The Shunammite Woman (2 Kings 4:8-37)
It matters who tells our stories. Take my story, for example, the world knows me as “the boy whom Elisha raised from the dead; the son of the Shunammite woman.” And so I am; and I’m far more than that. I’m a vintner, whose wines are sought after by the greatest princes and kings the world over; I’m a respected elder in the village, acknowledged for my wisdom and discernment in difficult matters; and I’m the father of three beautiful children. My story is far more than “boy raised from the dead,” and so is my mother’s. You know her as “the Shunammite woman” to whom Elisa gave a son and who then sought out the prophet when I, her son, died. And she is that woman, and she is far more. She is Ariella, lioness of God, and its time her story is told.
My mother wasn’t born into wealth like I was. Her father was a simple shepherd, tending his sheep on the hills near the village of Shunem. His wife, my grandmother, was the daughter of a farmer who primarily grew wheat, although he dabbled in grapes as well. When their marriage was arranged, my great-grandfather gifted my grandfather a parcel of land to call his own. I think he hoped his new son-in-law would stop wandering the hills and stay home. Alas, it didn’t work. My grandfather loved the hills and soon disappeared back into them with his sheep, leaving my grandmother to manage the land and the household on her own. My mother was their only child.
It was my grandmother who gave her the name “Ariella,” lioness of God. She told me once she knew even before my mother was born that she was carrying a lion. As a child, my mother was known throughout village for her wild and independent ways. Like the lioness she was named for, her beauty belied the strength and determination that lay right under the surface.
My grandmother would say she was a force unto herself; but we all knew the truth, she learned her fierce ways from her mother. My grandmother may have started life poor, and she was determined not to end it that way. If her husband wanted to roam the hills with his sheep, so be it; she would take matters into her own hands for her own sake and for the sake of her lion-hearted daughter.
My grandmother worked hard to develop the small parcel of land given to her when she was married. She experimented and learned and, over time, her crop yield increased until she was able to start buying more land to farm. My mother learned at her knee, and, by the time of her own marriage, the two of them were a force to be reckoned with in the village.
Upon her marriage to my father, my mother made it clear that her land would remain her own. She would not be subsumed under her new husband—and she never was. My father was proud of his wife, proud of her strength and wisdom. He was a wealthy man and her marriage to him made them the wealthiest young family in the village.
My mother could have followed the path so many women do when their financial future seems secure. She could have spent her time in leisure, spending their money on extravagances. She could have become one of those gossips at the well, who spend their days poking into other people’s business. She could have simply become “the wife of Baruch, the blessed one.” But that wasn’t a suitable life for the lioness of God.
With her own family’s future seemingly secured, my mother turned her attention to the rest of the village. Shunem was full of those in need; poor farmers and shepherds like her own parents, and my mother was determined they would not stay that way. She gave loans to the farmers to help them rent out more land, she provided the best grazing lands to the shepherds and ensured their lambs always went for top-dollar in the great markets of Jerusalem. She was the patroness of the village, and those in need of aid, or even just advice, would seek her out. Her judgements were wise as she sought to reconcile those in conflict so as to maintain peace in the village. She was the lioness of Shunem, the often unseen power that kept our village together.
One day, the prophet Elisha was passing through Shunem. No one, not even my mother, knew who he was back then. He was just a tired looking man who seemed in need of a hot meal and a warm bed. She invited him in, as I’ve seen her do with countless travelers over the years, and made him comfortable. Over time, he became a regular visitor in her home. Stopping anytime his travels landed him in the neighborhood of Shunem. Eventually, my mother began to wonder about him—for he seemed to be far more than met the eye.
As much as she was watching and wondering about him, he was watching and wondering about her. He noticed how the villagers would greet her, bowing their heads as if to a queen or prophet. He saw the children, who ran up to her laughing and who she greeted with equal joy. He heard the way in which her husband spoke with her, asking her opinion and seeking her guidance in all matters related to their substantial holdings. She was strong and brave and wild—and he was in awe of her.
Eventually, the prophet decided he would reward her, he would help her escape the dusty little village of Shunem. He would speak to the king on her behalf, and the king would lift her and her husband to places of authority in the kingdom, where they surely belonged.
“No,” my mother told the prophet, “I have no desire to leave this place. These are my people and I am theirs. God has entrusted us to each other and I will not abandon them anymore than they would abandon me.”
The prophet had tried to explain to my mother what she was giving up. The fine palace she could surely have called home, the bevy of servants to respond to her every whim, even the power she could have wielded as an advisor to the king, but she was not swayed. “No,” she told him again, “can’t you see, I’m happy where I am!”
At last, the prophet relented. Instead, he promised her the next best thing to earthly wealth and power. He promised her me. My parents had never been able to conceive so, at first, my mother thought he was mad—until I came along.
She loved me, and taught me to love others. She cared for me, and taught me to care for others. She treated me with compassion and fairness in all things, and taught me to do the same to others. It was her example I sought to live up to, and still try to live up to today. Now, my friends, you know the real story of “Shunammite woman.” The story of Ariella, lioness of Shunem and lioness of God.
Questions to ponder
What was your favorite part of the story?
Where did you see God in the story?
What is God inviting you to try on today in light of the story?
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