This is the final post in a three-part series. Dr. Kim originally delivered his messages at First Presbyterian Church in August, Georgia, for the church’s 2015 Bible and Missionary Conference. Click to read the first and second parts.
One day Elisha went to Shunem. And a well-to-do woman was there, who urged him to stay for a meal. So whenever he came by, he stopped there to eat. She said to her husband, “I know that this man who often comes our way is a holy man of God. Let’s make a small room on the roof and put in it a bed and a table, a chair and a lamp for him. Then he can stay there whenever he comes to us.”
One day when Elisha came, he went up to his room and lay down there. He said to his servant Gehazi, “Call the Shunammite.” So he called her, and she stood before him. Elisha said to him, “Tell her, ‘You have gone to all this trouble for us. Now what can be done for you? Can we speak on your behalf to the king or the commander of the army?’”
She replied, “I have a home among my own people.”
“What can be done for her?” Elisha asked.
Gehazi said, “She has no son, and her husband is old.”
Then Elisha said, “Call her.” So he called her, and she stood in the doorway. “About this time next year,” Elisha said, “you will hold a son in your arms.”
“No, my lord!” she objected. “Please, man of God, don’t mislead your servant!”
But the woman became pregnant, and the next year about that same time she gave birth to a son, just as Elisha had told her.
The child grew, and one day he went out to his father, who was with the reapers. He said to his father, “My head! My head!”
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His father told a servant, “Carry him to his mother.” After the servant had lifted him up and carried him to his mother, the boy sat on her lap until noon, and then he died. She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, then shut the door and went out.
She called her husband and said, “Please send me one of the servants and a donkey so I can go to the man of God quickly and return.”
“Why go to him today?” he asked. “It’s not the New Moon or the Sabbath.”
“That’s all right,” she said.
She saddled the donkey and said to her servant, “Lead on; don’t slow down for me unless I tell you.” So she set out and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.
When he saw her in the distance, the man of God said to his servant Gehazi, “Look! There’s the Shunammite! Run to meet her and ask her, ‘Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is your child all right?’”
“Everything is all right,” she said.
When she reached the man of God at the mountain, she took hold of his feet. Gehazi came over to push her away, but the man of God said, “Leave her alone! She is in bitter distress, but the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me why.”
“Did I ask you for a son, my lord?” she said. “Didn’t I tell you, ‘Don’t raise my hopes’?”
Elisha said to Gehazi, “Tuck your cloak into your belt, take my staff in your hand and run. Don’t greet anyone you meet, and if anyone greets you, do not answer. Lay my staff on the boy’s face.”
But the child’s mother said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So he got up and followed her.
Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the boy’s face, but there was no sound or response. So Gehazi went back to meet Elisha and told him, “The boy has not awakened.”
When Elisha reached the house, there was the boy lying dead on his couch. He went in, shut the door on the two of them and prayed to the Lord. Then he got on the bed and lay on the boy, mouth to mouth, eyes to eyes, hands to hands. As he stretched himself out on him, the boy’s body grew warm. Elisha turned away and walked back and forth in the room and then got on the bed and stretched out on him once more. The boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes.
Elisha summoned Gehazi and said, “Call the Shunammite.” And he did. When she came, he said, “Take your son.” She came in, fell at his feet and bowed to the ground. Then she took her son and went out.
– 2 Kings 4:8-37 (NIV)
As a result of her resolute faith, in the midst of regrettable tragedy, Elisha is moved to take up her plea and provide resurrection hope. The third and last truth we learn in this story is resurrection hope.
Starting with verse 32, we read how Elisha comes back to the house and does something that at first blush seems very strange. After praying to the Lord, he stretches himself on top of the dead boy, placing his mouth on the boy’s mouth, his eyes on the boy’s eyes, his hands on the boy’s hands. After doing this three times, we read that the once dead child awoke, sneezed seven times, and opened his eyes!
Now one thing we need to say at this point is this, what is Elisha thinking? He knows better than that! The fact that he not only touched a dead corpse, but actually went mouth to mouth with one, is not only gross, but forbidden by Jewish law. To Jews reading this story, this is shocking. In Leviticus 21, it says that a Jewish priest cannot even be in a room with a dead body. If a regular person touches a dead body, you are considered unclean for seven days. And only after you go through some rigorous cleansing rituals can you re-enter society. Now, what is Elisha thinking? Why does he do this?
Simply this: it is an act of double imputation. Elisha goes mouth to mouth with the dead boy so that the boy’s uncleanness would be transferred to him. This is the only way that the boy can become clean. He must become unclean so that the boy can no longer be an unclean corpse but a clean living boy. Hebrews 11 states, “Women received back their dead by resurrection.” There is shalom again in Shunem.
Like Elijah before him, Elisha is the specially appointed man of God who will provide life to the once formerly dead. Many years later, another prophet will emerge bringing resurrection hope to all who will believe — including you and I. This story of resurrection hope in 2 Kings 4 points forward to our story of resurrection hope through the appointed man of God. Echoing the stories of Elijah and Elisha, we read of this man of God in Luke 7:11-16,
“Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, ‘Do not weep.’ Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, ‘Young man, I say to you, arise.’ And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has arisen among us!’ and ‘God has visited his people!’”
As Jesus, not only the man of God, but also the Son of God, raises this young boy back to life, he provides a preview of what he will ultimately do to provide resurrection hope to all of his children. Like the prophets before him, Jesus does this by first going mouth to mouth with death itself. Let me explain.
During the time of the Roman Empire, there existed a gruesome method of execution for those found guilty of murder. After the trial, the sentenced criminal would be taken outside the city walls for his execution. Taken along with him was the victim he had killed. Once they reached the area for execution, the dead victim would be placed on the ground, and then the sentenced criminal would be placed on top of his dead victim face to face, mouth to mouth, eye to eye, and hand to hand. They would then be tied together from their feet, all the way to their heads so that they would almost look like some sort of a double mummy.
Then the executioner would do one final act. Prior to tying the bands around their heads, he would open the mouth of the dead victim, and then open the mouth of the live criminal so that they were positioned mouth to mouth with one another. Only then would he tie their heads together tightly. Once this step was completed, the executioners left the sentenced criminal with his victim. Mouth to mouth with his dead victim, the sentenced criminal would die a slow and torturous death as all the toxins and eventual maggots from the dead victim slowly entered his own mouth and body. In this way, the dead victim would be exacting retribution for the injustice he received from his murderer.
As Elisha went mouth to mouth with the dead child, Jesus goes mouth to mouth with death itself on the cross. Though sinless and innocent, he sacrifices himself on the cross so that he would receive the judgment for the regrettable tragedy of sin itself. He swallows all the poison and toxin that sin represents so that we don’t have to. This is our story. Jesus becomes unclean so that we could become clean. Jesus dies so we can live.
All of our sin is transferred to Jesus, and his righteousness is transferred to us! When Elisha stretched himself out over the child, God did not see a dead child. He saw the man of God covering over the child. When Jesus died on the cross and rose again three days later, we, if we put our faith in Christ, are covered over by the righteousness of Christ.
Beloved, life is filled with regrettable tragedies, circumstances and situations that sometime seem out of control. And yet we learn that even in the most regrettable tragedy of all, death itself, life emerges through the vicarious sacrifice of the one who went mouth to mouth with death, for us. In the midst of regrettable tragedy, we are given resurrection hope. That is why we can demonstrate resolute faith in the One who gave us that life. Since death cannot claim victory over us, what in life can? For we have victory through Jesus Christ. Though tested and tempted with regrettable tragedies all around us, we can demonstrate resolute faith because of resurrection hope every day.
Shalom. It is well with my soul.
Dr. Julius Kim is the dean of students and associate professor of practical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Escondido, California. His also serves a church calling as associate pastor of New Life Presbyterian Church in Escondido. Prior to Westminster Seminary California, Dr. Kim served in a variety of ecclesiastical and academic settings. He is a graduate of Vanguard University, Westminster Seminary California, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.