“A certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets cried out to Elisha, saying, ‘Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the Lord. And the creditor is coming to take my two sons to be his slaves.’ So Elisha said to her, ‘What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?’ And she said, ‘Your maidservant has nothing in the house but a jar of oil.’ Then he said, ‘Go, borrow vessels from everywhere, from all your neighbors – empty vessels; do not gather just a few. And when you have come in, you shall shut the door behind you and your sons; then pour it into all those vessels, and set aside the full ones.’ So she went from him and shut the door behind her and her sons, who brought the vessels to her; and she poured it out. Now it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said to her son, ‘Bring me another vessel.’ And he said to her, ‘There is not another vessel.’ So the oil ceased. Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, ‘Go, sell the oil and pay your debt; and you and your sons live on the rest.’” – 2 Kings 4:1-7
The Brink of Despair
One of my favorite movies growing up was The Princess Bride. It has everything: beautiful women, sword fights, giants, torture chambers, miraculous escapes, witty discourse, weird characters, true love… even a battle with a giant rat! At one point in the movie, Wesley is captured by Prince Humperdink and thrown into the pit of despair only to awaken to a white albino reminding him not to even think about trying to escape. “The chains are far too think. Have no hope of being rescued either. The only way in is secret. Only the prince, count and I know how to get in and out,” he smirks.
If you have ever felt like this, you are not alone. Whether your struggle is financial, emotional, relational, or physical, the story is not over yet.
In our text we see that this poor widow comes to the prophet in a desperate situation. Interestingly, her husband was also a prophet. We do not know exactly what happened to cause this debt. Perhaps there was some disaster like a fire that devoured their livelihood. Perhaps people were not giving into his ministry as they should. Or his sons could not find work. This is part of the story that we do not know. But what we do know is that this man feared the Lord. He was holy. He dedicated his life to the service of God, and yet at the end of his life, he died penniless and left behind a widow and two sons. Does this sound unjust to you?
This woman was on the brink of despair. Her two precious sons, the apple of her eye, were about to be sold into slavery. She was going to die bereaved of her husband and sons while slowly withering away from hunger like a severed branch.
Can you just hear the devil right now? “Is this what you get for serving God? He has failed you! Curse God and die!” Hmmm… reminds me of another story in Scripture.
How many people when they face these circumstances would respond like this? How many saints get offended at God when they go through trials!
There are always two responses to the trials: trust God or blame God.
Many people are at a critical crossroads. Faith is the ink that will pen the final chapter.
Bring Your Nothing
When you are invited to a wedding or a birthday party, it is customary to bring a gift. As a matter of fact, it is considered rude not to bring something. Even in the Old Testament, the Lord commands Israel not to come before him empty handed. David the king and prophet says, “I will not offer to God that which costs me nothing.”
And yet, what do you have that you could possibly give the King of the Universe? He is the one who spoke and the worlds were created. All that we are and have are from him and belong to him. In him we live and move and have our being.
This is well illustrated by the band Shane and Shane in their song, “Bring Your Nothing.”
Here is the widow. She has no hope but God and she comes to the prophet. If she had rich friends, don’t you think she would have called upon them? If she had a Plan B, don’t you think she would have executed it? Despair is the point when every natural resource and idea have been exhausted. This is where she was… at the mercy of either God or the creditors.
When Elisha asks her what she has, she says, “Your maidservant has nothing… but a jar of oil.”
She surrenders and brings her nothing to God. When we come humbly before the Lord and acknowledge that we really have nothing, he reminds us that there is some small thing that he has entrusted to us however insignificant it may seem. The world would not see it as much. Perhaps we feel it isn’t even worth mentioning.
God wants to take your nothing and make it something.
A story that comes to mind is the journey of CityImpact ministries in San Francisco. It began with a man seeing a need in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. This is one of the worst most drug infested and violent areas of the city. He had a heart to do something to bring the love of God. So he and his wife just started by making a few dozen lunch bags and then going around and handing them out to people. Then they prayed and talked with broken people as the Holy Spirit gave them audience. Fast forward over a decade later and they are now one of the most well known ministries in San Francisco with a huge staff, impacting not only the Tenderloin but churches around the world who send missions teams there to participate in what God is doing.
What is your jar of oil?
The apostle Paul writes to the Corinthian church to remind them that, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” – 2 Cor. 4:7
One of the biggest ingredients for God working a miracle is an empty vessel.
Jesus the Son of the living God came as an empty vessel to this world. In Philippians we learn that Christ “emptied himself” of all his divine privilege and nature in order to become a human and do the will of the Father. He became a servant.
The prophet says to the widow to go and gather empty vessels… from everywhere, from everyone, as many as you can find!
Isn’t it interesting that the sons who were supposed to be sold into slavery became gatherers of empty vessels? They got to participate in the miracle of God. The devil has a plan for your life. It is to sell you into slavery. It is to bring you into the house of bondage and despair. It is to rob you of your future. It is to keep you isolated, sick and fearful… to destroy your very soul.
But praise God saints… he has another plan!!
Imagine the scene. The sons frantically rushing to the neighbors, banging on doors, gathering and bringing them back to the house. Then going out again and gathering some more. Tall vessels, short vessels, red vessels, yellow vessels, vessels that used to hold sugar, flour, wine, parchments. Bring them all!!
Aren’t you glad that God is no respecter of persons? It doesn’t matter how beautiful, how big or small your vessel is. The only qualification is that it comes empty.
How many vessels got filled? Do you ever stop to think about this? Was it twenty? Fifty? A hundred? …
As many vessels as were brought were the ones that were filled! Question… are you skimping on the vessels? Could it be that God wants to do something far greater, far more marvelous in your family, church, city and life than you could have dreamed?!
The oil will stop as soon as there are no more empty vessels.
Saints, this story is one of the most profound pictures of the life of overflow for every believer. The devil wants you penniless, offended and fearful. Robbed of every good thing. God says, bring me your nothing. Come empty and watch me fill you to overflow.
The blessing not only paid off the debt but propelled this family into a life of abundance.
Are you in a place of despair? Do you feel like all you have is your nothing? Are you hungry to be filled with the fullness of God and see a movement in your church and city?
I have good news. God loves to take empty vessels and fill them up.
So bring them in… as many as you can find.