The Tragedy of Gehazi

Reverend Clayton E. Williams, D.D.


"All is well:ÖGive me, I pray Thee, a talent of silver and two changes of garments" (II Kings 5:22). These words are the key to the tragedy of Gehazi.

These are the words of Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the prophet if Israel. He had risen to a place as the intimate assistant to the prophet and he bears an almost unbroken record for faithfulness and obedience. However, this passage tells the story of his downfall and reveals his fatal weakness.

As the result of a suggestion made by his little Hebrew maid, Naaman, the Syrian prince had come to the prophet to be healed of the disease which harassed him. Despite his reluctance to fulfill the prophetís conditions, his mission had been successful and his gratitude and joy over his recovery, both in body and in spirit, prompted him to offer his benefactor rich gifts of silver and festal garments, all of which were immediately refused.

Stern and uncompromising Elisha did not want it thought that he sold his powers for personal gain, as the sorcerers did their magic charms. Perhaps he overdid the matter and was rude about it, failing to crown a generous deed with a gracious acceptance, but Gehazi thought it all a mistake not to profit by the opportunity. After all, Naaman was a foreign prince from a wealthy state, and he could easily have given them enough to leave them comfortable for the rest of their lives, and he personally considered it very poor judgment on the part of his master not to have taken advantage of this opportune occasion.

And the longer he thought on it, the more he deplored it. At last he set out to take things into his own hands, and running after Naaman, he overtook his chariots. On seeing him, Naaman was concerned lest he might be the bearer of evil tidings. Gehazi, however, assured him that all was well, but that two young men of the sons of the prophets has arrived unexpectedly, and Elisha had sent him for a talent of silver and two changes of raiment. Naaman was delighted to show his gratitude and pressed upon him double that amount, much to Gehaziís satisfaction.

Elisha, in the meanwhile, missing his servant, had guessed the reason for his absence, so he sent word that, upon his return, Gehazi should appear before him. And there he stood, condemned for his covetousness with a condemnation that left a mark upon him forever after, for he had contracted the leprosy of Naaman. But the leprosy of his body was of little import; he had already fallen a victim to leprosy of the soul.

He had been a good servant, far better than most. He had had a rare experience, living daily in the presence of a great prophet, sharing in his work and witnessing his power, but that did not save him from a great failure! Indeed, it helped in his case to bring it about, for the secret of his trouble lay in the fact that Gehazi was ruined by "familiarity with sacred things".

Day after day he had gone out with the prophet and had seen his power flow out into life, changing it, restoring it, renewing it. I do not doubt that in the beginning he had been much impressed by the wonders that he saw and that the things he felt had moved his heart. No doubt he had followed Elisha with genuine admiration and had attached himself to him from the purest of motives. His very obedience was evidence of his loyalty. But little by little - and here lies the tragedy - the unusual became commonplace, the wonderful became ordinary, and the luster that creative contact with God can give to a life was dulled. He lost a sense of their supreme significance. Life had been drained of its wonder by repetition and familiarity.

There is a very subtle danger here. It lies in the fact that those things which should always be sacred, tend to become commonplace. It ought to be the other way around: the commonplace should become sacred. We should worship God in the common task and find divine glory in everyday living.

Like Gehazi, one can live so continuously and so carelessly in the presence of fine things that they lose their significance. But mark you, it isnít because we live so continuously in the presence of God that it means nothing. It is because we live so continuously and so carelessly in His presence. That was the trouble with Gehazi; he had lost his sense of faithís reality in his own life.

Godís power demonstrated in anotherís life meant little to him because he himself did not feel dependent upon Godís power for his own life. Religion had become a formal affair of fulfilling certain duties which life imposed upon him. And since his own life knew no deep need of the miracle of grace, he had, in consequence, no real appreciation of Naamanís need and, therefore, no realization of what had been done to him. If we do not feel the urgency of our fellowsí need of God, isnít it often because we, ourselves, no longer feel God is indispensable, no longer know the radiance of His presence, no longer sustained by His love?

We are not greatly moved by mankindís desperate need of God. We think man needs a great many things: the solution of his economic, international, and personal problems, but Iím sure weíre not concerned about his need of God, or we would do something about it. If a man is not over concerned with making it possible for others to know God, itís because God doesnít mean very much to him? Isnít it?

Gehazi didnít count spiritual health worth very much because it didnít mean much to him. He was much more interested in how much Naaman appreciated his restoration to physical health. All he saw was a man healed of a disagreeable disease. For which he thought he ought to compensate the one who had cured him. He saw the process and its results, but not the hand behind it; the miraculous was not a window through which to catch a glimpse of something wonderful beyond - an earnest of the power or willingness of God to break through the limitations that life seemed to impose - the source of a new hope, a new faith, a new vision. It was something to be exploited.

You see, Gehazi had lost the capacity to wonder, to marvel, the most precious power we have, for there is a time in everyoneís life when the world is full of wonder, and to be a child is to believe in love, to believe in loveliness and to believe in belief, to see a miracle in every common process; but as time goes on we become accustomed to miracles and take them for granted, and wonder is supplanted by sophistication.

Our smattering of science, which is all the best of us have, convinces us that everything can be explained. We are tempted to think. Since we see how God works, that we can dispense with religion. We have seen behind the scenes, like the country yokel who went to the theater for the first time in his life and was wonderfully impressed by the storm that was staged during the play, but whose wonder suffered a collapse when they took him backstage and he saw that the thunder was made by rolling heavy balls about in a box, the rain by quivering of great sheets of metal, and the wind by whirling fans, and he remarked, "Well, I thought it was something marvelous, but I see it wasnít anything after all!"

I fear that is the way we often feel about Godís wonders. Like the small boy who took apart the watch to find out what made it run, we have taken the world apart. We have found the wheels that make the ticks and discover what makes the hands move. But for all that, we have missed the Mind that produced it and the Spirit that sustains it. We live in a day of miracles, miracles that should touch our spirits with awe and wonder at the wealth of our universe.

Miracles are doorways through which to catch faith-creating glimpses of another world and if they can break our earthborn bonds and give birth to a spirit of divine expectancy, they can renew our courage and inspire our hearts. But too often, like Gehazi, we have thought of them merely as a means to serve our temporal ends. Gehazi had ceased to wonder at the miracle and had turned his attention to the contribution it could make to his physical comfort and pleasure. His interest in the miraculous had shifted from the point where it brought a vision of Godís presence and power to the point where it represented a way to get something he wanted. He thought of Godís wonders as something to be exploited for personal gain and advantage.

There are some people who look upon faith as the touchstone to their heartís desire. "Faith works miracles", they say to themselves. "If only I can have faith enough, Iíll have no troubles." They think of religion as a way to get what they want in life. When someone begins to use the best things in life for what he can get out of them, they begin to lose their spiritual significance, and he begins to lose his soul.

The secret of the miraculous does not lie in having something so unusual happen that it bludgeons our poor dull senses into seeing it. The secret of the miraculous lies in the delicate sensitiveness of a soul so responsive as to see Godís hand at every turning and to stop and marvel at the grace of it. Only most of us havenít the eyes to see them or the heart to wonder at them. The pursuit of the commonplace obscures them. It isnít that we live in a humdrum world, but that we live in it and seek no more than that in it, and so we see no more in it, missing the best for which life exists. Seeing miracles in life is seeing God in life, and missing them is missing Him. And everything is an opportunity.

We have lost something from our life with all our cleverness and all our conveniences and comfort, something very precious: seeing the hand of God and marveling. The tragedy of our civilization lies in our not seeing the world with all its beauty, its glory, its miraculous possibilities, its abundant opportunities as the gift of God, a revelation of Godís love, a miracle of grace, but seeing it only as something to exploit to use for our own selfish purposes. Thatís the tragedy - to face the world in the moment of revelation, when Godís love manifest in Christ lingers by us and to say, "All is well, give me I pray Thee, two changes of raiment and a talent of silver." "All is well; All I need is pleasure, adornment and security." That is the tragedy. Gehazi thought that was what he needed when what he really needed was a miracle in his own life. He needed a miracle of grace to open his eyes, to make him see and appreciate Godís love and power in His world. And that is what we all need, a new vision of Godís love and power to redeem life, a new experience of Godís grace.

Only a realization of the grace of God manifest in Christ can save us from the tragedy of Gehazi.


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