Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Prophet Seeking Life

The northern riders, darkly robed, came at dusk—when they came. Without warning or pattern to the attacks, they would gallop gracefully through town grabbing any child within reach.
They always came when they needed more. But when that need arose was known only by them. The townspeople waited each day in fear that today the riders would return. As quickly as the torrent of riders rushed in one end of town, they would flow out the other, followed only by tears of mothers and shaking fists of fathers.
She had been one of those children—taken while playing in the street. Now she served as the personal slave of the commander’s wife, the commander who led the raiding parties. The commander who planned attacks on her parents and their people.
Yet, she did her best to serve. She wanted to please her mistress, to follow instructions and to love her new family. Yes, love. It was the way of her people. The people of the one true God. Only one word was required to define their indescribable God—love.
While she had no choice about leaving her mother and father, she did have the choice of whether she would leave her God. And she chose to love. She chose to hold onto her people by holding doggedly to their God—and living the way He required. She would serve willingly and love generously. Never could she have imagined the reward it would bring her.

a child shall lead them
The glimpse we are given in Scripture of this little girl is fleeting. She is unnamed. But her master is well known, for he was the leader of all the armies of Aram. He too may have been left unnamed, had he not encountered the love of this young slave girl. Because of her, he became part of the narrative of the Israelites—her people—as a blazing testimony to the power and love of her God.
His name was Naaman. His story can be found in 2 Kings 5. It is a story of many amazing things—not just the miracle healing often told as a children’s story. There is much more in this brief chapter of Scripture. The character of God is revealed. And the character of his true followers is demonstrated through the slave girl, through God’s prophet Elisha and ultimately through the healed commander of Aram’s armies—Naaman.
All because of the love of one small girl who, hearing that her captor had leprosy and believing she had a God who was able to heal, said to her mistress, “I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy” (2 Kings 5:3*).
Having lived in the house of Naaman for some time, the slave girl would have known of his military genius. His king had high admiration for Naaman. As did, unbeknownst to him, his slave girl’s God. This foreign God—the Israelite God—demonstrated His inclusive nature, in the life of Naaman, when “through him the Lord had given Aram great victories” (verse 1). Only later, would Naaman realise how involved the true God was in his life.
Thousands of years later, Jesus would say, “Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” (Matthew 5:44). Could it have been the presence of this little slave girl—her prayers and her love—that brought the hand of God and His military blessings to Naaman?

a king’s ransom
Evidently this little maid held the respect of Naaman. He decided not only to visit Israel’s prophet, but to do it through proper channels. His actions show he believed his slave girl’s God was worth the risk.
First, Naaman went to his king. He revealed his leprosy, which normally would result in banishment, but quickly followed it up with the promise of a miracle cure from the prophet in Israel. The king, relieved that the banishment of his right-hand-man could wait until another day, jumped at the opportunity for some foreign diplomacy. He wrote a letter to the king of Israel, had servants load wagons full of treasure in payment for the healing, and farewelled Naaman.
One can imagine the emotional turmoil Naaman’s wife suffered while her husband confessed his ailment to the king. Would her Naaman be banished to the caves like every other leper? Her joy upon seeing him ride into the yard with an entourage in tow—treasure and a military escort—would have been beyond words. Naaman was alive and off to see the prophet.
Naaman had achieved a lot already. He had humbled himself before his wife—revealing his leprosy to her. He had acted upon the advice of a child, an Israelite slave-girl—about as low as one could be in their society. And he had bared his soul to his king, risking death. All of this was but a training ground for the humility of heart that would be demanded on the road ahead.
As Naaman and his military parade rushed through the outer towns of Israel, mothers hurried their little ones indoors. Men hid in the shadows of thatched roofs and watched the shimmering chariots, bedecked soldiers and a fluttering white flag held high by the lead horseman. The Aramians made a bee-line for Israel’s capital. What would come of this most unusual, broad daylight display? What kind of trick was this?
Arriving at the lodging place of the king of Israel, Naaman’s men were met by the royal guard. They waved the truce flag high and presented the letter from their king. It was addressed to the king of Israel and was hastily delivered.
When God’s king opened the letter, it read, “With this letter I present my servant Naaman. I want you to heal him of his leprosy” (verse 6). Israel’s king tore his clothes—an unthinkable act for God’s leader—and declared, “This man sends me a leper to heal! Am I God, that I can give life and take it away? I can see that he’s just trying to pick a fight with me” (verse 7).
Not for a second did Israel’s king consider this an opportunity to represent his God and demonstrate His power. The king, in his moment of distress, had no such thought. A message came from the prophet Elisha rebuking the king, “Why are you so upset? Send Naaman to me, and he will learn that there is a true prophet here in Israel” (verse 8). Elisha saw the situation for what it was—an opportunity to represent the Almighty God to an honest man seeking healing.

a humble heart
When Naaman arrived at the prophet’s door—a moment he had been imagining and anticipating with every step of the journey—he was distraught by the brazen reception he received. The prophet refused to come to the door. Instead, a servant came out with a message from Elisha: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy” (verse 10).
Naaman’s ultimate moment of testing had arrived. He was a man of protocol and procedure. He was respectable and expected to be treated as such. Naaman was irate. He began to lash out, “I thought he would certainly come out to meet me! I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me!” (verse 11).
Naaman took the prophet’s message as a direct insult. Of all the things he had imagined about meeting a miracle-working prophet, he had not even considered that he would be refused an audience and told to “go take a bath.”
He got on his horse and whipped it into a frenzy as he escaped the most embarrassing moment of his life. Do I look like I need a bath? Am I dirty? Naaman furiously thought to himself. How many rivers do we have at home that put this muddy Jordan to shame?!? If I want to wash, I’ll wash in a clean river!
Finally, as his horse began to tire, Naaman slowed. His men caught up with him and challenged him to consider the possibility of what the prophet had said—what if it worked? Why not wash and see? “Sir, if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’” (verse 13).
It sounded so simple—too simple, in fact. The words of his men exposed to him the truth of his feelings. He was offended by the prophet, not so much by the treatment at the door, but by the treatment of his pride. He was a man of substance, not a dirty vagabond. He may have leprosy, but he wasn’t about to act dirty. He came to pay for a proper healing, not be told to go have a bath. It was unthinkable. Or was it?
Naaman, broken by the realisation of his pride, rode off the path to the river’s edge. He’d been riding along the river during his angry tirade, hardly noticing it, and only now in his humbled state saw it for what it was—a baptismal font that could purify him from his leprosy and perhaps even more.
Naaman walked into the water, lowered himself the required seven times and emerged spotless. He was healed!

the gift of a thankful heart
Ecstatic, the new Naaman headed back to the prophet’s house at full gallop. This time Elisha greeted him. Naaman bubbled his thanks. He gestured to the wagons and the “750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and 10 sets of clothing” (verse 5) provided as payment for the healing. Elisha’s answer was beyond understanding, “As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept any gifts” (verse 16).
Naaman tried everything to change the prophet’s mind, But Elisha refused. Slowly it dawned on Naaman that Elisha wanted no reward as he hadn’t done anything—other than deliver a message from the God “whom he served.”
God had healed Naaman. This God—the God of his slave girl—truly was the one true God and had an honest-to-goodness prophet! Naaman understood. It was God who was worthy of thanks. But how? His chariots loaded with treasure looked insignificant now. How do you thank a God who has everything?
Naaman’s next request of Elisha seems very odd indeed. “Please allow me to load two of my mules with earth from this place, and I will take it back home with me. From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the Lord” (verse 17). How do you thank a true God for His providence? Naaman had discovered the answer—worship.

sharing God’s love
Imagine the scene: Naaman comes home with a huge pile of dirt. “Dirt from the prophet’s front yard!” he excitedly explains to his wife and slave girl. Then he piles the prophet’s dirt in his own front yard and builds an altar—like he’s seen in Israel—to the one true God. He has found a God worth taking home.
Every day he brings his offerings to the altar. He sacrifices to the God of Israel. Neighbours walk by and stare. Naaman explains again, “It’s dirt from the prophet of the one true God—Israel’s God—who healed me from leprosy!”
And everyday, as he makes his sacrifices—as he kneels in worship-—he is not alone. He is joined by someone very special to him, someone who saved his life, someone who taught him humility. She kneels too—on home soil—and worships the God she has always loved.

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