Shunammite Mother

The prophet Elisha often passed by the house of a wealthy and respectable woman in Shunem. The woman believed him to be a holy man and offered him bread each time he passed through the area. She convinced her husband that they should create a small chamber for the prophet, putting in a bed, table, stool, and candlestick, so that whenever he came to their home he had room of his own in which to rest.

The prophet began to use the chamber. One day he asked Gehazi, his servant, to summon the Shunammite woman in order that he might ask her what he could do for her in return. The woman stood before him, but didn't ask for anything. She had a kind heart, and only desired to use her wealth to care for the holy man. Gehazi told Elisha that the woman's husband was quite old and that the woman had no child. So Elisha asked her if she could embrace a child at that point in her life.

And he said, About this season, according to the time of life, thou shalt embrace a son. And she said, Nay, my lord, thou man of God, do not lie unto thine handmaid. And the woman conceived, and bare a son at that season that Elisha had said unto her, according to the time of life. (2 Kings 4:16–17)

The Child Dies

Her child grew healthy and strong. one morning, the boy accompanied his father to a field to work with the reapers. However, when he fell on his head and screamed in pain, his father carried him to his mother and placed him on her lap. The child remained in her embrace until noon, when he died.

The Shunammite mother carried the boy to the little room she had made for the prophet Elisha. She gently laid the lifeless body upon the bed. Then she called for a donkey and rode as fast as she could to Mount Carmel.

Mount Carmel in ancient times was associated with Elijah and Elisha, two notable Old Testament prophets. The mountain juts up 1,792 feet and is part of a mountain ridge in northwest Israel that stretches from the Plain of Esdraelon down to a part of the Mediterranean Sea known as the Bay of Haifa. The port city of Haifa is located at the base of Mount Carmel.

Elisha saw her coming and called out to Gehazi, his servant, to go to the woman and find out what was troubling her. The Shunammite mother did not want to waste precious time explaining things to Gehazi, but instead threw herself at the feet of Elisha. Her gesture demonstrated great humility and respect, and in an anguished voice she pleaded with Elisha to help her child. The old prophet understood her pain and told his servant to take his staff and go heal the boy. The Shunnamite mother insisted that she would not leave Elisha's side, so the two followed after Gehazi.

Gehazi was unsuccessful in reviving the boy, and some sources assert that he may not have tried very hard; but Elisha took over when he arrived. He entered the room and closed it, keeping everyone out. He prayed to God, “And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm” (2 Kings 4:34).

Elisha, the Bible says, then got up and paced before once again stretching himself upon the boy. This time the child sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.

Elisha called in Gehazi and told him to get the Shunammite woman. When the woman entered the room, Elisha told her, “Take up thy son” (2 Kings 4:36). The woman, who had much faith in God and had freely given of her wealth to make life more comfortable for the Lord's prophet, was surely rewarded with Divine favor; nothing short of a miracle was performed through the aging prophet. Overcome with gratitude, she fell at Elisha's feet.

What is the significance of seven sneezes?

To the ancients, seven symbolized a protracted state of something (a severe illness or demonic possession), but also completion. Some sources assert that the boy's sneezes are to be understood as breaths Elisha exhaled into him. The ancients believed that the soul temporarily flew out of the body during a sneeze.

The Shunammite woman was to again receive God's grace through his prophet Elisha. The holy man told her that she must take her son and travel as far as she could, because a famine would soon ravage the land for seven years. The Shunammite took her son and went to territory occupied by the Philistines. At the end of seven years, she returned.

Gehazi was speaking to the king about how Elisha had restored the woman's son to life at precisely the moment the woman reappeared. She asked the king to return her house and land. Not only did the king honor her request, but he also ordered that all of the fruit of her land (all that it had produced in her seven-year absence) be given to her.

These are only a few of the stories to be found in the Bible about how God favored women in ancient times. Their lives were fraught with many of the same problems that plague modern women, but their faith, resourcefulness, and perseverance was often rewarded through divine intervention.

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