Gleanings From Elisha
His Life and Miracles
TENTH MIRACLE—TOO SIMPLE A REMEDY
In Our Last Chapter we dwelt mainly upon the requirement which was made upon Naaman when he reached the prophet’s abode: "Go and wash in Jordan seven times," seeking to supply answers to, Why was he so enjoined? What was the implication in his case? What beating has such a demand upon men generally today? What is its deeper significance?
We saw that it was a requirement which revealed the uselessness and worthlessness of Naaman’s attempt to purchase his healing. We showed that it was a requirement which demanded the setting aside of his own will and submitting himself to the will of Israel’s God. We pointed out that it was a requirement which insisted that he must get down off his "high horse" (descend from his chariot), humbling and abasing himself. We intimated that it was a requirement which, typically, pointed to that amazing provision of the grace of God for spiritual lepers, namely, the "fountain opened... for sin and for uncleanness" (Zech. 13:1), and by which alone defilement can be cleansed and iniquities blotted out.
"But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper" (2 Kings 5:11). In his own country he was a person of consequence, a "great man," commander-in-chief of the army, standing high in the favor of the king. Here in Israel the prophet had treated him as a mere nobody, paying no deference to him, employing a servant to convey his instructions. Naaman was chagrined; his pride was wounded, and because his self-importance had not been ministered to, he turned away in a huff. Elisha’s "Go and wash in Jordan seven times" was not intended to signify the means of cure, but was designed as a test of his heart, and strikingly did it serve its purpose. It was a call to humble himself before Jehovah. It required the repudiation of his own wisdom and the renunciation of self-pleasing; and that is at direct variance with the inclinations of fallen human nature, so much so that no one ever truly complied with this just demand of God’s until He performed a miracle of grace in the soul.
Even the most humiliating providences are not sufficient in themselves to humble the proud heart of man and render him submissive to the divine will. One would think that a person so desperately afflicted as this poor leper would have been meekened and ready to comply with the prophet’s injunction. Ah, my reader, the seat of our moral disease lies too deep for external things to reach it. So fearful is the blinding power of sin that it causes its subjects to be puffed up with self-complacency and self-righteousness and to imagine they are entitled to favorable treatment even at the hands of the Most High. And does not that very spirit lurk in the hearts of the regenerate! And it not only lurks there, but at times it moves them to act like Naaman! Has not the writer and the Christian reader ever come before the Lord with some pressing need and sought relief at His hands, and then been angry because He responded to us in quite a different way from what we expected and desired? Have we not had to bow our heads for shame as He gently reproved us with His "Doest thou well to be angry?" (Jon. 4:4). Yes, there is much of this Naaman spirit that needs to be mortified in each of us.
"Behold, I thought" said Naaman. Herein he supplies a true representation of the natural man. The sinner has his own idea of how salvation is to be obtained. It is true that opinions vary when it comes to the working out of detail, yet all over the world fallen man has his own opinion of what is suitable and needful. One man thinks he must perform some meritorious deeds in order to obtain forgiveness. Another thinks the past can be atoned for by turning over a new leaf and living right for the future. Yet another, who has obtained a smattering of the gospel, thinks that by believing in Christ he secures a passport to heaven, even though he continues to indulge the flesh and retain his beloved idols. However much they may differ in their self-concocted schemes, this one thing is common to them all: "I thought." And that "I thought" is put over against the Word and way of God. They prefer the way that "seemeth right" to them; they insist on following out their own theorizings; they pit their prejudices and presuppositions against a "thus saith the Lord." Reader, you perceive here the folly of Naaman, but have you seen the madness of setting your own thoughts against the authority of the living God!
And what was it that this foolish and haughty Syrian "thought"? Why this: "He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper." He was willing to be restored to health, but it must be in his own way—a way in which his self-respect might be retained and his importance acknowledged. He desired to be healed, provided he should also be duly honored. He had come all the way from Syria to be rid of his leprosy, but he was not prepared to receive cleansing in the manner of God’s prescribing. What madness! What a demonstration that the carnal mind is enmity against God! What proof of the fearful hold which Satan has over his victims until a stronger one delivers them from his enthralling power!
Naaman had now received what the king of Israel had failed to give him—full directions for his cure. There was no uncertainty about the prescription nor of its efficacy, would he but submit to it. "Go and wash in Jordan seven times... and thou shalt be clean." But he felt slighted. Such instructions suited not his inclinations; the divine requirement accorded not with the conceits of his unhumbled heart.
What right had Naaman, a leper, to either argue or prescribe? He was a petitioner and not a legislator; he was suing for a favor, and therefore was in no position to advance any demands of his own. If such were the case and situation of Naaman, how infinitely less has any depraved and guilty sinner the right to make any terms with God! Man is a criminal, justly pronounced guilty by the divine law. Mercy is his only hope, and it is therefore for God to say in what way mercy is to be shown him and how salvation is to be obtained. For this reason the Lord says not only,
"Let the wicked forsake his way," but also adds "and the unrighteous man his thoughts" (Isa. 55:7).
Man must repudiate his own ideas, abandon his own prejudices, turn away from his own schemes, and reject his own preferences. If we are to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must "become as little children" (Matthew 18:3). Alas, of the vast majority of our fellowmen it has to be said, that they, "going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God" (Rom. 10:3). They "will not come to Christ that they might have life" (John 5:40).
C. E. Stuart wrote,
In Naaman’s mind all was arranged. He pictured the scene to himself, and made himself the foremost figure in the group—the Gentile idolator waited on by the prophet of God. The incongruity of this he did not then see. We see it. God would visit him in grace, but as one who had no ground of his own to stand on. As a sinner He could meet him. As a leper He could heal him. As the captain of the hosts of the king of Syria He would not receive him. What place has a sinner before God save that of one to whom mercy can be shown? What place is suited to the leper save that outside the camp? Naaman has to learn his place. He may be wroth with the prophet, but he cannot move him. Before him he is only a leper, whatever he may appear before others. Learning his place, he has to learn his vileness. He imagined Elisha would have struck his hand over the place. A sign, a scene, he expected—not a mere word. He did not know what a defiling object he was. The priest looked on the leper to judge whether he was leprous or not. He touched him only when he was clean (Lev. 14). Of Naaman’s leprosy there was no doubt, for he had come to be healed of it. To touch him ere he was clean would only have defiled the prophet! But further, if he had been able to touch him, and so have healed him, would not man have thought there was virtue in the prophet? By sending him to the Jordan to wash, it would be clearly seen the cure was direct from God. Man has no virtue in himself—he can only be the channel of God’s grace to others. God must have all the glory of the cure, and Naaman must be taught his own condition and vileness.
"Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage" (2 Kings 5:12). Naaman was incensed not only because he thought that insufficient respect had been shown to his own person, but also because he felt his country had been slighted. If it was merely a matter of bathing in some river, why could not those of his own land have sufficed? This was tantamount to dictating to Jehovah, for it was the word of His prophet he now challenged. Shall the beggar insist on his right to choose what form the supply of his need must take! Shall the patient inform the physician what remedy will be acceptable to him! Is the guilty culprit to have the effrontery to dictate to the judge what shall be done to him! Yet a worm of the earth deems himself competent to pit his wits against the wisdom of God. A hell-deserving sinner is impudent enough to draw up terms on which he considers heaven is due him. But if we are to be cleansed, it can only be by the way of God’s appointing and not by any of our own devising.
Matthew Henry said,
He thinks this too cheap, too plain, too common, a thing for so great a man to be cured by; or he did not believe it would at all effect the cure, or, if it would, what medicinal virtue was there in Jordan more than in the rivers of Damascus? But he did not consider (1) That Jordan belonged to Israel’s God, from whom he was to expect the cure, and not from the gods of Damascus; it watered the Lord’s land, the holy land, and in a miraculous cure, relation to God was much more considerable than the depth of the channel or the beauty of the stream. (2) That Jordan had more than once before this obeyed the commands of Omnipotence: it had of old yielded a passage to Israel, and of late to Elijah and Elisha, and therefore was fitter for such a purpose than those rivers which had only observed the common law of their creation, and had never been thus distinguished; but above all, Jordan was the river appointed, and if he expected a cure from the Divine power he ought to acquiesce in the Divine will, without asking why or wherefore. It is common for those that are wise in their own conceits to look with contempt on the dictates and prescriptions of Divine wisdom, and to prefer their own fancies before them.
"So he turned and went away in a rage." How true to life; how accurate the picture! The flesh resents the humbling truth of God and hates to be abased. And let us say here for the benefit of young preachers who are likely to read these lines: you must expect some of your hearers to turn from you in anger if you faithfully minister the Word of God in its undiluted purity. It has ever been thus. If the prophets of the Lord incensed their hearers, can you expect your message will be palatable to the unregenerate? If the incarnate Son of God had to say, "Because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not" (John 8:45), can you expect the truth to meet with a better welcome from your lips? If the chief of the apostles declared, "For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ" (Gal. 1:10), do you expect to be popular with them? There is but one way to avoid displeasing your hearers, and that is by unfaithfulness to your trust, by carnal compromise, by blunting the sharp edge of the sword of the Spirit, by keeping back what you know will prove unacceptable. In such an event, God will require their blood at your hand and you will forfeit the approbation of your Master.
"So he turned and went away in a rage." In this we may see the final effort of Satan to retain his victim before divine grace delivered him. The rage of Naaman was but the reflection of Satan, who was furious at the prospect of losing him. It reminds us of the case recorded in Luke 9:37-42. A father of a demon-possessed child had sought for help from the apostles, which they had been unable to render. As the Savior came down from the mount, the poor father approached Him and He gave orders, "bring they son hither." We are told, "And as he was yet a coming, the devil threw him down, and tare him" (Luke 9:42). But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, and healed the child, and delivered him again to his father. It is frequently thus; the conflict which is waged in the soul is usually worst just before peace is found. Lusts rage, unbelief seeks to wax supreme, the truth of sovereign grace when first apprehended is obnoxious, and to be told our righteousnesses are as filthy rags stirs up enmity. Satan fills the soul with rage against God, against His truth, against His servant. Often that is a hopeful sign, for it at least shows that the sinner has been aroused from the fatal sleep of indifference.
"And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean?" (2 Kings 5:13). Let us consider first the surface teaching of this verse. This gentle remonstrance was "a word spoken in season." Had Naaman remained calm and reasonable he would have perceived that what was required of him was simple and safe, and neither difficult nor dangerous. Had the prophet prescribed some laborious and lengthy task, or ordered a drastic operation or painful remedy, probably Naaman would have complied without a murmur. So why not do this when no other sacrifice was demanded of him but the humbling of his pride? "When sinners are under serious impressions, and as yet prejudiced against the Lord’s method of salvation, they should be reasoned with in meekness and love, and persuaded to make trial of its simplicity" (Thomas Scott). If it is necessary to rebuke their petulence and point out to them the foolishness of their proud reasoning, we should make it evident that our rebuke proceeds from a desire for their eternal welfare.
It is a great mercy to have those about us that will be free with us, and faithfully tell us our faults and follies, though they be our inferiors. Masters must be willing to hear reason from their inferiors: Job 31:13, 14. As we should be deaf to the counsel of the ungodly though given by the greatest and most venerable names, so we should have our ears open to good advice, though brought to us by those who are much below us: no matter who speaks, if it be well said... The reproof was modest and respectful: they call him "father"—for servants must honor and obey their masters with a kind of filial affection (Matthew Henry).
How few ministers of the gospel now proclaim the divine injunction, "Let as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor, that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed" (1 Tim. 6:1).
It may be those servants had heard quite a lot from the Hebrew maid of the wondrous miracles that had been wrought by Elisha, and hence they were very desirous that Naaman should try out his directions. Or, perhaps it was because they were deeply devoted to their master, holding him in high esteem, and felt he was forsaking his own mercies by permitting his wounded vanity to now blind his better judgment. At any rate, they saw no sense in coming all the way from Syria and now leaving Samaria without at least making a trial of the prophet’s prescription. Such are the suggestions made by the commentators to explain this action of Naaman’s attendants. Personally, we prefer to look higher and see the power of the Most High in operation, working in them both to will and to do if His good pleasure, employing them as one more link in the chain which brought about the accomplishment of His purpose; "For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen" (Rom. 11:36).
What has been before us here is in full accord with the other things already contemplated. It seemed quite unlikely that any serious attention should be paid to the simple statement of the captive Hebrew maid, but God saw to it that her words did not fall to the ground. It appeared very much as though Naaman’s mission was blocked when the skeptical king of Israel failed to cooperate, but God moved Elisha to intervene and caused his royal master to carry out his order. And now that Naaman himself turned away from the prophet in a rage, it certainly looked as though the quest would prove unsuccessful. But that could not be. The Almighty had decreed that the Syrian should be healed of his leprosy and brought to acknowledge that the God of Israel was the true and living God; and all the powers of evil could not prevent the fulfillment of His decree. Yet just as He is generally pleased to work, so here; He used human instruments in the accomplishing of His purpose. It may be concluded that, naturally and normally, those attendants would have their place and distance, and would not have dared to remonstrate with their master while he was in such a rage. Behold the secret power of God working within them, subduing their fears, and moving them to appeal to Naaman.
The little maid was not present to speak to her august master and plead with him to further his best interests. The prophet of the Lord had issued his instructions, only for them to be despised. What, then? Shall Naaman return home unhealed? No, such a thing was not possible. He was to learn there was a God in Israel and that He had thoughts of mercy toward him. But he must first be abased. Mark, then how God acted. He moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform—oftentimes unperceived and unappreciated by us. He inclines Naaman’s own followers to admonish him and show him the folly of his proud reasoning. Remarkable and significant is it to observe the particular instruments the Lord here employed. It was first the servant maid whom He used to inform Naaman that there was a prophet in Israel by whom he could obtain healing. Then it was through his servant that Elisha gave the Syrian the needed instructions. And now it was Naaman’s own servants who prevailed upon him to heed those instructions. All of this was intended for the humbling of the mighty Naaman. And, we may add, for our instruction. We must take the servant’s place and have the servant spirit if we would hope for God to employ us.
See here too the amazing patience of the Lord. Here was one who was wrothful against His faithful prophet: what wonder then that He struck him down in his tracks. Here was a haughty creature who refused to humble himself and, in effect, impudently dictated to God how he should receive healing. Had he been on his knees supplicating the divine favor, his attitude would have been a becoming one; instead, he turned his back upon God’s servant and moved away in a rage. Yet it was then that God acted—not against him, but for him, so that where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. And why? Because sovereign mercy had ordained him a vessel unto honor from all eternity.
Let the Christian reader join with the writer in looking back to the past, recalling when we too kicked against the pricks. How infinite was the forbearance of God toward us! Though we had no regard for Him, He had set His heart upon us; and perhaps at the very time when our awful enmity against Him was most high-handedly operative, He moved someone of comparative obscurity to reason with us and point out to us the folly of our ways and urge us to submit to God’s holy requirements.