Naaman And Baptism

Throughout the Old Testament, God filled history with types and foreshadowings of things that were to come with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the institution of the New Testament. The book of Hebrews goes into great detail of how the Old Law pointed upward to the higher and more spiritual ordinances of the New Testament. In the same way, many of the Old Testament stories which seemingly have no import are laden with enlightenment regarding the New Covenant.

The story of Naaman is, in the same fashion as the Flood and the Israelite escape across the Red Sea, a type, or foreshadowing, of baptism and salvation.

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 Kings 5:1

Syria was, at the time, a powerful country, perpetually at odds with Israel. Naaman commanded its armies, answering only to the king himself. He had distinguished himself in battle, and risen high the ranks of Syria’s military. In the eyes of all Syrians, he was a hero. Unfortunately, he had one great blemish that threatened to ruin him — leprosy.

In the same way, we of today may have great regard among our worldly peers. The world stands in opposition to God and his Kingdom, and while we may gain recognition from the citizens of the world, we still are eaten alive by the canker of sin. It slowly consumes us, ultimately bringing us to death. As Naaman would have died and gained nothing from this life, so the sinner will die with nothing to show for his time on earth.

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.  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. — 2 Kings 5:2-3

Even someone as young as a child can bring light to the eyes of one who seeks salvation. Having been raised to believe in God and to trust in His prophets, this girl wished in all godly love that her heathen master might find deliverance. Naaman, seeking relief from his leprosy, was surely at this point willing to attempt anything. Doubtless, being the king’s right hand, he had seen the best doctors and most reputable mystics of Samaria and abroad, yet still he remained uncleansed. Now this innocent young maiden, while sighing to her mistress, brings forth a solution. If only we of today were so aware of our burden of sin, as Naaman was of his burden of leprosy, that we would be willing to listen to the lowest and smallest voices of righteousness.

And one went in, and told his lord, saying, Thus and thus said the maid that is of the land of Israel. 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.  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. — 2 Kings 5:4-6

Naaman, having heard what his wife’s handmaiden had said, quickly went to the king, who urged him to journey to Israel in search of this prophet. Assuming that Elisha would desire payment, as would any of the heathen religious leaders, Naaman brought gold, silver, and clothing.

Even as he seeks salvation from his misery, Naaman remains entrenched in the materialism of his heathen world. Little does he understand that God does not desire sacrifice or payment, that worldly goods mean nothing to him or those who serve him.

The Syrian king also makes the gross error of thinking Elisha is answerable to King Jehoram, as the Syrian mystics and religious leaders were answerable to him. Little did he know that Israelite kings had no power over God’s prophets. A king never gave orders to a prophet. The prophet brought the word of the Lord to the king, and the king listened.

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. — 2 Kings 5:7

Jehoram, perhaps unaware that the Syrian king expected him to call up a retinue of healers and prophets, may have thought that Syria expected him to heal Naaman himself. Since prophets were not available to a king’s every beck and call, King Jehoram thought that Syria, ever seeking destruction against the smaller kingdom, was trying to cause a fresh dispute — that Syria had sent one of their favorite, most honored men to Israel, and Israel would not heal him. Also, since Jehoram was not a godly king, he may well have been unaware of Elisha, his location, and what God could offer through the prophet.

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. — 2 Kings 5:8

Again, a display of godliness. Elisha was sadly ignored and disrespected by King Jehoram, and could have left the king to despair. Rather, Elisha took pity on both the king and on Naaman, telling Jehoram not to fear, and reminding him that God still had spokespersons in the land to whom he could turn. God, through Elisha, offered his aid to both the infidel Syrian general and the wayward king.

So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha. 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. — 2 Kings 5:9-10

With all the pompous retinue of a great Syrian commander, Naaman journeys to Elisha’s house, gifts in hand, prepared to meet a revered mystic who might perform a complex rite, or cry out to God, or cast a spell over him. Instead, Elisha never even leaves the interior of his abode. Rather, Elisha sends his servant Gehazi with a message: Go and wash in the Jordan River seven times.

In the same way, when we recognize our mortal sinfulness and seek out God, he does not speak to us in person. We have his Word, which was written by the apostles and the prophets. In turn, ministers and preachers, and Christians of all ranks, deliver the message to those who are searching, telling us what we oughtest do (Acts 10:6). God offers his salvation, but tells us what must be accomplished on our part to obtain it. He does not merely hand it out willy-nilly. Only those who obey his instructions will receive it.

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.  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. — 2 Kings 5:11-12

Naaman, having traveled all this way with so much pomp, with so many gifts, with the help of both the king of Syria and the king of Israel, expected Elisha to do all the work. He had thought Elisha would step out and perform a rite, while he himself stood still and let the prophet work his wonders. Instead, not only had Elisha told him he had to do something himself, but seemingly insulted him by not coming out in person and sending a lowly servant to convey the message.

The Jordan River was also a notoriously filthy river, muddy and brown. Why would he wash in such revolting water, when in Syria he had rivers renowned for their purity?

In the same way as Naaman, many of us feel we know better than God. The Gospel tells us what we must do to be saved, but so many insist on finding their own way, claiming to know better than God. We are told to be baptized (Acts 2:38) — but why do we insist that baptism has no bearing on our salvation? We grow stubborn and insist that all we must do is believe and repent. It is our fleshly stubbornness and pride, even as Naaman thought he was better than the solution God prescribed.

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? — 2 Kings 5:13

Again, wisdom comes to Naaman from the mouth of a servant who seeks his master’s welfare. Naaman, being a famous warrior, would not have hesitated had Elisha directed him to kill thirty lions, or destroy an army. He would have set out immediately and accomplished the act without question. But after the long journey, the correspondence between kings, the pompous retinue, and the expensive gifts, Elisha’s simple message fell on Naaman’s ear like a flat note.

In the same way, the Crusaders, being told that their sins would be forgiven if they journeyed to the Holy Land and fought the Muslims, leaped at the chance to prove their worth through great deeds. Imagine their confusion and irritation had they heard the words of Jesus Christ: “He who believes and is baptized shall be saved.” Simply following the directions of God, however plain and easy, is more efficacious than the most skillful, laborious, and costly schemes of men (Ephesians 2:8-9). These tend to feed and strengthen human pride; the other to exalt and glorify God.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who think they should have to do nothing to obtain salvation. They come to God seeking salvation, but when they hear the command, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38), they rebel, insisting that they need only believe and repent. This is as prideful and rebellious as thinking one must perform a great act to achieve salvation.

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary has this to say:

“When diseased sinners are content to do any thing, to submit to any thing, to part with any thing, for a cure, then, and not till then, is there any hope of them. The methods for the healing of the leprosy of sin, are so plain, that we are without excuse if we do not observe them. It is but, Believe, and be saved; Repent, and be pardoned; Wash, and be clean. The believer applies for salvation, not neglecting, altering, or adding to the Saviour’s directions; he is thus made clean from guilt, while others, who neglect them, live and die in the leprosy of sin.”

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. — 2 Kings 5:14

Humbled by the wisdom of his servant’s words, Naaman sees his folly and follows the words God spoke through Elisha. He descends to the River Jordan, and no other river. He dips himself, rather than pouring or sprinkling the water. And he dips, not once, not twice, but seven times. He obeys all of God’s commands. And when he comes up from his seventh dip, he discovers his leprosy has vanished forever.

The word dipped in this verse is the Hebrew tabal, which means literally, “to dip, to immerse:– dip, plunge”. This is a direct equivalent to the Greek baptizo, which is used throughout the New Testament in reference to the Christian rite of immersion in water. Notice also that the verse describes Naaman’s skin as “like unto the flesh of a little child”. When a Christian convert rises out of the baptismal waters, he is born again (John 3:3-5). He is as a little child (Mark 10:15, I Peter 2:1-3).

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. 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. — 2 Kings 5:15-16

Naaman, in his gratitude and elation, wishes to give back to God, and assumes, still being of a pagan mindset, that to give gifts to the man of God is equivalent to giving gifts to God himself. Elisha, though he has taken gifts before (2 Kings 4:42), is here emphasizing that the salvation of God is free, and not to be bought with a physical price. In the same manner neither Jesus nor the apostles ever took payment for anything they did in their ministry, condemning such remuneration (2 Corinthians 2:17).

Notice now that Naaman, having found his salvation, has direct access to Elisha (here representing the Word). No longer does he need the minister to convey and explain its message. In the same way, the convert, now free from sin, has direct access to the Word, to Jesus Himself.

Naaman soon thereafter departs to his home in Syria.

But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said, Behold, my master hath spared Naaman this Syrian, in not receiving at his hands that which he brought: but, as the LORD liveth, I will run after him, and take somewhat of him. — 2 Kings 5:20

Gehazi, consumed by greed that so often trips us up, perhaps had seen all the glorious gifts which Naaman had offered Elisha, and experienced surprise and disappointment when the prophet refused payment, especially from one who was considered a foe of Israel. One might also assume that, if Elisha was paid, Gehazi would receive a portion. So as Naaman and his retinue drove away, Gehazi, stung at the thought of such possessions leaving forever, determined to get his share.

So Gehazi followed after Naaman. And when Naaman saw him running after him, he lighted down from the chariot to meet him, and said, Is all well? — 2 Kings 5:21

See here that Naaman gets down from his chariot. This was his way to showing respect to Elisha through respect to Elisha’s servant. Naaman is overcome with awe for God, and wishes to do all he can to please. So should we be upon Christian rebirth, eager to show fear and love to the God who set us free. Unfortunately, Naaman’s eagerness also led him to naively falling into Gehazi’s lies. Even so should young Christians take care that they do not fall into the traps the Adversary lays for them.

And he said, All is well. My master hath sent me, saying, Behold, even now there be come to me from mount Ephraim two young men of the sons of the prophets: give them, I pray thee, a talent of silver, and two changes of garments. And Naaman said, Be content, take two talents. And he urged him, and bound two talents of silver in two bags, with two changes of garments, and laid them upon two of his servants; and they bare them before him. And when he came to the tower, he took them from their hand, and bestowed them in the house: and he let the men go, and they departed. — 2 Kings 5:22-24

Gehazi’s theft is strikingly similar to the trespass of Achan in the days of Joshua (Joshua 7). Achan went against the mandates of God in taking loot, and so also is Gehazi going against God in taking payment for something the Lord intended to give for free. Even Gehazi knows that what he is doing is wrong, for he hides them in the house, intending to keep his transgression from Elisha’s knowledge.

But he went in, and stood before his master. And Elisha said unto him, Whence comest thou, Gehazi? And he said, Thy servant went no whither.  And he said unto him, Went not mine heart with thee, when the man turned again from his chariot to meet thee? Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and oliveyards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and maidservants? The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee, and unto thy seed for ever. And he went out from his presence a leper as white as snow. — 2 Kings 5:25-27

Remember the comparison made earlier to Naaman and the seeking sinner, to Elisha and the written Word of God, and to Gehazi and the preacher or minister who delivers the message of deliverance. Gehazi sought to make profit from saving Naaman from his affliction, just as preachers of the Gospel all too often seek profit from spreading God’s news of salvation (2 Corinthians 2:17). Now, Naaman, the outlander Syrian, travels home with joy, health, and gratitude to God, while Gehazi finds himself burdened with the very same disease from which Naaman had been released.

Thus, the sinner who seeks salvation will rejoice when freed from his burden; but the minister who leads him to God and seeks material recompense for it is burdened with the same affliction of sin from which the convert has found relief.

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