2 KINGS 4:18-5:27 | ACTS 15:1-35 | PSALM 141:1-10 | PROVERBS 17:23
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There’s a sense of deja vu in the story of the Shunamite woman. One can’t help but recall similar circumstances that Elijah had encountered during his day with the old widow woman whose son had died unexpectedly, and whom Elijah had miraculously raised from the dead.
Elijah is no more, of course, but the man who succeeds him, i.e., Elisha, is said to have received a double-portion of Elijah’s spirit, so it doesn’t come as too great a surprise that when the Shunamite woman approaches him in her great distress to inform that her son—the miracle baby boy that Elisha himself had promised her she would have—is now dead. She lays her dead son on the bed, in fact, the very same bed that Elisha himself used when he would pay a visit to the Shunamite woman’s house.
And so, we see here the great faith of this woman in approaching Elisha to seek help, and we see Elisha’s immediate response in sending his servant to attend to this child. We also see the woman’s determination to not return home without Elisha himself. And then we see Elisha relenting to this request in accompanying the woman to her home, seeing the dead boy, and then miraculously restoring him to life.
What an amazing story this is—imagine the tales that this young boy would be regaled with for the rest of his life by his mother and even his old father!
We continue with the account of the life and times of this man of God called Elisha who continues to perform the most miraculous acts wherever he goes: from providing food during a famine, to feeding a hundred people with the most meager meal that produce massive leftovers.
Is this not reminiscent of Jesus’ own feeding of the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes?
When Elisha’s servant expresses skepticism at serving such a large group with the small amount of food at hand, Elisha says to him, “Give it to the people to eat. For this is what the LORD says: ‘They will eat and have some left over.’”
Is that not an amazing testament to the Lord’s provision? Out of the smallest and hopeless of things, God provides, multiplies, and then allows for still enough to be left over!
Next, we learn about the story of Naaman. There are again multiple facets to this incident, all of which are worthy of reflection. First, there is the servant-girl who plants the idea in her mistress’ mind about the possibility of seeking out the services of a prophet from the land of Israel. The mistress gives ear to this idea, and persuades her husband, Naaman, to pursue it. Naaman, in turn, sends word to the king of Israel, perhaps Jehoshaphat, who unfortunately, is unable to send a favorable reply to him.
This leads to Elisha becoming aware of the request from Naaman to the king, and Elisha now offers his services. So this is what happens: Naaman is sent word to approach Elisha directly, and when Naaman comes to Elisha with gifts, he is met by Elisha’s servant who gives him simple instructions: go and bathe in the Jordan river seven times, and you will be healed.
Simple as that, but Naaman takes offense at not being received in person, and then takes greater offense at the simplicity of the instruction. Funny how these things go sometimes…
But Naaman’s servants ought to be given due credit here—it is they who persuade their master to undertake Elisha’s instruction, and it is a good thing that Naaman concedes, because next thing you know, he is completely healed from his leprosy! So great is his joy and amazement that he goes right back to Elisha, this time to thank him and press upon him gifts of thanksgiving. But Elisha will have none of it.
Go in peace, he says to Naaman, and sends him on his way.
But Gehazi, Elisha’s servant has another idea, and a bad idea it is. He runs after Naaman, and asks for the gifts. Naaman is happy to oblige, but Elisha is not pleased when Gehazi returns. It is a sad ending to Gehazi’s story: the dreaded leprosy that Naaman has been cured from is now an affliction that Gehazi has been cursed with– all because of his untoward desire for freebies! Surely, there’s a lesson in there for us.
Turning now to our reading in the book of Acts, we see Paul and Barnabas continuing in their missionary work, traveling through the ancient cities, towns, and villages of Greece and Turkey. There is now a pressing debate about the “worthiness” of the non-Jews, i.e., the Gentiles who are adopting this new faith and belief that Paul and Barnabas are preaching, and are becoming part of the group that will be known as the early Christians.
The debate is as to whether these Gentiles ought to also be circumcised in the Jewish tradition if they are to accept and adopt the Jewish ways.
The audacity of these Jewish Pharisees certainly knows no bounds! At first, they were against the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ, but now that they see large numbers of non-Jews converting to this new brand of Judaism, they are quick to assert themselves and their authority in demanding that circumcision be practiced among them.
But Peter speaks up. No, he says, that will not be necessary. These are his own words: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8 God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9 He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
Is that sufficiently clear?
Well, just in case there were any doubts, Peter and the rest of the Council decide to also put it into writing in the form of a letter to the leaders of the newly formed churches. This was a plan of action agreed upon by one and all, and this is an excerpt from that letter.
Forget circumcision, it seemed to say, if you truly need to have some basic guidelines to live by, well, here are some things we recommend. Do these, and you will be fine!
The actual verbiage is as follows: 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
Turning now to our reading in the psalms, we find a psalm which bears a common theme of beseeching the Lord for his mercies. David, the psalmist is unabashed in his pleas for God’s mercies to keep him from temptation, and is equally unabashed in speaking his mind on the fate that he wishes on those who wish him ill. He says:
10 Let the wicked fall into their own nets,
while I pass by in safety.
Finally, a sentiment from the book of Proverbs that remains intact from time immemorial:
23 The wicked accept bribes in secret
to pervert the course of justice.
May God bless the reading and reflection of His Word.