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Identity Traps

Naaman: Seeking Security Through Possessions

Rev. Philip Miller | March 5, 2023

Selected highlights from this sermon

Meet Naaman, a commander of the Syrian army, a war hero, held in high favor by his king. He had everything you could possibly want in life. In fact, Naaman’s identity trap was seeking security through possessions. And he amassed a great deal of possessions in life. Naaman thought those possessions could secure him against life’s vulnerabilities. But there was, however, one vulnerability he could not command, gain, or secure: his health. You see, Naaman was a leper.

In this sermon, Pastor Miller explores Naaman’s security trap by looking at this commander’s hardship, his humbling, and his healing. And the man whose name means “gracious” learns the true meaning of grace.

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Well, good morning, and welcome back to Identity Traps: Nine Ways We Lose Ourselves and How Jesus Makes Us Whole. We’re working our way through the various ways that we can build our identities apart from God. All of us have these deep identity needs for significance, security, and satisfaction that were meant to be met in our relationship with God as our Father, and we as His beloved children. But our sin has estranged us from God, and so we tend to live like orphans in this universe.

We seek to build identities on anything other than God. We look elsewhere. We look to people and power and possessions. And in the last few weeks, we’ve been focused in on the security cluster in our little scheme here. We can look for security through people, like Esther; or we can look for security through power, like Gideon; or, as we’re going to see today, we can look for security through possessions, like a guy named Naaman.

Naaman’s identity trap was looking for security through possessions. We’re going to follow along with this guy, Naaman, as he discovers a new and better identity as a child of God. 

So let me take you back in time. This is after the days of Abraham, after Moses, after Gideon, after even King David. We come to the days of what is called the divided kingdom. Israel went through like a civil war and split into the Northern Kingdom, which created a new capital in Samaria. It was called Israel, the kingdom of Israel; and in the south, you have the kingdom of Judah, which retained Jerusalem as its capital. And during these days of the divided kingdom, God raised up a number of prophets to speak His Word to His people, and one of those was a guy named Elisha. Elisha was the apprentice of another prophet named Elijah. Don’t get those two confused. But Elisha’s ministry took place from about 892 to 832 B.C. Okay? So, give or take, about 3,000 years ago.

And it was somewhere in the middle of Elisha’s ministry that Naaman, the fellow we’re going to look at today, shows up. He’s a Syrian general and his name is Naaman. We find his story in

2 Kings, chapter 5, and if you’ll open your Bibles there this morning, that’s where we’ll be. Second Kings, chapter 5. You’ll find today’s reading on page 311 in the pew Bible there—311. And we’re going to see three things this morning: Naaman’s Hardship, Naaman’s Humbling, and Naaman’s Healing. Hardship, Humblingand Healing! That’s our roadmap for this morning.

Now, let’s bow our heads and pray. Let’s ask the Lord to be our teacher as we dive in.

Father, teach us the power of your cleansing work in our lives, your cleansing grace. Father, free us from looking to our possessions to keep us safe in this world. Teach us where true security lies: in the grace that you provide. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen. Amen.

So first of all, Naaman’s Hardship, Naaman’s Hardship. Second Kings 5, verse 1: “Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Syria, was a great man with his master and in high favor, because by him the LORD had given victory to Syria. He was a mighty man of valor, but he was a leper.”

Let’s pause for a moment. Naaman, actually, if you were to pronounce his name correctly, its Na’Aman. Can you say that? Na’Aman. Yeah. I grew up in Sunday School learning it as Naaman, and I can’t break the habit, so we’re going to call him Naaman. All right? There’s no way I’m getting that right all the way through this message, all right?

So Naaman! His name means “gracious.” Gracious. He was the commander of the Syrian army. He was obviously great, in high favor with his king. The king in reference here would have been Ben-Hadad II, who was the king of Aram, which is known today as Syria. He was also known to history as Adad-idri, for you history buffs.

He was a war hero. By his hand the Lord gave victory to Syria. Josephus and the Jewish targums both record that the archer who flung an arrow that ended up piercing the rebellious King Ahab and killing him ultimately, as Elijah had foretold, was none other than this man, Naaman. Okay? This is Naaman. So he’s a military war hero. He’s mighty and valiant. He’s powerful. He’s well-connected. He’s affluent. He’s wealthy.

You’d be able to spot this guy anywhere with his military regalia, with all his decorations and medals, flanked by his officers, an entourage of strength and valor wherever he went. You could point him out.

Naaman had everything you could ever want in life, everything you could possibly want in life, except for one thing, his health. The one thing he couldn’t gain, he couldn’t possess was his health. He’s a leper.

Now the word for leper here is the generic word for deforming and contagious skin diseases, so it may be leprosy proper that he has here, but actually likely not. It’s more like a psoriasis or open sores, or something like that, but he’s got a skin problem, and the point is that even though Naaman had secured everything he could ever want in life...He possessed military might, and therefore secured his command over the army. He possessed cunning insights and secured a seat in the king’s inner counsel. He possessed immense wealth, securing his place in society.

So Naaman possesses all of this and yet, he’s unable to secure himself against this great vulnerability, the one thing he cannot possess, he cannot secure, is his health. So Naaman’s got the world at his fingertips, but those fingertips are covered with leprosy. And as they say, if you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything, and so this is the plot. Okay?

Second Kings 5. Let’s look at verse 2: “Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, ‘Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’”

Now just pause for a moment. I find this remarkable, amazing. This little Israelite girl who has been enslaved and hauled off against her will to a foreign land as a victim of these wars, could have been very angry, could have been very bitter, very vindictive, couldn’t she? And yet, she is seeking her master’s good here, which is amazing. What an amazing grace! I wonder where that came from in her heart. We don’t know the story. But she mentions to Naaman’s wife that there’s a prophet in Samaria, unnamed here, who can heal. So, this slave girl tells Naaman’s wife, Naaman’s wife tells Naaman, and then Naaman (verse 4):

“So Naaman went in and told his lord (this is the king), ‘Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.’ And the king of Syria said, ‘Go now, and I will send a letter to the king of Israel.’ So he went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing. And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, ‘When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent you Naaman my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.’”

So here we have Ben Hadad II sending Naaman to the king of Israel who was, at this time, Joram. Joram was the son of King Ahab who was pierced by the arrow. Okay? And the king of Syria assumes that the prophet healer must be in the service of King Joram in Samaria, the capital. And there was a peace treaty between Syria and Israel at that time, as Israel was a kind of vassal state under paying tribute to Syria. And so, Ben-hadad II here is calling in a favor of his vassal king with this letter. He goes, “Listen, I need you to do me a favor. I’m sending you Naaman, my servant, that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

And then Naaman brings with him all this extensive wealth: ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten changes of clothing, like bolts of cloth that could be cut into different outfits.

Scholars try to estimate the value of these things. Here’s the reason why you can’t do a one to one, by the way, with ancient weights and measures and values. It’s all about purchasing-power, and we have limited information about how all of that worked, okay? But this is probably something in the neighborhood of about a million dollars.

So, the goal here, what Naaman’s intention is, is he’s going to come and he’s going to present this gift in exchange for his healing. That’s his plan. Okay? Let’s just back up for a second. I think at this point we have enough to sort of sketch out Naaman’s identity trap here, and I think we’re seeing that Naaman is seeking security through his possessions. He’s seeking security through possessions. And Naaman is trying to secure his own healing here with a gift. He’s trying to secure himself against disease in life with his money, with his wealth, with his largesse. He’s trying to buy his way into health and wholeness, which is kind of an orphan instinct, you see. He believes he has to fend for himself in the universe, that there’s no one else looking out for him, and so, it’s up to him to secure his own life and future. And you know, we really can’t blame him. It’s the only life he really knows.

And it’s so easy to fall into a trap like this of looking for security in our possessions, to live as if our money will keep us safe, or our jobs will secure our futures, or our 401k will protect us, or the insurance we buy will safeguard everything. And of course, all those things are good and responsible things to do and to have as far as they go, but they’re lousy places to put your ultimate security because they’re inherently unstable things. You know this, right? There’s things like thieves and inflation and war and recessions and fraud and market collapses and crashes and bankruptcies and all of this. We cannot eliminate vulnerability, can we? And so, if we find our ultimate security in the treasures of Earth, we will always be dogged by insecurity. Do you see that? If you find your security in the treasures of earth you’ll always be dogged by insecurity because nowhere on Earth is truly safe, not in the end.

And Naaman experiences that, that kind of insecurity when his health scare here rocks his world. And all he knows to do is to throw money at it. It’s always worked for him, but this time is different. He will not be able to fund his way out of this problem. So, that’s Naaman’s hardship.

Now let’s look at his humbling, Naaman’s humbling. Second Kings 5:7, “And when the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, ‘Am I God, to kill and make alive, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Only consider, and see how he is seeking a quarrel with me.’”

So, King Joram (who is unnamed here because he’s not the main focus of the story) reads the letter, and he thinks, “This must be a trap. It must be a trap.” And just think of how this was for King Joram. The military hero who killed his father waltzes in with a military entourage and a letter from the foreign king overlord who is asking for a healing. He’s not really asking for a healing. He’s demanding a healing. Right? And when King Joram is unable to heal this man, Naaman, he’s going to accuse him of holding out. And that’s going to be an excuse to kill him just like he killed his father. And so Joram tears his clothes because he feels there’s nothing to do. It’s a trap! Right? It's a trap! Star Wars reference! (laughter)

All right! Second Kings 5:8, “So when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent to the king, saying, ‘Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.’ (Verse 9) So Naaman came with his horses and chariots and stood at the door of Elisha’s house.”

So here Naaman comes. He rides up in his military formation, horses and chariots, a parade of magnificence, hauling all of this wealth with him, expecting a red-carpet welcome from the great prophet of God who has summoned him, beckoned him to come.

Verse 10: “And Elisha sends a messenger to him (He doesn’t go himself. Surprise.) saying, ‘Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean.’”

“So Naaman, what you really need is a good bath! (laughter) You know? Why don’t you go wash up in the river seven times, just to be sure, and you’ll be clean.”

This is not what Naaman’s expecting. This is not how he’s used to being treated. Naaman is a great man who has come a great distance with great wealth and a great problem. The least Elisha can do is meet him face-to-face and investigate the severity of his illness, and perform some wonderous, miraculous healing. This great man deserves a great healing, don’t you think? But this is an insult, to suggest that what he needs is a bath, as if his problem is a lack of hygiene. He’s adding insult to injury!

Verse 11: “But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, ‘Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call upon the name of the LORD his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?’ So, he turned and walked away in a rage.”

So, here Naaman is. He’s come in all his military regalia with royal letters in hand, wealth beyond measure, and none of it is getting him anywhere. None of it matters. All his possessions are coming up short. His wealth turns out to be worthless because Naaman wanted something money couldn’t buy. And to his dismay Naaman’s possessions cannot secure his health.

Naaman’s possessions cannot secure his health. And not only that, Naaman’s pride is wounded, isn’t it? “I didn’t come all this way to bathe in some crummy little river. I’ve got great rivers where I come from. Bathe seven times in the river! Like I’m going to take off my military garb, all my regalia, leave all this wealth in the wagon, and stand naked in the water like a child who needs a bath from mommy? No way! No way! That’s beneath me. I’m not doing that!”

You see, Naaman’s illness ran more than skin deep. On the outside he was a leper, but inside a far deadlier disease had taken hold. His heart was infected with pride. Naaman had found a way to get everything he wanted in life, and it made him arrogant and entitled, and now he thinks he can buy his way into the blessings of God. But God cannot be bribed, can He? His gifts do not come to the proud and the entitled, but to the humble and the contrite of heart.

So Naaman came in search of healing, but what he didn’t realize was that his need for healing ran far deeper than he knew. And God so loved Naaman that He will move now to heal Naaman, not just in his body, but in his soul.

Let’s look at Naaman’s healing now.

Verse 13: “But his servants came near and said to him, ‘My father, it is a great word the prophet has spoken to you; will you not do it? Has he actually said to you, “Wash and be clean?”’”

Now just pause here for a moment. The servant’s question here is almost impossible to translate well into English. But let me give you the logic of it in a little paraphrase. Okay? What he’s saying is, “My father, you wanted some great prophetic word. You wanted some grand healing gesture. If the prophet had asked you to do something heroic, wouldn’t you have done it? But what if what he has asked you, ‘Wash and be clean,’ does actually heal you? Is that not a great word after all? My father, you came all this way in search of healing. Will you not do this simple thing and wash?”

See, Naaman is faced with a choice here. He can hold on to his pride and ride off in a huff and remain unhealed, or he can swallow his pride, climb down from his chariot, take off all his military raiment, and set aside all of the possessions he thinks are so valuable, and in nakedness, enter the waters like a helpless child with nothing to offer and everything to receive. What will he do?

Verse 14, “So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God, and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.”

See, Naaman’s healing came through humility, didn’t it? In losing his pride he gained purity. In contrition, he was cleansed. When Naaman stood naked before God, vulnerable, exposed without all his adornments and wealth and privilege and accomplishments, everything he possessed...When he laid it all down, went into the water with empty hands, with nothing to his name, it was then that the Lord God healed him and made him whole. And notice the inner healing actually preceded the outer healing. His pride died when he, in faith, entered into the waters and let go of everything else to grab ahold of the promise of God. And it is only after that that his healing showed up on the outside. What began in his soul was then mirrored in his body. And Naaman is reborn! As he comes out of the waters, he is reborn.

Verse 15: “Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company, and he came and stood before him. And he said, ‘Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel; so accept now a present from your servant.’ But he, Elisha (This is Elisha.) said, ‘As the LORD lives, before whom I stand, I will receive none.’ And he urged him to take it, but he refused.”

Now this is a bold statement of faith from this Syrian commander: “Behold, I know that there is no God in all the earth but in Israel.” Isn’t that amazing? Such faith! And yet, Naaman again here tries to leverage his wealth, doesn’t he?

Elisha will not receive this gift. Why? Well, it’s not just that Elisha is above a bribe, although that’s true. Elisha is attentive to what the Lord is doing in Naaman’s soul, how Naaman’s tendency is to find his security through possessions. And Elisha discerns that, in this gift, Naaman is once again trying to use his possessions to secure himself. If Elisha accepts this gift in exchange for the healing, Naaman will think he's evened the scales, won’t he? “I got a healing, but I gave you a gift.” So Naaman wants a transaction, not grace. He’s trusting in his wealth to secure himself in life. But Elisha knows that this is not how God works. This is not the lesson that God is teaching. God is no one’s debtor, and you cannot buy your way into the blessings of God. They can only be received by grace through faith in the promise of God. Grace is a free gift, freely offered, freely received. And so Elisha refuses the gift.  “We’re not turning this into a transaction.”

And Naaman finds security as he learns to receive grace with open hands. Do you see that? It was grace that slew his pride, and awakened his trust in the promise of God. It was grace that met him and washed him when he was helpless in the river in childlike faith. It was grace that healed him and gave him new life. And it is in that same grace that Naaman must now learn how to live in childlike faith all the days of his life, that he is secure forever in the love of the Lord God. This is what he must learn.

You see, the man whose name means “gracious” is finally learning what grace is all about. When it comes to God, friends, we bring nothing but our dirty hands to Him, and He cleanses us and fills them up with his abundant gifts of grace. This is our God. And Naaman finally gets it. He finally gets it! That’s why he asks for yet another gift, another grace, more grace!

Verse 17: “Then Naaman said, ‘If not, please let there be given to your servant two mule loads of earth, for from now on your servant will not offer burnt offering or sacrifice to any god but the LORD.’”

“I want two wagonloads of dirt, Israel topsoil. I want to bring it back to my homeland. I’m going to dump it there. I’m going to build an altar so I can worship the one true God, worship him all the days of my life, the God who has healed me.”

Naaman, like most of the people in the ancient world, believed that the gods were regional, that they were geographically tethered and bound, and so Naaman wants to worship the one true God. He has no concept of how that could take place in Syria, so this is his strategy. He’s been healed by God, but he has a lot to learn about God, the Lord of the nations. Amen? But we’re watching the fruit of his conversion. He has a desire to worship God who has healed him by grace. As he thinks about his homeland though, he realizes that his personal conversion is going to cause him some professional awkwardness.

Verse 18: “In this matter may the LORD pardon your servant when my master goes into the house of Rimmon to worship there (the storm god of Syria), leaning on my arm, and I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, when I bow myself in the house of Rimmon, the LORD pardon your servant in this matter. And Elisha said to him, ‘Go in peace.’”

So, Ben-hadad is a worshipper of Rimmon, and in Naaman’s official duties, he’s going to have to go into the temple. He’s going to have to bow at the sight of the king, when the king bows, and he says, “May the Lord pardon me when I do this.” It’s not exactly the most courageous act of faithfulness you can ever imagine, but remember Naaman’s a man in process, isn’t he? He’s only been a worshiper of the true God for like a few minutes. Right? So, let’s give him a little bit of grace, which is what Elisha does. He says, “Go in peace.” Peace. Shalom! This is the Jewish greeting for fellow Jews. Shalom! It is amazing that he would use this here. “Go in the peace of the covenant-keeping God, my brother.” This is astonishing. The Syrian enemy whose arrow had slain the previous king, is now welcomed as a child of the covenant, secure forever in the love of God by grace through faith in the promise of Yahweh. Amazing!

Friends, do you realize you’re going to see Naaman in glory? Not because of his great possessions that secured his place in heaven, but because our great God secured Naaman forever when, in grace, He took possession of him, of Himself in love for all eternity.

At the end of the day, it didn’t matter how much Naaman possessed—his war metals, his bank accounts, all his acquired assets. It didn’t matter what possessions he held. What mattered was who was holding on to him, who possessed him. Because ultimate security, friends, comes by the grace of our Father.

Amen? Ultimate security comes by the grace of our Father.

In Hebrews 13, verses 5 and 6, there’s a fascinating passage. It reads like this. “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”

Do you follow the logic of these verses? It’s fascinating. “Keep your life free from the love of money (Okay! We get that!), and be content with what you have (Okay, that makes sense so far.) for (Here’s the reason) He (the Lord) has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”

What does that have to do with money? That feels like a hard shift, a change of topics, doesn’t it? It’s not. He just said, “Be content with what you have.” What is it that you have that is worthy of the contentment of your life? You have the Lord God Himself who will never leave you, who will never forsake you, who has washed you clean by the blood of Jesus Christ, who gave up all the possessions of glory in order to take possession of you forever. You are secure in the Lord God in a way that your money can never secure you.

  • Inflation will never devalue the everlasting love of your God.
  • Thieves will never break in and steal the gracious protection of your Savior.
  • Recessions can never diminish the undying love and care of your Father.
  • Bankruptcies cannot touch the glories that He is keeping in heaven for you.

So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Do you see that? (applause)

Friends, our ultimate security comes by the grace of our Father. We can’t earn it, we don’t deserve it, but thank God we belong to Jesus Christ now and all the days of our lives, and then forevermore.

To be possessed by Jesus is better than all the possessions of this earth. To be secure in Him is, in the end, the only security that matters.

Friends, where else can you find security like this? As Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.” Amen? Amen.

Let’s pray.

Father, we thank you that in Jesus Christ we are safe and secure now and forever, that all the stuff of this earth, all of our money and savings and insurance and safety nets and security systems, and all the ways we try to protect ourselves, which have their place, we thank you that ultimately there’s a deeper, better, more secure safety in the universe that is found in you and you alone, that in love, you have made us for yourself. You sent Jesus to die for us, to redeem us with His blood. And on the cross when He was pierced and from His side flowed a flood of blood and water, and that cleansing flood has washed us white as snow, and our souls are forever kept for you. We thank you that Jesus not only saves us and made it possible to bring us close to you, but that He sent the Holy Spirit to live in us, to seal us forever, secure in your love, and that one day you will bring us home to glory, and we will be our true selves, children of God in glory forever. We thank you that we are as safe in glory as Jesus is, for He is in us and we are in Him by grace through faith in the promise of God.

And so, we cling to you as you cling to us. Hold us, we pray, for Jesus’ sake, Amen. Amen.

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