I’ve been reading a lot of Tim Keller lately. So, admittedly, most of these thoughts are his, not mine. He made some amazing observations about the story of Namaan (2 Kings 5:1-14).
Namaan is a commander of the army of Syria (an enemy of Israel). He is portrayed as a man of honor and power, but he also had leprosy. He hears of a great prophet in Samaria (Elisha). So he goes to this other country (Israel) and brings a great treasure to offer in exchange for his healing.
When Elisha tells Namaan to go wash in the Jordan river, he is enraged. He brought a small fortune and came prepared to do “some great thing” in order to purchase the healing of his leprosy, but was told to “just wash” and it was too simple. He walked away from Elisha with bitterness and anger.
Like Naaman, we understand that there is usually some cost associated with healing. And the greater the disease (typically) the greater the cost of healing. Now think about that in terms of our sin. We profess to believe in justification by faith alone. We all know that we cannot buy our healing and forgiveness from God. We know that our only hope is that God has “caused us to be born again” (1 Pet. 1:3).
But I think deep down, like Namaan, we have a hard time really embracing this. The command he received, “just wash”, seemed to be too simple. Our command to “just believe” seems too easy as well. We hesitate to approach God in prayer after we have fallen into sin. Rather than embracing, enjoying, and loving God for His forgiveness, we often spend our time making resolution to do things “For Christ” in hopes to make it up to Him or pay Him back.
Naaman’s healing was free. It cost him nothing. However, it did cost somebody something. We learn in the beginning of chapter 5 that Namaan and his army raided a city in Israel, and that he carried off a “little girl” as a slave. It is likely that this raid resulted in the death of the little girl’s parents.
We would expect this servant girl to harbor hatred and bitterness toward Namaan. We would expect her to react to his leprosy by saying in her heart: “You’re dang right you have leprosy. You deserve nothing less for warring against God’s chosen people and dragging me off as your slave.” But she doesn’t. In fact, she is the reason he makes the trip to Israel and finds Elisha. We see her in verse 3 wishing and hoping that he will be healed. She longs for healing for the one who plundered her hometown and drug her away as a slave. That’s crazy!
Namaan’s healing didn’t cost him everything. But it costs this servant everything. Her suffering and willingness to forgive him led to his healing. Sound familiar? The innocent one suffers, and the guilty party is healed and forgiven. The innocent absorbs a high cost and the guilty one is cleansed (at no cost to himself).
It’s easy to read that story and overlook the servant girl’s suffering. Naaman DID NOT have to do “some great thing” in order to be healed. But the servant girl DID have to do “some great thing” and suffered some great costs in order for Namaan to be saved from his decaying flesh.
Likewise, the reason we often find it difficult to accept forgiveness that is made available to us, is that we forget that it was not completely free. We can truly embrace and accept forgiveness that costs us nothing only when we gaze upon the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 who paid the full ransom price for our sins.
We have to remind ourselves and preach to ourselves that “when Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” Keeping this truth in front of our eyes will keep us from falling into what John Piper calls the “debtors ethic” where we try to “make up” for our sins by working for Christ, as if the cross were insufficient.