The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.”
Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?”
“Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.”
Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.”
She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.”
But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing.
She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.”
As a little girl, I resonated with the magical, fairy-tale quality of this story. As an adult, I recognize this story for what it is. It is an example of what happens in the lives of believers when they ask, accept, act, and acknowledge God’s provision in any circumstance.
In the opening scene, the widow simply states her situation. Most likely, she assumes Elisha, a prophet and her husband’s co-worker/mentor, already knows her husband has died. But, she reveals the severity of her circumstances and the pending results. The only earthly possessions she has to pay her husband’s creditor are her sons. Imagine a grieving widow and loving mother faced with selling her sons into slavery. This transaction relieves the debt, but what about survival? She cannot live without her sons literally or figuratively.
Although no obvious question is asked, the widow appeals to Elisha as a prophet. She appears to be asking for advice rather than assistance. It is Elisha who offers assistance and asks what he can do, what resources she has. Perhaps in her mind, a little oil is hardly worth mentioning. Yet, Elisha describes in detail a plan to use that nearly disregarded oil.
The widow listens to Elisha’s plan. As I read it, I considered her possible reactions. “Why did I bother asking! Go door-to-door and ask my neighbors for their empty jars? How degrading! Close my door? What difference does that make? At least, pouring the oil won’t be a waste of time. There isn’t enough for even a minute to pass!”
But, that is not her reaction.
Elisha is barely out the door before she closes it behind her. Her sons collect the jars, and she starts pouring. And pouring. And pouring. There is still oil to be poured when her sons say all the jars are filled. All the jars are filled, even hers.
Just as she immediately follows Elisha’s instructions, she does not hesitate to find him and share the results. What may have seemed like a crazy plan suddenly makes sense to her when he tells her to sell the oil–most likely to those gracious neighbors who will be grateful for having their empty jars filled–and to live with her sons on the surplus oil.
When I read this seemingly fantastical story, I marvel at the miraculous power of God. Before I even ask, He knows my situation. But, He listens anyway. He shares His plan with me through His Word, wise counsel, and heartfelt whispers. After I accept His plan and obediently act according to His instructions, my life–and those lives I encounter–will be filled beyond expectation. With a grateful heart, I share the results with Him. His blessings are revealed to me and to others.
Fact or fiction? Magic or miracle? God’s provision makes the adult in me believe in miracles, keeps the child in me believing in happy endings.