Monday, November 7, 2016

Want Peace? Be Obedient and Do Something Simple

            Sometimes attaining peace is as easy as being obedient and doing something simple.
            Today’s story is about a man named Naaman, the supreme commander of the king of Syria's army. He’s got a lot of good character traits, but he’s also got one, big looming problem. He’s got an embarrassing and dreaded disease that overshadows all of his finer points. Aside from knowing Naaman is the army’s 5 star general, we know some other things about him:

1. Naaman is a great man, a man of high social standing. A superstar.
2. Naaman is considered to be an honorable man by the king of Syria. Because of Naaman’s military victories, the king has great respect for him.
3. Naaman is very brave and very wealthy.
4. And Naaman has the dreaded skin disease leprosy, which he hopes to have healed by a prophet from a country he’s disdained, raided, and conquered.

            On one of Naaman’s raids into Israel, he has captured a young Israelite girl who ends up serving Naaman’s wife. And it is this girl who passes on critical information to her mistress about who can heal Naaman of his leprosy. But let’s stop right there for a minute.
            A young girl who Namaan has captured is passing on information that will be of benefit to her captor. What she says to Naaman’s wife is: “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy.” She expresses complete confidence that the prophet (Elisha) can and will heal Naaman, if only Naaman can get an audience with him.
            Fast forward some verses, and we learn that Naaman does get an audience with the esteemed prophet of Israel, Elisha. Well, sort of.
            Naaman shows up at Elisha’s door with his horses and chariots. I’m going to guess he’s outfitted in all of his full military regalia, in order to impress Elisha with his standing. But Elisha doesn’t come out himself. Instead, he sends a messenger out to Naaman. The message from Elisha is: Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.”
            Well, old Naaman doesn’t respond well to that treatment, and he stomps off in a real huff. He’s an important man, his ego’s been bruised, and he’s having a tantrum. Scripture says he became “furious.” And then, after he stomps off, he says, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come to me, and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’ 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?”
            Let’s look at what Naaman is really saying: First, he outright rejects what Elisha has instructed him to do out of feeling slighted. He expected the prophet to give him his full attention, and that’s what he’s going to insist upon. He wants protocol followed, he won’t stand for less. Elisha’s going to do it Naaman’s way. (Since Naaman’s the one with the skin issue, that sounds ridiculous and childish, doesn’t it? Who’s the one with the problem?)
            Second, Naaman says that Elisha is going to come out and “call on the name of the LORD his God…” Catch that? Naaman calls the LORD his God—Elisha’s God. Not Naaman’s God. So Naaman is stating his unbelief in the One who is actually going to do the healing. Just exactly how is Naaman going to be healed if he doesn’t believe?
            Third, Naaman says, “…and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.” Uh, wave his hand over the place? Not wave it over me? Naaman presumes to instruct Elisha in how to heal, the procedure he’s going to follow, which is laughable. And it also seems clear that Naaman still can’t bring himself to admit that he’s a man with a problem. He won’t state it plainly.
            Fourth, Naaman admits the low opinion of Israel and its resources when he compares the Jordan River to the great rivers in his country. He’s arrogant, and, I think, he finds the suggestion and process embarrassing and beneath him.
            Fifth, and probably one of the most important reasons: Naaman thinks the cure is too simple. If all he had to do was wash, why couldn’t he just have stayed home, not subjugated himself to an Israelite, and dunked his ulcerous bod in his own rivers?
            Then Naaman goes away in a rage. Thankfully, though, Naaman’s got some wise servants, who evidently aren’t afraid to speak their mind to their master. The fact that they feel comfortable doing this, and the way they address him when doing it says a lot of Naaman, I think. I think it’s also the reason his wife’s Israelite slave is so concerned about Naaman. Naaman’s servants draw near to him and say, “My father, 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’?”
            His servants know Naaman well. They know he’s a mighty man of valor, not the kind of guy to shirk from a fight. They know he’s quick to demonstrate bravery and greatness. They know he’s willing to do anything to be cured. And they address him as “father.” An unusual title of affection from a servant to his master. They must have had a tremendous amount of respect and love for him. And they effectively tell him that there’s nothing to be ashamed of by doing something simple to be cleansed. What do you have to lose?
            And Naaman must have the same kind of respect for them, because, without saying another word, he gets up, goes down to the Jordan River, dips himself seven times in it, just as Elisha had instructed him to do through his messenger, and Naaman’s flesh is so perfectly restored that it looks like that of a child’s. And Naaman was clean.
            Not only does Naaman arise from the Jordan River cleansed from his skin disease, he is a changed man. Whatever pride, arrogance, disdain, distrust and disbelief he had for the nation of Israel, its God, and its prophet, was washed away from Naaman’s soul and heart while he was dipping himself and was left behind in the Jordan River.
            Naaman, with his super shiny body and his new heart heads back to Elisha to thank him. And this time Elisha goes out to meet him. And Naaman stands before Elisha and makes a profound profession of faith. “Indeed, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, except in Israel; now therefore, please take a gift from your servant.”
            Wow! Naaman humbles himself before God’s prophet, confesses that there is only one God—the God of Israel—and he wants to offer a gift to Elisha for the healing. Naaman now denies the pagan gods of his own people and stands with Israel and the one true God. Naaman is indeed a brave man and is not afraid to take a stand for truth when he discovers it.
            Even though Naaman urges him to take it, Elisha refuses the gift, in order that Naaman can see the honor of God only. Then Naaman asks what seems to us a funny request. “Then, if not, 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. Yet in this thing may the LORD pardon your servant when my master goes into the temple of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand, and I bow down in the temple of Rimmon—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD please pardon your servant in this thing.”
            As Dr. John MacArthur points out in his study Bible, “In the ancient Near East it was thought that a god could be worshiped only on the soil of the nation to which he was bound. Therefore Namaan wanted a load of Israelite soil on which to make burnt offerings and sacrifices to the Lord when he returned to Damascus. This request confirmed how Naaman had changed—whereas he had previously disparaged Israel’s river, now he wanted to take a pile of Israel’s soul to Damascus.” Even though Naaman believes in the one true God, he still holds some pagan beliefs from his native land. His heart and devotion have abruptly switched, and he now considers himself bound to Israel, which needs to be demonstrated by having a mound of the country’s dirt in his possession. He’s a “baby believer” and still has much to learn about God and His ways. Two mule loads must have been a lot of dirt. But Elisha doesn’t fault or ridicule him for the request.
            I think Elisha understands the gravity of Naaman’s situation. He has switched spiritual alliances, but that hasn’t changed his position, his authority, and to whom he answers and protects. Naaman is returning to a pagan country ruled by a pagan king, who worships a pagan god. He is both a man of authority and a man under authority, and he will return to his country, stand before his king, and say, “Oh, king, live forever!” He will be expected to attend to the king when the king goes to his pagan temple to worship, and he will be expected to display the same honor to that god by bowing down. He knows he must do it or suffer the consequences. And he asks the Lord ahead of time to forgive him for the outward action.
            And what is Elisha’s response? Does he chastise Naaman for not having any faith? Does he tell him that he must stand up to the king and beat him over the head with his new faith, set the king straight?
            No, Elisha simply says, “Go in peace [Shalom]. It’s okay, Naaman. I understand your position, and so does God. After all, He’s the one who put you there. He knows your heart. You don’t need to worry about it.
            Because, after all, isn’t the heart where God concentrates His gaze?

 Questions to Ponder  

1. Pretend for a moment that you’re Naaman’s captured Israelite servant girl. I can’t imagine you’re thrilled about being wrenched from your family, dragged to a different country where a strange language is spoken, and being conscripted into the service of a wealthy woman and the commander who snagged you. Would your heart be filled with hate and hopes of retribution? Or do you have the pure heart of this servant girl, who seems to respect Naaman and not wish him any ill. In fact, she goes one better than not wishing him ill. She passes on important information about how he might be healed. Instead of repaying evil for evil, and watching him suffer and possibly die of the disease, she repays evil with good.

            And I think it is at this point that the process of Naaman finding peace begins. Have you ever found yourself in a difficult situation you felt dragged into? A situation you didn’t want to be in and hoped you could get out of? Did you withhold information because you felt you’d been unfairly used? Or did you alter the focus of your heart by reminding yourself that God knows where you are and has allowed you to be dragged there, and it just might be because He wants to use you as an instrument of good for someone else’s benefit? Without you, your unbelieving boss would never learn about how he can be healed and saved. You are actually in the right place at the right time, all orchestrated by God himself. (Naaman eventually becomes a God-fearing man, so I can imagine that the atmosphere in his household changed after that experience and the servant girl felt more joy and some satisfaction. She certainly seems to be a girl of great faith.)

            Uncle Mordecai said about the same thing to his niece, Queen Esther, when she was facing a life or death situation. “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

            It’s a phrase I pass out to my husband and boys when they’re facing difficult situations at school or work, usually with people. “For such a time as this, Mr. Owan! For such a time as this.” (I need to remind myself of it more often, though!) Maybe, just maybe, we are the vessel God will work through to bring someone else to salvation. To be cleansed and healed. Instead of being miffed about it, maybe we should be humbled and thank God for choosing us to be used in such a miraculous way.

2. Naaman was an important and successful man, and he held prejudices, but he knew how to listen to reason, even when it was coming from his subordinates. That’s pretty impressive, considering Naaman was in the middle of having a temper tantrum and pity party and might, instead, have dismissed the wisdom in order to save himself further embarrassment. But he didn’t. He knew truth when he heard it, and he was desperate. And the change of heart and humble reaction—his obedience to God’s instructions—open the door to complete healing, and a heart conversion. Not only does Naaman receive physical healing, but he also receives spiritual healing. Wow! How very like God to give us far more than we ask!

            But my question is: Are we as willing to listen to reason dispensed to us by those we feel are subordinate, like our kids? Are we smart and humble like Naaman? Our family members see the good and the ugly parts of us. Parts we’ve possessed so long that we don’t identify them as ugly. Character or behavior warts that they can see but we can’t. My kids and my husband have exposed a lot of my ugly parts that I would not have admitted were ugly if I had not bit my lip, stifled my defensive response, and listened—really listened—to their imparted wisdom about it.

            Of course, Naaman’s servants didn’t call him an idiot or chew him out; they approached him in a kind, logical way. They just laid out the facts. And, in some way, they also appealed to Naaman’s ego in the words they chose. What does Scripture say about getting someone’s attention with honey? Pleasant words are as a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and health to the bones (Proverbs 16:24). They were both to Naaman—the wise words prompted him to do what he’d been instructed to do, and they gave him health.

            Are your words timely and gentle? Logical? Or do they sound snarky, sharp and critical, displaying your wit and snappy comeback? Do they make the hearer feel more like a fool or someone you’re trying to have a productive conversation with? Think about how your tone and choice of words affect the hearer. Do they cause him to encase himself in defensive armor, or listen to your good judgment?

3. Part of Naaman’s problem was that he expected something grand and glorious to happen in the healing process. He wanted all of the bells and whistles, the fanfare. Dunking himself seven times in a muddy river didn’t meet his expectations. Which so is what happens to us so often. We’re so busy looking for and expecting the BIG thing, that we miss the miraculous blessing available to us in the little thing perched on the end of our nose. We miss the healing, the change of heart, the change of life because we go to God with expectations about how He should accomplish something. And sometimes our refusal to do the little thing ties His hands from providing us with the answer or resolution we seek. And we trudge away from Him, frustrated and dejected because we don’t think He’s heard our prayers or cares enough about us. As Oswald Chambers said,
            “All God’s revelations are sealed until they are opened to us by obedience…
            Obey God in the thing He shows you, and instantly the next thing is opened
            up… God will never reveal more truth about himself until you have obeyed
            what you know already.”

            What simple thing has God told you to do that may be keeping you from receiving He wants to bless you with? Naaman knew that what his servants said was true, so he obeyed. He didn’t like it, but he obeyed. And God’s revelations were immediately opened to him. Obeying is not always easy, but it is simple. And Naaman did something simple: he obeyed and then he dunked. In the process he met God, was cleansed by him, and was physically healed.

How like God it is to give us more than we could possibly ask or imagine!


So, until next Monday, may your week be full of blessings that you receive and give, your heart be full of joy and thankfulness, and your days be filled with laughter. Build a little heaven in your life right now, and watch your heavenly garden grow!



When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on earth. ~ A. W. Tozer

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