The story about Elisha and the widow and the oil is filled with lessons about finances and faith. This story is different from the story of Elijah with the widow and the oil and flour. That story is about the widow of Zarephath. In this post, we will deal with the case of the miracle of the multiplying oil. Let’s jump in!
Elisha and the widow’s oil Bible verse
The story of Elisha and the widow’s oil is found in 2 Kings 4:1-7.
Where does the story of the widow with the oil take place?
is a different story from this. If you landed here, you may be looking for the story of the Widow of Zarephath.
Scripture does not reveal exactly where these events take place. However, there are a few details we can use to make an informed guess.
First, the widow was the wife of a prophet. This means that they likely lived in one of the cities where a school of the prophet was located.
Three such places are Gilgal, Bethel, or Jericho.
Who was the widow who went to Elisha?
The widow was the wife of a prophet’s son. Kind of like being married to the son of your pastor. Jewish sources say she was the widow of the prophet Obadiah who worked for Ahab.
Now, there are a few other things to know as you study the story.
First, she was a widow. Throughout the Bible widows hold a special place in God’s heart. They are counted among orphans. Widows were among the most vulnerable people in society.
Without a husband to cover and defend her, a widow was at the mercy of people she had to interact with. Quite often they were abused and mistreated especially by those with influence and power.
She was facing another problem. Not only did she lose her husband but now she was facing losing her two children, children who were sons, not daughters.
This is important.
You see, at that time, having sons was as good as having a husband. In a patriarchal society, a boy was worth more than 10 girls.
Boys meant a built-in workforce for the family. It meant the continuing of the family name. And to a widow it meant insurance against abuse from society. It meant having someone to care for her, to cover her, to defend her.
But, now she was about to lose them along with all the benefits that come with being a widowed mother of boys.
What does the oil represent in 2 Kings 4?
Oil representing the Holy Spirit is the most popular conclusion. But oil in the Bible represents a lot more.
Oil is central to the story of Elisha and the widow. To go deeper and get the richness of it, we need to learn about The significance of oil in Old Testament times.
To understand what oil means in 2 Kings 4, we have to understand the importance of oil to the people back then.
The Hebrew word for oil in is semen (pronounced shehmen). It means fat.
Oil, especially olive oil, had a number of different uses. In fact, olive oil was considered liquid gold.
It was used as a form of currency to pay for goods and services. If properly produced, olive oil could be kept for years without going bad. This explains why Elisha told the widow that after she sold enough oil to pay her debt, she could live off the rest.
Olive oil was also used as a beauty product, as medicine, as a part of religious services like consecrating officials, and to prepare bodies for burial.
Learning this helps us realize that this woman had really come into some serious money with an olive oil business. (More on this later.
Oil in 2 King 4 in a literal sense represents prosperity, wealth, richness, fruitfulness, abundance, and all wonderful things needed for a good life.
Spiritually, it could be a symbol of the richness of God, His abundance, His fruitfulness.
Figuratively, it could definitely represent the Holy Spirit but that is not the primary meaning this particular story.
What can we learn from the widow with the oil?
The story of Elisha multiplying the widow’s oil is overflowing with practical life lessons related to both finances and faith. We could not possibly cover them all in this post.
Here is a quick summary lessons from the story of Elisha and the widow with the oil.
4 Financial lessons from the widow with the oil
- Financial status is fickle business.
- Debt is a cruel taskmaster that God can rescue you from.
- It is possible to get out of debt if you are willing to try.
- Women and wives should have a source of income
6 Faith lessons from the widow with the oil
- God doesn’t need much to solve your problem.
- God isn’t always into public miracles.
- Faith hardly ever makes sense.
- Faith requires your direct involvement.
- Faith requires your direct involvement.
- Faith and finances go together.
Let’s explore these lessons in more details.
H2 Financial lessons from the story of the widow and the oil
Lessons about money are all over the Bible. They are sometimes hidden in short stories like this one. What finances lessons can we draw from this widow’s experience?
Lesson #1 – Financial status is fickle business
Any financial guru will tell you that trying to keep up with the Joneses is bad for your financial health.
One reason is that financial status is fickle. And sometimes even the Joneses are not always what they seem.
This widow, having been the wife of a prophet who served the king, had seen better days.
Her position had allowed her to enjoy a life of ease and luxury. She didn’t know what it was to be in want or need.
Now, her husband was dead. We don’t know how she came to be in debt. It’s possible that the debt existed before her husband passed away. Or, she might have borrowed in order to take care of her children after his death.
Whatever the case, now she was dirt poor. Clearly her family and friends had not been helping her. She could neither pay her bills or buy food it seems.
She used to be one of the Joneses but now she wasn’t. And her family’s future was in serious danger.
Financial status is too fickle to build a life around. Falling into poverty happens to people everyday, especially nowadays.
Lesson #2 – Debt is a cruel taskmaster that God can rescue you from
In America, debt is a way of life. It seems impossible to not get into it and impossible to get out from under it.
The latest statistics say Americans currently have a whopping $986 billion worth of credit card debt.
This number almost made me start heaving. It is no wonder why a good percentage of people cannot sleep at night because of debt and other money issues.
As usual, the Bible is right:
The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender. Proverbs 22:7
This was literally the case of this widow.
Generations earlier, Moses had given laws to the Israelites after they left Egypt and was going in circles in the wilderness. These laws were to guide the way they lived in the promised land of Canaan.
According to those laws, creditors or lenders had the right to collect payment in the form of children sold to them as slaves.
When a man l sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. Exodus 21:7
You see, debt isn’t just your burden. It is a taskmaster that will eat your family alive. The most precious relationships in your life can be destroyed because of it.
Many of us have been taught that there is no other way. I do not embrace that.
I believe that debt is a means to an end. It is not an end itself. Why?
Deuteronomy 8:18 says:
But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth…
Plus, God promised:
…and you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow. Deuteronomy 28:12
Living in debt as a child of God does not have to be your reality. God can give you the wisdom and direction to get out from under it just like He did for the widow.
Read on to find out how.
Lesson #3 – It is possible to get out of debt if you are willing to try
There are many Christian women are have gotten out of debt and are working on getting out of debt. Both single and married.
God provided the means for this woman with a miracle. But she had a part to play in the process.
She had to position herself to receive the blessing by being willing to use the little she had and then going to borrow oil jars.
Positioning yourself might mean being a better steward of what you have. A paycheck, no matter how meager, is the place to start. If you’ve not learned how to use it, then an increase will land you in the same place.
Positioning yourself might mean being intentional about asking people you know to teach you about debt and money management. Dave Ramsey is a Christian who is a financial guru you can learn loads from.
Positioning yourself might mean trying to increase your income by starting a small side hustle or a business so you can sell some things like the widow did.
It might mean becoming a part of a community where you can set financial goals, get support and secure accountability for your financial makeover journal.
Whatever it is, get into position so you can get out of debt.
Lesson #4 – Women and wives should have a source of income
You would think that as believers we would have advanced beyond this discussion by now. Alas, we still fight the battle about whether women and wives should be out in the world building businesses and making money. But I will not labor this point.
Women are just as capable of managing their finances and wealth. God endorses it. The story of the Daughters of Zelophehad is one of the least popular in Scripture but it has powerful lessons about God’s heart towards women and wealth.
There are many other examples of women of wealth in the Bible.
Each of these women had sources of income because they ran their own business.
Especially if you’re married, having income is a must. Anything could happen to your spouse and your whole life will change in a blink.
The Proverbs 31 woman was married with children but she had multiple sources of income.
Here is a Bible-based reality:
…money is the answer to everything. Ecclesiastes 10:19 (AMP)
Money is important. Women should learn to make, spend, and manage it.
Faith lessons from the story of the widow and the oil
It is clear that God showed up in this story. What can we take away to apply to our practical faith walk?
Lesson #5 – God doesn’t need much to solve your problem
When Elisha asked the widow what she had at home, her response was:
Your servant has nothing in the house except a jar of oil.
Some Bible versions use the word pot instead of jar.
What do you picture when you hear the word jar or pot?
I assure you, whatever popped into your mind is nothing like what the widow said she had.
The Hebrew word for jar in this text really means flask. The vessel she had was very small. In fact, this vessel held enough oil to anoint a single person. It probably belonged to her husband since he was a prophet and did the work of anointing others.
She did not have a pot that you could use to cook a whole pound of rice or a 1 liter Mason jar filled to the brim with some liquid goodness. No, no.
It was a really small vessel. But, this was the vessel that Elisha instructed her to pour from. And this was the vessel that God used to fill the large vessels she borrowed from her neighbors.
Like the story of the loaves and fish, Jesus multiplied what was already in hand to solve the problem of hunger. You would be surprised what God can do with the little you have.
Whether it be a little money, a little faith, a little love. Give it to God. He’ll multiply it in ways that will shock you.
Lesson #6 – God isn’t always into public miracles
Notice in the story that Elisha told the woman to go into her house and shut her door before starting the process of pouring oil.
This would have been a grand opportunity to show the people around how mighty God is.
In this age of social media and search engines, the internet is overrun with all kinds of stories and testimonies.
Just go to YouTube and search for “How God gave me my house” or “How God paid my bills”.
I love testimonies. I believe that they help our faith in ways that just brighten what the Bible says about God.
The problem is, God doesn’t always want to be on display. There are some experiences that He wants to be just between you and Him.
When God works a miracle behind closed doors, it’s a way of building spiritual intimacy with you. And the world doesn’t need to know every detail of your relationship with God.
In this age of social media where openness and authenticity are praised, not everything needs to be shared.
Jesus performed many miracles in public. But there were times he didn’t. To save His life, Jesus told recipients of miracles to not tell anyone what He had done for them.
Some blessings are private. It is God’s business to work in private. As you make decisions about what testimonies to share, check in with God first.
Lesson #7 – Faith hardly ever makes sense
I truly wonder how this widow received Elisha’s instructions to pour oil from a tiny flask into large empty vessels.
Step into this story with me and imagine you were the widow. You have a jar the size of a one ounce essential oil bottle.
You have been asked to borrow as many one gallon sized jugs as possible. Then you are to pour your one ounce bottle into the gallon bottles.
Standing in that room surrounded by dozens of vessels with my one ounce vial in my hand…I would feel nothing but crazy. Ridiculous even.
There is nothing about this picture that makes any sense whatsoever.
But that’s the thing about faith. It doesn’t make sense. That’s why it’s faith
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 (ESV)
What made this widow follow Elisha’s crazy instructions?
Prophets in those days were extremely important to life among the Israelites. Prophets represented God. Receiving instruction from a prophet was very much taken as hearing from God himself.
This woman trusted God’s words that came through Elisha. As crazy as they were, she knew that if God said it, there was no way things would not work out.
God said it. She believed it.
Here is another reason it is perfectly fine to keep secret some things that God is working out in your life. Especially while it is happening in real time, close your door.
You share it with someone and before you know it people are looking at you like you need to be committed because they just don’t get your level of faith.
God’s instructions do not always make sense. Jesus, taking the 5 barley loaves and two fish, told the disciples to divide the approximately 15,000 people into groups.
Lunch that was hardly enough for a growing boy was about to be used to feed an amazing number of people.
His instructions to them didn’t make sense. But they trusted Jesus enough because they had seen Him work many miracles before.
Have you been through enough with God, to trust Him enough to do something so crazy it seems foolish?
Well, your rescue is on the other side of obeying those instructions that don’t make sense.
Which takes me to my next point.
Lesson #8 – Faith requires your direct involvement
In playing board games, everyone has a turn. Scrabble, Uno, dominoes. All these games require players waiting their turn to contribute to the game. The game will stall if someone refuses to play.
Faith is like that. Faith isn’t just theory living in your head. It’s practical. It’s action filled. It requires you to wait your turn and play your hand
Here’s what I mean.
Elisha gave this widow some instructions. God played His hand. Now, it was her turn to follow the instructions.
In faith, she needed to go get the vessels, pile them into her house, close her door, and pour into them from her small flask.
As she poured, it was God’s turn to play his hand by making the flow of oil non-stop. Then, it was her turn again to go back and tell Elisha of her obedience and the miracle.
When Elisha told her to go sell the oil, that was God’s turn again. Then her turn came around when she, again, needed to get up and go find customers who needed the oil and would buy it from her.
Faith is an interactive process between you and God. There is a part that you must play. Too often God is playing a game all by himself. He’s waiting for you to play what’s in your hand, no matter how small. He’s waiting for you to take the next step so he can make His next move.
If you choose to not do what you’re supposed to do, then what you seek will lay like a dormant seed in the ground getting no water. The fruit you are expecting from your faith will not materialize.
This is why it’s not sufficient to just pray. You need to get up and go do something towards what you are praying about.
Whatever you do, make sure it is based on God’s instruction just the way the widow followed Elisha’s instructions.
That way, you can be sure God will honor your show of faith.
Lesson #9 – Faith and finances go together
I don’t know why, but it seems many of us Christians have been raised to believe certain things about where faith and finances overlap.
As I said before, money is important and we all should learn about it.
It’s interesting that in solving the problem of the widow, Elisha directed her to start a business.
Elisha told her to “sell the oil”. That’s a business. That business came about because she allowed God to multiply the little she had until it grew into a considerable amount of product so that she could generate income towards her debt.
I said before that olive oil was liquid gold at the time. People had great need for it. She was bound to live comfortably at least. After clearing her debt, Elisha told her to live on the rest.
It could be some things in your literal house like clothing, shoes, books, gadgets, furniture all in good condition you have not worn or used in a very long time. Sell them on PoshMark, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist or some place like that.
That some thing might be a sellable skillset that you have like speaking, teaching, writing, painting, drawing. All these translate into money if you know what to do with them.
That something to sell might be something in the house of your mind and heart like a burning desire to work with young women, teenage boys, unwed mothers,…and this could go on.
What is that need you see that aligns with what you have? Do you have a solution for someone’s problem?
For the widow, there was a need for olive oil. God multiplied the little and made more than enough to cater to the needs of her neighbors. Imagine her packaging all that lovely olive green liquid gold and exchanging it for money.
You can package your solution in a printable, a book, a course, a workshop, a mentoring session. The options are endless.
If you allow God to work upon that small thing you have to offer, He will cause it to multiply until you can sell enough to relieve yourself of debt.
The Proverbs 31 woman was a business mogul.
Don’t sit in debt. Start the conversation with God. Start the business that God has placed in your spirit.
What is the main point of Elisha and the widow’s oil?
The crux of any Bible story is always about God. In this story, God shows up in the middle of human suffering to provide relief and release.
The widow was about to suffer the loss of her children after having suffered the loss of her spouse. Her financial suffering was great too.
That her relatives were not speaking up for her or helping her also tells us that she might have had some problems there too. As a widow, she was a social outcast. But God showed up.
Like this widow, we are all suffering because of sin. We owe an awful amount of debt that we cannot possibly pay.
But Jesus, like Elisha, comes in and saves us. Just like the woman cooperated with Elisha, we also need to cooperate with God in the rescue of our souls.
Jesus has done 99% of the work. It’s up to us to accept His instructions and live in obedience to His words.
Our lives will be saved and our family will be preserved just like the widow.
Final words on the widow and the oil
A successful faith journey is not easy. This widow was a woman of faith but her life had so much sorrow and difficulty. I do not want to sound cliche but in her story is the truth that faith does not make life easy; it just makes it possible to live that life of challenge.
Life throws so many curve balls at us. For this woman, I am certain she did not expect her husband to die nor did she imagine she would end up on the brink of losing her children.
For believers, it is such a relief to have a Savior who is not surprised by life’s curveballs. He is always ready and waiting with a solution. I pray for us that we will be quick to ask God for help and quicker to follow his instructions, no matter silly, to get us to a place of safety in our finances and our faith.