In our study of 1st and 2nd Kings, we’ve been studying the life of Elijah, prophet of the Lord. Today, we begin studying the life of another prophet, Elisha.
While their names are similar, as prophets, they were very different. Elijah was a prophet of the desert. His ministry focused on the nation of Israel and her relationship with other nations. Sometimes, when there was a religious or political crisis, Elijah would just suddenly be there to plainly state the will of the Lord.
Elisha was less about the nation and more about the people. Elisha healed the sick, raised the dead, and provided for the needs of others. Both prophets foreshadowed Jesus, who in His capacity to offer salvation of the whole world, demonstrated His miracles personally, one person at a time.
Today we’re also going to examine a miracle between Elisha and Naaman, the miracle of God’s unmerited favor, and how pride can prevent one from receiving the grace of God.
II. Naaman’s Need
Here is 2 Kings 5:1,
Now Naaman, captain of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man with his master, and highly respected, because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man was also a valiant warrior, but he was a leper.
The last statement is shocking; “but he was a leper.” To the Jews and others in the ancient world, leprosy was not just an unclean disease, but a visible disease. They believed leprosy was an outward sign of inward corruption. In other words, you could see Naaman’s sin.
The original Hebrew wording is shocking, reading something like,
- Naaman is famous
- Naaman is mighty
- Naaman is a hero
- Naaman has leprosy
How could someone so important also be a leper?
Naaman is a commander of the army to the king of Syria. Naaman was a leper, and this single word contrasts sharply with the rest of the verse.
We learn something important about Naaman. God is already involved in the life of Naaman, and Naaman doesn’t know it. 2 Kings 5:1 says that “by him the Lord had given victory to Syria.” At this point in his life, Naaman probably had little respect for Israel as a country and certainly had little regard for the God of the Hebrews.
But God is involved in both the big and small details of Naaman’s life, and God uses everything, big and small, to accomplish His purposes. That’s the foundation behind Romans 8:28,
We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.
Naaman is mighty. Naaman is noble. Naaman is important and commands an army. Yet, Naaman has a need. He has leprosy.
Naaman, no doubt, already knows something. No matter how important, no matter how skilled, no matter how famous, Naaman cannot heal himself. People cannot heal him. The world cannot heal him. Where will Naaman turn? The Lord has already been leading Naaman, waiting for Naaman’s response. And how does He speak to Naaman? 2 Kings 5:2-5 –
III. A Little Girl’s Testimony
Now the Syrians had gone out in bands and had taken captive a little girl from the land of Israel; and she waited on Naaman’s wife. And she said to her mistress, ‘I wish that my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! Then he would cure him of his leprosy.’
And Naaman went in and told his master, saying, ‘Thus and thus spoke the girl who is from the land of Israel.’” Then the king of Aram said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” He departed and took with him ten talents of silver and six thousand shekels of gold and ten changes of clothes.
A couple of observations, I don’t think the little girl actually said, “thus and thus.” That doesn’t sound very Hebrew. Must be a Syrian translation.
Also, 6000 shekels of gold in today’s dollars is worth about $4 million dollars. I don’t know how much ten changes of clothes are worth. Scripture doesn’t tell us if the king of Aram shopped at Ross Dress for Less, but I suspect he was more likely to shop at Niemen Marcus.
Now, Naaman is powerful, a commander. The servant girl is powerless, a slave. But as we learned last week, God wasn’t in the wind and God wasn’t in the earthquake. God speaks to us in a still small voice, like the little servant girl. God’s voice worked through the small voice to influence the king.
IV. The Power of God
2 Kings 5:5-7,
Then the king of Aram said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” He departed and took with him ten talents of silver and six thousand shekels of gold and ten changes of clothes.
He brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, “And now as this letter comes to you, behold, I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” 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 is sending word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? But consider now, and see how he is seeking a quarrel against me.”
The king of Israel, Joram, panics. He tears his clothes, a sign of distress and anguish, though maybe he was just tired of wearing his old clothes and wanted to try on the Niemen Marcus clothes Naaman brought.
We opened today’s lesson that the Lord had been working in Naaman’s life an given him victories for the King of Aram.
The king Joram thinks this is an excuse for the King of Aram to launch an attack. We can certainly understand his fear; the King of Aram had been conducting successful raids throughout the region, including the land of Israel. Now Joram thinks he’s about to be invaded.
Like many of us, when called, we think we need to solve the problem under our own power. Joram is so close to the right answer, too – he says, “Am I God, to kill and make alive?” Well, no, Joram, you are not God. Do you know who is? God is. God is the Great I am.
Fortunately, providentially, there is a prophet in Israel. 2Kings 5:8-10,
It happened when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, that he sent word to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Now let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and his chariots and stood at the doorway of the house of Elisha. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored to you and you will be clean.”
God, first through the little girl, and now through Elisha, is guiding Naaman for an encounter with Himself. Naaman travels to Israel with horses and chariots and who know who else, along with millions of dollars of gold and silver.
And apparently, nobody will see Naaman. Not King Joram, probably hiding under his bed. And oddly, not Elisha, either, who essentially tells Naaman to go jump in the lake. I mean, go jump in the river.
Why didn’t Elisha want to meet with him? Besides demonstrating the glory of God, I mean?
Commentaries offer several suggestions –
- Naaman was accustomed to pagan worship. Maybe he expected Elisha to cast a spell, or maybe sprinkle magic pixie dust. But Elisha had something different in mind.
- Naaman knew how important he was, and expected everybody to defer to him, to provide for his every need. After all, he was just one level beneath the king. But Elisha wanted to demonstrate God’s power is greater than Naaman.
Naaman’s expectations are simple: Israel has a God, I’ll give Israel money, Israel will tell their God to heal me. A one-and-done philosophy, I’ll just buy my salvation from leprosy.
But Naaman doesn’t have enough money to buy God’s favor. All the millions of gold and silver that Naaman brought are but filthy rags. Elisha is teaching Naaman powerful lesson about the God who heals: the power does not belong to nations or to me. The power to heal belongs to God.
V. Pride Before God
2 Kings 5:11-13,
But Naaman was furious and went away and said, “Behold, I thought, ‘He will surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.’ Are not Abanah 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. 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’?”
The sin of sins is pride. Pride is the root of all other sins. By itself, it may not seem so bad to us, but pride says, “I know better than God.”
Our society as a whole is having that trouble today. I am amazed that various “pride” organizations actually acknowledge their pride, but pride is not a virtue. Pride is not a good thing. Humility is the virtue. Do we ask, what does God desire?
When we discuss LGBTQ issues, do we examine it from God’s perspective? And I’m not talking about His commandments, I’m talking about God’s heart. God desires every Christian to walk in His ways, to approach every situation the way Christ would approach it, respond with the Holy Spirit. Does God care about personal pronouns, or does He care we seek His truth?
Does God care about Roe vs Wade or Dobbs vs Jackson? Or does God want us to understand how much He values life, not only the life of those fearfully formed in their mother’s womb, but the mother, too, and even the lives of those who protest?
God moves in history through nations, like the prophet Elijah, but he saves people one at a time through His Word and prophets like Elisha. People have all sorts of pre-conceived ideas about God and healing.
- God should heal me because I’m a good person
- God should heal me because I’m important
- If God doesn’t heal me, then He doesn’t exist.
- I can bargain with God. If He heals me, then I will do something for Him.
Naaman was ok with donating a pot of gold or seeking the holy grail or some grand magical quest. He was insulted when he was told all he had to do was go jump in a dirty river.
And it was indeed an insult. Naaman was being told by God that Naaman’s deeds or fame or gold that everything was worthless. The easiest thing to do to obtain salvation is also the hardest: Admit you can’t do it.
You can’t earn your way to heaven. You can’t buy your way to heaven. You and I are nothing more than dirt, but we are dirt God breathed life into.
Adam was the first man. God’s plan for Adam originally was for Adam to live forever. While Adam was still dirt, what did Adam have to do to earn eternal life? The answer, of course, is nothing. The breath of life was a gift of God to Adam.
You and I inherit the original sin of Adam when he ate from the Tree of Knowledge. God created us to live forever; what do we have to do? The answer, of course, is nothing. We are dirt. If we accept the breath of God, if we accept the gift of Jesus, then we have eternal life with Him. The only thing God wants from us is for us is to say, “I do” as the ride of Christ. We place our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Our society confuses people. Convinces them they are something other than God’s creation. We are an evolved collection of cells, descended from monkeys. We are an inanimate bunch of cells attached to a mother’s uterus. We are some other gender, whatever we imagine.
Then society tells us that God is too hard to obtain. We have to give up sex and give all our money to the poor, give up drinking and cussing and follow 613 rules every day. God is too far to reach, so don’t even try. Society tells us we can be our own God and imagine who we are.
Is God too far away? Is God too hard to find? He is not, but we build our own obstacles. We will do anything except admit our sins and recognize we are dirt without Jesus. Anything except get in that muddy water of humility.
It wasn’t muddy water that was the source of Naaman’s rage. His problem was his pride; pride is the number one obstacle we created that prevents us from receiving the grace of God.
2 Kings 5:14-15a,
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. When he returned to the man of God with all his company, and came and stood before him, he said, “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel.
When Naaman humbled himself and washed in the Jordan, he was healed instantly. While at first Naaman rejected the simple message because it wasn’t hard enough, his servants convinced him to accept it because it was simple enough.
Naaman’s cleansing was not just physical but spiritual as well. Naaman became a convert to the faith of Israel and became a worshiper of Yahweh. The leprosy in his flesh was gone, but so was “the leprosy in his soul.” His pride and privilege were gone, and he had become humble, penitent, and grateful. That is the power of the Gospel: believe and be saved, wash and be clean.
Charles Swindoll put it this way –
“Merely knowing where to find the Jordan River and what to do when he got there was not enough. He had to put actions to his faith by stripping down, actually getting wet in the river, and immersing himself precisely seven times. Nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else.”
A great many of us in this class are in need of healing. I am in awe not only of the martyrs of Christ in this room and on Zoom and their faith in the Lord, but also come to realize just how many needs we have. We turn to doctors and medicines to save us, but we also know it is not the doctors and the medicines that save us. Only God heals.
Will he heal us of our infirmities? The answer is most assuredly yes, for God promises us an eternity with a new heavenly host body where there are neither pain nor tears. I do not know if God will heal us in this lifetime; His ways are above our ways, and as a consequence of our original sin, our mortal lives have an end.
But this I know: whether God heals us now or God heals us later, our faith is unshaken and God deserves glory and honor. We willingly bathe in the dirty stream of humility so that we may be washed clean in His blood. Not because of who we are, but because of who He is.
Our faith is in Christ alone. Nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else.
All glory to God through Christ alone. Amen.