06 August 2006

Naaman's Test and Testimony

In his lesson notes posted at Times & Seasons, Jim F asks a question that strikes at the heart of the Naaman Story: "Why is it important that Naaman 'know that there is a prophet in Israel'?"

This story teaches one thing so clearly—namely, that we should obey prophets—that we often forget the larger point that Elisha tried (successfully) to make. In verse 8, Elisha predicts,

8 Let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.
The placement of this prophecy at the introduction sets it up as the theme of the entire story.

In this light, Elisha's decision to send a messenger in verse 10 makes much more sense. It might be argued that Elisha did this because he wanted to test Naaman’s faith, but I don’t think that is Elisha’s stated motive. Nevertheless, let’s briefly explore that issue.

Testing Naaman’s Faith
The test of faith is in what Naaman is instructed to do, not how the instruction came to him. Naaman cannot see how such a simple act—washing in a small river—could possibly cure him. Certainly he has tried many other things, including all of the magic of the religions of Syria, so it is no surprise that he seems to think he has wasted his time coming to Israel. Naaman expects something bigger than any remedy he has tried, not to mention bigger than this plan of Elisha's:
11 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.
From this complaint, we might suppose that Naaman has heard about Elijah’s magnificent triumph over the prophets of Baal, and he expects Elisha to put on a similar display.

Analogous Messengers
What cures Naaman in the end is his obedience. The question is: his obedience to ___________? Many would fill in the blank with, “the prophet,” but again, I do not think the story teaches this. Naaman doesn’t actually talk to Elisha, he just hears his message. So when Naaman assents to washing in Jordan, he is obeying the message, not the prophet directly.

This point is vital to the lesson that Naaman takes home with him. Just as most people do not hear from God directly, Naaman does not hear from Elisha directly; Elisha sends his orders via a messenger, just as Elisha himself is merely acting as the Lord’s messenger.

Naaman’s Testimony
Elisha makes the prediction that after this miracle, Naaman will know that there is a prophet in Israel. Let’s look at Naaman’s words, to see if that is actually what he takes away from his experience. Naaman said,
15 Behold, now I know that there is no God in all the earth, but in Israel.
The take-home (literally) message for Naaman—and indeed, what I think Elisha was really trying to teach all along—is that obedience to God means obedience to his words, be they receieved directly from God himself, from the mouth of a prophet, or even delivered by a messenger. Furthermore, Elisha teaches Naaman something far more important than knowing there is a prophet: he teaches whom a prophet represents.


Stephen said...

Some nice points.

BrianJ said...

Thanks, Stephen! That's encouraging.

Janet Lisonbee said...

Very good insight. I will use it when I teach Gospel Doctrine. Elisha did not want Naaman to worship him, that is why he sent the messenger. Brilliant!