What Shall I Do For You? 2 Kings 4:1-7

2 Kings  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
0 ratings

What Shall I Do For You?

Today’s text begins in a place that so many of us can envision, because it’s a place that we have visited ourselves. The story begins in a place of heartache and helplessness. The distance in geography doesn’t really matter, the distance in history doesn’t matter - If you have ever found yourself in a place where you have come to the end of your resources, knowing full well that it isn’t enough to provide for tomorrow … if you look ahead at the future and do not agree with Lil’ Orphan Annie’s optimisim that ‘the sun will come up tomorrow’ … because all you can see is black - if you have struggled with doubts: “How could a good and loving God allow … THIS” … then this portion of God’s Inspired Word is particularly for you.
This particular story begins with a woman’s cry. Examine her face, you can make out the growing lines of grief and worry that have come to increasingly mark her face. Her husband is gone. Her companion and lover, the father of her children … the provider who gave her a sense of security that tomorrow’s needs would be taken care of .... somehow, though they didn’t have much - somehow tomorrow’s needs would be provided for - because her husband would make sure of it.
Her husband was one of the seven thousand in Israel who the LORD promised Elijah, had not bowed the knee to Baal. He was a faithful man of God - and since he was so faithful, in the political climate of Israel during the reign of Ahab’s family - this man had surely tasted wave after wave of persecution from wicked Queeen Jezebel. Most likely, there were times when he had to leave his family and go into hiding. Remember Obadiah, from 1 Kings 18, who hid hundreds of prophets in caves - to keep them out of the queen’s clutches - and supplied them with food and water? Well, this prophet was probably one of them. In fact some people think that this may have been Obadiah himself. We can’t be sure. What we can be sure of, is that ....
... now he’s dead. Buried in the stone tomb with family that had gone before him - and he has left behind a widow with their two children. The woman looks through the window of the home to see the boys playing … competing in playful ways that all boys do, as they try to act grown up … revealing how much they still fit in the class of ‘child’. The already grieving widow sees the children and knows the situation for them is dire.
The debts have been piling up. Apparently, the woman’s husband didn’t leave much of an inheritance behind and what little he did leave, was quickly used up. The bills keep coming, the boys keep eating and now the creditors keep knocking on her door. She has no money to pay them and the debts are about to sink her.
People falling deep into debt isn’t unusual in Israel or anywhere else in the ANE. And when the bills are out of control and you have no way to pay the money back, the one solution left, is to become a debt-slave to the person looking to be repayed. In fact, today is the day that the creditor is coming for the children.
Now that this woman is a widow - her 2 boys are her only means of support. More than that - they are all she has left in this world. But with the amount she owes, her sons are going to be carried off into debt-slavery, to work for someone else, to pay off what is owed. Can you imagine .... your kids enslaved for a debt they didn’t incur - but you as their parent did?
According to OT law, this kind of slavery is allowed, for 6 years. On the seventh year, the slaves are to be set free. But by that time, the sons will be grown. How will the woman survive for that long - when her children are gone from her.
Sleepless night turns to exhausting day to sleepless night. As she lies awake on her bed in the dark - she racks her brain for any other solution … but there is none.
On this day, she has heard that the great prophet, Elisha is going to be in town. She gets herself and the boys dressed … scurries through the door … ______ through the dusty streets until she finds the man of God.
Verse 1 tells us that when she is close enough, she ‘CRIED to Elisha’. She cried to him - voice quaking with emotiong, choking the words out through tears. This is no simple concern - her very life is at stake:
Verse 1 goes on, ‘Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the LORD, but the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.’
Do you catch a little extra pain in her voice? “You know that your servant feared the LORD”. Elisha knew him. Her husband wasn’t just some guy who lived his life and fell on hard times … this was a faithful man of God. He stood firm in faithfulness to God and true worship when most of the nation was sliding away in state-sponsored false religion.
Her husband pursued the LORD when faithfulness COST something. He didn’t go with the flow - He was prepared to stand up and be counted - and now he’s dead … and now his loved ones are facing devastation.
Can you feel the extra wound? “Lord, don’t you see?! Don’t you see me here - trying to be faithful?! Why does it feel like the wicked prosper, while Your people suffer?”
It’s the same problem, wrestled with in a million different specific circumstances that we see all around us: The employee who decides he will follow his conscience at work because he takes seriously the call to seek FIRST the kingdom of God and His righteousness .... and because of that choice, he loses his job. The small businessman who is determined that his company will honour God above profits and function with integrity … only to see unscrupulous competition on the verge of running him out of business. It’s the couple who have found each other and fallen in love after 60 years in difficult marriages. It’s a storybook romance - they get married and a matter of a few short years pass by - when the husband is hit by a truck and his life is over.
So many situations and we ask, “Lord? Do have anything for me?!”
This woman’s heart is breaking as she cries out to God, through Elisha. But don’t miss the fact that she is HERE. See the faith on display. This widow and mother’s heart is breaking … but she brings her broken heart to God and lays the problem at His feet. That’s faith.
Verse 1 tells us that the widow ‘cried out to Elisha’. Well, look at Elisha’s response to that cry, in verse 2, “And Elisha said to her, ‘What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?’” That’s huge. In fact, you can only get how massively important this response is, if you compare it to what has just come before, in this 2nd book of Kings. Remember last week, in chapter 3 - Israel’s king, Jehoram, comes to Elisha with HIS need. The entire army is on the verge of dying of thirst and Elisha’s response?
2 Kings 3:13-14 “And Elisha said to the king of Israel, “What have I to do with you? Go to the prophets of your father and to the prophets of your mother.” But the king of Israel said to him, “No; it is the Lord who has called these three kings to give them into the hand of Moab.” And Elisha said, “As the Lord of hosts lives, before whom I stand, were it not that I have regard for Jehoshaphat the king of Judah, I would neither look at you nor see you.”
You can hear the disdain drip from the prophet’s lips: “I can barely bring myself to even LOOK at you.” this is the king of the nation, with armies under his command. In Israel’s newpapers and on the Cable News Channels, the stories dominating the coverage would all revolve around the king - involved in an international conflict - trying to get his army hydrated and to the battlefield. There would be NOT a single mention of a widow on the verge of losing everything. And yet ...
Here comes that very widow, a woman who doesn’t even get a name in the text! … She cries out in desperation about the need at her own little home … and Elisha’s response is an eager desire to help:
“What shall I do for you?” See yourself here, Christian. You may have no fame, no status, no money … in the eyes of this world you may have NOTHING … but if you have Jesus Christ - see what you do have. You have the unspeakably great honour of bringing your burden into the throne room of heaven. Psalm 142:2 “I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.”
Well, in God’s name - Elisha wants to help the woman, but he needs to know what he’s working with, so he asks her what resources she has to offer: Verse 2, “Tell me, what have you in the house?”
The woman needs no time to compile a list of all the assets on hand. She has next to nothing, so she answers in an instant. Verse 2 continues, “And she said, ‘Your servant has NOTHING in the house except a jar of oil.’”
Now, let’s make sure we understand how this jar of oil fits into the story. This is not a McGuyver moment. McGuyver is that tv character who was part scientist, part spy and full-on problem solver who would find himself in a jam - trapped in a hopeless situation, stuck in a locked room, with a time-bomb ticking down. He’s about to die .... with no weapons, no specialized tools. But, if he could only find a scrap piece of dental floss, he could take his shoelace and make a radio receiver to summon a drone to come and blow open the locked door to let him out … or something like that.
Some people are tempted to see the jar of oil like that: “Ahhh .... I may not have much, but I DO have a flask of oil” - as if that’s a possibility.
No - the fact that all this widow has, in her whole house, is a jar of oil … no money, no food, not even any flour to combine with the oil to make food with .... just a jar of oil and that’s all .... the whole point here is to make crystal clear to us … this woman has NOTHING helpful to offer. She is utterly helpless.
Does it remind you of Jesus, in Mark 6, when he has a hungry crowd gathered around him. Thousands of people who have come to hear him and they need to be fed. Jesus asks the disciples, ‘How many loaves do you have?’, in Mark 6:38. You remember the story. The disciples do a little reconnaissance and come back with the report: “We have 5 loaves and 2 fish”. The point of that report wasn’t to show, “Well, they have a little bit of lunch .... so if Jesus just throws a little more soup stock into the pot with the fish … and slices the bread really, really thin … then we may just be getting somewhere.” No - the point when God asks what we have is not to say, “Okay, I can work with that”. The point is to PROVE to us and everyone else watching: “This is utterly insufficient .... and it will take nothing less than a miracle to provide for THIS need.”
Elisha takes the widow’s insufficiency and thinks big. “All you have is a jar of oil? No problem. Here’s the plan”, Verse 3-4, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbours, empty vessels and NOT too few. Then go in and shut the door behind yourself and your sons and pour into all these vessels. And when one is full, set it aside.”
“Round up all the jars you can - and start filling.”
“Empty jars? What am I supposed to do with empty jars?! Maybe you didn’t hear me, Elisha - I don’t have anything at home but one jar of oil.” The text doesn’t tell us what the woman thinks of Elisha’s instructions. All it tells us is that she OBEYED. That’s a step of faith.
The widow and the boys start collecting. They go to the next door neighbour: “Could I please borrow a jar?” “Sure … a jar of flour? … A jar of sugar …?”
No thanks - nothing in it - just an empty jar. “Ummm, okay.” You can see the wheels turning in the brain … It’s no secret, this woman and her kids are living in poverty. They have nothing. What’s she going to put in the empty vessel? She can’t be canning, if she doesn’t have anything to can. Isn’t this just going to be useless clutter in her home? The nameless widow doesn’t explain, she just asks. And they round up what they have and give it to her. The boys hit all the restaurants in town. “Could we take your empty pickle and mayonnaise jars?” From house to shop to restaurant … the little family goes around the neighborhood gathering: fat jars, thin jars, big jars, little jars, rough utility jars and finely crafted decorative jars … they round them up and take them home. There are so many empties, that they can’t all fit in the house.
The woman goes inside and takes the boys with her, v. 5: So she went from him (Elisha) and shut the door behind herself and her sons. And as she poured they brought the vessels to her.”
Isn’t that interesting? The family goes inside the house and shuts the door. It’s pretty clear that God is planning to do something - so why would his prophet tell the woman to go inside and close the door to the surely curious neighbours. Shows that God doesn’t always perform His mighty works in front of a crowd. Remember Mount Carmel - the massive crowd - hundreds of Baal’s prophets, a crowd of thousands and the king himself - all on hand when Elijah prays and God sends Hhis miraculous fire to consume the soaking sacrifice and altar and trench.
Sometimes the King of Glory shouts His sovereign power and grace from the mountaintop .... and sometimes … He whispers His all sufficient love behind closed doors, to a nameless widow. What a God we have!
Well, the woman takes her original jar of oil (remember - this is the only item of value she has in the world, except for her sons) … . she takes the jar in her hands - tips it over the open mouth of a borrowed vessel … and she starts to pour.
That’s faith. Unbelief would have shouted at her: “What a fool’s game - you have hardly any oil to start with … How are you supposed to fill all of these jars with what’s in there?! God is playing a joke on you and you’re going to end up just as broke AND the laughingstock of the town, on top of it all!”
But the widow gives no time to doubt. See her there - pouring … and filling.
One jar is filled and there’s still oil left in the original. She moveds to another empty and fills that one up too .... she keeps pouring and pouring. As one jar gets filled, the sons brings another. The more she pours - the more oil comes out. Jar after jar gets filled … until she fills the last one in front of her. There is still oil in the original - so she calls to one of the boys to bring her another empty. “There are no more. Verse 6, “There is not another ...” - and see how the verse ends: “… THEN the oil stopped flowing.”
The oil keeps flowing until every empty jar in the house is filled … then, and not a nano-second before - - - the oil stopped flowing.
If you remember the theme song for the Beverly Hillbillies - you remember the ...
story about a man named Jed A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed, And then one day he was shootin at some food, And up through the ground come a bubblin crude. Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea. Well, this may be a different kind of oil, but this is liquid money, too. There’s a pile of money in the filled, borrowed jars surrounding the poverty stricken widow and her boys.
She runs back to the prophet and, verse 7, “She came and told the man of God and he said, ‘Go, sell the oil and pay your debrs, and you and your sons can live on the rest.”
God has set the penniless woman up in the oil business and she’s become an oil tycoon. After paying off the creditors, there will be more than enough money for her and the boys to live on for the rest of their days.
See God’s care for the widows and the fatherless.
2 Kings God Cares for the Fatherless

A wonderful story about God’s care for the fatherless comes from the life of George Müller. In 1835, Müller established a home for orphans in Bristol, England. As a faith mission, this home experienced many remarkable answers to prayer. One morning Müller went into the long dining room of the orphanage. An eyewitness recounts what happened next:

The plates and cups or bowls were on the table. There was nothing on the table but empty dishes. There was no food in the larder, and no money to supply the need. The children were standing waiting for breakfast.

“Children, you know we must be in time for school,” said Müller. Then lifting his hand he prayed, “Dear Father, we thank Thee for what Thou art going to give us to eat.”

According to the account, a knock was then heard at the door. The baker stood there.

“Mr. Müller, I couldn’t sleep last night. Somehow I felt you didn’t have bread for breakfast, and the Lord wanted me to send you some. So I got up at two o’clock and baked some fresh bread, and have brought it.”

Müller thanked the baker and praised God for His care.

“Children,” he said, “we not only have bread, but the rare treat of fresh bread.”

Almost immediately there came a second knock at the door. This time it was the milkman who announced that his milk cart had broken down outside the orphanage, and that he would like to give the children his cans of fresh milk, so that he could empty his wagon and repair it.

So what do WE do with this miracle story from so long ago. We know it applies to us … somehow. But how, exactly?
Well, let me first deal with a couple of WRONG ways that we want to avoid:
Some people read this story and say, “Ahhh - the lesson here is that God wants to fill your jars with ‘oil’ - or whatever your physical resource is … He wants to multiply you - so you can sell whatever it is He gives you - and pack your bank account with cash. God made this widow financially secure … He wants to do the same thing for you, if only you will have enough faith.
That’s the lesson of the sotry - you can live your best financial and physically healthy life now! I have seen dozens of tv preachers with used car-saleman sincerity - proclaiming that very idea - if not from this passage specifically, then from somewhere else. That’s not the lesson of the story. The widow’s husband was righteous - he didn’t enjoy the proceeds of the oil. Our Saviour said of himself, “The Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He didn’t even have a house of his own.
Paul said, “I have learned in whatever situation I am in … to be content.”
Other people look at the story and say - “The lesson here is that the widow didn’t have ENOUGH faith. After all, v. 6 says that the oil in her jar stopped flowing ihen she ran out of empty jars. So, if she would have been just a little more resourceful and would have found more jars .... she could have had more oil, she could STILL be pouring today! Think of how rich she COULD have been!”
BUt that’s not the point of the story either. The text points to the widow’s obedient faith in God - even when she was hurting - Elisha told her to gather jars - she gathered jars. Elisha said, go inside your house and shut the door - she went inside and shut the door. No, the woman isn’t an example of someone who could have had more … she’s an example of someone who trusted God - even when His instructions seemed foolish.
So what’s this story supposed to show us? It’s a picture of the God who redeems. It’s a picture of Christ Who was still to come.
The widow’s great fear is that her family - her sons, are headed into slavery: verse 1, “The creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.” At the end of the story, Elisha says, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on the rest.” The word translated ‘pay’ as in ‘pay your debts’, is a word that means you bring it to an end - it’s the word that would be stamped across the bill when it’s been taken care of, “Paid in full” is the idea. The debt is fully paid and the women’s children are set free from slavery.
Rescue from slavery … It’s what God does in the Old Testament, over and over again. In fact His great saving act in the OT is rescuing the entire nation of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Exodus 20:2 ““I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
But that wasn’t the ultimate rescue … it was a foreshadowing of the utlimate rescue. The rescue that God wouldn’t just orchestrate from heaven through the instructions given by a prophet … I’m talking about a rescue of such cosmic, eternal significance … that God Hismelf rolled up His sleeves, took on our flesh and came to accomplish Himself.
Galatians 4:3-5 “In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
Do you feel like you are living the helpless widow’s life? Do you feel
2 Kings: The Power and the Fury God’s Overflowing Kindness (v. 7)

I want you to take a good look at this widow again. This obscure, nameless woman. Do you know that our writer in 1 Kings 16:23–28 describes the reign of one of the most important figures in Israelite politics and history—King Omri? Omri, for all his apparent importance, gets six verses from our writer. This Yahweh-fearing widow gets more press than Omri. Which shows that God’s desperate people matter to him

Related Media
See more
Related Sermons
See more