The Smoking Flax: Chapter 15

2 Kings 5:15‑27  •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 6
2 Kings 5:15-2715And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, 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, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant. 16But he said, As the Lord liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none. And he urged him to take it; but he refused. 17And Naaman said, Shall there not then, I pray thee, be given to thy servant two mules' burden of earth? for thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the Lord. 18In this thing the Lord pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship 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. 19And he said unto him, Go in peace. So he departed from him a little way. 20But 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. 21So Gehazi followed after Naaman. And when Naaman saw him running after him, he lighted down from the chariot to meet him, and said, Is all well? 22And he said, All is well. 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. 23And Naaman said, Be content, take two talents. And he urged him, and bound two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of garments, and laid them upon two of his servants; and they bare them before him. 24And when he came to the tower, he took them from their hand, and bestowed them in the house: and he let the men go, and they departed. 25But he went in, and stood before his master. And Elisha said unto him, Whence comest thou, Gehazi? And he said, Thy servant went no whither. 26And he said unto him, Went not mine heart with thee, 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 menservants, and maidservants? 27The 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. (2 Kings 5:15‑27)
An old Eastern proverb says, “Even the chicken after drinking looks up to heaven.” What does the proverb mean? Even the chicken is thankful; it drinks, and at once it looks upward, as if speaking its thanks to God.
How different is man, ungrateful man, who takes favors, blessings and comforts, hour by hour, day by day, year by year, from the hand of God, and so seldom looks up to say, “My God, I thank Thee!” There is nothing more lovely in the sight of God than a grateful heart. Let us look at that rare and beautiful sight as we take up our story.
We left Naaman standing on the high bank of the Jordan, a cleansed man. How delighted he is! How lighthearted, how full of joy and excitement he is! He longs to be at home so that he may tell the good news to his friends and relatives. His wife will shed tears of joy; the little captive maid will be the darling of the whole family; the whole city of Damascus will rejoice, and the king, his master, will be as pleased as anyone.
But, as we look again at the Syrian company, we see that, instead of going forward and hurrying towards Damascus, the horses’ heads are turned the other way. They are actually going back towards the land of Israel. What is the matter? Why are they returning? Because Naaman, like the chicken, wants to look up to heaven. He has a grateful heart. He cannot go home, much as he longs to do so, until he has given hearty thanks to the prophet. Thirty miles of rough, uneven road he has crossed since he left Samaria. He will add no less than sixty miles to his already long journey, rather than go home without returning thanks for his cure.
Once more, the grand procession enters the gate of Samaria and drives to the humble home of Elisha. This time the prophet will see him. He had kept himself in the background before that God might have all the glory and that Naaman might see that God’s hand unaided did the cure.
The result was just what Elisha hoped. Naaman was too wise to think either that the water had cured him or that the prophet had cured him. He looked above the muddy waters of the Jordan, above the prophet Elisha, up, higher still, to the God who made them both, that wondrous God of Israel, whose power must be vastly superior to and whose nature must be utterly different from that of his god Rimmon, whose temple he had attended from his childhood. Rimmon had never done anything for him; this God, the great God of Elisha, had completely healed him. He is able to say from the bottom of his heart, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel.”
Yet Naaman, in his deep gratitude, is very anxious to give the prophet a present. The prophet’s God is too high, too great; he can give nothing to Him, but he can reward His servant the prophet. “Now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant.” Even as Naaman speaks, the servants are unloading the mules and unpacking and spreading out the ten brilliant robes, sparkling jewels and precious money.
Is Elisha pleased? No; he most solemnly declines to take anything. “As the Lord [Jehovah, the Everlasting One] liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none.” And though he urged him again and again, Elisha held firm to his decision. Not a single robe, not even a jewel, as a remembrance of his Syrian visitor, will the prophet accept.
In what different forms does pride show itself! There is the pride of family, the pride of wealth, the pride which cannot accept one word of blame, and there is also spiritual pride. We are all of us guilty of this sin. Some men and women are too proud to accept a favor. They are anxious to prove that they need no help from others, or, as they put it themselves, that they do not care to be indebted to anyone, and they persistently refuse every effort to give them pleasure or help.
Was it foolish pride of this kind which kept Elisha from accepting the gift? No, that was not the reason, for on other occasions we find Elisha receiving most gratefully what was given to him. When the Shunammite took him into her little chamber on the wall, he thankfully and gladly accepted her kindness. When the man of Baal-shalisha brought him twenty cakes and some of the new corn, he did not bid him pack his present up and take it home. No, he gratefully ate of it and enjoyed it.
Why then could he not accept the present of the Syrian chief? Because he wanted to keep Naaman’s eyes raised to the sky. It was God that had healed him, not the prophet. To God, then, was the gratitude due and to God must the gratitude offering be given.
And what does God require? Not money, not gold, not silver, not costly garments. He can accept none of these. Only one thing, Naaman, does He want of you, and that is yourself. Your body, now restored, must be devoted to Him. Worship Him, and Him alone. And Naaman understood, for his next words were, “Shall there not then, I pray thee, be given to thy servant two mules’ burden of earth? for thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the Lord.”
But why did he want two mules’ burden of earth? Because he believed that each country has its own god, and that god can only be worshipped in his own land; on no other soil, then, except on the soil of Israel, will the God of Israel hear me. I will therefore fill sacks with earth, and I will load two of these mules with it and take it home. Then I will erect upon it an altar to the God of Israel and He will allow me to worship Him and will hear my prayer.
But at once a difficulty arises in his mind. “Thy servant,” he has said, “will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the Lord.” But what about his master, the king? His master, the king, will expect him to go into the temple of Rimmon and bow before the idol. What can he do? He feels, evidently, that he ought not to bow, for he says, “The Lord pardon thy servant in this thing.” He says, “I shall do it out of a spirit of loyalty to my master, but still I feel I ought not to do it. It is not right, and I own that such an act will need pardon from God.”
And Elisha says, “Go in peace.” He will not quench Naaman’s new desire to honor the true God, the God of Israel. Elisha knows that the God who has begun a good work in him will perfect it. The great Teacher will not leave him in the tests that lie ahead. Elisha can safely leave him to God and to his conscience, and so he bids him go in peace.
So Naaman departs. But as the conversation between him and the prophet has been carried on, there has been a listener, Gehazi, the prophet’s servant. He gazed with admiring eyes on the gold, the silver and the costly garments spread on the ground. How he wishes he was in his master’s place! He would not have refused such rich gifts. His heart craves what his master has refused.
Soon he chases after the Syrian chariots and overtakes them. Naaman sees him and stops his chariot to see what he wants. Naaman gets down from his chariot and asks, “Is all well?”
Gehazi tells him that there is nothing wrong. His master is well. “But,” he adds, “the prophet has just had two visitors. After you left, two poor young men arrived from Mount Ephraim. Now, while my master wants nothing for himself, he would be grateful if you would give a little help to these young men. Could you spare them a talent of silver and two changes of raiment?”
Naaman is delighted to be able to help. He gives Gehazi far more than he asked. And Gehazi, the hypocrite, pretended not to want to take it all, for we read that Naaman “urged him.” Then the Syrian captain ordered the gifts packed up and sent two servants back with Gehazi to carry them.
I’m sure Gehazi would have gladly done without those two servants. But he is obliged to take them, and as soon as they come within sight of the hill where Elisha lives he dismisses them, and quietly entering by a back door, he hides his ill-gotten goods in a secret place where he thinks no eye can see them. No one knows, he thinks, no one will know, where he obtained his new clothes and money. So he shakes the dust off his sandals, smooths out his garments and goes in to his master as if nothing had happened.
But he is met with a question. Solemnly, gravely, his master asks, “Whence comest thou, Gehazi?”
The first lie is always the hardest to tell. The path of falsehood is a slippery path. Lie follows lie so easily when once the first lie is told. Gehazi answered, “Thy servant went no whither”; in other words, he said, “I haven’t gone anywhere.” Having already lied to Naaman, he now takes another step downward into untold depths of deceit. God through Elisha was speaking to Gehazi’s conscience, giving him an opportunity to confess what he had done. Instead he adds sin to sin.
“Ah, Gehazi,” says Elisha, “you cannot deceive me. God has allowed me to see you just now. I know where you have been; I followed you every step of the way. I saw the chariot stop; I saw the Syrian get out and turn to meet you; I can tell you all that happened, for my God has showed it to me.”
Imagine Gehazi’s astonishment and terror as his master goes on to tell him, not only what he has done, but what he has thought, as he describes the very daydreams in which he has indulged on his way home. The vineyards he has bought in imagination, the servants he has pictured himself hiring, and his proud plans for the future all were seen — all were exposed.
Oh! Terrible revelation, to be followed by a terrible punishment. “The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed forever. And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow.”
Let us remember that our God is a God who reads the secrets of the heart. Nothing is hidden from Him. He knows each guilty secret, each deed done in darkness. He knows even the evil thoughts of the heart. He sees all, He knows all, and one day He will bring all to light.
Our God is a God of truth. He hates deceit. May we dread the smallest approach to it. May we be open and upright in our smallest actions. May we daily pray, “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.”