Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jun 29 2019 - 2 Kings 5 – Naaman

A few days ago we were reading of how Ahab, king of Israel, persuaded Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, to join him in his war against the king of Aram. Today we are reading of Naaman, the decorated commander of the king of Aram's army who had gained victories against Israel. We are told that it was the Lord who gave him those victories; the Lord was waging war against his idolatrous and disobedient people. But Naaman had leprosy. It must have affected his whole household as he was required to keep himself away from human contact.

A young Israelite girl had been captured in one of the Aramean raids. Naaman had given her to his wife as a servant. We can imagine the distress of this girl who had been snatched from her family – some of whom may even have been killed. She is now living in an enemy home, having to learn a foreign language and do the bidding of the mistress of this household. But this girl not only has faith in the Lord her God, she also feels compassion for her master. She tells her mistress, "If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy" (v. 3).

Naaman is told the girl's words but cannot travel into enemy territory to seek help from his enemy's God without the king's permission. Hearing what the girl had said, the king of Aram wrote a letter to the king of Israel asking him to cure Naaman of his leprosy. The letter was given to Naaman, along with a vast amount of gold, silver and royal clothing. The king of Israel saw this as a scheme to resume war against his kingdom, but Elisha tells the king to send Naaman to him.

When Naaman arrives at Elisha's house, the prophet does not even come to meet him but sends a messenger to tell him to go and wash seven times in the river Jordan and he will be healed. Initially Naaman is angry saying that the rivers of Damascus are better than all the waters of Israel. But his servants persuade him to obey the prophet's instructions, and Naaman is completely cured.

Naaman returns to Elisha's house and this time Elisha meets him. Naaman tells him, "Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel" (v. 15); he is convinced of the power of the living God for he has experienced it for himself. Elisha refuses any payment for his services – God's gifts are given freely. But Naaman requests some Israelite soil to take back with him to Aram so that he can worship the Lord, the God of Israel. He is aware that he cannot avoid state worship so he asks that when he enters the temple of their god, Rimmon, on his master's arm, "may the Lord forgive your servant for this" (v. 18). Elisha tells him to "Go in peace."

I want to focus on the simple testimony of this young servant girl, plucked from home and family. She not only trusts in the living God for herself, she tells her needy captors of God's power. And her testimony is repeated even in the courts of a foreign king. Her testimony results in Naaman's cleansing. How might our testimony to the saving power of God in the Lord Jesus Christ be used to point others to him and to discover for themselves his saving power?

Secondly, I want us to notice how Elisha deals with the new-found faith of Naaman which seems to be mixed with superstition and the danger of compromise. Elisha commits Naaman to the grace of God and tells him to go in peace. The God who has saved him will be able to keep him. Who knows what blessing Naaman may have brought not only to his household but to others as a result of his faith – and all because of the simple testimony of a young servant girl?

Father God, help us to live by faith in you and in confident assurance that we are yours because Christ has died for us and is raised for us. May we never be ashamed to speak to others of your saving power, but use our testimony to encourage them to discover for themselves your power to touch and transform their lives. Give us wisdom in counselling those who are young in the faith that we may encourage them to go on trusting in your goodness and mercy. Keep us from coveting those things that would lead us away from you; help us to keep ourselves from idols.

Jun 29 2013 - Acts 19:21-41 – Preaching threatens trade

Paul’s preaching caused a riot at Ephesus. The city was famous for its temple devoted to the goddess Artemis (or Diana), and this fame had created a lucrative trade for those who made religious icons for visitors to the city. Paul’s preaching that there was only one God, who made heaven and earth and did not dwell in temples made by hands was viewed as a threat to this trade, particularly as, not only in Ephesus, but throughout Asia, people were coming to believe Paul’s message. Incidentally, it’s interesting that these silversmiths did not feel able to diversify into Christian trinkets – silver crosses, statues of Jesus and the like.

So Paul’s preaching prompted a riot which turned the whole city into confusion and uproar. It was only quietened when the chief clerk reminded the crowd that all the world knew that Ephesus was the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image that fell from heaven. He seems to suggest that this undeniable truth would outlast the current fuss about this man Jesus.

Two thousand years later, about one third of the inhabitants of the world worship the Lord Jesus Christ. How many today worship Artemis?

The gospel has power not only to transform the lives of individuals; it has power to transform society. It banishes superstition (see Acts 19:19), and brings freedom. It was the gospel that empowered the abolition of slavery, the provision of universal education and abolition of child labour, the creation of hospitals and other charitable institutions, recognition of the dignity and rights of women – to name just a few. The gospel calls people to follow Christ and to live well with one another in lives of mutual service and mutual benefit rather than exploitation, injustice and oppression.

Sadly, Christians have not always lived up to the transformative call of the gospel – they have not always followed Christ. However, in the early centuries of the Christian church, Christians found favour among their neighbours for their generous treatment of those in need and their respect for women and children (see particularly, Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity.) The traders in religious icons might have been angered by Paul’s preaching but Paul and the young Christian community seem to have commended themselves to many in the city; “the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honour” by both “Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus” (19:17). Even the city authorities seemed well disposed towards Paul, seeking to protect him from the power of the mob (19:31). One way or another, the good news about Jesus was making an impact on the life of practically everyone in the city.

Is our preaching and witness to Christ having similar effects upon our own communities? Or have we lost confidence in the relevance and importance of the gospel? Pray that the gospel will break out of our Christian ghettos and have a similar impact on our own society, threatening the economic viability of the sex trade, gambling industry and the like but bringing freedom, acceptance and hope to the oppressed. And then be ready for the reaction. 

Father God, we want to change the world through the message of the gospel and the power of the risen Christ. Help us not to provoke unnecessary conflict, but equally, keep us from toning down the message so that it loses its edge and fails to challenge the evils and falsehoods of our day. Use us for the furtherance of your kingdom. Above all, help us so to conduct ourselves that those around us may recognise that the message of Jesus is good news, bringing life, blessing and healing to a wounded world.

Peter Misselbrook