Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: The high cost of low life - Part 7

A man cannot be established through wickedness, but the righteous cannot be uprooted. Proverbs 12:3 (NIV)

2 Kings 5:3

Necessity is the mother of invention -- but desperation is the author of breakthroughs.

We have all seen how productive we can be -- when we absolutely have to. When our lives or well-being -- or those of our loved ones -- are at stake, we can accomplish marvels. When we have exhausted all other resources, we will do whatever is necessary to achieve our desired ends.

That certainly was the case with Captain Naaman. He was the commander in chief of the king’s armies in ancient Syria -- a man mighty in valor. But Naaman had leprosy. He was about to leave his job and his family to live out his days in a leper colony. He had a little servant girl in his home who had been taken as a captive in a raid over in Samaria. This servant said to Naaman’s wife, “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would heal him of his leprosy” (2 Kings 5:3).

Having exhausted every other means of healing, Naaman set out with a letter of introduction from the king and some money to seek his cure. First, though, he went to an earthly prince instead of the prophet of God. He tried to buy his cure by offering money. He thought he could be cured with what he had. Naaman then thought he could be cured with whom he knew. He took the letter from the king and presented it to the prince; but, of course, it was all to no avail. Once again suffering disappointment, Naaman finally learned that he just needed to do what he had originally been told.

He inquired of the prophet, Elisha, who then sent word by his servant Gehazi, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and . . . you shall be clean” (2 Kings 5:10). Naaman went away in a rage of fury. He was too proud to do that: “Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?” (2 Kings 5:12).

Fortunately, one of his servants said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” (2 Kings 5:13).

Then the proud, heroic conqueror Naaman went down to the Jordan, took off his regal, royal robes and submerged himself seven times. The Bible tells us that his skin became like that of a little child. Then Naaman and all his servants went back to the man of God. He stood before Elisha and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel; now therefore, please take a gift from your servant” (2 Kings 5:15).

The prophet answered, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive nothing” (2 Kings 5:16). Even though Naaman urged him, he still refused. Elisha the prophet didn’t want Naaman to think salvation was something that could be bought. It was a free gift.

So, Naaman responded:

If you will not, please let me, your servant be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord. But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I bow there also -- when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this (2 Kings 5:17–18, NIV).

Elisha told him to go in peace and sent him on his way. But after Naaman left, Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, 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” (2 Kings 5:20, NIV).

So Gehazi caught up with Naaman’s group. Naaman saw him and came down from the chariot to meet him. “‘Is everything all right?’ he asked. ‘Everything is all right,’ Gehazi answered” (2 Kings 5:21, NIV). But of course, it wasn’t — at least, not quite: “My master sent me to say, ‘Two young men from the company of the prophets have just come to me from the hill company of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two sets of clothing’” (2 Kings 5:22, NIV).

This was an out-and-out lie.

“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 hid them.] He sent the men away and they left. 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. [Another lie.]

But Elisha said to him, “Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from the chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money, or to accept clothes, olive groves, vineyards, flocks, herds, or menservants and maidservants? Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever.” Then Gehazi went from Elisha’s presence and he was leprous, as white as snow (2 Kings 5:23–27, NIV).

Grace and judgment

In this long narrative story from Scripture, we see the wonderful, marvelous cure of Naaman at the Word of the living God. We see how his cure was freely given — as wonderfully free as Gehazi’s judgment was horribly deserved. One can hardly believe that in one chapter of Scripture we descend from such heavenly heights to such dastardly depths.

Yet, both grace and judgment are essential elements of the same gospel message. They always have been. They always will be.

It all started in the Garden. Adam and Eve impoverished themselves amidst the riches of Eden by sinning against God and transgressing His Word. Suddenly in the shadow of plenty, they knew real lack. They became utterly destitute.

Pain and sorrow became their lot (see Gen. 3:16). Hardship and calamity became the course of their lives (see Gen. 3:17). They fell from riches to rags, from the watered garden to the wretched wasteland (see Gen. 3:18–19, 23–24).

When God came to them in the cool of the day, they were huddled together in their misery and their shame (see Gen. 3:7–8). He looked upon their broken estate and saw their pitiful poverty.

So how did He respond to them? What did God do?

First, He pronounced a word of judgment on them. He conducted a kind of courtroom lawsuit against them: questioning, interrogating, cross-examining and sentencing. He judged their sin (see Gen. 3:14–19).

Next, He pronounced a word of hope for them. He opened the prophetic scrolls and revealed the promise of a Deliverer, a Savior. He gave them good news (see Gen. 3:15).

And, finally, He confirmed His Word with deeds. He clothed them in the hide of an animal. He covered them. He showed them mercy. He matched His righteous judgment with grace and charity (see Gen. 3:21).

There in the cool of the garden, God confronted the sin of Adam and Eve, and He did it by meeting their deprivation with judgment first and gracious good news immediately after.

This is the biblical model, the divine model, of the gospel. It announces to sinful men that they have disobeyed a holy God, that He will find them out and that He will pronounce judgment against them. But it also offers hope. It tells sinful men that there is a Savior who crushes the serpent’s head and redeems them from their plight.

The gospel always adheres to this pattern. It involves two clear messages: the coming judgment of God and God’s generous way of escape in Christ the sin-bearer.

Thus, we can see this evangelical pattern in the testimony of the prophet Isaiah. First, he announced judgment; then, he announced a way of escape. He said:

Cry loudly, do not hold back; raise your voice like a trumpet, and declare to My people their transgression, and to the house of Jacob their sins. . . . Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, and to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth; and your righteousness will go before you; the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry and He will say, “Here I am.” If you remove the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry, and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness, and your gloom will become like midday. And the Lord will continually guide you, and satisfy your desire in scorched places, and give strength to your bones; and you will be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters do not fail. And those from among you will rebuild the ancient ruins; you will raise up the age-old foundations; and you will be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of the streets in which to dwell (Isa. 58:1, 6–12, NASB).

God made His evangelistic program clear to Isaiah. First, he was to tell the people of Judah that they were in sin: “Declare to my people their transgression.” But then, he was to reveal the way out. They were to fast in repentance — but, they were not to starve themselves in a ritual fast, but to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to let the oppressed go free, to feed the hungry, to invite the homeless into their homes, to provide clothing for the naked. Grace was to abound.

First, he announced wrath against sin; second, he announced grace covering over sin and charity soothing the hurts of sin.

Jesus, too, confirmed this pattern of gospel proclamation. When He began His public ministry in the town of Nazareth, He went into the synagogue, as was His custom, and stood up to read. What He read was significant: the passage from Isaiah that deals with the coming of the Messiah.

Who is the Messiah? The Anointed One who preaches the gospel to the poor:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,

Because He has anointed Me

To preach the gospel to the poor;

He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,

To proclaim liberty to the captives

And recovery of sight to the blind,

To set at liberty those who are oppressed;

To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

(Luke 4:18–19)

Isaiah had prophesied that the Anointed One would go into the highways and byways to heal the lame, to give sight to the blind and to comfort the brokenhearted. Jesus demonstrated His messianic office by doing literally what Isaiah said He would do. So in the synagogue He boldly announced the prophetic fulfillment: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

Christ never shied away from announcing God’s condemnation of sin (Matt. 7:13–23). But neither did He hesitate to announce the good news of hope (Matt. 11:28–30).

Jesus proved He was the Messiah by wedding grace and judgment. He authenticated His claims by modeling the whole gospel in both word and deed.

Gehazi’s mistake

The Bible says, “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jer. 17:9). The truth is, one of the most dangerous times in the life of a believer is right after a great victory. Whether we’ve just knocked down the walls of Jericho or won a spiritual battle over sin, afterwards we tend to put our trust in our past achievements. When we become self-confident and proud, we begin to overrate our ability to deal with situations; and if we can deal with situations on our own, we have no need for prayer. God doesn’t have to help us in order for victory to be assured. How quickly we forget our true Source of victory. That sinful forgetfulness has ever been the problem of God’s people.

God commanded parents to instruct their children in the way of the Lord (Deut. 6:6–9). Why did He make this command? It was so neither the parents nor the children would forget the mighty acts the Lord had done for Israel. Why was Passover instituted? To help Israel remember God’s mercy on their firstborn and His love for them, as well as His terrible punishment on Egypt. Why was Israel constantly being bound into captivity? Israel continually forgot that God saved His people. They would forget, bring in their idols, anger God, and He would bind them into captivity until they remembered His power to save them and repented of their sins. In the New Testament, Christ himself instructs us to observe the Lord’s Supper: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19; 1 Cor. 11:24). What should we remember? The pure sacrifice of Christ for our sinful souls. If we forget God, His power and His mighty acts of love for us, we are setting ourselves up. If we forget, we soon believe that we can tackle anything. Our pride begins our fall. If we’re not careful, we become prone to prayerlessness. We trust in yesterday’s commitment and hope that it will suffice for today.

The apostle Paul tells us, “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). That exhortation perfectly describes the precarious position in which our pride places us. A fall is almost certainly inevitable. Our ensuing fall should be a matter of concern — but also of analysis. If we understand why and how we get into a proud position, and consequently fall, we may be able to avoid it later.

There are four principal parts in a fall — all of them vividly illustrated in Gehazi’s foolish episode: first, its cause; second, its curse; third, its consequence; and fourth, its cure. Each part must be analyzed individually to better understand the whole.

Sin’s cause

What causes a man like Gehazi, Elisha’s faithful servant — a man who had walked with Elisha, seen miracle after miracle, witnessed God’s power, who knew what it was to be around the glory of God — to so easily stumble?

He took four descending steps. First, he saw. He saw Naaman come back to Elisha after he was cured and offer Elisha some money. He then harbored that sight in his mind, which led to the second step.

He coveted. He started to think about the situation. He calculated his potential profits. He began to covet, plan and plot.

Third, he took. He went after Naaman and told him a pack of lies. He then took the great man’s talents of silver and articles of clothing. Yes, he took them!

Fourth, he hid. He put all his contraband away in his own house. He sent the men away, and then he went over to confront Elisha.

Those four steps are terribly predictable. They are the same four steps that everyone who fell in the Bible committed, and they are the same four steps you and I take. What happened in the Garden of Eden? The woman saw the fruit. She saw that it was good — she coveted. Eve then took the forbidden fruit; afterwards, she and Adam hid from God. Similarly, King David was not where he was supposed to be when the time came to go to battle. He was at the palace. One day he looked out on the side of Mount Zion, and there on the rooftop below was a lady bathing. He saw her — the first step. Then he began to think about what he had seen. He began to harbor the image in his heart. He began to covet. He sent word to find out who she was. Next, he took her and committed adultery. Finally, he tried to cover over his sin by having her husband Uriah, his faithful soldier, slain on the field of battle. He hid.

We’re no different. We go through the same process. It is not a sin to be tempted. Sin comes when we don’t let something just pass right on through our minds.

The curse

The curse is that these four steps soon set patterns in our lives. One sin leads to another. One sin attempts to cover another. We tell one lie to cover another lie. It is a miserable, vicious cycle. If spouses are unfaithful to their mates, they have to start lying. They have to cover one lie here, one lie there. Teenagers go out and do what their parents have forbidden them to do, and what happens? They have to lie here and lie there. They wonder to whom they told this and to whom they told that and must make sure everyone will collaborate their story. That is the curse of sin. It sets a pattern.

It happens in the workforce. When an employee is insubordinate in the place of employment, all too often he or she has to tell lies to cover the breach. Every lie or excuse is followed by another. Soon there are enough lies to construct a fantasy world. The first lie seems small enough, but with each successive lie, the situation expands into a mass of falsity. More lies are told to tie up loose ends which demand more lies and on and on and on. Gehazi discovered that only too quickly.

Naaman asked him if everything was all right. He nonchalantly replied that it was. That was, of course, a lie. The first lie of many. Everything was not all right. Gehazi went on, “My master sent me.” That too was a lie, and it was still just the beginning.

When he got back and Elisha asked him where he had been, he responded, “Your servant did not go anywhere.” That was yet another lie. On and on the story went.

Most of us have been there. Sin sets a pattern in motion where we have to tell one lie after another and live our lives looking over our shoulders, wondering who is going to find us out. We wonder what we told him and try to remember what we told her so we can keep our stories straight. What a curse!

Gehazi had a demonstration of God’s grace fresh on his mind — the healing of Naaman. But apparently he forgot the other essential aspect of the gospel — a confrontation of our sinfulness. As a result, he suffered terrible consequences.

The consequence

When Gehazi went out from Elisha’s presence, he was leprous, as white as snow. Was not God’s Spirit with Gehazi, seeing all he did? He got what Naaman had been delivered of. This is a frighteningly clear demonstration of the biblical warning, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7).

He had an opportunity to confess and get clean. Elisha went in and asked him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” But apparently he was either too proud or too greedy to repent. He had forgotten the essence of the Gospel. So he just kept on lying.

Gehazi perverted the message of Christ. Salvation is free; it can’t be bought. That’s what Naaman learned when he came back to Elisha. That is why Elisha didn’t take anything from him. He wanted Naaman to know that his cleansing was free.

In this story we not only see God’s mercy, we see His judgment. The same God who demonstrated lavish mercy to Naaman exercised stern discipline on the sin of Gehazi.

The cure

Some think God is only a God of love. If He were only a God of love, everyone would go to heaven. If He were only a God of wrath, no one would go, because we’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Thanks be to God: He is both. He is both gracious, merciful and long-suffering; and He is just, holy and altogether righteous. Because He is both, He is our cure.

Moral soundings

  • Are you more like Naaman or Gehazi?
  • Are you more prone to neglect the grace or the judgment of God?
  • Do you find yourself taking the downward steps of sin and temptation?
  • Are you more enraptured by the cause, the curse or the consequences of sin than by its cure?
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