The Life and Times of Elisha the Prophet— The Healing of Naaman (2 Kings 5:1-27)
I am going to tell you a story in which the names and some of the details have been changed. A young woman was experiencing some painful physical symptoms, and so she contacted her health care provider and explained her troubles. She was given a bureaucratic response. It would take several weeks for her to see her primary care doctor. This doctor would then determine if further testing or diagnosis were required. After several weeks, she was able to get in to the first doctor, who scheduled an appointment with a different doctor, again with several weeks delay. Time went on, and the woman’s pain got significantly worse. Eventually, she was unable to go to work. Finally, her “request” for medical help turned into her husband’s “insistence” that something be done, immediately. The health provider responded, but hardly in a timely manner, and after several blunders, the woman was informed that the tests showed there was nothing seriously wrong with her.
A friend of the family happened to be a doctor who specialized in such matters, and he asked for permission to personally take a look at the test results. This led to a consultation with one of the finest medical minds available, and they agreed that there was an obvious problem—a tumor—which the woman’s health care system had failed to detect. A letter was written by highly respected medical authorities, and suddenly the health care system responded with the necessary surgery a few months late. Finally, the problem was identified and solved, but only after pressure was applied “from the top down.”
Requests for help from the “bottom up” (i.e., from the patient) had not been taken seriously. A letter from the “top down” got immediate results. I think you and I would agree that if we had our choice of approaching a problem like this from the “bottom up” or from the “top down,” we would almost certainly opt for the “top down” approach. The fact is that in the world in which we live, this is the approach that seems to work best. It is the system of choice. The problem is that we don’t usually have anyone “at the top” to whom we can appeal.
The story of the healing of Naaman in 2 Kings 5:1-27 is the account of a man with a very serious medical problem—leprosy. He found no help in his own country, but he had heard that there was a cure available in Israel. He commenced a “top down” approach to bring about his healing, but, to his dismay, found that this method didn’t work. He learned that God had a “bottom up” solution to his problem. Our text describes how God graciously frustrates Naaman’s “top down” approach and initiates a “bottom up” solution. The fact of the matter is that God is not impressed or moved by man’s “top down” efforts, because it is God who is at the top, and not men, not even men of position and power, like Naaman, or the kings of Syria and Israel. We should listen well and learn about this “bottom up” system, because it is normally the way that God works, especially when it comes to the salvation of men.
An Encouraging Word, From an Unlikely Source
(2 Kings 5:1-3)
1 Now Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Syria, was esteemed and respected by his master, for through him the LORD had given Syria military victories. But this great warrior had a skin disease. 2 Raiding parties went out from Syria and took captive from the land of Israel a young girl, who became Naaman’s wife’s servant. 3 She told her mistress, “If only my master were in the presence of the prophet who is in Samaria! Then he would cure him of his skin disease.”
The first thing we are told about Naaman is that he was a great man, highly esteemed by his master, the king of Syria. This is the kind of thing which impresses men. It is also the kind of thing which causes some people to think that God should be impressed as well. They foolishly reason that powerful people should gain a hearing from God.
1 After Jesus had finished teaching all this to the people, he entered Capernaum. 2 A centurion there had an esteemed slave, who was sick and at the point of death. 3 When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent some Jewish elders to him, asking him to come and heal his slave. 4 When they came to Jesus, they urged him earnestly, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, 5 because he loves our nation and he built us our synagogue.” 6 So Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to say to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. 7 That is why I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and my servant must be healed. 8 For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me. I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my slave, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” 9 When Jesus heard this he was amazed at him. He turned and said to the crowd that followed him, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” 10 So when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the slave well (Luke 7:1-10, emphasis mine).
The centurion knew better than the Jews. They sought to persuade Jesus to heal the centurion’s servant, mainly on the basis of his deeds—deeds from which they benefited greatly. The centurion contradicted the appeal of the Jewish elders. He knew that he was unworthy to have Jesus journey to his home and to come under his roof. He believed that Jesus could heal his servant, and he was also convinced that the Lord’s authority was so great that distance would not hinder Him. And so he requested that Jesus heal his servant “long distance,” by the mere speaking of a word. The Jewish leaders had a “top down” mentality. They were impressed with the centurion’s position and power, but even more by his works on their behalf. The centurion knew that he was unworthy of our Lord’s presence, and so he modified their request to one that was consistent with his assessment of himself and of Jesus. No wonder Jesus had good words to say about this Gentile’s faith.
In our text in the Book of 2 Kings, the author begins by telling us how great Naaman was. He was a “giant” in the mind of his master, the king of Syria. He had been incredibly successful in leading the Syrians in their attacks against Israel. Our author goes on to inform us that Naaman was indeed a great warrior (verse 1), but then he goes on to tell us something that neither Naaman nor his king knew—Naaman’s military success was not primarily the result of his courage or military skills; it was the result of God’s sovereign plan and purpose: “for through him the LORD had given Syria military victories” (verse 1). Naaman’s success in his battles with Israel was God’s judgment on Israel, because of the sins of His people:
23 “The heavens above your heads will be as brass and the earth beneath you as iron. 24 The LORD will make the rain of your land like powder and dust; it will come down upon you from the sky until you are destroyed.…” 45 “All these curses will fall upon you, pursuing and overtaking you until you are destroyed, because you do not obey the LORD your God by keeping his commandments and statutes that he has demanded of you. 46 These curses will be as a sign and wonder with reference to you and your descendants forever. 47 Because you have not served the LORD your God joyfully and wholeheartedly with the abundance of everything you have, 48 you will instead serve your enemies whom he will send against you bringing hunger, thirst, nakedness, and lack of everything; they will place an iron yoke on your neck until they have destroyed you” (Deuteronomy 28:23-24, 45-48).
As great as he is, Namaan has one very serious problem—he has leprosy. He is still highly esteemed by his master, the king of Syria, but there is hardly a disease which could be more devastating to Naaman. It would surely spell the end of his military career, and in time, perhaps his life as well. I am sure that he attempted every possible cure that money could buy in Syria, but with no success. A ray of hope came from a most unlikely source—an Israelite slave girl, the servant of Naaman’s wife. She had been captured by the Syrians on one of the raids they had successfully carried out against Israel.
This Israelite slave girl is a most remarkable person. She has every reason to hate Naaman and his wife. Her master is responsible for many raids against Israel, and therefore the death of many Israelites—perhaps even this young girl’s parents. Instead of hating her master and finding a certain amount of pleasure in his humiliating disease, this young girl seems to genuinely care about the well-being of her master and her mistress. She manifests true submission, which is seen in her desire to bring about what is in her master’s best interest. In this regard, she is much like Daniel, who in his youth was also torn away from his family by a nation that was an enemy of Israel. Nevertheless, he found no pleasure in having to inform the king (Nebuchadnezzar) that the prophecy he had received foretold some very humbling days for him (Daniel 4:19). Naaman’s healing and salvation are directly attributable to the faithfulness of this young girl.
The word “young” in verse 2 is translated “little” in several versions of the Bible (KJV, NAU, NJB), and “young” in others (NET Bible, NIV, NKJV). The word in the original text seems to be almost the opposite of the word “respected”112 in 2 Kings 4:8, describing the Shunammite woman. I believe the author is not only telling us that this “little” girl is “young,” but that she is a person of no social standing whatever. She is on the bottom rung of the Syrian social ladder. (By the way, as a leper, Naaman is nearly on a par with her, socially, perhaps even a bit lower.) It was no doubt humbling for Naaman to have to act on the advice of his young and insignificant Israelite slave girl, but he was a desperate man.
A Top Down Response to Naaman’s Problem
(2 Kings 5:4-7)
4 Naaman went and told his master what the girl from the land of Israel had said. 5 The king of Syria said, “Go! I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So he went, taking with him ten units of silver, 6,000 shekels of gold, and ten suits of clothes. 6 He brought the letter to king of Israel. It said, “This is a letter of introduction for my servant Naaman, whom I have sent to be cured of his skin disease.” 7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill or restore life? Why does he ask me to cure a man of his skin disease? Certainly you must see that he is looking for an excuse to fight me.”
Neither Naaman nor his wife seems to have doubted the testimony of the Israelite servant girl. He is faced with a very real problem with protocol. How does a Syrian military commander like Naaman go about requesting the help of an Israelite prophet? The prophet is the prophet of Yahweh, the one true God. This means that for all intents and purposes, Naaman will be admitting that his “gods” are powerless to heal him, and that only Israel’s God can do so. This also places Naaman in the very awkward position of having to travel to Israel, a country that he has often entered in his official position as commander of the armies of Syria. In the past, he has come to Israel to attack it and to take prisoners. Now, he needs help from an influential leader in Israel. How does one handle a sticky situation like this?
There seem to be only two possible approaches. The first is the ego-saving method of using the “top down” approach. The second would require Naaman to humble himself and to ask for healing—the “bottom up” approach. Not surprisingly, Naaman and his master, the king of Syria, chose the “top down” approach. He obtained the king of Syria’s permission and assistance to pursue healing in Israel. The king of Syria wrote a letter to the king of Israel, politely demanding that he see to it that Naaman be healed. And if the letter would not intimidate the king of Israel into arranging for Naaman’s healing, there was also the incentive provided by the offer of the money which Naaman had brought with him. Besides, paying well for his healing would keep Naaman on “higher ground”(i.e., higher status), thus enabling him to maintain his dignity. (If it is embarrassing to have to ask for a ride in someone else’s car; it is not embarrassing for you to ride in the Rolls Royce for which you paid a small fortune.)
The king of Syria’s request was one that the king of Israel could hardly refuse, and yet it seemed that he had no way of fulfilling it. As the reader can see, it was really not a problem at all, but the king of Israel failed to see the solution.113 The king of Syria assumed that there was a close relationship between the king of Israel and the prophet of Israel, as there should have been. Upon receiving this letter, the king of Israel should have called for Elisha the prophet, who could heal Naaman. But because the kings of Israel had ceased to seek divine guidance, and because they assumed that the prophets always spoke against them,114 it never entered this king’s mind to turn to Elisha for help when he was in trouble.
The king’s words, “Am I God? Can I kill or restore life?” (verse 7) are most enlightening. The king knows that only God can restore a man to life or cure a leper. The reader knows that both Elijah (1 Kings 17:17-24) and Elisha (2 Kings 4:18-27) have raised someone from the dead. If the curing of the sick and raising of the dead is work which only God can do, then why does it not occur to the king of Israel that the prophet who speaks for God can heal Naaman? Is it that the king does not think of seeking God’s help through the prophet -- or that he refuses to do so?
In spite of the king of Israel’s folly, Elisha heard that the king had torn his clothes and so he sent word to the king. His words were a rebuke for the king’s distress, which was completely inappropriate in this situation. There was no need for the king to tear his garments; all the king needed to do was to send Naaman to Elisha to be healed. In this way, Naaman would come to know that there was indeed a prophet in Israel (verse 8).
No Red Carpet Treatment for Naaman
(2 Kings 5:8-14)
8 When Elisha the prophet heard that the king had torn his clothes, he sent this message to the king, “Why did you tear your clothes? Send him to me so he may know there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood in the doorway of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent out a messenger who told him, “Go and wash seven times in the Jordan; your skin will be restored and you will be healed.” 11 Naaman went away angry. He said: “Look, I thought for sure he would come out, stand there, invoke the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the area, and cure the skin disease. 12 The rivers of Damascus, the Abana and Pharpar, are better than any of the waters of Israel. Could I not wash in them and be healed?” So he turned around and went away angry. 13 His servants approached and said to him, “O master, if the prophet had told you to do some difficult task, you would have been willing to do it. It seems you would be happy that he simply said, “Wash and you will be healed.” 14 So he went down and dipped in the Jordan seven times, as the prophet had instructed. His skin became as smooth as a young child’s and he was healed.
Naaman arrived at Elisha’s house with his whole retinue of attendants. It must have been a most impressive sight to behold. I believe this is precisely what Naaman hoped for, because he was still seeking to be healed from “the top down.” Can you imagine what Gehazi must have thought as he looked out the window and saw this entourage arriving?
Surely Naaman expected the “red carpet” treatment, because he was a VIP. He was a revered and feared military commander. He had a letter from the king of Syria, and he had just come from the king of Israel, with whom he had an audience, even though he had dropped in unexpectedly. Naaman had his own preconceived ideas about how his healing should take place. He assumed that on his arrival, Elisha would be duly impressed with his power and prestige, and that he would take note of all the chariots (not just one) parked outside his door, along with those who accompanied him. He would have liked to have been able to point out that he had come with silver and gold and fine garments to pay for Elisha’s services. He could not imagine anyone not seizing this opportunity.
Likewise, he expected that this “miracle for hire” would be performed with all the pomp and circumstance that such an occasion required. After all, if you go out to eat at a fine restaurant, you expect the service to greatly surpass that which you would receive at a fast food restaurant. In Naaman’s mind, he envisioned Elisha coming out personally and giving him his undivided attention. Naaman anticipated that the miracle would then be performed immediately, in some dramatic fashion (not unlike some religious folks perform for their television audiences today). He would certainly call on the name of his god115 and wave his hand over the diseased area, healing Naaman with the style and dignity that suited a man of his stature.
Things did not go as Naaman expected. From what we can read, there is no indication the king of Syria’s letter ever was read to Elisha, or that anyone even had the chance to explain why Naaman had come. As a prophet (or seer) of God, Elisha would not necessarily have had to be told why Naaman had come—he could have known (see 2 Kings 5:26). And of course the prophet could also have been informed by someone who had been there when Naaman appeared before the king of Israel. I am inclined to think that Gehazi came out and began to convey Elisha’s message to Naaman before this Syrian commander had the chance to say anything. This was a way of letting Naaman know from the beginning that Elisha was in charge. And so Gehazi conveys Elisha words to Naaman: Naaman is to go to the Jordan River and to immerse himself seven times, after which he will most certainly be healed of his leprosy.
When Naaman hears this message, communicated to him by a (mere) servant, he becomes furious. He is insulted that he has not been treated in a manner worthy of his position. He expected to deal directly with the prophet and to “take charge” of his healing. He wanted the prophet to heal him immediately and in the manner he expected. He was insulted that he would be told to immerse himself. Worse yet, he was greatly angered that he would be told to immerse himself in the muddy waters of the Jordan. In his homeland, there were many beautiful rivers. If he had to immerse himself, he would do so in one of the crystal clear rivers of Syria, like the Abana or the Pharpar.
Why is Naaman so angry? What is the problem? Naaman was offended because his pride had been wounded. If he were to be “saved” from his incurable disease, he wanted to be saved “his way,” in a way that was easy on his ego, and which left him in control of the situation. It was humiliating enough for a Syrian celebrity to come to Israel and to seek healing from an Israelite prophet. But to be told he must be healed in such a humiliating fashion was more than he was willing to tolerate.
Fortunately for Naaman, his servants reasoned with him and prevailed. They were very diplomatic with their master, and their argument was convincing. Naaman was desperately in need. He was willing to pay a very high price, or to do something very difficult, if necessary. If Naaman was willing to do something great, why would he not happily do something small? Why be troubled by meeting a small demand when he was willing to meet a large demand? We know the answer: pride. Naaman grasps the logic of the argument and concedes the point. He goes to the Jordan and dips himself seven times in its waters. And when he comes forth after dipping the final time, his skin was like that of a young child. He was completely healed.
No Tipping Please
(2 Kings 5:15-19)
15 He and his entire entourage returned to the prophet. Naaman came and stood before him. He said, “For sure I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel. Now, please accept a gift from your servant.” 16 But Elisha replied, “As certainly as the LORD lives (whom I serve), I will take nothing from you.” Naaman insisted that he take it, but he refused. 17 Naaman said, “If not, then please give your servant a load of dirt, enough for a pair of mules to carry, for your servant will never again offer a burnt offering or sacrifice to a god other than the LORD. 18 May the LORD forgive your servant for this: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to worship, and he leans on my arm and I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD forgive your servant for this.” 19 Elisha said to him, “Go in peace.”
The man who did not even see Elisha when he first arrived outside his house now has a face-to-face conversation with the prophet. Naaman’s words are exactly what we would hope for in a new believer. I think our author meant for Naaman to be a rebuke to the Israelites who would read this account. Here was a man whom we would have called a “raw pagan” at the time he first arrived in Israel. There is a radical change in this man’s attitudes and actions after his healing. Naaman came from a country that worshipped false gods, and yet after his healing, he was able to confess, “I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel” (verse 15).
It is one thing to say that God alone is God, but Naaman sought to apply this newly obtained knowledge. First, Naaman sought to apply this knowledge as it related to his personal worship. It may seem somewhat strange to us, but Naaman asked Elisha for two mule loads of earth to take back to Syria with him. Here is a man who recently boasted that the waters of Syria were far superior to the waters found in the River Jordan. Now, he finds Israelite soil more precious than Syrian soil. How can this be?
I would suggest to you that this request on Naaman’s part reveals a depth of insight not found in many Israelites. Way back in the Book of Genesis we read of Jacob fleeing from his older brother, Esau, because he had bargained him out of his birthright and had also stolen his blessing. As he was about to leave Israel, he had a dream in the night:
10 Jacob left Beersheba and started to go to Haran. 11 When he came on a place he spent the night there because the sun had gone down. He took one of the stones of the place and set it at the place for his head; and then lay down in that place. 12 And he dreamed, and there was a stairway standing on the earth with its top reaching to the heavens; and there the angels of God were going up and coming down on it; 13 and there the LORD stood above it. And he said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you are lying will I give to you and to your descendants. 14 And your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. 15 And I am with you, and will protect you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have said to you.” 16 Then Jacob woke up from his sleep; and he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I knew it not!” 17 He was afraid, and he said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven!” 18 And early in the morning Jacob took the stone which he had placed at his head and set it up as a standing stone and poured oil on the top of it. 19 And he called the name of that place Beth-el, although formerly the name of the city was Luz (Genesis 28:10-19).
Because of this dream Jacob came to understand a very important truth. God had chosen to mediate His blessings to the world through Abraham and his offspring (the Jews). God had not only chosen to identify Himself with a particular people (the Jews, and particularly the Messiah), but He had identified Himself with a particular place (the land of Israel, and particularly Jerusalem). Jacob took special notice of the ground on which the ladder in his dream had rested—this Israelite soil on which he had spent the night. He saw that the presence of God was particularly associated with the land of Israel, and thus even though he was leaving that land, it was his intention to return to it.116
Somehow, Naaman had come to grasp this same truth, at least in some measure. If God’s presence was associated with the land of Israel, then how could Naaman possibly worship God on Syrian soil? His solution was to take some Israelite soil with him. On those two donkeys, Naaman took “a little bit of Israel” back to Syria with him. It was on this soil that he planned to worship the God of Israel from now on. Here was a man who was committed to worship the God he had just confessed as God alone.
Naaman was concerned about his worship in another way, which concerned his work. As commander of the army of the king of Syria, it would seem that he was also the king’s bodyguard. As such, he would accompany the king wherever he went, providing him with protection. This included the king’s worship of his heathen god at the temple of Rimmon. The king would literally be leaning on Naaman’s arm as he bowed down to his god, and this would require Naaman to bow down, too. Naaman assured Elisha that even though he might be bowing down with the king, he would no longer be worshipping Syrian gods. That was now a part of his past.
With these words, this new convert, Naaman, revealed insight which the people of Israel lacked. He knew that to truly worship God, he must worship as God had instructed. He knew as well that to worship God alone meant that he could worship no other gods. When I read Naaman’s words here, I cannot help but think of the words of another Gentile in Jesus’ day, the words of a centurion:
5 When he came into Capernaum a centurion came to him asking for help, 6 saying, “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible anguish.” 7 Jesus said to him, “I will come and heal him.” 8 But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Instead, just speak a word and my servant will be healed. 9 For I too am a man under authority; I have soldiers under me, and I say to this one, ‘Go’ and he goes, and to another ‘Come’ and he comes, and to my slave ‘Do this’ and he does it.” 10 When Jesus heard this he was amazed and said to those who followed him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found faith like this in anyone in Israel! 11 I tell you, many will come from the east and west to share the banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 but the sons of the kingdom will be thrown out into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 13 Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go; just as you believed, it will be done for you.” And the servant was healed at that hour (Matthew 8:5-13, emphasis mine).117
This Gentile centurion had faith that was greater than most Israelites, and so did the Gentile, Naaman.
Naaman responded in another way to his newly found faith in God. He sought to show his appreciation by offering Elisha the payment for services rendered which he had brought with him. He had originally planned to purchase his healing, and Elisha had overruled that plan. But now that he is healed, I think Naaman simply wishes to meet Elisha and to sincerely express his deep gratitude and appreciation. We know that he wanted to discuss his concerns about worshipping the one true God appropriately.
Naaman was prepared to express a great deal of gratitude. He had brought with him 10 units of silver, 6,000 shekels of gold, and 10 suits of clothes (verse 5). It is difficult and probably impossible to express this in monetary terms that would be meaningful to us, but one Old Testament text makes it clear that this “payment” was worth a great deal of money. In 1 Kings 16:24, we are told that king Omri of Israel paid Shemer two talents of silver for the hill on which he then built the capital city of Samaria. The silver alone which Naaman brought was worth five times this much, and that does not take into account the gold and the clothing. Naaman came prepared to pay generously for his healing.
Naaman was completely healed, and he could not have been happier with the results of his visit to Israel. It is easy to see why he would wish to meet with Elisha, and why he would gladly leave all that he had brought with him to pay for his healing. He urged Elisha to take it, but Elisha firmly refused. This was a work of God’s grace, and he did not want Naaman to have any confusion on this point. Elisha did not want to leave room for Naaman to conclude that he had contributed, in some measure, to his healing. It was only after it became clear that Elisha would not be persuaded to take any gift that Naaman asked if he could take some Israelite soil back to Syria. As Naaman left to return to his homeland, it was apparent that he had gained much and had lost nothing but his arrogance and his leprosy.
Gehazi Gets Greedy
Gehazi Starts a Non-Prophet Corporation
(2 Kings 5:19b-27)
When he had gone a short distance, 20 Gehazi, the prophet Elisha’s servant, thought, “Look, my master did not accept what this Syrian Naaman offered him. As certainly as the LORD lives, I will run after him and accept something from him.” 21 So Gehazi ran after Naaman. When Naaman saw someone running after him, he got down from his chariot to meet him and asked, “Is everything okay?” 22 He answered, “Everything is fine. My master sent me with this message, ‘Look, two servants of the prophets just arrived from the Ephraimite hill country. Please give them a unit of silver and two suits of clothes.’” 23 Naaman said, “Please accept two units of silver. He insisted and tied up two units of silver in two bags, along with two suits of clothes. He gave them to two of his servants and they carried them for Gehazi. 24 When he arrived at the hill, he took them from the servants and put them in the house. Then he sent the men on their way.
25 When he came and stood before his master, Elisha asked him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” He answered, “Your servant hasn’t been anywhere.” 26 Elisha replied, “I was there in spirit when a man turned and got down from his chariot to meet you. This is not the proper time to accept silver or to accept clothes, olive groves, vineyards, sheep, cattle, and male and female servants. 27 Therefore Naaman’s skin disease will afflict you and your offspring forever.” When Gehazi went out from his presence, his skin was as white as snow.
One of the young people in the audience of our church suggested this title for our text: “A Great Medical Miracle: The World’s First Leprosy Transplant.” That’s not bad. Gehazi seems to have stood there, gazing at all that gold and silver that was going back to Syria. Somehow to him, it seemed terribly wrong. I fear that there was a Judas-like spirit in Gehazi. The money, which meant nothing to Elisha, meant a great deal to Gehazi. And think of how Gehazi could have rationalized taking the money. Like Judas, he could have argued that these were difficult days, with famines and economic hard times. That money could have been used to feed the poor.118 This would overlook the fact that the poor had been fed anyway, without the use of “foreign funds.”
Note the resolve of Gehazi: “As certainly as the LORD lives, I will run after him and accept something from him” (verse 20). This was a very purposeful act on Gehazi’s part. Gehazi’s words are strikingly similar to Elisha’s words in verse 16: “As certainly as the LORD lives (whom I serve), I will take nothing from you.” Is Elisha determined not to take any gift from Naaman? Gehazi is just as determined to do so.
Besides his greed, there are yet two more things which make Gehazi’s sin so sinister. I have already suggested that Gehazi’s sin was Judas-like. I would also like to suggest that Gehazi was Ananias-like (Acts 5:1-11). Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, conspired to hold back a portion of the money they received from the sale of their property. In doing so, they had to lie about the amount they had received for the sale of the property. Gehazi also has to concoct a story, which is a complete fabrication. He does not ask for all of the treasure that Naaman has brought with him. Perhaps he finds some consolation in this. But he does tell Naaman a story which seems in keeping with the character of Elisha, who refused to accept any gratuity from Naaman.
After Elisha is “out of sight” (or so it seems), Gehazi runs after Naaman’s chariot, and Naaman, looking back, sees him and stops and waits for him. Gehazi them tells Naaman that circumstances have suddenly changed, so that there now is a need that Naaman can meet. Gehazi tells Naaman that two young men have just arrived from the sons of the prophets in the hill country of Ephraim. The inference is that these men are in great need (or, perhaps, that those from whom they had just come were in need as well) and that a “contribution” from Naaman would meet their needs, and yet still not be a gift to Elisha. It was all a lie. It was not Elisha who made the request, and it was neither Elisha nor “two young men from the hill country of Ephraim” that would benefit from this gift. Gehazi was looking out for himself.
There is one final thing that is most distressing about Gehazi in our text. His words betray a strong sense of racial pride and prejudice. Listen to them carefully: “Look, my master did not accept what this Syrian Naaman offered him” (verse 20). Do you sense the prejudice behind these words? It is not just, “Naaman.” It is not even, “This rich man, Naaman,” but rather, “this Syrian Naaman.” It is almost as though Gehazi had said, “This Syrian, by his deeds (as commander of the Syrian army) has made Israel pay dearly. Now it is time for him to pay, and pay well.” I think this helped to salve the conscience of Gehazi, as he did this evil thing.
Gehazi is like Judas in that he does not seem to have learned anything from his master. To put it just a little differently, very little of Elisha has (as we say) “rubbed off on Gehazi.” He did not share Elisha’s convictions about refusing gifts from Gentiles. He did not seem to share the joy of seeing Naaman healed and worshipping the God of Israel. He did not seem to grasp that Naaman’s success was God-given. He did not have a commitment to tell the truth. And he did not even have the common sense to know better than to try to lie to Elisha, the “seer.”
Let us not forget who Gehazi was—he was Elisha’s servant. We should remind ourselves of the relationship between Elisha and Elijah’s before Elijah’s death:
Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no prophet of the LORD here that we might seek the LORD’s direction?” One of the servants of the king of Israel answered, “Elisha son of Shapat is here; he used to be Elijah’s servant” (2 Kings 3:11).
It is my opinion that as the servant of Elisha, Gehazi might have assumed an even greater role after his death. While Elisha asked Elijah for a double portion of his spirit (2 Kings 2:9), it would seem that Gehazi wanted nothing to do with the spirit of Elisha. How tragic.
Naaman had two of his men carry the gift of silver and clothes, but Gehazi stopped them before they reached the house where Elisha was. Gehazi hid this treasure in the house, where he was sure Elisha would not see it, but his sin was already known to the “seer.” When Gehazi went in and stood before Elisha, the prophet asked him where he had been. Here was his chance to tell the truth and to repent of his sin. Gehazi chose instead to tell yet another lie. He denied that he had been anywhere. This would have been hard for anyone to believe, but surely Gehazi should have known better than to try and deceive a prophet.
I can only imagine how Gehazi’s heart stopped when Elisha informed him that he has seen it all. He was there all the time, in spirit, observing his servant’s sin. The lie had been exposed and rebuked. Now Elisha turns his attention to the sin itself—Gehazi’s greed and desire to accumulate riches.
“This is not the proper time to accept silver or to accept clothes, olive groves, vineyards, sheep, cattle, and male and female servants” (2 Kings 5:26b).
Elisha’s words are most interesting. We do not find it difficult to understand why he would say that it was not the time to accept silver or clothes. This is what Gehazi did accept from Naaman. But why does Elisha add “olive groves, vineyards, sheep, cattle, and male and female servants”? I can venture a guess. I would imagine that this is what Gehazi intended to purchase with the silver he had acquired from Naaman.
Was it wrong for anyone to possess such things at that time? I would have to say that the answer must be “No.” The Shunammite woman was quite wealthy, and we would assume that she and her husband possessed all these things. We certainly know that Naaman possessed such things, and Elisha does not require him to give them up. Indeed, he sends Naaman back with the wealth he brought to Israel.
It is my opinion that Elisha’s comments are directed specifically to Gehazi. He tells Gehazi that it is not the time to “accept” these things. That is, it was not the appropriate time to accept gifts from Naaman. He had just been healed, and to accept his gifts at this time might give Naaman the impression that his healing was something other than a gift of God’s grace, unearned and unmerited. If Naaman was allowed to think that he contributed anything to his healing, he would fail to grasp the grace of God in his healing and in his salvation. Thus, the taking of these gifts from Naaman was wrong.
It seems to me that Gehazi wanted very much to accept some of Naaman’s gifts because he was a Syrian. In my opinion, this is the very reason why Elisha refused to accept his gifts—because he was a Syrian. He was not an Israelite, like the Shunammite woman, who was intelligently giving expression to her faith. When Jesus sent out His disciples, He expected that people would provide for them and support them, as an expression of their faith. We see the same thing with Lydia, after she believed in Jesus as Messiah (Acts 16:15). But Naaman did not have this Jewish/Israelite background, and so Elisha does not want to leave him any wrong impressions.
Further, it was not “the time” to accept Naaman’s gifts. For Naaman, the gift would have come too close in time to his healing. But in addition to this, this was a time when God was seeking to get Israel’s attention, through drought and famines, through military threats, and through prophetic miracles and teaching. As the servant of a prophet—and likely as one of the sons of the prophets—Gehazi did not do well to be seeking to get ahead at the very time God was making things difficult for those who had forsaken Him. Gehazi could not serve two masters, Elisha and material things. These were the “last days” for Israel, and so Gehazi’s efforts to accumulate possessions were completely inappropriate, especially for one associated with the prophets.
Like Judas Iscariot, Gehazi had been close to God’s spokesman. As the servant of Elisha, he had seen the hand of God at work through his master, and he had heard the Word of God. And yet he chose to forsake his master for material things, to cling to lies rather than the truth, to seek to gain rather than to give. And for all of this Gehazi gains nothing, except leprosy. This servant, who seems to despise Naaman, the Gentile, is Gehazi, the leper. He finds that he is no better than Naaman; in fact, Naaman is now far better than he, in body and in spirit.
It may be that Gehazi later repents and is restored, because we shall find him again in chapter 8. It would seem that the events in chapter 8 take place at a later time than the events of chapter 5. It is true, however, that our author (as other Hebrew writers) is not always as concerned with chronological sequence as we are, and thus all of the incidents we find in this book may not be chronological. At least it is possible that Gehazi, like Miriam before him, repented of his sin and was healed of his leprosy (see Numbers 12:10-15).
What an incredible story this is of the healing of Naaman, and correspondingly of the “sickening” of Gehazi. There are many important lessons to learn here, so allow me to point out a few as we conclude this study.
First, I find it informative to contrast two Israelite servants in this text, Gehazi and the slave girl who served Naaman and his wife. The slave girl had every human excuse for hating her master and mistress, or for taking pleasure in watching him suffer from his disease. This young girl was snatched from her parents and from her homeland and made a slave in a foreign land. To make matters worse, this young girl’s plight was probably the result of Naaman’s leadership role as captain of the army of the king of Syria. She had every reason to hate him, and seemingly no reason to love him and seek his best interests. She was a true Israelite in that she was a “light to the Gentiles” (see Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 51:4). She sought the best interests of her master, and she was the instrument through whom Naaman was healed, both physically and spiritually.
I would very much like to know “the rest of the story” regarding this young girl, wouldn’t you? Can you imagine her joy when she saw her master return—healed, and a believer in her God? Can you picture in your mind’s eye this great and powerful man, worshipping the God of Israel on his Israelite soil, with the young girl beside him? Think of the gratitude this man had for what this girl had done for him. I’ll bet no slave girl in Syria was ever better treated than she was. I would not be surprised if Naaman gave this young girl her freedom. In seeking her master’s best interests, I believe she experienced God’s blessings as well.
Gehazi was a servant, too. He thought his master was wrong to let this Syrian commander return home with all his money, and so he did what his master refused to do, and he lied to his master and to Naaman in doing it. Gehazi cared little for Naaman and sought to look out for himself, and in so doing brought about his own downfall. He did not “seek first the kingdom of God,” and thus he ended up in worse condition than Naaman.
Gehazi is like too many people whose livelihood is obtained through the exercise of their religion. Gehazi saw ministry as the pathway to money. He did not seem to understand grace at all. Salvation is a gift of God’s free grace. Men do not earn it by good works, and they most certainly cannot buy it. And yet this servant of the prophet is already trying to turn ministry into a profit-making business. There were those similarly minded who came before him—like Balaam, just as there would be those like Simon Magus who would come after him (Acts 8:9-24). Ministry should not be viewed as the pathway to wealth. Elisha was in the prophet-making business (the school of the prophets); Gehazi was in the profit-making business (getting some of Naaman’s wealth).
It is interesting to compare the two kings in our text—the king of Syria and the king of Israel. Neither one of them were right in their relationship to God. They both had a problem with the contemporary issue of “the relationship of church and state.” The king of Syria mistakenly viewed the state as having power over the church, and thus he assumed that by sending a letter to the king of Israel, this king could instruct the prophet to heal Naaman. The king of Israel had the opposite problem. He saw no relationship between the state and religion. It did not even occur to him that he should seek the help of Elisha, who as a prophet of God, was able to heal Naaman.
Our text has much to teach us about the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. Our Lord refers to the healing of Naaman and the feeding of the widow of Zarephath as examples of the fact that God had always intended to save Gentiles as well as Jews (Luke 4:16ff.). Indeed, God’s purpose had been for Israel to be the means by which He would save the Gentiles. It was those Israelites like Gehazi who resisted God’s purposes, and who sought to hoard the blessings of God for themselves; and in the process, they lost what they sought to keep and ended up in the same miserable condition of the Gentiles.
Naaman’s healing is a reminder to us of how all men must be saved. Men cannot come to God in their pride and position and demand the blessing of salvation. They must see themselves to be spiritually as unclean and wretched as Naaman was physically (and spiritually). They cannot demand a “have it your way” kind of salvation; instead, they must humbly submit to that salvation which God has provided. The gospel does not seek to flatter our egos, but to humble us with the knowledge of our sin and condemnation. The gospel does not allow us to delude ourselves about how good and great we are, but it does declare to us that there is only one man who was ever truly good—Jesus Christ. He was good because He was both God and man. He gave His life on the cross of Calvary, to bear the penalty for our sins. It is by trusting in Him that lost sinners like ourselves can be cleansed from our sins and be assured of eternal life. I urge you to follow Naaman’s example and to accept God’s only means of cleansing and salvation—faith in Jesus Christ.
I would point out as well that Naaman instructs us that when one does come to faith in Jesus Christ, they renounce any false religion or worship, and they worship only the One true God. Naaman understood that when he came to trust in God, he also renounced his false religion, never again to worship as he had before. He was committed from that day on to worship and to live as God instructed. May we do likewise. And may we, Gentiles like Naaman, rejoice in the fact that God purposed to save us, as well as the Jews.
113 The king of Israel was wrong to assume that the king of Syria was seeking a pretext for attacking Israel. As I understand this story and the events which follow in chapter 6, God uses this incident to bring about peace, not war. There will be more on this in the next message.
116 I have written of this elsewhere, but let me briefly say that when Jesus came to the earth, this changed matters significantly. Jesus refers to Jacob and his ladder in John 1:51. But now that He has come to the earth, He is the ladder. Thus, wherever He is, man has access to heaven. This is why Jesus can speak as He does to the woman at the well (John 4:21-24). Worshipping God is no longer a matter of being in the right place, but of believing in the right person—Jesus. If Naaman lived after the coming of our Lord, he would not have needed that soil.
118 In Matthew 26:9 and Mark 14:4-5, we are told that the disciples protested about the “waste” of the expensive perfume, which should have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. But in John’s Gospel, we are told that it was Judas who was the source of this argument, and that his motives were not at all pure. He was a thief and wanted to pilfer his “commission” from the money bag which was in his care (John 12:4-6).