Online Text Sermon - Naaman the Syrian, 2 Kings ch.5 v.10
|Preacher||Rev. Robert Josey, Resolis|
|Sermon Title||Naaman the Syrian|
|Text||2 Kings ch.5 v.10 |
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"And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean" (2 Kings 5, 10).
How instructive and thrilling is this inspired account of the double healing of this Gentile of distinction, namely Naaman the Syrian. Double healing because firstly he was cleansed from that loathsome disease of leprosy wherewith he was afflicted and secondly he was brought to newness of life; he was brought to faith in Jehovah of Hosts, the living and true God, the God of Israel. How this all came about and the different persons involved in bringing this about make up indeed, a heart-touching story.
Naaman the Syrian - what was his standing among his people? He was no less than the Commander of the Syrian army and a proven man of courage. A top soldier, he had strategic ability; he was not given that post because of some other eminence he had in society. He had gained the Commandership because he proved himself a worthy soldier and, obviously, battle credits were his. Furthermore, which was rather rare in those oriental courts so noted for their dastardly intrigue, Naaman was a man whom his king and master could trust. He had, in that regard, well nigh all that earth could offer: a certain worthiness of character, the trust of his monarch and a very eminent position in the country - for armies in those days were much to the fore. He obviously had some magnificence of character but, to use the title of one of Thomas Boston's renowned books, there was a 'crook in his lot'.
The dread disease of leprosy afflicted him. Leprosy had laid its hand upon him, damaging and besmirching his life. While in Gentile, pagan Syria there was not the same view of leprosy as there was among the Israelites on account of the ceremonial and hygienic legislation laid down in the book of Leviticus - yet, the career of Naaman was going to be spoiled, and that ere long, by this affliction. How so? Well, he would soon become physically incapable of doing anything which of necessity he must do as the General in charge. Therefore, sheer physical disability, and that increasingly, would have him lay aside his work and go, as it were, into partial, if not total, retirement. The man was a man of a sore heart; his plight was a pained one and, obviously, any opportunity to get rid of leprosy he would happily seize in the desperation of his right desire. Notice, that in his case, the affliction was to be unto his conversion - and, of course, Naaman is not alone in that. God has, and God will use, various afflictions to spiritually sober the children of men.
1. THE LITTLE HEBREW MAID
3. THE WAY OF SALVATION
1. THE LITTLE HEBREW MAID
We move from Naaman for a time to a little Hebrew maid who was a servant in his household. This Israelitish girl was probably a teenager of older years and she would have worked under the direction of Naaman's wife. We are told how she got into the household of the General. While truce prevailed at this time between the oft warring Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel, there were those plundering parties who came from Syria into the northern tribes - this to take away valuable livestock, worthwhile material objects and, of course, persons: men, women and children to be sold in the slave markets of Damascus. It could very well have been that it was in a slave market that this lassie was brought into the employ of Naaman's wife. However that may be, she was taken into Syria by some marauding band of Syrian's. It makes you think of how, in the border country of England and Scotland centuries ago, the English plundered the Scots and the Scots likewise took their revenge upon the English.
Here was this little Hebrew maid in a pagan country. She was more happily circumstanced than some who were taken captive with her; she was in an eminent and more comfortable household. Notice, first, and this contributes very much towards Naaman's conversion, the character of this young lassie. She is left nameless and neither are we told to what tribe she belongs. Clearly, however, the young girl is positively resigned to her providential loss. How do I conclude that? She had been snatched away from her place of abode, if not from all her family then certainly from some of them, and brought to a pagan land free from all the means of grace - except prayer. Her lot was by no means easy for all this somewhat outward comfort. We must reflect upon that in order to appreciate just how great was her spirituality when she came to such comfort of spirit and bowed herself, as it were, before her God and her Saviour, taking what He had given her in all heartfelt gratitude.
I am sure that she was essentially composed. No doubt, she would have had her moments, but overall she was composed and cheerful. This comes out in the concern she shows for Naaman. Were she, for instance, petulant and miserable, querulous and difficult, all taken up with herself, complaining about her lot, "Why did the Lord have this happen to me? Why am I, such a young person, snatched from my kith and kin and my native land - that land where, at least to some extent, God is still honoured and His Commandments observed - why am I in this pagan land which is essentially an enemy of my own people and contrary to the laws of my God?" We know she was free from that sort of thinking because, taken up with oneself, one has no concern for others. Unduly miserable and moaning, one is too self-centred to look around, observe the plight of others and have kindly concern for them. Furthermore, she had much of the grace of love.
Knowing about Naaman, the head of the house, she was concerned for him, sympathetic towards him, wished him well. She obviously had a loving heart, a strongly loving heart, were it not so she would have reasoned thus: "Naaman, no less than the Commander of the Syrian army which has wrought havoc among my people from time to time. He is one of my country's and my God's leading enemies. It serves him right! He deserves that misery and a whole lot more besides. Look at me and others who were taken into Syria with me, perhaps not through any direct orders of Naaman, but certainly he did nothing to sort out and restore the situation. He deserves everything he gets." No, she was not like that at all. She voiced her concern, not directly to Naaman but to someone else who quickly took what she said to the Commander.
Here she shows remarkable faith. The little Hebrew maid may have met up with Elisha on a few occasions because these prophets circulated among the villages and towns. If she didn't see him and hear him briefly, she certainly heard about him, that's clear. Elisha's ministry, as you well know, was one particularly distinguished for miracles and the little Hebrew maid was aware of that; but as the Lord Jesus Christ said Himself when speaking in the synagogue of Nazareth - no Israelite had been miraculously cleansed from leprosy amongst all the miracles that were worked. Nevertheless, this teenager was ready to believe that if Naaman presented himself appealingly before Elisha, miraculous healing would be afforded him. Positively she laid it down in the most simple and unambiguous terms.
Before I pass from the little Hebrew maid and turn to Naaman himself, let us notice two things - two matters of moment.
As we well know, believers grow in grace at varying speeds. Some mature very quickly and others mature more slowly. There are those whom you can say, don't mature at all. Sin is in each and every one of us equally. Each of us has his own particular strengths and weaknesses. Whatever weaknesses we had in our life of sin, remain with us, as we have long since learned. While we are not to be overly taken up with ourselves, we must take this very much to heart: we have got to give a very considerable amount of attention to ourselves by way of self-discipline and growing in grace in order that we be the better disposed and enabled to help those about us. If our characters are seriously stunted and spoilt, that is going to have an effect on the power and validity of our testimony. It behoves us, anyway, as those who are saved by grace and turned towards holiness and heaven, that we progress in holiness as rapidly as possible and get the mastery of this old nature which is still with us - and a fearful, and formidable foe it is. We are, however, encouraged to cast ourselves anew upon the Lord and go forth with resolve and engage more happily in all the requisite spiritual industry, because here is one so young, who attained so much, so quickly. She sets us a very glowing and inspiring example.
Furthermore, we are all too easily discouraged because of the features of our day - the times in which we live. We have temporal comforts and are not savagely persecuted by those who are contrary to the Gospel - not yet anyway. Yet, still - when it comes to propagating the Gospel, to instructing those about us personally, seeking public evangelism and teaching youngsters, to have souls brought to faith in Christ - it is hard going and, overall, results are small. This affects us, as it should. Then again, as we are undistinguished persons, so much of our lives are of necessity and, rightly, domestic, each of us can say, "Who am I? My range and limit is rather small. What can I accomplish for the Lord? I would love to but I am in such unpromising circumstances." Take heart, you know not what the Lord may accomplish through you. Who was in more unpromising circumstances than this young lassie - outwith her own country and among a whole nation of pagans? Nevertheless, with the grace that was in her she actively seized her chance and look what came of it. We know not what other Syrians may have benefited from Naaman's eventual return to his own country, a converted man.
The story of Naaman would make a very interesting biography. It wasn't written and oft times as we read Scripture and learn so much about a character - meeting up with a character briefly - we say, quite rightly, "I wonder what happened." With Naaman we wonder; but certainly much good would have followed from his conversion and a very prominent agency in his conversion under God, was the good-heartedness and readiness of this Hebrew teenager - the little Hebrew maid, left, you notice, nameless.
Naaman, in desperation, was ready to seize any chance. As a pagan and an idolater, he would have been a superstitious man, having a certain respect for the art of magic and suchlike. However, it was desperation, doubtless, that betook him to his king. The king at the time was the noted Ben-hadad the First of Syria and he was only too happy to help his esteemed General. The necessary diplomatic letter was written in order that immunity be afforded Naaman and his retinue, that they make their way safely to the court of the king of Israel, who at this time was Jehoram and whose capital city was Samaria.
Jehoram was the second of the sons of the vicious Ahab who ascended to the throne of the Northern Kingdom. Ahaziah was the first of Ahab's sons to rule; his reign lasted about a year. Ahaziah was followed by his brother Jehoram - known also as Joram - who reigned for eleven years. While the sons were not as wicked as their father, they were still very much after his contemptuous character.
Naaman makes his way down to Samaria to present himself and his petition. His petition was in writing from none other than the royal hand of the king of Syria. Notice the difference between the response of this Jehoram and the workings of mind and actions of that gracious Hebrew maid. Ahaziah's brother Jehoram would have known a whole lot more about the preaching and the activity of the great Elisha than would the Hebrew maid because at this time Elisha was living in Samaria and he would no doubt have confronted the king, rebuking and instructing on a number of occasions; these prophets were brave and bold men. Jehoram would not have been ignorant concerning miracles worked through and by the prophets. Still, when this request was put before him, at once his nasty suspicious mind engages itself and he comes to the conclusion that Ben-hadad was out to start a war and that he had come up with this very clever means of bringing it about. Sending down no other than his Commander with this request and it, of course, not being fulfilled, back would come an enraged and disappointed Commander and this would be an excuse for the conflagration of war. It was not so, but this was the way that the nasty mind worked. Nasty minds ever work in nasty ways.
Had the matter stopped with the king of Israel, Naaman would have gone quickly back to Damascus but there was providential interposition through the prophet. Word was sent to Jehoram - and that way also to Naaman himself - that he present himself before the prophet. Before the prophet's humble dwelling came Naaman with his glorious retinue. Here he was in for a shock.
First, the prophet could not, according to the ceremonial laws laid down by God through Moses, have invited Naaman in because Naaman was a leper and certain rules obtained. However, there was nothing to stop the prophet going out and speaking face-to-face with Naaman - which, of course, we know he did not do. The intention of this was to humble Naaman. He expected a fuss to be made over him. He was a great man and he deserved all the courtesies and the mode of the cure, if a cure was to be forthcoming, would have to be done in a certain way with all the mumbo-jumbo of ritualism. What he got, however, was a simple command delivered by a servant, probably Gehazi of whom we read later, "Go and wash in Jordan seven times" - and the promise was clear and firm - "and thou shalt be clean" (verse 10). Naaman, in his pride, burst into anger and had the horses wheeled round. He was for going back home. His pride had been hurt and his expectations were ending in complete disappointment. Had it not been for the restraining and good arguments of his servants all would have been lost and Naaman would have gone back as he came, in every way. Such was the gravity of his plight though, that he did heed remonstrance and he went and obeyed the prophet's command.
So far as water was concerned, as is brought out in the protest of the Syrian, the waters of the Jordan were discoloured and muddy; whereas Abana and Pharpar - the great rivers of Syria - went through much sandy terrain and were sparkling clean. They were waters that looked more likely to effect such a cure than the mudded waters of the Jordan. This was a divine command and this cure had to be by a miracle. We see stage after stage - the affliction of leprosy; the good word from the believing and loving Hebrew maid; the readiness of the king of Syria; the saving of a mishap through the wrong behaviour of the wicked king of Israel; the intervention of the prophet; Naaman, being kept on course, and then his servants remonstrating with him to prevent him from going away in a burst of anger from the possibility of relief. As is quite clear from what Naaman said on his return and from the way he showed he was being exercised in conscience, he was not just a leprosy-cured man but a converted man.
What about the prophet's command which we read of in verse ten - "And Elisha sent a messenger unto him saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean" (verse 10). Here we have set before us two matters, namely, wherein salvation is easily obtained and secondly, wherein salvation is trying and difficult.
The command was itself straight forward and simple and very easily fulfilled: a journey of a few miles east to the river Jordan, dip in it seven times and all would be well. There was nothing there requiring any great effort and so it was understood. There was though, disappointment, humiliation and attack upon pride in that the prophet never appeared - the command given through a subordinate, and such a simplicity to it all as went clean contrary to all the expectations, religious and otherwise, of the noted Syrian. This is a picture set before us of how it is with the Gospel of God's grace. Salvation is available, as it can only be available, namely, as a free gift. The Lord God Himself Who purposed salvation, has provided salvation - only He could do so - and at what exceedingly great and immeasurable cost. Our sins, to be forgiven, must needs be punished; divine justice must meet with complete satisfaction. That was accomplished by the Second Person of the Trinity in our nature, suffering on the cross at Calvary.
3. THE WAY OF SALVATION
Salvation is firstly and mainly priceless because of what was done to obtain it. Salvation is precious to us who have it and should come to be precious to those who are careless with respect to it. The main value and excellency of salvation lies in the cost of its accomplishment. We just cannot measure the value of the cost paid by the Son of God in His own Person. We think of the Son of God stooping down to take our nature to Himself and what befell that human nature as He particularly fulfilled His Galilean ministry, meeting with more and more opposition and rejection and finally being nailed to the cruel tree. That God should humble Himself to take to Himself our nature in the first instance is a matter of great wonder; but that He should go to uttermost humiliation - into anguish of agony, suffering as the sword of divine justice pierced Him through and savaged Him - harried His soul that satisfaction be forthcoming. Wondrous indeed, is our redemption.
We are called to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ in order that we be saved. It's amazing how persistent this heresy is that we have to contribute some way or other towards buying salvation. Even those who are rogues are of the mind that if they are going to return to God and do good, they have got to do something to bring merit to themselves. How often in moving novels, films and plays - those that are of better quality - you have this heresy very sentimentally and cleverly portrayed, and made most appealing. A character who has behaved very badly and accomplished much misery and trouble comes at the end of his or her life to engage in some great act of self-sacrifice - an act of self-sacrifice that results in the loss of life - and there are dying words. The way the author portrays things and the way the character speaks there is laid out this last great redeeming act as being enough to afford access into heaven on the part of that imagined person. This lie, this fearful heresy, is not only bluntly stated on many occasions but it is also very pervasively, sentimentally and winningly put in all sorts of forms and guises. It has got to be recognised and refused for the evil that it unquestionably is.
We cannot dress up ourselves to make ourselves acceptable to God. Think of the great Martin Luther. If any man deserved to be saved on the ground of works it was that German. What he did by way of self-denial and by punishing and afflicting himself in order to merit eternal life is staggering indeed. He was most serious about salvation was Martin Luther. He worked ever so hard to obtain it but he was all along kept in the mercy of God with the recognition that he wasn't getting anywhere; that was part of what brought him to salvation. How assiduously, eloquently and considerably he proclaimed the Word of Life thereafter. Oh, how tellingly he told of the One Who came to save him and of how salvation is, as it needs be, a free gift of God. God presents it to us as something already purchased, already there for the taking. As you know when you are given a gift, it is a matter of simple acceptance - reaching out an accepting hand, that's all. In that respect salvation is simple, by way of obtaining it's so full and so free. However, to get people to see this, ah, therein lies difficulty. Sometimes this error can come at Christians in rather clever way to trouble them, but into that I cannot afford to go.
Wherein is salvation trying and difficult? First, the Gospel addresses us in the most unflattering terms. The Word of God doesn't soften the blow, doesn't in any way attempt to flatter us or give us any wrong recognition of ourselves; the truth is spoken plainly and fully. We are told in the most straightforward terms that we are sinners, contrary to our God, and on that account, lost. The descriptions of us, as born in sin and practising sin, in some cases are quite searing and deliberately so. We have first of all to be saved from this false opinion which we have of ourselves. No one will dare say, "I am perfect" but will try to get as close to it in self-imagining as possible. The unbeliever always has some stock of goodness in the bank of his own self-account; but we are empty, wretched, miserable, blind and naked - so the Gospel informs us.
The Gospel, in coming to us to deliver us, must tell us all that first: what would you think of a doctor who, when you were seriously unwell, came along and, to your own apprehension, gave you an unsatisfactory, superficial diagnosis? You would probably change to another medic. We recognise, do we not, from sheer common sense, that the doctor's work in bringing patients back to health, if possible, has to engage in an exact diagnosis and come up with a statement of what's wrong. Whatever is wrong is wrong and it is upsetting but when that is discovered then the appropriate treatment can be brought into play - and only then. You have to hear the bad news before the treatment can start and hope for healing be safely entertained.
When it comes to this greatest matter of all - the salvation of the soul, this towering spiritual matter - men are so stupid and thoughtless, abandoning the general sense that prevails with them when they come to ever so many worldly matters. "We don't want to hear this." "We are not as bad as that." Furthermore, the Gospel tells us that the consequence of our sin, if we persist therein, is eternal hell. That is terrible news; you cannot hear worse news than that. Can anything more dreadful be told us in a state of nature, in a state of unbelief, estranged from God and under His wrath, than if we die out of His favour, we cannot but in His justice be cast into perdition? I am not going to mitigate the enormity of that fact. It is terrible in the extreme but there is no avoiding it. The Bible is replete with this statement in one form or another. This is our misery by nature and our ill desert because of our moral state and failings. Remember, it is the God of grace, the greatest of beings and the best, the One Whose justice is exact to the last article, Who has so determined and who so lays it down - and who knows better than God?
We must ever remember the godhood of God in our thinking and bow before Him Who knows best and Who is by far the greatest and the best - infinitely so. What happened at Calvary in the Person of His Son amply confirms the severity of this judgement against sin. This is startling and upsetting and it is not liked, and that is how so many don't like the Gospel and in their own way they turn away in a rage, as did at first Naaman the Syrian. Let us hold ourselves in check if we are of this mind because all the facts when soberly assessed testify to the truth of the Gospel. The history of mankind, the history of the present, and proper knowledge of oneself is further irrefutable testimony to the fact that man is by nature nasty. As he gets older, if he doesn't get better through grace, he gets worse. How is that after all these centuries of history and all the history books that are written, men still persist in doing the same wrong and making the same mistakes, and, in fact, become more accomplished at finding new variations of performing old sins. So much ingenuity and effort goes into sinning worse and worse, further and further. We are getting worse as a race as time goes by rather than getting better. Because of the evil tendency and wrong disposition we have - being born in sin - we flourish one way or another in iniquity, being heedless of the Gospel of God.
So the proof is there, irrefutably, and it's for us to use our senses, rightly exercise the intelligence with which we have been provided as rational moral creatures and to say amen to the Gospel of God by closing in with the Christ Who is set before us in the Gospel - by taking up with the Saviour. Yes, the Gospel tell us what is terrible to hear, what is upsetting and doesn't flatter us; it has to bring us down to lift us up; it has to tell us what is so dreadfully wrong in order that healing can be sought and found. We can only come to possess salvation on God's terms. God is the initiator of salvation and God is the provider of salvation. God is the One Who sent forth the Gospel, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Acts 16, 31). Surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ in a simple act of faith; simple though it is, it involves wholehearted self-surrender, giving oneself over to God, back to Him Who from the start we should have honoured and obeyed. It cannot be otherwise. Why should the Almighty condescend to our terms? Why should the Almighty engage in bargaining with members of the human race, or in compromising concession in order to please sinful, selfish beings? God in His justice, honourableness and faithfulness cannot so stoop. It is exceedingly wrong to think that He is capable of or should be doing it.
Notice the kindness of His grace and the glory of His love. Who bought our salvation? a Person of the Godhead after the requirements of the counsel of grace. We have no reason whatever to complain of God but ever so much to complain of ourselves. So let's not hurry forth continuing in unbelief but come to the thoughtfulness of faith. Engage, therefore, in prayer and seek the mercy that is there for the receiving, the grace that is there for the enjoying and the God who is ever present to serve and honour - "O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him" (Psalm 34, 8).
"And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean" (2 Kings 5, 10). In the end, he did so.
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