Pride Goes Before Destruction

1 In the twenty-seventh year of Jeroboam king of Israel, Azariah the son of Amaziah, king of Judah, began to reign. He was sixteen years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-two years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jecoliah of Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away. The people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. And the Lord touched the king, so that he was a leper to the day of his death, and he lived in a separate house. And Jotham the king’s son was over the household, governing the people of the land.’ Now the rest of the acts of Azariah, and all that he did, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah? And Azariah slept with his fathers, and they buried him with his fathers in the city of David, and Jotham his son reigned in his place.

In the thirty-eighth year of Azariah king of Judah, Zechariah the son of Jeroboam reigned over Israel in Samaria six months. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as his fathers had done. He did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin. 10 Shallum the son of Jabesh conspired against him and struck him down at Ibleam and put him to death and reigned in his place. 11 Now the rest of the deeds of Zechariah, behold, they are written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. 12 (This was the promise of the Lord that he gave to Jehu, “Your sons shall sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation.” And so it came to pass.) 2 Kings 15:1-12 ESV

Reading this chapter can become a bit confusing because it seems to chronicle the lives of two different kings serving over Judah at the very same time. In verse 1, we are introduced to Azariah, the son of Amaziah. Then in verse 13, we’re told that Shallum became king of Israel during the reign of Uzziah king of Judah. There is a simple solution though. The king of Judah went by two different names. Chapter 26 of the book of 2 Chronicles uses this alternate name exclusively when recording the history of his reign. But they are one and the same man.

As the opening verses indicate, Azariah (Uzziah) ascended to the throne of Judah after the death of his father, Amaziah. He was only 16-years-old at the time of his coronation and would reign for 52 years. Only one other king of Judah would enjoy a longer tenure on the throne of Judah: Manasseh.

Azariah’s lengthy reign brought stability to a nation that had been reeling after the assassination of its prior king, Azariah’s father. It was a time of blessing and prosperity because, unlike so many other kings of Judah, Azariah chose to seek the Lord.

…he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done. He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper. – 2 Chronicles 26:4-5 ESV

But there are three qualifying words in the above statement: “as long as.” Azariah’s prosperity and success were directly tied to his faithfulness. It was God who made him prosper. And as long as he remained faithful to Yahweh, he experienced His blessings. And, according to the book of 2 Chronicles, those blessings were many.

God helped him against the Philistines and against the Arabians who lived in Gurbaal and against the Meunites. The Ammonites paid tribute to Uzziah, and his fame spread even to the border of Egypt, for he became very strong. – 2 Chronicles 26:7-8 ESV

Azariah built cities within the territories he confiscated from the Philistines. He also ordered the construction of fortified towers throughout the land of Judah and had cisterns dug to provide water for his growing herds. Azariah had large land-holdings, consisting of farms and vineyards. He was wealthy, successful, and powerful. His army was well-trained and equipped with the latest weapons technology. And the city of Jerusalem was protected by state-of-the-art fortifications. As a result:

His fame spread far and wide, for the Lord gave him marvelous help, and he became very powerful. – 2 Chronicles 26:15 NLT

Azariah was enjoying the blessings of God. He had it all: Wealth, power, and fame. But you can almost sense that he was ripe for a fall. And the author of 2 Kings cuts to the chase, revealing that Azariah’s days of enjoying the blessings of God were going to be short-lived and followed by a time of judgment and despair.

Nevertheless, the high places were not taken away. The people still sacrificed and made offerings on the high places. And the Lord touched the king, so that he was a leper to the day of his death, and he lived in a separate house. – 2 Kings 15:4-5 ESV

The book of 2 Chronicles provides us with the details surrounding Azariah’s fall. And it’s an all-too-familiar story of the pitfalls of pride.

But when he had become powerful, he also became proud, which led to his downfall. He sinned against the Lord his God by entering the sanctuary of the Lord’s Temple and personally burning incense on the incense altar. – 2 Chronicles 26:16 NLT

Azariah was a man who became used to getting what he wanted. He had enjoyed unprecedented success. Everything he touched seemed to turn to gold. His victories were many. His landholdings were great. His wealth was extensive. And his power was unsurpassed. But all of this led to a pride problem. He became to believe that he could get away with anything. But when he entered the sanctuary of God and attempted to usurp the role of the priests, he overstepped his bounds. He violated the Mosaic law and incurred the wrath of God. And it is not as if Azariah didn’t know any better. He was confronted by the high priest and 80 other men of God.

They confronted King Uzziah and said, “It is not for you, Uzziah, to burn incense to the Lord. That is the work of the priests alone, the descendants of Aaron who are set apart for this work. Get out of the sanctuary, for you have sinned. The Lord God will not honor you for this!” – 2 Chronicles 26:18 NLT

But rather than repent of his sin, Azariah became angry. He didn’t like being told what he could or could not do. And so, God struck him with leprosy. In just seconds, Azariah’s entire life was turned upside down. He was immediately removed from the temple and, because of his leprosy, would never set foot in the house of God again – for the rest of his life. He would spend the last 11 years of his reign in quarantine and isolation, as his son ruled the nation as his co-regent. Eventually, Azariah died, and his son took his place as king of Judah. He was buried and the only lasting legacy he left behind was his failure. The people would say of him, “He had leprosy” (2 Chronicles 26:23 NLT).

Azariah had fallen prey to the age-old sin of pride. He had failed to heed the warnings of his predecessor, Solomon. In his book of Proverbs, Solomon included the wise but often ignored saying, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs16:18 ESV). And Azariah learned a painful lesson on the pervasive power of pride. Because he had enjoyed the seemingly endless blessings of God, he had wrongly assumed that he could do no wrong. But God has standards, and He expects His children to live according to His will and in keeping with His commands. The king was not exempt from God’s rules, and Azariah learned that lesson the hard way. 

About three years before Azariah’s fateful decision to play priest and offer sacrifices to God, Zechariah, the son of Jeroboam II, became king in Israel. And the assessment of his reign is a familiar one.

And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, as his fathers had done. – 2 Kings 15:9 ESV

Unlike Azariah, Zechariah’s reign was brief, lasting only six short months. And it would end with his assassination by Shallum, who would take his place on the throne of Israel. But Zechariah’s abbreviated reign fulfilled a promise that God had made to Jehu, king of Israel. Jehu had obeyed God’s command and destroyed the house of Ahab. Not only that, he ordered the execution of any who worshiped Baal and turned the temple of Baal into a public latrine. As a reward for Jehu’s cleansing campaign, God made a vow:

“You have done well in following my instructions to destroy the family of Ahab. Therefore, your descendants will be kings of Israel down to the fourth generation.” – 2 Kings 10:30 NLT

Zechariah was the fulfillment of that promise. But his reign would only last half a year. His murder would usher in an era of intrigue, deception, and instability. Over the next 20 years, the northern kingdom of Israel would have six different kings, and only one of them would die a natural death. The rest would be assassinated. It would be a time marked by pervasive wickedness, rampant idolatry, and increasing resistance on the part of the people to heed God’s call to repentance.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

When God Is Not Enough

16 But he said, “As the Lord lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none.” And he urged him to take it, but he refused. 17 Then Naaman said, “If not, please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the Lord. 18 In this matter may the Lord pardon your servant: when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there, leaning on my arm, 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.” 19 He said to him, “Go in peace.”

But when Naaman had gone from him a short distance, 20 Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, “See, my master has spared this Naaman the Syrian, in not accepting from his hand what he brought. As the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.” 21 So Gehazi followed Naaman. And when Naaman saw someone running after him, he got down from the chariot to meet him and said, “Is all well?” 22 And he said, “All is well. My master has sent me to say, ‘There have just now come to me from the hill country of Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets. Please give them a talent of silver and two changes of clothing.’” 23 And Naaman said, “Be pleased to accept two talents.” And he urged him and tied up two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of clothing, and laid them on two of his servants. And they carried them before Gehazi. 24 And when he came to the hill, he took them from their hand and put them in the house, and he sent the men away, and they departed. 25 He went in and stood before his master, and Elisha said to him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” And he said, “Your servant went nowhere.” 26 But he said to him, “Did not my heart go when the man turned from his chariot to meet you? Was it a time to accept money and garments, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male servants and female servants? 27 Therefore the leprosy of Naaman shall cling to you and to your descendants forever.” So he went out from his presence a leper, like snow. 2 Kings 5:16-27 ESV

Naaman’s miraculous healing by God made a profound impact on him. His lifelong battle with leprosy had come to an end thanks to the healing power of the God of Israel. Naaman was blown away by the fact that a deity he didn’t even worship had been willing to cleanse him from his disease. And this gracious act and dramatic demonstration of power convinced Naaman that there were no gods but Yahweh. He recognized the God of Israel as the one true God and vowed that he would give up his worship of the gods of Syria.

From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the Lord.” – 2 Kings 5:17 NLT

Naaman was overjoyed and attempted to express his appreciation to Elisha by offering him gifts. But the prophet politely refused to take any kind of compensation for his role in Naaman’s healing. This led Naaman to make a rather strange request of Elisha.

“…please allow me to load two of my mules with earth from this place, and I will take it back home with me.” – 2 Kings 5:17 NLT

It appears that Naaman desired to transfer some of the soil from Samaria back to Syria so that he could worship Yahweh. It was a common belief among the pagans that the gods were geographically bound and ruled over specific regions of the earth. If you recall, when Ben-hadad, the king of Syria had lost a decisive battle against Israel, his advisors convinced him that their defeat had been because they had fought on Yahweh’s home turf.

“The Israelite gods are gods of the hills; that is why they won. But we can beat them easily on the plains.” – 1 Kings 20:23 NLT

The pagans believed that the gods were restricted to certain geographic areas, so Naaman hoped to transfer some of the soil from Samaria back to Damascus. This would give Yahweh a foothold in Syria and provide Naaman a place to worship Him. Elijah made no attempt to correct Naama’s well-intentioned but misguided understanding of Yahweh. He allowed Naaman to load up his donkeys with dirt and then absolved him of any guilt for those times when he would have to join King Ben-hadad in the worship of the false god Rimmon.

At this point, the story takes a dramatic turn. As Naaman turns to leave, Elisha’s servant, Gehazi, decides to take advantage of the situation. Seeking an opportunity to profit personally from Naaman’s generosity, Gehazi approached the Syrian general and told him a completely fabricated story.

“…my master has sent me to tell you that two young prophets from the hill country of Ephraim have just arrived. He would like 75 pounds of silver and two sets of clothing to give to them.”  – 2 Kings 5:22 NLT

Gehazi had been frustrated by the prophet’s rejection of Naaman’s generous offer. So, he concocted a plausible plan that would allow him to enrich himself at Naaman’s expense and without his master’s approval. To Gehazi’s surprise, Naaman doubled the size of his request, providing him with twice as much silver and two additional sets of clothes. And ecstatic over his apparent good fortune, Gehazi promptly hid the ill-gotten gain in his house.

But when Elisha confronted Gehazi about his recent whereabouts, the servant lied yet again. He attempted to deceive the prophet of God but was shocked and dismayed to discover that Elisha knew exactly what had taken place.

But Elisha asked him, “Don’t you realize that I was there in spirit when Naaman stepped down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to receive money and clothing, olive groves and vineyards, sheep and cattle, and male and female servants? – 2 Kings 5:26 NLT

Poor Gehazi had failed to consider that Elisha, as the prophet of God, might be able to see through his little ruse. God had given Elisha a vision of Gehazi’s entire conversation with Naaman. He had seen and heard it all. And he knew all about the gifts hidden in Gehazi’s home. Elisha even revealed that he knew what had motivated Gehazi’s actions. The silver was only a means to an end. He had ambitious plans to become a prosperous landowner, complete with groves, vineyards, livestock, and a household full of slaves to serve his every need. Gehazi was not content to remain the servant of Elisha. He wanted more from life. But his discontent revealed that he had no desire to follow in Elisha’s footsteps. At one time, Elisha had been the servant to Elijah. But when God decided to bring Elijah’s prophetic ministry to an end, He chose Elisha to be his replacement. But it seems that Gehazi had no desire to be the next prophet of God. He had his own plans and they did not include taking up Elisha’s mantel of leadership.

But Gehazi’s dreams of possessions, power, and prominence were about to become a living nightmare. Elisha delivered the devastating news that the gifts he received from Naaman would be accompanied by another unexpected surprise: Naaman’s leprosy.

“Because you have done this, you and your descendants will suffer from Naaman’s leprosy forever.” When Gehazi left the room, he was covered with leprosy; his skin was white as snow. – 2 Kings 5:27 NLT

Gehazi still had the silver and fine clothes that Naaman had given him. But his greed and blatant disregard for God had earned him a permanent reminder of God’s disfavor and judgment. Naaman returned home healed, whole, and ready to worship the God of Israel. But Gehazi would spend the rest of his life bearing the mark of God’s divine judgment. And his ill-fated decision to profit from God’s power would have long-lasting implications that would impact his family for generations to come.

There is another powerful lesson to be learned from this story and it comes from the lips of Jesus. Luke records it in his gospel account. Jesus had returned to His hometown of Nazareth where He visited the local synagogue on the Sabbath. While there, He was invited to do the daily reading from the scroll. On this occasion, Jesus read from the book of Isaiah.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
   and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” – Luke 4:18-19 NLT

Having finished His reading, Jesus sat down and declared to those in the synagogue, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Luke 4:21 NLT). This statement surprised them because He seemed to be claiming to be the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the long-awaited Messiah. They found that hard to imagine because they knew Jesus as the son of Joseph. He had grown up in their town and there was no way that He could be the Messiah. And Jesus sensed their doubt and disbelief. He knew that they would never accept Him as the Messiah unless He agreed to perform miracles that proved who He claimed to be. That’s when He told them, “no prophet is accepted in his own hometown” (Luke 4:24 NLT). Then Jesus reached back into the history of Israel and used Elijah and Elisha as evidence against His neighbors’ stubborn refusal to believe in Him. 

“But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown. Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. And many in Israel had leprosy in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.” – Luke 4:24-27 NLT

Jesus reminds His Jewish audience that, back in their day, both Elijah and Elisha were used by God to minister to non-Jews. Elijah rescued the widow of Zarephath, a Sidonian who was suffering from the effects of a famine brought on by the disobedience of the people of Israel. And Elisha had healed a pagan, unbelieving Syrian general, cleansing him from leprosy and restoring him to full health. But it had been Gehazi, the Jewish servant of the prophet of God, who had found himself judged by God and condemned to suffer from leprosy for the rest of his life.

Jesus’ words made an impact on His listeners. They were offended by His inference that they were somehow undeserving of God’s mercy. He seemed to be saying that God would rather show mercy on Gentiles than waste His time with disbelieving Jews. And they were so upset that they attempted to throw Jesus off a nearby cliff. The story that Jesus related concerning Elijah and Elisha had shamed them. They had never made that connection before, and they didn’t like it. In the midst of Israel’s rebellion against Yahweh, the prophets of God had been sent to the Gentiles. And now, Jesus was claiming to be the Son of God and the Messiah of Israel, but His fellow Jews were rejecting His message and ministry. Hundreds of years later, the nation of Israel remained just as stubborn and disobedient as they had been in the days of Elijah and Elisha. So, once again, God would take His offer of salvation and redemption to the Gentiles.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:11-13 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

There is No Other God

1 Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper. Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.” And the king of Syria said, “Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.”

So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.” And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.”

But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.” 11 But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, “Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. 13 But his servants came near and said to him, “My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” 14 So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

15 Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant.” 2 Kings 5:1-15 ESV

Elisha appears to have been a prophet to the people. At this point in the narrative, his interactions with the kings of Israel have been few and far between. Yet, we have seen him provide the widow of Zarephath with a miraculous supply of oil that allowed her and her two young sons to escape poverty and avoid possible enslavement. Next, he rewarded the Shunammite woman’s hospitality by replacing the sorrow of her barrenness with the joy of motherhood. But years later, when that young son unexpectedly died, the prophet intervened again, raising him back to life and restoring the joy of his mother. And then there’s the story of the poisoned stew. A young prophet had inadvertently and innocently added wild gourds to a stew that Elisha’s servant had prepared, not knowing that they were poisonous. This deadly concoction could have resulted in the deaths of all the prophets who ate it, but Elisha had intervened, purifying the contents and protecting the lives of God’s messengers.

All of these stories are meant to reveal God’s interest in and interactions with His people. The average Israelite had to live in a land permeated by idolatry and under the judgment of God. On two separate occasions, God had brought famine on the land because of the apostasy of its godless kings. Yet, the stories of Elijah and Elisha reveal how God stepped into the lives of his people, graciously providing them with sustenance in the midst of His divine judgment. These stories are meant to showcase the mercy and love of God. Despite the ongoing unfaithfulness of Israel’s kings, the God of Israel remained committed to the covenant promises He had made to His people.

And in chapter five, we’re given another story that illustrates God’s sovereign hand over not only Israel but all the nations. While the kings of Israel continued to abuse their power by leading the people into idolatry and apostasy, God operated behind the scenes, demonstrating His unparalleled sovereignty over faithless kings, false gods, and even those outside the flock of Israel.

Suddenly, in chapter five, the author expands the scope of his narrative by including the plight of a Syrian general who suffered from the debilitating and potentially deadly disease known as leprosy. This story’s inclusion was meant to shock and surprise the Jewish audience to whom the author originally wrote. Their attention would have been piqued as soon as they read, “Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the Lord had given victory to Syria” (2 Kings 5:1 ESV). Why in the world would the God of Israel have given this pagan idol-worshiper a victory of any kind? This would have made no sense. And to make matters worse, this non-Hebrew is described as “a mighty man of valor” (2 Kings 5:1 ESV) who had led raids into Israel and captured and enslaved a young Jewish girl. To the Jewish reader, the only positive aspect of this story would have been that Naaman had leprosy.

Over the centuries, the Syrians had enjoyed a love-hate relationship with the nation of Israel. And ever since God had divided the nation in two, creating the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, the Syrians had made a habit of playing one against the other. Treaties had been signed and then broken. Alliances had been made, only to have been reneged upon. Syria had repeatedly taken advantage of the discord between Israel and Judah, choosing to align itself with one or the other based on what could be gained from the arrangement.

The Syrians were not to be trusted. They were self-promoting opportunists who regularly switch sides and deftly manipulated the strained relationship between Israel and Judah to their advantage. And yet, here we have the unexpected and shocking story about a Syrian general who receives healing from the prophet of God.

Everything about this story is intended to reveal God’s sovereign hand. He is described as the source behind Syria’s victory, and that victory was over the nation of Israel. Not only that, the victory included the capture of a young Jewish girl. But providentially, that same young girl ended up as a servant to Naaman’s wife. Like Moses being adopted into Pharaoh’s family or Joseph ending up serving in Pharaoh’s court, this young, unidentified Jewish girl found herself serving in the home of one of the most powerful men in Syria. Her plight, while difficult, had been God-ordained.

Because of her providential presence in Naaman’s household, she had become aware of his leprosy and was able to tell her mistress about a possible solution to his problem.

“I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy.” – 2 Kings 5:3 NLT

Despite her predicament, she was still a faithful follower of Yahweh, and she believed that her God had the power to provide healing, even to the pagan commander who had enslaved her. Not only does this young girl display an amazing amount of faith, but she reveals a kind and compassionate heart. Rather than rejoicing over her captor’s plight, she expresses her desire that he be healed, even declaring her wish that he could meet the prophet of God.

Once again, God’s sovereignty is revealed through the rather strange chain of events that ensue. Naaman goes to Ben-Hadad II, the king of Syria, and received permission to visit Samaria. The king even provides Naaman with a letter of introduction to Jehoram, the king of Israel. And in an attempt to guarantee Jehoram’s assistance, Ben-Hadad II sends 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and 10 changes of royal apparel. Don’t miss the irony in all of this. At the suggestion of a young Israelite slave girl, a pagan Syrian general has made an appeal to his pagan Syrian king. And that idol-worshiping Syrian king has sent a sizeable tribute to an apostate Israelite king begging that he help his leprosy-stricken general get healing from the God of Israel. You can’t make this stuff up.

When Naaman presented his letter of introduction and the generous gifts from King King Ben-hadad, he was met with both surprise and suspicion. Jehoram thinks the whole thing is a set-up.

“Am I God, that I can give life and take it away? Why is this man asking me to heal someone with leprosy? I can see that he’s just trying to pick a fight with me.” – 2 Kings 5:7 NLT

It never seems to cross Jehoram’s mind to seek the aid of Yahweh or His prophet. He simply panics, assuming the whole thing is a clever ploy by Ben-Hadad to justify military action in the guise of revenge. But while Jehoram decided to leave God out of the equation, Elisha got wind of what was happening and contacted the king.

“Why are you so upset? Send Naaman to me, and he will learn that there is a true prophet here in Israel.” – 2 Kings 5:8 NLT

Once again, God’s prophet came to the rescue. But what happens next is almost humorous. The famous general from Syria had to get in his chariot and, along with his retinue, make his way to Elisha’s humble home. But before Naaman could get there, the prophet sent a messenger to meet him with a rather strange set of instructions.

“Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.” – 2 Kings 5:10 NLT

But the proud military commander, who was used to having all his subordinates report to him, was offended that Elisha didn’t bother to meet him. And it’s clear that he had expected something a bit showier when it came to how he would be healed.

“I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! – 2 Kings 5:11 NLT

But to Naaman’s disappointment, Elisha’s only instructions had been to bathe seven times in the Jordan River. This sounded ridiculous to the general, and he let his frustration be known in no uncertain terms.

Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” – 2 Kings 5:12 NLT

But as Naaman was preparing to walk away in a huff, one of his own servants convinced him to do what the prophet had said. After all, what did he have to lose? Yes, the whole bathing-in-the-Jordan thing would be a blow to his pride, but it might very well be worth it. So, Naaman took the advice of his servant and obeyed the command of the prophet. And when he came up out of the water the seventh time, he was completely cleansed of his leprosy. In fact, the author describes the condition of his skin as that of a young child – no scars, scabs, or lesions of any kind. Naaman the Syrian had experienced a miracle, and he clearly recognized that it had been the work of Yahweh, the God of Israel.

“Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. – 2 Kings 5:15 NLT

That’s an amazing admission to come from the lips of a pagan Syrian general. He had spent his entire life worshiping Baal, and it’s likely that he had often petitioned his god for healing from his condition. But his requests had remained unheeded because they had gone unheard. His leprosy had been real, but his god was not. Yet, here was Naaman standing before Yahweh’s prophet, healed and whole, and declaring his belief in the one true God of Israel.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

A Community Based on Common Courtesy

“When a man is newly married, he shall not go out with the army or be liable for any other public duty. He shall be free at home one year to be happy with his wife whom he has taken.

“No one shall take a mill or an upper millstone in pledge, for that would be taking a life in pledge.

“If a man is found stealing one of his brothers of the people of Israel, and if he treats him as a slave or sells him, then that thief shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

“Take care, in a case of leprous disease, to be very careful to do according to all that the Levitical priests shall direct you. As I commanded them, so you shall be careful to do. Remember what the Lord your God did to Miriam on the way as you came out of Egypt.

10 “When you make your neighbor a loan of any sort, you shall not go into his house to collect his pledge. 11 You shall stand outside, and the man to whom you make the loan shall bring the pledge out to you. 12 And if he is a poor man, you shall not sleep in his pledge. 13 You shall restore to him the pledge as the sun sets, that he may sleep in his cloak and bless you. And it shall be righteousness for you before the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 24:5-13 ESV

The corporate community of Israel was made up of millions of people. It was not a small collection of tribes, but a massive gathering of people from all walks of life. They shared a common bond as descendants of Abraham and were one generation removed from a life of captivity in Egypt. And as they stood poised to begin their conquering of the land God had promised to them, Moses provided them with a series of God-ordained rules for living together in unity.

Like any other people group, the Israelites were going to have to work hard to maintain any sense of community as they began the process of inhabiting the land. Once a portion of the land was conquered and its former inhabitants were removed, the Israelites would find themselves focusing on their own individual needs. The corporate context required for successful warfare would be replaced by a more self-focused environment in which each Israelite looked out for his own best interests. The land would need to be cultivated, crops planted, houses built or repaired, flocks cared for, and families begun.

But it was still going to be important for the people of Israel to maintain a sense of community, and that was going to require common courtesy. So, Moses shared with them a series of common-sense rules for living together in unity. The first had to do with the conscription of young men for military service. If one of these men was newly married, he was to be exempted from service for one full year. As we have seen, marriage and the family were to be considered sacred institutions among the Israelites. And the first year of marriage was a critical and foundational time period in which the husband and wife were to be allowed to concentrate on their relationship without unneeded distractions or interruptions.

The second command had to do with the relationship between a borrower and a lender. This particular regulation covered loans made between fellow Israelites. Loans were permissible, but not the charging of interest. So, you could require something as collateral, in order to ensure that the loan was paid back in full. But this law prohibited the taking of anything as collateral that would harm the borrower’s ability to earn a living. So, the example given is a millstone. This was the large stone used to process grain to make bread. To confiscate a millstone as collateral on a loan would leave the borrower with no means to feed his family. These rules were designed to protect the poor and needy and to prevent the people of God from taking unfair advantage of one another.

Any kind of abuse of a fellow Israelite for personal gain was to be considered unacceptable behavior. And Moses provided a specific example. It was unlawful to kidnap a fellow Jew and make him your personal servant or to sell him into slavery. Most likely, this is tied to the issue of debt. If a man was unable to pay back his debt, the borrower might be tempted to kidnap the man and force him into indentured servitude. In a worst-case scenario, the lender might be tempted to sell the man as a slave in order to recoup his losses. Either way, God prohibited such actions.

If we skip down to verse 10, we see Moses expanding on this topic of loans and pledges. He provides the Israelites with very specific instructions regarding the collection of a pledge or collateral. If a man borrowed money, the lender was not allowed to enter his home and forcibly demand whatever was used as collateral. The rights of the lender did not supersede those of the borrower. And if the item pledged as collateral were necessary for the borrower to maintain any modicum of comfort, the lender was to allow him to keep it. These rules were designed to protect the integrity of the borrower, who in most cases, would be a poor person. This individual’s need would force him to use his most prized possessions as collateral, leaving him not only in debt, but devoid of the very things he needed to survive. So, God placed parameters on the lending process to protect the poor. And Moses clarifies that obedience to these rules “shall be righteousness for you before the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 24:13 ESV).

The next topic had to do with disease within the community of Israel. In Leviticus 12-14, Moses outlines God’s detailed instructions regarding leprosy. And here in Deuteronomy, Moses reminds the Israelites to take God’s commands seriously. To not do so could result in the deadly spread of disease among the camp. So, the Israelites were to obey everything God had told them regarding leprosy. Ignoring His commands regarding quarantine would have deadly consequences. Failing to follow His rules could bring judgment upon the entire nation.

These rules, while seemingly disconnected and disparate in nature, all have to do with the corporate community of Israel. Living together was going to require that they follow God’s commands together. There was no room for outliers or rebels who refused to do things God’s way. He was not going to allow them to follow their own whims or create their own, self-imposed rules for life. They were a community – His community. He had chosen them and they were to be His representatives on earth.

So, God went out of His way to ensure that every facet of their lives was covered by His righteous decrees. Every area of life was important. Every relationship had value. There was to be no compartmentalization or isolation. Every Israelite was to live in unity with every other Israelite, regardless of their station in life. Individuality was never to take precedence over community, and yet, community was not to override individual rights. In a sense, Israel was to regard itself as one big family, with God as their Father.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Day 23 – Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-16

The Lord Is Willing. Are You Ready?

Matthew 8:1-4; Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-16

“Lord,” the man said, “if you are willing you can heal me and make me clean.” – Matthew 8:2 NLT

How would you react if someone covered in contagious sores and possibly having a disfigured face came to you begging for help? What would you do? How would you feel? In Jesus’ day, leprosy was a horrible disease with no known cure. Those who contracted it were shunned by society and forced to live in isolation with other lepers, far from their families and friends. They were considered unclean according to the Law and unable to be restored to a right standing unless their healing from leprosy could be verified by a priest. These people were forced to call out, “Unclean, unclean!” if they came within shouting range of any normal person. This was in order to warn the other person to stay away. They were despised, rejected, unclean, unwanted, and helplessly burdened with a disease that had no known cure.

And yet, in our passages today, we read about one of these unfortunate souls who had the rare opportunity to come into contact with Jesus, the Messiah. He was taking a huge risk making his way into the crowds that surrounded Jesus. He shouldn’t have been there. He was an outcast and had no place among these people and in the presence of Jesus. But he came and he cried out, “Lord, if you are willing you can heal me and make me clean!” He somehow knew that Jesus could heal him. The question was whether or not Jesus would. But back to the original question. How would you react in this situation? What would your response be? Revulsion? Fear? Anger? I’m sure the crowds backed away as quickly as possible when they saw who it was that was kneeling at Jesus’ feet. They were horrified, shocked and probably a little bit put out that this social outcast had dared to ruin what had been a perfectly good day. But Mark tells us that Jesus was “moved with compassion” and He reached out and touched the man! You can almost hear the audible gasp come from the lips of the shocked onlookers as Jesus reaches out and purposely touches him. To do so was to not only risk contracting this man’s dreadful disease, but to make yourself ceremonially unclean. How could Jesus do this? Why would Jesus do this? Couldn’t He have healed the man with just a word from His lips? Was contact necessary?

Jesus always had a way of turning the status quo on its ear. He was a radical at heart. He never seemed to do what was expected or what was considered the usual. There is so much wrapped up in the imagery of this story. It reveals so much about Jesus, the healer, and Jesus, the Savior. This is less a story about restoration from leprosy, than a picture of redemption from sin. In this man we have pictured the state of every human being who has ever lived. All men are diseased, infected with sin, highly contagious, and unclean in the eyes of God. Their state is helpless and hopeless. There is no known cure for their malady. Their future is bleak. Their outcome assured. Death is all that awaits them. And yet, like this man, if they come to Jesus in complete submission and faith, and ask Him to heal them, His response will be, “I am willing, be healed!” And just as the man’s leprosy immediately disappeared, the sinful state of every man and woman who turns to Jesus for healing with be immediately healed and they will receive new life. Their uncleanness will be turned into holiness. Their certain death will be replaced with assurance of eternal life. Their condemnation will turn into forgiveness. Their isolation into full acceptance. And their healing will be complete and fully verifiable. The change in their condition will be easily recognizable to all who see them. Jesus healed this man’s physical condition. But the real reason He came was to heal mankind’s spiritual condition. And He is as willing today as He has ever been. All we need say is, “Lord, if you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean.”

Jesus, I am so grateful that You were willing to heal me. I know that my state was far worse than the man in this story. My sin was going to have a devastating effect on my future. I was diseased and destined to die as a result. But my death would have been an eternal one, separated from You forever. And yet Jesus, You showed me compassion, and reached out and touched me “while I was yet a sinner” and healed me. Thank You!  Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org