WORD STUDY – IN WHAT MANNER – מה עשׁה
II Kings 4:2: “And Elisha said unto her: ‘What shall I do for you? Tell me. What has thou in the house?’ And she said: ‘Your handmaid has nothing in the house, save a pot of oil.’
Prophets in the Old Testament did not just suddenly become prophets. It was not like they were walking down the street one day and “Bong” they suddenly became a prophet. At an early age a child would begin his training in Torah. By Elisha’s time, if a teacher discerned that a child had prophetic gifts, he would bring him to a prophet for mentoring. Prophets did not hang out a shingle, at a School of Prophets, collect tuition and teach anyone who wished to be a prophet. Candidates were carefully screened, observed, tested and prayed over before it was decided this person had the gift and calling of a prophet. Even then the Talmud teaches that a prophet does not begin prophesying right away but must go through many years of mentoring under another prophet. He must learn about dreams and dream interpretation. He must understand visions and what they were for as this was the way God spoke to a prophet. These apprentice prophets did not attend classes and receive instruction. Instead they learned through hands on, almost like a craftsman learns his trade, by doing.
Thus when this widow came to Elisha with here plea, having been married to an apprentice prophet, she fully understood the miraculous and the supernatural. A creditor was going to take her two children away and put them into slavery. She turned to Elisha to do a miracle. She could have turned to a Levi at the local Levitical city where there was a special tithe each year that provided for women in her situation. However, she turned to the prophet.
Now we get to II Kings 4:2 which have a rather awkward translation. Elisha asks her what he would do for her. Come now, isn’t it obvious? This woman is in need of a miracle, big time and the prophet says: “Well, what do you want me to do about it?” At least that is the way most translations render this. I am not going to argue the traditional understanding which is that Elisha was asking: “Why come to me, the community has provided a special fund just for women in your situation.”
However there are other ways to look at this. The word what is mah. This is an all purpose interrogative. It could be rendered many ways so long as it comes out as an interrogative. You could say: How? How much? In what manner? Whatever? Etc. Take your pick. I choose the word in what manner? The reason for this is the next word which is translated as do. It is ashah, which means to fabricate, make, create, form. In its Semitic root it tells you that this making is done through the Ayin – spiritual discernment, the Shin – power of God and the Hei – the presence of God. It seems a little strange that Elisha asked “What will I do for you.” Should it not be “What will you have God do for you?” However, embedded in that word
to do is the power and presence of God. Elisha only said he would bring the power and presence of God through spiritual discernment
Thus, Elisha’s response was not one of bewilderment or condemnation, but one of asking this woman what manner would she like God to reveal Himself to her. It was sort of a choice, the practical way through the poor box, or through a miracle. She chose the miracle, not for the miracle sake, but for the opportunity for God to reveal Himself to not only her but to her two children. Also, I think she wanted a little more than to pay off a debt, she wanted a secure income as well after the debt was paid.
Note the next words tell me. The word is neged which has the idea of being clear, straightforward. Elisha is saying, ok, you want a miracle, now you must be very specific, be very clear. This is in a Hiphal imperative form so Elisha is saying: “cause this to be very clear to me. Now what do you have in your house.” The expression is odd in the Hebrew. It is Mah yesh laki Literally, “what can you get that has any spiritual and/or monetary value in the house.” Her response was “Your handmaiden has nothing that is kol complete, finished, whole in the house, except for a pot (flask) of oil. In the Hebrew this is ’asuk shmer. This was oil used for anointing. It was not just plain old cooking oil or olive oil. This was a healing oil or an oil used for medicinal purposes. It was an extremely valuable oil, one the prophets would use to anoint someone for healing. This oil was kol, a whole oil, not diluted. In fact this was a special oil, one which she probably did not want to sell, one which was used for special prophetic purposes. This was the oil that her husband used in his prophetic work. We do not know what type of oil it was, it might have been myrrh or frankincense as used in the temple worship, or any number of other rare oils, we really do not know. By saying it was kol ‘asuk shmer she was saying that this is the special oil used by the prophets, but without her husband’s prophetic gifts, it cannot be used in the miraculous. Elisha was about to show this woman that you don’t have to be a prophet to appropriate the miraculous. Maybe that is why Elisha had her shut herself in the house alone with her sons so she could see that the power of God flowing without a prophet or some elite person. It would flow through anyone who would make themselves a vessel for God.
You know the rest of the story. She borrowed many vessels from her neighbors (investors?), locked herself and her children in her house and began to pour out oil until all the vessels were filled. Then she went out and sold it and paid her debt (perhaps a percentage to her bottling investors). Why many vessels? Why not one large vessel which she could dip her husband’s flask in and keep refilling it and go out and sell it. Maybe the neighbors were sort of like investors who shared in the profits. If this was indeed kol ‘asuk shmer perhaps it was sold for medicinal purposes which was sorely needed at that time. Could it be each vessel contained a different oil used for different medicinal purposes and she became a sort of local doctor? Just a thought, I am only guessing. But maybe the old expression “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” applied to this situation. The prophet not only helped this woman pay off a onetime debt, but set her up in a business as well with her neighbors as investors receiving some of the benefits. She became a little CEO) and believe me when word got out about the miracle of the replenishing oil, her business would have boomed.
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