10 November 2011

"We cannot now expect miracles, yet we may expect mercies, if we wait on God, and seek to Him."

Matthew Henry wrote those words in his commentary on the first part of 2 Kings 4. I've been studying my way through 1 and 2 Kings the past few months. Interesting - some stories well known and familiar, the stuff of children's Sunday School songs I've taught my kids to sing. Others? I've wondered how I managed to miss them as I've read through my Bible in the past because they are wild stories, yet I have no recollection of them.

Earlier this week, I was meditating on the miracle of the widow, her two boys, a merciless creditor, God working through a prophet... and almost endless jars and jars of oil. It is a well-known-to-me-from-my-childhood, well-loved, Bible story - maybe because I remember seeing it acted out once in such melodramatic fashion!

A young (I’m assuming, because the Sunday School pictures of her sons always indicate a young family) widow of one of the prophets comes to Elisha in a desperate situation. Her husband died, owing money. She is now being hounded by an unforgiving creditor who, in laying claim to what was owed, planned to take the woman’s two sons & sell them as slaves. She is fraught and distressed for good reason when she seeks out Elisha.

I loved musing through Elisha's response. He asks two questions and then gives her very specific, detailed instructions.  
  1. First, he asks, "What shall I do for you?" I love this clear reminder to the widow, who is probably looking at a great man as her salvation, that the man Elisha can do nothing… Elisha, the servant of the Most High, the conduit of His Word and His Plan, however would do something. She could have hope because with God, no situation, nothing, is impossible. 
  2. His next query: "What do you have?" In this statement, I hear him asking "How has God already provided? Tell me where you already see the evidence of His great grace and unbounded mercy."
  3. Then he instructs her: "Borrow empty vessels from your neighbors..."  What an excellent reminder to this woman that she lives in community. She clearly was surrounded by people who'd not only been commanded to care for widows, but who, (I gather from their response) were very willing to help and encourage if she would but ask. God works mightily through the generosity of His people. The miracle God is about to do will  happen through their tangible love... their charity.
  4. The second part of this first instruction,"[borrow] – a lot of them..." pushes her to get as many jars as people are willing to share. That understood imperative emphasizes an important point: the measure of the miracle will be measured by her hopeful faith.  I think this is where Matthew Henry's quote (that I used to title this post) is so relevant. Sometimes we ask in great faith, expecting a miracle... demanding that God do for us like a magical genie in a bottle. Why do we forget that God's unfathomable mercy and boundless grace are already mighty miracles, and we have unlimited access to them? We simply need to take advantage of that truth.
  5. Fifthly, he tells her: "Take [the jars and her boys] into the house and shut the door." Often, the greatest miracles God performs are the ones no one sees immediately, the amazing works He accomplishes behind the closed doors of a human heart. We long to see visible amazing... and we must frustrate God with our lack of patience as He covertly works His will in willing hearts. I wonder if the woman or her boys were tempted to run out and open the door, calling community to come and see as soon as they realized what was happening? I wonder if the neighbors even dared to imagine the miracle occurring just on the other side of that door... or did they instead gossip and criticize?
  6. "Pour out the oil into the vessels." When Elisha told her to begin pouring, the woman had to realize that what she knew she had could never be enough. Her everything was insufficient. But she had to initiate, to act in faith, stewarding what God has already provided and then trusting Him to continue provision according to His perfect measure.
  7. Next, Elisha directs her to "Set aside that which is full." Elisha tells her to keep track of the way God keeps filling her vessels with His oil, His provision, His power… all to meet her very real need.  
  8. Now, the exciting command: "Sell the oil!" When God provides, don’t just sit and hoard it – use it to meet real needs, fulfill obligations, etc! He gives solutions so problems are solved and so that there is no doubt Who provided and Who receives the glory for the answer.  
  9. Finally, Elisha concludes with the reminder: "Pay your debt." This must have been a clear instruction to the widow to owe no man anything… but to never forget that she owes God everything, especially the privilege to continue parenting her two boys.
This story could have taken such a different turn if, when Elisha asked the widow what she had, she'd chosen grasping tightly to her sob story... blaming her husband, complaining about unfairness, etc., and closing the eyes of her heart to what might... what could, possibly... be.

She didn't.

I want to be like that woman, who even in the midst of tiresome trial... cold-hearted challenge... difficult distress... in bold brokeness she chose to see and then trust God's provision beginning with a scant bit of oil...

Is there a morsel of supply in your today story
where God is asking you to do the same as He asked the widow in this account?

What steps can you begin taking, as you follow her beautiful example?

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