Bible Study | October 29, 2021

Elisha and the Shunammite woman

Boy in bed being lifted by a man
Illustration by Brian Dumm

2 Kings 4:8–37

Elisha, whose name means “God is deliverance,” first appears in 1 Kings 19:19–21, where we can read about his calling. He reappears in 2 Kings 2, which reports on the passing of prophetic leadership from Elijah to Elisha. His story continues through 2 Kings 13.

Like Elijah, Elisha lived in the ninth century BCE, during the period of the two kingdoms, with Israel to the north and Judah to the south. Both Elijah and Elisha carried out their prophetic ministries primarily in the north.

The biblical accounts about Elisha fall primarily into two types: stories about his interaction with Israelite kings and stories about miracles he performs. Miracle stories involving Elisha emphasize the powerful way in which God works through the prophet. Many of the stories are about his miraculous efforts to help the poor and needy. Elisha heals people and feeds the hungry. He also helps childless couples.

On the one hand, the prophet Elisha dominates this narrative. On the other, it is an unnamed woman who acts boldly in relation to God’s prophet, and it is her confidence that contributes to the outcome. This woman is known to us only as “the Shunammite woman.”

The Shunammite woman lives in Shunem, a village located in the Jezreel Valley. She is perceptive, observing to her husband that she thinks the traveler who frequently passes through town is a “holy man of God.” She adds a room to her house and furnishes it so that she and her husband can host this man of God whenever he passes their way. She asks nothing of Elisha in return. Nevertheless, the prophet announces that she and her husband will become parents of a son.

Sometime later, the son becomes ill and dies. Rather than weep for her son or bemoan her fate, the woman immediately rides off in search of Elisha. Elisha tries to send his servant Gehazi to help. The woman, however, is adamant: she will not leave until Elisha comes with her. Because of her bold actions and her confidence that the man of God has the power to heal, her son is brought back to life.

Many of the women in the Bible go unnamed and consequently are often overlooked. Despite her anonymity, the Shunammite woman exhibits several admirable qualities. She offers hospitality to Elisha by offering him food and shelter, with no expectation of a reward in return. She acts assertively and confidently on behalf of her son. Finally, she shows persistence in her actions, and that persistence results in the restoration of life to her son. When we think about the prophet Elisha, we would do well to remember also the courageous and determined Shunammite woman.

The woman welcomed Elisha into her home and life. What are ways that you welcome others into your home, friend group, or other spaces? Think about ways to make your meeting spaces welcoming this week.

God, be present in the places I inhabit and in the space of my soul. May my heart and my life be places of welcome for you. Amen.

This Bible study comes from Shine: Living in God’s Light, the Sunday school curriculum published by Brethren Press and MennoMedia.