Pride and Greed can we recover from it?
Pride and Greed, can we recover from it?
Unpacking the story of Naaman being healed of leprosy in 2 Kings 5.
Before we head into the scene of Naaman’s healing, lets zoom out and see the political/cultural environment and how that affected the events in 2 Kings 5.
God said to go forth and multiply to His kids, and they certainly did that! He probably only had to say that once 😉 After a time He decided to make a special relationship with Abraham – he wanted a ‘tribe’ that would showcase how good and powerful God was to all people.
The name of this tribe was Israel, and the agreement came with blessings and cursing’s: if they were obedient they got blessed, but if they were disobedient they were cursed. With a clause in their disobedience—if they would humble themselves and cry out to God in repentance, then He would heal them.
God wanted his tribe to have some land and it’s hot real estate! The land is positioned at the crossroads of Africa, Asia and Europe, located in the narrow neck of the Fertile Crescent. (Even though the land could be crossed in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, that’s desert and not easily traversed.) It’s like renting a shop on the corner of George St and Pitt St in Sydney, a high traffic area, the best location to show case God’s people and therefore God.
But God’s tribe, Israel, positioned as it was, got to see how the other nations worked and wanted to be just like them. They had Kings, so Israel wanted a king too! God didn’t want them to have a king as He was enough. But He gave them a king anyway, warning them it wouldn’t go well. Not long after this the kingdom of Israel divided, 10 tribes went to the north (Israel) and 2 to the south (Judah).
Sure enough, the kings of the north were all completely corrupt. Not one king was good, the land and people suffered terribly. However there were a few people, especially the prophets, trying to point people back to God. It’s in this scenario that we find ourselves reading about Naaman.
The writing in purple is the scripture, my thoughts are in black.
2 Kings 5
Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Syria. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Syria. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.
Leprosy is a skin disease. It meant social isolation, and possibly even death. It’s hard to identify with leprosy, as we don’t see it anymore. But if I said he had cancer, it may mean something more significant. Basically, Naaman had everything that people could want: fame, fortune and favour- but he didn’t have his health.
2 Now bands of raiders from Syria had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife.
This is possibly the fight in 1 Kings 22 where the bad King of Israel (Ahab) and the good King of Judah (Jehosophat) fought against the King of Syria. King Ahab had tried to disguise himself because a prophet had warned disaster for him. But still a random arrow pierced right through the join of the armour and he died. What’s the moral of the story? You can run, but you can’t hide from God.
3 She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”
How is the attitude of this little girl?
She’s been taken captive away from her family. Or maybe the enemy killed all her family? Now she’s made to be a servant working for her enemies. That’s a vulnerable position to be in, at the mercy of your masters. Again it’s hard to imagine for us, living peacefully in Australia. So just imagine there’s a person who you’ve been in partnership with, they have ripped you off; they’ve taken your home. And you still have to pay them a percentage from your wages, to be subjected to them.
BUT then, they get really sick and you still find enough compassion within to help them.
That’s the heart of this little girl.
Not only that, but how’s her faith? She’s suggested that God could cure her master, but if it doesn’t work, gee she’s going to pay for it! Here’s an unselfish heart that doesn’t think about herself, only others.
4 Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. 5 “By all means, go,” the king of Syria replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents[b] of silver (340 kilos, the weight of 3 large men) six thousand shekels[c] of gold (69 kilos that’s my weight actually and the equivalent of 600 labourers wages for a year! ) and ten sets of clothing. 6 The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”
7 As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life?
The king of Israel freaks out. Funny how kings and power people are happy to be acting like God, but when asked to perform a God-like task they run a mile. The King wants all the rights but no responsibility.
Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”
Here’s a case of jumping to conclusions and not clarifying with questions before heading into conflict. So because the king’s heart was bad, he imputed bad motives on the Syrian General, Naaman. (Projecting in psychological terms)
Just a little detour here into a thing I like to call Heart & Way.
Heart is our motivation and Way is the action.
- Sometimes we can have a Good Heart and Good Way: Someone is sick and I feel compassion for them, so I cook a meal.
- Sometimes we can have a Bad Heart and Bad Way: Someone has a fancy necklace, I get jealous, so I will steal it. This is generally quite obvious and so potentially not too harmful. For example, a thief with a balaclava looks like a bad guy and we consequently take preventive measures to stop him.
- Good Heart and Bad Way: Take an example where our child scratches the paint on the car with a scouring pad. Sounds pretty bad, but I’d told him I wanted the car spotless and the tar spots weren’t coming off with a rag. Good heart, bad way: you can work with that any day. Another example: Someone wants the best for me, and want’s me to be successful. But they tell me bluntly that I’m no good at singing, or baking, or preaching, or fill in the blanks.
- Then there’s the Bad Heart, Good way: This is Pharisee territory that Jesus was absolutely ropable about. The Pharisees did the right thing by giving money etc, but it wasn’t to help the poor, it was to make them look good. They had a bad motive. This is really hard to spot, and takes some discernment: these people could easily dupe us. That’s probably why Jesus was the hardest on them.
8 When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.”
So with all the King’s kerfuffle, it created quite a stir that spread viral and reached the prophet, Elisha.
Elisha replies to the king, ‘Why’d you tear your robes?’ AKA: ‘Where’s your faith in God? You are God’s appointed one, the King of Israel no less, and you’re having a tantrum’.
Elisha offers to help, he wants Naaman to experience healing, that will show him God is indeed powerful and good.
Have you been in a position where you’ve been embarrassed that Christians haven’t had faith in God? They haven’t stood up for what’s right? The type that find a bus and throw Christians under it. Noice.
9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”
11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So he turned and went off in a rage.
Here we have one emotion here that stands out, apart from anger. Can you work it out?
Pride. Naaman was offended that he didn’t get treated like his position deserved. Elisha didn’t even come out to greet him and he didn’t perform some mighty hoopla either! Naaman was not just offended but enraged! Now that’s a big call to come back from rage.
Has your pride ever been offended? Mine was. I applied for a position but didn’t even get an interview. Then when they re-advertised a year later, I didn’t want to apply again. My ego was sorely bruised. But somehow I managed to muster some humility, buried deep, and apply. I actually got offered an interview and went into the meeting with a ‘take no prisoners’ attitude and got the job! But if my pride had continued to take offense, I would never have applied and got it.
13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!”
It’s amazing how much influence a servant can have eh? Check out the position Naaman’s servants put themselves when asking a question to their leader. They do it as a child (note they called him father). Questions are sometimes more potent than a statement because questions empower the listener to come up with their own solution.
Have you ever been in a lowly position and influenced someone mightier than you? Speaking truth to power? That’s a brave place to live. Our son did that on an engineering site. His boss wanted to send workers to a place that wasn’t up to safety regulations. He stood up to his boss, later his boss thanked him for it.
14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
Naaman listened to the advice of a child and then his skin was made like that of a child. Jesus said, let the little children come to me, it is this heart of a child that God loves.
15 Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”
That’s so great Naaman went back to thank the prophet- remember when Jesus healed 10 lepers, only 1 came back to thank him? The one that came back was a foreigner; just like this Syrian general. It’s all too easy to take for granted the people that love us the most. That seems to be our human default; we need to be in sync with the Holy Spirit to help us be grateful for our loved ones.
See how Naaman’s attitude is now that of a servant when he approaches Elisha after he’s been healed? That’s a turn around from being enraged eh? I think we can safely say this man has reached a point of repentance.
Another point: we can be amazed by someone else’s miracle, but when we experience God’s grace for ourselves, we are completely undone by His mercy to us. We realize that God is more than powerful, He also cares about you and me.
Can you remember a time where you felt God’s mercies for you? Where you were undone by God?
16 The prophet answered, “As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.” And even though Naaman urged him, he refused.
Elisha wanted Naaman to know that it was God who should get the credit, not him.
17 “If you will not,” said Naaman, “please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord. 18 But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.”
19 “Go in peace,” Elisha said.
Elisha doesn’t correct Naaman’s theology here, maybe it’s enough at this early stage that he has acknowledged there’s only one God in the whole world. We are on a journey, we just need to make sure we’re headed in the right direction.
I heard a story of a father asking his son whether he thought a plane in the sky was very big. The son replied that it wasn’t very big. Then the father drove him to the airport and asked the same question. This time the answer was vastly different-HUGE! God’s kind of like that, the closer we get to Him, the bigger we realize He is!
After Naaman had traveled some distance, 20 Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said to himself, “My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.”
Here is another of the sins of life, Greed. Naaman had pride, but Gehazi had greed. Let’s see whether he can turn around from it like Naaman turned from pride.
21 So Gehazi hurried after Naaman. When Naaman saw him running toward him, he got down from the chariot to meet him. “Is everything all right?” he asked.
22 “Everything is all right,” Gehazi answered. “My master sent me to say, ‘Two young men from the company of the prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim. Please give them a talent[d] of silver (34 kilos the weight of a child) and two sets of clothing.’”
Now maybe Gehazi justified to himself that he wasn’t asking for much, considering that Naaman was prepared to give much much more to Elisha. I’d like to talk about Cognitive Dissonance for a moment. Cognitive Dissonance is when our brain has mental stress; what we think doesn’t line up with new information we’ve just learnt or actions we have just done.
Once this happens there are 3 things we’ll tend to do.
- Change our beliefs. Eg. We might steal something and then to resolve the dissonance we could change our belief to say that stealing is okay. However changing our belief system is not what we generally do, especially if it’s a long held belief.
- Change actions. We could make sure we never do the action again. Guilt can be a great motivator for changing behaviour. However sometimes the gain of the action is a great force and we continue in this behaviour. So, we could get rid of the dissonance without changing beliefs or actions, which leaves us with the more common thing we do…
- Change perception of action. We can rationalise or justify our actions, saying, “hey no one was using it” or “everyone does it”. It’s funny how we can see everyone else’s rationalisations before we see our own.
23 “By all means, take two talents,” said Naaman.
Gehazi only asked for 1 talent- here is the Naaman being double generous, giving twice more than what was asked. Have you ever done this? Given double?
He urged Gehazi to accept them, and then tied up the two talents of silver in two bags, with two sets of clothing. He gave them to two of his servants, and they carried them ahead of Gehazi. 24 When Gehazi came to the hill, he took the things from the servants and put them away in the house. He sent the men away and they left.
25 When he went in and stood before his master, Elisha asked him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?”
Elisha already knew the answer but in his generosity he was giving Gehazi an opportunity to confess and repent.
“Your servant didn’t go anywhere,” Gehazi answered.
Now add to the sin of greed, lying. Funny how we dig ourselves deeper into a pit when caught out, rather than just admit we stuffed it and commit to not doing it again.
26 But Elisha said to him, “Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money or to accept clothes—or olive groves and vineyards, or flocks and herds, or male and female slaves? 27 Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever.” Then Gehazi went from Elisha’s presence and his skin was leprous—it had become as white as snow.
Whoops, now that’s a kick in the guts for Gehazi! He now has leprosy, the very thing that he didn’t want from Naaman, he got!
If there’s a morale to the story it would be this:
God treats everyone case by case basis. If we humble ourselves, we receive his grace. Grace is like water in a river and if we bring ourselves low, like under a waterfall we receive it.
But if we don’t humble ourselves, then God will oppose us. And in the end we will end up humiliated.
“While we are looking down on others, we cannot see God above us.” CS Lewis.
I’d like to end with this quote:
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace out of you. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
― C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity