Naomi and the Shunammite Woman

Portrait of Naomi, Artist Unknown

It’s easy to forget the rest and relief of Ruth when you’re knee-deep in all of the violence and betrayal in the books of Samuel and Kings. Reading these books is like traveling through an immense desert, surviving spring to spring.

And yet, 2 Kings offers us Ruth again, just when we need it. Or, more specifically, God gives us another meeting with Naomi, Wise Mother of Israel. This re-telling, in the story of the Shunammite woman, is a divided story of two parts, four chapters apart. It seems God intends us to encounter this story in stages.

Stage 1 of our story flows out of the miraculous over-abundance of the widow’s oil in chapter 4. The text tells us that there was a great woman in Shunem who regularly offered Elisha food and a place to rest in her home (see Acts 16:13-15). Elisha so values her kindness and hospitality that he asks to repay her, in whatever way she wishes. The woman is perfectly content to live among her own people, though “she has no son and her husband is old” (v. 14).

What follows is a series of miracles, foretelling the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, each hinging on the Shunammite woman’s initiative and persistence and the response of Elisha, each worthy of its own space another time (2 Kings 4:16-37).

What I want to focus on instead is the much briefer Stage 2 of the story (2 Kings 8:1-6). The re-telling of Naomi, mother of Israel, in just 6 verses. You may recall that the book of Ruth appears after Israel has spiralled into total corruption in Judges. Likewise, Stage 2 of our story appears immediately after two bone-chilling episodes of horror: cannibalism (6:24-33) and the trampling of the royal officer of the king by a mob of starving people (7:15-20).

These are terrible times, and in these terrible times Elisha remembers the Shunammite woman, her hospitality and her son whom he raised from the dead. He goes to her (not her husband) and tells her to take her family and “sojourn wherever you can sojourn” since the LORD has said famine is coming (Ruth 1:1). This woman knows that Elisha is a man of God, so she simply does what he says.

So the woman arose and did according to the word of the man of God, and she went with her household and sojourned in the land of the Philistines seven years.

2 Kings 8:2

We don’t hear what happens to the woman and her family while she’s wandering since the very next verse relates her return. And she wastes no time at all going straight to the king, seeking “one in whose sight she might gain favour” (see Ruth 3:1-4). Like Naomi, her concern is her inheritance, in her case the house and field she left behind while she wandered.

But the king of Israel does not give it to her straightaway. Instead, as she is arriving, he asks Gehazi the servant of the man of God to

“Please relate to me all the great things that Elisha has done.”
And Gehazi said,
“My lord, O king, this is the woman and this is her son, whom Elisha restored to life” (v. 4-5).

At this moment, for we believers who read, heaven and earth combine. The sky fills with angels, and the cloud of glory comes low and close. Do you see it yet?

This story, this still, small voice of a verse propels us through the wilderness of this life, faster than the speed of light, 1,000 years to a day, to the judgement of the dead, where Jesus Christ takes the names of His people before the throne of God. Where He recounts not our deeds but His own.

The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.

Rev. 3:5

We are the Shunammite woman of Israel, our wandering on this earth nothing but a breath, a passing shadow (Psalm 144:4). Beyond, God the Father waits with our inheritance, the land and house of heaven, ours when Jesus calls us by name.

Thus says the Lord God,
“I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries among which you have been scattered,
and I will give you the land of Israel.”’
Ezekiel 11:17


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