The account of the Syrian commander Naaman and the prophet Elisha is one that teaches us much about the ways of God. The underlying narrative is that in the Ancient Near East (ANE) there was a territorial concept about the gods. Deriving from the Genesis 11 account of the Tower of Babel where Yahweh came down, scattered mankind into nations, and confused their languages, men began to worship the sons of God whom the Lord had placed over those nations (see Deuteronomy 32:8 – ESV translation). Those powerful princes in the heavenly host rebelled and set themselves up as gods over these nations rather than point the people under them to God as they had been directed. This is where and why the peoples in the ANE came to worship these pagan gods.
In the Naaman story, one of the gods over Syria was Rimmon. After Naaman was healed, he desired to take back a load of dirt from Israel, for which Elisha was happy to comply. The purpose goes back to the geographical nature of the gods. Rimmon and others were over every nation except Israel. Yahweh was the God of Israel. As such, the ground in Israel – because of Yahweh and who He was – was holy. Naaman, through his healing, had become a follower of Yahweh – a true believer. His purpose in taking earth back with him to Syria was to somehow use that in worshiping the One true God. In that process, he was renouncing his allegiance to Rimmon. He believed he could do that only by having the holy ground of Israel to enable him to thus worship Yahweh.
Naaman wanted to give Elisha presents for healing him of his leprosy, but the prophet wouldn’t take any gifts. As the Syrian left, Elisha’s servant Gehazi got the bright idea that he deserved what Naaman had offered, since Elisha had turned those things down. In 2 Kings 5:20 we see what happened:
Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, “See, my master has spared this Naaman the Syrian, in not accepting from his hand what he brought. As the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.”
This was an act of pure greed. Elisha had declined the gifts. As a true prophet of God he didn’t operate in the same way that most of humanity did. He knew that God would provide. To accept Naaman’s offerings would demonstrate a lack of trust in Yahweh, and Elsha wasn’t going there. However, Gehazi did.
He ran after Naaman and lied to him about the need to accept some of what the commander had offered for the healing. After receiving those things, when he subsequently came into Elisha’s presence, he lied to the man of God. Big mistake. Elisha heard clearly from the Lord and immediately knew of Gehazi’s deception. It brought upon the servant a terrible consequence as recounted in 2 Kings 5:27:
“Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever.” So he went out from his presence a leper, like snow.
Even worse than this, Gehazi’s greed and lust for material possessions completely eliminated him from a potential promotion in the future. Recall that righteous Elisha had been Elijah’s servant. Upon Elijah’s translation into heaven, the mantle of the prophet fell to Elisha, who then received a double portion of the Spirit that had been upon Elijah and the miracles he performed. Gehazi was next in line. It’s very possible that had he been similarly righteous, he could have inherited the mantle from Elisha. Instead, he disappeared from the Biblical narrative as just another unfaithful man.
Gehazi’s greed makes me think of the preachers today who, from all appearances, operate in much the same way. They have been given the gift and opportunity from God to make a significant impact for His kingdom. Instead, they accumulate wealth and power for their own self-interest. They preside over mega-churches or evangelical ministries that touch millions, and accumulate a great following with much in the way of riches with airplanes, mansions, and who knows what else.
How do they get into this mindset of amassing things in place of serving God’s kingdom in the humble manner that Jesus taught? What will be their fate? If Gehazi is any kind of example for these present day greedy servants, I wonder.
Here is what Jesus said in Matthew 6:19-21:
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
It’s clear. What is gained here on earth is of little value. Yet, we have preachers of the Word acting completely contrary to it. Isn’t that rebellion? And disobedience? How did Yahweh deal with Israel for the same sins? Consider Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8:9-24. He saw the result of the power of God through the apostles, lusted after it, and tried to bribe them for it. That resulted in a serious rebuke.
The bottom line here is that worldly desires – the greed of the human heart – are not of God. He greatly disapproves of it. There are consequences for having such cravings. What those might be for these modern day Gehazis, only God knows.
For every one of us not in those vaunted ministerial positions, we should see the danger and walk the narrow path which rejects this burning need to fill our earthly coffers. Lust of any kind is contrary to a righteous walk with God.
We should continually examine our hearts so as to always be faithful to Him and Him alone.