As our church is going through changes in pastoral staff, I had the opportunity to teach the youth group this week. In teaching on Naaman in the Old Testament, I found a few characters in the story that many of us can relate to, and thought it would be valuable to share.
The story of Naaman can be found in 2 Kings 5. He is the commander of the Syrian army, a warrior of great standing who had won many battles. Because of his success, he had found great favor with his King, and they had become close. The only mark on Naaman’s life is that he suffers from leprosy.
In the story, an Israelite slave girl tells Naaman of the prophet Elisha living in Samaria who has the God-given ability to heal him of his leprosy. Naaman goes to his King and makes the request to go see the prophet. The king, however, sends Naaman with a letter to the King of Israel instead, asking him to heal Naaman. The King of Israel goes into a rage. This letter is asking him to do the impossible, and rather than looking to his God for the miracle, he tears his clothes and makes a public showing that his Kingdom is intentionally being set up for an attack.
Elisha hears of what happened, and sends a note to the king for Naaman to be sent to him. Naaman goes, but is met instead by a messenger from Elisha to go dip in the Jordan river seven times, and he will be healed. Naaman, instead of rejoicing in the news that he will be healed, throws a fit of his own. “Does this prophet know who I am,” he seems to ask. “And are not the rivers back in Syria much better than the Jordan.” Naaman, feeling that his own personal status has been attacked because the prophet wouldn’t look him in the eye, and had sent a messenger telling him to do some detestable thing, ignores the message and starts to return home.
Fortunately for Naaman, there are men with him who did not share his level of pride, and they press him to “do this simple thing.” Naaman does, and is immediately healed from his leprosy. He returns to Elisha’s house bearing gifts of silver and gold, and many new clothes, but Elisha refuses to accept them. Naaman then takes some dirt from Israel home with him and vows to never worship any god but the God of Elisha. He then makes this request: “Please forgive me, because when I return home I will go into the temple with the king, and as he bows to worship, I will bow also.” Elisha sends him away in peace.
Shortly after Naaman is gone, Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, decides that Elisha had made a great mistake by not taking the gifts. He goes after Naaman, makes up a story as to why Elisha had changed his mind, returns with the gifts and hides them for himself. The problem for Gehazi is that his boss is a prophet, and God had shown Elisha exactly what went down. Elisha then tells Gehazi that his punishment for what he had done is that from now on, he hand his children would carry Naaman’s leprosy.
What’s the Point?
As I studied this story out, there were four characters that caught my attention because of where they looked to build and maintain their identity.
The first character is the King of Israel. He is the king of God’s people. He knew the stories of how God had delivered them over and over again. He knew the law and the promise of God. Yet, when time came to look to God, he doesn’t. He instead laments that his Kingship is being threatened. His identity comes through his success as a leader and maintaining peace, and when it seems that may be taken away, the King cannot handle it. His relationship with God is hurt by his desire for power and success.
The second character that sticks out is Gehazi. He is a prophet. Anyone in full-time ministry knows that that means his pay isn’t that great. Gehazi throws everything he has away when the opportunity to get rich quick comes his way. He is all about the bling. His relationship with God is hurt by his greed.
The third character, and the one that stand out so prominently to me, is Naaman. Naaman has attained great social status in Syria. He is friends with the King, and can do or have anything he wants. He is a national hero. A celebrity of sorts. When he comes to Israel, God does an awesome work in his life, to the point that Naaman vows to never worship any other God. The one thing Naaman refuses to do, however, is to live that out in front of others. It is clear that he has no intention of letting his newfound ‘love’ for God get in the way of his social status at home. He will go through all the motions to maintain his friendship with the King and his celebrity status in Syria, even if it means making the appearance of worship in the temples of Syria’s false Gods. Naaman’s relationship with God is hurt by his need for social status.
And the final character is, of course, Elisha the prophet. Elisha has a history of committing himself to his relationship with God. He spends time in fellowship with the Lord, and his life exemplifies that, no matter what anyone thinks. Elisha could have publicly embarrassed the King of Israel by making a show of what he could do. He could have made a great friend of Naaman, the commander of the army of Israel’s enemy, and never worried about an attack on himself. And Elisha could have used what God was doing through him to, televangelist style, make a name for himself and get very very rich. But through it all, Elisha cared more about his relationship with God, than he did for money, success, or status.
For most of us, the challenge comes when we have to make the decision of who we will love more – our creator, God, or the stuff He created. See, there is nothing wrong with success, or money, or status, so long as you can still fully submit yourself to God. But if those things hinder your relationship with Him, they have become idols of your heart, and need to be destroyed. That is the lesson Gehazi learned the hard way. What is it going to take for us to learn it ourselves?