On Recycling the Empties (II Kings 4:1-7)

By Major Sharon Robertson – 

The situation was critical. Overpowering debt threatened to destroy the family. There was nothing of value left in the house, nothing that could be hocked or sold for a few dollars to stave off the creditors. There was no food in the house. Her two boys were about to be taken from her, and she was helpless to prevent it! Desperate, not really expecting help, the woman sought out Elisha, the great man of God.

“They’re taking my kids!” she sobbed.

The man of God looked at her, his stern face unreadable. “What can I do to help you?” Her shoulders drooped in despair. What could he do, indeed? He was a great man, but his only wealth was the intangible wealth of the spirit. He touched her shoulder, and she looked up, unable to control the tears that blurred her vision.

“What do you have in the house?” he asked, as though he thought she could whip up a yard sale on the spot, if she really wanted to.

He just doesn’t understand, she thought in despair. “Nothing!” she cried out in an explosion of pain and anger. “Nothing at all! Nothing . . .” the anger dwindled into hopelessness, “…but a little cooking oil.”

“Go borrow empty containers from your neighbors,” Elisha ordered. “…a lot of them! Shut yourself in the house with your sons. Start pouring the oil you have into the containers you borrowed.” Elisha’s orders didn’t make sense, but against all reason, somewhere deep in her heart the woman felt a spark of hope flicker into life. She sent her children to scour the community, to borrow every empty container her neighbors could spare. She shut herself and her sons inside the house, and began to pour…and pour…and pour…and pour…until every container was filled to the brim with cooking oil. When there were no more containers, the oil stopped flowing, but what God had miraculously supplied was enough.

“Sell the oil,” Elisha said. “Pay off your creditors, and use what is left to get on with your life.”

Elisha excelled at identifying resources. When he looked at the problem the desperate woman laid before him, he saw at least six resources readily available where the woman had seen none. The resources?

First, he saw a woman who recognized her neediness and was willing to look for solutions instead of just giving up.

He saw her sons– a part of the problem? Maybe. Ready to be a part of the solution? Definitely!

He saw her neighbors, good people, ready and willing to help, if only they recognized her need–and if they just knew what to do.

And then too, there was the flask of cooking oil.

There was a clear-thinking leader, able to identify and marshal available assets to work toward a solution.

And finally, there was God.

And being a wise man, Elisha knew that it was bringing God into the situation that made all the difference.

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