Sick of Greed?
Explore the Bible Series
January 23, 2011
Background Passage: II Kings 1:1-5:27
Lesson Passage: II Kings 5:14-16, 20-22, 24-27
Our lesson writer, Morris Baker, has wisely chosen to focus on the story of Gehazi’s greed, in this week’s study. The Medieval Roman Catholic Church identified greed as one of the seven deadly sins, sins which impair grace in the soul. Baptists would not agree with some aspects of this Catholic teaching, but we would certainly affirm the grave danger of this terrible sin.
Greed is a disposition of the heart, and it grows from ingratitude, general dissatisfaction with the Lord’s provision. Left unchecked, greed degenerates into action: theft, dishonest and unethical business practices, and selfishness. It destroys the spirit of generosity and charity. Moreover, it fosters desire for extravagant, wasteful consumption. We humans are masters at justifying our greed, convincing ourselves that we deserve the excesses of a consumer society and ignoring the damage we do to our souls in the process.
Because greed is a disposition of the heart, no economic system can thwart the devastating consequences of avarice. Socialist theorists naively believe that their economic views will eradicate greed, but history provides ample evidence that their claims do not hold water. Consumer capitalism thrives on greed, and Christians, following the example of the Lord, must deal with debilitating impulses of the heart. Sadly, many churches, in our culture, have become temples of greed, and the spiritual bankruptcy of our society owes much to the failure of the church.
I. The Final Days of Elijah’s Ministry (1:1-2:14)
A. Conflict with King Ahaziah (1:1-18): Ahaziah, son of Ahab, governed Israel for two years. The king suffered mortal injuries when he fell through a lattice in the upper chamber of the palace, in Samaria. Fearful that he might die, Ahaziah sent messengers to seek counsel from the priests of Baal-zebul, the false god of the Philistine city of Ekron. These actions, according to the text, angered Jehovah and energized the Prophet Elijah, who predicted that Ahaziah would die from his injury. Elijah’s message offended and alarmed the king, and he sent messengers to intimidate the prophet.
1. First conflict with the messengers of Ahaziah (1:9-10): The king sent fifty soldiers to arrest Elijah, but the prophet called down fire to consume the soldiers.
2. Second conflict with the messengers of Ahaziah (1:11-12): This time the captain intensified the king’s demand, “Come down quickly”, but the order met with the same consequence—the soldiers were consumed by fire.
3. The third conflict with the messengers of Ahaziah (1:13-18): The king, it seems, had not learned to fear God, but his soldiers developed a serious respect for God’s prophet. On this occasion the captain sought mercy from the Lord’s servant, and he asked that the soldiers might be spared. The text says an angel appeared to Elijah and revealed to the prophet that he should accompany the captain back to the palace of Ahaziah. Elijah confirmed his previous prediction of the king’s death, and, indeed, Ahaziah soon perished from his injuries.
B. Elijah’s translation to heaven (2:1-14): In preparation for Elijah’s ascension to heaven, the prophet made a lengthy journey, accompanied by Elisha and, periodically, a large company of prophets. The men started their pilgrimage from Gilgal, about ten miles west of the Jordan River. They travelled south to Bethel, then southwest to Jericho. At every point, Elijah encouraged his young protégé to abandon the journey, but Elisha stayed the course. Finally, the two men crossed the Jordan River. Like the Israelites of old, God divided the waters of the river to allow his servants to cross on dry land. Having forded the river, Elijah granted Elisha’s request for a double portion of the prophet’s spirit; then, II Kings records the translation of Elijah, into heaven, in a chariot of fire. Elisha returned from the remarkable scene, again miraculously crossing the Jordan River.
II. The Early Ministry of the Prophet Elisha (2:15-5:27)
A. The search for Elijah (2:15-18); Upon Elisha’s return, the prophets seemed to believe that Elijah would reappear somewhere, and they wanted to search for him. Elisha discouraged the search, but the men insisted. Of course, they did not find Elijah.
B. The “healing” of the waters of Jericho (2:19-22): The civic leaders of Jericho told Elisha about the poor water quality of the region, and, in a great act of kindness, the prophet poured salt in the springs, and the water became sweet.
C. The death of forty-two boys who mocked Elisha (2:23-25): As he journeyed near bethel, Elisha endured the ridicule of two boys who mocked the prophet’s baldness. The passage does not reveal why this seemed such a serious offense, but Elisha cursed the boys, and bears killed the prophet’s tormentors.
D. The defeat of Moab (3:1-27): Israelite king Ahab had subdued Moab, forcing her to pay a steep tribute to Israel. When Ahab died, Moabite King Mesha rebelled against Jehoram, son of Ahab. The Israelites formed an alliance with Judah and Edom, and as the allied army prepared for battle, the kings sought the counsel of Elisha. The prophet expressed his utter disgust with Jehoram, but he also promised the alliance would succeed in their campaign against Moab. Jehovah miraculously intervened and delivered Moab into the hands of the alliance. Desperate to avert the impending military disaster, Mesha offered his son as a sacrifice to the pagan god Chemosh, but, of course, his foolish, cruel act only sealed his fate.
E. Elisha’s deliverance of a poor widow (4:1-7): An unnamed woman came to Elisha, a widow of one of the faithful prophets of the Lord. Her creditors threatened to enslave her two sons if she did not immediately repay her debts, but she had only a vessel of oil in her household. Elisha miraculously multiplied the oil, and widow sold the abundant supply of oil to repay the creditor.
F. Elisha’s kindness to the Shunammite woman (4:8-37): On occasion, Elisha travelled to a village called Shunem, in Northern Israel. The woman persuaded her husband to make a small apartment for the prophet, a place he could rest when he came to the region. In answer to her kindness, Elisha promised the barren woman that she would bear a son, a promise fulfilled about a year later. Some years later, the boy became ill and died. The grieving mother called for Elisha to help her son. At first, Elisha sent his servant Gehazi to raise the child, but the servant’s remedy was to no avail. Eventually, Elisha arrived and raised the boy from the dead.
G. Elisha purified a poisoned pot of stew (4:38-44): The prophet journeyed to Gilgal during a terrible famine. The prophets made a pot of stew, and one of the men inadvertently included poisonous plants in the recipe. Elisha poured flour in the pot, and the stew was purified. Also, II Kings includes a brief description of Elisha miraculously feeding a hundred people.
H. The healing of Naaman (5:1-14): Naaman served as a commander in the Syrian army, but this influential man had leprosy. A Hebrew servant girl told Naaman about Elisha, a prophet who could heal the dreaded disease. The Syrian king, probably Ben-Hadad, sent a generous gift to the king of Israel (perhaps King Jehoram) to affect the healing of the commander. Elisha heard of the king’s gift and offered to help Naaman, instructing the proud Syrian to wash, seven times, in the Jordan River. Naaman, angered by the prophet’s instructions, refused to heed the counsel. Servants persuaded Naaman to travel to the Jordan, and the commander was healed.
I. The greed of Gehazi (5:15-27): After Naaman was healed, he offered money and expensive clothing to Elisha, but the prophet refused the generous gift. Later, Gehazi followed Naaman’s entourage and asked for a large amount of silver and clothing. He lied to Naaman; then, he lied to Elisha about receiving the offering. Elisha struck Gehazi with leprosy for his greed and deception.