October 21, 2014.
“Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.” And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.”
(II Kings 5:1-5)
The story of Naaman and Elisha is one of my favorites mainly due to all the lessons that we can draw from it which are still applicable today. This story, though thousands of years old, follows some of the same reasoning and thinking that we have today, and it is noteworthy to point out the differences in this line of reasoning and the reasoning from the prophet Elisha, who had a double potion of spirit compared to his mentor, the powerful prophet Elijah. Honestly, if Elisha (or Elijah for that matter) were around today, I would seriously doubt many would recognize them as prophets of the Lord. They just don’t fit the mold of what we think of as prophets (nor do many of the prophets in the bible actually) very well. There was really no messing around with these prophets. They knew they were prophets, they knew they had a message to carry and they were both bold and blunt in their message. But we should get into that a bit later.
To begin with this story, a little background is needed to appreciate the context. The children of Israel live in the divided kingdom, the ten northern tribes formed the kingdom of Israel and two southern tribes formed the kingdom of Judah. The books of I and II Kings record the history of both kingdoms whereas the books of I and II Chronicles mainly focus on the history of Judah. Elijah was a powerful prophet who was sent to call the people of Israel back to God, and Elisha was his successor, who asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit when Elijah was taken up into heaven; his request was granted. What is interesting about this story’s characters is that Syria, where Naaman was from, did not have a good relationship with Israel. They were often fighting in war, as they would be in the next few chapters. The fact that Naaman has a servant girl from Israel would imply that she had been taken captive in war, and the king of Israel’s reaction to Naaman’s message shows the tension that was present between the two nations as the king supposes that the king of Syria is just looking for a fight. Nevertheless, Naaman does indeed find Elisha and a very interesting story follows. Let’s break the story down into some of the lessons that we can take from it.
1.When you are wanting to be healed by the Lord, don’t go to the wrong place.
The first thing we notice about this story is that Naaman was told by (a very courageous) servant girl that there was a prophet in Israel that could heal him of his leprosy. It is obvious that his disease had not stopped him from gaining glory and fame with his people, as he was highly esteemed among the Syrians. But when he heard that his leprosy could be healed, I’m sure he was more than willing to give it a shot. So what does he do? Go find Elisha? No. He sends a letter to the king of Israel. What’s more is that he doesn’t even mention Elisha in the letter so it would seem:
“So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.”
(II Kings 5:5b-7)
Naaman sends a letter to the king saying that he expected the king to heal him! The king was distraught because he knew that he couldn’t heal him. This also shows the place where the king and the people were at spiritually because the king doesn’t think to call Elisha there to heal Naaman. He is just worried that he’s going to have to go to war with Syria now. Thus, neither Naaman nor the king of Israel went to the right place, even through the servant girl told Naaman that there was a prophet in Israel that could heal him, not a king. Now, there could be cultural relevance to the reason that Naaman went to the king instead of Elisha, but I would still find it hard to believe that he wouldn’t at least mention him in his letter.
There are actually many stories and passages in the bible where people went to the wrong places to find God. David took advice from Samuel without either of them inquiring of the Lord before making a decision and were rebuked for it. King Rehoboam went to his friends to get counsel instead of taking the counsel of the elders and caused the kingdom to divide. The Jews heaped together false prophets that told them nice things and rejected the true prophets from the Lord, ultimately leading to their captivity and downfall. So the question is, can we do the same thing today?
The obvious answer is yes, of course we can. And I’m afraid many do it without even knowing. No one in the stories mentioned above really knew they were taking the wrong counsel, or they wouldn’t have taken it (I suppose one exception might be Rehoboam, but I think he considered his choice to be wise). Can we go to false teachers today?
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”
(II Timothy 4:3-4)
We need to be sure that we go to the people who are going to give us biblical advice, not just the advice we want to hear at the time. We need to go to the right place for spiritual growth.
2. God’s message is often very simple.
“So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.”
(II Kings 5: 9-10)
When Elisha heard that the king had rent his clothes at the message of Naaman, he sends word to the king to have Naaman come to his house that he might be healed. I like the way Elisha phrases his message because he basically says “What are you doing? Why are you upset? Did you forget that I am a prophet of the Lord?” It sounds to me like a “get it together, I’ve got this,” or rather, “God’s got this,” kind of statement. So Naaman indeed comes to the door of Elisha’s house all Elisha says is “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” That’s it. Yes, it would take some effort on Naaman’s part, but it was quite a simple task. There were no frills, no extraordinary things Naaman had to do (which we will get into in a minute) and no red tape. Just go wash in the Jordan seven times.
God’s message to us is often simple, sometimes so simple that we have a hard time believing it. When Peter stood up to preach the first gospel sermon, relating to the people who had just crucified the Messiah that Jesus was the chosen one, the people were cut to the heart and asked what they were to do. They just realized the atrocity that they had committed- they just realized that they had put to death the one person that the Jews had been waiting for since the fall of man. I’m sure they were expecting some long sentence of repayment to the Almighty for the sin they had committed. After all, the law was based on offering sacrifice for the sin that they committed yearly. But what did Peter say?
“Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.”
Repent and be baptized. That was what Peter told them to do. That’s it. There were no “offer three unblemished lambs in a timely fashion, each one of you,” or “you will have to work hard to pay off your debt.” Repent and be baptized. Faith is obviously implied when they were cut to the heart. That was the message, God’s message. It’s so beautifully simple that we have taken and over analyzed it to the point where we argue back and forth about it. But the bible says what it says, and it’s really not that difficult of a message to understand. Sure, it might take some hard work to truly repent of the sin you are in, but the Lord is here to help us and we should each give one another support in this, but the message is simple.
I think that this is often the way God works. He makes things simple because He knows we need things to be simple (for we can even mess up the simple things if given the opportunity). As we will see in the next point, however, we don’t often like things to be simple. For some reason, simple things are just hard for us to accept.
3. God does not do things the way we think they should be done.
This is perhaps my favorite part of this story because it sounds exactly like something we would say today. Times and cultures might have changed, but some things really do stay the same.
“And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage.”
(II Kings 5:10-12)
Elisha’s message was simple- go wash seven times in the Jordan and you will be clean. But this answer didn’t please Naaman. After all, he was great in the eyes of the Syrians. He was commander over a great army. I’d imagine he had reached the level of fame that would be analogous to movie stars in our day. He expected a show, and he was angry because he did not get a show.
Oh how we haven’t changed a bit! When we want to see the power of God, what do we go out to see? What do we pay attention to? A show. We expect, quite literally, healers to come wave their hands over the sick and heal them through a vivid show and display of the power of God. It’s entertainment. The thing is, prophets and workers of miracles did not look like this in the bible. They did not often put on shows or do anything for entertainment, and when some did, they were rebuked for it. Paul has to write a section in his letter to the Corinthians about how they were being disorderly with the their spiritual gifts and they were missing the point. That’s why he says that the greatest thing to have is love, not the working of miracles or speaking in tongues. Simon the sorcerer was used to making money off of his tricks, and when he became a Christian, he tried to buy the power to pass on miracles through the laying on of hands, probably so as to make a profit from it. Peter rebuked him outright.
The point of a miracle in the bible was never to be a show or highlight the worker of the miracle, save for the miracles that Christ did to confirm that He was the Son of God. But even Christ’s miracles were not often showy:
“So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death. So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.”
Jesus was asked to come to the official’s house to heal his son, but He simply said “Go; your son will live.” There was nothing showy (other than the fact that Jesus was able to heal at a distance). His other miracles follow suit. They are spectacular, yes. They confirm His word as truth, yes. But they were not showy.
We often expect things to be done according to the way we think they should be done. We say things like “God would have it done this way,” or “God wouldn’t care if we did this,” but we don’t often back that up with Scripture, and thus it turns into our opinions being projected as God’s opinions. I believe that this is a dangerous line of thinking. Naaman almost didn’t have his leprosy head because he didn’t like the way that Elisha said to be healed. Fortunately for him, he had some good servants with him who spoke logic to him.
“Then his servants came near and spoke to him and said, “My father, had the prophet told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child and he was clean.”
(II Kings 5:13-14)
Sometimes we need the same logic. His servants said (in paraphrase) “If you had been asked to do some great thing, you would have done it, so why not just do what he said?” I can see Naaman just looking at then and it dawning on him “Oh, oh yeah, I guess you’re right. Fair point. I’ll go do it.” He does, and he is cleaned, just as Elisha had said. Sometimes we need to realize, “Oh, this is actually quite simple. Let’s just do what it says.” I believe we could get along so much better if we understood this point.
I would like to take a moment to note that Naaman wasn’t cleansed of his leprosy until he had completed the full message. He was to wash himself in the river seven times. When he came up the sixth time, he was still a leper. It was not until the seventh time, or until he obeyed the full word of God, that he was made clean. This has a wide application to our spiritual lives today, as many would have you believe that you do not need to meet the full message of the gospel to be saved. Many would tell you that faith alone is enough, and that repentance and baptism are simply good things to do, but not necessary. It was necessary for Naaman to adhere to the full message to be cleansed. Again, we could get along so much better if we just believed what we are told to do. But I digress.
4. One “little” sin can have dire consequences that last generations.
The story doesn’t stop here, unfortunately. When Naaman sees that he as been healed, he returns to Elisha with joy and tries to give him some money and gifts out of gratitude. Elisha refuses payment and sends him on his way back to Syria. But Elisha’s servant, Gahazi, a man who had been with Elisha for a long time and had seen many wondrous works by the hand of Elisha, sees an opportunity. He doesn’t think Elisha is right for sending Naaman on his way without accepting any of the gifts and he gets greedy as he comes up with a plan to take some of the gifts for himself. He runs after Naaman and tells a little lie about needing some money and clothes for two of the sons of the prophets that had allegedly come to stay with Elisha, so that he might take just a portion of the gift Naaman had brought to Elisha. Naaman happily gives two talents of silver and two changes of clothing to Gahazi. When he returns to Elisha, we read the fate of Gahazi:
“He went in and stood before his master, and Elisha said to him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” And he said, “Your servant went nowhere.” But he said to him, “Did not my heart go when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Was it a time to accept money and garments, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male servants and female servants? Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever.” So he went out from his presence a leper, like snow.”
(II Kings 5:25-27)
What a consequence for his sin! One that would last for generations. But really, was what Gahazi did actually that bad? He just told a little lie and took some money that Naaman wanted to give to Elisha anyway. It’s not like he was hurting anyone. That’s how we rationalize sin. We say “Oh, but it really isn’t that bad,” “I’m not doing this out of bad intentions,” or “this is something that will help me or someone else.” Gahazi justified his actions. And then when he was confronted about it, he lied again to cover his tracks. Now if this doesn’t sound like a conversation taken straight out of the 21st century, I don’t know what does. “Where have you been, Gahazi?” “Uhh, nowhere…” I’m sure you’ve heard this type of conversation before, or perhaps even been a part of it. I have. But Elisha knew where he had been. He was a prophet, after all. So Gahazi was faced with dire consequences for his sin. I think this should make us think twice before we consider something being a “little” sin.
If time would allow, I would go on about other lessons that we can draw from this story, but it seems that I will have to let you find them on your own. (Hint: I think one can be drawn from a statement that Jesus makes about this story in Luke 4). You’ll probably think of some that I have yet to consider. I love stories like this in the Old Testament that reveal things about the character of God and the way He works through people that are often lost in our culture and our 21st century, culturally driven western reading and interpretation of the bible. They can really make you stop and think. The stories of Elijah and Elisha are very interesting, and I hope that you can draw parallels and lessons from them that are applicable to your walk. May we all seek to grow in the knowledge and faith of our Lord, deepening our relationship with Him through prayer and study.
Suggested Daily Reading: II Kings 2, 5, Luke 4, Acts 2.
The Lord guide you into wisdom and understanding.