Old Wisdom, Recommendations

A Charge to Parents from 1671

I found this little book called “A Token for Children” referenced in Elizabeth Gill’s obituary penned by her father, John Gill.  It was apparently one of her favorite books alongside The Pilgrim’s Progress.  The book is itself worth reading, but I wanted to share the introduction in particular. I couldn’t find a clean copy online.  I’ve added some linebreaks and modernized the punctuation just slightly.

~ * ~

To all Parents, School-Masters, and School-Mistresses, or any that are concerned in the EDUCATION of Children.

Dear Friends, I Have often thought that Christ speaks to you, as Pharaoh’s daughter did to Moses’s mother, “Take this child, and nurse it for me.” Consider what a precious jewel is committed to your charge, what an advantage you have to shew your love to Christ, to stock the next generation with noble plants, and what a joyful Account you may make, if you be faithful: Remember, souls, Christ and grace cannot be overvalued.

I confess you have some disadvantages, but let that only excite your diligence; the salvation of souls, the commendation of your master, the greatness of your reward and everlasting glory, will pay for all. Remember the devil is at work hard, wicked ones are industrious, and a corrupt nature is a rugged, knotty piece to hew: But be not discouraged: I am almost as much afraid of your laziness and unfaithfulness, as any thing. Do but go to work in good earnest, and who knows but that rough stone may prove a pillar in the temple of God?

In the name of the living God, as you will answer it shortly at his bar, I command you to be faithful in instructing and catechizing your young ones; if you think I am too peremptory, I pray read the command from my master himself, Deut. vi. 7. Is not the duty clear? and dare you neglect so direct a command! Are the souls of your children of no value? Are you willing that they should be brands of hell? Are you indifferent whether they be damned or saved? Shall the devil run away with them without controul? Will not you use your utmost endeavour to deliver them from the wrath to come? You see that they are not subjects uncapable of the grace of God; whatever you think of them, Christ doth not slight them; they are not too little to die, they are not too little to go to hell, they are not too little to serve their great master, too little to go to heaven; For of such is the kingdom of God; and will not a possibility of their conversion and salvation, put you upon the greatest diligence to teach them? Or are Christ and heaven, and salvation, small things with you? if they be, then indeed I have done with you: but if they be not, I beseech you lay about you with all your might; the devil knows your time is going apace, it will shortly be too late.

O therefore what you do, do quickly, and do it I say, with all your might; O pray, pray, pray, and live holily before them, and take some time daily to speak a little to your children, one by one, about their miserable condition by nature; I knew a child that was converted by this sentence, from a godly school-mistress in the country, “Every mother’s child of you are by nature children of wrath.” Put your children upon learning their catechism, and the scriptures, and getting to pray and weep by themselves after Christ: take heed of their company; take heed of pardoning a lye; take heed of letting them mis-spend the sabbath; put them, I beseech you, upon imitatating these sweet children; let them read this book over an hundred times, and observe how they are effected, and ask them what they think of those children, and whether they would not be such? and follow what you do with earnest cries to God, and be in travel to see Christ formed in their souls.

I have prayed for you, I have oft prayed for your children and I love them dearly; and I have prayed over these papers, that God would strike in with them, and make them effectual to the good of their souls. Incourage your children to read this book, and lead them to improve it. What is presented, is faithfully taken from experienced, solid christians, some of them no way related to the children, who themselves were eye and ear witnesses of God’s works of wonder; or from my own knowledge, or from reverend godly ministers, and from persons that are of unspotted reputation, for holiness, integrity, and wisdom; and several passages are taken verbatim in writing from their dying lips. I may add many other excellent examples, if I have any encouragement in this piece, which the author had done, in the Second Part. That the young generation may be far more excellent than this, is the prayer of one that dearly loves little children.


Janeway was a nonconformist preacher so popular and so hated by the Church of England that they attempted to assassinate him twice.  He and his brothers (all duly ejected from the Church of England) all died very young from tuberculosis – James at 38.  This book was read not only in the Gill family, but often by the Spurgeons as well.

Studying God

Justified and Forgiven.

Julie / February 21, 2016

As a justified man, I have not a sin against me in God’s book. If I were to turn over God’s eternal book, I should see every debt of mine receipted and cancelled.

-C.H. Spurgeon

We go to a liturgical church, which is mostly quite unfamiliar to me, but occasionally unexpectedly thought-provoking.  One particular Sunday morning some weeks ago, the Confession of Sin was very compatible with the thoughts already running through my head.   I don’t remember what confession it was—whether it was one from Scripture, or Calvin, or the BCP, or what—but I was really feeling it, and many of my recent failures began parading through my mind.  What a disappointment I must be to God.  So wretched.  I just keep right on sinning, day after day.  Being short with the children; impatient.  Wasting time.  Being “too tired” when I really could have pressed on.  Getting snippy with Seth over dinner.  Eating too much chocolate.

I prayed.  Oh, God, forgive me.

Then the pastor read the Assurance of Pardon, which that morning was from Psalm 103 (ESV):

The LORD is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame;
he remembers that we are dust.

That morning, sitting there in church, bouncing a baby on my knee—the Spirit worked and the words shattered straight to the heart of me.


I realized that I’ve mostly thought about God saving me from my sins as a past-tense (at the cross) and a future-tense (letting me into heaven) kind of way. “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul says (1 Corinthians 6:11).  And we are “justified by his grace [so that] we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:7).  “Since therefore we have now been justified by his blood…” (Romans 5:9).  These verses, this sense of justification is what I’ve had catechized deep into my mind.

And, indeed, our justification is by Christ’s blood, and is eternal, and is something which comes with salvation.

But I was missing something—the present reality of God’s forgiveness.

One day as I was passing into the field, and that too with some dashes on my conscience, fearing lest yet all was not right, suddenly this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was a-doing, God could not say of me, he wants my righteousness, for that was just before him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself…
-John Bunyan

Paul writes in Romans 5:1 that because of our justification by faith, we have peace with God.  1 John 1:9 adds that “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  1 John 2:1, “if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”  Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Romans 8:39, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


I knew those verses before that Sunday morning; I knew Psalm 103.  Yet sitting there, my sins fresh on my mind and the overwhelming guilt weighing so heavy on my shoulders—reading those amazing, precious words: “He does not deal with us according to our sins.”  I am sure I stopped breathing.  But the goodness kept on flowing.  “Nor repay us according to our iniquities.”  “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”

The next line left me really gobsmacked: “as a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.”  Oh, what metaphor I know!  How gracious of God to give us these little word pictures, to give us parenthood so we have an inkling of how He feels toward us.  So many times a day I am called to rebuke our children.  So many, many times that children sin.  So many times they hurt me, even, with angry words or even (on the part of the toddlers!) an angry thwack.

And yet it is completely unthinkable to suggest that I might stop loving them because of these things!  When they repent, I think I love them even more than I did before, not less—it is such a joy to see.  And when I see their continuing sorrow for what they did, I want to fix it, to make them feel better, to let them know that it’s forgiven and that they are still my very own dear little ones and that I am not angry.

“For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”  Just as a parent knows that their children are children, God knows our weakness.  Which is not an excuse, any more than “he’s just a kid!” is an excuse for childish behavior, but it is a comfort.  Ecclesiastes 7:20, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.”  God knows my sin—my sin this very day!—and yet sent His Son to atone for it.  While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us! While we were dead in our trespasses and sins! And if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us.  Even as I was worried and weighed down by my sin that Sunday morning, God was faithfully forgiving and removing and washing it away, listening to me with loving ears, and somehow seeing not my sin, but His Son’s righteousness.

He does not deal with us according to our sins.

Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect?
God is the One who justifies.
Who is the one who condemns?
Christ Jesus is the One who died,
but even more, has been raised;
He also is at the right hand of God
and intercedes for us.
Romans 8:33-34 (HCSB)

Mothering, Studying God, Time Management

Always prepared to give an answer?

Julie / January 22, 2016

Today someone asked me how it is that I always seem to be so peaceful.

Someone whom I have no reason at all to believe is a Christian; someone whose relationship with me does not generally entail talking about religion or personal beliefs at all, in fact, whose relationship with me (i.e., “professional”) makes such conversation socially verboten.

…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…
(1 Peter 3:15)

Needless to say, I was caught off-guard by her question.  I have a neat litany of excuses for my failure: the irregularity of the conversation, the exhaustion deluging my brain, my todo list burning a hole in my pocket, the rarity of my interaction with nonbelievers at all now (as a SAHM)… I was very much off-guard.  Secondly, the subtlety of the question threw me—”peaceful” didn’t immediately turn my brain to the Gospel.

I have lots of excuses.

The conversation was not a total flub, because for some odd reason, she kept pushing it and, surprisingly, turning it in ever more spiritual directions.  I felt like I’d stepped into the twilight zone and was off-balance and uncertain the entire time.  Looking back, I feel like the conversation was enough that God could use it, or that I could bring it back up again on the strength of the conversation, but I’m also really sorrowful at my own ineptitude and inattention and lack of focus.

“Always being prepared.”  I would have done better if she had asked me a direct question, like, “how do I go to heaven?” or “how does your faith help you remain calm?”  Or, “why is this theological confession better than that one?”  I could have done well with any of those questions, had my brain snapped into focus and put on the evangelism track.

But sadly, preparation doesn’t mean knowledge here.  It doesn’t mean ability to argue theological points.  Peter is talking in the context of suffering Christians in a hostile world, and what is the source of the “preparation” he names?  “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy.”

My problem was that my brain was going a thousand places this morning, none of them focused directly on Christ.  I was totally being “a Martha.”  I’d thought plenty about theology this morning, but not much about its Author.  My fellow conversationalist actually asked me (if you’re a Yankee, you know how shocking this is) if I prayed in the mornings—and all I could think of was, well, I sure hadn’t THIS morning!  My answers were all over the place because my heart was all over the place.  God gives me peace when our son has facial palsy—a peace I have very much clung to in the past week and a half—but somehow, the lesser things, I act like I can strike out on my own.  I can bundle my kids up and out the door, carefully-organized schoolwork schedules in hand.  I can get everyone breakfast, everyone in shoes, raggle-taggle hair tamed, snacks packed… all in my own strength.

But I can’t.  This morning was absolutely shattering to my self-inflated spiritual ego.  It doesn’t matter how much Scripture I read or recite, how many theological terms I can rattle off, or how excellent of “Christian” parenting advice I can dole out when others ask me… if my very own heart is not filled up with honoring Christ, it’s all rubbish, to quote Paul.

It’s a quiet little sin to simply lose focus, to stop feeling thirsty for the refreshment of the Spirit, to stop depending on Him and glorifying His holiness and instead to fall into pride and self-focus, distraction, and worry.

Such a quiet little sin.  But such a lethal one.  I’ll never get this morning back.

(Written July 2015, forgot to post it.)

Studying God

Do not be overcome by evil……

Julie / January 20, 2016

Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.
-Romans 12:21

Another verse to add to the “Julie always thought of this wrong” pile! 🙂

The context really lends itself to thinking the “evil” here means “evil people,” and surely that is one valid meaning, but… life has taught me there’s a lot more evil to overcome within myself than there are evil people waiting to persecute me!

It continually delights me how God uses children’s music to work in my heart, and this morning we were listening to Steve Green’s “Hide ‘Em in Your Heart” in the car, and this verse is one of the songs.  When it came on, my heart was heavy with thoughts of various conflicts going on, and my own tendency to react to such conflict sinfully—impatiently, unkindly—and our human tendencies to respond to disagreement with slander and bad-temperedness and selfishness.  (A musing itself inspired by an earlier track on our adventure this morning, Andrew Peterson’s “I Want to Say I’m Sorry.”)  How desperately real is the struggle to “be angry and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26), to “let your speech always be gracious” (Colossians 4:6); how true is it that “when there are many words, sin is unavoidable” (Proverbs 10:19)!

When that moment of conflict comes up, it is so very hard to beat back the instinctive reaction of my tongue.  James says (3:8), “no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”  And yet we must.  Proverbs 10:19 concludes, “but the prudent hold their tongues.”  Proverbs 17:27, “the one who has knowledge uses words with restraint.” James 1:19, “be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.”  In that very first moment of a disagreement—how the temptation of evil is so near!  Especially when someone has done us evil, the temptation to retaliate is so strong and so hard to resist.  And yet such is evil; vengeance belongs to God, not to me.  There is never a justification for speaking even a little bit uncontrolled, or even a little bit selfishly, even a little bit vindictively.  With our tongues, surely sin is indeed “crouching at the door, and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7).

At the beginning of a disagreement, evil is lurking.  Lurking in my heart.  Vying for control of my tongue.  Trying to overcome me, to turn the conversation—even the relationship!—to evil.  But as David begs in Psalm 141:3, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!”  In that moment, we can restrain our tongues, we can overcome the evil of the encroaching conflict with good, with the fruit of the Spirit, with patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control.

Do not be overcome by evil—but overcome evil with good!

Old Wisdom

A Song for Suffering Saints

Well, I have had terrible morning sickness and been a) behind on my reading, and b) not blogging it even when I am managing to read it!  What should have been finished in March is just now wrapping up, on that score.

But I wanted to turn back into an English major for a minute here and extol the virtues of what is rapidly becoming one of my favorite hymns: How Firm a Foundation.

As a good cradle Baptist ;), I grew up singing this hymn—to the point that I can recite the lyrics without struggle.  Apparently, however, I never really listened to them, and very mistakenly thought the hymn was about the usefulness of the Bible.  “How firm a foundation…is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!”  And I suppose I tuned out the rest of the verses, and failed to consider that Word here means Jesus, not the Bible, and the song is about comforting the suffering, not “yay, we believe the Bible.”

Anyway.  Enough about my inattentive errors.  Onto the song.

First fascinating thing: it was brought into the public eye by no less than John Rippon, the Particular Baptist pastor who succeeded John Gill, wrote the biography thereof, and was eventually followed along himself by Charles Spurgeon.  Rippon made up a very influential hymnal, known widely as “Rippon’s Selection,” which was used in combination with Isaac Watts’ hymnal in Particular Baptist churches until the late 19th century.

Considering what a popular hymn it  has become, it is curious that no one is quite sure who wrote “How Firm a Foundation.”  Possibly Rippon’s church’s worship director.  Rippon credited it merely as “K.”

I first really noticed the song last Wednesday, in the car, trying to drive and not throw up.  Tiny sufferings, even by my experience, and yet meaningful enough to drive the beauty and theology of the words home.

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

In every condition, in sickness, in health;
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

Even down to old age all My people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

What more can He say than to you He has said?  Such a gentle, encouraging rebuke to one struggling: God already assures us, flee to Him and be comforted!

Then it switches to God talking, words echoing Scripture.  “Fear not!”  And why do we not fear?  Is it because God will pluck us out of our trials?  No—“I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.”  He doesn’t remove us from our trials, he strengthens and upholds us through them.  Because God never gives us more than we can handle?  No, because God is omnipotent and can uphold us through  more than we can handle!

So by now the suffering hearer is wondering—so You promise to uphold me, and You can, but… why the trial?  Why the suffering?  And the hymnwriter addresses this, too—“when through the deep waters I call thee to go…” and even more, that He will “sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.”  Who is ordaining and leading the suffering?  The sovereign God!  And what is accomplished? That even this suffering will become holy to us.

But why?  The hymnwriter has even more biblical answers for the sufferer, and even more comfort, straight out of 1 Peter 1:7:

These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith–of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire–may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

And Psalm 66:10-12:

For You, God, tested us;
You refined us as silver is refined.
You lured us into a trap;
You placed burdens on our backs.
You let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but You brought us out to abundance.

Or as the hymn-writer puts it, “the flame shall not hurt thee; I only design thy dross to consume, and thy God to refine.”  The metaphor is in Scripture many more places than this.  And the comfort—“My grace, all-sufficient, shall be thy supply.”  It’s enough!

Still the hymnwriter promises no removal from suffering, yet closes in the most resoundingly comforting stanza imaginable: “the soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose, I will not, I will not, desert to its foes!”  “Though all hell should endeavor to shake” it, God will “never, no never, no never forsake.”  Hebrews 13:5: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Genesis, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Isaiah—this hymn is so like Isaiah 43—

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.

The final comfort is the Word, that He will never leave us, that He is always sufficient, that no matter what the suffering, no matter how extreme, that it never hurts us—just our dross—but that it refines us, that it has purpose, for His glory, for our good, and that we will even learn to praise God for the suffering!

In short, this song is a great sermon, abounding with really useful, Christ-centered theology and an absolutely keen practical application.  I find myself humming it often now, and am thankful for the reminder of the biblical truths therein.

Study Notes

Grace to Nineveh

I am doing a terrible job of blogging my reading.  The biggest thing that struck me this week, though, was as I was reading through the book of Jonah: God is gracious.

The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at Jonah’s proclamation; and look–something greater than Jonah is here!

Matthew 12:41

Jonah is one of those stories many of us know from childhood.  Our four-year-old could probably give you the bare sketch; there’s a Veggie Tales of it, after all!  And yet as I read it this time, I found myself struck by many things I’d never really thought about before!  I love how the Spirit makes even old stories have fresh applications. 🙂

First: God sent a messenger to Nineveh rather than just annihilating them.

We are talking about a wicked people, so wicked that their wickedness was said to have “confronted” God (1:2).  God would have been just to have rained fire on them like on Sodom and Gomorrah, or any of the other many pagan kings.  And yet God—who knew they would repent—sent a messenger.

Second: Jonah’s disobedience indirectly led to the eternal salvation of the sailors in the boat.

Here, again, God could have picked an obedient prophet!  But Jonah disobeyed and tried running off to Tarshish.  When the seas grow stormy (another act of God!) the sailors demand of Jonah, who are you? What is your country?  And Jonah answers with a great little piece of evangelism: “I’m a Hebrew.  I worship Yahweh, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land.” (Jonah 1:9 hcsb)

So, they’re in the middle of the storm, and Jonah tells them there’s this God named Yahweh who made the sea.  Important piece of information, there, because in Jonah 1:14, these very same men—who apparently couldn’t even recognize an Israelite beforehand—are praying to Yahweh.  They are affirming His sovereignty, and appealing to Him for mercy.  Jonah 1:16 says they “feared the LORD” and they offered a sacrifice and made vows.

God used even Jonah’s disobedience to bring new sheep into His fold—Gentiles, no less!

Third: Jonah’s message was not one of hope.

Jonah 3:4 tells us the very bleak message Jonah gave Nineveh from God: “In 40 days Nineveh will be demolished!” Nothing about “unless you repent,” and in fact not even anything about “because you are so wicked.”  These people are so evil that their evilness has come up against God, and Jonah foretells their destruction.

Fourth: Despite this, the people repented.

The message was not one of hope, and they weren’t sure hope was in the offering (“Who knows? God may turn and relent,” they ponder in Jonah 3:9), and yet they saw their evil, named it as evil (Jonah 3:8), and stopped doing it!  Jonah 3:5 says every single man fasted and dressed in sackcloth, even the king.  They even made their animals fast.  They even fasted from water.  They repented, very thoroughly.

And God relented.  And these same Ninevites will rise up on the last day as witnesses for Him.

Fifth: Jonah knew there was hope.

This was the most significant thing to me.  It’s so easy for me to read the Old Testament and see that “smiting” God that athiests poke fun of—many, many wicked people are indeed punished, and often without a lot of extra chances, at least that we see.  And even here, Jonah’s message didn’t seem to offer an extra chance—and yet, Jonah, who was surely aware of Israel’s own history and the history of the way God had dealt with lawless people throughout it… Jonah says, “I knew You are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love, and One who relents from sending disaster!” (Jonah 4:2, hcsb)  He’s complaining, but that these words of God’s mercy come so quickly to his lips—that he is so confident that God is merciful that he fled to Tarshish from the beginning—this is so insightful and wonderful that someone sent to preach destruction to a city was still so sure that God relents from destruction!  He preaches a message of punishment while cradling in his heart (even if he wasn’t happy about it) the certainty that God is merciful.  His conviction of God’s mercy had to be so incredibly strong.

Sixth: God cared about Nineveh.

He compares Nineveh to the plant that grew over Jonah (Jonah 4:10), and asks Jonah, if you cared about this plant, even though you weren’t even the one who labored for it, how much more should I care for Nineveh (which was, of course, His own creation)?

This, again, is an amazing testimony of the mercy of God. “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?” God asks in Ezekiel 18:23.  “Instead, don’t I take pleasure when he turns from his ways and lives?”  Nineveh is a beautiful illustration of this verse.  This incredibly wicked city—Jonah himself is revolted—and yet God “cares” (Jonah 4:11).  It tells us He even cares about their animals!  And so He sends a prophet, and rejoices over their repentance, and keeps them till the last day.

So much mercy and encouragement in this little book!

Study Notes, Womanhood, Women in the Bible

A Woman of Boldness

As I continue to think about the definition of biblical womanhood, the very-familiar story of the Shunammite woman who helped Elisha in 2 Kings 4 seemed worth looking into.  I’ve always read the story with puzzlement over the somewhat odd miracle-working of the resurrection of her son, and never paid that much attention to what it has to say about the woman herself, and the consider amounts of initiative and planning she undertakes.

While our historical culture has often seen boldness as an unfeminine trait, Scripture has much positive to say about boldness, and this is a good illustration of how it can be a positive quality in women.

I had never noticed how incredibly similar Elisha’s story here is to Elijah’s story in 1 Kings 17.  Mostly minor differences, but at least one significant one—I always thought the woman in Elijah’s story took so much action personally because she had no husband, but in 2 Kings 4, there is a husband in the story, and yet the wife is still very much the central figure.

We see in v. 8 that she is “a prominent woman,” and she not merely offers Elisha some food, she persuades him to eat.  Regularly.  She appeals to her husband to set aside an entire room (with great details like a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp) for Elisha to stay in whenever he comes through Shunem.  And they do it.  And why?  Because, she says, “I know that [Elisha] is a holy man of God” (2 Kings 4:9).

She’s a woman with ideas.  She’s a woman who apparently boldly entreats a prophet to stop and rest a while, and who boldly entreats her husband to do something quite inconvenient on his behalf.  Presumably her husband is going along with all of this, but it’s interesting that she, and not he, is the one driving it.

Elisha takes her up on the offer.  And then—again, bypassing the woman’s husband, who I would have expected him to deal with—he calls for her and thanks her for going to the trouble, and asks her what they can do for her in exchange.

She asks for nothing.

Gehazi points out that she has no son, and Elisha promises her one.  She is disbelieving, but his word proves true (v. 17).

Here, finally, the woman’s husband comes into the story a little bit—the child goes out with his father to the harvest, gets sick in the head, and the father sends him back to his mother with a servant.

The child dies.  She picks him up, puts him on Elisha’s bed, and leaves.  She doesn’t tell anyone what happened, and when her husband asks why she wants to go see Elisha, who is now at Mount Carmel, she doesn’t tell him.  He’s confused (v. 23) but she just affirms that everything is okay and leaves in a rush.

I can’t imagine what is going through her head.  Her only son, her little son, has died, and she’s keeping it all locked inside and not even telling his father.  So much single-mindedness is evident here.

She gets to Mount Caramel, and Elisha sees her in the distance (v.25) and sends Gehazi out to see if everything is all right.

She says yes, everything is all right—so much faith here!—and waits until she gets to Elisha’s feet to be overcome with anguish at last.  Elisha, for his part, has no idea what’s going on (“the Lord has hidden it from me, He hasn’t told me”, v. 27), but is compassionate.

She reminds him that she hadn’t asked for the son, but did ask to not be deceived—and now her son is dead.  Elisha sends Gehazi off in a rush with his staff, which turns out not to work (v. 31), but the mother won’t be dissuaded until Elisha comes himself (v. 30).

Elisha prays and the boy comes back to life.

The same Shunammite woman re-enters the story in 2 Kings 8, where Elisha has prophesied of a famine, and here thoughtfully tells the woman to pack up her household and get away.

Again, I am struck by the reality that he told her, and not her husband; that it was the woman who “got ready and did what the man of God said” (v. 2), and then it was the woman even who went to appeal to the king at the end of the famine to have her land restored (v. 3).  And God worked it out perfectly for her by having Gehazi “happen” to be at court the same time that the woman appeared, telling the king in fact about the woman herself, and her son, and the help they had given to and received from Elisha.

(On a sidenote, it is also awesome that God worked it out so that while Gehazi is telling this awesome, logic-defying story about a kid being raised from the dead, the woman herself comes in and confirms the story to the king.)

The king responds by restoring not only the woman’s house and lands, but also all the income she might have missed.

Nothing really is said about the husband in this story.  He could have been like some minor version of Nabal, and that been why it was left to his wife to do all these things, why it was his wife who helped Elisha and who was addressed by Elisha.  Certainly he doesn’t seem to have stopped her in any of her endeavors, although the only words he speaks in the entire story are questioning her actions (4:23).  Gehazi also says the man is old (4:14), and perhaps that is why he is so inactive—although he was working in the harvest (4:18).

There’s also the submissive aspect present in at least some degree when, rather than summoning the servants herself to fetch the donkey to go to Mount Carmel, she summons her husband and asks him to summon the servants to fetch the donkey, and tells him where she’s going.  She gives him a reassuring and honest but vague answer to his inquiry, and nowhere in any of these three main parts of her story (making a room for Elisha, fetching Elisha to raise her son, or packing up and moving to Philistia) is there any indication at all that her husband is anything other than a completely willing participant in her actions.  She consistently runs her plans by him—if vaguely at times—and then acts.

She reminds me of the Proverbs 31 woman, who “considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.”  There’s a lot of action going on in Proverbs 31, too, a lot of decisions: which vineyard? which clothes? where shall I buy my wool? how much shall I sell these garments for? how do I deal with the merchants? how much shall I dispense to the poor? what kind of food shall we eat?

There’s a boldness to the Shunammite’s actions—and the Proverbs 31 woman—in knowing the good thing to do, and doing it.  Knowing when to explain, and when to just act; when to ask permission (e.g. to set aside a room in their house permanently) and when to just stride on without any real explanation (e.g. when her son died).  There’s a lot of wisdom needed, but the examples are encouraging.  Doing good things unflinchingly, unquestioningly is one of the things that leads King Lemuel’s mother to declare, “the heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.  She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life” (Proverbs 31:11-12).

Thanks to the Shunammite’s boldness in doing good, her husband gained a son, then had that son resurrected, then survived a great famine, then profited upon their return to their home.  It also led to Gehazi being able to testify of the goodness of the Lord to the king, and surely encouraged and  helped God’s prophet to have a welcome home in Shunem and to see the faith she displayed by declaring “everything is all right” although her little son lay at home dead.  There was much good done by her concern for doing right and seeking the Lord!