I am strongly struck by the story of Elisha and the Shunammite woman, as found in 2 Kings 4.
She was a prominent woman who frequently offered the prophet food and rest when he was in her area. Then she had a little room built onto her house, especially for his use. Touched by her kindness, he inquired what he might do for her, and when she reported that she didn't need anything, he embraced his servant Gehazi's suggestion that what she wanted most would probably be a child.
The record seems to indicate that Gehazi was right, but also that Elisha's promise initially gave her pain. Apparently, when age closed the window on that dearest of hopes, she had managed to reconcile herself to her childlessness, only to have her fragile peace threatened by a promise that felt terrifyingly tenuous. It was not. She gave birth to a boy within the year and everything was right.
Until it wasn't. Because one day, her little boy took suddenly ill. She held him and surely poured out her heart in prayer for him until noon, when he died. Instead of going into mourning, she laid him gently on the bed reserved for Elisha, and rode out to fetch the man of God.
The scriptures say that Elisha became aware of her while she was yet afar off. I feel like his information came from the Lord rather than from his eyes, because he was the one who identified that distant figure to his presumably younger servant. Elisha was a seer. He was accustomed to knowing things that could only be known by revelation. But in this case, he was puzzled, saying, "her soul is vexed within her: and the Lord hath hid it from me, and hath not told me" (2 Kings 4:27). Yet, rather than going to meet her himself, he sent Gehazi to find out if she, her husband and her child were well.
She didn't even hint at what was bothering her to Gehazi, but went straight to Elisha and grabbed him by the feet. Gehazi tried to stop her, but Elisha told him to let her alone. Then she unburdened her heart at least enough for Elisha to understand that boy's life was in danger. He instantly and with great urgency handed his staff to Gehazi and bade him hurry to the child and lay the staff on his face.
What happened next surprises me. The woman refused to go with Gehazi but said to Elisha, "As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee" (2 Kings 4:30).
I would have thought that the most faithful course would have been to trust that the prophet knew best. I would have thought it was my job to go with his commissioned servant, exercising faith that God's power would be wielded as effectively by Gehazi as by Elisha. But this distressed and determined mother instead insisted that she needed Elisha himself.
Here's why I think her response was inspired by the Spirit, and did not represent a lack of faith: both because Gehazi
failed where Elisha succeeded in restoring her child, and because those precise words were very significant. They were the words that Elisha himself had used a few years earlier, when Elijah kept trying to leave him behind so that he could be taken up into heaven, unobserved. Each of three times that Elijah instructed Elisha to "tarry here," Elisha replied, "As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee" (2 Kings 2:2,4,6).
I think that Elisha felt a call to be there at Elijah's translation, that he might receive a "double portion" of the Spirit (or power?) that was upon Elijah (2 Kings 2:9). I think Elisha sensed the enormity of the work he was being called to do and knew he would need that extra endowment that, for some reason, depended on his being present when Elijah was carried up. Yet, at first, Elijah had no idea of Elisha's need.
I believe that Elisha was moved upon by the Spirit to express his undying loyalty while refusing to be dismissed by Elijah. And when the Shunammite woman used the very same words to express her undying loyalty while refusing to be dismissed with his servant, he recognized that she, too, was being directed by the Spirit.
As it turned out, Gehazi was not able to raise the child, but Elisha did. In the next chapter, I think we get some clues into some inconsistencies in Gehazi's life that may have interfered with his exercise of faith. At this point, Elisha seems not to have known about them. But the Spirit directed the Shunammite woman to insist on what was needed for her son to be raised from the dead.
I don't know why the Lord withheld, first from Elijah and then from Elisha the information that would have prevented them from giving direction that was not consistent with His plan. I wonder if He was opening the way for personal growth in those who had to insist on not being sent away. It reminds me of the Canaanite woman who refused to be ignored or dismissed when she was pleading for Jesus to heal her daughter (Matthew 15:22-28). I'm still struggling to understand this, but in each case, it is clear that the Lord is pleased with the faith of the one who will neither be dismissed nor offended, but steadfastly petitions for a blessing while affirming their loyalty.
What this story means to me:
I am responsible for pursuing with vision, persistence and determination, my mission. I am not to be dissuaded if those I petition for help try to dismiss me, even if they are people I trust to be close to the Lord and listening for His direction. Nor am I to be afraid of insisting on being taken seriously when the Spirit keeps whispering to speak up. I can trust the Lord to give me the necessary words.