Unnamed Heroines of Scripture: Not Just a Shunammite

Our fascination with heroes goes beyond a desire for entertainment. The love for the heroic exposes an inward longing we all have to make an impact. Heroes did not live as mere blips of human existence; they left a mark. Tragically, heroic acts seem impossible. This woman’s story is a beautiful example of how “making an impact” is available to us all.

“This Shunammite”

There is a collection of men, like Moses and David, who have been given the “this” recognition in Scripture. There is a group of women who share that recognition as well, and “this Shunammite” is one (2Ki 4:12). We do not know her name or what she looked like, but her character deserves our careful consideration. She is heroic for the very reason anyone will be truly heroic: she bears resemblance to our Lord Jesus Christ. We pause to remember that there is only One Hero! Our lives will make an impact to the extent that we resemble Him.

With her Home, Giving

This Shunammite made her impact just in the little village where she lived. The trouble for many of us is that we know how we would live for God in any other circumstances except our own. Yet, we must live where we are and work with what we have been given. She did so in Shunem with her own home. She displayed a Christlike vision. Our Lord did not merely look on His interests but on the needs of others (Php 2). She saw a traveler in Shunem and considered his need for food. She was willing to use what she had to meet his need. The Shunammite stands in contrast to Eve, who saw what was pleasing to herself, sought to satisfy her lusts, and acted by taking the fruit (Gen 3:6). This Shunammite saw the need of another, had the desire to meet his need, and acted by providing him food. Her vision was not limited to his need for food. She noticed that he was traveling to Shunem quite often and could use a place to stay. She approached her husband with her desire to use their home to host this “man of God.” With his agreement, they built the “little room.” It was a simple room, and yet had all the amenities a prophet could desire (2Ki 4:8-10).

This Shunammite stands as a great example of being “given to hospitality.” For many, showing hospitality seems impossible. Often Pinterest images of an immaculate house, fine china, and a seven-course meal fill the mind and discourage the heart. Notably, the emphasis is not on what specifically she provided him but on why she provided it. We have no information about the food Elisha was served, the size of the bed he slept in, or the quality of the desk. We do know, however, that she perceived his need for both food and a place to stay. We can learn, therefore, that biblical hospitality is being less occupied with “my house” and far more interested in “their need.” This kind of hospitality is a sure way to leave an impact (Heb 13:2). She was not interested in fame or recognition but genuinely wanted to help this man. The little room was not a spare room for anyone. It was his room (2Ki 4:10). We do well to admire this humble hospitality, but how do we imitate her? It is not necessarily by setting an extra plate or creating another room, but rather we should analyze carefully the needs around us and seek in the fear of God and with His help to meet them.

With her Husband, Helping

The hospitality of the Shunammite jumps off the page, but she has other features that are quite remarkable. God brought the woman to the man to be a “help suited for him.” This Shunammite displayed that feature with her husband. We would not even know he existed were it not for her helpful suggestion. He did not seem to notice the prophet’s predicament, but she graciously brought the idea to him and had a clear plan for how to help (2Ki 4:9-10).

We husbands can learn from this account that our impact may just come from meeting a need that our wives have perceived. One way for wives to make their mark is to be a help to their husbands. Submission in our God-ordained role is a much-needed feature, and will directly affect the legacy we leave behind.

With her Heartbreak, Believing

As a result of giving the prophet a “little room,” God gave her a little boy. Then came the heartbreak. A few years passed and the child fell ill. He took his last breaths on his mother’s knee. Then he died. How did she react to this heartbreak? She reacted in faith. She took the corpse of her son to Elisha’s bed, and then raced to meet the prophet (2Ki 4:21). The same God who gave her the little boy could just as easily give him back. She is marked by simple and sincere faith amid great sorrow and tragedy. As a result, her boy was brought back to life, and she not only stands in Scripture as one who was given a child miraculously, but also as a woman who received her dead back to life again (Heb 11:35). One of the great tests for any legacy will be the reaction to heartbreak.

The term “Shunammite” could well have been used to describe any resident in the village of Shunem, but “this Shunammite” left a mark. We learn from her story that such selflessness is honored by God. The ripple effect of her hospitality led to her holding a son. She remarkably received him back to life. The story of that famous resurrection proved so moving that the king himself granted the land back to her after the famine had passed (2Ki 8:6). The ripples have not ended; her story continues down to this day. We, too, can make an impact when we use what we have with a willing heart to invest in the needs of another. Imagine a Christlike impression left in the little “village” where you are – just like that Shunammite.

This woman was a prototype, a yard-stick, that’s a fact.
Her life is an example of how all of us should act.
Her name’s unknown, her grave’s obscure, yet, we can all recite:
“In you, O’ Lord, I long to be: just like that Shunammite.”[1]

[1] Fred McKinney, “Just Like That Shunammite,” in The Shunammite Woman by Larry Hammersley.