Who wants to be a millionaire?
by Jack Wald | November 9th, 2003

II Kings 5:1-19

The events of this chapter begin with a young woman captured in a raid on Israel and taken as a slave to Aram. Aram was a city state centered around Damascus and incidentally was the source of the Aramaic language that Jesus spoke. We are not going to dwell on this, but I think it is worth noting as we move into the text that if this young woman had chosen to live her life in bitterness, the events of this chapter would never have happened. We know next to nothing about her, but she strikes me as being a female Joseph who refused to let her circumstances bring her down. I would love one day to meet her and hear her story in detail.

The city-state of Aram rose to prominence in the time of David and became militarily powerful and wealthy. The man responsible for this rise in military power was Naaman, the commander of the army. Think about Naaman for a moment. When he woke in the morning, there were aides just outside his door eager to take any order he wanted to give. His clothing was laid out for him and his breakfast brought to him.

Throughout the day, all he had to do if he wanted something was to give an order and someone would get or do what he wanted. He had the power of life and death over thousands. If someone displeased him, he had the power to make sure that person never displeased him again. Only the king had more power than he did, but even the king had to pay attention to keeping Naaman happy because commanders of armies can overthrow kings. Naaman had in his power to have anything he wanted but there was one thing he could not have.

He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.

The Hebrew word used here for leprosy does not necessarily mean he had what we call Hansen’s disease, what we know today as leprosy. Naaman’s condition was most likely some form of skin disease with lesions or scaly skin. Today we might diagnose this as psoriasis or eczema or some form of a fungal type infection. Whatever it was, it didn’t look good and every time Naaman looked in a mirror, he was reminded of what people saw each time they saw him. I don’t imagine anyone made fun of his appearance, at least not more than once.

Naaman must have tried every cream and lotion in Aram, trying to clean his skin. All the doctors and magicians available had tried their hand and failed. Every priest of every known god had been brought in to get rid of this skin disease and failed. Naaman was desperate.

Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife.  3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

How I would love to one day meet this young girl. Naaman’s wife told her husband what had been said and he jumped on this new information like a starving man on a piece of steak.

4 Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said.  5 “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing.  6 The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

I calculated the current value of the gifts Naaman brought. The silver and gold at today’s prices would be worth $975,000 US. I don’t know how to value the clothes, but I am going to assume these were expensive clothes, made by a top Damascus designer worth $25,000 US. This meant Naaman brought $1,000,000 US with him to pay for a cure for his skin disease.

How would you like to be a millionaire? Today’s lucky contestants will have the opportunity to cure Naaman’s disease and you will be the newest millionaire in Israel.

Naaman came with a fortune to bestow on the one who healed him, but he also came with a potential threat.

As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”

The king is unidentified in this story but was probably King Jehoram, the second of Ahab’s sons who ruled after him. The king of Aram, Ben Hadad III had a peace treaty signed with Israel, but Jehoram interpreted this letter asking for help to be a pretext for starting a war and he tore his robes as an expression of grief.

Elisha was well connected politically. Remember that his family was a wealthy family and so news of the king’s anxiety soon reached him. The king of Aram meant the note to be a request for assistance. King Jehoram took the note as a pretext for war but Elisha took the note as a challenge to Yahweh.

When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.”

Why did Elisha get involved? What business of his was it to interfere in this matter? Don’t forget what we said at the beginning of this series of sermons. Jehoram’s mother, Jezebel, set out to eradicate the worship of Yahweh in Israel. Elijah and Elisha were God’s response to her efforts and in this case, Elisha was determined to uphold the name of Yahweh who had the power to heal. News of this challenge was being passed around all of Israel and now they would know that there is only one God, Yahweh.

Jehoram was delighted to have a solution, any solution to this perceived threat to his kingdom so he passed on word to Naaman who came immediately to where Elisha was staying.

Now remember again the kind of man Naaman was. Was he a man who took orders or who gave them? He gave orders. If he wanted something, he had a servant go get it for him. But if for some reason he wanted to go to a shop in Damascus in person, the owner of the shop, no matter where he was or what he was doing, would rush to be of personal service to him. “What can I do for you General Naaman? How would you like that General Naaman? Is there anything else I can do for you General Naaman? Here, please take this token of appreciation with you as a gift from me, General Naaman.”

So what do you think Naaman expected when he came to the home of Elisha? As he traveled from the king’s palace to Elisha’s home, he may already have been disgruntled. Why didn’t the prophet rush to see him at the king’s palace where he was more comfortable?  But if he had come all the way to the king’s palace in Israel, he might as well go a little further.

Finally he pulled up with his entourage in front of a small house. This small, nondescript house had probably never seen such a sight. The commander of an army with his horses and chariots, an imposing sight. Naaman, commander of the army of Aram, had arrived and now he waited for the prophet to show himself.

But then in the straw that broke the camel’s back, Elisha did not come out to see him at all. Elisha sent a messenger to talk with him. What an insult! He wasn’t good enough for the prophet to come out himself? He had never been treated this way by anyone who lived to tell about it. Didn’t this prophet living in a tiny little shack know who he was?

And the message!  “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” In front of everyone, he was to go into the Jordan River, not just once but seven times. Who did the prophet think he was, a fool? For years Aram would be telling the joke about old flaky-skin Naaman who went all the way to Israel to see some so-called prophet who convinced him to dip himself in the Jordan River and he did it seven times and was no better off than when he started. All that happened was that old flaky skin got wet.

Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy.  12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.

The commander of an army can only humble himself so far. He could have sent his soldiers to collect Elisha and bring him to Aram but he had come to see Elisha. He had made as much effort as possible. He had humbled himself as much as he could take. The letter had been a request for assistance. He had brought a fortune with him to pay the one who helped but now King Jehoram’s instincts had been correct. He would be coming back again and this time with his army. He would teach this country who humiliated him.

13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!”

Naaman’s servants knew their master. They knew what he was accustomed to and how insulting this seemed to him. But they too were desperate. They had been with their master to all kinds of magicians and healers and priests. They too were desperate to see their master healed and so they convinced him to do what Elisha’s messenger had told him to do.

14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

Imagine the scene. They arrive at the Jordan and Naaman steps out of his chariot, removes his robes and steps into the Jordan and immerses himself. He comes up dripping and looks at his skin. His servants are staring intently. No change. He goes under a second time and after wiping his eyes looks again. No change. The servants begin to be nervous. What will happen if nothing happens after he does what Elisha told him to do? Who will Naaman go after in his anger and frustration? Naaman immerses himself one more time. No change. A fourth time, a fifth time. A sixth time he immerses himself in the waters of the Jordan and comes up dripping. He wipes his eyes, looks again. No change. He looks around. The tension in the air is so thick you could cut it with a knife. This is it. No one blinks as one more time he immerses himself and comes up dripping and this time he has to wipe his eyes a second time to make sure he isn’t seeing things. His skin has been restored and is clean like that of a young boy and all the servants rush into the water to celebrate with him his healing.

Jumping up and down in the water, splashing each other. Giddiness replacing the thick tension that had existed just a moment ago. And then Naaman called out the name of the prophet who had instructed him to come to the Jordan. “Elisha!” and they all rushed back to their horses and chariots and sped off to see the prophet of Israel.

Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. Please accept now a gift from your servant.”

Naaman came back from the Jordan River with smooth skin and he also came with an open heart and open wallet. Naaman had learned that it was Yahweh, the God of Israel who healed but now he was about to learn about the grace of God. Naaman was about to learn we can’t buy God’s gifts.

When Naaman came back from the Jordan River and presented himself in front of the house of Elisha, it was payday. How to be a millionaire time. The God of Elisha had done a great thing and now Elisha would receive his reward. Elisha would be a wealthy man, rich beyond his imagination. Please accept now a gift from your servant.

This is a temptation. Imagine you had prayed for someone to be healed and God had answered your prayer and in gratitude the person who had just been healed now offered you $1,000,000 US. That’s 9,500,000 Dhs. Think of all you could do with that money. You could help the Village of Hope build a few buildings, help some students get their education, build a home for your family and on and on. There is a lot you could do with that money. And it is in the response to this offer of a gift that the character of Elisha is clearly revealed.

16 The prophet answered, “As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.” And even though Naaman urged him, he refused.

There are not many men and women today who are able to do as Elisha did. Television is packed with preachers and healers who wear expensive clothes, Rolex watches and expensive jewelry, drive luxury cars and own several homes.

And then there are men like Billy Graham and Bill Bright who built up huge organizations and could easily have lived an extravagant lifestyle but refused to do so. These two men stand like giants in a field of preaching and healing midgets because they had the strength of character not to make a fortune from the work of God.

Elisha, in a test of his character, refused the offer and sent Naaman home with a blessing of peace.

Naaman returned home and there is a second part to this story, but we will come back to it in a couple weeks.

I believe that God is leading us into a ministry of healing and deliverance. I can’t tell you that I have had a dream or vision indicating this to be so. But in the way I am learning that God leads me, I believe that this is where God is leading us.

If this is the case, then we need to learn lessons from Elisha the healer and Naaman the healed.

1. Elisha took up the challenge Naaman presented to Israel. “Is your God able to heal?” Elisha sent word that Naaman should come to him and he would discover that there was a prophet in Israel. Yahweh, who Elisha represented, was indeed the God who had the power to heal and Elisha wanted all of Israel to know this.

Today we lift up the name of Jesus, God in the flesh, who is still the one who has the power to heal. We proclaim to all who will listen that it is Jesus who heals. It is Jesus to whom we should look when we are in need. It is to Jesus that we need to turn and worship and we want all in this land to know this. If we are being led into a ministry of healing and deliverance, it is because the name of Jesus needs to be lifted up.

2. I talked about this before in an earlier sermon, but notice again that the healing of Naaman’s skin was used by God to open his spiritual eyes and see that there was only one true God. When we pray for healing, we do so out of compassion for the one who is suffering, but we pray for healing in hopes that the person who is healed will be drawn into a relationship with Christ. The healing of the body and mind is a wonderful thing, but far more wonderful is the healing of a soul that has been separated from God and is now brought into God’s family of adopted sons and daughters.

3. When God gives the gift of healing or miracles to any of us in the congregation, we need to learn from Elisha how to use that gift.

When Naaman came to where Elisha was staying, he did not go out to meet him. Why not? Why not go out and greet him at least? One of his reasons, I believe, is that he wanted to make sure Naaman understood that the healing he was about to experience came from God, not himself. Elisha deflected the glory he could have had and directed it towards God.

When God gives you gifts, it is important that you step out in the use of those gifts in such a way that the glory goes to God and does not rest on yourself. This requires a lot of work and effort. It requires reflection and prayer. It requires being in relationship with those who will hold you accountable and share the insights and observation they have about you. It requires the spiritual surgery God performs on us when we spend time with him reading the Bible and seeking its meaning for our lives. The word that cuts like a two-edged sword will do its work if we open ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and we will be able to exercise the gifts God gives us in a way that deflects all earthbound praise to God.

The glory directed toward you as the healer needs to be deflected to God as do the gifts that will be offered to you. Elisha is remarkable because of his willingness to turn his back on what the world had to offer. Elisha turned down the chance to be a millionaire. We need to follow his example and not give into the temptation to seek the world’s riches.

4. Another lesson that will be of help to us is to see that very often, there is a connection between sin and physical problems.

Why didn’t Elisha just come out and wave his hand over Naaman and see God heal him? He deflected the glory to God but I think also that Elisha received some revelation from God that there was more to Naaman’s problem than just his flaky skin.

Naaman, commander of the army of Aram, was a proud man. He expected to be treated as he felt he deserved. When he came to Israel to seek a prophet who would heal him, he came in power, prepared to pay handsomely for what he received.  Naaman’s pride was a sin that stood in the way of his being healed and being drawn into worship of God.

In order for Naaman to be healed, it was necessary for his pride to be broken. Pride is one of the more powerful sins. I’ve thought this week that a series of sermons someday on the seven deadly sins might prove interesting for us and pride is one of those seven.

We don’t have time to tell the story, but read the account of King Uzziah in II Chronicles 26 where we read
But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall.

Read the story of Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar spent seven years of insanity, living like an animal in the fields because he refused to repent of his pride. After he came to his senses, he wrote of his experience and said  this:
And those who walk in pride [God] is able to humble.

The sin of pride, the sin of bitterness, the sin of unforgiveness seem to be sins that block healing and when we pray for physical and inner healing, we need to discern if these sins or something else is blocking the healing God wants to bring.

5. If you want to be healed, learn from Naaman. Do you think it was easy for Naaman to cool down after being so angry that Elisha had treated him so disrespectfully? Do you think it was easy for him to risk being made a fool by doing what Elisha’s messenger told him to do?

Be willing to do what is hard to do. Be willing to risk. Be willing to forgive someone you think it is impossible to forgive. Be willing to give up the bitterness that is so much more pleasant to hold on to than giving up your right that has been violated.

From time to time, we offer the opportunity to come forward for prayer for healing at the end of the service. The problem is that we need to take time to allow God to speak to us as we pray for healing. The rush we are in at the end of the service is not conducive for doing this. I imagine that Elisha spent quite a bit of time praying and asking God for direction about what to do when Naaman arrived. We need that time to listen to God as well.

For that reason, I would encourage you to come to our Thursday night prayer time if you want to seek God’s healing in your life. Thursday night we have the time to pray and listen to the voice of God and discern the path of healing.

God is on the move. His kingdom is expanding and growing. We have the privilege of having received from God an invitation to join him, to walk alongside him in this great adventure. Set aside your apprehensions and reservations and join me as we together open ourselves to the new thing God wants to do in our midst.

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I Peter 5
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
8 Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers and sisters throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.  11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.