Prophetic Portion to Vayera (And He Appeared)
Genesis 18:1-22:24, 2 Kings 4:1-37
This week’s haftarah portion covers two miraculous accounts performed by the prophet Elisha. Both center around women and their children, which not only relates to the Torah portion, but spiritually to the future and the prophetic realm. Elisha asks each woman:
“What can I do for you?”
Read that again.
Let the question resonate with your spirit.
I wonder how many long to hear those words from the “man of God.” What need, dream, or great desire of yours has not been met? In both the Torah and haftarah portions this week, God meets the needs and desires of women in extraordinary ways. He is FOR you, even when – especially when – things are impossible in the natural world.
I wonder how many tears Sarah, the widow, and the Shunammite shed over their predicaments? I suspect most of their pain was shielded from others with the mask of hard work, determination, and service to others. All three women exude a quiet strength in their narratives. They are not portrayed as women that easily give up or go silently into the night. But even the strongest and stalwart among us FEELS, and deeply so. Real strength doesn’t negate or despise feelings, dreams, and great hope for the future. Such things faith rests upon, and they are good, and lovely, and godly.
Hebrews 11:1-2 (NKJV) Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.
Sarah might have mockingly laughed at the prospect of having a son in her old age (the natural), but that doesn’t mean that she lacked the faith (spiritual) that God would give her this good pleasure. Upon the birth of Isaac, Sarah laughed again, and this time it was in wonderment and jubilation.
Genesis 21:6-7 (TLV) “God has made laughter for me! Everyone who hears will laugh with me.” 7 She also said, “Who would have said to Abraham, ‘Sarah has nursed children’? For I have given birth to a son in his old age!”
I imagine the widow and the Shunammite laughing with Sarah. In fact, I see every Eshet Chayil laughing at the future. Their laughter is not a mockery; it is a rejoicing in the goodness and faithfulness of God. They have trained their eyes to see past the veil of flesh. They know that this world is simply a shadow of the world to come. Though this present age is full of strife, pain, and disappointment, the Word and Promises of Adonai stand firm. They will never pass away. So, right now, in this momentary affliction, they open their mouth with Wisdom, and use their tongue to teach the Torah of Chesed (kindness).
Proverbs 31:25-26 (TLV) Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the days to come. 26 She opens her mouth with wisdom—a lesson (Torah) of kindness is on her tongue.
Abraham and Sarah opened their tent with great hospitality. They welcomed, nourished, and taught so many that is said that they “made souls.” (Gen. 12:5) In other words, they were known for their great chesed, like the Proverbs 31 woman. They taught the world about faith, hope, and the future. They taught us to trust in the promises of God, even though they are not always manifest in our lifetime.
Hebrews 11:8-13 (NKJV) By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; 10 for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude—innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore. 13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
Abraham was waiting for the city which has foundations, whose builder is God, the New Jerusalem. As sons and daughters of Abraham and Sarah, we await the same. They died in faith, as will many of us. And like them, our Torah of Chesed includes the message that we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Look up! His promise will come to pass.
So, how do the widow and the Shunammite proclaim this same truth?
The Widow and the Cruse of Oil
2 Kings 4 begins with a widow of the b’nei nevi’im, or sons of the prophets. Abraham was the first named prophet in the Bible. (Gen. 20:7) Thus, the hint is that she and her sons belong to father Abraham. She is destitute, and a creditor has threatened to take her two sons as slaves to satisfy the debt she and her late husband accrued. According to tradition, the woman is Obadiah’s widow. (Rashi)
Elisha, the man of God, tells her to ask her neighbors for “empty” vessels. Then, very specifically, she and her sons were to shut the door behind them. She poured while her sons brought vessel after vessel to fill from the one cruse of oil she had in the house. People are sometimes compared to vessels in Scripture. An empty vessel is in desperate need of purpose, hope, and the filling of the Holy Spirit. Worse, an empty vessel can imply someone that is dead. This family thought they had nothing, when in fact, they had the oil of anointing, one cruse of oil that could light many, many lamps.
Adonai deeply cares for the widows and the fatherless. Josephus and Rashi comment that this family’s debt was accrued because the late prophet Obadiah had borrowed money to feed the prophets that hid in the cave, and that the creditor was Jehoram the son of Ahab. If this is true, the chesed of Obadiah was great, and Elisha desired that chesed be returned upon Obadiah’s house. Hence, the miracle of oil.
In truth, we all have debt that we cannot pay back. We all have sons and daughters that have inherited the same fate. But we also have hope, even if all we have left is one little vessel of oil. If one finds herself in this this place, it is time to go into the House and shut the door. And then, pour every last drop of oil from your vessel into as many empty vessels as you can find. Oil and anointing is acquired through suffering. Olives must be pressed with a heavy Stone to produce oil. The widow and her son’s suffering turned into precious oil that paid off their debt, and provided sustenance for the future.
A wise virgin knows that Obadiah’s widow has the best oil in town. If you’re feeling sleepy, best get to her house as fast you can. Paying chesed to her will ensure that your vessel is full of golden liquid for the future when the Bridegroom comes calling.
The Great Woman from Shunem
The Shunammite’s story echoes Abraham and Sarah’s narrative in several ways.
- Both were promised a son after showing chesed in the form of hospitality to a messenger of God.
- Both reacted with astonishment and even a bit of unbelief at this prospect.
- Both Abraham and the Shunammite’s husband were advanced in years.
- Both were told that “at this season next year” you will have a son.
- Both promised sons died (at least figuratively).
- Both were resurrected (at least figuratively).
Thus, it is easy to see why this prophetic portion was chosen to accompany Vayera. But, this year, as I reread these passages, chesed leaped off the pages of Holy Writ like a neon sign. Adonai has been drawing my attention to chesed since Passover. Chesed is the exact opposite of the traits currently being lauded and paraded in media, social media, and educational institutions. And sadly, the result has been fear, hate, division, mockery, pride, and perverted justice.
Love is growing cold, and this ought not be so – especially if one claims to be a son or daughter of Abraham and Sarah. The father and mother of our faith were KNOWN for their great chesed, as was the Shunammite woman. Chesed is given to everyone – even those that do not deserve it. Especially to those that do not deserve it! Chesed is what woos one to turn back to Adonai. (Jer. 31:3) Chesed is what gives one a spirit of repentance. (Rom. 2:4) Chesed ALWAYS precedes truth and justice in Scripture. If we reverse that pattern, death and chaos reign.
Proverbs 10:12 (NASB) Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.
1 Peter 4:8-9 (NASB) Above all, keep fervent (zealous) in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Be hospitable to one another without complaint.
If chesed comes first – if it is the foundation – then, and only then, will one see the pattern conveyed in Vayera in one’s own life. Vayera means, “And He appeared,” a reference to Adonai appearing to Abraham after he was circumcised. It was the “heat of the day.” Likely, Abraham was in great pain and the sun was punishingly hot in the sky. Yet, he arose quickly to serve his guests. The three messengers were not only there to bring the good news that a son would be born to Abraham and Sarah, but to judge Sodom and Gomorrah. God chose to reveal His intentions toward these cities to Abraham.
Have you ever wondered why?
It certainly wasn’t to cause him distress. Or to seek his permission, God forbid. No, the reason God revealed His intentions was because:
Genesis 18:19 (NASB) “For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”
At first glance, this doesn’t seem to be a great reason to reveal to Abraham that He is going to judge the exceedingly great sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. But, carefully considering the above passage, Abraham and his descendants are to represent Adonai in the earth. They are the ones that keep the Way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice.
If that is the legacy of Abraham, what his response? He pleaded for the innocent, the righteous, within these cities. He didn’t say, “Yeah! Go, take them all out.” (That was Jonah’s response even toward the repentant in Nineveh.) Instead, Abraham showed chesed toward these exceedingly wayward cities. It is highly likely that Adonai was testing the heart of Abraham in this matter. Would he lean toward chesed and mercy, or strict justice?
Abraham passed this test, and as his descendants, so should we. Chesed was the catalyst for not only miraculous births and supernatural provision, but also for resurrection! This demonstrates that acts of kindness are intricately woven into the garments of salvation and the robes of righteousness. They are the essence of the Creator of the Universe. In Jeremiah 3:2, God says, “I am gracious.” That is, chasid, the noun form of chesed. He is chesed!
The Chesed of the Shunammite
The Shunammite woman proves to be a true daughter of Abraham. Stories of women and children are typically prophetic. In this case, where a prophet is directly involved, the prophetic theme is intensified or “doubled.” A match for the prophet that received a double portion of his predecessor’s mantle, Elijah.
Now there came a day when Elisha passed over to Shunem, where there was a prominent woman, and she persuaded him to eat food. And so it was, as often as he passed by, he turned in there to eat food. She said to her husband, “Behold now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God passing by us continually. (2 Kings 4:8-9)
The place where this great woman lived was called Shunem, meaning double resting place. It was located in Issachar, which implies that the Shunammite was from this tribe or had married a man of Issachar. She told her husband that she knew (ידע – yada) that Elisha was a holy man. She showed him great hospitality by ensuring that he had bread to eat, and by building a resting place for the prophet.
“Please, let us make a little walled upper chamber and let us set a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand; and it shall be, when he comes to us, that he can turn in there.” One day he came there and turned in to the upper chamber and rested. Then he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” And when he had called her, she stood before him. (2 Kings 4:10-12)
The Shunammite is at the center of the narrative and activity. She is the one that recognizes the need of the prophet, feeds him, and requests a place be built for him. While her husband doesn’t oppose her efforts, and even fulfills her requests, he is content with his passive role in this story. Whether he simply had different gifting or preferred to serve with his hands, we don’t know. He might have had great faith or none at all. Either way, he doesn’t chastise his wife for her boldness, generosity, or more prominent public role. Instead, they work together in the strengths that they have. Thus, when the promise of a son comes, they both are the beneficiaries.
When the boy tragically dies, the Shunammite doesn’t tell her husband. Instead, she places his body on the bed they had made for Elisha, and then shuts the door behind him. This is interesting considering that Elisha told the widow a few verses earlier to do the same while she poured oil into the empty vessels.
2 Kings 4:21 (NASB) She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door behind him and went out.
The Shunammite asks her husband to give her a servant and a donkey because she is going to see the man of God. This perplexes him and he asks:
“Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor Sabbath.” And she said, “It will be well.” 2 Kings 4:23 (NASB)
The Shunammite had a custom of visiting the man of God on the new moon and the Shabbat, and this day was neither. It is intriguing that it is the woman, and not her husband, that had this custom. If you find yourself in a similar boat, take heart! Keep doing what you know to do as you serve the LORD. Adonai and the man of God recognized her kindnesses and her husband was blessed along with her. May it be so for you as well.
The Shunammite’s husband again fulfilled the request of his wife. She saddled her ass and headed to Mount Carmel. It was obvious to Elisha that she was distressed. When he learns that the boy is near death or dead, he sends Gehazi ahead with his staff to lay on the boy. But, the woman wouldn’t leave him. In fact, she quotes the same words that Elisha spoke to Elijah before the heavenly chariots took him:
2 Kings 4:30 (NASB) The mother of the lad said, “As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” And he arose and followed her.
The staff failed to awaken the boy, so Gehazi returned to them with this news. When Elisha entered his room, he shut the door behind them both and prayed to the LORD. This is the third time in this chapter that a door is shut behind the people inside.
2 Kings 4:33-35 (NASB) So he entered and shut the door behind them both and prayed to the LORD. 34 And 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, and he stretched himself on him; and the flesh of the child became warm. 35 Then he returned and walked in the house once back and forth, and went up and stretched himself on him; and the lad sneezed seven times and the lad opened his eyes.
This is a very mystical passage, and there are many ways to analyze it. Since Elisha first prayed, I assume that Adonai told him what to do. He laid on top of the boy, eye to eye, mouth to mouth, hands to hands. It’s almost like a transference of life occurred, which even warmed the flesh of the child. After doing this once more, the lad sneezed seven times and woke up. Sneezes require deep inhalations of breath, and then powerful expulsions through the nose and mouth. This indicates a strong breath of life – emphasized by the number seven as he resurrects to life.
Both the Torah portion and the haftarah close with stories of sons who miraculously resurrect from the dead. While Isaac’s death is implied, the Shunammite’s son is explicit. God’s promises and His chesed prevails – even overcoming the grave! These are glimpses into the world to come, the olam haba, and the future of all of Abraham’s seed.
To conclude, think back to the three instances in the haftarah where a door is being shut behind those with faith. There are a couple of places in the Brit Chadashah that this phrase occurs. One is in the parable of the Ten Virgins. The other is in the message to the church at Philadelphia, the assembly of “brotherly love.” As you review them, notice the correlation with extra vessels of oil, and how the believers in Philadelphia follow the path of Abraham. They keep the Word of the LORD with patient endurance and have not denied His Name. What other connections do you see?
Matthew 25:1-13 (TLV) “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish ones took their lamps, they took no oil with them. 4 But the wise ones took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 Now while the bridegroom was taking a long time, they all got drowsy and started falling asleep. 6 But in the middle of the night there was a shout, ‘Look, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ 7 Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 Now the foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, since our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise ones replied, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you. Instead, go to those who sell, and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 But while they were going off to buy, the bridegroom came. And those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast, and the door was shut. 11 Now later, the other virgins came, saying, ‘Sir, Sir, open up for us!’ 12 But he replied, ‘Amen, I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Therefore stay alert, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
Revelation 3:7-13 (TLV) To the angel of Messiah’s community in Philadelphia write: “Thus says the Holy One, the True One, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens: 8 I know your deeds. Behold, I have set before you an open door that no one is able to shut—because you have little power, but you have kept My word and have not denied My name. 9 Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of satan—who say they are Jewish and are not, but lie—behold, I will cause them to come and bow down before your feet, so that they acknowledge that I have loved you! 10 Because you have kept My word about patient endurance, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is coming upon the whole world to test those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon—hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown. 12 The one who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the Temple of My God, and he will never leave it. And on him I will write the name of My God and the name of the city of My God—the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God—and My own new Name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Ruach is saying to Messiah’s communities.”
 Role of Women