By Pastor Cherie Johnson
Last week, we heard about Elijah helping a widow and her son. This week we will learn about how Elisha helps an enemy army commander. Their names sound so similar, it’s easy to get them confused. Elijah came first. His name means “my god is Ya,” as in Yahweh. Elisha was his servant and successor, and his name means “God is Salvation.”
In the beginning of 2nd Kings, Elijah is taken up into heaven, with his servant Elisha the only witness, and Elijah’s powers and the Spirit of God was put on him. The next several chapters are things that Elisha did to show that he was the legitimate heir and successor, and he really did have the full power of his master.
2 Kings 5:1-17 NIV
Naaman Healed of Leprosy
1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.
2 Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
4 Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. 5 “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. 6 The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”
7 As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”
8 When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”
11 But Naaman went away angry 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. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.
13 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’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. Please accept now a gift from your servant.”
16 The prophet answered, “As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.” And even though Naaman urged him, he refused.
17 “If you will not,” said Naaman, “please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the LORD.
When the young girl from Israel says Naaman and should see the profit in Samaria, she doesn’t even name him. It’s quite likely she was actually talking about Elijah not Elisha but that begs the question what is a prophet?
At least as it applies to Israel, what they are not are fortune tellers. They’re not magicians. They are human messengers for God, mediators. When we think of Jonah, he was instructed by God to warn the people of Nineveh what would happen if they didn’t change. Jonah didn’t like them any didn’t want to deliver the message, but after spending some, let’s call it “quality time,” with the Lord while he was in “the belly of the whale,” he relented. He still didn’t like it, but he obeyed.
Profits could also do things on God’s behalf. Sometimes it meant calling down fire from the sky like Elijah did in 1st Kings 18 or healings, feeding people, and so on.
They also sort of balanced power with the Kings. When the Israelites enter the Promised Land, God was supposed to be their one and only king, but, eventually the people asked for a king like other nations. Eventually, God gave them one starting with Saul, then David, and Solomon, and so on. God did not give away his sovereignty. God merely delegated his authority, but he remains the High King above all. When needed, God sends messages through prophets.
One of the things that prophets did was help people on God’s behalf. Last week we saw how Elijah helps a widow and her son. This week his successor, Elisha, helps Naaman.
So how exactly did Elisha help Naaman? Really the question we should be asking is how did God help Naaman? Then, how did people, including Elisha help Naaman on God’s behalf? First he gives Naaman victory in battle. Is that really a help? It makes him proud. Next he is humbled, initially by his leprosy. Many scholars do not believe that this was the kind of leprosy that was so contagious that it caused people to be isolated from society, but some other skin disorder. However, it’s still affects his prestige and his power in the country. He is so desperate that he is willing to consider the suggestion of a captive Israelite slave girl.
This lesson has to be reinforced over and over because he still is proud. He is an important man, and he goes to Samaria with a letter from his king. He expects service from the king of Israel. The king of Israel does not help him, and in fact takes offense, takes it as a prelude to another military attack.
So Naaman is sent to, what he considers, a lowly prophet, who he still tries to impress and over awe with his riches, but Elisha doesn’t even see him. Next, he is told to wash in a muddy river. Imagine you have a skin infection. Would you be anxious to wash in a muddy river? But he is desperate and eventually he does it, however reluctantly. He dips himself rather than does the wash that was instructed, but it still works. His skin is healed and made like that of a young boy. A reminder, at least to us, of the young girl who set him on this path in the first place, but this is a surface change. There is a deeper change going on beneath.
Naaman is transformed. This humbling path removes his superior attitude. He returns to Elisha with an attitude of a servant. The stops on the journey emphasize that healing was not actually from any of the people but the power of God. He is converted. He now believes that the Israelite God is the only god. He likely prayed and offered sacrifices to the gods of his own country, consulted with his own king’s prophets to no avail. Perhaps, he lost faith in them entirely, but here where the tools could not possibly be responsible for his healing, it must be God. Since he already convinced himself that his own country’s gods weren’t real, the Israelite God must be the only one.
The transformation continues. Belief in God is important. It is the necessary first step, but it’s only the first step. James talks about it in his letter in chapter 2 vs 18-19. “But someone will say you have faith, I have deeds. Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that and shutter.” … The journey doesn’t end with belief in God. Naaman needs the continuation of a relationship with God.
One of the things that Naaman asks for is permission to bring dirt from Israel to build an altar. God might be the only god, but Naaman and still considered God’s influence only available on Israelite soil. So, he takes some with him. Naaman recognizes God as the only god, but doesn’t it understand that God is the God of the whole world.
In the next couple of verses Naaman goes on to ask for forgiveness in advance for bowing down to idols when he accompanies his king to their temple in Damascus. Elisha tells him to “Go in peace.” It is not as agreement, but Elisha does not squash Naaman’s newfound faith. God brought him to this point. Elisha trusted that God would continue the transformation. With continued contact with God, we are changed, and therefore our actions change.
That is why the United Methodist mission statement or purpose statement is “making disciples for the transformation of the world.” When we study at the feet of Jesus we, as his disciples, are transformed. We are made into a new creation as Paul says in 1st Corinthians 5:17. Our behavior is changed and thereby the world is changed.
In the Methodist Church we would refer to Naaman’s relationship with God as examples of prevenient grace, justifying grace, and sanctifying grace.
Prevenient grace, pre – what comes before. God was in Naaman’s life before Naaman was even aware of God.
Justifying grace. Of the time of conversion when Naaman realizes that God was the one and only God.
And sanctifying grace. The continued transformation that we experience as we learn more about God and what it means to be human the way God designed us, as he showed and demonstrated for us through Jesus Christ.
If we use the analogy of a house, prevenient grace is when are walking by a house on the sidewalk. Maybe someone calls us from inside, inviting us in. Justifying grace is when we walk through the front door of the house. Okay we believe in God, but we don’t just stand there. Sanctifying grace is moving through the rest of the house and getting to know the people inside.
That was Naama’s journey, and that’s our journey too! God first loved us, as it says in 1st John 4:19, before we ever knew God. Maybe, we still don’t feel like we know God, and we’re trying to work that out. That’s okay! I spent at least 17 years of my life searching, seeking, wondering, learning.
Then we decide. It can be the light-bulb moment. Yes! I can see it now, like with John Wesley when he was listening to Martin Luther’s commentary on Romans, or it can come slowly gradually. We don’t remember when it happened, or we don’t remember when we didn’t believe. It is all equally valid. It is all as a result of justifying grace.
Then we take this discipleship journey. We learn from our Bibles. We learn from each other and study groups or accountability groups what it means to be a Christian. We learn what it means to love like God loves. What it means to love God and to love our neighbor. It is a process, a journey. Sometimes we take detours on the path, like name and going to the king of Israel first rather than Elisha, but, God will keep calling us back.
And that’s the good news that God continues to love us no matter what! If we turn away, no matter how many detours we make, God will continue to call us. We just have to turn around. God will lead us back to pass.
We don’t know the instruments God may use. It may be the most unlikely source like a young girl, or a muddy river. If we let God, God may even use us, to help him. And, that’s how God uses Prophets to help people, how God uses us to help people to transform the world!
Next week, we will visit Daniel and see how he still helps us today!