2 Kings 4:6
This simple and touching story is one of those many narratives which make the Bible a book for every one, and a book for everyday life. The individual is never lost in the nation or the race. It is so in actual fact. Our own personal needs and struggles and anxieties are of more importance and interest to us than the struggles of a nation or the general well-being of the human race. It is the same in the Bible. The Bible is partly a history of nations, and particularly of the Jewish nation. But it is much more a history of individuals. It is this that makes it such a book of universal comfort and instruction. We can all find something in it that suits ourselves. As we read of the men and women whose lives are recorded in it, we learn more from their faith and their failings, from their temptations and their victories, than we could from any abstract discourses about the benefit of virtue and the evil of vice. We learn that they were men and women of like passions with ourselves. We learn that the temptations they conquered we can conquer by the help of the same Spirit; that the trials they endured we can endure; and that the faith and holiness to which they attained are within our reach also. And then how homely and how practical the Bible is! Its heroes and heroines do net live in a Utopia. It shows them to us under very much the same conditions as we live under still. It shows them to us in their homes and at their business, in their loves and in their married life, at the plough and in the fishing-boat, at the marriage-feast and at the funeral. Perhaps we think it hard to be religious in our business, in society, or amid the petty cares and worries of our daily life. The Bible shows us men and women living under the same conditions, and yet living so much in the fear of God and the presence of eternity that they triumphed over their distractions, and, whilst in the world, were not of it. Such a glimpse of everyday life we obtain in the narrative before us. We learned some valuable lessons from the palace of King Ahaziah; we may learn quite as important ones from the humble home of a prophet's widow.

I. INNOCENT SUFFERING. There is a good deal of suffering in the world. Many suffer innocently. But not all those who think they suffer innocently are really innocent. Here, however, there appears to be a case of really innocent suffering. It is a poor widow who comes to tell Elisha her tale of want and woe. Her husband had been one of "the sons of the prophets" - a word that was used in a general sense to signify those who were pupils of the prophets, trained by the prophets. He had unfortunately got into debt. How he was led into it we are not told. He was a God-fearing man. It was not, therefore, through dissipation or sin. But it may have been through his own imprudence or improvidence. Or it may have been through some unexpected loss, or through failure on the part of others to meet their liabilities to him. At any rate, he died in debt, and his poor widow is the sufferer.

1. This incident, and there are many like it happening every day, shows us the folly and danger of getting into debt. One of the worst features of it is that so often the innocent - the wife or children who perhaps know nothing at all of the debt - have to suffer for the folly or the dishonesty of others. We need to have a more awakened conscience on this subject of using money which really is not our own. As a matter of worldly policy and prudence, it is a great mistake. As a matter of morality, it is very doubtful indeed. How many of the tremendous crashes, which have taken place in the commercial world are the result of men living beyond their means! They made too large demands upon the future. They incurred liabilities which they had no means of meeting. And in many cases debt proves to be a temptation to dishonesty. I have yet to learn the difference between the dishonesty of the man who gets a month's imprisonment for a petty theft, and the dishonesty of many who are legally protected in their crime by the strange device of the bankruptcy court. Not that every bankrupt is dishonest. But many who are thus protected are. We want a clearer and a cleaner public conscience on this question of debt.

2. There is a word here also for creditors. The creditor in this story was a regular Shylock. He wanted his pound of flesh. He would be satisfied with nothing less. Mark the utter heartlessness and cruelty of the man. He knew the poor widow was unable to pay. There were no goods and chattels that he could seize, or none worth seizing, so he actually came to make her two sons his slaves. Even the slightest touch of humanity might have led him to content himself with one of the sons. He might have left the other to be the solace and support of his widowed mother. But no. There is no mercy, no pity, in his hard and selfish heart. He must have the two sons to satisfy his claim. Now, the Scripture, while it countenances lending to these who are in want, and while it commands the payment of debts, recommends the exercise of mercy and humanity in exacting this payment. For instance, in Exodus it is said, "Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; and my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless" (Exodus 22:22-24). And in Deuteronomy 24:17 we have a similar command. We learn here in all the relationships of life to mingle mercy with justice. Too often in the keen competition of life, and in the race for wealth, the finer feelings become blunted, if you are a Christian, it is your duty to imitate the spirit and precepts of Jesus. Whether you are a Christian or not, you are responsible to God for the way you act towards your fellow-men. Always consider the circumstances of the case. Where it is possible, be specially careful of the widow and the fatherless and the orphan. God has a special care for them, and he will avenge their cause on the persecutor and the oppressor.

II. ACTIVE FAITH. The poor widow had nothing in her house save a pot of oil. She was not as well off as the widow of Zarephath, to whom Elijah came; she had not even a handful of meal in the barrel. The olive oil was used as butter with the flour or meal. Dr. Kitto says it is indeed a remarkable fact that poor people in Israel, who are reduced to the last extremity, have generally a little oil left. Yet in this extremity, with this jar of oil as her sole possession, what does the prophet tell her to do? To go and borrow empty vessels of all her neighbors, and to borrow just as many as she could get. Was it not a strange command? Empty vessels! Why not borrow vessels with something in them. No; for that would have been to get deeper into debt. Empty vessels. The fact of bringing empty vessels into her house implied that she had something to fill them with. This just shows the greatness of the woman's faith. She trusted God's prophet. She knew that he would not deceive her or bid her do anything for which there was not a good reason- She trusted God's power. She knew that God was able, in his own way and in his own time, to supply all her need. We need to learn a similar faith, tire need it for our temporal affairs. We need to trust God that he can and will and does supply the daily wants of his people. What though the purse is empty? God can send the means to fill it.

"It may not be my time;
It may not be thy time;
But yet in his own time the Lord will provide." We need to learn similar faith - a faith that shows itself not in idleness but in action - in regard to spiritual things. We may see but empty vessels before us. God is able to fill them. He does it very often by making us laborers together with him, as he did in this case of the widow and her sons. A respected Sunday-school teacher tells that when he first went to teach in a mission Sunday school in one of our large cities, he said to the superintendent, "Where is my class?" He could see no class for him to teach. The superintendent's answer was, "You'll have to out and gather class." He did so, and soon had a large and attentive class of lads gathered in by his own exertions from the streets. Don't you know of any empty vessels that would be better if they were filled with the love of Christ and the grace of God? Are there no empty vessels in your own homes? Are there no empty vessels round about you where you live - hearts that are without God and without hope, lives that are utterly destitute of any aims or usefulness? If you know of such, will you not try to bring them under the influence of the gospel? This woman showed a strong faith, for she had doubtless to face the ridicule and difficulties and questionings of her neighbors. They probably laughed at a woman borrowing vessels when she had nothing to fill them with. We must learn not to mind what people will say of us when we are doing God's work. There are some people who object to everything. There are some people who are always raising difficulties. Those who raise the difficulties and make the objections are generally those who do the least and give the least. Never mind them. Make sure that your work is God's work. Consider it prayerfully and carefully before you undertake it. And then, having made sure that it is God's work, so far as you can get light upon your path, turn not aside to the right hand or to the left. Trust in God to carry you and your work safely through, and to crown your labors with success. "The fear of man bringeth a snare; but he that putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe."

III. ABUNDANT BLESSING. The woman was well rewarded for her unquestioning faith. So long as she continued pouring from her little jar of oil, so long the oil continued to flow until all the vessels were full. She could have filled more vessels if she had had them. But when there were no more vessels to be filled, the oil ceased to flow. At any rate she had enough to sell for the payment of her debt, and to provide herself and her sons with a temporary support. We learn here that our blessings may be limited by our capacity to receive. There is no limit to God's love. There is no limit to his power to bless. He gives in overflowing measure, far beyond our expectations, far beyond our deservings. But then we may stint the blessing for ourselves by not being in a fit state to receive it. We see constantly in Scripture and in the history of the Christian Church that there are certain conditions under which larger spiritual blessings may be expected, and certain conditions which may hinder these blessings.

1. We may hinder our blessings by want of faith and expectation. Had Abraham persevered in prayer, he might have won the salvation of Sodom even on account of righteous Lot alone. On a later occasion Elisha was displeased with King Joash for his want of faith in shooting the arrows. The king only smote thrice upon the ground, and Elisha said, "Thou shouldest have smitten five or six times; then hadst thou smitten Syria till thou hadst consumed it: whereas now thou shalt smite Syria but thrice." How often we hinder our blessings because we do not persevere in prayer!

2. We may hinder our blessings by not making a right use of those we have got. "To him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he seemeth to have." There is no waste in God's kingdom. He will not give further blessings to those who are neglecting or misusing the privileges they have got. Let us see to it that we are in a fit state to receive God's blessing. "If we regard iniquity in our hearts, the Lord will not hear us." Let us empty ourselves of worldliness and selfishness and sin, if we are to expect God to fill us with his Spirit. A word to Christians. Search your heart, examine your own life, and see if there is anything that hinders the Divine blessing. Give up that besetting sin; give up that godless society; put away that pride, or hatred, or love of the world, or evil temper, out of your heart, and then you may expect God to bless you and make you a blessing. Then you will be a vessel meet for the Master's use. A word to the unrepenting. Why go away once more without Christ? Why go away empty from the house of God? All fullness dwells in Christ - fullness of pardon, fullness of grace and strength. Thirsty, unsatisfied soul, draw near to the feet of Jesus. Repent, and ask of him, and he will give you the living water. - C.H.I.

And it came to pass when the vessels were full.
This incident is rich in suggestiveness. It may be employed to illustrate the rapid changes of human fortune; the crushing weight of cumulative trials; or the practical sympathy of a true prophet who is never so faithful in his calling as when he visits the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and exerts his influence in their behalf. There are, however, considerations suggested by the particular method adopted in this case which throw light upon God's way of giving, and indicate, not obscurely, the terms upon which we, who have no miraculous interpositions to expect, may become recipients of His continual bounty.

I. IN THE COMMUNICATION OF HIS GRACE THE MOST HIGH MAKES THE CONFESSION OF OUR HELPLESSNESS THE CONDITION OF HIS HELP. The sense of need must be awakened before He will bestow the required aid. "Tell me what hast thou in the house?" was a question intended to fathom the depth of the woman's poverty. Until this insufficiency of all human resource has been felt and acknowledged, the Divine assistance will not be sought and cannot be given. The Saviour in His miracles of mercy made it apparent that He did not interpose until all human help had failed. When He was about to feed the multitudes He asked the disciples, "How many loaves have ye?" and measured the limits of ordinary means before drawing on the infinite capabilities of Omnipotence. The trembling sufferer who sought to touch His robe had tried all other measures before resorting to Him. The disappointed fishermen were obliged to admit that they had taken nothing ere they could be gladdened by a great success. So is it still. The choice gifts of God are withholden from the self-complacent and lavished on the needy — "He hath filled the hungry with good things, but the rich He hath sent empty away."

II. HE ENRICHES US BY THE MULTIPLICATION AND INCREASE OF PREVIOUS GIFTS. It would be equally easy for Him to work without means, but He chooses rather to work by them. "What hast thou in the house?" is something more than a gauge of poverty; it is a wholesome reminder that in the poorest lot there is some remnant of former possessions, some basis for present hope. The multitudes whom our Lord miraculously fed might have been relieved by the creation of an altogether new and strange provision; but He used such common food as was available, and then multiplied the stock till every need was met. The persuasion of our helplessness does not warrant our neglect of such opportunities and the use of such talent as we have. Too often we covet fresh interpositions of Divine power when we have at our command previous gifts whose energy is unexhausted, and former experiences which may fitly stimulate activity and encourage hope. Moses held in his own hand the simple instrument whereby with God's blessing he would compel attention to his words (Exodus 4:2); and if not in our hands, we may have in our house that which, like the widow's oil, shall be multiplied by the bounty of Him.

III. HE MEASURES HIS BESTOWMENTS BY OUR CAPACITY TO RECEIVE. While there is an empty vessel to hold it, His grace continues to flow. He entrusts talents "to every man according to his several ability." A preoccupied heart has no room for the Saviour. He is "gladly received" when He is eagerly waited for (Luke 8:40). In the dispensation of spiritual gifts the same rule obtains — "He giveth more grace," and again more, according to the ardour of our wishes and the measure of our preparedness to receive His favours. Still as of old — "He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness" (Psalm 107:9), drawing out our desires, and at the same time enlarging our capacity.

IV. HE DELIGHTS TO EXCEED THE REQUIREMENTS OF PRESENT NEED. Not content to give enough to satisfy the clamorous creditor, He supplied a store for the maintenance of the widow and her sons for some time to come. The fragments left after each feast in the wilderness far exceeded the original provision. This generosity is a conspicuous feature in all the communications of grace. David was overwhelmed at the bounty of which he was the recipient, yet what he held in possession was small compared with future blessings secured to him by promise (2 Samuel 7:19). Jacob, in like manner, after giving up all hope that he should ever see Joseph again, was constrained to acknowledge that God had far exceeded his most sanguine expectation. "I had not thought to see thy face; and lo, God hath showed me also thy seed" (Genesis 48:11).

(Robert Lewis.)

Now, if I may venture to be fanciful for once, let me tell you of three vessels that we have to bring if we would have the oil of the Divine Spirit poured into us.

I. THE VESSEL OF DESIRE. God can give us a great many things that we do not wish, but He cannot give us His best gift, and that is Himself, unless we desire it. He never forces His company on anybody, and if we do not wish for Him He cannot give us Himself, His Spirit, or the gifts of His Spirit. For instance, He cannot make a man wise if he does not wish to be instructed. He cannot make a man holy if he has no aspiration after holiness. Measure the reality and intensity of desire, and you measure capacity. As the atmosphere rushes into every vacuum, or as the sea runs up into, and fills, every sinuosity of the coast, so wherever a heart opens, and the unbroken coast-line is indented, as it were, by desire, in rushes the tide of the Divine gifts. You have God in the measure in which you desire Him.

II. Another vessel that we have to bring is the VESSEL OF OUT EXPECTANCY. Desire is one thing; confident anticipation that the desire will be fulfilled is quite another. And the two do not certainly go together anywhere except in this one region, and there they do go, linked arm-in-arm. For whatsoever, in the highest of all regions, we wish we have the right without presumption to believe that we shall receive. Expectation, like desire, opens the heart. There are some expectations, even in lower regions, that fulfil themselves. Doctors will tell you that a very large part of the curative power of their medicine depends upon the patient's anticipation of recovery. If a man expects to die when he takes to Iris bed, the chances are that he will die; and if a man expects to get better, death will have a fight before it conquers him. All these illustrations fall far beneath the Christian aspect of the thought that what we expect from God we get. That is only another way of putting, "According to thy faith be it unto thee." It is exactly what Jesus Christ said when He promised: "Whatsoever things ye ask when ye stand praying, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them."

III. Lastly, ONE MORE VESSEL THAT WE HAVE TO BRING IS OBEDIENCE. "If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine." Desire, Anticipation, and Obedience. These three must never be separated if we are to receive the gift of Himself, which God delights and waits to give. All spiritual possessions and powers grow by use, even as exercised muscles are strengthened, and unused ones tend to be atrophied.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)

So long as there were vessels to be filled the miraculous flow of the oil continued, and it only ceased when there were no more jars to contain it.

I. This is true in reference to OUR PROVIDENTIAL CIRCUMSTANCES. So long as we have needs we shall have supplies, and we shall find our necessities exhausted far sooner than the Divine bounty.

II. The same principle holds good with regard to THE BESTOWAL OF SAVING GRACE. In a congregation the Gospel is as the pot of oil, and those who receive from it are needy souls, desirous of the grace of God. Of these we have always too few in our assemblies.

III. The like is true with regard to OTHER SPIRITUAL BLESSINGS. All fulness dwells in our Lord Jesus, and, as He needs not grace for Himself, it is stored up in Him, that He may give it out to believers. The saints with one voice confess "Of His fulness have all we received."

IV. The same truth will be proved in reference to THE PURPOSES OF GRACE IN THE WORLD. The fulness of Divine grace will be equal to every demand upon it till the end of time. Men will never be saved apart from the atonement of our Lord Jesus, but never will that ransom price be found insufficient to redeem the souls that trust in the Redeemer.

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

The multiplication of the oil ran parallel with the demand of each successive vessel. As the sons brought them they became full. Whatever their size or shape, they were carried back, and set down, filled to the brim. When all were quite full, she bitterly lamented that there was not a vessel more. It is so that the Spirit of God has been supplying the need of the Church from that moment in the upper room, when the risen Lord began to pour Him forth. Vessel after vessel has been brought; men like , , , Luther, John Knox have been filled, and still the stream of oil and grace of spiritual plenitude and anointing is being poured forth.

(E. B. Meyer.)

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