In my last two blogs, I pointed out that often the people we least expect to be open to God’s truth are, and those we expect to be open are not. I gave the example of the widow of Zarephath. In this blog, I will address another example—Naaman the leper. The Lord spoke of these two examples in Luke 4:16-30.
The account of Naaman is found in 2 Kgs 5:1-27. If we were to look for a man whom we would expect to be closed to God’s Word, it would be this man. He was a Syrian, and thus a pagan. He had attacked God’s people and taken them as slaves (v 2). As a pagan, he worshiped idols (v 18). As a result, he had some strange beliefs about the gods. He thought that gods could only be worshiped in their own country. He believed in a multitude of gods. If he wanted to worship a particular idol, but couldn’t be in the country where that particular god was located, he would solve the problem by taking dirt from that country and bringing it to Syria (v 17).
As a pagan, he also thought that he could buy the favor of the gods with money. If he wanted something from them, he would offer money and clothes (v 5). In addition to having these pagan ideas, he didn’t have all the privileges the Jews had. God had not given Naaman’s country His Word. The temple of the true God was not located in his country. The prophets of God were not teaching in the land of Syria. Elisha and the school of the prophets were operating in Israel.
But the Jews of Elisha’s day did not respond positively to all the privileges given to them. They rejected Elisha’s message, even when they saw all the miracles he performed through the power of the Lord. What a contrast Naaman was. As the Lord said in the synagogue at Nazareth, there were many lepers in Israel during the days of Elisha the prophet, but none of them were healed of their disease. Instead, the pagan Naaman was (Luke 4:27). Why? Because, in spite of all these disadvantages, he was open to what God was saying and doing through Elisha.
When he first met Elisha, Naaman exhibited his pagan background. He was offended when Elisha didn’t come out to officially greet him. As a proud military commander, coming from a country that had invaded Israel, Naaman expected the respect due him. That is the way a pagan would think. He didn’t see a prophet of the God of Israel as being any different from the various prophets that operated in other countries. Elisha’s God was simply another god that could be bought. There was going to be an economic transaction. Naaman would do his part by giving Elisha the money, and Elisha would hopefully do his part by convincing his God to heal Naaman.
At first Naaman was arrogant and refused to do what Elisha told him to do—to go dip himself in the Jordan seven times (vv 10-12). But he was open to the idea that maybe the God of Israel was different. He humbled himself and obeyed the word of God spoken through Elisha. When he was healed, he made a wonderful confession. He said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel” (v 15).
His humility comes through clearly. He says that he is now the “servant” of God’s prophet (v 17). He will no longer offer sacrifices to any other god. When he is later deceived by another Jew, he shows his generosity to Elisha, even though it has been obtained through false pretenses (v 23).
The Jew who lied to Naaman is an illustration of the nation. They are not humble before God. In fact, they will not obey the message given to them by Elisha, the prophet of God. Whereas Naaman will no longer offer sacrifices to idols, the nation will continue to do so.
Simply put, the ones we would expect to respond in a godly way didn’t. The one we expect to be closed to the Word of God wasn’t. This is the same situation that the Lord found at Nazareth. This is what Elijah found at Zarephath. It is what Elisha found with a pagan general. There will be times when we experience the same thing.
Let’s proclaim the message of God’s grace. We will find success in unexpected places.