The Syrian Leper: Wash and Be Clean

2 Kings 5:13  •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 6
Naaman was a mighty man of valor, high in repute with the king of Syria, honorable too, and distinguished as the captain of the king's host; but " he was a leper." This is a terrible addition. Looking, however, at leprosy as a type of sin, it may be truly added to the description of any, the most honorable, refined, mighty and prosperous among men in their natural state now- hut he is a sinner. Whatever he may think of himself, such is his state before God.
What a dreadful thing sin is! It formed no part of man's creation, for we are told that God made man upright. (Eccle. 7:29) Sin was introduced at the fall. "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin." (Rom. 5:1212Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (Romans 5:12).) Man is therefore by nature a sinner. Every one might in truth say, "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me." (Psalm 2:55Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure. (Psalm 2:5).) Our birth-condition being bad, all are necessarily sinners by practice. God says, "all have sinned," and " there is not one righteous, no not one." (Rom. 3:10, 2310As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: (Romans 3:10)
23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; (Romans 3:23)
.) Man's sins come from an evil heart. Again scripture affirms, "Every imagination of the thoughts of his heart is only evil continually." This, leprosy remarkably illustrates. The disease is in the blood, and is of a deadly character. It is a constitutional malady, and from any exciting cause, breaks out readily to the surface. Moreover, like sin, it is incurable by human means; it is loathsome, and easily spreads. A leper was pronounced to be "utterly unclean," and was commanded to go outside the camp, and with a covering upon his upper Up to cry, "Unclean! unclean!"
With man sin is irremediable. He may cover up the leprous spots, and wash off some of its unclean accompaniments; but he cannot cleanse a conscience from its guilt, or deliver any from its power. God alone can do that.
Naaman must have felt the loathsomeness and the danger of his state; but God was gracious to him. A little Israelitish maid, his wife's attendant, was the instrument used to give him hope. Through her he heard that there was recovery to be had in the land of Israel. He heard, too, that it was effected by "the prophet that is in Samaria." This report was the first sound of glad tidings of a cure for leprosy which seems to have reached this distressed man; and we can easily imagine how welcome such tidings must have been. Now mark the effects. He did not, as many do, treat the good news as if he heard it not; no, it produced in him great concern. His desire for being cleansed was so urgent, that he seems to have lost no time, nor spared inquiry, to learn more about it. But, like many true-hearted souls now, when desiring salvation from the wrath to come, he set about it in a wrong way. He looked to human aid and interest, instead of coming at once to the man of God. He took letters to the king of Israel from the king of Syria, saying he had sent Naaman to be healed of his leprosy. With this the king of Israel was very indignant. He knew that none but God could heal him. Therefore he "rent his clothes," and replied, "Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy?" (Ver. 7.) How many there are now, who when first awakened to a real sense of their guilt and danger as sinners in the sight of God, fly to men, some form of religion, ministers, priests, and ordinances, instead of coming at once, by faith, to the Lord Jesus Christ, who only can cleanse them from the leprosy of sin!
Afterward, however, Naaman determined to go to the man of God. Like a person of self-importance, he drove with his horses and his chariot to the door of the prophet's house, but only to be terribly disappointed not to see the prophet's face. The suffering leper had not yet learned the lesson that God's great and glorious ways are hid from the wise in their own eyes, but are revealed unto babes. At the door of Elisha's house, however he heard the glad tidings, " Go and wash in Jordan, seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee and thou shalt be clean." What words of comfort for a leprous man! How rich, how free, how wonderful the grace of God to sinners of the Gentiles! But how does the great and honorable man treat these gracious words? Does he hasten at once to Jordan? Not so. He is not broken down enough yet to receive God's truth as a little child; lie is not yet content to be blessed and cleansed in God's way. Proud reasoning comes in to hinder and delay the blessing. Why, he thought, must I wash in Jordan? Why not dip in one of our own beautiful rivers, if it be merely a question of "wash and be clean?" "Are not Abana and Pharpar rivers of Damascus better than all the waters of Israel? May I not wash in them and be clean? So he turned away in a great rage." (Ver. 12.) Such are we by nature. Our minds are at such enmity with God, that we prefer anything to simple subjection to God's word, and giving glory to Him. But this cannot be. Beautiful as the rivers of Damascus were, their waters cannot cleanse a leprous man, however many times he may dip in them. It is Jordan only. And why? Because Jordan means the river of judgment. It speaks of that without which there could be no cleansing of the leprosy of sin. Unless sins had been judged, there could be no remission. It is blessedly true then that God laid upon Jesus His Son the iniquity of us all; and that He bare our sins in His own body on the tree. He died for our sins. Sins therefore, were judged on the holy Son of God on the cross, for He there " suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring "as to God.'' Had God not judged sins on the cross, there could have been no cleansing, for u without shedding of blood is no remission." But this having been done, it is now due to Christ, and due to every sinner that takes shelter in His blood, and righteous on God's part also, to cleanse such from all sin. "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." What infinite grace and wisdom, and yet all coining to us through righteousness!
Such we judge to be the typical explanation why the waters of Jordan only could cleanse the leper. And it is of all importance to see that sins have been dealt with judicially on the cross—that Jesus was there made sin for us, who believe, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him; that He was there " wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities," and that " with his stripes we are healed."
The leper's anger was not a little kindled at this simple way of cleansing, apart from all priestly interference or religious ordinances. He was evidently looking forward to an imposing ceremonial, instead of which he had the words only—a Go and wash in Jordan seven times." What a difficulty to man's proud and unbelieving heart does the very simplicity of the gospel present! Yet a lowly mind, with a divinely-wrought faith, wants nothing more than the word of God on which to repose implicitly. Naaman said, "Behold, I thought he will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of Jehovah his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper.... so he turned and went away in a great rage." (Vers. 11, 12.)
But with all these workings of pride, ignorance, and unbelief, Naaman is a leper still, needy and helpless as ever. His servants try to assuage his anger. They reason with him on the simplicity of the remedy, they remind him that it is only " Wash and be clean." He too is conscious of the greatness of his danger and the urgency of his need, as also of the probability of never having the opportunity again within his reach. It was a deeply serious moment! The only remedy is now so pressed upon his soul that he lays aside all reasoning, and in simple faith acts on the saying of the man of God. We read, "Then," yes then, and not till then; but "Then," (while the words, " Wash and be clean," were engaging his mind) "went he down, and dipped himself in Jordan seven times, according to the saying of the man of God." (Ver. 14.) A beautiful example of faith, for he acted simply on the authority of the word. He did "according to the saying of the man of God." And now mark the result. The blessing which followed was exactly what Jehovah's prophet had said, for he was not only cleansed, but his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child.
Still looking at the instruction typically, we may observe, first, having taken his place as a loathsome, helpless leper, and bowed himself seven times in the river of judgment (thus owning the just claims of death and judgment over him) he was cleansed. So those now who own the righteous judgment of God for sin in the death of His Son upon the tree, and bow to Him, are cleansed from all sin. Such are assured that their sins have been already judged, that God has forgiven them, and will not remember their sins any more. "To him [Christ] give all the prophets witness, that, through his name, whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins." (Acts 10:4343To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins. (Acts 10:43).) Perfect cleansing of sins by the blood of Jesus.
Secondly. The leprous man had not only cleansing, but " his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child." This reminds us of the new birth; for everyone who believes on the Son of God hath everlasting life; he is born of water (the word) and of the Spirit. He is a new-born babe. "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God." Thus the burdened, sin-stricken soul that has fled to Jesus for salvation, has not only a purged conscience by the blood of Jesus, but he has also a new life in Christ, a new nature, which under the teaching of the Holy Ghost is capable of knowing God, entering into the deep things of God, and of enjoying His presence forever. "What a marvelous change for this loathsome leper! What a deliverance and recovery! Yet all through the sovereignty of divine grace and on the principle of faith. We say sovereign grace, for our Lord informs us, that "there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian." (Luke 4:2727And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian. (Luke 4:27).)
But further; we may notice the practical effects of this grace and power of God on this cleansed one. First, he returned to the man of God. He sought his company. This was a new order of things entirely. "He returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and stood before him." (Ver. 15.) In this, do we not see the principle of love manifested to God's people? And does not true faith always work by love? Can anyone really believe on the Lord Jesus to the saving of his soul, and not love Him? Impossible. Do we not love Him because He first loved us? And does not He who loves Him that begat, love also those who are begotten of Him? Hence we find a sentence in scripture, which has been a comfort to thousands, "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren." Where there is not love to the Lord Jesus and to those whom "He is not ashamed to call his brethren," there is no life—" he that loveth not his brother abideth in death." (1 John 3:1414We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. (1 John 3:14).) "If any man love not our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha"—accursed when the Lord cometh. (1 Cor. 16:2222If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha. (1 Corinthians 16:22).) In Naaman's case we find that, before all his servants he did not hesitate openly to confess his attachment to the man of God.
Secondly. He gave glory to the God of Israel. This faith always does. We are told that Abraham was" strong in faith, giving glory to God?" The confession of this recovered leper was, "Now I know there is no God in all the earth but in Israel." And so now the believer, by whatever instrumentality he has been brought to Jesus as His Savior, gives all the praise and glory to God.
Thirdly. Naaman now wishes to use his means for the benefit of God's people. He urges Elisha to take a blessing, but the prophet properly refused. Under other circumstances, he gladly accepted the kind hospitality of the Shunamite for himself and his servant; but in this case, he doubtless saw it would appear that the servant would by accepting the present, be according something meritorious to himself, instead of giving all the glory to God.
And now, dear reader, we affectionately inquire. What say you to these things? Are you conscious of being a sinner in the sight of God, both by nature and practice, and that God must judge sin? Do you tremble at the thought of death and judgment being immediately before you? Does it not sometimes occur to your mind that you must either now be cleansed from sin, or forever suffer in your sins? Oh! turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?
Did not Jesus the Son of God die for sinners? Does not His blood cleanse from all sin? Then why go to the lake of fire forever? Why not "Wash and be clean?" Why not now? for the Son of God still delights to save sinners. He calls, He beseeches. He says, " Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest!" Can you refuse such love? Can you try to conceal your leprous spots, and appear clean before men, when, in the sight of God you are "Utterly unclean?" Hearken then to the Saviors solemn words, If ye "die in your sins, whither I go, ye cannot come!" Think then, dear reader, of the awful possibility of your dying in your sins. Bow at once to the sinner-loving Savior. Fall now, as a leprous sinner, into His open arms. Often have you heard the message of His wondrous grace, and refused to come, but now, yes now, may the language of your inmost soul be, while looking straight to Him in faith -"Myself into Thine arms I cast, Lord save this sinful one at last"
And save He will, for to-day is the day of salvation. He will receive you, welcome you, and never cast you out. He will wash you in His blood, cleanse away all your guilt, and forgive all your sins. He will give you His Holy Spirit, and then you will manifest that you love Him because He first loved you. You will love the brethren. You will give to Jesus the Lord all the praise and glory of your eternal salvation, and the desire of your soul will be henceforth to live, not unto yourself, but to Him who died and rose again for you.
This exquisite chapter, however, does not close without recording a most solemn warning. Gehazi was the trusted servant of "the man of God." He was accustomed to see his master's ways of faith, and of obedience to the will of God. He had tarried with him at the Shunamite's house, and accompanied him in the miracle of raising her dead son to life. He had also witnessed the mighty power and goodness of God in cleansing the leprous captain according to Elisha's testimony, and had been present when he rightly declined all reward, because the glory was alone due to Jehovah. But, with all this, Gehazi's heart was not right with God. In the blindness of an evil nature, he knew nothing better than the present possession of wealth. Money he would have, though it might only be obtained by deceit and lying. Gehazi loved money, and seeing now the recovered leper in the freshness of first love and liberality, he seized a fitting moment to run after him. By lying he succeeded in obtaining two talents of silver and two changes of garments, and then returned to his master with his accustomed demeanor, as if nothing had happened. He little thought that the eye of God was upon him, and that the power of God was with Elisha. When interrogated, therefore, Gehazi tries lying again. But he is made manifest. God would not have such wickedness hid. He was convicted, and sentenced with the plague of leprosy upon himself and upon his seed forever. After this, Gehazi is only known as amusing the king, by telling him "all the great things that Elisha had done." Such is man. (2 Kings 5:22-27; 8:422And he said, All is well. My master hath sent me, saying, Behold, even now there be come to me from mount Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets: give them, I pray thee, a talent of silver, and two changes of garments. 23And Naaman said, Be content, take two talents. And he urged him, and bound two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of garments, and laid them upon two of his servants; and they bare them before him. 24And when he came to the tower, he took them from their hand, and bestowed them in the house: and he let the men go, and they departed. 25But he went in, and stood before his master. And Elisha said unto him, Whence comest thou, Gehazi? And he said, Thy servant went no whither. 26And he said unto him, Went not mine heart with thee, when the man turned again from his chariot to meet thee? Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and oliveyards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and maidservants? 27The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever. And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow. (2 Kings 5:22‑27)
4And the king talked with Gehazi the servant of the man of God, saying, Tell me, I pray thee, all the great things that Elisha hath done. (2 Kings 8:4)
Little had Gehazi profited by all his advantages. The same is solemnly true with many now. But the scripture must be fulfilled, that "a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit," "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." With all the restraint of godly influence, and all the advantages of Bible knowledge, man is still at enmity against God, a lover of the pleasures of sin more than of God. The leprosy of sin is in him, and if not cleansed by the blood of Jesus, will cleave unto him forever. In his sins during life, in his sins at death, in his sins at the judgment of the "great white throne," in his sins in the lake of fire forever—shut out forever from the light, and joy, and glory of God and of the Lamb!
Dear reader, which of these two men are you like at this moment? Have you, like Naaman, tasted the joy and blessing of having been perfectly cleansed from the leprosy of sin by the blood of Jesus? Or, is your heart set on money, and seeking to satisfy itself by the accumulation of wealth, or with any other earthly object?