ויהי היום ויעבר אלישׁע אל־שׁונם
One day Elisha went on to Shunem ...
(2 Kings 4:8)
“BORROW EMPTY VESSELS ... !"
The beginning of the Aftara this week reminds us of our responsibilities as "prophets" (Mat 5:12) towards the poor and needy:
The wife of one of the guild prophets complained to Elisha. "Your servant my husband died," she said, "and you know that he feared Adonai. Now a creditor has come to take my two children as his slaves." (2Ki 4:1 CJB)
To take people who couldn't pay their debts as slaves was part of the harsh realty of the day, but in the Torah, HaShem tries to mitigate the effects of that harsh economic reality by putting rules and fences around it in order to prevent abuse (Leviticus 25:35-46).
Lack of payment was also equivalent to breaking an oath; a very serious thing. Yeshua agreed with the rabbis of His day when He said that it was preferable not to make vows (Matthew 5:34). He was actually going according to King Solomon's advice:
Better not to make a vow than to make a vow and not discharge it. (Ecc 5:5 CJB)
In this event, Elisha becomes a prime example of HaShem's mercy and compassion towards the poor and needy, the orphan and the widow (Ps 82:3-4; Zech 7:10; Deut 10:16; Is 1:17; James 1:27):
"You are not to abuse any widow or orphan. If you do abuse them in any way, and they cry to me, I will certainly heed their cry. My anger will burn, and I will kill you with the sword -- your own wives will be widows and your own children fatherless. "If you loan money to one of my people who is poor, you are not to deal with him as would a creditor; and you are not to charge him interest. If you take your neighbor's coat as collateral, you are to restore it to him by sundown, Exo 22:22-26 CJB
It is also important to know that the husband of the woman in question was none other than Obadiah, Ahab's steward. Targumic tradition tells us that this Obadiah had secretly hidden 100 prophets in caves and supplied them all with food and water while Queen Jezebel was hunting them. Doing so, Obadiah ran enormous debts, thus the desperate plea of the woman to Elisha who may have known about the situation (Josephus; Antiquities 9:47).
For God is not so unfair as to forget your work and the love you showed for him in your past service to his people -- and in your present service too. (Heb 6:10 CJB)
THE MISHKAN (Tabernacle) OF HOSPITALITY
The next story is one we are familiar with. It is the story of the hospitable Shunamite woman who had no son. The house of the Shunamite woman had become a regular stop-over for Elisha during his travels through the country. So much so that:
She said to her husband, "I can see that this is a holy man of God who keeps stopping at our place. Please, let's build him a little room on the roof. We'll put a bed and a table in it for him, and a stool and a candlestick. Then, whenever he comes to visit us, he can stay there."
(2Ki 4:9-10 CJB)
- Bed: מיטה
- Table: שולחן
- Chair: כסא
In the very order in which these items for the prophet's room were mentioned, taking the first letter of each of these items spells the Hebrew word: Mishkan: משכן, the very word that was used to refer to the Tabernacle that the children of Israel were required to build in the desert. Thus the saying in Judaism that the mitzvah of hospitality is equivalent to building the Tabernacle.
"GO OUT TO THE COUNTRY ROADS ...!"
Jewish texts have many stories about Abraham and Sarah's hospitality. They say that Abraham used to send his servant Eliezer by the highways and byways to find people to invite to his tent. He would then serve them a lavish ,meal. When the guest wanted to thank Abraham, the patriarch would direct them to thank the God of the Universe who supplies all things.
Yeshua commands us with the same idea. As His servants, he tells us:
'Quick, go out into the streets and alleys of the city; and bring in the poor, the disfigured, the blind and the crippled!' The slave said, 'Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.' The master said to the slave, 'Go out to the country roads and boundary walls, and insistently persuade people to come in, so that my house will be full. (Luk 14:21-23 CJB)
THE COMMANDMENT OF HOSPITALITY
Rather, treat the foreigner staying with you like the native-born among you -- you are to love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt; I am Adonai your God. (Lev 19:34 CJB)
"Here is the sort of fast I want -- releasing those unjustly bound, untying the thongs of the yoke, letting the oppressed go free, breaking every yoke, sharing your food with the hungry, taking the homeless poor into your house, clothing the naked when you see them, fulfilling your duty to your kinsmen!" (Isa 58:6-7 CJB)
Share what you have with God's people, and practice hospitality. (Rom 12:13 CJB)
A congregation leader must be above reproach, he must be faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, orderly, hospitable and able to teach. (1Ti 3:2 CJB)
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take your inheritance, the Kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you made me your guest, I needed clothes and you provided them, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' Then the people who have done what God wants will reply, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you our guest, or needing clothes and provide them? When did we see you sick or in prison, and visit you?' The King will say to them, 'Yes! I tell you that whenever you did these things for one of the least important of these brothers of mine, you did them for me!' (Mat 25:34-40 CJB)
WHAT MORE SHALL I SAY?
THE BOY WHO DIDN'T DIE
The Shunamite woman knew that Elisha was a man of God, a prophet, and she received him as such. Because she received Elisha as a prophet, she received the reward of a prophet, the reward of Abraham who was given a son through the miraculous intervention of HaShem.
Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive the reward a prophet gets, and anyone who receives a tzaddik because he is a tzaddik will receive the reward a tzaddik gets. Indeed, if someone gives just a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my talmid -- yes! -- I tell you, he will certainly not lose his reward!" (Mat 10:41-42 CJB)
Indeed, just like Abraham, the Shunamite woman received a miraculous boy whom Elisha resurrected. A carbon copy of the story of Isaac, born miraculously and saved by the "ram" when he was "as good as dead!"
MAY WE ALSO,
LIKE THE SHUNAMITE WOMAN,
BE WORTHY OF THE REWARD OF A PROPHET.