Naaman: or God Glorified, Part 2

2 Kings 5  •  15 min. read  •  grade level: 6
2. From God's counsels we come to God's grace. The Gentile stands before the prophet's door a leper, a loathsome object, if rightly viewed, yet, in his own country, a person of rank, and highly esteemed. Before grace can flow out, the soul must be in a condition to receive it, for grace is bestowed, not earned; the favor is on God's part in giving, not on man's in receiving. How many have wrong thoughts on this point, which need to be corrected. "The wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord." The Lord gave Himself for our sins. Paul obtained mercy. (Rom. 6:2323For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23), Gal. 1:44Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: (Galatians 1:4), 1 Tim. 1:1313Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. (1 Timothy 1:13).) At the prophet's door, but not admitted into his presence, Naaman learns this. The captain of the hosts of Syria before man; be was a defiling object, which the prophet could not touch, before God. Receiving all honor from his attendants, he received none from Elisha. The prophet will not see him. Whom, before this, had refused to admit Naaman into their presence'? Where could any be found in Syria or in Israel who would not have run to Nit-smart? Elisha, acting for God, and filled with God's thoughts about all things, remains within, whilst Naaman stands with 'his train without; not that he was unconcerned about all this, for he would have him know that there was a prophet in Israel; nor yet that he would not help him, for he sent a message, at once clear in its terms and full of promise for the leper-" Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean." This was what he wanted, but he did not want it in this way. He had traveled from Syria to Samaria to be healed, but had never thought of this manner of procedure. Naaman was wroth. How unreasonable. Had he not got what the King of Israel had failed to give him, full directions for his cure? "Go, wash in Jordan seven times, and thou shalt be clean." No uncertainty was there in this language. The promise was sure, the message clear-" Thou shalt be clean." But he was wroth, and went away in a rage. Why reject his own mercies? Why refuse to obey? The truth comes out, "I thought." If bidden to do some great thing he would have done it, but this message made nothing of him. Does he stand alone in this? How often have men's thoughts stood in the way of God's grace-I thought. But what ground had he for thinking how the prophet would act. "I thought, he will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the- Lord his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper." He was willing to be healed if he was honored. How many are willing to be saved if only they may retain a good opinion of themselves? As Naaman acted then many would act in this day. But God acts now in a similar way to what He acted then. He acts in grace, but it is to sinners, to those dead in sins, to those without strength and ungodly, to those who can do nothing for their salvation but receive it, to those who conform to the obedience of faith. The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. This one verse speaks volumes. Men Were lost. He came to seek the lost, and to save the lost.
In Naaman's mind all was arranged. He pictured the scene to himself, and made himself the foremost figure in the group. " To me he will surely come out." One might picture the scene as Naaman graphically describes it, the Gentile idolater waited on by the prophet of God. The incongruity of this he did not then see. We see it. God Would visit him in grace, but as one who had no ground of his own to stand on. As a sinner He could meet with him. As a leper He could heal him. As the captain of the hosts of the King of Syria He would not receive him. What place has a sinner before God save that of one to whom mercy can be shown? What place is suited for the leper save that out- -side the camp? Naaman has to learn his place. He may be wroth with the prophet, but he cannot move him. Before him be is only a leper, whatever he may appear before others. Learning his place he has to learn his vileness. He imagined Elisha would have struck his hand over the place, and recovered the leper. A sign-a scene he expected—-not a mere word. He did not know what a defiling object he was. The priest looked on the leper to judge whether be was leprous or not. He touched him only when he was clean. Of Naaman's leprosy there was no doubt, for he had come to be healed of it. To touch him ere he was clean would only have defiled the prophet. But further, if he had been able to touch him, and so have healed him, would not men have thought there was virtue in the prophet? By sending him to the Jordan to wash, it would be clearly seen, the cure was direct from God. Man has no virtue in himself -he can only be the channel of God's grace to others. God must have all the glory of the cure, and Naaman be taught his true condition and vileness. We read of but One who touched the leper, and healed him; for in Him resided the virtue needed for his cure. He could do this and God be glorified, for honoring Him they honored the Father. But Elisha being the servant, not the Son, the channel, not the fountain, the instrument, not the worker, could direct, but could not touch.
Another lesson the proud man must learn. " Go wash in Jordan," was the command. "Are not Abana and Pharpar better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them and be clean I" was the proud captain's rejoinder. Better than all the waters of Israel they might be to the natural eye, but they could not help him. He might wash in them seventy times, and at the end he would come out as leprous as he went- in. What, then, were the healing properties of the Jordan? It had none, but there only could he be healed. He must learn the "obedience of faith." So to the Jew the preaching of the cross, Christ crucified, was a stumbling block; to the Greeks it was foolishness; but to the saved it was the power of God. Why, it might be asked, could he not go to the ashen, or the Jabbok, or any other stream? Why must he wend his way to the Jordan? Because the Jordan is the type of death, and by death alone is a soul delivered from the dominion and guilt of sin. By the blood and death of the Lord Jesus Christ our sins are blotted out. By His death sin is put away as before God. As dead and risen with Christ, souls are freed from the dominion of sin. (Heb. 9:26-2826For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: 28So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation. (Hebrews 9:26‑28); Rom. 6:1313Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. (Romans 6:13)). What the Jordan was typically, Israel's history shadowed forth when they passed through it dryshod, the ark having gone before them, and remained in the bed of the river till all had passed through. Elisha shows out in his history something of the typical character of the river, when, with a double portion of Elijah's spirit, he recrossed the Jordan dryshod, having opened the way with Elijah's mantle, to commence his ministry in Israel. The disciples of John tell us something of the same, when they were baptized of John in Jordan, confessing their sins. In Jordan, then, must the leper wash if he would be clean.
But might not Abana or Pharpar typify death as well as Jordan? They were rivers of Syria, Jordan was a river of Israel, is the simple answer. God could work in grace even for Gentiles, but He who worked thus was the God of Israel. The Gentile could get blessing in that dispensation, but only in a way which established the pre-eminence of Israel. God's name was great in Israel, however much His people had forgotten Him. Naaman had to learn this lesson likewise. He was to be healed, but by the God of Israel, and in the land of Israel. Throughout that dispensation the Gentile was taught that he must receive blessing through the Jew. The woman of Sarepta was preserved alive through the famine, but it was when she received Elijah into her house. The Ninevites were saved from the impending wrath, but it was by the preaching of Jonah. Comparing the Jordan with the rivers of Syria, Naaman might despise it, but there, and there only, could the cure be effected.
He must stoop to own his vileness in God's appointed way. That was all he had to do. That done in obedience to God, he would be healed. What a lesson was this to be learned, to confess his uncleanness, and to confess it as uncleanness of no ordinary kind. A garment or the person, slightly soiled, may be cleansed by one washing. He must wash seven times to show his defilement was great; but, when washed seven times, his leprosy would he completely and forever put away. Could he stoop to all this? At first his proud spirit rebelled. The remonstrance, however, of his servants prevailed, he obeyed.
How much then had he to learn? How low had he to come down? He learned from his visit to Jehoram that a mere man could not help him. He learned from the prophet's message that he. could direct him. He learned from Elijah's absence what he thought of the leper. He learned from the mention of the Jordan, that in God's land only could he get what he wanted; and now, by washing seven times in Jordan, he learned what it was to confess his great uncleanness. Now God could work for him. He has come down to his true place, seven times has he gone down into the Jordan, and the prophet's words are verified, his flesh has come again like the flesh of a little child, and he is clean.
All is changed. He meets with different treatment. The leper is leprous no more. He had stood before the door of the prophet; now he stands before him, no longer a suppliant whom the prophet could not see, but a voluntary confessor of the one true God. "Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel." This was not the first time surely that he crossed the boundary between Syria and Israel, yet till now he knew not that there was but One God, and that in Israel. God, because Israel had failed to do so, now glorifies Himself, and brings Naaman to enter the land as a suppliant, and to leave it as a confessor of the truth. And now he is taught something more. Having learned who God is, and where He can be found, he learns too, that, whilst he can receive from God, the prophet will receive nothing from him. God must be glorified in this too. Naaman can receive the blessing, but it is all of grace. When God gives to sinners, He gives freely. So the answer comes, "as the Lord liveth before whom I stand I will receive none, and he urged him to take it; but he refused" And rightly does he act in refusing it. Could the prophet of God be beholden to a Gentile? Impossible. Knowing the spirit in which he should act, like Abraham before the King of Sodom, he declines the offer. It would have been out of character with the times of Elisha if he had received it. That was the day to show what God could do. By-and-by it will be the day to receive from the Gentiles, according to the glowing prediction of Isa. 9
But if Elisha will not take from him, Naaman desires something from the land. The leper lately, now a confessor of the One True God, will not stop short of being a worshipper. To Jehovah alone will he henceforth offer burnt-offerings and sacrifices. All the sacrifices ever offered to Rimmon had not wrought his cure. To the One, whom he had never worshipped, is he indebted for it. To Him alone will he henceforth sacrifice, and for this requests two mules' burden of earth. He brought treasures with him; he carries back what he esteems of value. Full, a short time previous, of the superiority of Syria over Canaan, he now desires earth from the land of Israel. And why? Were there no artificers in Damascus to design for him an altar for his new worship?
Was not this request of his the proof of a perception as a worshipper, faint yet real, of what God is, and what was suited for His worship? Ahaz, years afterward, finds a pattern for an altar at Damascus; Naaman, carries back with him two mules' burden of earth. We can hardly suppose that he was acquainted with God's command to Israel (Ex. 20:2424An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee. (Exodus 20:24).) Had he by spiritual instinct a right perception of what was that God required not any ingenuity of man to make an altar, fit to offer sacrifices on to Him; and, that nothing was so suited for the worship of God in an idolatrous country as the altar of earth-a silent, yet solid witness to the immeasurable distance between man and his Maker, who seeks for nothing from man but real worship and heart service, and to whose glory he cannot add a single ray!
Here a difficulty arises. Naaman will worship Jehovah alone, but can he refuse to attend his master the king in the house of Rimmon? "In this thing the Lord pardon thy servant, that, when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of -Rimmon,... the Lord pardon thy servant in. this thing." Here again we see surely the spiritual- instincts -Of a new-born soul. Fresh from the Jordan, he learns how incompatible is all other worship with that of the true God. God cannot admit of a rival. He sees something of this; and learns that there cannot be the blending of the false with the true. He cannot worship Jehovah and—Rimmon. As a heathen, lie might have introduced the worship of Jehovah to his countrymen, as a fresh rite, to be practiced side by side with the old one. As a newborn soul, this he sees cannot be. What is he to do? Elisha answers " go in peace,"-a strange reply at first sight it appears. Is God willing to share his glory with another? Could Elisha have bowed himself in the house of Rimmon, if honored by being the support of the king of Syria? A wise answer it was, if we reflect on it. He leaves Naaman to be taught of God, as he is able to receive it. He could not sanction what Naaman spoke of. He did not excuse it, nor did he snake light of it. He refused to direct him about it. Could Naaman have walked by Elisha's faith? Naaman's words show he saw it was wrong to act as he speaks of, but he did not see how wrong. Could one, who saw it clearly, have said, "the Lord pardon thy servant in this thing?" When it was a question of teaching Naaman the freeness of grace, Elisha is plain and decided; when it is a question of how Naaman should act, his eyes as yet only half-opened, Elisha leaves him with God. Should we not do well to follow the prophet some times in this? We cannot expect a new-born soul to have the clearness and faith of an aged Christian. How this difficulty of Naaman's forces on the mind the moral state of the world. For no sooner has a soul received from God in grace, than its difficulties begin; and it finds that the ways, and maxims, and habits, and even the religion of the world, is opposed to God. The subject -of grace, taught about himself, and brought down to the obedience of faith, and the change in him which was made apparent the moment he submitted to God's words, affords us a clear and simple illustration of the way of salvation, with this difference Naaman was told to wash; sinners are told to believe. He was to wash in the Jordan; sinners are to believe on one who has died-the Lord Jesus, and has been raised again for our justification. The object of faith is different; but the result, when apprehended, is the same-obedience of faith, and the perfect cleansing from all that defiles. And we have divine -warranty for taking up this history in this light, for the Lord Himself referred to it in the synagogue at Nazareth, as an instance-of grace, which can go out beyond the narrow bounds of God's earthly people.
(To be continued, D. V.)