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Home > Church Family > Sermon Summaries > 5 Jul 2008, Norman Tew - Reading between the Lines

Reading between the Lines

5 Jul 2008, Norman Tew

(Norman is a member of Thornleigh church)

Title - Reading Between the Lines in the story of Naaman

Scripture Reading

(Luke 4:22-28 NRSV)  All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, "Is not this Joseph's son?" {23} He said to them, "Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, 'Doctor, cure yourself!' And you will say, 'Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.'" {24} And he said, "Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown. {25} But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; {26} yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. {27} There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian." {28} When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage.

Sermon (refer to 2 Kings 5:1-19

Often reading between the lines is dangerous because we can read in something that is not there.  But with the Bible I believe there are times when careful reading between the lines is a good thing to do.  But it must be done with care, and we must not try to be dogmatic about something that is between the lines.

In the Scripture Reading we quoted a statement from Jesus in Luke 4:27

"There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian".

I plan to "Read Between the Lines" in the story of Naaman this morning.  You will find the story in II Kings 5 - the first 19 verses.  I am not going to read it, as most of us remember it well  (For those who do not it is quoted at the end).  Let us start with the major character and look at some of the others later.

What do we know about Naaman?

These statements are all in the text.  What can we read between the lines?

Let us look at him through the eyes of the Hebrew slave girl.

The next main character is of course the captive maid.

What lies behind her statement: "If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria!  He would cure him of his leprosy." ?

She had obviously been well trained by Godly parents.  But why did she think the prophet in Samaria could cure leprosy?  Both Elijah and Elisha had done miraculous things but there is no record of the curing of a leper

In fact Jesus plainly said, "There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian."

Is this a case of God rewarding not only the obedience and faith of Naaman but also the exceptional faith of the captive maid - who showed love for her captors.  Apart from these two verses in the Bible we know absolutely nothing more of her.

If Naaman was ready to give such big rewards to the prophet did he reward her for her information?  Did she instruct Naaman about the new God he was worshipping when he returned?

It is interesting though when we consider God's plan for his people.  Isaiah makes it plain that God's people were to be missionaries to the world, not exclusive people who hugged God to themselves.  She was a missionary - a successful one, with a high powered convert.

Let us look at some of the other characters in this story.

The Syrian King

We know from elsewhere that he was Benhadad II.  But he plays only a very small part in this story.  It is interesting that he decided to write to the king of Israel.  That was normal diplomatic procedure for his day.  The wording of his letter is strange to us though.  It is quoted in v6.

"When this letter reaches you,  know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman,  that you may cure him of his leprosy."

It sounds strange to us.  But Benhadad assumes that the king is in command of the prophet as it would be in Syria or Babylon (Nebuchadnezzar had the wise men and religious leaders are part of the court), or in Egypt (in the time of Joseph and Moses, the religious leaders were in the court).

But it was not that way in Israel.   An interesting note in the NIV study Bible on the story in II Kings 1

The King of Israel sends a series of platoons of 50 soldiers under a captain.  They are to arrest the prophet and bring him to the king.  Elijah commands fire from heaven and God sends the fire on the two groups. The note says that this was different from the case of the disciples in Samaria for the affront was not to Elijah -   In Israel (a theocracy) the king was subject to the prophet   an attempt to place a prophet subject to the king was against God's order of things.

So if this argument is valid, and I suspect it is, then in Israel the king did not have (true) prophets as part of his court.  Prophets were separate and actually ranked over the king.

So to the king of Israel Ahab is dead - killed in a battle with Benhadad - it is assumed the king now was Joram.  Joram had apparently forgotten all about Elisha when he received the letter.  He saw the letter only as a trick.  He recognised that only God could do this healing but he did not think of the man of God

Now to the remaining major character - Elisha.  Some how Elisha heard about the situation   He sends to the king and tells Joram to send Naaman to him.  Did God inform Elisha?  Why was Elisha so confident he could handle the healing?  Did God tell Elisha about the test of washing in the Jordan?

Elisha treats Naaman with the same sort of contempt that Jesus later showed to the Syrophoenician woman.  But he does give Naaman an accurate message about how to receive healing.

When Naaman returns after being healed Elisha meets him personally.  Naaman's offer of gifts is rejected.  God's gifts can not be purchased nor paid for.  Then Naaman makes two unusual requests.

At least they appear unusual to us.  Why did he ask for two sacks of Israeli dirt? Come to that, did he get his dirt?  How did he expect to get dispensation to go into the temple of Rimmon, but have it not counted as worship?  Elisha's answer "Go in peace" does not really answer his questions.  Or is there more between the lines that are not revealed?

God did not expect the same understanding and behaviour of one with a Syrian background and little knowledge.  God accepted Naaman's worship on Naaman's knowledge level.  Elisha appears to accept that as a fact.

(Psa 87:6 NRSV)  The LORD records, as he registers the peoples, "This one was born there."

God would not accept sacrifice or burnt-offering from an Israelite except via a priest at the temple.  God would not allow an Israelite to bow down to an image under any excuse - ask Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego.

An interesting story - we will skip over the sorry story in the rest of the chapter.

"Reading Between the Lines" we have seen an interesting person in Naaman.  We have asked some unanswered questions about the little prisoner maid. We have seen how two kings reacted and seen how God spoke through his prophet.  This story is unlike most of the stories in the Bible especially when we look between the lines.  But it is still a marvellous story of how God dealt with a foreigner.  How a captive was able to do the work that God gave to his people even when the king himself would not.  Above all it is a story of how God works differently with different people.

There is a personal final question.  Answer it to your self, and think about it after you have left here.  "What is it the Lord is asking of you in your present circumstances?"



2 Kings 5:1-19 KJV

Now Naaman, captain of the host of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master, and honourable, because by him the LORD had given deliverance unto Syria: he was also a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper.

{2} And the Syrians had gone out by companies, and had brought away captive out of the land of Israel a little maid; and she waited on Naaman's wife. {3} And she said unto her mistress, Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy.

{4} And one went in, and told his lord, saying, Thus and thus said the maid that is of the land of Israel. {5} And the king of Syria said, Go to, go, and I will send a letter unto the king of Israel. And he departed, and took with him ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of raiment. {6} And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, Now when this letter is come unto thee, behold, I have therewith sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy.

{7} And it came to pass, when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he rent his clothes, and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? wherefore consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me.

{8} And it was so, when Elisha the man of God had heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel. {9} So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha. {10} And Elisha sent a messenger unto him, saying, Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.

{11} But Naaman was wroth, and went away, and said, Behold, I thought, He will surely come out to me, and stand, and call on the name of the LORD his God, and strike his hand over the place, and recover the leper. {12} Are not Abana and Pharpar, rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? may I not wash in them, and be clean? So he turned and went away in a rage.

{13} And his servants came near, and spake unto him, and said, My father, if the prophet had bid thee do some great thing, wouldest thou not have done it? how much rather then, when he saith to thee, Wash, and be clean? {14} Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.

{15} And he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and came, and stood before him: and he said, Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel: now therefore, I pray thee, take a blessing of thy servant.

{16} But he said, As the LORD liveth, before whom I stand, I will receive none. And he urged him to take it; but he refused.

{17} And Naaman said, Shall there not then, I pray thee, be given to thy servant two mules' burden of earth? for thy servant will henceforth offer neither burnt offering nor sacrifice unto other gods, but unto the LORD. {18} In this thing the LORD pardon thy servant, that when my master goeth into the house of Rimmon to worship there, and he leaneth on my hand, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon: when I bow down myself in the house of Rimmon, the LORD pardon thy servant in this thing.

{19} And he said unto him, Go in peace.

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