Our reading today begins with the story of a prophet’s widow (4:1). With her husband dead, she has no means of paying their debts, so, as custom dictated, her children would have to serve the debtor to pay off the debt. Elisha is willing to help, but needs to know how to help (v. 2). We see in this miracle that God not only provided for her immediate need, but provided abundantly that she might not go back into debt (v. 7). We see the confidence with which Elisha performed these miracles. Only Moses performed more than Elisha in the Old Testament.
We see the power God worked through Elisha again in verses 8-17. In the Old Testament, God alone granted conception to those unable to have children. Now He would do it through Elisha. The old husband and desire for a son echo the story of Abraham and Sarah. God is working mightily through His prophet. In the story of the death and resurrection of the child (vv. 18-37), we see the confidence of the woman in Elisha (vv. 22-23, 30). Elisha’s surprise at not knowing what happened shows that God uses all kinds of circumstances to reveal His will (v. 27). Elisha’s prayer (v. 33) and repeated stretching himself on the child (vv. 34-35) mimic Elijah’s rising of the widow’s son in 1 Kings 17:17-24. God establishes patterns in the history of redemption. The raising to physical life in these cases point us to Christ’s words and work that raise dead sinners unto new spiritual life, and ultimately our physical resurrection.
We see more of Elisha’s miracles in the purifying of the stew (vv. 38-41) and the multiplying of the loaves (vv. 42-44). Just as God purified bitter water through Moses (Ex 15:22-25) and miraculously fed the Israelites with Manna (Ex 16:2-18), so Elisha’s miracles here point forward to the purification from sin that Christ achieves for us (Heb 1:3), and the bread He provides as the Bread of Life (John 6:32-35). The miracles continue in chapter 5 with the healing of Naaman (5:1-14). Like God healed Miriam of her leprosy through the prayers of Moses (Num 12:10-15), God’s miraculous healing of Naaman points us forward again to Christ. Not only did He heal lepers during His ministry, but He overcomes physical death and ensures the believer’s complete physical salvation.
Naaman’s taking of dirt from Israel (v. 17) is a symbolic taking of holy ground where YHWH is God. Naaman takes it as a sign of his devotion to YHWH even though he will live in Syria where false God’s are worshiped, in particular, the god Rimmon. Elisha’s purpose, “that he may know there is a prophet in Israel” is really about Naaman knowing there is a God in Israel (v. 8). Naaman now knows. In contrast, Gehazi’s covetousness shows that his treasures are earthly – his false god is riches. Note that the Syrian was saved, and the Israelite was judged. Note also that the king’s reaction is unbelief (v. 7 – his response can also be translated “am I a god”), as evidenced by Elisha’s response to him (v. 8). Israel is mired in unbelief.
Chapter 6 begins with yet another miracle of Elisha. The “axe head” is literally in Hebrew “iron” (6:4), which was an expensive commodity in the ancient Near East. We have now seen a run of miracles that Elisha performs with great confidence. We now see why he is so confident. He, like Elijah before him, lives his life attuned to the spiritual realm. When the king of Syria is sick of being foiled by Elisha’s knowledge of his plans, he sends his army to capture him (vv. 13-14). Elisha’s servant only sees with earthly eyes (v. 15). But Elisha sees with spiritual eyes (v. 16). We see that the chariots of fire are always with him (v. 17 – see 2:11). This is the very presence of God.
Note that this story does not include the names of the king of Syria or the king of Israel. It also does not name where the initial attack was to be, but simply says “such and such a place” (v. 8). This story is not trying to establish where in history it happens, it is making a theological point. It is establishing the power of God and Elisha’s awareness of it and ability to harness it. It is possible that this narrative did not originally belong here, as this story ends with the Syrians not coming on raids into Israel (v. 23) and the next verse telling us that the now-named Ben-hadad sieged Samaria (v. 24).
The siege gives historical information, but it is also making a theological point. The siege had gone on so long that there was almost no food left in Samaria (v. 25). The horrifying story the woman tells (vv. 28-29) is meant to show YHWH’s rejection of Israel. One of the curses for disobedience is the very specific threat of a siege by a foreign enemy that results in Israel eating their own children (see Deut 28:52-53). This is a precursor to the Assyrian siege of Israel in 722 B.C. which is the final and complete judgment of the Northern Kingdom, the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. which signifies God’s rejection of Judah, and ultimately the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. which completes God’s rejection of physical Israel.
In verse 31, we see that the king blames Elisha for this siege. This is really him blaming the God Elisha worshiped and spoke for. The king blamed YHWH for this. We see that the messenger from the king does as well (v. 33). In 7:1-2 Elisha predicts the end of the siege the following day, to which the messenger responds with unbelief. God will vindicate Elisha, but judge the unbeliever.