The King was talking to Gehazi, the servant of the man of God, and had said, “Tell me about all the great things Elisha has done.” (2 Kings 8:4)
Gehazi’s presence in this story is curious. He is the only one of the servants of Elisha to ever be given a name, and he appears in multiple stories. Yet at the end of the healing of Naaman, Gehazi’s greed causes him to swindle Naaman out of two talents of gold and a couple sets of clothing. When he comes before Elisha, he lies about his whereabouts and suffers the consequences.
But Elisha said to him, “Was not my Spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money or to accept clothes – or olive groves and vineyards, or flocks and herds, or male and female slaves? Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and to your descendents forever.” Then Gehazi went from Elisha’s presence and his skin was leprous – it had become white was snow. (2 Kings 5:26-27)
Our last sighting of Gehazi had him leaving the presence of Elisha cursed with leprosy. Gehazi was now both unclean and outcast from the presence of Elisha (and symbolically outcast from the presence of God). Yet, he shows up again in chapter eight and is called‘the servant of the man of God.’ How do we explain it? The text itself gives us no explanation, but there are three common theories of Gehazi’s presence in this story:
- In an unrecorded event, Gehazi repents, is healed, and is restored to Elisha.
This theory focuses on the fact that Gehazi is described as ‘the servant of the man of God.’ It assumes (I think, rightly) that Gehazi would have lost the status as Elisha’s servant after the incident with Naaman. Thus, at some point Gehazi must have been restored to Elisha’s service. Since it is not recorded in Scripture, it must be an unrecorded story.
There is something beautiful and evangelical about this theory. The repentant sinner who acknowledges his sin, is healed, and restored to the service of the Lord has gospel written all over it. The challenge is that there is no such story, at least not that is written in the Bible, which is the authoritative word of God. I don’t believe the hint provided by the phrase ‘the servant of the man of God’ is enough to suppose this entire back story. We are simply arguing from what is not there instead of what is there.
- This story is out of order.
Most of the Elisha stories are fairly self-contained. They rarely mention the names of kings and could easily (and logically) be re-arranged into a different chronological order. Their specific placement in 2 Kings was more for theological than historical reasons. While this theory is not questioning whether these events happened, it wonders whether they happened in the exact order recorded in 2 Kings and whether we are intended to believe that they did.
On the surface, this is the simplest solution. The story of the Shunnamite woman and Gehazi took place before the story of Naaman, but the author (inspired by the Spirit) placed it after to make a theological point. However, this solution may raise more problems than it solves. Even if we could assume that the Spirit inspired the author to rearrange events for a theological purpose, it would not solved the immediate problem within the text itself. The scriptures, in the final form we have received them, places 2 Kings 8 after 2 Kings 5. We are meant to read it as if one occurred after the other. Thus, even if this solution helps deal with the question historically, we are still left wondering within the narrative world of the text. Why is Gehazi in this story as ‘the servant of the man of God’?
In this way, this theory goes behind the text for a solution that doesn’t truly solve the question in the text itself.
- Gehazi is still an outcast and a leper.
We are never told of Gehazi’s repentance or restoration. The last we knew he was leaving Elisha’s presence a leper and we have nothing in the Bible to tell us otherwise. Therefore, we should assume that Gehazi is still leprous and exiled even in the presence of the King. He is in exile even as he is asked to tell all the great deeds of Elisha.
We should note that Elisha himself does not appear in this story. Gehazi is named as his servant, but Elisha himself is not there. He is absent. In this way, Gehazi is still apart from Elisha’s presence. But even in this exiled state, Gehazi has some status as Elisha’s servant and is asked to recount the great deeds of Elisha.
In many ways, this story speaks to Israel in exile. Unfaithful, unclean, and cast out from the presence of the Lord, Israel, like Gehazi, went into exile. But even in exile, they were still ‘the servants of the Lord.’ Even in their uncleanness, they never ceased to be the people of the Lord. And like Gehazi, they were tasked to recall the great deeds of the Lord.
Could it be that Gehazi is here in this story, named as Elisha’s servant, precisely to remind exiled Israel that they must still recount the great deeds of the Lord? Could it be that Gehazi is still here in this story to remind the church – which for all the vestiges of Christendom is a church in exile – of its call to proclaim the great deeds of the Lord?