An imposing military cavalcade arrived at the door of a humble home in the hill country of Samaria. Inside the house was Elisha the prophet. Accompanied by the pomp and pageantry of the full military force of Syria, Naaman, the Syrian army’s supreme commander, had come to the “man of God” at the suggestion of his wife’s servant girl in order that he might be healed of his leprosy.
Outside the door, the Syrian general and his magnificent retinue waited. Yet, no prophet came out to greet him. No formal diplomatic recognition of his presence occurred. Finally, the door opened, and out stepped a lowly servant to act as a messenger of the prophet. The message: Naaman was to go and wash himself seven times in the Jordan River.
Naaman was incensed! “Behold, I thought, He [Elisha] will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean?” (II Kings 5:11–12). The verse continues: “So he turned and went away in a rage.”
Concerned by their master’s angry reaction, the devoted servants appealed to Naaman to reconsider the prophet’s instructions. Reluctantly, Naaman went to the muddy Jordan River to wash himself. As he arose from the water a seventh time, all those watching were astonished as “his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (II Kings 5:14).
Healed, Naaman and his retinue returned to the house where the man of God dwelt. This time, the prophet Elisha stepped out of his house to greet the Syrian commander. Naaman then confessed to Elisha, saying, “Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel: now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant” (II Kings 5:15). In his affirmation acknowledging the one true God, the commander was also offering payment to the prophet for his services.
Elisha was faced with a choice. No man in Israel or in Syria would have criticized him if he accepted a royal present. The esteemed Syrian commander had lavish gifts that he was empowered to bestow, including silver coins and costly, elegant garments. Previously, the Israelite prophet had received much simpler items from God’s own people to meet his needs. Once, he had accepted the offer of “twenty loaves of barley, and full ears of corn in the husk” (II Kings 4:42) from an Israelite farmer to share with the people. Other times he had accepted the gracious hospitality of a sparsely furnished room from a Shunammite woman and her husband (see II Kings 4:8–11). Would he now also accept this handsome gift from a grateful Syrian general?
No, Elisha would not receive the royal gifts. The prophet knew that in this specific case, it was not the time to receive money, garments, property, livestock, or servants. He knew that God was the One Who did the miracle, and God should be the One to receive the credit for healing Naaman.
Using a phrase from his mentor, the prophet Elijah, Elisha firmly refused the offer of a reward: “As the LORD liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none” (II Kings 5:16). The commander, however, urged the man of God to receive the gifts. Elisha steadfastly refused.
At the same time that Elisha was content in knowing that God would meet his needs and the gifts were not his to be received, his servant Gehazi saw them and was consumed with greed and covetousness. After Naaman had departed with his company and unaccepted gifts, Gehazi ran after him. When the commander saw the prophet’s servant pursuing him, he stopped and asked Gehazi if all was well. Pretending that his master Elisha had changed his mind due to a sudden need, Gehazi asked for a portion of the previously offered gift. The greedy servant then specifically requested two changes of garments and a talent of silver. (See II Kings 5:20–24.)
Returning home and hiding the gifts from his master, Gehazi hoped to keep the silver and apparel for himself. Yet Elisha confronted the servant, and Gehazi lied about even leaving the house! Elisha then pronounced a curse upon Gehazi for his covetous spirit: “The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever. And he [Gehazi] went out from his [Elisha’s] presence a leper as white as snow” (II Kings 5:27). The greed of Gehazi had disastrous consequences.
The two prophets, Elisha and Elijah, are oftentimes mistaken for each other because their names are so similar. (An easy way to remember who came first is an alphabetical clue: the j in Elijah comes before the s in Elisha.) The two men, however, were very different in outward appearance, personality, and background. The older prophet Elijah was a hairy man of the wilderness. By contrast, the younger prophet Elisha was bald and lived in towns and cities. In the Scriptures, Elijah was depicted as a man of wide mood swings, sometimes alternating from exhilaration to despair. Yet his successor, Elisha, was portrayed as having a steady, even temperament. Elijah hailed from the poor region of Gilead, while Elisha came from a wealthy and prosperous family. Interestingly, Scripture refers seven times to Elijah as a “man of God” while Elisha is called “the man of God” twenty-nine times in Scripture. Despite all these contrasts, each man was a faithful prophet of God and submitted wholly to doing His will.
Looking at Elisha in this biographical sketch, he is introduced in Scripture as he was plowing in his father’s fields “with twelve yoke of oxen” (I Kings 19:19). In a day when many farmers were happy to have two healthy oxen (one yoke) to pull a plow, it is significant that Elisha’s family owned twenty-four oxen (twelve yokes). When the older prophet Elijah sought Elisha and found him in the field plowing, the elder draped his mantle over the shoulders of Elisha. Such was the call of God on Elisha. The young farmer responded, demonstrating his commitment to God and the prophet by sacrificing two oxen, and breaking up his plow (his now former livelihood) to use for wood to kindle the sacrifice.
What young Elisha lost in the material world by leaving his father’s prosperous farm, God fully made up for in the spiritual realm. Elisha inherited the “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit, and Elisha’s ministry in Samaria spanned half a century—much longer than the ministry of his predecessor. The Bible records eighteen separate episodes of God working in the life of Elisha to use him for the Kingdom and to meet his every need.
In every circumstance, Elisha was content with God’s provision and protection. According to II Kings Chapter 6, on one occasion while Elisha and his servant were in the village of Dothan, an entire army was dispatched with the express purpose of capturing Elisha. The man of God remained perfectly calm and content in the midst of almost certain capture. To assure his fearful, questioning servant of God’s protection, Elisha prayed that the Lord would open the servant’s eyes. The Lord answered the prophet’s prayer, opened the servant’s eyes, and he saw “the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (verse 17).
May God give us the grace to become men of God like Elisha by putting off our covetousness and selfish ambitions and seeking to invest our lives in the service of others. The prophet Elisha was content in his circumstances, whether exalted or abased, whether rich or poor, whether famished or full, whether secure or in danger. He believed the psalmist’s affirmation that “The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them” (Psalm 34:7). May we also stand on that truth, knowing that God has provided everything that we need to fulfill His mission for us on earth.