And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him: and he said, Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel: now therefore, I pray you, take a blessing of your servant.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Company.—Heb., camp, host. Naaman’s following consisted of “horses and chariots” (2Kings 5:9).
Came.—Went in: into Elisha’s house. Gratitude overcame awe and dread.
Behold, now.—Behold, I pray thee. The “now” belongs to “behold,” not to “I know.”
I know that . . . in Israel.—Naaman, like most of his contemporaries, Jewish as well as Syriau, believed in locally restricted deities. The powerlessness of the Syrian gods and the potency of Jehovah having been brought home to his mind by his marvellous recovery, he concludes that there is no god anywhere save in the land of Israel. In other words, his local conception of deity still clings to him. What a mark of historic truth appears in this representation!
Now therefore.—And now.
Take a blessing of.—Accept a present from (Genesis 33:11).
NAAMAN’S IMPERFECT FAITH
2 Kings 5:15 - 2 Kings 5:27.
Like the Samaritan leper healed by Jesus, Naaman came back to give glory to God. Samaria was quite out of his road to Damascus, but benefit melted his heart, and the pride, which had been indignant that the prophet did not come out to him, faded before thankfulness, which impelled him to go to the prophet. God’s gifts should humble, and gratitude is not afraid to stoop. Elisha would not see Naaman before, for he needed to be taught; but he gladly welcomes him into his presence now, for he has learned his lesson. Sometimes the best way to attract is to repel, and the true servant of God consults not his own dignity, but others’ good, whichever he does.
I. The first point is the offer and refusal of the gift. The benefited is liberal and the benefactor disinterested. Naaman was a convert to pure monotheism. His avowal is clear and full. But what a miserable conclusion he draws with that ‘therefore’! He should have said, ‘Therefore I come to trust under the shadow of His wings.’ But he is not ready to give himself, and, like some of the rest of us, thinks to compound by giving money. When the outward giving of goods is token of inward surrender of self, it is accepted. When it is a substitute for that, it is rejected. No doubt, too, Naaman thought that Elisha was, like the sorcerers of heathenism, very accessible to gifts; and if he had come to believe in Elisha’s God, he had yet to learn the loving-kindness of the God in whom he had come to believe. He had to learn next that ‘the gift of God’ was not ‘purchased with money’ and the prophet’s acceptance of his present would have dimmed Elisha’s own character, and that of his God, in the newly opened eyes of Naaman.
Elisha’s answer begins with the solemn adjuration which we first hear from Elijah. In its use here, it not only declares the unalterable determination of Elisha, but reveals its grounds. To a man who feels ever the burning consciousness that he is in the presence of God, all earthly good dwindles into nothing. How should talents of silver and gold, and changes of raiment, have worth in eyes before which that awful, blessed vision flames? A candle shows black against the sun. If we walk all the day in the light of God’s countenance, we shall not see much brightness to dazzle us in the pale and borrowed lights of earth. The vivid realisation of God in our daily lives is the true shield against the enticements of the world. Further, the consciousness of being God’s servant, which is implied in the expression ‘before whom I stand,’ makes a man shrink from receiving wages from men. ‘To his own Master he standeth or falleth,’ and will be scrupulously careful that no taint of apparent self-seeking shall spoil his service, in the eyes of men or in the judgment of the ‘great Taskmaster.’ Elisha felt that the honour of his order, and, in some sense, of his God, in the eyes of this half-convert, depended on his own perfect and transparent disinterestedness. Therefore, although he made no scruple of taking the Shunemite’s gifts, and probably lived on similar offerings, he steadfastly refused the enormous sum proffered by Naaman. ‘The labourer is worthy of his hire,’ but if accepting it is likely to make people think that he did his work for the sake of it, he must refuse it. A hireling is not a man who is paid for his work, but one who works for the sake of the pay. If once a professed servant of God falls under reasonable suspicion of doing that, his power for good is ended, as it should be.
II. The next point to notice is the alloy in the gold, or the imperfection of Naaman’s new convictions. He had been cured of his leprosy at once, but the cure of his soul had to be more gradual. It is unreasonable to expect clear sight, with the power of rightly estimating magnitudes, from a man seeing for the first time. But though Naaman’s shortcomings are very natural and excusable, they are plainly shortcomings. Note the two forms which they take,-superstition and selfish compromise. What good would a couple of loads of soil be, and could he not have taken that from the roadside without leave? The connection between the two halves of 2 Kings 5:17 makes his object plain. He wished the earth ‘for’ he would not sacrifice but to Jehovah. That is, he meant to use it as the foundation of an altar, as if only some of the very ground on which Jehovah had manifested Himself was sacred enough for such a purpose. He did not, indeed, think of ‘the Lord’ as a local deity of Israel, as his ample confession of faith in 2 Kings 5:15 proves; but neither had he reached the point of feeling that the Being worshipped makes the altar sacred. No wonder that he did not unlearn in an hour his whole way of thinking of religion! The reliance on externals is too natural to us all, even with all our training in a better faith, to allow of our wondering at or severely blaming him. A sackful of earth from Palestine has been supposed to make a whole graveyard a ‘Campo Santo’; and, no doubt, there are many good people in England who have carried home bottles of Jordan water for christenings. Does not the very name of ‘the Holy Land’ witness to the survival of Naaman’s sentimental error?
The other tarnish on the clear mirror was of a graver kind. Notice that he does not ask Elisha’s sanction to his intended compromise, but simply announces his intention, and hopes for forgiveness. It looks ill when a man, in the first fervour of adopting a new faith, is casting about for ways to reconcile it with the public profession of his old abandoned one. We should have thought better of Naaman’s monotheism, if he had not coupled his avowal of it, where it was safe to be honest, with the announcement that he did not intend to stand by his avowal when it was risky. It would have required huge courage to have gone back to Damascus and denied Rimmon; and our censure must be lenient, but decided.
Naaman was the first preacher of a doctrine of compromise, which has found eminent defenders and practisers, in our own and other times. To separate the official from the man, and to allow the one to profess in public a creed which the other disavows in private, is rank immorality, whoever does or advocates it. The motive in this case was, perhaps, not so much cowardice as selfish unwillingness to forfeit position and favour at court. He wants to keep all the good things he has got; and he tries to blind his conscience by representing the small compliance of bowing as almost forced on him by the grasp of the bowing king, who leaned on his hand. But was it necessary that he should be the king’s favourite? A deeper faith would have said, ‘Perish court favour and everything that hinders me from making known whose I am.’ But Naaman is an early example of the family of ‘Facing-both-ways,’ and of trying to ‘make the best of both worlds.’ But his sophistication of conscience will not do, and his own dissatisfaction with his excuse peeps out plainly in his petition that he may be forgiven. If his act needed forgiveness, it should not have been done, nor thus calmly announced. It is vain to ask forgiveness beforehand for known sin about to be committed.
Elisha is not asked for his sanction, and he neither gives nor refuses it. He dismissed Naaman with cold dignity, in the ordinary conventional form of leave-taking. His silence indicated at least the absence of hearty approval, and probably he was silent to Naaman because, as he said about the Shunemite’s trouble, the Lord had been silent to him, and he had no authoritative decision to give. Let us hope that Naaman’s faith grew and stiffened before the time of trial came, and that he did not lie to God in the house of Rimmon. Let us take the warning that we are to publish on the housetops what we hear in the ear, and that, if in anything we should be punctiliously sincere, it is in the profession of our faith.
III. The last point is Gehazi’s avarice, and what he got by it. How differently the same sight affected the man who lived near God and the one who lived by sense! Elisha had no desires stirred by the wealth in Naaman’s train. Gehazi’s mouth watered after it. Regulate desires and you rule conduct. The true regulation of desires is found in communion with God. Gehazi had a sordid soul, like Judas; and, like the traitor Apostle, he was untouched by contact with goodness and unworldliness. Perhaps the parallel might be carried farther, and both were moved with coarse contempt for their master’s silly indifference to earthly good. That feeling speaks in Gehazi’s soliloquy. He evidently thought the prophet a fool for having let ‘this Syrian’ off so easily. He was fair game, and he had brought the wealth on purpose to leave it. Profanity speaks in uttering a solemn oath on such an occasion. The putting side by side of ‘the Lord liveth’ and ‘I will run after him’ would be ludicrous if it were not horrible. How much profanity may live close beside a prophet, and learn nothing from him but a holy name to sully in an oath!
The after part of the story suggests that Naaman was out of sight of the city before he saw Gehazi coming after him. The cunning liar timed his arrival well. The courtesy of Naaman in lighting down from his chariot to receive the prophet’s servant shows how real a change had been wrought upon him, even though there were imperfections in him. Gehazi’s story is well hung together, and has plenty of ‘local colour’ to make it probable. Such glib ingenuity in lying augurs long practice in the art. If he had been content with a small fee, he needed only to have told the truth; but his story was required to put a fair face on the amount of his request. And in what an amiable light it sets Elisha! He would not take for himself, but he has nothing to give to the two imaginary scholars, who have come from some of the schools of the prophets in the hill-country of Ephraim, thirsting for instruction. How sweet the picture, and what a hard heart that could refuse the request! Truly said Paul, ‘The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.’ Any sin may come from it, and be done to gratify it. ‘Honestly if you can, but get it,’ was Gehazi’s principle, as it is that of many a man in the Christian Churches of this day. Greed of gain is a sin that seldom keeps house alone. Naaman no doubt was glad to give, both because he was grateful, and because, like most people in high positions, he was galled by the sense of obligation to a man beneath him in rank. So back went Gehazi, with the two Syrian slaves carrying his baggage for him, and he chuckling at his lucky stroke, and pleasantly imagining how to spend his wealth.
‘The tower’ in 2 Kings 5:24 is more correctly ‘the hill,’ and it was probably there where the little group would come in sight of Elisha’s house. So Gehazi gets rid of the porters before they could be seen or speak to any one, and manages his load for a little way himself, carefully hides it in the house, and, seeing the men safely off, appears obsequious and innocent before Elisha. The prophet’s gift of supernatural knowledge was intermittent, as witness his ignorance of the Shunemite’s sorrow; but Gehazi must have known its occasional action, and we can fancy that his heart sank at the ominous question, so curt in the original, and conveying so clearly the prophet’s knowledge that he had been away from the house: ‘Whence, Gehazi?’ One lie needs another to cover it, and every sin is likely to beget a successor. So, with some tremor, but without hesitation, he tries to hide his tracks. Did not Elisha’s eye pierce the wretched hypocrite as with a dart? and did not his voice ring like a judgment trumpet, as he confounded the silent sinner with the conviction that the prophet himself had been at the spot, though his body had remained in the house? So, at last, will men be reduced to stony dumbness, when they discover that an Eye which can see deeper than Elisha’s has been gazing on all their secret sins. The question, ‘Is this a time to receive?’ etc., suggests the special reasons, in Naaman’s new faith, for conspicuous disregard of wealth, in order that he might thereby learn the free love of Elisha’s God and of Jehovah’s servant, both of which had been tarnished by Gehazi’s ill-omened greed. The long enumeration following on ‘garments’ includes, no doubt, the things that Gehazi had solaced his return with the thought of buying, and so adds another proof that his heart was turned inside out before the prophet.
His punishment is severe; but his sin was great. The leprosy was a fitting punishment, both because it had been Naaman’s, from which obedient reliance on God had set him free, and because of its symbolical meaning, as the type of sin. Gehazi got his coveted money, but he got something else along with it, which he did not bargain for, and which took all the sweetness out of it. That is always the case. ‘Ill-gotten gear never prospers’; and, if a man has set his heart on worldly good, he may succeed in amassing a fortune, but the leprosy will cleave to him, and his soul will be all crusted and foul with that living death. How many successful men, perhaps high in reputation in the Church as in the world, would stand ‘lepers as white as snow,’ if we had God’s eyes to see them with!2 Kings 5:15. He returned to the man of God — To give him thanks and a recompense for the great benefit which he had received. I know there is no God in all the earth but in Israel — By this wonderful work I am fully convinced that the God of Israel is the only true God, and that other gods are impotent idols. A noble confession! but such as speaks the misery of the Gentile world; for the nations that had many gods, really had no God, but were without God in the world. He had formerly thought the gods of Syria gods indeed, but now experience had rectified his mistake, and he knew Israel’s God was God alone, the sovereign Lord of all. Had he merely seen other lepers cleansed, perhaps it would not have convinced him; but the mercy of the cure affected him more than the miracle of it. Those are best able to speak of the power of divine grace, who have themselves experienced it. I pray thee take a blessing of thy servant — A thankful acknowledgment, or token of gratitude. The Hebrews called every gift a blessing.Luke 17:15). From the Jordan to Samaria was a distance of not less than 32 miles. Naaman further went to Damascus, far out of his way, lengthening his necessary journey by at least three days. His special object in returning seems to have been to relieve his feelings of obligation by inducing the prophet to accept a "blessing," i. e. a gift.
15, 16. he returned to the man of God—After the miraculous cure, Naaman returned to Elisha, to whom he acknowledged his full belief in the sole supremacy of the God of Israel and offered him a liberal reward. But to show that he was not actuated by the mercenary motives of the heathen priests and prophets, Elisha, though he accepted presents on other occasions (2Ki 4:42), respectfully but firmly declined them on this, being desirous that the Syrians should see the piety of God's servants, and their superiority to all worldly and selfish motives in promoting the honor of God and the interests of true religion.He returned to the man of God, to give him thanks, and a recompence for his great kindness.
I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel; by this wonderful work I am fully convinced the God of Israel is the only true God, and that other gods are but impotent idols.
A blessing; a thankful acknowledgment. See Genesis 33:11.
and came and stood before him; for being admitted into the prophet's house, instead of the prophet standing before him, as he before expected, he now stood before the prophet in veneration of him, and sensible of his obligation to him:
behold, now I know there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel; though he did not before, but his cure fully convinced him of it:And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him: and he said, Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel: now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)15–19. Naaman’s gratitude. His imperfect knowledge makes his practice imperfect (Not in Chronicles)
15. And he returned to the man of God] He was a stranger in Israel, like the Samaritan among the ten lepers whom our Lord cured, but like him he also manifested his thankfulness. He came back with all his company, that the thanksgiving might lose nothing of its fulness, and in the presence of them all, proclaims the new knowledge which he has gained, how he has found that ‘there is no god who can deliver after this sort’.
came, and stood before him] His feelings and attitude are alike changed, and so the prophet now shews himself to him. Naaman has begun his lesson in the school of Jehovah and Elisha is ready to encourage his weak steps.
no God in all the earth, but in Israel] He has still his notion of different gods assigned to different lands, and does not conceive that Jehovah may be the God of all the earth. He is the God of Israel only, but all that are called gods elsewhere are not to be compared to Him.
take a blessing [R.V. present] of thy servant] Because with a present there generally is given good wishes and benediction, the Hebrews frequently used ‘blessing’ as here for ‘a gift’. Thus (Genesis 33:11) Jacob calls the present which he had prepared for Esau by this name. ‘Take I pray thee, my blessing’. Cf. also Jdg 1:15; 1 Samuel 25:27; 1 Samuel 30:26 (with margin).Verse 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" (ver. 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, but 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, 17; 2 Kings 17:26; 2 Kings 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., 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 5:11, 2 Kings 5:12): "I thought, he will come out to me and stand and call upon the name of Jehovah his God, and go with his hand over the place (i.e., move his hand to and fro over the diseased places), and take away the leprosy." המּצורע, the leprous equals the disease of leprosy, the scabs and ulcers of leprosy. "Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? (for the combination of טּוב with נהרות, see Ewald, 174f.) Should I not bathe in them, and become clean?" With these words he turned back, going away in a rage. Naaman had been greatly strengthened in the pride, which is innate in every natural man, by the exalted position which he held in the state, and in which every one bowed before him, and served him in the most reverential manner, with the exception of his lord the king; and he was therefore to receive a salutary lesson of humiliation, and at the same time was also to learn that he owed his cure not to any magic touch from the prophet, but solely to the power of God working through him. - Of the two rivers of Damascus, Abana or Amana (the reading of the Keri with the interchange of the labials ב and מ, see Sol 4:8) is no doubt the present Barada or Barady (Arab. brd, i.e., the cold river), the Chrysorrhoas (Strabo, xvi. p. 755; Plin. h. n. 18 or 16), which rises in the table-land to the south of Zebedany, and flows through this city itself, and then dividing into two arms, enters two small lakes about 4 3/4 hours to the east of the city. The Pharpar is probably the only other independent river of any importance in the district of Damascus, namely, the Avaj, which arises from the union of several brooks around Sa'sa', and flows through the plain to the south of Damascus into the lake Heijny (see Rob. Bibl. Researches, p. 444). The water of the Barada is beautiful, clear and transparent (Rob.), whereas the water of the Jordan is turbid, "of a clayey colour" (Rob. Pal. ii. p. 256); and therefore Naaman might very naturally think that his own native rivers were better than the Jordan.
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