The story of Elisha and the Shunammite woman in the Bible is one of the most popular in the Old Testament.
In this study on this unnamed woman in Scripture, we will explore her character qualities and the lessons we can learn from her. In her story, God shows up over and over for both of the main characters in the story in amazing ways.
It’s so powerful how God uses each of them to show up for each other. They were both God’s instruments in each other’s lives.
Who is the Shunammite woman in the Bible?
The Shunammite woman is a Bible character whose story is told in the Old Testament. The Bible verses which contain her story are:
2 Kings 4:8 – 37
2 Kings 8:1- 6
Summary of the Shunammite woman story
The story of the Shunammite woman is one of two stories in the same chapter of 2 Kings that deals with women and miracles. The first was the story of the woman with oil.
The second is the story of the Shunammite woman. Her story is told in two episodes. In 2 Kings 4:8-37 we learn that she is kind to the prophet Elisha.
As he travels through Israel to do ministry, the Shunammite woman offers him food and refreshment. Soon, she builds him an apartment that he can use for his convenience whenever he is in the area.
To reward her kindness, Elisha prophecies that she will give birth to a son. The prophecy is fulfilled one year later. But, a few years after, her son suddenly falls ill and dies.
The Shunammite woman goes to get Elisha. He prays for the boy and the child is raised from the dead.
The second episode of her story is in 2 Kings 8:1- 6. God revealed to Elisha that a 7-year famine was on the way. He advised the Shunammite woman to move her family to Philistine territory. She obeyed
After the famine was over, she returned home to find that her land had been possessed. She pleaded with the king and her land was returned to her.
Oncourse, this summary is only the bones of these stories. I hope you take time to read through them slowly.
What is the meaning of Shunammite in the Bible?
The word Shunammite comes from the word Shunem. In the Bible, Shunem is the name of a small village in the land assigned to the tribe of Issachar. It was about 20 miles from Carmel where the prophet Elisha lived.
Characteristics of the Shunammite woman
From the story of this woman from Shunem, we can gather a few details about her qualities and character.
Although she goes unnamed by the author of 2 Kings, the way she lived her life provides us with examples to follow.
The Shunammite woman was a wealthy, upper class woman
The Shunammite woman was the Old Testament version of Lydia from the New Testament. She was a wealthy woman of status.
Notice that she could afford to quickly build a whole separate apartment and furnish it for Elisha and his servant Gehazi.
She could also afford to feed them both each time they stayed in her home.
This woman had not only extraordinary wealth but she also had a certain level of clout and influence.
Chances are, because of her wealth, she had a place in society that allowed her certain privileges.
She is so secure in her social status that when Elisha offers to put in a good word with the king for her, she turns it down.
Why? Because she doesn’t need it.
In the second episode of her story in 2 Kings 4, she talks directly, face to face, with the king in an effort to get back her land.
A woman in a lower class probably wouldn’t have this privilege.
The Shunammite woman was hospitable
Just like Lydia in the New Testament offered room, board, and food to the Apostle Paul, the Shunammite woman did the very same thing for the prophet Elisha.
Elisha’s ministry kept him busy. He traveled a great deal to visit the schools of the prophets and Shunem was a place he passed through quite often.
In those days, there were no such things as fancy hotels or motels or airbnb’s. People depended on the kindness of strangers to have their needs met while they traveled.
Prophets like Elisha traveled extensively. Their need to have somewhere to sleep and food to eat could be a daily occurrence for them.
The Shunammite woman noticed these needs and made permanent provision for Elisha. She built an apartment on top of her house for him.
Because houses had flat roofs in those parts, it was easy to add another floor. And this she did after she and her husband came into agreement about the kindness they should extend.
The Shunammite woman was a committed believer in God
The Shunamite woman appears to have been a member of the Israelite tribe of Issachar. As stated earlier, Shunem, where she lived, was located in the territory of Issachar.
That she was an Israelite woman who believed in God should not be taken for granted. There was widespread apostasy.
This woman lived in a society where Baal worship was rampant. The influence of paganism was high. Nevertheless, she kept her faith.
After her son dies and she requests a donkey from her husband to go visit the prophet, her husband points out that there is no religious celebration going on that would require her going to see him (2 Kings 4:23).
This detail suggests that they were devout in obeying God and keeping the Jewish feast days as God had required.
The Shunammite woman recognized that Elisha was a prophet of the God of heaven. For her, his presence represented the presence of God. Therefore, she extended to him all the love and care she would afford.
When her very young son met his sudden and untimely death, she turned to Elisha for help.
Believing him to be a prophet of God, her faith allowed her not to leave his side as he slowly made his way to her home to minister to her dead son. This should not be taken for granted.
The Shunammite woman was humble and content
To attempt to reward her for her kindness, Elisha offered to speak to the king on her behalf. But her reply was ““I have a home among my own people.” (2 Kings 4:13).
Her response to Elisha is important.
The Shunamite woman and her husband could afford to live closer to the king. By virtue of their wealth, they were in the upper class.
Usually, people of their social status would not live out in the country. But, she was content with what her life had to offer her.
She had no interest in the society lifestyle.
She was childless and distressed about her barrenness
Although she was wealthy, she was not able to give her husband an heir for all that they owned. This caused her great distress.
When Elisha told her she would give birth to a son in one year’s time, notice her response:
“No, my lord!” she objected. “Please, man of God, don’t mislead your servant!” (2 Kings 4:16).
She felt that Elisha was trying to get her hopes up by deceiving her. It would appear that she had already given up on any hope of ever getting pregnant.
Her husband was old. They had their wealth. And they made themselves comfortable with the idea of being childless.
The Shunammite woman had great faith
When her son died, the Shunammite woman did some unusual things.
First, she took his body to Elisha’s room. This was her way of preparing for his resurrection, not his burial.
Taking the body of her son to Elisha’s room went against the common Jewish practice for treating a corpse. Her home and herself would have become ceremonially unclean according to the laws (Numbers 19:14 – 15).
But her faith was so strong that she believed that God could work through Elisha to bring her son back to life. After all, her dead womb had produced a baby.
Secondly, she does not tell her husband about the death. You would think that such a loss would cause her to fall apart in clear view of her husband. But she does not.
In fact, she held it together so very well that her husband had no clue their miracle child had died.
She does not fall apart until she gets into the presence of Elisha, the one person she knew could do something about her situation.
The Shunammite woman was obedient
Another evidence of her devoted faithfulness to God is her obedience. Because of the apostasy in Israel, God planned to send a famine to the land.
God revealed this to Elisha. Because of the relationship they had come to share, Elisha told the Shunammite woman to leave her home and land and move to Philistine country.
She obeyed Elisha’s instructions. She did not seek to hold on to her wealth or lifestyle. She just believed the word given to her and took action in alignment with those words.
Her obedience would be rewarded. (More on this later)
Lessons from the Shunammite woman in the bible
Lesson #1: Hold on to your faith no matter what
The faith of the Shunammite woman was shining in a world that was evil and dark. All around her, people were worshipping Baal and doing all kinds of things that did not please God.
Yet, each year she observed the feasts as God commanded and each weekend she observed the Sabbath.
Her home had a wonderful spiritual atmosphere or the prophet Elisha would not have found her place comfortable.
Between her and her husband, they kept their spiritual flag flying high. We can take a page from their book.
No matter how dark things get in this earth, we must depend on God to help keep us afloat spiritually. We cannot sink into spiritual darkness because of all that is going on around us.
Let’s keep shining for our God. Keep hope and faith alive in her home and community!
Lesson #2: Be kind and hospitable
We have come to a time in our world where hospitality is associated more with hotels than with the fellowship of believers.
Yes, we must be careful because the days are evil. We have to be vigilant about those we allow into our space.
Which is why we also need to pray for the Holy Spirit’s power of discernment so that we will know who is safe to entertain in our home.
The Shunammite woman opened her home to someone in need.
That said, we are robbing ourselves of many blessings by our choice to close ourselves off from others, particularly those in the household of faith. Selfishness has few, if any, positive rewards.
Scripture commands: Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 1 Peter 4:9
God still expects us to help those who are in need, especially those who have given up regular life for the purpose of the Gospel.
How can you offer help to a gospel worker today?
Lesson #3: God rewards kindness with unforeseen blessings
The Shunamite woman responded to the movement of the Holy Spirit on heart. She extended kindness to Elisha in the form of hospitality. Although she was well-to-do, she could have chosen not to do so.
But she did.
Her reward? A huge surprise.
She had fully expected to never become a mother. But her obedience in being kind brought her a blessing she had stopped imagining.
Like the midwives in Egypt who received families as a reward for not killing the Hebrew babies, the Shunammite woman received the gift of motherhood.
And look…she received a son!
To an Israelite woman, one son was better than 10 daughters. You see, a son meant that her husband’s lineage could continue.
It also meant that he now had an heir who would be able to work the land and continue building on generational wealth.
Never think twice about extending kindness to someone. God has a very special blessing in store for you.
The blessing might just knock your socks off and blow your mind! Because that’s just the way our Father is.
Lesson #4: Go straight to God when you are in a crisis
When the son of the Shunammite woman dies, she does not tell her husband. She immediately gets ready to go to Elisha’s house.
When she is nearing Elisha’s home, he sees her in the distance and sends Gehazi to find out what is wrong. She does not tell him a thing either.
In fact, she tells both her husband and Gehazi that all is well!
She bypasses them both and goes straight to God’s representative. That’s when she becomes vulnerable. The woman falls down and holds on to his feet, an act of great need and desperation.
Do you find yourself in crisis?
Go straight to God. Be open and vulnerable to Him. Pour out your heart and soul to the one who only can solve your problem.
And just like this woman would not leave until Elisha went with her to her house, don’t let up until God has visited you in a miraculous way.
Lesson #5: God orchestrates the pieces for those who are obedient
When famine was about to strike, Elisha helped the Shunammite woman by revealing to her what was coming upon the land. He instructed her to leave and go to the Philistine country.
She was obedient. No doubt, her life was saved because of her obedience.
When she returned after 7 years, her land had been possessed by someone else. Just at the moment when King Joram was listening to the works of Elisha being recounted by Gehazi, the Shunammite woman showed up with her son just when her story was being told.
What are the odds!
The very story that the king was listening to materialized in front of him. Evidence of the miracle was standing right there in the form of the son of the woman.
Right then and there, the king ordered that her land be restored to her. And not just that.
All the monies that had been earned from the land was also to be given back to her by order of the king.
Imagine, she did not have to start over from scratch. Now she had so much to survive on until things picked up.
Her life did not skip a beat. Because of her obedience, God orchestrated all the pieces so she could be taken care of.
There is power in obedience to God. There is blessing when we live in alignment with the will and wisdom of God.
Are you considering whether it will be worth it to trust God and be obedient to Him?
This story is clear. There is nothing to lose when we follow the voice of God.
Lesson #6: God has a personal concern for his daughters
The prophet Elisha in this story is a representation of Christ. In his treatment of the Shunammite woman, we see God’s concern for his daughters.
On the surface, the Shunammite woman wanted for nothing. All her needs were met. She had a lovely home. A loving husband. Business was booming.
She had it made…Or so it appeared.
But there was one thing that her yearning heart needed.
She had probably stopped talking about it because it had become clear to her that it was no longer possible.
But her loving heavenly Father saw her wounded heart and through Elisha he gave her the one thing that her heart longed for.
God is concerned about what concerns you. Whether massive or minute, God cares.
What is the significance of the Shunammite woman?
The story of the Shunammite woman illustrates how much God cares for people, more specifically, women.
You see, in those days, women were little more than animals. Owned like cattle and treated likewise.
It was not just in the New Testament that Jesus revolutionized perspectives of women and womanhood.
This Old Testament story in which Elisha represents Jesus shows us the tender compassion and intimate love that Jesus has for his daughters.
He will meet all her needs, heal her broken heart, work miracles in her life, and save her from death and destruction.
Prayer points from the Shunammite woman in the bible
Here are a few prayer points to consider:
That God will lead you to someone, especially a person in your church or neighborhood, who has a need that you can meet.
That God will help you to keep your faith strong and bright as you move through this dark world.
That God will empower you to be obedient to His biddings without questioning.
Final words on Elisha and the Shunammite woman in the bible
I hope you have been encouraged by this study on the Shunammite woman. To extend this study, find a sermon on her life and listen to it on a walk or drive.
Know that you are loved by God. He sees you. He wants to have an intimate walk with you just like He did with this woman.
God has miracles in store for you. But you must keep the faith, keep being obedient, and keep being kind to those in need.