by Alfred Edersheim
Philologos Religious Online Books
The Reign of Ahab to the Decline of the Two Kingdoms
Illustration and Confirmation of Biblical History from the Assyrian Monuments - The Deliverance of Syria through Naaman - Naaman's Leprosy and Journey to Samaria - Elisha's Message to Joram and to Naaman - Naaman's Healing and Twofold Request - Gehazi's Deceit and Conviction - Gehazi is struck with the Leprosy of
(2 Kings 5.)
FROM the more private ministry of the prophet the Biblical narrative next passes to an account of his public activity.* Very significantly, it was the means of bringing Israel once more into direct contact with their great enemy, Syria - this time, not in war, but in peace. And the bloodless victory which was achieved might have taught king and people how easily the LORD could turn the hearts of their adversaries, and by the manifestation of His goodness make them fellow-believers and fellow-worshippers with Israel. In this respect, the present history, as others in this section, is specially prefigurative of New Testament times.
* This, with the exception of 2 Kings 6:1-7. But that narrative is altogether so exceptional in several respects, that we feel as if we were not in possession of all the details of it.
As the narrative proceeds on the supposition of close relations between Israel and Syria - not otherwise mentioned in the Bible - and involves, at least indirectly, certain points of general interest, this seems a fitting opportunity for a brief summary of what recent discoveries of ancient monuments has taught us, not only confirmatory, but illustrative and explanatory of this period of Biblical history.*
* We have here availed ourselves of the classical work of Professor Schrader (Die Keilinschriften und d. A1te Testament. Second Edition. Giessen, 1885), and also of that able and most useful tractate by Professor Sayce: Fresh Light from the Ancient Monuments. (London: Religious Tract Society).
But in so doing we must keep some considerations in view by way of caution. For first, our knowledge of what may be called monumental history is as yet initial and fragmentary. Secondly, in any seeming discrepancy or slight divergence in details between the inscriptions on the monuments and the records of Jewish history, it seems neither reasonable nor safe to give absolute preference to the former. Jewish writers must have known their own history best, while, in their slight differences from the records on the monuments, we fail to discover any adequate motives on the part of the Jewish historians that could account for their falsifying facts. And, we need scarcely add, the same facts will assume different aspects when viewed from opposite sides. Again, it is admitted on all hands that there are manifest errors on the Assyrian monuments, and this on points where error is difficult, to account for. Thus, to mention one instance - on the Assyrian monuments, Jehu is designated as "the son of Omri," and that by the very monarch to whom he is both represented and described as bringing tribute. Further, we have to bear in mind that our knowledge of Jewish history is also fragmentary. The Old Testament does not profess to be a handbook of Jewish history. It furnishes prophetic or sacred history, which does not recount all events as they happened, nor yet always in their exact succession of time, but presents them in their bearing on the kingdom of God, of which it tells the history. Hence it records or emphasizes only that which is of importance in connection with it. Lastly, we must remember that the chronology of the Bible is in some parts involved in considerable difficulties, partly for the reasons just stated, partly from the different modes of calculating time, and partly also from errors of transcription which would easily creep into the copying of Hebrew numerals, which are marked by letters. Keeping in view these cautions, the neglect of which has led to many false inferences, we have no hesitation in saying, that hitherto all modern historical discoveries have only tended to confirm the Scripture narrative.
Turning to these extraneous sources for information on the earlier history of Judah and Israel under the Kings, we have here, first, the Egyptian monuments, especially those on the walls of the Temple of Karnak, which record the invasion of Judah and Jerusalem by Shishak, described in 1 Kings 14:25, 26, and 2 Chronicles 12. Pictorial representations of this campaign are accompanied by mention of the very names of the conquered Jewish cities.*
* Full details of this are given in Vol. 5. of this History.
But with the death of Shishak, the power of Egypt for a time decayed. In its stead that of Assyria reasserted itself. From that time onwards its monuments more or less continuously cast light on the history of Israel. Just as in the Biblical narrative, so in the Assyrian records of that time, Syria occupies a most important place. It will be remembered that that country had recovered its independence in the reign of Solomon, having been wrested by Rezon from the sovereignty of Judah (1 Kings 11:23-25). Thus far we perceive a general parallelism in the outlines of this history. But the Assyrian record leaves a strange impression on the mind, as we recall the importance of Omri, as having been the second if not the real founder of the Israelitish kingdom, the builder of its capital, and the monarch who gave its permanent direction alike to the political and the religious history of Israel. For the common designation for the land of Israel is "the land of Omri," "the land Omri," or "the land of the house of Omri." We regard it as a further indication of the political importance attached to that king when Jehu is designated as "the son of Omri." This could not have been from ignorance of the actual history, since the name of Ahab occurs on the monuments of Assyria, although (if correctly read) in a connection which does not quite agree with our ordinary chronology. Further illustration comes to us from the Assyrian monuments, both of certain phases in the Biblical history of Ahab, and of the explanatory words with which the account of Naaman's healing is introduced: "Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honorable, because by him Jehovah had given deliverance unto Syria" (2 Kings 5:1).
Each of these statements requires some further explanation. As regards the history of Ahab, we note incidentally that the name Ethbaal (1 Kings 16:31) as that of a Sidonian king, occurs also on the Assyrian monuments, just as does Sarepta (1 Kings 17:9, 10), as being a Phoenician town, situate between Tyre and Sidon. But of greatest interest is it to learn from these monuments the political motives which prompted the strange and sudden alliance proposed by Ahab to Ben-hadad (a name amply confirmed by the monuments), after the battle of Aphek (1 Kings 20:26-34). In passing we may notice that in a fragmentary inscription of Asarhaddon, this Aphek, situated east of the lake of Galilee, and a little aside from the great road between Damascus and Samaria, is named as the border-city of Samaria.
Similarly, the mention of thirty-two kings allied with Ben-hadad in his campaign against Israel (1 Kings 20:1), is so far borne out by the Assyrian monuments, that in the campaigns of Assyria against Syria Ben-hadad is always described as fighting in conjunction with a number of allied Syrian princes.*
* In one inscription 12, in another 11 of these are specially mentioned. A similar discrepancy also obtains in regard to the number of troops employed, and in that of the slain in battle. But, as Schrader rightly remarks, the Assyrians, no doubt, mention only the more important of Ben-hadad's allies - not all of them. (See Keilinschr. u. d. A. Test., p. 204.)
From these inscriptions we also learn that the growing power of Assyria threatened to overwhelm - as it afterwards did - both Syria and the smaller principalities connected with it. A politician like Ahab must have felt the danger threatening his kingdom of Samaria from the advancing power of Assyria. If Ben-hadad had endeavored to strengthen himself by the subjugation of Samaria, Ahab, in the hour of his triumph, desired, by an alliance with the now humbled Ben-hadad, to place Syria as a kind of bulwark between himself and the king of Assyria. This explains the motive of Ahab, who had no real trust in the might and deliverance of Jehovah, but looked to political combinations for safety, in allowing to go out of his hand the man whom Jehovah "appointed to utter destruction" (1 Kings 20:42).
Another circumstance connected with the treaty of Aphek, not recorded in the Bible, and only known from the Assyrian monuments, casts light on this prophetic announcement of judgment to Ahab: "Therefore thy life shall be for his life, and thy people for his people." From the monuments we learn, in illustration of the alliance between Ben-hadad and Ahab, and of the punishment threatened upon it, that in the battle of Karkar, or Aroer, in which the Assyrian monarch Shalmaneser II. so completely defeated Syria, the forces of Ahab, to the number of not fewer than 2000 chariots and 10,000 men, had fought on the side of Ben-hadad. As we read of 14,000 or, in another inscription,* of 20,500 of the allies as having been slain in this battle,** we perceive the fulfillment of the Divine threatening upon that alliance (1 Kings 20:42).
* There is a manifest discrepancy between these two numbers - the one recorded is an inscription of Shalmaneser, discovered on the banks of the Tigris, the other on an obelisk at Nimrud, in which that monarch describes the acts of his reign.
** The large number of the slain, and of the forces led on either side to battle, throws light on what are sometimes described as the "exaggerated" figures introduced in the accounts of wars and battles in the Old Testament.
At the same time we may also learn that many things mentioned in Scripture which, with our present means of knowledge, seem strange and inexplicable, may become plain, and be fully confirmed, by further information derived from independent sources.
The battle of Karkar was not the only engagement in which the forces of Syria met, and were defeated by, those of Assyria. It was fought in the sixth year of the reign of Shalmaneser. Another successful campaign is chronicled as having been undertaken in the eleventh year of the same reign, when Shalmaneser records that for the ninth time he crossed the Euphrates; and yet another, in the fourteenth year of his reign, when at the head of 120,000 men he crossed the river at its high flood. Two inferences may, for our present purpose, be made from these notices. The defeat of Ahab's forces, when fighting in conjunction with Ben-hadad, will account for the cessation of the alliance entered into after the battle of Aphek. Again, the repeated defeat of Ben-hadad by Assyria will explain how Ahab took heart of grace, and in company with Jehoshaphat undertook that fatal expedition against Ramoth-Gilead (1 Kings 22), in which literally the "life" of Ahab went for that of him whom, from short-sighted political motives, he had spared (1 Kings 20:42). Lastly, these repeated wars between Assyria and Syria, of which the Assyrian monarch would naturally only record the successful engagements, help us to understand the phrase by which Naaman, captain* of the host of Syria, is introduced as he "by whom the LORD had given deliverance [perhaps "victory"] unto Syria"** (2 Kings 5:1).
* This, rather than "the" captain, as in the A.V.
** For, evidently, the conquest of Syria could not have been either permanent or even complete, since Shalmaneser required again and again to undertake fresh expeditions. Besides, Syria was evidently free when Shalmaneser's successor ascended the throne.
The expression just quoted seems to forbid the application of the words to the victory of Ben-hadad over Ahab,* although the Rabbis imagine that the fatal arrow by which Ahab was smitten came from the bow of Naaman.
* So most commentators.
Accordingly we cannot (as most commentators do) mark this antithesis: that the conqueror of Israel had to come to Israel for healing. But the fact is in itself sufficiently remarkable, especially when we think of it in connection with his disease, which would have placed even an Israelite, so to speak, outside the pale of Israel. In striking contrast to the mention of the strength and bravery of Naaman, and of his exalted position, Scripture abruptly, without pause or copula of conjunction, records the fact: "a leper."*
* It will be noted that the words "but he was" in our A.V. are in italics, i.e., they have no equivalent in the Hebrew.
We need not pause to consider the moral of this contrast, with all of teaching which it should convey to us. Quite another lesson comes to us from an opposite direction. For we also learn from this history how, when our need is greatest, help may be nearest, and that, in proportion as we feel the hopelessness of our case, God may prepare a way for our deliverance. It was certainly so in this instance. Once more we mark the wonder-working Providence of God, Who, without any abrupt or even visibly direct interference, brings about results which, if viewed by themselves, must seem absolutely miraculous. And this, by means which at the time may have appeared most unpromising.
It must have been a crushing sorrow that came upon that Israelitish household, when the Syrian bands carried from it the little maiden whom we find afterwards waiting on Naaman's wife. Yet this was the first link in the chain of events which not only brought healing of body and soul to the Syrian captain, but anew proved alike to Jew and Gentile that there was a living God in Israel, who had placed there His accredited representative. Assuredly the most devoted affection could not have desired for a child a place of greater honor or usefulness than that which this Jewish maiden occupied in the household of the Syrian captain. What follows is told with utmost simplicity, and bears the impress of truth. For, it was only natural that this child should tell her mistress of the prophet in Samaria, or express the full confidence in his ability to recover her master of his leprosy.* Similarly, it was only what we should have expected when her mistress repeated to her husband what the child had said, and perhaps equally natural on the part of Naaman to repeat this to his king,** alike to obtain his leave for going to Samaria, and in such a manner as would be most likely to secure the desired result.
* Assuredly no legend would have been so conceived. There would have been miracles or visions to bring a Naaman to Elisha, not a poor little slave, naively telling the story of her country and her faith.
** The proper rendering of verse 4 is: "And he [viz. Naaman] went in and told his lord" [viz. the king of Syria].
As heathens, and especially as Syrians, neither Naaman nor Ben-hadad would see anything strange in the possession of such magical powers by a prophet of Israel. Similarly, it was quite in accordance with heathen notions to expect that the king of Israel could obtain from his own prophet any result which he might desire. A heathen king was always the religious as well as the political chief of his people, and to command the services and obedience of his own prophet would seem almost a matter of course. It was for this reason that Ben-hadad furnished Naaman with a letter to the king of Israel. Hence also, imperious as the tone of the letter seems, it scarcely warranted the interpretation which the king of Israel - probably Joram - put upon it. What is reported of it in the sacred text (2 King 5:6) must, of necessity be regarded as only forming a part of the letter, stating its main object. On the other hand, we can quite understand that, from the Jewish point of view, Joram would speak of what he regarded as a demand that he himself should heal Naaman of his leprosy, as equivalent to requiring of him what God alone could do. His only it was to kill or to make alive (Deuteronomy 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:6), and leprosy was considered a living death (Numbers 12:12). As he communicated this strange behest to his attendants and advisers - presumably not in the presence of Naaman - it was not unnatural that Joram should regard it as a desire to find occasion of quarrel. The craven king of Israel rent his clothes, in token of deepest mourning - as if he had already seen his own and his people's destruction.
Some of the lessons suggested by the conduct of Joram may be of practical use. We mark first the cowardice of the man who gives way to despair before any danger has actually arisen. Yet there are not a few who tremble not before that which is real, but before fears which, after all, prove wholly groundless. It need scarcely be said how much good work, whether on the part of individuals or of the Church, has been hindered by apprehensions of this kind. The source of all lies, perhaps, not so much in disbelief as in non-belief, which is by far the commonest form of unbelief. Joram knew better and believed worse than the king of Syria - just as is sometimes the case with the children of God and the men of the world. He knew, as the Syrian did not, that God alone could give help; but he did not look for Divine help, as the Syrian, although in mistaken manner, had done. He had religion, but it stood him in no good stead; it was laid aside precisely when it was needed. He did not call to mind that there was a prophet in Israel, but in helpless terror rent his clothes. So we also, instead of immediately and almost instinctively resorting to God, too often forget Him till every other means has been exhausted, when we apply to Him rather from despair than from faith.
Reverently speaking, it would have been impossible for Elisha as "the man of God" to have been silent on this occasion. His message of reproof to the king: "Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes?" and of confidence: "Let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel," is not one of self-assertion, but of assertion of God. It was a testimony and, let us add, a test alike for Israel and for the heathen world* of the presence of the living and true God. Yet while viewing it in this grander application, we ought not to forget what confirmation it gave to the simple faith of that "little one" in the service of Naaman's wife. For God's dealings are most wide-reaching: they extend up to heaven, and yet embrace also the poorest of His people upon earth.
* The bearing of the mission of Elijah and of Elisha on the heathen world is both distinctive and most important. It also casts light on the peculiarity of the ministry of these two prophets.
In accordance with the direction of the king, Naaman now betook himself "with his horses and his chariot" to the humble dwelling of Elisha, which, as we infer from verse 3, was in Samaria. Greater or more instructive contrast could scarcely be imagined. We know that Naaman had come to Samaria not only armed with a royal letter, almost imperious in its tone, and at the head of a great retinue, but bringing with him, as princely gifts for his expected healing, a sum of not less than ten talents of silver (computed at from 3000 pounds to about 3750 pounds), and six thousand pieces of gold (computed at from about 7500 pounds to about 9000 pounds), together with "ten changes of raiment," that is, of those festive suits which were so costly and so much valued in the East. Between this display and pomp and the humble waiting outside the lowly home of the prophet there was sufficient contrast. But it was unspeakably intensified when the prophet, without even seeing the Syrian captain, sent him this message: "Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee,* and thou shalt be clean." We may at once say that the conduct of Elisha was not prompted by fear of defilement by leprosy, nor by a desire to mark the more clearly the miracle about to be performed, least of all by spiritual pride.**
* In leprosy the flesh was supposed to be consumed - hence its healing would be the coming again of the flesh.
** These views have been taken by some commentators.
The spiritual pride of a Jew would have found other expression, and, in general, those who cherish spiritual pride are scarcely proof against such visits as this of Naaman. We cannot doubt that the bearing of Elisha was Divinely directed. One has said that it was dictated by the inner state of Naaman, as evinced by the manner in which he received the prophet's direction (ver. 11). Perhaps we should add (with another old writer), that Elisha would thus teach Naaman that neither his pomp nor his wealth was the cause of his healing, and also that help did not come from the prophet, as if such power were inherent in the prophet. The latter, indeed, would seem of chief importance in the teaching required by a heathen.
We can readily perceive how alike the manner and the matter of Elisha's direction would stir the indignation of Naaman. As Syria's captain he would naturally expect a different reception from the Israelitish prophet, and as a heathen, that Elisha would have used some magical means, such as to "move his hand up and down over the place,"* calling the while upon the name of Jehovah** his God, and so heal him of his leprosy. And Naaman spoke both as a heathen and as a Syrian when he contemptuously compared the limpid waters of "Abana and Pharpar,"*** a which transformed the wilderness around Damascus into a very paradise of beauty and riches, with the turbid flood of Jordan, if, indeed, healing were to be obtained by such means.
* So literally, as in the margin.
** The name Jehovah as that of the God of Israel occurs on the Moabite Stone. It was, therefore, known to the neighboring nations.
*** The "Abana" is, no doubt, the modern Barada or Barady, "the cold river" which divides into seven arms, and flows through the city of Damascus. The Pharpar is probably the modern Awaaj, to the south of Damascus.
"So he turned, and went away in a rage." The reasoning by which Naaman had so nearly deprived himself of a benefit which would be to him as life from the dead, is substantially the same as that which leads so many to turn from the one remedy to which God directs them. The simple command of the Gospel to "Wash, and be clean," like the words of the prophet which had prefigured it, is still to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness. The difficulty felt by Naaman is the same as that of so many in our days: the need of humiliation, and of faith in a remedy which seems so inadequate to the end. If washing be required, let it be in the Abana and Pharpar of our own waters, not in the turbid stream of Israel! But it is ever this humiliation of heart and simple faith in God's provision which are required for our healing.
"Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3). And so Naaman had to learn it. It was well that the relation between himself and his servants was so simple and affectionate ("my father"), that they could address him in terms of respectful expostulation, and so turn him from his rash purpose. For, often those around can see the true bearing of things far better than we. At the same time, we may also learn from the relation between Naaman and his servants how the faithful performance of ordinary duties may prepare the way for the reception of a higher blessing.*
* Comp. here also some instructive lessons from the history of Cornelius, Acts 10:7-27.
So it came to pass that instead of returning "in a rage" to Damascus, a leper, Naaman went down to Jordan. And as, obedient to "the saying of the man of God," he "dipped himself seven times in Jordan," "his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean." We can scarcely be mistaken in regarding the number seven as symbolic of the covenant (comp. also 1 Kings 18:43), and as also implying a trial of faith, since presumably the healing did not come till after the seventh washing. And now it appeared, by the effect produced, that Elisha had throughout sought the restoration not only of bodily health, but also the spiritual recovery of Naaman. Although not so bidden by the prophet, yet following the promptings of a renewed heart, like the grateful Samaritan in the Gospel (Luke 17:15), he returned to Elisha, and made such full acknowledgment of God - both negatively and positively - that it might have been said of it at that time: "I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel" (Matthew 8:10).* And he also showed, in such manner as he could, the evangelical fruits of gratitude, and of a new life direction. Of the first he gave evidence in his desire to offer a gift;** of the second, in his request for "two mules' burden of earth." This, for the purpose of constructing an altar to Jehovah, as we infer from the expression of his resolve henceforth only to bring offerings unto the LORD.
* For instances of similar confession see Daniel 2:47; 3:29; 6:26, 27. Those who object to what they call "sudden conversions" might here learn how rapid, and often more decided and thorough-going is the change of feeling and of life in those who have had no previous religious preparation.
** "A blessing" in the sense of a gift. Comp. Genesis 33:10, 11; Judges 1:15; 1 Samuel 25:27; 30:26, and other passages. We may remark how much more suitable in such circumstances seems the Biblical expression, "a blessing," than the modern Western, "a gift."
Only very brief explanation seems necessary of Elisha's refusal to accept any gift from Naaman. For the prophets seem not unfrequently to have accepted such offerings (1 Samuel 9:7, 8; 1 Kings 14:3), and Elisha himself had only lately done so (2 Kings 4:42). But in the present instance it was of the utmost importance to show - in contradistinction to heathen soothsayers - that, as the prophet of God did not work miracles in his own power, nor by his own will, so he did it not for reward, and that the gift of God could not be purchased with money. Indeed, we can scarcely exaggerate the impression which the refusal of Elisha must have made both on the followers of Naaman and generally in Israel. One of the Fathers has here marked in the prophet's conduct the same principle which underlay the direction of our LORD when He sent out His disciples with this injunction: "Freely ye have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8). Nor could Elisha be in doubt about the other request of Naaman. If in making his altar of earth according to the Divine direction* (Exodus 20:24), he wished to use that of the land of Israel, it could not have been with the thought that the God of Israel could only be worshipped on Israelitish soil.
* This, we can scarcely doubt, in contradistinction to the heathen altars, which were of stone, and the rites of which, among the nations inhabiting Palestine and the neighboring countries, represented and embodied all that was most vile.
Any idea of Jehovah as a national Deity, bound to the soil of Israel, would have been in contradiction to his expressed conviction that there was "no God in all the earth but in Israel:" no national deities, but the One living and true God, Whose knowledge and manifestation were only in Israel. Nor would Elisha have given his sanction to what rested on so serious a mistake. But we can easily understand the feelings which prompted a desire to rear an Israelitish altar, not only in loving remembrance* of the benefit received, but as congruous to the worship of Israel, to which his new faith had led him. It would be an outward expression of his inward faith, and would at the same time constantly proclaim throughout Syria that there was no other God than He of Israel, and no other worship than His.
* Somewhat similar feelings prompted the construction (according to the account of Benjamin of Tudela) of the synagogue at Nahardea of stones and earth brought from Palestine; and they may explain the campo santo of Pisa, where the dead are buried in Palestinian earth.
And yet wider thoughts come to us. The Old Testament dispensation seems to enlarge as it has touch of the heathen world: it seems to break through its temporary bounds; it becomes universal in its application, and in its wide-hearted toleration loses its exclusiveness. Thus this incident also is prefigurative of New Testament times. For the implied sanction of Naaman's sacrifices - though probably only burnt and thank-offerings,* - seems to carry us beyond the preparatory dispensation. On the other hand, it is evidence of this toleration when Elisha does not return a negative answer to the plea of Naaman - in which, however, an important alteration in the reading should be noted: "When my master goeth into the house of Rimmon** to bow down there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow down in the house of Rimmon when he*** boweth down in the house of Rimmon - oh, let Jehovah forgive thy servant in this matter."
* This seems implied in the terms used. The argument is, however, only one of inference. We infer from the mention of sacrifices which follows, and from the circumstance that the request is addressed to Elisha, that Naaman asked the two burdens of Israelitish earth for an altar, which in turn could only have been intended for sacrifices. If so, this would exactly represent an adaptation of the religion of Israel to the circumstances of pious Gentiles. It is strange that this point is not discussed either in the Talmud or by Jewish commentators, although the latter regard the two mules' burden of earth as destined for an altar. The Talmud regards Naaman as a proselyte, though not in the complete sense of one who had become a Jew by circumcision, baptism, and sacrifice (Gitt. 57 b, line 18 from top).
** Rimmon - or rather Raman and Rammanu - occurs on the Assyrian monuments as the name of the god of thunder, lightning, and flood (see also the cuneiform account of the Flood, col. ii., line 42, apud Schrader p. 62, and the note on p. 72, also pp. 205, 206). The Assyrians regarded Rimmon as identical with Hadad, the god of the sky. But the introduction of Rimmon in the worship of Damascus casts light on the historical relations between Syria and Assyria formerly referred to.
*** The alteration in the text implied in this reading only changes a [?] into a w . The amended reading is that of the LXX.
It will be noticed that according to this reading a sharp distinction is drawn - even although the terms used are the same - between the "bowing down" of Naaman, simply because his royal master leant on his arm, and the "bowing down" of the king of Syria for the purpose of worship. The very mention of this scruple by Naaman proved not only the tenderness of his enlightened conscience, but that he was not in any danger of conformity to heathen worship. And so, without specially entering on the matter, Elisha could bid him "go in peace."*
* We cannot sympathize with the views of those commentators who either blame Elisha's compliance, or regard him as not referring to Naaman's words, - in fact, ignoring them - when he bade him "go in peace." On the other hand, we are keenly alive to the dangers which may beset an indiscriminate application of what we have called the principle of wide-hearted toleration. The character and limits of it must be learned from Holy Scripture (see especially Romans 14:1; 15:7; 1 Corinthians 8; 9:20-23; Philippians 3:15). And this seems a safe practical principle, that we cannot be too strict as regards our own conduct, nor yet too charitable (consistently with truth) in interpreting the motives and actions of others.
But there was yet another and a sad sequel to this history. We have already had repeated occasion to notice the essential difference in spirit between the prophet and his servant. It now appeared in such manner as, if left unpunished, to have marred the work of Elisha. It seems difficult to understand how, with full knowledge of the great work just wrought, and of all that had passed, Gehazi could have taken up a position so different from that of his master. But, alas, there have been too many similar instances to make it appear quite strange. The character of Gehazi was in every respect the exact opposite of Elisha's. He was covetous, selfish, and narrow-minded. There is a striking contrast between the "As Jehovah liveth," with which Elisha prefaced his persistent refusal to receive aught of Naaman (ver. 16), and the same phrase in the mouth of Gehazi, as he resolved to "take somewhat" of "this Syrian" (ver. 20). To Gehazi it seemed that his master "had spared this Syrian" very needlessly and very foolishly, "in not receiving at his hands that which he brought." He could not see in what had passed anything higher than a transaction between man and man. It had been an act of romantic generosity, an unpractical display of mistaken principle, where every consideration - even nationality and religion - pointed in the other direction. At any rate, there was no reason why he should not act differently.
Naaman had pursued his journey a little distance, when he saw the servant of the prophet hastening after him. Showing to the servant honor similar to that which he would have paid to his master, the Syrian captain descended from his chariot to meet him. In answer to Naaman's anxious inquiry, Gehazi pretended a message from Elisha to the effect that two of the sons of the prophets had just come to him from Mount Ephraim, on which both Bethel and Gilgal were situated, and that he requested for them a talent of silver and two changes of garments. Probably we are to understand that these imaginary "sons of the prophets" were represented as having come in name of their respective communities, to crave help from Elisha. This would explain why Naaman should have urged Gehazi to "be pleased" - to "consent" - to take two talents (each from 300 pounds to 375 pounds). But for the hardening effect of sin, especially of lying and covetousness, Gehazi must have been touched by the evident simplicity of Naaman, and by that respectful courtesy which now would not allow the servant of the prophet, who had come on such a charitable errand, to be burdened with carrying the silver, but detailed two of his attendants for the purpose. Gehazi allowed them to come as far as "the hill,"* and then dismissed them, to prevent possible detection.
* This, and not "tower" as in the A.V. (ver. 24). Probably the hill on which Samaria was built, and not a hill on which, as some have supposed, the house of Elisha stood.
Having secreted the money in the house, Gehazi made his appearance before his master. To what he might have felt as a searching inquiry, "Whence, Gehazi?" he replied by a bold denial of having been absent from the house. Evidently Gehazi did not realize that the Jehovah Whom he had erst invoked, and before Whom Elisha stood, was the living and the true God. Taking up the very words of Gehazi, "Thy servant did not go," Elisha put it, "Did not my heart go?"* and then set before him the whole scene as it had been present to his inward spiritual vision.
* Except that "mine heart" (ver. 26) stands for "thy servant" (cf. ver. 25), the words in the Hebrew are exactly the same.
Then, setting forth the incongruity of such mean lying and self-seeking on such an occasion - when the glory of God should have been the sole thought and aim of a true Israelite, he pronounced upon him what must be felt a sentence of meet retribution. The Syrian had become an Israelite in heart and spirit, and he was healed of his leprosy in Israel's waters. The Israelite had become heathen in heart and spirit, and he and his were struck with the leprosy of the Syrian, whose money he had coveted for himself and his family. What each had sown, that did he reap. And this also was not only for just judgment, but for a testimony to God and to His servant.*
* It affords painful evidence of the absence of spiritual understanding, when the Talmud (Sot. 47 a) blames the conduct of Elisha towards Gehazi, as it does the destruction of the young men at Bethel by the she-bears. Another point which it selects for blame is Elisha's bearing towards Joram 2 Kings 3:13-16 (Pes. 66 b, line 15 from bottom). According to the Talmud, Elisha was visited by sickness, on account of the two first mentioned occurrences. The same authority would also have us believe that when Elisha went to Damascus (2 Kings 8:7), it was to lead Gehazi to repentance, but that this was not effected, according to the principle that no such return is offered to those whose sin has a general or public effect. If these references disclose the unspiritual character of the study of Scripture by the Talmudists, we must in fairness quote this beautiful saying of theirs, which occurs in the same connection: "Ever let the left hand repel [the sinner], and the right hand bring him near" (Sot. u.s.).