Elisha’s ‘thank you gift’ encounters trouble. The child the Shunammite woman received dies. She clings to faith and her child is restored.
Another title for our story could be Twice Broken, Twice Restored. We met this woman the last time we were together. She KNEW Elisha was a holy man of God and she did all she could to bring him comfort during his time in her city. These were her gifts to God but she was also a woman in need.
She had no child. She had buried that hurt far down in her heart and didn’t even visit it. Her gifts to Elisha prompted him to desire to bestow a gift on her in return. She believed she had all she needed or wanted but God saw down deeper. Gehazi voiced her hidden desire; to have a son. And Elisha granted it.
Our woman never asked for a child and had NO expectation of ever receiving one. But God saw her giving heart. He saw her generous spirit and her hidden hurts. He addressed both. He gave her a child to heal the hurt and to pour out her heart onto.
But her story doesn’t end there. Let’s rejoin her and see where the Spirit takes us today.
♥ ♦ ♥
Phaneul and Libni are wonderful parents. They dote on their son, Toha. He lacks for nothing, including love and discipline. For love without discipline is not love at all.
Toha is five years old now. His favorite things to do are spend time with his father in the vineyard, sit at the prophet’s feet when he visits, and make his mother laugh.
Toha has been ‘training’ at his father’s side since he was four. He follows Libni as he sees to the workers. Libni has taught him the seasons of the grape and how to tell if it is ripe. Testing for ripeness is Toha’s favorite part of the job because it means that he can ‘sample’ the grapes. This is his father’s word for getting to see how sweet they are all over the vineyard. He makes sure to ‘sample’ from EVERY vine when he is given this task.
Elisha has continued to come to Libni and Phaneul’s home often over the child’s life. Toha especially loves to hear the story of his beginning; of the prophet telling his mother that he would be born. He also studies the Law so he can follow the ways of the prophet. He is counting the days until he attains manhood and can teach others about the God of Israel.
But Toha’s greatest joy is making his mother laugh. She has such a musical laugh and it dances in her eyes as well as rolls from her lips. Toha thinks his mother is the most special mother in the world because of her laughter. It doesn’t take much to bring her laughter out. A silly smile, a little dance, even a handmade mud cake could do the trick. She liked the ones where he drew pictures on them the best. She did NOT like the one he put a worm in. It did NOT make her laugh. He never did that again.
Toha is still young enough that he divides his day between his mother and father. This morning he will go with his father into the vineyard. He hopes it will be a day for sampling. He makes sure to leave room in his belly for the grapes as he is eating his breakfast.
“You haven’t finished your breakfast Toha” admonishes Phaneul.
“I can’t. I have to have room to help papa sample the grapes.”
“You need more than grapes to grow up strong.”
“I’ll grow up strong tomorrow. Today I want to sample with papa.”
Phaneul laughs at Toha’s seriousness and this makes him smile in return. “Alright, you may go. But I will wrap your bread and cheese in case you get hungry later.”
“I won’t get hungry. I will be sampling and that ALWAYS fills me up!”
Phaneul shakes her head and wraps the remainder of Toha’s breakfast anyway before sending him out to join his father.
Phaneul watches from the doorway as Toha runs across the field to join his father. Libni is working at the edge of the vineyard where Toha can easily find him for his ‘work’. Libni hears the slap of Toha’s sandals long before he reaches him. He looks up from his work and waves to Phaneul to let her know he is ready to assume care of their son. Toha arrives soon after their signal is passed.
Toha’s face is serious as he looks at the grapes. He studies them from several angles, including underneath. “Is it sampling time yet papa?”
Libni smiles. You tell me? What do you see?”
“I see they all have dark color. No light spots.”
“Ok. What else?”
“When I pinch them softly they feel squishy full of juice.”
“That is a good sign. What about the seed? Can you see it through the skin?”
“No. I don’t see any white spots in them. That means the seeds grew up and got dark.”
“It does indeed. Are you ready to for the best test?”
“Alright. Pick one and tell me what you think.”
Toha carefully pulls a grape from the nearest bunch. He is careful not to knock any of the others to the ground. He puts the end of it in his mouth and takes a small nibble. He has learned with experience not to pop the whole thing in at once as if it isn’t ripe yet he gets a mouth full of sour instead of a little taste.
“Mmmm” Toha says as the flavor hits his tongue. He then pops the rest of the grape into his mouth. “It tastes good.”
“Not delicious” asks Libni.
“No not yet. Maybe tomorrow. I could try again though.”
Libni laughs. “No, you are probably right. We will wait a few more days before the real sampling takes begins.” Libni had already tested the grapes on his own and came to the same conclusion. It pleased him that his son was learning to be so discriminating. He would be a fine wine maker one day.
Toha was a little disappointed that it wasn’t the real sampling day but he would wait like his father said. Eating grapes before they were really ready made his tummy hurt. He was glad his mamma wrapped the rest of his breakfast.
Libni and Toha set off through the vineyard to check on the workers. They were watering and tending to the grapes near the middle today. They were checking for signs of bugs and making sure the birds weren’t getting too many of them. ‘Flying strings’ were used to scare the birds away. Toha got to help make the bunches of string that were tied to the tops of the vines. He pulled apart strands of rope until it easily caught the breeze. Then the workers tied them in bundles at the middle and let the ends fly in the air. Most of the birds were scared by this and that meant Toha and his family got to keep more grapes.
Toha is busy separating ropes when his head starts to hurt. At first it was a little hurt but it got bigger fast. It got so big that he started crying and holding onto it with both hands. “Oh, my head, my head!” (verse 19a).
Libni looks over at Toha immediately and sees him clutching his head and rocking on the ground. “Carry him to his mother” (verse 19b) Libni calls out to one of his servants. This is not the first headache Toha has had. Phaneul knows best how to deal with them.
The servant picks up Toha and begins walking towards the family home. Toha curls into the servants chest and uses his tunic to shield his eyes from the light. “We will be there soon” whispers the servant. He knows to whisper as his deep rumbling voice has caused additional pain on previous occasions like this. Toha knows the safety of this man’s arms and trusts him to get him to his mamma.
Phaneul is working in the garden when she hears footsteps approaching. It is Mehida and he is carrying Toha. She quickly rushes to meet them.
Mehida passes Toha to his mother who walks with him into the house.
“He said it was his head again” whispers Mehida.
Phaneul nods her head in understanding and then sits in her favorite chair. This is where she has ministered to Toha’s needs for years. Quietly she asks Mehida to bring her water for Toha and to close the shutters so the room will darken.
Toha curls up into his mother’s robe and inhales her scent. She strokes his hair and gently massages the back of his neck. Mehida returns with the water and she tries to get Toha to drink a little of it. Mehida returns to the vineyard after seeing that the two of them are settled.
Phaneul only gets a few sips of water past Toha’s lips before he turns away and back into her chest. The two of them sit nestled together for hours. The pain usually passes quickly after Phaneul begins to massage Toha’s neck and shoulders. Today nothing is helping but Phaneul refuses to give up.
Toha begins to whimper after a few hours. He has been strong for so long and the pain is not getting little. His mamma’s smell isn’t chasing it away either. He doesn’t know what to do. Mamma is good at making it go away but not today. Did he do something bad that made the pain get big today? He tries thinking about the things he did today and yesterday that might have been bad but his head hurts more when he thinks.
Phaneul’s brow is creased with worry. Toha has never suffered this long before. Her heart breaks when she hears him whimpering. She redoubles her efforts to massage his neck and shoulders to loosen their grasp.
Toha’s whimpers are dying out and Phaneul feels his body relaxing on her lap. “Finally, some relief for him” she thinks. Then she notices that Toha is not relaxing but has gone limp. She draws his head away from her chest and feels for his breath. There isn’t any. Phaneul clasps him tightly to herself, holding at bay the anguish she feels rising up inside of her. Just before it swallows her whole she feels the same tendrils of hope she experienced once before. She knows instantly what she needs to do.
Phaneul stands up carefully with her son in her arms and makes her way to the room of Elisha. The Lord gave her Toha through Elisha, surely He can bring him back through him too. She lays Toha on Elisha’s bed, covers him with a light blanket and leaves the room making sure to close the door.
She settles in her heart and mind that her child is sleeping and Elisha will wake him. She needs to get to him quickly and without arousing alarm. Phaneul goes to the edge of the vineyard and calls out for Libni. He hears her voice and goes to meet her.
“Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again” (verse 22b).
Libni is puzzled by her request. “Why will you go to him today? It is neither the new moon nor the Sabbath” (verse 23a).
Phaneul pats him on the hand and says the words that she is holding fast to. “All is well” (verse 23b).
Libni nods and has Mehida fetch the donkey while he calls his fastest servant. “Go with my wife to the man of God and bring her home safely.”
Phaneul gives Libni a genuine smile that speaks to him that her words were true so he returns to his tasks. Mehida and Phaneul saddle the donkey and Phaneul and the servant set out towards the road. Once it is only the two of them she gives orders to the servant.
“Urge the animal on; do not slacken the pace for me unless I tell you” (verse 24b).
The servant jogs beside the donkey and urges him to a trot for most of the trip. They occasionally slowed to give the donkey a rest but never stopped.
Elisha’s attention is drawn to a pair of people moving quickly towards him. He raised his hand above his eyes to shade the sun for a better look. He recognizes Phaneul atop the donkey. “Is something wrong” he thinks. He watches as they get closer and their pace doesn’t slacken. He calls to Gehazi.
“Look, there is the Shunammite. Run at once to meet her and say to her, ‘Is all well with you? Is all well with your husband? Is all well with the child?’” (verses 25b-26a).
Gehazi sets off quickly and meets them in the way.
“Is all well with you? Is all well with your husband? Is all well with the child?” inquires Gehazi.
Phaneul repeats again the words she is clinging to. “All is well” (verse 26b). But her pace doesn’t slacken and she doesn’t stop until she reaches to mountain where Elisha stands. Gehazi is forced to turn around and follow her back to Elisha.
Phaneul quickly dismounts the donkey and rushes to Elisha where she falls at his feet and grabs onto them as if they were a lifeline for a drowning victim.
Gehazi is astounded that she would lay hands on the prophet. He is only a step or two away and he rushes forward to lay hands on her and push her away.
Elisha holds up his hand to stop Gehazi.
“Leave her alone, for she is in bitter distress, and the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me” (verse 27b).
Phaneul can’t say the words ‘my son is dead’. They won’t form in her mouth or her mind. Instead she speaks of the pain of his loss.
“Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, ‘Do not deceive me?’” (verse 28).
Elisha immediately recognizes the source of her distress. He gives urgent direction to Gehazi.
“Tie up your garments and take my staff in your hand and go. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not reply. And lay my staff on the face of the child” (verse 29).
Gehazi hurriedly does as Elisha commands and sets off towards Shunam. Phaneul refused to release Elisha’s feet.
“As the Lord lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you” (verse 30b).
Elisha laid his hand atop her head.
“We will go together.”
Together they saddle Elisha’s donkey and Phaneul climbs back onto hers. Her servant urges both donkeys along and they return to Shunam as quickly as possible.
Gehazi is able to run much quicker than the donkeys and he reaches the home of Libni and Phaneul ahead of the others. He goes immediately to the room atop the house that he and Elisha share. The child lies on the bed of Elisha. His skin is waxy and white and his chest makes no movement. Gehazi steps to the side of the bed and takes the staff of Elisha and lays it on the child’s face. He holds it there and waits. Nothing happens. There is still no sign of life. He knows this miracle with take more than a token of Elisha’s. It will take Elisha himself interceding on behalf of the child. Gehazi leaves the room and shuts the door. He then runs back the way he came in order to meet up with Elisha. As soon as he meets them he speaks the words of his failure.
“The child has not awakened” (verse 31b).
Elisha nods his head and they continue on their way to the home of Phaneul. As soon as they arrive Elisha takes his staff from Gehazi and goes up to his room. There he finds Toha laid out upon his bed as if in sleep. Elisha shut the door behind him, leaving Phaneul on the other side. He and Gehazi were the only ones in the room. Elisha began to pray to the Lord. Phaneul went back down into the house and sat in her favorite chair. She too prayed to the Lord.
After praying fervently Elisha walked over to the bed and laid himself on top of the child. Nose to nose, mouth to mouth, eye to eye, and hands to hands. As he lay upon him Toha’s flesh began to warm but that was the only sign of life exhibited.
Elisha got up from the bed and walked around his room praying. After a few minutes he returned to the bed and stretched himself out on Toha once again. After just a moment Toha sneezed. Elisha raised himself up from the bed and watched. Toha sneezed six more times and then he opened his eyes. Elisha’s smile was the first thing he saw.
“Call this Shunammite” (verse 36b) Elisha commanded Gehazi.
Gehazi hurried down into the house to find Phaneul still sitting in her chair.
“He is awake” Gehazai said softly.
Phaneul shoots from her chair and bounds up the stairs to the room of Elisha. Elisha met her at the door. He held it open for her and pointed over toward Toha.
“Pick up your son” (verse 36c) Elisha says with a smile.
Phaneul fell to her knees at Elisha’s feet and wept with gratitude for a moment before making her way to the bed.
“Hi mamma” said Toha with a smile.
“Hi Toha” replied Phaneul. She then scooped him up from where he lay and carried him back down to their special chair.
Libni was coming in from the vineyard about the time Phaneul was settling herself and Toha into their chair. Libni saw the two of them embracing one another.
“Are you feeling better little man” he asked with a smile.
“I am papa, thanks to the man of God.”
Libni looks up at Phaneul with a puzzled look on his face.
“I will tell you all about it later. For now what do you say we find something to eat for dinner?”
“I’m so hungry I could eat two samples” chirps Toha.
Phaneul and Libni laugh.
Toha never again had one of his headaches. Phaneul told Libni the full story over a few days. Her heart needed time for the fear to completely leave it before she was able to speak freely of her loss and her faith. Elisha continued to visit the family and stay in his room whenever he was in Shunam and to teach Toha even more of God’s Law and love.
(to be continued)
♥ ♦ ♥
As a mother, I have no idea how she held it all together. “All is well” would have been the LAST words anyone would find on my lips. All I can figure is that she knew God gave her this child and He was able to restore him or to reheal her heart. That was some AMAZING faith! She refused to give up until her son was in her arms again, alive.
Father God, thank You for hearing our cries. I know You don’t always answer the way You did for this woman but whatever answer You give is perfect. I don’t have nearly her faith but I haven’t had a need for it like she did. I believe if I needed it You would supply it in exact measure.
I am waiting for the return of my children to You. That is their rebirth.