Four Failures before Success – II Kings 4:8-37


I trust that no one has any doubt whether or not I believe God that raised this little boy from death into life. There is no question but that He did. It took place exactly as it is described here, even though we don’t have some of the smaller details. That being true, what took place in the lives of those people nearly 3,000 years ago, doesn’t have much direct affect on any of us. None of us are better people because that un-named little boy was given his life back. As far as we know, he didn’t become a great prophet of God, penning scriptures which reveal any of the mysteries of God, and he didn’t join David as a great poet of the Lord. He didn’t cure cancer; He didn’t invent the airplane or automobile. Yes, in him, we can see the power of God over one of our greatest physical enemies – death. And yes, it should give us faith to trust the Lord to heal our diseases and infirmities. But as there have been millions of deaths in these last three millennia, there is no guarantee that our beloved children or parents will be raised before the Lord’s return as he was.

For the sake of our message today, I would like to spiritualize these historical events – to allegorize them. I would like to use them to illustrate another very important and real event Re-generation, second birth. I would like you to think of this little boy as SPIRITUALLY dead – for that was as much his condition as was his physical death. And the reality is we are all stillborn as we come into this world – spiritually dead. Paul told the Christians in Ephesus “You hath (God) quickened (made alive) who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1). And he reminded the Christians in Colosse “You, being dead in your sins, and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath (God) quickened together with (Christ), having forgiven you all trespasses” (Colossians 2:13).

The son of this family from Shunem can be used to illustrate someone being born again into the family of God. And as such this chapter becomes important to us – to each of us. There may be some among us who are still under the wrath of God for their sinful condition – spiritually dead. Jesus once said to a person just like you, “Ye MUST be born again.” “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Obviously, that little dead boy had to be re-generated or he would have been forever dead. And until we are born from above, we too are spiritually dead – eternally dead. That is one lesson from this scripture – perhaps the most important lesson.

But there is another application which we may take. There were four people involved in the attempt to restore this child to life. We can liken them to various kinds of “Christians.” All four of them failed to bring this boy back. YOU are one of the five people in this chapter.

We’ve briefly considered the boy – now let’s move on to the very concerned MOTHER.

We are not given her name, and so there aren’t any lessons derived through that means. But her community, “Shunem,” means “resting place” literally it means – double resting place.” It was not only a peaceful little village in the valley below Mount Gilboa, in the tribe of Issachar, but it became the particular resting spot for the man of God, Elisha. One of my references said that the name was eventually changed to “Salem” – a word which refers to “peace.”

The woman of this story was a godly person, living on the outskirts of a peaceful little community. The Bible describes her as “great” which could mean a great number of things – from her physical size, to her character, her influence with neighbors, her intelligence, or even to her spirituality. We see that she was spiritually perceptive – she recognized that a certain man who often passed by was a “holy man of God.” This took place in an era when spirituality and holiness were rare – much as it is today in this country. Jehoram, the wicked son of Ahab and Jezebell was king of Israel. This woman’s neighbors apparently didn’t think much about Jehovah and didn’t care about Elisha. But she did – somewhat like any godly Christian woman who might be living in these last days.

This woman was “great” – which is a good thing, if it is coupled to humility. Was it a part of her greatness that she was hospitable – or could she afford to be hospitable because she was great? She saw the man of God passing by on a regular basis, and after a while she invited him in for meals. I hope she did so because she yearned for Christian fellowship, to hear about the Lord’s work and to hear the Word of God. It appears that initially Elisha tried to decline her invitations, but she “constrained him.” Then, with the passing of time, and the permission of her husband, she oversaw the construction of a little room in, or on, the wall of the family property. And soon Elisha

and his helper, Gahazi, took advantage of the offer, as they went back and forth between Mt. Carmel and his various mission stations and schools. There was never any demand for room rent or a bill for the food everything was freely given. So one day the preacher asked her if there was anything he could do to repay the family’s kindness. She said, “I dwell among mine own people,” which at the time was a proverbial statement which meant – “I am perfectly satisfied.”

After enjoying the family hospitality several times, Elisha continued to muse about some way to say “Thank you.” “And Gehazi answered, Verily, she hath no child, and her husband is old.” Generally in Israelite society, a childless couple was considered to be poor even if they possessed financial wealth. With the Lord’s blessing, Elisha called the woman and told her that she would have a son. The announcement was beyond her long forgotten dreams. She wasn’t sure that the man of God wasn’t teasing or even lying. But he wasn’t, and the Lord miraculously gave the couple a son.

Probably more than most mothers, this Shunemmite women loved, pampered and doted on her child. Such an unexpected gift must have been extremely precious to her. But he died – probably some time around his 6th or 7th year. When she perceived that her son was dead, she took decisive action. She protected the lifeless body – the empty shell of her little boy – hiding him in the little sanctuary on the wall. We aren’t told that she prayed, but I’m going to assume she did. She displayed an unusual level of faith – she refused to admit to others that her son was beyond help. But there was no known cure, no hope, outside the miraculous intervention of Jehovah- Elohim. Only the Lord could save this dead child – someone both physically and spiritually dead. So she enlisted the aid of the man of God – the evangelist of the Lord.

Let me emphasize – there was NOTHING which this mother could do to bring spiritual life to her dead child. Her religion was useless; her Christian service, hospitality, generosity and faithfulness could do nothing. Her personal relationship to God and to His servant did nothing. She didn’t rely on her husband even to the point of asking for his prayers. The only thing she knew to do was to turn to the Lord who had miraculously given her the child in the first place.

I can see a lesson or two in the boy’s father.

Like so many men, when it came to the things of the spirit, he left it all in the hands of his wife. He didn’t mind having the preacher sit down to meat with them. He may have tried to guide the table conversations to stories about miracles and the exploits of Elijah. He had the money to build and furnish a room for the man of God, so why not? No harm in that. But he displayed no spiritual receptivity or recognition of spiritual life – or death.

When the boy died and his wife sent word, telling him that she needed God and His prophet, he still didn’t understand. Whether it was a true reflection of his heart, the man looked like a common religionist. “Wherefore wilt thou go to him today? It is neither new moon, nor sabbath.” He could have been like any number of husbands this morning around Post Falls, “Easter was last week. You’re not going to go to church two weeks in a row, are you?”

The reference to the “sabbath” we can readily understand. That was the weekly day of rest which was – is – supposed to be spent in the worship of the Lord. This man probably kept the sabbath; he was religious. But the “new moon” may have been a leftover from the old days of idolatry. It refers to the beginning of the month; it is never mentioned at all in the laws or regulations of Moses. It isn’t found in the Bible until the days of David, and there it isn’t much more than turning a page on the calendar. But there were often religious meetings associated with it.

I will grant that the husband in this Shunammite family, was not given all the facts about the boy. Perhaps he should have seen the signs and recognized what was going on. But he was a busy man with an important harvest in full swing – he had no time for religion at this point. He was a “Sunday-go-to-meeting” sort of man, leaving the spiritual things to the rest of the family. The “full moon” and “sabbath” services were sufficient for him. He may have been as spiritually dead as his son, but he was too blind to see it. Perhaps unjustly – but extending the illustration, we might say he didn’t care about the condition of the child. Taking him to “sabbath school” was enough. But in reality the boy was dead, and his father did nothing to restore him to life.

The first evangelist to reach the child was Gehazi, Elisha’s servant.

Is there a tendency to paint Gehazi in colors darker than he really deserves? He was more than a servant to Elisha; he may have been one of sons of the prophets. Elisha asked for his opinion and sent him on official errands on his behalf. He may have been a graduate or a student of one of the “schools of the prophets.” Elisha wasn’t afraid to send him off with the prophet’s staff in his hand. Yes, Gahazi will slip into sin – in greed he lied to Naaman in the next chapter. Yes, he will be struck with leprosy, as an illustration and punishment for his sin. But later, we will still find him serving Elisha. Had he been cured? As soon has Elisha figured out the condition of the child, he sent his student to heal the boy.

Gahazi was told to take his master’s staff and to gently lay it over the face of the child. He was to run as fast as he could, and not to stop for any lengthy greetings along the way. The work of evangelism is important. That staff, or walking stick, was a part of the prophet’s equipment, like the mantle which he inherited from his predecessor Elijah. That staff represented Elisha and what he taught. It represented his doctrine – it illustrated the gospel which he preached.

Gahazi might be likened to a student evangelist – he might be like any of us. He had spent hours in classes on evangelism. He had learned how to answer the questions of any kind the prospect – the heretic, the child, the dying man, the anxious soul. He had watched and learned from Elisha in many different situations. He may have had a little note-book on what to do and say when trying win a soul to Christ.

So many Christians in their haste to help their unbelieving loved ones, resort to mechanical plans and complicated doctrine to bring them to Christ. Even we are personally thrilled with, and like to talk about, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, the definition of justification, the necessity of the blood atonement sprinkled properly on the mercy seat. But did this boy need a dissertation on the importance of adoption to go along with his regeneration? Did he need hear at this point HOW it was that he became dead? In a sense he knew; he was dead. He didn’t need to hear about Adam’s sin and the imputation of Adam’s guilt to himself. Did Gahazi need to explain to the dead child that it might not be God’s will that he live again? Did he need to hear that he might not be elect? It might not be predestinated that he be restored to his mother. Table all of that Gahazi. The boy is dead. Point him to the source of life.

Gahazi, “laid the staff upon the face of the child; but there was neither voice, nor hearing.” Do you suppose that Gahazi expected the doctrine of Elisha – the staff of Elisha – to restore the boy? Did he expect to see the boy immediately jump up and dance around the room? Perhaps he did. Today, Gahazi might read through the Roman’s Road plan of evangelism and expect results. He might have complimented the boy on whatever he could find worthy of compliment. He asked him a few questions which should have been answered “yes” just to get the boy thinking positively. And then he asked him if he was a sinner. He asked him if he wanted to live again. He asked him if he wanted to go to heaven. But, sadly, there wasn’t the right response; there wasn’t any response at all. The child was dead. “Wherefore he went again to meet (Elisha), and told him, saying, The child is not awaked.”

Eventually, the evangelist himself arrived.

I have to agree with Matthew Henry, when he said, “I don’t understand why Elisha did what he did.” “He went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and he stretched himself upon the child…” Elisha’s mentor, Elijah, did something similar to this in I Kings 17. When the son of the widow of Zarephath died, Elijah “stretched himself upon the child three times.”

If I had to make a spiritual application of Elisha’s actions, I would suggest that this was something like identification or perhaps self-sacrifice. Gahazi gave the gospel to this dead soul, as if he was a professional evangelist doing his job. He was following the rules of his doctrine. He was applying the plan which was given him in Bible school. But there was no connection; there was no personal contact. Unlike Gahazi, when Elisha arrived, he did so as someone personally committed to this child. He had known this boy from birth; from before his birth. He had seen the boy as a baby, as a toddler, as an inquisitive child. He loved this boy as much as his parents did. Perhaps he might have said, “I would give my life if this child could have eternal life.” Like Paul he might have said, “Brethren my hearts’ desire and prayer to God for (this boy), is that (he) might be saved.” “I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for (this boy, this child).”

How should we present salvation to those who are spiritually dead? Share the fact that YOU live “Yes, I was dead, just as you are. But when the Lord convinced me of my sinfulness, my wickedness and eternal destiny under God’s wrath, I looked to the source of life – the Lord Jesus Christ. Not only is He the Creator of life, but He died to pay the penalty of my sin – the cause of my death. Christ died for my sins according to the scriptures; I have placed my trust in that sacrifice.” Elisha made a more personal attempt to raise this dead boy to life than did Gehazi.

But please notice that he failed as miserably as the mother, the father, and the professional evangelist. After he placed his eyes upon the child’s closed eyes; after he kissed the lips of the dead child; after he put the palms of his hands over the hands of the boy, after he stretched his body over the dead body, he got up and left the room. It was not until he returned he stretched himself out over the boy again, that “the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes.”

Did Elisha restore life to this lifeless body? I don’t for a moment believe he did. He failed. It is not within the power of an evangelist, an apostle, or an apostolic church to raise the dead. Regeneration and resurrection are the prerogatives of God alone. The evangelist can only reach out, present the gospel, intercede and trust God. Sometimes – usually – it takes repeated contact and long-term effort.

God restored the life to this boy, just as He granted physical life to him in the first place.

When Elisha finally reached Shunem, he went into his apartment where the body of the boy lay. And he “shut the door upon them twain, and PRAYED unto the Lord.” This is what his mentor had done before him – “Elijah, stretched himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the Lord, and said, O LORD my God I pray thee, let this child’s soul come to into him again.” Elisha had no idea whether or not the Lord would restore the soul to this child. But he was willing to trust the Lord’s grace, pouring his heart out to the Lord. That is about all that we can ever do. As Jonah said, “Salvation is of the Lord.”

Christ Jesus was walking into the community of Nain just as a funeral procession was coming out. The only son of a widow had died, and he was being taken to his burial. Christ touched the funeral bier, and said, “Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.” And that is what he did. God, the Son restored the life of that boy. Jairus’ daughter died, but Christ ordered her soul to return to her body, and she also lived again. Jesus said to Lazarus, “Come forth,” and he who had been dead three days, came out of his tomb alive. At the belt of Christ hang the keys of life and death – no one else carries them. He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” Christ alone can say, “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.”

Christ Jesus is the SAVIOUR of sinners as well as the RESTORER of life to the dead. “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law (which is spiritual death), being made a curse for us.” In God the Father’s cursing of Christ on our behalf – that is – in Christ’s death on the cross, we may have forgiveness of sin and eternal life. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.” Just as Christ Jesus died and was quickened by the Spirit – made to live again – we who are also dead may live again – eternally. He “who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree (of Calvary, died) that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness” – live again.

Are you that dead boy this morning? Are you still condemned by your sins in the sight of God? All that I can say or do is beg of you to look to the Lord Jesus Christ as He pours out His life’s blood for your redemption. If you can see that blood, trust its ability to deliver you and raise you to spiritual life. If Elisha had been a New Testament prophet, he would have said, “Repent before God and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.”