Scripture: 2 Kings 5:1-15
Sermon prepared by Rev. Harold Winter, St. Catharines, Ontario
Dear Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
One of the questions in the book of Kings is: “Is there a God in Israel ?” This question arises in both I and II Kings. It is an important question for God’s covenant people.
The culture of the nation of Israel , and even their kings – particularly the kings of the northern kingdom – are constantly wrestling with this question: “Is there a God in Israel ?” The kings seem to doubt that the Lord has much to do with Israel anymore. The culture in Israel is influenced by the neighboring people and their gods. Neighboring nations have gods that can easily be seen, and touched, and worshipped in tangible ways. The Lord does not relate to his people in the same ways as the gods of the other nations. That creates doubts and confusion.
To answer the doubts of the kings and the confusion of the culture, God has sent the prophets. We hear from them frequently in the books of Kings. Particularly Elijah and Elisha stand tall as people of faith. They faithfully point to the Lord as the God of Israel and Judah.
In II Kings 5 we follow Naaman on a journey towards faith. He has already experienced the grace of the Lord in a limited way. He is described as a great warrior. The Lord has used him to fulfill God’s will in Aram : “through him, the Lord had given victory to Aram .” But there were obstacles between Naaman and the Lord.
- Naaman is a Gentile. He does not belong to the covenant people of Israel . He has not heard the stories of God’s love for his people. He does not bear the sign of the covenant. He does not live in the land where God has established his house among his people. No, Naaman lives far from the Lord.
- Naaman is unclean. He has blood on his hands as a warrior. The law of the Lord says that having the life-blood of humans or animals on your hands makes you ceremonially unclean. But in Naaman’s case it is even more serious, because the blood on Naaman’s hands is not just any blood, but the blood of the Lord’s covenant people.
- What is more, Naaman has taken one of the Lord’s covenant children as a slave in his household. The Lord had rescued his covenant people from slavery in Egypt , but now Naaman has enslaved one of God’s covenant children.
- Naaman also had leprosy. Even if he had lived in Israel as a member of the covenant – even if he knew the Lord and wanted to join God’s people in worship – his leprosy would have separated him from God’s people and left him outside of the temple. People with leprosy were unclean. They weren’t permitted to live among God’s chosen people and they certainly were not welcome in the temple. Even if Naaman had been a child of the covenant, his leprosy was a barrier. He couldn’t get close to God.
Although he had all these things stacked against him, he had something in his favor. There was something going for Naaman: he had faith. His faith began as small as a mustard seed, but it was there and it grew. To use a different metaphor: the Lord didn’t let this glowing ember of faith get snuffed out. God blew on this little spark until it burst into flame.
You have heard the song that says, “It only takes a spark, to get a fire going. Then soon all those around, can warm up to its glowing.” Well, that spark of faith in Naaman is kindled when Naaman comes in contact with one of the Lord’s covenant children. The slave girl he captured from Israel speaks to Mrs. Naaman about the prophet of the Lord who is in Samaria . This child of the covenant believed that if Naaman would only go to see the prophet, the prophet would cure him of his leprosy. Her faith and excitement are infectious. Mrs. Naaman tells Naaman, Naaman tells his king, and the king sends Naaman with a letter to the king of Israel .
The King of Israel is opposite to Naaman. He has many things going for him. It should be easy for him to have faith in the Lord.
- Joram is a covenant child. It is safe to assume that he was circumcised – he had received the sign and seal of the covenant.
- King Joram worshiped the Lord. He did not worship the Lord properly in the temple in Jerusalem . He followed the sin of Jeroboam by worshipping the Lord at the altar in Bethel . At least, he worshipped the Lord at Bethel . King Joram still had a unique relationship with the Lord.
- Most importantly, King Joram has heard and seen God at work. Through the prophet Elisha, Joram has enjoyed God’s miraculous deliverance in his wars with Moab . In II Kings 3, we read how the king of Israel became trapped in the desert near Moab . The army had run out of water for the soldiers and their animals. But the Lord brought the army water in the desert that resulted in a miraculous victory over Moab .
Despite all the benefits that King Joram has living as one of God’s covenant children; the king of Israel is not growing in his faith. He is content with a loose relationship with the Lord. He is almost a nominal believer. He has experienced God’s miraculous deliverance, but he does not walk closely with the Lord. He does not turn to the Lord as his first response in trouble.
Naaman’s arrival is a perfect example. When Naaman arrives with his attendants and the letter from the King of Aram, in search of a cure from his leprosy, the king of Israel gets all tied in knots. He tears his robes in panic and despair. He doesn’t know where to turn. All he can think of is the danger he’s in with this army commander and the powerful king in Damascus if he is not able to cure Naaman. He knows that it is not possible to cure this commander by himself, yet he does not turn to the God who can cure Naaman. It is as if he does not know of the Lord. Is there a God in Israel ?
This is an uncomfortable story to read. We always like to cheer for a hero. The problem in this story is that the person whom we expect to succeed is failing badly. We want to see the king of Israel stand tall. We want him to be counted as a hero of faith in the Lord, but he is not a hero of the faith. He does not have real, living faith in the Lord.
Yet we can identify with King Joram too. We catch ourselves in similar situations sometimes. We disappoint ourselves looking back at challenges in our life, wishing we had stood tall for the Lord. We also want to be a hero of faith in the Lord and yet we also fall short.
Oh, the frustration of hindsight! I’m sure I’m not the only person who looks back on their day and wishes I could have stood stronger in my faith. If only I had taken that opportunity to pray for wisdom or appeal for God’s for help in that situation. If only I had walked more closely with the Lord through that troubled situation. If only I could stand more strongly in faith.
As God’s covenant people, we know a lot about the Lord. We’ve experienced God’s deliverance. Yet when we feel boxed in, we suffer memory loss. We forget how the Lord deliberately led the Israelites into danger when they left Egypt .
The Lord led the Israelites to a place where there was a mountain on the left of them and a mountain on the right of them. Behind them was the Egyptian army. In front of them was the Red Sea . There was nowhere left to turn. The Lord had let his covenant people get boxed in so that they would rely on the Lord their God for salvation.
Today the Lord still allows his covenant people to experience the feeling of being boxed-in, so that we will turn to him for help. He wants us to remember our past experience of God’s deliverance so that we rely on him for each step of our journey. He invites us to take life one day at a time – to walk with him one step at a time.
Despite his lack of faith, the Lord delivered the King of Israel. The prophet Elisha invites the king of Israel to send his problem over. “Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel .” See, there is a connection there: if there is a prophet in Israel , there is also a God in Israel .
Naaman’s journey of faith continues. But this journey also has some rocky moments. Naaman is offended by the reception he receives from Elisha. His dignity almost prevents him from experiencing God’s grace. His pride almost prevents him from meeting the Lord.
Elisha does not defer to Naaman’s dignity and pride. Whether it is a pointed deflation of Naaman’s ego, or a desire to remain ritually clean, Elisha doesn’t come out to meet with Naaman. He sends a messenger to tell Naaman to wash 7 times in the Jordan .
Offended, Naaman almost misses this opportunity. He almost turns his back on the Lord and a miracle of deliverance. Why would the Jordan be any better than the rivers back home? Why would washing in the water of the Jordan lead to his cure?
“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God ,” said Jesus. Coming to faith in the Lord is a humbling experience. You cannot be both self-reliant and dependant on God. Pride is one of the biggest obstacles to faith in God.
I wonder if that is why we sometimes have difficulty in our walk of faith as well. We like to be self-reliant. It is hard to admit that we need help.
Independence is one of our culture’s biggest goals. Self-reliance is an idol that our whole society pursues. Confessing that we need to rely on God is hard. It just kills us to admit we cannot help ourselves. But that is exactly what we need to do.
It is only when Naaman forgets about his dignity and wades into the water of the Jordan River that he is ready to be healed. Only by following the Lord’s instructions, does he receive the gift of healing. Like the father in the New Testament, you can almost hear him say, “I believe, help me in my unbelief.”
The Lord is true to his Word through the prophet Elijah. After washing seven times in the Jordan River , Naaman is delivered from his illness. He is restored to health and cleanness. He is renewed and rejuvenated, set free from the brokenness, the blemish of leprosy. His skin becomes just like the skin of a young boy.
Having received such restoration, he worships the Lord. Naaman confesses that there is a God in Israel . He has confidence that even the king of Israel doesn’t have: Naaman has seen the power and glory of the Lord, the God of Israel. He confesses there is no God like the Lord.
Naaman is unwilling to worship any other God. He even wants to clarify to Elisha that his duties as the commander of Aram ’s army will require him to enter the temple of Rimmon . But Naaman wants Elisha and the Lord to know that even if he goes with the king of Aram into the temple of Rimmon , he is still dedicated exclusively to the Lord.
This account of Naaman’s faith does not put God’s covenant people in a good light. Not even the king of Israel stands tall as a hero of faith in God, yet Naaman confesses faith in the Lord the God of Israel. It is sad to see the comparison to God’s covenant people. They have all the benefits of the covenant, yet they remain unchanged by the mighty works of the Lord. The king of Israel knows the history of God’s blessing and favor upon the people of Israel , but it does not warm his heart toward the Lord.
In fact, Jesus refers to these events in Luke 4, when he is rejected by the covenant people in Nazareth – right at the beginning of his ministry. When Jesus is rejected by his own people, he reminds them of how God’s grace was shown to Naaman. An outsider was healed of his leprosy:
“There were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian.” It is a reproach to God’s covenant people. It is a call to faith in God.
The Lord continues to extend his grace and deliverance to the world. He continues to call people to grow in their faith – to walk in a daily relationship with the Lord their covenant God. In Scripture, the Lord teaches us how to walk in faith:
- How to swallow our pride and depend on him;
- How to rely daily on the miracle of cleansing through his grace;
- How to respond with whole-hearted devotion: worshipping the Lord and relying on him each day, each step – especially when we feel boxed in.
We are invited to grow in our faith and dependence upon God. There is indeed a God among us! We have seen his grace, experienced his cleansing, delighted in his renewal of everything stained by sin and uncleanness. Because Jesus’ blood was shed for us, we can be washed clean in baptism. The renewal and rejuvenation of the Kingdom of God has begun among us. The barriers of pride and self-reliance are being broken down. The Lord has invited us to rely on him. We are invited to walk with our Lord in faith, because there is a God among us.
Order of Worship
DRAWING NEARER TO GOD
Welcome and Opening Songs
PsH #438 When Morning Gilds the Sky
#237 We Praise You, O God
Call to Worship: Psalm 117
*Invocation and God's Greeting:
People of God, from whom does our help come?
Our help comes from the Lord, who has made the heavens and the earth!
The Lord be with you.
And the Lord be with you.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
*Song of Adoration: #249 Holy, Holy, Holy
BECOMING RIGHT WITH GOD
Call to Confession: James 4: 4-10
Song: Humble Yourself in the Sight of the Lord
Assurance of Pardon: Isaiah 1: 18-20
Hymn: Lord Jesus I Long to be Perfectly Whole (Blue PH 379)
*Hymn: #250 I’ve Come to Tell
LISTENING TO GOD'S WORD
Prayer for the Holy Spirit's Guidance
Scripture Reading : II Kings 5: 1-15a
Sermon: There Is a God in Israel!
RESPONDING TO GOD'S WORD
*Hymn of Response: Sing! #237: 1, 2, 4 Crashing Waters at Creation
Offerings for God:
*Song of Dedication: Sing! #216 Give Thanks
DEPARTING WITH GOD
*The Lord's Blessing: (Three-fold Amen)
*Closing Song: Sing! #284 Go, My Children, with My Blessing