Chapter 14 – The Pot of Oil

“Tell me: what hast thou in the house? And she said, Thine handmaid hath not anything in the house, save a pot of oil. Then he said, Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbors, even empty vessels; borrow not a few. And when thou art come in, thou shalt shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons, and shalt pour out into all those vessels, and thou shalt set aside all that which is full. So she went from him, and shut the door upon her and upon her sons, who brought the vessels to her; and she poured out. And it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said into her son, Bring me yet a vessel: and he said unto her, there is not a vessel more. And the oil stayed. Then she came and told the man of God: and he said, Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt, and live thou and thy children upon the rest.” 2Kings 4: 2-7.

The events of Elisha’s life are more like those of the life of Christ than are any others in the Old Testament. Just as Elijah represented the Spirit of the Lord and the ministry of John the Baptist, a ministry of judgment and fire, so Elisha represented the ministry of Jesus Christ in its gentleness, benignity and grace; and very many of his beautiful miracles are distinctly parallel to the miracles of our Lord, while they preach the same lesson and breathe the same spirit of love and graciousness.

The passage before us is a striking object lesson of the Holy Ghost in His all-sufficiency for the supplying it every source of need.

1. HER NEED. First, we have, in the case of this poor widow, an example of great need. Her situation was one of debt, danger, distress, and of complete helplessness. She had no one to go to but God, and, unless delivered by Him, her situation must have become one of the greatest extremity. It represents the very worst and most helpless state in which a child of God can be found. But such a situation is often the greatest blessing that can come to us, because it throws us upon God, and compels us to trust in the all-sufficiency of His grace.

Nearly all the great examples of faith and victorious grace which we find in the Scriptures came out of situations of extremity and distress. God loves hard places, and faith is usually born of danger and extremity.

It was thus that Jacob was transformed from Jacob to Israel in the conflict at Peniel. It was thus that Israel was awakened to claim the great redemption from the bondage of Egypt, by the doubling of the tale of brick and by the heated furnace of iron. It was thus that David learned to know his God, and was able to testify, “Thou hast known my soul in adversity.” Let us not be discouraged by difficulties, nor regard them as always misfortunes; but rather let us receive them as challenges to our faith and opportunities given to us by our God to show that there is nothing too hard for Him.

2. HER RESOURCES. Was there, then, nothing left for her? Was she entirely without resources? “Tell me, what hast thou in the house?” And she answered, “Thy servant hath nothing, save a pot of oil.” To her that seemed nothing, and yet it contained the supply of all her need. God loves to utilize and economize all the resources which He has already given to us. Just as a master workman can do a great deal of excellent work with very common tools, so God can work with very simple instruments; but He wants us to utilize what He has already given. It was very little that Moses had, but that little rod was sufficient to divide the Red Sea and to break the power of Pharaoh. It was very little that the lad on the Galilean shore had that day; but his five loaves and two small fish were sufficient to feed the five thousand, when they were given to Jesus and placed at His service. Our least is enough for God, if we allow Him complete control.

But that little pot of oil was not a little thing. It represented the power of the Holy Ghost, the infinite attribute of God Himself.

We need not stop to prove that oil is the Scriptural symbol of the Holy Spirit. This little vessel of oil represented the presence and the power of the Spirit, which every believer may have, and in some measure does have, and which, if we only know how to use Him, is equal to every possible situation and need of our Christian life. But in how many cases is this an unrealized power and an unemployed force?

There is a grim story told of a poor Scotchwoman who went to her pastor in her extremity, and told him of her poverty. He kindly asked her if she had no friend nor member of her family who could support or help her. She said she had a son, a bonny lad, but he was in India, in the service of the government. “But does he not write to you?” “Oh, yes; he often writes me, and sends the kindest letters, and such pretty pictures in them. But I am too proud to tell him how poor I am, and, of course, I have not expected him to send me money.” “Would you mind showing me some of the pictures?” said the minister. And so Janet went to her Bible, and brought out from between the leaves a great number of Bank of England notes, laid away with the greatest care. “These,” she said, “are the pictures.” The minister smiled, and said, “Janet, you are richer than I am. These are bank notes; and every one of them might have been turned into money, and you might have had all your needs supplied. You have had a fortune in your Bible without knowing it.”

Alas, beloved, many of us have fortunes in our Bibles without knowing it, or without using our infinite resources. The Holy Spirit is given to us to be used for every sort of need; and yet, with all the power of heaven at our call, many of us are going about in starvation, simply because we do not know our treasure, and do not use our redemption rights. “Know ye not,” the apostle asks us, “that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost?” If we but use the power that is given within our breast, behind the name of Jesus and the promises of God, we would fail no more, we would fear no more, we would no more be a reflection upon our Savior and a dishonor to His name, as well as a discouragement to the world, but we would rise up into victory, and cry, “Thanks be to God, who always causeth us to triumph, in Christ.”

What is the difference between Japan and China today? It is this: while Japan has learned the secrets of modern progress, and is using them in still victorious warfare, China does not know what other races have learned. What is the difference between our age and the age of our grandfather? It is simply that we have learned from nature. We are using the great secrets of steam, electricity, and the various appliances of practical science in all our industrial life, so that one man can do today what it took twenty to do in the days of our fathers. The business man can sit in his office and annihilate both space and time as he talks through his telephone to the most distant parts of the land, and through his phonograph into the ears of the coming generation.

What was the matter with Hagar in her bitter sorrow? Nothing but this; she could not see the fountain that lay so near, she and her child were perishing with thirst. There was no need that the angel should create a fountain; he needed only to open Hagar’s eyes and let her see it and drink of it.

There was no need that God should make a spring of sweetness at Marah’s waters; all that was needed was to show to Moses the branch of healing that was already there. As he plunged it into the waters the people were healed.

There was no need that an army of angels should come to the help of Elisha on the mountainside. The angels were already there; all that was needed was that the eyes of Elisha’s servant might be opened to the heavenly army that surrounded and defended them. In like manner the fountain of life is waiting for us to drink; the waters and the branch of healing are at hand, the angelic army are all around us. All we need is to see them, to know that they are there, to realize our redemption rights, and then to claim them and triumph in His name. God is saying to us, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come.” Christ has appeared, the Holy Ghost has come, and all that we need to do is to know and receive and use the great divine commission.

3. THE CONDITIONS OF RECEIVING AND REALIZING DIVINE HELP. First, she, the woman, was directed to make room. She must get vessels, empty vessels, to hold the supply which was about to be revealed. Our greatest need is to make room for God. Indeed, God has to make room for Himself by creating new vessels of need. Every trial that comes to us is but a need for Him to fill and an opportunity for Him to show what He can be to us and do for us. But it is not enough to have need; we must also have empties. We must realize our needs, and we must realize that He alone can supply them. We must be emptied of self-consciousness and dependence upon man; and as we lie fully at His feet, He will prove

“How wise, how strong His hand.”

Again, there must be faith to count upon God and go forward expecting Him to meet our needs. This woman did not wait till the oil was running over from her little pot; but providing the vessels in advance, she acted as though she had an unbounded supply. So it was that the disciples had to go forward to feed the multitude with their five loaves and two fish, and had to count upon the supply which had not yet appeared. We must anticipate God’s fulfillment and trust Him sufficiently to pay in advance; then He will make good our expectations in His glorious and ever-flowing grace.

Again, we must have not only faith, but unselfish love. These were borrowed vessels. The needs were not all her own; and, no doubt, as the vessels went home they did not go home empty. God loves to give to us when we are, like God, receiving that we may give to others.

The most blessed thing about the blessed God must be this, that He has no needs of His own; but that He is always giving, always blessing, and always seeking some new channel through which to bless and to pour out the fullness of His life. If we would receive that fullness, we, God-like, must be great givers. The secret of joy is to want nothing for ourselves, to be rich in dispensing His grace and blessing, to live for others, and to be ever filling the vessels of need from the world around us with the overflowing of His heart and of ours. The beauty of the parable of the friend at midnight lies chiefly in this, that he wanted the loaves from his friend that he might give them to another that was in need. Likewise, when we come for grace and help to the helpless, we shall find that God will open the windows of heaven and pour us out a blessing until there shall not be room to receive it.

Again, the woman’s faith was necessary. She must show it by beginning to pour out the contents of the little pot into the larger vessel. As she poured, the oil continued to flow and overflow until every vessel was filled, and it might have been flowing still if there had been room enough to hold its multiplying stream.

So faith must go forward and act out its confidence and risk itself by doing something and putting itself into the place where God must meet it with actual help. It was when the water at Cana was poured out that it became wine. It was when the man stretched out his hand that it was healed. It was as the lepers went on their way that they were made whole. It was as the father went back to his home that the messenger was sent to tell him that his son was alive.

There is a beautiful expression in Hebrews, to the effect that the ancient fathers were persuaded of the promises and “embraced them,” or rather as the new version translates it “ran to meet them.” Let us run to meet the promises of God. Let us measure up to them. Let us act our confidence, and God will meet us more than halfway with His faithfulness and grace.

There is yet another lesson, the most important of all: “Go, sell the oil, . . . and live thou and thy children of the rest.” The oil was but the representative value, and was convertible into everything that she could need. It, was equivalent to currency, food, houses, clothes, lands, anything and everything that possessed value and could meet her need. Thus is the Holy Ghost convertible into everything that we can require.

There are parallel passages in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke which teach a great lesson. In the one passage it reads, “if ye then being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children; how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” In the parallel passage in the other Gospel, instead of the Holy Spirit, it reads, “Give good things to them that ask him.” That is to say, the Holy Ghost gives all good things, and He is equivalent to anything and everything that we need. Do we need salvation? He will lead us to Christ, and bring us to witness of our acceptance. Do we need peace? He will bring into our hearts the peace of God. Do we need purity? He will sanctify us and “cause us to walk in His statutes, and keep His judgments to do them.” Do we need strength? He is the Spirit of power. Do we need light? He is the Teacher and Counselor and Guide. Do we need faith? He is the Spirit of faith. Or love? By Him “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts.” Would we pray and have our prayer answered? “The Spirit itself maketh intercession within us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” Do we need health? He will quicken our mortal bodies by the Spirit that dwelleth in us. Do we need courage? He will give us faith, faith that shall claim the supply of all our needs by believing prayer. Do we need circumstances changed by the mighty workings of God’s providence? He is the Spirit of power. The hearts of men are in His hands and He can turn them as the rivers of water, and make all things work together for good to them that love God.

He is the Almighty Spirit, the Great Executive of the Godhead, and with Him in our hearts, God can do exceeding abundantly for us “according to the power that worketh in us.”

Oh, let us use the Holy Ghost, not merely for spells of emotional feeling or what we call spiritual experience, but in the whole circle of our life as the Executor of God, the all-sufficient Leader of our victorious faith!

There is yet another lesson taught us here; namely, that we may increase and multiply the effectiveness of the Spirit of God in our lives, by wisely using the power and grace He gives us.

The idea of trading with our spiritual gifts is brought out more fully in the New Testament in the great parable of the pounds, where the one pound that represented, no doubt, the gift of the Holy Ghost, is increased to ten by wise and profitable use. So we can take the Holy Ghost, and as we obey Him and learn to use Him, and become subject to the great laws which regulate His operations, we shall find that there is scarcely a limit to the extent of His working and the sufficiency of His power. All that is needed is room, opportunity, vessels of need, and faith to go forward in dependence upon Him.

The oil did not stop until the woman stopped; God was still working when her faith reached its limit. The same God is working still, and our faith will stop long before His willingness and His resources are exhausted. Shall we trust more boldly? Shall we recognize every difficulty, every situation which conveys an opportunity of proving Him yet more gloriously; and shall we go on from strength to strength until every adversary has been subjected and compelled to help us, till every mountain of difficulty has become a mountain of praise, and every hard place in life a vessel into which God may pour the overflowing fullness of His all-sufficiency?

Beloved, as we step out into the future, shall we forget the experiences we have had and press on to higher and greater? Shall we leave the vessels that have been satisfied, and bring new vessels for him to fill? Shall we forget the blessings we have had from the Holy Ghost, and think rather of those we have not yet had? And shall we go on to prove His mighty promise, “I will open the windows of heaven and pour you out a blessing until there shall not be room enough to receive it”?