GOD’S GRACE TO HEAL THE LEPROSY OF SIN EXTENDS TO GENTILES WHO TURN FROM THEIR PRIDE AND SUBMIT TO HIS SIMPLE PLAN OF SALVATION
This account probably took place at a later point in time since Gehazi is still viewed with some measure of respect in the following chapters. The record in the Book of Kings is not always presented in strict chronological sequence.
Obviously this account of healing the powerful military leader of Syria of his leprosy pictures for us the gracious salvation from sin which the Lord provides – even to Gentiles! The many contrasts in the story highlight the different theological points and reinforce the practical applications. We especially see the fundamental principle that God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble. The concluding story of Gehazi’s covetousness and deception is an integral part of the story as the leprosy is removed from Naaman but comes to rest on Gehazi and his descendants. But we will reserve that narrative for a subsequent sermon.
Constable: This story contains many of the motifs we have been observing throughout 1 and 2 Kings: the fertility motif, the sovereignty motif, the faith motif, the reversal-of-fortune motif, and others. The unique contribution of this chapter is that it shows Yahweh’s superiority over Baal in physical healing and ritual cleansing. The worshippers of Baal gave him credit for controlling both of these things. As in 1 Kings 17:8-24, we see that, ironically, faith in Yahweh was stronger in some individuals outside Israel than it was in Israelites in whom it should have been the strongest. God blesses those who obey His Word to some extent, regardless of who they are, or what else they may believe, or do, or be.
Mordechai Cogan: The opening verse sets out the theme: Naaman, whose victories over Israel earn him a high position at the court of Damascus, does not recognize that the author of his good fortune is yhwh, the God of Israel. It is through his cure, then, instigated by the prophet, that he is brought to the awareness: “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel” (v. 15). By forsaking his master’s gods and acknowledging the supremacy of yhwh, Naaman, in effect, becomes a “proselyte.” Like other foreigners in this early period (e.g., Ruth), he is admitted into the community of the worshippers of yhwh without the requirements of rite of conversion or polemic which were the hallmarks of the post-exilic period.
Donald Wiseman: In the days of Jesus Christ the episode of Naaman was well known and cited as a unique case of a non-Israelite leper being cleansed through obedience to God’s word through a prophet, at a time when many Jews did not heed the call of the prophet of their day (Luke 4:27).
August Konkel: The story shows the powerlessness of the king and the power of the prophet, the reign and grace of God extending outside Israel, the commendation of a foreign military chief, and the condemnation of a deceitful assistant to the prophet. Naaman’s healing points toward a changed relationship between Israel and Syria as the worship of God extends beyond the borders of Israel by a general who has been raiding the land of Israel.
I. (:1-8) NEED FOR SALVATION EXPOSES MAN’S INABILITY AND GLORIFIES GOD’S ABILITY
A. (:1) Health Crisis Involving a Powerful Military Leader from Aram
1. Official Position = Captain of the Army of the King of Aram
“Now Naaman, captain of the army of the king of Aram,”
“was a great man with his master,”
MacArthur: a man of high social standing and prominence
3. Reputation for Military Success
“and highly respected,
because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram.”
MacArthur: Naaman’s military success was attributable to the God of Israel, who is sovereign over all the nations (cf. Is 10:13; Am 9:7).
4. Bravery in Battle
“The man was also a valiant warrior,”
5. Insurmountable Disability
“but he was a leper.”
Wiersbe: Like leprosy, sin is deeper than the skin (v. 3), it spreads (v. 7), it defiles, and it is fit only for the fire.
David Guzik: Ancient leprosy began as small, red spots on the skin. Before too long the spots got bigger, and started to turn white, with sort of a shiny, or scaly appearance. Pretty soon the spots spread over the whole body and hair began to fall out – first from the head, then even from the eyebrows. As things got worse, fingernails and toenails become loose; they start to rot and eventually fell off. Then the joints of fingers and toes began to rot and fall off piece by piece. Gums began to shrink and they couldn’t hold the teeth anymore, so each of them was lost. Leprosy kept eating away at the face until literally the nose, the palate, and even the eyes rotted – and the victim wasted away until death.
Rick Ezell: Notice how verse one concludes. “. . . but he had a skin disease” (2 Kings 5:1). He could think about all of his accomplishments; he could enjoy his power and position and prestige; he could admire his home and his wealth; but they all seemed to vanish as he stared into the mirror each day. Each time he looked at himself there was something looking back that defined his life. He was a leper, and nothing could change that fact. . .
By the way, what is your hideous birthmark? What is your leprosy? What problem are you trying to conceal? What hurt are you trying to cover up? What prevents you from getting close to other people? Where do you need to be touched?
B. (:2-6) Request for Healing Directed to the King of Israel
1. (:2-3) Confidence of the Captive Israelite Girl
a. (:2) Her Providential Role
“Now the Arameans had gone out in bands, and had taken captive a little girl from the land of Israel; and she waited on Naaman’s wife.”
Schultz: Evidently, the king of Aram had made raids into Israel and taken captives, among which a young girl who became the slave girl of Naaman’s wife.
Dale Ralph Davis: And yet, in Yahweh’s providence, in this story everything hangs on this little girl, on her tragic servitude. Without her Naaman would never have been healed. People are often brought into the kingdom of God at great cost to other people.
Sometimes the means God uses to bring people to himself seem … well, so incidental. A little captive girl. . .
Do you see how in two verses this text teaches you that both international politics (v. 1) and individual circumstances (v. 2), both world affairs (v. 1) and personal dilemmas (v. 2) are under Yahweh’s sway? Both the big picture and the minor details belong to him. His sway extends from parliaments and war departments to the doorknobs and phone calls and parking places of life. For Yahweh there is no tension between Isaiah 66:1 and Matthew 10:29.
b. (:3) Her Promise of Healing
“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.’”
Constable: The faith of the slave girl (v. 3) contrasts with the general unbelief that prevailed in Israel at this time (cf. Luke 4:27). This humble girl also contrasts with the great commander whom she helped.
J. Hampton Keathley III: Though small, weak, and insignificant, this little girl knew the omnipotent and sovereign Lord of the universe with whom there was healing. She was willing to point others to the most significant Being of the universe, YAHWEH OF ISRAEL, who alone could cure Naaman’s disease.
Why do you suppose Naaman listened to her? After all what could a slave know? May I suggest that he listened because perhaps her life spoke volumes! Her life had been such a testimony that it gave credibility to her words.
2. (:4) Consultation between Naaman and the King of Aram
“And Naaman went in and told his master, saying, ‘Thus and thus spoke the girl who is from the land of Israel.’”
3. (:5-6) Correspondence Delivered to the King of Israel (Jehoram)
a. (:5a) Game Plan
“Then the king of Aram said, ‘Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.’”
The Pulpit Commentary: The letter made no mention of Elisha. Ben-Hadad assumed that, if the King of Israel had in his dominions a person able to cure leprosy, he would be fully cognizant of the fact, and would at once send for him, and call upon him for an exertion of his gift or art. He is not likely to have comprehended the relations in which Kings of Israel stood towards the Jehovistic prophets, but may probably have thought of Elisha ‘as a sort of chief magus, or as the Israelitish high priest’ …, whom the king would have at his beck and call, and whose services would be completely at his disposal.
b. (:5b) Gifts
“And he departed and took with him ten talents of silver and six thousand shekels of gold and ten changes of clothes.”
J. Hampton Keathley III: Money, power and wealth cannot save us, make us spiritual, effective witnesses, or deserving of responsibility or leadership in the body of Jesus Christ. Only God’s grace and his gifts and blessings in Jesus Christ can do that.
c. (:6) Grave Request
“And 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.’”
C. (:7-8) Two Different Perspectives on the Request for Healing Ministry
1. (:7) Perspective of Faithless King of Israel = Anticipation of Failure =
Doom and Gloom
“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.’”
David Guzik: When the king of Israel (Jehoram) read the letter, he was understandably upset. First, it was obviously out of his power to heal Naaman’s leprosy. Second, he had no relationship with the prophet of the God who did have the power to heal. He thought the king of Syria sought a quarrel.
Terrell Carter: Naaman traveled down to Israel with an enormous cargo of gifts to present to the king of Israel. The gifts were not for trade, but the foreigner Naaman was trying to create a social bond with the Israelite king. By creating a social bond through gifts, it obligated the Israelite king to give hospitality, and in this case to find a cure for the general’s leprosy. But these gifts put the Israelite King in a bind. He could not refuse the gift, as it would be like a new bride and groom refusing a wedding gift from a guest. By accepting the gift yet not curing the leprosy, the king would violate the required social responsibility. He could sense an impending confrontation with the Aramaeans.
2. (:8) Perspective of Faithful Man of God = Anticipation of Success =
Opportunity for the Word of God to be Magnified
“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.’”
II. (:9-14) WAY OF SALVATION SEEMS LIKE FOOLISHNESS TO THE PROUD
A. (:10) Simple Solution Proposed by Elisha –
God’s Ways are not Man’s Ways — Plan of Salvation Incredibly Simple –
“Just Trust and Obey”
1. (:9) Humbling Reception
“So Naaman came with his horses and his chariots,
and stood at the doorway of the house of Elisha.”
2. (:10) Bizarre Prescription
“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.’”
B. (:11-12) Prideful Rage of Unsubmissive Naaman –
Natural Reason Stumbles over False Expectations of Divine Methodology –
God Resists the Proud but Gives Grace to the Humble —
“You’ve Got to be Kidding Me!”
1. (:11a) Angry Response
“But Naaman was furious and went away”
Wiersbe: Quoting Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse, “Everybody has the privilege of going to heaven God’s way or going to hell their own way.” . . . To quote D. L. Moody, “He lost his temper; then he lost his pride; then he lost his leprosy; that is generally the order in which proud rebellious sinners are converted.”
Rick Ezell: So Naaman goes to Elisha in Samaria. Remember Samaria? If Israel were a second rate, third world country, Samaria would have been the armpit of the second rate, third world country. Samaria was despised even by the Israelites. When Naaman arrives at Elisha’s dusty enclave, a far cry from Jerusalem’s splendor, Elisha sends out his servant. Naaman had been remarkably flexible and amiable, willingly traveling out to the prophet’s remote outpost to ask for the healing touch. But, when Elisha’s servant shows up at the door with the instructions for the cure, he is incensed. Outraged. Ticked off. He’s not only sweating bullets from the dirty, dusty desert; he is ready to spit bullets in the direction of Elisha.
Prophets have that effect on people. They don’t beat around the bushes. They lack tact. They get to the point. They tell it like it is. They often times offend and insult. But they speak the truth. And when you are face to face with a disease that is going to take your life you have got to decide if you want comfort and convenience or a cure. . .
Naaman was part of the ‘pastor only crowd.’ Some believe that they cannot be ministered to if the pastor doesn’t do the ministering; they can’t be prayed for if the pastor doesn’t do the praying; or preached to if the pastor doesn’t do the preaching; or visited if the pastor doesn’t do the visiting.
2. (:11b) Grandiose Expectations
“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.’”
MacArthur: Because of his personal greatness (v. 1), his huge gift (v. 5), and diplomatic letter (v. 6), Naaman expected personal attention to his need. However, Elisha did not even go out to meet him. Instead, he sent his instructions for healing through a messenger (v. 10). Naaman was angry because he anticipated a personal cleansing ceremony from the prophet himself.
3. (:12a) Rationalistic Limitations
“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?”
David Guzik: Spurgeon saw Naaman attacked by two enemies: Proud Self, who internally demanded that Elisha come out and see him, and Evil Questioning, who questioned why he should wash in the Jordan when he had better rivers back in his homeland. Naaman overcame these two enemies and did what God told him to do.
Dale Ralph Davis: I don’t think I am ‘spiritualizing’ to point out how Naaman’s complaints are the very objections many people make to the gospel. Naaman (and perhaps you?) didn’t like the humiliation of the gospel (vv. 9–11a), nor the simplicity of the gospel (vv. 10, 11b; ‘wash and be clean’), nor the narrowness of the gospel (v. 12). It was too much for a man who thought he was somebody.
4. (:12b) Angry Response
“So he turned and went away in a rage.”
C. (:13) Wise Counsel of Naaman’s Servants – All of God’s Grace and None of Man’s Works —
“What do You Have to Lose?”
“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 ?’”
J. Hampton Keathley III: What does the Scripture teach about the pride of man?
God hates “haughty eyes, or the proud look” (Prov. 6:17).
“When pride comes, then comes dishonor . . .” (Prov. 11:2).
“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling” (Prov. 16:18).
“A man’s pride will bring him low . . .” (Prov. 29:23).
Naaman had to be brought low; he had to be knocked off his high horse! (cf. Obadiah 3 and 4). God cannot and will not bless us as long as we are full of pride.
Why will a man’s pride bring him low? James gives us part of the answer. After telling us about the grace which God gives, he also reminds us that “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Who can experience God’s grace? The humble! Then from whom does God withhold his grace? The proud! Who are the proud? Those who are indifferent to God’s plan, who refuse to commit themselves to God’s plan, who attempt to handle life by their own abilities or strategies.
D. (:14) Submissive Obedience Results in Miraculous Healing for Naaman –
Glorious Salvation Involves Simply Taking God at His Word –
“Wash Me and I Will be Whiter than Snow”
“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.”
Constable: Even though Jehoram was not a faithful representative of Yahweh, Elisha was (v. 8). Elisha treated Naaman as a superior would treat an inferior (v. 10). Socially Naaman was superior to Elisha, but really Elisha, as God’s man, was superior to the vice-regent of Ben-Hadad. Elisha’s coolness may have sent a message to Naaman that Elisha was not a wonderworker who expected payment or that he wanted no political involvement with Aramea. Possibly he may have been testing Naaman’s faith. Naaman’s cure, of course, was not due to the quality of the Jordan River water, but to his obedient trust in God’s promise that His prophet delivered. Overcoming his pride, Naaman obeyed and was washed clean—body and soul (v. 14). Dipping seven times would have signified to everyone in that culture that his healing that followed was a work of God. His flesh experienced healing from the leprosy and even returned to the texture of a child. Perhaps this reflected Naaman’s child-like faith.
Obedience is doing what God says…
When He tells you
Beware of delayed obedience
The way He tells you
Beware of partial obedience
You do not have to understand to obey.
You have to obey!
Obedience is the pathway to blessing!
III. (:15-19) RESPONSE TO SALVATION SHOULD BE WORSHIP AND TESTIMONY
A. (:15-16) Response Never Involves Any Form of Compensation –
Integrity of the Prophetic Ministry
1. (:15a) Testimony to the One True God
“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;’”
2. (:15b) Offer of Compensation
“so please take a present from your servant now.”
Schultz: After being healed, Naaman goes back to the place where Elisha lived in order to express his gratitude and give Elisha a substantial present. This time he meets Elisha personally. The prophet refuses any kind of recompense. Naaman not only had experienced physical healing, he also realized that the God of Israel was the only real God. This implies that he recognized that the idols that were worshipped in Aram were no gods at all. The present was meant to be an act of worship to the God of Israel, of whom Elisha was the representative.
3. (:16a) Rejection of Any Compensation
“But he said, ‘As the LORD lives, before whom I stand,
I will take nothing.’”
We can’t allow anything to obscure the gospel of God’s grace.
August Konkel: Elisha refuses his proffered reward with a vow (5:16); Elisha can accept no responsibility for the mercy received. Grace granted by God cannot be rewarded with material benefits.
4. (:16b) Repeating the Offer and the Rejection
“And he urged him to take it, but he refused.”
B. (:17-18) Response of Worship Back in Syria
1. (:17) Cultural Superstitions Still Persist
“And Naaman said, ‘If not, please let your servant at least be given two mules’ load of earth; for your servant will no more offer burnt offering nor will he sacrifice to other gods, but to the LORD.’”
MacArthur: In the ancient Near East it was thought that a god could be worshiped only on the soil of the nation to which he was bound. Therefore, Naaman wanted a load of Isreaelite soil on which to make burnt offerings and sacrifices to the Lord when he returned to Damascus. This request confirmed how Naaman had changed – whereas he had previously disparaged Israel’s river, now he wanted to take a pile of Israel’s soil to Damascus.
J. Hampton Keathley III: This certainly illustrates the kind of concern God’s people should have regarding their worship, their testimony and the appearance of evil. Naaman knew that he would have to return to his old environment and live in the midst of idolatry and evil. He was concerned that he might have a proper means of worship for he could no longer worship in the house of Rimmon. He would not compromise Yahweh. He needed a place and a means for worship, so he asked for permission (note the sudden change in attitude) to take two loads of soil back home. The exact reason is not specified, only implied. Some believe it was so he could erect an altar to Yahweh for a memorial or witness to the God of Israel in his own land. On this he could offer sacrifices as an evidence of his determination to forsake all other gods.
2. (:18) Compromising Situations Require Forgiveness
“In this matter may the LORD pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the LORD pardon your servant in this matter.”
Dale Ralph Davis: Naaman says that as part of his job description he must escort the king when the latter goes to worship Rimmon. Naaman seems to say that he himself will not be worshiping Rimmon when he goes through this formality but that it goes with his position (as we say, it ‘goes with the territory’) and he can scarcely avoid it. Naaman will, of course, be worshiping on Israelite dirt somewhere close to his house. But for this cultic irregularity Naaman seems to be pleading for pardon in advance.
John Gates: Naaman showed a tender conscience about appearing to worship idols, and he received assurance that God understood his heart.
August Konkel: Chiastic structure –
For this thing
may the Lord pardon your servant
when my lord comes to the house of Rimmon to worship there
and he leans on my hand
and I worship in the house of Rimmon (when I worship in the house of Rimmon)
may the Lord pardon your servant
for this thing.
C. (:19) Response of Testimony Back in Syria
“And he said to him, ‘Go in peace.’ So he departed from him some distance.”
Wiersbe: This was the usual covenant blessing the Jews invoked when people were starting on a journey. The prophet would pray for him and trust God to use him in his new ministry in Syria. Naaman’s leprosy was gone, he still had the treasures, he carried soil from Israel, and knew the true and living God. What a witness he could be in that dark land – and Naaman’s servant girl would join him.
House: One man goes away healed because of his obedience, while the other man, indeed the one who should have known what matters most, walks away with leprosy. Yet another Israelite has made the tragic mistake of choosing a substitute for the Lord, while a Gentile convert has discovered that what his servant girl said about the Lord’s prophet is true.
David Guzik: By generally approving but not saying specifically “yes” or “no,” it seems that Elisha left the matter up to Naaman and God. Perhaps he trusted that the LORD would personally convict Naaman of this and give him the integrity and strength to avoid idolatry.
Donald Wiseman: Naaman’s relation with Elisha is couched in diplomatic language. ‘Go in peace’ is not simply ‘farewell’ (as neb), but an acknowledgment that the recipient is in covenant relation with the speaker and his god.