The story of Naaman is recorded in 2 Kings 5. Naaman was the commander of the army of Aram.The Aramean king, Ben-Hadad, had a lot of respect for his general because he was a valiant warrior. The biblical author says 2 interesting things about Naaman early on in this story: First, God used Naaman to bring victory to Aram; second, Naaman, whose name means “pleasantness,” had skin disease.
These 2 facts about Naaman brought him into a life-changing encounter with the prophet in Israel, Elisha. The connecting link was a lady captive from Israel who became a servant of Naaman’s wife. She told her mistress about the prophet Elisha. “If my master goes to Elisha I am sure the prophet can cure him of his skin disease.”
Those who are acquainted with the story would remember that Naaman subsequently came down to Samaria and announced himself at the door of Elisha. The prophet sent Naaman to go dip himself 7x in the river Jordan and he would be healed. The general bristled at the idea at first but his servants persuaded him to go give it a try. Which he did. Naaman obeyed the word of the prophet and discovered that the word of the prophet of God was true.e
The miracle did not only change the man’s looks. The change went deeper. The work of God in Naaman’s life went deep into his heart and mind. His miracle made him realize that the God who was able cure him of his disease was the God of all the earth. Let us understand something here. The general was not a Hebrew. He belonged to a culture that worshipped other gods. The biblical author of the story earlier remarked that God “brought victory to Aram” through Naaman. But did the general himself know that at the time? It is safe to assume that Naaman would have understood it later after his conversion.
But the point I am making here relates to what he told the prophet on his return. “Never again,” he declared, would he “make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord” (2 Kings 5:17). This goes to the heart of the meaning of conversion to the true God.
We do not need objects to “help” us in our worship of God. God does not require it of us nor does He allow it. Our Creator did not wire us that way. The first commandment reads: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourselves an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exo 20:3-6).
Images cannot remind us of God. Absolutely not! Making images and bowing down before them is not a show of veneration or respect to God. It is a show of hatred to God! It is sheer disobedience to God. Read it again. God is a “jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers… of those who hate me.”
Listen to what God told Moses at Mt Sinai: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell the Israelites this: “You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven. Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold”’” (20:22-23). God spoke “from heaven.” How can physical objects – made by human beings on earth – remind us of God? All we need is what God said. All we need is His words. “I have spoken to you from heaven.”
That encounter in the river Jordan was life-changing for the general. He was not only cured physically. He was cured spiritually. The miracle did not make him a Hebrew but it circumcised him nevertheless – where it matters most – in his heart.
I believe that the change in a man’s spiritual orientation is first seen in how he worships God. That was what the woman at the well learned from Jesus (John 4:19-24). That was what the Athenians heard from Paul (Acts 17:22-31). That was what the Thessalonians had become known for. “The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report… how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10).
That is why true worship is the First of the 10 commandments.
Here is the truth for Gentiles and Jews alike. The Samaritan did not need to see a mountain in order to worship God. And the Jew no longer needed to be “in Jerusalem” in order to worship God. “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:21-24).
Placing physical objects of worship “before God” strikes at the very heart of the nature of God.
There is another point about Naaman that I want to make. We meet him in the scripture record as “commander of the army.” Is it speculation to assume that he rose from the ranks? Or are we to suppose that Naaman became a “valiant warrior” just by watching from the stands? The Naaman that we meet in scripture was a time-tested, grizzled warrior. His military exploits had earned him the rank of “commander of the army.” Nevertheless, he was a new-born in the faith of the God of Israel.
All of us started there. And we made our baby-steps from there. For his part, Naaman’s baby-steps included his making 2 requests from the prophet. “Please allow me to bring bags of earth from Israel back to my home.” What was the “made in Israel” earth for? He wanted to build an altar to the Lord his God. This is in perfect harmony with what God commanded Moses to do centuries before: “Make an altar of earth for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings…. Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you” (Exodus 20:24).
The second request was for forgiveness: “…your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord. But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and his is leaning on my arm and I bow down there also – when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.” (5:17b-18).
We can see that the general was serious about his new-found faith. He has become a worshipper of the true God. And he recognized it was sinful to bow down in a pagan temple. But he had a duty to fulfill. The prophet saw the radical change in Naaman’s heart. But the prophet must have understood that Naaman did not have the power to immediately change his environment. The prophet gave Naaman his blessing. “Go in peace,” he said.
The story of Naaman ends with that blessing from the prophet of Israel. But did it? The Aramaen army continued to exist after this story. In fact, the next thing we read of the king of Aram was about his plan to ambush the king of Israel (6:8f). The interesting thing about this is the plot never materialized because “…Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom? (6:12). Where was Naaman, the commander of the army, in all this?
Again, we read: “Sometime later, Ben-Hadad king of Aram mobilized his entire army and marched up and laid siege to Samaria” (6:24). One would expect his general to be leading the foray. But there is nary a word about general Naaman in the record.
I believe “Silence speaks louder than words” is a truism that applies here. The general who became a trainee in the faith of Yahweh stayed the course, that is, for all intents and purposes, he continued to serve the true and living God of Israel. The king of Aram dismissed him from the service.
Charles Albert Tindley
Nothing between my soul and my Savior,
naught of this world’s delusive dream;
I have renounced all sinful pleasure;
Jesus is mine, there’s nothing between.
Nothing between my soul and my Savior,
so that his blessed face may be seen;
Nothing preventing the least of his favor;
Keep the way clear! Let nothing between.
Nothing between, like worldly pleasure;
habits of life, though harmless they seem,
must not my heart from him ever sever;
he is my all, there’s nothing between.
Nothing between, like pride or station;
self or friends shall not intervene;
though it may cost me much tribulation,
I am resolved, there’s nothing between.
Nothing between, e’en many hard trials,
though the whole world against me convene;
watching with prayer and must self denial,
I’ll triumph at last, there’s nothing between.
 This is based on a sermon I preached November 12, 2017, “Today, We Honor a Soldier.” (November 11, 2017 was Veterans Day in the US.)
 Aram was located in what is now modern Syria. Damascus is one of the oldest cities in the world.
Ben is the Semitic word of “son.” And hadad means “thunder.”
 Some versions use “leprosy.” But the word refers to any number of skin disease.
Elisha means “God is Salvation.” Elisha “poured water on the hands of Elijah” (2 Kings 3:11) and succeeded him as prophet in Israel (1 Kings 19:16,21).
 Little did the Hebrew young woman know how this little information about the prophet Elisha would impact Naaman and his household. What a lesson in sharing one’s faith to those in need!
 Elisha heard of Naaman’s visit to the king of Israel. While he summoned Naaman to come to him Elisha himself did not meet Naaman face to face. Perhaps he could not, for Naaman had “leprosy.” Or that Elisha intended to put the general to the test to humble him, to make him realize the God of Israel is not like any of the gods the general had known.
 It sounds like the case of general Naaman is an earlier version of Cyrus, the Persian king. The prophet Isaiah wrote about 100 years before Cyrus was born that God would raise Him up to do mighty works for God “that you may know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, who summons you by name” (Isaiah 44:28; 45:3b; see vv1, 13).
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). We do not seek God with our eyes. We seek Him with our hearts. “’Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:12-13a). After His resurrection the Lord Jesus showed Himself to His disciples, but Thomas was not present at the time. When the disciples told Thomas that they have “seen the Lord,” Thomas expressed what a practical man would say under the circumstances: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:24-25). Jesus returned the following week, this time to show Himself to Thomas. “Put your finger here,” the risen Christ invited Thomas, “see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “my Lord and my God!” (20:27-28). Now here is the whole point of the miracle: “Because you have seen me, you believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (20:29).
 Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 2:29; Colossians 2:11.
 Roman Catholic dogma parses “worship” to make it appear that a distinction exists between veneration of God’s friends and worship of God. This circumvents Mosaic Law. Why make a distinction where no distinction exists in Scripture? In fact, God and the prophets routinely condemn “images” every time they are mentioned in the Holy Writ. This is rank hypocrisy, and the Lord Jesus saw through it. He rightly condemned the “parsing” of monetary sacrifices. “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath. You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?” (Matthew 23:16). The religious leaders were not concerned about the temple at all: they were after the people’s money! In another instance, Jesus rebuked the temple leaders for another of their disambiguation. “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God, then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you handed down. And you do many things like that” (Mark 11:9-13).
Rimmon means “exalted pomegranate” (Smith’s Bible Dictionary). The round fruit with a crown on top of it apparently indicates the sun. Ben-Hadad probably had an image of the fruit up on a pedestal in a temple he made for his god.
I first heard this hymn during my first teaching assignment in Immanuel Bible College in the early 1970s. I was in my early 20s then and an elderly missionary who called me his “buddy,” Rev Wesley Morton, prefaced his sermon by singing this hymn. “The writer of this hymn was Charles Albert Tindley. He was born in Berlin, Maryland, July 7, 1851 to a slave father and a mother who was a freed woman. In 1875 he moved to Philadelphia with his wife. He became a janitor at a Methodist church while taking correspondence classes to become a pastor. In 1902 he came back to that church and became the pastor. This church quickly grew to over 12,000 in membership and was a multicultural church. While studying for a message in 1906, a gust of wind blew in through the window and blew his papers to the floor. As he was picking the papers up he thought the words “Let Nothing Between.” And that was the beginning of this song.” (www.jeremybrummel.com)
2 thoughts on “THE GENERAL WHO BECAME A TRAINEE”
In Jewish circles, the Ten Commandments are seen as having both a vertical and horizontal literary structure. This has to do with the arrangement of the Commandments on the tablets carried down by Moses from Mount Sinai. On one tablet, we find Commandments 1 -5, vertically aligned signifying the terms of man’s relationship to his creators (God/parents). Similarly, Commandments 6 -10 are vertically aligned on the second tablet signifying the terms of relationships between men. In addition, there is seen to be a horizontal relationship between the Commandments–1 corresponds to 6, 2 to 7, 3 to 8, and so on. The Christian and Jewish order of the Commandments differ slightly. It is common, though not universal, that Christian versions cite the first Commandment as appearing in Exodus 20:3 (“You shall have no other Gods before Me.”) whereas the Jewish version takes the first Commandment to be found in Exodus 20:2 (“I am the LORD your God.”). Therefore, in the Jewish version, the second Commandment starts in Exodus 20:3 (“You shall have no other gods before Me.”). And this 2nd Commandment aligns horizontally with Commandment 7, “You shall not commit adultery.” The man who places another god before the God of Israel is likened to a man who places another woman before his wife. Whether one accepts Exodus 20:2 or 20:3 as the “First Commandment,” both point to the LORD, as Pastor Andy assertively points out, as He Who is the One to be worshipped.
In re the 10 Commandments, does this not work vice-versa?
“Do not have other gods before me” vis-a-vis “Do not commit adultery.”
In other words,
An idolater is like an adulterer:
an adulterer is like an idolater.
God gives up people for “worshipping the creature rather than the Creator,” says Paul. And the activities that he mentions in the context tell us what form this “worship” of the creature he may have had in mind.