The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honourable, because by him the LORD had given deliverance unto Syria: he was also a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper.2Kings 5:1-19
1. Now Naaman ["beauty"], captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man [Heb., lifted up, or accepted in countenance] with his master, [lit., before his lord (comp. Genesis 10:9)] and honourable, because by him the Lord had given deliverance [victory] unto Syria; he was also a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper. [Lit., and the man was a brave warrior, stricken with leprosy. His leprosy need not have been so severe as to prevent him following his military duties.]
2. And the Syrians had gone out by companies [or, in troops], and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid; and she waited [Heb., was before] on Naaman's wife.
3. And she said unto her mistress, Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him [then he would receive him back (comp. Numbers 12:14-15)] of his leprosy.
4. And one went in, and told his lord, saying, Thus and thus said the maid that is of the land of Israel.
5. 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 [Heb., in his hand] ten talents of silver [about £3,750 in our money. The shekel was about equal to 2s. 6d. of our money] and six thousand pieces of gold [six thousand gold shekels = about £13,500. The gold shekel was about equal to 45s. of our currency. The total amount appears too large; the figures are probably corrupt], and ten changes of raiment.
6. 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.
7. And it came to pass, when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he rent his clothes [as if he had heard blasphemy (comp. Matthew 26:65)] and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive [Deuteronomy 32:39; 1Samuel 2:6. Leprosy was a kind of living death (comp. Numbers 12:12)], 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.
8. ¶ And it was so, when Elisha the man of God had heard [he was at the time in Samaria (2Kings 5:3)] that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is [with stress on "there is"] a prophet in Israel.
9. So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood [stopped] at the door of the house of Elisha.
10. And Elisha sent a messenger [avoiding personal contact with a leper] unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan [Naaman was to understand that he was healed by the God of Israel, in answer to the prophet's prayer, (comp. 2Kings 5:15)] seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.
11. But [And] Naaman was wroth [he thought he was being mocked], and went away, and said [I said to myself], Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the Lord his God, and strike [wave his hand towards (comp. Isaiah 10:15, Isaiah 11:15)] his hand over the place, and recover the leper.
12. Are not Abana and Pharpar [the], rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage.
13. And his servants came near [comp. Genesis 18:23], and spake unto him, and said, My father [implying respect and affection (comp. 1Samuel 24:11; 1Samuel 6:21)], if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done [or wouldest thou not do] it? how much rather then, when he saith [hath said] to thee, Wash, and be clean [i.e., thou shalt be clean]?
14. Then [And he went down] went he down, and dipped himself seven times [seven was significant of the divine covenant with Israel, and the cure depended on that covenant] in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
15. ¶ And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company [camp, host], and came [went into Elisha's house. Gratitude overcame awe and dread] 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 [and now], I pray thee, take a blessing [accept a present from (Genesis 33:11)] of thy servant.
16. But [And] he said, As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none. [Matthew 10:8 (compare Acts 8:20). Elisha's conduct, so different to ordinary prophets (1Samuel 9:6-9), would favourably impress Naaman]. And he urged him to take it; but [and] he refused.
17. And Naaman said, Shall there not then [If not, let there be given, I pray thee, be given to thy servant two mules' burden of earth [he wished to worship the God of Israel on the soil of Israel, Jehovah's own land. (Comp. Exodus 20:24; 1Kings 18:38)]? for thy servant will henceforth offer [make] neither burnt-offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the Lord.
18. In this thing the Lord pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship [to bow down] there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon: when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the Lord pardon thy servant in this thing.
19. And he said unto him, Go in peace. So he departed from him a little way [Heb., a little piece of ground (Genesis 35:16)].
The Danger of Preconceptions
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" (2Kings 5:11.) Naaman had heard of a man who could cure his leprosy,—so he thought out how this would be accomplished. He made a plan in his own mind, as we see in the eleventh verse. Now that thought before the thing happened was what is termed a preconception, and suggests our subject, namely, the mischievousness and absurdity of preconception in religious thinking. Religion must not be a discovery, but a revelation, if it is to have any depth of wisdom, any force of pathos, any riches of comfort—if it is to have the infiniteness of redemption which our sin and our necessity require. The great mistake that we have made is, that we thought we could find out a religion—we could make one. So we have set our inventiveness to work, and we have said, God must be thus and so. Man must have begun then and there. The connection between God and man must be of this and that nature and limitation. Thus, without the slightest authority beyond what may be involved in our own consciousness, we have constructed a plan of the universe, a method of government, a system of providence, and therefore anything that opposes our preconceptions encounters in all its fulness the action of a personal prejudice. Religion must surprise by showing the unexpected way of doing things. Religion is not a condition of our a priori thinking. The religion of the Bible never professes to meet us half-way, to do half the work if we will do the other half. It comes upon us like a light we never kindled, like a glory which extinguishes all the mean flames of our own lighting. Herein is its power, and herein is the disadvantage to which it exposes itself in the estimation of men who begin their intellectual life by inventing a religion which is not confirmed by the revelation contained in the Bible. What then are we to do? Were we wise men, and burningly in earnest about this matter, we should come with a mind totally unoccupied, without prejudice, without bias, without colour, and should humbly, reverently, and lovingly say, "What wilt thou have me to be and to do?" Instead of that we come with a prejudice seven-fold in thickness, and the first thing the Bible does is to rebuke our pride, and dash our religious imagination to the ground. Man does not like that. He would rather be flattered and commended, and it would be pleasant to him to hear the old prophets say: "Thou art a clever man, and thy astuteness must be most pleasing to God and his angels; thou hast found out the secret of the Almighty; by thine own right hand hast thou captured the prizes of heaven." Who would not be pleased by such commendation? But it is never given. The Bible pours contempt upon the thought which preoccupies the mind, and has no blessing but for those who are poor in heart, meek, lowly, contrite, broken in spirit, childlike, who say with a tender loving reverence, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to be and to do?" "To this man will I look." How expectation is excited by that introduction. It is as if God's finger were stretched out, and pointing to a certain individual, and the eyes of the universe followed the pointing of the finger, and the ears of the universe listened while God gave this testimony concerning the specified man. Who is the man? "To this man will I look, who is of a broken and contrite spirit, and who trembleth at my word."
Let us apply this suggestion to two or three of the most vital religious inquiries. Apply it to the subject of Inspiration. Instead of coming to the Book without bias and prejudice, simply to hear what the Book has to say for itself, we come with what is termed a theory of inspiration. As if there could be any balance between the terms, as if in any degree or sense they could be equivalent to one another. Theory equal to inspiration—inspiration equal to theory. The word theory must be an offence to the word inspiration! Inspiration is madness, ecstasy, enthusiasm, the coronation of the soul, the mind in its widest, grandest illumination. How have the Naamans of the world treated the Bible? Thus: "Behold, I thought the Bible will be artistically arranged; it will move in such and such grooves and currents; the men will be so distinguished from all other men that there will be no mistaking them. They will never fall from their inspiration; they will not live on earth, they will not live in heaven, they will live somewhere midway between these places; they will not speak our language, or, if they do, it will be with a different accent. All the Book contains will have about it the fragrance of an upper and undiscovered paradise." Now open the Book. The Book is as nearly not that as it is possible for a book to be. What is the consequence? The Book is not inspired, because, forsooth, it does not answer our preconception of inspiration! Where does the Book say that it is inspired? Where does the Book lift itself up and say, "I am not written with the same ink as other books, beware how you touch me; I am inspired; my punctuation was settled by a special angel from heaven, and all my words I have directly from the lips of the Eternal"? The Book comes with an abruptness that startles us, and with a simplicity so simple that it actually bewilders us. The Book is so broadly human, and so graphically historical, taking note of great things and little things; revealing much that we had no expectation of having revealed, and keeping back much that we expected would be revealed; putting in its very centre some three thousand proverbs, terse sentences, utterances that might be graven upon rings, and might form signet mottoes by which to regulate our daily conduct. And the Book which has in its centre proverbs which a mere moralist might have written, has at its end an apocalypse which might dazzle the angels. What does Naaman say about the Book? "Behold, I thought it would be all written in polysyllables; I expected it would be all sublime, with an unprecedented sublimity too grand for our language, and would need a language of its own too superior for our atmosphere, and would need an air created for itself." And, behold, it is so simple, so graphic, so abrupt, so social. Fascinating as a romance, solemn as a day of judgment, rich in moral maxims, filled with dazzling and bewildering prophecy, and such an appeal to the religious imagination as never was addressed to it before. How is it that you have got so little out of the Bible? Simply because you had a preconception about it which the Bible itself does not confirm, and therefore you have elected to follow your own prejudices, rather than to accept a possible revelation. What you have to do with the Bible is to read it straight through, without saying anything to anybody. You have not to dip into it just as you please, you have to begin at the beginning and read through to the final Amen. In doing so you have to be as fair to the Book as you would be to the meanest criminal that ever stood at the bar of justice. The counsel asks you in considering the evidence to banish all preconceptions, all prejudices, all theories, and to listen to the case without any bias or mental colour of your own. That plea we allow to be just. We ask for nothing more than that in considering the Bible. Do not come with your notions of inspiration, your "Behold, I thought," but come with a white mind, an unprejudiced understanding, and read the Book, not here and there, but steadily on and on, page by page, historian, prophet, psalmist, evangelist, apostle, and that wondrous Speaker whose words were as the dew of the morning. When you have read the Book thus straight through, there is no reason why you should not form a distinct opinion about it. Nowhere will the Book take away your power of thought, reason, and judgment. It will rather challenge you at the last to say, "Who or what say ye that I am?"
The same suggestion has its application to the great question of Providence. Here, again, we lose much by the indulgence of preconception. Given God and man. God, almighty, all-wise, and man as we know him to be, to find out the course of human history. "Behold, I thought it would be thus. The good man will have a bountiful harvest every year. The praying man will see every day close upon a great victory of life. Honesty will be rewarded, vice will be put down, crushed, condemned by the universal voice. The true man will be king, and the untrue man will be hated and despised. Virtue will lift up her head, and vice will pray some seven-fold night to hide its intolerable ghastliness." That was your preconception, what is the reality? Sometimes the atheist has a better harvest than the man who prayed in the seedtime, and prayed every day until the autumn came. Sometimes the righteous man has not where to lay his head. Sometimes the true man is put down, and the false man is highly exalted. Sometimes the honest and honourable trader can hardly make both ends meet, and the man given to sharp practice and immoral speculation is a man who retires to affluence and dies in castle or in palace. Sometimes the good are condemned to pain, and sorrow, and loss, and sometimes the wicked have eyes that stand out with fatness, they are compassed about with chains of gold; they are not in trouble as other men. Our preconception is so different from this that we feel the violence of a tremendous shock, and possibly may turn and go away in a rage. Let us consider and be wise. What business have we to invent a theory of Providence? We cannot tell what a day may bring forth. We have already forgotten all the incidents of yesterday, tomorrow we are never sure of: we are of yesterday and know nothing. We cannot tell what is written upon the next page of the book until we turn it over. Who are we that we should invent a theory of the Divine administration of the universe? What ought to be our mental attitude and moral mood? The Christian ought to stand still and say, "Lord, not my will, but thine, be done. What I know not now I shall know hereafter. I am but of yesterday and know nothing. Thou art from everlasting to everlasting, and thou knowest all the system of compensation which thou thyself hast established. In the long run thou wilt justify thy providence to man. I will, therefore, not preconceive or pre-judge, or invent, or suppose, or have any theory that will set itself between me and God. My theories have become idols which hide from me the true divinity. God give me strength to cast these idols to the moles and to the bats."
What applies to Inspiration and to Providence applies of course to the greater question of Redemption. We had thought that the plan of redemption would be this or that, and all our preconceptions fail to reach the agony of the cross, and the mystery of a sacrificial death. The sublimity of a battle won by weakness. We are lost in wonder. May we also be lost in love and praise! Many persons address themselves to a theory of redemption, in their anti-Christian arguments, who never approach the inner and vital question of redemption itself. We care nothing for any theory of redemption, as such, that was ever heard of. We believe all reasoning about redemption, with a view to find out the secret of the divine meaning, and to trace the mystery of moral law and claim, to be vain and worthless. You see the redemption once and the vision passes, you feel the mystery, and after that the life is transfigured and becomes itself a sacrifice. If the cross has got no further than your invention, your intellect, your range of scheming, and theorising, it is not a cross, it is but a Roman gallows. There is no theory of the heart. There is no theory of love. There is no theory of a mother's sacrifice for her ailing and dying child. You must feel it, know it by the heart, see it by some swift glance of a similar spirit, and after that you will have an understanding that cannot be put into words and phrases.
What, then, is the sum of the argument thus roughly outlined? It is this. Rid the mind of preconceptions. Do not go to church with some theory which the preacher has to destroy before he can begin his work of construction. When we enter the sanctuary, we ought to enter it without prejudice against the place, against the book, or against the man who, for the time being, officiates in the name of Christ. We should be fair, and honest, and just, we should not be more righteous to a criminal than we are to an equal. We should enter God's house in this spirit: "Lord, show me thyself as thou wilt. Lord, teach me thy truth. Lord, show me what I ought to be and to do. My selfishness takes the form of religious inventiveness, this is the most subtle temptation of my life. Lord, help me to answer this temptation. I am not tempted to commit murder, or to tell great blasphemous lies to men, but I am tempted to form notions about thyself, and thy book, and thy providence; and my mind is like a chamber full of pegs upon which I have hung a hundred preconceptions, and there I am the victim of my own fancies. Thou hast to crush thy way through a crowd of idols to get at me. Lord, cleanse the chamber of my mind, banish all these idols and come in thyself, and by the shining of thy face I shall be able to identify thy deity." That is the prayer which ought to rise from every heart when we approach the worship of God and the consideration of his mysteries. As in the case of Naaman, so now. The surprise of Christian revelation is always in the direction of simplicity. Naaman had a programme, Elisha a command. Naaman had a ceremony, Elisha a revelation. Naaman required a whole sheet of paper on which to write out his elaborate scheme, Elisha rolled up his address into a military sentence, and delivered his order as a mightier soldier than Naaman.
Let us burn our theories, inventions, preconceptions, prejudices, and our forecasts about God, Providence, Inspiration, Redemption, and human destiny, and throw ourselves into the great arms, asking only to be and to do what God would have us be and do. Let us live the true, sweet child's life, and not be the victim of our own prejudices, nor the dupe of our own cleverness. May our prayer be, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? I am ready, by thy Spirit, to go, and stand, and fight, and wait, to suffer, to enjoy, to be rich, to be poor, to be known, to be unknown; not my will, but thine, be done." And at the last we shall say, "Thou hast done all things well."
Almighty God, how do they praise thee who stand in the unclouded light and sing thy name and do thy service evermore? We wonder, but we cannot tell. We long sometimes to be of their number even but for one moment, that we might return again and praise thee on earth as they do in heaven. How sweet their song, how undivided their thought, how complete their loyalty! Yet may we be growing up toward all this by the grace of thy Holy Spirit, becoming wiser, purer, tenderer, more like thyself at least in our love of holiness. Help us to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Save us from foolish and vain notions concerning thyself. Deliver us from the power of superstition, lest we forget how really to pray, and how truly to worship the threefold name. May we know thee as Father, King, mighty one, yet tenderer than a mother, more patient than a nurse who serves for love. We bless thee for all our mental illumination; we thank thee now, whereas once we were blind and could not see afar off; now we seem to know better what the meaning of life is, what are its capacities, and what is its destiny. We cannot tell how the idea grew in our mind, but it was a miracle of thine—that we know. We could now tell thy word, because we know what it is in pureness, in wisdom, in righteousness, and in the spirit of hopefulness, so that no man can now deceive us by saying, This is the word of God, when it is not. Behold, thou hast set thy witness in our hearts, which says to us, This is God's word, and that is a counterfeit gospel: reject it, for there is no blessing in it. This also cometh forth from the Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working. Help us to read thy book with eyes which thou thyself hast opened, so that we may see not the letter only but the spirit, so that looking upon the letter we see within it chariots and horses of fire, living spirits, gracious angels; and may we yield ourselves to the whole spiritual ministry. Thus shall we show what it is to be in God, to live, and move, and have our being in him, by the loftiness of our judgment and the Christliness of our charity. May we hate sin, which is an abominable thing in thy sight. May we know that sin always means leprosy—leprosy for ever: but that in Jesus Christ there is a healing even for the leper in the sweet gospel we have heard. The Lord cleanse us, and we shall be clean. We would that we might be recovered of our spiritual leprosy, that we might be healed with the blood of sacrifice, the precious blood, which speaketh better things than the blood of Abel. We have heard of this gospel of blood, this salvation by atonement: what it all is we cannot tell, but we long to know; by faith we cast ourselves upon it; living or dying our cry shall be, Lord, we believe, help thou our unbelief. Amen.
But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, Behold, my master hath spared Naaman this Syrian, in not receiving at his hands that which he brought: but, as the LORD liveth, I will run after him, and take somewhat of him.2Kings 5:20-27
20. ¶ But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said [thought], Behold, my master hath spared Naaman this Syrian, in not receiving at his hands that which he brought: but, as the Lord liveth, I will run [by the life of Jehovah, but I will run] after him, and take somewhat of him.
21. So Gehazi followed after Naaman. And when Naaman saw him running after him, he lighted down from the chariot to meet him [an oriental mark of respect, literally, fell from off the chariot: denoting haste (Genesis 24:64)], and said, Is all well?
22. And he said, All is well My master hath sent me, saying, Behold, even now [this moment] there be come to me from mount Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets: give them, I pray thee, a talent of silver, and two changes of garments.
23. And Naaman said, Be content [Be willing, consent to take], take two talents. And he urged him, and bound [Deuteronomy 14:25] two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of garments, and laid them upon two of his servants [gave them to two of his (Naaman's) young men]; and they bare them before him [Gehazi].
24. And when he came to the tower [perhaps a fortified hill, like the Ophel at Jerusalem, is to be understood (comp. 2Chronicles 27:3)], he took them from their hand, and bestowed them in the house [laid them up carefully in the prophet's house]: and he let the men go, and they departed.
25. But he went in, and stood before [came forward to (2Chronicles 6:12)] his master. And Elisha said unto him, Whence comest thou, Gehazi? And he said, Thy servant went no whither [literally, Thy servant went not away hither or thither].
26. And he said unto him, Went not mine heart with thee [thus paraphrased in the Targum: "By the spirit of prophecy I was informed when the man turned"], when the man turned again from his chariot to meet thee? Is it a time to receive [comp. Ecclesiastes 3:2] money, and to receive garments, and oliveyards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and men-servants, and maidservants?
27. The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave [or, cleave, i.e. let it cleave: imperative] unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever. [If it be thought that the sentence is too strong, it should be remembered that the prophet is pronouncing the judgment of God (comp. Acts 5)]. And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow [(comp. Exodus 4:6; Numbers 12:10). An outbreak of leprosy may follow upon extreme fright or mortification],
The name Gehazi means "valley of vision," and is appropriate enough if we think of what Gehazi saw as to the nature of wickedness when the prophet opened his eyes. Let us note what points there are in this case which illustrate human life as we now know it. In this way we shall test the moral accuracy of the story,—and that is all we are now principally concerned about.
Gehazi was "the servant of Elisha the man of God." Surely then he would be a good man? Can a good man have a bad servant? Can the man of prayer, whose life is a continual breathing unto God of supreme desires after holiness, have a man in his company, looking on and watching him, and studying his character, who denies his very altar, and blasphemes against his God? Is it possible to live in a Christian house and yet not to be a Christian? Can we come so near as that, and yet be at an infinite distance from all that is pure and beautiful and true? If so, then we must look at appearances more carefully than we have been wont to do, for they may have been deceiving us all the time. Surely every good man's children must be good; for they have had great spiritual advantages; they have indeed had some hereditary benefits denied to many others; their house has been a home, their home has been a church, and surely they must show by their whole spirit and tone of life that they are as their father as to alb spiritual aspiration and positive excellence. Is it not so? If facts contradict that theory, then we must look at the theory again more carefully, or we must examine the facts more closely, because the whole science of Cause and Effect would seem to be upset by such contradictions. There is a metaphysical question here, as well as a question of fact. A good tree must bring forth good fruit; good men must have good children; good masters must have good servants; association in life must go for something. So we would say—emphatically, because we think reasonably. But facts are against such a fancy. What is possible in this human life? It is possible that a man may spend his days in building a church, and yet denying God. Does not the very touch of the stones help him to pray? No. He touches them roughly, he lays them mechanically, and he desecrates each of them with an oath. Is it possible that a man can be a builder of churches, and yet a destroyer of Christian doctrine and teaching generally? Yes. Let us come closer still, for the question is intensely interesting and may touch many: it is possible for a man to print the Bible and yet not believe a word of it! On first hearing this shocking statement we revolt from it. We say it is possible for a man to handle type that is meant to represent the greatest revelation ever made to the human mind, without feeling that the very handling of the type is itself a kind of religious exercise. Yet men can debauch themselves in the act of printing the Bible; can use profane language whilst putting the Lord's Prayer in type; can set up the whole Gospel of John, without knowing that they are putting into visible representation the highest metaphysics, the finest spiritual thinking, the tenderest religious instruction. Let us come even closer: a man can preach the gospel and be a servant of the devil! Who, then, can be saved? It is well to ask the question. It is a burning inquiry; it is a spear-like interrogation. We would put it away from us if we dare. Now let this stand as our first lesson in the study of this remarkable incident, that Gehazi was the servant of Elisha the man of God, and was at the same time the servant of the devil. He was receiving wages from both masters. He was a living contradiction; and in being such he was most broadly human. He was not a monster; he was not a natural curiosity; he is not to be accounted for by quietly saying that he was an eccentric person: he represents the human heart, and by so much he brings against ourselves an infinite impeachment. It is in vain that we shake our skirts as if throwing off this man and all association with him and responsibility for him; this cannot be done: he anticipated ourselves; we repeat his wickedness. The iniquity is not in the accident, in the mere circumstances, or in the particular form; the iniquity is in the heart,—yea, is the very heart itself. Marvel not that Christ said, "Ye must be born again."
Gehazi did not understand the spirit of his master. He did not know what his master was doing. How is it that men can be so far separated from one another? How is it that a man cannot be understood in his own house, but be thought fanciful, fanatical, eccentric, phenomenally peculiar? How is it that a man may be living amongst men, and yet not be of them; may be in the world and yet above the world; may be speaking the very language of the time, and yet charging it with the meaning of eternity? See here the differences that still exist and must ever exist as between one man and another: Elisha living the great spiritual life—the grand prayer-life and faith-life; and Gehazi grubbing in the earth, seeking his contentment in the dust. These contrasts exist through all time, and are full of instruction. Blessed is he who observes the wise man and copies him; looks upon the fool and turns away from him, if not with hatred yet with desire not to know his spirit, Gehazi had a method in his reasoning. Said he in effect: To spare a stranger, a man who may never be seen again; to spare a beneficiary, a man who has taken away benefits in the right hand and in the left; to spare a wealthy visitor, a man who could have given much without feeling he had given anything; to spare a willing giver, a man who actually offered to give something, and who was surprised, if not offended, because his gift was declined! there is no reason in my master's policy. It never occurred to Gehazi that a man could have bread to eat that the world knew not of. It never occurs to some men that others can live by faith, and work miracles of faith by the grace of God. Are there not minds that never had a noble thought? It is almost impossible to conceive of the existence of such minds, but there they are; they never went beyond their own limited location; they never knew what suffering was on the other side of the wall of their own dwelling-place; they were never eyes to the blind, or ears to the deaf, or feet to the lame; they never surprised themselves by some noble thought of generosity;—how, then, can they understand the prophets of the times? Yet how noble a thing it is to have amongst us men who love the upper life, and who look upon the whole world from the very sanctuary of God, and who say, "A man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth, but a man's life consists of his faith, and love and charity." We cannot tell how much the prophets are doing to refine their age, to give a new view to all human duty, to inspire those who otherwise would fail for lack of courage. We cannot tell where the answers to prayer fall, or how those answers are given, but we feel that there is at work in society a mystic influence, a strange, ghostly, spectral action, which keeps things together, and now and again puts Sabbath day right in the midst of the vulgar time. Think of these things: There are facts of a high and special kind, as well as what we commonly call facts, which are often but appearances and dramatic illusions. What about the secret ministry, the unnameable spiritual action, the holy, elevating, restraining influence? What is that hand which will write upon palace walls words of judgment and keep the world from plunging into darkness infinite? Surely God is in this place, and I knew it not: this—wherever it be, garden or wilderness—is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven.
Gehazi prostituted an inventive and energetic mind. He had his plan:—"My master hath sent me, saying, Behold, even now there be come to me from mount Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets; give them, I pray thee, a talent of silver, and two changes of garments" (2Kings 5:22). The case was admirably stated. It was stated too with just that urgency which increases the likelihood of that which is declared. Elisha spent his time amongst the sons of the prophets; they all looked to him as a father, as he himself had looked to Elijah; he was the young man's friend, the young minister's asylum; they all knew gracious, gentle, Christ-like Elisha—the anti-type of the Messiah; and what more likely than that two of them in the course of their journeying should have called upon Elisha unexpectedly? It was a free, gracious life the old ministers lived. They seemed to have rights in one another. If any one of them had a loaf, that loaf belonged to the whole fraternity. If one of them, better off than another, had a house or part of a house, any of the sons of the prophets passing by could go and lodge there. It was a gracious masonry; it was a true brotherhood. Then the moderateness of the statement also added to its probability: "Give them, I pray thee, a talent of silver, and two changes of garments:" they are on the road, they cannot tell what is going to happen; how long the next stage may be they do not yet calculate, and if they could have this contribution all would be well. Do not suppose that wicked men are intellectually fools. They can state a case with great clearness and much graphic force. "The children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light." Would God they were children of light! How acute they are! How rapid in thinking power! How inventive and fertile in mind! They would make the Church a success; they would turn it to broader uses; they would rebuke the narrowness of our thinking, yea, they would put us into inferior positions, and taking the natural lead they would conduct the Church to fuller realisations of the Lord's purpose concerning his dominion over all men. We have no hesitation in saying that the men of the world in most cases overmatch the men of the Church in matters of strong thinking regarding practical subjects and practical ministries and uses. We who are in the Church are afraid: we want to be let alone; not for the world would we be suspected of even dreaming of anything unusual; we would have our very dreams patterns of neatness, things that might be published in the shop windows, and looked upon without affronting the faintest sensibility on the part of the beholders. But the Gehazis, if they were converted, they would be men of energy, dash, courage, fire; we should hear of them and of their work. If one might pray at all regarding others, who would not pray that many who are in the Church might be out of it, so far as activity of leadership, inspiration, and enthusiasm are concerned? What excellent people they might make where there was nothing to do! and how gratefully they would receive wages for doing it! But who would not desire that many a journalist, many a merchant, many a man who is outside the Church might be brought into it, because with his brains, with his mental fire, with his soldier-like audacity and gracious violence, he would make the age know that he was alive? But whilst we thus credit such men with high intellectual sense, we are bound to look at the moral character which they but too frequently represent. Gehazi was no model man in a moral sense. His invention was a lie; his cleverness was but an aspect of depravity; his very genius made him memorable for wickedness.
But Gehazi was successful. He took the two talents of silver in the two bags, with the two changes of garments; he brought them to the tower, and bestowed them in the house; then he sat down—a successful man! Now all is well: lust is satisfied, wealth is laid up; now the fitness of things has been consulted, and harmony has been established between debtor and creditor, and Justice nods because Justice has been appeased. Were the test to end with the twenty-fourth verse we should describe Gehazi as a man who had set an example to all coming after him who wished to turn life into a success. Who had been wronged? Naaman pursues his journey all the happier for thinking he has done something in return for the great benefit which has been conferred upon him. He is certainly more pleased than otherwise. The man of God has at last been turned, he thinks, into directions indicated by common-sense. All that has happened is in the way of business; nothing that is not customary has been done. Gehazi is satisfied, and Elisha knows nothing about it. The servant should have something even if the master would take nothing. It is the trick of our own day! The servant is always at the door with his rheumatic hand ready to take anything that may be put into it. We leave nothing with the master; it would be an insult to him. So far the case looks natural, simple, and complete; and we have said Elisha knows nothing about it. Why will men trifle with prophets? Why will men play with fire? When will men know that what is done in secret shall be published on the housetops; when will men know that there can be nothing confidential that is wicked? Observe Gehazi going in to his master as usual, and look at his face: not a sign upon it of anything having been done that is wrong. Look at his hands: large, white, innocent-looking hands that never doubled their fingers upon things that did not belong to them. Look at Elisha: fixing his eyes calmly upon Gehazi, he says, "Whence comest thou, Gehazi? And he said, Thy servant went no whither;" the meaning being that he was on the premises all the time; always within call; the lifting-up of a finger would have brought him. Then came the speech of judgment, delivered in a low tone, but every word was heard—the beginning of the word and the end of the word, and the last word was like a sting of righteousness. "Went not mine heart with thee?" Oh that heart! The good man knows when wickedness has been done: the Christ knows when he enters into the congregation whether there is a man in it with a withered hand; he says, There is a cripple somewhere in this audience. He feels it. "Went not mine heart with thee?" Was I not present at the interview? Did I not hear every syllable that was said on the one side and on the other? Did I not look at thee when thou didst tell the black, flat, daring lie? "Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and oliveyards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and men-servants, and maidservants?" Has the age come to this? Is this a correct interpretation of the time and of the destiny that is set before men?
Then the infliction of the judgment: "The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever" (2Kings 5:27). Thou hast touched the silver, thou didst not know that it was contagious and held the leprosy; thou didst bring in the two changes of garments, not knowing that the germs of the disease were folded up with the cloth: put on the coat—it will scorch thee: "He went out from his presence a leper as white as snow." A splendid conception is this silent departure. Not a word said, not a protest uttered; the judgment was felt to be just: "Cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness;" "These shall go away into everlasting punishment." Oh the hush, the solemn silence! The judgment seemed to begin with the sound of trumpets and the rending of things that apparently could not be shaken; at the end there is simply a going away, a silent motion, a conviction that the sentence is right. See Gehazi as he goes out of Elisha's presence, and regard him as a specimen of those who having been judged on the last day will—depart! Men should consider the price they really pay for their success. Do not imagine that men can do whatever they please, and nothing come of it. Every action we perform takes out of us part of ourselves. Some actions take our whole soul with them, and leave us poor indeed. Yes, the house is very large, the garden is very fruitful, the situation is very pleasant, the windows look to the south and to the west, birds are singing on the sunny roof, roses and woodbine are climbing up the south windows, and the bargain was monetarily very cheap; but, oh! it was wrenched from honest hands, it was purloined, it was taken over in the dark; the man who signed it away was half-blinded before he attached his signature to the fatal document. Will the house stand long? Will the sun not be ashamed of it? Will the roses bloom? Will the woodbine curl its long fingers round the window-posts, and feel quite happy there? No! there is a worm at the root, there is a blight on every leaf; no sooner will the roses and the woodbine know that a felon lives there than they will retire from the scene, and the sun which blessed will now blister with judicial fire. "A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked." If any of us have gotten anything by false accusation, by sharp practice, by infernal skill and energy of mind, better pour it back again, and stand away from it, and say, "God be merciful to me a sinner!" Better for a man that he should cut off his right hand and enter into life maimed than having two hands be cast into outer darkness. Was not the leprosy a severe punishment for such a sin? What do you mean by "such a sin"? What was the sin? Think of it! The prophet was falsified, religion was debased, God's mercies were turned into merchandise, the Holy Ghost blasphemed, and to all the Gentile world was sent the evil tidings that whatever Israel did it did for gain. The punishment was a great one, but just. At the last the most wicked men amongst us being adjudged to everlasting punishment cannot reply: for a voice within says, The time is not too long!
The grateful Syrian would gladly have pressed upon Elisha gifts of high value, but the holy man resolutely refused to take anything, lest the glory redounding to God from this great act, should in any degree be obscured. His servant Gehazi was less scrupulous, and hastened with a lie in his mouth, to ask in his master's name, for a portion of that which Elisha had refused. The illustrious Syrian no sooner saw the man running after his chariot, than he alighted to meet him, and happy to relieve himself in some degree under the sense of overwhelming obligation, he sent him back with more than he ventured to ask. Nothing more is known of Naaman.
"We afterwards find Gehazi recounting to King Joram the great deeds of Elisha, and, in the providence of God it so happened that when he was relating the restoration to life of the Shunammite's son, the very woman with her son appeared before the king to claim her house and lands, which had been usurped, while she had been absent abroad during the recent famine. Struck by the coincidence, the king immediately granted her application (2Kings 8:1-6). As lepers were compelled to live apart outside the towns, and were not allowed to come too near to uninfected persons, some difficulty has arisen with respect to Gehazi's interview with the king. Several answers occur. The interview may have taken place outside the town, in a garden or garden-house; and the king may have kept Gehazi at a distance, with the usual precautions which custom dictated. Some even suppose that the incident is misplaced, and actually occurred before Gehazi was smitten with leprosy. Others hasten to the opposite conclusion, and allege the probability that the leper had then repented of his crime, and had been restored to health by his master.
Almighty God, thou art doing wonders every day: open our eyes that we may see. The miracles have not ceased, but our power of seeing seems to have expired. Lord, our prayer is that we might receive our sight. We are blind, and cannot see afar off, because of our sin; take thou away our sin, and we shall see. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. We bless thee for the wonders of our life, as well as for things that are usual, coming and going every day, yet all of them speaking of thy care and love and tenderness: but the great event is thine, the special circumstance, the exciting incident, the tumults that rise and fall because of thine influence;—behold, all these are signs in the midst of the age, only the age cannot see them or read them aright, because of selfishness and worldly-mindedness and vanity and idolatry, if we loved thee more we should see thee more. If any man love me, I will manifest myself unto him, said the Son of God. Blessed Christ, thou didst come not to our genius and cleverness and learning, but to our love, our simplicity, our need, our brokenheartedness. To this man—said the high, the lofty one, that inhabiteth eternity—will I look, to the man that is of a humble and contrite heart, and who trembleth at my word. May we be enabled to supply the happy conditions under which thou wilt visit our hearts; then thy coming-in shall be like the dawn of a summer day, and all that is within us will rejoice, as flowers are glad when blessed by the sunlight. We thank thee for thy holy book, thy sacred altar, the place of common and public prayer, and the ground on which the rich and the poor alike can meet to call thee Father, and to lift up their eyes with a common expectation to the all-blessing and all-giving heavens. We will say of such places and such times, These are the miracles of God: these are the creations of love: these are the outcoming of the spirit of the cross of Christ. We would grow in wisdom; in understanding we would be men; in all things evil we would be as children, having no understanding of them or liking for them. We would be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. We pray for solidity of character, massiveness of manhood,—the great and complete nature which finds its rest in God's own peace, and its heaven in God's continual smile. Help us to live that we may grow, and so to grow that we may come to perfectness of being in Christ Jesus. He died for us. We remember his going unto death; we see him bearing his cross; we watch him as he is nailed to the accursed tree; we see the Son of God in his last agony; we wonder why the uplifted cross, why the cry of pain and orphanhood, why the darkness and all the wonders that accompanied the crucifixion; when, lo! we see written in the darkness, as with stars set in their places by the hand divine: God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. This is the explanation of all: it satisfies the imagination; it comforts the heart; it appeases the conscience; it reconciles the whole nature unto God. Now we say, God forbid that we should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now we exclaim, We are crucified with him; yet each can say—"Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." This is our highest joy; out of this comes the music of light; out of this comes the hope of heaven. We pray for one another. May our hearts be touched by all circumstances that are pathetic; may our hands instantly move to the help of those who have no helper; may it be our joy to add to the joy of others. Inspire all noble men who care for the poor and the lost, the destitute and the lonely; comfort them and sustain them in their ministry of love, and grant them great success. Now let thy word open itself to us, and become an old word yet a new message. May we reverence it as coming up from eternity, and apply it as addressed to our immediate necessities. Take away all prejudice from the mind, all darkness from the understanding, all stubbornness from the heart, and let thy word have free course and be glorified, and as it sounds in our hearing may we say, This is the music of eternity, this is the message of the most high God. And to the Father, the Son, the Holy Ghost,—the one in three, the three in one; the great mystery of being, the great mystery of love, be the praises of all the worlds throughout the universe, throughout unending time. Amen.