Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith. (Habakkuk 2:4)
Those who subject themselves to circumstances criticize those who live by faith, assuming a false pride in their own determination to react to whatever life may throw their way. Their pride forces them to deny that, for the most part, circumstances usually fail to land in their favor, and when circumstances favor them, they behave as if they had something to do with it.
On Father’s Day I wrote about my Dad, and how I learned to trust in God from him. The writer of the book of Hebrews says, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). The Greek word translated “substance” is hupostasis, a compound word meaning “under” (hupo) “support” (stasis). “Stasis” in English is a state of equilibrium where things are consistent and unchanging. Faith, then, is immovable, and it is not “blind.” It is the “evidence of things not seen.” The Greek word translated “evidence” is elegchos meaning “proof.”
Well, how can one prove what cannot be seen? One way is experience. As I tried to relate in last week’s article, God showed Himself faithful in providing for our family in times of serious need.
In reading my Bible this past week, I once again came upon the account of the Shunammite in 2 Kings 4:8-37. According to the account, Elisha the prophet often passed through the town of Shunem on his way to and from Mt. Carmel. A certain woman there (we are not told her name) would invite him to stay in her home and would prepare a meal for him. Recognizing that he as “a man of God,” she suggested to her husband that they should build a room for the prophet to stay in as he traveled back and forth. This they did and Elisha, wishing to repay the kindness, asked what he could do for her. She refused to make a request, but Elisha still wished to bless her in some way. He consulted with his assistant, Gehazi, to see if there was any need that might be met. Gehazi noticed that the couple had no children, so Elisha had Gehazi called her. “And he said, About this season, according to the time of life, thou shalt embrace a son” (2 Kings 4:16). Now, the Bible says that she was a “great woman” (v. 8). The Hebrew word there is gâdôl which can also be translated “older.” On top of that, Gehazi, reported that “her husband is old” (v. 14) – Hebrew word zâqên meaning “elderly.” Not surprisingly, she responded, “Nay, my lord, thou man of God, do not lie unto thine handmaid” (v. 16). Despite her misgivings, her faith was rewarded, and she delivered a boy the following year as promised by the prophet.
Life continued as normal for the family of three, and then one day as the boy, now a young teenager, helped his father in the field, he started complaining of a headache (v. 19) and was taken home to his mother. As she cared for him, the boy eventually died the same day (v. 20). The narrative gives no sign of panic on her part. Instead, she carried him up to the prophet’s chamber and laid him on the prophet’s bed (v. 21). Then she made arrangements to go get Elisha. Even though her son was dead, she knew that the prophet could make things right; “And she said, It shall be well” (v. 23). Elisha recognized her as she approached his abode at Mr. Carmel, and dispatched Gehazi inquire as to her wellbeing. To all of his questions she replied, “It is well” (v. 26), but when she came to Elisha, her desperation came through. “And when she came to the man of God to the hill, she caught him by the feet: but Gehazi came near to thrust her away. And the man of God said, Let her alone; for her soul is vexed within her: and the LORD hath hid it from me, and hath not told me. Then she said, Did I desire a son of my lord? did I not say, Do not deceive me?” (2 Kings 4:27-28, emphasis mine). She had not abandoned hope. Her faith was intact. Her question was not one of doubt, but rather one of reminder that a promise had been made by the man of God, speaking for God, and God is faithful to His promise.
Elisha dispatched Gehazi with his staff and with instructions to place the staff on the boy’s body. The commentator, Matthew Henry, suggests that “He wished to teach the Shunammite, who obviously placed too great dependence upon him, a memorable lesson to look to God. By sending his servant forward to lay his staff on the child, he raised [the Shunammite’s] expectations, but, at the same time, taught her that his own help was unavailing.” Laying the staff on the boy’s body had no effect. When Elisha and the Shunammite woman arrived, the boy was still dead (v.32). What follows has been interpreted by some as mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but that is a silly notion considering that the boy had been in that condition for at least 24 hours and perhaps more. The Bible says that Elisha “went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands: and he stretched himself upon the child; and the flesh of the child waxed warm. Then he returned, and walked in the house to and fro; and went up, and stretched himself upon him: and the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes” (2 Kings 4:34-35). Anyone knowing CPR knows that, given the condition described in the Bible, CPR would have been ineffective. The Bible definitively states that they boy was dead (vv. 20, 32). The boy was resurrected, not resuscitated and the Shunammite woman’s faith was confirmed.
This is not the last we hear about this woman. In 2 Kings 8:1-6 she reappears. This time Elisha warns her of a seven-year famine coming to the land where she lived. He instructs her simply to leave that place and “and sojourn wheresoever thou canst sojourn. And the woman arose, and did after the saying of the man of God: and she went with her household, and sojourned in the land of the Philistines seven years.” (2 Kings 8:1-2). At the end of seven years she returned to find that apparently her land had been unlawfully taken. She took her complaint before the king of Israel, and it happened that Gehazi was conversing with the king relating the account of the Shunammite’s son when the woman came before the king. “And when the king asked the woman, she told him. So the king appointed unto her a certain officer, saying, Restore all that was hers, and all the fruits of the field since the day that she left the land, even until now” (2 Kings 8:6).
In both of these instances, the Shunammite woman had no way of knowing what the future held, but she trusted in the unseen evidence of God’s Word for her provision. Some may read this biblical account and say, “That’s just a Bible story,” but I have witnessed God’s hand in and throughout all of my life and in the life of my family as I was growing up. One somewhat recent confirmation happened about 24 years ago when my wife June and I purchased our first home together. We did not have a lot of money to put down on a home, and I had a bankruptcy on my record resulting from a divorce; so our options were very limited. We started looking at HUD repossessions, and to make a long story short, bid on a house which was outside of our desired price range. As a result, we made a low offer, and, to our amazement, God gave us the house with the low bid. We scheduled to close on the house on August 15, 1991, and on August 8, 1991, I was laid off from my job. June and I were faced with a faith challenge. Should we back out of the deal? That was a viable and honorable option. Or, should we trust in God’s provision? We decided that since God worked it out for us to win the bid, surely He would provide for the rest of it. We went through with the closure. The house needed some work – part of the deal included the “as is” condition of the house. We had to be out of our apartment by September 1, so I had plenty of free time to get the house ready. In the mean time I made one phone call that landed me a job in Dallas starting the first of September. We completed the work needed on the house, moved in, and I started work right after that. Friends, I do not believe in luck. That was all God.
I realize that the faith examples I have given here may seem a little on the materialistic side. They are not. These are all “needs” that God has met. Jesus said, “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26). God cares about our every need, and as we learn to trust Him in the little things, He will prove Himself faithful in the greater things. And if He provides our material needs, how much more will He provide for our spiritual needs! And if He is faithful to His promise for our material well being, how much more will He be faithful to keep all of His Word?
Faith is the evidence of things unseen. Even when faith makes no sense, we can trust God because He has a proven track record – He has always been faithful.