The history of Elisha is not so much characterized by many words, but more by actions. But also those actions – which are pictures with a meaning, they express something – speak a clear language. This is also the case in this history. In 2 Kings 4 we see the prophet among the people of God. The lessons there are for the believers for their spiritual growth.
In 2 Kings 5 the prophet goes to work outside the people of God, for he is the prophet of grace, and grace is not limited to Israel (Lk 4:27). There are many lepers in Israel at that time, as the Lord Jesus says. That is a shocking picture of the uncleanness and corruption of the people. No one of the people is cleansed of his leprosy, because no one appeals to God’s grace. Without any claim, the pagan Naaman is cleansed and healed. Only God can do that. His grace extends to those who are outside His people.
1 The Great Naaman
1 Now Naaman, captain of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man with his master, and highly respected, because by him the LORD had given victory to Aram. The man was also a valiant warrior, [but he was] a leper.
Naaman is a great man in the world. Moreover, the LORD has involvement with him. He has achieved victories which the LORD has given him. God is already busy with this man. However, he has a big problem. In all his distinction, prestige and riches he is leprous. No matter how great a person is in the eyes of other people, in the eyes of God he is leprous, sinful.
We see here that God governs the whole world. He is not only the God of Israel. He has a special connection with Israel, but that does not mean that He has nothing to do with the nations. Although since the flood He has let the nations go on their own ways (Acts 14:16) and has no direct involvement with them, He is the One Who has the course of all world events in His hand and directs them. He leads everything to His goal.
2 - 3 A Little Girl
2 Now the Arameans had gone out in bands and had taken captive a little girl from the land of Israel; and she waited on Naaman’s wife. 3 She said to her mistress, “I wish that my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! Then he would cure him of his leprosy.”
Verse 2 forms a great contrast with Verse 1. In verse 1 we see the great world, in verse 2 the circumstances of the life of a little girl. Naaman is “highly respected”, the girl is “a little girl”. The whole story of this chapter is ‘made’ by this little girl, whose name we don’t even know. But God has a plan with the life of this girl. He wants to use her for the healing of Naaman. So he uses everything for His purpose, also the wrong deeds of people, like robbing this girl.
The great man depends on a little girl for his curing. She does not seek revenge, but wants to do good. She does something very simple. She does not give a sermon, but refers to the man of God. This way we can take people to meetings where God’s Word is brought or to people who bring God’s Word. She has not experienced that Elisha has cured a leper, but she has faith and she knows that there is a man of God. How many times a child’s finger has pointed an adult the right direction.
The girl must have experienced a lot. It will happen to you that you will be taken as booty by hostile men. Maybe she has seen her parents killed. She was taken away, without a chance to ever return home. Everything that is of value to a child is only a memory for her. Such a memory can be a torment in a situation like hers. All her dreams about a bright future have been shattered. She is the slave of the wife of the general of the hostile country. What she has experienced is all able to embitter her.
She could have watched the leper Naaman with an intense sense of gloating. With intense satisfaction she could observe this evildoer, the destroyer of her life, die a slow death. However, this is not the case with her. She seems to come from a God-fearing family, a ‘remnant’ family. She knows the prophet Elisha and knows that God’s power works through the prophet. Instead of seeking revenge, she is seeking the welfare of her master and, through his wife, she points out to him the man of God in Israel.
Here we see the special guidance of God. Often, people are brought into God’s kingdom by the laborious efforts of others, by what others have to suffer. We know that from countries where the believers are persecuted. How many suffering believers have already been an eternal blessing to those who persecuted them. In this history, without this girl there would have been no healing of his body and salvation of his soul for Naaman.
We also see here how in God’s government the greatness of international politics and the smallness of personal circumstances unite. We see that today. God rules through consultation in parliaments and ministries, where the strategy to be pursued is discussed. God also rules by everyday inconspicuous encounters, a phone call, a visit. God is above all and let everything cooperate in fulfilling His counsel.
4 - 7 Help Question to the King of Israel
4 Naaman went in and told his master, saying, “Thus and thus spoke the girl who is from the land of Israel.” 5 Then the king of Aram said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” He departed and took with him ten talents of silver and six thousand [shekels] of gold and ten changes of clothes. 6 He brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, “And now as this letter comes to you, behold, I have sent Naaman my servant to you, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” 7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man is sending [word] to me to cure a man of his leprosy? But consider now, and see how he is seeking a quarrel against me.”
Naaman’s wife believes what the girl says. This means that this girl has always done her job faithfully and has proven to be reliable in everything. She hasn't been sloppy in her work. She must have been an exemplary slave. Without having to be exhorted to do so, she has complied with the Scripture: “[Urge} bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect” (Tit 2:9-10). Maybe she has told us about her home situation. Anyway, Naaman’s wife tells her husband that there is someone in Israel who can cure him.
Naaman also believes what the girl said. But he does not act upon it. He goes to his own king. He needs his influence, he thinks. It was also difficult for him to go to a hostile people on his own as a general. He also needs his consent.
His lord wants to work for the curing of his army commander. He does so in his own way, without any there being any faith. Diplomatic, the king of Aram, or Syria, writes to the king of Israel if he wants to cure his general. Perhaps he assumes that the man about whom he hears such good news, must be at the court of the king, in his service as his private healer.
He also gives his general a huge gift along. In Elisha he sees no more than a healer from whom you can buy healing. It will appear that this is not the case. Many people think that you can do something for the forgiveness of sins. The heinous indulgence that the roman-catholic church, inspired by the devil, has come up with is an example of this. In this way, the king of Syria seems to want to give the king of Israel the honor of healing.
This type of diplomacy, however, does not benefit anything and is even counterproductive. The king of Israel feels attacked. Theoretically he knows God. He calls out whether he would be God to be able to cure the leper, for indeed only God can cure leprosy (cf. Gen 30:2). In practice, however, he does not take God into account at all. He only thinks about his own position. He can only think on a political level. He who, like no other as leader of God’s people, must show that there is a God who can cure, sees only horizontally. He and his people bear the Name of God, but do not count with Him. Is this not the case in most of today’s Christianity?
The king does not think of Elisha, although the prophet lives close to him. Many spiritual leaders today also do not point to the Lord Jesus because they only think about their own position. They too have no answer to the questions of life.
8 - 10 Elisha Lets Naaman Come to Him
8 It happened when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, that he sent [word] to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Now let him come to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.” 9 So Naaman came with his horses and his chariots and stood at the doorway of the house of Elisha. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh will be restored to you and [you will] be clean.”
While the king may be walking back and forth in his room and discussing with his ministers how to deal with this crisis, there is a message from Elisha. Elisha has heard of the king’s reaction and is indignant. He commands the king to send Naaman to him, so that at least Naaman will know that there is a prophet who reveals the words of God.
It will have been a remarkable display. The whole distinguished company, the whole impressive parade, leaves the king’s palace and parks in front of the prophet’s humble home. Then a messenger from Elisha comes out to bring Naaman the good news how he can be cured.
Elisha herself does not come out, not even to greet Naaman. He doesn’t want to meet Naaman’s splendor with an eyes-eye view and remains so unmoved by the brilliance of the world. Naaman’s greatness tells him nothing more, but Naaman’s leprosy so much more. Nor does Elisha want to put herself in the foreground. Only his word is important and that can also convey a messenger.
11 - 12 Naaman’s Response
11 But Naaman was furious 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 wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.’ 12 Are not Abanah and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage.
Naaman is very upset about this treatment. How does Elisha dare to treat him like this! As a great man, he wants to be treated with respect, even when it comes to his curing, which he cannot work on himself. He also wants to pay for it. He is doubly offended: he is not treated in the way he wants and he must also do something that he considers to be below his dignity.
The words “behold, I thought” indicate that Naaman has his own ideas about his healing. Elisha had to come out and perform a fitting ritual to heal him. But Elisha treats him like a leper and Naaman doesn’t want that. Naaman has written the script for his healing and whether the prophet wants to do it that way. That’s all. He expects from this miracle worker a spectacle, a dazzling show.
How often do we already have an idea of how God should solve our problem? And if it does not go according to our expectations, are we not disappointed in God? We not only want God’s blessings, but we also want to indicate how He should give them to us. Thus we want to make the sovereign God our ‘messenger boy’. Or we see God as a dispenser: throw in a prayer and you can take out your desired article.
Naaman has two problems: his leprosy and his pride. He must first be freed from his pride and then be cleansed of his leprosy. Naaman has his arguments for not simply doing what the prophet has said. Why the Jordan? Why that way? Why not in another river? He knows rivers that are bigger and cleaner.
But he does not know the difference between these rivers and the Jordan. What makes the Jordan different from any other river is that the Jordan speaks of death, but then as undergone by the Lord Jesus. Only there you can find salvation. In other rivers, which also speak of death, the result is destruction without curing. Those rivers do not help.
Naaman gets angry because he has not yet surrendered to grace. He has yet to learn that. Naaman must learn to see himself as a corrupt Syrian (cf. Deu 26:5). The Israelite must also learn this. Religious flesh wants to be caressed, but it must be judged.
What Naaman, in the picture, must learn is that salvation can only be found in the foolishness of the cross. Paul preached this foolishness in Corinth (1Cor 1:22-25), where the believers also thought so highly of themselves. Many people – and sometimes also believers! – do not like the humiliation that the gospel means, they do not like the simplicity of the gospel, nor the narrow way of the gospel. It may seem foolishness to put your trust in Someone Who died on a slanderous cross, the paragon of weakness and misery, but it is the only way to be saved. He is the salvation or it is to be lost forever.
13 - 14 Naaman Becomes Clean
13 Then his servants came near and spoke to him and said, “My father, had the prophet told you [to do some] great thing, would you not have done [it]? How much more [then], when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and dipped [himself] seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child and he was clean.
Naaman gets a number of people on his way who show him the way to his salvation. First there is his wife’s maid. She points him through his wife to the prophet. The second person is the messenger of Elisha. He brings him the Word of the prophet. The third time they are his servants. It is now a personal contact, servants who talk to him to do what has been said to him. It is about using the means proposed to him. It is the aftercare, the watering of the message.
The servants have a good relationship with Naaman. There appears to be confidentiality between them. They persuade him with simple arguments. They remind him of the simplicity of what is required of him. That appears to be the big obstacle at the same time. The servants help him get over it.
At the insistence of his servants, Naaman abdicates all dignity. He humiliates himself before the eyes of his subordinates. The great man becomes a little boy. By becoming a little child he gets a new life that resembles that of a little boy. Not only humiliation is needed, faith is also needed. He must not dip himself in the Jordan five or six times, but seven times (cf. Jos 6:2-4). All his money and his king’s intercession are of no avail. It comes down to obedience to faith.
15 - 16 Naaman Wants to Reward Elisha
15 When he returned to the man of God with all his company, and came and stood before him, he said, “Behold now, I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel; so please take a present from your servant now.” 16 But he said, “As the LORD lives, before whom I stand, I will take nothing.” And he urged him to take [it], but he refused.
Without pomp and ceremony Naaman returns to Elisha and stands in front of him. Naaman has changed completely. This can be seen in his attitude. No fewer than five times in verses 15-18 he speaks to Elisha about himself as “your servant. That is a huge change compared to the arrogant attitude he first had. He has also changed in his confession. He confesses the God of Israel as the only God on earth. How much will Elisha have liked that the whole people of God would have confessed this from the heart! In any case, it did not occur to king Ahaziah to confess that (2Kgs 1:3,6,16).
Naaman would like to thank Elisha. He wants to give a gift to show his gratitude and no longer to buy his curing. This is due to a lack of knowledge. Elisha refuses that gift. He wants to avoid Naaman making a payment for his curing. Elisha has sometimes accepted gifts. A servant must learn to accept gifts, but he must also learn to refuse them. When preaching the gospel, it must be avoided.
17 - 19 Naaman Returns Home
17 Naaman said, “If not, please let your servant at least be given two mules’ load of earth; for your servant will no longer offer burnt offering nor will he sacrifice to other gods, but to the LORD. 18 In this matter may the LORD pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the LORD pardon your servant in this matter.” 19 He said to him, “Go in peace.” So he departed from him some distance.
Then Naaman asks for a favor. He wants to take some earth from God’s land to his own country to offer the LORD sacrifices. By this he will also remember that he is one with the people of God and in the spirit together with them worship the only God Who deserves worship.
We should not criticize Naaman’s actions. Elisha doesn’t do that either. We can see Naaman as a newly converted person, someone who has yet to grow in his faith. Then a lot of patience is needed. He is not yet a mature believer. In addition, he also has obligations that he cannot shirk.
The fact that Naaman says all this in this way testifies of a sensitive conscience. He experiences the tension between exclusive adherence to the God of Israel and what is expected of him in connection with his work. And that worries him. It was to be hoped that the conscience of the Bethel visiting and Baal kissing Israelites would speak as it is with these heathen.
The LORD has not only cured Naaman from his leprosy, but also made him a faithful and God-fearing worshipper. He has literally “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God” (1Thes 1:9). Not only has he lost his leprosy in the Jordan, he has also lost his paganism there. This is evident from the change in his attitude and his confession.
Elisha’s reaction to what Naaman says is not that he is going to give a sermon. He lets him go in peace, convinced that Naaman will do well. The LORD will lead him on. Thus the eunuch also goes his way in peace and joy after Philip has preached the gospel to him and has baptized him (Acts 8:39).
20 - 24 The Greed of Gehazi
20 But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, thought, “Behold, my master has spared this Naaman the Aramean, by not receiving from his hands what he brought. As the LORD lives, I will run after him and take something from him.” 21 So Gehazi pursued Naaman. When Naaman saw one running after him, he came down from the chariot to meet him and said, “Is all well?” 22 He said, “All is well. My master has sent me, saying, ‘Behold, just now two young men of the sons of the prophets have come to me from the hill country of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two changes of clothes.’” 23 Naaman said, “Be pleased to take two talents.” And he urged him, and bound two talents of silver in two bags with two changes of clothes and gave them to two of his servants; and they carried [them] before him. 24 When he came to the hill, he took them from their hand and deposited them in the house, and he sent the men away, and they departed.
Gehazi is a picture of the state of Israel opposite the heathen who received grace. The hatred that the Lord Jesus receives when He refers to the curing of Naaman is not so much the fact of Naaman’s curing as the fact that Naaman is cured apart from Israel (Lk 4:27-29). Grace shown to unreligious people evokes the hatred of religious people who claim grace as a right.
There is a big difference between the converted pagan Naaman and the depraved Israelite Gehazi. Naaman learned from Elisha that God is a God of grace. That is why Elisha refused his gifts. Elisha wanted Naaman to be impressed by the LORD, the God of Israel, as a God of grace. God cannot be bribed or manipulated with anything a person can give or do.
What Gehazi does must be seen in this light. By his behavior he makes the giving God a questioning or even demanding God. He is guided in his behavior by greed. Despite having experienced so much with the man of God, his heart has not changed. Under all the wonders of grace, his heart has remained cold. It is with him as with Judas. He is caught by the money.
When he sees that Elisha does not accept anything from Naaman, it is shocking for him. What a missed opportunity to become rich in what he considers to be a legal way! It cannot be true that Naaman leaves with all his treasures, without getting a part of them. After all, Naaman has offered it. He devises a trick to get some of Naaman’s wealth.
In the way he speaks about Naaman (“this Naaman the Aramean”), there is something of contempt. Lust for money is a terrible thing among the people of God. Whoever is caught in greed is blind to the value of the person. In his boldness Gehazi even dares to link the name of the LORD to his greed. Using the words “the LORD lives” he takes the decision to run after Naaman.
Except that he uses the name of the LORD vainly (Exo 20:7), he uses deceit. When he reaches Naaman, he hangs up the story that the prophet has changed his mind. Elisha has been visited. In a single sentence, Gehazi destroys everything Elisha wanted to learn Naaman in verse 16. With what he says, Gehazi blames Elisha, the man of God, as if he were still claiming a reward. The lie he uses corrupts also God’s grace. He has a price tag on the grace of God. He presents God as a ‘claimant’, a God Who takes and is therefore no different from all the idols of the nations. This explains why his punishment is so severe.
Gehazi gets what he asks for and even more. Naaman gives him the enormous amount of two talent silver and also the two changes of clothes. Cunningly Gehazi has his wealth brought to a place where he can hide it himself. However, he does not take into account that he is dealing with Someone for Whom all things are naked and opened and Who has a prophet to whom He can communicate what He sees.
We can apply Gehazi’s actions to much of what is happening in Christianity today. Paul speaks about this in the letter to the Galatians. There are people who claim that the death of the Lord Jesus is not enough to be saved. In their opinion, there is another thing that needs to be added, namely the keeping of certain requirements of the law, such as circumcision. The ‘Jesus-Plus Movement’ has found its entrance with the Galatians. But everything that is ‘plus’ obscures grace. This applies to the law, baptism, the doctrine of the church. All we add to Christ as a condition of being a Christian and being accepted as such is an obscuration of grace.
25 - 27 Gehazi Is Discovered and Becomes Leprous
25 But he went in and stood before his master. And Elisha said to him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” And he said, “Your servant went nowhere.” 26 Then he said to him, “Did not my heart go [with you], when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Is it a time to receive money and to receive clothes and olive groves and vineyards and sheep and oxen and male and female servants? 27 Therefore, the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever.” So he went out from his presence a leper [as white] as snow.
When Gehazi is back with Elisha, he pretends that nothing has happened. He takes up his useable place again, ready to serve his lord. With his question, Elisha gives Gehazi the opportunity to come up with his evil himself. He does not take this opportunity, but persists in the lie.
The man of God then says how he followed Gehazi in his heart and saw in the spirit what happened when Gehazi reached Naaman. He has seen that Naaman has welcomed Gehazi and given him everything he asked for. Elisha does not speak about the literal gifts Naaman gave, but about what Gehazi intended to buy with them all. He knew the unbridled greed of his servant.
This is how the Lord Jesus knew Judas’ greed for money. Yet He has endured Judas, just as Elisha has endured Gehazi. He did not prevent Gehazi from acting, just as the Lord Jesus did not prevent Judas from acting. God leaves man in his full responsibility.
Elisha asks if it was the right time to take all this stuff from Naaman. It was not the right time and because it was not the right time for it, Gehazi had stolen it. We must learn to look at the clock of God. Taking advantage of God’s time is, for example, that we already want to have political influence or even government power, while we are not given that. Reigning with Christ still comes (1Cor 4:8; 6:2-3).
We do not read that Elisha instructs Gehazi to return the money and goods to Naaman. He has taken the money from Naaman and he can keep it. But he also gets the leprosy of Naaman.