Gleanings From Elisha
His Life and Miracles
TENTH MIRACLE—PRIDE IN THE WAY
In the previous chapter we emphasized the secret operations of God in inclining one and another to pay attention to the message of the little Hebrew maid. It was God who gave the hearing ear to both Naaman’s wife and the king of Syria. Perhaps some have thought that such was not the case with the king of Israel! No, it was not. Instead of sharing her confidence and cooperating with her effort, he was skeptical and antagonistic. Therein we may perceive God’s sovereignty. He does not work in all alike, being absolutely free to do as He pleases. He opens the eyes of some but leaves others in their blindness. This is God’s high and awful prerogative: "Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth" (Rom. 9:18). This is what supplies the key to God’s dealings with men and which explains the course of evangelical history. Clearly is that solemn principle exemplified in the previous chapter, and we should be unfaithful as an expositor if we deliberately ignored it as so many now do.
"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?" (2 Kings 5:7). So utterly skeptical was Jehoram that he considered it not worthwhile even to send for Elisha and confer with him. The prophet meant nothing to Israel’s unbelieving king, and therefore he slighted him. Perhaps this strikes the reader as strange, for the previous miracles Elisha had wrought must have been well known. One would have thought his restoring of a dead child to life would thoroughly authenticate him as an extraordinary man of God. But did not the Lord Jesus publicly raise a dead man to life? And yet within a few days both the leaders of the nation and the common people clamored for His crucifixion! And is it any different in our day? Have we not witnessed providential marvels, divine interpositions both of mercy and judgment? and what effect have they had on our evil generation? Jehoram’s conduct is easily accounted for: "the carnal mind is enmity against God" (Rom. 8:7), and that enmity evidenced itself by his slighting God’s accredited servant.
"And it was so, when Elisha the man of God had heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, that he went to the king, saying, Wherefore has thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel" (2 Kings 5:8). The slighted Elisha pocketed his pride and communicated with the king, rightly concluding that his own feelings were not worth considering where the glory of God was concerned.
Naaman came into the land of Israel, expecting relief from a prophet of the God of Israel, and Elisha would by no means have him go back disappointed, lest he should conclude that Jehovah was like the gods of the nations, and as unable to do good or evil as they were. On the contrary he would have it known that God has "a prophet in Israel" by whom He performed such cures as none of the heathen prophets, priests, or physicians could effect; and which were far beyond all the power of the mightiest monarchs (Scott).
The "counsel of the LORD, that shall stand," whatever devices were in Jehoram’s heart to the contrary (Prov. 19:21).
"The righteous are bold as a lion." Elisha not only rebuked the king for his unbelieving fears but summarily gave him instructions concerning Naaman. However unwelcome might be his interference, that deterred him not. The real servant of God does not seek to please men, but rather to execute the commission he has received from on high. It is true that the prophets, like the apostles, were endowed with extraordinary powers, and therefore they are not in all things models for us today; nevertheless the gospel minister is not to cringe before anyone. It is his duty to denounce unbelief and to proclaim that the living God is ever ready to honor those who honor Him and to work wonders in response to genuine faith. As God overruled the king of Syria’s misdirecting of Naaman, so He now overcame the skepticism of the king of Israel by moving him to respond to Elisha’s demand—thereby demonstrating that the words of the little maid were no idle boast and her confidence in God no misplaced one.
"So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha" (2 Kings 5:9). Naaman before the prophet’s abode may be regarded as a picture of the natural man in his sins, not yet stripped of his self-righteousness, nor aware that he is entirely dependent on divine mercy, having no title or claim to receive any favor at God’s hand. The fact that he rode in a chariot mitigated his terrible condition not one iota. No matter how rich the apparel that covered his body, though it might hide from human view his loathsome disease, it availed nothing for the removal of it. And as the valuables he had brought with him could not procure his healing, neither can the cultivation of the most noble character nor the performance of the most praiseworthy conduct in human esteem merit the approbation of God. Salvation is wholly of divine grace and cannot be earned by the creature: "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior" (Titus 3:5-6).
However much it might be in accord with the principles and sentiments which regulate fallen human nature, there was surely something most incongruous in the scene now before us. Here was a poor creature stricken with a most horrible disease, and yet we behold him seated in a chariot. Here was one smitten by a malady no physician could heal, surrounded by official pomp. Here was one entirely dependent upon the divine bounty, yet one whose horses were laden with silver and gold. Do we not behold in him, then, a representative not only of the natural man in his sins, but one filled with a sense of his own importance and bloated with pride! Such is precisely the case with each of us by nature. Totally depraved though we be, alienated from God, criminals condemned by His holy law, our minds at enmity with Him, dead in trespasses and sins, yet until a miracle of grace is wrought within and the abscess of our pride is lanced, we are puffed up with self-righteousness, refuse to acknowledge we deserve anything but eternal punishment, and imagine we are entitled to God’s favorable regard.
Not only does Naaman here fitly portray the self-importance of the natural man while unregenerate, but as hinted above he also illustrates the fact that the sinner imagines he can gain God’s approbation and purchase his salvation. The costly things which the Syrian had brought with him were obviously designed to ingratiate himself in the eyes of the prophet and pay for his cure. Following such a policy was of course quite natural, and therefore it shows what is the native thought of every man. He supposes that a dutiful regard of religious performances will obtain for him the favorable notice of God, that his fastings and prayers, church-attendance and contributing to its upkeep, will more than counterbalance his demerits. Such an insane idea is by no means confined to Buddhists and Romanists but is common to the whole human family. It is for this reason we have to be assured, "By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9). Spiritually speaking, every man is bankrupt, a pauper, and salvation is entirely gratis, a matter of charity.
"But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14). This is true alike of the most cultured and the thoroughly illiterate. No amount of education or erudition fits one for the apprehension of spiritual things. Man is blind, and his eyes must be opened before he can perceive either the glory of God and His righteous claims or his own wretchedness and deep needs. Not until a miracle of grace humbles his heart will he take himself to the throne of grace in his true character; not until the Holy Spirit works effectually within him will he come to Christ as an empty-handed beggar.
It is recorded that a famous artist met with a poor tramp and was so impressed with his woebegone appearance and condition that he felt he would make an apt subject for a drawing. He gave the tramp a little money and his card and promised to pay him well if he would call at his house on the following day and sit while he drew his picture. The next morning the tramp arrived, but the artist’s intention was defeated. The tramp had washed and shaved and so spruced himself that he was scarcely recognizable!
Similarly does the natural man act when he first attempts to respond to the gospel call. Instead of coming to the Lord just as he is in all his want and woe, as one who is lost and undone, he supposes he must first make himself more presentable by a process of reformation. Thus he busies himself in mending his ways, improving his conduct, and performing pious exercises, unaware that Christ "came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance"—to take their place in the dust before Him. What we have just been dwelling upon receives striking illustration in the chapter before us. Instead of sending Naaman directly to Elisha, Benhadad gave him a letter of introduction to the king of Israel; and instead of casting himself on the mercy of the prophet, he sent a costly fee to pay for the healing of his commander-in-chief. We have seen the futility of his letter—the effect it had upon its recipient; now we are to behold how his lavish outlay of wealth produced no more favorable response from Elisha. Naaman had to learn the humiliating truth that, where divine grace is concerned, the millionaire stands on precisely the same level as the pauper.
Fifth, the Requirement of the Miracle
"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). As the representative of Him who deigned to wash the feet of His disciples, the minister of the gospel must not decline the most menial service nor despise the poorest person. Elisha has set us an example of both, for he scorned not to minister to the physical needs of Elijah by washing his hands (2 Kings 3:11), and refused not to help the impoverished widow (2 Kings 4:2). On the other hand, the servant of Christ is to be no sycophant, toadying to those of affluence; nor is he to feed the pride of the self-important. From the sequel it is evident Naaman considered that he, as a "great man," was entitled to deference, and probably felt that the prophet ought to consider a favor or honor was now being shown him. But, officially, Elisha was an ambassador of the King of kings; and with becoming dignity, he let Naaman know that he was at no man’s beck and call, though he failed not to inform him of the way in which healing was to be obtained.
"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." Here we see no servile obeisance nor owning of the mightiness of Naaman. The prophet did not even greet him, nor so much as go out of his house to meet him in person. Instead, he sent him a message by a servant. Ah, my reader. God is no respecter of persons, nor should His ministers be. Incalculable harm has been wrought in churches by pastors pandering to those in high places, for not only are the haughty injured thereby, but the lowly are stumbled; and in consequence, the Holy Spirit is grieved and quenched. God will not tolerate any parading of fleshly distinctions before Him: "That no flesh should glory in his presence" (1 Cor. 1:29) is the unrepealable decision. The most eminent and gifted of this world are due no more consideration from the Most High than the most lowly, for "there is no difference: For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:22-23). All alike have broken the law; all alike are guilty before the supreme judge; all alike must be saved by sovereign grace, if they be saved at all.
But there is another way in which we may regard the prophet’s conduct on this occasion; not only did he maintain his official dignity, but he evidenced personal humility and prudence, having his eye fixed on the glory of God. It is not that he was indifferent to Naaman’s welfare. No, the fact that he sent his servant out to him with the needful directions evidenced the contrary. But Elisha knew full well that the all-important thing was not the messenger, but the message. It mattered nothing who delivered the message—himself or his servant; but it mattered everything that the God-given word should be faithfully communicated. Elisha knew full well that Naaman’s expectation lay in himself, so like a true "man of God" he directed attention away from himself. What a needed lesson for us in this person-exalting day. How much better would preachers serve souls and honor their Master if, thus hidden, they occupied them with the gospel instead of with themselves. It was in this self-effacing spirit that Paul rebuked the person-worshipping Corinthians when he said, "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed?" (1 Cor. 3:5). So too our Lord’s forerunner who styled himself "the voice [heard but not seen!] of one crying in the wilderness" (John 1:23).
What was the force of "Go wash in Jordan seven times"? Let us give first a general answer in the words of another.
When Naaman stood with his pompous retinue, and with all his silver and gold at the door of Elisha, he appears before us as a marked illustration of a sinner building on his own efforts after righteousness. He seemed furnished with all that the heart could desire, but in reality all his preparations were but a useless incumberance, and the prophet soon gave him to understand this. "Go wash" swept away all confidence in gold, silver, raiment, retinue, the king’s letter, everything. It stripped Naaman of everything, and reduced him to his true condition as a poor defiled leper needing to be washed. It put no difference between the illustrious commander-in-chief of the hosts of Syria, and the poorest and meanest leper in all the coasts of Israel. The former could do nothing less; the latter needed nothing more. Wealth cannot remedy man’s ruin, and poverty cannot interfere with God’s remedy. Nothing that a man has done need keep him out of heaven; nothing that he can do will ever get him in. "Go wash" is the word in every case.
But let us consider this "Go wash" more closely and ponder it in the light of its connections. As one stricken with leprosy, Naaman pictures the natural man in his fallen estate. And what is his outstanding and distinguishing characteristic? Why, that he is a depraved creature, a sinner, a rebel against God. And what is sin? From the negative side, it is failure to submit to God’s authority and be subject to His law; positively, it is the exercise of self-will, a determination to please myself; "we have turned every one to his own way" (Isa. 53:6). If then a sinner inquires of God’s servant the way of recovery, what is the first and fundamental thing which needs to be told him? That self-will and self-pleasing must cease; that he must submit himself to the will of God. And that is only another way of saying that he must be converted, for "conversion" is a turning round, a right about-face. And in order for conversion, repentance is the essential requisite (Acts 3:19). And in its final analysis, "repentance" is taking sides with God against myself, judging myself, condemning myself, bowing my will to His.
Again, sin is not only a revolt against God, but a deification of self. It is a determination to gratify my own inclinations, it is saying, "I will be lord over myself." That was the bait which the serpent dangled before our first parents when he tempted Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit: "Ye shall be as gods" (Gen. 3:5). Casting off allegiance to God, man assumed an attitude of independence and self-sufficiency. Sin took possession of his heart; he became proud, haughty, self righteous. If, then, such a creature is to be recovered and restored to God, it must necessarily be by a process of humbling him. The first design of the gospel is to put down human pride, to lay man low before God. It was predicted by Isaiah when speaking of gospel times, "The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down" (Isa. 2:11). And again, "every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight" (Isa. 40:4); and therefore did our Lord begin His Sermon on the Mount by saying, "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for their’s is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). That was the basic truth which the prophet pressed upon Naaman: that he must abase himself before the God of Israel.
"Go wash in Jordan seven times" was but another way of saying to the conceited Syrian, "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God . . . Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up" (Jam. 4:6-10). Naaman must come down from off his "high horse" and take his proper place before the Most High. Naaman must descend from his "chariot" and evidence a lowly spirit. Naaman must "wash," or "bathe" as the word is often translated, in the waters of the Jordan; not once or twice but no less than seven times, and thus completely renounce self. And the requirement which God made of Naaman, my reader, is precisely the same as His demand upon you, upon me: pride has to be mortified, self-will relinquished, self-righteousness repudiated. Have we complied with this? Have we renounced self-pleasing and surrendered to the divine scepter? Have we given ourselves to the Lord (2 Cor. 8:5) to be ruled by Him? If not, we have never been savingly converted.
In its ultimate significance, the "Go wash in Jordan seven times" had a typical import, and in the light of the New Testament there is no difficulty whatever in perceiving what that was. There is one provision, and one only, which the amazing grace of God and the wondrous love of His Son has made for the healing of spiritual lepers. It is that blessed "fountain" which has been opened for sin and for uncleanness (Zech. 13:1). That holy "fountain" had its rise at Calvary, when from the pierced side of Christ "forthwith came there out blood and water" (John 19:34). That wondrous "fountain" which can cleanse the foulest was provided at the incalculable cost of the crucifixion of Immanuel, and hence the washing in "Jordan" which speaks of a point, beyond which there is no return. Here, then, dear friend, is the evangelical significance of what has been before us. If you have been made conscious of your depravity, ready to deny self, willing to humble yourself into the dust before God, here is the divine provision: a bath into which you may plunge by faith, and thereby obtain proof that "the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" (1 John 1:7). If by grace you have already done so, then join the writer in exclaiming, "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood... to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen" (Rev. 1:5-6).