A Great Woman
Second Kings, chapter four, tells us of a woman who is called "great." “And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman “ (Second Kings 4:8). The name of this woman is unknown, being only identified by the area where she lived, the Shunamite woman. Just what all might be included in the term “great” we cannot precisely know. It may well refer to her prominence in that area. As we read about her there are at least four qualities revealed that would qualify her to be called great that are not always considered qualities of greatness by much of the world. As we consider them we need to compare ourselves to her and probably we shall discover areas where we could make real improvement
This woman lived to do good for others. One who lives to serve others is obviously an unselfish person who really cares for the welfare of others. In this case we see Elisha, God’s prophet, as he passed through the city as he often did. He would be dependent on the people of the area where he was for his livelihood, food, shelter, and other necessities. At this particular time in Israel’s history the prophets of God were not among the most wanted and popular people. The nation was demoralized by worship of Baal and wicked living. God’s prophets, expressing God’s rebuke for such things, meant that few people really cared for them or even wanted them around. Fewer still would risk showing kindness and consideration.
This woman recognized Elisha as a “holy man of God” (Verse 9). As he came through the village, she “constrained him to eat bread,” offering hospitality and provisions and rest for the weary servant of God. She used her material goods for another, bestowing kindness on one who was deserving. She showed her love and respect for God by “holding up the hands” of the prophet of God by assisting him.
It was her suggestion that she and her husband, who obviously shared her concerns, build a special room and furnish it so that it could be used by the prophet whenever he was passing by. This is thoughtfulness and consideration being manifested. She was like an Old Testament Dorcas who was busy doing good things for other people. Surely such people are “great” in the eyes of the Lord because Jesus said that those who served would be the greatest (Matthew 20:26). Doing unto those that love God is like doing unto God (Matthew 25:40).
She could be considered “great” because she was contented with her lot in life. As might be expected, Elisha, upon receiving this support, wanted to show favors in return. He sent a message by his servant Gehazi, “Behold, thou host been careful for us with all this care, what is to be done for thee? Wouldest thou be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host?” Elisha was in a position to return the favor and inquired what it was that he might do for her?
Her response tells something of her character. “I dwell among mine own people.” In other words, she was content as she was. She had not done these things for Elisha in order to receive some benefit for herself. Like the psalmist, she felt that her “cup runneth over.” She had no ambitions and sought no glory, fame or reward for her service. How different she was from so many today who are never content with the good that they can do, but always seek something more, better, grander for themselves. They never really consider that they have a duty and an obligation to give themselves on behalf of others but only seek what they want.
We do not suggest that she was in a state of stagnation with no desires whatever. She earnestly wanted a child, but she had her husband’s love, her home, her chance to do good. She did not complain and murmur about sacrificing. The prophet made her heart glad when he informed her that God would be gracious to her and her husband and bless that home with a son. In time a son was born, and through that son we are able to see some other sterling qualities in the life and character of the Shunnamite.
Strength and Control
This woman knew how to stand strong in the storm. She exercised self-control and faith in God; virtues that go hand-in-hand. This son grew to some size and was in the field with the father but became sick. He was taken to his mother where her love and skill did all that could be done for him. Nonetheless, the son died; so tragedy had invaded that home.
This great lady demonstrated control and faith in her hour of grief. She laid the son’s body aside, and without any indication of self-pity, resentment, bitterness or rashness, she displayed sober and mature action. She sent for her husband and requested transportation quickly to Mt. Carmel, the home of the prophet Elisha. Her husband thought it strange, seeing it was not a regular time of worship, such as the new moon or the Sabbath day. This brief remark indicates that it was the custom of this woman to be a worshipper of God and a faithful attendant to worship duties. Her response to her husband was, “It shall be well.” There was need for haste and not delay. She assured her husband that everything was going to be all right. She had that kind of faith, and evidently she had so conducted herself before him that he had full faith and confidence in her because he asked no further questions, respecting her proven judgment and knowing her to be worthy of trust.
This “great” woman had attained two goals that every man and woman ought seek. She wanted to be acceptable before God, and she had the love, confidence and respect of her mate. She had learned through living to strive for things that really matter rather than the frivolous, trite, paltry decorations of a secular and materialistic world.
Action and Submission
Another quality seen in her was that she was a person of energetic action, as well as submission to God. As she approached Mt. Carmel she met Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, who asked, “Is it well with thee, thy husband and thy child?” Her answer was “It is well.” Even though she was in sorrow, grief, and on a mission of concern for her child, she was submissive to what she could not change, but active in changing whatever could be changed. She offered no complaints, no whining, no distrust, no grumbling of her misfortune, no wringing of the hands in panic, but a calm and serene dignity in the face of the worst storm of her life.
We might focus attention in passing on Gehazi’s question, “Is it well with thee? Is it well with thy husband? Is it well with the child?” (Second Kings 4:26). This is a question every wife and mother ought to consider. Many women are so concerned about being “liberated” and “becoming a free and independent person” that they have either neglected or altogether abandoned their sacred responsibilities to their husband, child, and home. Our society has become so ‘‘career conscious’’ for women that the primary purpose for woman’s existence has been shoved into the background if not out of the picture completely. Women have become more sinful, secular, self-seeking, and misguided and it is evident that many will continue in this perverted pathway because they have been fed the garbage of Satan that says, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” They sure have. For many, they have taken no notice of the way they have gone. Respect for women is often less because more women are less respectable. They have acted like barbarians rather than women as God would have them. This “great” woman from Shunem was one who was concerned for her family first.
When she met Elisha she told him what had taken place and urged him to come and do whatever he could. Possibly she sought nothing more than the presence of a friend and man of God at the time of distress. She also knew him to be a man of miracles. Nothing would suffice except Elisha return home with her.
Elisha arose, went to the house, found the child, and called upon God to raise the child. The child’s life was restored and he was given to his mother. Seeing the child alive again, she bowed herself to the ground with submissive thanksgiving for what had been done (verse 37).
This “great” woman was a person of strong faith, a steady disposition, fervent piety, one that worshipped God, who was a keeper of the home, self-reliant, trustworthy, grateful, wise, kind and considerate. What else could describe her but “great?”
Her grave is unmarked and her name is unknown, but her life still shines in brilliance down through the ages, and benefits even us.
1. Why was this woman rightly called “great”?
2. What evidence is there that she enjoyed her husband’s confidence?
3. What do you consider to be the most outstanding quality she demonstrated?