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The General Was Dying

By J. W. Jepson, D.Min.

Life In Christ Center, 3095 Cherry Heights Road, The Dalles, Oregon 97058

(541) 296-1136

copyright � 1998 by J. W. Jepson

All rights reserved, including the right to grant the following permission and to prohibit the misuse thereof:

The Author hereby grants permission to reproduce the text of this article, without changes or alterations*, as a ministry, but not for commercial or non-ministry purposes.

*Permission is given for publication of excerpts and condensed versions.


(First published in The Pentecostal Evangel, February 26, 1978)

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Just the mention of the word stung people of the ancient world with terror. It still does in some cultures.

Incurable, terminal, it was a slow death that respected neither wealth nor position. Striking mercilessly, this dreaded plague ravaged its victims psychologically as well as physically, reducing them social outcasts, leaving them to die without the comfort and companionship of family and friends.

One outstanding case involved a high-ranking Syrian military officer. Naaman was no ordinary general. On the contrary, he was a military genius whose successes God used providentially to maintain Syrian national security. Second Kings 5:1 indicates this.

As a result, Naaman rose to the top, becoming the military chief of staff, the king's "defense minister."

But one day (the Bible does not tell us exactly when), perhaps at the height of his career, Naaman noticed in his body some foreboding symptoms. No doubt he had seen those ugly marks in others and perhaps pitied the poor wretches who bore them to untimely graves.

Could it be possible that the same fearful disease had now seized upon his own flesh to consume it?

No human being can face such a verdict without getting a sick feeling in the pit of the stomach. Naaman must have felt it as the awesome truth bore down upon his mind.

But Naaman was a military man. Discipline was his way of life. He did not rise to the top by surrendering to self-pity! National security was his responsibility. The morale of the armed forces was at stake. He had to be brave.

Yet, brave or not, he was sick and getting sicker. His wife needed some help around the house. Some commando troops had just returned from a raid into Israel, bringing back a few captives for use as slaves. Perhaps a little Israeli girl would be just what his wife needed.

Although God is never the cause of a bad situation, He is the Master at taking bad situations and bringing good out of them. And so, He who notices the fall of each sparrow saw that He could do something with this proud but hopeless Gentile militarist. A terminal illness has led more than one stubborn soul to listen to God!

A little maid. The Bible does not tell us her name. What it does tell us, though, reveals a lot about her character. She had every reason to sink into sullen, bitter silence. Why did God allow her to be snatched away from home and friends? Why had she been sentenced to the drudgery of doing chores for a Syrian woman and her leprosy-eaten husband?

She could have fed her spirit on the bitter-sweet flavor of revengeful, hateful thoughts, relishing each malignant morsel as it lingered in her mind. "Leprosy. Good enough for you, mister. Just what you deserve."

Yes, she could have allowed herself to become bitter--miserably bitter. But she didn't. Instead, she determined to serve God and others wherever God in His providence allowed her to be placed.

That is why God could use her. Full of faith and the love of God, she became a shining witness in a foreign land to the healing power of God.

"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 5:3).

Now, faith-talk like that soon gets around. When it reached Naaman, he was ready to listen--and act.

The wheels of diplomacy started turning. Soon Naaman was off to see the king of Israel, accompanied by his servants and carrying a load of costly gift and an official letter.

Pathetic, isn't it? Here is a poor man totally ignorant of God and of how God works, trying vainly through money and "official channels" to secure life and wholeness.

The king of Israel wasn't much better. He knew who the true and living God is, but he did not know Him personally. Having nothing spiritual to offer the man, the king panicked, reacting with fear and suspicion. The whole affair nearly provoked an international incident!

Poor Naaman. Like so many today, he had gone as far as material possessions and social position could take him, yet he was no nearer to the answer to the questions of life and death than when he started.

Happily the prophet of God understood the situation. Elisha knew God, and he knew where he stood with God. He also knew that if Naaman received anything from the Lord, it would be by faith, and the test of faith is humble obedience.

"Let him come now to me," Elisha directed (v.8). Now Naaman's pride would have dictated that things be done on his terms. After all, should not this common prophet have been summoned to the palace as a matter of deference to Naaman's official position and dignity? Protocol would have so stipulated.

But God is not the servant of the proud. He does not bow to the demands of the human ego. If we receive anything from Him, it is on His terms--the humble obedience of faith.

So it seemed like a real concession for this man of position, accustomed as he was to doing things the "acceptable" way, to act outside of his official "class" and go to the house of Elisha.

What a sight Naaman's entourage must have been as it pulled up in front of the prophet's dwelling. If only his peers and subordinates back in Syria could have seen him now! Certainly this was as afar as he could reasonably be expected to go in accommodating his dignity to the prophet's requirements!

But what is this? Elisha declined even to come out and meet Naaman in person! Instead he sent his servant out with this message: "Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean" (v.10).

Elisha wasn't even interested in Naaman's rich gifts! A preacher not interested in a generous donation? Strange indeed to the carnal mind.

It was all too much for Naaman. He "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?" (vv. 11,12).

"I thought." Many people are like that. They have figured out in their own minds just how God ought to answer their prayers, how He ought to work things out for them.

It is important for us to understand that God is not a genie we can train to be our personal servant and do magic tricks for us at our bidding or coaxing. God is our Sovereign and Lord, whom we are to love, trust, and obey.

Yes, God loves us, and He is concerned about our welfare. For that reason He wants first and foremost to bring us into a right relationship with himself. A proper relationship with God is far more important than anything temporal that we can receive from God. In fact, receiving things from God is conditioned upon a right relationship with Him in Jesus Christ.

And that involves taking our proper place of humility and submission before Him.

It has been said that God does not want to hurt our pride; He wants to kill it. By pride is not meant self-respect, but rather our insistence on self-supremacy, autonomy, on the "right" to rule our own lives, to be our own little "supreme being."

You see, that attitude places self in direct competition with God Almighty for the place that is rightfully His alone. It is "enmity against God" (Romans 8:7).

God cannot tolerate it because it is an attitude not only grossly dishonoring to Him but also totally ruinous to ourselves. It was the very attitude that changed Lucifer into Satan; and if pride will change an angel into a devil, imagine what it does to people. It is no wonder God cannot allow it to remain in His universe.

God loved Naaman and wanted very much to heal him. But more important, God wanted to straighten out Naaman's heart and mind.

Naaman wanted ceremony befitting his position; God prescribed humility to remedy his spiritual condition. Naaman wanted the benefits; God insisted on the spiritual prerequisites. Naaman wanted to be a passive recipient; God required that he be an active participant. So Naaman "turned and went away in a rage" (v. 12).

God always provides us with an opportunity to reveal what is in our spirits. This was the general's moment of truth, and he reacted by exhibiting pride, national prejudice, anger, and rejection.

Oh yes, he was willing to go part way--to wash, but in the rivers of his own choosing. He reminds us of people who are willing to be religious if they can dictate the terms. They want to play games with God. But God is not playing games. He loves us too much to toy with us.

Naaman went off in a rage, creating a spiritual deadlock that closed heaven against him and doomed him to certain death from leprosy.

By his rebellious attitude Naaman did not put God in a bind, but he certainly putt himself in one. We always do that when we disobey God.

It was a standoff. Both sides were waiting it out. There was one big difference, though--God had plenty of time; Naaman didn't. The general was dying, and a dying man is a desperate man.

Providentially, Naaman had a realistic staff. His advisers mustered up enough courage to make this sensible suggestion: "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?" (v.13).

"Some great thing." Oh, how fond people are of do-it-yourself salvation schemes. They are willing to do "some great thing" to merit favor with God. They will make pilgrimages, climb stairs on their knees, donate money to religious and charitable causes, pile up good works, anything that will bring them a self-achieved sense of peace, rightness, and goodness.

They will do anything except the very thing they must do--admit that they can do nothing to save themselves. They must surrender to God completely and trust Jesus Christ alone. Only His blood can wash our sins away. God's formula is always: "Wash, and be clean."

Naaman surrendered. "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" (v.14).

Full obedience. Seven dips, not five or six. Anything other than full obedience is not obedience at all. Six dips would have been disobedience, not six-sevenths obedience.

When Naaman met the conditions, he got the promise. The same principles applies today.

Yes, Naaman received his healing. Even more important, he received a new heart. He met the true and living God. He was a changed man in soul as well as in body. Instead of pride, pomp, and prejudice, he exhibited humility, obedience, and faith. Five times to Elisha he referred to himself as "thy servant."

The prophet's benediction was, "Go in peace" (v. 19).

Peace. He had not even come for that. There are many people who have healthy bodies who do not have peace. Perhaps you are one of them. You yearn for peace, but it seems to elude you. Naaman found it by surrendering to God.

That is the way you will find it too. Romans 5:1 says: "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through out Lord Jesus Christ."

God is waiting for you. Surrender to Him now and believe.

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