Tuesday, 26 August 2008 08:54

God's Sovereign Gift Of Sorrow And Joy

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Our Scripture reading for today is II Kings 4:11-17. And it fell on a day, that he came thither, and he turned into the chamber, and lay there. And he said to Gehazi his servant, Call this Shunammite. And when he had called her, she stood before him. And he said unto him, Say now unto her, Behold, thou hast been careful for us with all this care; what is to be done for thee? wouldest thou be spoken for to the king, or to the captain of the host? And she answered, I dwell among mine own people. And he said, What then is to be done for her? And Gehazi answered, Verily she hath no child, and her husband is old. And he said, Call her. And when he had called her, she stood in the door. And he said, About this season, according to the time of life, thou shalt embrace a son. And she said, Nay, my lord, thou man of God, do not lie unto thine handmaid. And the woman conceived, and bare a son at that season that Elisha had said unto her, according to the time of life.

Last time we looked at the amazing power of the Word of God to mold the Shunammite woman into a trophy of Gods grace in a corrupt culture. It is a tremendous comfort that God is able to do so in our times as well. It is a tremendous responsibility to be called to bear the same spiritual fruit in our own lives.

Now we need to consider how the same God who through His Word made the Shunammite woman everything she was, also stamped her life with a great sorrow. How often the Lord does this use both His Word as well as trials! At first glance you would not notice this sorrow. When Elisha asks her if there is anything he can do for her, she does not say anything about being childless. After she has expressed her contentment and gone back downstairs, Elisha asks Gehazi , What then can be done for her? Gehazi has noticed something she has no child, and her husband is old.

To understand what a burden this was, you need to understand three things about being childless in the Old Testament. First, there was a spiritual side to it. God promised in Deuteronomy that being childless was usually a sign of His punishment and curse, while children were blessings from Him. This is no longer the case now. Yet in the Old Testament many were shunned and belittled. We have an example of this in what the mother of John the Baptist says when she conceives a son in her old age she praises the Lord who has taken away her reproach among women. Second, there was a financial side to childlessness. The government did not give the elderly a monthly sum of money. You were dependent on your children for this support. The third side to this was the same as today. The longing God builds into a woman to have her own children was unfulfilled. Others were constantly speaking about their children, but she could not. She was left with painful questions. Why does God withhold from me this blessing, even though I serve Him? Why does God give children to the ungodly or those who dont really want them? Why does God give me a desire that He chooses not to fulfill?

We see how deeply this has affected her when Elisha, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, promises that within a year she will hold her own son in her arms. She does not jump for joy. She says, Nay my Lord, thou man of God, do not lie unto thy handmaid. She cannot bear to once again go through the pain of wondering, hoping, and then being disappointed again.

What can we learn here? First, that it is Gods right to direct your life as He chooses. He is not only your Creator, but you are a sinner with no rights. All that happens in the life of each person is not by chance, but by Gods hand. God gives certain blessings to some, and withholds them from others. Do not think it strange when God not only changes your life with His Word, but also gives you a burden to carry. Dont such burdens often make room for the Word of God to bear fruit in our lives?

What about you? Has God given you a burden to carry? Maybe he has not given you a husband or wife even though you ask Him for one. Maybe he has not given you the children or child you long for. Maybe it is some other burden in your family or work. Those looking from the outside might think you are taking it so well, but when someone mentions your care or sorrow it feels like a finger poking in the sore spot in your life, and it hurts.

Do you see how the holiness of this Shunammite woman shines all the brighter? She loves the Lord even though He has not given her one of her hearts desires. She loves the very God who has left her with these painful questions, with a wound of the heart that is rubbed raw again from time to time. She does not understand, but she serves her God with her whole heart anyway.

Why would God give such a sorrow to of all people such a woman? There are several reasons. First, to prove to the devil and the world that Gods children do not serve him only because of what they get out of it, but because of who He is. Didnt Satan try to slander Job? He only serves God because of his riches! Another reason is more personal. God sends such sorrows to test the faith of those whom He loves, to ask this question, Do you love me more than anyone else?[Job 1] Can you say, My life with God is more important to me than having all my hearts desires come true? Still another reason is that God is greatly glorified when people love him even through sorrows and cares. When you do this you are confessing that God is worthy of such love no matter what. One last reason for trial is this: God wants to give us more than we are asking for. God was determined not only to give this woman a son, but to give a son in a way that taught her precious lessons about His own promises and faithfulness!

What about you? Do you listen with a heart that rises in rebellion and anger at Gods way in your life? Do you relax how diligently you are serving God because He does not do what you want Him to? Have you learned to humbly trust His leading, even when you dont understand? This is the only way to find rest in your sorrows and cares.

The woman of our text learned to do so. This does not mean it was easy for her. She surely had her difficult days. But she found her rest and comfort in Gods presence and Word. Maybe someone listening wants to say, This is not easy. I know I should with a childlike trust rest in Gods way for my life, but I still struggle so much. How do you find this rest? One way is by asking for Gods help. The Lord Jesus Christ is a merciful sympathetic high priest, able to give mercy and grace also for these needs. [Hebrews 4:16]

God also uses His good gifts to teach His people this kind of trust. Elisha is inspired by the Holy Spirit to tell the Shunammite woman that she will embrace a son within a year. And even though her first response reveals pain and doubt, the Lord is merciful to her. She does give birth and now experiences the thrills and cares of motherhood. Psalm 127:3 puts it like this: Children are a heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is His reward.

Now isnt it true that calling children Gods reward raises more questions? What about grace? What about the sorrows God gives His people today? Does this mean that if you are only godly enough, God will give you what you ask for? Does it mean that if God does not give you your request, you are not good enough to deserve such a reward?

First of all, even children can be called a reward without taking away from grace. Something can be a gracious gift and a reward at the same time. One reformation confession puts it like this: Gods rewards are the gifts with which He crowns His own work. It is Gods word who made this woman what she is. Gods reward is simply one more gift of grace in her life.

Children can understand this. Sometimes you have to help do some of the work in the home. Then one day your father says, You all did such a good job, lets go get some ice cream. Now really, you did not earn anything. You were only doing what you were supposed to do. But your father gives you this eward simply because he takes pleasure in doing so. God is the same way with His rewards!

Only because such rewards are a gift of grace and are not earned or deserved by us, God is sovereign in giving them. He does not owe anyone such rewards. To one person He gives these gracious gifts, and to another person He may have you carry that burden throughout your life on earth. He picks the joys and sorrows He sends to each person! He is the potter, and you are the clay. This can be a great comfort. If God does not give you your hearts desire, this does not necessarily mean you are doing something wrong.

So what comfort can you take from this chapter if God has not given you what you long for? Take Gods goodness to the Shunammite as a promise of His goodness to each of His people. Sometimes a graduating Sunday School class is called up and given a bag of candies, one by one. When you see another child receive his book and candy, you know your turn will come. Just watch the woman of our text hold her little son. See her beaming joyful face! And know that the same God who is good to her has promised to be good to you, in His time and way. He will give good gifts to all His children sometimes in this world, and for sure in the new heavens and new earth.

We should notice one last aspect of the gift of a son to this woman. Listen again to the promise in verse 16: about this season, according to the promise of life, thou shalt embrace a son. These are the identical words of the announcement God made to Abraham that his son, Isaac, would be born! In saying it this way, God is saying, I give you this gift because I keep my promises. I am the sovereign God who comforts His people with words of promise. I make people what they are not by themselves, and give them what they do not deserve. I keep my covenant with those who are my people. I am the promise making and promise keeping God.

This text does not promise that every godly woman or man will get what they want. You are not being promised a child or whatever it is in this text. But the same God who gave this woman a child has made many other promises to His people. He did this not because you came asking for it, but because of His grace for sinners! He has also made many promises to people who do not yet believe in Him. Such promises give you every reason to start to trust Him and follow Him.

Pastor Eric Moerdyk

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