Monday, May 20, 2019

Sell the Oil

Prophets in the Old Testament seem to have a thing for finding widows, and it happens again in 2 Kings 4. And again, the story centers around oil.

Here, we have Elisha come upon a widow who is down to her last little bit, the same way that Elijah had not long ago. And he tells the widow to find herself a bunch of jars, as many jars as she can find, as many as her neighbors are willing to give to her. Go, ask everyone for jars until there's not one more jar that she can find anywhere to have or to borrow or whatever. And then, he says, shut the door and start pouring your little bit of oil into the jars. 

She does this, and by God's good grace, every jar is filled up with oil. Filled to the brim. Overflowing. She's got more oil than she knows what to do with. And that's...well, that's something. 

But the widow doesn't know what it is, so she goes back to the prophet to ask what to do next, now that she has all of the jars and all of the jars are full.

It seems rather obvious to most of us, doesn't it? She doesn't probably have a personal use for so much oil. There's only so much you can do with oil if you don't have any of the other ingredients needed to make anything of nutritious value. It's a raw ingredient, not a finished product. And having oil won't really provide for her family the way that she needs to...unless she sells it.

Apparently, though, that thought didn't cross her mind. Nowhere do we see her pouring oil and thinking out loud, "Gosh, what a great abundance of oil. I could sell this for a pretty penny!" Rather, she just pours the oil and then goes back to the prophet and says, "What next?"

He tells her what seems so obvious to us - now, sell it. 

But how often are we guilty of missing this crucial second step? How often are we guilty of going ahead with what seems right and obvious instead of asking what's next in God's plan? 

God often gives us something to go on, a new direction to turn, a next step to take. We often get a glimpse of where we might be going, and so often, we are a people who move impulsively after the first "yes." God says one thing, and then we fill in the blanks and take off running toward what seems obvious.

What, though, if it's not? 

What if the prophet had said something else? What if the plan wasn't to sell the oil? What if what seems obvious only seems so because it's all we can think of, the best we can imagine, the product of our own limited perspective? What if there's something we can't see, something we have to ask God about? 

What if it's not always so simple?

Maybe it is. Maybe it really is that simple. Maybe the obvious thing is also the right thing. But the point is that we don't know - not for sure - until we ask. And most of us aren't asking. 

What if we did?

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