Biblical Interpretation and Narratives: Part I
2 Kings 5: God Saves Naaman
Naaman’s Victory Begins with a Little Girl
Introduction: The series: 2 Kings 5: God saves proud Naaman serves several purposes. Naaman was a proud, pagan Gentile. It demonstrates God’s covenant-making and keeping character – He is trustworthy. It demonstrates that God was saving a people both Jew and Gentile. He also demonstrates the literary beauty as literature but its essential beauty because God is the author of Scripture.
Moreover, God has given us Scripture – His Word – which is His powerful, purposeful self-expression. God communicates with His people in the Bible. Part of the Bible’s richness as literature is its use of narrative or stories. The Bible is literature and must be understood as such. However it is special literature because of its Author. The Bible is God’s inspired Word to man. Its origin and source – from God by God – makes it a special book. The Bible has authority, sufficiency, clarity, and necessity because it originates from God (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
The most common genre (type or kind of literature) in the Bible is narrative which accounts for one third to one half of the biblical material. Narrative is the main supporting framework for the Bible. Preaching and teaching narrative can be difficult. There is the temptation to make the narrative say more than it does, or of moralizing it. There must be application for salvation as well as for life after salvation – growth as a Christian.
There is a real need to understand the history of redemption and the Christological focus of the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments in order to open up the narrative text. Otherwise God’s people end up as story tellers and or moralizers. Rather the narrative expresses in a broad context the redemptive plan of God. Opening up that truth is essential for a proper understanding of God, His ways, and growth as a believer and Church.
In its broadest sense narrative is an account of specific events and participants whose stories help form and move along the one grand plan and purpose of God: the redemption of a people for Himself. The Bible inerrantly (without error) and infallibly (will not deceive or lead astray) records and interprets God’s acts in history because God is the Controller of history. History is His story! Narratives, especially in the Old Testament but also in the gospels and the book of Acts, give us that history. Since God is the God of history and history is His story a proper understanding of the whole story is a must.
The books of Kings highlight the theme of kingship in the context of covenant – God promises and binds Himself to His people: I will be your God and you will be my people. A working theme of Kings can be stated: as the king goes, so goes the nation of Israel. This theme harkens back to the book of Deuteronomy. Moses spelled out the marching orders for the king in chapter 17:14-20. After the divided monarchy the prophets led the way in presenting God’s truth to the king and to the people.
Moreover, in 2 Kings 5 the general, Naaman, learns that in Israel, God’s prophet, not Israel’s king has the power to heal and more. In spite of Naaman, God saves proud Naaman! Covenantal faithfulness continued to be a major theme since Genesis 3:15. It was a key to and for peace and prosperity of the kingdom of God pictured first in Genesis 12 to Abraham (12:3-7). He was promised a land and with it a kingdom to be established later, a seed – a king, and a blessing.
The kings were to imitate God – to be faithful as God is faithful. However, the king and the people were unfaithful and failed to keep covenant. There were no good kings in the Northern Kingdom which fell some 200 years prior to the fall of the Southern Kingdom which had only a handful of good kings. Both kingdoms fell because they were rebellious, arrogant, and ignorant idolaters. As a whole, the kings did evil in the eyes of the Lord as their heart was not devoted to the Lord.
In that context consider 2 Kings 5. It is a delightful story of God’s total sovereignty (control) in both the so-called big and small affairs of so-called big and small people. Like Elijah in 1 Kings 17, Elisha in 2 Kings 5 mediates salvation. Elisha made the offer of cleansing and salvation to a Gentile (Naaman) who knows only of physical cleansing. Elisha’s gift was to be received with no strings attached. Post-cleansing, fruit-bearing commiserate with deliverance and salvation is expected.
Remember the story? Naaman, a pompous kind of guy – the strutting Syrian, a Gentile – thought, desired, and acted as proud people do. Gentiles have no monopoly on pride as the story demonstrates. The Bible tells us that Naaman was a great man in the sight of his master/king and highly regarded because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram (Syria). Note the Bible’s emphasis on who was responsible for victory – the Lord had given him, a pagan, victory. Initially, Naaman had no desire to know or give credit to the one true God. Yet God gave him victory and he did come to know the true God. He was God’s agent as were Cyrus and Nebuchadnezzar (Isaiah 44:24-45:3; Jeremiah 25:9; 27:6; 43:10).
God gives victory to pagans and His enemies in order to accomplish His purposes. Such is our sovereign God! Therefore, we must be careful when interpreting circumstances. Sometimes we know the facts but not God’s reasoning behind the facts. God is incomprehensible – His ways and thoughts are not ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). Consider some of those ways.
• God scattered Israel because of her patterned sinfulness but He also gathered her back to Himself.
• He used Satan at various times (Job 1-2; 2 Samuel 24:1; 1 Chronicles 21:1; John 13:2, 21; Luke 22:31-34).
• God disowned Jesus the Godman at the cross but under the means of sinful men (Acts 2:22-23; 4:27-28).
• John 9 records the story of the man born blind for the glory of God.
Circumstances cannot be the barometer for measuring the presence or quality of one’s relationship to and with God and God with him. If that was true then Jesus at the cross was a big loser! Circumstances must be read through the “eyes” of biblical truth and saving faith. We are to look through the circumstances to the God of them.
In this story, God blessed His enemy for His purpose. He brought Naaman to Elisha because he had a problem: leprosy. God’s blessings do not parallel the goodness or the badness of a person but they always serve His purpose (see Job and Jesus). By common kindness God reaches out to the unsaved as well as the saved. Considering the scope of redemptive history and the narrative, Naaman’s healing was more than common kindness (Matthew 5:43-48; Acts 14:17). God saved proud Naaman. Scripture seems to indicate that humbled Naaman was saved! In the end, God does not bless His enemies (Isaiah 42:8; 48:11).
1. Naaman came to realize what?
2. How was God’s sovereignty in evidence in the first three verses?
3. What did Naaman realize and what did he fail to realize at least initially?
Biblical Interpretation and Narratives: Part II
2 Kings 5: Naaman’s Predicament: verses 2-12
Continuing our series: God’s saves proud Naaman, we are told that Naaman was a valiant warrior but he had leprosy (verse 1). Leprosy in the Bible indicates uncleanness certainly in the outer-man/physical body. But it also indicates spiritual uncleanness. Naaman was in a predicament. He had no hope for cleansing – true whole-person cleansing. Dirty, unclean, and in bondage, Naaman is going to hear from and experience God and His goodness.
The verb used for cleansing from leprosy in the New Testament is not the typical word for healing. Leprosy is the prototype of spiritual as well as physical filthiness. Leprosy requires cleansing and not healing. His physical uncleanness was apparent to all. It is a picture of every unbeliever’s spiritual uncleanness.
The narrative continues in verses 2-12. The verses give a picture of a man who wanted help but his way. He is the typical everyman (Romans 3:23). Many people know that something is wrong with them, others, and the world. In response they reject or resist the truth about themselves and attempt to create their own reality (Romans 1:18-23). Evidence of the fact that Naaman wanted help his way was his rejection of the counsel of a young Israelite girl who had been stolen from Israel. In God’s providence the young girl was in Naaman’s household for God and for Naaman (v.2-3). Naaman did not know or wanted to know the adage and biblical truth that a child will lead them (Isaiah 11:6).God saves proud Naaman as part of His eternal redemptive plan.
Perhaps prodded by the girl’s desire and counsel, Naaman sought his king’s counsel (v.4). Reluctantly and perhaps hopelessly, at the bidding of his king, he set out to find Elisha. He was loaded with silver and gold in hopes of buying relief; he carried a letter from the king to the king of Israel (king Joram): With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy (v.5-6). The king of Syria acknowledged that Naaman’s problem was beyond their abilities. He acknowledged their impotence.
On the other hand, the king of Israel was indignant that someone would ask him for help. He failed to humble himself and to call the prophet who was God’s gift to Israel (v.7). The king who should have known and acted differently was powerless for such a task (v.7). Hurting people, demanding relief are the rule in our fallen world. Elisha directed him in the proper direction.
n verse 8, Elisha rebuked Joram/Jehoram for his fear, his distrust, and his refusal to consult God’s prophet. Such was the spiritual depravity of Israel. Elisha words were powerful. Yet he extends an invitation: have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel (v.8). Elisha was concerned about God’s honor. How he must have grieved at the sinfulness all about him. Naaman came to Elisha (v.9).
Naaman apparently was encouraged. His hopes had been high until he was met by a messenger, Gehazi, Elisha’s servant and not Elisha himself. Gehazi passed Elisha’s instruction to Naaman. He instructed him to wash seven times in the dirty Jordan River. Gehazi added a promise – your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed (v.10). The promise of cleansing – of salvation – was before Naaman. He had been invited to come in a very specific manner. He was to humble himself.
Naaman was outraged – he was angry (v.11-12). He reasoned as did the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14. He had come from far away; he had brought many gifts in order to pay for Elisha’s services; and he believed he deserved a face-to-face meeting with the prophet let alone instant healing. He thought the prophet was there to serve him! Naaman even gave Elisha through Gehazi a geography lesson – there are better rivers than the Jordan! Naaman thought he had been spurned by the prophet and the prophet’s God. No reasons are given for these conclusions. We know that he had eyes but did not see and ears but did not hear. The reality of: God saves proud Naaman would occur only supernaturally.
At that moment, he was faced with the simplest of commands: come: wash and be cleansed (verse 10). Jesus painted a similar picture in John 5:1-14 and a similar call in Matthew 11:28-30. Simplicity should not be misunderstood or misconstrued as coming from a simpleton. In John 5, the paralytic gave a reason or perhaps an excuse for his continued non-healing state. He told Jesus that no one would put him in the water. Yet Jesus healed him and sent him away with a command: stop sinning.
In Matthew 11, Jesus called the people to come to Him because He was meek and humble of heart. His Person and teaching rightly understood and responded to would simplify their life and unburden them. Naaman came but grumbling and complaining. He had much baggage! He had made an effort and looked to be healed by what he considered the magical power of the prophet, a mere man like himself, and not by the power of God. How dare I be treated this, was his moaning war cry.
1. Everyone has faith, an object, content, and expression of faith. What was Naaman’s?
2. Faith is a gift and faithfulness is the use that gift. What was Naaman’s object of faith and what was its content?
3. How do you bring together faith and faithfulness? See 2 Corinthians 5:7, 9 and Galatians 2:20.
God Saves Proud Naaman: Part III
2 Kings 5: Choices and Results: verses 13-19
Continuing our series: God saves proud Naaman, we note that Naaman the great warrior of Syria was afflicted by leprosy. He had no hope of cure. He was in bondage. He was a man who had always been in control and victorious. Now, he was a far cry from being a victor or so he thought. He was out of his resources.
He heard from his wife that a slave girl stolen from Israel expressed concern and hope for Naaman. She wanted him to go and visit the healing prophet in Israel (v.2-3). What courage and wisdom the girl showed in contrast to him! God provided truth to be delivered by the mouth of a babe. Still the general was unconvinced.
He consulted the king of Syria who told him to go and sent a letter which said simply: I am turning over the healing of Naaman to you Joram, king of Israel (v.4-6). Syria and her gods had nothing to offer Naaman. The king of Israel could have added that the true King awaited him with a free gift. But Joram offered a complaint and nothing of himself. He grumbled and complained. He had Elisha but refused to bow the knee to God and His prophet. The king and Naaman were proud people in need of cleansing within!
Continuing in skepticism and belligerence, Naaman was confronted by his servants with the choice between a command to do something great (verse 13) or a follow a simple command to humbly wash seven times with the promise of cleansing. It wasn’t that Naaman had no faith. He did. Every one has faith. God created man a faith-based being. Naaman exercised his faith. The object of his faith was himself, his control, what he could buy, and what he believed should be given to him because of who he was and what he did (see Philippians 3:3-6 which described Paul’s self-righteousness pre-conversion mindset typical for fallen man).
Naaman’s approach to life was in stark contrast to the mindset given in Galatians 2:20: I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me. The truths that Paul articulated in the passage were not understandable to Naaman because he was an unbeliever. However, the gospels record the case of a woman who had experienced bleeding for twelve years without healing and sought Jesus for relief (Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48). She was healed physically but she got Jesus!
Naaman was in a similar situation. He sought physical healing. He was focused on the material, physical, temporary, and the sensual. God is in the business of having His people view the physical and material through the spiritual, eternal, and the suprasensual – the eyes of saving faith and true hope and the ears of hearing God’s truth. In that way the person will begin to put on God’s thoughts, desire, and actions. Elisha was bringing the news and means of salvation to a Gentile.
Naaman did wash. He found out – he experienced for himself – that washing and being cleansed was a sure promise; it was not some religious propaganda (v.15). His blessing-: God saves proud Naaman – came in the doing in spite of the fact that he came to Elisha as an unbeliever (John 13:17; James 1:25). God’s healing hand was all over Naaman. His attitude changed: Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel (verse 15). He referred to himself as “your servant” (the Lord’s) five times in verses 15-18. He offered a gift probably as payment. Elisha did not accept it. Salvation and cleansing is not for sale! They are a gift that only God can give earned by the only true Savior.
Naaman resolved to worship no other God than the God of Israel (verse 17). His gods had failed him. Israel’s God had not. Naaman had another choice: did he understand the significance of his whole-person uncleanness and had he humbled himself? He was faced with a complete about-face – in regards to himself, God, others, and sin. Naaman was now sensitive to the position he would be placed when he was asked to escort his commander into the temple of pagan gods (v.17-18). He wanted to retain loyalty to the God who healed him and he now professed. He did so by asking for the soil of the people of Israel who represent the only true God. He would place the soil in the temple of the false gods. He wanted to take a little of Israel and Israel’s God with him. He asked for forgiveness when he bowed in temple. Elisha granted him peace and grace. Naaman was conscience-stricken and had to work through life in a pagan country and his individual responsibilities. God saved proud Naaman in the context of the biblical narrative.
It seems Naaman was a changed man – his leprosy left him, he left his leprosy and perhaps his paganism. God saves proud Naaman was a reality. We are not told how he fared in Syria. Naaman, individually and mankind in general, represents any rebel and renegade that is anti-God and pro-self. God extends His kindness and grace to all types of people through various means (Romans 5:6-10). The gospel call is universal and non-discriminating. Only those changed from the inside-outside by God’s regenerating grace turn to Christ.
1, Contrast Naaman and Gehazi: how are you like and dislike each one?
2. What do you learn about God and His control?
3. In the context of Naaman, what do you learn about the triumph of grace?
4. In the context of Gehazi, what do you learn about the trashing of grace?
2 Kings 5: God Saves Proud Naaman: Part IV
More Contrasts: verses 20-27
We complete God’s story: God saves proud Naaman. But the story is not complete until Naaman is contrasted with Gehazi who wanted to profit monetarily from God’s mercy (verse 20-27). These passages help contrast an insider’s rebellion and an outsider’s change in the object and content of his faith. Both were faithful but to their own system and god. Naaman came as an unbeliever with faith in himself and his system. He left changed and blessed. Gehazi was an insider but faithless to God and faithful to himself. He and his family were cursed.
Gehazi was a Jew and Elisha’s servant. He was familiar with God and His covenantal faithfulness. Yet he was more interested in himself. Therefore he had no interest in God’s name, honor, and glory or in Gentiles. He looked to profit from the gifts and position that God bestowed upon Elisha. Gehazi severed relationships as he proved himself unfaithful: to God, to Elisha, to Israel, and to Naaman. Interestingly and assumingly Naaman was apparently saved and not simply healed physically. He was more faithful to the Lord than Gehazi. Gehazi wanted to get rich by falsely using God’s goodness and riches and God’s people. He wanted to enrich himself at God’s, Elisha’s, and Naaman’s expense.
Gehazi took money – payment – behind the back of Elisha. He thought God could not see because Elisha could not see him! He was wrong about God and himself. He tried to obscure God’s free grace. In that way, the receiver of the gift is hindered from giving glory to God. Moreover, he cast doubt on true prophets and blurred the distinction between a true and false prophet. He broke the first three Commandments and the ninth and tenth Commandments.
Gehazi, much like Judas, had not been captured by grace but by self and I want and I deserve. Greed for Gehazi and Judas was their form of self-pleasing (2 Kings 5:26; John 6:70-71; 12:1-8). Both cheapened God’s grace with their actions. A high view of self and a low view of God motivated their actions. Gehazi presented God as a debtor who could be manipulated by man and made to serve him. He distorted God’s truth and suffered the consequences.
When much is given much is demanded (Luke 12:47-48). Such it was for Gehazi and his family (Exodus 20:5; Joshua 7:24-25). His family was exiled out of the presence of the living God. He was now in the same position as Naaman when he first sought help and healing from Elisha, a leper white as snow (v.27). We don’t know what became of him. We do know that the once-insider became an outsider and the once-outsider apparently became an insider. God is good and meets His people in various ways using various means.
1. In the story, prophet and king or his emissary clash. Generally the prophet was considered under the authority of the king.
a. Naaman learned that the true prophet is under whose authority?
b. What is the significance of this finding?
c. What is the function of the prophet?
d. How was Elisha a mighty prophet for the Lord?
2. Gehazi, like Naaman, was faced with a decision.
a. What was it?
b. What led to his decision?
c. How are you like Gehazi?
d. What have been the results?
3. How are you like Naaman? What changes do you need to make?