I promised y’all back in November that I would start adding some Bible Studies, but I keep forgetting to type my thoughts when it comes to the Bible Studies I’ve been doing. To get me kickstarted, I decided to revisit one of my favorite studies I shared on a prior blog that I wrote. I revisited it, edited it, and added some new insight based upon where I am today. Let’s dive in!
In 2 Kings 4:1-7, a widow has some bills coming due that her husband left behind in righteous circumstances (meaning not out of lavish living but out of sacrifice for God and frugal living) and the debt collectors will take her sons to work off the debt if she doesn’t have the money when they arrive. She goes to the prophet Elisha for guidance because her husband had been one of his servants.
This was the first Bible story I ever learned as a child. I was taught that it was about the vessels and faith, being available to God, and trusting Him to provide even when it feels like you have very little. More than 30 years later @iammiketodd (“Bring Me Another Vessel”, Transformation Church) and @stevenfurtick (“Frozen Oil and Chosen Vessels”, Elevation Church) have broken this scripture down and shared the same high-level thought while going in deeper about the vessels, the oil, and the widow’s actions.
Scripture doesn’t change; what is written stands. When folks hear revelation of its meaning from God, the interpretation does not change but becomes expanded from various viewpoints. In this case, I’ve heard three preachers (my pastor also talked about this scripture recently) look at this scripture and share similar high-level thoughts. Though they came from three different angles that helped me find a fuller meaning within the scripture AND dive deeper to look from another angle that I hadn’t explored before. Below is a look at this scripture from the Sons’ and Widow’s view as it relates to trusting one another.
From the Sons’ View
When I read this scripture again, I read it from the sons’ point of view. I don’t know how old the sons were but from commentaries and Bible references I’ve read over the years, it’s possible this was Obadiah’s widow and the sons are men with their own families. Going from that understanding, I read through this story from their viewpoint and noticed some things.
The sons were in a scary situation.
Being the sons of a prophet who didn’t make money off what he did, they were watching their widow mother not have enough to survive and now were at risk of having to go pay the debt for their father. This would still leave their mother without as far as current living expenses and needs go while also now leaving two more families (their own) with need during their time away. Maybe you’ve been there? Trying to figure out how to pay your own bills while helping your folks with theirs? Trying to be creative in how you stretch your money and still coming up short? It’s a stressful time. Sons don’t want to see their mothers struggling, and specifically not in a time of mourning and healing. They want to know their families are provided for both as sons and as fathers and husbands.
I imagine the sons were receiving some stress from their wives as well. “Think of something! There has to be some way to help her so you won’t have to go work off this debt.” I can imagine the strain in the marriage relationships. I can picture the kids feeling the stress and wondering what was going on. Are mom and dad going to make it? The sons are not in an easy situation. Since their mom was approaching Elisha, I’m guessing that all options they could think of had been exhausted. They’d looked around the house at what they could sell, they’d tried to earn extra money on their own through their vocations, and they’d thought of every entrepreneurial way they could get this money legally and were left with nothing. They were at their end and only knew they had to trust their mother’s instinct that the prophet would be able to help them.
Their faith would determine their mother’s blessing.
When their mother goes to Elisha to present their situation, his response is first to ask her what she has available. Assuming the sons were with her (since it says in verse 5 that she shut the door behind her and her sons), at this point they may have been shaking their heads. “We wouldn’t be here if we had anything! We’ve thought through all possibilities.” Then they hear their mother share she that her only remaining possession of value is a little bit of oil. Can you imagine how flabbergasted they probably were! What could she possibly do with a few drops of oil?! And here is the prophet getting their mother’s hopes up saying to get empty vessels? For what?
Remember that while the people had seen and heard of miracles, this was before Jesus turned water to wine, before the feeding of the 5k and 4k men, and before they’d really seen God multiply things. So I imagine the sons had a moment where they themselves had to be emptied when Elisha said to get all the empty vessels from their neighbors.
- Emptied of their pride as they went around to ask neighbors for empty oil vessels for their mothers two drops of oil.
- Emptied of their plans since they were now working the prophet’s instructions and had to put aside their own thoughts and plans.
- Emptied of their disbelief as they gathered the vessels and wondered how this would work. If they gathered too few vessels, they would hinder their mother’s ability to pay the debt if this actually worked. But if they gathered too many, they risked their mother feeling even more disheartened when her two drops barely made the drop of the first vessel look wet.
- Emptied of their desperation. They’d exhausted all options and now were at the point where their only hope is a miracle. (There’s a rabbit trail there that I will follow up on some day about why is prayer for a miracle our last resort? Why don’t we START here…but alas, I will stay on task today…)
The pressure was on as they went from neighbor to neighbor asking for empty oil vessels for their mother. When their mother shut the door behind them, they knew this was the moment of truth. Their own faith in God would be shown in this moment. As they brought in the last pot, they were revealing how big they felt their God was.
We don’t know how many pots they ended up collecting but we know that God performed a miracle and there was more oil than they collected pots to fill, so while their faith helped their mother (next point), they also had lower expectations than God was prepared to meet for them. That had to be a tough moment when the sons watched the oil stop, knowing their faith hadn’t been large enough for the blessing their mother was to receive!
Let that speak to you for a moment if you’re in lack or watching your folks go through a need. Truly let it wash over you and remind you that even the best of what we dream for ourselves is smaller than what God dreams for us. Don’t beleive me? Here:
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20, NKJV)
And I have also given you what you have not asked: both riches and honor, so that there shall not be anyone like you among the kings all your days. (1 Kings 3:13, NKJV)
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Their faith ultimately allowed them and their mother to be provided for in abundance.
How great is our God that even though the young men had not prepared for the same amount of blessing the Lord had been prepared to provide, He met their needs as well as their mother’s? In verse 7, Elisha tells the widow to go and sell her oil so she AND her sons will be able to live on the money remaining after the debt is paid. As we see time and again with God, the widow petitioned for a specific need (pay the debt so her sons weren’t taken) but God answered the larger problem (she would not only need to pay the debt but would need money to live on after the debts were paid). True to His style though, He didn’t stop at providing for her but also provided for the sons. Ultimately it was their faith also that led to this miracle, since they were responsible for how many oil vessels were available to be filled.
Imagine how the sons felt when they looked around saw all those filled vessels. TWO DROPS of oil. Two DROPS. From two drops of oils to filling every vessel the sons borrowed from neighbors. I’m going to take a little bit of liberty with scripture here becuase it doesn’t tell us the details, but I like to imagine based upon what we read in verse 7 that the mother went alone to tell the man of God what had happened. While she was gone, I picture the sons sitting back at the house just staring at all that oil in pure amazement. I can see them looking to one another, turning back toward the vessels, looking again at each other, with their eyes wide open just wondering, “How?” They’d probably seen their father pray for people time and time again and here they didn’t even pray–did you notice that too?–and they were looking at this totally unplausible multiplication. Much like the disciples would as they handed out the fish and the loaves. TWO DROPS of oil turned into so many vessels that their mom and they would be able to sell it and LIVE OFF IT after paying their family’s debt. Can you even imagine? Their faith that day had to be increased by so much!
From the Widow’s View of the Sons
To see the story from the sons’ viewpoint, we still have to step back and then think of how the widow responded to her sons’ faith. We’ve heard the viewpoints on the miracle and the actions she had to take, but now that we’ve thought of the sons’ vantage point for the miracle, think of the widow for a moment from that same vantage point: She trusted her sons to bring back the amount of vessels she would need. She knew she’d raised them well enough with her husband and had given them a foundation of faith that would allow them to bring back just what was needed to ensure this miracle would solve her problem. It doesn’t note anything about her helping them or telling them how many to get. It doesn’t say she paced while waiting, wondering if they would do right by her.
There had to be a moment of “oh no!” in her mind when the son said there were no more vessels. I imagine the three of them looking at one another and having truly been in awe at how many they had filled but wondering if they’d made a mistake not knocking on those next doors. At the same time I think that, I imagine the widow being the voice of assurance in the moment. “Okay… God has provided more than we had and we now trust that this will somehow work. Let’s go back to the prophet and find out what to do next.” (This also makes me so happy that we get to go right to God now ourselves instead of having to go through prophets and priests!)
The widow, as she was walking back to the prophet, was possibly thinking of how her sons just jumped in to help her. It was a crazy request after all, “Get empty vessels so I can pour my few drops of oil into them…” How amazing is this God of miracles that they didn’t bring back only one or two jars but several, and still God exceeded that! She didn’t have time to worry if it had been enough, she’d just seen God multiply her little bit of oil and turn it into jars and jars of oil! He’d taken her nothing and turned it into something greater than would provide a blessing. When she heard the prophet’s words, I imagine her falling to her knees and praising the Lord… enough for her AND her sons to live on AFTER PAYING THE DEBT IN FULL!!
Listen guys and ladies… MORE THAN ENOUGH. That is what our God is a God of. I imagine this widow just struggling to make it home because she could barely see through the tears in her eyes. “He said I would have more than enough. He said go sell it and pay off my debts AND live off the rest. How is this possible? Thank you God!” Ladies, let’s be honest for a moment: We aren’t always the most supportive inside our minds towards our husbands and sons. Even though outside we show them support, sometimes in our minds we get to thinking of all they do wrong and what they could be and we sometimes doubt them. (Don’t roll your eyes – I’m calling us out because we need to end this behavior.) We support them while seeing all they can be and resenting inside that they haven’t stepped into that full calling. When they finally do, we sometimes wonder what life would have been like if we weren’t the pastor’s wife or the minister’s wife. If we didn’t have to travel. If we could have friends. This widow had probably done that when she found out how much debt was left. We don’t know. But I do believe God sometimes leaves things out so we can see the story from our vantage point. So we can identify more closely. I can imagine this widow walking back and talking to her late husband, saying, “I’m sorry for those times I didn’t fully support you. As a prophet you knew that God would always provide. You knew He would take care of us after you were gone just like He had while you were alive.” This journey home had to be the most intense journey she ever walked. And as she walked in the doors of her home to share the news with her sons, she probably just fell to her knees and cried.
I imagine the three of them together. Family. Huddled on the floor. Looking at their vessels. FULL VESSELS. Multiple full vessels that started out as two drops of oil. Hugging one another and being so thankful in that moment for their love for one another and dedication to family.
Looking at the story from this angle, I understand how God values family. He knew that this miracle would rely on the sons’ faith when He instructed Elisha to speak to the widow. He knew that they would be the legs of the mission and would empower their mother to fulfill the miracle when she began to pour.
In both sermons I mentioned above, Pastors Michael and Steven noted that the miracle of multiplication began when the widow started pouring. She and her sons could have given up before then because it was such a stretch of an idea. They could have said, “Well that was a nice trip to see the prophet but totally unproductive. Now what?” But the three of them believed in and wanted the best for one another. In the mother’s concern for her sons, she not only saved them from being servants to work off the debt but provided for them for years to come thanks to God’s miracle. And the sons’ concern for their mother and wanting to see her provided for caused them to go the extra steps and get a few more oil vessels than maybe they truly thought they’d see filled. Their love for one another helped them work together and see this miracle occur!!
As a note to end with, something I caught as I was reading this back for this revisited post was how it’s possible even Elisha was empowered by this miracle and had his faith increased. Look at his words:
Then he said, “Go, borrow vessels from everywhere, from all your neighbors—empty vessels; do not gather just a few. And when you have come in, you shall shut the door behind you and your sons; then pour it into all those vessels, and set aside the full ones.” (2 Kings 4:3-4, NKJV)
Did you catch that last part? Those last six words? Is it possible that Elisha didn’t know that the Lord was going to fill EVERY vessel the young men borrowed? That all he knew was to insturct her to pour and that is why he didn’t tell her what to do next? When she came back to give the report of how many vessels she had filled with the two drops of oil, could Elisha himself have been in awe? After all, even prophets don’t always get the FULL message. They get instructions for you and it’s your job to seek God for confirmation and clarity on them. When I read these words, I think it’s possible that Elisha only knew that he was to tell her to go back, get the vessels, shut the door, and pour. He didn’t know what the Lord was going to do other than that He was going to show up and be mighty. It’s not lost on me that his next miracle was to raise a dead boy… but first he had to have faith to tell a greiving widow to go home, grab TWO DROPS of oil along with a bunch of empty vessels and pour… even a prophet has to sometimes wonder exactly what God is doing. So I don’t think it is a stretch to think that God was building Elisha’s faith in this as well. I guess we’ll learn when we get to Heaven if we remember anything from this earth and get the chance to ask Him.
What did you see when you read this scripture? I’d love to hear your thoughts and explore this deeper with you!
Until next time,
Sometimes an empty vessel is full of faith!
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