In this chapter, we have the record of three more miracles Elisha did. The miracles show God’s compassion and care for his people. God intervenes miraculously to provide for his people or to restore what had been lost.
What typically stands out to us in these stories is the miracles. God provides the oil, the child is born, and the child is resurrected from the dead. These miracles clearly demonstrate the power of God and validate Elisha as a true prophet of God.
Before we look at the text more closely, I want to discuss a few matters of biblical interpretation. Preachers commonly use the details of these passages to make spiritual applications that the original author clearly did not intend. For example, preachers commonly assure us that the oil in the story stands for something spiritual; perhaps the light of the Gospel or the outpouring of the Holy Spirit or even Jesus as the anointed one. We are empty and need to be filled with the oil of God’s grace or the Holy Spirit. So the oil must have a spiritual meaning. But is that what the original author intended to say, that the oil symbolizes something else? Is there any indication of that in the text or anywhere else in the Bible? No, the oil signifies oil. God miraculously provided a supply of oil, a valuable commodity, for the woman to sell. There is no hidden, spiritual, symbolic meaning to the oil. I don’t believe it symbolizes anything here.
Likewise, people want to find a spiritual application in the miracle of the resurrection of the little boy. Years ago, I heard a well-known preacher (Ollila) use the story about Elisha and the Shunammite woman as a lesson on youth ministry. The story tells us how to be an effective youth pastor. Another preacher (Wiersbe) assures us that the story is a “beautiful illustration of the effort and love it takes to win a soul.” Do you suppose the original writer of this passage intended to say anything about the youth ministry or evangelism? Do you suppose God inspired this material to tell us something about the youth ministry or evangelism? I don’t see it in the text; it’s simply not there. There are plenty of timeless principles in the text itself, and we don’t need to go looking for deeper, hidden spiritual meanings in the text. We should avoid an allegorical approach to the text.
So when we approach historical narrative, which is what this material is, we look for the timeless principles but not hidden, spiritual, deeper, allegorical, NT meanings that the original author could not have intended, and that God likely did not intend.
Looking at the text, what are some of the timeless principles we find in this story?