Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Gehazi and the Miracle Staff of Elisha

Academic journal article Jewish Bible Quarterly

Gehazi and the Miracle Staff of Elisha

Article excerpt

The story of Elisha and the Shunammite woman reaches its dramatic climax when the woman's son dies and her impassioned plea to Elisha is heard. Elisha responds by dispatching Gehazi, his faithful acolyte, to perform a miracle and resurrect the child. As the Bible relates:

He [Elisha] said to Gehazi: 'Gird up thy loins, and take my staff in thy hand, and go thy way; if thou meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute thee, answer him not; and lay my staff upon the face of the child.' And the mother of the child said: 'As the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee.' And he arose, and followed her. And Gehazi passed on before them, and laid the staff upon the face of the child; but there was neither voice, nor hearing. Wherefore he returned to meet him, and told him, saying: 'The child is not awaked.' (II Kgs. 4:29-31)

Even though he possessed his master's staff, Gehazi was unable to resurrect the child, and instead appealed to Elisha directly to do so. Elisha himself entered the room where the child lay dead and brought him back to life.

The Bible does not explain why Gehazi was unable to fulfill his master's assignment of reviving the dead child, leaving Elisha himself to realize that undertaking. (1) The fact that Elisha would ultimately have to assume responsibility for that which he had originally delegated to his student might imply that Elisha had erred in delegating the task instead of doing it himself. This would explain why Gehazi was unable to use his master's staff to revive the child. Because God wanted Elisha to do it himself, He did not allow Gehazi to perform the miracle of resurrection, but left it to Elisha. Alternatively, Elisha may have given too much importance to his staff by making it a necessary component of the miracle. Therefore, God decided to withhold the miracle in order to teach Elisha the ever-important lesson that miracles are done by God alone, not by physical objects. (2) These explanations follow the assumption that Elisha was at fault for Gehazi being unable to resurrect the child.

We might also place the blame on the Shunammite woman herself who, instead of appealing to God directly, appealed to His human emissary. Perhaps God prevented Gehazi's efforts from working in order to teach the woman that she should not beseech mortals to solve her problems, but should appeal to God Himself.

However, many traditional sources assume that Elisha remains blameless in this episode. Instead, they place the blame squarely upon Gehazi. We must first examine the traditional attitude taken up by the Bible and its commentators towards Gehazi as a person. Then we can analyze the various explanations of why it was Gehazi's fault that he was unable to resurrect the child.

GEHAZI AS A WICKED PERSON

In the Bible's story of Elisha and the Shunammite woman, Gehazi's character appears neutral, if not positive. However, he is later depicted as a greedy opportunist willing to sacrifice his master's scruples in order to make a profit. After Elisha miraculously healed the Aramean general Naaman of his leprosy, the latter offered Elisha a tribute, which he graciously declined. Later, Gehazi, against the will of his master, returned to Naaman and asked for silver and changes of clothing, which Naaman happily granted him. When Gehazi returned to Elisha his master (who knew prophetically what Gehazi had done), Elisha severely reprimanded him and even cursed him for diminishing the sanctification of God's name that had resulted from Elisha selflessly aiding Naaman (II Kgs. Ch. 5).

This episode sets a precedent for viewing Gehazi as an unscrupulous character who disregards his master's wishes, and informs tradition as to how to view Gehazi in the earlier episode as well.

Rabbinic literature consistently views Gehazi as a negative character. The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 10:2) lists Gehazi as one of four commoners who forfeited his portion in the World to Come through his evil actions. …

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