You may want to review 2 Kings 4:8–37 for the background of the Shunammite’s story. This account teaches the importance of maintaining rightful ownership of property and also provides a window into God’s extravagance in providing for our material needs.
Theologian Peter C. Phan summarizes social thought during the Old Testament period as follows:
Gerhard von Rad declares that there is no concept in the Old Testament as central and significant for all relationships of human life as justice or righteousness. Justice is the social principle that held the Hebrew social fabric together. It is the fidelity to the demands of a relationship as established by the law—the web of relationships between king and people, judge and complainants, family and tribe and kinsfolk, the community and the resident alien, the whole of humanity and God. Of course the law also commands love. Yet, in point of fact, the sense of solidarity is for the most part limited to fellow members of religion and race, even though the prophets often urge the Hebrew people to go beyond these narrow limits.
In Leviticus 25:23–24 God says, “The land must not be sold permanently, because the land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers. Throughout the land that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.”
Naomi’s situation in the book of Ruth seems similar. The family has resided in Moab for ten years, having migrated from Judah to escape a famine. Ruth 4:3 speaks of Naomi’s desire to sell her husband’s land, but two interpretations may be applied here: Either Naomi owns the land but is so poor that she feels she must sell it. Or alternatively, Elimelek may already have sold the plot prior to the family’s departure. In this case, the law makes provision for his widow to “redeem” it—buy it back. Since Naomi is now destitute, she looks for a guardian-redeemer to purchase back the land on her behalf.
In the Shunammite’s case, it is possible that the land has either been taken illegally during the family’s absence or been appropriated by the king, most likely either Jehu or Joram, due to its apparent abandonment. Her husband was already elderly when their son was born (see 2Ki 4:14), and there is no mention of him in 2 Kings 8. Phan indicates that widows and orphans “in the ancient patriarchal society were economically the most helpless since they did not have the aid of a male head of the family.”
An interesting detail in this story is the “fluke” of Elisha and Gehazi discussing her situation with the king at the very time the Shunammite arrives to plead for the return of her land.
Lord God, your care and concern for justice in the details of our lives is amazing to me. Help me to see how you orchestrate all things to your ends. And help me to be a partner in your work.