Old Year's and True Submission
And she answered, It is well.2 Kings 4:26b
The words "it is well" are very short and spoken very easily most of the time. If people ask us how we are, it is our desire to say that things are well. When everything seems to go our way outwardly, when our wishes are fulfilled, when God's providence does not cross our path, and when we can live out our lives as our own lords, we are prone to say, "It is well." When everything is going relatively smoothly in our work-life, family life, and personal life, submission is easy work. Then we look forward to a year in which we anticipate things shall go even better than they have during the past year. "It is well" become words said with our lips lightly and automatically.
But to say "it is well" when your only son is lying at home as a dead corpse is something altogether different. If you would have asked the Shunammite woman the morning prior to her son's death if things were well with her, she could easily have said, "It is well." But now to say it when the son of her love, the son of his parents' old age in whom they delighted – yes, when the prize possession of that family circle was taken away in one stroke – then the special grace of true submission was necessary to truly say, "It is well."
True submission is an important matter to consider together, not only with respect to this past year, but particularly in our day when it has become a negative word. Through strikes and the exercising of so-called rights, the whole question of submission has become a very important one both naturally and spiritually.
What is and what is not true, spiritual submission? The history of the Shunammite woman sheds much light on this question. First let us examine what true submission is.
First, true submission acknowledges that everything comes from the hand of the Lord. True submission does not look to the devil, man, fate, accident, or any secondary cause as the source of affliction. True submission knows no human "ifs." True submission confesses, "To the Lord belong the issues of life" (Ps. 68:20). "The Lord killeth and the Lord maketh alive" (1 Sam. 2:6). True submission acknowledges the Lord's hand with David in Psalm 39, "I was dumb with silence. I opened not my mouth, because Thou didst it," and again in 2 Samuel 16, "Let Shimei curse, for the Lord hath bidden him to curse David."
Secondly, true submission bows before this sovereignty of God and justifies God in all His doings. This is a profound reality which the Lord works in the hearts of His people. The Shunammite was enabled to say, "It is well." Aaron "held his peace" when fire came down from heaven to consume his two sons. When he heard about the inevitable, approaching death of his sons, Eli confessed, "It is the Lord: let Him do what seemeth Him good" (1 Sam. 3:18). When David's throne was taken over by his own son, he spoke, "Behold, here am I, let the Lord do to me as seemeth good unto Him." (2 Sam. 15:26). In the midst of plagues, calamities, and deadly sickness, Job called out, "The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away" (Job 1:21).
All these confessions of Bible saints are rooted in two experienced truths engraven upon their souls: God's sovereignty and their sinfulness. They had been taught to say "it is well,"l because they learned that God is free to do what He will with them; yes, doubly free, because their sinfulness calls for nothing but hell and eternal condemnation.
Condemnable and rejectable: that is all that we are in ourselves both by nature and after received grace. We must become nothing but rightless sinners before the holy God who holds all rights in His Almighty hands. Thus, instead of the language of us all by nature, "Why did it happen to me?" we must be taught a better language: "Why shouldn't it happen to me?" Have you also learned that language in affliction – not "why me" but "why not me?"
It was as if the Shunammite said: "Lord, it is well. Thou hast a right to do with all as Thou wilt for all is Thine. Everything I have is only borrowed from Thee – even my only son, and I am not worthy of him. I bow before Thee and justify Thee in all Thy doings. Whatever Thou doest is right."
Oh, the struggle God's people sometimes must go through to come to that place! How often they try to bring in their bill of complaints before the Lord, but the Lord teaches them the language of Scripture, "It is the Lord … Be still and know that I am God" (Ps. 46:10).
Dear friends, have we, by grace, in 1988 rested with all our secret and visible burdens in the Lord? Have there been moments when we have been reconciled with those burdens, being graced to truly say, "It is well"? Have God's sovereignty and our own sinfulness caused us to put our hand upon our mouth, and to bow low before Him, confessing, "It is well, O Lord, for it is Thee"?
True submission plunges deeper. Thirdly, submission not only acknowledges, bows, and justifies, but also approves of the Lord in all His doings. The Shunammite did not only say here: "Lord, it is well; it is not wrong what Thou hast done," but she was also saying: "Lord, it is well; it is right; it is best; it is good what Thou hast done. Lord, Thou art the All-knowing God; Thou knowest the best way for me.
Here lies deep submission in deep distress – to say with the Shunammite and with Job not only: "The Lord hath given and the Lord hath taken away,'' but also, "blessed be the Name of the Lord" (Job 1:21). The Shunammite was privileged to place a full "amen" of approval upon the ways of the Lord.
Finally, true submission in its deepest sense, includes a cleaving to the Lord in the midst of the greatest trial. When God seemed to be coming forth as her greatest enemy, the Shunammite cleaved to Him as her greatest friend. She kissed the rod that smote her. She continued to lean upon the promise of God, even when God Himself seemed to shut the way to fulfillment. She cleaved to God through all.
Dear children of God, how much submissive grace have you received in 1988? You are not strangers of divine acknowledgement (bowing to the Lord), divine justification (bowing before the Lord), divine approval (bowing under the Lord), divine cleaving (bowing in with the Lord). But how are matters now as 1988 draws to a close? Must you not complain: "These great graces I am lacking most of the time. Seldom can I say with Job: 'Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him' (Job 13:15). I am more often jealous of it than possessing it. More often I am like Jonah – refusing to bow, refusing to be submissive, going the opposite way." Even when the Lord brought Jonah back in a special way he became so angry so quickly with the Lord again that when the Lord asked him, "Doest thou well to be angry," he answered, "I do well to be angry, even unto death."
Is this your confession: "I am more Jonah than the Shunammite. In myself I am nothing but Jonah. My only hope is that I may also know other moments – moments when the Lord became too strong for me in 1988, and I could lay everything down at His feet, and say, 'O Lord, do with me what seemeth good in Thy sight.' If only this would transpire more often"?
By nature we never come there. We are always running against the Lord, and away from the Lord. Unreconciled to the Lord, unreconciled to His will, unreconciled to His providence, unreconciled to His doings – enemies of God and His sovereignty. We want our own way and will not bow before the Lord. We cleave to our own doings, lordship, will, and self. Did you ever painfully discover this experientially?
What a blessing to have a place to go, and a God before whom to bow! What a blessing to experience the confession of Peter, "Lord, to whom else shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life." Young people: This is a hard life because self must be crucified, but there can be no better life for there is no greater joy for God's people than in bowing before the Lord by grace in true submission.
Finally, we must consider what submission is not. Submission is not a taking away of the sense or feeling of the affliction. The Shunammite hurried on to Elisha and fell at his feet. Her soul was vexed and still it was well. And so it must be. If we are not vexed inwardly, submission is an easy task. Is this not exactly our problem by nature? We are unconverted and it is easy to submit to it because our souls are not vexed on account of it. It is no real trial for us.
Dear friends, could we but vex your soul! How it should be the burden of your life that you are unconverted! Oh, that the Lord may make it unbearable before the unbearable agonies of hell too soon become an eternal reality for you! What fools we are! Unconverted and unvexed. Our souls are being ripened for hell and it does not even bother us. Is it any wonder that Rev. Ledeboer said, "Our greatest misery is that we do not know our misery"?
Contrary to what many think, submission is not avoiding seeking for the reason of God's providential dispensations. God's people should be seeking for the cause and purpose of God in sending His afflictions upon them, for the Lord does not afflict willingly (Lam. 3:33), but there is a divine must in every affliction (1 Peter 1:6). Thus this woman falls at the feet of Elisha, crying out: "Did I desire a son of my lord? Did I not say, Do not deceive me?" (v. 28). As she is bowing before Elisha, she is also asking why, following the example of Jesus Christ to come, who would ask the greatest "why" question human lips ever uttered, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?"
Finally, true submission is not sitting back with indifference and folded arms, saying, "If the Lord converts me, He will convert me." Submission is conjoined with earnest praying, waiting, striving, longing, and cleaving. Therefore the Shunammite could not stay home. Therefore she could not stop at Gehazi, and therefore she also would not go back without Elisha. His staff was not enough for her. She demanded his prayers and presence, yes, the God of Elisha Himself: "As the Lord liveth and thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee" (v. 30).
Elisha arose and followed her, and we know the blessed outcome. He prayed, stretched himself upon the child, and the flesh of the child waxed warm. He sneezed seven times, opened his eyes, and Elisha delivered the son to the Shunammite mother.
"Then she went in and fell at his feet, and bowed herself to the ground, and took up her son, and went out." How inexpressible must have been the joy of that woman as she left Elisha's little chamber! She had said to her husband, "It shall be well"; to Gehazi, "It is well"; and now I believe she went out and fell on her knees, crying out, "O Lord, Thou hast made all things well. To Thy Name be all the honor and glory."
May God grant us in His Son like confession as we look backward on 1988 despite all our sin and like expectation as we look forward to 1989 despite all our infirmities.