Naaman and Gehazi: A Contrast in Obedience

An army commander and a prophet’s servant struggle with physical and spiritual leprosy.

Naaman and Gehazi:

During my 11th-grade year at a private high school, I took a class titled “Religion and Western Culture.” I received an assignment from our instructor, who was also the school’s popular chaplain, to write a credo—a concise, thematic statement of my beliefs on religious or spiritual matters.

At first I thought it was a daunting assignment. I then reflected on the many lessons I had learned as a youthful member of the Church—lessons mostly absorbed within the walls of my own home. Thoughts and concepts flooded my mind. I went to my scriptures and began thumbing through the pages and making an outline. Soon I began to type, page after page, my baseline beliefs: the Godhead, the great council and war in heaven, the Fall, the need for a Savior, Jesus’ ministry, His Atonement and literal Resurrection, the great Apostasy, the Restoration, eternal marriage, the three degrees of glory, tithing, and the Word of Wisdom. For me it was all there. I quickly proofed the paper and turned it in. A few weeks later I was pleased to receive it back with an A grade, but also with a notation from the chaplain: “Ralph, please see me.”

The chaplain greeted me and asked that I sit down. He then told me that in all his experience of giving this assignment to high school boys, he had never read a statement of theological doctrine so complete, and he wondered how I came to write such a paper. I responded that this was what I had been taught in my home and at church from the time I was a small boy. The chaplain was my friend until the day I graduated.

I believe most young Latter-day Saints today, if asked, would be able to express in like fashion what they believe to be true and would be able to say that they are living what they believe. Unfortunately, however, too many have experienced the serious consequences of failing to be true to what they know is right.

The contrasting Old Testament stories of Naaman (nay-AH-man) and Elisha’s servant Gehazi (guh-HAY-zhigh) illustrate the importance of understanding the Lord’s will and then doing it. These Bible narratives also point out what can happen when our actions are inconsistent with what we know is true.

Naaman the Syrian

The nation of Syria, located mostly north of Israel, first came under the rule of the children of Israel in the days of King David. When his son King Solomon died and Israel was split into two kingdoms, Syria rebelled, thus initiating about 100 years of tense political relations. Open warfare often flared between the Syrian kings (Ben-hadad, Hazael, Ben-hadad II, Rezin) and the kings of Israel (Ahab, Jehoram, Jehu, Jehoahaz, Jehoash, Jeroboam II). Between these two nations, however, there also existed periods of official peace, interspersed with occasional skirmishes.

Thus, when a letter from the king of Syria (probably Ben-hadad II) arrived for Jehoram, king of Israel, there was great concern. Accompanying the letter was a huge amount of silver and gold, and 10 sets of clothing (see 2 Kgs. 5:5–7). Delivering it all was a man named Naaman, “captain of the host of the king of Syria.” He was a “great man with his master [the king], and honourable … : he was also a mighty man in valour” (2 Kgs. 5:1). The presence of such a man in Jehoram’s court must have stirred not only fear but pity, for Naaman was a leper. His face most likely had reddish lesions, a few knoblike swellings, and open sores. How miserable he must have looked!

Naaman was also suffering from a form of spiritual leprosy: ignorance of the true and living God and His commandments, for Syrians were worshipers of the false god Rimmon (see Bible Dictionary, “Rimmon,” 763) and had built a temple to his name at Damascus (see 2 Kgs. 5:18).

Naaman Learns What to Do

In Naaman’s home in Syria was a “little maid” taken captive out of the land of Israel during one of the military campaigns. She was a servant to Naaman’s wife, and it was her simple expression of faith to her mistress that had led Naaman to Israel’s king. She had said, “Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy” (2 Kgs. 5:3).

King Jehoram sent Naaman to the prophet Elisha to be cleansed of his leprosy. To Naaman’s pleading, Elisha said through his servant, Gehazi, “Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean” (2 Kgs. 5:10). Although it seemed like an unusual command, it was a clear instruction from the prophet of God. The mighty Naaman was taken aback and confused. He had anticipated that the Israelite prophet would work a miracle on the spot—calling on the name of the Lord and, in a sweeping demonstration of great power, “strike his hand over the place” to cure his leprosy (2 Kgs. 5:11). He became upset and in a fit of anger stormed away from Elisha’s house.

Naaman Obeys

Naaman’s servants were the first to exercise faith in the words of the prophet. To their captain they reasoned: If the Lord’s prophet had told him to do “some great thing,” wouldn’t he have done it? How much easier, therefore, to do a small or simple thing, like bathing in the river Jordan? (see 2 Kgs. 5:13). The now humbled Naaman accepted his enlightened servants’ advice and, in an act of great faith, chose to obey. “Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (2 Kgs. 5:14). Returning to Elisha with his retinue of soldiers and servants, Naaman joined his testimony with that of the little Israelite maid: “Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel” (2 Kgs. 5:15). With his physical leprosy gone, Naaman was also healed of his spiritual leprosy by an awakening of faith in the true God.

Gehazi the Servant

Gehazi was Elisha’s trusted representative and messenger who had been with him for several years. Gehazi knew Elisha was a prophet of the one true God. He had personally witnessed God’s power in the miraculous raising of the Shunammite woman’s son from the dead (see 2 Kgs. 4:8–37), the neutralizing of poison in a vegetable soup (see 2 Kgs. 4:38–41), and the feeding of 100 men with but 20 loaves of bread (see 2 Kgs. 4:42–44). If anyone should have known and obeyed the commandments of God, it was Gehazi.

When a joyful Naaman stood before Gehazi and Elisha, with skin clean and pure, Naaman pleaded, “Take a blessing [gift] of thy servant.” But despite repeated urgings, Elisha replied, “I will receive none,” and Naaman departed (1 Kgs. 15:15–16).

After he had traveled some distance, Naaman noticed Gehazi running to catch up with him. Naaman got down from his chariot and went forth to meet him, saying, “Is all well?” Gehazi then said what he surely knew in his own heart was a lie: He told Naaman that Elisha had sent him to get some money and clothing for two destitute young men who had just arrived (see 2 Kgs. 5:21–22). Naaman was pleased with the request; he wanted to do something for the Lord and Elisha. He gave generously, even more than was asked, sending two servants to help Gehazi carry the goods back. As they arrived in sight of Elisha’s home, Gehazi dismissed the servants and hid the goods in his house.

Soon the servant stood before his master, who asked where he had been. Gehazi replied that he had not gone anywhere, compounding his deception. Elisha then revealed his divinely given knowledge of Gehazi’s lies. And for Gehazi’s disobedience, Elisha cursed him: “The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee. … And [Gehazi] went out from his presence a leper as white as snow” (2 Kgs. 5:27).

Strict Obedience

Latter-day Saints know, as a people, what the Lord’s commandments are and, as never before, are able to hear them from apostles and prophets. We must listen to them. The commandments are relatively easy to understand and simple to follow if we are prepared to accept them with a childlike faith.

Elisha did not ask Naaman to do “some great thing.” What was required? To humble himself and do strictly as he had been commanded. We are required to do the same. The Lord’s commands are clear, uncomplicated, and in many instances “adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints” (D&C 89:3). The Lord will prepare a way for us to keep all of His commandments, even when they seem difficult. The words of a favorite hymn are instructive:

How gentle God’s commands!
How kind his precepts are!

(“How Gentle God’s Commands,” Hymns, no. 125)

Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:30). By contrast, sin brings misery and leaves us in captivity to Satan. To take upon ourselves the yoke and burden of the Savior, we must exercise faith in Him—even if we can just “exercise a particle of faith” (Alma 32:27). Then, in strict obedience, we must transfer the power of this faith into the habit of keeping the Lord’s commandments.

Naaman and Gehazi both discovered, each in his own way, that strict obedience to the Lord’s commands is the only way to avoid spiritual leprosy. As Latter-day Saints we have the correct prescription for happiness: “obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel” (A of F 1:3).

More on this topic: James E. Faust, “Some Great Thing,”Ensign, Nov. 2001, 46–49; Waldo P. Call, “Follow the Prophets,”Ensign, Nov. 1990, 82–83.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Paul Mann

Elder Ralph W. Hardy Jr. is an Area Authority Seventy serving in the North America East Area.