2 Kings 4:1-7 (Part 1) – Seeking Compassion Rather Than Our Right To Be Right

Posted: April 13, 2019 in 12-2 Kings

2 Kings 4:1-7 (Part 1 of 3)

Elisha Helps a Poor Widow

Today, we look at the passage, 2 Kings 4:1-7, for the first of three blogs on this passage. What to write about today? For today, let’s concentrate on the first verse of the passage, v. 4. There is a widowed family and a threatening creditor. The big idea that comes to mind in this passage is the difference between keeping the letter of the law vs. the spirit of the law. First, before we examine the passage itself, let’s think of an illustration that we can all relate to.

Remember, when we were little kids and we were required to share with our sibling(s). Remember, when we were required to, oh my, apologize to one or more of our sibling(s) for something we had done to them. Oh those were moments of excruciating agony. If you were an only child, the agony was greater when you had to share with a neighbor kid or share with a child of friends of your parents. We all remember this type of scenario in one way or another. My brother is only 18 ½ months older than me. So, we were really close in age and in everything. He was just one grade ahead of me in school. Because we were so close in age, we developed physically at about the same pace. He grew taller than me pretty early on. He was always tall and skinny. I was shorter but much stronger than he was. So, we each had advantage of the other in one way or another. Add to that, we were so close in age, we were competitive with one another in everything. We were competitive especially in basketball. It’s a game that kids can play without having to buy a lot of equipment to play. As long as you have a goal and a basketball, you got game. We played football, baseball, and all kind of outdoor games back then. Saturdays especially were filled with outdoor adventure all day long, especially in the warm weather of South Carolina rural summers. But basketball was a game that we could easily play at all times, anytime, all year.

Even as little kids as early as when I was 6 and he was 7 we played basketball against each other. To say we were competitive with one another would be a considerable understatement. Sure, we were always aware of the rules of the game about fouling and we would call fouls on each other during our one on one games. But as the games progressed and the target score would get closer (we would most of the times play whoever gets to 20 first wins or some arbitrary quantity of points depending on how much time we had), the fouls would get harder, the shoves more physical, the banging against each other as we guarded one another would get more physical, the rebounds with swinging elbows would get more intentional. We were fiercely competitive. We hated to lose to each other – with a passion. We hated to lose to the other one in anything. It didn’t matter – chess, checkers, racing to do something first, calling dibs on something, whatever it was, we made it a competition. But back to basketball, the closer we got to end of games, the more physical things got. We were both pretty good shooters growing up. RT was taller so I had to develop ways to create space to get my shots off. Though he was taller, I was stronger so banging into him often created space for my shots.

As you can imagine, these two boys that could make a competition out of doing anything, these basketball games often ended in arguments and sometimes an all out brawl. We would go at it right there in the parsonage yard. Two preacher’s kids fighting for all its worth right there in the parsonage driveway or backyard. Oh those games were intense even as youngsters. I think it made us better basketball players because our games with each other were so rough and tumble. We were not Division 1 players by any means but we could be counted on to score and to play good defense on the organized teams that we played on. But the emotional intensity of our one-on-one games would get the best of us sometimes and we would brawl. I think both of us still have scars from those fights. Of course, dad would have to rush outside and break it up before we killed or mamed each other. We showed no mercy in our fights. I think we might’ve injured each other badly if it were not for the dad interventions.

You know how the story goes from here. He started it. No HE started it. Pointing fingers and “not me” were frequent responses. Dad would get so fed up with our lack of willingness to admit our wrongs that he would punish us both with either whippings or restrictions of some sort. And of course the age old parental requirement of saying you’re sorry. I would have to say I am sorry to RT and RT would have say that he was sorry to me. You remember those days, the I’m sorries were half-hearted at best and if you could’ve gotten your hands on your brother right then, you would be right back at the brawl with him. I don’t know if Dad expected genuineness or just wanted us to be forced to do something we did not like. Whatever it was, the I Am Sorry was never genuine. It was a requirement from my higher authority, my dad, and I did it just to get out of the situation.

That’s the thing that I thought of this morning as I read through this passage, particularly that first verse. Where was the genuineness in this situation on the part of the creditor? Where was the compassion? And it reminded me of how sometimes we as Christ followers do things to check off a list to say we have done but we forget the spirit of why. With that in mind, let’s examine this passage for the first of three times and, today, look at that first verse (2 Kings 4:1) in particular. Let’s read the passage now:

Chapter 4

1 One day the widow of a member of the group of prophets came to Elisha and cried out, “My husband who served you is dead, and you know how he feared the Lord. But now a creditor has come, threatening to take my two sons as slaves.”

2 “What can I do to help you?” Elisha asked. “Tell me, what do you have in the house?”

“Nothing at all, except a flask of olive oil,” she replied.

3 And Elisha said, “Borrow as many empty jars as you can from your friends and neighbors. 4 Then go into your house with your sons and shut the door behind you. Pour olive oil from your flask into the jars, setting each one aside when it is filled.”

5 So she did as she was told. Her sons kept bringing jars to her, and she filled one after another. 6 Soon every container was full to the brim!

“Bring me another jar,” she said to one of her sons.

“There aren’t any more!” he told her. And then the olive oil stopped flowing.

7 When she told the man of God what had happened, he said to her, “Now sell the olive oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on what is left over.”

In this passage, we see the law concerning debt and servitude as laid out in Deuteronomy playing itself out in a real situation. In ancient Israel, under God’s covenantal law, poor people and debtors were allowed to pay their debts by selling themselves or their children into slavery. However, God ordered the rich people and/or creditors not to take advantage of these people during their time of servitude in which they were paying off their debt. See Deuteronomy 15:1-18 for an explanation of these practices. This woman’s creditor was perverting the law by threatening to take the widow’s son as slaves or better termed in today’s language, indentured servants. The woman was not offering up the children. She was being threatened with the taking of them. There seems to be sinister tone to this proceeding between the widow and the creditor. Certainly, the Deuteronomic Code allowed for indentured servitude as a way to pay off debts, but it was to be the debtors idea not the creditor’s. It was to be a last resort rather than the first. It was within the letter of the law but it certainly was not in the spirit of it. The threatening seems to be an indication of how the boys would have been treated as well. Again, the servitude would have paid the debt but there is no compassion or right treatment to be expected in what we know from this verse. It’s kind of like saying you are sorry but not really meaning it. We may check off a requirement but where’s the heart, where’s the compassion, where’s the willingness to work things out with others, where’s the heart of Jesus in any of this?

Just as when I was forced to say I am sorry to RT when I was a little kid after a basketball-induced fight, I said it but I did not mean it. I observed the requirement but my heart was not in it. I may have said the right thing but my heart was not in it. I may have been forced to forgive my brother for his part in the fight but my heart was not in it. We can think we are right but still be wrong because of our heart.

Sometimes we get so caught up in what is right for us, our rights, our needs, our preservation, our being offended that we forget compassion. We may be right but still be wrong. We may say we are sorry but don’t mean and still harbor anger. We may do things that are biblically correct according to the letter of scripture but miss the heart of the scripture. One of the things that has been searing into my heart lately is Jesus Christ physically on the cross and what He says there.

Prior to the cross, Jesus had been wrongly arrested, kept up all night long so he was tired from no sleep. He was beaten and abused by His own people. Then, He was handed over to the Romans on a trumped up charge of treason (just to keep the peace in Judea). He was then beaten with a cat-o-nine-tails whip to within an inch of His human life. The whip had jagged barbs embedded in the nine leather straps attached to the whipping handle. When they would land on the body, the leather straps themselves would sting, but the steel jagged barbs would dig into the flesh as the straps landed on the body. As the whipping soldier would snap the whip back toward himself to prepare for the next whip stroke, those barbs would then rip away flesh and muscle as the whip snapped back. This was repeated 39 times in total. Jesus’ flesh was a bloody, ripped mangle of blood, exposed muscle and gore. The portrayal of Christ’s body in the movie, the Passion of the Christ, had it accurate as it has ever been portrayed. Then, he had to walk with his cross beam about a half a mile all beaten and having lost a great deal of blood already. Then, then, if that was not bad enough, he was nailed through most likely the wrist (where so many nerves are) and through the feet (where so many nerves are) and placed upright on a cross. Crucifixion is about the cruelest form of death there is. It is not the sanitary thing that we have made it most movies.

If you strenuously stretch out your arms, even while seated, you’ll recognize the difficulty of breathing (without having already been severely beaten with a whip and lost significant blood). It’s easy to inhale with arms fully outstretched, but difficult to exhale again. The body needs to work its muscles to breathe in and out, and it is used to doing so with little resistance. Once the chest is fully expanded, it’s impossible to breathe in anything more than sips of air. The victim slowly suffocates, unable to get enough oxygen, over the course of a day. Slow, painful suffocation.

But what does Jesus say on the cross as He is suffering this unimaginable suffering? Meanwhile, He is able to hear the jeers and mocking of most of the people below – laughing at Him for His claims of being the Son of God because He does not bring Himself down from the cross. He says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” Wow, think about it. It is not some cutesy thing. Here He is – having done nothing wrong in the sight of God but yet He is more worried about His accusers’ eternal futures than He is for His own rights for justice! He proclaims, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do!” If anybody had any right to half-hearted say forgive them, it was Jesus. If anybody had a right to stand up for His rights under the letter of the law, it was Jesus! He did nothing wrong. He was being mocked and jeered. But He full-on said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!”

Let that sink in a bit! Jesus on the cross. The perfect Man. The Son of God. The Innocent One. He says to His Father to forgive those who were persecuting Him!

So, when you and I do something for the kingdom halfheartedly, or under some sense of compulsion. Think of Jesus. He could’ve stood on His rights and took Himself down from the cross and starting going all Rambo on everybody, but He was compassionate on those who had wronged Him. He loved those who had wronged Him. When we are standing on the letter of the law but have no compassion, think of Jesus forgiving those who mocked Him on the cross.

May we be compassionate people who truly loves those who do not agree with us. May we be more concerned about their eternal future without God than we are about our rightness. May we be compassionate to those whom we have every right to lash out against for having wronged us. May we be a passionate people who lives out the spirit of God’s love in everything we do. May we not do things half-heartedly but with a heart of passion and compassion. May we represent Jesus well. May we have the same spirit of love and compassion as the One who died for our sins. May we mean our I Am Sorries. May we be compassionate toward those who we have every right to be angry with. May we be genuine in our compassion. May we seek reconciliation rather than our right to be right. May we love instead of hate. May we be of the same frame of mind as Jesus on the cross. He was thinking about the kingdom of God for those far from God even then!

Amen and Amen.

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