One day Elisha went to Shunem, and a prominent woman who lived there persuaded him to have a meal. So whenever he would pass by, he would stop there to eat.
I. GOOD MEN CARRY THEIR GOODNESS WHEREVER THEY GO. The Shunammite's words are a testimony to the character of Elisha. "I perceive that this is a holy man of God, which passeth by us continually." Elisha's conduct and conversation showed him to be a holy man of God. It was evident that God was with him, and that he lived near to God. He did not leave his religion behind him at home. Wherever he was, he took his religion with him. A lesson for modern Christians. There is not much reality in our religion if we do not confess it amongst strangers just as much as where we are known. The inward character is shown by the outward acts. "Coelum, non animum, mutant, qui trans mare currunt." It is evident that Elisha was a man of studious habits. The furniture which the Shunammite placed in his room shows this. The stool or chair and the table were intended to afford him facilities for study. He who will teach others must store his own mind with knowledge. Paul exhorted Timothy to give attention to reading. The minister and the Sunday-school teacher need constant study to equip themselves for their important work.
II. GOOD MEN CARRY A BLESSING EVERYWHERE. Their goodness benefits others as well as themselves. "The holy seed shall be the substance thereof." Some there are who bring evil wherever they go. One bad man, one wicked woman, may corrupt a whole community. Some are the perpetual occasions of strife, discord, unpleasantness, unhappiness. What an unenviable character! Oh to be like him who "went about every day doing good!"
III. KINDNESS TO GOOD MEN IS NEVER LOST. This Shunammite treated Elisha kindly because he was a servant of God, and the God whom he served rewarded her for her kindness to his servant. "Give, and it shall be given unto you" She lost nothing, but gained much, by her generosity and hospitality, by the trouble she took to provide a resting-place for the prophet. He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward; and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward." - C.H.I.
And it fell on a day that Elisha passed to Shunem.
Homilist.In these verses there are two very interesting subjects, and of a practical character.
I. HOSPITALITY RIGHTFULLY EMPLOYED. The object of the hospitality was Elisha the prophet, and the author of it is called here a "great woman." Observe,
1. The hospitality was very hearty. "She constrained him to eat bread."
2. The hospitality was shown to a poor but a godly man. Genuine hospitality looks out for the poor and deserving, and constrains them to enter and be fed.
3. The hospitality involved considerable trouble and expense.
II. HOSPITALITY NOBLY REWARDED. Elisha, instead of being insensible to the great generosity of his hostess, glowed with gratitude that prompted a strong desire to make some return. His offer,
1. Implies his consciousness of great power with man. Elisha's offer,
2. Implies his consciousness of his power with God.
A great woman
1. As we read the narrative several points reveal her true greatness, and stand out as examples to us all; and the first is her kindness. She cared for others. In our modern speech this expression means a great deal. "Do you care for him?" is a question full of significance; for when a woman loves she does care very much indeed. And this woman had a kind heart, whose sympathies centred at home, but reached out to all who needed her care; and this heart, which royally ruled her whole being, had servants in eyes that were quick to see and hands that were swift to bless.
2. The lady of Shunem exhibited, also, that quality of greatness which is submission. Much nonsense is talked about the equality of the sexes; but no one can read this history without suspecting that, in this case — a rare one, no doubt — the woman was more than the equal of the man. Had she been conscious of the fact it would have gone far to change it; but she was not.
3. The loyalty of the Shunammite was another proof of her greatness. That she had everything she wanted, and nothing to wish for, we cannot imagine. Serenely contented as she might have been, she would have been less, or more, than a woman if greater possessions and a higher position would not in themselves have been acceptable. But she counted nothing a rise in life that took her away from her own people.
4. The marvellous self-control of the Shunammite was another element in her greatness. How quiet she was during all the tests that came to her!
5. The self-control of the Shunammite was no more marked than the great force of character which in this case, as in every other, accompanied it. The strong individuality of this truly great woman shone out in all the circumstances of her life. She 'had that subtle power, with which only a few people are trusted, but which, in man or woman, is invariably felt by others. Her mastery of self gave her in great part the mastery over her fellows; but her natural abilities were great, and no littlenesses spoiled them. She seems always to have had her own way; but that was because her way was the best.
6. It was godliness, most of all, that made the woman of Shunem great. It is true that we are not told that she feared God; but we can see that written between the lines of everything that is said respecting her. It was because Elisha was "a holy man of God" that the hospitality of her home was offered to him. It was the sustaining power of religion that made her strong to declare, "It is well."
II. THIS WOMAN WAS GREAT IN HER KINDNESS TOWARD GOD'S MESSENGER. Elisha may have been a stranger in that household, but as she found out he had come on a Divine mission, he was cordially welcomed.
III. THIS WOMAN WAS GREAT IN HER BEHAVIOUR UNDER TROUBLE. Her only son had died on her lap. A very bright light went out in that household. The sacred writer puts it very tersely when he says, "He sat on her knee until noon, and then he died." Yet the writer goes on to say that she exclaimed, "It is well!" Great in prosperity, this woman was great in trouble. Where are the feet that have not been blistered on the hot sands of this great Sahara? Where are the shoulders that have not bent under the burden of grief? Where is the ship sailing over glassy sea that has not after awhile been caught in a cyclone? Where is the garden of earthly comfort, but trouble hath hitched up its fiery and panting team and gone through it with burning ploughshare of disaster? Under the pelting of ages of suffering the great heart of the world has burst with woe.
IV. THIS WOMAN WAS GREAT IN HER APPLICATION TO DOMESTIC DUTIES. Every picture is a home picture, whether she is entertaining an Elisha, or whether she is giving careful attention to her sick boy, or whether she is appealing for the restoration of her property. Every picture in her case is a home picture. Those are not disciples of this Shunammite woman who, going out to attend to outside charities, neglect the duty of home — the duty of wife, of mother, of daughter. No faithfulness in public benefaction can ever atone for domestic negligence. There has been many a mother who, by indefatigable toll, has reared a large family of children, equipping them for the duties of life with good manners and large intelligence and Christian principle, starting them out, who has done more for the world than many a woman whose name has sounded through all the lands and through the centuries. I remember, when Kossuth was in this country, there were some ladies who got honourable reputations by presenting him very gracefully with bouquets of flowers on public occasions; but what was all that compared with the work of the plain Hungarian mother who gave to truth, and civilisation, and the cause of universal liberty, a Kossuth? Yes; this woman of my text was great in her domesticity. When this prophet wanted to reward her for her hospitality by asking some preferment from the king, what did she say? She declined it. She said, "I dwell among my own people" — as much as to say, "I am satisfied with my lot; all I want is my family and my friends around me — I dwell among my own people." Oh, what a rebuke to the strife for precedence in all ages!
V. THIS WOMAN WAS GREAT IN HER PIETY. She had faith in God, and she was not ashamed to talk about it before idolators. Ah! woman will never appreciate what she owes to Christianity until she knows and sees the degradation of her sex under Paganism and Mohammedanism. Her very birth considered a misfortune. Sold like cattle on the shambles. Slave of all work, and, at last, her body fuel for the funeral pyre of her husband. Above the shriek of the fire worshippers in India, and above the rumbling of the Juggernauts, I hear the million-voiced groan of wronged, insulted, broken-hearted, down-trodden woman. Her tears have fallen in the Nile and Tigris, the La Plata, and on the steppes of Tartary. She has been dishonoured in Turkish garden and Persian palace and Spanish Alhambra. Her little ones have been sacrificed in the Indus and the Ganges. There is not a groan, or a dungeon, or an island, or a mountain, or a river, or a lake, or a sea, but could tell a story of the outrages heaped upon her. But thanks to God this glorious Christianity comes forth, and all the chains of this vassalage are snapped, and she rises from ignominy to exalted sphere and becomes the affectionate daughter, the gentle wife, the honoured mother, the useful Christian. Oh, if Christianity has done so much for woman, surely woman will become its most ardent advocate and its sublimest exemplification!
(T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)
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