The Leprosy of Gehazi

II Kings 5:20-27

In my personal estimation, the story of Naaman, the Aramean (Syrian) general in the book of 2 Kings, is one of the most amazing and inspiring chapters depicting the grace of God in the Bible.  I am ceaselessly amazed that God would heal a man, who for all practical purposes could be considered a terrorist and an enemy of the nation of Israel, from leprosy, the most dreaded disease of Biblical times.  This miracle started with a small testimony from a Jewish child whom he kidnapped in one his raids; she was serving as a slave to his wife.  The Biblical narrative highlights the desperation of Naaman and his family, as well as the high regard that the Aramean king had for him, in spite of his disease. The king was willing to give a letter of recommendation to their enemy rival, the king of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and part with a substantial amount of the country’s treasury as well as other valuable articles, just for the chance of healing for his general.  Eventually, Naaman got to the house of the prophet Elisha, and though at first, he did not like the way the process of healing was presented to him, ultimately, his deliverance came through his obedience to the prophet’s command that he dip himself seven times in the Jordan River.

As incredible and wonderful as Naaman’s story is, there is another figure in the fifth chapter of 2 Kings who ends up as a notorious down-note in this miraculous story, and ultimately, as a warning for believers.  The man’s name is Gehazi, the servant of Elisha.

I do not believe that Gehazi was a slave in the literal sense.  More likely, he was a paid servant and probably more like a disciple or apprentice, the same way that Elisha was to Elijah.  However, whatever he was, it was a failed enterprise.  Gehazi was nothing like his master though he was a first-hand witness to virtually every miracle that God did through Elisha.  Elisha probably thought there was the potential to become a great prophet in this young man, and that might be true.  Anyone, indeed, everyone has potential with regards to the Kingdom of God, but as Jesus said it, “many are called, few are chosen.”

From both the Old and the New Testament, the following two passages contain a principle that applies to anyone who aspires to serve God, or who is called into ministry:

“I beseech you brethren by the mercies of God that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2).

“But whatever things were gain to me, those I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of know Christ Jesus my Lord, for who I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:7-11).

One’s life was sacrificed at the altar in a spiritual sense, and a pursuit of the presence and will of God would begin to take over a person’s life in every respect.  It is a point that gives meaning to the notion of the baptism of fire; one’s life would be consumed in the fire of the Holy Spirit.  The Apostle Paul revealed the source of it in the New Testament – the Cross.  It is not just at the altar where we surrender to God, but it is also the conduit through which the power of the Holy Ghost will come to us and lift up a person to higher spiritual maturity and experience, and into an ever deeper commitment to the Lord Jesus.

Gehazi had potential just like any normal believer in the pews of a church, but somehow the main idea of a commitment to God escaped him.  To contrast his life, you only need to look at the life of his master, Elisha.  Elisha’s life in the ministry started one afternoon when the man who would be his predecessor came out of the desert after a couple of months of absence.  This figure was most likely drenched in sweat and burned by the sun; his physical persona depicted the hardship and sufferings of life.  I doubt that Elisha had previously met Elijah, but he almost certainly had heard of the prophet that brought fire down on Mount Carmel and whose prayer had held back rain for three and a half years, and whose prayer brought back the rain.  In fact, Elisha and his family were direct beneficiaries of that prayer considering they were farmers.  If we understand what the Bible says about that drought and famine, everything on the fields died for lack of water.  Elisha’s family would have been ruined, but that day when Elijah approached him, he was plowing his land with 12 yoke of oxen.  Clearly, his family had seen their fortunes return, and they had great expectations for the future, which makes what happened next so poignant.

Elijah came up to him and without saying a single word cast his mantle upon him.  Remember, Elisha was a young, unmarried man whose family was rather well off in the sense that they could run a good sized farm.  Something incredible happened.  I am amazed at the power of God, especially how He deals with individual lives in a way that is unique for that individual.  With Moses, it was at the burning bush.  With Elijah, it was with a still, small voice on the top of that same mountain, Horeb, where He had talked with Moses.  With Elisha, it was at that moment when Elijah’s mantle came upon him.  Something made him pause.  The mantle was special, not because it was some kind of special item or talisman, but in the lives of both men, it was used for one miracle – the dividing of the Jordan River.  Although Elijah was the mighty prophet, and he wore that mantle, his personal was not what made the experience special for Elisha.  Elijah was coming from the desert after a terrible episode of depression, along with a serious spiritual attack that requires its own article to fully explain the depths of it. He had been gone from the scene for perhaps several months during which time Ahab and Jezebel and all the parts of the unbelieving people of the northern kingdom of Israel were running unchecked.  God revived Elijah with a special touch, but his coming to Elisha at this point was because God saw a need in him, the need of a friend, a man who had been touched by the same presence of God and who would ultimately be the successor to his prophetic ministry, to accomplish those things that he himself would be unable to do in the future.  And yet, it was something even more than that.  Elisha would be a “son” to Elijah, just as Timothy was to the Apostle Paul.  He would learn, support, and inculcate everything he could from Elijah because God gave him a hunger and a desire for just that kind of treasure the moment that mantle fell on him.

Maybe Elisha learned with the events of the previous three and a half years that “man shall not live by bread alone but by every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”  There before him stood the man who demonstrated that particular truth like no other.  Somehow, with the combination of many different details and events from the past up to that very point, Elisha became conscious of the presence of the Almighty God, maybe in a small way, like the grain of a mustard seed, but he acted on that little something, that presence of God that he sensed.  He saw Elijah walking away and ran after him saying, “Please let me kiss my father and mother goodbye and then I will follow you.”  Elijah turned and responded, “Go back again, for what have I done to you?”  Absolutely right!  It was God who did it!

Elisha went back to the pairs of oxen with which he had been plowing, and using the wooden plow, he killed them and basically had a barbeque, feeding the rest of the workers, as well as his parents, with the meat.  What did they think?  What did they expect about his future?  They were people who were part of the 7,000 who did not bow to Baal, but that did not mean that, like Elijah, they were on the forefront of the spiritual resistance against Ahab and Jezebel.  They knew Elijah was a hunted man and though the power of God moved through him, he seemed to not have a friend in the world.  He stood virtually alone.  He lived a rugged outdoor life, not the civilized indoor living of these people.  He was not the least bit diplomatic when it came to talking to the establishment and other people of power.  If their son followed this man, what kind of life would he have?  Would he even have a family life?  He was giving up everything to be in essence and reality, the man who would minister to Elijah, something that the prophet probably never had before in his life.  But Elisha’s commitment would not be second-guessed because he felt the presence of God directly, personally, distinctly.  And in the course of the years, it would completely change his life to such a point that I doubt that any of the people on that farm, his parents included, would have recognized  him later when he was wearing Elijah’s mantle as his own.

We do not read any major acts of prophecy or anything spiritual happening in Elisha’s life during those years when Elijah was still around.  People only knew of him as the man who “poured water on the hands of Elijah.”  The only hint that Elisha had any kind of gift of discernment was revealed on that last day when they started from Gilgal with the rest of the sons of the prophets, and they asked him if he knew that Elijah was going to be exiting the scene.  He knew it, but did not want to talk about it… because he felt the loss on a personal level.  Elijah could not have found a better man as a successor or friend, or better yet a surrogate son.

Several years later, Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, had none of these qualities and none of these initiatives, probably because he did not take time to contemplate the presence of God that was upon and very much emanated from Elisha.  He failed to understand that the presence of God did not just make his master a good prophet, but even greater, a man who pursued God’s holiness in all things and had excellence reveal through him in every aspect of life.  Understand that Elisha succeeded Elijah in ministry.  Consider that Jericho was a cursed city, cursed by Joshua himself, and yet when the leaders of that rebuilt city came to Elisha about the issues with the water, because of the grace of God and compassion as well, his second miracle, after dividing the Jordan River himself, was to break the curse and purify the water.  How incredible!  In righteous indignation, he could have let that city linger in its “God-given curse,” but he did not.  How appropriate that Elisha’s name means, “Yahweh, God is my Savior.”

Perhaps, Elisha thought Gehazi would rise to the occasion and maybe experience God’s presence and power in a way similar to his own experience.  But it was a faulty expectation.  Like many a person sitting in church congregations, Gehazi knew something about God, but he did not know God; there is a big difference.  Gehazi was in close proximity to the most preeminent prophet of the time.  He was a first-hand witness to great miracles, and this fact is perhaps the most significant.  When Naaman came to inquire of the prophet, Gehazi was the fellow who told him the word of Elisha.  He knew the size of the treasure that Naaman brought with him and something went off in his mind.  He put two and two together and deduced that Naaman was going to give all of it to whoever could heal him.  He probably thought his position was most fortuitous.  He would have a chance to manage that fortune, and my… what he could do with it!

Life with Elisha was not all fun and games.  Some days were better than others.  It was a hard time to be a prophet of God.  Just recently (Gehazi thought), the wife of a prophet who just died came crying because her husband had left her heavily in debt and the collectors were at the door ready to take her sons.  Gehazi knew how the woman got her miracle, certainly, but he inadvertently wrote it off to chance.  “I’m never going to have that happen to me or my family,” he thought.  He was not going to be one to “fly by the seat of my pants.”  He was keeping his eyes open for opportunities.  It was not necessarily to do anything nefarious like others, such as Judas Iscariot.  Gehazi could reason it out in a couple of different ways.  Elisha was responsible for a couple of Bible schools (the schools of the prophets), and he needed the extra resources to provide and care for them.  Perhaps he was looking for the moment to talk to Elisha about it.  At least Elisha would be reasonable to at least listen to the suggestion… or so he thought until the moment Naaman came back drenching wet but with perfectly clear skin.

Naaman bowed before Elisha pouring out gratitude for his healing and praising the God of Israel.  He asks Elisha to receive a gift as a sign of his gratitude.  To the surprise of everyone, especially Gehazi, the prophet turns it down saying that he will not take anything, and no one’s urging can change his mind.  This is significant because implicit at the moment is that Elisha is not doing this by default or for the sake of any personal agenda.  Elisha, like Elijah before him, is not operating by accident.  The presence of God was very strong there at that moment.  Elisha certainly felt the presence of God and he knew very clearly that this was not a time to receive offerings or gifts.  God did not want him to take anything from Naaman.  What Naaman did next is remarkable.  He asked for mud, enough to carry on the backs of two mules.  For what reason?  To build an altar back at his home in Syria.  What’s more, he makes a commitment: from this point on, he was going to pray and worship the God of Israel with one stipulation.  Naaman was the top commander of the Aram-Syrian army, an enemy country to Israel.  The king of Syria always went arm in arm with him to the temple of Rimmon, the heathen god of the Arameans.  He confesses this to Elisha, saying that even though he would be bowing in that temple, he would not be worshipping Rimmon.  Rather, God would know his heart.  God would know his heart; Gehazi apparently did not pay attention to that line.

I never understood the rationale behind what Gehazi did next, not necessarily why he did it or how he went about it, but rather, why he thought he would get away with it before God.  Yet, the more I think about it, the more it begins to make sense to me.  Over the years, I have met too many people like Gehazi in church.  A preacher can say on a Sunday morning that the Bible contains all the answers, all the lessons, all the ways for successful living, because it is the Word of God.  People sit down and hear those words applied to various facets of life, areas where they are going through problems or have questions, and they ignore the answer to pursue their own solution according to their whims, fancies, or desires.  And at the end of the day, they seem thoroughly surprised that their lives are messed up, sometimes irrevocably.  Or in other cases, individuals dealing with personal problems cover it up well in church.  Church for them is a theatre experience (and to quote Shakespeare) and “every man/woman plays his/her part.”  And yet the problem lingers and/or spreads like a disease into the lives of other people associated with said individual, even to the next generation and so on and so forth.  It happens quite frequently.

Gehazi’s problem happened in the mind first.  He did not make his thoughts known to anyone else for the simple reason that he had a part to play.  After all, he was the servant of the Elisha.  God forbid if he turned out to be crooked!  The other side of this, however, is that when one harbors questionable ideas, one needs a friend or mentor who can help.  Gehazi had gone far beyond this particular point in his life.

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God; for God cannot be tempted by evil and He Himself does not tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings for death.  Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren” (James 1:13-17).

Gehazi took off to intercept Naaman.  When he finally caught up with Namaan’s caravan, the commander recognized him immediately and asked if anything was wrong.  Gehazi concocted a story about some preachers who just came by and needed some financial help.  Naaman was more than willing to oblige.  Gehazi had only asked for a talent of silver and two changes of clothes.  Naaman gave double.  It is hard to ascertain how much of a fortune that Gehazi had taken from Naaman, but it was substantial yet low key enough not to attract public attention, and Gehazi was capable of making it bigger through investments and real estate deals.

Everything seemed alright when he came back to the house where Elisha was sitting.  “Where have you been?” the prophet asked unassumingly.  “Nowhere,” Gehazi responded.  And then the next phrase brought down a crushing shock.  “Did not my heart go with you?”

“Is it a time to receive money and receive clothes and olive groves and vineyards and sheep and oxen and male servants and female servants?  Therefore the leprosy of Naaman will cling to you and to your descendants forever.”  Gehazi left from Elisha with his skin turning white as snow from leprosy.

One should wonder what Gehazi thought as he ran from the door and as people began to scream at him saying, “Unclean! Unclean!”  The Bible does not mention his family, but considering what Elisha said about his descendants, it is almost sure that he had one.  He had his money and the brains to make it great, and he most likely would, but the taint of leprosy would never leave him, and while money can buy friends, influence, titles, benefits and other stuff, it cannot buy satisfaction, joy, peace, or family.  In short, it cannot buy anything that makes life worth living.  He was a leper.  He could not touch anyone and all would cringe when they looked at him.  And always, the memories of those times of ministry alongside Elisha would haunt him.

While leprosy has been wiped out from most the world today, the judgements of God on sin have not.  Not all judgement in the Bible or in society as a whole should be considered in the same way or method.  There is the unspoken judgement that clings to lives like leprosy.  It is distrust  that clings to a person who has been caught in acts of treason, disloyalty, or infidelity, no matter how many years pass by; the stigma of their act never seems to die away.  In the Old Testament, leprosy drove people away from the presence of God.  How many people who once were on fire for God are now tormented by the memories of the past because of their decisions and the compromises they made to achieve something that was at the end, fleeting.  Leprosy was something that had to be covered, kept secret.  Victims were alienated from family and vice-versa on purpose because of the fear of embarrassment and humiliation, not to mention the social ostracism.  It was perhaps the worst aspect of leprosy; it affected every person in the family.  It affected the dynamics of a family.  They ended up with a secret never to be confessed but always to be tormented with, maybe for generations to come.

How does this carry into the New Testament?  I do not think that any curse or judgement can linger on in the lives of believers if they are willing to be honest and confess it to the Lord at the foot of the Cross.  However, it is not a mere confession alone, but also a repentance, turning away from the sin or compromise.  It can also mean restitution if people were directly hurt as a result of a person’s foolishness.  While there is power in the blood of Jesus to redeem, save, and forgive a person their sins, I think the greatest surprise for me after 42 years of life is that many people choose to be like Gehazi and think God has not seen anything or known anything of what they have done!  Even worse, they believe that God is on their side!  They believe that wonderful verse in the Bible, “God helps those who help themselves.”  Except that it is not a verse in the Bible, but rather a quote from Benjamin Franklin.

And so the leprosy lingers.  The lives who have it suffer from subjective memory.  They cannot have an honest thought because that is a risk because, as a matter fact, they cannot be honest with themselves.

Gehazi made it big in life.  He may have been one of the four lepers who went to the Aramaean camp during the siege of Samaria and found it empty, but with plenty of treasure some of which they took (as much as each of the four wanted) and hid it before their conscience kicked in about the people still starving in the city (2 Kings 7).  He made enough of an impression to end up talking to the king about the miracles of Elisha in chapter 8.  Then there is silence; no one sees or hears of Gehazi again.  Yet, one should pay attention to what happened to that land and then one gets a hint of what happened to Gehazi; just wholesale war and destruction.  And with it, everything that Gehazi achieved or grabbed was trampled to the ground.  If he survived the mayhem, what does he have to live with?  Leprosy.