Rev. Miersma is pastor of Immanuel Protestant Reformed Church in Lacombe, Alberta, Canada.
Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
In this fifth chapter of II Kings we have some remarkable contrasts, which deserve notice. The first contrast is between the little Jewish girl and the wicked king of Israel. The little girl believed in her God, while the king trusted in heathen idols. The first was a slave in a heathen land, separated from her people; the second bathed in pomp and luxury in the palace at Samaria. The little girl was convinced that her God had all power in heaven and earth; the ungodly Joram thought that it was a threat to his unstable throne that the captain of the Syrian army should seek help from the God of Israel. On the one hand, undaunted faith; on the other hand, terrifying unbelief.
The second contrast is between Naaman the Syrian captain, and Gehazi the servant of Elisha. Naaman came from the pagan country of Syria to be cured of his leprosy by the God of Israel. He came to the prophet Elisha and found a cure in a most astounding way. But Gehazi, who grew up in Israel and even served the prophet, preferred the gold and silver of Syria above the treasures of heaven. Naaman the Syrian went home cured, rejoicing in his newfound salvation, while Gehazi went forth from the presence of Elisha covered with the leprosy of the Syrian.
We learn from this account that salvation is by grace only in sovereign mercy. Jesus reminds us of these wondrous, unfathomable ways of God when He tells the unbelieving Jews of His day that there were many lepers in the days of Elisha, but none was healed except Naaman the Syrian.
Naaman held a high position in Syria. Due to his great ability in battle and numerous victories he was made captain over the military forces of the kingdom. All of this we readily understand as being of the Lord. God had given him those victories over the enemies of Syria. Even the victory over Israel because of their sin was of the Lord.
However, Naaman had given the credit to his own god, Rimmon, who was considered the god of war. The truth is that God had given them to him to punish unfaithful Israel and to make His name known among the heathen. It was also the Lord that brought this Syrian captain very low. From the pinnacle of his proud position he was dashed into the shameful humiliation of a miserable leper.
Leprosy is a dreadful disease. It begins with a small spot in the skin and soon spreads until the entire body becomes an unsightly mass of festering sores. The face becomes horribly distorted, limbs twist into grotesque shapes, and soon the fingers and toes rot from the body. Knowing no cure, the victim could only wait for death.
This disease, by its very nature, was a symbol of God’s curse. It was a vivid picture of the depravity of the human nature, the destructive power of sin, and the utter despair of the sinner who awaits everlasting torments of hell under the righteous wrath of the living God. As we well know, sin breeds sin, even unto death. That is why the victim of leprosy was, in Israel, an outcast of society.
Naaman had leprosy, although it had not reached the advanced stage. For a man of his position nothing worse could happen, and Rimmon, his god, could not help him. The future for him looked dark and hopeless, just as it does for a sinner who is brought into the consciousness of his own sin and guilt in the sight of the living God.
Yet there was one very important thing that Naaman did not know, that he was an elect child of God. He was unconscious of the fact that all these things came upon him in the mercies of the God of Israel. God was putting Israel to shame by working His power for a man who was actually a pagan. Years later Jesus points this out so beautifully to the unbelieving Jews of His day by telling them that when Israel had made the measure of their iniquity full, Israel as a nation would be destroyed and God would turn to the Gentiles to gather His own elect out of every nation, tongue, and tribe. God, who is sovereign in mercy, knows His own and knows how to deliver them unto salvation.
Now, how did this Gentile come into contact with the God of Israel? God used the means of a little Jewish girl and the king of Israel, Joram. The little Jewish girl had been taken captive by Naaman in one of his victories over Israel and was brought to his home as his personal slave. Far from her home she clung to her faith in her God. When she found out about her master’s leprosy, she said, “Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! For he would recover him of his leprosy.” Then the king of Syria, deeply concerned about the welfare of his valuable captain, consented to send him to seek a cure from the God of Israel.
In His inscrutable wisdom God used this means to bring the king of Israel into the picture. King Joram must be aware of what the true God is doing in order that he may forever be without excuse. We do not know whether the king of Syria did not know where the prophet lived, or whether he thought that he needed the king’s permission to send someone to the prophet. Whatever the case may be, Naaman comes with a letter from his king to ask King Joram to cure him of his leprosy. Fear immediately strikes the king’s heart, for his trust is not in Jehovah but in the idol gods of the heathen. He could only surmise that this was simply another scheme to make war against him. Elisha, however, hears about this embassy from Syria and urges the king to send Naaman to him in order that it may be known that there is indeed a prophet in Israel.
Naaman now comes to Elisha with all the pomp and dignity of his office, to impress the prophet with his greatness and worthiness, expecting to be greeted with the honor and respect worthy of his position. Thinking that Jehovah was like unto Rimmon, he thought that Elisha would perform some ritual that would be followed by magical healing flowing from the fingers of the prophet. In turn he would pay for these services with a goodly amount of money and costly garments. Yes, Naaman had it all figured out.
However, he was in for a shock. Elisha did no such thing. In fact, the prophet never even came out to greet him, but simply sent out his servant to tell him to go wash in the Jordan seven times. Naaman felt insulted. Must he expect a cure from the muddy Jordan rather than the sparkling rivers of Damascus? Can the God of Israel do from a distance that which his gods would not even attempt to do? His pride is hurt and he is angry. At this point his servants point out his foolishness. Certainly, if Elijah had required something difficult, Naaman would have exerted his utmost to do it. What Elijah actually requires is so simple, so why not do it?
As we have seen before, the Lord was directing all circumstances, for Naaman had to learn a few things. He had to learn that before God he is no more than a filthy leper. It must be seen by him that God alone is the Almighty, that Rimmon has no power. He must learn to confess that the God of Israel is the only true living God, forsaking all others. Wanting to merit his cure, he must learn that God’s gifts are sovereignly free. Instead of looking for cures in rituals and ceremonies, he must confess that there is no cleansing power except in the blood of the Lamb, as symbolized in the river Jordan. This is what the Lord was working in the heart of this Gentile by His Spirit, so that he would do some real soul searching. He must come to know that, as lepers deserved to be cast out by God and man, so he stood before the living God as a sinner who deserved nothing less than to be forever forsaken in hell. Instead of dictating how he should be healed, he must learn to cry out, “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Thus humbled he dips seven times in the Jordan.
Then he saw it, that God is the only God. He realized for the first time in his life that God is God, that Rimmon was but a mere idol. Indeed, it was not the river Jordan that had healed, but Jehovah. As the leprosy disappears from his body, he realizes the power of God that is able to wash and cleanse us even from our spiritual leprosy, until we are made whiter than snow. The cleansing power of the Spirit gave his heart greater joy than the outward cleansing. The peace of God that floods his soul is far more wonderful than the riddance of that dreadful disease. For the first time he realizes that the guilt and filth of sin was far worse than the plague that had ravaged his body, and that the healing was far better than the outward cure.
There is one more thing to be learned, that this healing is a sovereignly free gift. He feels compelled to return to Elisha to offer him substantial remuneration forhis services. The prophet quickly informs him that God’s gifts cannot be purchased with money. Salvation is not of works, lest any man should boast. All the money in the world could not pay for that gift, for salvation is of God alone through the price of the blood that God Himself paid for the sins of His people on the cross.
Thus, Naaman went home cured, but possessing also that far greater treasure, faith in the only true and living God whom he now confessed as his God alone.
Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, sought through deception the treasures of this world, which he esteemed above the kingdom of heaven. We know what happened. He went out from the presence of the man of God a leper, as white as snow. Another leper there now was in Israel, but Naaman, the Syrian, was cured.
How wondrous are the ways of God, unfathomed and unknown! Salvation is by grace in God’s sovereign good pleasure. He who glories, let him glory in the Lord!