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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:The Almighty God can Do a Lot with a Little
Text:2 Kings 4:1-7 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Providence

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 68:2,3                                                                                

Ps 112:1,4                                                                                                      

Reading – 2 Kings 3

Ps 146:1,2,3,4,5

Sermon – 2 Kings 4:1-7

Ps 34:3,4

Hy 66:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ, one of the precious attributes of our God is his almighty power. God’s glorious might shines forth in so many of his works, like in the splendours of his creation and his dominion over kings and presidents. And God doesn’t just have “power,” He has “almighty power.” That highlights how much God can do: whatever He pleases, without limitation. Like the angel said to the virgin Mary when announcing that she would bear the Saviour, the Son of the Highest, “With God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37).

Opening Scripture, on so many pages we see the working of God’s mighty power. In the ministry of Elisha particularly, this is a strong theme. He crosses the Jordan River on dry ground, he heals the deadly waters of Jericho, and he judges the godless with two hungry bears.

In fact, the stories of Elisha’s ministry aren’t so much about his words, but about his deeds. We can be sure that the prophet was speaking a lot, preaching and warning, but the focus is on God’s mighty deeds through him. The LORD is putting on a display of his strength, reminding everyone in Israel that He is the true God, able to do great things in his acts of mercy and acts of judgment.

Our text is another exhibition of God’s almighty power. Here we see an amazing and abiding truth about the LORD: God can do a lot with a little. He can use just a tiny jar of oil to provide generously for a widow and her family. God is never limited by the shortages that we face, never hindered by what we lack. In awesome strength, God can turn something insignificant into something outstanding, and bring deliverance out of the most hopeless situations. God can do a lot with a little—that’s the message of 2 Kings 4:1-7,

God mightily sustains a suffering widow and her sons:

  1. a serious problem
  2. a confident prophet
  3. a generous provision


1. a serious problem: In the background of Elisha’s ministry there’s a serious battle going on. It’s the war between false religion and true, between Israel’s worthless idols and the LORD God. And like in every war, there are little people who get caught up the conflict: bystanders and victims with their own struggles and sorrows. And even as God fights against organized idolatry and opposes Israel’s wicked kings, He shows compassion for those who are so often overlooked.

Our text begins with “a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets” (v 1). We meet the sons of the prophets in various places in 1 and 2 Kings. These were small communities of men who banded together to preserve God’s truth in a time when there was much unfaithfulness. They were called “sons of the prophets” because like a son learns from his father, these men wanted to learn from God’s appointed messengers.

It seems that the sons of the prophets also took it upon themselves to support Elijah and Elisha in their ministry. Because Elijah and Elisha were devoted to the full-time work of being prophets, and often moving from place to place, they didn’t have regular income or a way to maintain food and housing. This is where the “sons of the prophets” helped, giving the prophets what was needed to keep preaching.

You can be sure that this would’ve come at a cost to the “sons of the prophets” and their families. If you’re going to remain firmly committed to the LORD in a godless time, there will be a price to pay. The faithful were a tiny majority in Israel—just 7000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal—and they were hard-pressed by the wicked.

The woman who approaches Elisha had been the wife of a man from this faithful community. And when her husband died, there wasn’t much money left to support her. We don’t know why exactly that is, but it seems likely that supporting the prophets meant that reserves were low. When the family provider died, trouble quickly loomed.

Now, being a widow in Israel was a serious problem at the best of times. They were often one of the poorest members of society. A husband was traditionally the one who earned a wage and provided for his family, but if a husband died, the options for his wife and any children were few. Any remaining money would run out very quickly.

And what would happen next? In this country, those who are poor or unable to work have learned to depend on the support of the government. Or perhaps if you run into temporary money troubles, you can borrow from the bank. But in Israel, neither option was available—so what was a poor person to do?

God knew that this would happen, which is why He gave instruction about this kind of situation in his law. If there was a person who wasn’t able to pay his debts, and there was no other option for paying, he and his family could be hired out as slaves.

To us that seems like an extreme way of dealing with debt. But the practice in Israel was meant to be humanitarian and kind. The one who was owed money would benefit from the work of the debtor’s family. And for his part, the creditor was expected to care for those who became his slaves. The time of servitude also wasn’t meant to be longer than six years, because in every seventh year all outstanding debts were cancelled.

Even so, it’s a harsh reality that stares this widow in the face. Her two sons are going to be taken away for some time. For a family which had already endured so much, including the death of a husband and father, this was a bitter pill.

So the woman “cried out to Elisha, saying, ‘Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that your servant feared the LORD’” (v 1). In those words there’s a sense of desperation, even bewilderment. Her husband had been a faithful man in a time when faithfulness came at a high cost. In a land where true believers were persecuted by the king and his officials, this man went against the tide. And now this… her godly husband was not protected from death, and she and her sons were about to be torn apart.

This is the painful puzzle that can confront the children of God. We may strive to be faithful Christians, devoted to the church, filled with the Holy Spirit, and ready to love our neighbour—yet sometimes we meet with intense suffering. There might be a tragic loss in our  family, a terminal illness, deep financial hardship. It doesn’t make sense to us. We feared the LORD, and loved his people. Hasn’t God noticed how we lived?

Of course, we know God doesn’t owe us anything. We know from the story of Job that the righteous can suffer terribly. We know too, that there won’t often be a neat and tidy reason why Christians suffer—sometimes the only answer will be to stand humbly before the sovereign God and to rest in his unfailing goodness and faithfulness.

Even so, getting to that kind of trust can require a long journey. And it doesn’t mean we won’t ask the questions: Why do the beloved children of God get hit so hard at times? How can those who have sacrificed so much, given so much, be asked to give even more? When will it get easier for those who believe?

The widow of the son of the prophet is perplexed, “You know that your servant feared the LORD.” She is troubled, and yet she also trusts. She is loyal to God, just as her husband had been, for the woman cries out to Elisha. This is what the people of Jericho had done too: crying out to God in their trouble. She knows that if anyone can do anything at all about this misery, it is the almighty God.

Notice how the woman simply lays her trouble before the prophet: “My husband is dead, my sons are about to be taken from me.” She doesn’t presume to suggest a solution, to share her understanding of what should happen next. No, she trusts that God will know what to do. She casts her burden on the LORD, and waits to see his response.

Beloved, in our text we again see something of our great privilege in prayer. Our Father has given us the freedom to come before him with all our needs. We can entrust our cares to God and bring him our troubles. We can cast on him all our burdens—even the heaviest—because we remember, He’s the almighty God.

To be sure, we often have an idea of how we’d like our difficult situation to be put right. If only this circumstance would change, or if I had this gift, or this person went away, then my troubles would evaporate. But trusting God means relying on him to handle it completely. He doesn’t need our good ideas and suggestions, because He is perfectly wise. Bring your petitions to God—present them in faith—and then rest in his good answer and his loving response.

Listening to the widow’s request, Elisha probably felt an obligation to help her. Certainly he would’ve wanted to help someone who had supported him and Elijah, but more than this, Elisha would’ve known this to be his calling. In his law, the LORD often exhorted the people to care for the stranger, the fatherless and the widow. These were the helpless and vulnerable ones in Israel, and they needed the generous support of the entire community.

And in loving the weak, the people were supposed to imitate God himself. The LORD is “a father of the fatherless, a defender of widows,” says Psalm 68:5. God always has a deep compassion for those have been left without much support. God preserves the lowly, and He takes up the cause of the poor—and He wants his people to do the same.

Listening to this poor widow’s plea to Elisha, it’s good for us to reflect on our own response to the fatherless and the widow. How do we treat the vulnerable among us? How do we care for the disabled or those who are helpless? Do we show mercy to those who have been left without much means of support? Sometimes we stop noticing the weak and vulnerable—they become invisible to us, overlooked in the busyness of our own lives. But let’s seek to bless them with hospitality or acts of kindness.

Remember what James says about the practice of a living faith, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (1:27). A gracious response to the poor shows that we ourselves have received grace.


2. a confident prophet: When he hears about the widow’s plight, Elisha responds with two questions, “What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” (v 2). He wants to find out just how bad it is. And the widow’s answer reveals the depths of her poverty, “Your maidservant has nothing in the house but a jar of oil” (v 2). The Hebrew word for “jar” means something like a small flask; this was probably the oil that you’d keep around for rubbing onto dry skin. There is no food in this woman’s house, nothing edible—just a container of hand cream. The cupboard truly is bare. 

And this is so often where God begins, with how we are most inadequate, with the true hopelessness of our situation. When the widow brought forward the flask to Elisha, it must have looked pathetic. This is really all she had? It was.

When you think about it, what we have too, is entirely insufficient: insufficient faith, insufficient wisdom, inadequate abilities. But it doesn’t matter. If we trust in him, and do his will, God can do a lot with a little. He can turn a small beginning into something great. He can multiply a tiny resource into a rich abundance.

What Elisha asks the widow is similar to what Jesus once asked when He was told about the hunger of a multitude of thousands. “What do you have?” And then too, there was next to nothing: “Just five loaves and two small fish.” It’d be hard to feed twelve disciples with that, let alone 5000 men and their families. But Jesus begins with a little and he does a lot.

See Elisha’s confidence. He is very certain that God is about to do something incredible. How do we know? He says to the woman, “Go, borrow vessels from everywhere, from all your neighbours—empty vessels; do not gather just a few” (v 3). Notice how emphatic he is: “Get containers from everywhere, from all your neighbours. Make sure they’re empty, and make sure you get a lot.” There’s going to be a dramatic response to her need.

Why is Elisha so convinced that she’ll need all these jars? Obviously, God has put this solution into his mind. What’s more, Elisha knows the LORD and his mighty strength. He would gladly echo Jeremiah’s confession, “Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you” (Jer 32:17).

Sure of God’s power, Elisha tells the woman to gather all her jars, “And when you have come in, you shall shut the door behind you and your sons; then pour it into all those vessels, and set aside the full ones” (v 4). Notice that the pouring out of the oil takes place behind closed doors. Not even Elisha is present, only the woman and her two sons. It will be clear that the multiplying oil isn’t a trick, some optical illusion, and it’s not dependent on the presence of the prophet. It’s a divine gift!

All the neighbours too, would’ve been curious about what she was up to, with her request for all their Tupperware and empty pots. But this time God doesn’t want to draw attention to this work He’s doing. This is simply for the woman and her two sons to know about.

And what’s the role of the woman in this story? She is obedient. She listens to the prophet’s words, and gathers all the jars, and goes behind closed doors, and she begins to pour oil from the small flask. Reflect for a moment on the faith that she needs to have. Here’s a room full of empty jars, one tiny container of oil, and Elisha’s command that she just keep pouring and pouring. We’d call it a fool’s errand, a guaranteed disappointment. And if the oil doesn’t come, that spells the end of her family.

It takes faith to do what the woman does. But isn’t that always what God expects of us? To believe in what He has said. We’ve probably never been in the dire kind of situation that the widow was, and we’ve never been expected to pour from a bottomless jar of oil. But does it take less faith for us to trust in God?

We might have little or next to nothing, but God says, “Be content with what you have.” We might be lonely and despairing, but God says, “I am with you.” We might be worried about many things, but God says, “Do not fear.” We might have a world of problems and have no idea what God could ever do to fix them, but He says, “Bring your burdens to me, and leave them with me. Trust me.” It’s hard to trust like this. Our faith is small and the need is great. But God calls us to rest in him, to know the sureness of his Word. Elisha was confident, this woman was confident, and so can we be confident. God is mighty and He is faithful.

The oil keeps running—it’s a miracle which reminds us of the one performed by Elijah years before, when he was visiting another widow, the woman of Zarephath and her son. She too, was near death, but God provided. Through his mighty power, the bin of flour and the jar of oil did not run out until the LORD again sent rain on the earth.

These parallel stories have a point of course: God will provide for his people. Back in those days, the kings of Israel were expected to ensure the protection and well-being of the people. Most of the kings were failing in this task, so God uses his prophet to provide instead. And once again, Elisha shows the meaning of his name, “God saves.” He saves from misery, and He saves from death.


3. a generous provision: When you’re filling up, you usually know when it’s time to slow down and stop pouring. The pump at the service station won’t let you put in any more, or the watering can begins overflowing. For the widow too, it was clear when she had to stop, “Now it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said to her son, ‘Bring me another vessel.’ And he said to her, ‘There is not another vessel.’ So the oil ceased” (v 6).

No more jars, no more oil. Now, what do you think: Does this show a lack of faith on the part of the widow? Should she have asked for more empty containers? In a few of the commentaries I read, this point was made: the woman was answered in proportion to her faith. If she’d had more faith, and she acquired more jars, she would’ve received more oil.

But there’s nothing here that indicates a lack of faith. Rather, she is presented as a model of quiet trust and steadfast obedience. She did what the prophet ordered, she believed, and God provided generously.

She came out of her house and told Elisha, and his next directions are straightforward, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debt; and you and your sons live on the rest” (v 7). The many jars of oil could be sold for a good price. With that money she should first cover her debts, and then she and her sons could live off the rest. There’s nothing further noted, so we may assume that the woman obeys without question.

See how God grants an abundance that went above and beyond. Not only did God respond to the immediate emergency of the debt, He also thinks about the ongoing need, how the widow and her sons will survive in coming years.

If you look at your life, you’ll see that this is so often the LORD’s way: He does better than we asked, He does more than we requested. It is God’s practice to make his goodness overflow to his children, for He is a generous Father. This is why we sing in Psalm 84, “No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (v 11).

And that is an unchanging truth. God generously provides for his children. There is no want for those who fear him! Of course, it’s true that God doesn’t resolve every situation of distress by a miraculous intervention. Sometimes financial trouble or family tension or health concerns remain, year after year, despite countless prayers being sent up. God doesn’t always save us from the troubled circumstances of our life. He doesn’t always put right everything that has gone wrong.

But for Jesus’ sake, He does draw near and shows grace, and cares for those who are desperate. It may be true that we cannot expect miracles, yet we may certainly expect his mercies, if we wait on God and seek him. For remember this: God is almighty. He can do a lot with a little—He can do a lot with nothing! Even when you’re feeling weak and empty-handed, trust in his power and rely on his love.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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