Have any of you ever wondered how a particularly difficult situation in your life would turn out? I know that is a question with an obvious answer, but it helps to get us thinking about the woman in our story and the predicament she was in. We can pay attention to how it might speak hope into our own lives. The story I’m referring to is about the widowed woman in 2 Kings 4:1-7. The Bible tells us that she cried out to Elisha (a prophet of God) and told him that her husband who feared the LORD was now dead and the creditors were poised to take her two sons as slaves for payment. When Elisha asked her what she had in her house she told him she had nothing more than a jar of oil.
One of my worst fears when my kids were growing up is that they would be separated from me somehow. What this woman was facing is unthinkable. She was powerless. She was alone. She was penniless, owing a substantial debt. She was mourning. She was facing additional, unfathomable loss. And she now bore the sole responsibility of provider and protector for her children. She may have had such great certainty in God’s plan for her and her sons that she never thought to despair. Maybe she never let fear in for even a brief moment. But I would imagine that she was like the rest of us when unwanted circumstances cause our future to appear frightening. What I see is that she cried out to Elisha. I have to think that she was in the throes of grief and fear.
Elisha and his predecessor Elijah had seen God move miraculously through them. Elisha seemed unwavering after the widowed woman let him know of her only possession. He instructed her to go and borrow vessels from everywhere, from all her neighbors – empty vessels. He said not to gather just a few! Did he know exactly what was going to happen?! His next instruction must have seemed crazy to her. He told her when she was finished gathering the vessels to go home and close the door behind her and her sons and start pouring her oil into all the vessels and to set aside the full ones. She gathered the vessels, closed the door behind her and her sons, and poured from her jar of oil just as Elisha had instructed her to do.
There are times in our lives when there is nothing left for us to do but trust God. I think many of us are good at figuring things out when times get tough, but we will all face times in our lives when we cannot fix things. Those are the times when we will know more intimately, God our Provider, than ever before. I wish that we could know just how this woman reacted with the relief and the joy she must have felt as God began to work a miracle right before her eyes! What did she say? Did she break down and cry with gratitude, worshipping God? One moment she has nothing and knows not how she will save her sons. The next, she is overflowing with more than enough! The Bible says that she poured her oil into the vessels until they were ALL full and that’s when the oil ceased. Elisha told her to sell the oil to pay her debt and that she and her sons would live on the rest. Would she ever have imagined this was how salvation would come to her?
I can’t help but to notice that the woman had empty vessels and a willing heart. The little bit of oil she had causes me to imagine it as a little bit of faith. This was all she had when the oil began to flow and flow and flow until her provision was complete.
2 Timothy 2:20, 21 says, “But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.” It refers to people as vessels who can be useful for God if we cleanse ourselves from things that bring dishonor.
Maybe there’s something that’s keeping us from crying out to Him, something that is filling our hearts and taking up the space that belongs to Him. Maybe it’s bitterness, self-righteousness, anger, unbelief, pride, or anything else that keeps us from yielding to God’s will. These mountains in our lives cannot be removed by our own might. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to fill us just like the oil filling the vessels. When we repent, we are cleansed because of Jesus’ shed blood that covers us and makes us righteous before God. Are we willing to trust Him even when His leading seems impossible or pointless? If we empty ourselves by saying yes to His will, and let Him heal us and change our hearts, then He will fill us and use us in ways we could never know would even matter.
We can’t change our own hearts. God is the One who does the miraculous. What we can do is present a willing heart before the Lord and yield to Him. I believe that is what the vessel of honor represents in the verse I quoted, “…he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.” What did it matter that the woman in 2 Kings gathered all of those empty vessels when she had but a single jar of oil? She didn’t know until she obeyed.