Where Have You Been, Gehazi?
We have been looking at episodes from the books of Samuel and Kings on Sunday evenings since my arrival here. These are stories many of us heard as children that we have perhaps not thought of in a long time. But we can still learn a great deal from them, in terms of who God is and what he expects from his people.
One of those stories we examined recently was that of the Syrian general, Naaman, recorded in 2 Kings 5. You might remember this one. Naaman was a great man with a problem: he was a leper. So he goes to see the prophet Elisha, who gives him a simple instruction: go and wash in the Jordan River 7 times and be cleansed. Naaman is outraged! The Jordan was filthy, far inferior to the waters of Syria; why didn’t he do something stupendous, come and wave his hands and say some magic words? But one of his men prevails on him to do this small thing, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child.
But there is a sad epilogue to this narrative that we did not cover. Naaman returns to Elisha, praising the Lord as the only true God, and offering gifts of silver and gold and fine clothing. Elisha refuses all of those, telling him to return home in peace. But Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, has other ideas. He catches up to Naaman and says, My master has sent me to say, “There have just now come to me from the hill country of Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets. Please give them a talent of silver and two changes of clothing” (2 Kings 5:22). Naaman actually gives him 2 talents instead. That’s about 150 lbs of silver – worth about $40,000 in today’s market. You can see why Gehazi would be so eager.
But Elisha was aware of all of this. When Gehazi returned, he confronted him: Where have you been, Gehazi? Gehazi tried to lie his way out of it. But Elisha was a prophet – he knew all that transpired. And he pronounced sentence: “The leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever.” So he went out from his presence a leper, like snow (v. 25, 27).
Gehazi’s actions make a sorry conclusion to a great story. He made several mistakes:
For one, he thought Elisha had let Naaman off too easily. See, my master has spared this Naaman the Syrian, in not accepting from his hand what he brought (v. 20). In other words, he resented that God’s mercy had flowed so freely to Naaman – he knew better than God!
Secondly, Gehazi dared to take God’s name in vain. By that, I don’t mean that he cursed. As the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him (v. 20). Gehazi is ostensibly a servant of God, and yet he is going to use that as a cover to lie and cheat and steal.
Finally, the root issue is that Gehazi found security in possessions rather than in God. He hid the money and clothes he got from Naaman and lied to Elisha about it. Perhaps he resented being a prophet’s servant for so many years with nothing to show for it. He decided it was time to look out for number one.
In this light, Gehazi’s sin sounds remarkably contemporary. He was led off track because of his desire for the good life and his trust in himself rather than trusting in God. And for that, he is one of only 3 people in Scripture said to be struck with leprosy.
I think that many in our culture would say that Gehazi was merely being a shrewd businessman – he saw an opportunity and seized it. That sort of self-reliance and ingenuity is viewed in some quarters as the American way. Yet God is very clear: it is not his way.
And we are confronted with the question we face, again and again, when we hold our lives up to Scripture: will we allow ourselves to be shaped by God’s story, or by the world around us?