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B.—The healing of Naaman, punishment of Gehazi, and recovery of a lost axe
2 Kings 5:1 to 2 Kings 6:7
1Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honorable [honored], because by him the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria: he was also a mighty man in valor, but he was a leper. 2And the Syrians had gone out by companies [in marauding bands], and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid; and she waited on Naaman’s wife. 3And she said unto her mistress, Would God my lord were with 4the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy. And one [he, i.e., Naaman] went in, and told his lord, saying, Thus and thus said the maid that is of the land of Israel. 5And the king of Syria said, Go to, go, and I will send a letter unto the king of Israel. And he departed, and took with him ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of raiment. [,] 6And he brought the letter [omit the letter] to the king of Israel [the letter], saying [which was to this effect]: Now when this letter is come unto thee, behold, I have therewith sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy. 7And it came to pass, when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he rent his clothes, and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? Wherefore, [Nay! only] consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me.
8And it was so, when Elisha the man of God had heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know [learn] that there is a prophet in Israel. 9So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha. 10And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean. 11But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, he will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover 12the leper [heal the leprosy]. Are not Abana11 and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage. 13And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldst thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, 14Wash, and be clean? Then he went down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
15And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him: and he said, Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel: now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing [token of gratitude from—omit of] of thy servant. 16But he said, As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none. And he urged him to take it; but he refused. 17And Naaman said, Shall there not then [If not, then let there], I pray thee, be given to thy servant two mules’ burden of earth? [,] for thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt-offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the Lord.12 18In this thing the Lord pardon thy servant, [;] that [omit that] when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon: [;] when I bow down myself13 in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon thy servant in this thing. 19And he said unto him, Go in peace. So he departed from him a little way [some distance].
20But 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. 21So 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? 22And he said, All is well. My master hath sent me, saying, Behold, even [just] 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. 23And Naaman said, Be content, [pleased to—omit,] 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. 24And when he came to the tower [hill] he took them from their hand, and bestowed them in the house: and he let the men go, and they departed. 25But he went in and stood before his master. And Elisha said unto him, Whence comest thou, Gehazi? 26And he said, Thy servant went no whither. 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 men-servants, and maid servants? 27The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed forever. And he went from his presence a leper as white as snow.
2 Kings 6:1 And the sons of the prophets said unto Elisha, Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us. 2Let us go, we pray thee, unto Jordan, and take thence every man a beam, and let us make us a place there, where we may dwell. And he answered, Go ye. 3And one said, 4Be content [pleased], I pray thee, and [to] go with thy servants. And he answered, I will go. So he went with them. And when they came to Jordan, they cut down wood. 5But as one was felling a beam, the axe-head fell into the water: and he cried, and said, Alas, master! for it was borrowed. 6And the man of God said, Where fell it? And he cut down a stick, and cast it in thither; and [made] the iron did [to—omit did] swim. 7Therefore said he, Take it up to thee. And he put out his hand, and took it.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
2 Kings 5:1. Now Naaman captain of the host, &c. The וְ with which the narrative begins, is used as in 1 Kings 1:1, and does not mark the incident as having occurred immediately after the preceding. We cannot decide certainly whether it belongs to the time of Jehoram or to that of the house of Jehu. In any case it refers to a time when the relations between Syria and Israel were not hostile. That Naaman was the man who fatally wounded Ahab is a mere guess of the rabbis, and it is not strengthened at all by the statement of Josephus: παῖς δέ τις βασιλικὸς τοῦ ’Αδάδου, ’́Αμανος ὅνομα. Naaman is called a great man in so far as he occupied a high position in the service of the king. The statement: by him the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria, i.e., victory, does not compel us to translate גִּבּוֹר חַיִל as Thenius does, by “a man of great physical strength;” the expression marks his military ability. Keil takes it as second predicate: “The man was a general though a leper,” meaning that, although in Israel lepers were excluded from all human society, in Syria a leper could fill even a high civil office. This is certainly unfounded, for lepers were everywhere physically incapable of performing important duties. מְצֹרָע is evidently used by contrast, whether the omission of the וְ connective sharpens the contrast (Thenius) or not. He was a mighty military chief, but, on account of his disease, he could not fulfill his duties. “It is significant that he who had helped to gain the victory over Israel, is represented as a leper, who must seek help in Israel, and who finds it there” (Thenius). [By whom the Lord had given deliverance. In consistency with the standing conception of the Hebrews that Jehovah was the God of all the earth, it is represented as a dispensation of His providence that Naaman had won victories for Syria, cf. 2 Kings 19:25-26.—W. G. S.] אַחֲלֵי 2 Kings 5:3, as in Psalms 119:5, utinam. The word אָסַף i.e., collect, take up, receive, designates the reception into the society of men which followed upon deliverance from leprosy (Numbers 12:14).
2 Kings 5:5. And the king of Syria said, &c. We see, from the king’s readiness, how anxious he was for the restoration of Naaman. The treasures which the latter took with him were very valuable; we cannot, however, estimate their value accurately. According to Keil 10 talents of silver are about 25,000 thalers ($18,000), and 6000 shekels of gold (= 2 talents) are about 50,000 thalers ($36,000); according to Thenius the value would be 20,000 thalers and 60,000 thalers ($14,400 and $43,200). On the ten changes of raiment, cf. εἵματα ἐξημοιβά (Odyss. 8:249). Winer: “An Oriental is still fond of frequent changes of apparel (Genesis 40:14; 1 Samuel 28:8; 2 Samuel 12:20), especially of grand dresses at marriages and other celebrations (Niebuhr, Reise, i. 182).” The royal letter is abbreviated in 2 Kings 5:6, for it could not begin with “Now when.” Only the main passage is given here. The letter was simply a note of introduction, and we cannot infer from the words: That thou mayest recover him of his leprosy, that the king of Israel was then in a relation of dependence to the Syrian king. The king “probably thought of the prophet, of whom he had heard so great things, as the chief of a sort of magi … or as the Israelitish high-priest, who could probably be induced to undertake, on behalf of a foreigner, those ceremonies and functions of his office from which so great results were to be expected, only by the intercession of the king” (Menken). The king of Israel, however, so far misunderstood the intention of the letter as to suppose that he himself was expected to perform the cure; he thought that this demand was only a pretext, in order to bring about a quarrel with him. He was thereby so frightened and saddened that he rent his clothes (2 Kings 2:12; 1 Kings 21:27). The meaning of the words in 2 Kings 5:7 is: he demands of me something which God alone can do, so that it is clear that he is only seeking a quarrel. To kill and to make alive is the province of that Divinity alone who is elevated far above the world (Deuteronomy 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:6); leprosy was regarded as the equivalent of death (Numbers 12:12); to deliver from it was to make alive. It is not probable that the king spoke the words: Wherefore, consider, in the solemn audience in which the letter was delivered to him (Thenius): he uttered this suspicion only in the circle of his most intimate attendants.
2 Kings 5:8. And it was so when Elisha the man of God, &c. If the arrival of the celebrated Syrian with his retinue caused a sensation, still more did the fact that the king rent his clothes; the news of it came speedily to the prophet, who was then in Samaria (2 Kings 5:3), and not in Jericho (Krummacher). The king, in his fright, either did not think of Elisha, or he did not believe at all that there was any one who could help in such a case. Elisha therefore sends to him to remind him that there is a prophet in Israel, i.e., that the God who can kill and make alive, the God of Israel, in spite of the apostasy of king and people, yet makes Himself known, in His saving might, through His servants the prophets.—The house of Elisha, before the door of which Naaman stood (2 Kings 5:9), was certainly not a palace, but rather a poor hovel, so that the “great man” did not go in, but waited for the prophet to come out to him, and receive him in a manner befitting his rank. This, however, the prophet did not do, but sent a message to him to instruct him what he should do. The idea that he did this before Naaman reached his house (Köster) contradicts the words of the text. The reason why Elisha did not come out was not that he was wanting in politeness, or that he was influenced by priestly pride, or that he feared the leprosy, or avoided intercourse with a leper in obedience to the Law (Knobel), but: “He wanted to show to Naaman once for all that this princely magnificence, this splendor of earthly honor and wealth, did not affect him at all, and that there was not the least cause in all this why Naaman should be helped. Furthermore, he wished to prevent the foreigner from thinking that the help came from the prophet, and that he had the healing power in himself, and also to prevent him or any other from ascribing the cure to the application of any external means: for the Syrians knew as well as the Israelites that the Jordan could not heal leprosy.… Naaman was to understand that he was healed by the grace and power of Almighty God, at the prayer of the prophet” (Menken).—Thy flesh shall come again to thee, &c. In leprosy raw flesh appears and running sores are formed, so that the diseased person dies at last of emaciation and dropsy (Winer, R.-W.-B. i. s. 115); the cure, therefore, consists in the restoration of flesh.
2 Kings 5:11. But Naaman was wroth, &c. “Not because he did not meet with becoming honor and attention, but because none of the religious ceremonies which he had expected were performed” (Menken). He himself tells what he had expected: Elisha’s brief answer sounds to him like scorn. The river Abana (2 Kings 5:12), or, as the keri has it, Amana, is the Χρυσοῤῥόας of the Greeks, now called Barada or Barady. It rises in Antilebanon, and flows through Damascus itself in seven arms (Winer, R.-W.-B. ii. s. 194). Pharpar, i.e., the swift, is hardly the little river Fidscheh, which flows into the Barada, but the larger, independent stream Avadsch, south of Damascus (see Thenius and Keil on the passage). Both rivers, as mountain streams, have clean fresh water, and Damascus is celebrated to-day for its pure and healthy water; “whereas the Jordan is ‘a deep, sluggish, discolored stream’ (Robinson, ii. 255, ed. of 1841), so that we understand how Naaman could consider the rivers of his native country better” (Keil). The address: My father (2 Kings 5:13), is at once familiar and respectful, as in 2 Kings 6:21, and 1 Samuel 24:11; the attendants addressed him with mild words and sought to soothe him. Thenius’ conjecture that אָבִי is corrupted from אִם, if, is utterly unnecessary. דָּבָר … דִּבֶּר is a conditional sentence without אִם and the object precedes for emphasis (Keil).—אַף כִּי as in 2 Samuel 4:11.—וַיֶּרֶד 2 Kings 5:14, means he journeyed down, i.e., from Samaria to the valley of the Jordan.
2 Kings 5:15. And he returned to, &c. That which Elisha had aimed at by his direction in 2 Kings 5:10, namely, not merely the cure of the leprosy, but Naaman’s conversion by means of it to the one true God, the God of Israel, was gained, as Naaman himself acknowledges: Behold, now I know, &c. At the same time he desires to show his gratitude to the man of whom God had made use, and he begs him earnestly to accept a gift (בְּרָכָה as in Genesis 33:11; 1 Samuel 25:27; 1 Samuel 30:26). Although Elisha on other occasions accepted gifts for himself, or at least for the body of prophet-disciples (cf. 2 Kings 4:42), yet in this case he steadily refused (2 Kings 5:16), not certainly from haughty self-assertion in his dealings with the great Syrian, but to show him that the prophet of the God of Israel observed a different conduct from the heathen priests, who allowed themselves to be richly rewarded for their deceitful services; especially, however, in order to establish in the mind of the healed man the conviction that the God of Israel alone, out of free grace and pity, had helped him, and that he owed to that God sincere and lasting gratitude. The refusal of Elisha must have made a deep impression not only upon Naaman, but also upon his entire retinue. As Theodoret observes, there lay at the bottom of this refusal the feeling that our Lord demanded of His disciples: “Freely ye have received, freely give.”
2 Kings 5:17. And Naaman said: If not, let there, then, &c. וָלֹא = καὶ εἰ μή, as the Sept. have, not: ut vis (Vulg.), nor: “And oh!” (Ewald). It was not Naaman’s object, in his request that he might take a load of earth with him, to “sacrifice to Jehovah on this outspread earth, as it were in the Holy Land itself” (Thenius), but he wished to build an altar of it. Altars were often made of earth; the altar of burnt-offering even, according to the Mosaic Law, was to be of earth (Exodus 20:24; Symbol. des Mos. Kult. i. s. 491). It is almost universally supposed that Naaman was subject to the “polytheistic superstition,” that each country had its own deity, who could be worshipped properly only in it, or on an altar built of its soil (so the latest commentators: Thenius, Keil, Von Gerlach, &c). But if Naaman had cherished the delusion that every land had its own God, that is to say, that there were other gods by the side of and besides the God of Israel, even though they were not so mighty as He, he would have been in contradiction with his own words in 2 Kings 5:15 : I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel, and he would not yet have grasped the main point, nor recognized that truth which forms the distinction of the Israelitish religion from all others, viz., that Jehovah alone is God, and that there is no other beside Him (Deuteronomy 4:35; Deuteronomy 32:39, &c). Moreover, the prophet could have passed over this delusion least of all without combating it, not to say anything of his replying to it: “Go in peace.” He must, at the very least, have called the Syrian’s attention to this error. Peter Martyr explains the desire to take away a load of earth quite correctly: hoc signo suam contestatur fidem erga deum, Israelis, et eâ terrâ, tanquam symbolo, voluit ejus admoneri. Not because he ascribed to this earth an especial magical power, but because Israel was the land in which the only true God had revealed and vindicated himself to His people, and now finally to him, did he wish to erect an altar of this earth, which should be, in the midst of a heathen country, a sign and monument of the God of Israel, and a memorial of the prophet of that God. This was why he did not take the load of earth, as he might have done, from any indifferent spot, but begged it of the man through whom he had been brought to a knowledge of the one true God. His request was, therefore, the result of a strong and joyful faith rather than of a heathen delusion. if, in a similar manner, according to the narrative of Benjamin of Tudela, cited by Thenius on this passage, the synagogue at Nahardea in Persia was built only of earth and stone which had been brought from Jerusalem, it was so built by the strict monotheistic Jews, certainly not from “polytheistic superstition,” but for the same reasons for which Naaman wished to build his altar of sacrifice out of Israelitish earth. [See bracketed note at the end of Histor. § 1.]
2 Kings 5:18. In this thing the Lord pardon, &c. Rimmon is doubtless a designation of the highest Syrian divinity, abbreviated from Hadad-Rimmon (Movers). See above, Exeg. on 1 Kings 15:18. It is of little importance for us whether the name is derived from &רָמַם רוּם) i.e., to be high, so that it is equivalent to עֶלְיוֹן (Psalms 9:2; Psalms 21:7), or from רִמּוֹן pomegranate (the well-known symbol of the reproductive power).—The expression: And he leaneth on my hand, designates a service, which appertained to a high official (adjutant) of the king, on occasions when the latter bowed down or arose, or performed any similar ceremony. This service was also executed at the court of the Israelitish kings (2 Kings 7:2; 2 Kings 7:17). The urgency of the request is marked by the repetition of the words: when I bow down. The meaning of the request is: when I, in the execution of any duty, accompany my king to the temple of Rimmon, and bow down when he bows down, then may that be pardoned me, and may I not be regarded as worshipping that divinity. I will not serve, from this time on, any God but Jehovah. Theodoret: εἰσιὼν ἐγὼ τὸν · συγγνώμης τυχεῖν ἱκετεύων, ὅτι δὴ διὰ τὴν βασιλικὴν . The word הִשְׁתַּחֲוָה, which is used of prostration before men as well as before God, and so in itself does not signify a purely religious act, cannot here be understood of an act of worship, for, if it could, Naaman would say in 2 Kings 5:18 the very opposite of what he had promised in 2 Kings 5:17, and Elisha could not have responded to the request that he might worship Rimmon besides Jehovah with the blessing: “Go in peace.” Some have very unjustly found, in the request that he might take away a load of earth, and also in the prayer that he might be forgiven for prostration in the house of Rimmon, signs that his faith was still wavering, undecided, and weak. It rather shows that he had a tender conscience, which desired to avoid an appearance of denying Jehovah, and which was forced to speak out its scruples and have them quieted. Such scruples would not have occurred to one who was wavering between service of God and service of the gods.—According to Keil, Elisha meant by the words: Go in peace, 2 Kings 5:19, to wish for the Syrian, on his departure, the blessing of God, “without approving or disapproving the religious conviction which he had expressed:” or, according to Von Gerlach, “without entering into the special questions involved.” But the prophet could not return a reply to a request which proceeded from conscientious scruples, such as the new convert here presented, nor give a reply which was at once yes and no, or neither the one nor the other. Naaman was to proceed on his journey “in peace,” not in doubt or restless uncertainty. If his request had been incompatible with a knowledge of the true God, the prophet would have been forced to show him that it was so; he could not have dismissed him with an ordinary, indifferent “formula of farewell.” That he omitted the correction and dismissed him in peace, shows beyond question that he acceded to the request.
2 Kings 5:19 sq. So he departed from him a little way, &c. Literally: a length of country, as in Genesis 35:16, without definite measure. It cannot have been very far (a parasang, according to the Syrian Version, or three and a half English miles, according to Michaelis). If it had been so far Gehazi could not have overtaken the horses (2 Kings 5:9).—This Syrian, 2 Kings 5:20, Vulg.: Syro isti, i.e., this foreigner, from whom he would have had a double right to take some reward. The oath: As the Lord liveth, stands in contrast with that of Elisha, 2 Kings 5:16. Blinded by his avarice, Gehazi considers it right before God to take pay, just as Elisha, in his fidelity, considers it right before God to accept nothing.—Descent from a vehicle (2 Kings 5:21) is, in the East, a sign of respect from the inferior to the superior (Winer. R.-W.-B. i. s. 501); Naaman honored the prophet in his servant. “From Gehazi’s hasty pursuit he infers that something unfortunate for the prophet has occurred” (Thenius), and asks, therefore, Rectene sunt omnia? (Vulg.) In reply to Gehazi’s assertion (2 Kings 5:22), he urges him to accept two talents, one for each prophet-disciple, and he causes the money to be borne before Gehazi in two sacks, as a mark of his eager willingness. Whether חֲרִטִים means open-worked, basket-like sacks, with handles (Thenius), or not, can hardly be determined from the word.—הֲעֹפֶל (2 Kings 5:24) is not a proper name (Luther), but the hill which stood before the house of Elisha, not before the house of anybody else, an acquaintance, for instance (Clericus).
2 Kings 5:25-26. And Elisha said unto him, &c. The words of Elisha: לֹא־לִבִּי הָלַךְ, stand in evident contrast with the words of Gehazi: לֹא־הָלַךְ עַבְדְּךָ, and mean: Thou sayest that thou didst not go anywhither; neither did I go away any-whither, i.e., I was not absent when Naaman descended from the chariot to come to meet thee. Instead of “I,” the prophet says לִבִּי, my heart (1Sa 16:7; 1 Kings 8:39; Jeremiah 17:10, &c.), because he was not present there, as Gehazi was, bodily and visibly, but in spirit, invisibly (1 Corinthians 5:3). Vulgata: Nonne cor meum in prœsenti erat quando, &c. Thenius: “Did I not go hence in spirit, and was I not present there?” It is not necessary to take it as a question, however, as is usually done. The question begins with הַעֵת. Ewald takes “my heart” to mean “my favorite, so that Elisha here rather refers with a severe pleasantry to his most intimate follower, who could so far transgress against his master, although he was his favorite pupil.” It is incredible that the prophet could have introduced the hard punishment of Gehazi (2 Kings 5:27) with a jesting, scornful question. [This rendering of Ewald: “Had not my dear pupil gone forth when some one (i.e., Naaman) turned back from his chariot to meet thee,” makes better sense than any other. It is not so much a jest as it is a sarcastic stripping bare of the falsehood, and it is not at all inconsistent with the revulsion of indignation and severity which prompts the condemnation which follows. Against this explanation, however, is the fact that this meaning for לִבִּי cannot be proved. Ewald refers to the Song of Solomon to justify the explanation, but without citing particular passages, and the context is so different in the two cases that the usage could not be established by its occurrence in that book.—W. G. S.] The explanation of Böttcher is equally inadmissible: “I, according to my convictions, could not have prevailed upon my heart … to go.” After 2 Kings 5:16 Elisha no longer needed to assert this. It was already clear. Maurer’s explanation: Non abierat, i.e., evanuerat (Psalms 78:39), animus meus, h. e., vis divinandi me nequaquam defecerat, falls, because הָלַךְ would have to be taken in a very different sense from what it has in 2 Kings 5:25, and because the clear reference to Gehazi’s words would then be lost. [The explanation of Thenius, practically that of the E. V., is the best. The strain put upon the words to make them mean, “I did not go away from the interview between thee and Naaman,” i.e., “I was present at it,” is apparent.—W. G. S.]—Is it a time, &c., i.e., “In any other case better than in this, mightest thou have yielded to thy desire for gold and goods” (Thenius). Gehazi had not received olive-trees, &c., but he meant to buy them with the money. [The form in which the Vulgate translates the verse is not literally faithful to the original, but it brings out with great distinctness the antithesis between the objects Gehazi had in view, and which, indeed, he had gained, and the other results which must follow: “Thou hast indeed received money wherewith thou mayest buy garments, and olive-yards, and vineyards, and sheep and oxen, and men-servants, and maid-servants; but, also, the leprosy of Naaman shall cleave unto thee and unto thy seed forever.”] A leper as white as snow (2 Kings 5:27), cf. the same expression, Exodus 4:6; Numbers 12:10, where a similar sudden attack of this disease takes place. According to Michaelis this takes place often under great terror or great affliction. The skin around the diseased spots is chalk-white (Winer, R.-W.-B., i. s. 114). Upon the words: Unto thee and unto thy seed (posterity) forever, Menken says: “It is the full, strong expression of excited, deep, yet holy and just feeling, which dare not and will not lay its words upon delicate scales, and which, to express the fulness of its abhorrence or its admiration, of its curse or its blessing, seizes upon a formula of the vulgar dialects of the country, even though it may not apply, in syllable and letter, to the case in hand.”
2 Kings 6:1. And the sons of the prophets said, &c. This story is to be connected with the two in 2 Kings 4:38-44, and is a supplement to them. Thenius supposes that it stands here “in order to show that what is said here in 2 Kings 6:1 did not take place until long after.” The connection into which Cassel brings it with chap. 5. is very forced, viz.: that the needy community of the prophets forms a contrast to the rich and mighty military commander; or, that, in spite of Gehazi’s fall, the number of prophet-disciples had increased so much, that a new house was necessary for them. Theodoret’s connection is at least more natural: He (Gehazi) sought riches and became a leper; the company of prophet-disciples, on the contrary, loved the greatest poverty. It is hardly possible that the place which had become too small was in Gilgal (2 Kings 2:1; 2 Kings 4:38), for this lay at a considerable distance from the valley of the Jordan; the same is true of Bethel. It is more likely to have been Jericho. The words: Where we dwell with thee (see on 2 Kings 4:38), show that the need was of a larger place of assembly, since the number of prophet-disciples had increased, and amounted at this time to certainly over a hundred (2 Kings 4:43). There is no reason to find a reference to dwellings which were to be built for all, as has been done in the interest of monasteries. They wished to go to the Jordan (2 Kings 6:2), because “its bank is thickly grown with bushes and trees” (willows, poplars, and tamarisks. Hitzig on Jeremiah 12:5), so that the building material was conveniently at hand. By the following words they mean: if each one cuts a beam, the work will soon be accomplished. They beg the prophet to go with them, not that he may direct the work—he was no architect—but because they wish to have him in their midst, and promise themselves, from his presence, blessing and success for their labor.
2 Kings 6:5. But as one was felling a beam, &c. It has been inferred from הָאֶחָד, which also occurs in the 3d verse, that it was the same one who is there referred to, but without reason. According to Hitzig and Thenius the אֶת before הַבַּרְזֶל introduces the new, definite subject. According to Keil, it serves to subordinate the noun to the sentence: “As for the iron, it fell into the water.” In the lament lies also a request for help, which is strengthened by וְהוּא שָׁאוּל. The person in question had “begged” for the axe, probably because he was too poor to buy one; hence the loss grieved him more than it would have done if it had come into his possession by gift. Luther’s translation [and that of the E. V.], “borrowed,” is correct in sense, though not exactly the corresponding word. The Vulgate has: et hoc ipsum mutuo acceperam.—The words וַיָּצֶף הַבַּרְזֶל are translated by Luther, following the Sept.: “The iron swam,” and hence the story, 2 Kings 6:1-6, is commonly entitled “The swimming iron.” Thenius and Keil translate: “And he caused the iron to swim.” But צוּף does not mean “swim,” like שָׂחָה (Isaiah 25:11), but: overflow (Lamentations 3:54): “Waters flowed over mine head;” in the hifil: to cause to overflow; Deuteronomy 11:4 : “He made the water of the Red Sea to overflow them.” The word does not occur out of these two places, in which it is impossible to translate it by swim and cause to swim. Cf. also צוּף, honeycomb (Psalms 19:10), from the idea of overflowing. Just as Jehovah brought the water over the horses and chariots, so that they were under it, Elisha here brought the axe over the water, so that it was no longer concealed by it. The Sept. translate: καὶ ἐπεπόλασε τὸ σίδηρον, i.e., and the iron arose—appeared upon the surface. Hesychius explains ἐπιπολάσαντες by ἐπάνω τοῦ ὕδατος περιφερόμενοι. If ἐπιπολάζειν meant swim, it could not, at the same time, have the meaning: to be haughty, to exalt one’s self impudently (Plut. Symp. ii. 1, 12). Hence Theodoret, on the passage, says correctly: ὁ προφήτης . ξύλον γὰρ ἐμβαλών, παρεσκεύασεν ἐπιπολάσαι τὸ σιδήριον. [The translation “swim,” meaning simply “float,” is perfectly allowable for either the Hebrew word or the Greek one, by which the Sept. render it.—W. G. S.] The miracle was not, therefore, “that the wood which was thrown in sank, while the iron swam upon the surface” (Philippson), but, that the prophet, by throwing in the wood, caused the iron to come to the surface, where the young man could get it. Following many of the rabbis, Vatablus and others, including Thenius, have adopted the opinion that Elisha pierced the hole in the axe with the stick, and so raised it out of the water. Of this the text says nothing, it only states that he did bring up the axe, not, however, how he did it; wherefore, it can only be regarded as a guess when Von Gerlach says: “He thrust the stick into the water, so that it passed beneath the iron and raised it to the surface.”
HISTORICAL AND ETHICAL
1. The first of the two preceding narratives, which fills the whole 5th chapter, is one of the most important in the life and prophetical labor of Elisha, and this is marked, in fact, by the fulness of detail with which it is narrated. Menken, in his excellent homilies upon this chapter (see his Schriften v. s. 77–117), says of it with justice: “This is a charming testimony to the living God!—a worthy part of the history of those revelations and manifestations of the living God, which, in their connection and continuation through many centuries, and in their tendency toward one goal and object, were designed to plant upon earth the knowledge and the worship of the true God! But it offers besides to our consideration a rich store of reflections, in which neither heart nor understanding can refuse a willing participation.” There is hardly a single Old Testament story in which the character of the Old Testament economy of salvation is mirrored in any such way; it is a truly prophetical story, that is, an historical prophecy. On the one side it shows the wonderful providence and mode of salvation of God, His saving power and grace, as well as His holy severity, and His retributive justice; on the other, closely interwoven with this, it shows human thought and desire, suffering and action, as well in good as in evil: it is the scheme of salvation epitomized. However, when Krummacher says: “We should rather expect to find it upon a page of the Gospel than seek it in an Old Testament book,” and affirms: “The baptism of the New Testament meets us here already in a type which is full of life,” he confounds the economies of the two Testaments. In spite of all its typical force, the story is specifically an Old Testament one. The main point, the proof of the whole, and therefore the thing which is not to be lost sight of, is, that a foreigner, a heathen, who, moreover, belongs to the people by which Israel at that time was most threatened; a mighty commander, by whose instrumentality Jehovah had given victory to the Syrians, finds help from the “prophet in Israel” (2 Kings 6:8), and comes to a knowledge of the one true God, the God of Israel. This is the point, too, which our Lord lays stress upon (Luke 4:25-27) when He, in order to shame and warn His countrymen who were scoffing at Him, refers to the widow of Sarepta, the foreigner, to whom Elijah was sent, and then to Naaman the Syrian, whom Elisha healed. The conjunction of the two is by no means accidental: both these great prophets of action testified, during the time of apostasy in Israel, each of them by an act of assistance towards a foreigner, that Jehovah, with His might and grace, was not confined to Israel; that He takes pity upon the heathen also, and leads them to knowledge, that His great name may be praised among all nations. What the later prophets preached by word, Elijah and Elisha prophesied by acts. As “widows and orphans” were succored by both (see above on 2 Kings 4:1 sq.), so foreigners are helped by both. The story of Naaman, therefore, occupies an essential place in the history of the prophetical work of Elisha; without it one of the chief points of the prophetical calling would be wanting in this work.
[We must endeavor to analyze this story more closely, and to gain a more definite conception of the course of the incidents. Naaman undoubtedly had the religious ideas which were universal throughout ancient heathendom. He regarded the gods of Syria, which he had been educated to worship, as real gods. None of them, or of their priests or prophets, had or could cure him of leprosy. He heard by chance the fame of Elisha, as one who wrought wonders in the name of the God of Israel. No heathen would maintain that his national divinities were the only true gods. Sennacherib declared that he was conquering Judah by the command of Jehovah, whom he recognized as the god of that country. The heathen colonists whom the king of Syria brought to populate Samaria, attributed the ravages of the wild beasts to the fact that the worship of the god of the country was not provided for. It was the notion of the heathen that each country had its god, so that Syrians worshipped Syrian gods, and Hebrews the Hebrew god. To the heathen this seemed perfectly natural and correct. On the other hand, the Hebrews declared that Jehovah was the one only true God of all the earth, and that the gods of the heathen were nullities (vanity, E. V.) Naaman did not violate the principles of his religious education when he went to Elisha; Ahaziah, when he sent to Ekron (chap. 1), did. Naaman came with a letter from the king of Syria to the king of Israel, and he came with gifts, and in pomp—all according to heathen ideas of the means of inducing the thaumaturge to exercise his power. He was to be armed with the influence of authority and rank; he was to appear as a great man, for whom it was well worth while for the wonder-worker to do whatever he possibly could, and he brought the material means which his experience among wizards, diviners, soothsayers, and priests, had taught him to regard as indispensable. The king of Israel was terrified at the demand; but the prophet intervened. We are surprised at this feature. If Naaman’s errand was really to Elisha, the literal words of the letter would not have been a demand that the king should heal him (2 Kings 5:6), but that he should command his subject, the prophet, to exercise his powers on the Syrian’s behalf. Thus the king would have simply referred Naaman to Elisha for the latter to do what he could. The story is evidently so much abbreviated at this point that its smoothness is impaired. Naaman comes in all his pomp to the door of Elisha. He receives the prophet’s command, and his words in 2 Kings 5:11-12 bear witness again to wide and deep heathen conceptions. In 2 Kings 5:11 he describes graphically the mode of performance of the heathen thaumaturge. “I thought, he will stand” (take up a ceremonious and solemn attitude) “and call upon the name of his God” (repeat a formula of incantation), “and strike his hand upon the place” (with a solemn gesture) “and remove the leprosy.” Had he come all that journey to be told to bathe? Could water cure leprosy? If it could, was there not the pure water of Abana and Pharpar, better far than the sluggish and muddy water of Jordan? His pomp and state were thrown away: the man of God did not even come to look at them. His high credentials were wasted; the means of cure prescribed for him might have been prescribed for the poorest outcast in Israel. The deep and permanent truth of this feature, and also of the prophet’s refusal to accept money, is apparent. The difference between the Jehovah-religion and the heathen religions is sharply portrayed by the contrast in each point, between Naaman’s expectations on the one hand, and the prophet’s words and actions on the other. The Syrian’s servants suggested to him the sensible reflection that he ought not to despise the prophet’s command. He went, bathed, and was cleansed. He then returned to reward the prophet, but found that the prophet did not give his help as a thing to be paid for. The Syrian was not to think that the prophet had used a power which was his own, and which might be paid for, whereby the obligation would be discharged. The service came from God; it was a free act of grace; a special blessing upon this one, and he a foreigner, while many Israelitish lepers remained uncleansed (Luke 4:27). The prophet and his God were not at the service of any one who came and could pay a certain price; they wrought only where and when there was good reason, and, when they did so, the recipient of grace lay under an obligation which he never could discharge. In regard to Naaman’s words: “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel,” a careful scrutiny shows that the proposition is not strictly accurate, for the God of Israel is and was not only in Israel, but in all the earth. The true proposition would be: The God of Israel is the only true God, and He reigns over all the earth. In the very form of his confession Naaman shows that his mind was still under the bias of the heathen idea of local deities, so that he says that there is no God anywhere else in the world but in Israel. No other had been able to heal him; but Jehovah had done so by apparently very insignificant means, hence he esteemed Jehovah true, and esteemed the others very lightly or not at all. It should be noticed also that the conception which he seems to have reached was that which was held by very many of the Jews, viz.: that Israel alone had any God, and that the rest of the world was godless; their own gods were nullities, and Jehovah did not care for them, so that they had no God at all. He determined to devote himself to the worship of Jehovah for the rest of his days. He therefore very naturally, in accordance with the same idea of local or territorial divinities, asked for earth from Palestine to build an altar for the worship of Jehovah. He also made one further request. His duty at his master’s court (although it is difficult to understand how a leper could have had that office) was to attend his master, and support him when he went to worship in the temple of the Syrian God, Rimmon. The idea that Naaman was “converted” to the worship of Jehovah in such a sense that he went over to the Hebrew idea of the other gods, is without foundation. It is a modern idea, which has no place in this connection. Naaman did not feel bound at all to keep away from the temple of Rimmon, as an early Christian would have kept away from an idol-temple. His last request to the prophet is, that, when he goes into this temple in the course of his official duty, it shall not be regarded as a violation of his vow to pay all his worship, for the future, to Jehovah, to the neglect of all other gods. To this the prophet answers: “Go in peace,” i.e., your sincere performance of your vow shall be recognized, and. this conduct shall not be interpreted as a violation of it.—W. G. S.]
2. The healing of Naaman did not take place at a mere word, but was like all miraculous deeds of the prophet, attached to some corresponding external means, but to such an one that to it, in itself, no healing power could be ascribed. This power must first be conferred upon it by the prophet, so that the cure must necessarily be recognized as an act of God, whose instrument and minister the prophet was. The external means, a sevenfold bath in Jordan, was a very significant one. Evidently the prophet had in mind what the Law prescribed for the purification of a leper. Such an one was to “bathe himself in water” (Leviticus 14:8-9), and throughout the entire ceremony of purification, “sevenfoldness” is the rule (Leviticus 14:7; Leviticus 14:16; Leviticus 14:27; cf. Leviticus 14:51; Symbol. des Mos. Kult., i. s. 196, and ii. s. 508, 518). The conduct of Elisha was, therefore, in general analogous to the ordinance in the Law, and, in so far, it referred back to the God of Israel, who had given the Law. Naaman had to bathe in the Jordan because that is the chief river of the promised land, which flows through the long and narrow country, so that it is called simply the land of the Jordan (Psalms 42:6). As Canaan was the land of Israel, so the Jordan was the river of Israel. Moreover, it had great importance for the history of Israel. From the “passage of the chosen people” through this water, which is compared directly with the passage through the Red Sea (Psalms 114:3; Psalms 114:5), “dated the existence of the theocracy in Palestine” (Winer, R.-W.-B. i. s. 620). The Jordan was witness, and, in a certain degree, pledge and warrant of the might and grace of God, which were revealed in Israel. It was the water, in and at which Jehovah had manifested himself as the almighty, helping, and saving God of Israel. The fact of being healed and purified by bathing in this water, was designed to draw the mind of the heathen to the truth, that it is the God of Israel who alone can help and save, and that He it was who had helped him; that he therefore owed gratitude to this God alone, and not to the prophet who was only His servant. We have, then, in this case another proof that the miracles of the prophet were symbolic acts, and it is remarkable that the immediate significance of Elisha’s transaction with Naaman, although it lies upon its face and is so easily to be recognized, has been hitherto almost entirely overlooked. The naturalistic method of explanation is at a loss to account for this miracle. According to Knobel (Prophet. ii. p. 92–97): “Elisha had the reputation of a good physician among the Syrians as well as among the Israelites… The bath, taken in obedience to the command of a man of God, was blessed with an extraordinary efficacy. That this, however, was not the entire curative process employed by Elisha is certain (?), though it is not possible to find out what else he did to Naaman.” To relegate the entire story to the domain of myth or legend, on account of the miracle, is the least admissible course to pursue. This story bears in itself the impress of historical genuineness, if ever one did, by virtue of its simplicity, its moderate statements, its numerous characteristic details, and its purely objective representation. To invent such a story is impossible; and it can occur to no one who understands the matter that Naaman is a mythical person. The remark of Köster (Die Prophet. s. 89): “The whole story is meant to show that miracles were always intended to extend the worship of Jehovah,” is unsatisfactory, because this was evidently not the case in many miracles, and especially in all the rest which are recorded of Elisha (cf. chap. 4). [The most important and most instructive feature of the story seems to be overlooked by our author. It was not the water either of Jordan or of Abana which could heal, it was the obedience of this haughty general to a mandate which seemed to him frivolous and absurd. In the gospels faith is the first requisite in similar cases of healing, and so it was here also—faith and obedience. Naaman came with his mind all made up as to how he was to be healed, and he turned away in anger and disgust from the course which the prophet prescribed. Yet, when he turned back, even with a lame and half-doubting faith, and a half-unwilling obedience, he was healed. This is the permanent truth which is involved in the story. Naaman was a type of the rationalist whose philosophy provides him with a priori dogmas by which he measures everything which is proposed to his faith. He turns away in contempt where faith would heal him. That is the truth which the story serves to enforce.—W. G. S.]
3. In the acknowledgment with which Naaman returns to the prophet after being healed, the story reaches its climax: all the ways in which God led this man tended to this end. With the words: “Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel,” he renounces the fundamental error of heathenism on the one hand, viz.: that every nation had its own god, and on the other hand he acknowledges that there is only one God on earth, and that He reveals himself in Israel. He does not, therefore, exchange one national god for another, but declares that Jehovah is the first and the last, and that there is no God beside Him (Isaiah 44:6), that the whole earth belongs to Him (Exodus 19:5), and that this God has chosen the people of Israel for the salvation of all nations, and revealed himself to them. This is the kernel of Naaman’s confession, that he does not merely turn from Polytheism to Monotheism, but recognizes the God who has revealed himself to Israel as the one living God. Therefore, also, this land, which God promised and gave to his people, is for him a holy land (cf. Daniel 11:16; Daniel 11:41; Psalms 37:9; Psalms 37:29; Proverbs 2:21 sq.). Therefore he wishes to take earth from this country that he may sacrifice thereon to its God. Such a confession from the mouth of a heathen would be incomprehensible, especially from one who had the disposition which Naaman showed before he was healed (2 Kings 5:11-12), if something extraordinary and miraculous had not taken place. For unfaithful, wavering Israel, which had had a far wider experience of the might and glory of its God than Naaman, this confession was a source of shame, of warning, and of reproof.
4. Naaman’s request (2 Kings 5:18) and Elisha’s reply (2 Kings 5:19) have been made the text of extended theological treatises (cf. Buddeus’ Hist. Eccles. ii. p. 360 sq.). For instance: it has been inferred that, under certain circumstances, it is permitted to participate in the ceremonies of a religion one recognizes as erroneous. Among Roman Catholics the passage has been used to justify the conduct of missionaries who permitted the newly-converted heathen to continue to observe pagan ceremonies; among Protestants, as Starke says, “Some have drawn the conclusion that an attendant of a prince or king might accompany him to Mass, and do him service there, if he was in the service of the prince before the latter was converted to a false worship of God. Such a case was that of John of Saxony, whom the Emperor Charles V. asked to carry the sword in procession as Grand Marshal of the empire, when the emperor went in solemn state to Mass.” The passage does not, however, give a general rule for all times and all places, because the case of Naaman belongs entirely to the Old Testament, and could not now occur. If Naaman ought not to have continued to exercise his office about the person of his king any longer, then he must have given up, not only his influential position, but also his fatherland and his nationality, and must have become an Israelite, and that too at a time when there was so much apostasy in Israel itself. The entire object of his being healed, viz., that he, in the midst of a heathen nation, which was hostile to Israel, might be a witness and an actual confessor of the God of Israel, and might carry His name into another country, would have been frustrated. Elisha, who had this object before all else in view, does not, therefore, raise any objections to his request: he invokes upon him “peace” at his departure; and, “since he perceives that Naaman’s purposes are pure, he leaves him to the direction of God, as the one who will guide his conscience” (Jo. Lange). Cassel (Elisha, s. 89) not improperly draws attention here to the difference between the conduct of Naaman and that of Themistocles in a similar case. The latter found it necessary to appear before the Persian king, and there prostrate himself before him, according to the Persian custom. As he, however, considered this unworthy of a Greek, he had recourse to the stratagem of allowing his ring to fall, and then, as he picked it up, he bowed before the throne, and so thought that he had given satisfaction both to his conscience and to the king. “Naaman did not wish to act thus. He was not willing to deceive or act the hypocrite, for he knew that his God could see through the stratagem, and would not permit himself to be deceived, although men might think that they had concealed their hearts.” [There is no reason whatever to suppose that Naaman knew all that; and the heinousness of this stratagem of Themistocles was very different from that of an hypocritical act of worship. Why should we imagine that Naaman, after he was cleansed of leprosy, had the clear conceptions, the pure piety, and the delicate conscience of a modern Christian? Furthermore, it seems that, if the words of the author above are pressed, he will be made to say that any one may engage in hypocritical acts of worship, if he can, by so doing, remain in a position where he can make proselytes! The object of the miracle was not to make a proselyte of Naaman (see above, bracketed note at the end of § 1). The Israelites, at this period, made no effort whatever to gain proselytes. The opportunity offered to glorify the God of Israel before a heathen of rank, and it was done. He naturally turned, as a consequence, to the worship of Jehovah, as superior to all other gods. In the addition to § 1, it is stated what Naaman meant by this request, and what the significance of the prophet’s answer was.—W. G. S.]
5. Gehazi’s transgression and its punishment are to be estimated principally from the historical-theocratical, and not alone from the moral standpoint. His act was not a product of mere vulgar avarice, which shrinks back from no falsehood. By it he made his master, all of whose intercourse with him ought to have exercised a purifying influence upon him, a liar, and his oath (2 Kings 5:16) an empty phrase. He did not leave Naaman with the undimmed conviction that all the grace he had experienced had come to him gratis, and that “there was a prophet in Israel.” He did not fear to stain the work which God had done upon a heathen for the glory of His name, and thereby he denied the Holy One, whose might he had just seen manifested upon Naaman. The words which Peter used of Ananias were true of him: “Thou hast not lied unto men but unto God” (Acts 5:4). His act was a betrayal of the prophet, of Naaman, and of Jehovah. “A thousand deceits and dishonesties might have been committed, by all of which not one of the dear and holy interests would have been injured, which in this case were in danger, and which, by this act, were criminally and faithlessly betrayed” (Menken). Hence it incurred so severe a punishment, which was not arbitrarily or indifferently chosen, but which proceeded out of the transgression, and corresponded to it. The leprosy of Naaman (2 Kings 5:27) became the leprosy of Gehazi; as Naaman was a living monument of the saving might and grace of Jehovah, so Gehazi was a monument of the retributive justice of the Holy One in Israel; a living warning and threat for the entire people. By his conversion Naaman was taken up into God’s community of redemption in Israel; by his unfaithfulness and denial of this God, Gehazi brings down upon himself the punishment which excludes him from the society of the prophet-disciples, and of the entire covenant people. Finally, as Naaman’s cure and conversion was a physical prophecy that God will have pity upon the heathen also, and will receive them into His covenant of grace, so Gehazi’s leprosy prophesied the rejection of the people of Israel who should abandon the covenant of grace, and persevere in apostasy (Matthew 8:11-12; Matthew 21:43).
6. The second narrative (2 Kings 6:1-7) relates the last of the acts of Elisha which concern individuals. It is distinguished from the two mentioned above, which likewise took place in the circle of the prophet-disciples (2 Kings 4:38-44), by the circumstance that here help is given in need to one person, not, as there, to the entire society. The number of the prophet-disciples had become so great, that the construction of another building had become necessary. Here now was to be shown how each separate individual of the company might be consoled by the help of Jehovah even in the slightest need. The loss of the axe, even though it had been “begged for,” was very slight in itself; but for a poor man, who did not even possess the necessary implements for cutting wood, a greater one than it would be for a rich man, if all his treasures should fall into the water. As before God there is no respect of persons, prince or beggar being all one, so there is also before Him no independent value in things; what is small and insignificant for one person, being great and important for another. The lilies of the field, which bloom to-day and to-morrow are cast into the oven, are as glorious before God as Solomon in all his glory (Matthew 6:28-30). His might and goodness are revealed in the smallest detail as well as in the greatest combination. He helps in what are apparently the smallest interests of the individual, as well as in the greatest affairs of entire nations, and He rules with His grace especially over those who keep His covenant, and turn to him in all the necessities of life. That is the great truth which this little story proclaims, and just for the sake of this truth, it was “thought worthy to be inserted in the history of the theocracy” (Hess). The restoration of the axe, whereby aid was given to the prophet-disciple in his need, strengthened all the others in the faith that the God in whose honor they were erecting the building was with them, and would accompany their work with His blessing; they worked now only the more zealously and gladly.
7. The swimming iron, which is the title ordinarily given to this narrative, is an entirely incorrect designation of it. It has the literal meaning of the text against it, and it misleads to the opinion that the only point of the story is, that Elisha also made iron swim upon water like wood. What significance, however, would such a miracle have under these circumstances? It would not have any proper force, either for the prophet-disciple himself, or for the construction of the building, and would be nothing more than a feat of the divine omnipotence, without either moral or religious foundation, and at most only a thing to excite astonishment. This object has indeed been suggested: “the prophet-disciples were to learn here, that God had not only made the forces which have sway in nature, but, also, that He directs them continually; that He makes that easy which is hard, when we only pray him to do so in a just cause” (Von Schlüsser). In that case, however, every connection with the building of the house would be wanting, and one does not see why so general a truth should be made known to the prophet-disciples precisely on the occasion of the loss of an axe, which its owner had begged for or borrowed. The same objection applies with still more force to the opinion that the miracle of the floating iron proclaimed the following: “A light thing raises a heavy thing from the deep … The world’s history shows that in the miraculous providence of God, that which is heavy is raised by that which is light.… Iron is the symbol of sin; wood, however, serves for peace, reconciliation, sacrifice.… He who died upon the wood made all sin powerless; raised it up out of the deep where it lay buried, in history and in the individual man” (Cassel, Elisa, s. 100–106). This allegorical explanation, which is, to begin with, arbitrary and unfounded, overlooks, from the outset, the fact that it is not a question here of a piece of heavy metal, iron in general, but rather of a definite implement, which was necessary for cutting timber, of an axe which had been lost, and of the poor man who had lost it, after begging for it, and for whom it was to be recovered. In this misfortune the prophet helped him, and this is the main point; not the fact that the iron floated. According to the naturalistic explanation Elisha “pierced the hole in the axe with the pointed stick, and so lifted it up” (Knobel, Der Proph. ii. s. 98); and Köster (Die Proph. s. 90) says: “It was very correctly asserted, even by the Jewish expositors, that this was no miracle. (Buddeus, p. 364, opposes, and maintains the miracle, but cannot tell what was the use of the sharpened stick.) The axe had flown from the handle; Elisha pierced a stick into the aperture of it, and brought it up. The edifying application of it was, that presence of mind becomes a prophet, and is valuable even in the slight affairs of every-day life.” But the text says nothing about what would here be the main point, viz.: the sharpening of the stick. קָצַב (ver 6) does not mean to point, to sharpen, but only to chop off (Gesenius). Besides, it is clear that the narrative is not intended to tell of some ordinary incident, which any one could do in every-day life without especial “presence of mind,” but of an act which only a prophet, by virtue of the spirit of Jehovah, could do. That he made use for this purpose of an external physical means is true not only here, but also in the case of all his miraculous deeds (cf. 1 Kings 17:0, Hist. § 5).
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
2 Kings 5:1-19. The Story of Naaman. (a) His Illness (2 Kings 5:1-8); (b) his cure (2 Kings 5:9-14); (c) his conversion (2 Kings 5:15-19).
2 Kings 5:1-8. Bender: Naaman; a consideration (a) of the discipline of suffering under which he was; (b) of the star of hope which arose for him in his misfortune; (c) of the path in which he was led by this hope.
2 Kings 5:1. Menken: Everywhere where there is, or seems to be, something great and fortunate, there is also a slight discordant “but,” which, like a false note in a melody, mars the perfectness of the good-fortune. A worm gnaws at everything pertaining to this world; and everything here below carries the germs of death in itself.… We ought to consider all human suffering and misery worthy of consideration, wherever we find it. It is found everywhere; it dwells in the palace and in the hovel; it is interwoven with the life of prince and beggar; and it is inseparable from all worldly happiness. This is to the end that we may perceive and be convinced that there is nothing earthly with which a man should be contented, and in which he can find true rest and the ever-enduring peace of the soul, and therefore that the poor and lowly have no reason to envy the rich and great. That which makes us happy in truth and for eternity does not depend upon rank or upon wealth.—Calwer Bibel: God treated this heathen in the way in which He is accustomed to treat His children. Just as He is wont to give to them, together with everything joyful which He grants them, also something incidental to restrain their pride, that they may remain humble, and may learn to seek God, so that He may still further glorify himself in them, so He visited this great military chief, whom He had so magnified in other respects, with a disease, which should make him humble, and teach him to seek further grace. That which seems to us and to all the world to be the greatest misfortune, and which is mourned as such, is often, according to God’s wise counsel, the way to our highest good-fortune and welfare. The Lord says: “What I do thou knowest not now” &c. (John 13:7; Hebrews 12:11).
2 Kings 5:2-3. Krummacher: The Foreign Slave-Girl, (a) The momentous purchase; (b) the development of the seed of true religion in a heathen land; (c) the earnest ray of hope in the dark night of sorrow. The Little Girl from the Land of Israel, (a) Her heavy lot (such an one as that of Joseph and Daniel.—Menken: Torn from her friends, led away from her people and her fatherland, sold in a foreign country, slave of a heathen, she was a stranger to the joys of youth and the pleasure of life, and sadness and sorrow overclouded her life. How often may she, seized by yearning for the land of her childhood and youth, by longing for father and mother, have cried out to God. She could endure all this because she had learned in early youth to know the God whose eye overlooks all countries, and who holds His hand over all who heartily depend on Him. How necessary it is that parents should early make their children acquainted with the living God and His holy Word, that they may learn to yield themselves to His ways, and may have a light and staff in the dark valley); (b) her good advice. (It came from a heart which was full of sympathy for the trouble of her master, and which did not, like so many, serve with mere eye-service to please men. It was like a sun arising in a dark night, and it was the first movement towards Naaman’s salvation in body and soul, and towards the glorification of the living God among the heathen. How great things the little maid brought about without knowing it. God often makes use of the most insignificant instruments (1 Corinthians 1:28) for building up His kingdom and for spreading abroad His name. The least important person in the household becomes a living proof of the all-controlling, loving care and providence of God, and of the declaration, Isaiah 55:9.)
2 Kings 5:4. Cramer: One ought not to despise the counsel of even insignificant persons, for God can accomplish great things even by means of these.—Cassel: When the great and mighty are so bowed down that they do not know where else to get help, they listen even to a child. Nay: such are we all. When the waves reach to our heads we begin to listen to anything; no advice is too contemptible for us; no person too insignificant for us to be willing to listen.
2 Kings 5:4-7. Naaman’s Journey to Samaria. (a) The equipment for it. (The king gives him a letter of introduction: he departs with great pomp, with horses and chariots, and he takes with him rich treasures for gifts. Provided with all this, he has a firm hope of attaining his object. Rank, might, and wealth, those are the things in which a man hopes who has not yet learned to know the living God; but the Scripture says: “Put not your trust,” &c., Psalms 146:3; Psalms 146:5; Psalms 118:9; and: “A horse is a vain thing,” &c, Psalms 33:17; and: “We brought nothing into,” &c, 1 Timothy 6:7.) (b) The Reception in Samaria. (The king is terrified because he has a bad conscience, Job 15:21; Wis 17:11. Such a man always finds more in a letter than it says. Those who do not trust God do not trust one another. In his terror he is at a loss what to do. The king of Israel does not know what the little maid knew (2 Kings 5:3). In matters of the kingdom of God the humble and lowly have often more experience than the great, Matthew 11:25; 1 Corinthians 1:27-28. Naaman was to be made to feel this, Sir 51:10; Psalms 88:5, in order that he might come to Him from whom alone help can come, Psalms 3:8; Psalms 68:20).
2 Kings 5:6. Great men, who are accustomed to find every one ready to do their will, often believe, in their blindness, that they can command that to be done which only God can do.
2 Kings 5:7. What good does it do to believe in a God who can kill and make alive, if one does not fear Him and bow before Him; does not seek Him, and therefore does not find Him? (James 2:19).
2 Kings 5:8-14. The Healing of Naaman. (a) The conduct of the prophet (2Ki 5:8; 2 Kings 5:10; 2 Kings 5:14); (b) Naaman’s behavior under it (2 Kings 5:9; 2 Kings 5:11-13).
2 Kings 5:8. Cramer: When faithful servants of God see that the unbelief of the godless redounds to God’s dishonor, they hasten to oppose it. God spoke and made known His mercy by the prophets in Israel many times and in many ways. Last of all, He revealed Himself by His Son, who is the “brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person” (Hebrews 1:1-3). He speaks to all who have to console the sorrowing or counsel the despairing: Let them come to me that they may learn that a Saviour has come into the world, who restores the sorrowful and heavy-laden, and in whom they can find rest for their souls.—Cassel: In Israel a prophet is never wanting; He lives who goes ever with us; He lives who has washed all wounds in His blood; though all the world should fall in ruins, my Saviour and my prophet lives.
2 Kings 5:9-10. Horses and chariots, external grandeur and display, must often be employed to conceal internal misery from the eyes of the world, and to impose upon it. A genuine man of God does not, however, allow himself to be deceived, or to be bribed by pomp and display, but he speaks out whatever God commands, whether it pleases the world or not. In human affairs the word of the Apostle applies: “Be kindly affectioned one to another,” &c., Romans 12:10. In divine matters, however, when the recognition of truth, and the honor of God, and the glory of His name, are at stake, a servant of God ought not to be governed by the rules of worldly politeness, but only to be guided by that which will contribute to the salvation of souls. It often requires far more self-denial to resist the great than to yield to them; not all is priestly pride which seems to the world to be such. That which Naaman believed to be contempt and rudeness really proceeded, in the case of Elisha, from genuine love to him, and humility and obedience to God.
2 Kings 5:11 sq. Menken: This man, convinced of the inadequacy of all human and earthly means to relieve his misfortune, seeks divine help, and when he finds it, and it is before him, so that he only needs to reach out his hands and take it, he is dissatisfied, and complains of the divine help, on account of its peculiar form and character: he turns away from it with anger as from something worthless. And why? Simply on account of his prejudice; because he had made up his mind that what was divine must take place in another way, that its form of acting and helping must be different. He did not stop and ask himself whether he had reason and right for his expectation, nor whether the peculiarity of speech, action, and relief, which displeased him, was unbecoming to what was divine. Trusting to his prejudice without scruple or investigation as to its justice, as it were to an oracle, i.e., trusting to himself as possessing an infallible insight, he departs. How faithful and true the old picture is! How fresh and new it is, as if men of to-day had sat for it! Ask thousands, who are devoted to human pursuits with enthusiasm and zeal, and who leave what is holy and divine in contemptuous neglect, why they do so, and they will be able to give but this one answer: I thought that the divine must speak, and act, and will, and work, in a different way from this; I cannot reconcile it with my opinion; if I should accept this I should have to throw away my opinion, and that of the public and the time.—Observe this now well, and do not think it of little importance. This “I thought!” is the most mighty of all mighty things on earth, and even if it is not the most ruinous of all ruinous things, it is yet certainly the most unfortunate of all unfortunate ones. This “I thought” brought sin and misery and death into the world, and it prevents redemption from sin and death in the case of thousands. These thousands, if they perish in their opinion, will begin the next life with “I thought!”—Calwer Bibel: How common it is for men to prescribe to God the ways of His providence and the modes of His assistance! Just in order to break this self-will, and to awaken and test our faith and our patience, God must act contrary to our prejudice.—Richter: How many a one asks in unbelief: how can water do so great things? Water does not indeed do it, but the word of God, which is in and with the water.—The Means by which Naaman was made whole. (a) Their apparent insignificance: (b) their real significance (see Histor. §§ 1 and 2).—Menken: Blessed is he who is not offended because of me, said once He, in whom and through whom the divine appeared to men in its purest and most glorious form, and in its deepest and directest sense. Thereby He showed conclusively that the divine has a peculiarity on account of which it is and must be opposed to the perverse sense of sinful men. Therefore we call that man blessed who can believe the divine, and to whom the humble form in which it appears here below is no cause of mistake, and whom the simplicity in which it is dressed for the sake of truth, and the humility with which it is clad for the sake of love, offends so little that he admires and honors and loves it all the more exactly on this account.—Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:20-29.—Naaman became angry on account of the message which the prophet sent to him. So now also the message of salvation is received with anger because it opposes the opinion and the pride of the natural man, who is not willing to admit that he is a poor sinner, and diseased, and in need of salvation (James 1:21). That which is offered as a means of life and peace, becomes thus all the greater cause of destruction.—Luther: The world wants to earn heaven from God, although He proclaims through the world: I will be your God; I will give it to you out of free grace, and I will make you blessed without a price. [Naaman as a Type of the Rationalist. The a priori notions which men form, which become prejudices in their minds, and by which they measure things. They invent a God in their own minds and go to the Bible to see if they find the same God there; if not, they reject Him. They form a priori notions of Christ, of the Bible, of religion, and the way in which religion ought to be presented to them, of prayer, of Providence, of the sacraments, &c. If these are not satisfied they turn away angry. If the diseases of their souls cannot be healed as they have made up their minds that they ought to be healed, then they will not have them healed at all. See Histor 1 and 3, with translator’s additions.—W. G. S.]
2 Kings 5:13. “The kingdom of God cometh not with observation;” “it is not in word but in power” (Luke 17:20; 1 Corinthians 4:20).—Menken: Thousands, who are sad and heavy-laden under the consciousness of the spiritual misery of sin and death … would be glad if the Word would order them to the utmost end of the earth, and would command them to make the pilgrimage without shoes under their feet, or covering upon their heads, and to give all their goods to the poor, and to brand and torture their bodies with chastisements, because that would correspond to their sensual feeling, and to their preconceived opinion; but they cannot reconcile themselves to the gospel of the grace of God, that He sent His Son into the world as a propitiation for sin (1 John 4:10).—Servants and subordinates cannot better prove their love and fidelity to their masters than by dissuading them from angry and violent steps by friendly and humble words—not by falling in with and encouraging their temper. (Proverbs 15:1).
2 Kings 5:14. Krummacher: It is a great thing, when a man is willing from his heart to submit himself to the ordinances which God has established for his salvation.—Bender: The divine means of grace of the Church are for us what the Jordan was for Naaman. We are called to profit by them by the Holy Ghost, who will therein enlighten us by His gifts, and sanctify and strengthen us in the faith. As Naaman was healed gratis of his leprosy, which threatened him with death, so that his flesh became like that of a little child, so are we, through the compassion of God, which was revealed in Christ, purified from sin and saved through the “washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost,” so that we may be first-fruits of His creatures, and, as such, heirs of eternal life (Titus 3:5 sq.; James 1:18).
2 Kings 5:14-19. Bender: The Healing of Naaman. (a) The act of God; (b) Naaman’s confession; (c) his gratitude; (d) his especial request.
2 Kings 5:15. He who has come to faith in the living God, who revealed himself to Israel by His prophets, and to us by His Son, feels an impulsion to confess this faith with joy before men. Without faith there is no confession, and without confession there is no faith (Psalms 116:10; Romans 10:10).—J. Lange: That knowledge of God which is won by experience of the purification of the heart, and which is enjoyed in the sweet and quiet peace of the soul, is the only real, genuine, and saving knowledge.—Starke: Nothing is impossible for faith. It can make of a proud and boastful soldier a pious and humble servant of God (Mark 9:23). Naaman gave with joy, and God loveth a cheerful giver. He gave not only because he had been healed, but because he had come to a knowledge of the true God. After God we owe gratitude to none so much as to those who have brought us to a knowledge of God and a recognition of the truth.
2 Kings 5:16. Menken: Godly and holy men, who have devoted their lives to the service and witness of the divine truth among men, have always had two peculiarities, which bad men have never been able to imitate: freedom from all love of gain, and, in neglect of the praise and honor of the world, a pure looking-up to the Father, “who seeth in secret” (Acts 8:18-20).—Starke: True Godliness knows when to open the hand and when to close it (Sir. 4:36).—A servant of God must always firmly ward off whatever might cast the least evil appearance upon the purity and fidelity of his service to his master.
2 Kings 5:17-19. Naaman’s Two Requests, as testimonies to his firm and decided faith (see Historical, §§ 1, 4). (a) The altar built of the soil of Israel in a foreign land was an indicator of the way to Israel and to Israel’s God; a physical confession which required strong courage, for it might call down persecution, disgrace, and death. So now it is an act of faith when a messenger of the faith sets up the cross in the midst of a mighty heathen people. How deeply does Naaman shame the Christians who, even among Christians and in Christian countries, do not dare to confess Christ by word and deed, (b) The prayer for indulgence came from a fine and tender conscience, which makes an earnest thing of its faith; to which all hypocrisy is loathsome; which is not willing to lean both ways, but demands confidence and certainty as to whether what it does and what it leaves undone are right in the sight of God, and whether it is maintaining the grace it has won. How rare are those in our times who, in matters of religion, are equally scrupulous!
2 Kings 5:17. Cassel: As Naaman was the type of the converted heathen world, and he carried the soil of Palestine to Aram, so did the heathen carry over into their own lands, together with Christianity, the doctrine, life, disposition, and spirit, which had flourished in the Holy Land, and thereby they established for themselves a new home. … When we hear here and there in Christian lands the names Bethany, Bethlehem, Zion, &c, what are they but holy places transferred, in their spirit, from their original location into our life and thought and feeling. In thy religious observances the main point is not the correctness and truth of thy knowledge, or of the doctrine which thou professest, but the truth and purity of thine own character. What one may do under his circumstances without violating his conscience, the conscience of another, under other circumstances, will forbid him to do. We have no right to judge him: to the Lord each one stands or falls (Romans 14:1-7).—Menken: The higher a man stands in the world, and the more important he has made his position, the more is he bound.
2 Kings 5:19. When a man has been heartily converted, and earnestly strives to enter in at the straight gate, we ought not to make harder for him what is already hard, and we ought not to make demands of him which, according to the circumstances in which God has placed him, he cannot fulfill, but look to the main point and not the incidental or external things, leaving him with prayer to the gracious guidance of God, who will complete the work of grace which He has begun in him. God makes the sincere to succeed.—Menken: One does not know what to admire most in Elisha’s mild and simple answer, the clear and correct insight into a genuine heart experience, which, whatever may surround and obscure the main point, still seizes this quickly and clearly; or the holy moderation which, even in the case where it is its prerogative to urge, limit, bind, loose, or burden, still restrains itself; or the pure humanity of disposition, which can so thoroughly sympathize, so completely put itself in the position and at the stand-point of the other. The knowledge of the living God, and the experience of His saving grace, is the fountain of all peace, with which alone a man can go gladly on his way.
2 Kings 5:19-27 (cf. Histor. § 5). Bender: Gehazi, the False Prophet-Disciple, (a) His disposition; (b) his procedure; (c) his punishment.—Krummacher: Gehazi. (a) Gehazi’s heart; (b) Gehazi’s crime; (c) the judgment which fell upon him.
2 Kings 5:20. Let not desire overcome thee. How mighty are the evil inborn lusts of the human heart! Even in the case of those who have for years enjoyed the society of the noblest and most pious men, who have heard and read the word of God daily, and who have had the example of holy conduct daily before their eyes, lusts arise, take possession of them, and carry them captive (James 1:13-15; Matthew 15:19). Therefore, “Be sober, be vigilant,” &c. (1 Peter 5:8).—The avaricious and covetous are always envious; they are discontented when others neglect chances to become rich, or renounce that which they would be glad to have.—Calwer Bibel: Gehazi speaks contemptuously of Naaman because he is a Syrian and not an Israelite, although he was far better than Gehazi. So also now-a-days, unwise Christians and Jews contemn one another.… It is plain from his unnecessary oath what kind of a man Gehazi was. Those who swear unnecessarily judge themselves. Covetousness is the root of all evil: where there is covetousness and avarice there is also falsehood and deceit, vulgarity and rudeness, and cunning theft and bold theft.
2 Kings 5:22. Bender: Gehazi was Elisha’s servant. Ye servants, how do you conduct yourselves toward your masters? Are ye open, sincere, honest, obedient, as the apostle says Ephesians 6:5-6? Is the property and good name of your masters as dear to you as your own property and your own honor, or do ye take advantage of them where ye can? “My master has sent me”—so says many an unfaithful servant, who cares for silver and gold, raiment, fields, vineyards, and gardens, but not for the honor of his master—who cares more for the wool than for the sheep. Hypocrites do more harm to the cause of God than the godless (2 Timothy 3:5).
2 Kings 5:23. He who himself thinketh no evil and is sincere, does not suspect cunning and deceit in others. Good-hearted, noble men, to whom it is more blessed to give than to receive, are easily deceived, and they follow the inclination of their hearts, instead of examining carefully to whom they are giving their benefactions.
2 Kings 5:24. That which we must conceal brings no blessing.
2 Kings 5:25. “Whence comest thou, Gehazi?” Happy are they of whom there is no need to ask this question; who can give an account without falsehood of all the paths in which they have walked, and of all the places in which they have been.—Menken: This question should have been to Gehazi like the wind-gusts before a storm, which warn the traveler to seek a refuge-where the coming storms and floods cannot reach him.—This is the curse which rests upon a lie, that the man seeks to escape from it by new lies, and so involves himself more and more in the net of him of whom the master says: “When he speaketh a lie he speaketh of his own” (John 8:44).
2 Kings 5:26. If God himself arms His prophets with the gift to be witnesses of hidden sin, and to bring it to the light, how much more will He, before whose judgment-seat we shall all have to appear, bring that to light which now lies hidden in darkness, and reveal the secret counsels of the heart?
2 Kings 5:27. Menken: How did the raiment of Damascus appear to the leper, or the pieces of silver to the wretched outcast? How often must he have desired to buy back again with all his treasures one day of his healthful poverty? Then, too, the lost peace of God. Alas! Most incomprehensible, most depraved, most indestructible and terrible of all deceits, deceit of riches, who fears thee, as we all should fear thee? God have pity upon us all, and help us all, that no one may set his hopes upon uncertain riches, but upon the living God, who gives us all richly to enjoy all His blessings. And yet again: “They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare” (1 Timothy 6:9-12).—The story of Naaman and Gehazi is a prophecy of the salvation of the heathen who seek help and grace, and of the rejection of Israel, if it destroys and rejects salvation (Isaiah 5:25 sq.). [The leprosy of riches. Gold is tainted—strength required to use it aright; right pursuit of wealth; absorbing pursuit of it; curse which cleaves to it when it is ill-gotten or ill-used; this curse crops out most frequently in the children. A father absorbed in pursuit of wealth, and mother absorbed in fashion, will bring up corrupt and neglected children. Parents love gold, and fashion, and display, children will hold these the chief things in life. Thou hast gotten thee gold, but leprosy shall cleave to thee and to thy seed forever.—W. G. S.]
2 Kings 6:1-7 (cf. Histor. § 6 and 7). (a) Sketch of the Community-life of the Prophet-disciples, (a) Their number does not diminish in spite of all contempt and persecution, but increases (2 Kings 6:1); (b) they undertake nothing without their master (2 Kings 6:2-3); (c) they help and encourage one another in their work (2 Kings 6:4); (d) they experience the divine help and blessing (2 Kings 6:5-7).
2 Kings 6:1. It is a good state of things when a community can say: “Behold the place,” &c. How many Churches have room and to spare, and might accommodate twice as many hearers, while the room in the buildings devoted to the lusts of the eye and the flesh, and to the pride of life, is too small.
2 Kings 6:2. Pfaff. Bibel: Each one should contribute his share to multiply churches and schools as the population increases.
2 Kings 6:5. Starke: Pious people are more careful of what is borrowed than of their own property.
2 Kings 6:5-7. Würt. Summ.: We have here an instance where God is touched by even the least misfortune which visits his children. He will not let himself be hindered by natural laws from helping his servants in their need, … that they may not despair in adversity, but trust in God, and be only the more diligent in prayer.—Krummacher: It often happens that the Lord takes from us some possession, or appears to do so, only with the purpose of returning it after a longer or shorter time in some unexpected way, that it may thus come to us as a gift of divine love, and a pledge of His grace.
2 Kings 6:8; 2 Kings 6:8.—[The first clause expresses a circumstance of the main action, best rendered by the absolute participial construction. The king of Syria, being at war with Israel, held a council of his officers, and decided, in such and such, &c.—Ew. Lehrb. § 16l, a, explains תּחנות as a noun in the form of the infinitive, das Sich lagern. Hence the form of the suff.
2 Kings 5:12; 2 Kings 5:12.—[Keri, Amana. See Exeget.
2 Kings 5:17; 2 Kings 5:17.—[The Sept. join the first two words of the next verse with this one, τῷ ῥήματι τούτῳ, because of this thing.—W. G. S.]
2 Kings 5:18; 2 Kings 5:18.—Thenius proposes to change the last י in בהשׁתחויתי to ו, and it certainly does seem better to do so. This is the reading of the Sept. (ἐν τῷ προσκυνεῖν αὐτόν), and of the Vulg. (adorante eo).—Bähr.
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Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on 2 Kings 5". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 9 / Ordinary 14