The Gospel Given to Naaman

Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean. II Kings 5:14

People must know that there is a prophet of God in Israel. That’s what we read here. Israel must know this, Naaman must know this, the world must know this. This prophet as a type of Jesus Christ, has the Word of the living God and therefore life itself. And what good news it is!

Naaman is the great general of the Syrian army. Very likely a five-star general, a great man in the eyes of that part of the world. But he was a leper. Leprosy is and was a dreaded disease. Surely in that day there was no cure. Often the bodies would literally rot away. A clear picture or symbol it is of sin. For lepers and sinners there is no hope, as far as man is concerned. Its exactly this that the Heidelberg catechism emphasizes in its first part. This dreaded disease is no respecter of persons, no more than sin is. Naaman likely considered himself to be a V.I.P. who happened to have leprosy. But God says to Naaman that he is no different from the rest of mankind, a helplessly lost sinner who happens to be a general. With this he is greatly humiliated. It surely must have been a real worry and burden for him. But who wants to admit that he’s a lost sinner?

But God will humiliate him still more. He must go, if he will follow the advice of the slave girl, to the king of Israel. And ask for ad vice of this great enemy. Remember, likely it was Naaman who fought against Ahab, when he was mortally wounded and when Israel was defeated. They had been enemies for years. And now, as the conqueror, must he consult the conquered?! But he goes. Later Naaman is told to go to the house of Elisha, the prophet, who has the Word of the Lord.

Visualize this event. There comes Naaman with a “train” of horsemen, chariots and wagons. I just imagine that all the children of Jericho came out to see this, gawking and wondering what this was all about. Surely this didn’t happen every day. And the train stops in front of the humble home of the prophet Elisha. Naaman expects the prophet to come out, greet him and respect him. After all, isn’t he the great general from the victorious Syrians. Surely thiS prophet would give him the red carpet treatment. Instead, he doesn’t even see the prophet, only his servant. And “all” the servant gives him is some simple instructions, to wash himself in the Jordan River seven times. What humiliation! But this is what God always does with sinners, also with Christians when they live in sin. Sooner or later we will experience that.

Elisha has a “second point” in his sermon to the great Syrian. This; he must live in simple faith and truth in the Word of God. He must go and wash himself in the Jordan River. Nothing must distract Naaman from listening to this word. He expected Elisha to come out and give him much attention and the magical treatment, by waving his hand over the affected part of his body, or something like that and so heal him hopefully. But nothing of the kind. He doesn’t even see the prophet. No, God does nt want anything to embellish the simple word of the Gospel, not even the person of the prophet. All Naaman must learn and remember, so that it echoes in his ears, is the word of the prophet; wash yourself in the Jordan River seven times.

But what foolishness, what nonsense! Isn’t the Jordan River dirty and muddy?! It’s almost pure melt down there by Jericho. Everybody who has seen it knows that. In anger Naaman leaves and will go home. How his future, yes his eternal future, from our viewpoint, “hangs on a thread.” It is one of his servants who prevails upon him to listen to the word of the prophet.

Isn’t this symbolical of the way of the cross? Isn‘t this always foolish ness to the natural man, according to Paul centuries later, that sins are washed away through blood? The natural mind does not discern the things of the Spirit. But God doesn’t ask us to understand and discern. He wants us to have simple faith in His Word, also the Word of the cross.

Trust and obey, for there is no other way. This the Lord wants us to do with all of His words to us.

And blessed arc those who do listen and obey. Naaman went to the Jordan. Likely all those with him were his audience, wondering what was go ing to happen. Or did they perhaps silently ridicule their master? I can also imagine that after he had ducked under three or four times he looked at the leprous part of his body, only to sec no change. But he obeyed, that’s the important thing. Seven limes he dipped himself. Why seven times? Why not six or eight times? Why did Elijah, the predecessor of Elisha, send his servant to look at the sky seven times? There’s one answer to these questions that comes out loudly and clearly. Seven is the number of the covenant, of God’s faithfulness in Christ. His Word is dependable and sure, always. He keeps His promise. And Naaman learned with his obedience of faith that God did keep His promise, that when he would wash himself seven times he would be clean and healed. And he was.

Elisha has “three points” in his “sermon” to Naaman. The third one is that this miraculous healing is free of charge. It is for nothing. Who has ever heard of something like this? The thought is completely foreign to all of Naaman’s concept of religion. To this day it is foreign to all religions except the one true religion of the Bible.

Naaman is ready and eager to pay Elisha liberally. Likely the amount offered was in excess of two hundred thousand dollars. And poor Elisha (most prophets were poor) surely could use it. But O no! Listen to what he says, “Is this a time to receive money and to receive garments and olive-yards and vine-yards, and sheep and oxen and men-servants and maidservants?” Of course not. Not when one preaches the Gospel of free grace to lost sinners. Naaman literally begs the prophet to accept at least something, a little bit. But nothing dOing. And when he has returned to his home country and people ask him, what did it cost you, they must know that it was for nothing. Who ever heard of such gifts for nothing! So they must learn that there is a God of salvation by free grace in Israel. This we must all learn. Can you imagine yourself going to the grocery store and having bought a large order, the clerk would give you all of it for nothing? Can you imagine someone buying a new car of some 86,000.00 and in turn the dealer would make it a present? Such things just don’t happen. Not with us, but they do with God. Ever more must it register with us that eternal salvation is for nothing, by grace, elective grace alone. And it remains that way. We keep it only because His grace abides forever, because of His everlasting mercies and abiding love. That’s the kind of God we have.

But the Lord also tells us. very clearly here, that we must not spoil or distort this precious truth. This is what Gehazi did. And what punishment he received! He just couldn‘t resist the temptation. By lying to Naaman and Elisha he would get some of those gifts of Naaman for himself. The punishment seems to be so severe, he and his descendants would be leprous in all ages to come. Why so severe? God doesn’t want man to tamper with this truth, or distort it in any way. This is done doctrinally when we deny the total depravity of the sinner, or with the Pharisees believe in work-righteousness. Practically we deny it when we fail to give God the credit. People who truly know this glorious truth of salvation by grace alone should always be humble and dedicated to the Lord. How they should love the Lord! And never be proud or boastful!

The first shall be last and the last first. Naaman the Syrian (a heathen) will be in heaven, some or many of the church will not be there. Why? Because they really don‘t know what this blessed truth means, a poor sinner saved by such a rich Savior. Heaven will never quit singing about it.

John Blankespoor is pastor of the Pine Creek Christian Reformed Church of Holland, Michigan.