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Thursday, September 10, 2020

The General, the Slave, and the Prophet (2 Kings 5)

Daily Bible Reading Devotional [2 Kings 5:1-3, 7-15c] – September 18th,  2016 – Dust Off The Bible

 Sunday, September 6, 2020

watch it here -

            Would you like to be king?  You’d be wealthy.  You could marry whomever you chose.  People cozy up to the king, compliment the king, and bow before the king.

            What’s it like to be a king?  We could ask Jehoram, king of Israel from 852-841 BC.  He lived in the city of Samaria.  To his Northeast was Aram (modern day Syria).  Aram dominated and humiliated Israel. 

Naaman was the leader of the Aram army.  The Aramean General’s name evoked fear.  Naaman?  Here?  Is he on the warpath?  The Aramean king relied on him.  Young Aramean men wished they could be him.  He was the picture of power. 

Remember however, this is not Naaman’s story.  It is God’s.  God gave Naaman his victories the text says.  Naaman was probably as fit as any soldier in the 9th century BC, but we know God gave him his success.  This is a story about God.

If we examine our own lives, we see that our stories are about our relationship with God.  This holds whether God is central to our lives or absent from them.  We were created in God’s image for the purpose of being in a relationship of love with God and with our neighbors. 

We meet Naaman and the kings of Aram and Israel, and a kidnapped slave, and the prophet Elisha, and a couple of servants.  All these characters illustrate God at work in the world in relation to God’s chosen people.  

He chose Israel to shine His light and thus draw people all over the world to Himself.  This story reveals something profound:  God is the source of true, lasting power and perfect love.  Our country has endured public, violent grasping for power from different groups in society.  If we can step back from the news cycle, which maximizes destruction and horror for the sake ratings, and take in the bigger picture, we see that God holds the real power.  We don’t need to grab for it.  We can trust him.  Instead of trying to be powerful, we can trust Jesus and, in his name, seek opportunities to serve the poor and disadvantaged people around us.    

In 850 BC, General Naaman, was the man of the hour but his life was not all rosy.  He had leprosy, a grotesque skin disease, a 9th century BC plague feared as much as COVID-19 today.  In his own mind, he was abhorrent.  He inspired awe and fear in other people.  He looked upon himself with disgust.  He had the world at his fingertips; sadly, he could not feel his fingertips. 

One of Naaman’s slaves was a young Israelite girl, kidnapped on a raid.  While ravaging Israelite villages, he saw her and thought she’s be useful.  She was human chattel, ripped from her home, taken into slavery.    

Every human being is unique.  Every one bears the image of God.  That image, though, is ignored when we willingly impose the chains of slavery, as our white ancestors did to our black brothers and sisters.  Slaves are dehumanized.  Slavery robs people of their identities, what makes them who they are. 

And yet, in this story the one voice to speak up and say that the emperor had no clothes was that Israelite girl Naaman had taken. She spoke what others only whispered.  Mighty General Naaman had leprosy and couldn’t do a thing about it.  The powerful man was at the mercy of this ailment and was getting worse.  His Israelite slave girl spoke what no one dared say out loud.  “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria.”  The cure was not impossible.  Naaman’s hope was with the Israelite prophet in that god forsaken land he had so often terrorized. 

Astonishingly, Naaman listened to his slave’s words, requested leave from his king, and headed to Samaria.  He had been there before – conquering and killing.  Now, he was going in need.  The pompous Aramean monarch gave him a cover letter.  "To the King of Israel: When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy."

This stunk and King Jehoram of Israel knew it.  He didn’t have the power to stand up to Aram.  Now, General Naaman, in full regalia, strutted through his door and stood in his courts.  King Jehoram was powerless against leprosy, powerless against Naaman, and he was going to be routed – again.  If he failed to cure the disease, Aram would invade. There was nothing he could do.  In the customary manner of expressing great grief, he tore his robes.  Today, everything our president tweets ends up on CNN.  In 850BC, when the king tore his robe, word got out.  What national crisis brought on this lamentation?

Enter Elisha.  The prophet had no patience with the pedantic, self-serving, shortsighted world of politics.  He didn’t care about fame or personal wealth or his own reputation.  His fellowship with God is one few people have ever known.  He was concerned though when he heard of King Jehoram’s expressions of grief because they veiled a faithless fear that Elisha could not stomach. 

In his spirit, he knew the purpose of Naaman’s visit.  The powerful man was cut to his knees by a disease that was incurable in the 9th century BC.  To intervene would mean to help a man in God’s name and show the world God’s power.  Elisha lived for one thing: to serve God.  In this case, his service to God would spare the ridiculous Israelite King Jehoram and help Naaman, a man who never would have considered helping Israel.

Naaman thought he had seen it all.  The proud warrior was in Israel on the advice of a servant girl.  The king of Israel wept like a coward.  And the reclusive prophet he had never heard of, wouldn’t even come out to see him.  Elisha sent a messenger who told Naaman.  “Go wash in the Jordan River seven times and your health will be restored.  You will be clean.” 

Naaman fumed.  How dare this insignificant seer dismiss Naaman, yes that Naaman, with a message delivered by a lackey.  Bathe in the disgusting mudflow they call the Jordan River?  He flew into a fiery harangue.  Surely the prophet would “call on the name of Yahweh his God, and wave his hand over the spot and cure the skin disease. Aren't Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?"

Interestingly, Naaman the famed conqueror, overseer of cruel massacres, taker of slaves was a good listener.  He was in Israel on the word of his slave, now he would heed the word of his loyal aide. 

His aid de camp said to him, “My Lord, you’ve come this far.  With hat in hand, if you’ll forgive me, you’ve come to Israel asking for help.  Had this famed prophet spoken eloquent incantations, made a personal appearance, and instructed you to do great deeds and undergo bizarre rituals, you would have.  Right?  So, why not do this simple thing?  Why not see this quixotic journey all the way through?  If it works, you are cured.  If not, we come with our armies and raze Samaria to the ground.”

Naaman went to the Jordan.  Setting his dignity aside, he entered the water:  One time, two times, three … seven times he dunked himself and came out clean.  Leprosy – gone!  In the process of coming to faith, there is a moment when the lights turn on, the scales drop from our eyes, and the truth is crystal clear.  Naaman was close to that moment.  Healing paved the way for spiritual transformation.

The disease was gone.  His anger was gone.  His arrogance was gone.  He bounded back to Elisha’s house.  This time Elisha received the entire company and heard Naaman proclaim, “Now, I know there is no God on earth except in Israel.”

Naaman offered lavish gifts and bundles of money.  Elisha responded, “As the Lord lives, I will accept nothing.”  His sole purpose in life was to serve God. He wanted Naaman to understand that God did this.  Naaman rejoiced.

Then he begged Elisha to allow him to take two buckets full of dirt back to Aram where he would still be expected to accompany the Aramean King through the rituals of their polytheistic religion.  Naaman said, “I am going to have to do that, even though I know it is all a hoax.”  Naaman was overwhelmed.  His young slave girl had more insight than he, but he was – dare we say it – humble enough to recognize that.  He was born again and on the path to truth.  Elisha simply said, “Go in peace.”

Exit Naaman.  Enter Gehazi. 

Gehazi was Elisha’s aid, servant, and apprentice.  Gehazi had seen Elisha’ prophetic powers, but he did not appreciate the simple, lonely life of a prophet.  He thought to himself, “My master let that Aramean off too lightly.”  Gehazi wanted to get while the getting was good, so he ran down Naaman and his retinue.  Naaman, turned to Gehazi with concern and asked, “Is everything alright?”

Gehazi said.  “Yes, everything is alright, but my master has sent me” – no he didn’t.  “Two members of the company of prophets from Ephraim have just come from the hill country” – no they haven’t.  “Please give a talent of silver and two changes of clothing.”

Born again Naaman, bursting with living water, happily gave the clothing and two talents of silver – an enormous amount.  People flowing with God’s love eagerly go above and beyond what is asked.  Naaman skipped all the way back to Aram.  After that, I wonder how he treated people, especially his Israelite slave girl.

Gehazi slipped back into the house. 

Elisha asked, “Where have you been Gehazi?” 

“Your servant has not gone anywhere at all.”  Very deferential. 

Elisha perceived his apprentice’s ambition.  He said, “This is not a time for making money.”  God was at work, and Elisha would not allow God’s victory, won in the heart of Naaman, to be tainted by Gehazi’s greed.  “The leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and your descendants forever.”  Gehazi left Elisha’s presence leprous, white as snow. The servant of the prophet, so close to God, sold his soul for money that was useless in the face of leprosy.  Naaman, having received by grace the riches of Heaven, gladly gave away a bundle of worldly wealth.

Everyone’s journey to God is unique.  My prayer is that all of us would make that journey and meet Jesus.   Meeting him, I pray we’d be changed, like Naaman.  I pray we’d experience the freedom and joy that only found in God. 

I pray those who know Jesus would be as confident in Him as that unassuming Israelite slave girl was confident in Elisha.  Through us, no matter the situation, God can express His power and love through his church, through us, to work for Good and lead people to salvation.


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