2 Kings 5-6: Prophet of Israel, for the Gentiles

II Kings 5:

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.

2 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.

3 She said to her mistress, “Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

4 So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.”

5 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 clothes.

6 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.”

7 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.”

 

Consider the perilous times in which Elisha persisted for the LORD.  Even the Christ had this to say about Naaman in Luke 4:24-27 –

 

24 And he said, “Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown.

25 But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land,

26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.

27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

Indeed – who is Elisha sent to except to the Israelites?  And yet, if not for Jehoshaphat, the king of Israel would be ignored because Elisha and Elijah have been similarly persecuted.  In the same vein as their object of desire, Christ, they have walked in a path honouring to the Gentiles in bringing them closer to the LORD:

 

There were many widows After throwing back upon themselves the blame of their being deprived of miracles, he produces two examples to prove, that they ought not to think it strange, if God prefers strangers to the inhabitants of the country, and that they ought not to find fault with him for obeying the call of God, as was formerly done by Elijah and Elisha. He throws out an indirect hint as to their vanity and presumption, in entertaining a dislike of him, because he had been brought up among them. When there was a great famine for three years and a half, there were many widows in Israel, whose want of food Elijah was not commanded to relieve, but he was sent to a woman, who belonged to a foreign nation, Zidon, (1 Kings 17:9.) In like manner, Elisha healed no lepers among his countrymen, but he healed Naaman, a Syrian, (2 Kings 5:10.)

 

Though his reproofs strike the inhabitants of Nazareth with peculiar severity, yet he charges the whole nation with ingratitude, because, for a long period, almost all of them had proceeded to more shameful contempt of the Lord, in proportion as he had approached nearer to them. For how did it come about, that a woman, who was a foreigner, was preferred by God to all the Israelites, but because the prophet had been rejected by them, and compelled to seek refuge in a heathen land? And why did God choose that Naaman, a Syrian, should be healed by Elisha, but to put a disgrace on the nation of Israel? The meaning, therefore, is, that the same thing happens now as in former times, when God sends his power to a great distance among foreigners, because he is rejected by the inhabitants of the country.”

 

Note, however, that Elisha’s reputation to Naaman is simply that of the healer.  However, to the servant girl of Naaman’s wife, Elisha is the prophet!  In this chapter, it is this servant girl who acts as the Jehoshaphat, who ushers in Christ working through Elisha.  Neither Naaman, nor the king of Israel, recognize Elisha as a man of God but the girl who recognizes his power.  Yet, Elisha’s decision to heal Naaman is indirectly a service to ensure that Israel is protected; so also, Christ’s choice to reach out to the gentiles is not to replace Israel but rather to restore Israel (Romans 11:25-26).

 

8 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.”

9 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.

 

Naaman’s reaction is indeed revealing of the presuppositions surrounding the Christian faith then (v.11).  It would appear that the reputation of prophets is (i) the calling upon the name of the LORD, and (ii) waving of the hand.  However, Elisha as prophet undercuts these presuppositions.  Instead, he simply says “Wash, and be clean” (c.f. Matthew 9:5).  This is a direct affront to the religiosity of the day, the formula and systematic theology of Christianity in Naaman’s time.  Yet, the LORD is not to be contained in human predictions, though He stays true to His triune personalities by healing Naaman in ways unconventional even to the Pharisee’s understanding.  By dipping himself in the symbolic Jordan river, Naaman is partaking in the act which turned the Israelites from mere tribal men to princes of a chosen country (c.f. Joshua 3).  The restoration of his skin, in a number of times representing rest (c.f. Genesis 2:2), is but a firstfruit of new creation.  We too shall see Naaman with child-like rather than leprous skin in New Jerusalem.

 

 

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.”

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 mules’ load 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.”

 

It is important to see that Naaman was only addressed by Elisha’s messenger; and upon his cleansing, he goes to see Elisha, face-to-face.  This new life is again a theme explored in the previous chapter, where Elisha brings the Shulammite woman’s son back to life, face-to-face.  Naaman’s conversion is therefore complete – he declares that there is no God in all earth but in Israel, for God is the Healer and Physician (v.15).  His theology is precise – he did not offer anything for his cleansing, but his free-will offering comes out of a heart of gratefulness in having partaken in God’s glory.  For once, we see Elisha’s view of missions – there is no justification for Naaman to stay in Israel as a spiritual Israelite; the truth of Elisha’s mission, as described by Jesus in Luke 4, is that the Christian is to go to all men, and not just to Israel.  Thus, in v.19, Elisha tells Naaman that he is to go in peace, back to Syria a land of false worship – yet, in doing so, Elisha has made a new disciple who would proclaim but one thing – that the God of Israel, the God of Elisha, is the only true God in all the earth.  As symbolic of the importance of the land of Israel, Naaman’s request is not so strange:

 

“He that awhile ago had spoken very slightly of the waters of Israel ( 12) now is in another extreme, and over-values the earth of Israel, supposing (since God has appointed altars of earth, Exod. xx. 24) that an altar of that earth would be most acceptable to him, not considering that all the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness thereof. Or perhaps the transport of his affection and veneration for the prophet, not only upon the account of his power, but of his virtue and generosity, made him, as we say, love the very ground he went upon and desire to have some of it home with him.” – Matthew Henry

 

The irony that he should not wish to worship the idol Rimmon, which intimates fruitfulness (meaning literally ‘pomegranate’) but that he rather settle with the waters of Jordan and the earth of Israel.  He has begun to see through the falsities of religion and grasp at the beauty of Israel because of her God.

 

 

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 festal garments.’”

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 festal garments, 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.

 

It is a sad affair that Gehazi’s name is in direct contradiction to the illness of leprosy.  This ‘valley of vision’ is has lost sight of the LORD and had clung onto the silver and festal garments instead.  This deceit was plain in Spirit-filled Elisha’s eyes.  This is not the right time to accept money and garmens, olive orchards and vineyards, sheep and oxen, male servants and female servants – such is but the extrapolation of what Gehazi truly wanted from Naaman’s gifts.  The extent of spiritual sight is a divine measure of our heart’s motivation:

 

“Had Gehazi yet to learn that prophets had spiritual eyes? or could he think to hide any thing from a seer, from him with whom the secret of the Lord was? Note, It is folly to presume upon sin in hopes of secresy. When thou goest aside into any by-path does not thy own conscience go with thee? Does not the eye of God go with thee? He that covers his sin shall not prosper, particularly a lying tongue is but for a moment, Prov. xii. 19. Truth will transpire, and often comes to light strangely, to the confusion of those that make lies their refuge. (2.) What he designed, though he kept that in his own breast. He could tell him the very thoughts and intents of his heart, that he was projecting, now that he had got these two talents, to purchase ground and cattle, to leave Elisha’s service, and to set up for himself. Note, All the foolish hopes and contrivances of carnal worldlings are open before God. And he tells him also the evil of it: “Is it a time to receive money? Is this an opportunity of enriching thyself? Couldst thou find no better way of getting money than by belying thy master and laying a stumbling-block before a young convert?” Note, Those that are for getting wealth at any time, and by any ways and means whatsoever, right or wrong, lay themselves open to a great deal of temptation. Those that will be rich (per fas, per nefas; rem, rem, quocunque modo rem–by fair means, by foul means; careless of principle, intent only on money) drown themselves in destruction and perdition, 1 Tim. vi. 9. War, and fire, and plague, and shipwreck, are not, as many make them, things to get money by. It is not a time to increase our wealth when we cannot do it but in such ways as are dishonourable to God and religion or injurious to our brethren or the public.” – Matthew Henry

 

He is therefore revealed in his true form, being a sinful man, unclean inside and out.

 

II Kings 6:

1 Now the sons of the prophets said to Elisha, “See, the place where we dwell under your charge is too small for us.

2 Let us go to the Jordan and each of us get there a log, and let us make a place for us to dwell there.” And he answered, “Go.”

3 Then one of them said, “Be pleased to go with your servants.” And he answered, “I will go.”

4 So he went with them. And when they came to the Jordan, they cut down trees.

5 But as one was felling a log, his axe head fell into the water, and he cried out, “Alas, my master! It was borrowed.”

6 Then the man of God said, “Where did it fall?” When he showed him the place, he cut off a stick and threw it in there and made the iron float.

7 And he said, “Take it up.” So he reached out his hand and took it.

 

This episode is most unusual and seemingly out of place.  Why did the narrator decide to include the miracle in v.1-7 here?  If anything, removing v.1-7 would enable the story from chapter 5 to flow naturally into v.8 of chapter 6 directly.  Rather, the restoration of the axe head leads me to two other places in the Word:

Deuteronomy 19: 4-6 – If anyone kills his neighbor unintentionally without having hated him in the past— 5as when someone goes into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood, and his hand swings the axe to cut down a tree, and the head slips from the handle and strikes his neighbor so that he dies—he may flee to one of these cities and live, 6lest(D) the avenger of blood in hot anger pursue the manslayer and overtake him, because the way is long, and strike him fatally, though the man did not deserve to die, since he had not hated his neighbor in the past.

Luke 3:8-10 –

8Bear fruits(A) in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves,(B) ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you, God is able from(C) these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 9Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees.(D) Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

These two places are firm reminders for us that the axe head laid onto the woods in Jordan is a picture of the enlargement of God’s kingdom – the divine increase.  Yet, under Deuteronomy 19 and Luke 3, we are reminded that symbolically – the axe loses its purpose if its head is removed.  Under Deuteronomy 19, this may even lead to an innocent death.  Yet in Luke 3, the axe head is to remain on the axe to ensure that every tree that does not bear good fruit is to be cut down, as a forewarning of judgment.  Elisha’s presence ensured that the axes do not lose their purpose in ensuring the enlargement of God’s kingdom, but all the meanwhile a faint reminder of the coming verses of judgment against Syria.  In this manner, the story of Naaman’s healing, followed by the restoration of the axe head serves as a pretext to the destruction of the Syrian forces and the enlargement of spiritual Israel.

 

8 Once when the king of Syria was warring against Israel, he took counsel with his servants, saying, “At such and such a place shall be my camp.”

9 But the man of God sent word to the king of Israel, “Beware that you do not pass this place, for the Syrians are going down there.”

10 And the king of Israel sent to the place about which the man of God told him. Thus he used to warn him, so that he saved himself there more than once or twice.

11 And the mind of the king of Syria was greatly troubled because of this thing, and he called his servants and said to them, “Will you not show me who of us is for the king of Israel?”

12 And one of his servants said, “None, my lord, O king; but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the words that you speak in your bedroom.”

13 And he said, “Go and see where he is, that I may send and seize him.” It was told him, “Behold, he is in Dothan.”

14 So he sent there horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city.

 

Unlike the previous chapter where Elisha seems to be unknown even to Naaman, the reputation of Elisha has spread even to the ears of the king of Syria by way of one of his servants (v.12).  The servant recognizes Elisha’s power.  It is possible that Naaman, upon his return to Syria, was a twofold witness – he preached the Word in providing greater knowledge to the Syrians that Elisha possesses such might because of the LORD, and he was a living witness of a leprous man now with child-like skin (c.f. Matthew 8:4).

 

15 When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”

16 He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

18 And when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prayed to the LORD and said, “Please strike this people with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha.

19 And Elisha said to them, “This is not the way, and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will bring you to the man whom you seek.” And he led them to Samaria.

 

 

20 As soon as they entered Samaria, Elisha said, “O LORD, open the eyes of these men, that they may see.” So the LORD opened their eyes and they saw, and behold, they were in the midst of Samaria.

21 As soon as the king of Israel saw them, he said to Elisha, “My father, shall I strike them down? Shall I strike them down?”

22 He answered, “You shall not strike them down. Would you strike down those whom you have taken captive with your sword and with your bow? Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.”

23 So he prepared for them a great feast, and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the Syrians did not come again on raids into the land of Israel.

 

Elisha’s gift of spiritual sight is thus transferred to his servant (who may not be Gehazi) as a reminder of the reality of the force of light in extinguishing darkness (John 1:5).  There was never a struggle against the Satan – Christ was victorious even before creation, even before the fall (Revelation 13:8).  Yet, the enemy who is the prince of air (Ephesians 2:2) is but a temporary illusion until our creation is renewed.

 

Further, instead of fulfilling the bloodthirsty nature of the king of Israel (which only led to the sacrifice of the firstborn in 2 Kings 3), Elisha preached the Christian message of loving one’s enemies, preparing a great feast in the land of Samaria.  What a wondrous picture of the LORD’s mercy in uniting the Syrians and Israelites in the residing land of Elisha, a foretelling of the removed divides between nations in their faith in Christ to gather in the place of the prophet, in the heart of mountains of Israel.  However, the Syrians were not accompanies by their king – and their head still clings onto Rimmon rather than Yahweh, the provider of the great feast of Samaria.

 

24 Afterward Ben-hadad king of Syria mustered his entire army and went up and besieged Samaria.

25 And there was a great famine in Samaria, as they besieged it, until a donkey’s head was sold for eighty shekels of silver, and the fourth part of a kab of dove’s dung for five shekels of silver.

26 Now as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, “Help, my lord, O king!”

27 And he said, “If the LORD will not help you, how shall I help you? From the threshing floor, or from the winepress?”

28 And the king asked her, “What is your trouble?” She answered, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’

29 So we boiled my son and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him.’ But she has hidden her son.”

30 When the king heard the words of the woman, he tore his clothes—now he was passing by on the wall—and the people looked, and behold, he had sackcloth beneath on his body—

31 and he said, “May God do so to me and more also, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today.”

 

What ignorance of the king of Israel – in his blood is only the message of violence and vengeance.  Yet, Elisha preached a message of vulnerable love only to be crucified in return, the lamb led to slaughter (Isaiah 53:7), the true picture of a man of God.

 

The picture of Samaria, however, is indeed tragic.  The hosting venue of a momentous feast between Israelites and Syrians is now but a desolate place with a great famine (v.25).  Yet the LORD’s favour lies not only with Israel, but through Israel, is to bless Samaria.  The king of Israel could only think of murder, forgetting that it is Elisha who intercedes to bless Israel and in turn, bless Samaria.

 

32 Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him. Now the king had dispatched a man from his presence, but before the messenger arrived Elisha said to the elders, “Do you see how this murderer has sent to take off my head? Look, when the messenger comes, shut the door and hold the door fast against him. Is not the sound of his master’s feet behind him?”

33 And while he was still speaking with them, the messenger came down to him and said, “This trouble is from the LORD! Why should I wait for the LORD any longer?”

 

It is interesting to see the messenger of the king of Israel speak such words of despair.  “This trouble is from the LORD!  Why should I wait for the LORD any longer?”  That is exactly the difference between the loyalty of the king of Israel and the loyalty of Elisha, who was in the good company of the elders; whereas the king stands alone in his persecution of holy men.   Yet, is this not the remedy of the world, that we place our blame on others?  Surely it is the king who is to blame; the king who has not taken the sin upon himself as the head of the nation (Deuteronomy 17:18-19).  The trouble is not from the LORD – the trouble is from the Christless king.

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2 Kings 5-6: Prophet of Israel, for the Gentiles