Many years ago a widow was facing the threat of losing her children. Her husband–a prophet who revered God–died. He left a debt behind. His creditor told her that if she couldn’t pay her husband’s debt he would take her two boys as his slaves.
Have you ever owed money to someone? Have you ever failed to repay what you owe? Unfortunately, many of us have outstanding debts. Did the person you owe threaten to take your children from you if you didn’t pay your debt? That would be horrible! If I had to go to prison because I couldn’t pay my debt, I’d be miserable. But if someone took my children from me to pay my debt, I’d feel desperate! I wouldn’t know how I could live! How would you feel if you were that widow? What could you do to save your children?
This widow cried out to the prophet Elisha telling 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 (2 Kings 4:1).
What did Elisha do? Elisha replied to her, How can I help you? Did Elisha put his hand in his pocket and give the widow some money to pay all or part of her deceased husband’s debt? No. Did the prophet offer to go talk to the widow’s creditor in hopes that he will forgive all or part of the debt? No. Did the prophet tell the widow he will talk to God and the church leaders about her problem and get back to her later? No. Did the prophet call a special church leaders’ meeting to discuss ways of meeting the widow’s need? No. Did the prophet pray with the widow, asking God to intervene and deliver her from her husband’s creditor? No, he didn’t do that either. Elisha asked her another question, What do you have in your house?
If I was that widow I would have felt like an instantly inflated then deflated balloon. My hopes would have been up as soon as Elisha implied he could help me. To me he was saying that he could take care of my problem. But, he didn’t even give me the chance to answer his first question. He immediately asks another—one that demands something of me. How could I possibly have anything if all I have left are two children who will be taken from me because I have nothing else?
No matter how the widow felt, she answered Elisha’s second question with the facts. “Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a little oil” (verse 2c). However, the little oil, which to her was a half-empty container, was a half-full container to Elisha.
He instructed her to collect empty jars from her neighbors. At that point I would have said, “Most honorable Prophet Elisha, aren’t you the one who changed Jericho’s spring water from bad to good? And didn’t you transmit God’s message of victory over Moab to the kings of Israel, Judah and Edom? Can’t you and God just rid me of this creditor by yourselves without getting me and the little that I have involved?”
Fortunately the widow didn’t question Elisha’s strange instructions. By faith she and her sons poured her oil into the jars that she got from her neighbors.
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 4:5-7 NIV).
God himself could have produced jars for the oil just as miraculously as He multiplied the oil, but He didn’t. Why did He bring the widow’s neighbors into this? It shows us that even for a miracle, the widow needed others: her neighbors, her family, and her community. Additionally, only in direct proportion to her positive relationships with her neighbors was she able to pay off the creditor and have something for her and her sons to live on afterwards. It was the jars they gave her that received what she needed. When I have only one jar of a little oil, it’s not worth much. But when I pool my resources with others, that can give us volume that can more easily turn a profit.
The widow’s faith and submission to God and his prophet amaze me. When the oil stopped flowing I would have jumped up and down, shouted “Halleluiah!,” flown open my house’s door, and declared to the entire world that I just witnessed a miracle. I wouldn’t have been able to contain my joy. But the widow controlled her emotions. She went and told the prophet Elisha that the oil stopped flowing. He told her to sell the oil, pay her debt and she and her sons live on what was left.
Did he say, “Sell the oil?” Isn’t that work he’s giving her? The miracle did not free the widow from the responsibility for her husband’s debt or from work. A Baoule (Cote d’Ivoire) proverb says, “When the rabbit has a hernia, he can’t give it to the elephant.” We have to “own” our own problems. So the next time we’re in need of money, whether it’s to pay a creditor or for our daily food, what should we do?
1) Go to God asking Him to show us how to pay our debts and meet our daily needs.
2) Pool our resources and talents with others to generate income.
3) By faith and in humility, work at whatever job God gives us to do.
Let’s honor God by paying our debts. He said, Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another... (Romans 13:8a). And, let’s ask God to continue to perform miracles for us; the kind that give Him all the glory!
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