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Leading Question: Can the punishment for sin last forever?

Key Passages:

  • 2 Kings 4, Elisha’s insightful helper and the wealthy Shunammite woman
  • 2 Kings 5, Coveting Naaman’s wealth
  • 2 Kings 8:1-6, Remembering the miracle of the Shunammite’s son

Thoughts:

Gehazi is perhaps most famous for his greedy coveting of Naaman’s gifts. His greed cost him his good health: he was saddled with Naaman’s leprosy. But he also is noted for his helpfulness. After all, he was the one to pointed out to Elisha that the Shunammite woman had no son, and might like one. This same woman received some timely help from Gehazi when she was asking the king for the return of her property after her absence from the land of Israel during a famine.

Are some sins punished forever? In 2 Kings 5:15-27, Elisha told Gehazi that Naaman’s leprosy would “cling to you, and to your descendants forever” (2 Kings 5:27). Yet three chapters later, in 2 Kings 8:1-6, Gehazi seems to be in perfectly good health as he helps convince the king to restore the Shunammite woman’s property. Would either one or both of these arguments be helpful it understanding the passage?

A. The chronology may be out of order. The biblical narratives do not always preserve a precise chronology. Two examples may be cited from 1 Samuel:

1) Samuel and Saul. In 1 Sam 15:35, Scripture says that “Samuel did not see Saul again until the day of his death.” Yet in 1 Samuel 19:18-24 Saul meets up again with Samuel in Ramah.

2) Saul and David. In 1 Samuel 16:14-23, David appears as a musician in Saul’s court and as Saul’s armor-bearer. Indeed 16:21 says that Saul “loved him greatly.” Yet the very next chapter describes David’s confrontation with Goliath. In that setting, Saul asks Abner whose son David was, as if he did not know (1 Sam 17:55-58.

B. Forever may not mean forever. The man of God’s judgment speech to Eli in 1 Samuel 2:27-36 provides one of the best biblical examples that forever doesn’t mean forever. Eli’s house had the promise that they would serve the Lord as priests “forever” (1 Sam 2:30). But that “forever” was revoked and a new priest would be established, one that would serve God “forever” (1 Sam 2:35). See the discussion in Lesson 7 (Abiathar) and Appendix B: Alden Thompson, “Who Can Change the Mind of God?” Signs of the Times, Feb. 1992, 25-27.

Stretching the ten commandments, breaking the ten commandments. Gehazi’s deception in attempting to gain some of Naaman’s wealthy gifts is clearly a tragic breaking of the ninth commandment. In lessons #7 (Abiathar) and #10 (Man of God) the question of potential ambiguity in the matter of telling the truth was discussed. But here there is no ambiguity at all. Gehazi was clearly in the wrong.

But another of the ten commandments comes under scrutiny in this story, namely, the one that declares: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exo 20:3). The story of Naaman is a key transitional moment from a world of many gods to a world with only one God. The carefully worded command does not exclude the possibility that other gods might exist. But it does forbid the worshiping of other gods in Israel.

One revealing incident that reflects the earlier perspective comes in David’s plea to Saul as he was fleeing for his life. “They have driven me out today from my share in the heritage of the LORD, saying, ‘Go, serve other gods’” (1 Sam 26:19).

In the story of Namaan, the Syrian commander has admitted that there is no God anywhere but in Israel, confirming that confession by asking for two mule-loads of Israel’s dirt so that he can return home and still offer sacrifice to Yahweh. But the startling part of the story comes when he asks the prophet about going into the temple of Rimmon, the Syrian national god. Here is his plea to Elisha:

May the LORD pardon your servant on one count: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, and I bow down in the house of Rimmon, when I do bow down in the house of Rimmon, may the LORD pardon your servant on this one count.”

The prophet’s response? “Go in peace” (2 Kings 5:19). For Naaman’s sake, God was bending the command so that this Syrian commander could continue in his walk of faith. This is not an Israelite renegade slipping away from faith. This is a Gentile making huge strides toward the one true God. And for him, the prophet says, “Go in peace.” In short, Gehazi broke the law; Namaan kept it.

What will you tell your children or grandchildren about Gehazi?

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