“Many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” – Luke 4:27
This is one of the most powerful scenes in the New Testament. It is just after the first time Jesus Christ publicly preaches in the synagogue. He incites the crowd against Him with these words. By telling them that God chose to cleanse a Syrian military general of his leprosy before any Israelite was an insult.
The Jews and Syrians were, and still are today, mortal enemies. How could God have blessed such a person over any Jew? How did Naaman, a person who had no desire to know God, end up being blessed by Him? While we are alive, our stories, like Naaman’s, are being written without us knowing it. Jesus said, “My Father has been working until now, and I have been working” (John 5:17). We cannot see His activity, but when we respond to Him, the results of His work are made visible to us. And that story almost always involves someone else who leads us to Him. It was the same with Naaman. As we’ll see, there were “servants” who led Naaman in his story to meeting Christ. I lost a close “servant” this past week.
Rob was a very close friend, and he was always leading people to Jesus Christ. His incredible gift was making strangers trust him the first time he met them. I remember one afternoon when I got a call from him. He was in Branson, in a restaurant, sitting with a group of college students. They had questions on the reliability of the Bible, so he called me and we had a live phone Q&A. I asked him how he managed to get a table full of kids interested in talking to him about the Bible. He said, “I heard one of them talking about it, so I went over and said hi and we just hit it off.” That’s Rob. A “servant” who loves Jesus and people.
In Naaman’s story, 2Kings 5:1-17 records the “servants” who led Naaman to the Lord: “Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of the king… He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.” In Naaman’s camp was an Israelite servant girl, who knew of Naaman’s leprosy. So she told his wife how he could be cured: “’If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’ Through his wife, Naaman tells the king, and the king tells him to go find the prophet and be cured. Verse 9 tells us what happened next.
“So Naaman went with his horses and chariots to the door of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, ‘Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.’” Sounds simple enough: just go yourself down to the river, remove your armor, wash in the river, and your leprosy will be removed. Does Naaman obey God’s prophet? Let’s keep reading.
“But Naaman became furious and said, ‘I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?’ So he turned and went off in a rage.” Why is Naaman so angry at Elisha the prophet?
By traveling to Elisha’s house, he expected Elisha to honor him as a great general and cure him on the spot, in a great miraculous event in front of everyone. But Elisha doesn’t even meet Naaman – he sends a messenger to Naaman! Insult #1. Then, he tells Naaman to humble himself in front of his men, by removing his armor (insult #2), revealing his leprosy to everyone (insult #3) and then washing in Israelite waters (insult #4). Naaman is furious because he is confronted with who he really is. To “come clean” before God, Naaman, the great general, must lower himself. And once again, it’s his servants who explain this to him.
“Naaman’s servants went to him and said, ‘My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” Is this not like all of us? If it’s a great, important thing, we’ll do it. But something humiliating? And this is why Jesus honors Naaman in Luke 4:27. It’s people who willingly obey God’s will that are blessed by God.
“So Naaman went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy. Then Naaman said to Elisha, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel… your servant will never again make sacrifices to any other god, but to the Lord.”
If it wasn’t for the servant girl, and then his other servants at Elisha’s house, Naaman would not have come to the Lord. These unknown people lived lives of purpose by leading others to the Source of eternal life. My friend Rob, a modern day “servant” with the same purpose, is learning that now from the Lord Himself.
“The Evidence of Faith’s Substance”, Article #316 – October 13, 2018