Into the Arms of God
2 King 5:1-14
Our passage from the second book of Kings is the story of General Naaman being healed of his leprosy by God. On my first reading, it seemed to be just that simple. God was showing off that God could heal this man. But when I thought more deeply about it and read about the story, I discovered that this short story is very deep in spirituality and loaded with all kinds of invisible actions by God to bring about Naaman’s healing.
Every character, whether or not named, mentioned in the story has some role, whether that person knew it or not, in the healing of Naaman. There is the unnamed Hebrew slave girl. There is the king of Syria (whose name was Ben-Hadad II). There is the king of Israel (whose name was Joram). There was the prophet Elisha. There were Naaman’s unnamed servants. And, of course, there is Naaman himself.
Let’s start with Naaman himself. We are given very little information about him. He is a general in the army of the king of Syria. He is highly regarded by the king “because through him the Lord had given victory to Syria.” And we know he had leprosy. But we can take this further and speculate about his life. A young Hebrew girl had been captured by the Syrian and she was given to Naaman’s wife. It was this Hebrew girl who suggested that Naaman go to Israel to Elisha for a cure. That she was interested in helping Naaman with a painful and embarrassing disease indicates that he and his wife were good to her and she cared for him. Later in the story other servants of Naaman encourages him to take the simple cure offered by Elisha. Again we can assume that he was good to his servants who wanted to help him. But we also learn that he expects his due as an important personage. We can also assume that he is a pagan, worshipping Rimmon.
The two kings involved in this storyruled battling countries. The king of Israel did not trust the king of Syria. We cannot know if the king of Syria was honest in his request of the king of Israel and he just wanted the best for Naaman, or whether the king of Israel was right and Ben-Hadad was trying to put him in a position that he could not fulfill and thereby have an excuse to once again attack Israel. He did word his message to require Joram to heal Naaman without any reference to Elisha. But would Ben-Haddad put Naaman at risk if Joram felt threatened and harmed Naaman? After all our passage does say he regarded Naaman highly.
And Elisha, the successor to Elijah, was God’s channel to all of these folks. He did not want any fame or payment. He didn’t even show himself to Naaman. He did what God asked and wanted it left at that.
Everyone of these people was needed by God to reach Naaman’s soul. If the Hebrew slave girl did not like Naaman, God could have gone no where. If Ben-Hadad did not like Naaman he would never had given him an official letter of request. And if Joram, king of Israel had not feared the intent of Ben-Hadad, Elisha would not have known to call Naaman to his home. And if Naaman’s servants had not convinced him that Elisha’s peasant, earthy cure was worth a try, God could not have finished the healing. All were needed… just for God to cure an unworthy gentile worshipping pagan gods.
In Luke 4:27 Jesus uses Naaman as an example for the will of God to save people who are considered by his followers as less than pious and unworthy of salvation. Indeed, Naaman was washed in the Jordan River, the very place Jesus was baptized. The implication was that Naaman experienced a kind of baptism in Elisha’s cure. And indeed our story in 2 Kings ends with Naaman converted to the one true God.
And all of these connections can just fly by us as we read this seemingly simple story. But this story is a model, and example, of God caring and encouraging each and every one of us. God works through the events and people of our lives. What seems fortunate or lucky, is God guiding us.
For example there was a young man, Bob, a professional photographer who had been out of work for quite some time. One day his sister, Bobbie visited him. She had just returned from a visit with her dying mother-in-law. The hospice social worker, Tim had been there. She needed to talk and spoke with Bob about her visit. She remarked during her commentary that Tim was very understanding of everyone’s stress. She had mention Bob’s plight. Tim volunteered to help him locate a fitting job. She encouraged her brother to contact Tim.
Bob said he would think about it. He reported his conversation with his sister to his wife who agreed with Bobbie. What’s the harm of asking?
But Bob stewed on it and let the opportunity pass him by. He eventually found a job working in retail – not what he wanted, but at least he had an income.
But what if Bob had paid attention to his sister and wife and spoke to the social worker? If he had contacted the social worker, Tim would have described a paid opening for a professional photographer by a charity group looking to document their work and most importantly the conditions of the people they care for. Bob had expected a more “professional” job such as one in up scale clothing or photographing for a news outlet. He discovers that Tim is religious and the charity was a religious charity. Bob was not religious and hadn’t been inside a church for years. He was not comfortable with the idea of being at church and especially working for one.
He departed Tim with the statement that he would think about it. At home, he described to his wife his experience. She asked him if he liked being unemployed. No, he didn’t. She says back, then why pass up this job – the first and only offer – in months?
He took the job but remained suspicious of his employers. He discovered they were the lead in a much larger religious group that were not only caring for these people but were advocating for social changes to help them. They needed photographs and video. He had not done videos before, but with his photographic skills he could make beautiful videos.
And he found the work more fulfilling than he could have expected from clothing or the news media. He felt he was not only taking beautiful artistic photos but he was contributing to the betterment of the people he photographed.
He and his wife needed to understand why this was so fulfilling. They started attending church and discovered how there really was a God who cared for people and worked through them …
Like Naaman Bob was resistant to the expectations of Tim. But he had the good sense, like Naaman, to listen to the voices of those who loved him… and like Naaman realized that God was spinning a web of hope and promise in his life.
But how do we know God is truly doing all of this?
We often give luck or coincidence the credit for events that play out in our favor. We claim luck and coincidence when we cannot justify what happened by some logical path. So we frequently call upon luck as the cause of the friendly event. But we can no more claim luck than God for such happenings.
I do not believe in luck or coincidence. I believe that everything happens for a reason whether good or bad. But of course there is no proof one way or the other. God is like the wind. You cannot see the wind. You only know that the wind is there because you see and feel its affects.
So again we come back to faith. Just about anything to do with God requires faith: We have to have faith that God indeed was the cause of those chains of connection that cured Naaman and employed Bob. And it is faith we need to nurture.
God does not act just in the big, and often life changing, things. God acts constantly in our lives. God acts in the littlest happening in our lives as well as the biggest. But we need to nurture that faith. We need to give God credit for what we have experience … even if it was a painful experience. We need to pray and thereby keep in touch with God.
Often we may give God credit for a life changing event, but then fall into our routine and go back to moving through life without a daily sense of God walking with us. And thereby we miss so much of the richness of life. We need to sustain a daily relationship with God. And God does hear us…
One final thought: The passage after our reading today reports to us that Naaman had converted to the one true God. It reports that Elisha wanted no reward. At that point Naaman announces he will not worship any other God than Yahweh. But he asks for an exception. He serves the king of Syria and accompanies him to the house of Rimmon, the pagan god he worships. Out of respect for the king he asks to be allowed to bow to Rimmon in that circumstance. And Elisha told him to “go in peace” implying that it was alright to honor his king’s beliefs.
… God does respect our obligations. And God does recognize when another to whom we answer may respond differently, either ignoring God or having another god. Indeed, when God moves us through life through these chains of connection, God is listening to us all along the way. Only rarely would God uproot us from our lives and families and responsibilities. God helps us to find ways to overcome our challenges within the context of our lives. But we must have well-trained spiritual eyes and ears to hear and see what God is offering us. We need to bring God into the reality of our lives consistently every moment of our waking hours.
By doing so, we will never be alone. We will be in God’s hands and arms in all our changes and needs. And when we have nurtured our relationship with God for our every day living, when the time comes that we do need a life change God will be right there guiding us and holding us as the inevitable changes of life unfold.
Think about it …
God’s grace and love be with you …