It doesn’t take much to distort a message with huge consequences:
a wealthy american lady was travelling in europe and found a piece of jewellry she wanted. the price was outrageous but she emailed her husband any way telling him of her desire and the cost of the item. upon receipt of the message her husband instructed his secretary to immediately email back : “No, price too high” The problem was that the secretary omitted the rather important comma. the message the wife received from her husband was “No price too high” and there were celebrations in Europe.
It doesn’t take much to distort a message with huge consequences. A comma. A couple of bags of silver and a couple of changes of clothes..
we come the second half of the Naaman story the first part of which we looked at last week.
Naaman is a foreigner. He is the commander of the Aramean army. Aram is modern day Syria. He’s hugely successful and highly regarded but he suffers with leprosy. There’s a young Israelite slave girl in his household. We never learn her name. She was taken captive by Syrian raiders. You know that story that continues in the news about the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram - this girl is like one of those. Naaman is like a Boko Haram general and yet she speaks up to help him. She directs him to Elisha, the prophet of God in Israel. Naaman turns up at Elisha’s place with a huge entourage and huge amounts of cash - gold, silver and changes of clothing for a great exchange - Naaman’s wealth and greatness for a grand healing! And Elisha sends out a message via his assistant Gehazi - go and wash in the Jordan river 7 times and you’ll be restored. Naaman is furious with this nothing-something - as Nigel called it last week. But eventually he is persuaded to do it and his skin is totally restored, not just improved, his skin becomes like that of a young boy. Elisha refuses ANY payment for this healing. This is God’s gift - given not because you deserve it Naaman - because you DO NOT.. and not because you bought it, Naaman because you DID NOT. And Naaman sets off back to Syria resolved to worship the God of Elisha, changed not only outwardly but inwardly. He has begun to know for himself the true God of power and grace …
And then we come to the second part of the story
The greed of Gehazi
Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, his personal assistant goes dishonestly after the clothing and silver that Naaman had offered to Elisha. and he covets and lies and steals as one sin leads to another and is compounded. and he does so at a terrible price. We shall see that something terrible arises from Gehazi’s sin which justifes the punishment that Gehazi receives. The leprosy of Naaman will cling to you and your descendents throughout all generations!
This will be a very sobering story
It’s important to remeber who Gehazi is. Gehazi is NOT the bad guy. Naaman was the bad guy! Naaman, healed of his leprosy.. his skin restored was the pagan, the idol worshipper. Naaman was the Boko Haram general responsible for murder and the kidnap of young girls. Gehazi was an Israelite, a worshipper of God - a Christian. He is described every time we see him as the servant of elisha drawing parallels with the earlier relationship between elisha and elijah. We’ve seen Gehazi in action. He is Elisha’s representative 2 Kings 4:13, his right hand man. Elisha seeks advice from Gehazi 4v14. He acts through Gehazi and sends him on missions for him 4v29.
So Gehazi is NOT the bad guy. He is a devout individual. Part of the company of the prophets. companion and servant of the greatest prophet of the time. So gehazi was a man of faith. One who was willing to endure material deprivations and endure persecutions and support elisha. Remeber this waspost jezebel israel a very difficult and dangerous environment in which to administer the truth amidst all of the idolatry of Israel which Elijah and Elisha had been so vigorously combatting and denouncing
So Gehazi is definitely a good and faithful and godly man up to this point
This is why this is such a sobering story for US. Because Gehazi is an example of what can happen to even a devout individual. In fact the great sin that Gehazi is guilty of is a sin that only a christian can commit!
The apostle paul warns in 1 Co 10:13 “if you think you’re standing firm .. be careful you don’t fall” You can be confident of your strength, that you’re beyond reproach, a strong Christian, clued up. That confidence can deteriorate into a self confidence and self assurance and you become careless and let down your guard..
gehazi is a tragic example of that. he succumbs to the sin of greed and covetousness
what we need to understand is that we are people who are living with a fallen human nature even if our hearts have been changed and we’ve been born again by the spirit of god, the old nature remains within us.
the minute you let down your guard you’re in trouble
this we see as we look at gehazi.
see first, his rationalisations
v20 After Naaman had traveled some distance, Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said to himself, “My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean,
there’s probably an ethnic slur there. it doesn’t say Naaman the dirty Syrian but that’s probably the sense of it. ‘this Aramean.’ This is the enemy who owes much to us for his actions.
“My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.”
Gehazi had seen and heard his master, Elisha refuse any gift from Naaman. 5v16 As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not acceot a thing.” And even though Naaman urged him he refused. The example of the prophet was clear but Gehazi rationalises his actions to go after some of those tantalising riches.
he rationalises need and self pity
this is such a waste! Naaman is so rich he has all of that wealth, he’s not going to miss any of that and he’s our enemy, he’s put us in this place! we could use it - we’re so poor we’re always on the run, our lives are constantly under threat because of these wicked kings of israel it’s time to spread the wealth around a little bit. we could use a little clothes, we could use a little money. we’re struggling out here. We deserve this..
I’m sure Gehazi was rationalising that this wasn’t just for him - this was for all the community he was with - although of course when he returns he tries to hide the booty from Elisha. Quite how he was going to explain the new wealth of the community we have no idea. I rather think that the wealth was for him.. but he rationsalised that it was for the common good.
Here’s the point: every sin has its plausible explanation. by plausible i mean one that makes sense to us at the moment that we determine to commit it
that is true from Hitler to Hollywood. from genocide to pornography and everything in between we rationalise. Hitler wanted to create the perfect germanic workers’ paradise and the world could enjoy the benefits of german genius exercised from the top
we’re always rationalising that 'after all we really deserve it' or 'they deserve what their getting' or 'i need it' or 'it won’t be missed they have so much' or 'i had to because …'
and it all seems to us at that moment at least very reasonable, very excusable very understandable. we minimise the act we maximise the pressures on us that make it necessary
it all makes such perfect sense to gehazi and look at the ultimate cherry on the cake - he puts a spiritual gloss on his sin. v20 As surely as the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.” God would want this. God is gracious he doesn’t hold back from us. To honour God.. I will do this..
Gehazi provides for us an example of that which we are always doing. rationalising and in the process we’re letting down our guard; and in the process weakening our own character. and the likelihood of yet another transgression in that direction as we are corrupted by those little decisions and make future decisions that are of greater consequence.
there’s the rationalisations - then comes the act itself v21 So Gehazi hurried after Naaman. When Naaman saw him running toward him, he got down from the chariot to meet him. “Is everything all right?” he asked. 22 “Everything is all right,” Gehazi answered. “My master has sent me
is that true? no that wasn’t true. it’s a lie. so he’s adding to the breaking of the 10th commandment ‘you shall not covet’ with breaking the the 9th commandment ‘you shall not bear false witness’
My master has sent me to say, ‘Two young men from the company of the prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim.
now is that true? there’s no evidence that it’s true. it’s never mentioned in the text. this seems to be a story he just made up. a plausible story for a plausible sin.
Please give them a talent of silver and two sets of clothing.’”
Now notice this? he doesn’t ask for the gold remember there were vast amounts of gold, he doesn’t ask for that. there were ten talents of silver that Naaman had brought with him. he only asks for one of those Naaman had ten sets of clothing he only asks for 2 of those.
why didn’t he ask for more? why didn’t he ask for a bag of gold as well? that would have gone a long way..
well it’s all part of the rationalisation isn’t it? Gehazi is being restrained. very modest in what he’s requesting. i’m not being like a greedy person who would go and ask for all of that gold and silver- instant millionaire - that would be sinful! i’m not a greedy individual. I’m not taking more than would be a reasonable amount. I’m a godly individual, i’m a good christian so i’m just asking for what is reasonable and sensible payment for us poor starving sons of the prophets
i’m not going to ask for ten changes of clothing just 2; and i’m not going to ask for ten talents of sliver, no no just one will be fine; and i’m not even going to touch the gold. aren’t i virtuous!
see how our sinful minds work? in the midst of the commission of this crime he is rationalising and convincing himself of his virtue in not taking more like a truly sinful person would do.
whenever you or i are stepping in a direction away from God we will find some way of justifying it.. and to find a way even in the commission of the act to convince ourselves that we are somehow virtuous. that there is virtue in what we do!
v23 “By all means, take two talents,” said Naaman. He urged Gehazi to accept them, and then tied up the two talents of silver in two bags, with two sets of clothing. Gehazi i’m sure with great protestation, unlike his master Elisha, allows Naaman to press upon him an extra bag of silver and then v23 [Naaman] gave them to two of his servants, and they carried them ahead of Gehazi. Naaman even provides Gehazi with grand free delivery to carry off the loot
v24 When Gehazi came to the hill, probably in samaria he took the things from the servants he doesn’t after all want elisha to see this and put them away in the house. He sent the men away and they left. Then he went in ..
You can see what Gehazi is doing here. If his actions HAD been righteous he would have presented them to Elisha. BUt It’s a bit like when i come back from a slightly indulgent shopping trip. Letting himself silently in the back door, sticking the stuff quickly in the wardrobe in his bedroom. And then going around to arrive by the front door. ‘Hi Elisha, I’m home!”
25 When he went in and stood before his master, Elisha asked him, “Wherehaveyoubeen, Gehazi?” Gehazi answered. “Your servant didn’t go anywhere,”
every parent has to love that response
it’s midnight - where have you been? i haven’t been anywhere
who were you on the phone with? no-one
such a guilty answer. irrefutable proof that something is up
where have you been?
how that question makes the guilty tremble.
Gehazi knows his number is up as soon as that question is asked
the weakest answer since adam in the garden
what have you done?
i don’t want to be asked that question on judgement day. what have you done? the answer won’t be pretty. i don’t want to answer the question where have you been? those are very threatening questions that expose our souls
and gehazi is exposed and he knows it
in the last 2 verses we see the judgement that results
v26 But Elisha said to him, “Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you?
literally ‘did not my heart go with you?’ meaning my awareness about where you were going, my concern about where you were going… i saw your eyes when you looked at that vast treasure and i saw the longing, and it told me that you were thinking ‘oh no, don’t let it all get away’ i could see the covetousness, i could see the yearning . and when you slipped out my heart went with you … i thought ‘oh no ..where is he going ? what will he do? and i knew what you were after’ Elisha knew it either because he was a careful observor of human nature or he knew it because God gave him prophetic insight - whatever the case … he knew. …
27 Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you, Gehazi, and to your descendants forever.” Then Gehazi went from Elisha’s presence and his skin was leprous—it had become as white as snow.
perpetual leprosy is God’s judgement upon Gehazi. Naaman, the leper, is cleansed. Gehazi, the servant of God, is made leprous!!
a moment of weakness can destroy your family, your career, your whole life.
YET the seriousness of this judgement implies that a deeper sin has been committed here.
Look at Elisha’s words again in v26 “Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money or to accept clothes—or olive groves and vineyards, or flocks and herds, or male and female slaves?
is this the time, Gehazi to receive gifts? there may be such a time. there’s nothing inherently wrong with ministers receiving gifts. but this was not the time
remember that Naaman had arrived to do a deal with God. My wealth and and greatness in exchange for a grand healing. this was the pagan view of the gods: you brought the gift and by doing so you purchased for yourself the assurance; the certainty that the god would intervene on your behalf. God as a divine vending machine – put in your money – choose your gift – in this case healing – and press the button with the right prophet.
This view of God is not limited to the ancient world. Bus journey in the Himalayas in NW India. Terrifying roads. Bus driver stop at a shrine offer some gifts and then really put his foot down!
Neither is this view of God limited to Eastern religions. All religion is based upon my doing enough, giving enough to warrant God’s favour. Enough religious practice, enough good deeds to outweigh my bad. It’s about me climbing the ladder by my actions and gifts to get to God.
But Christianity says religion can never work. This solution has way too high a view of myself and way too low a view of God. The Bible says that God is more holy and perfect and glorious than we can possibly imagine. The very idea that we - flawed and broken and selfish human beings can climb our way into the presence of God, win or buy his admiration and favour is utterly preposterous. Deep down we know it, deep down we know we’re lost - it’s why we desperately cling to what we have our importance, our wealth, our benevolent acts..
But the radical message of Christianity is grace. That we do not climb the ladder up to God.. we cannot! Instead God descends to us. Not that he lowers his standards or compromises his character. No, in love, he came down in the person of Jesus Christ to pay for our failures that he might offer us mercy, forgiveness, healing, relationship with himself freely. FREE grace.
Grace is the only way to know God.
It’s humbling - you can do nothing ..you can only receive it
Which means that the tiniest implication that we have to do something to win God’s favour or give something in return for God’s favour is toxic to relationship with God. As soon as you trust in yourself you are not trusting in Christ. You’re pursuing self salvation which doesn’t work. Whenever you think ‘God owes me, i’ve served him, I’ve given, I’ve paid my dues’ then you know you are no longer relating to the true God but some slot machine idol of your own making.
Remember how adamant Elisha was that he wouldn’t pander to Naaman’s sense of his own greatness. Just go and dip in the jordan in your yfronts. And Elisha wouldn’t receive one sheckel of Naaman's wealth.
Not because gifts are wrong but because this was NOT the time
not when you have a pagan syrian who does not understand the ways of God and who doesn’t understand the grace of God and thinks he can bribe his way into God’s favour. We didn’t want to obscure the gospel, gehazi This was not the time!
And now what happens with Naaman and his new faith as he returns to Syria with news of the God who had totally healed him for the price of two bags of sliver and two sets of clothes. What happens when Naaman serves the God of Elisha and gives his money to God’s work and then something goes wrong in his life? Does he give up on God?
Obscuring the gospel of grace is a matter of life and death! It has eternal consequences in people’s lives. Listen to the Apostle Paul in his NT letter to the Galatians (1:8) if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! That is - eternally damned!!
At the time of the reformation in Europe, heretics - preaching salvation by works were executed. it was universally accepted that if you were preaching heresy you were killing people spiritually and therefore guilty of murder - a capital crime deserving capital punishment.
Gehazi, you could say therefore, standing there, a leper.. was fortunate.. it could have been worse.
His family’s leprosy would bear witness to the need not to obscure the gospel of grace.
It doesn’t take much to distort a message with huge consequences
A warning for church leaders and any who teach and convey the christian message by our words and by our lives..
Grace is glorious. and grace is dangerous