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“What Time is It, Mr.Gehazi?”

July 31/16 - 2Kings 5:20-27


Our sermon title today is “What Time is It, Mr.Gehazi?” The reference may be a bit obscure to some of you, especially if you haven’t played games with little kids lately. One game we used to play involved whoever is “it” at one side of the room and everybody else at the other. The person who’s ‘it’ takes becomes Mr Wolf and turns facing away from the group. The game starts out with the other kids coming a bit closer and calling out, “What time is it, Mr Wolf?” To which he or she answers with a time of the day such as “It’s 2 o’clock” or “It’s 5 o’clock” etc. each time the others inch a little closer. Finally when they eventually ask, “What time is it, Mr Wolf?” The wolf turns and proclaims, “It’s lunchtime!” and chases them back to the other side of the room, hopefully catching one, who then becomes “Mr Wolf” and the game starts over. So today’s title is, “What time is it, Mr.Gehazi?”

      We all have to determine our priorities in life – otherwise the time is going to be gone and we won’t have pursued what’s most important. At the cathedral in Milan, Italy, there are 3 inscriptions over the respective doorways. Over the right-hand door is the motto, “All that pleases is but for a moment.” Over the left-hand door the words are: “All that troubles us is but for a moment.” But over the central door you’ll find the sentence: “Nothing is important save that which is eternal.”

      What’s most important to chase after in life? What’s most worth pursuing, deserves to be made our top priority? In today’s text we encounter two individuals who choose to answer that question differently. The prophet Elisha seeks most to serve God with integrity, reflecting His grace. But his servant Gehazi seems obsessed instead with shorter-term goals that lead him into disgrace and disappointment.


Last week in the beginning of 2Kings 5 we saw God school the great Aramean (or Syrian) army commander on the need to repent of his pride besides seeking just physical healing for his dreaded leprosy. When Naaman humbled himself and proceeded to heed God’s instruction through the prophet, stooping to wash himself 7 times in the muddy Jordan River, his skin was restored “like that of a young boy”. Filled with gratitude, he returns to Samaria hoping to reward the prophet Elisha by means of the expensive gifts he had brought – 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and ten outfits of clothing – which we estimated in today’s terms would be worth several millions of dollars!

      Vv15-16 “Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, "Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. Please accept now a gift from your servant." The prophet answered, "As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing." And even though Naaman urged him, he refused.”

      Why did Elisha refuse to accept a gift? He could well have as at other times in his ministry, as in 4:42. But Naaman came from Aram, where the god Rimmon was worshipped, known as the god of storm and war, also known as “Hadad” or in Canaan and Phoenicia as “Baal”. The fertility gods were viewed as somewhat magical: by participating in certain immoral practices yourself (as with temple prostitutes), it was believed you were inducing the gods to copy you and so bring fertility to the land. Thus god becomes at your disposal, at your ‘beck and call’, sort of a ‘vending-machine god’: you put in your coin, your offering, and take out your reward.

      By refusing to accept anything for his part in the great miracle of healing Naaman’s leprosy, Elisha is underlining that the Lord God’s gifts are completely free and gracious, requiring no payment in return. God is not a ‘magic god’, like rubbing a lantern to summon a genie to do your bidding. God is sovereign, self-determining, gracious, loving, and giving. Likewise His ministers are not ‘in it for the take’, unlike the false prophets who prophesied whatever the king wanted to hear, so long as they could be fed at his table. For example, back in 1Kings 18:19 we find Elijah summoning in the contest at Mt Carmel “the 450 prophets of Baal and the 400 prophets of Asherah, who eat at Jezebel’s table.”

      Likewise when we come to the New Testament, we find leaders in Christ’s church are not to be mercenary-minded. Matthew 10:8 Jesus commanded His disciples, “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.Freely you have received, freely give.” In Paul’s goodbye-speech to the elders from Ephesus he defended the integrity of his ministry among them: “I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing.You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions.In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Serving the Lord ought to make one conscious of how much we have received from His grace, and discover the blessing inherent in sharing that grace and Good News freely with others.

      The apostle Peter cautioned early church leaders in 1Peter 5:2f - “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”

      Elisha was conscious he already HAD the best possible thing: God in his life. He didn’t need millions of dollars’ worth of silver and gold or fancy clothes in order to be happy. He would have resonated with Paul’s definition of what’s most important in 1Tim 6:6 - “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”


But Elisha’s chief servant Gehazi fails to see it that way. When Naaman loads up the treasures back into his chariots and drives off back to Aram, Gehazi stands there looking down the road after them with a sinking feeling in his stomach. So much wealth there, free for the taking – and his master just passed it up? What a lost opportunity! Vv 19B-24 “After Naaman had traveled some distance, Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said to himself, "My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought.As surely as the LORD lives, I will run after him and get something from him." So Gehazi hurried after Naaman. When Naaman saw him running toward him, he got down from the chariot to meet him."Is everything all right?" he asked."Everything is all right," Gehazi answered."My master sent me to say, ‘Two young men from the company of the prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two sets of clothing.’" "By all means, take two talents," said Naaman. He urged Gehazi to accept them, and then tied up the two talents of silver in two bags, with two sets of clothing.He gave them to two of his servants, and they carried them ahead of Gehazi.When Gehazi came to the hill, he took the things from the servants and put them away in the house.He sent the men away and they left.”

      There are several dynamics at play here. Note v20 NRSV “My master has let that Aramean Naaman off too lightly”: Is there a touch of racism here – “that Aramean”? Some resentment for the raids the Arameans had been conducting across Israel’s borders? (5:2) Here’s a golden opportunity to ‘get some back’ of what rightly belongs to Israel!

      Was Gehazi imagining what he could have done with all that money – like the lottery commercials try to entice you to dream what all you could do if you won, without mentioning all the headaches and problems that can accompany wealth? Elisha’s rebuke in v26 suggests his servant may have pined in the past about lack of clothes, olive groves, vineyards, flocks, and servants. Had Gehazi made a habit of daydreaming about what all he could get if he had the resources of someone like Naaman?

      God warns us consistently in His word about the perils of coveting and being greedy for more material goods. Exodus 20:17, last of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

      Jesus was very blunt in His teaching: at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount, Mt 6:19,24 “"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth...No one can serve two masters.Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.You cannot serve both God and Money.”

      And Paul warns the early church in 1Timothy 6:9f, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

      Loving money, Paul notes, becomes a ROOT of all kinds of evil. Note the other sins that follow from Gehazi’s coveting in this passage. There’s fabrication, making up what’s not true - this excuse that two prophets just arrived. There’s the actual lie to Naaman, saying “My master sent me to say...” Not true at all! He’s lying about not just anybody, but about his own master and friend.

      Gehazi’s action also risks bringing true religion into disrepute. Up til then, Naaman would have been marveling at the God of Israel who heals so completely and freely, completely graciously. Suddenly this God is put back in the category like the pagan gods who want something in return for doing something for you. God’s honour and renown drops a notch. As does Elisha’s reputation – it could seem to Naaman that the prophet has suddenly changed his mind and gone back on his determination not to accept a gift. Gehazi’s lie amounts to unintentional slander, casting a doubt on Elisha’s reputation. Just as the greed and scandals of televangelists in previous decades have turned people away from Christianity and made them wary even of preachers with integrity like Billy Graham.

      A second lie also follows when Gehazi’s master asks where he’s been. One sin leads to another in order to try to cover things up. And finally, there’s the awful judgment of leprosy inflicted upon Gehazi – and not only him, but also his descendants, perhaps some sort of genetic albinism.

      Sin’s fallout is far-reaching. Greed brings gradual degradation. One can think of other Biblical examples of people whose fascination with silver’s shine had drastic consequences. Balaam was persuaded by the elders of Moab and Midian to consider cursing Israel when they brought with them the “fee for divination” (Num 22:7). Achan in Joshua 7(21) brought defeat upon Israel by coveting a beautiful robe, 200 shekels of silver, and 50 shekels of gold in the conquest of Jericho. Ahab coveted Naboth’s vineyard and let his wicked wife Queen Jezebel arrange for an innocent man’s murder so he could get it (1Kings 21). Judas agreed to betray Jesus the Son of God, Mt 26:15 “[He] asked, "What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?" So they counted out for him thirty silver coins.” The greed of Ananias and Sapphira prompted them to lie to the apostles about the amount they were donating, and so they were killed (Acts 5:2).

      Are these the sort of people you want to take for your heroes, your role-models?

      A great ship once struck a reef and began to sink. It was obvious that the people on the ship had only a few minutes to escape, so all their belongings were abandoned as they fled to the lifeboats. However one man ran and filled his pockets with gold from various staterooms and the ship’s safe. This took just long enough that there were no lifeboats left. So the thief put on a lifejacket and jumped overboard, happy with his new riches and his narrow escape. [Can you guess what’s coming?]

      But as his friends who’d left quickly looked on, he hit the water and plummeted to the bottom like an anchor – the weight of the gold being too much to allow him to float!

      Greed can fill us with that which leads to our own destruction.


Gehazi had been careful to carry out his intrigue on the sly; Naaman had generously given him DOUBLE the amount of silver requested, and sent along 2 servants to help carry the haul; but when they got back to Gehazi’s quarters, he kept them out of view and stashed the loot himself.

      But, who’s he trying to fool? His master the prophet Elisha is the one who, in the very next chapter, keeps sending word to the king of Israel whenever the king of Aram plans to set up camp in a different place. As the Aramean officers explain to their king in 2Kings 6:12, “Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.” Elisha was blessed with a powerful spiritual gift.

      So Gehazi’s attempt to “pull the wool over the eyes” of Elisha fails miserably. Vv25-26a “Then he went in and stood before his master Elisha."Where have you been, Gehazi?" Elisha asked."Your servant didn’t go anywhere," Gehazi answered.But Elisha said to him, ‘Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you?’” [OOPS! Gotcha!]

      The text mentions back in v21 that when Naaman saw Gehazi chasing him, Naaman got down or “jumped down” (NRSV) from the chariot to meet him. Naaman the great revered general could easily have stayed in his chariot to hear what this lowly servant wanted, but he’d hopped down, lending dignity and respect to Gehazi. Perhaps including this detail drives the nail home that Elisha in his spirit had actually mysteriously witnessed the encounter. All Gehazi’s secretiveness and subterfuge has been for naught.

      Still Elisha asks, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” In the Hebrew literally, “Whence, Gehazi?” To which the servant replies, “Not hither or thither” – an equally evasive answer today might be, “Oh, nowhere in particular.” But when God asks you a question, it’s not to find out information! God’s omniscient, knows everything already; the question just gives you an opportunity to ‘fess up. Like when God asks Adam in the garden, “Where are you?” or asks Cain, “Where is your brother?” (Genesis 3:9; 4:9) What’s sought is not information but repentance, honesty, repair of the relationship, acknowledgment of one’s sin. By his evasive answer, Gehazi fails the test.

      Elisha presses on to his real teaching point, the crux of the matter. Gehazi’s coveting has sadly sidetracked him from what’s really most important in life. V26b “Is this the time to take money, or to accept clothes, olive groves, vineyards, flocks, herds, or menservants and maidservants?”

      Is this the time? “What time is it, Mr Gehazi?” Are you letting the wolf of worldly desire gobble you up, tear you away from God’s best for you? Elisha had served as Elisha’s assistant, then eagerly sought a double-dose of his spirit when the end of Elijah’s ministry came. Gehazi COULD potentially have likewise become Elisha’s successor – but because he pursued things of this world, it became clear his passion was not foremost for God’s purposes and Kingdom.

      So for us today: do we recognize what time it is, what the season is eschatologically, with reference to Jesus’ return? Are we being lulled to sleep with paycheques and cottages and monthly upkeep and boats and vehicles and everything else our neighbours pursue? “Is this the time to take money...?”

      “Is this the season...?” What are your overarching priorities in this brief earthly span leading up to eternity? In summer season and winter, in holiday season and the workaday world, Jesus’ command regarding permanent priorities remains unchanging when we’re tempted to get distracted by pursuit for food or clothes or anything else: Matthew 6:32f “For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

      During a flood in the hill country of Texas in 1978 there was a lady who needlessly lost her life. Her daughter told reporters, “My mother did not climb the tree with us. She lost her way before we got to the tree. See, she always kept every little bill and slip and stuff. She would not let go of her purse with those papers in it.” The family was trying to make a chain, holding hands to get through the water. But the mother had her insurance papers all gathered up in her hands and wouldn’t drop those documents; so she just washed away. So sad!

      More positively – famous football figure was asked in March 1978 in front of a crowd of over 2000 students at Baylor University why he had been so successful. He pointed to a pivotal decision he had made some 20 years earlier. He replied, “In 1958, I did something everyone who has been successful must do: I determined my priorities for my life – God, family, and then football.” Let’s pray.