Elisha And The Widow’s Oil


In chapter 4 of 2 Kings, we read about various miracles of mercy, we know they are miraculous because no one really knows how they were done.

We must also bear in mind that 2 Kings 4-8:6, isn’t in chronological order, but presented in a way to demonstrate the continued work of Elisha in showing the Israelites that God is way more powerful than the Canaanite gods, especially Baal.

Since Elisha took over from Elijah, he was constantly proving to himself to those around him that he was a true prophet of God. He did this by performing various miracles and here we find God showing he was with Elisha when he performed a miracle of creation.

In the land of Israel, there were many who claimed to be genuine prophets of God but were in fact false prophets. And when Elisha took over from Elijah, he was constantly having to prove to those around him that he was a genuine prophet of God.

He did this by performing various miracles and to prove that God was with him, he was going to perform a miracle.

‘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.’ 2 Kings 4:1

We read of an unknown woman, who was married to one of God’s prophets. During this time in Israel’s history, God’s prophets weren’t really valued by the people and were not supported. She cries out to Elisha and tells him that her husband had died and now his creditor has come to make her two sons slaves.

We know that her husband revered the Lord, but we can only imagine what this poor woman is feeling right now.

It’s bad enough going through the loss of someone close to you, but to be left with a huge debt to pay must have been humiliating and well as stressful.

The creditor wanted to take her two sons as slaves, which may seem a bit harsh to us, but it was in accordance with God’s law, Leviticus 25:39-40 / Deuteronomy 15:12-18. Despite her losing her husband, her creditors were well within their rights to take her two sons as slaves until the debt was paid.

She’s now a widow and the only two people who could bring in any kind of income were about to be taken as slaves. She’s desperate, she’s about to lose everything and so, it’s no wonder she cries out to Elisha for help.

‘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 4:2

After enquiring what the woman had in her house, she replied nothing except a small jar of olive oil. That word ‘jar’ in Hebrew is the word ‘acuwk’, and it’s the only time the word is found within the Bible.

The jar would have been very small and although the N.I.V. tells us it was ‘olive oil’ within the jar, we simply don’t know.

But we do know it would have been very expensive oil, or perfume, Mark 14:3-9, because, after the miracle, she had enough to sell for herself and enough to pay off her debt, 2 Kings 4:7.

‘Elisha said, ‘Go around and ask all your neighbours for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door 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 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. 2 Kings 4:3-6

Notice Elisha tells her to go to her neighbours and get as many empty jars as she can get. Don’t just get a few Elisha tells her, get as many as you can. The more jars she brings, the more oil there is, and the oil simply keeps on pouring, until there were no more jars available.

Imagine what is going through her and her two son’s minds at his point. Imagine what’s going through their minds as this oil just keeps on pouring out.

This is not something you witness every day, from one little jar of oil, comes many jars filled with oil. I can imagine them just praising God for what is happening in front of their eyes.

Those of us who have ever been in debt will know exactly how she’s feeling at this point. Remember what it was like when you made that final payment?

I can imagine her crying as the pressure of paying the debt and losing her two sons has just been taken away. We can only imagine the joy and relief this family is feeling at this point.

The first miracle and the last miracle recorded in this chapter are similar to the feeding of the four thousand, Matthew 15:32-39 / Mark 8:1-9, and the feeding of the five thousand, Matthew 14:13-21 / Mark 6:31-44 / Luke 9:12-17 / John 6:1-14, as done by Jesus. They are also similar in nature to what Elijah did when he fed the widow of Zarephath and her son, 1 Kings 17:10-16.

Matthew Henry in his commentary says the following.

‘God did not provide her with some small gratuity but gave her real help. He set her up in the world to sell oil and put a liberal stock into her possession, to begin with. The greatest kindness one can do for poor people is, if possible, to help them in a way of providing for themselves through their own industry and ingenuity. The great need of our own nation, currently, is to enable all able-bodied persons to support themselves, instead of merely doling out a monthly check’.


There are a number of practical lessons we can learn from this event.

1. God blesses obedience.

Elisha could have brought her husband back to life, but he didn’t, why?

Well, only God knows the answer to that question, but maybe she and her sons needed to understand that God’s grace would be sufficient to help them through, 2 Corinthians 12:9.

It’s all very well crying out to God for help in difficult times, but we must do what He says. The very fact that she went to Elisha for help, tells us of her great faith in God to help her.

And more importantly, the very fact that she did exactly what Elisha told her to do, tells us that her faith needed to be an obedient faith.

God told the Israelites He would bless them richly in the Promised Land if they fully obeyed Him, Deuteronomy 28:1-2, but as we know they failed.

In other words, don’t expect God to bless your faith, if you are not willing to do what He says.

2. God won’t hold back.

The little oil that she had was probably her nest egg, her savings for emergencies. It wasn’t enough to clear the debt, but it was all that she had. The widow could have easily argued with Elisha and said, ‘I’ve only got one small jar of oil, it’s all I have.’

But she didn’t hold anything back from God, she used the little oil she had and trusted God to take care of her needs for tomorrow.

Just like the widow Jesus saw placing her offering into the treasury, Mark 12:41-44, she too put in everything she had and trusted God to take care of her needs for tomorrow.

What about you, do you ever hold things back from God?

Maybe you are like Ananias and Sapphira, you give a certain amount into the offering every week when God has blessed you with the ability to give more. The amount you give hasn’t changed in years, despite you being richer than you were!

One of the reasons we hold things back from God is simply because of a lack of trust. What does God promise in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8? God promises if your heart is to be a cheerful giver, God will make sure you can always fulfil what your heart desires.

If you want to be a person that supports the kingdom of God, he’ll give you what you need to make sure you can do it.

3. We can’t do it alone.

One thing which really stood out for me in this story was the amount of help this widow needed. Not only did she need God’s help which she sought through Elisha, but she also needed help from her neighbours and her sons.

Although there’s no record of them asking her why she needed the jars, she obviously had good relationships with her neighbours because they willingly helped her in her time of need. Her sons obviously loved her because they didn’t ask any questions but simply did what she asked them to do.

When we find ourselves in desperate times, where do we turn to? Yes, we turn to God, and yes, we turn to our immediate family, but we must also learn to turn to our spiritual family. All too often, we try to go through things alone, but God blesses us with a church family to help.

We can’t really rejoice with anyone unless we’re in their company. We can’t really mourn with anyone unless we are with them, mourning with them, Romans 12:15.

We can’t carry each other’s burdens if we don’t know what our brother’s or sister’s burdens are Galatians 6:2.

4. God blesses us so that we can bless others.

‘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 4:7

God blessed the widow and her sons with enough oil to keep them going for a while. This wasn’t God’s way of giving her and her sons a retirement fund where they didn’t have to work ever again.

They were given enough to live on, not to retire. They still had to work, that is, they still had to sell the oil to generate an income. She’s gone from being a widow in a hopeless situation to a woman who can now provide for her own needs.

She and her sons can now be a blessing to others, as they sell their expensive oil to others. Yes, she will still be mourning the loss of her husband. Yes, her sons will still be missing their father. But in the midst of all this was God, who was working in and through them despite their loss.

And because she and her sons were obedient to God and trusted Him, God blessed them richly. So richly, that they went on to be a blessing to others.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss said, ‘Grateful people are loving people who seek to bless others, while ungrateful people are bent on gratifying themselves. They tend to focus on “my needs,” “my hurts,” “my feelings,” “my desires,” “how I have been treated, neglected, failed, or wounded.” An unthankful person is full of himself, seldom pausing to consider the needs and feelings of others.’

When you’ve gone through desperate times and God blessed you by delivering you from them. When you’ve gone through hopeless times and God blessed you with help from your church family.

What are you going to do? Are you just going to praise God or are you going to praise God and go on to be a blessing to others?