I am courageous: the woman with the jar of oil

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Written By Gwen Mlondobozi

Tragedy struck. Her husband died, and she was left with nothing… so it seemed. What actually happened was that she had lost her husband, he had left her with debts to repay, the threat of her children being taken away from her, and the need for her to fend for herself. The world she lived in was different from the one we live in today. In that day, to settle a debt, your creditor could take your children and then still seize and sell off your possessions to pay off your debt. However, this woman was well past that point; she was at a crisis.

2 Kings 4:1-7 (NIV)

‘The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.”

Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?”

“Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.”

Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbours for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.”

She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her, and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another one.”

But he replied, “There is not a jar left.” Then the oil stopped flowing. She went and told the man of God, and he said, “Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.”’

So let us take a moment and walk in her shoes. Her husband - a God-fearing man - has just died, she is busy picking up the pieces of her shattered world. There are children to care for and debts to pay, and she is not getting by; she is not making it. Now, the creditors are threatening to take her children. Desperation has gripped her. The grief of losing her husband, the worry of what could become of her children, the fear that must’ve gripped her heart - I cannot fully understand the lack of peace in her life. I don’t think she was sleeping, she probably hardly ate, and she must have looked a mess! Yet it is this woman that had the courage to go to the prophet Elisha, because as bad as it was, she did not choose to have her pain and suffering be the end of her and her family.

I cannot tell you how many pity parties I have thrown. I have allowed things to happen to me when I could have spoken up, asked for help, or just kept going forward. Instead, I gave up and let my situation have the best of me. In hindsight, I realise that I could have done more, but perhaps I chose not to. It was pride, pain, shame, and maybe a little fear too. Yet today the sun rose again, and His mercies are new, and I have another shot at choosing NOT to give up. And I think you do too.

I have read and heard this story countless times. I’d always seen the provision and I’d always seen a miracle, but what I’d never seen before was courage. To go and ask for help when you are in a rut or a pickle is difficult. We don’t want to inconvenience the helper; we don’t want people to know our worries, inadequacies, and pain; we don’t want to admit that we cannot do it alone. So what do we do? What is the alternative? Imagine what would have become of the widow had she not spoken up? 

It takes courage to ask for help and maybe we should do it more. You could get a ‘no’ and a closed door, but you could get the strangest life-changing response: ‘Go around and ask all your neighbours for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.’

Those weird and crazy answers are where the miracles lie. So often, God uses other people to answer our prayers. We live in a community and most often, that is where God’s provision lies; amongst each other. In His grand design, he uses me to help you and you to help me, then us to help them and them to help us. 

What would be amiss of us is to forget that He did promise to be with us; the cloud above us the pillar of fire ahead of us. God was with the widow who had only a jar of olive oil, and he used her courage.

Deuteronomy 31:6 (NIV)

‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.’

So remember, dear one, courage is scary. So what... do it anyway? Maybe it’s time you asked for help.

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