Characters in the shadows: Gehazi

Gehazi had it all. He was next in the lineage of the greatest prophets in the nation of Israel. Greatest? What about Isaiah, Daniel, and the others who wrote entire books into the canon? No, those were in Judah.

Elijah’s Lineage

Elijah is regarded the greatest prophet from the Northern Kingdom, the one we usually call Israel (or sometimes Ephraim). I’ve always marveled that God would send Moses to his nation at a time when they completely excluded Him from their daily lives and even national life. And, almost to remove all doubt about His unconditional love, He did it again for the apostate nation of Israel, this time with Elijah. Isn’t it interesting to observe that those two, the ones sent to the apostate nation, are the ones who appeared with Jesus Christ at the transfiguration, and who feature prominently in Revelation? Not Isaiah, Jeremiah or Daniel.

It’s interesting how few times physical progeny work out in leadership. Whether in politics, business or ministry, it’s extremely rare that a son or daughter follows fully in the footsteps of their great father. Those who become great and impactful normally do so alone.

And so it was with Elijah: God picked him out of the blue, and then his successor, and instructed him to go recruit Elisha and train him up. Elisha served Elijah in what we today would call an apprenticeship or internship.

Elisha succeeded Elijah in time, asking for a double portion. If you look at this listing of miracles performed, it looks like he indeed performed twice as many recorded miracles as Elijah.

Modeling what was done to him, Elisha then recruited Gehazi to be his servant/intern/apprentice/successor. This gave Gehazi an opportunity most of us would give our eye teeth for.

But, ministry is not for the faint of heart, despite appearances to the contrary. It is also not for those seeking earthly gain.

The Choices

Elijah had no place of residence we know of, and appears to have lived a minimalist existence. Indeed, he seems to have spent a lot of time on the run from the law. He would have fit right in with the hippies of the sixties and seventies. This value system and m.o. were undoubtedly transferred to Elisha, who learned the distinction between the temporal and the eternal by living the life of his mentor. Can you imagine the dinner conversations over a campfire those two had over the years?

God had demonstrated through the ravens by the brook, and the angel on the flight path, that He was well able to meet all of Elijah’s temporal needs. Elisha picked that up, both from what Elijah modeled and from his own walk with God.

The occasions when we have to make life choices are often not of our own choosing. Elisha, when asked what he wanted more than anything else, chose a double portion of what Elijah had. Elijah had nothing in the temporal, but a fortune in the eternal. Elisha knew the difference, and he got his wish.

He followed the strategy of his mentor, ministering and performing miracles. Then, like his mentor, he hired an intern — Gehazi. Gehazi learned from Elisha, the double portion man. No doubt Elisha told him of Elijah’s exploits and we know Gehazi witnessed several of Elisha’s own miracles first hand. Seeing them having many a dinner together is not too much of a reach, maybe not over a campfire, but in the kitchen, because Elisha settled down in Dothan. 

And, just like Elisha, the day dawned unexpectedly where Gehazi had to make a choice that set the direction for the rest of his life. You know the story: Naaman arrived with fancy clothes and other gifts the rich and famous give each other, in order to compensate the man of God for the healing. The man of God knew he had no need of any of those things, and so he declined them.

Gehazi didn’t. He had all the knowledge. Sojourning in Shunem with his boss, the widow had to have told him about the oil. And he witnessed God’s power, raising her son from the dead. He saw God’s all-sufficiency, both temporal and spiritual.

But there’s one thing Gehazi had not learned: the things of the world come with invisible ties — ties to unhappiness, unfulfillment, dissatisfaction, frustration, emptiness, jealousy, miserliness. Is it a coincidence that, when his boss confronted him, he felt compelled to lie? Funny how that works: you start on the path of the world, all innocent and without sin. But it’s not long before the direction of that path, away from the things of the Lord, brings you to a place where you have to lie or do something else you ordinarily would avoid, just to keep on that path. The narrow path of the Lord never brings you into situations like that.

You would think Gehazi, hanging out with such a straight man of God would have figured that out. Sadly, you’d be wrong. There’s more: the things of the world, fame, money, position, power, “success,” those all attract the weirdest and most illogical responses from others — mostly negative: jealousy, criticism, entitlement, judgment, deception, greed, even outright hatred. When the world presents those enticements, that is conveniently omitted from the brochure. But it’s real — ask any lottery winner or millionaire athlete.

None of those outcomes are inevitable, of course. Plenty of wealthy people have kept their heads (and hearts) straight. But the ties are there, with a life of their own. Cut them off, and tomorrow they start growing right back. If you’re aware of that and keep your hand on them, like on weeds, they won’t ensnare you. However, even that distracts from a focus on the things of eternity.

It’s no coincidence that Jesus, when He walked the earth, maintained a life devoid of temporal distractions. Same with Paul. None of the early church leaders utilized this incredible new power they were endowed with from on high for their temporal benefit. And the church prospered.

Gehazi didn’t see any of that. When Naaman came, he saw the gifts the rich and famous give each other. Let’s be honest, those are all very nice things. It’s nice to dress in fine clothes, eat fine food, stay in five star resorts, drive (or be driven in) grand cars, and live in luxurious homes. So it’s easy to see what Gehazi saw in those things. 

Gehazi didn’t get killed like Ananias and Safira for lying. He was left with the riches to enjoy them. But the tie in his heart to the temporal things meant he had to leave the service of the King of kings.

After accepting Naaman’s rich clothes, he put them to good use, and we can deduce that he climbed the social ladder in a hurry. He could drop names, having shaken hands with the likes of Naaman and Elisha. It wasn’t long before we see him hanging out with the king of Israel, shooting the breeze over dinner. “So, Mr. G,” the king said, “Tell me a little more of all your exploits from your Elisha days.” (II Kings 8:4). Well, having been an eyewitness to Elisha raising a boy from the dead, he was in a perfect place to tell the story.

We don’t know how Gehazi’s life ended. Elisha replaced him, but we aren’t told by whom. This was the (unnamed) servant who witnessed the hidden armies of the Lord surrounding the enemy contingent sent to capture Elisha.

We know there was no prophet who followed in Elisha’s footsteps. Gehazi looks like he was designated for that, but he opted to pursue the things of the world instead. Who knows how different things might have been if he desired what Elisha desired… and obtained.

The Lord Jesus said where our treasure is, our heart will be also. It’s easy if you’re never offered the opportunity to walk the walk of the rich and famous. It’s different if you are given that opportunity, especially when you don’t expect it. Who knows? None of us can say, but sometimes I wonder if God knows what we would choose and, for our own protection, spares us the opportunity to make that choice. Not saying, just saying…

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