The Prophet Series: Elisha, part 15
The Prophet Series: Elisha part 15
Naaman, the chief of staff for the Syrian army, is somehow motivated to head south into Samaria and seek the prophet Elisha for the healing of his leprosy. From his character, we can have little doubt that his consent in this matter was not easily obtained, despite the increasing pain and suffering which comes with his incurable disease. He was a heathen through and through. All his life he had worshipped the pagan gods of Syria, and was taught to hate the God of Israel as inferior to his own home deities. Plus, he had led Syria in vanquishing Israel on the battlefield, which only proved that his kingdom and its gods were meant to rule Yavah and His people. This attitude is very typical among pagan peoples as religion and state always intertwine in their lands and become inseparable in the minds of their people. To the heathenistic nation, religion becomes almost like the mascot of the team. The truth or falsehood of the team doesn’t matter, what only matters is that it is the home team.
Arrogance of the king
2KI 5:5 Then the king of Aram said, "Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel."
It is likely that the only reason Naaman reluctantly makes the journey into Israel is the behest of the king. King Ben-hadad is also of the pagan mindset, and has no love for Israel or her God. Why would king Ben behest Naaman to go? We can’t know for sure, but it would seem likely that Ben-hadad saw this as an opportunity to further subordinate Israel. He had already defeated her on the field, and now he could subjugate her by making her greatest prophet do his bidding. He sends Naaman into Israel, not only with a letter of commendation to the king of Israel, but also with roughly 1.7 million dollars in today’s currency. It’s a show of how wealthy he is and how Yavah works for him. He pays Yavah to do what he wishes. The irony of the fact that his own priests cannot heal anyone doesn’t dawn on his puny and proud pagan mind.
2 Ki 5:7-12 And it came about when the king of Israel read the letter, that 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." And 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. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, "Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you and you shall be clean." 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.
The Road to Damascus
Naaman travels south on the road from Damascus to Samaria. This is the very road, so worn with traffic over many centuries, that Saul of Tarsus would later travel, albeit in the opposite direction. As we know, Saul was holding warrants of arrest for Christians, but he never again arrested another Christian. God knows how to knock proud men off of horses.
As he travels, Naaman passes by the very fields in which he experienced victories over Israel. The memory of a skirmish there and campaign here fill his head with memories of his own prowess. Yet no matter how many thoughts of greatness flood his mind, they are quickly followed by the realization that he is a leper on a mission to request healing from a prophet of his enemy. Each day of his journey is one of bitter humiliation. Spiritual cleansing often begins with great personal difficulty. God knows the men in whom pride can be broken, and who will eventually respond to the warmth of God’s grace, which will break their heart of stone. In grace He begins the process at the perfect pace, in infinite mercy and patience. “Only under the pressure of felt necessity do we yield.” [Edersheim]
At last reaching Samaria, Naaman ceremonially presents the missive from Ben-hadad to King Jehoram. When we read of the account we are immediately disappointed in the king who represents the people of God. He shows no courage or poise that would come from dependence on Yavah. He is emotional and childish. He possesses the perfect opportunity to flaunt the strength of Yavah above Syria, for God has given Israel a prophet of strength in truth and in healing, but instead he becomes a basket-case. So often this is seen, that a man residing in relative peace, free from any call upon his faith, will think himself faithful and strong. Yet when that tranquility is suddenly interrupted and broken and a challenge to his faith is upon him he reveals that he is a weakling without trust in God. Trust and strong faith were only imagined in the comfort of his own home.
What a sad sight in the presence of the Syrian general. Naaman likely imagined that the behavior of the king confirmed his own idea of the inferiority of Israel. A similar sight is witnessed when a Christian desponds and distrusts his Lord in the view of unbelievers, and devils rejoice over it. The most basic and foundational aspect of our relationship with God is faith. We can only come to Him by faith and we can only walk with Him by faith. There is nothing so dishonoring to God as unbelief. We just need a mustard seed of faith and to hold onto it. The Bible uses the Greek word katecho in connection with "the word." It means to hold down or hold fast. It means to tighten your hand around it in an iron grip. There is a tremendous opportunity here for the king of Israel, but he only sees the possibility that Syria is somehow trying to pick a fight with him. Instead of faith he finds fear.
PRO 28:1 The wicked flee when no one is pursuing,
Ironically, the faithful believer in this narrative is a little girl in Naaman's home and there are none in the court of the king of Israel.
A series of trials
A series of trials have been prepared for Naaman. Step by step God is going to lead him to a meeting with the gospel of Yavah. Likely, all of us who have believed in Christ can look back and see something similar. We can remember events, people, situations, etc. and draw a line from one to the other that led us to the place where we met the gospel and were ready for it, and by ready I mean ready to believe it. I can confidently say that we only know a fraction of the events that God spun in our lives to lead us to Christ.
So many of these steps are broken expectations. We expected a certain outcome, an assured victory, an anticipated result, and we found nothing of the kind. We stood bewildered. Naaman has had many broken expectations recently. He never expected to be in the court of King Jehoram, and he never expected it to be so disturbed. He never expected to be sent to Israel by his king to search for a cure for a disease which cannot be cured. When help does come to him, it comes in a manner utterly humiliating to this pride and disappointing his expectations. It breaks his heart of stone, and all in the divine process of getting him ready.
Where was your faith?
2KI 5:8 And 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?"
When Elisha hears that the king tore his clothes, he asks why. How this question must have stung the king's pride. When the strong, in great power and calmness, asks the weak, who pretended they are strong but have just freaked out, "Why are you weak in faith?" the great pain of reality pierces the soul. Jesus did this to the disciples so that the alive and powerful would pierce their souls.
MAT 8:25-26 And they came to Him, and awoke Him, saying, "Save us, Lord; we are perishing!" And He said to them, "Why are you timid, you men of little faith?"
The prophet will not come to you
2 Ki 5:8 "Now let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel."
Leaving the palace, Naaman proceeds to Elisha's home with horses and chariots, and he is forced to stand outside and wait. God makes him go to the prophet whom he despises and scorns, and the prophet will not even come out to him, but sends a servant. Sometimes God makes the sinner come in enforced humility to the gospel rather than sending the missionary to them. When they come to us, we must know that we hold the great authority of the gospel. We need not use inference or innuendo. We must be bold and forthright - let them come to us and they shall know that there is a Savior in this world. The gospel is the power of salvation and it will do no good to anyone if it is watered down in any way with the hope of making it palatable. It will offend many and it will save many; always has and always will.
The message from Elisha should have encouraged Naaman, for reading between the lines, it would seem that a cure was certain. However, Naaman will only feel more humiliation, which is another step towards the cleansing of his soul. We would imagine that he thought of turning back, but having come all this way by the bidding of his king, he's trapped. God has him right where He wants him.
No need to speak to the prophet
Naaman must learn that Yavah is not at all like the idols of Syria. Healing will come by faith alone and not by incantation, ritual, sacrifice, or even the laying on of the hands of the prophet. He doesn't even have to see or speak to the prophet. Yavah demands faith and obedience, which is the normal result of faith.
The general brings a splendid procession to the home of Elisha and the prophet did not even come out to meet it. Instead a messenger is sent to Naaman who tells him to go and wash in the Jordan seven times and he will come out fully clean.
A promise demands faith
This is a promise and a promise demands faith. The Jordan is symbolic as is the number seven. This isn't a work or sacrifice, but a call to faith. Will Naaman wash in the waters of Israel, Yavah's nation, and will he do so seven times, Yavah's number? Such an act demands faith, and Naaman fails to give his faith to it. But Yavah will not quit on him since He knows that he only needs a bit more guidance.
Naaman shows his hand
Naaman's reply shows us why the prophet gave him this instruction. He was disappointed by the manner of the prophet. He was forced to confront the religion of Israel, which was at variance with his own notions. His pride was aroused against the distinction bestowed upon the waters of Israel over the waters of Syria. Elisha will not come out to debate him on the water quality of either country, nor will he plead with him. The instruction is given without explanation, and a lack of explanation demands faith. "To explain a trial would be to destroy its object, which is that of calling forth simple faith and implicit obedience." [Edersheim]
Knowing why the Lord sends a trial into our life would remove from it the test of faith and patience. Whatever is left of it would not be enough to call it a trial at all. This simple instruction given by a servant was Elisha's reply to the heathen mode of approaching the God of Israel with horses, chariots, and millions of dollars. The heathen believes all religions to have merit, while their own is somewhat more superior. It was intended to open the eyes of a heathen in the only way they could be opened. The true God and Creator of the universe is not impressed or purchased. His instructions must be followed and not debated. He gives in grace to all who believe, to all who call upon Him and obey His simple instructions.
In the same way, wealth and pomp must not be presented by the church to the world. The decadence of the church in using wealth, marketing, and entertainment to draw in the man on the street has nothing to do with God. Jesus is the foundation of the church, and He used the apostles to add the truth to that foundation until the Bible was complete. The foundation is finished and the blueprint for it has been written. Let each man be careful that he builds his own church according to the blueprint. The existence and support of the church does not need the world's wealth, celebrities, or marketing research. The simple message of faith and obedience to the word of God, presented in the most straightforward and direct way, is the way for the church to reveal God to the world. It will push many away, but so be it. How can we alter the way God deals with man and still label it as truth? If we dilute the gospel and the truth in order to make it as palatable to as many as possible then we take away its power to save, and then, what is the point?
The Jordan was held back by the ark of the covenant so that Joshua and Israel could cross into the Land of Promise upon which they circumcised every male and then celebrated the Passover. Joshua built a monument of twelve stones on its bank. The Jordan flowed from its source, Mt. Hermon, in the north down to the Jericho Valley and Jerusalem in the south, and thus it was a thread that united the nation. John baptized in its waters while he called Israel to prepare for their anticipated Messiah who would soon come with the kingdom of God. The Jordan represents God's provision for Israel as well as His provision for the world. All the nations of the world would be blessed through Abraham, and Naaman must deny his old way, that the false gods of Syria have any merit. One of Yavah's promises through the servant of Elisha is better than all the promises given by the gods of Syria.
All religions are the same
The above title has always been a popular cop-out for many secular people when their beliefs are challenged. If Elisha had come out and touched Naaman then he would have attributed his cure to magic. If Elisha had told him to return home and to wash himself one-hundred times in the Abanah River then Naaman would have done so and attributed his cure to the prominence of Syria and her gods. To wash in the Jordan is humiliation for this great general, and that is exactly what he needs. When his humiliation is followed by cleansing then he will see that there is only one true God in this world, and He is in Israel.
We must all learn to be humble before God or we will be slaves our whole lives. The Holy Spirit does not make us boastful and proud, but rather breaks down our misconceptions and especially our misconceptions of ourselves. We might not have leprosy, but if we have hard hearts we will be enslaved to the disease of the flesh.
ROM 12:3 For through the grace given to me I say to every man among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.
The above verse is followed by four long chapters of sacrificial love and service to others by the command of God.
We must see ourselves as lost sinners who possess nothing, but who look to the blood of Christ for all things. We have suffered the loss of all things, but have gained Christ. Blessed are the poor! Yet, we have all that we need and more in Christ.
Easy is difficult
What Naaman has to do it easy, but he finds it exceedingly difficult. The ease of the gospel constitutes its greatest difficulty. He would have been willing to do a great many things far more difficult so long as they made sense to him. He must realize that there is nothing that he can do. He must become a child to be cleansed and enter the kingdom of heaven.
To Him be all glory and honor,