Elisha the prophet was a man who was used by the Lord to perform miracles, speak messages and mentor messengers. The phrase “sons of the prophets” brings before us the mentoring aspect of his ministry, as this group is connected with him throughout the book of 2 Kings. These men are not called sons because of a familial relationship to prophets but are more than likely members of a prophetic guild. If we trace this group throughout the book, we find that they would sit before the prophet for teaching (2Ki 4:38), be sent to perform official ceremonial tasks (9:1), and often functioned communally, sharing their meals (4:38) and some even having a common dwelling place (6:1). This lifestyle also included an aspect of poverty, as one would have to borrow tools to build the house (6:5), and in this story we have a man who was indebted to a creditor. We pick up the narrative in 2 Kings 4:1-7 as the widow of one of these men seeks guidance and power from God in the deliverance of her family.
The phrase “thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord” (v1) is a sign that this debt was not a result of carelessness or covetousness. Without debating the character of this man or all the scriptural teaching on borrowing, it is safe to say that debt incurred by irresponsible behavior is not done in the fear of the Lord. Regardless of the reason for the debt, the reality is clear: she is now at a point of crisis and cries out to the man of God.
Her circumstances have brought about desperation to the point where she doesn’t have a suggestion to offer the man of God. How many cries of the Lord’s people involve a proposal to God of how to accomplish our relief? We come to God with our own idea of how He should solve our problem instead of communicating our concerns and our total dependence on Him in our trial. This indicates that we would like to witness the power of God in our experience without doing things God’s way. We know that many Christians have financial struggles, and many more are dealing with sons and daughters who have gone the route of the prodigal. We have a great God who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all we could ask or think, and we need to cry out to Him as dependent children, looking not only for His power but also His direction through the trial. Take heart in knowing that His thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways.
Who would have thought that a little jar of “oil for anointing” would be the means used by God to preserve her sons? Her answer to the prophet’s question betrays her poverty; however, the only thing she had in the entire house was the very thing that would be used by God. It may have seemed insignificant to her, but it was powerful when faith was exercised and God was in it. He implores her to seek out as many containers as she can find, enter her house, close the door and begin to pour.
We wonder what her thoughts must have been as she gathered the jars. She could think about her lack of oil, and with a negative attitude only seek out a few vessels, or she could consider the word of the prophet and the power of Jehovah, and in faith ask for as many as possible. That is faith, isn’t it? It’s not looking at the circumstances and becoming discouraged with our deficiency, but looking to God, obeying His Word, and keeping our eye on the possibilities. The extent of her obedience to the instructions of the man of God would determine the capacity for blessing. Living by faith is not being naively optimistic, thinking that God will always make everything go smoothly because we are His children. Living by faith always involves a response to the Word of God, whether in commandment or promise. This woman would now respond to the word of the prophet by doing what he said, all the while knowing that God is true to His word (Rom 4:21).
It would be a silly sight to most as we view her, small jar in hand, beginning to pour out with all those empty jugs in the room. But faith didn’t see the emptiness; faith clung to the promise that there would be full vessels in the end! So as the empty became full, the result was joy throughout the house because God had fulfilled His promise to a lowly, obedient widow.
Consider the picture of NT doctrine expressed in this event as oil is poured into empty vessels. While we do not have time to detail the symbolic significance of oil, we can say that by carefully studying the Scriptures, you will find that this commodity, used as fuel for illumination and in anointings for sanctification, finds its deeper meaning in the Bible’s presentation of the Spirit of God and His functions.
One of these teachings is found in the phrase “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18), where we have a contrast presented. The exhortation is to not be drunk with wine but filled with the Spirit. The polarity is evident, as we see how being filled with wine would influence our members to commit acts of reckless abandon but being filled with the Spirit would produce spiritual ministering to each other in song, giving of thanks and humble submission (Eph 5:18-21). The text’s wording insists that we are to be “continually being filled” and not filling ourselves. Our role is not to fill but to allow the Spirit of God to influence our entire person, affecting our thoughts, words and actions positively, just as wine would affect us negatively. Notice, we cannot say that we need to allow space in order to get more of the Spirit (for we cannot get more of a person), but we enable the Spirit to get more of us!
As this dear widow already had the resource in her possession to meet her needs, we also already have the Spirit of God indwelling us. Her gathering of containers to provide capacity for the oil is an illustration of our need to provide room for the Spirit of God to affect our activity, which in our case would mean ensuring that we empty ourselves of fleshly, selfish influence and open up to His filling.
In the end, the destitute widow really wasn’t poor at all; she only needed to be shown the potential of that which God had already given and to provide enough capacity to experience the full blessing. Let us by faith obey the Word of God, grasp His promises, and provide the opportunity to continually be filled with the Spirit.
 P. Clarke, S. Brown, L. Dorn, & D. Slager (Eds.), A Handbook on 1 & 2 Kings: Vol. 1–2 (New York: United Bible Societies, 2008), 760.
 J.P. Lange, P. Schaff, W.F. Bähr, E. Harwood & B.A. Sumner, A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: 2 Kings (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 41.
 The passive voice indicates that we are being filled. The present imperative πληροῦσθε (“be filled”) suggests that the Spirit’s infilling is to be continual. P.T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Ephesians (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999).