Naaman the Syrian

2 Kings 5  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Various, as well as striking and significant, are the glories that shine along the path of our prophet. Every stage tells out some great and new secret of God.
In this history we have, it seems, all the leading truths of the mystery of God’s grace, simply, yet strikingly, illustrated. It is a parable of very rich instruction.
In the person of Naaman we get man in his best estate. Naaman must have been the world’s envy, the great favorite of the day. He was made much of, as we speak, by every one: by the king himself, and all the nation. The Lord, in endowments and providences, had greatly signalized him. But “he was a leper.” There was a stain on all his glory which no hand but God’s could remove. Let the world flatter him as it might, it was a witness, a constant witness to himself, that all was not right. There was a worm at the root of the wide-spreading gourd.
And such indeed is man. Let him be advantaged as he may in circumstances, or set off as he may by embellishments and attractions, there is a witness against him still. He carries it in himself; he is conscious of it, though he may be silent as to it.
In the little captive, whom we see next, we get just the opposite of Naaman. All was against her in circumstances. She had been dragged from friends and home and was a bond-servant in a stranger’s house and land, but she carried a secret, the very opposite of Naaman’s secret. She had the witness of God for her; Naaman had His witness against him. She knew the healing, while he felt the sore. This was a mighty difference; yea, all the difference, if God be considered. To have Him for and not against us is surely the grand secret after all. And so it was here.
So it is with every true Israelite like her: in the knowledge of the same secret, in the knowledge of the healing of God, they can say, If God be for me, who can be against me! She reminds one of Paul before Festus and Agrippa. There the Apostle was poor indeed in circumstances, but rich indeed in God. And like this dear young captive, he desired all good and blessing for those who had bound him.
These are valuable lessons in this parable. But we have others. The king of Syria is next introduced; and he represents man in his loftiness of thought and self-esteem, even in religion. He judges, to be sure, that for the divine healing of his favorite captain, his own resources and great influence must be used. Who but he? who but the king? was the language of his heart. He, therefore, prepares his silver, his gold, and his raiment, and writes a letter with his own hand on this business to the king of Israel—a king to a king. For nothing less than such patronage can give fair promise of blessing.
All this is worldly religion, man’s thoughts about God’s ways. But there is nothing that the king of Syria does that is not simply “labor lost.” His own personal patronage and gifts, and the countenance he sought of a brother king, all is religious vanity.* The king of Israel, however, who had the advantage of God’s revelation in his country, is able to refuse to take this place, or act his part, in this grand purpose and thought of the king of Syria.
(* Is it not ever the thought of the natural man that the “gift of God” has in some way to be purchased? If not exactly “purchased with money,” as Simon Magus thought, yet by some compensation on our part by which God may be induced to bestow the gift. Ed.)
But there is one higher than the king in all this, though the Syrian knows nothing of him. Elisha had, of course, passed the notice of this great man of the earth. But Elisha, who is now also, in his turn, introduced to us in the history, is Naaman’s only hope in this day of his leprosy. And Elisha, conscious that the power of God was with him, makes no stir, or difficulty, as the king had done. He has not, like One afterward, the authority of his own word to cleanse away the stain, but he is in the secret of God’s ordained remedy, and he can, with authority, preach that to the leper.
For here I may notice how Jesus shines above all. When the leper comes to Him, it is not as with the king, “Am I God, that I should heal a man of his leprosy?” nor is it as with the prophet, “Go wash in Jordan, and be clean.” No; but He reveals Himself at once in the place and power of God. “I will; be thou clean.” Elisha was but a preacher of Jesus to Naaman; Jesus was the leper’s cleansing—the healing God. Elisha did not venture to touch the leper. This would have defiled him. But Jesus “put forth His hand and touched him”; for Jesus, with the rights of the God of Israel, was above the leper, and could consume and not contract the defilement.
What preeminence in all things marks Him! John, the brightest of them, is but the bridegroom’s friend; Jesus is the bridegroom.
And then, in this same picture, we see another object of the deepest interest to us: I mean the poor, convicted leper passing through his cleansing.
At first, nature is strong in him. He resents the remedy which grace had provided—a remedy most simple, but most humbling. So simple that there was no mistaking it, and no difficulty in applying it: saving, indeed, the difficulty which man’s pride and previous thoughts had opposed to it. And these give battle at once. Grace, however, can plead with a slow, reluctant heart, as well as provide for a tainted, leprous body. Grace can use a ministry, as well as open a fountain for sinners. And that ministry, like the remedy, is simple and artless, and as such fitted to its end. Naaman’s servants, in their way, met the risings of nature in their master, and their word or ministry is blest; the proffered fountain is tried, its virtues are proved, and the flesh that was leprous became like that of a little child. It is more than restoration—it is resurrection. Jordan was a true baptism to this Syrian. He dies and lives again, he is buried and rises again and comes forth, not merely as healed, but as a new creature.
And what is the fruit of this new condition in which he finds himself? Here we trace the parable still, and get the principle of God’s way still illustrated.
1. He stands before Elisha with all his company. It is not now the proud, but the humble, Naaman. Sweet fruit this of the new man that Naaman had become! He had been led to take the way of humility to be washed; he now takes the place of humility before the God of Israel, because he is washed.
2. He makes a goodly confession to the one and only God. He takes Him for his God: he had learned Him through the health and salvation He had given him. And this is the way that the new creature ever learns Him—the only way He can be learned, or known, in this world.
3. He presses his gifts, whatever he had, on the prophet—not now, as the king, his master thought, to purchase the healing, but because of the healing. He had been forgiven, and, therefore, he loved. He was relieved and happy, and, therefore, he could be generous.
4. He will henceforth know no other God—and in order to do that, he seeks materials to raise Him an altar. God must be his God, even in the midst of infidel Syria, where he is returning. Him and Him only will he worship. For this “mule’s burthen of earth” was for the erecting, as it were, another Ed beyond the Jordan. (See Josh. 22:3434And the children of Reuben and the children of Gad called the altar Ed: for it shall be a witness between us that the Lord is God. (Joshua 22:34).) It was to bear witness in the distant land of Syria that this citizen of that country belonged to the God of Israel—that, like the Ethiopian eunuch, he had cast in his lot with Israel, or had come, like Ruth the Moabitess, to trust under the wings of the God of Isarel.
5. And lastly—he gets a renewed conscience, quick and sensitive of the least, even apparent, departure from the God who had now blessed him. He dreads the appearance of evil. He would not have it thought that any tendance of his on his master was recurring to the old principles of Syria and the house of Rimmon. Such he had left, and left forever, through God’s grace, and would now, at the very entrance of his new creation in Christ Jesus, enter a protestation against everything that might even look otherwise. *
(* May it not be that Naaman feels a measure of inconsistency to be found in the temple of Rimmon where his position required he should accompany his master? But God’s grace, through His prophet, waits upon faith’s fuller development for all fidelity. Ed.)
The prophet sends him away in peace. The Ethiopian had left Philip “rejoicing”—the Syrian leaves Elisha under his seal of peace.
This narrative, therefore, which thus occupies an important place in the ministry of our prophet, and is the scene in his labors taken up and referred to by his divine Master afterward (Luke 4), is one of extensive value to us, so clearly and fully exhibiting the dealing of God with each of us. Let us, with all simplicity of heart, assure ourselves that all was written for our learning—that our God has from the beginning been allowing things to happen to others, that we might be admonished and comforted by them, through the records which His Spirit has given us of them.
But there is one other object in this scene which I observe: I mean Gehazi. The prophet (vs. 26) does not challenge him on the ground of his having lied to Naaman, but on quite another form of evil that was in his conduct. And there is, I believe, great force and beauty in this. “Is it a time,” says Elisha to his servant, “to receive money, and to receive garments, and olive-yards and vineyards, and sheep and oxen, and men servants and maid servants?” This was an ingredient in the sin which belonged rather for the Spirit to notice—the lie was of common, moral apprehension.
The Gentile had just been learning the grace of the God of Israel. The talents of silver, and pieces of gold, and changes of raiment, which the king of Syria had sent into the land of Israel, had been despised by the prophet, and Naaman was bearing back all, to the utmost “thread and shoe-latchet,” as we may say. He had gone to the waters without money and without price, and was the witness that the gift of God was not to be purchased with money.
Terrible was it, then, to have all this testimony confounded. Well might the prophet ask, Is this a time to take the Syrian’s money? Could anything be more grievous to the Spirit? The lie, it is true, was abominable—the lie first to Naaman, and then to Elisha himself—it was all abominable. But what shall we say of this sad counter-testimony, this clouding of the brightness of the grace of God, this giving occasion to them that might seek occasion?
This was the offense which the Spirit noticed and the prophet challenged: Gehazi had sold the honor of the rich and free grace of the Lord of Israel to the reproaches of an injurious world.
At least, he had done all he could to this end. His money must, therefore, perish with him. He must be put outside the borders of the camp; for he who could thus falsify the God of Israel was unfit to be of the Israel of God.
The parable of the unmerciful servant reads the same warning to us. The grace of the gospel was there insulted, and the man who exposed it to reproach was cast into outer places like the leprous Gehazi. It was the energy of the dear Apostle, on the other hand, to reflect and set off that grace continually. Read his ways in Acts 20:33-3533I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel. 34Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. 35I have showed you all things, how that so laboring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive. (Acts 20:33‑35). For the reasonable service is this: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect”—“maintain the family character,” as has been the paraphrase of that lovely word; but Gehazi was not jealous of its honor and praise in the sight of the nations. Did he not count himself unworthy of a place in it?
This is the serious feature in this otherwise happy picture. And it is serious—that a man, like Gehazi, who had companied so long and so intimately with such a servant of God as Elisha, should have been so distant from his spirit!
This part of the story, however, brings out what, on the other hand, is comforting and encouraging: that the soul of the Syrian, though it has now passed the hour of its first love, and he is on his journey to his distant home, has not lost the generosity of that first hour. He alights at once on seeing the prophet’s servant behind him, and without suspicion and without reserve, lays his treasures at the servant’s feet, as he had, on the first moment, offered to do at the master’s! Oh, that on our journey the power of the first hour may continue to be felt!