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Grace goes international (2 Kings 5:1-8)

April 2006

Naaman was the man who had everything: position, esteem, adulation, success, bravado – and leprosy.

Of course, many Bible handbooks or footnotes in Bible translations hasten to assure us that this was not necessarily Hansen’s disease, i.e., modern leprosy, but may have been some form of psoriasis or scabies or other skin disease.

This seems to be the case with Naaman, for when Gehazi received Naaman’s ‘leprosy’ he was ‘as snow’ (v.27) and the lesions of Hansen’s disease are never white. However, Naaman’s condition was severe enough to elicit sympathy (v.3) and to stir an eagerness for healing (vv. 4-5).

We can discuss this text in either a neat or sloppy way. We could package it up around a single theme so as to make it more digestible. But in this case I prefer the ‘sloppy’ approach, that is, I simply want to underscore some theological keynotes as I work through the text.

God’s sovereignty is total (vv. 1-4)

Naaman’s leprosy comes like a thud at the end of verse one. But that is not the most shocking note in the text. Well, it shouldn’t surprise us if we have our biblical theology working properly. Anyway, there it is – the reason why Naaman had such a nationwide reputation: ‘For by him Yahweh had given victory [literally, salvation, deliverance] to Aram’.

Here is God’s sovereignty in what we would call the big events. Yahweh is Israel’s God and yet Yahweh directs what happens to, in, and for Aram. Yahweh is the God who grants success to the Aramaean military.

Yahweh, the text implies, controls Syrian politics and foreign affairs. He is no small-time director of an Israelite ghetto; nor some mascot of a little Jewish club. Here is the God of Psalm 24:1. Yahweh is both God of the church and Lord of the world.

Yahweh draws near to his people but that does not mean he allows pagans to run around unsupervised. Verse 2 is the other side of the coin. Yahweh is sovereign not only in the big events but in the small circumstances, in one single, young life.

It is heart-rending even if reported matter-of-factly: ‘Now Aram went out as raiding parties and took captive from the land of Israel a little girl, and she was serving Naaman’s wife’ (v.2).

The writer draws a contrast between Naaman, as ‘a great man’ (v.1), and ‘a little girl’ (v. 2); Naaman was a great man ‘before his master’ and this girl was serving ‘before the wife of Naaman’.

Personal tragedy

Now the whole story hangs on this little lass and yet we don’t even know her name. As she went about her housework one day she mentioned how burdened at heart she was over her poor master’s condition. There was a prophet in Samaria who could bring healing to him (v.3)!

Naaman, apparently desperate, decided it was worth a try (v.4). The rest is history. But chip away at verse 2 and sense the personal tragedy in it. Were the girl’s parents killed in the Aramaeans’ raid? She was spirited off by raiders, never to return home again, never to see loved ones again, living the rest of her life in servitude in a foreign country (though one could have drawn a worse lot than working for Mrs Naaman).

What was it like when she was wrenched away that Thursday morning? Was she not scared out of her wits? When Israelites received their electricity bills there would be no enclosure with a picture of this lass and the legend, ‘Have you seen this girl?’ – along with the date of her disappearance.

No, she was gone for good-after probably the worst trauma of her young life. Whatever dreams she had of personal fulfillment or simply of life among her family and village had been smashed. And, apparently, she was from a godly home, for she knew of Elisha and had confidence that God’s power operated through the prophet (v.3).

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.

Incidental?

Sometimes the means God uses to bring people to himself seem – well, so incidental. A little captive girl. Or a discarded book. Arno C. Gaebelein sent a free copy of his first book, Studies in Zechariah, to every rabbi in greater New York City and never received an acknowledgement from any of them.

After a while, however, a young Hebrew Christian began to attend one of Gaebelein’s meetings. He had been secretary to a well-known rabbi. The rabbi had tossed Studies in Zechariah into the waste basket, but the secretary had fished it out, read it, and trusted Christ! Yahweh’s sovereignty is so fascinating. And total.

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 and personal dilemmas – 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.

God’s ‘servants’ can be pathetic (vv. 5-8)

Naaman comes into Israel bearing official correspondence and sufficient funds to buy his way through government red tape and reward any successful faithhealer. R. Hobbs points out that Naaman’s gift (v.5) would amount to 340 kilograms of silver and 90 kilograms of gold, an enormous amount.

Probably the King of Aram thought that any prophet worth his salt in Israel would be connected to the king’s court – hence his letter to the king. But Israel’s king is devastated, immobilised, alarmed. He’s sure Aram is only looking for grounds to pick a fight (v.7).

We face quite a contrast here when we view verses 5-8 next to verses 1-4. The faith of the little girl stands out against the despair of Israel’s king (v.7). Mrs Naaman’s girl is full of expectation and confidence; Israel’s king is full of dread and dismay.

Elisha has to take the initiative with the king; the king doesn’t even seek out the prophet. [It’s just as well, then, that Elisha says, ‘Why have you torn your clothes? Please let him come to me and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel!’ (v.8).]

The king, then, does not know the power of God (cf. Matthew 22:29). Well, theoretically, he does – he exclaims, ‘Am I God to kill and to make alive?’ (v.7). Apparently he knew God could do such things. But for him it was only a formula. He can see nothing beyond politics.

A warning

One might say that the king is the epitome of the unbelieving, unseeking attitude of Israel. He, as no other, should set the tone for the people of God. Probably, however, he reflects their attitude. He lives life without recourse to God.

He is king of a people who have been at least part of the covenant nation; he should therefore be seeking God in such dilemmas. He, like the nation, has the name of Israel but not the faith of Israel.

In my country the early movie industry was fascinated with ‘westerns’. The ‘west’ pictured in the films was that beyond the Mississippi River from about 1860-1890. One of the first westerns was Edwin S. Porter’s popular little movie The Great Train Robbery (1903). It depicted the far west, where train robberies were still taking place.

However, there is one problem with the movie. It was filmed in New Jersey! So one could say it was inauthentic. That is the problem with Israel’s king and, likely, with Israel. You can be part of the people of the covenant and not have the faith of the covenant.

Is this king not a warning to you? You may be numbered among God’s outward people and yet live life without God. Your name may be on a church roll and yet you do not seek for him, long for him, or thirst for him. You do not cast your anxieties upon him.

You may be a long-standing Presbyterian (or some other variety) and have no faith in the Lord Jesus Christ at all. We may profess God and yet live life without him.

2 Kings – The power and the fury by Dale Ralph Davis is published by Christian Focus (344 pages; £9.99; ISBN 1-84550-096-2)