Jezebel Verses the Shunammite: One Bitter, One Better

Thank you for dropping in to read my third article in a special Mother's Day series: "Godly Women, Honorable Wives".

Before we look at the Shunammite, let's examine one of her contemporaries--a woman who believed she always had to be in charge. She plotted, manipulated, lied, seduced, flattered, and brilliantly schemed. Since she lived in an age where men dominated high places of authority, she had no choice but to hide behind a public puppet to get her way.

Her name was Jezebel and her husband was Ahab, the king of Israel. She was the real power behind the throne of her husband's reign and subsequently, those of her two sons. Read an example of her conniving in 1 Kings 21:1-23.

In the New Testament, the book of Revelation reveals that there is a Jezebel-like spiritual force that still works in the earth, usurping natural and spiritual authority…authority it originally gained through Adam, but lost at the Cross.

Jesus spoke to John about the Church at Thyatira (Revelation 2:20), which tolerated the self-proclaimed "Jezebel-like" prophetess and teacher who seduced members of the congregation into idolatry and immorality. Remember, idolatry is anything we desire more than God; immorality is anything we give ourselves to outside of God and His will.

This force can work through both men and women, but gravitates toward wounded, disillusioned women who have lost confidence in men to protect, provide for, and empower them.

It really began in the Garden of Eden. Where was Adam when Eve was under emotional and spiritual assault? After she had fallen for satan's lie, the Bible says she "…gave also unto her husband WITH HER; and he did eat" (Genesis 3:6). The "missing-man" M.O. has been a favorite of the enemy ever since!

You see, God made man and then took him into the Garden, but woman was fashioned IN the Garden. Adam was given the charge to tend and guard everything in the Garden (Genesis 2:15). Thus, Eve was a part of God's beloved Garden to be cultivated and defended.

A woman who finds herself uncovered due to her covenant partner's lack of interest, ability, carelessness or absence, rises to the occasion in an act of self-preservation--particularly if children are involved. It is an uncomfortable and harsh mantle she takes on; it stretches her emotionally beyond what God designed. Yet, over time, she adapts very well--the bills get paid, the children are fed and she has survived.

But at what price? Many relentlessly cling to God and allow the crucible to form them more clearly into the image of Christ. Other women become bound to a controlling lifestyle. They do not trust people--especially those in authority--such as a boss or pastor. They seek to get close only to influence and if that plan backfires, they explode in accusatory anger and leave, often taking other wounded people with them.

They may be trying to serve God in sincerity, but faulty programming through the years has them convinced that things will get done and done right…only when they are in charge.

Many of these women view men as routinely inept and spiritually dull. Deep in their hearts--regardless of what they profess publicly--they are suspect of even Father God's ability to care for them in tough times, particularly when they cannot readily see evidence of His providence. They don't have a problem with a suffering Savior who understands and forgives their sins, but Christ's Lordship (and correction) is a different issue.

Several years ago, I taught a six-year-old in Sunday School who had a little accident on the pavement before church. She kept her bandaged index finger extended upwards during class, drawing attention to her injury and eagerly talking out of turn about it when someone noticed.

It's much the same for women with unattended hurts. Of course, the pain and bleeding is emotional. And yes, the finger is still up. A parade of pastors and friends through the years have tried to apply cleansing agents (the truth) and healing balms (inner healing), but most women snared in a Jezebel aren't interested in getting well. They crave attention.

Through attention, they may be able to get sympathy for their cause. Through sympathy, they garner support and through support, control. They believe the pay-off (staying in charge of everything around them) is worth the pain. Inwardly, however, is a frightened, scarred person who for some reason didn't initially fight back or a little girl who couldn't. Now she's trying desperately to win the day.

In the Old Testament we see a con man that finally got the courage to face God about his past. It turned into an all-night wrestling match. Despite the pain of this unusual confrontation, he would not let go until he received a blessing that transformed his life (Genesis 32:22-32). His original name? Jacob, meaning "usurper, trickster". But after the blessing, God named him Israel, "one who prevails with God".

A woman under a Jezebel influence can also change from being a Usurper of Authority to a Prevailer with God. But only when she's ready to meet her Lord face to face and let Him remove all that she has taken on that is not of Him, so that there's room for the blessing that is!

But wait a minute. Let's not forget the Shunammite.

There's a positive spiritual force--the opposite of Jezebel--that carries a mantle waiting to be worn, too. It all depends on what we do when people in places of authority betray or abandon us, chiefly the men who are commissioned by God to tend and guard us, and don't…or they try and fail. Really, it's not a matter of if, but when in this fallen world.

We can either give our disappointments to a God who is capable of healing them or we can turn to others, becoming emotionally crippled and dependent. And then there's Jezebel's choice: we can take matters into our own hands. But let's meet someone who chose to trust God. The Bible records her story in 2 Kings 4:8-37; 8:1-6.

We do not know the name of this extraordinary woman. She was married to a wealthy landowner in Shunem near Jezreel. The town was located near the International Coastal Highway and the prophet Elisha frequently passed through the area on his travels.

One day Elisha was in town and the woman invited him to break bread with her family. In fact, the Hebrew says she "constrained" (laid hold on him) to have a meal in her home. In those days, the prophet in the land represented God's presence. He carried God's heart to the people. She was not content anymore with him just passing by.

To understand why this event was important, we must understand what a covenant meal represents in the Middle East. Hospitality is a command and the invitation to dine is treated as sacred. It is not about sustenance alone, but fellowship. Only in such a setting can you really get to know someone--receiving more from them than a piece of bread. You receive a portion of who they are.

On the road to Emmaus, the disciples were walking with a fellow traveler who began to open their understanding to the Scriptures as never before. Luke records that their hearts burned within them as this stranger spoke about the Messiah and the meaning of the recent events in Jerusalem (Luke 24:13-35).

As they neared the end of their journey, they "constrained" him to turn in and abide with them. They were hungry for more than just food. He took the bread and broke it. Suddenly their eyes were opened to see who had been beside them all along--the Bread of Life--Jesus!

Modern Christianity seems to often concentrate on what God can do for the convert. You can look in the Yellow Pages at the listing of churches in your area, and each one will proudly mention what they offer so that you and your family can have a great experience when you visit.

Our Father has promised throughout His Word to take care of His own; isn't that a "given"? He's not a liar, for sure! So perhaps the better focus would be on what God wants.

He declares, "If I were hungry, I would not tell thee; for the world is mine, and the fullness thereof" (Psalm 50:12).

But if God is "hungry" for something from me, I want to know it! If there's anything that I can offer to satisfy the desire God has for me to be conformed into the image of His Son--anything that I can put on the plate of Christian service and sacrifice that quenches His thirst for souls to know His love--I'll fire up the altar!

But dining with the prophet for a day and then have him go his way was still not enough for this woman; she wanted to make a place for him to abide while in Shunem. If he were to dwell in her home, then so would God.

A nice visit with the Heavenly Father, particularly at church on Sunday mornings, is easy, isn't it? After a while, you can be on your way and get back to more important things. Making room in your everyday life is something different altogether.

She made a little chamber on the rooftop, complete with a bed, table, stool, and a candlestick. Care was taken in readying this holy place. It was not haphazardly thrown together, nor did the prophet have to "clear a spot" upon his arrival (which was never announced ahead of time).

Elisha was thankful for the great care this busy woman took in providing a place for him to rest between his long journeys on foot. He wanted to return the blessing. But when asked what she needed, her answer was, "I dwell among my own people" (a cultural idiom meaning, "I'm content; I'm happy").

After her departure, the prophet, intent on personally blessing her, turned to his servant Gehazi and asked, "What can we do for her?"

Gehazi noticed that the Shunammite was childless and her husband was old. Elisha called her to the chamber again and declared: "This time next year you shall embrace a son."

What is it that you long to embrace…something that all the money and prominence in the world cannot buy? Have you made an abiding place for Jesus? Are you breaking bread with Him daily? Moses reminds us in Deuteronomy 28:2 that God's people shouldn't have to chase blessings; rather, they'll pursue and overtake us if we're obedient. That's what happened to our Shunammite sister!

A few years passed and her son was visiting his father in the fields when he suffered a stroke. The father instructed the servants to quickly take the lad to his mother, only to have him die in her arms a few hours later. The woman said nothing. She laid her only son upon the prophet's bed, shut the door, and went out.

This is a good place to divert for a moment or two and look at the Shunammite's husband. I can do that best if I use a modern day profile:

·       No nonsense, hard-working man
·       Attends church on Sundays and rotely  tithes the required 10%
·       Doesn't swear, smoke or drink
·       Doesn't like to talk about his faith; won't pray in public,
        doesn't read much of the Bible on his own
·       Is skeptical of emotional excesses in worship
·       Can't understand his wife's fervent dedication to her faith, 

         but doesn't stand in her way

Is this your husband? Your devotion to the Lord increases and his remains static. The gap continues to widen and you want him to experience God as you do, but he is stubbornly comfortable. By the way, Shunem means, "uneven"!

What do you do? Take out your frustrations on him? Put him on religious guilt trips or operate in witchcraft, holding him hostage with your emotions or defrauding him sexually?

The Shunammite apparently didn't let her husband's place or pace in what the Apostle Paul calls our "spiritual race" diminish her commitment. She didn't play the blame game or use him as an excuse:

"Well, if he only..."
"I would, but he…"

We pick up the story in 2 Kings 4:21. She called to her husband and asked for a donkey and a servant in order to go see Elisha, who was at Mt. Carmel, fifteen miles away.

Notice the door to the chamber was closed; the father probably thought his son was just resting. Why didn't the Shunammite tell her husband that their son had died? Note his response to her request: "Why are you going to him today? It's not the new moon, nor Sabbath." In other words: "It's not Sunday, why are you going to worship now?" I suspect that if she had told her husband about the death, he would have forbidden her to seek out Elisha for a miracle.

"Those things just don't happen anymore. Besides, honey. You're distraught and not thinking straight. Settle down and I'll call the priest and the funeral home."
She saddled the donkey (wealthy women rode; they never walked) and set off on the challenging, rocky road towards Mt. Carmel. She commanded the servant to not slacken the whip just because she was a woman, but "put the pedal to the metal" and get the donkey to the prophet ASAP! (Donkeys can travel longer at a faster pace than horses over rough terrain.)

Elisha saw her coming and sent Gahazi to see why she was traveling at such a fast speed. When asked about her husband and child, she simply responded with the now famous, "It is well".

But she had no time for Gehazi. She pressed on until she fell directly in front of Elisha and grabbed his feet. Gehazi was offended at such a bold act for a woman, but Elisha rebuked him saying, "Leave her alone, for her soul is vexed."

He immediately commanded Gehazi to take his staff and lay it upon the face of the child. Surprisingly, the Shunammite refused to accompany the servant, who would have made it to the child's side first. Instead, she preferred to travel with Elisha.

The servant had disheartening news when the prophet and mother arrived. Although the staff was laid upon the child as instructed, the lad was still dead. A determined Elisha went into the chamber, shut the door, prayed earnestly and stretched himself upon the child three times. He did not give up until life returned to the boy's body.

In the Old Testament, believers could only approach God through a system of mediation, which required a priest. God spoke through selected men and women called prophets, and there was usually only one national prophet at a time.

Now, Christ has become our priestly mediator through His work on the Cross, which gives us instant, constant access to God. Although we are thankful for God's ministers in the earth today, they are no substitutes for a personal relationship Jesus Christ.

In a crisis, our confidence is in God, not man. We are careful with our confessions. We are willing to saddle up for a hard time of intercession over obstacles, not stopping until we can grab the nail-pierced feet of Our Advocate.

Like the Shunammite teaches us, Gehazi's won't do when we can have direct access to God.

We don't follow the servant if it means leaving the side of our Lord--no matter what the cost!

We don't put our trust simply in the things of God (like Elisha's staff), but in God alone!

And if we persevere with God, then "with the measure you give will be the measure you get back." (Luke 6:38 RSV)

As our story closes, a famine was coming to the land and Elisha instructed the Shunammite to take her household and sojourn for seven years.

If you've been through a personal crisis and found God faithful, then you can find the same God trustworthy in a national tragedy! The time to get close to God is not when something happens, but before. Her walk with God enabled this wealthy woman to leave all of her substantial holdings behind in order to fully obey the Lord.

Although she and her entire household wandered homeless in a foreign land at the mercy of the Philistines, the sworn enemies to the Israelites, God saw to it they were fed, sheltered, and protected.

We assume her husband had died at this point, because Elisha's instructions were for her to take "HER household" on the journey (8 Kings 8:1). Her son was probably not old enough within Jewish law to become the head of the household.

Women with wealth had greater freedoms in society. This Shunammite may have come into the marriage with a significant dowry. By law it remained hers, but was legally used by her husband to profit the household. This obviously garnered a favored status for her, along with producing an heir to continue the family name and fortune.

2 Kings 8:3-6 records her returning seven years later to boldly beseech an audience with the king for the return of her house and land. No doubt squatters were on it. Perhaps King Jehoram, known for his wickedness, confiscated her land--just like Ahab did with Naboth.

This may have prompted her to completely bypass the city elders, who would normally handle such a case (as with Naomi and Ruth). Nevertheless, it was an audacious move for our Shunammite, who no longer held her respected position in the community.

Talk about divine timing! Remember Gehazi? He was already in the royal court when she entered, telling the king her story and all what Elisha had done. The king was astounded! He immediately appointed an officer to see not only to the restoration of her house and land, but also to her land's annual yields…beginning with the day she left!

She received full restoration with increase! It was as if the land had never suffered a famine. Wouldn't it have been great if her husband had been alive to see what happened? Don't you think he would have finally shouted with a Holy Ghost two-step? First, his son was raised from the dead and now this!

Hey, maybe my wife's right after all. Who cares what the deacon board thinks?  "Baby, I want what you've got!"

If you're sojourning at the leading of God, take heart. This detour is actually keeping you and your family out of harm's way, although the path may seem difficult at times. God is ordering your steps! So much so, that at the right time, He will use others to be His agents of restoration with an overflow. That is, as long as you keep focused on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith and your Sustainer for everything that happens in between.

Oh, one more thing about Jezebel: If one could actually see the spiritual force at work that bears her name, I bet it wears very thick glasses.

Although I'm being facetious, there could be a ring of truth here.

How so?

Well, if you focus on the people around you, you become terribly shortsighted and unable to see beyond their faults and weaknesses.

If you focus on yourself, you become only farsighted and unable to examine your own flaws and shortcomings up close.

But God still opens blinded eyes, doesn't He?

1 comment:

LisaMe! said...

Awesome word ..
Comfirmation to seasons in my life
I will continue to keep my eyes
on the Lord and Trust and Obey
Blessing on you
Your sister friend
LisaMe!