Gleanings From Elisha
His Life and Miracles
TENTH MIRACLE—NAAMAN THE LEPER
The Healing Of Naaman is the best known one of all the wonders wrought through Elisha. It has been made the subject of numerous sermons in the past, supplying as it does a very striking typical picture of salvation. Not in all its varied aspects—for salvation is many-sided—but as portraying the condition of him who is made its subject, his dire need because of the terrible malady of which he was the victim, the sovereign grace which met with him, the requirements he had to comply with, his self-will therein, and how his reluctance was overcome. Yet there is not a little in this incident which is offensive to our supercilious age, inclining present-day preachers to leave it alone, so that much that has been said about it in the past will be more or less new to the present generation. As it has pleased the Holy Spirit to enter into much more detail upon the attendant circumstances of this miracle, this will require us to give it a fuller consideration.
It is their spiritual import which renders the Old Testament Scriptures of such interest to us upon whom the ends of the ages are come: "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning" (Rom. 15:4). That which is set before us more abstractly in the epistles is rendered easier to understand by means of the concrete and personal illustrations supplied under the previous dispensations, when figures and symbols were employed more freely. Noah and his family in the ark preserved from the flood which swept away the world of the ungodly; the Hebrews finding security under the blood of the pascal lamb when the angel of death slew all the firstborn of the Egyptians; healing being conveyed by faith’s look at the brazen serpent on the pole; the cities of refuge affording asylum to the manslayer who fled for refuge from the avenger of blood, are so many examples of simple yet graphic prefigurations of different aspects of the redemption which is found in Christ Jesus. Another is before us here in 2 Kings 5.
Before taking up the spiritual meaning of what is recorded of Naaman, one thing mentioned about him deserves separate notice, and we will look at it now so that our main line of thought may not be broken into later on. In the opening verse of 2 Kings 5, it is stated that Naaman was "a great man with his master, and honorable, because by him the LORD had given deliverance [victory] unto Syria." This teaches us that there can be no success in any sphere of life unless God gives it, for "the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jer. 10:23), still less to insure their outcome. "Except the LORD build the house, they labor in vain that build it [as was made evident when God brought to nought the lofty ambitions of those erecting the tower of Babel!]: except the LORD keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain" (Ps. 127:1)— as Belshazzar discovered, when the Medes surprised and overcame his sentinels and captured Babylon.
Not only can there be no success in any human undertaking unless the Lord is pleased to prosper the same, but He exercises His own sovereignty in the instruments or agents employed in the carrying out of His purposes, whether it be in the communicating of blessings or the execution of judgments. It is therefore to be duly observed that it was not because Naaman was a good man that the Lord caused his military efforts to thrive; far from it, for he was an idolator, a worshiper of Rimmon. Moreover, not only was he a stranger to God spiritually but he was a leper, and therefore ceremonially unclean, shut out by the Mosaic law. From this we may learn that when the Most High is pleased to do so, He makes use of the wicked as well as the righteous—a truth which needs pressing on the attention of the world today. Temporal success is far from being an evidence that the blessing of God rests upon either the person or the nation enjoying it. All men are in God’s hands to employ as and where He pleases—as truly so in the political and military realms as in the churches.
First, the Subject of the Miracle
Six things (the number of man) are h ere recorded about Naaman. (1) He was "captain of the host of the king of Syria." In modern language this would be commander-in-chief of the king’s army. Whether or not he had risen from the ranks we cannot be sure, though the reference to his "valor" suggests that he had been promoted from a lower office. Whether that was so or not, he now occupied a position of prominence, being at the summit of his profession.
(2) He was "a great man with his master." It has been by no means always the case that the head of the military forces was greatly esteemed by his master. History records many instances where the reigning monarch has been jealous of the popularity enjoyed by the general, fearful in some cases that he would use his powerful influence against the interests of the throne. But it was quite otherwise in this case, for as the sequel goes on to show, the king of Syria was warmly devoted to the person of his military chieftain.
(3) "And honorable." Far from the king’s slighting Naaman and keeping him in the background, he stood high in the royal favor. Naaman had furthered the interests of his kingdom securing notable victories for his forces, and his master was not slow to show his appreciation and reward his valorous general. The brilliant exploits of many a brave officer have passed unnoticed by the powers that be, but not so here.
(4) His military success is here directly ascribed to God, for our passage goes on to say, "by him the LORD had given deliverance unto Syria." The blessing of heaven had attended him and crowned his efforts, and therein he was favored above many. Not that this intimated he personally enjoyed the approbation of God, but that divine providence made use of him in accomplishing His will.
(5) He was naturally endowed with qualities which are highly esteemed among men, being possessed of great bravery and fortitude, for we are told, "he was also a mighty man in valor"—daring and fearless—and thus well equipped for his calling.
It might well be asked, What more could any man desire? Did he not possess everything which is most highly prized by the children of this world? What he not what they would designate "the darling of fortune," having all that the human heart could wish? He had, as men express it, "made good in life." He occupied a most enviable position. He possessed those traits which were admired by his fellows. He had served his country well and stood high in the king’s regard and favor.
Even so there was a dark cloud on his horizon. There was something which not only thoroughly spoiled the present for him, but took away all hope for the future. For, (6) "he was a leper." Here was the tragic exception. Here was that which cast its awful shadow over everything else. He was the victim of a loathsome and incurable disease. He was a pitiful and repulsive object, with no prospect whatever of any improvement in his condition.
Yes, my reader, the highly-privileged and honored Naaman was a leper, and as such he portrayed what you are and what I am by nature. God’s Word does not flatter man: it lays him in the dust—which is one reason why it is so unpalatable to the great majority of people. It is the Word of truth, and therefore instead of painting flattering pictures of human nature, it represents things as they actually are. Instead of lauding man, it abases him. Instead of speaking of the dignity and nobility of human nature, it declares it to be leprous—sinful, corrupt, depraved, defiled. Instead of eulogizing human progress, it insists that "every man at his best state is altogether vanity" (Ps. 39:5). And when the Holy Scriptures define man’s attitude toward and relationship with God, they insist that "There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God" (Rom. 3:10-11). They declare that we are His enemies by our wicked works (Col. 1:21), and that consequently we are under the condemnation and curse of God’s law, and that His holy wrath abides on us (John 3:36).
The Word of truth declares that by nature all of us are spiritual lepers, foul and filthy, unfit for the divine presence: "being alienated from the life of God" (Eph. 4:18). You may occupy a good position in this world, even an eminent station in the affairs of this life; you may have made good in your vocation and wrought praiseworthy achievements, by human standards; you may be honorable in the sight of your fellows, but how do you appear in the eyes of God? A leper, one whom His law pronounces unclean, one who is utterly unfit for His holy presence. That is the first outstanding thing; the dominant lesson taught by our present passage. As it was with Naaman, so it is with you: a vast difference between his circumstances and his condition. There was the horrible and tragic exception: "a great man . . . but a leper"!
We would not be faithful to our calling were we to glide over that in God’s Word which is distasteful to proud flesh and blood. Nor would we be faithful to our readers if we glossed over their frightful and fatal natural condition. It is in their souls’ interests they should face this humiliating and unpleasant fact: that in God’s sight they are spiritual lepers. But we must individualize it. Have you, my reader, realized this fact in your own case? Have you seen yourself in God’s light? Are you aware that your soul is suffering from a disease that neither you nor any human being can cure? It is so, whether you realize it or not. The Scriptures declare that from the sole of your foot to the crown of your head there is no soundness in you, yes, that in the sight of the holy one, you are a mass of "wounds, and bruises, and putrifying sores" (Isa. 1:6). Only as you penitently accept that divine verdict is there any hope for you.
All disease is both the fruit and the evidence of sin, as was plainly intimated to Israel. Under the Levitical law God might well have required separate purifications for every form of disease. But He did not, and thereby He displayed His tenderness and mercy. Had such a multiplicity of ceremonial observances been required it would have constituted an intolerable burden. He therefore singled out one disease as a standing object lesson, one that could not fail to be a fit representation and most effective symbol of sin. This disease was white leprosy, described with much minuteness of detail in Leviticus 13 and 14. Leprosy, then, was not only a real but a typical disease, corresponding in a most solemn and striking manner to that fearful malady—sin—with which we are infected from the center to the circumference of our being. While it is true that the type is only intelligible in the light of its antitype, the shadow in the presence of its substance, yet the former is often an aid to the understanding of the latter.
That the disease of leprosy was designed to convey a representation of the malady of sin appears from these considerations. (1) The ceremonial purification whereby the stain of leprosy was cleansed pointed to the Lord Jesus as making atonement for the cleansing of His people. (2) It was not a physician but the high priest who was the person specifically appointed to deal with the leper. (3) There was no prescribed remedy for it; it could only be cured by a direct miracle. (4) The leper was cut off from the dwelling place of God and the tabernacle of His congregation, being put "outside the camp." Thus it will be seen from these circumstances that leprosy was removed from the catalog of ordinary diseases, and had stamped upon it a peculiar and typical character. It was a visible sign of how God regarded the sinner: as one unsuited to the presence of Himself and His people. How unspeakably blessed then, to discover that, though not the first He performed, yet the first individual miracle of Christ’s recorded in the New Testament is His healing of the leper (Matthew 8:2-4).
For the particular benefit of young preachers and for the general instruction of all, we will close this chapter with an outline.
1. Leprosy has an insignificant beginning. To the nonobservant eye it is almost imperceptible. It starts as "a rising, a scab, or bright spot" (Lev. 13:2). It is so trivial that usually no attention is paid to it. Little or no warning is given of the fearful havoc it will work. Was it not thus with the entrance of sin into this world? To the natural man the eating of the forbidden fruit by our first parents appears a very small matter, altogether incommensurate with the awful effects it produced. The unregenerate discern not that sin is deserving of and exposes them to eternal destruction. They regard it as a trifle, unduly magnified by preachers.
2. Leprosy is inherited. It is a communicable disease. It poisons the blood, and so is readily transmitted from parent to child. It is so with sin. "By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all sinned" (Rom. 5:12). None has escaped this dreadful entail. "Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Ps. 51:5) is equally true of every member of Adam’s race. None is born spiritually pure; depravity is communicated in every instance from sire to son, from mother to daughter. Human nature was corrupted at its fountainhead, and therefore all the streams issuing therefrom are polluted.
3. Leprosy works insidiously and almost imperceptibly. It is a disease which is attended by little pain; only in its later stages, when its horrible effects reveal themselves, is it unmistakeably manifest. And thus it is with that most awful of all maladies. Sin is subtle and sly, so that for the most part its subjects are quite unconscious of its workings. Hence we read of "the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:13). It is not until the Spirit convicts, that one is made aware of the awfulness and extent of sin, and begins to feel "the plague of his own heart" (1 Kings 8:38). Yes, it is not until a person is born again that he learns his very nature is depraved. Only as the sinner grows old in sin does he discover what a fearful hold his lusts have upon him.
4. Leprosy spreads with deadly rapidity. Though it begins with certain spots in the skin which are small at first, they gradually increase in size; slowly but surely the whole body is affected. The corruption extends inwardly while it spreads outwardly, vitiating even the bones and marrow. Like a locust on the twig of a tree, it continues eating its way through the flesh, till nothing but the skeleton is left. This is what sin has done in man; it has corrupted every part of his being, so that he is totally depraved. No faculty, no member of his complex constitution has escaped defilement. Heart, mind, will, conscience—spirit and soul and body—are equally poisoned. "I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing" (Rom. 7:18).
5. Leprosy is highly infectious. Inherited inwardly, contagious outwardly. The leper communicates his horrible disease to others wherever he goes. That is why he was quarantined under the Mosaic law, and when he saw anyone approaching, he was required to give warning by crying, "Unclean, unclean." The analogy continues to hold good. Sin is a malady which is not only inherited by nature, but it is developed by association with the wicked. "Evil communications corrupt good manners" (1 Cor. 15:33). That is why the righteous are bidden, "Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it [as a plague], pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away" (Prov. 4:4-5). Such repetition bespeaks our danger and intimates how slow we are to be warned against it. "Shun profane and vain babblings: . . . their word will eat as doth a canker" (2 Tim. 2:16-17).
6. Leprosy is peculiarly loathsome. There is nothing more repellent to the eye than to look upon one on whom this awful disease has obtained firm hold. Except with the most callous, despite one’s pity, he or she is obliged to turn away from such a nauseating sight with a shudder. Under Judaism there was no physician who ministered to the leper, and hence it is said of his putrefying sores that "they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment" (Isa. 1:6). The leper may well appropriate to himself the language of Job, "All my inward [or ‘intimate’] friends abhorred me: and they whom I love are turned against me" (Job 19:19). All of which is a figure of how infinitely more repellent is the sinner in the sight of Him who is "of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity" (Hab. 1:13).
7. Leprosy is a state of living death. There is a discoloration of the skin, loss of sensation, and spreading ulceration. The fingers, toes, and nose atrophy. Vision is impaired and sometimes blindness results. As one has said, "The leper is a walking sepulcher." And this is precisely what sin is: a state of spiritual death—a living on the natural side of existence, but dead to all things spiritual. Thus we find an apostle declaring "she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth" (1 Tim. 5:6). The natural man is "dead in trespasses and sins" (Eph. 2:1); he is alive sinward and worldward but dead Godward.
8. Leprosy was dealt with by banishment. No leper was allowed to remain in the congregation of Israel. The terms of the Mosaic law were most explicit: "he shall dwell alone; without the camp shall his habitation be" (Lev. 13:46). In the center of the camp was Jehovah’s abode, and around His tabernacle were grouped His covenant people. From them the leper was excluded. How rigidly that was enforced may be seen from the fact than even Miriam, the sister of Moses (Num. 12:10-15), and Uzziah the king (2 Kings 15:5) were not treated as exceptions. The leper was deprived of all political and ecclesiastical privileges, dealt with as one dead, excluded from fellowship. It is a visible sign of how God regards the sinner, for sin shuts out from His presence (Isa. 59:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:9).
9. Leprosy makes its victim an object of shame. It could not be otherwise. Robbing its subject of the bloom of health, replacing it with that which is hideous. Excluding him from God and His people, placing him outside the pale of decency. Consequently the leper was required to carry about with him every mark of humiliation and distress. The law specified that "his clothes shall be rent, and his head bare, and he shall put a covering upon his upper lip, and shall cry, Unclean, unclean" (Lev. 13:45). What a spectacle! What a picture of abject misery! What a solemn portrayal of the natural man! Sin has marred the features of God’s image, in whose likeness man was originally made, and stamped upon him the marks of the devil.
10. Leprosy was incurable so far as the Old Testament was concerned. One really stricken with this disease was beyond all human aid. The outcome was inevitably fatal. Modern medical science has reported some cured cases; and by lengthy treatment with sulfone drugs, the tubercular form is usually arrestable. But there is no sure cure; research still goes on. In like manner sin is beyond human cure; it cannot be eradicated. No power of will or effort of mind can cope with it. Neither legislation nor reformation is of any avail. Education and culture are equally impotent. Sooner can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots than those do good who are accustomed to do evil (Jer. 13:23).
But what is beyond the power of man is possible with God. Where the science of the ages stands helpless, the Savior manifests His sufficiency. "He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him" (Heb. 7:25). To the leper He said, "I will; be thou clean. And immediately his leprosy was cleansed" (Matthew 8:3). Blessed, thrice blessed is that! In view of the ten points above, how profoundly thankful every Christian should be that "the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7).