A Present to the Prophet

8 And the king said unto Hazael, Take a present in thine hand, and go, meet the man of God, and enquire of the LORD by him, saying, Shall I recover of this disease?
9 So Hazael went to meet him, and took a present with him, even of every good thing of Damascus, forty camels’ burden, and came and stood before him, and said, Thy son Benhadad king of Syria hath sent me to thee, saying, Shall I recover of this disease?
2 Kings 8:8-9.
  1. Introduction
A king had severe health problems.  He was so anxious to know his status and his future that he sent a high-powered diplomatic delegation to Israel, headed by a very senior state officer, Hazael.  He knew of a prophet in Israel who could see the future.   Benhadad of Syria was that king.

  1. A Good Present
King Benhadad did not send his delegation empty handed; he sent them with “a present.”  The present comprised “every GOOD thing of Damascus.”   “GOOD thing” would suggest that the ‘things’ were carefully selected to ensure that nothing in the pack was less than good; they were scrutinised to eliminate the bad and the ugly; they were deliberately selected to match both the royal status of the giver and the giver’s estimation of the receiver.  Benhadad could have sent ‘anything,’ but no, he sent a collection of “every good thing” manufactured in his land, specifically in Damascus the capital city of his kingdom.
  1. A Collection of Goodies
Benhadad sent “a present” comprising EVERY good thing of Damascus.”  “Every” would suggest that the good things came in their different sizes, different colours, different designs, different models of assorted materials; garments (of different fabrics and designs), food (of various tastes), jewelleries (in divers patters), perfumes (of different fragrances), ointments (of endless textures); each good “thing” in its several specs and assortments.  In other words, not only was the present GOOD, it also comprised VARIETIES; it was a sampling of “every” good item that Syria was famous for.
  1. A Convoy of Cargoes
Forty camels, wow!  Forty camel-loads of “every good thing”?  How could anyone describe so much as just “A present” – singular?  How can FORTY be ‘singular’ – “a”?  Not only were there forty camels, each camel carried a “burden,” meaning that each camel was substantially loaded, or overloaded; yet somebody describes all of that just as “a” present?  Is that how very lightly the giver considered what he was sending to that prophetic specialist, for just one consultation – to simply “ENQUIRE of the LORD”?  Well, somebody might say, if it was so ‘simple,’ why didn’t the king ‘enquire’ himself and get the result he wanted.  I don’t know.
Camels were the trucks or trailers of those days, so a caravan of forty camels then would be like saying a convoy of forty trucks today.  I ask again, all of that to a single man of God for just one simple ‘enquiry’?  Where was the prophet going to put so much international cargo?  In what kind of house did that prophet live?  (Maybe somebody might ask me again, “Is it your business where he keeps what is his?”)  Maybe Elisha lived in a mansion or some sort of a warehouse, otherwise where was he going to put all that stuff if he lived in the kind of cramped huts that are today prescribed for his contemporary colleagues in the name of holy missionary austerity?
  1. The Breakdown
So much is compressed in those two verses; so much that speaks about the giver and his gift.  For example,
  • good” – that speaks about the QUALITY of the present;
  • forty” – that speaks about the QUANTITY of the present;
  • every” – that speaks about the DIVERSITIES in the present;
  • Honourable “Hazael – that speaks about the eminent ‘PACKAGING’ and DELIVERY of the present;
  • of Damascus” – that speaks about the BRAND NAMES of the items making up the present;
  • man of God” – that speaks about the INTEGRITY and CHARACTER of the receiver;
  • thy son” – that speaks about the REVERENCE and TEMPERAMENT of the giverhis humble, cheerful, willing, unpressured and generous disposition.
  1. Consulting Conventions
Was it the protocol for enquirers to see or “meet” prophets in that fashion, with presents?  Maybe so, because the king, even though he was a non-Jew, did not think twice about it.  For Israelites, it seemed automatic.  When Saul was going to consult with the prophet Samuel, for example, he took steps to ensure that he did not go to request that prophet’s specialized services without due recompense; he ensured that there was at least “a present to bring to the man of God” (1 Samuel 9:7-8).  Even though the prophets themselves never charged fees for their services, it seemed conventional to not go audaciously consulting empty-handed with those spiritual specialists as if it were a matter of right that they should dispense ‘freely’ to the enquirer what they themselves have ‘freely received.’
  1. Family Affair
Would Elisha receive so much goods from a Gentile king?  The message described that king as a “son” to the prophet.  Could that prophet in Israel be father also to a Gentile?  Or was the messenger merely trying to be smart with words?  Was he trying to flatter the prophet when he described his boss in that way? Or did he know something about his boss’s connections with that prophet that everyone else did not know: “Thy son Benhadad king of Syria”?
My next worry: How could such a famous ADULT king humble, abase, debase himself (whichever you choose) to call himself a “son” of that clergyman – a foreigner?  So, Prophet Elisha not only had Jewish but also Gentile spiritual sons; sons in and outside of Israel; sons royal and sons hungry.  I see.  If all that one had read was chapter 4:38-40, one might have concluded that those hungry sons of the prophet were all the type he had.  Well, maybe the matter between the king and the prophet was family affair between a son and his father, and I had better taken my critical eyes and pen off them.
  1. Gossipy Headlines
Did Benhadad’s massive convoy of consignments catch the headlines of that day?  Did FaceScroll and WhatsHarp follow up to investigate the address to which the caravan was headed?  I am not sure that anyone lost their sleep about that prophet’s due pay for his specialised services which were often sought by the high and the lowly, from far and near.  When they themselves practised the same culture of reverence, they could not be distracted by Gentiles and others who were doing it, helping to cater for their own prophet.  I see.  Unfortunately, if that convoy of trucks had been driving down some church street today, the prophet might have had many questions to answer on the headlines of social media and in the gossip-courts of the marketplace.
  1. The Prophet’s Welfares
Pardon me, but the question comes back to me again, What was one mortal man going to do with 40-truckloads of diverse goods?  What did that prophet usually do with so much material goodwill from his spiritual clients at home and abroad?  Maybe part of the answer is what I find in 2 Kings 4:38-44, especially in verses 42-43:
42 And there came a man from Baalshalisha, and brought THE MAN OF GOD bread of the firstfruits, twenty loaves of barley, and full ears of corn in the husk thereof. And he said, GIVE UNTO THE PEOPLE, THAT THEY MAY EAT.
43 And his servitor said, What, should I set this before an hundred men? He said again, GIVE THE PEOPLE, THAT THEY MAY EAT: for thus saith the LORD, They shall eat, and shall leave thereof.
The prophet had a training school of “an hundred men” (an expression which could have been a euphemism for much more) whom he often fed.  Feeding MEN – not children – is no mean task.  Maybe such supplies as his son King Benhadad sent, was part of the means by which he sustained his training camp.  He alone did not eat all the “bread” that often came in (v.42); that bread also supported the in-house sons.  What the richer foreign sons sent from abroad usually helped to feed the materially weaker sons camped in the hostels of the ‘School of the Prophet,’ ‘sons’ (or trainee-prophets) who had no other means of sustenance than by their connections with the prophet.  Maybe those other in-house sons belonged to the category that today we would generally call ‘full time ministers.’  All that was part of the expansive landscape of the prophet’s charities. Three times between verses 41 and 43, we see the prophet bothering about what the people would eat, and we hear him saying, “Give unto THE PEOPLE, that THEY may eat.”  What a leader; what a father!  Some other leader might rather have said, “Give unto ME, even if the people starve.”
I wonder with what hungry, angry eyes those sons would have been watching Elisha their Daddy General Overseer from the slits in their rickety windows if he always put all the bread in his private account and ate alone while they starved; I wonder with what more zeal and motivation they would have gone on serving while he grew fat on all the bread and they grew thinner and thinner, scrounging the waste bins for breakfast with their sickly wives and dying children.  It looks like this prophet was a people’s man.  Even when the bread was hardly enough and there was more lack than there was supply, that “man of God” (as they fondly called him) would usually say, “Give THE PEOPLE [not ‘give me’], that THEY may eat: for thus saith the LORD, They shall eat, and shall leave thereof.”
  1. A Discreet Prophet’s Free Healing
Reading that story further, I see that Elisha did not live his life looking out for Benhadads or such other wealthy delegations.  For example, there was one other foreign diplomat who had also brought much goods in coming to consult with the prophet, but whose mouth-watering gifts God had told the prophet to not accept, to the mortal disappointment of Gehazi the prophet’s Personal Assistant.  That diplomat was Naaman, who was healed of chronic prolonged leprosy, and told to go back home with all his goods. In other words, sometimes the prophet received gifts, at other times he refused them in spite of greedy Gehazis who would think it was a mistake to not always take whatever came in.  I respect such men who know when to take and when not to; whom to receive from and whose to reject, even if it offended some.
  1. Selfless Connections of the Generous Prophet
I have also read of a wealthy Shunammite woman whose kindness Elisha would reciprocate with the following offer, “What can I do for you? Do you want me to speak on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?” (2 Kings 4:13, NKJV).  An offer like that so simply made suggests that the prophet had free access both to his king and to the powerful commander of the army.  Those were probably also ‘sons’ who would readily do his bidding and awaited the opportunity to do so if he would ever ask, but he never asked for himself; he was never going to use such privileged connections to solicit personal favours; he often used them to better the lives of others.  That personal discipline and life/ministry principle probably explains why he would rather trek the streets without a ‘private chariot’ of his own, without a lodge of his own, and was often seen doing so without being embarrassed by it, until one day the Shunammite woman saw his unspoken acute need, could bear it no longer, and came to his rescue after conferring with her husband (2 Kings 4:8-10).  Men like Elisha are rare today, who would have such privileged access yet not exploit it to their private advantage; priests of God who would rather choose to trudge the roads proudly than condescendingly solicit favours even from those who might be willing to offer it.  Thumbs up for Elisha.
  1. The Name of the Prophet
The prophet had a public name, especially among those that interacted with him.  They called him “the man of God.”  That says much.  Not everyone is a man of God who speaks in the name of God.  Not every priest has had that testimony from those with whom they have related.  For some, it’s a mere title; for others, like Elisha, it was a true name.  The callers were sincere when they called him so.  It was no flattery.  That was who he was: “the man of God.”  Insiders and outsiders saw him the same way: “the man of God.”  O, how that resembles Apostle Paul’s sweet signature-tune in epistle after epistle: “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ BY THE WILL OF GOD” (1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Ephesians 1:1; Colossians 1:1; 2 Timothy 1:1). Paul, “an apostle of Jesus Christ”; Elisha, “the man of God.”  You…?
  1. Thank God for Benhadads
Thank God for sons like Benhadad who know that prophets also have a mouth that eats food and feet also that can wear good shoes.  Thank God for sons like that who know that men of God are firstly men, who are not cursed from “every good thing.”  Thank God for givers like the anonymous man from Baalshalisha who know that prophets also have sons to feed, and whose little but timely bread goes a long way to encourage their prophets to keep going (2 Kings 4:42).  Others, unlike them, would rather put themselves on the prophet’s constant prayer list even though that prophet never features on their shopping lists.  They are those who frequently request the prophet’s spiritual blessings whereas he gets nothing of their physical blessings.  Thank God for sons like King Benhadad for whom no prophet is too far to be reached with the GOOD things of their position and location.
  1. The Legacy of the Fathers
The name by which Elisha is called by King Benhadad and by the anonymous bread donor from Baalshalisha is the same name they used to call the ancient prophetic fathers.  Elisha was not going to be a ‘modern’ lascivious and avaricious contradiction to that honourable legacy.  For example, about two hundred years before Elisha, that was the same ‘name’ by which the noble Saul and his servant had called Prophet Samuel even before they had met him: “a present to …the man of God (1 Samuel 9:7-8).  Elisha could not make himself a different name.  Unfortunately, there be ‘sons’ today that are a greedy shameful misrepresentation of what the fathers were.  Not Elisha; he upheld the legacy of integrity; he upheld the ‘family name’: The Man of God.
This recalls the self-assessment ‘form’ that Jesus once gave His disciples to fill out for Him in two parts: “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” and “Whom say ye that I am?” (Matthew 16:13, 15).  What is your name?  There be many merchants today in the Temple of God seeking the harvests of a God whose ‘man’ they are not (Matthew 21:12-13).  May the Lord of the Temple enter once more to forcefully chase them out with His fierce whip. Amen.
  1. A Prayer
Do we still have Benhadads today?  Do they know my house address?  O God, please, send them my way; but please, O God, also give me the eyes to tell between a Benhadad and a Naaman, the discipline to not exploit willing kings and their army commanders, and the further discipline to refuse what should be refused, no matter how tempting it might be.  Above all, O Lord, please, may I not, like the sons of Eli, be a ‘son of Belial’ seeking the unmerited fruits of a “man of God.” May I not be like those cursed sons desecrating your people and your house in an indiscriminate and reckless chase for a ‘portion’ in Your holy sacrifices (1 Samuel 2:12-17).  O Lord, please, make me indeed, like Elisha and like the fathers before, “the man of God,” not for the bread that the name attracts but for the blessings it brings your name.  Amen.
From The Preacher’s diary,
June 9, 2018.
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Bolanle Musa
Bolanle Musa
17 days ago

Thank you The Preacher for this insight again into the person of the men of God. May we in whatever way called to His service, be true ‘men of God’,not workmen that make ashamed ????

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