By Steven Chan
The above words are not what a debtor would want to hear. Yet the reality in life is that on occasions, such unfortunate situations may arise.
The Bible records an account in 2 Kings 4 about the case where a prophet died and his wife faced the financial challenge of settling their debts; failing which she would lose her two sons who would be taken and made to serve as slaves:
“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.”
2 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.”
3 Then he said, “Go, borrow vessels from everywhere, from all your neighbors—empty vessels; do not gather just a few. 4 And when you have come in, you shall shut the door behind you and your
5 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. 6 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.7 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.”
Through Elisha, God delivered her from her financial problem and also provided for their future living expenses: “Go, sell the oil and pay your debt; and you and your sons live on the rest.”
Why is this account recorded for us?
That we may learn that God cares for us – not just for our spiritual needs but also for our physical needs. When we address God as our “heavenly Father”, it is not just a title of respect for Him – like one would address a “titled” person. The term “heavenly Father” describes our relationship with Him. In Matt 7:11 Jesus said: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” So, we should learn to seek God in all areas of our life; not just the spiritual area.
That we may learn that God can help us overcome the challenges we face in life. In 1 Cor 10:13, the Bible says: “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.” This is an assurance that God will “make a way of escape, so that we may be able to bear it”. God will not abandon us: “For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we may boldly say: “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”” (Heb 13:5b-6).
We may not know how He would deliver us. But we can ask for help (Matt 7:7) – from God as well as from our brethren. So, in this instance, the poor widow asked Elisha for help.
“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.””
A practical solution might have been for Elisha to “pass the hat around” among his co-workers and supporters so that sufficient funds can be raised to pay off the debts. But he didn’t do that. This is not to say that such should not be done: the brethren collected funds for the poor in Jerusalem (Acts 11:28-30). Just that, this may not have to be the way to do it in every instance.
Instead, he enquired of the poor widow: “What do you have?” Now, this is an interesting statement. This is not unlike the case of the feeding of the 4,000 men, besides women and children as recorded in Matt 15:33-34 “Then His disciples said to Him, “Where could we get enough bread in the wilderness to fill such a great multitude?” 34 Jesus said to them, “How many loaves do you have?” And they said, “Seven, and a few little fish.”
God could have turned “stones into bread” to feed the hungry (Matt 4:3) or rained down “manna from heaven” to feed them (Psa 78:24) but He did not do so. Instead, the question posed: “what do you have?” The question is NOT: what do you not have? God has given us abilities (1 Pet 4:10-11) – whether 5 talents, 2 talents or 1 talent (Matt 25:14-30). “For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have” (2 Cor 8:12). What do you have in your possessions now? Is there something we can do so that with God’s help we can overcome?
Elisha then told the woman to “borrow” from her neighbours as many “empty vessels” as possible, and thereafter to close the door of her house and pour from that one jar of oil into all the vessels. What an incredible instruction! One could have thought: Was the prophet being sarcastic? Was the prophet making fun of her? Since when can one jar of oil fill up many other empty vessels? If the woman did not believe the words of Elisha, then she would not have gathered the empty vessels. The Scriptures recorded that she obeyed the instruction. As a result she was blessed with much more than just being able to repay her creditors. She and her two sons were also able to continue to provide for their living expenses thereafter.
Elisha did not get the vessels for her. Neither did he go out and sell those jars of oil on her behalf. She had to help herself if she wanted the blessings. Likewise, we should also be willing to work so that God can bless us. Paul worked with his own hands so that he could provide for himself as well as be able to help those in need (Acts 20:34-35; 2 Thess 3:8-9).
God can do much with what little we have if we have faith in Him. We do not have Elisha or Jesus to perform miracles today. But God can still deliver us through His providential workings.
For example, Mordecai requested Esther to speak to the King on behalf of the Jews but Esther ran the risk of losing her life for approaching the King without his invitation. Esther nonetheless said to Mordecai: “Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!” (Esther 4:16). As it turned out, Esther did not lose her life. Her faith and courage resulted in the deliverance for the Jews.
Similarly, we read of those with little resources but having great faith in God, overcame great obstacles, such as young David with his sling and stones overcoming Goliath, and Joseph overcoming betrayal by his own brothers, false accusations by his master’s wife, to become the right hand man of the Pharaoh of Egypt and delivered Egypt and his family from famine. The list of those who by faith in God overcame great obstacles is listed in Hebrews 11.
“And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work” (2 Cor 9:8). Paul declared in Eph 3:20-21: “ Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
So, we should not become despondent with what little we have in comparison with what we need or want to achieve. God multiplied the “one jar of oil” of the poor widow and He multiplied the “seven loaves and few little fish” to feed four thousand men. He delivered Paul from the lion’s mouth (2 Tim 4:17), i.e. delivered him from grave dangers. To the small number of 120 (Acts 1:15), God added three thousand disciples in one day (Acts 2:41; Matt 13:31-32).
The important thing is to learn to trust God with all of our heart and have the courage to walk by faith (Prov 3:5-6; 2 Cor 5:7). When we start using what we have in our possessions (even if it’s only one talent), and walk by faith in God, we have the assurance that God will provide (Matt 6:25-34). David testified: “I have been young, and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his descendants begging bread” (Psa 37:25).
It’s okay to borrow just like the prophet’s widow borrowed empty vessels so that she could fill them up with her one jar of oil. Obviously she had to borrow the empty vessels because she did not have the money to buy them. She did not borrow the vessels so that she could sell them. She borrowed so that she could use them to store the jars of oil and then she can sell the oil to repay her creditors and for her living expenses. Eventually she would be able to return the borrowed vessels too. When we borrow, we need to consider whether it is for productive purposes and not to live a lavish lifestyle.
We ought always to live within our means: “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:11-13). “Owe no one anything except to love one another” (Rom 13:8).
But there are instances when some tragedies befall us (such as the case of the prophet’s widow whose husband died and left her with debts to settle). In such instances, brethren ought to help out (2 Cor 8:13-15; 1 John 3:17; James 1:27). But sometimes, the help is not just in giving funds to the brother or sister in need. It may include helping the person to earn a living (such as the prophet’s widow who re-packed and sold oil obtained by God’s blessings). One needs to do whatever is necessary to help oneself and at all times looking to God for help.
We are truly blessed when we have brethren to help us out when unfortunate events befall us and we have no immediate ability to repay the creditors (not caused by our own negligence, poor management of our finances, bad practices such as borrowing to live beyond our means, gambling debts, spending on unnecessary things, etc.).
May we never have to hear the words, “The creditor is coming!”
Note: all scriptures quoted are from the New King James version.