Over the last few years I have become somewhat of a Jewish history nerd. I seek Rabbinical literature and I even read excerpts from the Jewish Encyclopedia for crying out loud! All of this in my efforts to understand more about the Bible. There are incredible revelations that you can discover when you understand the context of the culture and the historical significance of events more clearly. With that being said my studies this week took mo on an unforgettable journey as once again God rolled back the curtain of understanding through historical clarity.
It all started as I was reading one of my daily reading plans involving Elisha and his relentless faith. As I read through the many miracles this incredible prophet experienced I was captivated by one in particular. Although it appears to be the most popular of all the miracles, I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something here that I needed to discover…
I began first by following the “rules of Biblical interpretation”. These rules were provided by Bro Raymond Woodward during a young ministers meeting when he explained that in order to gain clarity in scriptural understanding it is important to first look wide then deep. The purpose is to gain a wide lens view of the context both historically and culturally. Step 1; historic perspective.
The scene begins in 2 Kings 4:1 as the prophet Elisha is approached by a poor unfortunate widow who finds herself in desperate need.
“Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophet unto Elisha, saying, Thy servant my husband is dead; and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the Lord: and the creditor is come to take my two sons to be bondmen.” (2 Kings 4:1-2)
Immediately I gathered that this widow was married to a significant man whom Elisha would not only know, but would also know what he had done. In my research of the Rabbinical archives and Jewish scholars I quickly concluded, as they agreed almost unanimously, that her husband was the prophet Obadiah. Obadiah was believed to have been a convert of the Edomites before coming to Israel where he would later become the governor of King Ahab’s house (1 Kings 18:3). Obadiah would eventually be used of God in a dream to prophesy judgment and destruction against the Edomites, the descendants of Esau.
As we are introduced to Obadiah in 1 Kings 18, we find that it was Obadiah who hid 100 prophets in 2 caves, providing them with food and water. It is believed by historians that Obadiah was a very wealthy man; whether or not his wealth came before or after his position of governor is unknown. It has been presumed by Rabbis that eventually, through the years of provision afforded to these prophets that Obadiah ran out of money. However, due to his unique relationship with king Ahab, Obadiah was able to borrow money from the kings treasury. During this time, as these very brief scriptures concerning Obadiah conclude, Elijah meets with him and informs him that he wants a meeting with the king. Fearful, yet obedient, Obadiah arranges this meeting with Ahab, which eventually leads us to the eventful scene on Mt Carmel as Elijah challenges 450 prophets of Baal and 400 other false prophets.
It has been speculated by Jewish historians that after Elijah calls down fire from heaven, consuming the sacrifices, that Obadiah gives up his lavish lifestyle and follows after Elijah, which is how the Rabbis believe Obadiah became a prophet. As one could imagine this didn’t sit well with King Ahab, and according to historical manuscripts Ahab spiked the interest on his loans to Obadiah forcing this once prominent man into poverty; where Obadiah would eventually die leaving behind his wife and 2 sons.
The scene of 2 Kings 4, is not describing a man being a poor manager of finances and accumulating extreme debt, or else I don’t think God would’ve intervened. This was a case of abuse of power, as this family is in financial calamity due to the weight of Ahab’s wrath. This is the wide lens view of the story, the context of what is really transpiring in our text. Now, on to step two…
Now that we’ve looked wide and gained a broad contextual view of the passage, let’s try and dig deep and find out what is really happening here. In this culture a widow was entitled to goods and money, it was her right as the bride. This right was promised through what the Jews call a “Katubah” which literally means a written thing. This contractual agreement is similar to what you and I know as a prenuptial agreement. This written agreement was valid following a voided marriage either after death or divorce.
History tells us however, that widows had a very hard time claiming the goods, money and inheritance that was rightfully theirs. It is reported that in this day when a man would die, people claiming to be heirs would swarm in like vultures and try to stake their claim to the widows inheritance. There was also false creditors, who would write up a false debt and then demand payment, which would usually involve most, if not all, of the inheritance.
Although this widow owns very little, her sons in this culture were very valuable as slaves. It’s important to recognize in the text that the Bible never says the widows husband was in debt. She only says he’s dead, and there’s a creditor. This is an important piece of information that will enable us to discover the powerful principle that is here.
I am convinced through my studies that the creditor was not there to simply collect a debt, he was there to steal an inheritance.
I personally believe that when this widow came to the man of God she had in her hand a copy of her Katubah, and she was there to let the man of God know; “There’s a creditor here to steal my inheritance, but I have it in writing that these boys belong to me!”
We have our very own “Katubah”, it’s called the Holy Bible. In it is written the plethora of promises, blessing and inheritances that are reserved for us. However, there is a real creditor out there who is after what is rightfully ours. Jesus told us in John 10:10, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, to kill and to destroy.” He’s very DNA is to steal what does not belong to him!
Some of you have wrestled with fear, as the creditor has come to steal your joy, your peace, your health and even your children. But you need only to grasp your Katubah in your hand and remind the creditor, “It is written!”