The Eyes of Gehazi – Part Two

Part I Early Life

Growing Up in the Northern Kingdom

As a youth living west of the great, steep river that divides one land from another, I experienced life in the same way any average child of poverty and need normally would. In my small village of Mehola, many children suffered daily, others only suffered from time to time. Though my father was a poor laborer and my mother was generally sick, I remember feeling that I was somewhat wealthy compared to my less fortunate friends who frequently came to my house to join my family for holy days so they could eat a bit more than they normally were able to. I was not frequently lacking for food, but my flaw was probably an oversized hunger for the regard of others. As you who listen to my story might realize, one who yearns for the admiration of others can sometimes find themselves unfavorably proud and unliked. I admit that this, at times, was me. There were children who I knew who may have admired me for my unspoken but obvious aspirations, but I now realize that many were simply put off by my airs. Very sad, but there’s little I can do about this now. As I look backwards at my youth from the perspective of an old man I am embarrassed to admit that I saw myself in the story of the young boy Joseph who told his older brothers that he saw them all bowing down to him. As the reader probably recalls, Joseph was the son of our father Jacob and his most-beloved wife, Rachel, and was treasured by the old man. This advantage, combined with Joseph’s unusual natural abilities, created lots of jealousy in the hearts of his older brothers. They behaved treacherously to Joseph, but he overcame this and in time rose to the position of the top advisor to the Pharaoh of Egypt. His brothers eventually chose to bow to him as they were in great danger of starvation and he had silos full of grain. When I first heard this story from the priests in my village who told these old stories to children I admit that I felt great affinity with Joseph. Though I didn’t have older brothers, I imagined there were those in my community who were more privileged and aligned against me. I always expected that I would overcome this and have the same trajectory of life that Joseph did. After all, as a member of the Tribe of Manasseh, I was actually a direct descendant! The people in my village would see me and the blessings I would bring them and would admit that I was special, just like our forefather. Sometimes I have wondered if many other young people think this way about themselves. During the still moments when I’m being exceptionally honest with myself, I doubt that many feel this as strongly as I did. As I grew, I learned to work in a wide variety of trades, developing numerous useful skills. I was fortunate to attain to a body that was strong and tall and I expect that my looks were adequate. All this helped me as I imagined myself to be fitting into some notable role that The God and my society would have predetermined for me. This seeking for something greater was probably the most dominant characteristic of my young life and is most likely the reason why I have both attained status and suffered greatly in my life. Mehola was a pretty fair place to grow up considering its small size and ever-present danger from enemies of our people. A stream that was also called Mehola ran just a few hundred steps to the west of the main village all the way down to the great river across which Joshua led the tribes into their rest. Ha! Rest. That’s certainly something to think about now. The God said to my forefathers fighting for their life in the desert, My presence will go with you and I will give you rest. I do not really understand what the scriptures mean by rest, but I’m suspicious that regardless of its definition, it has through some machination eluded me my whole life. But let me stop with this subject right here. I apologize for the diversion. Perhaps I’m just struggling today with the ways of The God and I’m simply indulging the more self-centered parts of my nature that still remain, after all these years. Let me return to describing my village. My goal is to reveal a bit of what it was like to grow up here because I do hope that this will help you, the reader, to understand me. What better way can there be than to see a man’s formative setting? The most important feature of our village by far was our local stream. The stream provided our water, of course, but it was also a wonderful place for little boys to splash each other and catch frogs. Many of our activities were centered on the stream, for it was the source of our lives, both physical and social. In the summer, the stream was reduced to a series of connected water holes that provided opportunities to swim and cool off from the heat of the day. Occasionally, large fish that had worked their way upstream during the spring floods could be caught in these water holes. Catching one of these was a momentous time for us boys. It was good fun for the wealthier ones, but it might have sustained the whole family of the poorer ones that night. Our village was situated just west of the Jordan River, south of where it merges with its tributary, the Brook Cherith, that flows from the east. This placed us conveniently midway between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, where much salt was mined for trade with the East. Sometimes our men would make the trek north to Galilee to catch fish to sell in the village. Other men from my town spent much of their lives traveling south to work as labor in the salt mines. The nearest city to us was Beit She’an, which was well-known primarily because it was where our enemies hung the broken bodies of our first King and his sons after defeating them in a grisly battle many years ago. Farmlands dotted the region around my village, of course, centered primarily on the areas where our stream would swell and expand during the rainy season and leave fertile bottomlands behind. Much of our lives’ activities in the village revolved around these cycles for reasons that were primarily agricultural. Growing up, I found jobs working for many of our farms doing various types of skilled and unskilled labor. This is how most boys in my village lived. The God had written many things in His books about the land and my people saw themselves as the ones who tended his garden. There was much good in this approach, at least when the people were being faithful to The God. Though it was small and relatively insignificant, there were always plenty of opportunities in a village like ours and a tribe like the one we all belonged to. Our village was located in the nation of Israel within the boundaries of the Tribe of Manasseh. This nation was also known as the Northern Kingdom of Israel. This implies that there was a southern kingdom, which is correct, but we simply called it Judah. The two nations were related and had previously been one nation under the great Kings. The split occurred after the death of King Solomon, who I have always heard was the greatest and wisest king who ever lived. I don’t know if this is true, but it is what all the older people said when I was a child. Our nation before the split consisted of twelve tribes, but after the split, ten of the tribes formed the Northern Kingdom and two of the tribes formed Judah. Some of this I learned from our motley village priests, even though they preferred to educate the wealthy children over the poor ones. They also had a tendency to present a rather incomplete picture of the worship of The God, something I realized in my later years was because they were not true Levitical priests. Most of the sons of Aaron had fled Israel for Judah after the nations split. Even though we were cousins with Judah, there was a lot of strife and even bloodshed in our two nations’ relationship. We sometimes heard that Judah took the worship of The God more seriously than we did and took great offense that the first King of Israel made changes to the religion to prevent the clans of Israel from traveling to the Temple of The God in Jerusalem. What replaced the Temple sacrifices were two golden bull images that exist in two of our cities, Bethel and Dan. It was certainly much more convenient, I think, to go to the closest of these two cities to do our sacrifices. I may not remember this correctly, but I don’t think that most of us considered the golden bulls to be equivalent with the Temple, though. I knew, even at a young age, that the Temple was built by Solomon and that The God actually lived there! As a child this was astonishing to me because our village priests had not given me any confidence that The God was overly interested in us. I was a child when I first heard of the Prophet. He wasn’t the Prophet, yet, of course, but he was a highly regarded young adult in my village. We were in the same tribe, of course, so we had many connections. He lived outside the village on his father’s farm, a place where I found work from time to time in my youth. The Prophet was well on the way to inheriting the land and taking over the farm as its master, for his father was old and ailing. Many young women in the area would have accepted his attention, but he was truly focused on the mastery of his family trade. I think the older men who lingered near the gate of the village hoping to look important also found the Prophet to be impressive in his early adulthood. On at least one occasion, he was dragged into their endless schemes to be relevant to the leadership of the tribe. My father regarded these men as Princes on Earth, though, due to their age and wealth and perhaps even due to their obvious idleness. I remember him telling me, Gehazi, I should be there with those men advising the council. I understand how the world works because I see it from the bottom. This was a common refrain in my life that I probably learned from my father; jealousy of those who seemed to be better positioned combined with a driving desire to be fully accepted by them. I suppose this caused me to pay more attention than would have been normal of a youth to how the village was organized and who the important players were. I’m unclear whether this was of benefit to me or not. One day during my childhood, I remember my father coming home from his work with an amazing story that he couldn’t wait to share with my mother and us children. I’m certain that the reason this particular incident was so fascinating to him was because it involved political gamesmanship and the triumph of a true underdog. I didn’t know it at the time, but this story also sealed my future with The Prophet, and of course my great sins and later disappointments. On that fateful day, we all heard my father’s footsteps approaching at the usual time, but notably, he wasn’t dragging his feet in exhaustion like he normally did. Instead, we discerned that he was actually running home from work while loudly repeating short exclamations over and over. My mother met him at the door, puzzled at his behavior. Yes, my love, I have interesting news! was what I remember hearing him say as he rushed into the house. He set down some packages he was carrying and reclined in his favorite chair with a look of sheer glee on his face. He began by reminding my mother of the widow of his fellow laborer Uriah. This man was a master mason and had been an important influence in my father’s life. As an older man with great skills, he had provided my father with great counsel when needed as well as training in stonemasonry and other important skills. When he died in a work accident two years previously, he had left his wife and some young adult children without much of an income. A minor village scandal had ensued, where multiple men with power had made attempts to manipulate this poor widow out of her holdings. The land she was left by Uriah was not large in comparison with many plots, but it was located in a very strategic place for trade. She had no interest whatsoever in relinquishing it, however, and fought back with a vigor and violence that was not thought possible. Everyone in the village knew that the powerful men in the tribe would win out eventually, but there was great speculation as to which one it would be. But on this day, something unusual happened which tilted the balance in the favor of the widow forever. Today, my father continued, slightly out of breath from anticipation, I was working on the repair of the old stone and brick walls around the outer defenses of the city, when I saw a huge cloud of dust rising in the distance in the direction of the road that approaches the village from the farms east of us near the great river. I thought, How curious, who would be coming to town from that region during the heat of the day? I thought nothing further of this and I went back to work. Here he paused and looked around at all of us, likely just to build tension for his story. Who was it? my mother broke in. Patience was not always one of her most identifiable virtues. It was rare that my father tolerated anyone seeking to participate in his conversations, but that day he must have been distracted by the surprising events that he was hoping to narrate to the family. He paused, thinking, and then continued with urgency. It was that muscular young farmer from outside the village, he blurted. His name is… what is it again? Here he paused to catch a breath. No one responded, so he continued. I can’t think of his name, but he is the son of Shaphat, who owns some land along the Mehola between here and the river. But can you guess how he came to town? Guess, Gehazi! Here he pointed at me. Was he naked? I guessed, once again exercising my unfortunate penchant for ill-conceived humor. My father slapped me in the head. Of course not, you donkey! my father shot back. He was riding an ox! At this, we all looked around at each other in surprise. This didn’t seem normal but we had heard stories of mighty men in our tribe who had been known to ride their oxen. After a pause to gauge our reaction, my father continued, saying, He rode his father’s largest ox all the way to the center of the village to the house where the widow of Uriah lives. You know, all the men in the council have been trying to get her to give up the property on the cheap, because its location would be an excellent one for business due to it’s proximity to the stream and the main road. My mother nodded acknowledgement. But when he got to her land, my father gushed, he did something very daring! He hitched his ox to her plow-rig and began plowing furrows as if he intended to plant. He worked like a wind storm and the sweat flew off him like rain. The scene was incredible and I could see something like hope in the faces of all the poor laborers who stood with me, watching in awe. More people began arriving and gathering because as you know, the widow has not been able to plant in two years. Finally, some of the great men from the tribe arrived. You know them, the kind who cheat orphans and widows. They seemed quite troubled by what they were witnessing. One of those strange wandering priests from Judah stopped by to watch and I heard him tell my friend Obadiah, I think he must be a kinsman. He is redeeming her land. And for certain, it turns out that is exactly what the young man was doing. He planted her fields and redeemed the land. No one had troubled themselves to look in the tribe’s records to see if she had any kinsmen nearby. Of course, the big men are extremely angry about this. It was a very impulsive and daring thing to do, for this sort of thing hasn’t happened in a long time. The son of Shaphat must be very knowledgeable in the old scripture writings, because how else would he have known to do this. Even though people in this town don’t pay enough attention to the old religion any more, no one would be brave enough to counter his claim now. I listened closely to all of this discussion and had my own opinions. This son of Shaphat was clearly unusual and his bravery and daring were extremely exciting to a boy of my age!

Looking for Purpose

As I grew up from child to young man enveloped in this dully unremarkable small town, I followed the footsteps of many who passed into adulthood before me. My training consisted of learning to do whatever jobs I could convince someone to hire me for. As I mentioned earlier, many of these were agricultural in nature, and eventually my increasing skill made it clear to all that I would step directly into my father’s footsteps. This was not completely disappointing to me or anyone else, for ambition wasn’t something my village understood. One did what one must, largely absent any broader sense of purpose. I was proud of my growing abilities, but deep down I hoped for something much better for my life. In most of our nation, religion was all around us to provide meaning. Indeed, we breathed in a sea of religion. Our traditional system of belief was profound and sometimes terrifying but we all were deeply saturated in it. The religions of the nations that surrounded us, though, were also very desirable by many of my people. It was not uncommon for people to practice these heathen religions in secret. Often, too, the foreign gods were fused with our own worship in a way that was intended to attract little formal notice. The reason for this was that we were impatient and sometimes preferred a god who could be bribed. The God who was the traditional God of my tribe was much harder to serve than these other gods, for He demanded a righteousness and loyalty that did not come naturally to us. He was also impossible to manipulate. Either due to or despite His inflexibility, the worship of The God continued in my village and in the nearby regions, but it felt like most people saw this worship as an inconvenient and inescapable part of the culture. This seemed sad, though, because I intrinsically knew that this worship could give one a sense of purpose that the worship of the other nations’ fickle and changeable gods could not. One person who appeared to be extremely comfortable in the religion of The God was the young farmer, Eli, whose name and nature gradually became very familiar to me as I worked with him in his fields more and more often. He seemed to navigate our complicated religion very smoothly, something I had no small amount of jealousy about. He also attracted attention in our community because he was taller with broader shoulders than anyone for miles around. His face was wide with sharp features and frequently broke into irreverent grins. His muscular frame, built through long hours working with oxen in the fields, gave the appearance of great vitality, while his long jet-black beard showed that he still had youth. He had gone prematurely bald at some point in his younger years and there was very little hair remaining on the top of his head. Because of all this, he cut quite a figure in town. In his unique way, however, he did not spend much time trying to impress others. I admired the way that he moved through our society without much self-consciousness for even at that young age I was already embarrassed to realize that much of my energy was aimed at impressing the observers around me. Eli’s attention was on his work and the production of his farm and was clearly not on building wealth and renown. Living like this, he showed himself to be confident of his place and standing with The God in a way that was admirable to me. He even seemed to understand how to communicate with Him, something I was jealous of. I felt a strong need to get to know Eli better, thinking that if I did, perhaps I would understand life better and spend less time in self-absorption about my own position and future. To my credit, perhaps, or possibly simply due to being drawn by The God, I acted upon this pull and began to focus my attention and labor upon support of Eli’s farm. I would rise early in the mornings, eat quickly, and head out before the rising of the sun so I could pass by the many closer farms and make my way to Eli’s in the hope that he would choose me for whatever work was needed that day. In time, Eli began to select me whenever I was present. We spent much time working in the fields together and I took every opportunity to speak with him and learn from him. I believe that this was a time that I grew much in self-knowledge and maturity. Over time spent with the young farmer, I truly began to imagine that I was beginning to overcome my need for the regard of others. Though my intent had been unclear at first, I began noticing that I was now understanding deeper things that I had never previously been interested in pursuing. I would find myself in small reveries from time to time and occasionally visions would come to me. These experiences, though exciting, were very unsatisfactory. I would have the sense at the time that they were important but afterwards I could never remember anything notable about them. As you may imagine, this was a great source of frustration to me. I think my parents noticed some small changes in me though, and perhaps even our neighbors could see a difference. I started to notice their behaviors changing towards me. I recall that there was a bit of whispering at times when I would return at the end of a long day at Eli’s farm taking care of the animals, maintaining the irrigation canals, or even planting the crops that our village relied on. I took pride in the signs that the community found me worth noticing, but I especially reveled in my association with this great young farmer. I was interested in his character, his perspective on life, and his ability to communicate with The God. I discovered that he was generous to a fault, he loved to teach and share from the deep wells of his knowledge, he instinctively and fiercely protected the weak and needy, but also that he was possessed of a painfully quick temper and was not someone to toy with. Many other things that I learned about Eli I only now recognize that I failed to internalize at the time. Looking back, I suspect despite my great growth, there were elements of my season working with Eli on the land that were purely and unaccountably selfish. Perhaps in my mind I was scheming about ways I could use the knowledge of The God to better place myself in the community? As I have learned is common in many lives, if my focus had been less on myself, I see now that my path may have been very different. But The God requires us to learn our lessons individually in our own times and ways, and the place that I am now is where He has brought me.

The Call Arrives

The year that I saw eighteen summers found me spending all my time on Eli’s farm. He had come to rely upon me during the planting and maintenance seasons and when harvest came near, he sent me out to all the nearby villages to recruit the year’s harvest workers. I was truly enjoying the work and continued to benefit from proximity to the great young farmer. In the life of the farm it was extremely important to be well-versed in the annual cycle of work that had governed my people’s lives for centuries or even more. This influenced everything we did. The year would begin with maintenance of the terraces and irrigation walls that allowed us to flood the fields with rainwater we collected in huge catch basins. This was important, but was also extremely hard work. The farm was completely reliant on preserving this water. If it escaped, the newly planted crops would die during the summer. After irrigation maintenance, we would do the first round of sowing in the hopes of catching the early rains. Eli and I followed the oxen as they pulled the scratch plows that opened the soil a few inches deep for the barley grains we would drop in. This first round of planting often took a month or so. A second round of planting took place afterwards, when we set the summer wheat and other crops like lentils or garlic. Throughout this time we would take care of the fig trees in the rocky parts of the farm and the pomegranate trees. Sheep and goats were kept nearer to the house for protection from wild animals, so frequently I repaired their pens and moved them to grassy areas. It was a busy life and I enjoyed it. If The God had allowed, I might have continued in this role for the remainder of my life. As Passover approached, we prepared for the winter barley harvest, something that would take up most of our days. I enjoyed this time because we moved our tents out to the fields and spent our time with harvest helpers from the village. The winter wheat harvest followed close behind and usually ended with the Feast of Weeks, something my people celebrated in the wilderness seven weeks after leaving Egypt. The pomegranate harvest also coincided with another of our great feasts, the Feast of Tabernacles. Much of our work lives intertwined with our history and our religion, and this provided comfort and a sense of belonging to the people and to the land. My Grandfather had been a farm laborer and had lived like this, as had my father after him. Through this work and the care and maintenance of the land, I gradually learned to see my place with them, not only with my family, but also with the history of my entire tribe. The land was entrusted to the tribe by The God and from generation after generation we took delight in improving it. As I grew in years, I began to fully understand my place in this but my secret desires to have a great place in the village remained in the back of my mind. One day early in our agricultural year, I started work around first light near the catch basins that were dug out in the higher areas of the farm among the hills. These had been lined with rock and filled with gravel and sand so they would hold water for months out of the year. Each had rock walls defining their perimeter and gates that could be manually opened when it came time to flood the fields below. That day my job was to repair the rock walls and the gate which I recalled from the previous year’s work were all due maintenance. As the morning passed, I found myself sweating profusely while stacking new rock during the middle of a relatively warm day. Due to the weariness I was feeling I wasn’t paying very good attention to what was going on around me. I stumbled on a rock and suddenly felt a hand upon my shoulder. At that point everything became black and my thoughts lifted away from my sweaty brow and departed my body. My vision shifted from my eyes to elsewhere and in these eyes of my mind I recognized myself to be dropping down through a long, dark passage into the rocky ground where I was standing moments earlier. I realized to my great surprise that my body was now small and insignificant in the depths of shadow through which I descended. How long I passed through this cave, I can not tell you, but at some point, light returned and I gratefully emerged into it. At this point, I’m not ashamed to admit, I was quite terrified at what was happening to me. I searched around anxiously and observed myself to be surrounded by a kind of desert quite unlike the terrain of my home. Towering mountains of the deepest blues and purples surrounded the vast, heartless waves of sand rolling off in every direction to meet the mountains. Though at first they seemed impenetrable, I watched a narrow pass began to open up through the mountains and I could sense that I was moving towards it at a shocking rate. As I sped towards the heart of the mountains, the way I followed became very distinct from the desert around it due to the startlingly rapid growth of blood red flowers along the edges of what appeared to be a highway emerging from the swirling sands of the pass. The color became deeper and more unearthly and my soul could sense something of the muted joy elevating between the many different families of plants, trees, and vines that were exploding into view, somehow working together to efficiently paint the path through the mountains with colors so beautiful that I had never suspected their existence. Along the way and outside the chaotic growth of red and green I could now see the beginnings of striking hues of blue-green, as a raging forest of cedars began to rise and cast magnificent shadows over the rising highway. As I proceeded forward along the path, I could somehow sense that something terrible or wonderful was coming from a great distance down the highway towards me and my heart froze into brittle-blue ice in its anxiety. Assuredly a fierce and fiery joy (or perhaps a mischief?) was approaching, unlike anything I had ever known or wondered about. I can’t explain why, and it sounds foolish as I recount it, but I had an unaccountable feeling that the mountains were trembling with anticipation for whatever would soon arrive. Suddenly, bright waters began roaring down the mountains, racing each other to be the first to reach the highway and meet the oncoming Joy. The waters deftly organized into dual rivers rushing adjacent to the path, stretching out thin fingers into the deep desert. Wherever these newly-born streams rushed along, the living greens and reds followed as flora burst to life in the formerly dead soil. I felt as if I had for the first time in my life seen true water, for everything I had experienced before paled in comparison. The rivers sang with a voice produced by their playful dashing about of rocks and boulders that had been dry for centuries but now lended their own song to that of the river. Despite the joyous scene emerging, the presence waited patiently and did not arrive, eagerly hesitant just out of sight. Suddenly, to my great despair, my vision fled as I was startled back to the colorless, pitiless desert of my own experience by a strong but friendly hand on my left shoulder. Eli was standing there looking at me with a grin and a curious expression. Before I was able to explain, he cut in, No need to speak. I’ve been seeing it too. After the fall harvests, Eli came to my tent one night with a look of resolve and told me directly, Gehazi, as I was plowing near the road I received some news about a new direction. I have placed the farm in reliable hands because I must depart. You may stay on at the farm after I leave if you wish, for I know that your life has become one with the land. I have been called to travel and journey across the land and will no longer be a farmer. I nodded my head in surprise. I agreed that the farm had been the cycle around which my existence had revolved. How could anything change? But Eli continued as I snapped back to attention, hearing his voice as if from a distant place. Or, as I would prefer, you could come with me and serve me in my new role. A small, dusky screech owl noiselessly floated from out of the deep darkness and landed on the branch of a sprawling terebinth somewhere behind me. It’s half-croaking call echoed into the canyons as I considered this new potential direction. I couldn’t hear any sound when it flew off into the jet-black night in search of its mate. I have always been one who is keen on change, so it might have been surprising to anyone who knew me that I struggled for a few moments, hesitating about the decision to follow this great man and assist him with whatever new call awaited him. He didn’t explain details of the new direction then or for quite a long time. Regardless, deep within me, I felt committed to whatever the call would be. I have always been unable to explain to myself, much less anyone else, why I was able to feel peace and clarity about this life-changing decision, but it was a peace that I experienced only once or twice more in my life regarding challenging decisions. I wish to add this thought here for the benefit of my grandson. There were many decisions I should have avoided in my life due to the lack of this peace. Stay vigilant to protect yourself from these times of temptation! I informed my family of my decision and change of direction after returning to my home that very night. They seemed very surprised at first, but I knew that they were also relieved to see me remain in the service of this great but unusual young man. I can’t explain it to you, but he had a manner that encouraged extreme confidence and trust, and my family completely believed in his greatness. The next day, Eli and I set out on our mission in pursuit of the legendary Prophet Elijah, the seer of The God.

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