Elisha, Naaman and the offense of the cross Bible study

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Bible Study on the Prophet Elisha

Elisha, Naaman and the offense of the cross

by I Gordon

There is a wonderful story in 2 Kings Chapter 5. You may know the one… The cast of characters includes a true prophet of God, a small Israelite girl kidnapped from her home, and a high ranking commander in the Syrian army who is badly in need of a wash! Well, seven washes to be correct, but that’s getting ahead of myself. As the story unfolds I’m sure you will agree with me that there is, in this passage in 2 Kings, a wonderful picture of salvation and the need to come to God on His terms. Let’s have a look!

Naaman - The man who had it all...

2 Kings 5:1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.

Right from the start of this chapter we are introduced to our main character. You might know him. His name is Naaman and he is a man who has it all. You see, through his hard work, courage, and dedication, Naaman has risen to the top! He is the commander of the Syrian army and has earnt the respect of all around him. He has got wealth, power, and honour. In short, Naaman is a winner! Who could ask for more you say? He has got it all... well, apart from that one small ' but' that scripture reveals...'but he had leprosy'!

I said in the previous paragraph that you might know him. To be more accurate, you might know many 'Naamans'... They are people that seemingly have it all! They have wonderful homes, wonderful jobs, and wonderful families, and yet there is emptiness inside1  . In short, there is always a 'but'!2   Now, in scripture, leprosy is often used as a picture of sin, 3  and as such, it gives this whole passage a whole lot more meaning for us. You see, we all know people who despite their elevation in the eyes of the world, still have not answered the question of their own sinfulness, their own leprosy. So let's look at how Naaman had to deal with that question.

And a child shall lead them...

2 Kings 5:2-5 Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman's wife. She said to her mistress, 'If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.' Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. '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.

Leprosy is incurable. Naaman knew that. You can imagine his surprise then when he heard from a small Israelite girl that she knew someone who could cure the incurable! Here was this girl... kidnapped from her family and taken as a slave into a foreign land. And yet her simple, yet rock solid faith in God and His prophets never wavered. For Christians, their responsibility is to play the role that this girl did. That is, to point the way, in simple faith, to the only one who can help... God! 'I know a man who can cure you' she said. 'The incurable is curable when God is involved!' And so it is with 'curing' the burden of sin that weighs upon all that don't know the Lord. For man it is an immoveable load. Yet God can move it. 4  So an excited Naaman set out! And with him he took gold, silver and ten sets of clothing. 'Materialism' had served him well in the past... why not this time? 'Surely he should pay for his cure' Naaman thought to himself. Well, we'll see if Naaman's money was going to help him later. In the mean time, let's look at the reaction of an 'unbelieving' king of Israel.

The girl who was greater than a king!

2 Kings 5:6-8 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.'  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!' 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.' 

So Naaman came to Israel with a letter of recommendation from the king of Aram, and presents it to Israel's king. And note the reaction of the king... He says 'Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life?' What a striking contrast this is to the quiet simple confidence portrayed by the small girl earlier. The Israelite girl acted as though God lived... the king, as though God were dead. The girl spoke in faith based on the ability of her God... the king spoke in fear based on nothing more than what his eyes could see in the natural. Through whose eyes do you see things? Do you think that everything comes down to 'you', just as the king did? Do you think that it is your job to save people?.. or your job to heal them or restore their sight? No.  'Why have you torn your robes?' Elisha said. 'Have the man come to me!' Jesus asks no more of us. Our job is to point to the one who can save, who can heal, and can restore sight to the blind.

Naaman and his high horse...

2 Kings 5:9-12 So  Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha's house  . Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, 'Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed  .' But 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.  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.

So Naaman finally arrives at the home of Elisha. Unfortunately, Naaman brought his high horse with him. It was his favourite, and one that he was reluctant to get off! You see Naaman, as we have already seen, was held in very high regard. Both by those who knew him in Syria and, unfortunately, by himself as well! Naaman thought that there would surely be some special ceremony or event for someone of his standing. Elisha knew otherwise! Elisha knew that before there would be any healing, Naaman had to get off his high horse (both physically and metaphorically speaking!) and humble himself before the God of Israel5  . So Elisha didn't even come out of his house to meet this 'great' Naaman. He simply sent his messenger to tell Naaman to wash seven times in the Jordan. 'Oh, how undignified' Naaman thought to himself. And with healing so close, it is with sadness that we read that Naaman 'turned and went off in a rage!'

The stone of stumbling and the rock of offence

2 Kings 5:13-14 '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'!' 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.'

The New Testament tells us of something called 'the offence of the cross.' In a similar vain, it speaks of the 'stone of stumbling' and the 'rock of offence'. (See Gal 5:11, Rom 9:33, 1 Pet 2:8, 1 Cor 1:23) What is it talking about? What is this stone or offence that people trip up on? Well, good question, for it is the same offence that Naaman felt oh so many years ago. Naaman was offended because he was willing to 'do some great thing', but he didn't want to humble himself and simply wash in a river. That was too far beneath him. It is the same for those today that come to the Lord. Salvation cannot come to those who will not humble themselves6  and acknowledge that there is nothing they can 'do' to purchase their salvation.

'...the Gentiles... have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the 'stumbling stone.'

This remains the most crucial issue facing those who seek salvation. Who do you trust in? Yourself or Jesus? 'Religious' people hate this7  . It is as offensive to them as it was to Naaman in the days of Elisha. They always have to have their list of 'great things' which they have done to 'help' in their salvation. A simple faith in the finished work of the Lord Jesus on their behalf is not enough for them.

But what about our friend Naaman... did he come to his senses? Thankfully we read in verse 14 that he listened to the advice of his servant and 'went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times.' He got off his high horse and went 'down' to the Jordan. And in doing so, he found instant healing for both his body and his heart!

Salvation and healing are not for sale...

2 Kings 5:15-16 '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.  ' 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.'

Here we see the response of Naaman after his healing. He finally sees that the God of Israel is the only true God in the entire world. And isn't that the truth! He also felt that he should, in some way, pay for the healing he had just received, and offers Elisha a gift. Elisha is adamant however... 'I will not accept a thing!' The blessings of God are not for sale. They are free gifts8  of God to those who humble themselves and acknowledge their need of God.


Scripture says that 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.' We have seen that there was healing for Naaman, but he had to get off his high horse first! So it is today. The worst of sinners can be forgiven when they come to God on His terms. How important is it that we believe the true gospel! 'Many' Jesus said, will come to Him at the judgement, and speak of all the great things they did. (Even things done for Jesus, and in His name). Yet He will say 'Depart from me you workers of iniquity... I never knew you!' Why? Because they had never truly been saved. They had never seen their lost state and their absolute need of Jesus' work on the cross... plus nothing.

Reader, do you know that assurance of your salvation that the Holy Spirit brings to those that are His? (See 8:15-16). Have you descended from your high horse to see that your absolute need for Jesus?

  1. Without the Lord, all wealth, power and respect mean nothing at all. A Christian friend of our family recently asked his mother (who is not currently a Christian) what the meaning of life is. She couldn't answer him. She had no idea. A line from an old Randy Stonehill song says 'I don't want my life to end, not ever knowing why it began.' Without the Lord everything is meaningless. With the Lord everything becomes meaningful.  

  2. The biggest 'but' in scripture (excuse my language!) which relates to all these people that have it all, but not the Lord, is Matt 16:26 - 'And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process?' (TLB) That has still got to be the most penetrating question non-Christians can face.

  3. Like sin, leprosy is incurable, defiling, and fatal and one spot is enough to declare the leper 'utterly unclean' (Lev 13:3). In nearly all instances in the Bible where there is a miraculous healing, the leper is said to be 'cleansed' (like sin). Leprosy brings separation and they had to live outside of the camp, just as sin separated us from God. (Lev 13:45-46) The leper couldn't come back into the camp but the Priest (as a picture of Jesus) could go to him. (Yay!) Like the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus, a blood offering would be made by the Priest which the leper had to be sprinkled in before he could be pronounced 'clean'. (Lev 14:3-7)  

  4. Peter once asked 'who then can be saved?' A good question! 'Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.' Like leprosy, only God can 'cure' the sin question and bring salvation. But we have to come to Him on His terms.

  5. D.L Moody said 'Naaman had two diseases: pride and leprosy. The first needed curing as much as the second. Naaman had to first get down from his chariot of pride; afterwards, to wash in the prescribed way.'  

  6. The same is true of course in carrying on in this Christian life. We love to be highly regarded. We love to think that we have something great to offer God and that He should count His lucky stars that He's got us! It seems that pride is never too far below the surface. I read something recently however that was really cool. Well, I thought so. It was a quote from Corrie Ten Boom and spoke of the attitude that all of us should take. Corrie had a great ministry and was once asked whether she found it hard to remain humble. She replied 'when Jesus came into Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, with all the people lining up, singing praise laying down the palm branches for Jesus to go over, do you think that it was going through the mind of the donkey that 'some of this must be for me!' 'If I can be the donkey that the Lord uses for his glory' Corrie continued, 'then all praise, honor and glory will go to him!'

    And that is the attitude we should take! We are just dumb old donkeys that the Lord chooses to use for His glory!

  7. False religions and cults are easy to spot because they all add their own 'works' to salvation. Whether it be the Jehovah witnesses, the Mormons or the Roman Catholic Church... They all add man's works, in an attempt to make themselves 'acceptable', to the once and for all finished work of Christ on the cross. But, as E. Stanley Jones said 'Religions are man's search for God; the gospel is God's search for man. There are many religions, but only one gospel.' God is now calling all to behold His Son. It is absolute foolishness to tell God to behold your works instead!

    I had a really sad experience of this recently. My cousin's mother in law (stay with me!) had cancer and was in the last stages of her life. She was not a Christian and began to get extremely frightened at the thought of dying. So frightened in fact, that she was afraid to go to sleep at night because she wasn't sure whether she would wake up. As she was staying in a special home at the time she called for the chaplain. After explaining her fear of dying due to not being sure where she would go, the chaplain asked her 'Have you been a good person?' She replied, 'I've only been to church once in my entire life.' The chaplain then told her 'that's fine and when she died she would go to Heaven to be with her husband' (who wasn't a believer). The chaplain then asked 'Does this help you?' To which she replied 'No...no it doesn't.' And the chaplain didn't have anything else to tell her. I couldn't believe it when I heard that. What an absolute idiot... giving advice on the things of God and eternity and not even knowing the very basics! A blind guide! As a sad postscript to the story...On hearing what had been said, my mother and sister planned a trip to see her to tell her the truth (she was staying in a different city) but she died before they could arrive.

  8. While it is outside the scope of this study to explore what happened to Elisha's servant Gehazi, I would encourage you to read the rest of the chapter (2 Kings 5:19-27). You see, even though Elisha knew that he shouldn't be rewarded for the miracle that God had done, Gehazi had other ideas! And through lying and deceit, Gehazi got Naaman to give him two talents of silver (approx 68 Kg!) and two sets of clothing. While, as the New Testament says 'the labourer is worthy of his wages' (1 Tim 5:17-18), what we see with some ministers in this age taking money and gifts way above and beyond the norm for their personal wealth is just plain sin! Look at what Elisha said to his servant Gehazi -  'Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you?  Is this the time to take money, or to accept clothes, olive groves, vineyards, flocks, herds, or menservants and maidservants?  Naaman's leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever.' Then Gehazi went from Elisha's presence and he was leprous, as white as snow.'   

    Today, some so-called 'ministers' in the church have even changed the gospel (though it is not the real gospel) to include their own greed and lust for wealth and worldliness. Be careful what you set your desire on. If you continually crave for things other than God, then He may just grant you your desire... but it will be to the detriment of the spiritual health of your soul. Ponder on these brief words from Psalm 106:14-15

    'They lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert.  And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.' (KJV)