Elisha is always on the move traveling a circuitous route. A devoted woman gives him a gift to make life easier and he returns the favor with an even greater gift.
When I was reading this story a verse popped into my head; “As you did it unto one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). The woman in our story had it in her heart to bless Elisha because she KNEW he was a servant of God. She rendered service to God and God gave back to her.
I wonder how Elisha and this woman first met. Was she at one of his ‘revival’ meetings? Did they pass on the street and she felt led to speak to him? Did she hear about him from her friends and seek him out to offer him a meal? Did she come to him for a healing or a blessing? Had she been watching his comings and goings for a while before she approached him?
Because of the culture, I’m guessing that she didn’t personally approach him. She probably had a servant bring word of her offer to Elisha’s servant. Maybe she even learned about him through her servant. Is it possible that one of her servants, that she cared deeply for, had gone to him for help? I want to step into the story and use this last scenario as our introduction for the two of them.
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Mehida was a faithful servant in his master’s house. He had grown up in this role as a child. He was well loved by the other servants and favored by his mistress. He had been injured in the fields many years ago as he protected his master’s vineyard from wild boars. As a result, he walked with a pronounced limp and endured great pain as he went about his duties. Yet he never complained and always had a kind word for those around him. After his accident he was moved into the house to serve in a role that required less physical demands on him.
This morning his mistress, Phaneul, noticed something different about him. She watched him as he set food before her for her morning meal. The strain that was always present on his face was gone. As he moved away from the table to retrieve something Phaneul let out a joyful squeal.
“Mehida you’re not limping!”
Mehida turned to face his mistress and his face split in a grin. Then he did a little hop skip. “The pain is gone and my body is whole again” he replied.
Phaneul couldn’t restrain herself. She jumped from her place at the table and came to where he stood. “How did this happen?”
Mehida’s face glowed as he told his mistress about the prophet of God who had touched him. “He actually SAW me! It was as if he knew my name and my story without ever being told. He made his way through the crowd who had gathered to hear him. He stood right before me. He reached out and he touched my shoulder. My whole body was made whole RIGHT THEN. The pain left and I stood up straight. No more limp.”
Phaneul brings both hands to her mouth and cover it as if to hold in the excitement while her eyes spill over with tears of joy. When she is finally able to speak she peppers Mehida with questions.
“How did you learn of him?” “Is he still in town?” “What is his name?” “Where does he come from?”
Mehida holds his hands up and laughs. “Slow down mistress. I can only answer one question at a time.”
Phaneul laughs along with Mehida and starts over. “I suppose my first question should have been ‘What is his name.’”
“His name is Elisha. They say he was the servant of the prophet Elijah and that the spirit of Elijah rests on him.”
“How did you learn of him?”
“My cousin heard him speak not far from here. He is calling for Israel to return to their true God and forsake the idols Jeroboam brought in His place.”
“I would spit on the idols Jeroboam brought in” exclaims Phaneul. “It is a wonder the Lord has not rained down destruction on Israel for such sins.”
“I agree my mistress but many of Israel hold stubbornly to the false gods. I pray they will listen before it is too late. I pray the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob does not wipe the earth of His people.”
“I pray also my old friend. So is the man still in town?”
“He may be but if not, he comes this way often. I can watch for him and let you know the next time he passes by.”
“Yes please. But go and search to see if he is still here this day.”
“What would you have me say to him when I find him?”
“Tell him your mistress wishes to honor him with a meal for the kindness he has shown my servant.”
Mehida smiles at the generosity of his mistress. She didn’t have to even take note of his healing but she goes even farther in offering her personal gratitude to the man of God. “I will go search now, if that is alright with you my mistress, and bring you back word.”
“Yes! Go now. I will begin preparations, just in case.”
Mehida hurries out into the square and begins asking around about Elisha. He learns that Elisha has left Shunam but is said to be returning in two day’s time. Mehida is disappointed that he will not be bringing the man of God to his mistress this day but it will give her more time to prepare to meet him this way.
“Mistress, the man of God has already left the city but he will return in two days.”
“We will be ready when he returns then.”
Phaneul dives deep into preparation for the man of God. She has the servants give the house a thorough deep cleaning. She makes out a menu and shopping list. She also sees to the spiritual health of her house by ensuring the servants have not brought in any idols. She insists her home be free of such abominations but sometimes with a new staff member, they slip past her. She deals with such things quickly if and when they are discovered.
By the morning the man of God is due to arrive in Shunam Phaneul is ready. She has decided to make the offer herself to the man of God, through a servant of course as a married woman does not address strange men in public. Mehida will be her voice. They spend the morning together in the Bazar ‘looking for bargains’ and watching for the man of God.
As midday approaches Mehida steps close to his mistress and speaks softly so that only she can hear. “There he is mistress” he says while indicating whom he is referring to with his chin. Phaneul looks in the direction indicated and sees a man who appears to be drawing a crowd. As she watches him she realizes that she would have recognized him as a prophet of God by his dress alone. He is wearing a camel’s hair coat, tied snuggly about his waist.
Mehida proceeds Phaneul through the gathering crowd until they are standing near Elisha and his servant, Gehazi. Mehida addresses Elisha through his servant.
“My mistress requests the honor of your master’s company at table this evening. She would like to offer him thanks for his compassion on this humble servant of hers whom your master healed the last time he was in our city.”
Elisha, knowing the protocol hears the invitation and responds through Gehazi.
“My master offers his appreciation for the invitation but was only acting in service to the Lord.”
“In service to the Lord then this invitation is extended” answers Phaneul through Mehida.
“In the name of the Lord, I will accept” says Elisha and bows to both Phaneul and Mehida.
Phaneul returns his bow with a dip of her head also in acknowledgment. Before departing Mehida gives Gehazi directions to the home of his mistress. Phaneul would love to spend time in conversation with this man of God but recognizes that he has many people to attend to at this moment and propriety would not allow such a thing. She returns home to ensure the meal will be ready when he comes.
As the dinner hour approaches Elisha and his servant make their way to the home of the Phaneul and her husband Libni. It will be a refreshing change from their usual fare of bread and figs on the roadside.
Mehida has been watching for Elisha from the garden. When he sees them drawing near the gate he hurries in to tell his mistress before going to meet them at the gate.
Before Gehazi’s knock dies on the wind Mehida is opening the gate to welcome the guests.
“Welcome to the home of Libni, husband of Phaneul. All are honored by your presence. Please follow me.”
As they enter the home a servant waits beside the door with a basin, pitcher and towel. Mehida indicates a bench where Elisha and Gehazi can sit. “Would you like to avail yourselves of water for your feet?”
“That would be most welcome” replies Elisha. He and Gehazi take their seats and the servant kneels in front of them. She removes Elisha’s sandals one at a time, gently pours water over his feet, massages them to remove any dirt then dries them before replacing his sandals. She then performs the same service for Gehazi. Both men rise together after the servant gathers her supplies from before them.
“If you will follow me; my master and mistress await your company” says Mehida.
Elisha is led to an inner room that is set for dinner. It is an intimate setting with places set for the three men. There are no other guests this night. Phaneul was uncertain if Elisha would be comfortable with a crowd at table. She decided to err on the side of caution.
“Welcome to our home” offers Libni. Phaneul stands to his side and dips her head in agreement.
“Thank you for your kind invitation” replies Elisha.
“Please sit here in the place of honor” Libni directs Elisha. “My wife tells me we have you to thank for the renewed health of our most favored servant.”
“Not I but the Lord, the God of Israel” Elisha politely corrects.
“Of course. He provides for His children through the faithful hands of His servants.”
Once all are seated a servant enters with a basin, pitcher and towel. She begins with Elisha and offers each diner the opportunity to wash their hands before the meal is served. Phaneul is the final one to partake of this ritual as her place is removed from that of the men.
As soon as the servant bearing the water leaves other servants arrive with platters to set before the diners. Conversation is initially light and consists of pleasantries exchanged as newly acquainted people tend to do in the beginning. By mid-meal the topic of Israel’s sin rises to the fore.
Elisha and Libni are very much in agreement regarding the danger Israel faces if the people don’t turn away from their sin. The conversation rises in intensity and, although it is not customary, Phaneul is invited to join the men as they discuss the Law. Their discussion goes on well into the evening and all in attendance feel a deep kinship develop during their time together.
As difficult as it is to say good night, Elisha and Gehazi insist that they must be on their way. Libni and Phaneul offer them lodging for the night but Elisha politely refuses. They had already made arrangements and don’t want to worry their hosts by not showing.
Phaneul offers an alternative instead. “Master Elisha, please think of our home as always open to you whenever you visit Shunam. There will always be a place set at table for you and your servant. We offer this gift to you as an offering to the Lord.”
“Yes!” joined in Libni. “As the Lord lives and as you live, you will always have a place of refreshing under our roof.”
Elisha is touched by their generosity. An open invitation is most welcome to one who travel as frequently as he does. “I will remember this and will honor your gift by using it whenever I have occasion.”
Elisha was true to his word and so was Libni. The small group shared many meals together over the next few months but Elisha always went his way after partaking of food and company.
Phaneul was warmed by Elisha’s visits but wished to do more for the prophet of God. Her life had been much enriched by his company as well as his teachings. One morning she awoke with an idea pressing upon her. She quickly dressed and hurried to her husband’s side before he left for the vineyard.
“Behold now, I know that this is a holy man of God who is continually passing out way. Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that whenever he comes to us, he can go in there” (verses 9-10).
“This is a wonderful idea! I shall see to it at once.”
Work began on the room for Elisha the very next day and was completed within two weeks. Phaneul took extra care furnishing and arranging it in what would be the most appropriate fashion for a man.
Elisha had made one visit during the time the room was being built. It was impossible to miss the construction going on atop the home but Elisha didn’t feel it was his place to inquire about it. Phaneul and Libni decided to keep it secret until their gift was ready so during Elisha’s visit they didn’t bring it up either. Phaneul did however ask that Elisha not make arrangements for his next stay with the inn. Reluctantly he agreed to her request.
Elisha’s room was ready and waiting the next time he came to Shunam. He was welcomed into the home of Libni as usual with water for his feet. When all finally sit down for dinner Phaneul is fairly bursting with excitement.
“I believe my wife would chastise me for a week if I make her wait any longer to reveal a gift she has prepared for you master Elisha.”
“Then for your health we should give leave to do so” says Elisha with a smile.
Phaneul brings out a square bundle tied with twine and lays it beside Elisha.
Elisha unties the twine and unfolds the cloth to find a beautifully woven blanket within. “Thank you Phaneul. This is very kind of you.”
“It is for your new room” says Phaneul.
Elisha looks puzzled. “What new room?”
Libni smiles and rises from the table. “Follow me and you will see.”
The group makes its way to the back of the house where a staircase climbs the exterior wall. “This way” encourages Libni.
Elisha is soon standing before the door to his new room with blanket in hand. He is speechless as Phaneul opens the door and points out all the amenities she has included for him.
“This was all Phaneul’s idea and preparation” whispers Libni.
With tears in his eyes Elisha offers his thanks. “This is a MOST gracious gift! I am honored by such generosity.”
“Let’s enjoy dinner before you get too comfortable up here” jokes Libni.
“Of course” says Elisha. “Let me just put this down.” Elisha carefully lays the folded blanket on top of the bed and all return to the table.
Elisha and Gehazi spend their first night in the room built out of love.
On Elisha’s next visit to Shunam he stops into his room at the home of Libni and Phaneul for a break during the day. He has never had such a luxury before while traveling. This woman has greatly lightened his burden not one way but two. He knows he will always be welcome and cared for because of her generous spirit. He decided he must do something for her in return.
“Gehazi, ‘call this Shunammite’ (verse 12b).”
Gehazi goes down the stairs and enters the house to find Phaneul. “My master Elisha would have a word with you.”
Phaneul immediately follows Gehazi back up the stairs to the place where Elisha waits. Elisha still maintains some of the customs of the land so he speaks to Phaneul through his servant.
“Say now to her, ‘See, you have taken all this trouble for us’ what is to be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?’” (verse13a).
Phaneul is grateful for Elisha’s thoughtfulness but she has no need of this. “I dwell among my own people” (verse 13b) she replies.
Elisha addresses Gehazi with his own question. “What then is to be done for her?” (verse 14a).
Gehazi thinks for a moment while Phaneul looks on. “Well, she has no son, and her husband is old” (verse 14b)
Phaneul sucks in her breath at Gehazi’s words. This is her secret pain. One she has buried deep in her heart and given up as lost.
“Come closer” Elijah says to Phaneul.
Without a word she steps closer and sands in the doorway of Elisha’s room.
“At this season, about this time next year, you shall embrace a son” (verse 16a).
“No, my lord, O man of God; do not lie to your servant” (verse 16b) cries Phaneul. She turns and quickly leaves the roof.
Elisha and Gehazi didn’t see Phaneul at table that evening. Her heart was still torn in two. Her greatest pain had been laid bare by the man of God’s servant. Yet when the man of God spoke to her of an answer to that pain he spoke with conviction. She couldn’t see how this could ever be so was busy trying to tamp that pain back down inside her. But it didn’t fit any longer. Tendrils of hope had begun to weave themselves around the pain and poke out of the box she once held it in within her heart.
As the season for Phaneal’s next cycle approached she wrestled between hope and despair. She recalled the years before when she had done this and the agony of disappointment that came with the beginning of each new cycle. She tried to steel herself against the disappointment again but the tendrils of hope had grown over the weeks.
The day for her cycle came and went without its usual presence. Phaneul waited as a week passed, then another and another. By the time her second cycle was absent the hope that had begun as small tendrils now bloomed into a full size mustard tree. She was with child! She was certain of it. And she had confidence that this child would rest in her arms just as Elisha, the man of God, had said.
Elisha’s travels kept him away from Shunam for several months. When he next returned he was greeted by a radiant Phaneul. Her heart was as full as her womb.
Time passed and Phaneul delivered her son. He was a healthy baby and just as Elisha had said, she held him before in Elisha’s presence the same time the following year after Elisha had told her she would. What started as a small way to thank the Lord for healing her servant grew into something that healed her heart too.
(to be continued)
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Both the woman and Elisha saw an opportunity to bless someone without asking for anything in return. Their lives were forever linked because of generosity. I have no doubt that this woman would have been just as generous if she had little instead of much. Her heart was for the Lord. The fact that she had means allowed her to give extravagantly. She was blessed beyond her wildest dreams for opening her heart and home.
Her money couldn’t fill this hole in her life but God could and did; AFTER she poured herself into service. She stopped seeking after a child and served where she was with all she had. Sometimes letting go is the only way. Holding onto a dream so hard that it blocks everything else out keeps all the other good things of God out too. Turn lose and trust that HE knows what is best and at what time that best should come about. Even if the dream has to change form.
Father God, Thank You that You know my dreams. Even the ones that I have buried so deep I no longer touch them. Also the ones that I have held onto so long and strong that I miss what You are doing. Thank You for changing the ones that are not healthy. I am MORE than grateful that the dream of being a mother isn’t one that You held back from me. I can only imagine this woman’s pain and pray for those who share that same pain. Thank You that You NEVER lost sight of that dream for her.
My ‘dream’ involves my children. It is to see them all walking with You; my grandchildren too. My children are a promise from You too. I will hold onto that promise and trust You to bring it about in Your time.