Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen

1-14-05

Title: From Rags to Riches

 

Text: “” (2 Kings 4:7)

 

Bible Reading: 2 Kings 4:1-7

 

 

Introduction

 

I want begin today with a joke about preachers.

 

One Sunday a woman thanked the pastor for his sermon.

 

The pastor tried to be humble and replied, “Don’t thank me, thank the Lord.”

 

She said, “Well, I thought about that but it wasn’t that good.”

 

Friends, that’s the way I feel most of the time; like the sermon wasn’t very good and I didn’t present it very well.

 

Sometimes I feel like giving up.

 

How about you?

 

Have you ever felt like throwing in the towel and quitting? 

 

Have you ever come to your wits end?

 

Are you there now?

 

Are you ready to give up?

 

When the curtain lifts on 2 Kings Chapter 4, we see a scene of misery, poverty, and despair. 

 

But, as the story progresses, the widow, who is one of the main characters, finds her way from rags to riches.

 

Today, we’re going to study a remarkable oil pot that never ran dry.

 

Through a miracle of God, that jar of oil continued producing for a needy widow and her family.

 

It is a symbol of our pockets and our offerings.

 

God keeps giving and giving to us, filling our pockets and meeting our needs.

 

For two thousand years He has advanced His work by giving to His people all they need, and then persuading them to return a portion to Him for His church.

 

His blessings to us and through us are a never-ending supply of grace.

 

I will take you through the story verse-by-verse, and the first thing you will notice is that-

 

The Widow’s Trouble Was Brought to Elisha (v.1).

 

Verse 1 says: “Now the wife of one of the sons of the prophets cried to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead; and you know that your servant feared the Lord, but the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.”

 

By turning to God’s prophet, Elisha, this woman was turning to God in her trouble, since Elisha was God’s representative.

 

That’s the meaning of Hebrews 1:1; “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets.”

 

During this period in the northern kingdom of Israel there was no functioning priesthood.

 

Therefore, God raised up prophets, such as Elisha, who traveled and taught at a group of schools which trained young men in the ancient law and existed as a force for righteousness in the nation.

 

Students were called “sons of the prophets,” and in this instance, one of them died, leaving his wife and two sons without any means of support.

 

At this time in Israel, a child could be sold into slavery.

 

However, this woman, who had lost her husband and her livelihood and now faced the prospect of losing her sons, exercised faith by coming to the man of God for advice.

 

She brought her problems to Elisha, and passionately she “cried out” for help, indicating how truly desperate she was.

 

She also spoke of her problems without beating around the bush, honestly relating the facts.

 

She expressed her problems completely, telling her whole story to Elisha.

 

Do you bring your problems to the Lord this way?

 

Let’s take a look at her problems:

 

First, There Was Death in the Family (v.1).

 

Her human provider, her human protector, her human partner was gone and she felt it!

 

Her problem becomes even worse when you realize that there was no work for women in the Hebrew culture. 

 

And a woman couldn’t own property; in fact she would have had very few rights. 

 

When the widow’s husband died, he left an unpaid debt which the creditor had now come to collect. 

 

If a borrower did not have personal property as security, his own person and that of his dependents would serve as security. 

 

There fore, the creditor could legally take the widows sons as payment.

 

If her family or friends would not help her, and that appears to be the case, she would probably die.

 

So this widow and her children were in deep trouble.

 

The Hebrew language contains at least 30 words that describe various kinds of trouble.

 

What kind of trouble are you in?

 

Have you brought that trouble and laid it at the Savior’s feet?

 

This woman had seen all her belongings sold to meet the demands of her creditor, and now she faced the dreadful possibility of having to part with her two sons.

 

All that was left in her home was a pot of oil!

 

There are many people today who have financial problems?

 

They are worried about their job or their business?

 

In the case of the widow, we have seen that there was Death and Debt in the Family, and there was also-

 

Doubt in the Family (v.1).

 

The language of verse 1, hints that this woman was puzzled; perhaps even questioning God’s wisdom in allowing such affliction to fall upon her home.

 

She may have prayed, “Why me Lord? I don’t deserve to suffer like this.”

 

Are your circumstances causing you to question His Wisdom and doubt His Love?

 

The Second Thing We Notice is that Elisha Knew What to Do About Her Trouble (vv.2 –4).

 

Here was a preacher with a genuine concern for this widow.

 

And by including her story and similar stories in the Bible we know God loves widows and wants to provide for them.

 

In Psalms 68:5 the Lord tells us, “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation.”

 

A woman does not choose to become a widow.

 

The loss of a dearly loved husband is a devastating experience that leaves a woman brokenhearted and emotionally drained.

 

Her planned future suddenly seems dim and fading, and fears can become life-consuming.

 

But today, we find so often that major support systems and financial resources are often no longer available to widows.

 

They must become the one and only provider for their children and homes, no matter what their abilities, training, or resources might be.

 

My sister lost her husband a year ago, and she is still hurting and trying to cope with life without him.  

 

At no other time in her life had she faced so many major decisions with fewer emotional resources.

 

The widow in our story must have felt the same way, for we are told-

 

2 And Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me; what have you in the house?” And she said, “Your maidservant has nothing in the house, except a jar of oil.”
3 Then he said, “Go outside, borrow vessels of all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few.
4 Then go in, and shut the door upon yourself and your sons, and pour into all these vessels; and when one is full, set it aside.”

 

Notice that this woman was so poor her last possession was a pot of oil.

 

Through Elisha, God asked a seemingly hopeless widow what she would like Him to do for her.

 

Although the Lord knows all things and therefore He knew her need, the Lord wanted this woman to think about her situation, and listen to Elisha for the solution.

 

Elisha told her to “Go outside, and borrow vessels from all your neighbors.”

 

It may have been embarrassing for her to borrow, but the increase of her oil would be in proportion to her faith and obedience.

 

This widow gave a simple reply to Elisha which indicated the deep level of trust and faith that was present in her heart.

 

She did not scold Elisha for asking foolish questions or infringing on her personal rights.

 

Rather, she had a deep and abiding faith in God, and by her willing response, indicated to Elisha whom she knew was sent by her heavenly Father, that she expected Him to intervene on her behalf

 

Widows today need that same total dependence on God.

 

It says in Deuteronomy, “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow”(Deut. 10:18).

 

Elisha gave this widow his full attention.

 

At this stage, however, the situation does not look promising, for all she has is a little flask containing a little oil!

 

This proved to be the key to the situation!

 

God, through Elisha, was trying to teach her principles which we should also learn.

 

He told her to “go into her house and shut the door.”

 

This miracle was to be private.

 

Not even the prophet was present, so the miracle could not be credited to sleight of hand, but only to the power of God.

 

Elisha told her what to do, but now

 

She Had to Do as She Was Told (vv.5 –6).

 

The Bible says-

 

5 So she went from him and shut the door upon herself and her sons; and as she poured they brought the vessels to her.
6 When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” And he said to her, “There is not another.” Then the oil stopped flowing.

 

Notice that the widow obeyed immediately after receiving these unusual instructions from Elisha, and she followed his orders step-by-step.

 

How about you?

 

Do you take God at His word this way?

 

Notice next, “She Had to Use What She Had” (vv.5 –6).

 

It seemed silly, pouring out her last few ounces of oil from one vessel to another, but she used what she had.

 

She stepped out with little, and God turned it into much (see Luke 17:6).

 

She willingly stepped out to do what she had been told to do, even though her actions appeared to be futile.

 

However, when she started to pour the oil in the privacy of her home, under the watchful eyes of her sons, she witnessed a miraculous display of God’s overflowing supply.

 

Do you ever feel too small to accomplish anything?

 

You shouldn’t, because God delights in using little things for His big purposes.

 

Next, I want to say-

 

She Had to Prepare for Abundance (vv.3 –6).

 

 The oil was multiplied as it was poured out, and it didn’t stop flowing until all the vessels were full.

 

The way to increase what we have is to use it; use it for the One who gave it to us in the first place.

 

No one is benefited by us hoarding God’s gifts; it’s only when we use them that the Lord increases what we have.

 

She is the one who had to pour out the oil; not Elisha or the sons of the prophets.

 

The widow had to use what she had, and she had to do the work.

 

Elisha told her to prepare for abundance.

 

He said, “Borrow all the pots you can.”

 

It’s the same with God’s blessings; they may be great and many, so we need to be prepared to receive them and then to use them.

 

He just keeps giving to those who use their talents for Him, but He will take away the talents if they are not used.

 

When we do anything for Him we need to think big.

 

We have a big God, and sometimes He chooses to give us a big gift or to bless us in a big way.

 

Today we think that a church of 250 people is a big church.

 

We often think small; we believe small and our expectations

are trivial.

 

Our expectancy may be the only limitation on what God is prepared to do for us!

 

The last thing I want to say is-

 

The Success Was Brought About for Elisha (v.7).

 

We are told in verse 7 that the widow was successful in saving herself and her son.

 

The verse says-

 

7 She came and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on the rest.”

 

She returned to Elisha with her story of victory.

 

Imagine the headlines in the local newspaper: “Company Widow Discovers Oil!”

 

This was a woman who:

 

Proved the Adequacy of God.

 

She went from house to house with her small vessels, until one day, there were no more vessels to fill!

 

Then the prophet told her what to do with the oil she had.

 

He said she must not keep it for her own use.

 

Those whom Divine intervention has made poor must be content with what they have (this, the Bible says is knowing how to want.

 

And they must not think, when they get a little of that which is better than ordinary, to use it only for their own luxury.

 

Instead, Elisha told her to sell the oil to those that were rich, and could afford to bestow it on themselves.

 

We may presume, since it was produced by miracle, it was the best of its kind, like the wine Jesus made from water, so that she might be able to ask for a good price and that there would be a good market for it.

 

Probably the merchants bought it to export, since oil was one of the commodities that Israel traded in.

 

She must pay her debt with the money she received for her oil.

 

Although her creditors were too harsh with her, nevertheless they must not lose what they were owed.

 

Her first concern, now that she has money to do so, must be to pay her debt, even before she provides for her children.

 

It is one of the fundamental principles of the Christian religion that we give to all what they’re due, pay every honest debt, and give every one his own, even though we may leave very little for ourselves.

 

And, we should do it willingly; not only to avoid God’s wrath, but also to avoid being sued, and for the sake of our conscience.

 

The rest of the money must not be laid up like savings, but she and her children must live on it, not upon the oil, but upon the money received from it.

 

They must use it to provide for an honest livelihood in the future.

 

No doubt she did as the man of God directed;

 

Notice That By following Elisha’s Orders She Proved the Ability of God (v.7).

 

She found that God was able to meet her critical need, which was to pay her debt.

 

And He was able to meet her constant need, to pay daily living expenses.

 

And He met her collective need, to provide for her family.

 

By selling the increase of oil, she was able to pay her debt, save her sons, and live off what was left.

 

This incident makes the point that those who are poor and in trouble should be encouraged to trust God for what they need.

 

It’s true that God may not provide us with a feast.

 

And we cannot expect miracles now, but we may expect mercies, if we wait on God and seek to obey Him.

 

Widows in particular must depend upon Him to care for them and their fatherless children, because to them he will be a husband, and a father.

 

Those whom God has blessed with plenty should use it for the glory of God and under the direction of his word.

 

They should be good stewards with what God gives them, like this widow did.

 

And they should serve God cheerfully when they use it, and the same as Elisha, be ready to do good to those that need them, be eyes to the blind, and feet to the lame.

 

Conclusion:

 

God has a special place in His heart for widows and their children.

 

In the Bible He insists that they must be defended and given proper care.

 

It says in the book of Isaiah, “Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Is. 1:17).

 

The prophet’s widow faced losing her two sons.

 

Creditors were closing in on her.

 

As she cried out for God’s help, her children stood with her.

 

Children tend to mirror the behavior of the widowed parent.

 

When children have seen a parent growing in the Lord and paying special attention to His Word, there will be a closer bonding as the family faces new problems.

 

This woman refused to allow human anxieties and concerns to overshadow the mercy and faithfulness of God.

 

She heard Elisha’s instructions and immediately went into action.

 

Children mimic parents.

 

This widow’s faith was a sign that she continued to live like she did before the death took her mate.

 

Her children knew about her deep commitment to God.

 

And without questioning, they hurriedly joined her in following God’s new instructions.

 

In the midst of their crisis, the widow and her sons expected God to answer their prayers.

 

Nothing else had such importance to them.

 

Beyond each desperate need was the promise that the Lord would surely hear their cry and He did.

 

Moses wrote, “You shall not afflict any widow or orphan” (Ex. 22:22-23).

 

Widowhood is not something that is looked forward to, but it does give the opportunity to trust God completely at a time when all earthly support seems to have been taken away.

 

Whether you are facing the death of a loved one, debt, or even doubt, remember that God is able to provide, to deliver, to strengthen, to save, and to do more than we could ever ask or imagine.

 

Take your problems to Him, like the widow did, and He will provide for you like He did for the widow.

 

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