2 Kings 4:8-17
And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman; and she constrained him to eat bread. And so it was…
The hotel of our time had no counterpart in any entertainment of olden time. The vast majority of travellers must be entertained at private abode. SHE WAS GREAT IN HER HOSPITALITIES. Uncivilised and barbarous nations have this virtue. Jupiter had the surname of the Hospitable, and he was said especially to avenge the wrongs of strangers. Homer extolled it in his verse. The Arabs are punctilious on this subject) and amongst some of their tribes it is not until the ninth day of tarrying that the occupant has a right to ask his guest, "Who, and whence art thou?" If this virtue is so honored among barbarians, how ought it to be honoured among those of us who believe in the Bible, which commands us to use hospitality one toward another without grudging? Most beautiful is this grace of hospitality when shown in the house of God. A good man travelling in the far West, in the wilderness, was overtaken by night and storm, and he put in at a cabin. He saw firearms along the beams of the cabin, and he felt alarmed. He did not know but that he had fallen into a den of thieves. He sat there greatly perturbed. After awhile the man of the house came home with a gun on his shoulder, and set it down in a corner. The stranger was still more alarmed. After awhile the man of the house whispered with his wife, and the stranger thought his destruction was being planned. Then the man of the house came forward and said to the stranger: "Stranger, we are a rough and rude people out here, and we work hard for a living. We make our living by hunting, and when we come to the nightfall we are tired and we are apt to go to bed early, and before retiring we are always in the habit of reading a chapter from the Word of God and making a prayer. If you don't like such things, if you will just step outside the door until we get through, I'll be greatly obliged to you." Of course the stranger tarried in the room, and the old hunter took hold of the horns of the altar and brought down the blessing of God upon his household and upon the stranger within their gates. Rude but glorious Christian hospitality!
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.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And it fell on a day, that Elisha passed to Shunem, where was a great woman; and she constrained him to eat bread. And so it was, that as oft as he passed by, he turned in thither to eat bread.