Naaman: Wash and Be Clean
March 29th, 1981 @ 7:30 PM
NAAMAN: WASH AND BE CLEAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Kings 5:1-14
3-29-81 7:30 p.m.
Now everybody on radio and the great throng in this sanctuary tonight, turn to 2 Kings, chapter 5, 2 Kings, chapter 5. We are going to read out loud verses 1-14. It is a gladness for us in the First Baptist Church of Dallas to welcome the multitudes of you who are sharing this hour with us on radio. We invite you to open your Bible with us and read out loud by our sides, chapter 5 of 2 Kings, verses 1-14. One of the great literary critics of the world said that this is the most perfect short story in human speech. We are going to read the whole story in fourteen verses: 2 Kings, chapter 5. Now let us all read it out loud together:
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.
And the Syrians had gone out by companies, and 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 said 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]
It was interesting to me to read this in the Septuagint; that is the Greek [Old] Testament that Peter, James, and John, and Paul used in preaching to the Roman Empire. And this is the way the Septuagint translates it:
Then went he down and baptized himself – translated here dipped – he baptized 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 5:14]
We start off with a nobleman in Syria; his name is Naaman. It means "beauty" in Aramaic, and was a title of their sun god. He was a great man – honorable, mighty in valor. Always a general, a military man, is a hero with his people if he is successful. And Naaman seems to have been one of the most gifted and successful generals in military history. He was a favorite of the king and no less of the people.
Here in the United States, Washington elected president, a general of the army. Ulysses S. Grant elected president, a general of the army. Dwight Eisenhower elected president, a general of the army. It is easy for a military man who is successful to be a hero with the people, and Naaman certainly was. The Bible is not rude, nor is it crude. The Bible is very honest and fair in presenting the truth. It describes this general as honorable, but he also was an honorable leper. He is described as being a mighty man; that is, he was a mighty leper. He is described as being valorous; that is, he was a valorous leper. He was amiable; that is, he was an amiable leper. He was refined; that is, he was a refined leper. He was affluent; that is, he was an affluent leper.
In the next verse, we have just the opposite of the nobility and fame of that successful general. We are introduced to a little girl, a little junior girl, a little primary girl. But we are not to despise the day of small things because the entire story turns on a little incident in that child’s life. The Syrian army had gone out – translated here, by companies – by bands, marauding bands. And in a raid on a village in Israel, they had captured a little girl and brought her back to Damascus as a slave. And the little girl was so sweet, and nice, and pretty, and lovable, and precious, that they gave the child to Mrs. Naaman to wait upon her mistress.
That must have been one of the dearest little girls that ever lived. Can you imagine the indescribable sorrow of the child when that marauding band seized her and tore her away from her home and from her country? But taken into slavery where she was, she made the place a beautiful and happy place. And she had apparently no bitterness, no rancor, no hatred against her captors. Rather, in loving sympathy, looking upon Naaman the leper, she said, “I wish that he were at home in Israel, for there he would be healed, cleansed of his leprosy” [2 Kings 5:3].
Another thing that is apparent in the life of that darling girl, she never forgot her upbringing. She was brought up in the faith of Jehovah God, evidently, in a beautiful, beautiful Jewish Israelite’s home. And she believed in the God of the impossible; isn’t that marvelous? Why, who could heal a man of his leprosy? It was a sentence of death – largely, still is. But that child, looking upon the nobleman said, “If he were in Israel, the great God Jehovah, the God of the impossible, would cure him of his leprosy, and he’d be clean.”
Well, somebody went in and told the king what that little Israelitess girl, who believed in God, told the king what that child had said. Now Ben-Hadad, the king of Syria, when he heard that, he called his servants and called in Naaman, his great general, and he gave him ten talents of silver. A talent is a weight, all that a strong man could carry. Ten talents of silver, six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of raiment, and he wrote a letter to the king of Israel – to Jehoram – saying, "With this letter I have sent my servant Naaman that you might cleanse him of his leprosy" [2 Kings 5:6]. Now isn’t that normal and natural? Wouldn’t you have supposed that if there was somebody in Israel that could heal a man and cleanse a man of his leprosy, wouldn’t you suppose it would be the king?
Isn’t that exactly what the magi did, the Zoroastrian’s priests who came from the East? They were looking for the newborn King of the Jews and where did they go, to a stable in Bethlehem only under the guidance of the star? They went to the court of king Herod. Wouldn’t you have thought that is where you would have found Him? Here’s a King born. So they asked Herod the Great, “Where is He born King of the Jews?” [Matthew 2:1-2]. That is exactly what Ben-Hadad did from Damascus. When the little girl said he can be healed in Israel, Ben-Hadad wrote to Jehoram the king and said, “I have sent my great general Naaman for you to cleanse him of his leprosy.”
Well, the king fell into despair. Am I God to heal a man of his leprosy, a man who has in him the sentence of death? [2 Kings 5:7]. And one of his councilmen evidently stood up and said, "Jehoram, Ben-Hadad did not mean you as such. He must have been thinking about the servant of God. Send him to Elisha, God’s man!" So they told Elisha that Naaman was there, sent by Ben-Hadad, the great king of Damascus, that he might be healed of his leprosy.
So Naaman comes with his horses and with his – and the Hebrew is plural – he came with his horses and with his chariots – a great retinue – with ten talents of silver and six thousand pieces of gold and all of his servants, and he stood at the door of the house of Elisha [2 Kings 5:8, 9].
Elisha did not even come out of the house. May I point out to you that is one of the finest lessons that I, and anyone of the rest of us who loves God, that we could ever learn. Tell me, could you imagine in any incident in history a time that was more conducive to stentorian rhetoric and to ostentatious display than that scene right there? Here stands Naaman, the successful general and nobleman of Syria, with all of his retinue, his chariots, no telling how much of his army. And think of the possibilities in a situation like that. Elisha could have come forth and there, with stentorian voice and magnificent peroration, have taken to himself one of the greatest opportunities to glory in this world. He had it. All he had to do was to walk out the front door and be the magnificent medium from God to bring healing, and health, and strength, and cleansing to that nobleman from Damascus.
But this is the lesson that I ought to learn, and we ought to learn. Elisha never appeared. He never came through that door. He never stepped out. You do not see him. It is God that Elisha is magnifying! It is the Lord that has the message of salvation and cleansing and hope! It is God, and Elisha never appears. He just sends a messenger, and the messenger says to the great man, “You go down to the Jordan River, the muddy Jordan River, and you dip yourself seven times, and your flesh will come again to thee, and you will be clean” [2 Kings 5:10].
Well, when Naaman heard that, he was insulted; he was wroth! And he went away and said, "Behold, I thought," and isn’t that typical of humanity? "Behold, I thought" [2 Kings 5:11]. And then he follows after those things that he had thought would come to pass when he was cleansed, when he was healed. Most of us have preconceived ideas just like Naaman about how God’s going to save us, how He is going to cleanse us of the leprosy of sin. "Behold, I thought, I thought." This is the way that God ought to do it. This is the way of salvation according to my preconceived programming; "I thought."
Another thing about Naaman: he thought that he was going to have a tremendous part in his deliverance and in his cleansing. Why, he even thought, I suppose, that he might help buy it. When he came, he came with ten talents of silver and six thousand pieces of gold. How do you buy God’s favor? How do you buy cleansing? How do you buy salvation? God is not a receiver. God is a giver. Naaman did not see that, he did not know that. He was a pagan. He was a heathen. So he says, “I thought.” And he thought that he was going to have a worthy and commendable part in his cleansing.
Another thing about him, when Naaman came he thought that all of the splendor and all of the glory of his presence was going to impress Him who alone can cleanse us. Now Naaman was a leper, but he was a great leper; he was an honorable leper; he was a valorous leper; he was a noble leper. He was not an ordinary leper, and he comes there before Elisha looking for some tremendous thing to be done in keeping with his nobility; his standing!
How do you know that, pastor? Well, because when he turned away in a rage saying, “Are not Abana and Pharpar,.” I have seen both of those rivers. They come out of tall, ten-thousand-foot Mt. Lebanon, which is right there, and they come down over the sands of that desert, the most beautiful, clear streams you ever saw in your life. They are glorious rivers. The oldest city in the world is Damascus, and that is where Damascus came from. It is built on the Abana River, and just south of Damascus is the Pharpar.
He went away in a rage, saying, “Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Cannot I wash in them and be clean?” [2 Kings 5:12]. Why go down to that muddy Jordan River? As you know, in the sixty miles from the Galilee to the Dead Sea, that thing drops about one thousand feet, and the water is rapid, and therefore it is muddy and turgid. And as he drove away furious, insulted, why, his servants came near – I suppose one or two of them riding in the chariot with him – servants came near, . . . and said, "My father," an address of deepest deference and of loving respect, "My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing," that is what he expected, some great thing, that is what he intended to do. "My father, if the prophet had bid thee conquer Egypt, take the armies of Syria and devastate the land of the Pharaohs, wouldn’t you have done it? Or if the prophet had said to you, ‘You go back home and you bring to me ten thousand, thousand pieces of gold, then you will be clean.’ wouldn’t you have done it? How much rather then, when he says, ‘Believe and be saved; look and live, wash and be clean?’" [2 Kings 5:13].
Because it is of God and not of man does not mean that it is powerless, or less able, or capable. God does things in unusual ways, and this is one of them. How He cleanses us and how He saves us, it is never from us, never. It is never some mighty thing that we achieve; it’s always a simple obedience, a simple trust, a simple commitment, a simple faith.
And I can just see that nobleman, striding so furiously away when that servant spoke to him in the chariot. I can see Naaman – and that is what the word "repent" means – I can see him change, change his mind, change his heart, change his way. "Whoa! Whoa!" And he pulls up those prancing, racing steeds, "Whoa!" And he turns his chariot around; that is repentance! He turned around and went in the other direction, down into the valley, the floor of the Jordan. And dipped himself: one time and two, three times and four. When he was dipped six times, he was six-sevenths cleansed. And when he dipped himself the seventh time, "his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child" [2 Kings 5:14]. And I can just see him, "Look! Look! Look! Look, I am healed! I am clean! I am a whole man again."
That’s God! That’s God! Always the message of God is of Him and not of us. It is something God does, always. And it is always simple, plain. It is "Look and live." It is "Believe and be saved." It is "Trust," and God saves us. It is "Wash and be clean."
In preparing this sermon, just sitting there, thinking of this beautiful story, thinking about the helplessness of Naaman, I have seen many, many, many lepers. I have seen many leper colonies. Ah, it is a disease that corrupts the flesh and your fingers fall off, and your hands fall off, and your feet fall off – pus and corruption. It is an awesome disease. And in the Bible it is a symbol of the sin in our lives. Who can forgive sin? Who can heal leprosy?
And all of us have sin [Romans 3:23], and the wages of sin is the judgment of death [Romans 6:23]; and who can help us? "Ah, but pastor, you don’t understand, from this moment on, from this moment on, I am going to be perfect! I am never going to sin!" Wonderful, but what are you going to do about the sins past? Who can wash the soul clean; the stain of sin in our lives? Who can do it? How helpless we are. And "the wages of sin is death" and who can raise me from the dead? I cannot raise myself when I die. And who can raise me from the dead when I die? I am helpless, I am helpless. And when I stand at the great judgment bar of Almighty God, who can plead my case and make appeal for me? Who is the great Intermediator and Advocate who can stand by me? Who can?
And when they enter into God’s beautiful heaven, Lord, Lord, who is going to open the door for me? Who is going to make a way for me? And as I began to think about how helpless we are, and how God has to do it; God has to save us, deliver us, forgive us. I began to thinking of those people, the saints as they go marching in; from the great judgment of Almighty God and the gate of heaven, and the saints go marching in.
Did you ever see a movie? I have seen several of them like this on television, what have you, there will be a great convocation of the court of the king and at this beautiful, sparkling splendor, why, when the people come in the presence of the king, why, they will blow a trumpet. They’ll blow a trumpet, and then a herald will announce, “Lord and Lady,” and call the name, and they come in. And then the trumpet will blow again, and the herald will announce, “Count and Countess,” and call their name, and they come in. Then the trumpet will blow again, and the herald will say, “Prince and Princess,” and they come in. And so all the glittering host gathers together, and I thought of the entrance into heaven like that.
The trumpet is blown and the herald says, "The patriarchs are entering in!" And I watch, and I see Noah, and Enoch, and Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob; and they enter in the glorious kingdom of God, but I am not one of them. The trumpet blows again, and the herald announces, the sweet psalmists and singers of Israel are entering in!" And I hear their names called: there is David, and Miriam, and Deborah, Asaph, the sons of Korah even, and they enter in. And I am not one of them. And the trumpet blows again and the herald announces "The great prophets of God are entering in!" And I look and there is Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and Daniel, and the twelve minor prophets, and I am not one of them. And the trumpet sounds again and the herald announces: "The mighty apostles of Christ are entering in!" And I look, and there Peter, James, John, Paul, and all the apostles enter in, and I am not one of them. And the trumpet sounds again, and the herald announces: "The martyrs of Christ will now enter in!" And I look and see and Antipater, and Savonarola, and Wycliffe, and Tyndale, and John Huss, and I am not one of them. And then I thought, dear God, what of us? We are no patriarch or prophet or apostle! But the trumpet blows one more time, and the herald announces: "Now these who have trusted in Jesus, all of these who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, you may now enter in!" [Revelation 7:14]. And brother, that’s me! That’s us! Praise God that includes us all! When I was converted, they sang that song:
There’s a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunge beneath the flood
Lose all their guilty stains:
The dying thief rejoiced to see
The fountain in his day,
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away:
["There is a Fountain," by William Cowper]
Wash and be clean; look and live; believe and be saved. We all can enter in. God made it so the smallest and the humblest among us wouldn’t miss the way. Had you had to buy it, some of us might be too poor. Had you had to be educated, some of us might not be learned. Had you had to be old, some of us might die before the age. But God said the humblest and the youngest, the most untaught of us, anybody can be saved, anybody. And that means me and that means us; wash and be clean! May we stand together?
Our wonderful and wonderful Savior, oh, what You have done for us; helpless, You help us; sinners, You cleanse us; wayward and obstinate, You have patience with us; dying, You pity is; and facing judgment, You save us: O wonderful, wonderful Lord. And tonight assembled in this sanctuary, our hearts bowed in humility and in gratitude before Thee, thank Thee Lord. When I was a junior boy, thank You Lord for calling me in my heart to trust in Thee as my Savior; and thank You Lord for these boys and girls, and for their fathers and mothers, and for their homes and families; and without loss of one, when the trumpet sounds and the herald announces, "These now may enter in," Lord may we be in that number with Thee here in this earth and with Thee in that beautiful world that is yet to come.
And while our heads are bowed and our people pray, a family you to put your life in the circle and the circumference of the kingdom of God, would you come tonight, the whole family of you? Or a couple you or a one somebody you, and the child, the youngster, the boy, the girl, the anybody you, tonight, "This is my night, and I am coming; going to accept Jesus as my Savior." Or, "I am coming to be baptized to join the church." Or, "I want to put my life with the people of God." Bless the young fellow who has already come. Thank Thee Lord for the outpouring of Thy Spirit of grace, and bless the appeal now as we wait before Thee, as the Holy Spirit makes appeal, and as we sing our song of invitation, in our Savior’s dear name, amen. While we sing our song, you come.