The Bible’s Supporting Players: Gehazi

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The story of Gehazi is the type heard often in the daily news: the downfall of a man of seeming integrity and loyalty. He abuses his position of influence when suddenly presented with the unexpected opportunity of making a lot of easy money through a little duplicity.

We read about Gehazi, the servant of the prophet Elisha, in the Old Testament (2 Kings, Chapters 4, 5 and 8). Gehazi, it seems, is more than an ordinary servant. He functions rather like a present-day trusted chief-aide to a national politician, often acting as spokesman and intermediary agent among the rich and powerful.

Healing Power

As the story is told in 2 Kings 4:8-37, Elisha, a frequent traveler, is taken in by a wealthy lady in Shunem, on the northern border of Jezreel in Galilee. She has her husband set up Elisha on the roof of her house in a room equipped with luxurious furniture.

Wishing to show his appreciation to such a generous host, Elisha offers the woman support from the highest offices in the state, revealing that he is a very influential man. But the woman refuses the offer, referring to her own equally influential clan.

It is the quick-witted and intuitive Gehazi, though, who recognizes what their host secretly desires: She is childless and will likely remain so. Armed with this information from Gehazi, Elisha promises that she will have a son within a year.

At first, the woman is skeptical and afraid. But the announced birth takes place as predicted. When the boy is older, however, he becomes ill and dies. The mother swiftly rides her donkey some 15 miles to Mount Carmel, where she finds Elisha. He delegates Gehazi to take his prophet’s staff to use in bringing the child back to life. But the servant lacks the prophet’s power of the Holy Spirit and the mission fails. The mother then prevails on Elisha, who succeeds in bringing the child back to life.

Although Gehazi lacks his master’s healing power, he has done his best in the situation with the wealthy woman. There is no indication that either he or Elisha profited materially from this experience.

Reward Offered

The faithful servant enters the narratives again after Elisha heals the Aramaean army commander, Naaman (2 Kings 5:1-27) of what was thought to be leprosy but was more likely a very bad case of psoriasis. Naaman, an enemy of Israel, learns about Elisha and goes to the prophet seeking to be cured. There is some understandable tension.

At first, Naaman refuses Elisha’s instructions to bathe seven times in the Jordan but then he complies. Naaman is immediately cured and delighted. He wants to reward Elisha richly but the prophet accepts nothing. It is clear throughout the Old Testament that great power and wealth cannot force or buy the support of prophets and God.

In this case, however, it is Gehazi, the loyal servant for so long, who becomes a negative example: He cunningly accepts for himself the presents brought by Naaman. Given Gehazi’s loyal and faithful service, we might speculate that he thought: Why not? Naaman is intent on rewarding Elisha but the prophet won’t take anything. Why shouldn’t I keep the gifts? That way, everyone will be happy, with no harm done.

After all, Elisha, in his disregard for things material, probably assumed that his servant should be that way, too. And Gehazi might have been a tad bitter about this. It was a betrayal of trust and an unfortunate moment of weakness for Gehazi. Elisha discovers what his servant has done in his name, and condemns him severely. In fact, he inflicts on him the same sickness as the recently healed Naaman.

The moral is: Disciples of the prophet be warned! Interestingly, though, Elisha doesn’t fire Gehazi. He keeps him on as his servant. Although we don’t know this, it may have been that he later healed Gehazi of the disease given as punishment.

Even a good man can succumb to a temptation thrust under his nose. But he cannot avoid some kind of retribution sooner or later. For Catholic Christians, this makes the Sacrament of Reconciliation so powerful and saving.

Next Month: Lydia

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