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2 Kings 5:1-27
THE CURE OF NAAMAN'S LEPROSY. HIS GRATITUDE; AND THE SIN OF GEHAZI, The historian continues his narrative of Elisha's miracles, commenced in 2 Kings 2:1-25; and gives in the present chapter a very graphic and complete account of two which were especially remarkable, and which stood in a peculiar relation the one towards the other. One was the removal of leprosy; the other, its infliction. One was wrought on a foreigner and a man of eminence; the other, on a Hebrew and a servant. The second was altogether consequential upon the first, without which the occasion for it would not have arisen. The two together must have greatly raised the reputation of the prophet, and have given him an influence beyond the borders of the laud of Israel; at the same time extending the reputation of Jehovah as a great God through many of the surrounding nations.
2 Kings 5:1
Now Naaman, captain of the host of the King of Syria. The name "Naaman" is here found for the first time. It is thought to be derived from that of an Aramaean god (Ewald), and appears in the later Arabic under the form of Noman, in which shape it is familiar to the students of Arabian history. Benhadad, who had been wont in his youth and middle age to lead his armies into the field in person, seems now in his old age to have found it necessary to entrust the command to a general, and to have made Naaman captain of his host. Compare the similar practice of the Assyrian monarchs. Was a great man with his master, and honorable—rather, honored, or held in esteem (τεθαυμασμένος, LXX.)—because by him the Lord had given deliverance—literally, salvation, or safety (σωτηρίαν, LXX.)—unto Syria. Probably he had commanded the Syrian army in some of its encounters with the Assyrians, who at this time, under Shalmaneser II; were threatening the independence of Syria, but did not succeed in subjecting it. He was also a mighty man in valor—gibbor hail, commonly translated in our version by "mighty man of valor," does not mean much more than "a good soldier"—but he was a leper. Leprosy had many degrees. Some of the lighter kinds did not incapacitate a man for military service, or unfit him for the discharge of court duties (2 Kings 5:18). But there was always a danger that the lighter forms might develop into the severer ones.
2 Kings 5:2
And the Syrians had gone out by companies; or, in marauding bands. No peace had been made after Ahab's expedition against Ramoth-Gilead. Hostilities, therefore, still continued upon the borders, where raids were frequent, as upon our own northern border in mediaeval times. And had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid. The marauding expeditions of ancient times had for one of their main objects the capture of slaves. In Africa wars are still carried on chiefly for this purpose. And she waited on Naaman's wife. Either Naaman had led the expedition, and this particular captive had been assigned to him in the division of the booty, or she had merely passed into his possession by purchase, and thus become one of his wife's attendants.
2 Kings 5:3
And she said unto her mistress, Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! literally, Oh that my lord were before the prophet who is in Samaria! Elisha had a house in Samaria (2Ki 6:1-33 :82), where he resided occasionally. For he would recover him of his leprosy. The "little maid" concludes from her small experience that, if her master and the great miracle-working prophet of her own land could be brought together, the result would be his cure. She has, in her servile condition, contracted an affection both for her master and her mistress, and her sympathies are strongly with them. Perhaps she had no serious purpose in speaking as she did. The words burst from her as a mere expression of goodwill. She did not contemplate any action resulting from them. "Oh that things could be otherwise than as they are! Had I my dear master in my own country, it would be easy to accomplish his cure. The prophet is so powerful and so kind. He both could and would recover him." Any notion of her vague wish being carried out, being made the ground of a serious embassy, was probably far from the girl's thought. But the "bread cast upon the waters returns after many days." There is no kind wish or kind utterance that may not have a result far beyond anything that the wisher or utterer contemplated. Good wishes are seeds that ofttimes take root, and grow, and blossom, and bear fruit beyond the uttermost conception of those who sow them.
2 Kings 5:4
And one went in, and told his lord, saying. "One went in" is a possible translation; but it is simpler and more natural to translate "he went in," i.e. Naaman went in, and told his lord, Ben-hadad, the King of Syria. Thus and thus said the maid that is of the land of Israel. Being "of the land of Israel," her words had a certain weight—she had means of knowing—she ought to know whether such a thing as the cure of leprosy by the intervention of a prophet was a possible occurrence in her country.
2 Kings 5:5
And the King of Syria said, Go to, go; rather, Go, depart; i.e. lose no time; go at once, if there is any such possibility as the maiden has indicated. "We see," Bahr says, "from the king's readiness, how anxious he was for the restoration of Naaman." And I will send a letter unto the King of Israel. Letters had been interchanged between Solomon and Hiram, King of Tyro (2 Chronicles 2:3-11), a century earlier; and the communications of king with king in the East, though sometimes carried on orally by ambassadors, probably took place to a large extent by means of letters from a very early date. Written communications seem to have led to the outbreak of the war by which the foreign dynasty of the Hyksos was driven out of Egypt, and the native supremacy reestablished. Written engagements were certainly entered into between the Egyptian kings and the Hittites at a date earlier than the Exodus. Benhadad evidently regards the sending of a letter to a neighboring monarch as a natural and ordinary occurrence. And he—i.e. Naaman—departed, and took with him ten talents of silver—reckoned by Keil as equal to 25,000 thalers, or £3750; by Thenius as equal to 20,000 thalers, or £3000—and six thousand pieces of gold. "Pieces of gold" did not yet exist, since coin had not been invented. Six thousand shekels' weight of gold is probably intended. This would equal, according to Keil, 50,000 thalers; according to Thenius, 60,000 thalers. Such sums are quite within the probable means of a rich Syrian nobleman of the time, a favorite at court, and the generalissimo of the Syrian army. Naaman evidently supposed that he would have, directly or indirectly, to purchase his cure. And ten changes of raiment (comp. Genesis 45:22; Hom; 'Od.,' 13:67; Xen; 'Cyrop.,' Genesis 8:2. § 8; ' Anab.,' 1.2. § 29; etc.). The practice of giving dresses of honor as presents continues in the East to this day.
2 Kings 5:6
And he brought the letter to the King of Israel, saying. The hostile relations between Syria and Israel would not interfere with the coming and going of a messenger from either king to the other, who would be invested with an ambassadorial character. Now when this letter is come unto thee. We must not suppose that we have here the whole letter, which, no doubt, began with the customary Eastern formalities and elaborate compliments. The historian omits these, and hastens to, communicate to us the main point of the epistle, or rather, perhaps, its main drift, which he states somewhat baldly and bluntly. Behold, I have therewith sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him—literally, and thou shalt recover him—of his leprosy. The letter made no mention of Elisha. Ben-hadad assumed that, if the King of Israel had in his dominions a person able to cure leprosy, he would be fully cognizant of the fact, and would at once send for him, and call upon him for an exertion of his gift or art. He is not likely to have comprehended the relations in which Kings of Israel stood towards the Jehovistic prophets, but may probably have thought of Elisha "as a sort of chief magus, or as the Israelitish high priest" (Menken), whom the king would have at his beck and call, and whose services would be completely at his disposal.
2 Kings 5:7
And it came to pass, when the King of Israel had read the letter, that he rent his clothes. In horror and alarm. He concluded that once more (see 1 Kings 20:7) the Syrian monarch was determined to find a ground of quarrel, and had therefore sent to him an impossible request. And said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive? To "kill" and to "make alive" were familiar expressions in the mouth of the Israelites to designate omnipotence (see Deuteronomy 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:6). Recovering from leprosy was equivalent to making alive, for a leprous person was "as one dead" (Numbers 12:12) according to Hebrew notions. That this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy. The king evidently does not bethink himself of Elisha, of whose great miracle of raising the dead to life (2 Kings 4:35-36) he may not up to this time have heard. Elisha's early miracles were mostly wrought with a certain amount of secrecy. Wherefore consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me. The king misjudged Benhadad, but not without some grounds of reason, if he was ignorant of Elisha's miraculous gifts. Benhadad, when seeking a ground of quarrel with Ahab, had made extravagant requests (see 1 Kings 20:3-6).
2 Kings 5:8
And it was so—or, it came to pass—when Elisha the man of God (see 2 Kings 4:7, 2 Kings 4:16, etc.) had heard that the King of Israel had rent his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? The king's act was public; his complaint was public; he wished his subjects to know the outrageous conduct, as he viewed it, of the Syrian king. Thus the rumor went through the town, and reached the ears of the prophet, who therefore sent a message to the king. Let him come now to me; i.e. let Naaman, instead of applying to thee, the earthly head of the state, the source of all human power, which is utterly unavailing in such a case, apply to me, the source of spiritual power, the commissioned minister of Jeho-yah, who alone can help him under the circumstances. And [then] he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel; i.e. he shall have swift and sure demonstration, that God "has not left himself without witness," that, "in spite of the apostasy of king and people, the God who can kill and make alive yet makes himself known in Israel in his saving might through his servants the prophets" (Bahr), of whom I am one.
2 Kings 5:9
So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot. The Syrians had had chariots, and used horses to draw them, from a remote date. The Hyksos, who introduced horses and chariots into Egypt, though not exactly a Syrian people, entered Egypt from Syria; and in all the Syrian wars of the Egyptians, which began about B.C. 1600, we find their adversaries employing a chariot force. In one representation of a fight between the Egyptians and a people invading Egypt from' Syria, the war-chariots of the latter are drawn by four oxen; but generally the horse was used on both sides. Syria imported her horses and chariots from Egypt (1 Kings 10:29), and, as appears from this passage, employed them for peaceful as well as for warlike purposes. There was a similar employment of them from a very early time in Egypt (see Genesis 41:43; Genesis 50:9). And stood at the door of the house of Elisha. Elisha was at this time residing in Samaria, whether in his own house or not we cannot say. His abode was probably a humble one; and when the great general, accompanied by his cavalcade of followers, drew up before it, he had, we may be sure, no intention of dismounting and entering. What he expected he tells us himself in 2 Kings 5:11. The prophet regarded his pride and self-conceit as deserving of a rebuke.
2 Kings 5:10
And Elisha sent a messenger unto him. Elisha asserted the dignity of his office. Naaman was "a great man" (2 Kings 5:1), with a high sense of his own importance, and regarded the prophet as very much inferior to himself. He expected to be waited on, courted, to receive every possible attention. Elisha no doubt intended very pointedly to rebuke him by remaining in his house, and communicating with the great man by a messenger. But there is no ground for taxing him with "priestly pride," or even with "impoliteness" on this account. He had to impress upon the Syrian noble the nothingness of wealth and earthly grandeur, and the dignity of the prophetic office. He did not do more than was requisite for these purposes. Saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times. Elisha speaks no doubt, "by the word of the Lord." He is directed to require of Naaman a compliance with a somewhat burdensome order. The nearest point on the course of Jordan was above twenty miles distant from Samaria. Naaman is to go thither, to strip himself, and to plunge into the stream seven times. The directions seem given to test his faith. They may be compared with that of our Lord to the blind man, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam," and, in another point of view, with that given to Joshua (Joshua 6:3-5), and that of Elijah to his servant (1 Kings 18:43). To repeat a formal act six times with- out perceiving any result, and yet to persevere and repeat it a seventh time, requires a degree of faith and trust that men do not often possess. And thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean. The scaly leprous scurf shall fall off and reveal clean flesh underneath. Thy body shall be manifestly freed from all defilement.
2 Kings 5:11
But Naaman was wroth … and said. Not unnaturally. As a "great man," the lord on whose arm the king leant, and the captain of the host of Syria, Naaman was accustomed to extreme deference, and all the outward tokens of respect and reverence. He had, moreover, come with a goodly train, carrying gold and silver and rich stuffs, manifestly prepared to pay largely for whatever benefit he might receive. To be curtly told, "Go, wash in Jordan," by the prophet's servant, without the prophet himself condescending to make himself visible, would have been trying to any Oriental's temper, and to one of Naaman's rank and position might well seem an insult. The Syrian general had pictured to himself a very different scene. 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 the leper; rather, take away the leprosy (ἀποσυνάξει τὸ λεπρόν, LXX.). Naaman had imagined a striking scene, whereof he was to be the central figure, the prophet descending, with perhaps a wand of office, the attendants drawn up on either side, the passers-by standing to gaze—a solemn invocation of the Deity, a waving to and fro of the wand in the prophet's hand, and a sudden manifest cure, wrought in the open street of the city, before the eyes of men, and at once noised abroad through the capital, so as to make him "the observed of all observers, the cynosure of all neighboring eyes." Instead of this, he is bidden to go as he came, to ride twenty miles to the stream of the Jordan, generally muddy, or at least discolored, and there to wash himself, with none to look on but his own attendants, with no eclat, no pomp or circumstance, no glory of surroundings. It is not surprising that he was disappointed and vexed.
2 Kings 5:12
Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? The "rivers of Damascus" are streams of great freshness and beauty. The principal one is the Barada, probably the Abaua of the present passage, which, rising in the Antilibanus range, and flowing through a series of romantic glens, bursts finally from the mountains through a deep gorge and scatters itself over the plain. One branch passes right through the city of Damascus, cutting it in half. Others flow past the city both on the north and on the south, irrigating the gardens and orchards, and spreading fertility far and wide over the Merj. A small stream, the Fidjeh, flows into the Barada from the north. Another quite independent river, the Awaaj. waters the southern portion of the Damascene plain, but does not approach within several miles of the city. Most geographers regard this as the "Pharpar;" but the identification is uncertain, since the name may very possibly have attached to one of the branches of the Barada. The Barada is limpid, cool, gushing, the perfection of a river: It was known to the Greeks and Romans as the Chrysorrhoas, or "river of gold." We can well understand that Naaman would esteem the streams of his own city as infinitely superior to the turbid, often sluggish, sometimes "clay-colored" Jordan. If leprosy was to be trashed away, it might naturally have appeared to him that the pure Barada would have more cleansing power than the muddy river recommended to him by the prophet. So he turned and went away in a rage.
2 Kings 5:13
And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father. Naaman's attendants did not share his indignation, or, if they did, since servants in the East are apt to be jealous of their masters' honor, had their feelings more under control; and they therefore inter-feted with mild words, anxious to pacify him, and persuade him to follow the prophet's advice. "My father" is a deferential and, at the same time, an affectionate address, not unnatural in the mouth of a confidential servant. There is thus no need of any alteration of the text, such as Ewald (לוֹ for אָבִי) or Thenius (אִם for אָבִי) proposes. It must be admitted, however, that the LXX. seem to have had לוֹ in their copies. If the prophet had bid thee do some great thing—"had set thee," i.e; "some difficult task"—wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, [shouldest thou perform his behest] when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean? The reasoning was unanswerable, and took effect. Naaman was persuaded.
2 Kings 5:14
Then went he down; i.e. descended into the deep Jordan valley from the highland of Samaria—a descent of above a thousand feet. The nearest route would involve a journey of about twenty-five miles. And dipped himself seven times in Jordan—i.e. followed exactly the prophet's directions in 2 Kings 5:10—according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child—literally, of a little lad—and he was clean. Not only was the leprosy removed, hut the flesh was more soft and tender than that of a grown man commonly is. It was like the flesh of a boy.
2 Kings 5:15
And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company. It is not always seen what this involved. It involved going out of his way at least fifty miles. At the Jordan, Naaman was on his way home, had accomplished a fourth part of his return journey; in three more days he would be in Damascus, in his own palace. But he feels that it would be an unworthy act to accept his cure and make no acknowledgment of it, having turned away from the prophet "in a rage" (2 Kings 5:12), now, without apology, or retraction, or expression of regret or gratitude, to return into his own country under the obligation of an inestimable benefit. His cure has wrought in him, not merely a revulsion of feeling from rage and fury to thankfulness, hut a change of belief. It has convinced him that the God of Elisha is the God of the whole earth. It has turned him from a worshipper of Rimmon into a worshipper of Jehovah. He must proclaim this. He must let the prophet know what is in his heart. He must, if possible, induce him to accept a recompense. Therefore he thinks nothing of an outlay of time and trouble, but retraces his steps to the Israelite capital, taking with him all his company, his horses and his chariots, his gold and silver and bales of clothing, and numerous train of attendants. And came, and stood before him; i.e. descended from his chariot, and asked admittance into the prophet's house, and was received and allowed an audience—a striking contrast with his previous appearance before the house, in expectation that the prophet would come down and wait upon him. And he said, Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel. This is an acknowledgment of the sole supremacy of Jehovah on the part of a heathen, such as we scarcely find elsewhere. The general belief of the time, and indeed of antiquity, was that every land had its own god, who was supreme in it—Baal in Phoenicia, Che-mesh in Moab, Moloch in Ammon, Rimmon in Syria, Bel or Bel-Merodach in Babylon, Amun-Ra in Egypt, etc.; and when there is an acknowledgment of Jehovah on the part of heathens in Scripture, it is almost always the recognition of him as a god—the God of the Jews or of the Israelites, one among many (see Exodus 10:16, Exodus 10:17; 2 Kings 17:26; 2Ki 18:33-35; 2 Chronicles 2:11; Daniel 2:47; Daniel 3:29; Daniel 6:20, etc.). But here we have a plain and distinct recognition of him as the one and only God that is in all the earth. Naaman thus shows a greater docility, a readier receptivity, than almost any of the other pious heathens who are brought before us in Scripture. Balaam and Cyrus alone equal him. Now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing—i.e. "a present"—of thy servant. Heathens were accustomed to carry presents to the oracles which they consulted, and to reward those from which they received favorable responses with gifts of enormous value (see Herod; 2 Kings 1:14, 50, etc.). The Jewish prophets did net generally object to such free-will offerings. Naaman therefore quite naturally and reasonably made the offer. He would have contravened usage had he not done so.
2 Kings 5:16
But he said, As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none. Elisha regards it as best, under the circumstances, to refuse the offered recompense. It was not compulsory on him so to act; for the precept, "Freely ye have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8), had not been yet uttered. Pious Israelites commonly brought gifts to the prophets whom they consulted (1 Samuel 9:7, 1 Samuel 9:8; 1 Kings 14:3). But, in the case of a foreigner, ignorant hitherto of true religion, whom it was important to impress favorably, and, if possible, win over to the faith, Elisha deemed it advisable to take no reward. Naaman was thus taught that Jehovah was his true Healer, the prophet the mere instrument, and that it was to Jehovah that his gratitude, his thanks, and his offerings were due. And he urged him to take it; but he refused. Contests of politeness are common in the East, where the one party offers to give and even insists on giving, while the other makes a pretence of declining; but here both parties were in earnest, and the gift was absolutely declined.
2 Kings 5:17
And Naaman said, Shall there not then, I pray thee, be given to thy servant two mules' burden of earth? Naaman does not state what he intends to do with the earth; and the critics have consequently suggested two uses. Some suppose that he intended to make the earth into an altar upon which he might offer his sacrifices; comp. Exodus 20:24, where an altar of earth is spoken of (Bahr and others). But the more general opinion (Thenius, Von Gerlach, etc.) is that he wished to spread the earth over a piece of Syrian ground, and thereby to hallow the ground for purposes of worship. The Jews themselves are known to have acted similarly, transferring earth from Jerusalem to Babylonia, to build a temple on it; and the idea is not an unnatural one, It does not necessarily imply the "polytheistic superstition" that every god has his own laud, where alone he can be properly worshipped. It rests simply on the notion of there being such a thing as "holy ground" (Exodus 3:5)—ground more suited for the worship of God than ordinary common soil, which therefore it is worth while to transfer from place to place for a religious purpose. For thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice [as meat offerings or firstfruits] unto other gods, but unto the Lord. It is implied that Naaman had been hitherto a polytheist. Not much is known of the Syrian religion, but, so far as can be gathered, it would seem to have been a somewhat narrow polytheism. The sun was the supreme god, and was worshipped ordinarily under the name of Hadad (Ma-crob, 'Sat.,' 1.23). There was also, certainly, a great goddess, the "Dea Syra" of the Romans, whom they identified with Cybele and with their own "Bona Dea," a divinity parallel with the Ashtoreth of the Phoenicians, and the Ishtar of the Assyrians and Babylonians. Whether there were any other distinct deities may be doubted, since Bitumen is possibly only another name of Hadad (see the comment on verse 18). Adonis is simply "Adonai," i.e. "my Lord," an epithet of the Supreme Being.
2 Kings 5:18
In this thing the Lord pardon thy servant. Naaman is not prepared to be a martyr for his religion. On returning to Damascus, it will be among his civil duties to accompany his master to the national temples, and to prostrate himself before the images of the national deities. If he declines, if (like an early Christian) he will not enter "the house of devils," much less bow down before the graven image of a false god, it may cost him his life; it will certainly cost him his court favor. For such a sacrifice he is not prepared. Yet his conscience tells him that he will be acting wrongly. He therefore expresses a hope, or a prayer, that his fault, for a fault he feels that it will be, may be forgiven him—that Jehovah will not be "extreme to mark what is done amiss," but will excuse his outward conformity to his inward faith and zeal. That when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon. Riminon is probably derived from rum (רוּם), "to be high," and means "the exalted god," according to the gloss of Hesychins—Ράμας ὕψιστος θεός. It is wrongly connected with רִטּוןֹ, "a pomegranate," and should rather be compared with the Arabic Er Rhaman, "the Most High." The royal name, "Tab-Bitumen" (1 Kings 15:18), contains the root, as does also the local name (Zechariah 12:11), "Hadad-Rimmon." This last word gives rise to the suspicion that Hadad and Rimmon are merely two names of the same deity, who was called "Hadad" or "Hadar" as bright and glorious, "Rim-men" as lofty and exalted. To worship there, and he leaneth on my hand. Either Naaman's leprosy must have been recent, and he refers to the king's practice in former times, or there must have been far less horror of leprosy among the Syrians than there was among the Hebrews. And I bow myself in the house of Rimmon—before the image, or at any rate before the supposed presence of the god—when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon thy servant in this thing. The repetition of the clause indicates Naaman's anxiety on the subject.
2 Kings 5:19
And he said unto him; Go in peace. Elisha declared neither that God would nor that he would net forgive Naaman his departure from the path of strict right. He was not called upon to give an answer, since Naaman had not put a question, but had only expressed a wish. His Go in peace is to be taken simply as "wishing the departing Syrian the peace of God upon the road." So Keil, rightly. So he departed from him a little way. Naaman left the presence of Elisha, quitted Samaria, and had gone a short way on his homeward journey when Gehazi overtook him. 2 Kings 5:19 is closely connected with 2 Kings 5:20.
2 Kings 5:20
But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said (see 2 Kings 4:12-36 for the position held towards Elisha by Gehazi), Behold, my master has spared Naaman this Syrian. Gehazi either honestly thinks, or at least persuades himself, that a Syrian ought to be, not spared, but spoiled, as being a foreigner and an enemy. In not receiving at his hands that which he brought (see 2 Kings 5:5). Gehazi may not have known how much it was, but he had seen the laden animals, and rightly concluded that the value was great. But, as the Lord liveth, I will run after him, and take somewhat of him. "As the Lord liveth" seems a strange phrase in the mouth of one who is bent on lying and on stealing. But experience teaches us that religious formulae do drop from the lips of persons engaged in equally indefensible proceedings. This is partly because formulae by frequent use become mere forms, to which the utterer attaches no meaning; partly because men blind themselves to the wrongfulness of their actions, and find some excuse or other for any course of conduct by which they hope to profit.
2 Kings 5:21
So Gehazi followed after Naaman. A company of travelers in the East, even though it consist of the retinue of a single great man, will always contain footmen, as well as those who ride on horses or in chariots, and will not travel at a faster pace than about three miles an hour. Thus Gehazi, if he went at his best speed, could expect to overtake, and did actually overtake, the cavalcade of Naaman. He probably overtook them at a very short distance from Samaria. And when Naaman saw him running after him. Gehazi was pressed for time. He could not start at once, lest he should make it too plain that he was going m pursuit of Naaman; and he could not absent himself from the house too long, lest his master should call for him. He had, therefore, at whatever loss of dignity, to hurry himself, and actually "run after" the Syrian. Naaman, either accidentally looking back, or warned by some of his train, sees him, recognizes him, and is only too glad to respond to his wishes. He lighted down from the chariot to meet him. An act of great condescension. As Bahr notes, "Descent from a vehicle is, in the East, a sign of respect from the inferior to the superior;" and Naaman, in lighting down from his chariot, must have intended to "honor the prophet in his servant". But such honor is not commonly paid, and thus the act of Naaman was abnormal. And said, Is all well? The words admit of no better translation. Seeing Gehazi's haste and anxious looks, Naaman suspects that all is not well, that something has happened since he left the prophet's house, and accordingly puts his question, הֲשָׁלוֹם—Rectene sunt omnia? (Vulgate).
2 Kings 5:22
And he said, All is well. Gehazi's reply was, "All is well." There has been no accident, no calamity—only a casual circumstance has caused a change in my master's wishes, which I am sent thus hurriedly to communicate to thee. My master hath sent me, saying, Behold, even now (i.e. just at this time) there be come to me from Mount Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets. The details are added to give a greater air of truthfulness to the story. Give them, I pray thee, a talent of silver, and two changes of garments; i.e. a change apiece, and a talent between them—rather a large sum in respect of the pretended occasion, but a trifle compared with the amount which Naaman had expected to expend (2 Kings 5:5), and probably very much less than he had recently pressed upon the prophet (2 Kings 5:16). Gehazi had to balance between his own greed on the one hand, and the fear of raising suspicion on the other. His story was altogether most plausible, and his demand prudently moderate.
2 Kings 5:23
And Naaman said, Be content, take two talents; rather, consent, take two talents. Do not oppose thyself to my wishes—consent to receive double what thou hast asked. Naaman is anxious to show his gratitude by giving as much as he can induce the ether side to accept. He suggests two talents, probably because the strangers who are said to have arrived are two. And he urged him. Gehazi must have made some show of declining the offer. And bound two talents of silver in two bags—i.e. put up two talents separately in two bags, closing the month Of the bag in each case by "binding" it round with a string—with two changes of garments—as asked for (2 Kings 5:22)—and laid them upon two of his servants. If the Hebrew silver talent was worth £375 as Keil supposes, or even £300 as Thenius reckons, it would be pretty well as much as an ordinary slave could carry, being somewhat over a hundredweight. And they bare them before him; i.e. they—the servants—bare the two sacks of money before him—Gehazi.
2 Kings 5:24
And when he came to the tower; rather, to the hill (Revised Version). Some well-known eminence at a little distance from the Damascus gate of Samaria must be intended. Here Gehazi stopped the slaves, and took the money from them. It was important for his purpose that they should not be seen re-entering the city, as that would have occasioned remark, and might naturally have led to inquiry. He took them—i.e; the bags—from their hand—i.e. from the hands of Naaman's servants—and bestowed them in the house; i.e. by himself or deputy brought them to Elisha's house, and there hid them away. And he let the men—Naaman's servants—go, and they departed. They hastened, no doubt, to rejoin their master.
2 Kings 5:25
But he went in, and stood before his master. Gehazi, lest his absence should be noticed, as soon as he had put away the money, sought his master's presence, entering the room casually, as if he had been busied about the house. He was met at once, however, by the plain and stern question which follows. And Elisha said unto him; Whence comest thou, Gehazi? literally, Whence, Gehazi? A short, stem, abrupt question. And he said, Thy servant went no whither. There was no help for it. One lie necessitates another. Once enter on the devious path, and you cannot say whither it will conduct you. To deceive and plunder a foreigner of a hostile nation probably seemed to Gehazi a trifle, either no sin at all, or a very venial sin. But now he finds himself led on to telling a direct lie to his master, which even he could not have justified to himself.
2 Kings 5:26
And he said unto him, Went not mine heart with thee? There is no "with thee" in the original; and the words have been taken in quite a different sense. Ewald regards לבִּי, "my heart," as designating Gehazi, and meaning "my loved one, my favorite disciple." "Thou hast denied that thou wentest any whither; but did not my favorite disciple in truth go forth, when the man turned again from his chariot, as Naaman did?" (2 Kings 5:21). But no parallel instance can be adduced of any such use of לִבִּי, which is altogether too strong a term to be applied to a mere favorite servant. The irony, moreover, of the term under the circumstances would be too great. Maurer's interpretation of לִבִּי by "my prophetic power" (my prophetic power had not departed from me) is no better, since it requires צָלַךְ to be taken in two different senses in the two most closely connected clauses of 2 Kings 5:25 and 2 Kings 5:26. Altogether, our version would seem to be the best rendering that has been suggested. It accords with the Septuagint, with Theodoret, and with the Vulgate; and it gives a satisfactory sense: "Did not my spirit go forth with thee when thou wentest forth, etc.? Was I not present in spirit during the whole transaction?" When the man turned again from his chariot to meet thee? (see 2 Kings 5:21). Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and olive yards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and maidservants? The prophet follows Gehazi's thoughts, which had been to purchase, with the money obtained from Naaman, olive yards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, etc.; and asks—Was this a time for such proceedings? Keil well explains, "Was this the time, when so many hypocrites pretend to be prophets from selfishness and avarice, and bring the prophetic office into contempt with unbelievers, for a servant of the true God to take money and goods from a non-Israelite … that he might acquire property and luxury for himself?" It was evidently a most unfit time. As Thenius says, "In any other case better than in this mightest thou have yielded to thy desire for gold and goods."
2 Kings 5:27
The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee; i.e. "As thou hast taken his goods, thou shalt also take his leprosy, which goes with them." A just Nemesis. And unto thy seed forever. The iniquity of the fathers is visited upon the children. Gehazi, however, could avoid this part of the curse by not marrying. And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow. There were many forms and degrees of leprosy (Le 2Ki 13:2 -46). Gehazi's was of the most pronounced kind, And it fell on him suddenly, as her leprosy fell upon Miriam (Numbers 12:10), complete at once, so that there could he no further aggravation of it. The lesson should be taken to heart, and should be a warning to us, both against lying and against covetousness.
2 Kings 5:1-19
The lessons taught by the story of Naaman.
"The story of Naaman," says Menken, "is 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 towards 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." Among the lessons, or "reflections," would seem to be the following.
I. No EARTHLY HAPPINESS WITHOUT ALLOY. Naaman, as far as external prosperity went, had all that he could desire.
1. He was "captain of the host of the King of Syria," commander-in-chief, i.e; of all the national forces. He held a great position, involving high rank, vast patronage, considerable emolument, and a place in the thoughts of men next to that of the king.
2. He was "a great man with his master"—high in the royal favor—able to obtain any boon that he desired, and advance all whom he cared to patronize.
3. He was also "a mighty man of valor," or rather "a good tried soldier," approved by deeds of arms to the nation, and enjoying his own confidence and self-respect. But on all this there was one drawback. Naaman "was a leper." And so it is generally. "Everywhere, where there is or seems to be something great and fortunate, there is also some discordant 'but,' which, like a false note in a melody, mars the perfectness of the good fortune. A worm gnaws at the root of everything pertaining to this world; and everything here below contains the germs of death in itself" (Menken). Life is full of compensations. There is no misery without alleviation; no low estate without some gleam of joy or hope to brighten and glorify it; and also no happiness without some concomitant annoyance or discomfort. Now it is domestic trouble, now an unhappy turn of mind, now a recollection of some sin in the past, now an anticipation of some calamity in the future. But, perhaps most frequently, it is ill health, some form of bodily suffering. Naaman's affliction was of the most grievous kind—leprosy! a disease at once painful, unsightly, disgusting, and regarded as a disgrace.
II. SOLACE AND HELP COME TO US FROM THE MOST UNEXPECTED QUARTERS. A "little maid," a foreigner, a captive, a slave, accidentally introduced into his household, and occupying a very humble place in it, perhaps almost unknown by sight to the great lord of the mansion, who has something better to do than to take notice of his wife's attendants—this little maid, humble as she is, and apparently of the least possible consequence, initiates the entire series of events which form the substance of the narrative. She sees her master's sufferings, she is touched by them; she longs to have them assuaged; and she bethinks herself of a possible cure of them. "Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria!" Perhaps it was a mere vague wish, a thought that rose in the mind, and was uttered without the slightest idea that action would be based on it. But our lightest words may have effects of which we never thought. The "little maid's" gentle aspiration fell on some ear which took note of it; inquiry was made; hope was aroused; and finally action followed. The small accident of an Israelite maid, who knew of Elisha's power to work miracles, being a member of his wife's household, and giving utterance to her feelings of compassion, led on to the great general's cure, and to the glorification of the Name of Jehovah throughout the Syrian nation. The mouse in the fable gave aid, which was of the most vital importance to the lion. We can never tell from what humble friend or dependant we may not receive help in trouble, by precious hints or suggestions, or by effectual fervent prayers, which may be of inestimable service to us.
III. THE GREAT OF THE EARTH A POOR STAY AND SUPPORT. Neither Benhadad King of Syria, nor Joram King of Israel, were really of any help to Naaman in his trouble. Benhadad meant well; but his letter to the King of Israel confused the plain issue, and was not of the slightest practical service. Joram had to acknowledge himself utterly powerless (2 Kings 5:7), and, but for the prophet's interference, would probably have represented to the King of Syria that there was no more help to be obtained for Naaman in Israel than in his own country. Great civil personages are rarely fit to take the lead in matters, which even touch upon religion. They place far too much trust in the cunning devices of mere human policy, and far too little in the force of religious principle and the overruling providence of God. The Magi did not help Christ by bringing him their gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh. They did but draw Herod's attention to him, and bring his infant life into peril. Herod Antipas did not help John the Baptist. He "heard him gladly" (Mark 6:20), but imprisoned him, and ultimately put him to death. The advice of the psalmist is excellent, "Put not your trust in princes … for there is no help in them" (Psalms 146:3).
IV. OUR BEST HELP FROM RELIGION AND ITS MINISTERS. Naaman might have returned to Damascus in the same condition in which he left it, unhelped, unaided, uncured, but for the existence, and for the action taken by, a minister of God. Men often jeer at ministers, deride them, deny the use of them, call them idlers and supernumeraries, and declare their belief that the world would get on quite as well, or much better, without them; but in times of difficulty and danger, and especially in the time of sickness, they are apt to have recourse to them. A Belshazzar in difficulty seeks to Daniel (Daniel 5:13), a Naaman to Elisha, a Theodosius to Ambrose, a guilty sinner to his parish priest or to the nearest godly minister of his acquaintance. Ministers, it is true, do not now heal diseases; and it is fitting that in sickness the physician should be called in, to begin with. But when the physician can do no more, when he declares the resources of his art exhausted, when death draws near us, then there are but few who despise the aid of the previously contemned servant of God, but few who are not glad to have a minister of God at their bedside, and to receive from his hands the last consolations of religion. How many have been brought by ministerial aid to die in peace and joy, who without it would have lain for days tortured with doubts and fears and misgivings! How many have even been snatched at the last moment like brands from the burning, brought through ministerial influence, even on their death-beds, to a repentance not to be repented of! It is well not to trust beforehand to a death-bed repentance, but to set our house in order while we are still in health. But the example of the thief on the cross shows that, even under the very shadow of death, the mercy of God is not exhausted. A death-bed repentance is always possible; and in bringing it about the assistance to be derived from an experienced minister can scarcely be over-estimated.
V. THE NATURAL MAN A POOR JUDGE OF GOD'S METHODS OF SALVATION. "I thought," said Naaman, "he will surely come out to me," etc. Naaman had made up his mind what the prophet's method would be. He had his own notions concerning the fitness of things, and the mode in which Divine help, if it came at all, would come to him. When his expectations were disappointed, as human expectations on such a subject are likely to be, he was offended, and "turned and went away in a rage" (verse 12). Do not many turn from religion altogether on similar utterly insufficient grounds? They "thought," if God gave a revelation at all, he would give it in this or that way—by a voice from heaven speaking with equal force to all, with the accompaniment of a continuous display of miracles, by the mouth of an immaculate priesthood, or in some way quite different from that in which it has pleased God to give it; and, being disappointed in their expectation, they reject the whole matter, refuse to have anything to do with it, "turn and go away in a rage." "I thought" is all-powerful with them. Well does Menken observe, "This 'I thought' is the most mighty of all mighty things upon 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.'"
VI. SECOND THOUGHTS OFTEN THE BEST. It is never too late to amend. To pride one's self on absolute consistency and unchangingness is the height of folly in a being who is not, and knows he is not, omniscient. Our first thoughts must often be mistaken ones, and in such cases it is at least possible that our second thoughts may be better. Moreover, second thoughts may be suggested from without, and may come from those who are far wiser than ourselves. Naaman showed his good sense in giving up his original intention and adopting the advice of his servants. To have persisted for consistency's sake would have been foolish obstinacy, and would have resulted in his remaining a leper and an idolater to the day of his death.
VII. A TIME FOR ALL THINGS—A TIME TO GET, AND A TIME TO LOSE. "The laborer is worthy of his hire." Ministers cannot live on air any more than other people. There is a time when, and there are circumstances under which, it is lawful for them to receive such an amount of this world's goods as they need, or even such an amount as is offered to them. For any surplus which they receive beyond their needs they are trustees, bound to expend such surplus as they deem best for the honor of God and the benefit of man. Prophets were entitled to accept gifts of those who consulted them (1 Samuel 9:7, 1 Samuel 9:8), and Elisha himself took without hesitation the twenty loaves from the man of Baal-shalisha. But when Naaman made his offer, Elisha felt that it was "a time to lose." He had to show that "the gift of God could not be purchased with money;" he had to impress it on an ignorant but intelligent heathen, that Jehovah was a God not like other gods, and that his prophets were men not like other men. He had to teach the doctrine of free grace. His example should be a lesson to ministers, that not every gift, even though it be offered by a willing heart, ought to be accepted. There are times when a minister should decline a testimonial, an augmentation of stipend, the donation of a new pulpit, or a new organ, and when he should be glad to "lose" them for the furtherance of higher objects.
VIII. GRATITUDE FOR TEMPORAL BLESSINGS BEST SHOWN BY OUR TURNING TO GOD. When Naaman found that the prophet would receive no gift at his hand, he acquiesced, and resolved to show his gratitude for the great blessing which he had received in another way. He would thenceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto any other god, but only unto the Lord (verse 17). It was a noble resolve. It might offend his sovereign, it might hamper his promotion, it might deprive him of court favor. Still, he did not hesitate; he made the resolution, and he proclaimed it. Whether he kept it faithfully or no, we are not told; we know nothing of his after-life; the curtain drops on him as he departs to his own country. But, so far as the history is carried, it shows him faithful and true. He bears off his two mules' burden of earth. He means no more to worship Rimmon. He will acknowledge and worship one God only, Jehovah. There may be weakness in the compromise with conscience, which he proposes in verse 18; but it is a pardonable weakness in one bred up a heathen. At any rate, he does right, and sets us a good example, in his resolute turning to Jehovah, as the true Source of the blessing, which he has received, and as therefore deserving henceforth of all his worship and all his gratitude.
2 Kings 5:20-27
The lessons taught by the sin and punishment of Gehazi.
Gehazi's is a sad case, but a not unusual one; the case of a person brought into close contact with a high form of moral excellence and spirituality, who, instead of profiting by the example, willfully casts it aside, and adopts a low standard of life and conduct—a standard which always tends to become lower. The first lesson to be learnt from his case is this—
I. IF CONTACT WITH EXCELLENCE FAIL TO RAISE US, IT WILL SINK US, IN THE MORAL SCALE. The two disciples closest to our Lord seem to have been St. John and Judas Iscariot. The one leant upon Jesus' breast; the other dipped with him habitually (τὸν βάπτοντα μετ ἐμοῦ ἐν τῷ τρυβλίῳ) in the dish (Mark 14:20). The one was exalted to a spirituality rarely attained by man; the other sank to such a condition that his Lord said of him, he "is a devil" (John 6:70). Both elevation and degradation are equally natural. The one comes from the imitation of the high example before us; the other from resisting the impulse to such imitation. If we resist impulses to good, we do ourselves irreparable harm; we blunt our consciences, harden our hearts, render ourselves less sensitive to good influences forever after. And the longer the contact with goodness continues, the higher the exaltation, or the lower the deterioration, of our nature. Gehazi had been for years Elisha's servant. He had been on the closest terms of intimacy with him. He had witnessed his patience, his self-denial, his gentleness, his kindness, his zeal for Jehovah. But the only effect had been to harden him in evil. He had grown proud and contemptuous, as shown by his calling Naaman "this Syrian" (verse 20), a swearer (verse 20), covetous, untruthful, careless of his master's honor, secretive (verse 24), shameless. He had no sense of God's watchful eye and continual presence, no respect or love for his master, no care for what Naaman and the other Syrians would think of him. He thus did as much as in him lay to ruin his master's projects, and to lower him in the esteem of those whose good opinion he knew his master valued, Another lesson to be drawn from the narrative is the following:—
II. ONE SIN LEADS ON TO ANOTHER BY A SEQUENCE WHICH IS ALMOST INEVITABLE. Gehazi begins with covetousness. He cannot see the great wealth of Naaman, the wedges of silver and gold, and the large bales of rich stuffs, without a keen desire to obtain possession of a portion. He hopes that his master will spoil the Syrian, and not spare him; in that case he may contrive to get a share in the advantage. His master's refusal, no doubt, seems to him mere folly, quixotism—almost madness. He sets his clever wits to work, and soon frames a scheme by which his master's intentions shall be frustrated. The scheme, as any scheme must under such circumstances, involves him in lying; nay, in a whole heap of lies. He tells a circumstantial tale in which there is not a single word of truth. The tale runs glibly off his tongue, and easily deceives the foreigner, who is not of a suspicious temper. Gehazi is completely successful, obtains even more than he had ventured to ask; hides it away without any difficulty, and thinks that all is over. But all is not over. "Whence comest thou, Gehazi?" sounds in his ears; and he must either confess all or, directly and unmistakably, lie to his master. Of course, the lie is resolved upon; his previous conduct has so demoralized him, that we cannot even imagine him to have hesitated. The direct falsehood to his master, which he would fain have avoided, has to be uttered: "Thy servant went no whither." Facilis descensus Averni. The only security against a moral decline as grievous as Gehazi's is not to enter upon it, not to take the first step. Principiis obsta. Check evil tendencies at once, and the fatal sequence need never be entered upon. Gehazi's punishment has also its lesson. He had gained his coveted wealth; the prophet could not take it from him. He was a rich man, and might carry out all his far-reaching schemes of proprietorship, and lordship over others. But what will it all profit him, if he is to be, to the end of his days, a leper? The apples of Sodom, so "fair to view," are felt and known to be worthless, when they "turn to ashes on the lips." So was it with him; and so is it, commonly, with those who pursue a course similar to his. The prosperity acquired by fraud has within it a taint of rottenness. There is "a little rift within the lute"—a drawback of some kind or other, which deprives the prosperity of all its value, and makes the wealthy prosperous man a miserable wretch. If he escape external calamity, he will, at any rate, not escape the worm of remorse, which will cat into his heart, and poison his cup of pleasure.
HOMILIES BY C.H. IRWIN
2 Kings 5:1-3
The captive Israelitish maid.
There are four personages that stand out with special prominence in this chapter, from each of which important lessens may be learned. These are—the little Hebrew maid; Naaman, the commander-in-chief of the Syrian army; the Prophet Elisha; and Gehazi, the prophet's servant. We shall speak first of the little maid.
I. THIS LITTLE MAID DID NOT FORGET HER RELIGION WHEN SHE WENT FROM HOME. We see that, though in a foreign land, she still thought of her fathers' God and of his prophet. That is an important lesson in these days, when traveling has become so common. The motto with a great many professing Christians seems to be that when they are at Rome, they must do as Rome does. When they travel on the continent, they keep the continental Sunday, just as if the same God was not looking clown upon them there as at home, just as if the Lord's day was not the Lord's day everywhere, and as if there were not good Christian people on the continent who valued the day as a day of rest and worship. Mr. Ruskin wrote some pointed words lately in reference to the way Christian people seem to forget their religion when they go abroad. He asked them to count up their expenditure on railway fares and sight-seeing, on guides and guide-books, on luxuries and photographs; and then to ask themselves how much they had spent in donations to the poor Churches of France and Belgium, or of the Waldenses in Italy. Happily, all travelers are not like this. Many Christian tourists like to find a Sunday blessing, and to hear a word of refreshing, in some little country church among the hills of Scotland or of Switzerland, or in the quiet chapel amid the pleasure-seeking crowds of Paris. But how many there are who look up their religion when they turn the key in their house-door, and, however careful they may be of taking guide-books and other provisions for the journey, never dream of putting a Bible in the trunk! No matter where we go, let us take our religion with us, as Joseph took his into Egypt, as Daniel took his into Babylon, as this little Hebrew maid took hers into Syria. This little maid had strong inducements to give up her religion. No doubt it would have pleased her master and mistress if she had worshipped their gods. They might have said that her worship of any other God was an impertinence, a sort of suggestion that they were doing wrong. But she listens to the voice of conscience and of duty rather than to the voice of worldly policy and expediency. It is a message to all who are in the employment of others. Never sacrifice principle for place. Never sacrifice the favor of God for the favor of man. Your employer pays for your labor; he does not buy your conscience. If ever attempts are made to tamper with your conscience, be it yours to answer, "We ought to obey God rather than man." Trust God for the consequences. Trust him to provide for you. "In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths."
II. THIS LITTLE MAID DID NOT RENDER EVIL FOR EVIL. She had been torn from her home and from her native land by the rude hands of Syrian soldiers. Perhaps her father had fallen beneath the enemy's sword. Yet we do not find her cherishing a spirit of vindictiveness or revenge. Instead of rejoicing to see her captor suffer, she pities him. She longs that he may be healed of that terrible and loathsome disease. Have we never exulted in the sufferings of others? Have we never felt a secret thrill of gratification when some misfortune has befallen one with whom we were at variance? Such a spirit, the spirit of revenge, however natural it may be, is not the spirit of Christ. He bids us do unto others as we would wish them to do unto us. The Christ-like spirit is to love our enemies, to bless them that curse us, to do good to them that hate us, and to pray for them that despitefully use us and persecute us.
III. THE LITTLE MAID WAS BUT YOUNG; YET, BY DOING WHAT SHE COULD, SHE BECAME A BLESSING TO OTHERS. She did not say to herself, "I am but young; there is nothing I can do" She did not wait for some great thing to do. But she just did the work that lay nearest her. She saw a way in which she might be useful, and she took the opportunity at once. She said to her mistress, "Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy." That was all. She just told of where the blessing of health was likely to be found.
1. This is a lesson for young people, for the children. None of you is too young to do something for Jesus. Jesus has some work for every one of you to do. It may be his work for you that you should conquer some sinful passion, some evil habit. It may be his work for you that you should stand up for him and his Word among bad companions; or that by your own quiet and gentle life, and loving disposition and kind deeds, you should show how good it is to be a Christian. Do the work that lies nearest. If you are at school or college, and find your studies irksome, and long to get free to work at your own will and pleasure; if you are learning your business, and find it a drudgery;—remember that just here Christ has a work for you to do. These difficulties have to be mastered. Master them, and then you will show your fitness for mastering far greater difficulties. "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much."
2. It is a lesson for young and old. What are you doing to be a blessing to others? Is there not some sick person to whom you might read, some poor family that you might visit occasionally with some of the comforts of life, some tempted one to whom you might speak a word of help and encouragement, some backslider to whom you might speak a word of kindly warning, some careless, godless one whom you might urge to flee from the wrath to come? And if you can do but little for the sinner and the godless yourself, perhaps you can do as the little maid did—tell them where blessing is to be found, and invite them to come to the house of God. There is no need for rivalry between different Christian communities. There are godless people enough to fill all the places of worship, if only Christian people would stir themselves and go out into the streets and lanes, into the highways and hedges, and, by the power of irresistible persuasion, compel them to come in. Don't trouble yourself by thinking of your own fitness or unfitness. Are you willing to be of use in Christ's work? Are you anxious to be a blessing to others? That is the great question. If so, Jesus will do the rest. He will make you a vessel unto honor, sanctified, meet for the Master's use.
IV. THE SECRET OF THIS LITTLE MAID'S FAITHFULNESS AND USEFULNESS WAS HER STRONG AND SIMPLE FAITH. She could be faithful to God, because she believed in God. She believed that God would take care of her when she was faithfully serving him. She could be useful to others because, though she was a captive and had no means to help them, she knew of One who had. She had faith in God. She knew that God was with Elisha, and therefore she had no doubt about Elisha's success. Yes; it is faith we want, if we are to be useful. We say we believe a great many things. But how do we believe them? Where is our faith in God's promises shown in our patience under difficulties and trials and discouragements? Where is our faith in God's promises shown by our liberality to his cause? Where is our faith in God's promises shown by our work done for Christ? If our faith in God is real, it will show itself in every detail of our daily life; it will overflow in acts of usefulness and love.—C.H.I.
2 Kings 5:4-19
Naaman the Syrian.
This case of Naaman is an illustration of the imperfection that there is in all things human. Naaman was commander-in-chief of the Syrian army. Not only so, but he had seen service. He had won his spurs in active warfare. He had led his troops to victory. "By him the Lord had given deliverance to Syria" Hence, as we read, "he was a great man with his master, and honorable." No doubt he had been greeted on his return from battle, as victorious generals were greeted then and are greeted still, with the triumphant shouts of a joyful and exultant multitude. His cup of happiness was almost full. But there was one element of trouble that mingled with his joy. "But he was a leper." That little word "but," how significant it is! We should all be happy, but for something. Our plans would all be successful, but for something. We should all be very good, but for some inconsistency, some failing, some besetting sin. Here is a very good man, but he has such a bad temper. There is a very kind woman, but she has such a bitter tongue. Here is a very good man, but he is so stingy and so selfish. Here is a man who would be very useful in the Church of Christ, but he is so worldly minded. Here is a good preacher, but he doesn't just practice what he preaches. These little "buts" have their uses. They keep us, or they ought to keep us, humble. We ought not to be very proud of ourselves, we ought not to be very hard on others, when we think of that ugly sin of our own. But most of all, these "buts" ought to be the means of driving us, as Naaman's leprosy was the means of driving him, nearer to God. That almighty hand can alone weed the evil forces out of our nature, and bring us into conformity to his own heavenly likeness.
I. NAAMAN'S PRIDE. Kings sometimes, like other people, do stupid things. The Hebrew maid had spoken of the prophet that was in Israel, as being able to cure her master of his leprosy. But the King of Syria sends a letter to the King of Israel, saying, "I have sent Naaman my servant unto thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy." The King of Syria may have meant nothing more than this, that the King of Israel might bring about Naaman's recovery by sending him to the prophet; but the King of Israel took the words as an attempt to pick a quarrel with him, and rent his clothes in anger and passion. Very often great and destructive wars have arisen from much more trifling causes—from the folly or incapacity, the rashness or stubbornness, the pride or the passion, of rulers. How thankful we should be for a wise and prudent sovereign, when we think how much harm a foolish sovereign can do! After Elisha heard of the King of Israel's absurd and childish display of anger and dismay, he sent to him, saying, "Wherefore bast thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel." So Naaman came with all the pomp and grandeur of a great Oriental general, and stood at the door of Elisha's house. Elisha is not overawed by this display of magnificence. He does not hasten forth and make a humble obeisance to the man of rank. He knew what respect was due to authority and station; but just then he had to do with Naaman the man, with Naaman the leper, and not with Naaman the general, As the servant of God, it is his duty to benefit Naaman's soul as well as his body, and the first thing he must do is to humble him. Naaman's leprosy was an enemy to his happiness. But he had a far worse enemy in his own heart. That was pride. How hard it was to expel it we shall see. Elisha did not go himself to speak to Naaman, but sent a messenger. That was bad enough for Naaman's pride. And this was the message that he sent: "Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean." That was worse. How keenly Naaman felt it we see in his action and his words. He turned away from the place in a rage, perhaps swearing at his servants to get out of his way, 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 the leper." His leprosy had not humbled his pride. Here he was-come all the way from Syria just for the one purpose of getting cured; and yet he turns away from the only person who could cure him, because he does not pay him sufficient court, and does not flatter his vanity. How unreasonable was Naaman's pride! How unreasonable is pride in any one! And yet it is a common failing. There are very few of us without a little of it. Bishop Hooker says, "Pride is a vice which cleaveth so fast unto the hearts of men, that if we were to strip ourselves of all faults, one by one, we should undoubtedly find it the very last and hardest to put off." What have any of us to be proud of? Has the sinner any reason to be proud? He is walking on the broad way that leadeth to destruction. Not a journey, not a prospect, to be proud of, certainly! Has the saint any reason to be proud? Surely not. It is by the grace of God he is what he is. "Not of works, lest any man should boast." No true child of God has ever had a proud heart. Look at the humility of the Apostle Paul. Early in his Epistles he speaks of himself as "the least of the apostles;" later on he calls himself "less than the least of all saints;" while the latest description he gives of himself is "the chief of sinners." Such was Paul's estimate of his own character, the more he looked at it in the light of God's holy Law, and in the light of the cross of Jesus. The longer he lived, the more humble he became. "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble." Away, then, with pride! Away with pride of riches! away with pride of rank! away with pride of learning! away with pride of beauty in the face that is made of clay! away with pride from every Christian heart! away with pride from the house of God! away with pride from all departments of Christian work! away with pride towards our fellow-men! Let us follow in the footsteps of him who was meek and lowly in heart.
II. NAAMAN'S CURE. Observe the simplicity of the cure. "Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean." It was the very simplicity of the cure that was the stumbling-block to Naaman. So it is with the sinner still. The simplicity of the gospel offer prevents many a one from accepting it. The servants of Naaman expressed this weakness of the human heart when they said, "My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it?" The simple thing, strange though it may seem, is often the hardest to do. The great thing, the thing which costs most labor, in which there is most room for our own effort, is the thing which many find it easiest to do. This is one of the reasons why the heathen religions, and the Roman Catholic religion, have so strong a hold upon the human heart. Their religion is justification by works. They afford large scope for human exertions, for penances, for pilgrimages. There is scope for good works in Protestantism too, in true Christianity. "Be careful to maintain good works," says the 'apostle. "We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works." But good works are the result, and not the cause, of our justification. We can never by any pilgrimages, by any penances, by any lastings, work out a salvation, a righteousness, for ourselves. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost, which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior." Was it not a foolish thing for Naaman, a poor, miserable leper, with his life a burden to him, to be questioning the method of his cure? Is it not a foolish thing for any sinner, with death at every moment staring him in the face, and a dark and hopeless eternity yawning before him, to question God's plan of salvation? A man who is seized with a dangerous illness does not spend a whole day in discussing what remedies the physician has ordered, but, if he has common sense, he uses the remedies at once. Sinner, the cure for your disease is a simple one. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" It is the only one. "There is none other Name under heaven given among men whereby we can be saved," except the Name of Jesus. Naaman, at last, persuaded by his servants' entreaty, believed the prophet's promise, and acted in obedience to his instructions. He went and washed in Jordan, and, as the prophet said, he was made whole. God promises to every sinner that if you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ you shall receive everlasting life. Did you ever know God's promise to fail? Why, then, should you hesitate, as a lost soul, to take the way of salvation provided for you through the mercy of God and the infinite love of Christ?
"There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel's veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.
"The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away."
III. NAAMAN'S GRATITUDE. Naaman's marvelous cure made him a believer in the God of Israel. He returned to Elisha with gratitude in his heart. How different the spirit in which he now approaches the prophet! No longer proud and haughty, waiting at the door for Elisha to come out to him, he enters the prophet's house, and humbly stands before him. He shows a spirit of gratitude to God and to his prophet. He asks Elisha to give him a quantity of earth, that he may raise an altar unto the God of Israel, saying that he will henceforth sacrifice to no other god. You whom God has raised up again from beds of sickness-have you shown in any practical way your gratitude to him? Do you ever count up your mercies when you calculate how much you will subscribe to some religious object? If you did, there would not be much difficulty in clearing off church debts. We are, all of us, every day we live, dependent on God's mercy and bounty. In his hand our breath is. "In him we live, and move, and have our being." Many of us are saved sinners, redeemed through the precious blood of Christ. What have we done to show our thankfulness to God, who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light? Naaman, though a changed man and no longer an idolater, was still wanting in decision. He asked to be pardoned for bowing in the temple of the god Rimmon, when his master, the king, went in to worship there. Some have thought that Elisha's answer, "Go in peace," gave permission to Naaman to go through this outward form of idolatry. But the prophet did not mean this at all. His words were but the Eastern form of saying "good-bye." He neither condemned nor approved Naaman's action. He left it as a matter for his own conscience. And so it must be in many things. We cannot lay down hard-and-fast lines for others. Beginners in the Christian life, especially, should be tenderly dealt with. But while we make every allowance for Naaman, who had spent all his life in heathenism, let us not imitate him in his want of decision. He owed allegiance to a higher King than to the King of Syria. In matters of conscience, let no man be our master but Christ. Let us never sacrifice principle for expediency, or obey the call of popularity rather than the call of duty. A far higher example is that of John Knox, who, when rebuked for his outspoken words before Queen Mary and her council, said, "I am in the place where I am demanded of conscience to speak the truth; and therefore the truth I speak, impugn it whoso list."—C.H.I.
2 Kings 5:20-27
Elision and Gehazi.
We shall, perhaps, derive most profit from the study of these two characters if we look at them together, as they are here set before us, in sharp and striking contrast.
I. CONTRAST THE COVETOUSNESS OF THE ONE WITH THE UNSELFISHNESS OF THE OTHER.
1. Look, first of all, at Elisha's unselfishness. It is a sublime picture. We hardly know which to admire most—Elijah as he stands forth alone in rugged grandeur to confront the prophets of Baal; or Elisha, as in quiet simplicity and sincere forgetfulness of self he stands there before Naaman, and gently puts away from him the general's tempting gift. Of the two, I think Elisha's was the harder and therefore more heroic deed. Look at the temptations which he must have felt. The fame of him had spread into Syria, so much so that this haughty general, the foremost man in all Syria except its king, comes to him to be healed of his leprosy. The King of Syria himself sends a letter with his general. And now, when, at Elisha's bidding, Naaman has washed in Jordan, and become cured, was it not a strong temptation to the prophet to take glory and honor and reward for himself? Naaman wanted to give him rich remuneration. He presses it upon him. "Now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant." Listen to the answer: "As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none." Again Naaman urges him to take the gift, and once more and finally the prophet refuses. And why? Did he think there was any harm in taking a gift? Not at all. At other times he was quite content to be dependent on the bounty of others. St. Paul tells us that" even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel"' Elisha had no objection to the gift as such, and even if he did not want it for himself, he could have made good use of it. Why, then, did he refuse it?
(1) In the first place, he thought of the honor of his God. Elisha knew well that it was not by his word or by his power that Naaman had been healed, but by the power of the living God. He wanted Naaman to think, not of the prophet, but of the prophet's God. So St. Peter acted when he and St. John had healed the lame man at the Beautiful gate of the temple. He said to the people, "Why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk?" and then proceeded to point out to the people the benefit of faith in Christ. So it will be with every true servant of Christ. He will seek to point men to his Master, and not to himself.
(2) Again, he thought of the honor of his religion. He doubtless felt that if he had taken Naaman's gift, Naaman might afterwards have said, "Well, these prophets of Israel, who call themselves followers of the true God, are no better than our own heathen priests. They follow their calling just for the money that it brings," Elisha knew that that was not true. He knew that he might lawfully take the gift, and yet be influenced by far higher motives, in the service of God. But he felt that, though all things are lawful, all things are not expedient. Oh that all God's people were equally solicitous about the honor of Christ's cause and kingdom! How careful we should be lest by our worldliness, our inconsistencies, our thoughtlessness, we bring reproach upon the religion we profess!
(3) Further, Elisha thought of the honor of his country. Israel had, at that time, been defeated by Syria. Elisha felt that it would be an humiliating thing for him—a Hebrew—to take a gift from one of the conquering nation, and especially from him who had perhaps been the leading general in the war against the Jewish people. Evidently that was what he meant when he said to Gehazi afterwards, "Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and olive yards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and maidservants?" The time of his country's disgrace and defeat was not a time for him to indulge in luxury and display. There is room for more Christian patriotism in the present day—a patriotism that shall rest the honor of its country on the industry, morality, and uprightness of its people, and that shall see in every departure from these virtues a cause of humiliation and shame.
(4) Finally, Elisha thought also of the good of Naaman. He wanted not only to benefit his body, but his soul also. Therefore he avoided everything that might put a stumbling-block in his way. And we see how well he succeeded. Naaman, from what he had seen of Elisha, the prophet of the true God, and from what he had seen of God's power, resolved that he would never sacrifice to any other god but to the God of Israel. If we would benefit others, our own hearts must be right with God. There must be no doubt about our sincerity, no uncertainty about our motives. We see in all this how little Elisha thought of self. He had a great opportunity, and he used it well. He had a strong temptation presented to him, and he resisted it. It is a splendid instance of unselfishness, a splendid illustration of the power of Divine grace.
2. How different from all this; the covetousness, the selfishness, of Gehazi! The honor of his God, the honor of his religion, the honor of his country, the good of Naaman—none of these things ever cost him a thought. In his mind self is the one all-absorbing, overmastering consideration. Even his master's honor is of little value in his eyes. Elisha had refused to take Naaman's gift, yet Gehazi runs after him, and says that his master has sent him to ask for money and clothes, just as if he was so fickle as not to know his own mind, and so mean as now to send and beg that which but a little time before he had sturdily declined. Gehazi's greed for money had blunted all the finer feelings of his nature. No wonder that our Savior said, "Take heed and beware of covetousness." No wonder that Paul said, "The love of money is a root of all evil." All kinds of sins result from the love of money. We have an illustration of it in Gehazi's case. We have illustrations of it every day. How often men grow rich, but do not grow better! Sometimes increasing wealth has the strange effect of decreasing liberality. Sometimes increasing wealth brings with it increase of pride. Sometimes increasing wealth has made men more worldly. Instead of seeking to serve Christ more with their increased opportunities and increased influence, they serve him less. Thank God if with increasing wealth he has given you increasing grace. Thank God if he has enabled you to give the more, the more you got. Thank God if with increasing wealth you have kept a cool head, a warm heart, a steady hand, a clear conscience, and the friends of your youth. To those who are beginning life we would earnestly say, Beware of covetousness. Don't imagine that to be rich is the be-all and end-all of life. There are some things which money cannot buy. There are some things which money cannot do. Money can't keep death away from the door. Money cannot purchase the pardon of sin, or obtain for a single soul admission into heaven. "We brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out" But we are not therefore to despise money. Get all the money you can, provided you get it honestly, provided you do not sacrifice your soul's interests because of it, and provided that, when you have it, you spend it well. Make a good use of your money in your lifetime. "Make to yourselves friends of the mammon which the unrighteous worship, that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations."
II. CONTRAST THE DECEITFULNESS OF THE ONE WITH THE STRAIGHTFORWARD HONESTY OF THE OTHER. There was nothing two-faced about Elisha. He did not say one thing with his lips, and think the very opposite in his heart. When Jehoram, King of Israel, after his idolatry and his sins, got into difficulties at the time that he and the other two kings went forth against the King of Moab, he then sent for Elisha. But Elisha does not meet him in any fawning, flattering spirit. He at once rebukes him for his sins. He says, "What have I to do with thee? get thee to the prophets of thy father, and to the prophets of thy mother." In the same way he treats Naaman as one whose pride needs to be humbled. Though he might have offended Naaman by refusing to take his gift, he plainly tells him, "As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none." What a contrast to this blunt, straightforward honesty is the two-faced deceitfulness of Gehazi! Observe how one sin brings another with it. He first of all coveted the money and the raiment, when he heard Elisha refuse Naaman's present. Then covetousness leads to deception and lying. He ran after Naaman's chariot, and invented a false story that some young men had come to Elisha, and that he wanted money and clothing for them. His guilt was doubly great, because he was Elisha's trusted servant or steward, and because he probably had other servants under him. And then he lies, not only to Naaman, but to his master, when he says," Thy servant went no whither." Oh, the baseness, the wickedness, of deceit! And yet how much of it is practiced in the world! How much of it in the social relationships of life! What sham friendships! What hollow civilities! Whitened sepulchers and social shams! How much of it in the commercial world! What barefaced adulteration! What cheating of customers! What false statements—known to be false—about the value of goods! Sometimes there are revelations—great failures, gross frauds. But what an immense amount of deceit goes on that is never heard of! Many deceive or act dishonestly just up to the limit of detection, just as if God's eye was not on them all the time. To say, "Every one does it," as an excuse for deceit or dishonesty in a business, is no reason why a Christian man should do it, why any man should do it. God's eye sees. His command is clear, "Thou shalt not steal." Thou shalt not put forth thine hand to take what is not thine own. The man who robs his customers, the man who plunders or purloins from his employers, even though he may be respectable in the eyes of the world, is as much a thief in the sight of God, and perhaps far more guilty, than the poor boy who steals a loaf in his hunger and want. Deceit and dishonesty never can bring a blessing. "Be sure your sin will find you out." We have many instances in history of the fearful consequences of even a single act of deceit. The one great stain upon the memory of Lord Clive, the hero of Plassey, and one of the greatest men who ever administered British rule in India, is his single act of deception practiced on an Indian prince. The words which Lord Macaulay has written on this subject are so important and so true, that they are well worth repeating: "Clive's breach of faith," he says, "was not merely a crime, but a blunder. We don't know whether it be possible to mention a state which has on the whole been a gainer by a breach of public faith. The entire history of British India is an illustration of this great truth that it is not prudent to oppose perfidy to perfidy—that the most-efficient weapon with which men can encounter falsehood is truth. During a long series of years, the English rulers of India, surrounded by allies and enemies whom no engagement could bind, have generally acted with sincerity and uprightness, and the event has proved that sincerity and uprightness are wisdom. English valor and English intelligence have done less to extend and preserve our Oriental empire than English veracity. All that we could have gained by imitating the doublings, the evasions, the fictions, the perjuries, which have been employed against us, is as nothing compared with what we have gained by being the one power in India on whose word reliance can be placed." Covetousness and deceit are injurious to personal happiness, to the order and peace of society, and to the welfare and prosperity of the nation. It is the gospel of Christ that alone has proved itself capable of grappling with these evils, and banishing these vices from the human heart. It teaches us not to think of self merely, but of others also. It teaches us to "put away lying, and to speak every man truth with his neighbor." To spread the gospel of Christ is the best way to promote social and commercial morality, to promote confidence between man and man, and to hasten the coming of that time when there shall be peace on earth and good will to men. Let the love of Jesus fill your heart, and flow out into your life, and then you will not intentionally do a wrong to any one, in thought, in word, or in deed.—C.H.I.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
2 Kings 5:1-27
History of Naaman's disease and cure, illustrative of certain forces in the life of man.
"Now Naaman, captain of the host of the King of Syria, was a great man with his master," etc. Naaman, in a worldly point of view, was a great man—one of the magnates of his age. But he was the victim of a terrible disease. "He was a leper." Leprosy was a terrible disease—hereditary, painful, contagious, loathsome, and fatal. In all these respects it resembled sin. Naaman's disease and his cure, as here sketched, manifest certain forces which have ever been and still are at work in society, and which play no feeble part in the formation of character and the regulation of destiny. Notice—
I. The force of WORLDLY POSITION. Why all the interest displayed in his own country, and in Israel, concerning Naaman's disease? The first verse of this chapter explains it. "Now Naaman, captain of the host of the King of Syria, was a great man." Perhaps there were many men in his own district who were suffering from leprosy, yet little interest was felt in them. They would groan under their sufferings, and die unsympathized with and unhelped. But because this man's worldly position was high, kings worked, prophets were engaged, nations were excited, for his cure. It has ever been a sad fact in human history that men magnify both the trials and the virtues of grandees, and think but little of the griefs and graces of the lowly. If a man in high position is under trial, it is always "a great trial," of which people talk, and which the press will record. If he does a good work, it is always a "great work," and is trumpeted half the world over. This fact indicates:
1. The lack of intelligence in popular sympathy. Reason teaches that the calamities of the wealthy have many mitigating circumstances, and therefore the greater sympathy should be toward the poor.
2. The lack of manliness in popular sympathy. There is a fawning servility, most dishonorable to human nature, in showing more sympathy with the rich than with the poor in suffering.
II. The force of INDIVIDUAL INFLUENCE. "And the Syrians had gone out by companies, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid; and she waited on Naaman's wife. And she said unto her mistress, Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy. And one went in, and told his lord, saying, Thus and thus said the maid that is of the land of Israel." This little gift, who had been torn from her native country, and carried into the land of strangers by the ruthless hand of war, told her mistress of a prophet in Israel who had the power to heal lepers. This led the King of Syria to persuade Naaman to visit Judea, and to give the leprous captain an introduction to the king, who, in his turn, introduced him to the prophet, who effected his healing. The influence of this little slave-gift should teach us three things.
1. The magnanimity of young natures. Though she was an exile in the land of her oppressors, instead of having that revenge which would have led her to rejoice in the sufferings of her captors, her young heart yearned with sympathy for one of the ruthless conquerors. A poor child, a humble servant, a despised slave, may have a royal soul.
2. The power of the humblest individual. This poor girl, with her simple intelligence, moved her mistress; her mistress, the mighty warrior; then Syria's king was moved; by him the King of Israel is interested; and then the prophet of the Lord. Thus the little maid may have been said to have stirred kingdoms, life one, not even a child, "liveth to himself." Each is a fountain of influence.
3. The dependence of the great upon the small. The recovery of this warrior resulted from the word of this captive maid. Some persons admit the hand of God only in what they call great events! But what are the great events? "Great" and "small" are but relative terms. And even what we call "small" often sways and shapes the "great." One spark of fire may burn down all London.
III. The force of SELF-PRESERVATION. "And 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. And he brought the letter to the King of Israel, saying, 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." It would seem that Naaman at once consulted Beahadad, King of Syria, on the subject suggested by the captive maid, and, having obtained an introduction to the King of Israel, hurried off, taking with him "ten talents of silver," etc.—great wealth—which he was prepared to sacrifice in the recovery of his health. The instinct of self-preservation is one of the strongest in human nature. "Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life." Men will spend fortunes and traverse continents in order to rid themselves of disease, and prolong life. This strenuous effort for recovery from disease reminds us of:
1. The value of physical health. This man had lost it, and what was the world to him without it? Bishop Hall truly says of him, "The basest slave in Syria would not change skins with him." Health—this precious blessing—is so lavishly given, that men seldom appreciate it till it is lost.
2. The neglect of spiritual health. This man was evidently morally diseased—that is, he neither knew of the true God nor had sympathy with him. He was a moral invalid. A worse disuse than leprosy infected his manhood and threatened the ruin of his being. Yet there is no struggling here after spiritual recovery. This is a general evil.
IV. The force of CASTE FEELING. "And the King of Syria said, Go to, go, and I will send a letter unto the King of Israel." Why did the King, of Syria send Naaman with the letter to the monarch of Israel? Was it because he was given to understand that the king would work the cure? No; for mention was made by the captive girl of no one who could effect the cure but "the prophet that is in Samaria." Or was it because he thought that Israel's monarch would discover the prophet, and influence him on behalf of the afflicted officer? life; for in his royal letter he says, "Behold, I have … sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy." Why, then? Simply because of caste feeling. He, forsooth, was too great to know a prophet—too great to correspond with any one but a king. What was a prophet, though fall of Divine intelligence, and nerved with Divine energy, compared even to a soulless man if a crown encircled his brow?
1. Caste feeling sinks the real in the adventitious. The man who is ruled by it so exaggerates external things as to lose sight of those elements of moral character, which constitute the dignity and determine the destiny of man. He lives in bubbles.
2. Caste feeling curtails the region of human sympathies. He who is controlled by this feeling has the circle of his sympathies limited not only to what is outward in man, but to what is outward in those only in his own sphere. All-out lying his grade and class are nothing to him.
3. Caste feeling is antagonistic to the gospel. Christ came to destroy that middle wall of partition that divides men into classes. The gospel overtops all adventitious distinctions, and directs its doctrines and offers its provisions to man as man.
V. The force of GUILTY SUSPICION. "And 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 consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me." The construction that the monarch put upon the message of his royal brother was, instead of being true and liberal, false and ungenerous. He ascribed evil motives where there were none, and saw malignant intentions where there was nothing but a good-natured purpose. All this springs from that suspicion which is a prevalent and disastrous evil in the social life of this world. Where this suspicion exists, one of the two, if not the two, following things are always found.
1. A knowledge of the depravity of society. The suspicious man has frequently learnt, either from observation, testimony, or experience, or from all these together, that there is such an amount of falsehood and dishonesty in society as will lead one man to take an undue advantage of another. However, whether he has learnt this or not, it is a lamentable fact, patent to all observant eyes.
2. The existence of evil in himself. The suspicious man knows that he is selfish, false, dishonest, unchaste, and he believes that all men are the same. If he were not evil, he would not be suspicious of others, even though he knew that all about him were bad. An innocent being, I trow, would move amongst a corrupt age without any suspicion whatever. Being destitute of all bad motives himself, he would not be able to understand the corrupt motives of others. On the other hand, were society ever so holy, a bad man would still be suspecting all. An unchaste, selfish, fraudulent man would suspect the purity, the benevolence, and the integrity of angels, if he lived amongst them. The greatest rogues are always the most suspicious; the most lustful husbands are always the most jealous of their wives, and the reverse. Well has our great dramatist said, "Suspicion haunts the guilty soul." A miserable thing truly is this suspicion. Heaven deliver us from suspicious people! Suspicion is the poison of all true friendship; it is that which makes kings tyrants, merchants exactors, masters rigorous, and the base-natured of both sexes diseased with a jealousy that shatters connubial confidence, and quenches all the lights of connubial life.
VI. The force of REMEDIAL GOODNESS. Though the king could not cure, there was a remedial power in Israel equal to this emergency. That power Infinite Goodness delegated to Elisha. God makes man the organ of his restorative powers. It was so now with Elisha. It was pre-eminently so with Christ. It was so with the apostles. The redemptive treasure is in "earthly vessels." The passage suggests several points concerning this remedial power.
1. It transcends natural power. "When Elisha the man of God," etc. The monarch felt his utter insufficiency to effect the cure. Natural science knew nothing of means to heal the leper. Supernatural revelation reveals the remedy through Elisha. Herein is an illustration of Christianity. No natural science can cure the leprosy of sin; it tried for ages, but failed.
2. It offends human pride. "So Naaman came with his horses," etc. Naaman came in all the pomp of wealth and station to the prophet's door, expecting, no doubt, that Elisha would hurry out to do him honor. But a true man is never moved by glitter. He did not even go out to meet the illustrious visitor, but sent a messenger to bid him go to the Jordan, and there wash. But both the unbending independency of the prophet, and the simple method he prescribed, so galled the proud heart of the Syrian warrior, that he "was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me," etc. Herein is an illustration of Christianity. It strikes at the root of pride, and requires us to become as "little children."
3. It clashes with popular prejudices. "Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean?" It is common for men to regard that which belongs to themselves and to their country as the "better"—our children, our family, our sect, our class, our nation, are "better." This man's prejudice said, "Abana and Pharpar;" the prophet said, "Jordan;" and this offended him. "And he went away in a rage." Herein, again, is an illustration of Christianity. Human prejudices prescribe this river and that river for cleansing, but the gospel says, "Jordan."
4. It works by simple means. "And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?" The means to Naaman seemed to be too simple to answer the end he sought. Had there been some severe regimen, or some painful operation, or some costly expenditure, he would have accepted it more readily; but "to wash," seemed too simple. The means of spiritual recovery are very simple. But men desire them otherwise. Hence vain ceremonies, pilgrimages, penances, prolonged fastings, and the like. "Believe and thou shalt be saved," says God; man wants to do something more.
5. It demands individual effort. "Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan according to the saying of the man of God." Naaman had to go down himself to the river, and to dip himself seven times in its waters. His restoration depended upon his individual effort. And so it is in spiritual matters. Each man must believe, repent, and pray, for himself. There is no substitution.
6. It is completely efficacious. "His flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child." The means employed for this leper's cure fully answered the end. Every vestige of the disease was gone, and he was restored to more than the vigor of his former manhood. Herein once more, "Believe … and thou shalt be saved."
VII. The force OF A NEW CONVICTION. "And he returned to the man of God," etc. Observe:
1. The subject of this new conviction. What was the subject? That the God of Israel was the only God. This new conviction reversed his old prejudices and the religious creed of his country. It was not reasoning, it was not teaching; experience had wrought this conviction into his soul. He felt that it was God's hand that healed him.
2. The developments of this new conviction. A conviction like this must prove influential in some way or other. Abstract ideas may lie dormant in the mind, but convictions are ever operative. What did it do in Naaman?
(1) It evoked gratitude. Standing with all his company before the prophet, he avowed his gratitude. "Now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant." Just before his cure he had anything but kindly feelings towards the prophet. He was full of "rage." New convictions about God will generate new feelings toward man.
(2) It annihilated an old prejudice. Just before his cure he despised Israel. Jordan was contemptible as compared with the rivers of Damascus. But now the very ground seems holy. He asks of the prophet liberty to take away a portion of the earth. "Shall there not then, I pray thee, be given to thy servant two mules' burden of earth?" A new conviction about God widens the soul s sympathies, raises it above all those nationalities of heart that characterize little souls.
(3) It inspired worship. "Thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice … but unto the Lord." His whole nature was so flooded with gratitude to God who had healed him, that his soul went forth in holy worship. Through the force of this new conviction, he felt as St. Paul did when he said, "What things were gain to me, those I counted loss.
VIII. The force of ASSOCIATES. Naaman had been in the habit of worshipping "in the house of Rimmon," with his master the king. This, probably, he had done for years with other officers of the state. The influence of this he now felt counteracting the new conviction of duty. He felt that, whilst it would be wrong for him to go there any more, yet he could not but go. "In this thing the Lord pardon thy servant," etc. Loyalty and gratitude towards the king contributed much to prevent him renouncing all connection with the house of Rimmon. How often do our associations prevent us from the full carrying out of our convictions! It ought not to be so. "He that loveth father or mother," etc. It is somewhat remarkable that the Prophet Elisha, instead of exhorting Naaman to avoid every appearance of idolatry, said to him, "Go in peace." The prophet, perhaps, had faith in the power of Naaman's conviction to guard him from any moral mischief.
IX. The force of SORDID AVARICE. Gehazi is the illustration of this. In his case we have:
1. Avarice eager in its pursuits. "But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha," etc. He saw, as he thought, a fine opportunity for his greed, and he eagerly seized it. "I will run after him." Avarice is one of the most hungry passions of the soul. It is never satisfied. Had the avaricious man, like the fabled Briareus, a hundred hands, he would employ them all in ministering to himself—Dryden calls it "A cursed hunger of pernicious gold." It is that passion that makes all men like Gehazi "run." Men are everywhere out of breath in their race for wealth.
2. This avarice is in one associated with the most generous of men. He was the servant of Elisha, who, when Naaman offered some acknowledgment of his gratitude to him, exclaimed, in the most solemn way, "As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none." One would have thought that association with a generous soul like this would have banished every base sentiment from Gehazi's heart. But when it once roots itself in the soul, it is the most inveterate of lusts. The history of modern enterprises shows us numerous examples of men who, from early life, have been in association with ministers, churches, religious institutions, and in some cases have themselves been deacons, chairmen of religious societies, and the like, whose avarice has so grown, in spite of all those influences, as to make them swindlers on a gigantic scale.
3. This avarice sought its end by means of falsehood. "My master hath sent me," etc. This was a flagrant falsehood. Avarice is always false. Its trades are full of tricks; its shops of sophistries. All its enterprises employ the tongue of falsehood and the hand of deceit.
X. The force of DISTRIBUTIVE JUSTICE. There is justice on this earth as well as remedial goodness, and Heaven often makes men the organ as well as the subject of both. Elisha, who had the remedial power, had also the retributive. Here we see retributive justice:
1. Detecting the wrong-doer. "And Elisha said unto him, Whence comest thou, Gehazi?" etc. Justice has the eyes of Argus; has more than the eyes of Argus—it sees in the dark. It penetrates through all fallacies. "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro, beholding the evil and the good."
2. Reproving the wrong-doer. "Is it a time to receive money," etc.? An old expositor has quaintly put it, "Couldest thou find no better way of getting money than by belying thy master, and laying a stumbling-block before a young convert?" His avarice was a thing bad in itself, and bad also in seizing an opportunity which should have been employed for other and higher ends.
3. Punishing the wrong-doer. "The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee," etc. He had money of the leper, but he had his disease too. In getting what he considered a blessing, he got a curse as well. Wealth avariciously gotten never fails to bring a curse in some form or other. If it does not bring leprosy to the body, it brings what is infinitely worse, the most deadly leprosy into the soul, and often entails injuries on posterity.—D.T.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
2 Kings 5:1-7
The story of Naaman: 1. The disinterested maiden.
The story of the great Syrian captain, who was healed of his leprosy and brought to the knowledge of the true God through the instrumentality of a captive Hebrew maid directing him to Elisha, is one of the most beautiful, as it is one of the richest in gospel suggestion, of the narratives of the Old Testament. Our Lord refers to it in his discourse at Nazareth, as showing that it is not always the direct possessors of privileges who know best how to take advantage of them. "Many lepers were in Israel," etc. (Luke 4:27).
I. THE GREAT MAN'S LEPROSY. The story opens by introducing us to Naaman, the captain of the host of the King of Syria.
1. So much, and yet a cross. On this distinguished man Fortune seemed to have lavished her utmost favors. He was
(1) high in rank, "captain of the host;"
(2) great in honor, "a great man with his master;"
(3) successful in war, "honorable, because by him the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria;"
(4) distinguished for personal bravery, "a mighty man of valor." The expression quoted above, "The Lord had given deliverance," etc; shows how far the Hebrews were from regarding Jehovah as a merely national Deity. His providence extended to other nations as well. It was he, not Rimmon, who had given Syria her victories. Naaman had thus wealth, honor, the favor of his sovereign, the admiration of the people—everything that men commonly covet. Yet
(5) "he was a leper." This spoiled all. It was the cross in his lot; the drop of gall in his cup; the worm at the root of his prosperity. It made him such that, as has been said, the humblest soldier in his ranks would not have exchanged places with him. Few lives, even those which seem most enviable, are without their cross. The lady of Shunem has wealth, comforts, a loving husband; but she is childless. It does not take much sometimes to dash our earthly happiness, to take the golden light out of life. Because it is so, we should seek our happiness in things that are enduring. "He builds too low who builds beneath the skies."
2. The cross a mercy in disguise. As it proved, this grief of Naaman's became his salvation. It brought him under the notice of the little Hebrew maid, led to his visit to Elisha, ended in his cure and his conversion to the faith of the God of Israel. He was one who could say, "It is good for me that I have been afflicted" (Psalms 119:71). How often are seeming crosses and trials thus overruled for good! "Men see not the bright light which is in the clouds: but the wind passeth, and cleanseth them" (Job 37:21). The evangelical application of the story is aided by the fact that leprosy is so impressive a type of sin—insidious, progressive, corrupting, fatal.
II. THE SLAVE-GIRL'S ADVICE. It was God's design to show mercy to Naaman, for his own glory, as well as for a testimony that the Gentiles were not outside the scope of his grace. The instrument in accomplishing that design was a little Hebrew maid.
1. Her presence in Naaman's house. She had been taken in a marauding expedition, and brought to Syria as a captive. Sold, perhaps, like Joseph, in the slave-market, she had been purchased as an attendant for Naanaan's wife. Her presence in the great captain's household was thus:
(1) providential, even as was Joseph's residence in the house of Potiphar;
(2) sad, for she was torn from her own land and friends, and the thought of their sorrow at her loss would add to hers; yet
(3) designed for blessing. It not only gave her the opportunity of doing good to her master, but no doubt ultimately turned to her own great advantage. Another example of how the things which seem all "against us" (Genesis 42:36) are often for our good (comp. Genesis 1:20).
2. Her helpful suggestion. Slave though she was, the little maid was in possession of a secret which the great Naaman did not know, and which was worth "thousands of gold and silver" (Psalms 119:72) to him. She dropped a hint to her mistress, "Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria!" etc. Her suggestion was indicative of:
(1) Pity. Though a slave, her heart was tender, even towards her master. She was grieved for his affliction. She yearned to see him recovered. Her "would God!" is almost a prayer for his recovery.
(2) Fidelity. It is told of Joseph that he was faithful as a servant in the house of his master the Egyptian (Genesis 39:2-6). This little maid, though a "servant under the yoke" (1 Timothy 6:1), yet "counted her master worthy of all honor" (1 Timothy 6:1). She served, "not with eye-service, as men-pleasers," but "in singleness of heart," "with good will doing service ' (Ephesians 6:5-7), though her lord was an alien, and might seem to have little claim upon her gratitude. As a good servant should, she desired his prosperity in mind, body, and estate. In this was shown
(3) her disinterestedness. In her position it need not have been wondered at if she had secretly rejoiced at her master's affliction. But her heart cherished no resentment. Anticipating the gospel, she sought to return good for evil (Matthew 5:44).
We learn from this part of the story
(1) that even the humblest may be of essential service to those above them. Most of all is this the case when they possess the knowledge of the true God. A hint dropped may guide the spiritual leper to the fountain of healing.
(2) The young, too, should take encouragement. In their several stations they may be greatly used for good.
(3) We should do to others the utmost good we can, even though they are our enemies.
III. THE ARROGANT KING'S EPISTLE. The news of what the little maid had said soon spread abroad, and came first to the ears of Naaman, then to the ears of the King of Syria (Benhadad?).
1. The King of Syria's epistle. The monarch valued his general, and was ready to take any steps to further his cure. Accordingly, he indited a letter, and sent Naaman with it, with much pomp and state, to the King of Israel (Jehoram?). He sends:
(1) With the arrogance of a victor. The tone of his communication to the monarch at Samaria was unmistakably of the nature of command. It haughtily announces that he has sent Naaman to him, and requires that he shall recover him from his disease. There lurks in the letter a reminder of the defeat at Ramoth-Gilead (1 Kings 22:1-53.).
(2) With the ignorance of a heathen. He writes to the rival ruler as if it lay in his power to kill and to make alive. He probably thought that the king had only to command, to compel Elisha to serve him in any way he pleased. Hence, without mentioning Elisha, he lays the whole responsibility of seeing that his captain is cured on the shoulders of Jehoram. He has the notion—common enough to monarchs—that kings should be supreme in religion as in everything else. He thinks that God's prophets must take their commands from whoever chances to occupy the throne.
(3) With the munificence of a sovereign. If there was haughtiness in the tone of his letter, he did not at least send his officer without abundant rewards. He bore with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of raiment. These enormous sums were, no doubt, thought certain to purchase the cure. Another heathenish idea, akin to the modern notion that anything can be bought with money. Elisha taught him differently when the cure was accomplished (2 Kings 5:16). Simon Magus would have bought even the power to communicate the Holy Ghost with gold (Acts 8:18, Acts 8:19). There are blessings which are beyond the reach of money, and yet can be had "without money and without price (Isaiah 4:1).
2. The King of Israel's distress. When the King of Israel read the communication, he was both indignant and distressed. As he viewed the letter, it was:
(1) A request for the impossible. "Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy?" This was, at any rate, a frank acknowledgment of his own helplessness. It sets in a stronger light the Divine character of the cure by Elisha.
(2) An attempt to force upon him a quarrel. His interpretation of the letter was not unnatural. Yet it was mistaken. We do well to be careful in forming judgments and imputing motives.
(3) An attack upon his weakness. It was this that distressed him so much. He did not feel able to make war against the King of Syria, and therefore he resented the more keenly this attempt (as he conceived it) to drive him into a corner.—J.O.
2 Kings 5:8-19
The story of Naaman: 2. The suggestive cure.
The cure which Naaman came to seek was, nevertheless, obtained by him. We have here—
I. THE INTERPOSITION OF ELISHA. Naaman was on the point of being sent away, when Elisha interposed. God's prophet vindicates God's honor.
1. Elisha sends to the king. "He sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes?" etc; His words were:
(1) A rebuke of faithlessness. The king was not God, to kill and to make alive; but was there not a God in Israel who could? Has he already received no proofs of this God's power? Wherefore, then, had he rent his clothes? How much of our despondency, fear, despair, arises from want of faith in a living God!
(2) An invitation to seek help in the right quarter. "Let him come now to me." The proof that there was a prophet, and behind the prophet a living, wonder-working God, in Israel, would be seen in deeds. Why does the sinner rend his clothes, and despair of help? Is Christ not able to save? Does he not invite him to come?
2. Naaman comes to Elisha.
(1) He seeks cleansing.
(2) Yet with unhumbled heart.
His horses and chariot drive up to Elisha's door. The great man has no thought of descending to ask the prophet's blessing. He waits till he comes out to him. He is the man of rank and wealth, whom Elisha should feel honored in serving. But Elisha does not come out. Not in this spirit are cures obtained at the hand of God. Naaman must be taught that gold, silver, horses, chariots, rank, avail nothing here. To be saved the highest must become as the humblest. Pride must be expelled (Philippians 3:7, Philippians 3:8).
II. THE MODE OF CURE.
1. Elisha's direction. Instead of himself appearing, Elisha sent a messenger to Naaman, directing him to wash seven times in Jordan, and he would be clean. The means of cure was:
(1) Simplicity itself. Nothing could be simpler or more easy than to bathe seven times in Jordan. Any leper might be glad to purchase cleansing by plunging in a river. God's way of salvation by Christ is characteristically simple. It involves no toilsome pilgrimages, no laborious works, no protracted ceremonies. "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16:31).
(2) Symbolical. Jordan was the sacred stream of Israel; bathing was the Levitical mode of the purification of a leper (Le 2 Kings 14:8, 2 Kings 14:9); seven was the sacred number. Leprosy, as the type of sin, was fitly cleansed by these purificatory rites. That which answers to the bathing in the spiritual sphere is "the washing of regeneration, and of renewing of the Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5).
(3) In its very simplicity, fitted to humble the proud heart. As we are immediately to see, it humbled Naaman. It did not strike him as a sufficiently great thing to do. Thus many are offended by the very simplicity of the gospel. It seems treating them too much like children to ask them simply to believe in the crucified and risen Savior. Their intellectual eminence, their social greatness, their pride of character, are insulted by the proposal to efface themselves at the foot of the cross.
2. Naaman's anger. "Naaman was wroth, and went away." The causes of his anger were:
(1) His expectations were disappointed. He thought the prophet would have shown him more respect; would have employed impressive words and gestures; would have given the cure more eclat. Instead of this, there was the simple command to wash in Jordan. What a down-come from the imposing ceremonial he expected! Men have their preconceived ideas about religion, about salvation, about the methods of spiritual cure, which they oppose to God's ways. They say with Naaman, "Behold, I thought, He will surely do this or that. The Jews rejected their Messiah because he was" as a root out of a dry ground" (Isaiah 53:2); they rejected Christianity because its spiritual, unceremonial worship did not accord with their sensuous ideas. Others reject the gospel because it does not accord with the spirit of the age, is not sufficiently intellectual, philosophical, or aesthetical. God reminds us, "My thoughts are not your thoughts," etc. (Isaiah 55:8).
(2) He was required to submit to what seemed to him a humiliation. He was told to bathe in the waters of Jordan, a stream of Israel, when there were rivers as good, nay, better, in his own country, to which, if bathing was essential, he might have been sent. "Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus," etc.? It seemed like a studied slight put upon his native rivers, an intentional humiliation put upon himself, to require him to go and bathe in this local stream. How often does wounded pride rebel at the simple provisions of the gospel, because they involve nothing that is our own, that reflects glory on self, or allows glory to self! This is the very purpose of the gospel. "Where is boasting, then? It is excluded" (Romans 3:27). Things are as they are, "that no flesh should glory in his presence" (1 Corinthians 1:29). When Christ's atonement is extolled, the cry is, "Have we not rivers, Abanas and Pharpars, of our own?" "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. He 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" (Sumner).
3. Naaman's obedience. Thus a second time the blessing was nearly missed—this time through his own folly and obstinacy. But, fortunately, a remonstrance was addressed to him, and he proved amenable to reason.
(1) The remonstrance of his servants. They, looking at things through a calmer medium, and with Jess of personal pique, saw the situation with clearer eyes. They addressed him soothingly and affectionately. They touched the core of the matter when they said, "My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it?" It was Naaman's pride that had been offended. But they pointed out to him, in very plain terms, the folly of his conduct. Was it not a cure he wanted? And if it was, then, surely, the simpler the means prescribed the better. Why quarrel with the conditions of cure because they were so simple? The same reasoning may be applied to the gospel. It is the simplicity of its arrangements which is the beauty of it. If men really wish to be saved, why quarrel with this simplicity? Surely the simpler the better. Would men not he willing to do "some great thing" to obtain peace with God, pardon of sin, renewal and purity of heart? How much more, then, when it is said, "Wash, and be clean"?
(2) The washing in Jordan. Naaman's ire had cooled. He felt the force of what his servants urged. He might prefer Abana and Pharpar, if he liked; but it was Jordan the prophet had named. If he did not choose to submit to bathe in this river, he must go without the cure altogether. "Neither was there salvation" (Acts 4:12) in any other river than this one. This decided him. He went down without further parley, bathed seven times in Jordan as directed, and, marvel of marvels, "his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean." So speedy, sure, and complete was the reward of his obedience. As effectual to procure salvation and spiritual healing is the look of faith to Jesus, the appropriation of the merit of his blood, the spiritual baptism of the Holy Ghost.
III. NAAMAN'S GRATITUDE AND PIETY. What joy now filled the heart of the newly cleansed Naaman! How clearly he saw his former folly! How glad he was that he had not allowed his anger to prevail against the advice of his servants and his own better reason! At once he returned to Elisha; and it was very evident that his heart was overflowing with gratitude, and that he was a changed man. Like the leper in the Gospel, he returned "to give glory to God" (Luke 17:17, Luke 17:18). Gratitude is most becoming in those who have received great mercies from God. Salvation awakens joy; gratitude prompts to consecration—not in order to salvation, but as the result of it, man becomes "a new creature" (2 Corinthians 5:17). We observe:
1. His acknowledgment of God. "Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel." This is not a comparative statement, but an absolute one. Naaman is convinced that the gods of the heathen are nullities, and that the God of Israel is the only true God. He was brought to this acknowledgment through the great miracle God had wrought upon him. It is God's mighty acts in and for men which give the best evidence of his existence.
2. His offer of reward. It was no longer the heathenish notion of purchase, but a pure motive of gratitude, which led Naaman to press the wealth he had brought upon Elisha. The prophet, however, had no desire for his goods. With an emphatic asseveration, he declared that he would accept nothing.
(1) He must keep his act free from the possibility of misconception.
(2) A miracle of God must not be vulgarized by being made the occasion of money presents.
(3) Naaman's instruction must be completed by teaching him that money gifts do not pay for spiritual blessings. Yet Naaman's motive was a right one. It is right also that, from the motive of gratitude, we should consecrate our wealth to the Lord's service.
3. His determination to worship. If he cannot persuade Elisha to accept gifts, he himself will become a suppliant, and ask a favor from the prophet. He entreats that he may be permitted to take with him two mules' burden of earth of the Holy Land, that he may form an altar for the worship of Jehovah; for he is resolved henceforth to worship him only. This was granted. His altar would connect his sacrifices with the land which God had chosen as the place of his special habitation. Real religion will express itself in acts of worship. It will not content itself with cold recognition of God. It will build its altars to Jehovah, in the home, in the closet, in the church, and in the chief places of concourse.
4. His religious scruple. One point alone troubled him. In attending his royal master, it would be his duty to wait on him in his state visits to the temple of Rimmon, and, as his master leaned on his hand in bending before that idol, he would be under the necessity of seeming to bend before it, and yield it obeisance also. He asked that the Lord might pardon him in this thing. Elisha bade him go in peace.
(1) His act was not really worship, nor did he mean it to pass for such either before the king or the other worshippers.
(2) "An idol is nothing," and, if he understood that clearly, his conscience would not be "defiled" (1 Corinthians 8:4-7). There is need for great care, even in outward acts, lest they expose the doer to misconception, or hurt the consciences of others. Life, however, is woven of intricate threads, and it is impossible but that in public, social, and official positions the Christian will sometimes find himself in situations of all the concomitants of which he can by no means approve. It will not do to say of these that it is his duty at all hazards to come out of them; for it is frequently through his duty that he is brought into them, and to escape them entirely he would require to "go out of the world" (1 Corinthians 5:10). If active participation in anything sinful is sought to be forced on him—as if Naaman were required actually to bow the knee in worship to Rimmon—then he must refuse (Daniel 3:1-30.).—J.O.
2 Kings 5:20-27
The story of Naaman: 3. Gehazi's falsehood.
In Elisha's company we might have expected only honor, integrity, truthfulness. But the society of the good will not of itself make another good. Hypocrisy can cover a foul interior. A fair outward seeming can cloak a heart ruled by very evil principles. In the first apostolic band there was a Judas. In Elisha's service there was a Gehazi. The sin of both was covetousness. The offspring of covetousness in Gehazi's ease was hypocrisy and falsehood.
I. COVETOUSNESS PROMPTING FALSEHOOD.
1. His reproach of his master. When Naaman was gone, Gehazi indulged in reflections on his master's conduct. It did not at all commend itself to him. "Behold, my master has spared Naaman this Syrian, in not receiving at his hands that which he brought," etc. Such generosity seemed absurd. It was a chance missed which might never come again. Fantastic scruples were all very well, but when they led to the loss of a fortune, they were greatly to be reprobated. What scruple need there have been in any case about spoiling a foreigner? Covetousness generally sees only the money consideration. When great gain is at stake, the man is held to be a fool who allows religious or sentimental considerations, or even ordinary moral scruples, to stand in the way.
2. His covetous determination. If his master has acted foolishly, he will not imitate his example. It is not yet too late, with a little art, to repair the damage. He will hurry after the Syrian, and obtain something from him. "As the Lord liveth"—mark the profane mixing up of religion and impiety—"I will run after him, and take somewhat of him." Morality goes down before the greed of gain.
3. His unblushing falsehood.
(1) Naaman beheld Gehazi running after him, and was delighted to think that he might, after all, have the opportunity of serving Elisha. He alights from his chariot—a different man now than when his stately equipage "stood" at Elisha's door—and asks eagerly, "Is all well?"
(2) Gehazi, in reply, tells him an unblushingly invented falsehood. There had come two young men of the sons of the prophets from Mount Ephraim, and Elisha had sent to entreat for them a talent of silver and two changes of raiment. The finish of this style of falsehood, and Gehazi's subsequent hypocrisy, speak to considerable practice in the art of deceit. Such ready audacity, so great perfection in the arts of lying and concealment, are not attained at the first attempt. No man becomes a rogue quite suddenly. Elisha was probably no more deceived in the character of Gehazi than Jesus was in the character of Judas, who was secretly "a thief," and "had the bag, and bare what was put therein" (John 12:6).
II. GRATITUDE DICTATING LIBERALITY. The willing response made by Naaman to what he took to be Elisha's request is the bright side of this otherwise discreditable incident.
1. He doubled what was asked. "Be content, take two talents." He was glad to get an opening for forcing some acknowledgment of his gratitude on Elisha.
2. He sent two of his servants back with the sacks of silver and the raiment. What he did, he did handsomely. He gave every token he could of his desire to oblige Elisha.
3. Gehazi relieved the servants when they came near the house, and had the treasure smuggled into the house, and safely hid. This was the part of the business in which there lay some risk of detection; but it was securely managed, and Gehazi no doubt breathed a sigh of relief when he saw the valuables carefully stowed away. His treasure was as safely concealed as Achan's wedge of gold, and two hundred shekels of silver, and goodly Babylonish garment (Joshua 7:21). But it was to prove as great a curse. Meanwhile, light in conscience, glad in heart, and pleased at having been permitted to bestow even this small gift (comparatively) on Elisha, Naaman sped on his way home. He probably never knew how he had been deceived.
III. JUSTICE DECREEING PENALTY. Gehazi's act, however, skillfully concealed as it was from human view, was not to remain unpunished. God knew it. Gehazi had forgotten this. God is the one factor, which the wicked leave out of their calculations, and he is the most important of all. David was careful to conceal his crime with Bathsheba; but it is written, "The thing that David had done displeased the Lord" (2 Samuel 11:27).
1. Gehazi's hypocrisy. He went calmly in, and stood before his master, as if nothing had happened. There is, as above stated, a perfection in this villainy which shows that it was not a first offence. But there comes a point when men's sins find them out. They gain courage by repeated attempts, and by-and-by take a step too far. What they think is their master-stroke proves their ruin.
2. Elisha's challenge. What had happened had not been "hid" from Elisha. The Lord had showed it to him. His heart had gone with Gehazi, and he had seen Naaman turning from his chariot to meet him. He now challenged him with his conduct. He:
(1) Exposed his falsehood. Gehazi answered boldly to the question, "Whence comest thou?" "Thy servant went no whither." Then Elisha told him what he knew. We can imagine the servant's conscience-stricken look and speechless confusion at this discovery. Let sinners consider how they will face the disclosures of the judgment-day, and what they will answer (Ecclesiastes 12:14; Romans 2:16; Colossians 3:25). We have a parallel instance of exposure, with an even severer punishment, in the case of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11).
(2) Unveiled his inmost motives. "Is it a time"—in connection with a work of God so great—"to receive money, and to receive garments, and olive yards, and vineyards," etc. These were the things Gehazi intended to purchase with his money. His mind was running out in grand plans of what he would do with his treasures. A miracle such as had been wrought should have filled him with very different thoughts. Elisha lays bare the covetous root of his disposition. God reads to the bottom of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 2:23). Gold is valued by covetous men for what it will bring. It is a further development of avarice when it comes to be loved for its own sake.
3. The judgment of leprosy. By a just retribution, the leprosy of Naaman, which had been taken from him from miracle, is now by miracle rut on Gehazi and his seed forever (cf. Exodus 20:5). There is a symmetry—a relation of fitness—often observable in God's retributions (Genesis 9:6; Judges 1:7; Esther 7:9, Esther 7:10; Matthew 7:2; Matthew 26:52, etc.), Little would Gehazi's wealth delight him with this loathsome and accursed disease upon him. Men make a wretched bargain who for wealth's sake barter away peace with God, purity of conscience, inward integrity, and their soul's honor, They may obtain gain, but they are smitten with a leprosy of spirit which is their ruin. Covetousness in the heart is already a leprosy. The outward leprosy, in Gehazi's case, was but the external sign of what internally already existed.—J.O.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Kings 5". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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