Let’s dive right into our text. We are going to start with two verses just to set the context and then we’ll go further into the accounts. Here’s how it begins:
“The wife of a man from the company of prophets cried out to Elisha, ‘your servant, my husband, is dead. And you know that he revered the Lord but now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.'”
“Elisha replied to her, ‘How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?’ ‘Your servant has nothing there at all,’ she said, ‘except a small jar of olive oil.’ ‘Your servant has nothing there at all except a small jar of olive oil.'” 2 Kings 4:1-2
Now, let’s talk about these two verses as there’s actually quite a bit in them. The first thing you’ll notice is we don’t know this poor widow’s name. According to Jewish tradition, many believe that she was the wife of the prophet Obadiah. If this was the case, it would be no wonder she was in financial need because Obadiah was known for protecting and providing for 50 other prophets.
So if indeed she was Obadiah’s wife, he would have taken all the resources he had to meet the needs of other prophets. It would not be uncommon for a prophet’s family to be financially struggling because they would spend the majority of their lives on the run, trying to survive. It was very difficult to make ends meet.
If you can picture this, we now have a widow whom we are going to guess may be somewhere in her 30s and has just lost her husband. She has no chance at meaningful employment because in this culture women were unemployable unless they would take the job that no woman would wants to take. Now, the creditor is coming after her two sons because of a law stating sons can be taken as slaves if debts weren’t paid.
It doesn’t get any worse than this. Humanly speaking, she has no hope whatsoever. Sometimes we face smaller obstacles and get worked up about what we could consider “entry level problems.” We have to wait in a line, or wait for a product or news. We lose things or don’t get our way. There are all kinds of entry level problems. But, the reality is many of us today aren’t just dealing with those, we have some graduate level problems going on right at this moment.
Maybe a marriage is barely hanging on and you don’t know if you’re going to make it. Someone that you love just betrayed you and what you thought you had, you don’t know even know what it is anymore. You’ve got a child that may be going the wrong way and you’re in agony because you’re watching someone you love make decisions that are going to hurt them. Some of you, you may be in a financial situation where you don’t know how you’re going to get out of it. Others of you, it may be a health issue. You went to the doctor or someone you love did, and if there’s not a miracle from God, you don’t know what’s going to happen.
You’ve got a graduate level problem. If you’re in significant need today, this message is for you. God will use this build our faith.
When you don’t have what you really want, you will discover that God is what you really need.
Let’s unpack this story and let this point come to life for us. This woman expresses her need to the prophet, and what does the prophet do? He makes himself available to help…
“Elisha replied to her ‘How can I help you?'”
If you want to make a difference in this world and be filled with joy, make yourself available for God to help. Then he says to her something that is very profound.
“Tell me what do you have in your house?”
In other words, he doesn’t say, “I’m here with all the answers,” but he respects her dignity and says, “Let’s start with what you have and let God meet your needs through what you have.”
She replies, “Your servant has nothing there at all.”
Isn’t it interesting that when you’re hurting and lacking, all you can see is what you don’t have and you miss all the blessings you do have? When we get down and we’re depressed and hurting, we’re just consumed with what we don’t have.
“I don’t have enough money so I can never be happy.”
“I don’t have a spouse so I can’t really have a meaningful life just now.”
“My house isn’t nice enough so we can’t host a small group.” (Because everybody knows the Spirit of God cannot move unless it moves on top of granite kitchen countertops… right?)
We start to think that if we don’t have what we want life doesn’t matter. This is the classic, “I have nothing to wear” as you stare at a closet full of clothes. It’s funny how when you’re in need, all you focus on is what you don’t have. And this is exactly where this poor woman was. She lost everything and all she could see was her lack.
What do you do when you don’t have much?
Stop waiting for what you want and start working with what you have.
You have something to work with. It may not be what you want, but you have something.
Verse 2 again – He says, “What do you have in your house?” She says,
“Your servant has nothing there at all except a small jar of olive oil.”
She only has “this one little thing.” What good is a jar of oil? Olive oil was actually incredibly valuable because it was very rare and had tons of important uses. Oil was used in cooking, burning for lamps, moisturizer… which was a good thing because you couldn’t just go to Bath and Body Works and get some stuff to squirt on your face.
It was also used to help keep leather pliable, keep iron from rusting, given as an offering to God, and anointing people in religious services. It was very valuable but she didn’t have a lot; she only had a little.
We can be so thankful that we serve a God who specializes in doing a lot with a little.
Jesus fed thousands with a little. God conquered a giant with a little shepherd boy. Jesus preached that with a little bit of faith, God can do much. Notice God did not say, “What do you want?” or “What do you need?” but “What do you have?” Let’s stop waiting for what we want and start working with what he’s already given us.
Some of us may look at what we have and want something else so we could do something more significant. But, we need to stop waiting for what we think we want and start making the most of the places He’s already put you.
The second thought that we learn from this awesome story is this:
We’re going to offer God what we have and trust him to give us what we need.
“Elisha said, ‘Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.’ She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring.”
“When all the jars were full, she said to her son, ‘Bring me another one.’ But he replied, ‘There is not a jar left.’ Then the oil stopped flowing. She went and told the man of God, and he said, ‘Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.’ 2 Kings 4:3-7
This seems like ridiculous request, to ask her to empty out everything she has and to trust God to provide what she really needed. But that is how our God works. When we show him our faith, we get to see his faithfulness.
Offer what you have, God will do something special.
God blesses the person who does not wait to make an offering. An offering of time. An offering of a gifting. An offering of money. Notice he didn’t say what size, he didn’t say what color, he didn’t say what shape. The only requirement is that the jars must be what? Empty. It could have been any kind of jar. He just needs it to be empty.
“But we have this treasure which is Christ in jars of clay.” 2 Corinthians 4:7
What is it that referring to? That refers to our bodies. We’re clay pots. We are dirt houses. That’s what we are. God is looking for a few empty jars. God blesses those who let go of the most.
When we empty ourselves of self, pride, greed, and our own agendas and come to God totally empty, He fills us with oil. Oil has always been a symbol of the Holy Spirit. And suddenly you realize when you don’t have outwardly what you wanted, it is God that you truly needed.
He is enough; He is sufficient in every single way. When you are weak, He is your strength. When you’re hurting, He is your comforter. When you’re lost, He is your guide. When you’re hungry, He is the Bread of Life which nourishes you. When you are thirsty, He is Living Water. When your life is unstable, He is the Rock that does not move.
Check back on your discussions from the last week, “Faith That Works.” Any more observations from your discussion last week?
God is looking to fill some empty vessels. Offer to God what you have and trust him to give you what you need.
Read 2 Kings 4:1-7
Discussion & Application
- Where in life do you feel most overwhelmed right now?
- Why do you think our focus is often on what we don’t have instead of what we do have?
- Share a time when God did a lot with just a little in your life. What did you learn from your experience?
- What do you have that God can use? How will you allow Him to use it?
- “When you don’t have what you really want, God is what you really need.” How have you experienced the truth of this statement?
Ask how you can pray for and support one another this week.
Grow your faith with commitment to God by reading the following Bible passages this week.
Day 1: 2 Kings 4:1-7
Day 2: 2 Corinthians 4:1-12
Day 3: Philippians 4:10-20
Day 4: 2 Peter 1:3-11
Day 5: Matthew 6:25-34
Day 6: Proverbs 3:1-12
Day 7: Matthew 15:29-39