2 Kings 8:1–6 (NIV)✞: The Shunammite’s Land Restored
Back in Chapter 4 we saw a miracle in which Elisha raised a Shunammite woman’s son from the dead. In this passage we encounter her again in a different context: the LORD has “decreed” there will be a seven year famine, so He has Elisha tell the woman that she and her family should leave (v. 1✞). So she does: she and her family go to live in the land of the Philistines for the duration of the seven year famine.
Once the famine is over she returns, and is on her way to see the king to request her land back, but it just so happens that Gehazi—who, we will remember, is Elisha’s servant, and personally witnessed the events with the Shunammite woman back in Chapter 4—is talking with the king at that very moment. The king had just asked Gehazi to tell him about some of the great things Elisha has done, and just as Gehazi is telling the story of the Shunammite woman’s son, there she is!
5 Just as Gehazi was telling the king how Elisha had restored the dead to life, the woman whose son Elisha had brought back to life came to appeal to the king for her house and land.
Gehazi said, “This is the woman, my lord the king, and this is her son whom Elisha restored to life.” 6 The king asked the woman about it, and she told him.
So the king commands one of his officials to look into her case, not only giving her back her land but also giving her any income that had been earned on the land in the time she was gone!
In the passage on the famine in Samaria I’d mentioned that I didn’t know if the famine was being sent directly by God against the people of Samaria or not. In this case, however, verse 1✞ uses the word “decreed,” so it seems that He is specifically sending this famine against the people of Israel. (Actually, the passage doesn’t specify whether it’s Israel vs. Judah, but given that all of the recent passages have been in Israel I’m assuming this one is, too.)
However, even though He is sending a famine to the people of Israel He decides to spare the Shunammite woman and her family. For some reason God has been blessing this woman and her family quite a bit; is it because she follows Him more rigorously than other people in Israel? Or has He just decided to put His love on her in a special way? The text doesn’t say – but neither does it mention Elisha warning anyone else in Israel about an impending famine, and that they should leave the country!
I also feel that the author(s) are making a point by always talking about the Shunammite woman; to our modern ears, always calling out “the woman,” “that woman,” “the Shunammite woman” sounds harsh or dismissive, but I think it was exactly the opposite in this book: we don’t need reminding how patriarchal the society was in that time, or how little power women had in comparison to men, but the focus on these passages is always on her, not her husband or son. I would normally expect to see her referred to as “the wife of a Shunammite man,” or to Elisha saving “a Shunammite family” from the famine. The husband and son are mentioned, of course, but only in relation to her: the father is the Shunammite woman’s husband and the son is the Shunammite woman’s son.
And yet, as I said, no reason is given as to why this woman gets so much attention from the LORD.
Also, on that point, it seems excessive (to me) that she would not only be given her land back, but also be given any income that had been earned on the land while she was gone! Perhaps the nuance we’re missing is that someone has unlawfully claimed her land in her absence? The ESV Study Bible notes seem to take this view, wondering if it might even have been the king himself who commandeered the land:
2 Kings 8:3 her house and her land. Someone has taken the woman’s property in her absence—perhaps Jehoram himself, showing the same land-grabbing tendencies as his parents (cf. 1 Kings 21). The king was now the recipient of her appeal, as the person with primary responsibility under God for the establishment and maintenance of order and justice throughout the kingdom (cf. Psalm 72). In Israel the end of the seventh year was a proper time for restoration of property and cancellation of debt (Ex. 21:2–3; Deut. 15:1).
ESV Study Bible
Whatever the reason, God continues to bless the Shunammite woman and her family, and, given what little we know about her, I think it’s safe to say she appreciates that fact and praises the LORD for it!
In this passage we also see an extremely unlikely coincidence, whereby the Shunammite woman shows up just as Gehazi happens to be talking to the king about her. Anytime coincidences happen in the Bible we should be trained to see the hand of the LORD, it’s never just a “coincidence,” but I think all the more in this case: that Gehazi and the king would be talking about the miracle performed on her behalf, of all things, just as she happens to be returning from abroad, would be such a huge coincidence that even people who believe in coincidences couldn’t possibly see this as a coincidence!