Gleanings From Elisha
His Life and Miracles
ELEVENTH MIRACLE—A WAYWARD SERVANT
Seventh, the Meaning of the Miracle
The Eleventh Miracle of Elisha is so closely connected with the tenth that it will scarcely be out of place for us to bring forward the final division of the foregoing and use it as the introduction to this one. Though we dwelt at more than customary length with the healing of Naaman and pointed out much as we went along that was typical, yet there still remain several details of interest which deserve separate notice.
First, the cleansing of Naaman supplied a striking display of the sovereignty of God. This was emphasized by the Lord Jesus in His first public discourse in the synagogue at Nazareth, when He reminded His hearers, "Many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus [Elisha] the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian" (Luke 4:27). It is ever thus with Him whose thoughts are so different from and whose ways are so high above ours that, acting in the freeness of His grace, He passes by others and singles out the most unlikely to be the recipients of His high favors (1 Cor. 1:26-29).
Second, the cleansing of Naaman afforded a blessed foreshadowment of the divine mercy reaching out to the Gentiles, for Naaman was not an Israelite but a Syrian. Nevertheless he was made to learn the humbling lesson that if divine grace were to be extended to him, it could only proceed from the God of Abraham. That was why he must wash in the Jordan; the waters of "Abana and Pharpar" (2 Kings 5:12) were of no avail—he must wash in one of Israel’s streams. This truth is written boldly across the pages of Holy Writ. The harlot of Jericho was to be spared when her city was destroyed, but it could only be by her heeding the instructions of the two Hebrew spies. The widow of Zarephath was preserved through the famine, but it was by receiving Elijah into her home. The Ninevites were delivered from impending wrath, but at the preaching of Jonah. The king of Babylon received a dream from God, but for its interpretation he must turn to Daniel. To the Samaritan adulteress Christ declared, "Salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22). Then let us heed the warning of Romans 11:18-25.
Third, the cleansing of Naaman provided a full picture of "the way of salvation" or what is required of the sinner in order for his cleansing. First we have a picture of how fallen man appears in the eyes of the holy God: a leper, one condemned by His law, a loathsome object, unfit for the divine presence, a menace to his fellow-men. Then we behold man’s self-righteousness and self-importance, as Naaman came expecting to purchase his healing and was angry at the prophet’s refusal to show him deference. Next we learn of the demand made upon him; he must descend from his chariot and go and wash seven times in the Jordan. There must be the setting aside of his own thoughts and desires, the humbling of proud self, the acknowledgment of his total depravity, full surrender to God’s authority, and faith’s laying hold of the promise "and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean." Finally, we behold the immediate and complete transformation: "and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child," with a corresponding change of heart and conduct toward Elisha and his God.
Before passing from this most fascinating incident, let us consider further the particular waters into which Naaman was required to dip. It was not in the river Kishon or the pool of Bethesda, but the Jordan. Why? The answer to that question reveals the striking accuracy of our type. As leprosy (emblem of sin) was in question, the curse must be witnessed to. Sin has called down the curse of the One against whom it has raised its defiant head (Gen. 3). The curse is God’s judgment upon sin, and that judgment is death. It is this of which the Jordan ever speaks. It was not because its waters possessed any magical properties or healing virtues; the very name Jordan means "judgment." Those who heeded our Lord’s forerunner "were baptized of him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins" (Mark 1:5); immersion beneath its waters was the acknowledgment that death was their due. Therefore did the Savior allude to His death as a "baptism" (Luke 12:50), for at the cross He was overwhelmed by the judgments of God (Ps. 42:7; 88:7). When a sinner believes the gospel and appropriates Christ as his substitute, God regards him as having passed through His judgment of sin, so that he can now say, "I am crucified with Christ," and in his baptism as a believer there is a symbolic showing forth of that fact.
The miracle which is now to engage our attention is of quite another order, the differences between them being most striking. We will therefore consider, first, its contrasts.
First, the Contrasts of this Miracle
The subject of the foregoing miracle was a heathen idolater; now it is the prophet’s own servant. Naaman sought the prophet for relief; the other pursued the relieved one and virtually demanded tribute from him. There we beheld Elisha teaching Naaman the grand truth of the freeness of divine grace; here we see Gehazi casting a dark cloud over the same. In the one Naaman is represented as expressing deep gratitude for his recovery and urging the man of God to receive a present at his hands; now the avaricious Gehazi is portrayed as coveting that which his master so nobly refused. There it was a poor creature healed of his leprosy; here it is one being smitten with that dread disease. There we beheld God’s goodness acting in mercy; here we see His severity acting in holy justice. The former closes with the recipient of divine grace returning home as a devout worshiper; the latter ends with a pronouncement of God’s curse on the transgressor and on his seed forever.
Second, the Subject of the Miracle
The one on whom this solemn miracle was wrought is Gehazi, the servant of Elisha. He has come before us several times previously, and nowhere was he seen to advantage. First, when the woman of Shunem sought the man of God on behalf of her dead son and cast herself at his feet, "Gehazi came near to thrust her away" (2 Kings 4:27), and his master told him to "let her alone." Then the prophet instructed his servant to go before him and lay his staff upon the face of the child (2 Kings 4:29). Elisha could successfully smite the waters of Jordan with Elijah’s mantle because "the spirit of Elijah" rested upon him (2 Kings 2:15); but being devoid of the Spirit, Gehazi found the prophet’s staff of no avail in his prayerless hands (2 Kings 4:31). In 2 Kings 4:43 we beheld his selfishness and unbelief: "What, should I set this before an hundred men" when Elisha was counting upon God to multiply the loaves. Thus his character and conduct is consistent and in keeping with his name which significantly enough means "denier."
Third, the Occasion of the Miracle
"But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, Behold, my master hath spared Naaman this Syrian, in not receiving at his hands that which he brought: but, as the LORD liveth, I will run after him, and take somewhat of him" (2 Kings 5:20). It will be remembered that before Naaman left Syria for the land of Samaria that he provided himself with a costly treasure, consisting of "ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of raiment" (2 Kings 5:5). No doubt a part of this was designed for traveling expenses for the retinue of servants who accompanied him, but the major portion of it he evidently intended to bestow upon his benefactor. But Elisha had firmly refused to receive anything (2 Kings 5:15-16), and so he was now returning home with his horses still laden with the treasure. This was more than the covetous heart of Gehazi could endure, and he determined to secure a portion of it for himself. The honor of Jehovah and the glory of His grace counted nothing with him.
Every word in the above verse repays careful attention. The ominous "But" intimates the solemn contrast between the two miracles. Gehazi is here termed not only "the servant of Elisha" but "of Elisha the man of God"—the added words bring out the enormity of his sin. First, they call attention to the greatness of the privilege he had enjoyed, being in close attendance on so pious a master. This rendered his wicked conduct the more excuseless, for it was not the act of an ignorant person, but of one well instructed in the ways of righteousness. Second, it emphasizes the enormity of his offense, for it reflected seriously on the official character of the one who employed him. The sins of those in the sacred office or of those associated with them are far graver than those of others (Jam. 3:1). But just as Gehazi had no concern for the glory of God, so he cared nothing for the reputation of Elisha.
What has just been pointed out definitely refutes one of the wide-spread delusions of our day, namely, that it is their unfavorable surroundings which are responsible for the degenerate conduct of so many of the present generation: social improvement can only be effected by improving the wages and homes of the poor. And is the behavior of the rich any better? Is there less immorality in the west end of London than in the east? It is drunken and thriftless people who make the slums, and not the slums which ruin the people. God’s Word teaches it is "out of the heart" of fallen man (Mark 7:21-23) and not from his faulty environment that all proceeds which defiles human nature. Nor it is any more warrantable for any person to attempt to throw the blame for his downfall on his being obliged to mingle with evil characters. Gehazi was isolated from all bad companions, placed in the most favorable circumstances, dwelling with a "man of God," but his soul was depraved! While "the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Eccl. 8:11), the gospel and not more social reforms is the only remedy.
Neither his close association with the man of God nor the witnessing of the miracles performed by him effected any change within Gehazi. The state of his heart is revealed by each expression recorded in verse 20 of 2 Kings 5. "Behold, my master hath spared Naaman." Incapable of appreciating the motives which had actuated Elisha, he felt that he had foolishly missed a golden opportunity. Gehazi regarded Naaman as legitimate prey, as a bird to be plucked. Contemptuously, he refers to him as "this Syrian." There was no pity for the one who had been such a sufferer, and no thankfulness that God had healed him. He was determined to capitalize on the situation: "I will run after him, and take somewhat of him." His awful sin was deliberately premeditated. What was worse, he made use of an impious oath: "As the LORD liveth I will run after him." There was no fear of God before his eyes; instead, he defiantly took His holy name in vain.
"So Gehazi followed after Naaman. And when Naaman saw him running after him, he lighted down from the chariot to meet him, and said, Is all well?" (2 Kings 5:21). It is solemn to observe that God put no hindrance in the way of him who had devised evil. He could have moved Naaman to quicken his pace and to outdistance Gehazi. But He did not, an indication that God had given Gehazi up to his heart’s lusts. It is ever a signal mark of divine mercy when the Lord interferes with our plans and thwarts our carnal designs. When we purpose doing anything wrong and a providential obstacle blocks us, it is a sign that God has not yet abandoned us to our madness. The graciousness of Naaman in alighting from his chariot and the question he asked gave further evidence of the change which had been wrought in him.
Fourth, the Aggravation of the Miracle
"And he said, All is well. My master hath sent me, saying, Behold, even now there be come to me from mount Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets: give them, I pray thee, a talent of silver, and two changes of garments" (2 Kings 5:22). Here we see the wicked Gehazi adding sin to sin, thereby treasuring up to himself wrath against the day of wrath (Rom. 2:5). First, his greedy heart cherished a covetous desire; then he deliberately and eagerly (as his "running" shows) proceeded to realize the same; and now he resorts to falsehoods. Liars can tell a plausible tale, especially when asking for charity. The thievish knave pretended it was not for himself, but for others in need that he was seeking relief—ever a favorite device employed by the unscrupulous when seeking to take advantage of unwary victims. Worse still, he compromised his master by saying he had sent him. To what fearful lengths will a covetous heart carry its subjects!
"And Naaman said, Be content, take two talents. And he urged him, and bound two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of garments, and laid them upon two of his servants, and they bare them before him" (2 Kings 5:23). Naaman was quite unsuspicious. He not only complied with Gehazi’s request but gave him more than he asked for. After the prophet’s firm and repeated refusals to accept his gifts, he should have been more on his guard. There is a warning here for us to beware of crediting every beggar we encounter, even though he is a religious one. There have always been religious leeches who consider the righteous are legitimate prey for them to fatten upon. While it is a Christian duty to relieve the genuinely poor, yet we are not to encourage idleness or let ourselves be deceived by those with a smooth tongue. Investigate their case.
"And when he came to the tower, he took them from their hand, and bestowed them in the house: and he let the men go, and they departed" (2 Kings 5:24). He took pains to carefully conceal his ill-gotten gains in a secret place, no doubt congratulating himself on his shrewdness. This reminds us of our first parents hiding themselves (Gen. 3:8) and of Achan’s sin (Josh. 7:21). "But he went in, and stood before his master" (2 Kings 5:25). Pretending to be a faithful and dutiful servant, he now appeared before Elisha to await his orders. The most untruthful and dishonest often assume a pious pose in the company of the saints! "And Elisha said unto him, Whence comest thou, Gehazi?" An opportunity was thus given him to confess his sins, but instead of so doing, he added lie to lie: "And he said, Thy servant went no whither." There was no repentance, but a daring brazenness.
Fifth, the Justice of the Miracle
"And he said unto him, Went not mine heart with thee, when the man turned again from his chariot to meet thee? Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and oliveyards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and maidservants? The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever. And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow" (2 Kings 5:26-27). Though Christians are not endowed with the extraordinary powers of the prophets, yet if they be truly walking with God they will discern a liar when he confronts them (1 Cor. 2:15). Elisha put his finger on the worst feature of the offense: "Is it a time to receive money [and thus stain God’s free grace]?" From the words that follow, Elisha indicated that he knew how Gehazi planned to use the money: he intended to leave his service and set up as a farmer. His punishment was an appropriate one: he had coveted something of Naaman’s—he should have that which would henceforth symbolically portray the polluted state of his soul.
Sixth, the Significance of the Miracle
That Gehazi fully deserved the frightful punishment which was visited upon him and that the form it took was a case of what is termed "poetic justice" will be evident to every spiritual mind. Nevertheless there was a severity of dealing with him which is more noticeable than in other cases. Nor is the reason far to seek. God was incensed at his having so grievously compromised the display of His free grace. The Lord is very jealous of His types. Observe how He moved Joseph to restore the money to the sacks of his brethren when they came to obtain food from Egypt (Gen. 42:25), because he was there foreshadowing Christ as the bread of life—given to us "without money and without price." The failure of Moses was far more than a losing of his temper: it was a marring of a blessed type. Note, "smite the rock" in Exodus 17:6, but only "speak" to it in Numbers 20:8—Christ was to be "smitten" (Isa. 53:4) but once! As Moses suffered a premature death for his sin, so Gehazi was smitten with leprosy for his.
Seventh, the Lesson of the Miracle
We shall mention only three of the lessons we can draw from this miracle. First, there is a sharply pointed example here of the bitter fruits borne by the nourishing of a covetous spirit, and a fearful exemplification of that word, "For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows" (1 Tim. 6:10). How we need to pray, "Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity" (Ps. 119:37).
Second, there is a most solemn warning against putting a stumblingblock in the way of a babe in Christ. Naaman had only recently come to know Jehovah as the God of all grace and that was another reason why He dealt so severely with Gehazi (see Matthew 18:6)! Third, there is a searching test for those of us who are engaged exclusively in God’s service: though delivered from the love of money, we may seek the good opinion and praise of men.