Behind Closed Doors
“What should I do then, mem?”
“Go your way, laddie … and say your prayers.”
—The Fisherman's Lady, by George MacDonald
There was “a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets,” one anonymous, unremarkable woman who became the victim of circumstances beyond her control (2 Kings 4:1-7).
The woman’s story is one of accumulated grief: her husband died and left her destitute and deeply in debt; then her creditors came knocking at her door, demanding that she pay up, or sell her two sons into slavery to compensate them.
Immediately, and with sound wisdom, she went to Elisha, the embodiment of God’s presence in the land. She cried out, “Your servant my husband is dead; and you know that your servant feared the Lord, but the creditor has come to take my two children to be his slaves.”
Elisha said to the woman, “Go outside, borrow vessels of all your neighbors, empty vessels and not too few. Then go in, and shut the door upon yourself and your sons, and pour into all these vessels; and when one is full, set it aside.”
When I first read the prophet’s words, “shut the door” I thought of Jesus’ words, “When you pray, go into your room, shut the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matthew 6:6). [This room is not a “closet,” but “a room in the interior of a house, normally without doors and windows opening to the outside.”
Nothing is said about prayer in the Old Testament account, but it’s significant to me that Jesus’ phrase, translated “shut the door,” corresponds roughly to the Greek translation of this Old Testament text, the version Jesus himself read and frequently quoted. [The only difference is that the Septuagint (Greek) translation of 2 Kings 4:4 uses an intensified form of the verb and puts it in the future tense: apokleiseis tân thuran (You shall shut the door tight!). Jesus’ uses the simple form of the same verb and states the action as participle, kleisas tân thuran (“having shut the door…”). ] Could it be that Jesus had this story in mind?
And so, as the story goes, Elisha directed the widow to “shut the door upon herself and her sons; and as she poured they brought the vessels to her. When the vessels were full, she said to her son, ‘Bring me another vessel.’ And he said to her, ‘There is not another.’ And the oil stopped flowing.” Then the widow sold the oil, paid off her debts, and lived on the remainder.
Elisha could have met this woman’s need directly, perhaps through a miracle. Instead he gave her a greater gift: he taught her to bring every need to the One who gives “grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). He gave her the gift of a lifetime: he taught her to pray. There is no greater service to others.
That’s why I pray with people. I pray with parents who grieve over their children. I pray with couples whose marriages are disintegrating. I’m powerless to “fix” things, but I can pray.
In so doing I accomplish two purposes: I pray for them, thereby bringing them to the only source of help I know.
And I have taught them to pray.