We may well suppose that, after the birth of this son, the prophet was doubly welcome to the good Shunammite. He had thought himself indebted to her, but henceforth, as long as she lives, she will think herself in his debt, and that she can never do too much for him. We may also suppose that the child was very dear to the prophet, as the son of his prayers, and very dear to the parents, as the son of their old age. But here is,
I. The sudden death of the child, though so much a darling. He was so far past the perils of infancy that he was able to go to the field to his father, who no doubt was pleased with his engaging talk, and his joy of his son was greater than the joy of his harvest; but either the cold or the heat of the open field overcame the child, who was bred tenderly, and he complained to his father that his head ached, 2 Kgs. 4:19. Whither should we go with our complaints, but to our heavenly Father? Thither the Spirit of adoption brings believers with all their grievances, all their desires, teaching them to cry, with groanings that cannot be uttered, “My head, my head; my heart, my heart.” The father sent him to his mother’s arms, his mother’s lap, little suspecting any danger in his indisposition, but hoping he would drop asleep in his mother’s bosom and awake well; but the sickness proved fatal; he slept the sleep of death (2 Kgs. 4:20), was well in the morning and dead by noon: all the mother’s care and tenderness could not keep him alive. A child of promise, a child of prayer, and given in love, yet taken away. Little children lie open to the arrests of sickness and death. But how admirably does the prudent pious mother guard her lips under this surprising affliction! Not one peevish murmuring word comes from her. She has a strong belief that the child will be raised to life again: like a genuine daughter of Abraham’s faith, as well as loins, she accounts that God is able to raise him from the dead, for thence at first she received him in a figure, Heb. 11:19. She had heard of the raising of the widow’s so 5938 n of Sarepta, and that the spirit of Elijah rested on Elisha; and such confidence had she of God’s goodness that she was very ready to believe that he who so soon took away what he had given would restore what he had now taken away. By this faith women received their dead raised to life, Heb. 11:35. In this faith she makes no preparation for the burial of her dead child, but for its resurrection; for she lays him on the prophet’s bed (2 Kgs. 4:21), expecting that he will stand her friend. O woman! great is thy faith. he that wrought it would not frustrate it.
II. The sorrowful mother’s application to the prophet on this sad occasion; for it happened very opportunely that he was now at the college upon Mount Carmel, not far off.
1. She begged leave of her husband to go to the prophet, yet not acquainting him with her errand, lest he should not have faith enough to let her go, 2 Kgs. 4:22. He objected, It is neither new moon nor sabbath (2 Kgs. 4:23), which intimates that on those feasts of the Lord she used to go to the assembly in which he presided, with other good people, to hear the word, and to join with him in prayers and praises. She did not think it enough to have his help sometimes in her own family, but, though a great woman, attended on public worship, for which this was none of the times appointed; therefore, said the husband, “why wilt thou go to day? What is the matter?” “No harm,” said she, “It shall be well, so you will say yourself hereafter.” See how this husband and wife vied with each other in showing mutual regard; she was so dutiful to him that she would not go till she had acquainted him with her journey, and he so kind to her that he would not oppose it, though she did not think fit to acquaint him with her business. 2. She made all the haste she could to the prophet (2 Kgs. 4:24), and he, seeing her at a distance, sent his servant to enquire whether any thing was amiss, 2 Kgs. 4:25, 26. The questions were particular: Isa. it well with thee? Isa. it well with thy husband? Isa. it well with the child? Note, It well becomes the men of God, with tenderness and concern, to enquire about the welfare of their friends and their families. The answer was general It is well. Gehazi was not the man that she came to complain to, and therefore she put him off with this; she said little, and little said is soon amended (Ps. 39:1, 2), but what she did say was very patient: “It is well with me, with my husband, with the child”—all well, and yet the child dead in the house. Note, When God calls away our dearest relations by death it becomes us quietly to say, “It is well both with us and them;” it is well, for all is well that God does; all is well with those that are gone if they have gone to heaven, and all well with us that stay behind if by the affliction we are furthered in our way thither. 3. When she came to the prophet she humbly reasoned with him concerning her present affliction. She threw herself at his feet, as one troubled and in grief, which she never showed till she came to him who, she believed, could help her, 2 Kgs. 4:27. When her passion would do her service she knew how to discover it, as well as how to conceal it when it would do her disservice. Gehazi knew his master would not be pleased to see her lie at his feet, and therefore would have raised her up; but Elisha waited to hear from her, since he might not know immediately from God, what was the cause of her trouble. God discovered things to his prophets as he saw fit, not always as they desired; God did not show this to the prophet, because he might know it from the good woman herself. What she said was very pathetic. She appealed to the prophet, (1.) Concerning her indifference to this mercy which was now taken from her: “Did I desire a son of my lord? No, thou knowest I did not; it was thy own proposal, not mine; I did not fret for the want of a son, as Hannah, nor beg, as Rachel, Give me children or else I die.” Note, When any creature-comfort is taken from us, it is well if we can say, through grace, that we did not set our hearts inordinately upon it; for, if we did, we have reason to fear it was given in anger and taken away in wrath. (2.) Concerning her entire dependence upon the prophet’s word: Did I not say, Do not deceive me? Yes, she did say so (2 Kgs. 4:16), and this reflection upon it may be considered either, [1.] As quarrelling with the prophet for deceiving her. She was ready to think herself mocked with the mercy when it was so soon removed, and that it would have been better she had never had this child than to be deprived of him when she began to have comfort in him. Note, The loss of a mercy should not make us undervalue the gift of it. Or, [2.] As pleading with the prophet for the raising of the child to life again: “I said, Do not deceive me, and I know thou wilt not.” Note, However the providence of God may disappoint us, we may be sure the promise of God never did, nor ever will, deceive us: hope in that will not make us ashamed.
III. The raising of the child to life again. We may suppose that the woman gave Elisha a more express account of the child’s death, and he gave her a more express promise of his resurrection, than is here related, where we are briefly told,
1. That Elisha sent Gehazi to go in all haste to the dead child, gave him his staff, and bade him lay that on the face of the child, 2 Kgs. 4:29. I know not what to make of this. Elisha knew that Elijah raised the dead child with a very close application, stretching himself upon the child, and praying again and again, and could he think to raise this child by so slight a ceremony as this, especially when nothing hindered him from coming himself? Shall such a power as this be delegated, and to no better man that Gehazi? Bishop Hall suggests that it was done out of human conceit, and not by divine instinct, and therefore it failed of the effect; God will not have such great favours made too cheap, nor shall they be too easily come by, lest they be undervalued.
2. The woman resolved not to go back without the prophet himself (2 Kgs. 4:30): I will not leave thee. She had no great expectation from the staff, she would have the hand, and she was in the right of it. Perhaps God intended hereby to teach us not to put that confidence in creatures, that are servants, which the power of the Creator, their Master and ours, will alone bear the weight of. Gehazi returns re infecta—without success, without the tidings of any sign of life in the child (2 Kgs. 4:31): The child is not awaked, intimating, to the comfort of the mother, that its death was but a sleep, and that he expected that it would shortly be awaked. In the raising of dead souls to spiritual life ministers can do no more by their own power than Gehazi here could; they lay the word, like the prophet’s staff, before their faces, but there is neither voice nor hearing, till Christ, by his Spirit, comes himself. The letter alone kills; it is the Spirit that gives life. It is not prophesying upon dry bones that will put life into them, breath must come from heaven and breathe upon those slain.
3. The prophet, by earnest prayer, obtained from God the restoring of this dead child to life again. He found the child dead upon his own bed (2 Kgs. 4:32), and shut the door upon them twain, 2 Kgs. 4:33. Even the dead child is spoken of as a person, one of the twain, for it was still in being and not lost. He shut out all company, that he might not seem to glory in the power God had given him, or to use it for ostentation and to be seen of men. Observe,
(1.) How closely the prophet applied himself to this great operation, perhaps being sensible that he had tempted God too much in thinking to effect it by the staff in Gehazi’s hand, for which he thought himself rebuked by the disappointment. He now found it a harder task than he then thought, and therefore addressed himself to it with great solemnity. [1.] He prayed unto the Lord (2 Kgs. 4:33), probably as Elijah had done, Let this child’s soul come into him again. Christ raised the dead to life as one having authority—Damsel, arise—young man, I say unto thee, Arise—Lazarus, come forth (for he was powerful and faithful as a Son, the Lord of life), but Elijah and Elisha did it by petition, as servants. [2.] He lay upon the child (2 Kgs. 4:34), as if he would communicate to him some of his vital heat or spirits. Thus he expressed the earnestness of his desire, and gave a sign of that divine power which he depended upon for the accomplishment of this great work. He first put his mouth to the child’s mouth, as if, in God’s name, he would breathe into him the breath of life; then his eyes to the child’s eyes, to open them again to the light of life; then his hands to the child’s hands, to put strength into them. He then returned, and walked in the house, as one full of care and concern, and wholly intent upon what he was about. Then he went up stairs again, and the second time, stretched himself upon the child, 2 Kgs. 4:35. Those that would be instrumental in conveying spiritual life to dead souls must thus affect themselves with their case, and accommodate themselves to it, and labour fervently in prayer for them.
(2.) How gradually the operation was performed. At the first application, the flesh of the child waxed warm (2 Kgs. 4:34), which gave the prophet encouragement to continue instant in prayer. After a while, the child sneezed seven times, which was an indication, not only of life, but liveliness. Some have reported it as an ancient tradition that when God breathed into Adam the breath of life the first evidence of his being alive was sneezing, which gave rise to the usage of paying respect to those that sneeze. Some observe here that sneezing clears the head, and there lay the child’s distemper.
(3.) How joyfully the child was restored alive to his mother (2 Kgs. 4:36, 37), and all parties concerned were not a little comforted, Acts 20:12. See the power of God, who kills and makes alive again. See the power of prayer; as it has the key of the clouds, so it has the key of death. See the power of faith; that fixed law of nature (that death is a way whence there is no returning) shall rather be dispensed with than this believing Shunammite shall be disappointed.