Although Elijah is considered the greatest of the prophets, Elisha clearly performed more miracles. Today’s reading is full of them: the cleansing of Naaman, the floating axehead, the capture of the Aramean army, the miraculous defeat of the Arameans, and miraculous provision of food for Samaria.
What we think God should do isn’t always what God does — The story of Naaman is a great story that has a lot of obvious parallels to New Testament baptism. One of those applications is found in Naaman’s initial reaction to Elisha’s message to dip seven times in the Jordan. “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.’” 2 Kings 5:11, NAS95. Naaman was expecting the usual medicine show theatrics of the prophets of his day. But the God of Israel and His prophets weren’t a medicine show. The popular wisdom and religion of our age says that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long you believe something. The one true and living God says something quite different: “Jesus *said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” John 14:6, NAS95. And the popular wisdom and religion of our day responds, “OK, believe in Jesus; say the ‘sinner’s prayer’ and you’re good to go.” But God’s word gives a different answer: “Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’” Acts 2:38, NAS95. “Pretty much everyone’s going to Heaven,” says popular wisdom and religion. But the Jesus the Lord says, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13, 14, NAS95. “God loves worship that includes instruments, dance, comedians, theater, and other performances.” The Lord’s New Testament calls for a pattern to worship. You see, there are popular expectations of what God should want, and then there’s what God wants. There are popular expectations of what God should do, and then there what God does. Naaman thought the prophet should come out and wave his hand over his leprous wound. God had different plans. Which one worked? You wouldn’t become “furious and [go] away and [saying], ‘Behold, I thought, ‘He will surely…”? Would you?
The water wasn’t curative, but faithful obedience was — As far as we know, no leper beside Naaman has ever been cured by the Jordan River. It has no special antibiotics, no special set of chemicals. There was nothing curative about the waters of the Jordan. It was Naaman’s faith, tentative as it was, expressed in obedience to the Lord, that moved God to perform the miraculous healing of Naaman. Likewise, baptism is not meritorious. There’s nothing about getting wet that earns salvation. Baptism is nothing but faith expressed in obedience to God’s command (Romans 1:5 / 16:26) that moves the Lord to forgive our sins (Acts 2:38), wash our sins away our sins (Acts 22:16), and save us (1 Peter 3:21).
Navigating religious minefields — After Naaman is cleansed he returned to Elisha in thanks. 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.”” 2 Kings 5:15, NAS95. When Elisha refuses Naaman’s gifts (but Gehazi greedily accepted to his later regret), Naaman offers what God has always really wanted from any of us, his heart and loyalty. “… 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. 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.” 2 Kings 5:18, NAS95. In the world we have to live in, we are sometimes put into religiously uncomfortable situations. Sometimes Christians in Corinth face such conflicts (see 1 Cor. 8-10). We can imagine that biblical heroes like Joseph and Daniel had to face similar circumstances. The keys to navigating these difficult situations seems to be 1) understanding that there is no other God than God — “Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one” (1 Corinthians 8:4, NAS95) — and 2) refusing to offer worship or obedience to any one but the one true and living God. Relating to this latter point, Paul wrote, “What do I mean then? That a thing sacrificed to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, but I say that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we?” 1 Corinthians 10:19-22, NAS95. Do you need to go to a funeral in a different religious community? Don’t offer inappropriate worship, don’t confess another god, but don’t worry that you’ve been unfaithful to the Lord.
Open his eyes that he may see — I love this story (2 Kings 6): Elisha’s attendant (Gehazi?) gets up early one morning, he discovers that the Aramean army had surrounded Elisha’s home (to eliminate their intelligence leak, as it were). He rushes back in panic to tell Elisha, but Elisha confidently responds, “…’Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’ Then Elisha prayed and said, ‘O LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.’ And the LORD opened the servant’s eyes and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” 2 Kings 6:16, 17, NAS95. Do we panic at our circumstances, when we really just need to see God’s angels all around us? “Seeing” the unseen takes practice, it’s part of that “renewing of the mind” that Paul talks about, but it is well worth the cultivation.
The sin of keeping good news to yourself — The lepers in this story (chapter 7), being the outcasts of society, not even being able get the protection of the walls of the city, may have been tempted to let the people in the city just fend for themselves, while they feasted and reveled in the good fortune that had finally, at long last, come their way. But knowing how desperate things were within the wall of the besieged city, their consciences compelled them to share the good news, “Then they said to one another, ‘We are not doing right. This day is a day of good news, but we are keeping silent; if we wait until morning light, punishment will overtake us. Now therefore come, let us go and tell the king’s household.’” 2 Kings 7:9, NAS95. As a Christian, what good news do you have that a starving word needs to hear?
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.