The Widow And The Oil
A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
In Matt. 6:31-33 Jesus said if we seek His kingdom and His righteousness, God will supply all our needs . Here’s a beautiful story from the Old Testament to show this wasn’t a new idea when Jesus spoke it, but was documented in their history.
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 here at all,” she said, “Except a little oil.”
Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the doors behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars and as each is filled, put it to one side.”
She left him and afterward shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.”
But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing.
She went and told the man of God and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.” (2 Kings 4:1-7)
What’s The Meaning Of This?
In the time following the death of King Solomon and the division of Israel into two kingdoms there was a period of general indifference and apostasy, especially in the North. During this time men who maintained their faith in the Lord formed study groups in various places for the purpose keeping knowledge of the Lord alive. These study groups were called companies of prophets. Although the men in these groups were not official prophets of Israel, the Lord blessed them with spiritual gifts including the gift of prophecy. Both Elijah and his successor Elisha maintained close relationships with these groups.
As our story opens, a man who had served the Lord by joining one of these companies of prophets has recently died. His time of service obviously limited his income and at his death he not only had no inheritance to leave, but had actually gone into debt. Now it was the duty of his family to repay his creditor.
Having no property or money, they were facing indentured servitude, a legal form of debt repayment in those days. But since there were no jobs for women back then, if the sons were forced into slavery the widow would be left with no means of support. It was a huge problem for which they had no remedy. It was miraculously solved by the Lord’s increase of her small supply of oil, a valuable commodity.
Elisha told the widow to ask her neighbors for as many empty jars as she could get. Then the Lord supernaturally increased her supply of oil so that when she had finished filling all the jars she had collected, she had so much oil to sell that she could pay off all their debts and support herself and her family for the rest of their lives with the money she would receive.
The widow and her sons hadn’t done anything to earn this. It was a gift by the Grace of God, and it far exceeded their wildest expectations, solving not only their current problem but preventing any future financial problems as well. They were set for the rest of their lives, and all they had to do was to ask.
Concealed In The Old…
Paul wrote, “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4). It’s a statement of enormous significance to New Testament believers because it explains that the history of Israel (the Old Testament) is filled with events that are meant to instruct us in the ways of the Lord. It’s there to encourage us as well, as we bring a New Testament perspective to Old Testament events. The story of the widow and the oil is a great example, and even though it really happened, it can be interpreted like a parable where every character and thing represents something else.
The widow and her sons can represent the world. Ever since the Lord had Moses anoint Aaron with special oil in creating the Levitical Priesthood, oil has traditionally been used to symbolize the Holy Spirit. And the empty jars stand for unregenerate man just as they do in Jesus’ miracle of turning water into wine (John 2:1-11).
Revealed In The New
Financially speaking, the destitute widow and her sons were facing a life of slavery. Spiritually speaking, when the Messiah came everyone in the world was facing a life of slavery to sin. It was a huge problem for which they had no remedy. The only presence of the Holy Spirit to be found was in Jesus (John 7:37-39). Just as Elisha had told the widow and her sons to gather empty jars, Jesus told His disciples to go into all the world baptizing in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19).
As long as the widow had empty jars, her supply of oil expanded to fill them. As she filled each jar she set it aside. As Jesus gave the Holy Spirit to His disciples (John 20:22) and they in turn gave Him to others, the availability of the Holy Spirit expanded beyond Israel to meet the world wide need. From then until now every new believer receives the Holy Spirit at the moment of belief (Ephe. 1:13-14, 2 Cor. 1:21-22). There is always enough for each one and there always will be for as long as people come. As each one of us comes and receives the Holy Spirit we are set apart. Our debts are paid (past sins are forgiven) our appointment with slavery is cancelled, and we will never be indebted again (our future sins are also forgiven). Colossians 2:13-14, 2 Cor. 5:17, Hebrews 10:12-14 all confirm this.
When all the jars the widow and her sons had collected were filled the oil stopped flowing. The widow and her sons were set for life. When the predetermined number of believers has come into the Church, the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit will end and we will be whisked off to our eternal home with the Lord (John 14:2-3, Romans 11:25). We’ll be set forever.
Are you as amazed as I am at the New Testament theology in this passage from 2 Kings 4:1-7? Here is salvation by grace, the remission of sin, the redemption of the soul, the gift of life, and eternal security all rolled up and tied off in one neat package. Of course you have to know something about the New Testament to see it. And if you didn’t know the Old Testament you wouldn’t know where to find the story. Proof again that the Bible isn’t two books, it’s one. And those who only read half, no matter which half, are missing the point. And that is, what’s contained in the Old is explained in the New. Put another way, what’s concealed in the Old is revealed in the New. To get the whole story, you have to read the whole book. Selah.