She answered, “It is well.”
Once again the strangely calm answer. Perhaps is expresses her strong faith; perhaps she simply refuses to discuss her situation with anyone but the prophet. When she finally reaches him, her aspect changes dramatically.
When she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught hold of his feet.
Gehazi came near to thrust her away; but the man of God said, “Leave her alone; for her soul is troubled within her; and Yahweh has hidden it from me, and has not told me.”
These few words contain so many fascinating details. This woman, who has avoided all overt signs of grief, suddenly becomes the picture of sorrow, all the more so because she says nothing, makes no sound at all, but throws herself prone at Elisha’s feet.
In Gehazi’s attempt to “thrust her away,” we see the faithful protector. Although not mentioned directly, Elisha must have constantly been the object of urgent petitioners eager to command his attention, to seek his favor and his actions on their behalf. Gehazi’s actions demonstrate his concern for his master, not insensitivity to the woman.
And then there’s the puzzlement of Elisha. He sees the woman is distraught, but does not know why. God has not shown him, and this surprises him. But he recognizes that the woman of Shunem, so practical, so unemotional, is experiencing tremendous emotional distress, and he wants to know why.
Then she said, “Did I ask you for a son, my lord? Didn’t I say, ‘Do not deceive me’?”
Then he said to Gehazi, “Tuck your cloak into your belt, take my staff in your hand, and go your way. If you meet any man, don’t greet him; and if anyone greets you, don’t answer him again. Then lay my staff on the child’s face.”—vv. 28-29.
The woman’s appeal sounds strange to our ears—“Did I as you for a son? Didn’t I say, ‘Do not deceive me’?” The best I can make of it is something like this: I didn’t ask you for this child, I was content. But once you give him to me, it is unfair to let me think I could really experience a joy I had become resigned to live without, and then take him from me in an untimely fashion. If she was like almost any woman, it had taken fortitude and great faith to resign herself to being childless. But to have a child given to her after that struggle, only to have him taken away—it was more than she could bear.
Elisha recognizes that only acute illness or death itself could have moved this woman to act as she had. So he tells his servant to run as fast as he can, let nothing delay him, and lay the prophet’s staff on the child’s face. An interesting sidelight here, the words,”Tuck your cloak into your belt” are a clearer translation of the more literal “gird up your loins” which we find several places in scripture. Doing this allows the wearer to stride and maneuver more freely, and run faster. And that is the point of all this. Gehazi is to go as fast as he can.
The child’s mother said, “As Yahweh lives, and as your soul lives, I will not leave you.”
So he arose, and followed her.
By now we are no longer surprised by this woman’s tenacity. She vows not to leave the prophet, and he believes her. It’s as though she’s saying, “This is all your doing; it’s up to you to take care of it.” And, as his actions demonstrate, Elisha agrees with her. He asked God to give this woman a son as a blessing and aid in her old age.
Unless something dramatic takes place, that will not now happen.
On the way to Shunem, Gehazi returns with solemn tidings:
Gehazi went ahead of them, and laid the staff on the child’s face; but there was no voice and or hearing. Therefore he returned to meet him, and told him, “The child has not awakened.”
At this point, there can be no doubt that the woman’s tenacity, her insistence that Elisha must deal with this crisis himself, is justified. Gehazi has faithfully followed the prophet’s instructions, to no effect. What follows next is, well, unusual:
When Elisha had come into the house, behold, the child was dead, and lying on his bed.
He went in therefore, and shut the door on them both, and prayed to Yahweh. He went up, and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth, and his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands. He stretched himself on him; and the child’s flesh grew warm.
Then he returned, and walked in the house once back and forth; and went up, and stretched himself out on him. Then the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. —vv. 32-35.
I would like to explain every detail of this extraordinary episode—but I cannot. I have read multiple explanations of the seven sneezes, most of them somewhat allegorical and none of them convincing. We do know that seven in the Bible is the number of maturity, of completion, even perfection. Exactly what the seven sneezes indicate here is not clear—except that they tell us the child has been revived. Corpses don’t sneeze. And that is enough to know. Elisha, through the power of God, had brought this child of promise back to life.
He called Gehazi, and said, “Call this Shunammite!” So he called her.
When she had come in to him, he said, “Take up your son.”
Then she went in, fell at his feet, and bowed herself to the ground; then she picked up her son, and went out.
Accustomed as we are to the minimalist prose we often find in Old Testament, this ending still seems unbelievably terse. The woman of Shunem does not speak at all in these verses. She demonstrates her gratitude by her actions of reverence—falling at Elisha’s feet, bowing to the ground—not with words. But we have seen that repeatedly. This woman lets her actions speak for her, and generally uses only as many words as necessary to communicate. Her answers to questions have been short indeed:
“I dwell among my own people.”
“It is well.”
The last two answers given just after her only son had died! Even when told she will miraculously have a child, she does not break out into song, as Hannah did. Instead, she guards against disappointment: Did I ask you for a son? Don’t lie to me! And yet she is neither cold nor uncaring. Her concern for Elisha demonstrates that. If ever a woman broke the stereotype of females being overly emotional, the woman of Shunem shatters it!
Still, the ending leaves the story feeling incomplete, unfinished. That’s because it is.