Rewind. Pause. Push Play. Gary says, “Stay in the water!”
April 14, 2011
Rewind: Thursday night, Gary took the time to tell us the story of Naaman, who was healed of his leprosy by God in the Jordan River (2 Kings 5:1-7). Rather than just reading the verses aloud, Gary chose to paint us a beautiful word picture, transforming the story from something far removed from reality, to an action packed adventure story that continues to play out in each of our lives day after day…
Naaman was a brave and valiant military commander who had led Aram (Syria), his country, to victory over the Assyrians many times. He was a man blessed with many talents and favored by men. There was just one problem: Naaman had leprosy, and leprosy is nothing to joke about. It’s a disease that causes disfiguration, legions and nerve damage; moreover, at the time in which Naaman lived, there was no cure, and it was thought to be highly contagious and passed from person to person through touch. The fact that Naaman, a respected and valued soldier of the king of Aram, had leprosy was no small matter.
Now, Aram and Israel were not buddies at this point, and bands from Aram had previous raided Israel, bringing back at least one young girl as prisoner. This girl was given to Naaman’s wife as a servant, and when the girl heard of Naaman’s affliction, she told her mistress of a great prophet in Samaria who could surely heal Naaman’s leprosy. Of course, Naaman’s wife, eager to rid her husband of this physically and socially crippling disease, told Naaman of the prophet. Naaman could have chosen to ignore his wife, after all, her information was coming from a servant girl, and, more importantly, the servant girl was speaking of a cure to an incurable skin disease! This prophet with the power to heal leprosy must have sounded like quite the fairy tale. Nevertheless, Naaman went to his master, the king of Aram (told you Naaman was an important guy – he answered directly to the king!) and asked for permission to travel to Samaria (in Israel) to see this great prophet. The king not only gave his blessing, but even agreed to send a letter of introduction on, Naaman’s behalf, to the king of Israel.
Thus, Naaman set out for Samaria, bringing with him gifts of gold and silver, and a letter from his king stating his purpose: “Naaman is coming to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.” However, when Naaman arrived in Israel and gave the king the letter, the king of Israel tore his robes in distress and cried out, “Who do you think I am? I don’t have the power to do the impossible!” You see, the king of Israel thought that the king of Aram was trying to pick a fight – that he was intentionally asking for something impossible (to heal Naaman of his leprosy) so that Aram would have an excuse to attack Israel.
Thankfully, Elisha, the great prophet of Samaria whom the servant girl had spoken of, heard of the king’s distress, and decided to intervene. Elisha asked for the king to send Naaman to his house so that he would know there was indeed a prophet of the Lord in Israel. So, Naaman left the king’s court and headed to Elisha’s house, but rather than meeting with Elisha, Naaman was only permitted to speak to one of his messengers. Elisha’s messenger told him, “Go and dip yourself in the Jordan River seven times and you will be washed clean, you will no longer suffer from leprosy.” But Naaman was not pleased; in fact, he was the opposite of pleased: he was furious!
As he walked away from the messenger, Naaman yelled to his men, “Who is this guy, Elisha? Why did he not come out and wave his hands over my head, and call out to His God on my behalf? Why in the world would I submerse myself in the dirty Jordan river even once, let alone SEVEN times? Have I come all the way to Samaria only to be taken for a fool? After all, if washing in a river is all it takes to get rid of this horrible disease, couldn’t I at least do it somewhere cleaner and closer to home?” With that, Naaman mounted his horse and took off back towards Aram, fuming over the words of the prophet.
After a little time had passed, however, his servants approached him humbly and asked, “Sir, if Elisha had asked you to do something great – something truly magnificent and challenging – so that you could be healed, wouldn’t you have done it? How much more should you be willing to do something as simple as washing yourself in a river? It may not be pretty, but if it works, it works.” Naaman considered the words of his servants and decided they were wise; he turned around and quickly rode back toward the Jordan.
When he got to the river bank, he dismounted and slowly walked to the edge of the water. Behind him, the encouraging words of his servants were drowned out by the skeptical murmurs and quiet laughter of his men. Naaman let the water wash over his toes and took a deep breath; he asked himself one more time, “Is it worth it? Will this really work?” Then he entered the river.
He dipped himself under the water, stood back up and examined his hands – they looked exactly the same, still disease ridden, still infected. He dipped himself in a second time, and then a third and a fourth, every time checking to see if progress had been made. Finally, he dipped himself a sixth time. Still, no signs of healing were visible. It was at this point, one can imagine, that he must have truly been questioning the power and even the very existence of God. He could have very easily decided that it was all just a big joke; he could have chosen to leave the water; he could have decided not to trust in the Lord; he could have remained diseased. But, instead, Naaman chose to stay in the water; he stuck it out, and trusted in God. He dipped himself in the river a seventh and final time, and when he emerged, his flesh was like new. There were no more signs of nasty, painful, socially isolating skin legions; it was as if he had never had leprosy at all. The God of Israel had healed him completely.
We’ve all been where Naaman was – we’ve all stood on the edge of the river, questioning our sanity, questioning whether or not the God of the universe is who He says He is. We’ve all probably dipped ourselves in the water six times, chosen to trust God for a while, only to hesitate before taking that final plunge. Maybe some of you are there now, either on the shore looking out into that mess of murky, swirling water, wondering why on earth God would ask you to submerse yourself in that; or maybe you’ve been submersed for some time now and are struggling with whether or not to get out before you’ve finished what God has called you to do. No one ever said that following God was going to be simple, but He has promised us that it is the very definition of “worth it.” So, go ahead, stay in the water, God was serious when He said that by submersing yourself, you will be restored.
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6
“Yet You are enthroned as the Holy One; You are the one Israel praises. In You our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and You delivered them. To You they cried out and were saved; in You they trusted and were not put to shame.” Psalm 22:3-5
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13
Push Play: So, what’s the take away part of this story? Well, what immediately strikes you is that God healed Naaman, right? God preformed a miracle. He cleansed a sinful, human, man of a disease that was unable to be cured by man. He washed away the dirt and left Naaman as clean as “a young boy” – as innocent and unblemished as a child (2 Kings 5: 7). I think the parallels between washing away Naaman’s leprosy and God’s ability to cleanse us of our sins through the blood of Christ Jesus are pretty obvious, and the truth lying just under the surface of this story is incredibly humbling. But, to me, I think the most striking aspect of this story is in the numeric symbolism. Bare with me here: I am a words person and a literature lover, so anytime symbolism is involved, I get a little excited, but hopefully you’ll be able to see the significance here too.
The number seven is a big deal in the bible. Seven is a whole number, a complete number, a perfect number. How many days did it take for God to create the world; how many times does Jesus say to forgive our neighbors; how often did the Israelites celebrate the year of jubilee? That’s right, seven. Thus, when Elisha tells Naaman to submerse himself in the Jordan, in a very dirty, oftentimes violent, river, seven times, there is a much deeper significance than the healing of one man. God is telling us to trust Him, to submerse ourselves in what He has called us to do, seven times, i.e. until it is completed. And just when is that, you may ask? Well, basically, God’s work will be finished when Christ returns to claim this world as His own. So, then, when Gary talked about imaging Naaman hesitating after the sixth time, six doesn’t necessarily refer to the number six, as in the unit that follows five and precedes seven, but to any moment in our lives when we hesitate to trust God. When Gary says, “stay in the water,” he’s not telling you to follow what God says seven times (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, done). He’s saying, stick with it till the end; trust in the Lord with all your heart until His work for you is completed; stay in the water until you have been made whole. And folks, because we’re human, you’re not whole until you’re in Heaven, standing at the foot of the Lord, singing praises forevermore. Following the Lord’s instructions seven times, means following Him your whole life.
In my opinion, that’s why the story of Naaman made it into the bible, and that’s why it still has as much impact today (in a world where treating and curing leprosy is totally possible and doesn’t entail taking a trip to the Jordan River). God still reigns, and He is still calling us to trust Him seven times.