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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

2 Kings 5

Verses 1-27

Now Naaman Was a Leper, But

2 Kings 5:1

As a rule our interest in the story of Naaman centres round the dramatic incident of his healing in the waters of Jordan. Looking at the story as a whole, and seeing it in its true perspective, it is inevitable that this should be the case. But I am going to ask you to look at the history of Naaman from another point of view. What can we gather from the story of Naaman's life before there came into it the whisper of hope through the lips of the little captive girl his wife's lady's maid? Leprosy, the most terrible disease of the East, had developed in him. It had come in a form that did not involve exclusion from society. It was the white leprosy, which is one of the most slowly developing forms of the disease. In this particular form the leprosy is all under the skin, and the disease, which may run its course for more than twenty years, results in the end in an utter absence of feeling unless it changes its form in the later stages and becomes virulent and loathsome. It is possible that Naaman had been suffering from this incurable disease for a number of years before the light of hope broke into his life. Assuming this to be so, let us read our text in another way.

'Now Naaman was a leper but he was captain of the host of the King of Syria, a great man with his master, and honourable, a deliverer of his country and a mighty man of valour.'

There is a picture of a man living out his life fully and bravely in spite of a terrible handicap in the form of an incurable disease, which must year after year gain a stronger hold on his body and eventually end his life.

I. I do not think that Naaman in his popularity and success was a much-envied man. There was. the fame and the power and the leprosy. There was the honour and the suffering. It is always so. There is always the other side of things. And if we could change personalities, we should have to be prepared to take not only the joys and the opportunities and the satisfactions of that other man's life, but also the martyrdoms, the bafflements, the burdens and the uplifting shadows. And remembering this may help to make us less envious and more sympathetic. Naaman the leper may be looked upon as typical of the widest and most familiar range of human experience.

II. And the question comes, How do we face this side of things? Naaman faced it with courage. And it was courage of no mean order. It was not born of hope. We say sometimes, 'While there is life there is hope'. But that was not true in the case of the leper. He saw the long years of suffering, and knew, humanly speaking, that the way would only get harder the farther he went. Part of the work of life for him was to carry one of the heaviest burdens that a man ever has to carry the burden of a dead hope. He could not say with regard to his disease, 'While there is life there is hope'; but he found a better and a nobler thing to say, 'While there is life there is duty.' There is no braver story in history than the story of them who have had to stoop and lift and bear the hope that might have lifted and borne them, if only both its wings had not been broken. The faith to remove mountains is not a complete equipment for life. We need also the courage and strength to climb them. Of all the luxuries of life, perhaps the most unwarrantable and in the end the most wasteful and costly is the luxury of despair. And how many there are who indulge in it! A man may have to walk in a deep shadow, but he has no right to sit in it. Much less has he the right to assume that that shadow loosens for him the bonds of duty, or absolves him from the claims of the world's work. Naaman did not let his leprosy spoil his career.

III. Note the thing that was wanting in the courage and endurance of Naaman. His suffering had not sweetened his life. He had borne it; but he had not understood it. He had not been able to interpret a word of it. That was not his fault. And there is a sense in which his brave conquest over a disability which held for him no high or beautiful meaning may well beget in our hearts much shame shame that we for whom the pain of life has been made somewhat intelligible should still find it in nowise bearable. If only Naaman had known that it is not every man who is counted worthy to suffer, if only he could have sat at the feet of St. Paul, and could have heard all which that troubled and yet triumphant life could have told him of the ministry of pain and of the Divine fulfilment that lies concealed in earthly frustration, how much richer would have been the story of those brave years! He did not know these things, and doubtless he was judged according to his knowledge; but we know them, and we shall be judged according to ours.

P. Ainsworth, The Pilgrim Church, p. 184.

The Story of Naaman

2 Kings 5:1

It is said that there is a crook in every lot. A wise divine of a good many generations ago has written a very large book to prove that this must be and is so.

I. The Imperfection of the Human Lot. Holy Scripture brings to us many reminders of the imperfection of the human lot. There was Eve planted down in the Garden of Eden under circumstances which might have seemed of the most consummate felicity. She was not, however, altogether happy, for there was one tree the fruit of which she might not pick. There was Rachael, beyond question one of the sweetest and most charming figures in all Scripture history and yet so long childless, the saddest sorrow that could fall upon women of her race. There was Isaiah, a man unquestionably of great personal attainment; yet, judged by the results of his great ministry, he would have been deemed a failure. There was Haman, who rose to the pitch of human ambition as he had supposed it; yet he said, 'All this availeth me nothing'. And there was Naaman, unquestionably a man of high distinction, but he was a leper. It is often so outside the pages of Holy Writ. God forbid that we should ever read the Bible as though it spoke of human life in a manner remote from our own experience. Have we not heard of a brilliant intellect and a poor shattered frame to carry it about and limit its exercise of vast possessions, yes, and passing away presently to a distant heir, who scarcely bears the name of that long line now almost extinct; of high position and bodily infirmity, and so on. Yet see, the Book of Life and of Holy Scripture tells us this, that as these things come not by accident, they need not be allowed to poison the cup of life for any man or woman. A great poet like Milton hands down his imperishable treasures to subsequent generations, though himself a poor blind man. Bunyan leaves us an immortal allegory, one of the most widely translated books ever written in our language, and yet he was a persecuted tinker. A Darwin devotes himself for long and trying years of experiment and thought to the elucidation, if he can, of some of the mysterious problems of nature, all the while fighting against such pain as left him for the most part only very few hours in every working day. Disraeli rises to be a leader of his country, to control its difficulties in time of peculiar peril, and yet he began life a sneered-at member of an often despised race. Naaman triumphed over his leprosy. There were lands in which it would have been a fatal bar for everything: henceforth he must have gone away. The disease slipped from him like a shell torn from a kernel. But his leprosy had not unmanned him, his mind was not thrown off its balance; his intellectual powers whatever gifts God had given him the use of, these gifts were not soured by the thought of his sore affliction. And though he was a leper he still remained his country's honoured benefactor.

II. Discipline Meant for our Profit. Here is comfort for those who discover in their daily life something they do not understand. Let us assure ourselves that the very proofs of how noble minds triumphed over difficulties may serve to remind us that God cannot have sent them to us in a cruel and arbitrary spirit. That which comes with His mercies in a guise which at first we cannot believe to be merciful is after all meant for our profit. A man or woman will say, 'If I had not had this I might have been something better'. What would they have been without it? Many a man laid low by a grievous accident has found God by the pillow of his bed of suffering. He never knew Him in the days of unimpaired strength and vitality, when it seemed as if he was powerful enough for anything. What would he have been without that crook in his lot? Before you and I say 'If it were not for this we might have been something other,' let us ask ourselves, What might we have been without it?

III. Affliction no Bar to Usefulness. Shall we not learn, too, through these things that God's purpose in giving us a crook in our lot cannot possibly be to deprive us of the opportunity of filling our part in life. You know men whose crook has not confined them to idleness, to a wasted life. It must not keep us from fulfilling our path in life. As Naaman watching the cruel spot grow upon his flesh, and thinking perchance of the deadly fate that was creeping surely and certainly over him, still addressed himself to the day's business, and still met, I suppose, with a gallant countenance those who worked beneath him; so every man and woman with a crook in their lot should believe that God Who sent it did not mean to make them sour or idle, or disappointed, or lost souls in the world. 'In the love and mercy of Christ I will be up and doing as if I were as free from anxiety as the happiest of God's creatures.' If like Naaman they find a prophet they may go out in the spirit which needs must be if we would understand the crosses and trials of life and come to God. Happier we than Naaman. It is not necessary for us to approach the door of the human prophet to supplicate him for us. The Son of God is our Intercessor, and it needs no voice of human priest to declare His pardon. Each of us, with or without prophet and guide, can draw unto our Saviour Christ, and if we find Him Who suffered so sorely for us, we can go out whatever cross we have to bear, still following Him and joyfully declaring as Naaman did that there is no God in all the world like unto the Saviour we have found.

A Nameless Girl Heroine

2 Kings 5:1-4

The name of the architect of the fine cathedral at Chartres is unknown, and most of the artists, in stone and colour, wrought with the same anonymous humility. Although they knew much of their work was to be hidden in the shadow of a cavern, they finished it with exquisite care. 'What artists must they have been to work thus for the glory of God, and for their own satisfaction, creating marvels while knowing that no man would see them.'

There is a tradition (idyllized by Browning) connected with the battle of Marathon, that a peasant fought with great prowess on the side of the Greeks, using a ploughshare as weapon. When the battle was over he was nowhere to be seen, nor would the oracle divulge anything beyond this:

Care for no name at all!

Say but just this: We praise one helpful whom we call

The Holder of the Ploughshare! The great deed ne'er grows small.

References. V. 1. R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons (3rd Series), p. 186. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. ii. p. 126. H. Hensley Henson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxiv. 1903, p. 169. W. J. Woods, Outlines of Sermons on the Old Testament, p. 74. V. 1-19. C. Perren, Revival Sermons in Outline,, p. 139. V. 2. T. Sadler, Sermons for Children, p. 24. V. 2, 3. A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons for the Christian Year, part iv. p. 197. Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiv. 1908, p. 51.

The Maid of Israel

2 Kings 5:4

From this well-known story we may learn valuable lessons about God's dealings, and about the mutual duties and feelings that different classes of people owe to one another.

I. How Wonderfully God Works for the Good of the World. A little maid is carried captive, and Naaman is thereby healed and brought to the knowledge of the true God. God's Word has often had free course and been glorified by means of the captivity of its preachers. The captivities of the Jews did a great deal to spread the knowledge of God in the world. Joseph did a great deal of good in a prison, so did St. Paul, so did John Bunyan, and many more. 'The Word of God is not bound!' It would be endless to try to show in what strange ways God brings about people's good. How can we pretend to understand them? If you go into a factory, at what pains must the manager or foreman be to explain to you the steps by which the web of cloth, or sheet of paper, or a common dish is made ready for the market. And after all, you likely come away with a very defective knowledge of it. But you know that somehow the thing is done, and that it needs a great many processes that you would never have thought of, to get it done. 'Trust also in God, and He will bring it to pass.'

II. Gather Some Lessons from the Part which the Maid Plays Here.

( a ) She does not harbour grudges against her captors. Render good for evil.

( b ) She interests herself in the good of her master. She is not content with merely doing her bit of work. People might call her a slave, but she was not really a slave. Her spirit was not slavish. The apprentice, the scholar, the servant girl, are free when they give themselves with a good will to their work. It is not our outward condition, but our own hearts that make us slaves, or free. A gentleman has a nice brook in his estate. It is his ; but it is free all the same, for it flows just as it is in its nature to do. He calls the trout in it his; but still they are free, for they are just where they want to be, and swim and hide in it as they choose. 'I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content.' If we have learned that, we have learned the secret which snaps the strongest fetters as if they were spiders' threads.

III. Gather Some Lessons from the Part which Naaman Plays.

( a ) He does not despise good advice because it is spoken by lowly lips. People often value opinions according to the wealth or poverty of those who give them.

( b ) He does not think that there is nothing and nobody of any account outside of his own country. It is good to be patriotic; but it is both unchristian and foolish to despise everything that is not English. Learn to be fair to all, large-hearted and ready to learn. 'The earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof.' God hath made of one blood all nations of men to dwell in the face of all the earth.

References. V. 9-12. G. H. Morrison, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxviii. 1905, p. 93. V. 10. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon-Sketches, p. 235. V. 10, 11. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture 2 Samuel , 1 and 2 Kings, p. 359.

"I Thought"

2 Kings 5:11

I. God's thoughts are not our thoughts. There is no such difference as to make the Divine thought utterly and always unlike and inconceivable. If it were so, we should have no God. But as in earthly relations the father is compelled by love to thwart many times his child's wishes, so God, Who knows us and knows all, in the very exercise of His love has to deny us what we most set our hearts on, what we most passionately desire. He answers us indeed, but He answers us in a manner at variance with our dreams. The lovely mystical use of the story of Naaman may be recalled. How many times has a human soul agonized over the life of the dearest when it was slipping away! How often those who loved life and saw before them a work to do in this world have prayed to be raised again from the bed of sickness! The life was not denied, but it was given in another fashion. 'I thought that he would strike his hand over the place, and recover the dying.' Not so. The True Prophet led the sufferer down to Jordan. In the waters of death the perfect healing was found. This was the true recovery, to wash in Jordan, to climb up the bank, and stand on the eternal shore in the presence of the Lord Himself.

II. There is no prayer more blessed and more availing than the simple, disinterested prayer for guidance. If we have a right to anything, we have a right to an answer when we plead, 'Show me the way'. Is this prayer answered? Yes, assuredly, but often not answered as we thought it might be. There may be those who always understand the reason of God's dealings with them. But there are many who think they see, that if at this point and that they had made another choice, they would have had much more sunshine and much more peace. Were they guided? The answer is that often and often the fact of God's guidance does not become plain until years of pain and disappointment have passed away. Suddenly, it may be, a light flashes on the darkness of past and present. We see in a moment that if we had gone down that path we should have missed the consecration and crown of existence.

III. In the advancement of God's kingdom our thoughts are often strangely crossed. The temptation is to say, 'If the methods are right, the results are sure'. We are only to do our best and wisest in dependence on the Divine blessing, and that blessing will come.

The Lord of the Kingdom, Whose name for a while was humbled beneath every name, has taught us the way to victory. He reached the throne by the Cross. This was His thought, not ours. We should have said with His disciple, 'Be it far from Thee, Lord; this shall not be unto Thee'. But He knew, and amid reviling foes and unbelieving friends, He went on without flinching, without failing, without turning back. 'If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the Cross.' But He was doing a great work, and could not come down. We serve Him because He first served us, and He calls us to take up His cross if need be, not for an hour, but for a life.

W. Robertson Nicoll, The Garden of Nuts, p. 189.

Reference. V. 11. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx. No. 1173.

The Dislike of the Commonplace

2 Kings 5:11-12

Following the suggestion of our text, I wish to speak on the commonplace; and I shall cast what I have to say into this shape: First, the dislike of the commonplace is wellnigh universal. Second, there are few things more dangerous than this dislike.

I. The Widespread Irritation at the Commonplace, so clearly manifested in the case of Naaman. I think I need hardly remind you of another Bible story where the same intense dislike makes itself manifest. 'Is hot this the carpenter's son? Do we not know His brothers?' It was with such words that the Jews discredited Jesus. Like Naaman they were intensely irritated at the commonplaceness of the Messiah's advent.

Are we not all prone to the same irritation? The fact is we are half-savage at the heart yet, and have never lost the savage delight in glaring colours.

I cannot help thinking that much of men's world-weariness much of the disappointment that unfolding life brings with it is connected, by very real yet subtle ties, with this deep-seated vexation at the commonplace. How many avoid the path where the cross lies, who would tread it tomorrow if there were only some glamour there! It may be hard to follow the ark into the deeps of Jordan. Perhaps it is harder to wash in Jordan seven times.

And in our Christian experience are we not also like Naaman, and have we not known something of Naaman's disappointment? I think that many men come to Jesus Christ as this commander of Syria came to the Prophet Elisha. He is a thousand times more willing to cure us of our leprosy than Elisha was to cure that curse of Naaman. But when we come and when we cannot see Him, when we only hear a voice that bids us wash, when instead of great deeds there is dull and dreary service, have not men been moved even against Jesus with the very feeling which animated Naaman? To turn away from Elisha in a rage was a very poor and pitiable thing. But to turn away from Christ Jesus in a rage is the one fatal act of a man's life.

II. There are few things more dangerous than this Dislike. Let me give you three reasons that make it so perilous to nurse this irritation.

1. The commonplace is the warp and woof of life. It is the material out of which our days are made.

2. Then the commonplace is God's preparation for the great. Simple obedience to a very plain command for us as for Naaman is the path to glorious hours.

3. Then think how Christ insists upon the commonplace. The more I study Christ's life, the more I am impressed by the value that He set upon the ordinary. Whatever Naaman did, it is clear that Jesus of Nazareth never turned away from the commonplace in a rage.

G. H. Morrison, The Unlighted Lustre, p. 48.

References. V. 11, 12. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Old Testament Subjects, p. 255. V. 12. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vi. Nos. 297 and 298. V. 13. Ibid. vol. xv. No. 892. R. J. Campbell, Sermons Addressed to Individuals, p. 107. R. D. B. Rawnsley, Village Sermons (3rd Series), p. 186. V. 14. C. W. Furse, Sermons Preached in Richmond, p. 273. V. 15. W. Redfern, The Gospel of Redemption, p. 101. V. 15-27. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture 2 Samuel , 1 and 2 Kings, p. 368. V. 17-19. G. Salmon, Gnosticism and Agnosticism, p. 158. Simeon, Works, vol. iii. p. 493. Hall's Contemplations (O.T.), Book xix. 'Contemplations viii. Kitto, Daily Bible Illustrations, vol. iv. p. 315, etc. Geikie's Old Testament Portraits, p. 275. Hasell, Scripture Partings, iii., and in Day of Rest, 1881, p. 402. Jacox, Secular Annotations on Scripture Texts (2nd Series), p. 37. Ryley, 'Gratitude to God and Earthly Policy,' Christian World Pulpit, vol. v. p. 330. Gasquoine, 'Modern Hypocrisy,' Christian World Pulpit, vol. vi. p. 24; and see vol. xi. p. 399. Krummacher's Elisha, chap. xvii. V. 18. R. W. Hiley, A Year's Sermons, vol. iii. p. 285. V. 19. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, vol. ii. p. 431.


2 Kings 5:20

I. Gehazi is the representative of a certain type of character. As Solomon stands to us for the sage, and Daniel for the righteous judge, so does Gehazi stand for the liar. A lie is an exposure of character. It is the deep-seated covetousness of Gehazi that is emphasized. He was determined to get for himself something that belonged to Naaman. He got it; for the leprosy of Naaman was to cleave to him and to his seed for ever.

II. Gehazi was one who made shipwreck of great chances. He was 'the servant of Elisha' that is, he was looked upon as the successor designate of the prophet. He belonged to very serious times, and never realized their importance. He had the great example of his master before his eyes, and had wholly missed its significance. Elisha was his paymaster and nothing more.

III. Gehazi's error has its faithful copyists still. Hidden under fair names, the sordid, selfish spirit works within us. We are called servants of God and soldiers of Christ. It is our redemption by Jesus that has in it the secret of every stimulus and every check, if we faithfully remember that 'we are not our own,' and so bound 'to glorify God in our body and in our spirit, which are God's.'

W. W. Merry, The Sermon Year Book, 1891, p. 341.

References. V. 20. D. T. Young, Neglected People of the Bible, p. 129. V. 21. H. C. G. Moule, Fordington Sermons, p. 9. V. 25. H. P. Liddon, Sermons on Old Testament Subjects, p. 270.

The Travels of the Heart

2 Kings 5:26

Ponder the travels of the heart as suggested by this penetrative inquiry of Elisha's.

I. The Man of God Says this to the Sinner in His Courses. The man of God must always send forth his heart after the sinner. By God's grace, it may put an arrest upon his wickedness. It will be as a judgment on his guilty courses.

The heart of the man of God should pursue the sinner with indignation. If we hated sin more intensely, we should strive to save sinners more earnestly.

The heart of the man of God should go pitifully towards sinners.

The heart of the man of God should follow sinners with prayer. Can the heart travel in two directions at once? Can it chase the transgressor, and at the same time ascend in supplication to heaven? It can. And herein it reflects the omnipresence of God. Here is another sign that it is made in the image of God.

The heart of the servant of God should follow the sinner with hope. 'Despairing of no man' is a New Testament maxim. Every evangelist must be an optimist.

II. The Man of God Says this to Servants of God in their Errands. The heart of the believer travels after the apostles and prophets of Christ with sympathy.

Our heart should travel with God's servants in consecrated imagination.

Let your heart travel after the servant of God in his service by means of interested reading.

III. The Man of God Says this to Friends Amid their Career. How wise and good it is to cultivate a travelling heart of sympathy! It was said by one who knew him well that the secret of Bishop Wilberforce's success was 'in his power of sympathy'. He was the father of the modern bishops. He was eloquent and brilliant. But the master-secret of his influence was sympathy.

IV. The Man of God Says this to Departed Loved Ones. Project your heart after the departed, and how real and near the better country seems! Moreover, these journeys of the heart prepare us for that grander realm.

V. The Man of God Says this to the Crowned Lord. No words could better express what we ofttimes cry to the Saviour on His holy seat: 'Went not mine heart with Thee?' We travel with Him through His Incarnate life, from the rude manger to the bitter Cross. We travel with Him from 'the purple heights of Olivet' to the glowing heights of heaven. Our heart is ever with Him as He pleads His powerful blood at God's right hand.

VI. A Greater than Elisha Says this to Us All.

The travels of the heart of man are great beyond our estimation. But who can follow the travels of the heart of God?

Dinsdale T. Young, The Travels of the Heart, p. 3.

References. V. 27. J. Raines, Sermons, p. 186. VI. 1. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, vol. ii. p. 365. VI. 1, 2. W. B. Carpenter, The Anglican Pulpit of To-Day, p. 157. VI. 1-7. John McNeill, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lviii. 1900, p. 275. VI. 3-18. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture 2 Samuel , 1 and 2 Kings, p. 376. VI. 6. T. Champness, New Coins from Old Gold, p. 222. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. iii. p. 93. VI. 15, 16, 17. G. Buchanan Gray, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxv. 1904, p. 387. W. Sinclair, ibid. vol. lxviii. 1905, p. 305. Hall, Contemplations, Book xix. 'Contemplation ix.' Charles Simeon, Works, vol. iii. p. 502. Bishop Heber, Sermons Preached in England, pp. 18 and 42. H. Blunt on Elisha. Krummacher, Elisha. Canon Liddon, 'The Vision Permitted to Elisha's Servant as Illustrative of the True Faith of the Soul,' Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i. p. 1. Liddon, 'The Reality of the Invisible,' Outlines on Old Testament, p. 77. J. Parker, 'The King Conquered,' Expository Sermons and Outlines on Old Testament, p. 134, etc. Momerie, 'The Supernaturalness of Nature,' Origin of Evil, p. 247.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 2 Kings 5". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. 1910.