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Trouble With Syrians
It was in Capernaum that we heard of the impending arrival of a great Syrian army from the north. We did not learn this right away, though, for as usual, we discovered that there were locals in Capernaum who were eagerly expecting our appearance and they quickly led us to the place they had arranged for us to stay. This was yet another example of the oft-related strangeness of traveling with the Prophet. Just like his predecessor Elijah, he never seemed to plan anything at all. As someone who liked to plan things, this, of course, drove me crazy but I knew better than to speak of it. The Prophet would just say something like, Today we go to Bethel, Gehazi please get the donkey loaded. Then we would simply go and I would find that there was someone waiting for us there with a need the Prophet could address. Now at my advanced age I possess hard-earned knowledge that provides the insight that The God and Elisha must have been constantly communicating and The God was simply preparing the path that Elisha obediently followed. I did not understand this at all at the time. How impatient and unseeing I was as a young man! Once we were settled in a pleasant house that had a view of the Sea of Galilee the young, dark-headed man who had met us at the edge of the city returned and took Elisha away to a meeting or something. Stay behind and rest and take time to enjoy the day, the Prophet gently directed as he walked out into the night with the young man. So I did. I unloaded our provisions for the donkey and got things ready for a late dinner in case the Prophet returned hungry. As it turned out, he was fed by the man who took him away, so I was the only one that was hungry when the Prophet returned. He looked at me and said, We need to prepare ourselves. I think that we may intercede with the Syrian king in a few days. If he was confident about this diplomatic mission, he did not show it. What I observed was the man I used to know who might have been uncertain about which crops to plant or whether to do maintenance to a field. I was able to help him with decisions during those days, but since his transformation into the Prophet of The God, I hadn’t been able to help him in the ways that my pride wished that I could. Should we buy weapons? I asked, attempting to demonstrate my great usefulness. No, this is not that kind of mission, he replied kindly with a sideways grin. I’m not sure what The God will ask of me, but I’ll discover that when the time comes. I did not imagine that I would be treating with foreign armies, however, when The God placed me under His protection. He laughed, paused and continued, We will both see what The God will call us to do. And that was all that was said about this notable subject that night. I was very disturbed by all of it. I also never expected to be supporting a diplomatic mission with a nation as cruel as the Syrians. The rumors of the destruction and evils performed by their army raced headlong across the entire country. I thought about our poor friend Jeremiah who had been murdered by the Syrians, leaving a bereft wife and fatherless children, it was said. I did not sleep much that night, fighting against a mind racing ahead of my fear and despairing about what might lie ahead. Speaking of fear, I find it interesting now to think about the many things I feared when I was younger. Normally, the emotion turned out to have been misapplied to something that did not warrant the energy I allocated to it. I have learned much through my many years, and I suspect so will you, dear reader. When I finally slept that night, it was to a tantalizing dream that took me back to the green valley surrounded by desert and the deep longing that waited just out of sight. The vision was unclear that night, as if I was perceiving something shimmering at the bottom of a lake. We rested many more days in Capernaum, something I was quite grateful for. The men who took care of us in the city were kind and good and provided us a much-needed time of rest. When we left the town, there was no sign of these men or any other citizens of the town. The streets were completely empty as we departed and we made our way alone to the ford of the Jordan river as it entered the Sea of Galilee on its journey downward from the mountains. The water was low and we crossed with ease to the Eastern side of the river in preparation for our journey north. There was no need for the Prophet to part the waters for us to cross, something that disappointed me somewhat. We traveled quite a distance north along the east bank of the Jordan, choosing to remain in the territory of the tribe of Naphtali rather than move further west into lands controlled by the Syrians. Our goal was to reach the city of Dan, a place of good size in the northern-most reaches of Israel, situated at the foot of the snowy Mount Hermon. North of Mount Hermon lay the lands of Syria, including the great and ancient city of Damascus. I did not know the details of our mission at the time, but eventually we learned that there would be an envoy from the Syrian King, Ben-Hadad, waiting for us at a location on the eastern slopes of the mountain. The Prophet assured me that we would stop in Dan for a time before proceeding to the place where we would meet the Syrian emissary. I was grateful that our travels remained uneventful as we skirted the Syrian territory and followed the Jordan northward. Once we reached the outskirts of Dan, we were met by a group of men who took us to the home of a family that would feed and shelter us. The leader of this group was a man I recognized as one of the members of the Sons of the Prophets who I had not seen since the transition from Elijah to Elisha at the Jordan River. He appeared very excited to see us and spoke some quiet words to Elisha just out of my earshot. Yes, I understand, Elisha told him. I believe that’s one of the reasons we are here. The young man seemed relieved and nodded earnestly. I will make sure that she is aware. Then he ran off. The next morning, the Prophet woke me early as he prepared for the day. This wasn’t usual, for it was typically me who woke first, so I took some notice. Why are you up so early, master, I asked, staggering quickly to my feet. I have a meeting soon, he replied as I waved off his offer to help me stand up. I’d like you to go with me. I want you to see the hand of The God. Elisha sometimes did something like this for my benefit. I think that he often suspected that I wasn’t able to wholly believe in or understand his ministry and he wanted me to be able to. I agreed and we left within the hour. The young man from the night before materialized in front of us from behind a small house. Thank you for communicating to her, Baruch, the Prophet began. I hope she is prepared? I had no idea what the two were talking about, so I remained silent. We continued toward whatever our objective was. After ten minutes we arrived at a small, dust-covered house, where two young boys met us enthusiastically. Hearing the noise, a woman also came out of the house. She looked exhausted and tentative. When she welcomed us into her residence, we passed through the entry and I looked around. On every surface sat clay jars of the type that people generally use to contain their olive oil. There were hundreds of these. I looked up at the Prophet in surprise. Hello, Dinah, he began, while casually strolling around the room and inspecting the jars. Our friend Baruch has told me about the evil thing that happened to your family. I’m so sorry about your husband’s death. As you know, Jeremiah was with me frequently and served well. Now I recognized what was going on, for a group of men who I recognized had just also entered the room. All of them had been with us at the River Jordan when the two Prophets had crossed over and one had returned. I quickly understood that this was the home of the family of the slain young prophet. Man of God, the woman began, her voice not fully under control, I am without recourse here. Your servant, my husband, was deeply in debt because he spent many hours in your school of the prophets and now I am holding all of his bills! The man we owe is not a follower of The God, but instead, like many of our people, believes only in wealth. He has told me that he will take my sons today as slaves if I cannot repay the debts. These men (here she gestured at the sons of the prophets in the room) have been trying to help me, but like me, they have no money or power in our community. Here she suddenly stopped speaking. Tears stood in her eyes, but her gaze never left the Prophet. I understand, Dinah, the Prophet responded. His voice carried an excess of emotion as well. The God has told me to tell you this, he continued. Go take your household jar of olive oil and bring it to me. Dinah did so and the prophet held it up. It is nearly empty, she stated blankly. It is the last thing of any value that I have. This is a mystery then, the Prophet said with a kind smile, for this jar seems quite full to me. He handed it back to her and her face took on a look of true amazement. So it is! she cried in astonishment. Now, Dinah, here’s what I want you to do, the Prophet resumed. From this jar you handed me, fill up all of those empty vessels that I instructed Baruch to help you to find. Fill one, and then move to the other. Let me know when you run out of oil jars. He motioned to me and we walked out of her home. The Prophet told her young sons that she might need some help inside and they rushed to comply. Then he spoke to me, Now Gehazi, you have seen lots of unbelievable works from The God and I think every time you have justified them in some way that is convenient for your mind. You have a small time left where The God can reach your heart, but I fear for you. Please pay attention to this. You know this oil of the olive is so important to our lives. We use it to create light in our lamps, we can use it to cook our food, we even sanctify our priests and anoint our kings with it, for it is a sign of the wealth and the life that The God provides. Here this poor widow has nearly run out of this life, but due to the mercy of The God, you will soon see that she will have life abundant. You, yourself are coming to the end of the store of oil that The God has granted you and my wish for you is that you would allow The God to fill it to overflowing. But I fear you will not. Stop, lets go look. I was somewhat overcome by this interaction with the Man of God and was unable to formulate any sort of idea why he expressed it to me this way. But when we re-entered the widow’s house, I could see her rejoicing with her sons. The other men, who had all stepped out of the home when we did, returned and began rejoicing too. I walked around the room and looked at the formerly empty jars and found that not only were they full now, most of them had oil overflowing their narrow spouts. The Prophet motioned for quiet. Before your life and joy were nearly lost, but look! Now you have life overflowing. Dinah, go out and sell all of the extra jars of olive oil in the market for a good price. You will find that you have more than enough to pay your husband’s debt. The look on the widow’s face was shocking. With that one expression I could see the sadness and mourning instantly replaced with a sense of joy that I realized I had never personally experienced, but which The God kept dangling in front of me in my visions. For it was very obvious to me that the triumph I could see in her face right now was a picture of what remained just out of sight in my vision of the desert highway in bloom. I will not ever know the full reason for our long journey up to Dan, but the miracle that occurred in the house of the wife of the prophet was certainly part of it. The remaining reasons begin to emerge shortly after. A mysterious messenger came to the Prophet one morning very early and he roused me. Gehazi, quick, lets get ready for travel! As I mentioned earlier, it was normal for me to wake up before the Prophet and then prepare for the day before waking him, so once again this was surprising. I hurried about my usual morning tasks and before long, we were headed north from Dan with our donkey. I asked where we were headed. To Mount Hermon, the Prophet replied. We have a special meeting with someone there. I believe it will change the way Israel responds to Syrian aggression. This sounded good to me, for that enemy nation had caused our people to truly suffer through both war and famine. Our journey to Mount Hermon fortunately turned out to be uneventful. Five of the Sons of the Prophets from Dan joined us in the journey. Now that I was starting to appreciate their company, their presence made the traveling pleasant because I enjoyed learning from them about this part of the country. On the second day after leaving Dan, the terrain began to be steep and rocky and the travel became exhausting. I couldn’t help but notice that the Prophet kept staring off into the distance up the slope. Eventually we found a rough trail that was of the type that timber cutters used. According to one one of the prophets, the cedars on Mount Hermon were prized symbols of luxury and wealth and indeed, had been used in large quantities in the construction of King David’s house as well as the Temple in Jerusalem. This was somewhat interesting to me. I could not discern where we were heading up this trail, but I recalled that the Prophet had received a mysterious message so I assumed that he knew where the meeting place would be. The Sons of the Prophets apparently felt no concern at all about our destination. As best as I could tell, they were always just happy to be near to the Man of God. In time we reached the meeting place. This was a large flat spot overlooking the rocky terrain on three sides. It was roughly halfway up the slope of Mount Hermon and provided an excellent place for a clandestine meeting. The site was not visible from below and it provided an excellent view of all the trails leading up to it. We spied a group of three men who were obviously waiting for us and the Prophet held up a hand to signal us to stop. As we soon discovered, the person we were to meet was not the emissary from the Syrian King that we had expected. Rather, he was a tall man dressed in black from head to toe with small golden charms dangling from his sleeves and woven belt. He wore a black veil to hide his face and was attended by three traveling companions who were similarly dressed. Though we couldn’t see his face, when he spoke, we realized that he was a very aged man. This was a very exciting mystery to me! We are a small remnant of the former Priests of Ba’al who served Queen Jezebel in the past, the older man in charge began, raising his right arm as if in a salute to the Prophet. We have traveled from Israel to places far distant in order to do penance. One day the word of The True God came to us and told us to flee from our band of false priests who served the Queen and warred with the Prophet of the time. We were very sensitive to The God’s voice and realized we must obey or die. This message came just in time, for it spared us from the destruction that fell upon Jezebel’s priests by the hand of The God working through the great Prophet who opposed the King and the Queen. We have spent time most recently in Damascus and have a message from The God and a token that will be very important for the survival of Israel. The famine will continue and the Syrians will seek to destroy the nation, but The God has chosen to intervene. Here he stopped and held up a golden ring at eye level. This is the signet of King Ben-Hadad, he continued. It fell into our possession through a strange set of circumstances in Damascus. The God has sent us to provide it to you, for when it is in your possession, The God will grant you access to the thoughts of Ben-Hadad himself. You will be able to use this gift to prepare Israel for his intended onslaughts. With the message complete, the three mysterious priests promptly turned to leave by the trail from which they had arrived. The Prophet spoke, Wait for a short time! I doubt that you will be seen in Israel again. The black-clad priests nodded in agreement. We have places to go far to the East, their leader said. The God wishes that men from countries who have forgotten Him would have a reminder. We seek to do whatever part He places in front of us and our deepest hope is that serving Him well may undo some of the damage we caused through our misguided past service of the Ba’als. We will not pass through Israel again but perhaps in time distant those who inherit our ministry will return. We’re grateful to have met the successor of the ancient Man of God of Israel. With these words, the priests departed single-file down the path from where they came. The Prophet motioned for us to head back down the mountain in the direction of Dan. I am already sensing what is in the head of the Syrian King, he noted and laughed as he tucked the King’s ring into his robes. I was told that we would be meeting an emissary from the King of Syria. It does seem that that turns out to have been the case, but a more unlikely emissary I have never seen. I suspect the King of Syria will wish these men never went out from Damascus! At that, the Prophet became silent and I realized that questioning him further about the strange events of the day would be futile. Once we returned to Dan, the Prophet called me aside and prepared me for the message I was to deliver to the King of Israel in Samaria. After you have delivered this message, he told me, come and meet me in Dothan. I agreed to do so, and armed with the message to the King from the Man of God, I departed. I thought about my ancestor Joseph and the meetings he must have had with the Pharaoh and was momentarily proud.