2 KINGS V. 20-27.
ALONG the whole way of life over which the Christian is
called to pass, the Scriptures have placed beacons as well as guiding lights,
facts to alarm as well as examples to direct, on which the thoughtful mind may
see inscribed, ' Here such a soul suffered shipwreck' - ' Beware of perishing
through the same example of unbelief.'
Such a beacon is Gehazi the servant of Elisha, whose whole biography is not indeed recorded in Scripture like that of his illustrious master, but from before whom a divinely directed hand lifts the veil on a particular day of his life, and seizing a moment of awful self-revelation, in a few bold strokes presents us with his whole moral portrait. Let us proceed to contemplate him in his religious privileges, in his sin, in his detection, and in his punishment.
I. Of Gehazi in his religious privileges.
These appear to have been singularly great and eminent. It is supposed by many that he had been the servant of Elijah, and had witnessed from a distance the sublime miraculous ascent of that earlier prophet in his fire-chariot to heaven, and that after his ascension he had passed into the service of Elisha his successor. At all events, he had been the constant attendant of the latter prophet, following him in his journeys, beholding his miracles, enjoying his conversation and instructions, admitted in some degree to his confidence, and looking from day to day on his holy and spotless life.
Was not this almost like living at heaven's own gate? The sacred narrative seems to call our special attention to the case, for it speaks of him as 'Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God' But it is a terrible thing when, to use old Fuller's striking words, 'the clouds appear to rain not over Arabia the Happy, but over Arabia the Stony or Desert.' For nothing is more certain than that where a man, placed in the midst of great religious advantages, continues insincere and acts a part, he will become morally very hardened, and will sink very far. The dog that sleeps beside the anvil ceases to fear the sparks.
While Gehazi could not but possess a large amount of barren religious knowledge, in all likelihood Naaman the Syrian, who had so lately passed from his presence, had not in all his train a heathen servant with a conscience so hardened and a heart so petrified as his. If you wish to see the most wicked man in the world, look for him not in the dark places of the earth and beside bloody heathen altars, but in Christian lands, where light has been resisted, all sacred influences despised, and the very grace of God turned into licentiousness.
It is every way probable, however, that up to this period the real character of Gehazi had remained concealed from Elisha, for men of pure minds are naturally confiding and unsuspicious. Little incidents may have occurred which now and then awakened in the prophet's mind a painful doubt regarding his servant; but the cloud was unwelcome and transient, and hitherto Gehazi had succeeded in maintaining, on the whole, a plausible outward demeanour.
This is quite a possible thing even for the most thorough hypocrite. For it is events that try a man, and bring the moral sediment of his character to the surface. And he may sometimes wait even for many years before the particular temptation is brought near to him which suits his case, and, blowing aside the seemly outward covering, reveals him to the startled world as a whited sepulchre.
So it was with this Gehazi now. Naaman the Syrian's bags of silver and gold, and rich changes of raiment, were the touchstone which disclosed the counterfeit, the Ithuriel spear which unmasked the 'whited devil.' and showed the astonished prophet what a base person had been allowed by him for years to haunt his presence, to track his footsteps, and to share in his confidence.
The facts are these. Naaman the Syrian, after having been miraculously cured of his leprosy by washing seven times in Jordan according to the directions of Elisha, had immediately returned to the humble gate of the prophet, offering him a princely reward. But the man of God had persistently and solemnly refused to accept even the smallest fragment of what was offered him. He was desirous that the moral impression of the miracle should remain in full force upon the Syrian's mind; that nothing should be done to awaken even the least suspicion of selfishness as prompting its performance ; and that the whole should be seen to have had its origin in pure compassion for Naaman, and zeal for the honour of the true God.
But Gehazi, who had been present during the entire interview, had regarded his master's sublime self-denial with secret displeasure and strong disappointment. When at length he saw Naaman turning his chariot in the direction of his native Syria, and bearing away with him the splendid offerings untouched, he bitterly grudged the lost prize; and, reckless of all the consequences to Elisha and his religion, resolved, that if his master would not accept of some portion of the rich Syrian's wealth in which he might afterwards share, it should then be his. Accordingly, Naaman and his retinue were not a mile distant from the prophet's door before Gehazi was hurrying after them with rapid pace. The moment the grateful Syrian became aware of this he commanded his chariot to halt, and, paying respect to the prophet in the person of his servant, alighted from the chariot, and hastened back to meet him with the question, ' Is all well ?'
The villain was ready with his well-feigned lie. Two poor scholars of the prophets had that moment arrived from their college on mount Ephraim, craving assistance both for themselves and their brethren, which Elisha was not in circumstances to supply. And now he had sent him to say that he was willing to accept of a portion of the gifts which Naaman had so freely offered and so earnestly pressed upon him, to the extent of a talent of silver and two changes of garments.
The request was a large one, exceeding in amount ( some hundred pounds of our money; but it was exceeded by Naaman's grateful generosity. For binding two talents of silver in two bags, accompanied by two changes of garments, he laid them upon the shoulders of two of his own servants, who bare them before Gehazi to a secret place or storehouse in a hill near to the prophet's dwelling. There the hypocrite safely deposited them until he should find an early opportunity of appropriating them to his own use, meanwhile concealing them from no eye so anxiously as Elisha's.
II. We are now to contemplate Gehazi in his sin.
It is evident that covetousness lay at the foundation of it all; that lust of gain, which, in one aspect of it, as indicating a sinful distrust of God, is spoken of in Scripture as infidelity, and in another aspect of it, as revealing an undue dependence on created things and an utter overvaluing of them, is characterized as idolatry, and, on account of the many forms of iniquity and of human wretchedness of which it is directly and indirectly the prolific cause, is strongly represented by an apostle as 'the root of all evil.' And the example of this miserable man may suggest the remark, that this unhallowed passion is not confined to those who possess riches; it is equally common and equally mischievous in its operation in the case of those who, though still poor or in moderate worldly circumstances, are 'hasting to be rich.'
Now, it would seem that Gehazi had resolutely set himself to obtain a portion of Naaman's wealth, no matter what might be the measures of fraud or villany necessary to accomplish his purpose. And so it was that this 'lust, when it had conceived, brought forth sin;' the one unclean spirit went and took to itself seven other spirits worse than itself. It is seldom indeed that one sin can stand alone, or be restricted in the range of its transgression to one precept or prohibition of the moral law ; there is ever 'a complicate disobedience,' and what appears at least to the perverted conscience a fatal necessity of sinning more and more.
Behold the foul and varied progeny of this man's reigning avarice. There was the deliberate and plausibly constructed falsehood told to Naaman, speedily invented, and leading to the conclusion that he was no novice in deception, but that long practice had given him promptitude and skill in the black art of lying. Then there was the act of theft from which his hardened heart did not shrink, even when the magnanimous gratitude of Naaman gave him double what his rapacious heart had asked, and made his own servants the bearers of his guilty booty to the secret place. Next, there was the base unfaithfulness to his kind master Elisha, whose heart had unsuspectingly confided in him for so many years. And, last of all, and in some respects also worst of all, there was the treachery to the cause of true religion - which the act expressed - the readiness, for the sake of securing his own selfish ends, to 'lay its honour in the dust,' by taking away from Naaman's miraculous cure its character of generosity, throwing an air of selfishness around the deed of mercy, and doing what he could to disturb, and even to obliterate, the favourable impressions which had been made upon the Syrian's mind. With what peculiar aggravations of sin does the man's conduct stand out before us when looked at in these sober lights!
It appears to me as if there were some hints in the brief narrative to show us that even his wicked heart had laboured to find excuses for the crime on which it had resolved, and to make it look very light and venial in the eye of his conscience. It is difficult indeed to say with certainty whether in those words of soliloquy, when he plotted the mischief in his heart, 'As the Lord liveth,' he intended a kind of mocking travesty of his master's language when he had refused to accept of Naaman's gifts: 'As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none;' or whether he sought to cast an air of religion over his acts by the free use of sacred words - according to Foster's severe saying regarding a certain Russian emperor, that "he had no doubt that he said grace before he swallowed Poland." But when he goes on to say to himself, 'Behold, my master hath spared Naaman this Syrian" there is an wish to put a sop in the mouth of his conscience, and to speak it fair. For it is as if he had said 'This man is only a heathen, a Syrian, an idolater, and am I bound to keep such rigid terms with him?'
The moral law knows nothing of geography or distinctions of races; and there were even special reasons in the very circumstance that Naaman had been a heathen and an idolater, but had declared his solemn purpose to abandon his false faith, why he should be treated by one who professed to be a worshipper and servant of the only living and true God, with all the more scrupulous morality and unselfishness. Ah! how does the evil heart thus weave for itself ingenious apologies when it has formed its hidden purposes of iniquity, when all the while they are lighter than the gossamer web in the eyes of ' Him with whom we have to do !'
'Let no man,' says the apostle, 'go beyond or defraud his brother in any matter, because that the Lord is the avenger of all such.' 'Men are ready,' adds holy Leighton, 'to find out poor shifts to deceive themselves when they have some way deceived their brother, and to stop the mouth of their own conscience with some quibble and some slight excuse, and force themselves at length to believe they have done no wrong. Therefore the apostle, to frighten them out of their shifts, sets before them an exacter Judge, that cannot be deceived nor mocked, that shall one day unveil the conscience and blow away these vain self-excuses as smoke. And that just God will punish all injustice. He is the avenger of all such.'
And now the talents of silver and the changes of such festal robes have been deposited and secured by Gehazi in the place of concealment, and he thinks with himself in guilty self-gratulation - 'At last my fortune is made, and I shall no longer be the drudge of this prophet, but shall become myself a master.' How soon was he to find that even gold may be purchased too dear, and that ' the lying tongue is but for a moment!'
Unabashed by the thought of what he has done, he enters into Elisha's presence with the same bearing of outward respect as he had been wont to manifest on former occasions, like the adulterous woman described by Solomon, 'who eateth and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness,' and doubtless congratulating himself on the fact that he had managed his villanous work so adroitly - when both the reproof of his master and the judgment of Heaven alight upon him together!
III. We thus come to consider Gehazi in his detection.
Now, we incline to the opinion that the question of Elisha 'Whence comest thou, Gehazi?' with which he proceeded to unmask the daring culprit, was addressed to him in part with the kind intention of putting him once more to the proof, lest perchance, even at the eleventh hour, there should be the rising of repentance to suspend or avert the blow. But there is no giving way, no relenting, no quivering of the lip, no blush of shame which is the tribute which even a guilty heart, when it is not utterly hardened, pays to virtue. He is ready with the second lie to buttress or conceal the first: ' Thy servant went no whither.' What obdurate wickedness was there here! It must have needed a long course of deception to bear him so far away from that 'fair and round dealing which is the honour of man's nature.'
Nothing is more remarkable, as the prophet proceeds with his terrible work, forced onward by his servant's fatal obduracy, than his resolved calmness, his entire freedom from the influence of angry passion. There is profound seriousness, but no excitement. It is the prophet, and not the man merely, that speaks throughout. And yet, remembering quaint Fuller's words, that ' it is best when the sentence of condemnation is steeped in the Judge's tears,' we can well believe that when he proceeded to address Gehazi in those words of stern reproof by which he showed him that he knew all, there was intense sorrow mingled with other feelings; especially when he thought that one, who had followed and conversed with him for so niany years, and had so largely shared in his confidence, had thus been revealed as a withered branch; reprobate silver; in another moment to be blasted by the visible stroke of Heaven and separated from him for both worlds. 'Went not mine heart with thee,' said the prophet in his stern sorrow to the astounded deceiver, 'when the man turned again from his chariot to meet thee? Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and oliveyards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and men-servants, and maid-servants? The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever.'
It appears from these words that the conduct of Gehazi had been made known to Elisha by supernatural revelation, as distinctly as if the whole interview with Naaman had passed before his bodily senses. The prophet's soul had for the time been turned into a mirror, or camera obscura, in which even the minutest incident of the scene was accurately pictured. It would even seem that he was made aware of the workings of his servant's mind in reference to his ill-gotten gain, and had 'sat as it were in his heart.'
And from the whole we conclude that both when Gehazi was returning from Naaman, and when he was now standing in his master's presence, he was secretly ruminating about what he should do with his suddenly acquired riches. ' I will purchase oliveyards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and hire men-servants and maid-servants, and luxuriate in an abundance far different from the scanty fare of the prophet's board.' Therefore, when Elisha put to him the solemn question, ' Is it a time for thee to receive garments, and oliveyards, and vineyards' it was like the voice of Omniscience itself addressing him, and turned in a moment all his guilty self-complacency into despair, by darting home upon his inmost heart the withering conviction that all was already known.
But while in this instance the means of discovery were supernatural, there are many ways in which deeds of darkness may become known to our fellow-men, and 'that which was done in secret be proclaimed upon the house-tops.' There is an infatuation connected with crime which generally makes it leave a clue for its own detection. It is sometimes as if the very birds of the air told the matter. It was the observation of this fact which long since occasioned the proverb, that "Satan always halts on one foot." Some expression dropped in a moment of thoughtlessness, some undestroyed writing, the ravings of delirium, and even sometimes overdone efforts at concealment, have torn aside the veil from past deeds of violence or fraud, and brought the transgressor to an ignominious doom. But there are eyes that see even the most secret crimes when they succeed in eluding human detection, and there is a resistless hand that will one day bring every work into judgment.
You cannot shake yourself free of your conscience; and even when it becomes feeble as a judge, it continues incorruptible and faithful as a witness, and writes its terrible records in indelible ink. There is one sleepless eye that follows us everywhere and for ever. ' The wicked saith in his heart, God hath forgotten, He hideth His face, He will never see it. Thou hast seen it; for Thou beholdest mischief and spite, to requite it with Thy hand.' ' Be sure your sin will find you out.'
We must not omit the remark, that what still presented itself to the prophet's mind, as the darkest feature of aggravation in Gehazi's sin, was the deep injury which his conduct was fitted to inflict on the interests of religion. He had tried to pull down what his master had built up, and, speaking in his master's name, had done what he could to represent him as pretending to an unselfishness and magnanimity which he did not in reality possess.
And was this a time especially to put the interests of religion ih jeopardy, when ' iniquity was abounding, and the love of many waxing cold,' when there was but a little remnant in the land adhering to the old and uncorrupted faith? At such a time, for one who should have been a standard-bearer in the army of the Lord, to swell the stream of apostasy and to throw a stumbling-block in the path of one who was favourably disposed towards the truth, was to win himself double damnation. 'Thou hast tried to make fraudulent gain by means of Naaman's cure; God will now punish thee for this by sending upon thee Naaman's disease.' ' The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee and unto thy seed for ever. And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow.'
IV. Let us now look at Gehazi in his punishment.
Its immediateness ought not to pass without observation. It most frequently happens in the divine government of the world, that retribution in its external forms is delayed - ' sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily.' One of the Greek poets whose writings often contained more truly religious sentiments than those of the philosophers, remarked this two thousand years since, -
' Vengeance divine to punish sin moves slow; The slower is its pace, the surer is its blow.'
But there are occasions, like the present, when the punishment moves swiftly in the footsteps of the crime, and the executioners of Heaven's justice appear impatient to mark the sin with the deep brand of divine displeasure. The former of these classes of facts confirm us in the belief that there is a future judgment; the latter proclaim to us, as with a trumpet-tongue, that ' verily there is a God that judgeth in the earth'.
And the second of these truths becomes yet more impressively manifest when we consider the particular form of Gehazi's punishment. It was evidently intended to bear the image of his sin. He had sought to become possessed of Naaman's wealth by wickedly trading on his recovery from his leprosy, and he has obtained the wealth - but he shall receive the leprosy with it. From that fatal hour to the end of his now embittered life, he shall never be able to look on his body snow-white with this loathsome disease, without having his falsehood, hypocrisy, and fraud brought to his remembrance; his sin shall be ever before him; and more than this, his children made the sharers and inheritors of his curse, shall reflect back on his conscience the accusing memory of his wickedness - 'his own iniquities reproving him, and his own backslidings correcting him.'
Some may perhaps be surprised at the fact that this curse of leprosy should have been made to fall upon Gehazi's children in common with himself, while we have no reason to believe that they were partakers of his crime. But various considerations may be adduced to mitigate, if not entirely to dispel, the difficulty. Thus, it should be remembered that his children were depraved beings, and we may rest assured that the suffering inflicted on them did not in itself exceed their desert; for 'shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?' Then the moral effects of such an infliction might be salutary to the children. Their father's example of covetousness must have been morally contaminating. Such a visitation of the divine hard as this, so terribly and distinctly significant in what it said, might save them from partaking with their father also in the leprosy of his soul. It may be, too, that one of the excuses by which Gehazi had tried to palliate his sin and apologize for it to his own conscience, had been the desire of providing abundantly for his family, just as men are every day making this the apology for covetous acts of moral obliquity now ; and, in this instantaneous judgment, he and others were made to see what sort of inheritance it is that sin bequeaths to children. And besides all this, it should never be forgotten that this is not a difficulty which, properly speaking, lies at the door of revealed religion, or which the friend of the Bible is particularly called upon to remove. We find the same fact in many forms pervading the whole scheme of divine providence: the conditions of men linked into each other and shedding mutual influence; children especially suffering in many ways from the misconduct of their parents ; so that the difficulty rests more heavily with the Deist than with the Christian, whose Bible supplies him with certain explanations which the Deist has cast away. Let us be thankful for the twilight, especially when we have the promise that it shall soon pass into unclouded day. The refuge of the unbeliever from such difficulties and shadows is into the midnight darkness.
We may surely gather from the bitter and baneful experience of Gehazi the peculiarly uncertain and unsatisfactory nature of sinfully acquired riches. Those who inherit them appear to inherit a curse with them, just as leprosy in this awful instance came with wealth. The prophet Jeremiah noticed the fact in his days in the case of those who 'got riches, but not by right.' And those, who have lived in times of rapacity and spoliation in our own country, have remarked how goods obtained by such means have proved gangrenes to men's whole estates, and have compared them to the eagle that stole a piece of meat from the altar which carried a live coal attached to it that set her nest on fire. Their wealth has passed from man to man without rest, 'like the ark among the Philistines, which was removed from Ashdod to Gath and from Gath to Ekron,' vexing every one that kept it until it returned to its rightful owner.
But unquestionably the great lesson of the whole story of Gehazi is the evil and danger of a covetous spirit. Behold it eating into this man's soul like a canker or moral leprosy, rendering him unfaithful to his master, reckless of the honour and interests of religion, turning him into a base liar and hypocrite, tempting him to rob man and to rob God also. See the visible judgment of Heaven leaping forth against him and withering him in a moment, and with its dark wing sweeping his very children within the blasted circle of the curse. Nor does he stand alone in the sacred volume as an eternal monument of the peril of loving this present world. ' This hath slain many mighty.' Behold a crowd of witnesses moving before us in ghastly procession - Balaam, Achan, Ananias and Sapphira, Demas, Judas, and many others, and turning towards us their miserable countenances as they pass, and saying, ' Take heed, and beware of covetousness.'
Let us learn that true riches consists not in possessing much, but in desiring little ; let us drive out, or rather keep out, the demon of covetousness, by 'having our affections set on things above.' Then with God as our portion and heaven as our not far distant rest, we shall find the feelings of our peaceful and satisfied souls sweetly echoed in those words of our Christian poet -
'But Thou, O bounteous Giver of all good !
Thou art of all Thy gifts Thyself the crown :
Give what Thou wilt, without Thee we are poor;
And with Thee rich, take what Thou wilt away.'
END OF SELECTION
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