It seems to me the question that cracks the story open is the one you get from this part: “So she went from him and shut the door behind herself and her sons.”
Why did she have to shut the door?
One of these sons of the prophets (faithful Israelites) died and left a widow and two orphans. She borrows money until she can’t, and now faces with her two sons a bleak prospect. Will the Lord help her?
She goes to the man of God, and his response is to think about it. Apparently he has no money about him, kind of like Peter in Acts and so many of the Lord’s impecunious servants. All of the instructions he gives make sense–you get the idea of what is going to happen–except the one about closing the door. What does that matter?
Is it to ward off potential thieves? Is it to keep anybody from finding out how the prophet is helping some lest others come to him afterward, carefully divesting themselves of all but one key possession? Is it his low-key, not-Elijah personality? What?
The do as they’re told, borrowing as many vessels as they can, and they do not neglect to shut the door. Then she begins to pour from the pot.
How would you have poured? Slowly, swiftly? What kind of pot was it? Was it an amphora or a jug? What we know is the strangest part: it just kept pouring. It reminds me of when our Lord multiplied the bread and fish. That had to be strange for anybody paying attention–disproportionate. Yet, as Lewis points out, perfectly Natural; this is what God does all the time, only here it is speeded up. What was strange was that with the bread and fish nobody apparently noticed the disproportion. The last disciple in line seems not to have been looking at the bread, and after that perhaps too busy. Who knows.
Still, in that room, in that house with the shut door, how weird would it have been for those boys bringing the vessels, for the woman pouring? At what point did it come creeping over their skin that something tremendous and uncanny is in the room with them?–and the door shut fast.
Of course, my purpose is not to Peter Jacksonise this episode. There was something uncanny, but it was someone good. The uncanny is the sense of an unexplained presence, and that is exactly what was shut with them in the room. And as they watched God’s provision, the Creator multiplying that oil the way he always did, only indoors and quickly, they had to have a growing sense of who was doing it.
I think the reason the door was shut was so they could be alone with God, and could know again what God in so many ways says to his people: that he is the husband of the widow and the father of the orphan. They were told to shut the door so that the Lord could say unambiguously: I am your husband; I am your father; I am with you and I am providing. And that is what the Lord says to his people in our difficulties and destitutions, our troubles and our bereavements.
Afterward, this woman goes back to the man of God and asks what she should do, and that also is interesting, and I think where the further application is. She does not count it her oil. The oil God gives is given for God’s purposes. She doesn’t dispose of it any way she wants. She has the means to hand to save herself, but she goes back to see what exactly she ought to do.
I think I’d have been tempted to solve my problems first and then breezily thank the prophet afterward. I’d have been tempted to think: I really don’t want to ask about the next step in case it isn’t the shortest visible route to the resolution of my problem. And that way of proceeding would have been wrong, not because it isn’t what was coming, but it shows how little I trust in the goodness of the Lord.
But he is the father of the orphan and the husband of the widow, and he is with his family. We are never destitute if we expect provision of the Lord. And that what the closed door discloses: a message that nourishes my weak faith, and admonishes me, and fills me with the consciousness of the goodness of God like all those vessels brimming with bright oil.