II KINGS: NAAMAN THE LEPER
Now Naaman, Captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honourable, because by him the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria: he was also a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper (II Kings 5.1.)
This has been a captivating chronicle for the family of God for centuries. Few can read it without realizing with God all things are possible. With the exception of one quotation in Luke, Naaman is mentioned only in II Kings 5. If the narrative were viewed only as the history of a miracle preformed by Elisha it would still be interesting reading, but the reader will miss much without knowing something of the spiritual content.
The aim of this article, and one to follow, should the Lord enable, is to go beyond bare history to view the story as a positive and blessed landmark in the path of the just to truth in Jesus. "But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day (Proverbs 4.18)." May our path shine brilliantly as we approach our perfect day.
Each individual introduced in this remarkable account fit their position precisely as the Lord had predestinated they fill it. We believe that after a careful reading, the spiritual child of God cannot fail to see, not only the beauty and marvel this episode portrays, but the necessity of every element unfolding with exacting precision. If that sounds somewhat akin to predestination, then our humble goal has been at least partially accomplished.
"Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria...." Naaman was a man of considerable prominence. He occupied a position few dream of obtaining. However, God had singled him out to endure a horrible disease. He also prepared for him a marvelous cure.
Even casually reviewing the Word of God one sees persons appointed beneficiaries of a miracle or special dispensation from Jehovah coming from every rank of society. The rich, the poor, the wise, the foolish, young and old, the infirm from all walks of life; each was specially called by God. Especially true is the case of Naaman. He was the leading general in the Syrian army, a position not easily obtained. The lives of multitudes hung on a simple whim from this exalted captain. Whatever favors and rewards were afforded a man in his position, they were his for the asking. His was a station of luxury, preferment, reverence, splendor, fame, and just about anything else a man of his rank might desire. Not knowing his leprous affliction, it would be easy to admire, even covet, his station in life. May our Lord teach us to be contented with whatever our lot in life may be.
"[Naaman] was a great man with his master." How unusual! Rarely did kings allow themselves to have emotional ties with those under their authority. There was always the risk (in their minds) of mutiny, plots or subterfuge of some sort, capable of wresting the king from his throne. Of most potentates it could be said their position was tenuous at best. Nevertheless, the working arrangement between the Syrian king and Naaman was such that even an unhumbled Arminian might pause to see if the hand of God was in the matter. (They may even admit that perhaps God even planned it that way.) A thought to keep in mind is the king's eagerness to send Naaman to Samaria for a cure based solely on the brief utterance of a captive little maid. Under different circumstances this might well have been impossible. With God all things are possible.
Naaman, the captain of the Syrian host was, as well, described as "honourable." The word honourable here should not be understood as a particular inherent quality inclining him to noble deeds or practices worthy of praise. Rather it seems to mean his honour was chiefly a result of "...because by him the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria." History compels the reader to acknowledge the Syrians gave honor to Naaman rather than the Lord, by whom deliverance had come to them. These people cared nothing for the God of Israel. Naaman was an instrument in the hand of God to bring deliverance to Syria.
This deliverance was not for any change of mind by God towards these heathens. Rather, it was to elevate Naaman in their eyes and his master, the king of Syria. Consider: leprosy abounded in that day. Had Naaman been a mere soldier of lower rank or station the wheels of progress would not have budged in his favor. (What a joy for the saints of God to see here His.handiwork in each event.) Naaman gains favor with the king. But it was of the Lord for Naaman to bring deliverance to Syria. Naaman at some point became a leper. What should have been a source of much anguish, shame and sorrow is actually the means to bring Naaman to know the God of Israel. All these things were working together for good.
"But he was a leper." This leprosy, the dreaded plague, cast a shroud of darkness and grief over the life of Naaman and his family. But, praise God, it was this very affliction that would impel him to seek out the prophet of the Lord in Samaria. May we then be not hasty in concluding the sorrows of life serve no good purpose. How sweet to join with the poet and say:
Resistless Sov'reign of the skies,
Immensely great! Immensely wise!
My times are all within thy hand,
And all events at thy command.
His great decree, who form'd the earth,
Hath fixed my first and second birth:
My parents, native place, and time,
Were all assign'd to me by him.
A Little Maid
"And the Syrians had gone out by companies, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid; and she waited on Naaman's wife (II Kings 5.2)." It was common for companies from warring armies to send out bands to plunder, lay waste, create panic and also take a few captives to serve their foreign masters. Such was the lot of this little maid, taken from among Israel's families. Pitiless and cruel, these raiders cared nothing for the grief and anguish this would bring the parents and others who perhaps knew and loved this little maid. Swift as a striking bolt of lightning she was wrested from her family. Her happy home slipped away into the distance as she was carried off like a cheap trinket derived from the spoils of victory.
The wretchedness resulting from this cruel act cannot be stressed enough. It could be nothing less than an episode filled with terror for the little girl. No doubt it was a time of extreme helplessness for her parents. What could they do in the face of certain death should they resist or plea to the annoyance of the maid's captors? A parent's worst nightmare had just doomed the family circle. A worse happening cannot be imagined; it can only be dreaded. The sweet smile of a beloved daughter was now but a bittersweet memory. And for what? We shall, the Lord willing, see.
"His providence unfolds the book,
And makes his counsels shine;
Each opening leaf, and ev'ry stroke
Fulfills some deep design."
"A little maid." What could she do? Powerless to resist, unable to escape, she could only submit to her merciless captors. For a little maid accustomed to a loving home this had to be an extremely confusing time. That she was not ravaged and ruined by her ruthless abductors was nothing less than a miracle. Tramping farther from home with each step, having nothing with which to plead, and as pleading could only anger her captors, she was simply merchandise in the market of an evil world. It is just here that we begin to see the unfolding providence of our God. Remember Joseph, years before, in similar straits? What an astonishing chain of events transpired, all resulting from the cruel banishment from his family and then his subsequent captivity. Even so, this unnamed little maid fulfills her role among the events comprising the unsearchable riches of God's eternal purposes in all things and for every son and daughter of Adam. Those who may read this episode and who do not believe God had a plan worthy of Himself in the captivity of the little maid, by eliminating other options must believe she was dispatched out into a merciless world, through no fault of her own, and left to flounder on her own. (In the meanwhile God looked on, from time to time, to see what might take place next.) Is it any wonder Predestinarians consider Arminians and assorted other Conditionalists little more than blasphemers? May the blessed Name of the Lord be praised, this little maid, despite her dark trials, had been appointed spokesman for the only hope Naaman the leper would have. We may safely, and with joy, identify her among the many other women throughout the Scriptures whom God was pleased to raise up to extol His glory and power under extreme circumstances.
"And she waited on Naaman's wife." Dare the infidel Conditionalist lay this to chance? Had the whimsical breezes of the fates wafted her safely into the home of Naaman? Perhaps, according to the notion of the blinded world, she had beaten the odds? No, the sure purposes of God led this little maid to the home of Naaman where she was at the side of his wife, secured from the rabble which usually make up the numbers of an army. Should any of us then fear the strange vicissitudes of life while we are blessed to trust in the God of this little maid? This little maid had come to the place where, sent of God, she would reveal to the wife of Naaman a simple truth. That truth was, there was a prophet of God in Samaria with heavenly power and authority to work a miracle heretofore unknown to these heathen people.
"Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! For he would recover him of his leprosy." Considering the appalling circumstances in which this little maid found herself she remarkably evidenced tender feelings towards her captors. She manifested no bitterness. Displaying emotional kindness of an extraordinary nature, the little maid laments her master's dreaded condition. Moreover, she believes he would be cured if only he were in Samaria where the prophet of the Lord resided. Her astonishing statement certainly had the characteristics of prayer: "Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria." Without a trace of either shame or resentment she conducted herself in a manner worthy of all those that profess a hope in Christ. Surely those things that are hid from the wise and prudent have been revealed to babes. The reason? "Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight (Matthew 11.26)."
How did this little maid know the old prophet in Samaria would, or even could, cure Naaman of his leprosy? She certainly had never seen him rid a leper of his leprosy. Neither had anyone else that might have been able to tell her if it was so. She was not speaking from first hand knowledge, or even hearsay. She could only be speaking from the voice of faith; God would empower the prophet to do what had never been done before. Remember the only other place besides II Kings 5 where Naaman is mentioned in the Bible? "And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus [Elisha] the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian (Luke 4.27)." Notice this! None of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian. Leprosy abounded, but cures were conspicuously absent. Surely God had reserved this great healing to serve His own glory, both then and at the time of Christ when the Lord recounted the incident. Yet for all this the little maid could say the prophet in Samaria would recover Naaman of his leprosy. The eye of faith saw what had never yet been seen.
An unnamed witness
Next came a miracle equally as great as the forthcoming healing of Naaman. The little maid was not put to shame! Nor was she rebuked for commenting on so touchy a subject. No ridicule was heaped upon her for this "fanatical concoction." Her brief but daring comment might have brought severe beatings and even death under other circumstances. Imagine this little maid, boldly affirming to her captors about unheard of powers in Samaria. Yet for all this, she was believed, and that without a scrap of evidence or proof. Clearly, the Lord impressed upon their minds the force of the little maid's assertion.
Concern for Naaman then led some unnamed person to take the fascinating testimony of the little maid directly to the king of Syria. "And one went in, and told his lord, saying, Thus and thus said the maid that is of the land of Israel." This has to be one of the more striking incidents in the Bible. Who this "one" was we are not told. Why he or she went in to the king with so extraordinary a message defies logic. Who listens to the babblings of little maids, especially those taken captive from the land of enemies? Even if this unnamed person personally believed what the little maid said, would they risk their own hide to go before the heathen king and promote so wild a tale? And that without a shred of proof.
Did this little maid possess some strange power to clothe her testimony with authenticity? No, but her God did! It appears just here we are at the crossroads of opinions. The first is, defying all odds, doing what had never been done before, the little maid got her story of a leprosy healer in Samaria, a baffling tale if one was ever told, to be believed by a succession of individuals, all the way up to the throne. The little maid's tale reached the ears of the king. (Bookmakers and gamblers would never give favorable odds on such a daring fabrication.)
The other opinion is, God willed for this to take place - all of it - just like it transpired. Now, if it be admitted that God willed the end of the matter, that the king would believe the little maid's story, then would not God have had to will all the other components of the incident for the last one to take place as it did? Moreover, if God willed for the king of Syria to believe the story of the little maid then the leprosy of Naaman would have to be as certain as his future recovery. Brethren, may we draw the line. It is all or nothing; Absolute Predestination or absolute chance. If even one aspect of this drama developed by chance, free will, luck, or fate then the possibility of predestination failing would exist. Imagine that God would predestinate Naaman to be recovered of his leprosy but not predestinate the king to believe the little maid's tale. Or, even more likely, the little maid was afraid to tell what had been revealed to her. What then of Naaman's recovery? Let the Conditionalists worry over that one. Our God commands and it stands fast.
The King of Syria
"And the king of Syria said, Go to, go, and I will send a letter unto the king of Israel. And he departed, and took with him ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of raiment (II Kings 5.5)." Potentates have a strange way of looking at matters. Common sense would dictate the king's calling in the little maid and getting whatever intelligence she may possess on the matter since, after all, she initiated the notion of a healing. No; he thinks in the strategic terms of governments dealing with governments, not knowing the government of the God of Heaven would direct the matter consistent with His eternal purposes. Off to the king of Israel he sends Naaman, flush with talents of silver, pieces of gold, and luxuriant raiment. The Syria king was eager to pay well for this proposed cure for Naaman, his captain of the host. How blind has human nature ever been! The gifts of God can neither be bought nor sold; yet men ever try.
The king of Syria had become occupied in a major way to deliver Naaman to Elisha for the recovering of his leprosy, just as the little Israelite maid had told. But the king remained as ignorant of the grand plan of God unfolding before him as if he had been a courtyard dog. Again, "These things are hid from the wise and the prudent and revealed unto babes."
Naaman before the king of Israel
"And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, Now when this letter is come unto thee, behold, I have therewith sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy (II Kings 5.6)." Despite the many evidences we constantly see, it still staggers the mind to observe the full-blown ignorance of those in authority. With nothing more than a parchment and a few earthly trinkets, the king of Syria dispatches his captain to an appointment with the king of Israel, an inveterate foe, soliciting him to recover Naaman of his leprosy. This series of activities was about as poorly thought out as can be imagined. But wait! Do we see these events with the naked eye or are we blessed to see, by faith, this was all ordered of the Lord? Neither of these vile kings will be turned from their self-conceit to worship the God who rules over the hearts of all men. "The election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded." Dear Lord, open our eyes to see thy handiwork. Surely we will remain blind otherwise.
Naaman took his journey. Little did he know he would never be the same; that he would be humbled, embarrassed, angered, rebuked, but finally delivered of his cursed disease. Moreover, he would be brought to know the source of his blessing, the greatest of all possible blessings.
The king of Israel
"And it came to pass, when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he rent his clothes, and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? Wherefore consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me (II Kings 5.7)." This king was Jehoram, the last of the line of Ahab and Jezebel. The relations between Jehoram and the Syrians were bad. They were bad when his father reigned and they would be worse in days to come. Rather than regarding the letter Naaman brought as an honest overture, albeit an ill informed one, he was filled with rage and imputed vile motives to the king of Syria. So, again, a man of high standing among the people is brought into direct contact with the unfolding events emanating from the throne of God but absolutely blinded to the will and purpose bringing them all to pass. It is a sure truth; the lowliest babe in the kingdom of God is far wiser than all the kings of the earth who trust in their own understanding.
"Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy?" What this king utters in his rage is fully indicative of the mentality of unhumbled mankind. However, there is a kernel of truth in his bushel of error. With God alone rests the power to kill and make alive. God may use many instruments; nevertheless, He alone exerts the power to bring these matters to pass. The king of Israel sees (with a natural sight) the power of cleansing a leper to reside with God as well.
Witness the brief desire stated by the little maid to her mistress, Naaman's wife. It appeared casual enough, yet events were set in motion by her brief statement affecting kings and nations. We suppose the unhumbled Arminian would attribute all this to the simple out-workings of free will. We may pity the poor soul in a great floral garden with no sight. Far worse it would be to have the mind of an Arminian, blinded to the beauties of God's handiwork. For all this, from the words of the little maid to the actual deliverance of Naaman, only a certain few would be blessed to see the wonderful hand of God directing every fleeting thought and every bold action to bring to pass His purpose. The purpose was to recover Naaman of his leprosy, and further, lead him into the way of truth. May we lift up our voices in adoration if the Spirit of God has revealed to us the glorious meaning behind all this series of proceedings. As a dear departed Predestinarian Elder used to say while preaching, "It looks like this is going to lead us right into predestination." Amen!
"And it was so, when Elisha the man of God had heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? Let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel (II Kings 5.8)." Strange indeed! We have seen the simple testimony from the little maid believed at each juncture with the exception of the wicked king of Israel. Despite all Jehovah was doing around him, the king had no more ability to take comfort in it than an ox would. How humbling to realize, neither could we see the smallest part of the wonderful plan of God unless given spiritual sight. But now enters Elisha. Diplomacy would suggest silence until the king settled down somewhat, but Elisha was no diplomat. He had been through the fires. He feared not the fuming of the king at this time. Remember the description in the text above, Elisha the man of God! Elisha marched under divine orders. How can he fail with such authority?
"Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes?" It seems this is a not so subtle rebuke of Israel's carnal king. Elisha knows God has a plan. He, also knows the king does not know. All the king could see was a stinging insult. He thinks the king of Syria has injured his pride. Elisha could see the glory of God unfolding in a manner heretofore unknown. Elisha had raised the dead but he had never recovered a man of his leprosy. Not even once. Consider then: the king of Israel did not believe anything near a recovery was possible. Thus, it follows; he did not believe the recovering of a leper was ordered of God. On the other hand, Elisha was prompt to summons the leper and at the same time rebuke the king. Though he had never accomplished such a miracle it was clear to him that as God's prophet he was about to fulfill God's will for the leper. Elisha then believed God would accomplish His will (he was a predestinarian) and the king did not so much as think about God in the matter (He was an Arminian).
"Let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel." So speaks Elisha. Bold, fearless, confident, the great prophet challenges Naaman to venture forth. What Elisha meant by "he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel" was that the question of recovering Naaman's leprosy would certainly be resolved to the glory of God. The time would come that Naaman would testify there was no God but in Israel.
We conclude this chapter in Naaman's recovery with the hope of returning to it in another issue. It has been shown thus far that these human events, from the least of them to the greatest, were all details to bring the end to pass. If the reader can offer any explanation how came all these events to fit together, from first to last, apart from the predestination of God, we offer them space to prove it. For those content to take comfort in the power and purpose of God, rejoice; the best is yet to come.
J. F. Poole
Volume 14, No. 6