Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
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.
- 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.
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" (Psalm 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" (Psalm 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.).
(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 (ver. 16). Simon Magus would have bought even the power to communicate the Holy Ghost with gold (Acts 8:18, 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.
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 "The dying thief rejoiced to see 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.
"The dying thief rejoiced to see 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.
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.
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, 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 (Leviticus 14:8, 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, 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.). - J.O.
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.
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, 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.