The Closed Door
Gateway to Spiritual Fullness
The Shunammite Woman II – Spiritual fullness
II Kings 8:1-6
The intriguing story of the Shunammite woman seemingly ended with her son
brought back to life in II Kings 4:37. All’s well that ends well. Then she unexpectedly
resurfaced again in chapter 8 with a backdrop of severe famine in the land.
The chapter opens with Elisha asking the woman to flee with her household from an
impending seven-year famine. She followed the man of God’s advice and “went with
her household” and dwelt in the land of the Philistines for seven years (8:2).
Then the very next verse addresses her return from sojourn. The story omits all the
details of the entire seven years as though nothing happened during the time when
the family of three lived in the territory of the Philistines.
But, as we discussed previously, much of the significance, or “greatness,” lies not
with the Shunammite woman’s words or deeds; it is hidden in the unspoken.
First of all, it was the Shunammite woman with whom the prophet communicated
both in chapter 4 and chapter 8. Her husband, no doubt a good man, never took
part in the conversation. True fellowship that hits the mark is from deep unto deep,
or from spirit to spirit. No doubt, the Shunammite woman has spiritual depth and
discernment to facilitate fellowship with the prophet.
There is nothing quite as uplifting as fellowshipping with brethren who are full of
Christ and full of spiritual insight. But I also remember times when elderly and
spiritually matured brothers’ fellowship flew right over my head. There were other
times when I received email from seeking brothers and sisters who lamented that no
one in their respective congregations understood a word they were saying – it was as
if they spoke in a foreign language.
The problem is not a lack of knowledge, but a lack of spiritual depth. Knowledge
comes by relatively easily; spiritual depth is gained only by yielding to the work of the
cross. One of the deficiencies of seminaries, trainings, or any mass-production
schemes is the emphasis on turning out pupils, followers, and workers without
turning on their spiritual depth. The kingdom of God is not going to be won by
brethren unified in knowledge and walking in lockstep, but by common folk who have
had their spiritual depth turned on.
This is not to say, however, that saints with spiritual depth should only fellowship with
kindred spirits, but never attempt to communicate with spiritual novices. If it were so,
then none of us would have the light we have today. If Jesus were such, He would
not have spoken to His largely clueless disciples, and we’d all be doomed to
Spiritual depth does not necessarily refer to stoic or somber demeanor, or men and
women walking around with a Bible tucked under their arm while a halo floats above
their head. In fact, it is a joy to talk to simple believers who just love the Lord. A
simple greeting from a child always warms my heart. A hand drawn card with squiggly
notes handed to my wife during her time of physical affliction often moved us both
greatly. It seems that the Lord comes through simple folk much more easily than
sophisticated folk. May the Lord help us return to simplicity.
Take our precious Shunammite woman for example. She received and understood
Elisha’s fellowship, and she must have shared it with her husband also, as we saw in
chapter 4. Here in chapter 8, her fellowship with her husband is hidden in the
unspoken. Notice that Elisha told her, not her husband, about the impending famine,
but she went “with her household” to the land of the Philistines (v. 2). Undoubtedly,
her husband took the lead on account of her fellowship, and she merely followed – it’s
a beautiful picture of fellowship, isn’t it?
We have to give the Shunammite’s husband tribute for being a simple person with an
open heart for fellowship. Though not shown to possess spiritual depth, he gladly
received his wife’s fellowship time and time again without reservation. As a result of
this openness, the entire household received blessings.
As we consider the attributes of the Shunammite woman, her husband’s simplicity
and openness to receive fellowship should not be minimized. In a day and age when
spiritual knowledge is easily accessible through books and the Internet, everyone
seems to be fortified and puffed up with many spiritual concepts which prevent open
and uncluttered fellowship. To have the Shunammite’s husband’s simplicity and
openness would be a great blessing indeed!
Then, an interesting thing happened. Instead of the woman returning with her
household, it simply says, “the woman returned from the land of the Philistines.” And
not only so, but we read that “she went to the king to make an appeal for her house
and for her land” (v. 3). Given the Shunammite woman’s spiritual depth and maturity,
something extraordinary must have happened during those seven years for her to
take the lead in coming home, and to make an appeal before the king for her house
and for her land!
Hidden in the unspoken is that her husband must have died during the seven-year
sojourn in the land of the Philistines, leaving the Shunammite woman alone to lead
the family back and appeal to the king with only her son in tow (vv. 3 & 5).
How can we prove that her husband died during those seven years? The first clue is
that her husband is “old” (4:14). Then we know from history of the Old Testament
that the Philistines are perennially arch-enemies of God’s people. So it’s not hard to
imagine the physical and emotional stress this old man must have endured in having
to move his entire family to resettle in the harsh conditions of a repressive ruler in a
Perhaps a small window is open so that we can see something of the tremendous
sufferings this Shunammite woman must have endured during those seven years of
exile, i.e. the famine, the move, the resettlement in enemy’s land, and ultimately, the
loss of her husband.
There is reason to believe that the Holy Spirit broke the continuity of the
Shunammite’s story into two parts (II Kings 4:8-37 & II Kings 8:1-6) with more than
three chapters of unrelated stories in between to show us just how dark the situation
was and how dire the sufferings were.
II Kings 4:38 begins to detail different aspects of the suffering. There was the “wild
gourds” that became “death in the pot.” There was the feeding of one hundred
hungry men. There was Naaman’s leprosy and Gehazi’s greed. There was the
meager living condition of the “sons of the prophets.” There were wars. There were
famines. Folks were driven to do the unspeakable, even to cannibalism!
Then, out of all these horrendously dark and gruesome tragedies emerges a pure,
simple and humble woman who has herself undergone afflictions and tragedies yet
seems to have been untouched and undaunted by any of them. There is simply no
mention of the woman’s sufferings, hint of her groaning, or even a murmur of any
kind throughout the story. Although her beloved and only son suddenly died in her
lap, she conducted herself in perfect calmness. It reminds me of Daniel’s three
friends who were thrown into a fiery furnace that was intensified seven times. When
they came out, there was not so much as the smell of smoke on them.
Many Christians cringe at the slightest hint of God’s dealing. They miss many golden
opportunities to allow the Lord to deepen them from within and constitute them with
the Lamb’s humble nature and character. The greatest blessings are often, if not
always, hidden under rough disguises.
On the other hand, many teachers ministering on the subject of the cross must take
heed lest their sharing does not match their inner constitution which has to have
been molded and conformed to Christ’s image before the message can become a
I appreciate what the Holy Spirit intends to show us in presenting the other stories
found in chapters 4, 5, 6 and 7 before returning to consummate the story of this
precious Shunammite woman. As we have seen in these chapters, when suffering,
starvation and the terrors of war come, God’s people struggle in despair for
deliverance. We hear their collective cry, “There is death in the pot!” But in stark
contrast, our Shunammite woman, having yielded herself to the Lord, calmly stands
as a fragrant aroma in the midst of horrendous situations that no amount of teaching
or human endeavor can alter. She needs not shout, lecture or even speak much; her
being emanates the reality of the cross, not just her words – this, dear friends, is what
makes the Shunammite woman “great.”
Un-molested, unaffected, and unafraid through all the turbulent tribulations, our
brave Shunammite woman stands quietly and humbly before the king to appeal for
what was once her husband’s, now hers, home and land. There was no thought of
regret for not taking Elisha’s offer seven years prior in asking for a favor before the
king (II Kings 4:13) which would have made it easy now to get her house and land
back. But then she would have owed a huge debt of favor to the king that might
encumber her and her family for the rest of her life, not to mention the effect such a
course would have had on her spiritual stature.
We can learn a lesson from the Shunammite woman with regard to our relationship
with our earthly “king” (leaders). Let it be a sobering warning that we should always
be careful in seeking to develop a special relationship with our spiritual leaders. Our
relationship horizontally, with one another, should be the result of our relationship
with the Lord vertically. Excessive reliance upon a leader, especially a well respected
one, will develop into an undue loyalty to him, and many leaders exploit this loyalty to
manipulate innocent flock.
But there is no such danger with our Shunammite woman who put the Lord before
the king and declined Elisha’s offer of seeking favor from him in chapter 4.
It is interesting to note that in chapter 8, the Sunammite's son stands by her side as
her silent testimony of life. Many are those who labor in the vineyard of the Lord.
Many are those who stake a claim in the land of God’s kingdom. Many are those
who believe they have a position in the household of God’s people. But the crucial
question remains, Do they have a silent testimony of life by their side?
When the King of kings returns in His glory, we must all stand before Him. Many may
lay claim before Him concerning the "great works" and "mighty miracles" which they
claim to have done "in His name". But if the silent testimony of divine Life is missing,
a Life known only through experiencing His death and resurrection, the Lord may say
to them, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness."
How, then, is this silent testimony of life acquired? Remember the Shunammite
Only God's sovereign grace could have arranged the conversation between Gehazi
and the king, and the timely appearance of the Shunammite before the king. God
moves, through the king, to restore not only her former house and land, but also all
that the land has produced since the time that she left! This, dear friends, is none
other than spiritual fullness.
In everything the Shunammite woman did, we see Christ. We see Christ speaking in
and through her. We see Christ manifested in and through her words and actions. It
was the cross of Christ operating in her that sent forth a sweet aroma of His death.
It was her experience of Christ's cross that gave depth and meaning to her
sufferings. It was also the cross of Christ that brought forth a resurrected son – the
silent testimony of resurrection life. Finally, it was that same cross of Christ that
ushered her into spiritual fullness.
O, that we would echo Paul’s longing and prayer that the body of Christ might be built
up "until we all arrive at the oneness of the faith, at the full knowledge of the Son of
God, at a full-grown man, at the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
Feb. 2, 2010