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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:God Puts Naaman the Syrian on a Journey to Find Him
Text:2 Kings 5:1-19 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Purpose

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 24:1 ,4,5                                                                               

Ps 24:2,3                                                                                                        

Reading – Luke 4:16-30

Ps 87:1,2,3,4,5

Sermon – 2 Kings 5:1-19 

Ps 96:1,2,3,4

Hy 46:1,2,3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, imagine living in a country that was always under threat of being invaded. That’s what it was like for Israel. Because of where they were situated—right at the crossroads of the Middle East—they always felt pressure from their neighbours. Not long ago in 2 Kings, the Moabites had gone to war against Israel. Before that, the Syrians had invaded from the north. From the south, Egypt was always a menace. And still on the fringes, but growing in strength, were the Assyrians. Surrounded by hostile people, you could be attacked at any moment.

In our country, we generally look at other nations as partners in trade, military allies, political friends—but for the Israelites, the next-door nations were the enemy. So what would the LORD God ever have to do with the Gentiles, except to undermine them, keep them from attacking his covenant people, even destroy the nations?

Living how they did, it’s understandable that the people of Israel didn’t like the idea of the nations receiving mercy. Remember the story of Jonah, and how the prophet balked at the idea of even going to Nineveh to tell about God’s coming judgment. Why should the LORD even warn them—why not crush them at once?

It’s against this background that we read our text. Everyone in Israel assumed that the nations deserved nothing good from the LORD. Which makes the story of Naaman so remarkable—perhaps one of the most remarkable stories in the Old Testament, for how God sees fit to show his mercy to a foreigner, even a military commander for one of Israel’s foes. Our text reveals amazing truths about the wide reach of the grace of God. It teaches us about the need for all people to respond to his grace, and the blessing which comes on those who follow him. I preach God’s Word to you on this theme,

            God puts Naaman the Syrian on a journey to find Him:

                        1) preparing

                        2) traveling

                        3) going home


1) preparing: In verse 1, we meet the enemy: “Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria…” God is going right to the top. He had previously saved other Gentiles, such as Rahab and Ruth, but these were lowly people: a prostitute from Jericho, a Moabitess with no husband or home. But Naaman is high profile; he’s the field marshal for the Syrian army, the commander of many thousands of troops.

We learn that he “was a great and honourable man in the eyes of his master, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria” (v 1). Naaman is a man with everything: he’s got position, he’s got power, and he’s got success. By various military triumphs he has won great favour in the eyes of his master, the Syrian king, who is probably Benhadad II—a king who was no stranger to conquest and war.

In verse 1 we ascend right to the top of Syrian society, and there’s an immediate reminder of God’s sovereignty: “by [Naaman] the LORD had given victory to Syria.” Any triumphs, even by this Gentile man and his army, were given by the LORD. For He has perfect government over all things! Christ isn’t just concerned with his own people, Israel back then or the church today. But his hand directs everything; think of Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the LORD’s, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell in it.”

Beloved, God is not only managing your life, but also the life of presidents and prime ministers and other important people—at one and the same time He is directing politics and weather patterns and the life journeys of seven billion souls. So He can lead anyone to himself, if that’s his good pleasure.

God governs the big picture, and also the tiny details. For we learn something else about Namaan: “He was… a mighty man of valor, but a leper.” As with other times in the Bible that we come across “leprosy,” this is not necessarily describing what is known today as Hansen’s disease, when your nerves die and your flesh basically rots off your body. In the Bible, “leprosy” describes a range of skin diseases, including ones that were far less severe. So Naaman might’ve suffered from a severe case of something like psoriasis or eczema.

He is diseased, but that hasn’t limited his ability to do his job or to receive honour. And the sovereign God who gave Naaman success, and who also gave him leprosy, now also gives him a chance for healing.

For “the Syrians had gone out on raids, and had brought back captive a young girl from the land of Israel. She waited on Naaman’s wife” (v 2). It’s another reminder of the harsh reality of Israelite life in the Middle East. One day Naaman’s troops had swept into Israel on a raid—plundering any easy riches and kidnapping any worthy candidates. A young girl can be useful, so she is taken captive and carried north.

Her background takes just one phrase to sketch, but think about all the misery involved in her being taken captive. One day this young girl is happily at home, and the next day she is gone. Were her parents killed too? And if they weren’t killed, would they ever see her again? They would’ve held out little hope—a missing persons case never to be solved.

Yet God is working in the middle of the misery. We know that’s always true, for the Bible tells us so. Our faithful God has a good and unsearchable purpose in all the many events of this life, whether pleasant or heartbreaking, and He directs all things according to the counsel of his will. The hard stuff that happens to us today might very well be preparing us for a better tomorrow—and certainly for a beautiful eternity. It’s not always our privilege to see God’s good purpose, but in our text we’re allowed to—God is going to bring something immeasurably good out this girl’s tragic life.

We don’t know anything about her, except this: she was apparently from a godly home. I say that, because even in Syria—far from Mom and Dad, surely terrified and lonely—this girl hangs on to what her parents have told her: my God is real, and He can do great things. This nameless girl says to her mistress, “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy” (v 3). For Naaman and for the young girl, this is where hope begins: with the power and grace of God, whose mercy is not limited by borders.

“Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you” (Matt 5:44) Jesus said—and this girl will do just that. Burdened by the illness of her master, she wants to help him, to rescue the very man who once took her captive.

When he hears about Israel’s wonder-working prophet, Naaman reckons that it’s worth a shot. By now he’s probably desperate for relief from the discomfort and the ugliness of his disease. With the king’s blessing, he departs for Israel, taking with him an exceptionally rich gift: “ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing” (v 5). It was a common practice to send gifts when seeking an audience in a foreign country: money has a way of opening doors and smoothing over differences.

And so Naaman departs for Israel. He is a sick Syrian looking for healing, but little does he know, he’s going to find something much more...


2) traveling: Arriving in Israel, Naaman goes straight to the king—probably Jehoram. And this is the message from the king of Syria, “I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may heal him of his leprosy” (v 6). You can hear that the Syrians have made an assumption, namely, that any prophet in Israel will be in the court of the king. That’s where all the important people and influencers were, around the king—so he just has to tell Elisha what to do. Little does Naaman know that Jehoram is actually a follower of Baal, and one who opposes the LORD’s prophets. Naaman is at the wrong address entirely.

When he reads the letter, Jehoram is petrified: “Am I God, to kill and make alive, that this man sends a man to me to heal him of his leprosy?” (v 7). Healing a skin disease at this time was almost impossible. And Jehoram can’t even try, because Elisha isn’t under his control. Jehoram figures that the Syrians are just looking for a reason to go to war: “You couldn’t help us? We’re going to invade.” So the king despairs.         

Notice the difference between the sure faith of the young girl and the unbelief of Israel’s king. From what she knows of God, the girl is sure that He can heal Naaman, but the king doesn’t even consider it. It shows that when you’ve chased idols for years, you forget how great is the power of the true God. And when you haven’t been walking with the Lord in the good times, it’s not a surprise if your faith is lacking in a time of crisis.

The king here sets the tone for his people. He and so many in Israel are a part of God’s covenant people, but they’re effectively living without God. Still, the king could’ve done something about this trouble and could’ve gone to speak with the prophet, but he doesn’t—it’s Elisha who takes the initiative. For God wants to turn this into an opportunity to spread his goodness abroad. So Elisha sends a message to the king, and he offers to meet with Naaman.

The Syrian general “went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha’s house” (v 9). Picture this, if you will: an impressive military convoy, together with representatives of the king of Syria and a wagon-load money, all rolling to a halt outside the prophet’s home. It probably wasn’t a fancy place—in fact, it was likely a temporary residence, like the one he had up in Shunem. Sent from the halls of power in Syria, to the court of Israel’s king, and now to this humble shack, Naaman was probably feeling less and less excited about his chances of healing.

And it doesn’t get any better. Elisha doesn’t even come out to see him, but from inside sends a message, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean” (v 10). At this, Naaman erupts in anger at both the message and the method.

First, what an insult that Elisha stays indoors! Naaman might’ve had bad skin, but he was a somebody, and he expected the prophet to treat him as such—at the very least, revere him like the conquering hero that he is, show a bit of fear in the presence of Israel’s enemy. But no—just a quiet word from inside.

And the prescribed treatment plan, washing in the Jordan, is most unimpressive! Naaman is looking for something more showy than this. In fact, he’s got an idea of what should happen: the prophet should come out and “call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy” (v 11). This is probably what the faith healers back in Syria always did: some incantations, a bit of chanting, a fancy waving of the hands—and Kazaam: completely healed!

But to wash in the Jordan? What a joke! “Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” (v 12). The two rivers in Damascus flowed straight from snow-covered mountains, bringing cool, fresh, and clear water—far more likely to bring cleansing than the Jordan’s muddy waters!

Naaman’s response is like how many people regard the gospel today. The message of salvation through Jesus seems so unlikely, and it’s so humbling. Believing the true gospel means we accept the fact that we are dead sinners, lost and wretched, and that we have absolutely nothing to offer. And believing the gospel means accepting the work of a crucified Jew from 2000 years ago, embracing Jesus as your one and only hope. This gospel is offensive, says Paul, it’s folly. Can’t we do better than this? Isn’t there a self-help plan that we can do, or at least a more impressive Saviour?

Naaman is ready to walk away, but his servants talk sense: “If the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” (v 13). “Give it a try. Easy and simple doesn’t mean ineffective.”

So he listens to them. Naaman goes to the Jordan and he washes seven times—seven times showing that he’ll get total cleansing. “And his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” (v 14). His skin is healed, and much more than that, his heart is changed. His eyes have been opened. For he goes back to Elisha and says, “Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel” (v 15). Through Naaman’s suffering and his seeking, God has put him on a journey toward himself, and now he has seen Him.

Note well the strength of his confession. Naaman doesn’t just acknowledge the LORD as yet one more of the gods dwelling in the heavens. Most pagan people had no problem adding another god to their collection. But this is different. Naaman confesses, “There is no God in all the earth, except in Israel.” After a lifetime of worshiping idols, he now understands that idols are nothing, that there is only this God, the one hope for mankind. It’s an extraordinary moment, a Gentile confessing faith in the one LORD. Truly, God can bring anyone to himself!

Jesus helps us understand what’s happening. In Luke 4 He’s preaching in his hometown of Nazareth, and while the people are initially impressed with him, their hearts are so changeable. In just a few minutes, they’re going to be ready to throw him off a cliff. This is early days in his ministry, but Jesus knows what He’s in for: “No prophet is accepted in his own country” (v 24). This rejection in Nazareth is a sign of things to come.

But why? Why is a hometown prophet so often rejected? We have our own proverb:  “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Nazareth knew all about Jesus and his upbringing, so they stood too close to see his true identity. To them, He was just “Joseph’s son,” too lowly and human to be the glorious Saviour. They despised the familiar.

Beloved, could we not face the same danger? In a way, Jesus is a “hometown prophet” among us. We’ve heard his message for so long, through years and years of preaching and reading. We’re well-acquainted with the events of his life, the words of his teaching, the story of his death. So familiar, perhaps we don’t receive it the way we should.

Do we, God’s covenant people, embrace the message of the Saviour with a living, breathing, faith? Do we make the message of Christ our highest joy? Do we take delight in Christ’s Word, no matter how often we’ve heard it? Are we so impressed with his glory that we daily fix our thoughts on Jesus?

The people listening to Christ in Luke 4 don’t like where He’s going with his. But Jesus isn’t done yet. He wants to say more about the rejected hometown prophet. He does by referring back to two Old Testament stories; one about Elijah, the other about Elisha.

First, the story of 1 Kings 17, where Elijah provided an unending supply of food for the widow of Zarephath—a Gentile—and her only son. To make sure they don’t miss his point, Jesus says this: “Many widows were in Israel… [when] there was a great famine throughout all the land; but to none of them was Elijah sent” (vv 25-26). Elijah, prophet to God’s covenant people, was sent to the heathen! Because of Israel’s lack of faith, God goes to the nations.

And then Jesus draws the same lesson from the Elisha story: “Many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian” (v 27). To be reminded that Elisha had healed Naaman, an uncircumcised Gentile, an enemy soldier no less, was painful—this was insulting! Israelite lepers stayed lepers, because they had turned away from God—and God had turned away from them.

So what is Jesus saying? That God’s grace is much wider than you think—it’s not just for a certain kind of person: acceptable, clean, someone like us. Even the Gentiles can be given God’s Word, and even the people we think most unlikely can come to faith. It’s for our neighbours, and for the people we know at school or at work—for people in distant lands, and for people nearby.

Let’s not listen to this in pride, as if there’s no warning here for us, the covenant people of God. We’re among the Gentiles who have been graciously brought into God’s household, but God still requires our wholehearted and believing response. Trust and obey! Repent and believe! Make this your confession, and daily live out this confession, “There is no God in all the earth, except my God in Christ Jesus.”


3) going home: When you read the last few verses, you can see that Naaman is a changed man. His arrogance has disappeared, for now he refers to himself (five times!) as Elisha’s servant. He even wants to give a thank-you present from out of his wealth, but Elisha refuses. So Naaman makes this request, “Please let your servant be given two mule-loads of earth; for your servant will no longer offer either burnt offering or sacrifice to other gods, but to the LORD” (v 17).

When Naaman returns home, he intends to build an altar to the one true LORD. And a small pile of Israelite soil could provide a good base for the altar—it’d be a connection to Israel, and to Israel’s God. We know that true worship isn’t limited to one particular place. A bucket of soil won’t make Naaman’s sacrifices pleasing. His understanding is weak—and that’s what you’d expect from a recent convert—but his intentions are right. He wants to worship.

That’s always the desire of those who know God truly. You want to worship! If you believe in him as your God and Saviour, then you want to build an altar and present yourself a living sacrifice of gratitude to the LORD. It’s one of the markers of a true believer: they want to join with God’s people in worshiping God’s name!

And then Naaman looks ahead to the work he’ll be doing back in Syria. Part of his job was to accompany the king in worship when he went to the temple of Rimmon. As someone who now confessed that the LORD is the only God, he knew it was going to be uncomfortable. So he asks Elisha for pardon in advance: “When I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD please pardon your servant in this thing” (v 18).

Bible explainers struggle with this: how can Naaman ask such a thing? Is he trying to fudge on his commitment, worshiping the LORD but still holding onto false gods? But before we condemn Naaman for a dangerous compromise, just notice Elisha’s reaction, “Go in peace”—Depart in shalom (v 19). He sends him off in proper relationship. Elisha isn’t overly concerned about Naaman worshiping at Rimmon’s temple, because he would just be going through the motions. This Gentile already knew the truth that “an idol is nothing at all, and there is no God but one” (1 Cor 8:4). On this point, Naaman was so far ahead of so many Israelites, who were busy with their Baals and obsessed with their Asherahs.

By God’s grace, the LORD had put Naaman on a journey to find him, and he did find him. He still had much to learn, and the challenges of living in a pagan land would be many. So we wish that we knew more about Naaman and what happened to him in coming years. In the next chapters of 2 Kings, the Syrians attack Israel once again—for instance, you wonder if Naaman was part of that invading army? We don’t know, it doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that Naaman believed in his heart and confessed with his mouth. God was pleased to bring him to a true knowledge of himself. It took a hard journey—and such is often the road of faith that our Father puts us on. In following Christ there can be great suffering, unexpected obstacles, tragedy, the rejection of things you once knew and cherished, but in drawing near to God there is also new strength, new joy, and a blessed increase of knowledge and devotion. So we keep going, until God brings us home.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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