The Shunammite Woman: a rising hope

The Shunammite Woman ©MicahHayns

2 Kings 4

We come to our final woman of the Lent 2020 series on this Good Friday and you will see why I have chosen to remember her on this day when we remember Jesus’ death on the cross.

We are now very used to our women being unnamed, but usually these are poor or seemingly unimportant. Our final woman was ‘well to do’ and actually rather wealthy, and she was a friend to the prophet Elisha, but for some reason none of the household are named.

The woman lived in a spacious house with her husband in the town of Shunem (where Abishag came from). She was a keen host and enjoyed providing food for the elderly prophet Elisha and his servant Gehazi whenever they passed through the town:

So whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for a meal.

2 Kings 4.8

After a while she decided it would be sensible if Elisha stayed overnight rather than having to travel to his home after dinner. She was clearly a woman with an eye for detail and she prepares a room for him at the top of the house:

Let us make a small roof chamber with walls, and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that he can stay there whenever he comes to us.

2 Kings 4.10

Elisha and Gehazi want to thank her for her hospitality and so have a conversation about what they might offer her. She declines saying she has all she needs, “I have a home among my own people”

For her, that is blessing enough.

The men decide that as she is childless and ‘her husband is old’ then she can’t really be satisfied until she has a son. They tell her that by next year she would be pregnant, and she is.

The child grew and one day whilst out with his father in the fields he becomes seriously ill:

He said to his father, “My head! My head!” His father told a servant, “Carry him to his mother.” After the servant had lifted him up and carried him to his mother, the boy sat on her lap until noon, and then he died.

2 Kings 4. 19

What a tragedy for her. The woman acts quickly. She takes the child upstairs to Elisha’s room, shuts the door and then prepares the donkey to go travel to see the prophet, who is at Mount Carmel, a day’s journey away. Elisha spots her and sends Gehazi to meet her to find out what’s wrong, ‘Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is the child all right?’.

She doesn’t want to speak to Gehazi, but to Elisha and, although the servant tries to keep her away, she pushes forward. Her reaction seems to be anger:

Did I ask you for a son my Lord? Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t raise my hopes?” 

2 Kings 4.28

Perhaps she felt she was worse off now than she was before she had a child. Alfred Lord Tennyson said ’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’, but in these early moments of grief it didn’t feel like it to her.

Elisha and Gehazi go with the woman to her home and Elisha went upstairs to see the dead boy. He prayed to the Lord. 

Then he got on the bed and lay on the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out on him, the boy’s body grew warm. 

2 Kings 4.34

The boy returned to life and was given back to his mother, who fell to the ground in worship and thankfulness.

Reflection

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, 
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” 
When he had said this, he breathed his last.
Luke 23.44-46
Pieta made by Michelangelo in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome

Today is Good Friday and we remember Jesus’ final hours where he was beaten, humiliated and crucified. In his death, Jesus took onto himself all the pain, suffering and sin that is in the world. We also remember Jesus’ mother Mary, who was with him until his final breath, and who held his dead, lifeless body in her arms, just as the Women of Shunem had done many years before.

Before we get to the joy of the resurrection on Easter, perhaps we could spend a bit of time today reflecting on the grief that is around us. I don’t know about you but I find it hard to stay with the pain of Good Friday and my natural inclination is to move towards the joy and hope that is to come.

But let’s stay here for a while, and let us remember all those who are grieving today. Those who’s loved ones have died, those who have been unable to hold dying relatives in their arms in their final hours, mothers who have had to witness the death of their children, all those known to us who are suffering, and who might also be wondering if the love they had was worth the pain of the grief.

Let us place all our prayers at the foot of the cross, in the hope of the resurrection and new life.

Prayer

Eternal God,
in the cross of Jesus
we see the cost of sin
and the depth of your love:
in humble hope and fear
may we place at his feet
all that we have and all that we are,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

A Collect for Good Friday from Church of England Common Worship

Author: clarehayns

College Chaplain and Welfare Coordinator of Christ Church, Oxford | Mum of three boys | wife of a juggler and magician | Council of Reference of ZANE - http://www.zane-zimbabweanationalemergency.com | enjoys board games, dog walking, films, eating out.

22 thoughts on “The Shunammite Woman: a rising hope”

  1. Thank you Clare for this excellent series which has enhanced an otherwise difficult time this Lent. I intended to send you a proper card but our Retirement Village is in lock down and those I ordered on line have not arrived. So I just wish you every Easter Joy here instead.
    Penny Keens

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  2. yet another thoughtful piece….thanks so much. Just to let you know that I spoke to a woman I do not know last night after her 67 year old husband died of the Corona virus..and in the midst of the conversation, as I talked of faith in Jesus…she said twice “I choose to believe”…it was one of the most touching conversations of my career. She is one of the people you are writing about who feel so alone in their grief. Thank you for writing about that.
    Perhaps no jokes today….but surely you husband is storing up something good for easter day??? Hope so. Love Ruth

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  3. Really loved your readings everyday during lent so well written and light would be very difficult to choose a favourite but maybe I would say Abishag only because my eldest granddaughter is called Abigail and she is a peace maker.
    Thank you again have loved every story.
    Are they in book form at all I Would love to buy a copy and give it to my Abi
    Love Rosemary Falcous

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    1. Thank you for saying this and I think Abigail was my favourite as well. I am going to ask everyone reading it to give us their favourites tomorrow. I would love to make this into a book and so my next job will have to be exploring this as it’s a new area for me! Every blessing to you and your Abigail

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  4. Dear Clare,

    I don’t usually do “Me too” comments but I have been following this series after the first link was published on Thinking Anglicans.

    It has been a wonderful journey and I have learnt so much about some amazing women. I wish this material had been published years ago. I’m sure it would have enhanced some of my sermons!

    Why is it that *men* always underestimate and undervalue the contributions of the other half of the human race? I never fully understood or appreciated just how much my wife of 43 years contributed to our household until she went to her eternal rest and I have to do it all myself. I realise only now just what an amazing woman I shared my life with and who shared her life with me.

    Take care, Stay safe and God bless you and yours.

    Roy Parsons (Retired Reader)

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    1. Dear Roy, Thank you for taking the time to comment and for this encouragement – I’m delighted you found it helpful. Thank you for sharing this about your wife – she sounds like she was a wonderful woman. I was aware throughout that the blog might seem to be overly critical of men, which isn’t helpful either! And so it is encouraging that you enjoyed it and came to appreciate the special woman in your life through it. Every blessing to you too.

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  5. Good afternoon,

    May I just say how much I have enjoyed this series of articles? By far the best Lenten reading I have done in the last couple of years.

    Thank you

    Mary Stagg

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  6. Your series of women and the way you have linked them to Jesus, to ourselves and into prayer have been like finding treasure this Lent. Thank you.

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    1. Dear Clare,
      Thank you so much for all of these 40 reflections about the women of the Old Testament. I have certainly found them interesting and informative and have very much enjoyed your comments on how they link to today’s society and the situation we find ourselves in at the moment.
      Thank you so much and I hope that you can have a very happy – albeit a very different – Easter day tomorrow.

      Thank you,
      Pat 🙏

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  7. Thank you so much, Clare for your work shedding light on all these women. They have all been interesting and challenging companions along the way of my Lent journey this year. Go well into the season of Easter.

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  8. So sorry that this is the last one ! couldn’t you extend the series please ? I’m sure there are many more overlooked women in the Bible and it has been so interesting to learn about them… thanks so much, Clare. At this time I’m also thinking of you because of the amazing Passion play we performed in 2014. The way it all came together on that first sunny day of Spring – I’ll never forget it . Thanks for all your work back then too-. Have a lovely Easter with all your boys…..

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    1. Thanks Katya – there’s one more tomorrow for Easter 🙂 So glad you liked it and yes, I’ve been thinking of that as wonderful day as well. Happy Easter to you too

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