Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
4 Kings (2 Kings) 4:1
From 2 Kings 4 through 2 Kings 8:6 there follows a series of miracles on the part of Elisha, which both proved this prophet to be the continuer of the work which Elijah had begun, of converting Israel from the service of Baal to the service of the living God, and also manifested the beneficent fruits of the zeal of Elijah for the honour of the Lord of Sabaoth in the midst of the idolatrous generation of his time, partly in the view which we obtain from several of these accounts of the continuance and prosperity of the schools of the prophets, and partly in the attitude of Elisha towards the godly in the land as well as towards Joram the king, the son of the idolatrous Ahab, and in the extension of his fame beyond the limits of Israel. (See the remarks on the labours of both prophets at pp. 161ff., and those on the schools of the prophets at Sa1 19:24.), - All the miracles described in this section belong to the reign of Joram king of Israel. They are not all related, however, in chronological order, but the chronology is frequently disregarded for the purpose of groping together events which are homogeneous in their nature. This is evident, not only from the fact that (a) several of these accounts are attached quite loosely to one another without any particle to indicate sequence (vid., Kg2 4:1, Kg2 4:38, Kg2 4:42; Kg2 5:1; Kg2 6:8, and Kg2 8:1), and (b) we have first of all those miracles which were performed for the good of the scholars of the prophets and of particular private persons (2 Kings 4-6:7), and then such works of the prophet as bore more upon the political circumstances of the nation, and of the king as the leader of the nation (2 Kings 6:8-7:20), but also from the circumstance that in the case of some of these facts you cannot fail to perceive that their position is regulated by their substantial relation to what precedes or what follows, without any regard to the time at which they occurred. Thus, for example, the occurrence described in Kg2 8:1-6, which should undoubtedly stand before 2 Kings 5 so far as the chronology is concerned, is placed at the end of the miracles which Elisha wrought for king Joram, simply because it exhibits in the clearest manner the salutary fruit of what he had done. And so, again, the account of Naaman the leper is placed in 2 Kings 5, although its proper position would be after Kg2 6:7, because it closes the series of miracles performed for and upon private persons, and the miracle was wrought upon a foreigner, so that the fame of the prophet had already penetrated into a foreign country; whereas in order of time it should either stand between Kg2 6:23 and Kg2 6:24 of the sixth chapter (because the incursions of the flying parties of Syrians, to which 2 Kings 6:8-23 refers, had already taken place), or not till after the close of 2 Kings 7. On the other hand, the partial separation of the miracles performed for the schools of the prophets (Kg2 4:1-7, Kg2 4:38-44, and Kg2 6:1-7) can only be explained on chronological grounds; and this is favoured by the circumstance that the events inserted between are attached by a Vav consec., which does indicate the order of sequence (Kg2 5:8. and Kg2 6:1.). Regarded as a whole, however, the section 2 Kings 4:1-8:6, which was no doubt taken from a prophetical monograph and inserted into the annals of the kings, is in its true chronological place, since the account in 2 Kings 3 belongs to the earlier period of the history, and the events narrated from Kg2 8:7 onwards to the later period.
The Widow's Cruse of Oil. - A poor widow of the scholars of the prophets complained to Elisha of her distress, namely, that a creditor was about to take her two sons as servants (slaves). The Mosaic law gave a creditor the right to claim the person and children of a debtor who was unable to pay, and they were obliged to serve him as slaves till the year of jubilee, when they were once more set free (Lev 25:39-40). When the prophet learned, on inquiry that she had nothing in her house but a small flask of oil (אסוּך, from סוּך, means an anointing flask, a small vessel for the oil necessary for anointing the body), he told her to beg of all her neighbours empty vessels, not a few (אל־תּמעיטי, make not few, sc. to beg), and then to shut herself in with her sons, and to pour from her flask of oil into all these vessels till they were full, and then to sell this oil and pay her debt with the money, and use the rest for the maintenance of herself and her children. She was to close the house-door, that she might not be disturbed in her occupation by other people, and also generally to avoid all needless observation while the miracle was being performed. תּסּיאי המּלא, let that which is filled be put on one side, namely by the sons, who handed her the vessels, according to Kg2 4:5 and Kg2 4:6, so that she was able to pour without intermission. The form מיצקת is a participle Piel, and is quite appropriate as an emphatic form; the Keri השּׁקת (Hiphil) is an unnecessary alteration, especially as the Hiphil of יצק is הצּיּק. השׁמן ויּעמד, then the oil stood, i.e., it ceased to flow. The asyndeton בניך ואתּ is very harsh, and the Vav copul. has probably dropped out. With the alteration proposed by L. de Dieu, viz., of ואתּ into ואת, "live with thy sons," the verb תּחיי would necessarily stand first (Thenius).
4 Kings (2 Kings) 4:8
The Shunammite and her Son. - Kg2 4:8. When Elisha was going one day (lit., the day, i.e., at that time, then) to Shunem (Solam, at the south-western foot of the Lesser Hermon; see at Kg1 1:3), a wealthy woman (גּדולה as in Sa1 25:2, etc.) constrained him to eat at her house; whereupon, as often as he passed by that place in his subsequent journeys from Carmel to Jezreel and back, he was accustomed to call upon her (סוּר as in Gen 19:2).
The woman then asked her husband to build a small upper chamber for this holy man of God, and to furnish it with the necessary articles of furniture (viz., bed, table, seat, and lamp), that he might always turn in at their house. עליּת־קיר is either a walled upper chamber, i.e., one built with brick and not with wooden walls (Cler., Then.), or an upper chamber built upon the wall of the house (Ges.).
After some time, when Elisha had spent the night in the chamber provided for him, he wanted to make some acknowledgment to his hostess for the love which she had shown him, and told his servant Gehazi to call her, and say to her: "Thou hast taken all this care for us, what shall I do to thee? Hast thou (anything) to say to the king or the chief captain?" i.e., hast thou any wish that I could convey to them, and intercede for thee? There is something striking here in the fact that Elisha did not address the woman himself, as she was standing before him, but told her servant to announce to her his willingness to make some return for what she had done. This was, probably, simply from a regard to the great awe which she had of the "holy man of God" (Kg2 4:9), and to inspire her with courage to give expression to the wishes of her heart.
(Note: The conjecture that Elisha would not speak to her directly for the sake of maintaining his dignity, or that the historian looked upon such conversation with women as unbecoming in a teacher of the law (Thenius), is already proved to be untenable by Kg2 4:15, Kg2 4:16, where Elisha does speak to her directly.)
She answered: "I dwell among my people," i.e., not, I merely belong to the people (Thenius), but, I live quietly and peaceably among my countrymen, so that I have no need for any intercession with the king and great men of the kingdom. Ἀπραγμοσύνῃ χαίρω καὶ εἰρηνικῶς διάγω καὶ πρός τινα ἀμφισβήτησιν ούκ ἀνέχομαι (Theodoret).
When Elisha conversed with Gehazi still further on the matter, the latter said: "But she has no son, and her husband is old." Elisha then had her called again, and told her when she had entered the door: "At this time a year hence (חיּה כּעת, lit., at the time when it revives again; see at Gen 18:10) thou wilt embrace a son." The same favour was to be granted to the Shunammite as that which Sarah had received in her old age, that she might learn that the God of Abraham still ruled in and for Israel. She replied: "No, my lord, thou man of God," אל־תּכזּב, I do not excite in thy servant any deceptive hopes.
But however incredible this promise might appear to her, as it had formerly done to Sarah (Gen 18:12-13), it was fulfilled at the appointed time (cf. Gen 21:2).
But even the faith of the pious woman was soon to be put to the test, and to be confirmed by a still more glorious revelation of the omnipotence of the Lord, who works through the medium of His prophets. When the child presented to her by God had grown up into a lad, he complained one day to the reapers of the field of a violent headache, saying to his father, "My head, my head!" He was then taken home to his mother, and died at noon upon her knees, no doubt from inflammation of the brain produced by a sunstroke.
The mother took the dead child at once up to the chamber built for Elisha, laid it upon the bed of the man of God, and shut the door behind her; she then asked her husband, without telling him of the death of the boy, to send a young man with a she-ass, that she might ride as quickly as possible to the man of God; and when her husband asked her, "Wherefore wilt thou go to him to-day, since it is neither new moon nor Sabbath?"
(Note: From these words, Theod., Kimchi, C. a Lap., Vatabl., and others have drawn the correct conclusion, that the pious in Israel were accustomed to meet together at the prophets' houses for worship and edification, on those days which were appointed in the law (Lev 23:3; Num 28:11.) for the worship of God; and from this Hertz and Hengstenberg have still further inferred, that in the kingdom of the ten tribes not only were the Sabbath and new moons kept, as is evident from Amo 8:5 also, but the prophets supplied the pious in that kingdom with a substitute for the missing Levitical priesthood.)
she replied, shalom; i.e., either "it is all well," or "never mind." For this word, which is used in reply to a question after one's health (see Kg2 4:26), is apparently also used, as Clericus has correctly observed, when the object is to avoid giving a definite answer to any one, and yet at the same time to satisfy him.
She then rode without stopping, upon the animal driven by the young man, to Elisha at mount Carmel. לרכּב אל־תּעצר־לי, literally, do not hinder me from riding.
When the prophet saw her מנּגד (from the opposite), that is to say, saw her coming in the distance, and recognised her as the Shunammite, he sent Gehazi to meet her, to ask her about her own health and that of her husband and child. She answered, shalom, i.e., well, that she might not be detained by any further discussion, and came to the prophet and embraced his feet, to pray for the help of the "holy man of God." Gehazi wanted to thrust her away, "because it seemed to him an immodest importunity to wish to urge the prophet in such a way as this, and as it were to compel him" (Seb. Schm.); but the prophet said, "Let her alone, for her soul is troubled, and Jehovah has hidden it from me and has not told me."
(Note: All that we can infer from these last words with regard to the nature of prophecy, is that the donum propheticum did not involve a supernatural revelation of every event.)
The pious woman then uttered this complaint to the prophet: "Did I ask a son of the Lord? Did I not say, Do not deceive me?" What had happened to her she did not say, - a fact which may easily be explained on psychological grounds from her deep sorrow, - but Elisha could not fail to discover it from what she said.
He therefore directed his servant Gehazi: "Gird thy loins and take thy staff in thy hand and go: if thou meet any one, thou wilt not salute him; and if any one salute thee, thou wilt not answer him; and lay my staff upon the face of the boy." The object of this command neither to salute nor to return salutations by the way, was not merely to ensure the greatest haste (Thenius and many others), inasmuch as the people of the East lose a great deal of time in prolonged salutations (Niebuhr, Beschr. v. Arab. p. 48),
(Note: Or, as C. a Lap. supposes: "that Gehazi might avoid all distraction of either eyes or ears, and prepare himself entirely by prayers for the accomplishment of so great a miracle." Theodoret explains it in a similar manner: "He knew that he was vainglorious and fond of praise, and that he would be sure to tell the reason of his journey to those who should meet him by the way. And vainglory is a hindrance to thaumaturgy.")
but the prophet wished thereby to preclude at the very outset the possibility of attributing the failure of Gehazi's attempt to awaken the child to any external or accidental circumstance of this kind. For since it is inconceivable that the prophet should have adopted a wrong method, that is to say, should have sent Gehazi with the hope that he would restore the dead boy to life, his only intention in sending the servant must have been to give to the Shunammite and her family, and possibly also to Gehazi himself, a practical proof that the power to work miracles was not connected in any magical way with his person or his staff, but that miracles as works of divine omnipotence could only be wrought through faith and prayer; not indeed with the secondary intention of showing that he alone could work miracles, and so of increasing his own importance (Kster), but to purify the faith of the godly from erroneous ideas, and elevate them from superstitious reliance upon his own human person to true reliance upon the Lord God.
The mother of the boy does not appear, indeed, to have anticipated any result from the measures adopted by Elisha; for she swears most solemnly that she will not leave him. But the question arises, whether this urging of the prophet to come himself and help arose from doubt as to the result of Gehazi's mission, or whether it was not rather an involuntary utterance of her excessive grief, and of the warmest wish of her maternal heart to see her beloved child recalled to life. We may probably infer the latter from the fulfilment of her request by Elisha.
Gehazi did as he was commanded, but the dead child did not come to life again; the prophet's staff worked no miracle. "There was no sound and no attention," i.e., the dead one gave no sign of life. This is the meaning of קשׁב ואין קול אין both here and Kg1 18:29, where it is used of dead idols. The attempt of Gehazi to awaken the child was unsuccessful, not propter fidem ipsi a muliere non adhibitam (Seb. Schm.), nor because of the vainglory of Gehazi himself, but simply to promote in the godly of Israel true faith in the Lord.
Elisha then entered the house, where the boy was lying dead upon his bed, and shut the door behind them both (i.e., himself and the dead child), and prayed to the Lord. He then lay down upon the boy, so that his mouth, his eyes, and his hands lay upon the mouth, eyes, and hands of the child, bowing down over him (גּהר; see at Kg1 18:42); and the flesh (the body) of the child became warm. He then turned round, i.e., turned away from the boy, went once up and down in the room, and bowed himself over him again; whereupon the boy sneezed seven times, and then opened his eyes. This raising of the dead boy to life does indeed resemble the raising of the dead by Elijah (Kg1 17:20.); but it differs so obviously in the manner in which it was effected, that we may see at once from this that Elisha did not possess the double measure of the spirit of Elijah. It is true that Elijah stretched himself three times upon the dead child, but at his prayer the dead returned immediately to life, whereas in the case of Elisha the restoration to life was a gradual thing.
(Note: The raising of the dead by Elijah and Elisha, especially by the latter, has been explained by many persons as being merely a revivification by magnetic manipulations or by the force of animal magnetism (even Passavant and Ennemoser adopt this view). But no dead person was ever raised to life by animal magnetism; and the assumption that the two boys were only apparently dead is at variance with the distinct words of the text, in addition to which, both Elisha and Elijah accomplished the miracle through their prayer, as is stated as clearly as possible both here (Kg2 4:33) and also at Kg1 17:21-22.)
And they both differ essentially from the raising of the dead by Christ, who recalled the dead to life by one word of His omnipotence (Mar 5:39-42; Luk 7:13-15; Joh 11:43-44), a sign that He was the only-begotten Son of God, to whom the Father gave to have life in Himself, even as the Father has life in Himself (Joh 5:25.), in whose name the Apostle Peter also was able through prayer to recall the dead Tabitha to life, whereas Elisha and Elijah had only to prophesy by word and deed of the future revelation of the glory of God.
After the restoration of the boy to life, Elisha had his mother called and gave her back her son, for which she fell at his feet with thanksgiving.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 4:38
Elisha Makes Uneatable Food Wholesome. - Kg2 4:38. When Elisha had returned to Gilgal, the seat of a school of the prophets (see at Kg2 2:1), i.e., had come thither once more on his yearly circuit, during the famine which prevailed in the land (see at Kg2 8:1), and the prophets' scholars sat before him (the teacher and master), he directed his servant (i.e., probably not Gehazi, but the pupil who waited upon him) to put the large pot to the fire and boil a dish for the pupils of the prophets. שׁפט answers to the German beisetzen, which is used for placing a vessel upon the fire (cf. Eze 24:3).
One (of these pupils) then went to the field to gather vegetables (ארת, olera: for the different explanations of this word see Celsii Hierobot. i. 459ff., and Ges. Thes. p. 56), and found שׂדה גּפן, i.e., not wild vines, but wild creepers (Luther), field-creepers resembling vines; and having gathered his lap full of wild cucumbers, took them home and cut them into the vegetable pot. because they did not know them. פּקּעת is rendered in the ancient versions colocynths (lxx πολυπὴ ἀγρία, i.e., according to Suid., Colocynthis), whereas Gesenius (Thes. p. 1122), Winer, and others, follow Celsius (l.c. i. 393ff.), have decided in favour of wild cucumbers, a fruit resembling an acorn, or, according to Oken, a green fleshy fruit of almost a finger's length and an inch thick, which crack with a loud noise, when quite ripe, and very gentle pressure, spirting out both juice and seeds, and have a very bitter taste. The reason for this decision is, that the peculiarity mentioned answers to the etymon פּקע, to split, in Syr. and Chald. to crack. Nevertheless the rendering given by the old translators is apparently the more correct of the two; for the colocynths also belong to the genus of the cucumbers, creep upon the ground, and are a round yellow fruit of the size of a large orange, and moreover are extremely bitter, producing colic, and affecting the nerves. The form of this fruit is far more suitable for oval architectural ornaments (פּקעים, Kg1 6:18; Kg1 7:24) than that of the wild cucumber.
The extremely bitter flavour of the fruit so alarmed the pupils of the prophets when they began to eat of the dish, that they cried out, "Death in the pot," and therefore thought the fruit was poison. If eaten in any large quantity, colocynths might really produce death: vid., Dioscorid. iv. 175 (178).
Elisha then had some meal brought and poured it into the pot, after which the people were able to eat of the dish, and there was no longer anything injurious in the pot. וּקחוּ, then take, וּ denoting sequence in thought (vid., Ewald, 348, a.). The meal might somewhat modify the bitterness and injurious qualities of the vegetable, but could not take them entirely away; the author of the Exegetical Handbook therefore endeavours to get rid of the miracle, by observing that Elisha may have added something else. The meal, the most wholesome food of man, was only the earthly substratum for the working of the Spirit, which proceeded from Elisha, and made the noxious food perfectly wholesome.
4 Kings (2 Kings) 4:42
Feeding of a Hundred Pupils of the Prophets with Twenty Barley Loaves. - A man of Baal-Shalisha (a place in the land of Shalisha, the country to the west of Gilgal, Jiljilia; see at Sa1 9:4) brought the prophet as first-fruits twenty barley loaves and כּרמל = כּרמל גּרשׂ, i.e., roasted ears of corn (see the Comm. on Lev 2:14), in his sack (צקלון, ἁπ. λεγ., sack or pocket). Elisha ordered this present to be given to the people, i.e., to the pupils of the prophets who dwelt in one common home, for them to eat; and when his servant made this objection: "How shall I set this (this little) before a hundred men?" he repeated his command, "Give it to the people, that they may eat; for thus hath the Lord spoken: They will eat and leave" (והותר אכול, infin. absol.; see Ewald, 328, a.); which actually was the case. That twenty barley loaves and a portion of roasted grains of corn were not a sufficient quantity to satisfy a hundred men, is evident from the fact that one man was able to carry the whole of this gift in a sack, and still more so from the remark of the servant, which shows that there was no proportion between the whole of this quantity and the food required by a hundred persons. In this respect the food, which was so blessed by the word of the Lord that a hundred men were satisfied by so small a quantity and left some over, forms a type of the miraculous feeding of the people by Christ (Mat 14:16., Kg2 15:36-37; Joh 6:11-12); though there was this distinction between them, that the prophet Elisha did not produce the miraculous increase of the food, but merely predicted it. The object, therefore, in communicating this account is not to relate another miracle of Elisha, but to show how the Lord cared for His servants, and assigned to them that which had been appropriated in the law to the Levitical priests, who were to receive, according to Deu 18:4-5, and Num 18:13, the first-fruits of corn, new wine, and oil. This account therefore furnishes fresh evidence that the godly men in Israel did not regard the worship introduced by Jeroboam (his state-church) as legitimate worship, but sought and found in the schools of the prophets a substitute for the lawful worship of God (vid., Hengstenberg, Beitrr. ii. S. 136f.).