a natural outcome.

Slide6Two thousand years ago Jesus Christ said: “You will always have the poor among you…” (John 12:8).  So far he’s been 100% accurate with that prophetic statement.  Poverty is not new so we need not be alarmists nor feel like the world is spiraling out of God’s control.

God always has made a way for those in need.  Unfortunately, most of the time, mankind, and our greed in particular, has done its best to pervert God’s provision, derailing it from those in need.  But that doesn’t stop Him from coming up with new and clearly marvelous ways to provide.   Even as we see in this passage of the Bible.

As we look at these verses we need to first ask a couple of questions.  1. Is the passage prescriptive or descriptive?  Does it set out a series of steps that when followed leads to a sure end or does it tell of an event that leads us to a lasting principle?

Is it prescriptive?  Do this and that will be the result.  Or descriptive?  Look how it worked in this situation, see how it God cared for them and know that you too are precious in His sight.     What do you think?  is this passage prescriptive or descriptive?

I would say it is descriptive. It speaks of an event that happened in the past.

Next we need to ask was this a real event that happen to real people or is it an allegory or metaphor for a principle that still holds true but is not actually based upon real people, places or things?  Does it tell a story that is simply meant to inspire us?   You know like the good Samaritan that Jesus spoke about.   That was a story not based upon real events but made up to help people to understand a greater principle.

Whereas, this passage actually describes an event in HIStory.  An event that happened to the wife of Obadiah according to Jewish historians.  Though she is not mentioned specifically here in the Bible.  All the narrative gives for her lineage is the fact that she was married to a prophet.  And apparently her husband was known to Elisha a more famous prophet Biblically speaking.

Slide7As Elisha was traveling through the area this wife of a prophet called out to him.  “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the LORD. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.” (1)

Did you know that it was actually permissible in those days according to the Laws of Moses for someone to be enslaved for their debts.

The truth is you are always enslaved when in debt (cf. Proverbs 22:7).  Borrowing always enslaves you to the lender.  If you have a debt and do not pay it back, there are consequences.  The least of which is you will be dragged before the courts.  But in those days the debtor who is unable to pay back what was owed would have to work off the debt until it was paid in full or for seven years.  Whichever came first.  If the debtor died his household still had to pay back the debt.  So it is not unusual that the creditor was coming to enslave the kids.

In that barbaric time the wife and the children were seen as the debtor’s property.  So the debtor, even if he didn’t die, could give his children or wife to pay off his debt.

That’s why Elisha doesn’t simply rush in to help by pouring out his own resources to alleviate her poverty.   He may have had the means to do so.  But clearly Elisha felt that response was not what God wanted at this time. Elisha shows us the compassion that he has by not walking onward ignoring her cries and by wanting to help her work through her issue.

So we find Elisha asking how he could help her to help herself out of this dilemma.   He basically asked what does she have that can be used to alleviate her problem?

I suspect, at first the woman may have been a bit taken back.  After-all, if she had what the landlord was asking she likely wouldn’t have bothered asking Elisha for help.   It takes humility to even admit that there is a problem never mind ask for help.

She answers Elisha, “Your servant has nothing there at all,” … “except a little oil.” (2)   She had nothingexcept.  Isn’t that interesting how she replied?

Slide8 I was watching a homeless couple on main street who had a sign that said,  “traveling and have nothing, please help”.  Same couple was later seen in Starbucks playing on an IPhone sipping on a latte.   Apparently they got something or they lied about having nothing.  And as this happened on more than one occasion I would venture to say they were not being as honest as the prophet’s wife in 2 Kings 4, were they?  But this prophet’s wife knew better than to lie to the “man of God”.

That title simply meant Elisha was “a servant of God” or one who was known to be “a prophet of God”.   Either way she knew it was best to include what she had even if it wasn’t much.

“Nothing except a little oil”.

Apparently, “a little oil” was something Elisha could work with.  You see, God can take the little we have and increase it many fold if we learn to trust Him.  So Elisha says OK I will help you to help yourself out of this crisis.  Here is what you need to do.   “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jarsDon’t ask for just a few. 4  Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.” (2 Kings 4:3-4 (NIV).  

You can just about hear her inner response can’t you?  Right! Empty jars, why didn’t I think of that!  That seems totally reasonable.  I did say a LITTLE oil didn’t I?”

What Elisha was asking would take both faith and obedience.  If she truly wanted to save her kids from the creditors she needed to actually work out her faith with fear and trembling.  This would be no free ride.  No toxic charity from Elisha.  She would have to work for it.  He said,  Go and don’t just ask for a few!  Slide9

She would have to go to the people around her and lean upon them for more mercy.  Remember she didn’t have anything to trade for the empty jars.  The oil would come later.  Nor could she promise them anything in return, because she had no idea if this scheme was going to work out.  She would just have to take the Prophet at his word and trust that her neighbors would be willing to part with their empties.

(I don’t think they could take them back for deposit in those days.  But still it would take humility on her part, mercy on theirs.)   Having been married to a prophet likely gave her a bit of a head start …at least faith wise.  She knew her husband spoke for God and likely trusted that Elisha was also doing so.

So she and her children went to work.  And they did as she was told.  And when the last vessel collected was filled she went back for more instructions because all Elisha had said up to that point was to fill them.   Elisha was pleased to provide the next step in this journey to financial freedom for her family. Slide10

“Elisha said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left” (7).  Notice the order there?  Why had she come to him in the first place?  Was it not because she was in debt and unable to pay?

What was her first responsibility with her new found fortune?  Was she to get herself that new donkey she’d been eyeing down the road?  Or perhaps that lovely knew shawl the neighbour was selling?  How about some new sandals?  After all, running around collecting bottles and then delivering full ones must have wore out her shoes.    I know, maybe she should pay just enough of the debt to get the creditor off her back for this month?  Then take the kids on a vacation.   NO!  Elisha was very clear.

“Elisha said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left” (7).

She was given enough to pay all her debts and even more.  When her debts were relieved she could live on what was left over.  She and her sons could live on the leftovers.

WOW! That was either a lot of oil or only a little debt.  But since it was going to cost her both sons we know it was more than a little debt.  And God multiplied the little they had when they applied faith with obedience to his word.

You see Elisha wasn’t going to forget about what she owed the landlord.   That debt was no trivial matter!   The landlord needed the rent as much as they needed a roof over their head.  It would not be right to take advantage of the landlord even if they were in dire straits with debt up to their ears.  “Go, sell the oil,  pay your debts …” God honored her obedience and faith and she was no longer in dire straits and neither were her children nor was the landlord.   It was righteous all around!

The principle for today’s lesson as I see it is this:

God can take what you have and help you to have what you need if you choose in faith to obey what He says.

It won’t be easy and as we have seen it always takes work.  There is no free ride here.  But in the end you will be better off for having done even the little you can with the little you have.  She paid her debts and her sons grew up knowing what that God’s mercy and compassion brings about righteousness and peace.

Reminds me of a song my friend Len & I used to sing, “He paid a debt He did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay, I needed someone to wash my sins away, but now I sing a brand new song amazing Grace all day long, Christ Jesus paid the debt when he died on Calvary.” (author Krum or Thomas?) 


You can watch the whole celebration service and my message here:

Let’s look at HIStory some more:  

  1. How are you doing financially? What is your debt ratio? Or is that too personal a question to ask?
  2. Have you experienced a time when you were anxious about food, clothing and shelter? What was that like?
  3. How do faith and obedience to God’s word help when there is no food in the pantry and no place to stay?
  4. Read today’s passage in several versions if possible: 2 Kings 4:1-7

  5. What happened to cause a crisis to the people in verse 2 Kings 4:1 ?
  6. What do we know about the woman and her family? (1)
  7. What did she ask of Elisha? And how did he respond? (1-2)
  8. Did God need her oil? Why did she need to use it?
  9. What did she have in the house? (2) How is this significant?
  10.   What three things did Elisha tell her to do? (3-4) Why? (1 Kings 17:10-16 see also John 2:7-9; Matthew 15:32-38; Acts 3:6)
  1. What happened when she obeyed Elisha? (5-6) (James 2:5; John 16:24; Eph. 3:20; Prov. 16:8)
  2. What did she do when all the vessels were full? (6-7).
  3. What three things did Elisha tell her to do with the oil? (7) (see also Prov. 15:16).
  4. When someone asks you for help, what can you learn from Elisha?
  5. Who has offered to relieve us of our greatest debts? What of ours will He use to bring that about?
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