Naaman The Leper
January 14th, 1962 @ 7:30 PM
NAAMAN THE LEPER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Kings 5:1-14
1-14-62 7:30 p.m.
In our preaching through these great characters and stories in the Word of God, we have come to 2 Kings chapter 5, and let us all read the story together, 2 Kings, chapter 5, the first fourteen verses. An illustrious English professor said, “The most effective short story in human literature,” is this story here. Could you imagine a story like this being told in fourteen sentences? One of the finest, most effective, pungent, illustrative, God’s revelation of the truth of anything you will find in the whole Word of God, let’s everybody read it together, 2 Kings chapter 5, the first fourteen verses:
Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honorable, because by him the Lord had given deliverance unto Syria: he was also a mighty man in valor, but he was a leper.
Now the Syrians had gone out by companies, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid; and she waited on Naaman’s wife.
And she said unto her mistress, Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy.
And one went in, and told his lord, saying, Thus and thus said the maid that is of the land of Israel.
And the king of Syria said, Go to, go, and I will send a letter unto the king of Israel. And he departed, and took with him ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of raiment.
And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, Now when this letter is come unto thee, behold, I have therewith sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy.
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? wherefore consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me.
And it was so, when Elisha the man of God had heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.
So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in 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.
[2 Kings 5:1-14]
What a story, what a parable, what a spiritual truth! Had Jesus told it in the New Testament, it could not have reflected any more the gospel of the grace of the Son of God.
It begins with a Syrian nobleman. He’s the commander in chief of all of the armies of Damascus [2 Kings 5:1]. He’s a hero, for there are no heroes like military conquerors: whether in our nation, it’ll be a Washington or an Eisenhower; whether in England, it’d be a Wellington or a Nelson; whether in ancient story it’d be a Caesar, or a Pompey, or an Alexander. Wherever any man rises to great military conquest, he is therein and thereby a hero.
Now this man had that unusual faculty of being admired by the great and the mighty. The king of Syria loved him. And he had the affection and devotion of the people of the land. He was an unusually fine and able and glorious commander in chief. He was honorable; deliverance had been given unto Syria by him. He was a mighty man in valor, and he was a leper [2 Kings 5:1].
You’ll always find the Bible not rude. It always makes allowances, and it takes everything into consideration. Nothing is denied to this Syrian nobleman. He’s a great man. He’s a mighty man. He’s a valorous man. He’s an honorable man. The king loved him, and the people adored him. But the Bible is also very, very honest.
It doesn’t say “peace” when there’s not any peace. And it doesn’t say we’re well when we’re sick. He was all of these things, but in honesty he was a leper. He was a valorous man, but he was also a valorous leper. He was an honorable somebody, but he was an honorable leper. He was amiable, but he was an amiable leper. He was a cultivated man, but he was a cultivated leper. He was refined, but he was a refined leper. He was wealthy and well-to-do, but he was a wealthy well-to-do leper. So in the first verse we are introduced to Naaman [2 Kings 5:1].
The second verse introduces us to a little girl. What an unusual thing. This little girl, a captive girl, a slave girl, she had been captured in one of the predatory raids of Assyrian band upon northern Israel, and she had been sold at an auction block into slavery. After the speaking of this great and mighty commander in chief, then the Scriptures speak of this little girl [2 Kings 5:2]. How unusual.
Out of little seeds those great oaks grow! And out of these seemingly trivial incidents, great events come to pass. Sometimes mighty doors swing on tiny hinges. “Who hath despised the day of small things?” says the Lord [Zechariah 4:10]; this little girl, what an unusual child. First of all about her, she was captured and sold on the auction block. But she was so nice and she was so fine in her self that evidently a nobleman came by and said, “She would be a wonderful little girl to wait upon Mrs. Naaman.” So he bought her maybe and presented her as a present to the great generalissimo’s wife.
Another thing about her; instead of looking upon her destiny and her life in despair and desperation, she perked up her courage, and she made life sweet for everybody around her. And another thing about her; though she was a bond slave and sold on the auction block, captured in terror—I can hardly imagine how it must have been with that little child when those predatory bands seized her and took her away from home—and yet, with all of the sorrow entailed, she wished well to her captors and prayed for health and prosperity and happiness for these to whom she’d been sold as a slave.
Another thing about that little girl; away from home and from her country, she never forgot her God [2 Kings 5:3]. And another thing about her; she had an implicit, explicit faith in the God of the imponderables and the God of the impossibles. “Oh!” said that child and what a faith, “there is a prophet in Samaria that could heal my mistress’s husband of his leprosy” [2 Kings 5:3]. What a faith, a startling thing from that child! And it certainly reflects the home in which she was reared, and how children do that.
I’ve been through that one time, and I’m all getting ready now to go through it a second time. What these little children say, oh, they tell more about mommy and poppy and about the household than any book you could write on the family. One of these little girls was watching a guest in the home eat. And when she consumed the cake the little child asked, “Do you like that cake?”
“Why, yes,” said the guest, “why do you ask my child?”
“Well mamma said you didn’t have any taste.”
And the preacher came to visit in the family to eat a Sunday dinner, and he drove up to the house, with two fine horses, in his carriage. And the little boy went all around and looked at those two fine horses and finally said to the parson, “Do you own both of those horses?” And the preacher said, “Why, yes son. Why?”
“Well,” said the little boy, “my daddy said a one-horse preacher was coming to eat dinner with us today.” That’s children.
That’s this girl. She reflects the devout Christian home in which she was reared. And what a marvelous successful preacher of the gospel would she have made. She had a message, and she delivered it plainly, humbly, and simply. You know, the world has more philosophers than it knows what to do with, but oh, that there were somebody who spoke with simplicity and with sincerity and with great conviction like this child. “Would God, would God my lord were with the prophet in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy” [2 Kings 5:3].
Well, I don’t know but somehow there was such a ring of truth in what the little thing said that one went in and told Naaman about it. And Naaman in the presence of the king mentioned it. Now the king, grasping at a straw, seeking to make well that magnificently able and successful general, said, “Get ready and we will send to Jeroboam the king of Israel who will make you well of your leprosy” [2 Kings 5:4-5]
Well, that’d be natural. When the magi came from the East at the announcement of the birth of a great King, they went to Herod’s palace naturally [Matthew 2:1-4]. And if there’s a mighty man in Israel that could recover a man of his leprosy, it’d be the king of course. So, the king of Syria writes a letter to the king of Israel saying “Herewith I have sent you my generalissimo Naaman that you recover him of his leprosy” [2 Kings 5:5-6].
And the king—only cure for leprosy was to die—and the king, when he read that letter, rent his clothes and said, “Look, look at this. Am I God to kill and to make alive that the king of Syria sends this man to me to heal him of his leprosy? [2 Kings 5:7]. Look.” Some of his counselors drew nigh and said, “There’s a mistake in judgment. O king, they made a mistake in judgment. They weren’t looking for you; they’re looking for Elisha, and you are making a mistake in judgment. This isn’t a matter of war; this is a matter of life for Naaman!” They sent down to Elisha, and Elisha said “Send him to me” [2 Kings 5:8].
So, Naaman came with his horses and in the Hebrew “with his chariots,” plural. He came with his horses, and with his chariots, and with his retinue, and with his servants, and with his commanding staff, and he appeared at the door of the humble cottage and dwelling of Elisha [2 Kings 5:9]. And to the amazement of all who read the story and to the amazement of Naaman himself, the prophet didn’t even come out. He sent Gehazi his servant and said, “Go out there and tell Naaman if he will wash in the Jordan River seven times he will be clean” [2 Kings 5:10].
That sounds disrespectful, and it looks discourteous, but it isn’t. You see three things. One: this man Naaman came from a pagan land that was priest ridden and filled with hocus-pocus, and he’d been accustomed all of his life to the magic workers, and the miracle doers, and the sorcerers, and the incantators standing in their robes and professing to do all kinds of miraculous things, and that’s what he expected here. Like Felix when he sent for Paul expected to hear some outrageous outlandish miracle religion [Acts 24:5-8]. And when Paul spake to him of the gospel of Christ, he was amazed and overwhelmed! [Acts 24:25].
Same thing with Naaman; he looked for some magic worker to come out and to go through some elaborate incantation. God does things in a simple way, and Elisha stayed in the background [2 Kings 5:10], like a true minister ought to stay. Not us but God; magnifying the office, magnifying the message. What a marvelous opportunity for Elisha to appear and to dramatically present himself and to call attention to his mighty powers before God, but he does not even appear. He points to God and what God says.
A second thing: Naaman was accustomed to the fawning of his subjects. Was he not a great man? Was he not the commander in chief of his armies? Didn’t he say to this one, “Go,” and he goes? And doesn’t he say to this one, “Come,” and he comes? And in his pride and in all of the background of his military career, he was looking for some kind of an unusual presence and some kind of an unusual mandate in order that in keeping with his mighty station he might be healed of his leprosy. And second; Elisha wanted to show that God is no respecter of persons, or station, or rank, or wealth. We’re all alike in His sight.
And the third thing: the great commandment of God was an insult to the pride of Naaman. There he was with his servants and his retinue. There he was with his staff. There he was with his horses and with his chariots; and he’d come for some great climactic cure. And what an anti-climax: “Go down there and wash in the muddy Jordan, and you will be healed” [2 Kings 5:10].
The message of Elisha fell upon the ears of Naaman at an angle of an incidence that startled him and amazed him! And he turned red hot, an insult to his nobility and to his dignity and to his station as a commander in chief! And he wheeled and turned and went away in a rage [2 Kings 5:11]. “I’d rather keep my pride with my leprosy than to bow and to yield and be healed of it.” And away he was driving his chariot back to Damascus. And all of it because, “And Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought” [2 Kings 11], and that’s the trouble with all humanity “Behold, I thought [2 Kings 5:11].” We come to God with our preconceived ideas about how God ought to save us. “Behold, I thought.”
What’d he think? First, he thought that he himself, and in himself, and in his possessions, he thought he had the resources for his own salvation. He came. Do you know how much money that amounts to? He came with more than one hundred thousand dollars in our money, and he came with many other richly laden chariots of costly presents and gifts. I don’t know how much it would all amount to, but that money represented there, ten talents of silver and six thousand pieces of gold [2 Kings 5:5], in our money represented more than one hundred thousand dollars. And he thought that he possessed the resources for his own healing and his own cleansing. He could do it himself.
That little girl’s gospel of salvation [2 Kings 5:3]; did it say anything about going to the king, say anything about government, say anything about cost, say anything about money, say anything about wealth? How that simple gospel of that little girl has been changed and perverted! There Naaman is in his pride and in his nobility, and there he is in his unyieldedness and with his own preconceived conceptions; there he is with what it takes in his hands to buy his way into heaven [2 Kings 5:5].
“I thought” [2 Kings 5:11], and that’s humanity. Isn’t it an unusual thing? All of our generations, and all of our civilizations, and all of our educational programs, and all of our university positions, and all of the editorial life of our people, practically all of it is always persuaded, “We can save ourselves.” Isn’t that a strange thing? Our inventions startle us, and our great buildings dwarf the pyramids, and we go through the air faster than birds, through the seas faster than fish, on the land faster and swifter than horses. We can do anything, and yet we are bedeviled, and we are dragged down, and we are cursed and blasted and damned with a thing that holds us we can’t get rid of.
Whether it be the age of the Renaissance, or whether it be the age of scholasticism, or whether it be the age of reason, or whether it be the age of science, or whether it be the age of prosperity, always that thing hanging on to the lifeblood of civilization and humanity and mankind, however much and however able always dragged down with that cursed leprosy; and we’ve never yet been able to find resources in ourselves to heal ourselves.
“I thought” [2 Kings 5:11], another thing he thought; he thought that not only in the resources he had was he able to buy and to win his cure, but he thought that he would have a great part in it and be a hero in the cure as he was in the plan by which he had conquered the provinces and the kingdoms around Damascus. He thought, “Surely, he will come out to me” [2 Kings 5:11]. Why, that was natural. That’s correct.
He’s a leper, but he’s no ordinary leper. He’s a general and a nobleman [2 Kings 5:1], “and surely he will come out to me” [2 Kings 5:11]. Isn’t that a strange thing? Practically all mankind has that persuasion. Somehow God must pay deference to me. Somehow I must have a part in my salvation. I’ve got to do something in which I can glory!
And when we get to heaven, we’re going to be proud as Lucifer, and we’re going to admire our wisdom, what we did. And we’re going to admire these things that we have achieved in accomplishing our salvation. Why, he said, “I expect God to heal me through some great mighty deed that I will do for Him.” That’s all humanity. He had a great station, and the thing that Elisha said was beneath his dignity, for a man in a great station demands a great way and a great means of salvation. And great people look upon great achievements in which to glory. That’s true all the way through civilization and the story of mankind.
The Greeks admired Socrates drinking the hemlock and speaking words of cheer at the very door of death. The Greeks admired the ten thousand who under Xenophon cut down their way back to the Thalassa through the empire of Darius. The Greeks admired those who fell at Thermopylae. Same way about the Hindus; they cast themselves before the juggernaut in order to be saved, ground to death beneath its awful wheels, or holding up their hands until they are stiff and cannot be withdrawn, or lying on a bed of spikes; a hero in it.
Same thing about the Romanist religion; dress in sackcloth, dress in a hair shirt, don’t eat meat on Friday, pen ourselves up in a monastery, do penance, any way to commend ourselves as being worthy in the sight of God. That’s what Naaman expected, and had Elisha said to him, “Naaman you go back, and you bring ten times as much money and lay a million dollars at my feet, and you will be cleansed,” he’d have liked that; he would have returned with ten times as much money. Or had Elisha said to him, “You go and conquer another province, and you will be healed,” he would have taken his staff and his armies, and he would overwhelm half of the then-known civilized world; anything to be a hero in his salvation. “I have a part in it. I thought surely he will come out to me and assign me some mighty thing.”
Oh, there’s a thousand things crowd into my mind! When people come to God to be saved with all of those ideas preconceived, “I thought, I thought it’d be like the religion of my father and my mother.” You mean to tell me God wants me to turn my back on the religion of my forbears? If the religion of our fathers had not been repudiated by some of our ancestors, we would yet have been worshipping with the Druids under oak groves. They turned aside from their gods of Woden and Thor and accepted the plain and simple gospel of Jesus; our parents did, our forefathers did. “And I thought, ‘Here I am a man of education and achievement and distinction; I’m a graduate of the university, and I’m learned in my profession,’ and you mean to tell me I’m to be saved like a little child would be saved, like a man bitten by a serpent just looking up at a brazen image? [Numbers 21:8-9]. You mean I am to be saved in that simple, stupid kind of a way? I refuse!” And he turned and went away in a rage, but still a leper [2 Kings 5:11].
And through the kindness of these servants who loved him, “My father, my father, why go back to Damascus unclean? Why return to Syria in leprosy when all it takes to be saved is to wash and be clean?” [2 Kings 5:13]. And he stopped the chariot and wheeled it around and went down to the banks of the Jordan River [2 Kings 5:14]. And verbatim, et literatum, into the water, baptized himself one time, and two times, three times, and four times, five times, and six times; you would have thought at the sixth time he’d have been six- sevenths clean, wouldn’t you? Not better, just wetter; that’s all. Six times, six times; and then the seventh time, down into the muddy waters of the Jordan River, and when he came up, he looked, and he looked, and he looked, and he came out of the water and on the banks, “Look! Look! Look! Look, I’m clean! I’m clean. I’m clean!” And his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean, and he was clean, and he was clean [2 Kings 5:14]. But that was a small part of his cleansing. He got rid of the leprosy in his flesh, that’s right; but most of all he got rid of the leprosy in his soul.
When he came to Elisha, he was a different man; no longer proud and conceited, no longer the generalissimo, no longer the nobleman, but humble, and yielded, and penitent, and grateful. God saved his soul as well as to heal him of his leprosy [2 Kings 5:15-19].
How much more when he says, “Wash and be clean” [2 Kings 5:13]. To believe what God says, to obey what God commands, to receive the salvation God offers is the highest, noblest wisdom of a man. Beyond anything a man could do for himself or learn forever is that highest, holiest wisdom of giving himself in the simple, humble, yielded submissive appeal of the Lord God. For this is always the gospel: believe and be saved, wash and be clean [2 Kings 5:10; Revelation 7:14]. Look and live [Numbers 21:8-9; John 3:14-16]. And however many other things may follow after, and all of the abundance of things that enter into the Christian profession and the Christian faith, this is its beginning. This is its gospel of salvation. Look and live. Believe and be saved. Wash and be clean.
I suppose the most criticized of all of the hymns in the book is the hymn they were singing when I gave my heart to be a Christian. They were singing, “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins.” And for the years and the years, the liberal, and the modernist, and the unbeliever, and the sophisticated, and the polite have said, “That hymn represents a religion of gore and of the shambles. It’s a bloody faith, and it ought not to be fit for educated and academic and polite ears.”
And yet as I listen to a faithful preacher preach and as I read the Book of God, the text of that hymn reflects the exact thing that I follow in the Word of God: “There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath the flood lose all their guilty stains!” Wash, wash, and be clean, “for the blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanseth us from all sin” [1 John 1:7]. Wash and be clean; sing it with me:
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins
And sinners plunged beneath the flood,
Lose all their guilty stains
Lose all their guilty stains,
Lose all their guilty stains
And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains
And sometimes as I think of these future days and years, whether they are many or few, like you I think of that ultimate and final day when God shall say, “And it is enough and it is enough.” And He calls me to appear at the judgment seat of Christ then upon what shall I base my hope in heaven? On these twentieth century philosophical speculations that I read in modern theology? They won’t do.
Let me hear again the old text, sing to me once again that same old song. Let me trust my soul to that same Lord. The lyric is the lyric of God, and the melody reflects the love and devotion of those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Sing it again:
The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day,
And there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away!
Wash all my sins away wash all my sins away;
And there may I, though vile as he, wash all my sins away!
[“There is A Fountain,” William Cowper]
And when that day comes and God’s children are entering in, there are the prophets of the Old Testament; but I am not one of them. And there are the glorious apostles of the New Testament; but I am not one of them. And there are the faithful martyrs of Christ in triumph entering in; but I am not one of them. And then, and then, a great multitude that no man could number, and who are these?
These are they who have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and shall serve Him day and night.
I can belong to that throng. Wash and be clean [2 Kings 5:10; Revelation 7:14], look and live [Numbers 21:8-9; John 3:14-16], trust and be saved [Acts 16:30-31]; that is the message of God.
Would you do it? Would you do it? On the first note of this first stanza, “Here I am preacher, and here I come.” In the balcony round, somebody you, down one of these stairways at the front or the back, “Here I come, and here I am.” There’s time and to spare. If you’re on that top row in the top balcony, there’s time and aplenty to come. Make it tonight. Make it tonight. On this lower floor into the aisle and down to the front, “Here I am preacher, and here I come. I give you my hand. I give my heart to Jesus.” While we sing the hymn, while we wait just for you, make it tonight. Is there a family to come into the church? Is there a couple? Is there a youth? Is there a child? As God shall open the door and lead the way, make it tonight, while we stand and while we sing.