Today we are going to look at a famous story from the Old Testament. As I read over this account, it brings to mind old felt-board Sunday School lessons! But aside from the nostalgia, there is a principle hiding behind this awesome passage of God’s delieverance. For those of us who know the story, the Lord miraculously refills the widows jars of oil to deliever her and her sons from their desperate situation of family debt. While the events that occur after Elisha shows up is full of great lessons and applications, I am approaching this scene from a different angle. I want to focus in on what happens before the jars are filled.
“The wife of a man from the company of the 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.” (2 Kings 4:1-3, NIV)
The scene is desperate. A widow and two children have nothing. This situation on its own is a prescription for hard times, but there is another dynamic–the widowed home is drowning in family debt. The Bible doesn’t tell us how or why they got there, but we do know that the creditors are coming to take the sons away to work off the unpaid debt. It is a hopeless situation (which is just the kind of place where God loves to show up…but again, a post for another day!). A poor widow has lost her husband and is in danger of losing her two sons. It is a bleak picture–one we would never hope for our own household. There are a lot of lessons we can learn from reflecting over what this passage teaches us:
1. Debt caused desperation at death. The creditors are coming for the two children. The provision of the oil is used to pay off the debt (7). Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that everyone should be debt-free in case they die an untimely death, but we should consider what the “creditors” might come for in the event of our own passing. Luckily for us here in America, no one will be hauling away our children to cover for family debts, but a foreclosure, repossessed car, and garnished wages don’t exactly ease the losing of a loved one. I know that widows are not personally liable for debt signed only by the deceased, but the deceased’s remaining assets are. If you run your household united (as the Bible calls you to), then your very way of life will come under attack from creditors. This will create a mess any loving spouse would do their best to avoid.
2. Where would your “household” be if you were to pass away? Death is taxing enough on our emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual reserves (even losing someone we will see again in heaven). Adding financial chaos into the equation only makes it worse. A father of two children, this story resonates strongly with me. I think about what my family would be up against if I was to go home to my Maker. I think, for those of us willing to be honest, these words give a chilling call to financial responsibility. Out of love, we should do the utmost to make sure our spouse and children would not find themselves in a similar circumstance.
3. We are foolish to think we can wait until we are “old” to prepare for death. I am just taking a shot in the dark here, but it doesn’t appear the children are old enough to take over and run the household. I can’t say this for certain, but it seems the kids are relatively young. (We at least know they were young enough not be married off and having households of their own.) In this case, we might presume that the husband died relatively young. Again, this is a chilling call to all willingly to take it to heart.
In conclusion, I think we would be wise to consider the financial obligations we are placing upon our household–and what those family debts would mean if we were to head to heaven before we were “ready”. We can write off this passage to “cultural irrelevance”, but to do so would be foolish…and certainly not in our family’s best interest.